by Dyna Dee
The office on Monday morning was abuzz with the news that Preventer Maxwell had almost died from some kind of food poisoning at the home of his close friends, the Winner-Bartons. Though he felt a lot better, Duo knew he wasn't quite one-hundred percent, but he did manage to correct the misinformation whenever he was asked about the incident, telling the enquirer he'd had an allergic reaction to shellfish.
After receiving concerned greetings from his friends and the older agents that shared their office, he moved to sit down at his desk. There he was surprised to find an assortment of items, all relating to his new-found allergy. Neatly printed and stapled together was a list of foods that he should absolutely avoid. Included were items from Asian restaurants listed that normally contained some type of juice from a shellfish. In an envelope he found a medical ID bracelet stating his name, allergy, and medical contact numbers. A small case with the needed drug that would save his life in case he did accidentally ingest something he was allergic to was also in the envelope. It was small enough that he could easily carry it in his pocket.
"I gave a copy of the list to the others so that each of us will be on the look out for foods to avoid when we're dining out together." Duo looked up to Heero, standing at the side of his desk and motioning toward the paper in front of him.
"When did you do all of this?" he asked, astonished by Heero's thoughtful yet unexpected gifts.
"I made some calls on Sunday morning, thinking that you might find these to be helpful."
Duo swallowed the lump in his throat, deeply touched that Heero would go to such efforts on his behalf. His heart was swelling with his ever-growing love for the other man. This was the kind of person he'd been waiting for: someone who could look out for his best interests; someone who genuinely cared for his welfare; someone who stirred his blood, his passion, and who could make the olive green Preventer pants and jacket look so damn sexy. I love him, he finally admitted to himself, finding he could no longer deny it. With that thought dominating his mind, he could only hope that he'd managed to utter a sincere sounding thank you to Heero instead of blurting out his inner-most feelings. Whatever came out, the other man gave him a knee-melting smile and turned to make the short trek back to his own desk. Duo watched him go, thinking, If only you cared for me as more than a friend. With a sigh he switched on his computer and mentally amended that wish, If only you could love me as much as I love you, I would be the happiest man on Earth. Though it took a great deal of effort on his part, Duo set aside his own personal drama for the moment and turned his attention to his most pressing case.
A half hour later he was still sitting at his desk, in front of his computer with his head resting on his upraised hand, not really seeing anything that was on the screen as thoughts of the day before filled his mind. After a terrible, nightmare-filled night, Heero had come out from his room to find him staring mindlessly and bleary-eyed at the television screen, his bloodshot eyes were evidence of his need for a good night's sleep and his growling stomach was complaining from the lack of food. Heero correctly sized-up the situation then promptly dragged him into the kitchen, sat him in a chair at the table and proceeded to make him breakfast. Pancakes, his favorite, made from scratch. His host announced each and every ingredient that went into the bowl, making sure he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that no shellfish or oil were used in the preparation. After studying the label of the syrup, he dug into the large, fluffy stack with gusto. Pancakes had never tasted so good.
He dozed on the sofa while Heero tidied his apartment and saw to his laundry. The phone rang several times and Heero told him later that their friend had called inquiring about his welfare. At lunch time his friend made sandwiches and together, and just to assuage his anxiety, they once again they studied the labels of the packaged meat, bread, mayonnaise and mustard. It was a given that the lettuce, tomato and onion, as well as the fresh fruit served on the side, were shellfish free. With each meal he fixed with Heero his fear of eating seemed to diminish.
Feeling he had imposed on Heero hospitality long enough, he drove himself home around three in the afternoon, but not without making a promise that he would fix and eat something for his dinner. He kept that promise, though it was at eleven that night when he finally broke down and scrambled himself some eggs.
It was close to noon when the routine of the office had settled back to what was considered normal, much to the relief of everyone who shared the small space. A call came in fifteen minutes before lunch that required Trowa and Heero to leave. Though their exit was rather hasty, Heero paused long enough to crouch down by Duo's side and quietly reminded him to eat something for lunch, suggesting his usual turkey and provolone cheese sandwich from Roberto's.
Duo watched Heero leave, feeling the usual let down he associated with being left behind when any of his friends worked out in the field without him. Only this time the feeling was much more intense and not so easily put off. Heero and Trowa's exit was followed a few minutes later by agents Byrd and Kurhle taking their lunch. With the four men gone, an unusual quiet fell over the normally active room as Duo returned to his work, writing up a list of suspects to interview in order to present his case to the director for the go ahead needed to make the first arrests. From the corner of his eye, he saw Wufei pause from his work, straighten his back and look in his direction.
"You look a bit pale," the Chinese agent observed, arms crossing over his chest as he tilted his chair back and rested his foot on an open drawer of his desk. "Are you sure you've recovered enough to be here today?"
Duo looked around his computer in order to fully see the other man. "I'm fine, Wu, but I think I will leave a bit early today. Just not feeling up to par." He returned to his work, aware that the dark eyes were still focused on him.
"How was your date with Yuy, before your body freaked out from a piece of abalone?"
Choosing to ignore the jibe, Duo answered, "We were having a good time up to that point."
"I heard about the Speedo." A sly grin crept up on Wufei's face.
Duo couldn't help the amused snort that escaped him. He remembered that little piece of fabric very well. "No doubt about it, Heero's one of the few guys who can actually carry off wearing something like that."
"It takes some balls to wear such a swimming garment."
Duo peeked around the side edge of his computer again, a smirk on his pale face. "Oh yeah, balls and a whole lot of someth'n else."
Now it was Wufei's turn to give a snort of amusement. "That's as far as I want to go with this conversation," he warned. He then lowered his chair to its proper position, leaned forward on his desk and leveled his most penetrating gaze on his friend. "So you're really serious about Yuy? Things are going well?"
Duo sighed, wondering how to reply to Wufei's honest concern for his welfare. Since lying would only lead to more lies in the future, he decided that the truth was probably the best way to go, but of course not all of the truth. "Yeah, everything's good, I guess. I almost hate to admit it, Wu, but I'm falling hard for him." Again, he mentally added. "I'm just not sure how he feels about me."
One questioning dark eyebrow rose. "From what Quatre told me of how events transpired on Saturday, Heero appeared more than alarmed and panicked about your allergic reaction."
"Yeah, well, we're friends. I'm sure he'd react the same way if you, Quatre or Trowa were choking to death on your own swelling tongue."
"You've got to be kidding me!" Wufei said, clearly astonished by Duo's uncertainty regarding Heero's feeling for him. "Think about it, Duo. Yuy panicking? When have you ever before seen that happen?"
Duo paused to seriously think about that quesiton, and it didn't take long for him to come up with an answer. With eyes widening with hope he answered, "Never. I've never seen him panic."
"There you go." Wufei looked down right smug. "Besides, you both assured us you were sincere about dating each other, that it wasn't some practical joke." The look he gave the braided man defied him to back down on that statement. "So why the uncertainty?"
Duo shrugged, feeling only a tiny bit guilty about not telling the complete truth to his friend about the true nature of his and Heero's dating. "I don't know. I guess I've just never felt so strongly for someone before. It's kind of scary, you know?"
The Chinese man's eyes softened into a look of understanding. "Yes, I know, but as far as Heero is concerned I don't think you need to second guess him. While he's frustratingly contained, he's always been straightforward and he has often displayed a certain solicitousness for your welfare and feelings."
"He has?" Duo was genuinely surprised by that information.
There was that smile again, the one that indicated Wufei knew something he didn't. "Just think about it for a moment," his friend advised.
Duo's head tilted to the side as he went through his memories, then as several instances came to mind, he turned his attention back to his ebony-haired friend with a warm, grateful smile he said, "You're a good friend, Wufei. I'm glad you think I'm worth hanging around."
"Of course you're worth it," Wufei snorted as he leaned forward in his chair to turn off his computer. "Come on. Let's get some lunch. How about some clam chowder?"
"Hardy har har," Duo replied sarcastically as he let loose an extra thick and long rubber band he'd been saving for such an occasion. Unfortunately, Wufei chose that exact moment to stand up, presenting a target much lower than his shoulder. He yelped in an unmanly manner a split second after being hit in the crotch by the projectile piece of rubber. Duo's laughter and attempted apologies were mixed in with Wufei's burst of dire threats, and everyone on the same floor of that building exchanged an amused look or snicker, acknowledging that things were back to normal in the well-talked-about corner office.
Heero and Trowa hadn't returned to the office by the end of the work day. Duo didn't think too much about it, other than the fact that he hadn't had much of a chance to speak to Heero that morning. Even though he'd spent much of Saturday and Sunday in Heero's apartment, they hadn't had a chance to plan out their actions for the coming week.
After stopping at the market for a week's worth of groceries and another deli sandwich for dinner, the evening stretched out unbearably for the braided Preventer. Several times he had his hand on the phone with the intent to call Heero, but he stopped short of dialing the other man's number. He frowned. He never hesitated in the past to call Heero or any of the others if he felt inclined to talk to someone, so what had changed to make him second guess himself? With an amused snort he knew how foolish it was to ask himself that question when the answer was glaringly obvious. "Stupid," he scolded himself. He'd thrown himself head first into this agreement with Heero, thinking he'd make the most of it, getting Heero's attention and affection within the safety of an agreement that was all for show. But he'd easily, too easily, fallen in love with his good friend. Heero's kisses were more than he'd expected and his touch, even the innocent brushing of hands, shoulders or thighs, set his blood racing as his heart beat wildly in his chest. Despite Wufei's assuring words earlier that day, he doubted Heero had any deeper feelings for him other than friendship. Sure, he felt Heero's pulse quicken when they kissed, but that was pretty typical for a guy, wasn't it? A physical response to something pleasurable?
He somehow made it through the evening without calling his co-conspirator and, after taking an over-the-counter sleep aid, he went to bed, anxious to find some escape from his fluctuating thoughts and turbulent emotions while sleeping. Being in love, he was discovering, was both the best feeling in the world and the worst.
Tuesday morning found him feeling much better. He went to work an hour early in order to take advantage of the gym, located in the lower levels of the building. He was only ten minutes late when he entered the office, and was surprised to see only Byrd, Kurhle and Wufei there. The Chinese agent looked up at his entrance and quietly bid him a good morning. The other two older agents did likewise, then resumed whatever tasks they were tackling that day.
"Where's Heero and Trowa?" he asked.
Wufei shrugged. "Heero didn't call you?" When Duo shook his head in reply, the other agent added, "I can only guess they had a late night. They'll probably be in later this morning."
Duo nodded, then moved to his own desk and sat down. His not knowing where Heero was probably didn't help the carefully crafted image they projected as being a couple of guys that were crazy about each other. Wouldn't people in a relationship let each other know where they were and their timetable? He could only hope that his slip, indicating a lack of knowledge about Heero's whereabouts, would not be overly scrutinized, putting doubt into the minds of their coworkers about the validity of their relationship.
Sighing as he turned on his computer, he couldn't help but think that Heero not calling him in advance to tell him what was going on was a clear indication that he didn't feel anything more for him than friendship. He mentally kicked himself in the ass once again for allowing his feelings for Heero to get out of hand. He knew this charade and tumble back into his former crush on Heero would eventually lead to his being hurt, but he found himself at a loss on how to stop it from happening.
It was a little after ten that morning when Director Une sauntered into the office. After an appraising glance around the room, she directed her comments to the two former gundam pilots. "The assignment I sent Heero and Trowa on yesterday became a bit more involved than I previously anticipated. They've followed the suspected arms dealers out of the country and may be gone for a week or two."
"Has Quatre been informed?" Duo asked, worrying about his friend remaining ignorant of Trowa's absence and knowing the blond would worry himself sick from if he wasn't informed.
"Of course. Barton made contact with him as they boarded the plane."
That information left Duo feeling like he'd been sucker-punched. While it was thoughtful for Trowa to call Quatre, he couldn't help but wonder why Heero hadn't thought to do the same for him? They had a deal, after all, to look like a love sick, devoted couple. Didn't Heero realize that he'd be worried about him just as much as Quatre was for Trowa? But of course he didn't, he reminded himself. Our relationship is a fake. Why should Heero think I'd be worried or upset by his absence?
"How's your case on T'sung and Zumatto going, Duo?" the director asked, turning her full attention to him. "Have you be able to identify where they're purchasing the drugs and explosives from, and who's receiving them?"
Shoving his hurt aside, Duo turned to his boss, all business. "I'm getting close. I've gone over the airport records and it appears that the cartel has several mules in their employ that carry extra baggage as they board trains going out of China. I'm not sure how they're passing customs, but they could have someone in that agency on their payroll. It appears the four people we've identified so far travel mainly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'm going through the employment records and schedules of the customs officers to see if anyone stands out."
"How soon do you estimate having some answers for me?"
"A couple of day, four tops," he answered.
"Very good. Wufei," she turned her attention to the other man as she walked up to his desk. "How is your investigation of Dymar Schrumm going? Can we prove he's taking kickbacks from the military?"
Duo shut out the conversation going on between the other two and returned to the case files before him. He sighed at the large stack of files concerning the drug lords at the center of his investigation. This case was of vital importance, with months of man-hours already spent in gathering evidence and building a case before any arrests could be made. He couldn't afford to spend time worrying about his private life when the lives of hundreds, maybe even thousands, rested on having these criminals brought to justice. At least with Heero out of the office he'd be able to concentrate on the important task before him, or so he thought.
As soon as he set foot through the door of his apartment that evening, he went to his phone and dialed his blond friend. He was frustrated as hell about his inability to concentrate at work and he needed some distraction to dispel some of his inner turmoil. Quatre's answering machine picked up his call. With an irritated huff he left his message, trying his best to not sound anxious or needy. "Hey, Quat. I was thinking that since the both of us are on our own tonight, why don't we get together and grab some dinner. Give me a call if you're up for it, all right? Talk to you later, pal."
Hanging up the phone he felt a deep sense of disappointment drag him down. Jerking loose the knot in his tie and pulling the hated piece of fabric from out of his shirt collar, he draped it over the back of the couch. Making his way to the kitchen, he untucked his shirt and unbuttoned it, making himself much more comfortable. He grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator and a can of salty mixed nuts from the cupboard. After carefully studying the listed contents of both, he returned to the living room to watch some television while he waited for his blond friend to return his call.
Two hours later, at approximately eight fifteen, the awaited call finally came. "Hi, Duo. Sorry I'm late in returning your message, I just got home," Quatre said in greeting, sounding tired.
"No problem," Duo said with a lazy smile as he set his bottle of beer down, lining it up in a row with the other four, standing like little soldiers on his coffee table. He hiccupped and then giggled.
"Duo? Are you alright?"
"Um fine. Just drank one beer too many on an empty... *hiccup* ...stomach."
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. "Is something the matter? You could have called me at the office if you had a problem."
Duo snorted in response. "Noooo problem, least not at the moment." He chuckled once again. "Feel kind of good, act...ually."
"I don't have to remind you that this is a work night, do I?"
"Nope. It's Tuuuesday. I â€˜member that."
"Heaven help us," Quatre said with a weary sigh. "Listen, Duo. I want you to go to the kitchen and make a pot of coffee. I'm just going to change my clothes and I'll be over in a few minutes."
"Ya don't hafta," Duo snorted. "You've had a buss-ssy day. Got better things to do than come over here. You're tired. Go to bed."
"I don't think so," the blond replied. "I'll only be about twenty minutes. Where are you?"
"Um... my place."
"No, I meant where in your apartment are you?"
"Can you stand?"
"Been walkin' since I can remember, Quat. Of course I can ssstand."
"Then do it. I want you to get up, go to the kitchen and make me a pot of coffee. Then I want you to drink a cup, alright?"
"Thought you liked tea."
"Tonight I want coffee."
"Umkay," came the lazy but happy-sounding response.
"Are you standing?"
"Ya want me to do that now?"
"Yes. Stand up and then tell me if you can keep your balance."
Duo did as requested with the phone plastered to his ear, though it took him a bit longer to get to his feet than he'd anticipated. He swayed slightly, and slowly a smile broke out on his face as he happily announced, "I'm up and headed towards the kitchen."
"Alright. Hang up the phone and whatever you do, don't burn yourself."
"Don't burn yourself," Duo repeated with a chuckle, finding the warning funny. "Quat. Hey, Quat, you there?" It took a moment for him to realize the phone line was dead. The inebriated man took the phone from his ear to look at it before he decided there was nothing wrong with it, but that his friend had hung up. He put the phone down, not even noticing that it had missed the end of the table and had fallen to the floor. Not even noticing the soft thump, he turned and walked a bit haltingly towards the kitchen where he found the lights to be much too bright, so he turned them off.
Half an hour later the two friends were sitting on the sofa, both holding a mug of hot coffee in their hands. "Drink up," the blond said encouragingly, studying his braided friend with concern.
Duo sipped at the hot brew, suddenly feeling very sleepy. He persevered with Quatre's encouragement until the mug was nearly empty, then set it down on the coffee table next to the empty bottles of beer. He sort of leaned, then fell against the back of the couch and rested his head against the top of the cushion.
"What's going on, Duo? You don't usually drink more than one beer, and never during the work week. Is something bothering you? Are you having nightmares about last weekend?"
"Nightmares?" A cinnamon eyebrow rose along with his question. He thought about the picture set in his mind of Heero in his Speedo. Yeah, maybe he was having nightmares, as well as hot daydreams. "Kinda. Not exactly."
"I'm sure talking about it will make you feel better."
"Doubt it," he answered sullenly.
"Did something happen between you and Heero while you stayed at his place?"
Duo shook his head and waved his hand, dismissing that suggestion. That same hand then went to his head as the room began to spin. "No, nothing like that. Heero was the perfect host. Guess I just came to the conclusion that I care for him more than he cares for me, that's all. It's stupid, really. Happens all the time."
The blond frowned. "Not necessarily. What's led you to believe that he doesn't have the same amount of regard for you that you have for him?"
"You love Trowa?"
"Of course I do."
"He loves you?"
The blond gave his friend an exasperated look. "Duo, what's this about?"
"Did he call you before he left town to tell you he was leaving?"
"Of course. He knows I worry."
"That's love," Duo firmly stated.
"It's a great part of it," Quatre replied with caution, not knowing where Duo was going with the conversation. "Being considerate of your partner's feelings is part of a good relationship. Is Heero's absence the cause for your feeling so badly?"
Duo folded his arms over his chest and seemed to be sulking as he replied, "Don't feel bad."
"Maybe not now," Quatre scoffed. "But just wait until tomorrow."
"Who cares about tomorrow, or if it ever comes?"
Now the blond was really becoming alarmed. He rarely witnessed the usually good-natured man sounding so pessimistic. Setting his mug down, Quatre moved closer to his despondent friend and put his arm around his shoulders. "I care that tomorrow comes, Duo, and I care that today something went wrong and made you want to get drunk. Tell me what happened so I can help."
"Can't help," Duo said, lowering his chin to his chest as he slumped to the side, leaning into the blond's body. Then in a voice barely audible he said, "He didn't call."
The blond frowned. "What? Who didn't call?"
"He didn't call you?"
Duo nodded. "He didn't call to tell me he was going and he hasn't checked in; he doesn't care, doesn't love me like I love him."
Quatre rubbed Duo's arm, the only place where his trapped hand could reach, hoping to console him with his touch as he couldn't seem to come up with words that would make his friend's hurt lessen. "You've only been dating a short time, Duo. Isn't it a bit too early to expect a declaration of love from Heero?"
"I love him."
"Have for a long time."
"It hurts, Quat, that he doesn't... doesn't love me back."
"I'm sure he has strong feelings for you, Duo, as evidenced by his actions towards you lately. I think he's been making great efforts to show you he cares. Remember, Heero has always been one to mask the depth of his emotions."
Unlike Quatre, Duo knew exactly why Heero had been acting the way he had lately. It was all about the deal they'd made, and even in his drunken state he knew he couldn't tell his consoling friend that little fact or it would ruin everything. With a disgruntled sigh he said, "He would have called if he really cared."
"Maybe, but it could be Heero didn't know he was supposed to call. He hasn't had much experience with relationships before so he might not have realized you would be worried. Did he ever tell you where he was going before you started dating?"
Duo thought about it, and it was a slow process as his mind just didn't seem to want to focus. "I don't think so."
"See. He's just not used to telling anyone. I'm sure it was just an oversight on his part."
Duo sat in Quatre's comforting embrace, trying hard to believe his friend, but that little voice in his head kept telling him he had been a fool to have allowed himself to be in a situation where he could fall in love with Heero all over again. He rubbed at his temple, feeling the beginning of a headache forming. He was drunk, and he knew he had to shut up before he spilled his guts to the caring blond.
"I think I need to go to bed, sleep this off," he said, hoping to call an end to his little moping session.
"I think I'll stay the night," Quatre announced.
"No. Go home, Quat. I'll be fine. I'm going to sleep like the dead. Just give me a call in the morning to make sure I get up for work, K?"
"I don't know, Duo. I'd feel better if you let me stay."
"Don't need no babysitter," Duo replied, a bit too loud.
"Duo..." The blond's voice was just at the edge of pleading.
"No!" Duo firmly interrupted him, then abruptly softened his voice. "Please, Quat. I appreciate ya comin', but I just wanna go to bed."
The blond's sigh was a sign that he was caving in to the request. "All right, I'll go. What time do you want me to call in the morning?"
Duo paused, his brow wrinkled as he tried to recall what time he usually woke up. "Seven," he answered.
Quatre slowly disentangled himself from his friend, then stood and helped Duo do the same, with his arms out to catch the wobbling man if he stumbled. "I'll see myself out as soon as I see you to your room."
Not wanting to argue any more, Duo allowed himself to be led back to his room. Once there, Quatre left his side to turn on the lights and fold back the covers on his bed. The inebriated man made it to his adjoining bathroom and paused under the framework of that room's door to warn his well-intentioned friend, "You better not be here when I come out, Quatre. I'm not in the mood to be tucked into bed. Got it?"
Putting his hands up in a sign of surrender, Quatre backed up in the direction of the bedroom door. "I'm going. Just don't sleep in your clothes and I'll call you at seven. Night, Duo." And with that said, the Winner heir made good his escape. At the click of the front door, Duo's body relaxed and he turned into the bathroom to prepare for bed. He could only hope that the alcohol would hold back all of his dreams, especially those pertaining to attacking shellfish and Heero's Speedo-covered ass.