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 Fifteen
by D.C. Logan

"It doesn't involve food experiments or rope this time does it?"

Heero maintained a straight face, though inwardly he grinned like a fool. Even though Duo had a few days off to recover from their last escapade, he'd still been interested enough to ask. Heero put on a show of concern. "No, not for this. It's not related to one of the books I've been drafting out. This is an essay I promised to a local magazine. My publisher asks me to do essays and such from time to time, since I categorically refuse to do book tours or signings. You know, a 'local author does small article to support arts community' sort of thing. He did his best to look vaguely disinterested but resigned to going through with whatever task had been assigned to him. Duo was watching him carefully, and Heero started to doubt that this plan was going to work a third time running, Duo _had_ to be getting suspicious by this point. It was too bad really, he'd had more fun than he could remember in years destroying his kitchen. His weekly cleaning service hadn't shared in the amusement value of it all, but they were used to him and had been well paid to ignore his eccentricities and to restore the kitchen to its former elegance.

Duo ventured cautiously into Heero's next adventure, "So, what is it this time then?"

Heero cracked a smile, he couldn't help himself really, the urge to do so had been lurking too close to the surface to start with.

"I've been asked to write a brief essay on the cultural phenomenon of movie rentals." He grinned at the relieved look on Duo's face and held up a check. "They even gave me a research budget to work with."

"What kind of movies?" Duo sounded doubtful, hedging his interest.

"I haven't a clue. I haven't been to a movie theater in years. I don't even have cable TV. They want me to do some sort of essay on the experience of renting them. About a thousand words or so." He looked at the amount on the check and back up at Duo. "I think there's enough here for a few videos and a pizza... any interest?"

It had been a good night--aside from an odd moment or two as they'd canvassed the local video rental place, and a rather, well, not heated but certainly warm discussion over which movies to watch (they'd finally settled on one sentimental favorite each, one new movie highly regarded by the guy behind the counter, and a special off of the 99-cent rack that looked too awful to pass up). They'd picked up a package of microwave popcorn at the rental store, improvised a serving bowl for it by recycling the empty pizza box--and were proud of their thriftiness. The six pack of soda had been chased after by another six pack of beer, and had left Duo softly slumbering against the sofa in its wake. The two of them had munched their way through both of their favorites, discarded the attendant's pick after they'd both reviewed the summary on the back of the box and voted on it, and talked over the first thirty minutes of Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and had to rewind it and start the movie over. Not that it had increased Heero's understanding of that particular movie all that much come to think of it.

He looked down at his cryptic notes, notes that had become steadily more confusing as he watched that last movie. Of course, as the movies had played out, he'd found himself watching Duo as much as, if not more than, he'd paid attention to the screen. Duo had the talent of a good reader; he was able to submerse himself in the movie within a few minutes of the opening credits. After Heero realized that it took a decent-sized diversion to distract Duo from his entertainment, he settled back to watch Duo and ostensibly take down notes for his essay. Duo had seemed a little nervous at first, and slightly hyperactive while running their errands and buying preparations for the night. Yet once the two of them had settled in to watch the videos, he'd seemed content to sit on the floor, lean back against the sofa and alternate sips from his bottle of beer with handfuls of popcorn and random comments on the movies, sets, good lines, and acting ability of the cast.

For Heero, whose prior experience involved a dark room and silent (or nonexistent) company, Duo's inserted running commentary was at first annoying, then an ongoing exercise in tolerance, and finally, more entertaining than watching the movie itself. Since he was sitting on the chair to his left, Heero could see Duo's expressions change as he watched the movie without it looking like he had intentionally set all of this up to provide yet another excuse to spend time in his company. Problem was, he didn't know where to take it from here. Things were becoming more and more complicated. He wanted more.

Hmm... and now he had a sleepy, relaxed, and slightly inebriated friend on his floor and essay notes to compile. Wufei had suggested the magazine article, and he expected Heero to fulfill his promise, but the essay took a much lower priority than simply watching Duo relax in his state of near sleep against his sofa. It suddenly hit Heero that he could easily watch him like this every day for the rest of his life, preferably from a much closer distance--inches instead of feet. It was a humbling thought. It didn't involve sex, or lust, but it most certainly involved desire and a deep attraction he was still uncomfortable about admitting to himself, nonetheless sharing with anyone.

Duo shifted and sat up against the furniture, breaking Heero's contemplation with a tired start.

"Man, didn't think I was that tired..." he reached out and tentatively swirled a mostly empty bottle. "Or drank that much. Ouch."

"I've got a guest room and a sofa that're available for the taking." Heero offered.

"Thanks," Duo shifted the empty pizza box to the side and set the empty bottle on top of it with a careful positioning that belied his inebriated state. "I think I'll take you up on that offer." He looked thoughtful. "And I'll take the sofa--it's closer."

"I'll get you a pillow and blanket then." Heero climbed to his feet, though not as steadily as he thought he could, and wandered down the hall to retrieve and return with the promised goods. "If you need anything, you probably already know where it is..." He looked down. Duo had already surrendered into sleep. He looked more relaxed than he had in days. Good. If all it took was twenty dollars of movies, some unhealthy food, and Heero's company to put him under like this, well, he'd be willing to offer his services on a regular basis. Preferably while sharing closer quarters, but that would come or it wouldn't; he was willing to wait. Hell, if it never got beyond this, he could do well with some impartial company and a regular and active fantasy life. It had served him well for years after all.

When he shuffled out to the living room the next morning, the only evidence that remained was a stack of movies and the neatly folded blanket with the pillow balanced on top. Heero picked up the pillow and sat on the sofa with it cradled in his arms. He hugged it tightly to his chest and breathed deeply. No, impartial company be dammed, he wanted more.

Someone was waving a book under Heero's nose, far too close to his face for him to make out the title or subject.

"My turn."

Heero looked up from his regular chair in Daydreams. Duo was standing behind his chair, wearing a smug, satisfied expression. He dropped the slim paperback into Heero's lap, moved around to face Heero, and braced his hands on his hips... waiting.

Heero flipped the book over to read its title out loud, "Tattoos and body piercing for the new age"?

"Good looking guy like you could use a few piercings and a tattoo to accent your body, right? Want to explore that subject next?"

Heero swallowed hard and looked back up at Duo. Duo was struggling to not break into a broad victorious grin.

Heero reached for his morning tea, pointedly ignoring the book. The gig was up. Duo had figured it out. Damn. Well, there was only one graceful way out of this situation.

"I'm already pierced. How about you?"

_That_ caused Duo to stop and stare back at Heero in comic shock. "You? Really?" and then with a suspicious drawl and an indecent long look down the front of Heero's clothes, remembering what he could of the body underneath, "Where?"

"Okay, I'm not." Heero looked up at Duo and tried on an encouraging smile, hoping it would suffice. "When did you figure it out?"

"Give me some credit here." Duo dropped to the chair next to Heero and slid the now useless book to the table between them. "Halfway through the cooking thing I was getting suspicious, by the time you suggested dinner out I was pretty sure."

"And the knots?"

"Just having a good time by that point." Hell, was Duo leering at him? Damn, well, this was probably as close to a public admittance of interest as he was likely to get. Question was, what was he going to do with it now that he had it?


"Don't be. It was fun." Duo said while watching Heero out of the side of his vision. "So, what do you want to try next?"

Heero looked thoughtful, then stood, waved a hand at Duo to stay where he was, and walked over to the self-help section of the store. Duo craned his head over the back of his chair. He had an excellent idea of the type of books in that part of the display, but he couldn't see which shelf Heero was looking at--and he was taking his own sweet time deciding what their next activity was going to be. Duo started playing a game in his mind, bringing up ideas and systematically discarding them while Heero shuffled through the shelves. Eventually he walked back towards Duo, book concealed behind his back, one hesitant step at a time. There was even a point where he looked like he was going to change his mind and exchange his selection for another safer or more fitting choice, but he swallowed and walked resolutely forward. Which made Duo all the more curious. Just how daring was it?

"You going to show me that book? Or make me wait for it?"

Trowa took that precise moment to walk up unexpectedly behind Heero and tilt his head to read the title he was concealing. He slipped the book cleverly from Heero's fingers and looked up, thoughtful.

"'The Art of Hugging' Heero? You doing some research for all those books you write?" Trowa sounded almost jovial, which was dangerous. Duo immediately went on full alert. Heero looked shocked and lost with the interruption. Damn, Duo thought, and he'd been doing so well, too. Duo jumped in to save him. "Yeah, he needed some help with research and I said I'd let him practice on me."

"Practice what?" asked Quatre, walking up behind Trowa and Heero. "Oh, that's a great book Heero, you'll like it." He looked smug and walked over to Trowa to encircle him from behind and rub his face along the ridge of Trowa's spine. Trowa stilled and shut his eyes; Quatre ducked around his partner and winked at Duo. "Page 83, one of our favorites."

Heero looked _really_ uncomfortable now he noted, but Duo wasn't going to let him off the hook now that he'd come this close to actually suggesting that they initiate some sort of physical contact. He stood, grabbed the book from Trowa and handed it back to Heero with a flourish.

"What time did you say Heero? Seven?"

Heero was beyond speech. He nodded slowly in wonder and sheer disbelief of his luck and good fortune.

Duo waited for the nod, and then moved matter-of-factly back behind the counter. Heero slowly sank back into his chair, book in hand, while Trowa and Quatre collected Sand and played push-shove games across the store all the way to the exit door, leaving with a jaunty wave back at Heero.

Heero was nervous. What did you wear for an evening of hugging? Nothing in his 32 years of experience had adequately prepared him for this. He'd already read through the book, twice, and wondered if Duo had done the same or was waiting for Heero to lead the, uh, experiment. He couldn't really call this a date, could he? What about the other night when they'd watched movies until 2am, was that a date then? Did it count as a date if the person you were with thought it was a date, or did you both have to agree to it. Heero sat down; his head was spinning. He couldn't remember ever being this nervous about a date.

He flipped through the book for a third time while waiting for Duo to arrive. He'd learned rather a lot about hugging. Why people did it, it's historical and cultural value, different types and styles of hugs. He didn't have much experience in hugging himself, and wondered if Duo had. It felt odd to think of Duo as having some practice in this, but then again, he was definitely more of a touching sort.

Heero marked a couple pages that sounded interesting and not too invasive, unsure both of himself and of Duo's reaction or expectations. He'd found a few more that he'd hopefully get to try out later. Some of them had been very interesting indeed. 'Stealth hugging' definitely had potential; Quatre had been right.

"So, how'd the hugging go?" Heero whipped his head around looking for the questioner. Quatre was sitting behind the counter looking mildly curious, nothing more.

Heero approached the register cautiously, looking around for Duo or Trowa.

"It was very good. Different than I expected." Heero paused to see if Quatre would say anything.

Quatre nodded, satisfied with that answer.

"The author... put a lot of thought into it," said Heero.

Quatre was reading over the morning paper, but glanced back up at Heero before returning to his reading material.

Heero felt oddly disappointed that he wasn't able to relay more of what had happened, and felt strange because he'd initially been nervous about admitting his interest in Duo to Quatre and Trowa, but now could't find the proper words. He turned and walked away from the counter, and nearly missed hearing Quatre's soft reply that trailed after him.

"He wrote a book on kissing as well. Same section. We have two copies."

Heero walked away a little faster, purpose in his step. Quatre ruffled the pages and smiled into his newspaper.

No, not a dull summer after all.

on to chapter sixteen

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