by Dyna Dee
During the next couple of days, Heero often took advantage of the others not so covertly watching them to make a show of staking his claim on the braided agent. The two were seldom seen apart, and even at the water cooler the Japanese man cornered Duo in a provocative manner, whispering what looked like sweet nothings into his ear. No one but Duo knew that Heero was simply telling him that they had an audience and that there was an interesting show on the History Channel that evening.
On Thursday morning Duo sat on the edge of Heero's desk and announced that they were going to spend a good part of Saturday hiking Adelaide Mountain. He went on to suggest that he would provide their lunch and drinks if Heero would don appropriate shoes and wear his black spandex shorts. Their two older co-workers shared a questioning look at each other when Wufei and Trowa burst out in laughter. "Inside joke," one of older agents mumbled with a shrug of his shoulders.
Saturday morning finally arrived but unfortunately the sun didn't show its face. The forecast had been for partly cloudy skies with a chance of late afternoon showers, but as the hour drew near for Duo to pick Heero up, the braided man looked out his window with some dismay at seeing a series of lighting bolts streak across the dark bank of clouds, followed several seconds later by loud, rolling thunder. He looked over to the backpack he'd prepared for their outing and sighed with disappointment.
The phone rang and he moved slowly to answer it. Expecting it to be Heero, he was surprised when Quatre's face popped up on the vid screen. The blond wore an expression of sympathy on his face.
"Oh, Duo, I'm so sorry about this weather. Did you cancel your plans with Heero?"
The braided man wondered at his friend's concern, only to remind himself that this was Quatre speaking. Duo had no doubt that if they were living on a colony, his blondness would have gladly paid an exorbitant fee for the environmental systems management to provide he and Heero with a perfect day. "No, I was just about to call him when you rang," he replied, trying to appear less disappointed than he actually felt.
"How about an alternative to the hike?"
One quizzical, cinnamon-colored eyebrow rose. "What do you have in mind?"
It wasn't exactly the date he'd planned, but Duo didn't want to disappoint Quatre by not accepting his offer, nor did he want to give their other three friends the impression that he and Heero were just casually dating. No, he and Heero were enjoying not being harassed by others trying to set them up on dates. He found it immensely satisfying to simply and honestly tell those do-gooders, who'd not yet gotten word that he was off the market, that he was dating someone exclusively. This arrangement was working even better than either one of them had hoped.
After calling Heero about the change in plans, he added a few items to his prepared backpack, then hoisted it over his shoulder and left his apartment for the parking garage to get his car. Ten minutes later, Heero was in the passenger seat with his black duffle bag resting on the back seat.
Pulling into traffic, Duo gave his passenger a questioning look, his eyes wandering southward before meeting his gaze once more. "Couldn't find the spandex?"
Heero's eyes sparkled with amusement as he gave him a crooked smile. "Not exactly." Duo gave a snort. He noted that Heero was wearing worn blue jeans and a dark blue T-shirt, and he had to wonder at how someone could look so damn sexy in regular street clothes. With that thought lingering in his mind, he dragged his eyes back to the road.
"So was this your idea or Quatre's?"
"Quat's. He called right after the lightning began."
"He's always been the strategist." There was a smile in Heero's voice.
"Yeah. I just wonder what his angle is."
"You think he has ulterior motives?"
"Yes... err... no. Not really," Duo answered with uncertainty. "I don't know, Heero. Quatre's a good guy and he may genuinely just be wanting to help us out, but I can't help but think that he wants to keep a close eye on us. The guys really were kind of freaked out when we told them we were seeing each other as more than friends."
"It's really none of their business," Heero replied. "We didn't get involved in their relationships when they began dating."
"Yeah right!" Duo contradicted the other man with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. "If I remember right, you informed Quatre that getting involved during a war was a mistake, that it was a distraction for both he and Trowa and kept them from being fully efficient. You also told Trowa that their obvious feelings for each other gave them each an Achilles' heel that could be used against them if the enemy ever found out about their relationship."
"And you didn't share those concerns?"
Duo chanced a glance at Heero again, seeing only curiosity in his expression. "Yeah, I suppose I did, but I didn't think it was right for me to tell them they were wrong. I mean, they were falling in love with each other, and if one of them happened to be killed, at least they would have a few warm, unforgettable memories to hold onto. I always thought they were lucky, you know? To have found something that a lot of people search all their lives for and never find."
A few moments of silence filled the car as the two men contemplated their friend's good fortune, and Duo turned on the windshield wipers as the rain began to fall once again. Then out of the blue Heero asked, "Have you ever been in love?"
Heero's question came as a surprise, and he wasn't sure how to answer him, especially when he considered who he was talking to, but he thought that he should at least try to be honest. "I've loved people, Heero, and most of them are dead. But have I been in love?" He sighed as he pulled on the steering wheel and turned the corner onto the street where Quatre and Trowa lived. "Maybe, but I never did anything about it." He cast a glance at Heero only to see him looking out the passenger side window. Heero had always seemed clueless about how he'd felt about him during the war. Sometimes he regretted not saying anything, but the past was the past, and regrets never changed anything. Yet before he could stop himself, he was telling Heero the painful truth wedged in his heart. "I've just about given up hope of finding myself in love with someone who feels the same way about me."
There was another moment of silence, and Duo had expected Heero to offer up some information in exchange for his own. He was disappointed in his so-called date's silence, so he asked, "Have you ever been in love?"
Casting another glance at his passenger, Duo was disappointed to find that Heero's face remained turned away from him as he continued to stared out the side window. Another moment passed before he heard a quiet answer to his question. "Yes, but it was one sided."
Relena, Duo thought. He wished he knew what had gone wrong between the former Queen of the World and Wing's pilot. He and the other pilots had watched them from afar as Relena chased after the boy terrorist from L-1, and Heero, for some reason, often sought out the girl who had held so many roles in her young life. He'd been jealous of the rich, pampered girl and of Heero's fascination with her, but he'd decided that if she was what Heero wanted, who was he to tell his comrade that he couldn't have her? Remembering it now brought back the heartache he'd felt during that time, and some of that ache remained. He supposed his jealousy at not being the one Heero had fallen in love with lingered still, despite his best efforts to try and leave it in the past. Again, something whispered to him that maybe this whole fake dating scheme was a very bad idea, that he was going to be hurt even worse than before when it was all over and Heero moved on, still ignorant of his feelings for him.
After pulling his car into the driveway and parking in front of the steps leading to the Winner/Barton home, the two men made a mad dash through the pouring rain to the front door where they were met by a smiling blond and a smirking brunet.
After an exchange of greetings with their friends, they were led to the back of the large home to where the indoor pool was located. Quatre and Trowa bid them a good afternoon and assured them that they would be left alone for the remainder of their date. Duo waved them off, then immediately opened his backpack to remove two large towels and carefully laid them out on two adjacent, padded reclining chairs while Heero carried his duffle to the changing, located to the right of the pool. Though Quatre's volunteering his and Trowa's home for their "date" was appreciated, Duo was still a bit disappointed that his plans for the day had been ruined by the weather. There was no way he could ever afford the kind of date Heero had treated him to, so he'd chosen an outdoor activity, knowing Heero enjoyed a physical challenge.
He heard the creak of a door hinge as he pulled his own swim trunks out of the duffle bag, then turned, next in line for the changing room. He stopped dead in his tracks, his mouth falling open as he stared at the small, tight black Speedo the Japanese man was wearing. He swallowed hard, but still couldn't form a single word as Heero walked towards him, exuding confidence and no noticeable amount of body shyness. Other than bearing the facial attributes of being part Japanese, Heero's strong and sculpted body resembled those magnificent statues of Greek gods or Olympian athletes carved to smooth perfection in granite. Strong shoulders narrowed to a trim waist, a lovely washboard stomach and slender hips that topped long and powerful legs. Other than a smattering of hair on his legs, arms and underarms, Heero looked to be free of extra body hair, with the exception of a slight trail of dark hair that peeked out of the top of that blessedly small and black Speedo. A vivid imagination could easily form an image of what lay under that small strip of material, and Duo had always prided himself on having a creative and very active mind.
Heero chuckled and came to stand in front of the wide-eyed man and held his arms out slightly from his body. "I couldn't find my spandex shorts that you requested, but I thought this would be a good enough substitute."
Duo nodded. "Good enough," he said in a choked voice while quickly sucking in the drool that was in danger of leaking out of the corners of his open mouth. Heero chuckled again, definitely amused, then walked past Duo towards the pool, giving the braided man a passing swat on his jean-clad posterior. "Get changed. I'll meet you in the pool."
Duo stumbled towards the dressing room, his swim trunks clutched tightly in his hands. He shut the white louvered door behind him and let out a lung full of air, glad for the momentary reprieve to gather his wits about him. After a moment, he began to undress, finding the task of removing his clothing and putting on his trunks rather difficult, considering his fumbling fingers. He emerged from the little room five minutes later, a bit more composed than he'd been entered, and was glad to see the Heero was taking advantage of the pool. The blue and white Hawaiian trunks he wore had been a gift from Howard, and compared to Heero's brief attire, he was ridiculously overdressed, even with the waistband hanging low on his hips and the hem of the legs ending at his knees.
He walked to the edge of the pool and timed his entry between Heero's laps. The bronze body was gliding almost effortlessly through the water, and once again Duo felt envious of the other man's skills. He'd learned the basics of surviving in water from Howard, but his skills were mainly dog paddling and floating. After Heero flipped himself over at the pool's edge to glide underwater for a bit before breaking the surface and stroking towards the opposite end of the pool once more, Duo jumped in and immediately gasped in shock at the sudden dunk in the chilly water. He'd expected the pool to be heated, and he supposed it was, but it was still on the cool side. Oh well, all the better to take care of the pesky problem he was having beneath his trunks, he thought, and seeing the curve of Heero's barely covered bottom as he executed another turn-around flip at the end of the pool wasn't helping.
Moving out of Heero's path, Duo pushed his head and shoulders back and brought his legs up in an attempt to float his body on the top of the water, his arms fanning quickly beneath the surface to keep him from sinking. He always liked the silence that came from having his ears under water. It muted the world around him and let his mind wander where it would. At the moment, his eyes were fixed on the ceiling above. The lights shining from the walls and onto the pool a sparkling reflection on the surface of the ceiling. It was pretty, he thought, and rather hypnotic as the reflected light danced on the raised, glossy surface.
A touch on his shoulder brought his feet quickly to the bottom of the pool and Duo straightened to see Heero standing next to him, waist deep in water with a smile on his handsome face. "What are you doing?"
Duo grinned in his usual lopsided, self-deprecating manner. "Just floating and looking at the water's reflection on the ceiling."
Heero looked up at the ceiling to see what he was talking about, and it was then that Duo realized that he'd never seen the hair slicked back, completely away from his friend's face such as it was at that moment. Heero must have come out of the water from below in order for that thick, almost black hair to lay plastered over the top of his head. It took everything within him not to reach out and touch that lovely angled face, to trace that strong jaw line and kiss those tantalizing lips
"Join me in swimming laps?" Heero asked as he returned his gaze to his companion, looking hopeful. "We can make a race out of it."
Duo laughed and shook his head. "No thanks." He really didn't feel like telling Heero that he couldn't swim; it was a matter of pride and embarrassment. Still, he realized that he might not be able to avoid confessing his inability to swim.
"Come on. Where's that thirst for competition you displayed during the wars? We can even wager something on the outcome. Anything you want."
Biting his lower lip and hating to turn the request down, Duo reluctantly shook his head. "Really, Heero. I don't want to swim laps, but you go ahead, it's obvious you enjoy the exercise. I don't mind, really."
Some of the playfulness that had been in Heero's eyes slipped away, replaced by curiosity. The tilting of that finely etched chin made Heero look so handsome, Duo thought. "L2 doesn't have any swimming pools, does it?"
He should have known Heero would guess what the problem was. "Nah. When I was a kid the place barely had running water. A swimming pool or fountain was unheard of on L2. That's rich colony stuff."
"So you can't swim," Heero surmised correctly.
"Nope. Other than floating on my back, I sink like a stone when I try anything else, but I've learned that if I expend a lot of energy, I can tread water enough to keep my head above the surface. Howard tried his best to teach me, he really did, but after he realized I was a lost cause he made sure I could at least do that, in case I ever found myself in deep water."
"Do you want me to teach you?"
The idea of Heero, naked except for that little piece of Lycra adorning his lower regions, holding his body in the water while teaching him to swim was almost too much to resist. Yet again his pride held him back. He didn't want to look like a fool in front of Heero. He'd always tried to meet the Japanese man's standards and abilities, and flailing around in the water like a four year old wouldn't impress the guy who could do just about anything perfectly. "Nah. Thanks anyway, but treading water will be enough to get me by."
Heero moved closer, coming within inches of Duo's body and face. "I'd really like to teach you, Duo," he said, his voice lowering to a seductive timber. "Who knows, you might need to know how to swim someday, on a mission perhaps. If you haven't learned how, you could endanger yourself or whoever you're partnered with."
"I see your point, but believe me, I'm hopeless," Duo replied, suddenly aware how hard it was to speak with Heero standing so close, his deep-blue eyes only inches from his own and focused on his lips. His nervous swallow felt like his Adam's apple was blocking his windpipe, and his accelerating heartbeat sounded like an orchestra of timpani drums pounding out a rapid, two-tone, syncopated beat in his ears. Could Heero hear that?
Two minutes later he was stretched face down on the surface of the water with Heero's arms placed under his stomach and upper thighs, holding him up while he practiced the movements the other man had demonstrated moments before. When the hands let go of him, he promptly sank under the water, regardless of the fact that his arms and legs were still frantically working to keep him from doing so. After a few more tries, Heero settled for teaching him how to swim under water, pushing off from the side and swimming like a frog as far as possible before surfacing, only to begin frantically treading water to keep himself afloat.
After spending a good hour and a half in the pool, the two dried off with the intention of sharing the lunch Duo had brought. The long-haired man wrung the excess water out from his braid and a brief smile tugged at his lips when recalling how patient Heero had been with him. He was glad he'd given into Heero's request to give him a swimming lesson. Though he really wasn't swimming any better, he felt a sense of satisfaction from having learned to move underwater and the promise from Heero to teach him how to do the back stroke. It seemed the basic crawl stroke was a skill that would continue to elude him.
When the two men returned to the pool-side furniture, Duo stopped short and frowned at what he found there. Dammit, by the evidence of the lavish lunch set on the small table, Quatre or Trowa had been in the pool room and had, in fact, invaded the privacy they'd promised to respect. With hands clenched and resting on his hips, he glared at the laid out food while Heero walked up to it, sampled something from one of the plates, then turned to him to ask, "Did you plan this?"
"No! Looks like we had some company while we were busy in the pool," Duo replied, clearly unhappy. He was embarrassed that whoever brought the lunch in to them had been witness to his inability to swim and that Heero was trying to teach him.
"It's good. Have some." Heero reached for another piece of what he'd just finished tasting, which appeared to Duo to be something that was breaded. Heero promptly held it out to him.
"They promised not to intrude," he complained, not taking the offered food from Heero's hand.
"Maybe they shouldn't have, but it does look like an excellent lunch. Don't you think we should take advantage of it?"
Duo had a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that Heero was okay with the idea that they'd been spied on. As the Speedo clad man held the food up to his face again, Duo drew back his head, his eyes crossing slightly in an effort to focus on the morsel of food being offered. "What is it?"
Heero grinned and took a bite of the breaded tidbit. "Umm...I'm pretty sure it's abalone, sliced thin, breaded and fried with butter, onions and garlic. It's quite a delicacy. Have a bite, it's good."
"Is that fish?"
"It's a mollusk, a shellfish."
Duo shook his head. "I don't like fish."
"This is different from fish. Have you ever tried it before?"
"Then how do you know you don't like it? Some people believe that shellfish are aphrodisiacs."
Duo snorted. An aphrodisiac? Like I need that! he thought. "I just don't like anything that smells or tastes like fish. If something smells really bad, it smells like fish to me."
"So you've never eaten any kind of fish before?"
Duo snorted. "Of course I have. Canned tuna was often served at the orphanage, and when I bunked on Howard's floating workshop, they often served fish and chips. Sometimes I didn't have a choice but to eat it."
"Here, give this a try." Having popped the piece he'd offered a moment ago into his mouth, Heero then selected a smaller piece of the breaded shellfish and dipped it in the cocktail sauce that sat in the small glass dish to the side of their plates. "Just to see whether or not you like it."
Duo wrinkled his nose at the unappealing bit of food. He really didn't want to put that thing into his mouth, but the challenging glimmer in Heero's eyes was something he was helpless to resist. His memory of the nets being pulled up from Howard's ocean floating ship, with a variety of alien creatures from the water's depths flopping around, wasn't a good one. Having been colony-born, octopus and squid had been especially shocking to him and as frightening as any dark, nefarious shadow lurking in an alleyway on L2. He'd eaten old food from out of garbage cans, a rat when they could find one, and moldy bread, but why anyone would eat such a creature was beyond him. He tried not to think about what an abalone looked like as he found himself unable to resist Heero's challenge and reluctantly opened his mouth and took a bite of the rubbery offering. He chewed it for only a moment before he promptly spit it out into his hand. "Sorry," he said with his nose wrinkling with distaste. He gave Heero an apologetic glance while wiping the offensive bit off his palm and into a napkin.
Heero shrugged. "I guess that just means more for me," he smiled, easing Duo's fear that the other man would think him ridiculous for spitting out the small bit of food. "I'm sure there's something else you can eat." And indeed there was. Quatre had put out the makings for a variety of cold-cut sandwiches as well as a potato and green lettuce salad.
The two friends chatted while Duo began making himself a tall sandwich and Heero nibbled at the finger food. They sat on the lounge chairs and began to enjoy their lunch while carrying on a casual conversation about everything and nothing while Duo forced his eyes to remain on Heero's face and not straying to ogle that wonderful body on display. He had only begun eating his sandwich when suddenly his stomach begin to cramp violently and his face twisted with pain. He gasped at the suddenness of it, and as the pain continued he broke into a sweat and doubled over from the excruciating pain.
"What's the matter?" Heero asked alarmed, leaving his own chair to crouch next to his friend after observing his unusual behavior.
"Hurts." Even to his own ears, Duo thought his voice sounded strained, and that something strange was happening with his tongue and throat. He became frightened after realizing that both felt thick, like they were swelling and quickly blocking off his air passage. Looking up with wide panicked eyes to Heero's concerned face, he put his hands to his throat and barely managed to gasp out the words, "Can't breathe."
Reacting immediately by jumping to his feet, the Japanese man picked Duo up in his arms and ran for the doorway to the house, shouting Quatre's name in an uncharacteristically booming and panicked voice.