Third Time's A Charm
by Dyna Dee
Barreling down the freeway I've got my music up, my jeep top down, the hair around my face whipping wildly back and forth against my forehead and cheeks, and a goofy grin on my face. I'm hours early for tonight's date and filled with anticipation. Excited much? Geesh, I'm pathetic, but only for the best reason: Heero.
I reflect for a moment on how my life has been literally turned upside down since he walked into Preventers' Headquarters here in Luxembourg nearly four weeks ago on a Monday morning. It was sometime after nine thirty and I was sitting at my desk, bent over several reports on yet another factious group and their current movements, when Une walked into my office. Her arrival was first announced by the scent of her perfume. I didn't even have to look up to know it was her as I knew that floral scent very well. She gave a feminine version of clearing her throat to get my attention, and with an exaggerated sigh at the interruption, part of the game we play of me artfully playing the dutiful agent and annoyed that she's always bothering me, I glance up and was instantly struck stupid, all the way to the bone. Standing next to my boss was none other than Heero Yuy, dressed in black dress slacks, a white shirt that was open at the collar, with his formerly perpetually unruly hair that was cut just slightly shorter than when I had run my fingers through it five years ago.
Five years. Could it really have been that long since I last saw him? I always feel a tinge of regret and sadness when I think of our breakup after the war. It wasn't exactly an ugly one, just painful. Despite our infrequent getting together but steamy relationship during the war, we both had trouble dealing with our differences in a time of peace. I wanted to settle down on Earth, have the home I'd never had and figure out what I wanted to do with a future I never expected to have. Heero, on the other hand, had the itch to travel, to discover what life was like when you weren't constantly running and hiding. He told me he wanted to see the Earth through new eyes then return to the colonies and discover what they were like when at peace.
We tried to compromise, to meet each other's need and stay together by getting a furnished apartment in Tokyo with the intent to use it as a home base while we took trips, short and extended. Sadly, it was a place we never went back to after our initial leaving.
Things began to change between us after three months of living a vagabond life. We fought, verbally that is, and a lot. I quickly tired of being dragged around the earth and the colonies, chasing after whatever it was that Heero was looking for. I knew he was an intellectual guy; all of us pilots are bright in our own rights, but Heero became a sponge, absorbing everything that he heard and saw and still, it never seemed to be enough, he needed more. Feeling disgruntled, I came to the conclusion that Heero was looking for something more than what I could give him.
It was while we were on L-3, going through yet another dull museum, that I realized I'd had it and told him I was sick of traveling and was going back to Earth. I reminded him again that I wanted to find a job or go to school, have some normalcy in my life. I had always craved to live like other people, not just study them and watch their happiness and sorrows from a spectator's point of view, something I had done my entire life. Traveling constantly reminded me too much of the war and I was having a hard time believing I wasn't still in it, especially when I was forced to move every couple of days to a new location.
I'll never forget the look on Heero's face when I spoke those words telling him of my frustration. He instantly put on his mask of cold indifference that he'd worn during the war, hiding his emotions so that I couldn't read him. "No one is forcing you to do anything, Duo. If you don't want to be here, then you should leave and go do whatever you want to do," he'd said in his emotionless tone of voice.
I knew it was time for me to go, and it was plain as the nose on my face that Heero wasn't going to go home with me. I remember feeling like my world was caving in; it was the end of what we'd had, and maybe my sorrow showed on my face. I loved Heero, but I couldn't live the wandering life he wanted any more. We paused and not a word passed between us as we took a long, last look at each other, knowing we were saying goodbye. Funny, I can even recall the ugly and very large modern painting of some drug induced painter's depiction of the solar system displayed behind us as we stood facing each other. It was black with distorted shapes representing the planets, the colonies and outer galaxies. I hated it on sight, just as I hated saying goodbye to Heero. Taking a step forward, I took hold of Heero's hands, regardless that we were in public view and that we had always been very circumspect as to our real relationship. Looking into his eyes, still masking his feelings, I swallowed down my emotions, knowing I was about to do the hardest thing I'd ever done in my life. Hell, it was even harder than pressing the self-destruct button in Deathscythe during the first war.
"I'll always love you, Heero," I whispered in a choked voice, frustrated at how my eyes were filling with moisture and blurring my last images of him. I closed my eyes, not able to stop the tears from coming, and kissed him goodbye. I couldn't say the words of parting, it just hurt too much. So the moment I stepped back from kissing him, I turned and ran, not able to hear him utter those words of farewell to me either.
I ran at break neck speed to the hotel, got my duffle, which had been perpetually packed for several months, and went straight to the shuttle port. The first shuttle leaving L-3 was a short flight to L-4. I knew Quatre was in residence there, so that's where I went, to lick my wounds with the help of a good friend.
Needless to say, Quatre comforted me and helped me plan for my future; a future without Heero. Taking in my desire to settle down in one place with and idea to either get a job or go to college, Quatre promised that whatever I decided to do, he would back me financially. Have I got great friends, or what?
Word must have gotten out to our other friends of my departure from Heero and I was at Quatre's because one day I received an unexpected visit. I ended up being recruited by Wufei and Lady Une to come and work for the Preventers at the Luxembourg branch, located in Treize Kushrenada's old palace. I wasn't really into the law enforcement thing; heaven knows I've broken enough laws to have served sentences as long as I am old, but having the promise of a friend living in the same city and working in the same building was a compelling enticement. Wufei convinced me that it was satisfying working for the good guys, guarding, nurturing and cultivating the peace we'd sacrificed so much for. He promised me that, if I really wanted, I could arrange my hours so that I could go to college and pursue other careers in or out of the Preventers Organization with a college degree. The salary offered was more to my liking and more of an lure than the idea of fighting for peace again, and the flexible hours would help me go back to school. Best of all, Lady Une told me I didn't have to travel on assignments if I didn't want to. The European continent was a much smaller arena compared to the colonies, and if I had to travel at all, it would be only a couple of hours from my home. I carefully weighed all that Wufei and Une said, then took the job and the chance for a brighter, more settled future.
Five years is a long time not to see or hear from the person who was my anchor during the war. I caught passing comments about him from people I sometimes socialized with, but I didn't ask after him nor did I write to him. I didn't feel overly guilty because he didn't write to me either. I guess I figured it was better to let sleeping dogs lie or to quit beating the dead horse. I don't know what Heero thought as we parted; maybe it was along the lines of goodbye to bad rubbish.
Most of my knowledge of Heero over the following five years came from a rather surprising source. Relena is a frequent visitor at the office, not to mention that from time to time I have to act as a bodyguard in high security situations for her. When it suited her, she has stepped down from her appointed pedestal and deigned from her lofty, self-deluded idea of her own grandness in the universe to converse with lowly born me. She's casually let it drop in many of her oh-so-carefully-plotted conversations that she'd heard from Heero and reported that all was well with him, that he was still traveling, seeing all the wonders of the world and sending her postcards along the way, seeing that they were such close friends. She'd always fit that little dig in during each conversation she had with me. I always regarded those brief, sugar coated conversations with the former Queen of the World with skepticism. I still haven't figured out if she was trying to subtly inform me that my leaving Heero had not had any adverse effect on him, that he'd gotten over me easily and gone on with his life, or if she was rubbing salt into the wound that she had heard from him and I hadn't. I think it was a latter of the two. We had a pretty fierce rivalry for Heero's affections during the war and I think it's always rankled her that, in the end, he chose me over her. Well, I let that go a long time ago. It's water under the bridge, or so the old saying goes.
So needless to say, when I looked up and saw Heero standing in all his bronzed-skin glory, with his deep blue eyes and soft smile aimed at me sitting at my desk, I was left momentarily dumbstruck and mind boggled.
"Hello Duo," he said in his deep timbered voice and smiled at me pleasantly. Une, I noticed, had a satisfied smirk on her face, probably thinking she had gotten the best of me with this little surprise. We'll see if she's still so smug when I send her flowers with stinkweed in it.
"What are you doing here?" I blurted out, and mentally slapped myself on the head for not coming up with a better greeting. After five years you would think I could say something more welcoming or more intelligent than that.
He gave me a lopsided smirk and replied, "I'm considering joining the Preventers and Lady Une is giving me the tour. Any objections?" Damn if he didn't do that little trick of raising one eyebrow that I always found so enticing.
I'm pretty sure my mouth was hanging open just slightly, not my most attractive pose. I don't know what surprised me more at that moment; the fact that Heero had shown up unexpectedly in my office after five years or that he was even more devastatingly handsome than ever and causing my pulse to race and my skin to heat up around my collar. His untamable hair was cut shorter than when we were together with just a few dark brown strands that hung over his forehead, giving him a roguish look. His face had changed from that of a serious teenage boy into the look of a man with confidence and experience. I noted the slight elongating of the face I'd known as well as my gundam's controls and found the changes brought out his beautiful eyes even more. His body, I quickly noted, had also changed. His once small, muscled frame had grown several inches taller and, though he was still slender, it was clear that rounder muscles now graced his chest, arms and shoulders.
The changes in Heero's appearance reminded me of my own physical changes. My body had also matured as I eased into manhood, though some people, namely Wufei, Trowa and Quatre, still tease me about being skinny. Heero was trim but definitely not skinny. My eyes were drawn to his upper body and the casual open collar of his shirt that displayed his neck. It was noticeably thicker than mine and his shoulders broader, signs of continuous body conditioning, probably with weights. I've kept my own workouts limited to jogging, sit ups and push ups. I hate the repetitious counting that goes with weight lifting and I don't like pain, so my own routine works for me.
Looking at Heero similarly assessing the changes in me, I got an odd sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I suddenly realized I was definitely not over him, that after five years I was still giddily attracted to him, if that term can be used for a man. If Heero was to be a constant in the office, well, let's just say life at work was going to be some kind of hell, especially if he only wanted to be friends. From the moment I laid eyes on him I knew I wanted to be more than just friends with Heero; my body had reacted much too strongly to be satisfied with being anything other than lover. A feeling of deja' vu passed through me. That immense heart thumping, breath stopping attraction to Heero that I felt at that moment was the same as it had been during the war. I was a goner all over again, and I knew it. I suspected my glazed-over expression and delayed responses let Heero know it too.
"You can do whatever you like," I croaked out a very late answer to his question, then cleared my voice with no little amount of embarrassment.
Une looked from me to Heero and back again, clearly trying to figure out what was going on, though she definitely showed signs of being amused. So being the good guy I am, I decided to break the tension that had been building in the room and take the first step. Whenever I wanted to get to know someone, I asked them out on an informal date, and I definitely wanted to get reacquainted with Heero. So I looked in the eyes, smiled my most winning smile and asked, "You have time to grab a cup of coffee with me?" If there was one thing I've learned in my five years of dating, it was to have a first date over something like coffee. You could talk and get to know each other and, if things didn't click, you were only out of a cup of coffee. It's what I've termed a low risk date.
Heero calmly checked his watch and frowned. "I can't," he answered in his usual, straightforward way, no softening the blow or sidestepping around the issue. That just wasn't Heero and he obviously hadn't changed that much.
I felt a moment of disappointment and lowered my eyes to my desk, feeling Heero probably just didn't want to start up anything with me again. I really couldn't blame him. After all, I'd walked away from him five years ago and hadn't even attempted to find him or get in touch.
"But how about lunch?" Heero asked as he looked up from his watch and my head shot up to meet his amused gaze.
"Sure," I answered with my smile returning. Not my brightest response, but hey, I was a little excited. "I'll meet you at the front entrance at twelve thirty, alright?" Twelve thirty; two hours. I wondered if I would get any work done during that time. "My treat," I added and received a nod and a smile in return. That settled, the two in the doorway turned in unison and left the room without a look back.
My prediction had been right; my powers of concentration were next to nil after that meeting. All I could think about was how good Heero looked and wondered why he chose to come to this office. Of all the Preventer offices on Earth and the colonies, why did Heero come here? A part of me argued that he was most likely recruited by Une or Wufei, just as I had been. But another part of me secretly hoped it was because he wanted to see me again. As soon as the thought came into my head, I clamped down on that hope. How egotistical, to assume Heero came here just to see me. With his looks and body, he obviously could have anyone he wanted. Why would he want me? I left him; deserted him for my own selfish need to settle down.
The exit sign at the side of the road brings me out of my thoughts of Heero and my daydreaming about him. Well, I tell myself, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, we'll just see how tonight goes, our third date.
My thoughts still linger on Heero's surprising return as I absentmindedly turn my car off the highway and take an exit into the city. With hours yet to waste, I pull into a tavern parking lot, stop and park my jeep. Locking the compartments, I go into the semi-decent looking place with the intent to order myself a beer and waste some time. Not a German made beer, but an American beer, the kind Howard used to give me in small amounts when I was younger. I took quite a fancy to it during the war, which is why the old geezer always limited my "tasting".
I take my frosty mug to a corner booth and I'm followed by a big burly guy who comes to a halt next to the table and waits expectantly with a pad and pencil in hand. I can't disappoint him, so I order a small dinner to go with my beer. Might as well eat something as I've got a few hours yet to kill.
My thoughts return again to Heero. They say third time's a charm, right? I sure hope so, because my first two so-called dates with my former lover were nothing but disasters.
In my mind, I can still visualize that first date, my lunch with Heero, with a shudder. I met Heero in the front lobby at the appointed half hour, and found myself so nervous that my mouth seemed to literally come unhinged at my jaw. I greeted him with a warm smile and as several awkward moments of silence passed between us, I went into a weird type of an automatic response mode and began to fill the uncomfortable void. Have you ever known you were talking too much but found yourself unable to stop? It's a strange sort of nervous reaction I have to unsettling moments, kind of like running and hiding, my speciality. I think I was afraid of the silence between us. Afraid of what questions might be asked and the answers that would have to be given if we had time to think during the lapses in our conversation. Looking back, I know I was definitely afraid of those questions and answers, and I let my mouth do the running away for me.
I led Heero to one of my favorite lunch-time cafes not far from the office and told him of some of the cases I'd been on, about Wufei and his life as a married man to Sally, how our friend was proving to be a great father to his six-month-old son, Sean, who just happened to be a really great kid. I talked about my apartment, my car and my co-workers. As I look back now, with no small amount of embarrassment, I realize that all I did was talk about myself. I didn't ask Heero about his life over the last five years, what he had been doing, or if he was involved, in love, or happy. I think I was too afraid to learn that he had indeed gone on with his life after I left with no regrets of our parting.
At the end of the hour long lunch I was dry mouthed, mentally frazzled and still hungry as my food had hardly been touched. I did manage to go through several sodas, spilling the first, full and very large glass all over the tabletop and myself. When our meal came, I proceeded to squeeze the stubborn catsup bottle so hard that it spluttered and splattered red blots onto both of our white shirts. And to complete my humiliation, I accidently knocked the full slice of the deep colored berry pie into my own lap when I tried to cut the tough crust with my fork. Mortified, I looked at my watch, praying it was time to escape this dreadful first date with Heero. I stood when, with relief and gratitude, I saw the hour was up. I could feel my cheeks flush with embarrassment at the mess I'd made of my clothing during the noon time meal. "I've got to get back to work," I told Heero and opened my wallet and set down on the table the amount for the cost of the meal and a sizeable tip as an apology for being so messy. The poor waitress had gotten a work out during the time I'd sat at her table.
Heero also stood and regarded me in a composed, contemplating way. I felt rooted to the spot, unable to read his emotions as his eyes studied me. Then, extending his hand, he took my hand in his and shook it. "It was nice hearing you again, Duo." He said it with a straight face and it had the effect of putting me in my place for dominating the entire conversation during our lunch together.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, honestly contrite as I let go of his hand and felt my face flush further. Yes, I was embarrassed, but I know that I probably couldn't have acted any different while in the nervous state his mere presence put me in. "I'm just really nervous. You know how I get when I'm nervous."
It was then that I felt a small spark of hope ignite within me as a tiny smile began to form on Heero's handsome face. "Yes, I know," he replied in a warm voice. He then turned and just as I had done to him five years ago, he left me...standing alone in the restaurant, my clothing splotched and stained and staring at his retreating back like a love sick teenager. I came to the quick conclusion that the one hour I'd spent with him over lunch had to have been my worst first date, ever!
I went home shortly after a brief return to the office, giving the excuse of a headache as a reason for my leaving early. Looking at my clothes, the stains not even partially hidden under my arms, folded self consciously across my chest, Director Une had the audacity to laugh outright at me and at my excuse for going home. She waved me out of her office and along my way as she tried to catch her breath and wiping tear of amusement from her eyes. Yep, just one more indignity to add to my crummy day.
I went home like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs. I knew that I had blown it with Heero. Could he possibly see me as anything other than the buffoon I really was? After my lunch time performance, he would most likely believe that I hadn't matured or grown up over the course of five years, and he certainly wouldn't have any desire to be with me again, not as a lover and maybe not even as a friend.
I entered my home, a small, cozy house in the lush green countryside outside of Luxembourg, and peeled off the evidence of my foolishness that afternoon. With my shirt and pants in hand, I went to the kitchen to get the dish soap and began working at the spots on my uniform. The one-sided conversation I'd had with Heero preoccupied my thoughts and I cringed with embarrassment at my behavior. Not only did I blow it, but I blew it big time.
Getting a beer out of my refrigerator while I let the clothes soak in the sink, I went into the living room and sat on my comfortable, brown leather sofa in my boxers. The remote was in my hand the second I sat down and the t.v. was switched on. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a stupor of thought as I numbly watched an old war movie.
I didn't see or hear from Heero until a week later when I chanced to look up through my perpetually open office door and saw him walk by, dressed in our nifty work uniform.
"Hey, Heero!" I called out after him. A scant moment later he poked his head around the doorframe and gave me an inquiring look. "So, I take it you hired on with us peace junkies," I said jokingly, hoping to break the ice between us.
He moved to come into the doorway, then stopped to regard me. "Yes," was his simple reply.
"In all the years we've not seen each other Heero, didn't you learn more than simple, one syllable replies?" I asked, meaning to just tease him a little.
He raised one eyebrow and gave me a smile much like an insinuating swagger. "Oh, I learned plenty of things during the last five years, Duo," he replied cryptically. He then turned to leave and I jumped to my feet.
"Wait! Heero!" I called out almost frantically. He turned around at my request and I rushed to say what I'd been practicing all week in case I ever got the chance to talk to my former lover again. "I just want to apologize for last week. I didn't mean to dominate the conversation. I...I guess old habits die hard," I said, referring to the past and my having to carry many of the conversations we had during the time we were lovers.
"Apology accepted." Heero said and turned again to leave. I found that habit of his, of leaving things unfinished, to be pretty damn irritating, especially when I wasn't finished.
"Can I make it up to you?" I rushed to say. "Maybe take you out for a drink after work?" I suggested with a hopeful look plastered on my face.
Heero paused and took in a deep breath as if he was considering his options. Looking over his shoulder, he answered, "Alright. Tonight?"
"Well, I don't usually drink on a work night," I said while reaching behind my neck to scratch a point just under my braid where one hair had been pulling against my scalp all morning long. "But I'm scheduled to come in late on Friday mornings, how about Thursday night? Just as long as we're not out too late or drink too much."
"Thursday sounds good." Heero said with a slight grin.
"You want to catch a quick bite to eat first?" I asked, hoping to prolong the next date to show Heero I had grown up, that I don't usually talk all the time or nervously spill food on myself or my date. Yeah, I'm seen by others as a friendly, easy going guy most of the time, but I don't really open myself up to many people, just close friends, and I count only a few to be in that category, namely four guys.
Heero nodded and stated that food before drinking would be fine and turned once again to leave. I just couldn't let him go without saying one thing more.
"I'm glad you're here, Heero. Good luck with your new job."
Heero turned his head and gave me the kind of smile I remembered he'd once reserved only for me when we were alone in our bedroom, or dorm, or cockpit, or closet; you get the drift. It was a warm, kind and thoughtful smile that always made my heart trip.
The week seemed much brighter after that small encounter, even though I rarely saw Heero in the office. Preventers is a large organization and a lot of times we worked on separate projects. I only see Wufei occasionally and we have to make lunch or dinner plans if we want to stay in touch, which we do on a regular basis. But just knowing that Heero was in the same building and that we were going out on Thursday night together, gave me that excitable thrill of anticipation as I counted the days, hours and minutes until that time when, hopefully, my second chance would finally come.
I came back to the present when my club sandwich and potato chips are set down on the table by the same burly waiter, noticing the greasy and spotted apron that had probably never been washed and was stretched tightly across the bulging stomach of the older, stubbled-face man. Whatever happened to all the attractive waitresses who flirt with customers with the hope of a good tip? I shrug as the man ignores me and shuffles off. I quickly remove the pepper from off my sandwich and wipe some of the heavy mustard off the bread. Too much of something is not always a good thing. Taking a bite out of the sandwich, I decide the cook might not be much to look at, but he definitely made a decent sandwich.
Back to Heero. The second date was almost as bad at the first. Not that it started out bad. No, I was determined, on the second date, that I would not dominate the conversation or ask too many questions that would pry into Heero's life. If he wanted to talk to me, he would. If he wanted to tell me about the last five years of his life and where the hell he'd been, I'd listen.
Thursday finally came and, after asking around, I learned where Heero's office was located and went to meet him there just as the work day ended. He was fixated on his computer when I walked into the small office and, as I stood in the doorway watching him, hundreds of mental pictures from the past came back to me of Heero in a similar pose during the war. How many times had I watched him typing up a report or doing research for missions while I sat and studied him, trying to see past that mask of indifference and just plain drinking in his handsome features? Heero looked up from his computer and my heart, already beating rapidly from the surge of memories, just about beat out of my chest as he smiled a welcome to me. Damn, how I missed that smile.
I waited somewhat patiently, enjoying the view while he finished up with what he was doing, and fleetingly thought about the few, short term relationships I'd had since I left Heero. I began to date once again and almost hesitantly after I became established in my job and bought my little country home. I was surprised to find myself preferring to date women instead of guys, though I'm not sure why. But somehow, no matter how nice, attractive or wonderful these women were, I always found something missing, a true lack of satisfaction for me on a personal level with the relationship that, in the end, caused one of us to break things off before we got too involved.
Being known as a former gundam pilot brought along with it some social complications. There always seems to be a little bit a hero worship from the people I'd ask out, male or female, and I found that disturbing. My face and name are both well known, as is my part in the wars, thanks to the world and colony nosey reporters. People I'd met over the five years since I left Heero seem to be either enamored with my reputation or fearful of it. I quickly learned that I can't help how they feel, but that I don't have to put up with it either.
I'm sure Heero is going to get the same treatment, if he hasn't already. When I look at him, knowing exactly who he is and what he's done, I don't feel any fear of him or that I'll touch a bit of greatness or gain some celebrity if I'm seen with him. With my two eyes wide open, I observe the most handsome man that I've even known, someone I just happen to share a past with, and not a very happy one at that. People like to romanticize the war and our part in it, but there was nothing remotely romantic about it. Heero and I began our relationship as comrades fighting side by side. After a time and the horrors of war crowded into our every thought, we offered and received comfort from each other, a shelter from the nightmares and a gentle touch to a wounded body and soul. From that intimate sharing came a deeper emotion, and though we rarely expressed it, both of us fell in love with the other.
I sigh deeply at that thought as I take another drink of my beer, licking the froth from off my upper lip. I suppose we had a love that was doomed from the start by our youth, emotional instability and inexperience with interpersonal relationships. I'm still learning, but I think I know enough now to do a better job at handling a relationship the next time the opportunity comes around.
My mind slips back to my standing in the doorframe and looking with admiration at Heero as he stood up from his desk and casually slung his jacket over his shoulders . Damn, I wanted him in my life again. A part of me hoped that the date we were going on would prove to be the opportunity of a lifetime for me, for us, and I prayed I wouldn't blow it by doing something stupid, like my nervousness had caused on our first, disastrous lunch date.
We walked out into the cool evening air and down the old palace driveway, opting not to take our cars but to walk to a British style pub just down the road. I asked a few questions and bit my lip as I waited for Heero to answer. I swear the man was baiting me as he took these long, pregnant pauses before uttering a word or two in reply. I didn't take the bait though; I stayed with the game plan and waited until he answered me before speaking again.
The pub was a lively place and we each ordered bangers along with a salad and a pint of beer. There was a lively debate about the soccer game to be played the next day between England and Italy and bets were being placed as to the winner and loser. Heero and I sat, ate, drank and absorbed the cheerful atmosphere as we talked of everyday things. I was relieved that I'd finally begun to relax around him, some of my nervousness dissipating as the familiar feelings of friendship came back.
As the pub got more crowded and the hour grew later, we found ourselves yelling over the din to hear each other. We decided to go down the street to a less rambunctious bar in order to carry on our conversation. We walked in comfortable companionship down two city blocks until we came to a place I'd visited only once before, The Flying Duck. Whoever thinks of names for bars should have been shot for naming this place. This establishment did, however, serve the best bar snacks to go along with the drinks and the bathroom urinals were designed to look like small water falls trickling down a stone wall to the drain below. It was strange but also a novelty to take a whiz on the rock formations with water cascading down ever so elegantly. Heero said he'd seen one like this on his travels through California, but he liked this one better, and the small smile on his face as he zipped up his fly told me he enjoyed the novel experience too.
It was about ten o'clock, still early, when the bar started to fill up and the lights dimmed. Heero and I were lazily enjoying some fruit drink one of the waitresses tempted us with as well as each other's company. I was just thinking I was going to make it through the evening on a positive note when I decided to put some money into the jukebox. Crossing the room, I fished into my pockets for some change and took a few minutes to select a couple of tunes that I liked, then turned back to face the bar just in time to see a large, hulking man in a plaid shirt come up behind Heero and grab him from behind, wrapping his arms around his chest and lifting him off his seat with some kind of animalistic roar. I instantly saw red and thundered my way towards the guy accosting my date.
Grabbing hold of the man's arm, I roughly pulled him away from Heero who was now free of the guy's clutches. The big blond turned to me with a startled expression, then looked down at me with an expression of disbelief on his face followed by a snide smile. "Get your hands off me kid before I teach you it's not polite."
"Keep your hands off of him," I said, full of anger as I motioned to Heero with a quick nod of my head. I didn't look at Heero directly but kept my eyes plastered on the unbelievably big guy in front of me. He didn't look too much older than my nearly twenty-three years, but this guy was the epitome of steroids and muscle. He had to be six foot three and two hundred fifty pounds of serious workout. I could take him, but I knew it was going to hurt pretty damn bad if I did.
"Who are you, little man, to tell me what I can or can't do?" he asked with a belittling look on his face that I wanted to remove with my fists.
"Stop it!" This came from behind me, from Heero, and though I couldn't take the chance of looking at him, his voice alerted me to the fact that he was pissed.
"Duo, this is Paul Duncan. I know him."
"Know him?" I asked with a feeling of dread in the pit of my belly, "As in a Biblical sense?"
After a disquieting pause, he answered, "Yes," in a dark whisper, and my heart felt like it had caved in, especially when the guy towering over me wore a smug grin on his face. I swallowed hard thinking that if this guy was Heero's type, what the hell would he see in me? I mean, yeah, I can see in the mirror that I'm attractive and have been told I have a good personality and a great physique, but I would never be anything compared to the smirking behemoth that stood before and above me. I don't know if I ever felt more like David going against Goliath as I did at that moment. David in that story had a slingshot to bring down the giant, but I, unfortunately, chose to rely on my big mouth.
"Sure your name isn't Paul Bunyan, big guy. Nice shirt." I gave his tight plaid shirt a derogatory glance. "It that your big ass ox, Babe behind you?" I asked steeling a fake glance behind him. "Oh, sorry, that's your ass." It was stupid, but the first thing that came to my mind. I had an immediate, comforting thought that this guy probably didn't know about the American fabled giant he closely resembled. But a second after I said it, I knew he had. I could tell by the guy's angry facial expression that he had probably been taunted more than a few times with that same comparison.
In reaction, the big man took his overly-large and meaty hands and gave my chest a powerful shove, causing me to stumble back and into Heero. What a bully, I thought with my anger rising, picking on a slender, five-foot nine guy with a braid. Unfortunately, he had now touched me, given me a challenge, and I had some sort of genetic flaw that wouldn't let me back off from it, even if it was going to hurt something awful. I hauled off, quicker than a lightening strike, and slugged the towering man in the jaw. I was actually aiming for his nose but it was just too much of a reach. Still, he stumbled slightly, his head whipping to the side for a fraction of a second before he turned back to me with venomous eyes. Damn, this is what they mean when they say the shit hit the fan. I'd definitely flung it and by the look of this guy, it was going to hit me right in the face.
My motto has always been to strike first when an opponent had an advantage over me, so I acted. I launched myself at the solid brick wall, only to be stopped short by strong arms being thrown around my body, pinning my own arms in a restraining hold to my sides. "Stop. Do you want to get yourself killed?" Heero hissed into my ear as he held my back against his chest. Oh God, his touch almost melted me, despite my present dire circumstances. But any romantic thoughts vanished as a fist the size of a battering ram crashed into my unprotected stomach and the air whooshed out of my deflated lungs.
I'm sure you've heard of a condition called a glass jaw, one direct hit and the person is out like a light. Well, I have a place like that, just below my ribs. If I'm hit in that one spot and hard enough, just like the sucker punch Heero delivered to me in the last war, I fold like a deck of cards, and that is exactly how Paul Bunyan hit me. My vision blackened and I felt the arms around me let go of my body as the fading sounds of chaos surrounded me. I think I hit the floor, and hard.
I slowly came to myself feeling a deep ache in my gut and chest and realized that I might have broken or very badly bruised a couple of ribs and my stomach muscles screamed at the abuse the one powerful blow brought.
Feeling extremely disoriented it took me a long moment for my mind to register the fact that I was hanging upside down and was being carried over someone's shoulder. Shit. Then, over the pounding in my head and the sound of booted footsteps on the sidewalk, I was able to hear Heero's voice as he mumbled to himself.
"Stupid idiot. Dammit, why did he have to do that and ruin a perfectly good evening? Don't know what I ever saw in the jerk."
Those words, spoken to himself but clearly heard by me, sent my heart plummeting into my stomach. Heero obviously still viewed me as the baka he'd called me during the war. I'd blown it again, flying off the handle like that in the bar. I'd embarrassed Heero and humiliated myself. I knew at that moment that I didn't have a chance in getting back with Heero. His feelings for me were pretty clear at that point and I decided a quick break was what the situation called for. I let out a moan and began to wiggle to let Heero know I was awake.
He didn't stop instantly but took another twenty or so steps. His hands, resting on the backs of my thighs and holding me in place over his shoulder, seemed to burn my flesh at the non-intimate contact. I felt him lower himself down until he placed my feet on solid ground. His hands moved quickly to steady me as I swayed a bit, then eased me down onto a cold, unyielding surface that I quickly discovered was a bench at a bus stop.
I couldn't help the groan of misery that escaped me as my aching ribs and stomach bitterly complained at the abuse they'd suffered.
"You okay?" I opened my eyes, surprised at the sound of compassion in Heero's voice, and was further surprised see him kneeling at my knee, his eyes searching my face to diagnose any medical problems. His words a few moments earlier came back with a vengeance. He despises me, I reminded myself.
"I'll live," I managed to say, flinching at the pain even breathing brought.
"Here, let me see." Heero reached forward for the bottom of my shirt and almost without thinking, I batted his hand away.
"I'm going home," I told him, earning a look of surprise from him in return. I then struggled to stand up without bending my ribs. I must have looked ridiculous with my slow movements and the angle in which I inched out of the seat, keeping my back as straight as possible. Heero put his hand to my elbow to assist me.
"Let go," I warned him. I didn't think I could bear to see this false compassion when he'd clearly stated his feelings about me when he thought I was unconscious.
"Duo." Heero studied me, clearly looking like he was at a loss as to what he should do to help.
"Let's just call it a night, Heero. Alright?"
The old Yuy scowl was quick to come to his face, and clearly unhappy, he nodded curtly. "I'll walk you to your car."
"Don't bother, I can make it on my own," I huffed out through gritted teeth and with a touch of anger. I hated being seen as weak or vulnerable in front of Heero. I recalled other times, during the wars, when I had pushed myself to the limits of my strength and abilities just to gain a look or word of approval from my partner. I also remembered how exhausting it had been trying to impress him.
"You're as stubborn now as you ever were," Heero said from just behind me as I began to walk very carefully down the sidewalk. I took only a few steps when I felt a firm grip on shoulders and I was slowly turned around to face the other direction.
"It's that way." Great, now there was a touch of humor in Heero's voice. I certainly was giving him a lot of reasons to be amused, to laugh at me behind my back. I could just hear him talking at the water cooler at work. "You know what that baka did this time?" And Heero would go into great detail about all my blunders since we re-met.
I ignored him as I painfully walked in the direction of the well-lit former palace and the Preventers' parking lot . The walk would usually have taken about eight minutes, but in my current painful state, it took at least twenty five. Heero was patient, I'll give him that. He didn't speak to me, probably sensing my hostile mood, but his near silent footsteps alerted me to the fact that he was only a few feet behind me and that he followed me all the way to my jeep. Once there and breathing painfully, I fished into my pocket and with a cautious movement, pulled out my car keys and unlocked the door.
"Duo.." Heero began, but I waved my hand, indicating I didn't want to hear it.
I inched myself up into my seat and shut the door without a glance or any further word to my former lover. I was honestly afraid of saying or doing anything at this point that might just give Heero more fuel for the 'Duo's a Baka' fire. I started the jeep and with great effort put down the parking brake, breaking out in a sweat and biting my lip to keep from crying out at the pain the movement brought. Then, with shaking hands, I managed to shift the gears into reverse. Moving back, the headlights shone on Heero, giving me a last look at him standing in the dimly lit parking lot with an expression of concern on his face as he watched me leave.
I drove straight to the hospital. They know me by sight at this point. I'm not accident prone or get into fights often, but the nature of my job often lands me in the emergency room. That night I found some sort of bizarre comfort from the familiar faces that examined me, took me to be x-rayed, gave me a bottle filled with strong pain killers and issued a stern admonition to go home and stay still.
Slightly buzzed from the pain pills, I called the office the next morning and took another sick day. I rarely missed a day of work other than regular vacation time, but since Heero's arrival I've taken more time off than I have in a year. I hoped that no one would notice.
I sat through the first few early hours of the morning just thinking. Frankly, it was the only thing I could do that didn't cause any pain. I was feeling pretty miserable about myself and the whole situation with Heero. I think that more than the pain caused by the two cracked ribs and the severe bruising of my abdomen, more than the battering my pride had taken from the humiliating incident the night before, I was more disheartened by the thought of having lost my chance to be with Heero again.
The morning stretched out slowly as I searched my feelings in regards to Heero, and realized too late what a Pandora's box I had opened. I hadn't felt so strongly about anyone since I'd left him five years ago. Absolutely no one during that time had an effect on me like Heero did. All I had to do was take one look at that handsome face, the brooding expression and sly grin, not to mention those deep blue eyes and tousled hair on that first day in my office and I had fallen for him all over again. How could I have been so stupid to allow myself to hope for a reconciliation? How could I let myself fall for him again, hook, line and sinker?
The phone rang several times that morning and I listened to the messages, choosing to avoid further pain by not moving from my chair to talk to anyone. I'm a coward in that sense, I hate pain and I really didn't want to move if I didn't have to; it just hurt too damn much. The first call was Wufei. So much for hoping no one would notice my second absence. He teased me for missing yet another day of work, then asked with a bit more concern if I was alright.
Lady Une called next and asked me to return her call and give her a specific reason why I was missing work, again. Geesh, miss a day and a half of work in two weeks and I'm being called on the carpet about it. Great, just great. It's a good thing that Dr. Bob, the emergency room doctor and my new bowling partner, gave me a medical release stating that I should refrain from working for three days and then return to work with limited physical activity for two weeks.
I forced myself out of my comfortable chair and found the slip of paper Dr. Bob put in the pocket of my discarded jacket, currently resting on a nearby chair. Taking it to my computer and turning it on, I scanned the note and e-mailed it to my boss. As I stood there and hit the send button, the phone rang yet again. This time Heero's voice came on after the beep.
"Duo. Are you there?" There was a long pause before he spoke up again. "I just wanted to check up and see if you were alright. If I don't hear from you, I'll be over at lunch to make sure you're okay."
That was it. Call back or face the threat of an awkward visit. To hell with that, I thought. I moved carefully to my front door and checked to make sure the three locks on the door were in place. Heero could open any lock if he wanted to take the time to work at it, but I didn't think he'd intrude on my privacy. I was debating that point and wondering how I could tell him I was fine without talking to him when the phone rang yet again. I glared at it as the message played and the beep sounded.
"Duo, it's Quatre. Are you home? You weren't at the office and Wufei said you took a sick day."
I moved to the phone and picked up the receiver. "Hey!" I said, surprised when my voice cracked. I cleared my throat and tried again. "Hi Quatre," I could never just ignore a call from Quatre. He's probably my best friend, my confident and co-conspirator in all things fun.
"Duo, you're there!" Quatre's voice sounded relieved.
"Were you worried?" I asked.
"Well, you rarely miss work. Are you really sick?"
"Not exactly," I told him and gingerly sat down in the chair at the desk and turned on the vid screen. Quatre's face popped up on the screen and I knew my mug popped up as well on the other end.
Quatre's eyes studied my visage on the screen and frowned. "You look terrible, Duo. What happened?"
"I got in a fight last night with a giant I remember naming Paul Bunyan. Which means," I continued with a bit of sarcasm, "that he landed one powerful punch to my chest and I was a goner." My voice reflected my disgust at my weak display. "I might have done better if Heero wasn't holding my arms down, which left me totally vulnerable to the blow."
Sympathy clouded my blond friend's face. "Yes, I heard Heero was back and had joined the Preventers. How do you feel about that?"
I sighed, then winced at the jolt of pain the slight movement brought. "Confused," I answered him honestly. Quatre might be too far away to really read my emotions, but he has always been a good judge of character and body language. He's always had an uncanny ability to tell when I'm lying, stressed, or about to lose it. My blond friend patiently waited for me to elaborate. I raked a hand slowly through my unbrushed and messy bangs. "I've fallen for him again, Quatre," I confessed, feeling miserable about it. "He just walked into my life and like a stupid dumb ass, I fell for him again."
"That's not necessarily a bad thing, Duo," he replied with a slight smile on his face.
I sighed deeply, praying for patience. Quatre always sees things in a positive light, finding a lesson to be learned no matter how miserable the experience. He's a glass-half-full kind of guy.
"It is when he thinks I'm a stupid idiot and a jerk," I replied caustically, letting out some of the hurt the words Heero had uttered the night before had brought.
"He doesn't think that of you," Quatre insisted, looking like he believed what he was saying.
"Yes he does," I replied firmly. "I heard him say it myself when he thought I was still unconscious."
I got to see a rare thing at that moment; Quatre Winner did not know what to say, how to twist what had happened to me into a positive learning experience. Maybe just for today, that glass is half empty after all.
He had a brief moment of being stumped, but Quatre always recovers quickly. "Talk to him, Duo. I know he cares. If he didn't, why would he go to Luxembourg to work? The Preventers are all over the Earth and colonies. He could have started working for them in any number of places."
Damn, Quatre's good. I felt a slight spark of hope resurfacing. "Maybe he came to work with Wufei? They worked well together during the war," I suggested.
"More likely it's you, Duo."
There was a glint of knowledge sparkling in Quatre's blue eyes that his statement might be more than wishful thinking. "What's going on Quat? What do you know that I don't?" The blond on my view screen frowned slightly. Ah ha, I caught him!
"I'm not supposed to tell," he said softly, already looking guilty.
"Tell what?" I prompted, knowing I could get almost anything out of the honest Winner heir, just like he could get almost everything out of me. "I promise not to repeat whatever you tell me," I said, encouraging him further and lowering my voice in a conspiring manner.
He quickly looked over his shoulder, as if he was about to divulge a world shattering secret. He leaned forward and spoke softly into the microphone. "Heero came to visit us last month," he said in a hushed voice.
"Why didn't you tell me and why are you whispering?" Even though I was slightly ticked that he withheld such information from me, I couldn't help but laugh at him as he divulged what he said he wouldn't. That chuckle caused me a great deal of pain.
"Trowa reminded me this morning to keep my promise to not to say anything," Quatre whispered, his eyes shifting toward a doorway. "He'll be disappointed if I tell you."
"Tell me what?" I whispered back.
"Heero came here looking for advice," he began, but was cut off when in the background Trowa's voice called out his name and then suddenly the former Heavyarms pilot's face was visible on the screen. Damn his uncanny timing. I almost had Quatre blathering his secret to me.
"Hi Duo. How are you?" Trowa asked pleasantly enough as his eyes took in my transmitted image. "You get into a fight or something?"
"Yeah, or something," I replied a bit sullenly, wondering how bad I really looked and wished Quatre didn't look so damn guilty at almost spilling the beans.
"So, what are you guys talking about?" Trowa asked, now looking suspiciously at Quatre who was sitting much too still and too quiet. "I heard something about advice. Do you need advice, Duo? Is there something I can help you with?"
Caught and busted. Well, never let it be said I can't talk my way out of a sticky situation. "Yeah, I need some... dating advice," I answered off the cuff, then mentally kicked myself. I really didn't want to talk to these guys about my jumbled thoughts and my disastrous two dates with Heero. Quatre looked relieved at my little white lie and Trowa, surprisingly, didn't look the least bit surprised.
"What's going on?" Trowa questioned me as Quatre scooted over and Trowa sat in the same chair as his lover in order to carry on our conversation more comfortably. I knew I had to come up with something quickly as his eyes focused on me, so I thought that maybe, if I stayed close to the truth, I might just carry off my attempt to save Quatre and get some help as well.
"Um, okay. You see, there's a new guy in the office that I like and I've had two disastrous dates with him already," I began nervously. I went on to tell them of my blundering first date, omitting from Trowa who I was talking about but saw in Quatre's face that he knew it was Heero. Both of the idiots were grinning and snickering at the ridiculous picture I painted for them with my description of how I spilled almost everything on the table on myself on our first date and had to go home to change my ruined clothes. I then told them about the night before. "He admitted that the big oaf have been a former lover," I told them, then went on to repeat what I heard my "date" say about me as I regained consciousness.
Quatre's face was full of sympathy while Trowa looked thoughtful.
"I figure that, at this point, I'll just call it quits. No sense trying to win over a jury that's already decided on the verdict," I said, resigned to avoiding Heero for the near future.
"Do you really like this guy?" Trowa asked, and the look on his face somehow told me he knew I had been speaking about my former lover.
I sighed and closed my eyes, then nodded my head in answer to his question, knowing that I was lying to them, another little white lie. I knew I didn't just like Heero. Even though five years had passed, I still loved him as much as I ever had and cursed my heart for betraying me again.
"Then talk to him," Trowa advised in all seriousness.
"I don't think so," I answered, not really willing to be swayed and suddenly wanting the conversation to be over. "Listen, I've got to go take a couple of pain pills and lie down. I'll talk to you guys later, okay?"
I didn't wait for an answer or a goodbye, but disconnected the phone even as Quatre and Trowa looked like they were about to say something more.
Less than thirty seconds later the phone rang again as I moved at a turtle's pace from the room, not willing to be swayed by Quatre's voice into picking it up again.
I did just as I said I would and took several pain pills and snagged a blanket from off my bed and carefully and with great pain, placed it over my shoulders. Without a shirt on it was down right chilly in my home and I hurt too much to go out and get the wood for the wood-burning stove, so I just had to deal with the chill. The emergency room nurse cut my work shirt off the night before and I didn't have the courage to face the pain of lifting my arms to put on another one. I decided to lie down on my bed, quickly discovering it was not an easy thing to accomplish. I soon found that the medication that eased the pain also made me very sleepy. My half opened eyes searched out the alarm clock next to my bed, seeing blurry red numbers displaying the time as ten thirty seven before they closed and I let the drugs ease me into a deep sleep.
If the doorbell rang, I didn't hear it. If the door was busted open or the locks were picked, I was totally unaware of it. But I did become aware of cool air hitting my skin as the blanket I'd cocooned myself in was unwrapped from off of me and chilled fingers began running over my bruised flesh. My eyes opened much too sluggishly and my vision was too blurred to see anything but the vague outline of a person sitting next to me, their dark hair the only thing I could really distinguish in my drug-fogged brain. "Wufei?" I croaked.
"No, it's Heero," the voice above me answered softly.
I think I was too drugged to care how Heero got into my home or why he was there, touching my half naked body. I just felt this overwhelming need to go back to sleep.
"Broken?" Heero asked, his fingers lightly brushing my ribs.
I moaned slightly, fearful of him touching the really sore spots. "Cracked," I managed to say in a slurred voice.
"Well, if it helps any, the guy that hit you is not feeling very well today either," Heero informed me with his 'I Got Him Good' grin. I think that was his way of trying to comfort me, and it did help, a little.
"What'd you do? Drop me onto the floor and flatten him?" I could feel a goofy smile growing on my face but I couldn't help it. I have a funny reaction to strong drugs; they make me goofy and talkative.
"Pretty much. Sorry about that," Heero was always good at lame apologies.
"So, you two are or were lovers?" Damn those drugs. I wasn't going to pry into Heero's personal life.
"Not lovers, but involved and only briefly," Heero replied as his fingers shifted positions and moved several long strands of hair away from my forehead. "He was employed at a club I worked out at and was my spotter when I lifted weights. It wasn't a satisfying relationship and he somehow turns up when I least expect it."
"How is it you attract the stalker types?" I snickered, but stopped instantly. Man that hurt. After a moment I sobered and swallowed hard as I asked, "Is he your type now?" I was referring to the size and obscene brawn I'd observed just before the guy popped me with his massive fist.
"No, I guess I was just experimenting a bit. You know, opposites attract, at least for five minutes." He gave me an apologetic smile.
I knew he meant to make light of it, of being with someone else, but I couldn't dismiss how it made me feel. I vaguely remember turning my head away, not able to move from off my back and not wanting to hear about Heero being with another person, someone clearly opposite myself.
I forced myself to remember the words Heero spoke to me while carrying me the night before. "What are you doing here?" I asked, a little more sharp than I intended.
"I wanted to make sure you were alright," he answered, his voice sounding a bit defensive. "I was worried about you."
"I'm fine, you can go now." I kept my head turned away from him and my eyes closed.
"Duo, I think we need to talk." Great, he wants to finish crushing my hopes. Well, even in my dopey state I knew how to stop that pretty quickly, beat him to the punch.
"Listen, Heero." My voice sounded tired and worn. "You don't have to pretend any more. I heard you talking to yourself last night, just as I came to, slung over your shoulder. I heard your real sentiments about me, so you don't have to pretend to care."
"What are you talking about?" Heero sounded genuinely confused, then after a moment or two he spoke again. "What did I say?" he asked.
"That I was an idiot, that I'd ruined the night and was a jerk," I answered bitterly, my heavy lidded eyes remained closed and my head was still facing the wall in the opposite direction from Heero. "I guess I've proved that point in our last two dates, huh? I couldn't do anything right, despite the fact that I really wanted to impress you with how much I'd changed."
"I wasn't talking about you, Duo." Heero said softly and I could feel his fingers gently brushing stray strands of hair away from my face. "I was referring to Paul. The guy is a jerk and I'm sorry I ever had anything to do with him."
I forced my eyes open and with extreme effort turned my head to look at him, hoping beyond hope that there was still a chance.
"And besides," Heero continued as he carefully leaned over me and placed both of his hands on either side of my shoulders, then lowered his face down to mine. "Whoever said I wanted you to change? I like you just the way you are."
"Heero." His name came out in a breathy whisper and I could hear the longing in my voice. I was almost afraid I was dreaming. "Do you think we can try again? I've missed you so much."
He smiled down at me and brushed his fingers against my cheek. "That's what I came back for. I'm done wandering, Duo. I want to settle down and make a home, hopefully with you, if you'll have me."
I know I must have given him a ridiculously goofy grin because Heero burst out laughing. "Is that why you went to L-4?" I asked.
Heero stopped laughing and sobered. "How did you know?"
"Quatre can't keep secrets from me," I said proudly, then embarrassingly, I giggled. The former God of Death isn't supposed to giggle, but at that moment, I didn't care.
"Let's date for a while, see how things go," Heero suggested after he composed himself. "We've both grown up and changed, but I think there's a good chance we still feel the same way about each other. For my part, I never stopped loving you or hoping we could try again." He paused for a moment to study my face for a reaction, then continued. "I went to Trowa and Quatre to ask for advice on how to win you back."
"I love you," I blurted out abruptly after hearing his confession, thank you drugs, and then, to my horror much later, I giggled again.
Heero's face grew sober with concern. "Are you on something?" he asked, then looked to the bedside table and the prescription bottle siting there. He grabbed it and began to read the label. "How many of these did you take, Duo? Did you eat before you took it?"
"No," I answered, "and I took a couple."
"Duo," Heero's voice was in a scolding mode. "You're supposed to take only one pill every four hours and with food. No wonder you're so out of it. How did you ever survive without me?" he asked with a long sigh and took hold of my wrist to feel my pulse.
"I existed," I mumbled feeling really sleepy and turned my hand to grab his wrist. "But now, I want to start to live again."
Heero bent over me and gently kissed my lips. His mouth on mine was like ambrosia, the nectar of the gods to a starving man. The kiss didn't last long and he was careful not to put any weight on me, for which I was reluctantly grateful. "Would you go out with me next Saturday night, after you're feeling better?" he asked in a soft voice, then began to kiss my jaw line, working his way up to my ear.
"What if it's bad and I mess it up again?" I mumbled, frowning as the memories of my past two failures came to mind. "Three strikes and you're out, right?"
Heero nibbled on my ear and whispered, "I'll take charge of it this time, and remember, third time's a charm." His breath against my neck sent shivers up my spine.
He stood up a moment after that, when I started to drift off again, and made me some soup and started up the wood burning stove to give me some heart. He returned to work only after I'd swallowed some of the broth he'd made while still half asleep.
That day began a series of frequent visits from Heero as I convalesced at home. We spent that time talking for long hours and caught up with the details of each other's lives over the past five years. Things were beginning to click with us once again. When I felt a bit better, I called Quatre and Trowa and told them the happy news, which they were eager to celebrate. I told them to hold off until the next date, still somewhat worried about whether things would go well during it or not.
I finish up my light meal and beer, leaving my thoughts of the past and coming back to the present. I slide out of the booth and stand, taking a last look around the tavern as I leave a tip on the table. I'm supposed to meet Heero at eight at his apartment, but I can't stand the wait. I glance down at my watch and realize I've passed several hours in reminiscing over the past with myself. It's now seven fifteen and I decide I can go to his apartment now and call it being fashionably early.
Things never do go quite as planned, do they? Heero isn't there when I ring his doorbell, so I sit down on the plush carpet just outside his apartment door and wait. At approximately seven forty five, I look up when the elevator dings and the doors open to reveal Heero with his arms filled with various colors and sizes of bags. His eyes widen as he see me and I stand up to help him.
"You're early." He grins at me as I put my hands bashfully in my pockets.
"Just a bit," I answer, then move forward to remove a few of the bags so Heero can reach for his keys. In less than a minute we're in his apartment. It's the first time I've been here and in one glance I decide it looks just like Heero. The furniture is modern, black and white leather chairs, a brass coffee table topped with a glass surface and standing lamps light the room's interior. His taste is completely opposite mine as I prefer large and comfortable furniture that I can lounge on. Heero's furniture looks stiff and proper. I worry for just a second how we can ever combine our styles together without compromising what each of our personal preferences for comfort are. I decided to leave that worry for another time. I have to make it through this date first before I can start worrying about future problems.
"Have a seat, I'll be ready in a minute," Heero says as he takes the bags from me and heads to the kitchen. I sit on his black couch and am surprised it's not as uncomfortable as it had first appeared. I bounce up and down a little it to test its cushioning and decide I still like my over stuffed couch in my home better.
"So what are we doing tonight?" I ask as my eyes search the chrome entertainment center and the large T.V. and music center. Impressive.
"I thought we'd stay in," Heero calls back. "I rented some movies I thought you'd like and bought some Chinese food. Is that alright with you?"
"Playing it safe?" I ask with a smile growing on my face, figuring Heero is going to make sure I don't blunder on this important third date and start to question whether what we are starting is destined or doomed.
"Absolutely," he replies with a cheeky tone to his voice.
I lean back against the stiff back of the couch and try to get comfortable. There's still a part of me that feels nervous about impressing Heero, even though he's assured me I don't have to work so hard at it. I just want this to work out so damn bad.
I look up to see Heero come into the room carrying a tray of food cartons and paper plates. He sets it on an end table, then removes from his arm a large, white plastic cloth and drapes it over the coffee table. I watch him as he turns to the tray and places several Styrofoam containers on the plastic covered table, then sets down two heavy duty paper plates and a roll of paper towels. He looks up and winks at me; a rare sight indeed.
I watched him walk back to the kitchen only to appear a moment later with napkins and two large paper cups with lids and straws. He sits down on the floor in front of the table and, with his eyes, motions for me to join him.
"No silverware?" I ask with a grin. "Are you afraid I'm going to accidentally stab either you or myself spearing a prawn?"
His reply is an amused smirk. He opens the containers and I see a good variety of finger foods. He holds up each container and offers them to me first. With my finger tips I take my portion and resist the urge to lick my fingers until my plate was filled. Then, looking directly into Heero's eyes, I slowly stick two of them into my mouth and suck off the sweet juices lingering there. Heero's eyes are glued to me for a moment before he reaches for my wrist and gently pulls my fingers from my mouth and puts each of the digits into his mouth, one by one, cleaning them with his wonderful tongue. I decide at that moment that I am not going to be sleeping alone tonight nor am I going home.
Now that my heart rate is up and my pants are a bit more snug, Heero releases my hand and motions to the food. "Eat something, you're going to need it." Hum, threat or promise? Either way, I'm sure he's right.
The meal commences and we talk of our time apart, my home and Heero's travels. I can tell Heero has loved the freedom he's had traveling the earth and colonies. I have to wonder if he really is ready to settle down. I reach for my drink and give him a sly grin as I glance at the lid and straw on my cup. "Making sure I don't spill on myself or your carpet?" I tease.
He nodded. "I just want everything to be perfect tonight. I don't want you running off because you spilled something on yourself."
I turn and look deeply into his eyes, all levity diminishing as I reply soberly, "I'm not going anywhere, Heero. There's no place I'd rather be than here with you."
He smiles, and I can see he feels the same way. Funny how I can tell what he is thinking by observing a look or a glance from him, just like I used to. Feeling comfortable being here with him, I decide to ask the question that had troubled me a moment before.
"Are you sure you're ready to settle down Heero?" I can almost feel fear climbing my spine, afraid of a negative answer. "If we start this again, I don't want it to end like last time. I love and need you, but I also need a home, a place to call my own, our own."
Heero's deep blue eyes pierce my defenses and melt my soul with their passion. "I've seen wonderful things, Duo, and I would love to see them again, but next time with someone I love. Traveling and seeing things that awe and inspire and can't fully be captured in a photograph or words and need to be seen with someone else to fully share the wonder of it. I want to show you so many beautiful things, Duo. But I'm willing to wait until we have vacation time and carefully plan some time away. I want to have a home with you and I hope you're willing to still share a small part of the passion I feel for the wonders of the solar system."
"I usually spend my vacations with Quatre and Trowa," I tell him, hesitant to lose that connection with my friends while wanting more than ever to concede to Heero's request.
"We'll invite them along. The more the merrier, right?"
God above I love him, and I lean forward to tell him so with a kiss, flavored with the Chinese spices that made our food so very edible and extends further to make the kiss so savory. His arms circle around me and he holds me possessively and kisses me with a desperation I completely understand and return.
When the kiss ends, I find myself with my back on the carpet and Heero on top of me, grinning like the Cheshire cat in the story of Alice in Wonderland. I run my hand through his short, coarse hair. "So I take it I survived this date without too much blundering. No third strike, right?"
"I told you," Heero says in a breathy voice, then kisses my lips briefly before finishing. "Third time's a charm." I decide then and there, as I feel Heero's lips leaving a trail of kisses down my neck and his fingers slowly begin unbuttoning my shirt, that the number three is my new lucky number. Maybe it's fate after all that we had to wait until the third date for things to go right, after all, 01 plus 02 equals three.