The Babe Magnet
by D.C. Logan
Heero looked at the front of the building. "It looks like a converted fire house."
Duo smiled. "It is a converted fire house. But they have café tables out in the courtyard in the back. We can't take her through the main restaurant entrance for obvious reasons, but..." He pointed out a narrow alley decorated with Christmas lights and potted herbs set out along the side of a brick path and painted walls. "We go that way."
Little Girl seemed hesitant to go down the unfamiliar path, but she was ready enough to follow Duo if he led the way. Heero remembered Treize's earlier words about animals having good judgment of character, and walked along down the alley toward the lighter patch of sunlight at the end.
Iron café tables with lattice-style tops and fabric umbrellas with logos from popular imported beer brands were arranged in a small courtyard carved out from the remains of an open garage lot, likely used for equipment storage during the prior tenant's use. It was cheerful, not overly crowded, but there were enough regulars present to indicate that the food was decent enough quality to warrant frequenting by large families and intimate couples. Duo waved at the only waitstaff on duty and pointed first at Little Girl, then at the corner table. "That way she might not be able to get into as much trouble. Two brick walls should limit the escape routes as well."
"Smart thinking." Heero sat Little Girl in the corner and paused for a second in order to appreciate the scenery. He took a minute more to look at Duo and to let the reality of the moment sink in. So this is what a date with a guy felt like. Funny. It didn't feel much different than going out for a business meeting with one of the guys at work or hanging out with Wufei or Trowa. Then again, this was Duo. He could feel his skin warm at the thought of that and the hopes contained within this, and that made all of the difference. More anticipation... More tension...
Duo watched as Little Girl gave into the inevitable and stretched out on the ground under the table with her body close to Heero, but rutching around until she was comfortable and was close enough to use Duo's boot as a pillow for her head. Duo grinned widely across the table at Heero and pointed down through the table top at the resting dog before handing one of the menus to Heero. "They make a great cheeseburger here."
"Sold." Heero wrapped Little Girl's leash around his hand twice for good measure and placed his order.
Duo talked with his food. Heero watched as he conducted his way through the meal waving first a burger and a sequence of fries, and then by sliding a beer and its refills from one side of the table to the other. Heero fed fry after fry to his dog surreptitiously under the table and watched his dinner companion, fascinated by the subtle details of his movement and behavior. It was like dancing through the courses of a meal while sitting down and talking.
It was fascinating.
If Duo noticed how much Heero was watching him, he was too kind to call him on it, preferring instead to keep the conversation to general topics they had already proven a common interest for: dogs, fast cars, and popular movies. Expanding on those proved surprisingly easy given the quick minds involved, and Heero found his ideas turned back and challenged more than once.
It had been a very long time since anyone had made him think on his feet. Had made him work to keep up with thoughts expressed into words in such rapid-fire expression.
It was addictive. He liked it. Heero didn't want the meal to end.
As they were leaving the Ferry Street Firehouse, walking single file down the narrow alley back to his car, Heero thought about contact--about reaching out and touching Duo. Again with the desire to touch... It was so unusual for him, and unexpected. He walked along with his dog, thinking about when and how he might initiate that first contact beyond shaking hands. Was it okay to touch Duo? When would it be okay to touch him? Heero had a feeling that he would know... something important... something vital about himself only if and when they touched.
Then Little Girl forged ahead of him, pulling ahead of Duo as well and drawing the two of them close together. It was accidental contact; stumbling and harried in the twilight between the buildings, Heero's hand resting briefly on Duo's shoulder for balance, Duo shouldering into Heero's side and laughing in surprise as Little Girl barged past them both.
It was heaven.
It was innocent.
It told him everything he needed to know.
Duo turned to Heero as they reached the car. "Listen, my apartment is only a short walk from the restaurant, so I'm good from here." He leaned down and gently stroked Little Girl's ears and she reciprocated the contact by leaning into his legs and pressing her head against his thigh. "Umm... I don't know if you're interested, but there's a dog park over behind the tennis courts in the city park system. I go there sometimes just to see the dogs run, but it would be a great place to let her off leash for a while. If you..."
Heero wasn't certain how this game was played. Was it okay to be this eager and excited to see him again? To want to spend more time with him? "When? Now?"
Duo chuckled, then gave into an inner urge and smiled, deep and wide. "Is tomorrow okay with you, Heero? After work?"
Duo nodded. "Then it's a date, right?"
If possible, Heero's smile widened to match Duo's. "It is. How about I pick you up at the Safari once I swing home to pick up Little Girl."
"Somehow, I think it's genetically, morally, ethically, and otherwise impossible for me to refuse a ride in your car."
Heero couldn't contain the glow of pride. "Then I have you in my power."
Duo laughed, eager and pleased. "Doesn't take a fancy car to do that."
Heero's smile took on a playful and teasing quality as he leaned against the smooth curve of the fender. "Now you're flattering me."
"Will it get me another ride in your car?"
Duo beamed. "I win."
With a toss of his hair over his shoulder, and a slide of that same braid over the recently oft-admired, faded denim curve, he was gone. Heero looked down at his dog. "I'm so fucking doomed. Let's go call Trowa and find out what the hell I'm supposed to do next."
Heero waited until after he got home, then stalled until after breakfast, and, truth to tell, delayed some more until he found his courage at the bottom of his second cup of Starbucks at the office the next morning before calling Trowa. The chocolate pecan brownie he stole from Wufei's desk helped bolster his confidence somewhat as well. "Trowa? I called at the clinic first, and they said your shift didn't start until noon. I have a date with Duo tonight and I need some more of your advice."
There was a long moment of silence and a soft uncharacteristic rustle at the other end of the phone line that gave Heero pause. "I didn't wake you, did I?" Heero heard something that might have been a contented rumble, then the unmistakable protest of bedsprings, and a mumbled pardon too indistinct for him to make out.
There was a muffled quality to the sound that told him Trowa was cradling the cordless phone between his neck and shoulder. "You did. Since you're my best friend, I may forgive you some time in the next century if you give me a good enough reason for your call. And I'm making breakfast now. You have the duration of my brewing a pot of coffee and the process of toasting and buttering English muffins before I hang up on you and go back to bed. And yes, that was bed, not sleep. Please note the difference." This was said with a degree of well-deserved smugness. In the background, Heero could hear the sound of Trowa moving pots around in his kitchen as he waited for Heero to recover and catch on.
"My god... How could... Why..." Heero paused for a moment to allow his mouth to catch up with his brain. "One date and he's spending the night? Damn... That's fast, Trowa."
"When you're dealing with two guys that actually know what they're doing, it doesn't take quite as long to actually hook up and start having sex, Heero."
Heero seemed rather taken aback at Trowa's frankness. "I guess not. But... hell. One date for me and we had a nice normal quiet dinner that I might have had with you or Wufei except that, well, it was in a public place and we had a dog as a chaperone. Okay, and only one moment of contact, and I had the dog to thank for that. Well, the dog and a long enough leash to tangle us in. Anyway, here you guys are sleeping together after the first night..." He trailed off and could hear as Trowa continued with his breakfast preparations.
"You're rambling and the clock's ticking, Heero. What did you want to know? And are you really ready for that? The tangling with or sleeping and sex? Do you really want all of that at this point?"
Heero paused for a moment to think about that. "Want?" And he thought for a moment or two more until the images shifted through his mind of Duo bending over to pick up the sack of dog food at the Safari, his faded, silvered black denim shifting over skin; of his braid trailing casually over his arm while at dinner; and of Duo brushing his bangs out of his eyes and looking up at Heero. Heero's skin grew warm and his pants tightly uncomfortable. "Oh yeah, absolutely." But ready? Did he know what to do? Did he know how Duo would react? Was he ready to take that leap in their relationship? Was he ready for that? No. No he wasn't, and he admitted that to Trowa. "Shit, I'm at the office, you pervert. And you know what thinking about him does to me."
"That's a good sign." Trowa chuckled dryly at the other end of the connection and the china clinked. "Well, then here's your next mission assignment. You're going to go out on a date with Duo. A real date-date."
"We're going out on one tomorrow." Heero added almost as an afterthought, "Date-date. Like that's an official term."
"Did Duo actually use the word, 'date'?"
"Yes, Trowa, he did."
Trowa sounded insufferably pleased all of a sudden. That didn't bode well. "Well, there's half the battle won then, he's interested in you." There was another pause. "You accepted, right?"
"Did you use the word, 'date'?"
"Yes, I used the word date."
"Well, that means that you're interested in him too, right?"
"I'm not totally clueless, Trowa. I mean, I do know what a date is."
Trowa actually laughed out loud at him. "Sometimes, Heero, Wufei and I have wondered about that. Okay, so where is this date? Are you guys going traditional, like out to the movies and dinner, or someplace where you can snuggle and grope? Or a dark and private grotto where you can finally get some physical contact?"
"We're going to the city dog park... with the dog."
"Well... that's a start I guess." Trowa sounded somewhat doubtful. "Did you pick the location, or did Duo pick this?"
"It was Duo's choice."
"Well, he's probably trying to learn more about you without pressuring you too much, trying to find some neutral ground so you're both comfortable. Heero? If you're serious about this... and really do want to learn more about him, go ahead and tell him that you're interested but that you're really uncertain about the lifestyle and that this is all brand new to you. Just tell him that. I think Duo's the kind of guy that, if you confess that this is all new territory for you, he'll help walk you though it."
"How do you know all of this?"
There was a suspicious pause before Trowa coughed on the other end of the phone line. "Well, I admit that I think that Duo's pretty cute too, and I took him out for coffee at Starbucks a few months ago to see if we had anything in common. But he's a dog person and I'm a cat person and that was that. We just didn't seem to hit it off."
Heero had to think about that for a few minutes before deciding that he just didn't like the idea of Trowa taking Duo out on a date before Heero had. Admitting that he'd spoken with him about Heero was one thing, but this? He didn't like that feeling all. After he managed to tamp the jealousy down a little, he tried to broach the subject with a bit more in the way of rational thought behind it to see if that would help. "So, Trowa, how does this whole attraction thing work between men?"
"Well... have you ever felt attracted to me? I mean, sexually, as opposed to just as friends."
Heero had to think about that for a moment before answering. "Maybe. There was a time, maybe twice, where I thought you were attractive and, since I knew you were gay, I wondered and looked. So yeah, if we're being completely honest and open about everything here, I would say, probably, yes."
"Okay, well, if you had to think about it and if the answer was maybe, then that really isn't a positive response. Now... think about Duo. Tell me about the first time you met him. Think about that. Now... tell me how you felt then. When you first saw him, was the attraction there?"
"Yes..." Immediate and strong and vivid and... damn, his khakis were too damn tight again.
"Now do you know what the difference is?"
"Yes. Now I've got it. Now I understand." Heero chuckled. "You and Quatre, hmm?"
"Something very like that, yeah. And my coffee is done, and I have four more hours before I have to be at the clinic, and no offence, but I'd rather not spend them speaking on the phone with you."
"Good luck, Heero. Enjoy your date tonight. See if you can come up with something a bit more interesting for the next one, okay?"
Okay. Right. Fine.
The end of the work day couldn't come soon enough for him.
Duo was waiting for him when he pulled up in front of the Safari after work.
Heero left work a little early, then circled around to his condo in record time. But what did one wear to a dog park? It didn't seem quite a dress-to-impress occasion, but then again, it was time spent in the company of the one person on the planet he had an interest in impressing at the moment, so every opportunity counted. Heero figured that he probably wasted all of the minutes he'd gained by leaving early and rushing the lights by questioning his wardrobe choices.
Duo, of course, managed to look perfect. Relaxed and self assured, leaning casually against the storefront with two cups bearing the familiar Starbucks' logo in hand. He saluted when Heero pulled up and walked over to lean on the open window ledge, handing over the café americano. "Yours."
Little Girl made happy jingling noises in the backseat as she pulled against her improvised seat harness in an effort to greet Duo. He reached in and patted her head. "No coffee for you, very bad for growing puppies, this is big guy medicine."
Duo slid comfortably into the passenger seat, raising the cup at Heero. "This okay? I know some people are weird about stuff in their cars."
Heero gave him a long, measuring look and opened the retracted cup holder for their use. He took a swallow of his own beverage and set his cup in the holder, tapping the cap with a thoughtful finger. "It's okay; I trust you."
And the odd thing was, after all of those years, all of those first dates, it was finally true.
"She's a wimp."
"She's not a wimp. She's young and insecure. She'll grow out of it."
"She's not having any fun."
Duo rolled his eyes and chuckled at Heero's over-protectiveness. "You'll make someone a great dad someday."
"I'm not in the running for fatherhood at the moment, just dog ownership."
"Well, I think you're a good candidate for either field, trust me."
"I don't think she's up for this quite yet." Heero pointed to his dog, who was sitting rather solidly on top of his feet and not twitching a muscle when other dogs approached her for an inquiring sniff.
"She'll get better in time. You can see the potential in her. She's got spark."
Heero sat next to Duo on the park bench, Little Girl a heavy weight on his feet. The park was noisy around them, but here, on the bench, only a few inches between them, there was a pocket of quiet. He looked up at the tree overhead, at the three other dogs in the field and their owner walking slowly around the perimeter of the chain-link fence half an acre away. Heero gave Duo a level look. He could do this. He could. "Listen, um... I need to go out of town this weekend on Eypon business for a follow-up client meeting to discuss some more of the software customization for... never mind, you're probably not all that interested in that. Anyway, I was going to leave Little Girl at Tallgeese, but you mentioned once that you'd be willing to watch her for me if I ever needed a dogsitter and..."
Duo shrugged. "When?"
"Saturday through Sunday. I mean, she's used to me being at work all day, so you'd just need to stop in and feed her and walk her and maybe watch some television or something with her so she doesn't feel like she's been abandoned. I just don't want to have to board her at the hospital again so soon after..."
Heero was aware that he was probably rambling, but he couldn't seem to halt the flow of his words. "Maybe you could take her to work with you or over here to the bark park or something. Okay, that might be too much given her injuries and all..."
"I'd be happy to watch her while you're away."
He looked at Duo, unsure at first how best to respond. "Thanks. I owe you one."
Duo looked him up and down very slowly and winked. "I'm sure I'll be able to come up with an interesting way for you to repay me."
Heero smiled back, willing to follow in the spirit of the offering. "Any coin is open to consideration."
Duo laughed. "So when do you want to do all of the negotiating for keys and contact numbers?"
Heero shuffled Little Girl off of his feet. "How do you feel about dropping her off at my condo? I can walk you through all of the details and then maybe we can swing by the mall parking lot for a while? It's classic car night. The Mustang Club I belong to meets there and there should be some nice cars..."
Duo touched his arm. Just a touch, light at first, tracing from forearm to wrist before he hesitantly took Heero's hand in his. "Is this okay?"
Heero shifted his grip, firming it and making the connection more solid. "Yeah, I think it is."
"You ready to head out to the mall?"
"I think that sounds like a good idea."
"You bought me supper, so how about I buy you dessert?"
"Are you...," Heero tried to come up with a better word, but gave up and went with the first one that came to his mind. "Interested in... this?" He wanted to say 'me', but it was easier somehow to ask for something non-specific instead of something so very personally intimate.
Again that hesitant touch, this time releasing his hand but following from his wrist and drifting slowly to his shoulder before slipping off into empty air and tomorrow's wishes. "Heero? Do you really have to ask? Don't you feel it too?" There was a soft whisper of denim on worn wood, as Duo slid closer on the bench. "You know, your friend never said if you were... well... anyway."
Heero looked back at Duo, but Duo was staring back out at the field again, at the woman with the three dogs who was now clipping leashes to collars and getting ready to leave the bark park.
"I'm not sure if I am."
Duo withdrew a fraction of an inch with Heero's reply. It felt much farther than that to Heero, and he reached out to Duo, not realizing that for the first time, he was the one bridging the gap between them. "I'm not sure if I am, but you're right. I feel something too. Maybe all those years of hanging around Trowa did something to my brain." He shrugged, but there was humor and a touch of acceptance in the movement. "Be patient with me, will you? I haven't a clue what I'm getting into here, okay?"
"You don't often do things by half measures, do you?"
"'Fraid not. I'm willing to see what happens, and open to opportunities though. I can't honestly promise any more than that."
Duo nodded. "See how it goes? Take things slow? Okay. I can't ask for more than that in return." He shuffled his boots in the dust and turned his head to the side, and a wide smile escaped. "Okay, now you can take me home with you." He nudged Heero in the side with a gentle press of knuckles. "Let's take your girlfriend back to your place and you can show me all the details for taking care of her while you're away for the weekend, deal?"
Heero smiled back. "Deal."
Duo walked around from room to room, Little Girl following him like a four-legged shadow. It felt decidedly odd to be in Heero's home without Heero around, odd, but at the same time, well... good. Very good. It was difficult to put his finger on what it was about Heero's place that he liked about it, other than the fact that it was Heero's, and therefore bound to be attractive to him. Perhaps the large collection of framed photographs on the wall from vacations Heero had been on with family and with friends, the large collection of books in the living room, the soft colors and elegant color scheme--though Heero had confessed that the paint and drapes had been courtesy of the previous owner. All of the art and collectibles were his though, handed down through his family for generations from father to son. Duo fingered the hilt of an elaborate sword and wondered for a moment about the pride he'd heard in Heero's voice then, when he'd confessed to his legacy, and then he let the moment go.
Duo had enjoyed the tour, he liked the home he lived in, and the personal tour guide? Well, he was pretty damned spectacular, if Duo had a say in the matter and was taking notes and saving them for the fantasy after-hours replay. Which, well... he was.
He'd only been living on his own for four months. Living with his uncle hadn't been a hardship exactly, but he'd wanted his own space. His own apartment was a significant step down from Heero's condo, but then again, he'd only been living in it for a short time yet, and it hadn't come with any of the pre-interior design perks or the handed-down family history to help assist with the decorating. The only problem was that he couldn't afford to live in his own apartment and maintain his car as well, so his car was currently hibernating under an auto cocoon in Howard's barn. He missed driving his own car. While the company van was adequate transportation and his own car certainly wasn't the stunner that Heero's was, it was still something he was proud of. It certainly wasn't inexpensive to insure though, and that had been the kicker in his budget plan.
Duo chuckled and leaned back on the sofa, moving his book from right hand to left as he reached for his drink. Little Girl, snuggled up close against his chest, grumbled in protest at the slight shift in position, but otherwise refused to move. "Wonder what Heero will say when he sees the '69 Reaper." He returned to reading through Heero's excellent collection of Mustang reference books, and lost track of time yet again.