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 Twelve
by D.C. Logan

Heero stopped using his sling on Tuesday. His shoulder felt somewhat awkward and stiff, but did mostly as he bid with only some residual soreness--nothing he couldn't cope with. The cast on his right arm had come off only that morning.

Duo had driven him to the hospital earlier in Trowa's car and now Heero was enjoying a long soaking bath in celebration of the event. The arm still hurt and felt oddly light without the fiberglass. There'd been mention of some physical therapy to regain the muscle strength in both of his arms, but he'd been so pleased at regaining some of his mobility that he hadn't cared about the inconvenience of scheduling appointments. He was on his way back to normal, back to the life he'd had and misplaced just a few short weeks ago.

That in itself had been a sobering thought. He'd come to his senses while soaking in neck-deep hot water in his bathroom. Truth was that he didn't want to go back to the life he'd led before, at least not entirely. He'd managed to regain some of his freedom and confidence again and it felt wonderful. Well, and then there was Duo. He knew he'd put his feelings towards Duo on temporary hold after he'd found himself in the hospital, and the time spent recuperating in his apartment had only furthered that protective mechanism. It had been the only way to endure Duo's close proximity for any length of time. Easier in many ways to think of him simply as a friend, and only a friend--neuter, caring, helpful. To think about the relationship they were moving towards, if they indeed _had_ gone beyond simple acquaintances, has been treacherous and forbidden ground.

Shortly after returning from the hospital, he'd been surprised to find Duo standing in the doorway of his bedroom. He'd been sitting on the edge of his bed at the time, cautiously testing the range and flexion in both of his arms when Duo had announced his presence by dropping his bag to the floor and had waited patiently for him to look up.

"Guess this is it then." He'd paused, whether for effect or at a loss of words Heero couldn't tell. "You should be okay on your own again, and I'll get out of your way and let you get back to your privacy and all..." There'd been another pause, but Heero had offered no response. He'd been momentarily stunned, he hadn't even started to consider what having his cast removed would mean in terms of his recent roommate. Hell, he'd briefly wished his cast back on--it was more than worth the inconvenience if it would keep Duo around a while longer. But no, things had to change. They always did. Rarely for the better as far as his life was concerned.

Duo had walked across the room to sit hesitantly on the edge of the bed, and had handed him a sheet of paper with neat lines of handwritten copy: doctors, nurses, pharmacies that delivered... it felt like Duo was writing him off. Duo had said something further about dropping by in a few days to deliver his grocery order and bring his mail from his remote box, then he'd pressed his list of contact information into Heero's hand, picked up his duffle at the doorway, and vanished without so much as a goodbye.

Now Heero was left in a tub of rapidly cooling water with only his thoughts for poor company, and he had to admit, if only to himself, that he already missed having Duo around. It didn't matter that Duo had been a quiet and considerate guest, keeping to himself at times and allowing Heero at least a measure of the degree of privacy to which he'd become accustomed. He'd been cheerful as well, and remarkably astute whether the topic of conversation rolled around to the local art scene, the DNA of field mice, national foreign policy or some such. Heero missed having him around in ways both small and large: the barely audible whisper of his breath from the living room at night, the gusto with which he'd attacked Heero's never-ending stack of fan mail... There were qualities buried just beneath the bravado of the man that Heero feared he was attracted to much more than he wanted to be in any individual. It was difficult, this kind of wishing and hoping without knowing for certain if the interest was returned, and it left a part of him deep near the center of his chest, cold, dark, and empty of hope.

So, where did this leave him? Where did he go from here? He'd found himself in his bathtub, one of his most productive places to think. He'd refilled the tub with water twice before he had the first glint of an idea...then stood suddenly and the cool water sluiced from his body. He walked though his apartment wet, naked, and uncaring of either condition. Dammit, Wufei better be around this time; he was getting tired of leaving messages on his machine or with his secretary.

Heero couldn't sleep that night.

It was too still in his apartment. There was no Duo walking about sock footed. No quiet puttering in the kitchen or bathroom. Just...nothing. He'd left a number of messages on Wufei's machine, but hadn't heard back from him yet. Now he was tired, bored, and restless all at the same time. It was an unusual combination for him, and he didn't like it in the least.

He threw back the remaining bedcovers and wandered out into the living room, that odd part of his brain hoping by some miracle that Duo might be stretched out on his sofa. He didn't want to turn on the lights, doing his best to prolong the fantasy by preserving the darkness. It didn't matter though. His apartment was empty, the sofa uninhabited. He sat where Duo had slept and brought his feet up onto the cushions so he could lie back along the light depression that remained. Damn, this was a mess. How was it that Wufei could rightfully accuse Heero of planning out every little increment of his life to the point of obsession, and now he couldn't even think of a way to bring Duo back around to the direction they'd been headed in before his accident?

Well, the experience had been very telling, if he took the time to consider it analytically. He knew that they could live together, so long as he didn't expect Duo to be able to link more than three words together before his morning coffee. He wasn't sure if they'd be compatible in bed--even though the desire was there and strong within him, sex was an entirely different issue, and not one he felt all that knowledgeable about. Sure, he'd done some experimenting with women and men both. Under the right circumstances, he enjoyed either, but it seemed to take less effort to be attracted to men, and he'd reserved his interest for members of his own sex for the past ten years; Wufei's blind date, which had progressed nowhere, notwithstanding. He'd never had this level of interest for any of his past lovers though... Duo was different and unique in so many ways.

He'd learned a lot about Duo as a person, and what he'd learned pleased and interested him more. He just hoped deeply and wondered bleakly if Duo had any of the same thoughts. He'd been nothing but carefully neutral in Heero's home and had done nothing untoward in the least. Leaving Heero wondering if he was interested in men at all, despite Wufei's report. After all, Trowa was nearly a co-owner of the store as well, and it was easy for private investigators and credit reporting agencies to make mistakes. It happened all the time, and, Heero thought with his vivid and overactive imagination, it was entirely possible that he'd manufactured all the careful looks he thought Duo was sending his way; the hints at intimacy, the mild innuendo when talking conversationally in the store. Hell, yes, it was possible, but he didn't want to think about that right now. Instead he settled back along the sofa, reached back and tucked his hand behind his head, inordinately pleased that he could do so again, and fantasized about what he might be doing if Duo was here now.

Well, this was it then. Heero was better, or at least well enough that he didn't need Duo hanging about his apartment and under his feet all the time. Duo had thought about offering to stay around for a few days after Heero had the cast removed, but after seeing the ease with which he'd handled the exercises the doctor had put him through to test the relative strength of one arm against the other, he knew it wasn't really necessary.

It felt strange, riding the subway home instead of hiking up the stairs after he'd left the shop for the day. He'd automatically made the turn towards Heero's apartment and had to backtrack past the storefront to walk to the T station. He hoped Trowa or Quatre hadn't noticed his blunder. Once standing in his doorway, he'd had to dig around in his bag for his house keys. Unused, they'd settled to the bottom and it took him a minute or so to retrieve them.

The lock stuck on his door. He'd only been away for a couple weeks and he'd forgotten it did that when the humidity was high. He pushed the door open against a resistance that turned out to be all of the mail that had been shoved through the door slot. He didn't feel like collecting it at the moment and instead pushed the door closed and walked into the living room where he dropped his bag on the floor and his body on the sofa. It was hot in here, and the air smelled stale and unlived in. His plant had died, no great loss there, it was miracle the thing had lived as long as it had. Still, it bothered him that he'd neglected it to death.

The room hadn't changed at all, but his perception of it had, tempered as it was by his time away from it. He looked over his apartment and stood, then walked slowly though the space, seeing it now with an unbiased eye, noting the small things that he missed in his own life until he could see it with the filter of time away from it all. What had been his home and refuge now felt empty and foreign through the lens of his absence. He walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator carefully. Well... time to get living again.

He pulled the waste bin over to the open door and started loading it with all the spoiled food, making a mental list of groceries to pick up on the way home from work tomorrow, thinking regretfully about the half-finished takeout Japanese that he'd left in Heero's refrigerator. When he'd finished digging though the unit, he settled on spaghetti for dinner. Easy, simple, and nothing about it that reminded him of a meal shared with Heero. He spared a thought to wonder if he'd be able to sleep that night. Yeah, the bed would be wider, and he wouldn't lie awake half the night listening for sounds from Heero's bedroom, still...

So, now it was back to the predicitible rhythms and sounds of his own house. He'd missed his radio with its background chatter and noise. He never played it at work, and had taken to leaving it on all the time at home. Heero didn't even have a stereo system in his apartment. Duo tripped the switch and classical floated through the room.

He shut it off twenty minutes later. Great. Heero had ruined this for him as well. He spent the rest of the afternoon in the ticking quiet of his apartment.

By the time he'd dumped the rest of his spaghetti into the trash, his thoughts about Heero had caught up and overtaken him. Dammit, Heero hadn't even said anything to him as he'd left. Besides which, he was beginning to think that he might have read the guy wrong from the start. It seemed at first like they'd shared an interest in each other--all that innuendo, though subtle enough to pass as general conversation, and the pointed looks from time to time. Well, there was also the simple fact that Heero had come to his shop every day for over a month and a half to do little but watch him and his store. The problem was that Duo's mind was ready to provide completely innocent excuses for all of it. Perhaps Heero merely needed to study potential characters for his books, that he wanted to get out and feel like he was part of a community--however small, and that Duo's store--located in the same building, was both convenient and welcoming. Hell, unlike the coffee house down the street, he didn't even have to buy anything to stay in his chair. He had probably just been bored and early afternoons in Daydreams had been a way to break up the routine of his day. Yeah, it probably wasn't more than that.

So, Duo would just have to go back to his narrow little life and pretend that he'd never hoped for more than that simple acquaintance. Right. He could do this. But his mind refused to settle, and he continued to pick at his problem.

Hell, even Trowa hadn't seen anything there to comment on...though Quatre had remained strangely silent. Of course, Quatre didn't usually share an opinion unless he was asked for it outright. He'd been too well schooled in manners during his upbringing. Damn. Well, it wasn't worth breaking his heart over. The man had been presented with numerous opportunities to say or do something, _anything_, that would have tipped his hand one way or the other while Duo had lived with him, and nothing had happened. Of course, there was the other side of the equation that said that Duo hadn't exactly done anything to announce _his_ interest either. He sighed deeply again; it seemed to be his day for it.

Well, he'd told himself that he'd be content with whatever Heero had to offer. If that was limited to friendship and nothing more, well, he'd be lying to himself if he said he'd be satisfied with that alone, but he'd rather have that much instead of nothing at all. He wasn't blind to the fact that the man brought out some of his own better qualities, and he'd be honored to have him as a friend. Then again, perhaps it was time to call Quatre and see if he had an opinion on the matter at hand.

Hell, he hadn't thought that he'd let the guy creep that far under his skin. Duo wasn't enjoying the realization that the life he'd lived quite happily before meeting Heero seemed incomplete and distant. Hell, it galled him to admit it, but exposure to Heero had made even the mundane and regular events of his life better somehow--more meaningful. He'd been commuting to Cambridge nearly every day for years now, and now his mind couldn't stretch far enough to remember what it had been like without Heero sitting in that damn chair. He looked forward to seeing him every day now, it wasn't just something to do, it was something to look forward to. He found himself thinking at odd moments, 'what would Heero think of this' while listening to NPR in the morning, or when drinking his jump-start cup of coffee--'what would Heero's opinion be?' It had become reflex, and he couldn't explain why the new habit unsettled him so.

Ah, this was not good, not acceptable, and he hadn't a clue how to work his way out of this position. He hadn't meant to let the man into his head dammit, and he'd opened his heart only to find him already inside of it. He missed him a lot more than he ever thought he would miss anyone. He wanted to share his thoughts with him and have immediate access to that quick and ready intelligence buried behind that curtain of bangs, and he felt something that was more than just missing and wondered about that as well. Duo thought of the handful of times he'd touched him while caring for him, and how the touching, and fighting the urge to do more than just touch where absolutely necessary, had been such a huge turn on that he'd thought about it for days afterward. He wondered where that contact could have progressed to given even a little courage on his part and consent on Heero's. Hell, it was still a turn on.

He'd wondered, one night on the way back from the hospital, whether the attraction he felt for him was a physical one, and concluded that yes, his interest had started there, but had progressed to the knowing of the man to the point where he couldn't distinguish where his beauty lay. If Heero had been disfigured in his accident, would Duo have lost interest in him? The answer in his head was immediate and strong. No, that was no longer the core of the attraction Heero held for him. It was somewhere between that rapier-savage wit and the gentle side of him that emerged at unexpected moments, that ready humor that lay close under natural reserve, and his delight in the outrageous around him. Yeah, real love, not doubt about it in the least. If Heero didn't love him back, or didn't at least return some of the interest, he was screwed. He'd never meet anyone else even remotely like him if he searched for the rest of his life. Yeah, _that_ screwed.

He'd thought he had his entire life staked out and scheduled at this point. He had one serious relationship over the course of the years and he'd been dumped, and he'd recovered. He'd had a few other partners, but there was no evading the point the Heero was a 'rest of his life and wouldn't get tired of him' sort of guy. Yeah, he had his life all planned out and solved, and then Heero had to come along, expand his idea of what living really was, and make Duo feel lonely, where before he was merely alone and comfortable with his lot in life.

Duo found the resentment buried under that thought, and crushed it. This was _his_ doing--not Heero's. Heero hadn't done anything more than walk into his store and flash those brilliant eyes at him and he'd gone down under the influence. It sucked, but there it was and there was no sense in lying to himself about it.

They really had it strange now, gone about this relationship thing all backwards. Now they shared a strange sort of intimate familiarity, had already bypassed most of the early dating chitchat, and knew a number of small facts about each other's lives. Hell, for all practical intents and purposes, they'd _lived_ together and knew intimate details about each other that were somewhat uncomfortable given current circumstances. Where did they go from here? Duo laughed at the situation he'd voluntarily landed himself in. Only he could manage to complicate his life this thoroughly.

'Well, this will sure bring a unique quality to our dating process.' He signed softly, 'If we ever get that far...'

Wufei still hadn't called back, and Heero was starting to doubt whether he could rely on him for advice at this point anyway. To the best of his knowledge, Wufei had never been placed in this sort of situation. Unless of course the man had been screwing the hell out of his secretary; and Wufei hadn't let on to any such tendencies in their conversations, though he did wonder if Treize was a male or female name--and there had been Sally and Zechs and a few others before that if he remembered correctly. Wufei almost never referred to the person as anything other than 'my secretary'. Hell, anything was possible. Heero's big concern at the moment was his worry that Duo didn't reciprocate his interest, or if he did, that it wouldn't be to the same degree that Heero felt for him. He found it a dumb and painful realization even after toying with it in his mind while waiting for Wufei to call: the thought that someone he thought a great deal about, might not think as much of him in return. That hurt.

Damn, fictional characters never had this much difficulty getting together in _his_ books. There was usually an immediate attraction (okay, check), followed quickly by an event that threw them into close proximity with each other (yeah, second check), after which they settled their differences, overcame some sort of obstacle, and pronounced their undying fair and true love in the other person. Usually with a few juicy sexual interludes artfully spaced within. Well, he hadn't found many differences to overcome so far (unless of course Duo just wasn't that interested in him), he guessed that this separation between them was the obstacle, and he desperately hoped that there would be loads of sexual interludes, juicy and otherwise, in his and Duo's future.

Hell, he wished that Wufei would pick up his damn phone. He had the fear that this attraction to Duo could be something serious for him. He had all the symptoms he'd read about when doing his research on his romances and it would have been nice to be able to ask his friend for advice. Though, come to think of it, the only guy he knew personally that he was _certain_ was in a stable relationship with another guy was probably working at the counter three stories under his living room--a man who had the advantage of knowing Duo extremely well, how well Heero didn't want to linger on, though the thought surfaced briefly. Ah jealousy, a bad sign that this was getting serious.

He looked at the clock: 10:43pm, and at the date on his watch to figure out the day. It was still Friday, good. Trowa and Quatre would be running the store until eleven or so. If he could manage to find his missing shoes, he'd just make it through the doors just before closing.

on to chapter thirteen

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