Heero's stomach growled as he doggedly climbed the stairs to his flat and stopped to unlock his door. The apartment was dim and nothing looked disturbed. Again. He was really going to have to do something about this today, he had to wake Duo up. He moved towards the bedroom and tripped over something. He flipped on a light and found it was one of Duo's duffle bags. Both of them were sitting right next to the couch. He looked toward the bedroom and was surprised to find the door open and the bed made, meaning Duo had to be up and out somewhere.
He checked the kitchen counter and the key was gone but there was no note for him. He thought half-heartedly about starting something for dinner, but he was too tired and flopped bonelessly onto the couch instead. While he was glad Duo was up, he couldn't help being a little worried. He suddenly wondered if Duo even had his phone number. What if he got lost? Would he know how to find his way back? It did cross his mind that Duo may have done something crazy like jump off the London Bridge, but he quickly dismissed it. He probably wouldn't have taken the flat key if he meant to do something like that.
Trying to banish those thoughts, Heero scrubbed a hand through his unruly hair and then let his arm fall over the side of the couch, hitting one of Duo's bags. He felt something papery and sat up to investigate. Sitting on top of the open red bag was a Boots photofinishing packet. He swallowed and picked it up. He was pretty sure that he knew exactly what it was.
Inside, there were some pictures of scenery or modern Ashkelon, but most were of himself, age fourteen, either staring away or looking at the camera with varying expressions of displeasure. He didn't know whether to chuckle or be embarrassed. Duo had liked him so much, it was so obvious and it made him sad that he had thought differently for so long. It was sad, too, what had happened to Duo. It stunned him that Duo could have been affected like that. His friend had seemed invincible back then, larger than life. He put the pictures back in the envelope, laid down again, and stared at the ceiling.
It made Heero angry that Duo had been made to believe that he didn't care about him at all. Had he not been obvious enough? He was so shy back then, not to mention totally clueless. Of course, the fact that his letters had been intercepted hadn't helped matters. He could be mad at Father Maxwell, but rationally he knew there was no sense in that. First of all, the man was dead, and second of all, yes people had been hurt, but the truth had eventually come out. There was really no point in being angry, he knew, especially now that he had a chance to make up for things. He wanted to get to know Duo again, to start over and see if just maybe his feelings would end up at the same place they had before.
He looked up when he heard a key in the lock. The door opened and Duo entered with a brown paper bag. His eyes glanced around the room before he spotted Heero on the couch and smiled. Heero realized this was the first time he'd seen Duo smile since they'd been reunited. He sat up on his elbows.
"Hey," Duo said, still smiling.
"Hey," Heero answered, eyes glued to the figure closing his door. He was wearing clean clothes and his hair was neat. His face was a little ruddy from the windy March day. Without his somber black clothes, he looked like a regular young man you might see on the streets of London. He held the bag to his chest as he pulled the key from the lock.
"I brought dinner," he said, holding the bag aloft as he brought it to kitchen, "from the little Thai place a few blocks down."
"Oh, great," Heero said, quickly getting to his feet. He barely managed to catch the photo envelope he had rested on his stomach before it fell to the floor. "You didn't have to, you know," he said, fumbling with the packet a little, "I was going to make something."
Duo paused as he lifted a few white cartons out of the bag. "Looked more like you were going to fall asleep," he teased.
"Tuesday is my late day," Heero said by way of explanation.
"I know, you said so in your note. I wanted to have dinner ready by the time you got back, but then I remembered that I don't know how to cook anything," Duo told him, ducking his head slightly, "hence take-out." He folded the bag and opened the food containers.
"You should get used to calling it 'take away' here," Heero reminded as he retrieved plates from the cupboard.
"Right. Take away," Duo chuckled a little.
He couldn't take his eyes off Duo and Duo's little glances at him said basically the same thing. They were sizing one another up, they were dancing. They were careful and genial and unsure, just trying to feel each other out. Duo had accidentally found his very favorite place to eat, so he had points up front.
Heero set plates and glasses on the table and Duo brought the food over. It had been a while since he'd seen two places set at his table. Duo placed a Singha beer in front of both of them. "This any good?" he asked as he sat down.
"Right now, it's looking great," Heero said emphatically as he twisted the cap off. Thai beer wasn't his favorite but he wasn't about to complain. "Go ahead," he motioned to Duo to dish up some food before taking a long gulp of beer. They served themselves, broke their chopsticks, and dug in.
"So you were out today?" Heero asked, fishing for a piece of chicken.
Duo had just taken a big bite of a spring roll, so he nodded as he chewed. "Yeah," he said after swallowing, "I woke up this morning, and I looked out the window, and it hit me that I am in London. I've always wanted to see London, so I got out and joined the tourists for the afternoon."
"Good," Heero nodded and proceeded delicately. "So you're feeling better?"
"Yeah," Duo answered, now concentrating on chasing a peapod around his plate. He gave up and looked at Heero. "Heero, I really gotta thank you for letting me come here and being so patient with me. I
I feel different already."
Heero could see that without being told. This was not the smiling priest with the hollow eyes, nor the catatonic emotional vacuum that had been sleeping in his room for the last three days. Maybe it wasn't the Duo from Ashkelon who threw seaweed at him and played 'Ode to Joy' loud and proud for the whole city to hear, but he'd never expected that.
"You don't have to thank me, Duo," he said plainly.
"Anyway, sorry for being such a zombie lately! I really - "
"And you don't have to apologize," Heero cut in earnestly, "I wanted to help."
Duo nodded and took a big bite of the chicken cashew, looking like he was mulling on something more to say. Heero watched his cheeks turn pink and eyes start to water. He tried very hard not to chuckle, but a smirk broke through. "You ordered the medium," he guessed.
His guest just nodded.
"Here, why don't I take care of the spicy cashew and you have the Goong Paradise," Heero suggested, scooting his plate over. Duo took a few long swallows of beer and waved vehemently at Heero to go ahead and claim the rest of his spicy cashew chicken. He used his chopsticks to move Duo's dinner to his plate and then nudged the shrimp carton over.
Duo made a loud sound of relief as he set his beer down and then sniffled a little.
"You have to be careful about the medium at that place," Heero chuckled. "You ok?"
"Fine!" Duo insisted and coughed a little. He drank a little more and then returned to looking serious. "I um, I wanted to ask if you think things are going to work out with finding work over here. I didn't mean to put you on the spot, I wasn't, uh, really thinking clearly when I said that."
"Are you ready to talk technicalities?" Heero asked. At this point, he'd rather the conversation stayed light, but Duo did have some things to think about.
"Yeah," Duo answered as he scooped the less spicy shrimp dish onto his plate.
"Ok, then," Heero nodded as Duo attempted to snare a pea pod. "I did some talking and King's College Classics department is going to get you a work visa. There's this immigration allowance for people with valuable skills to be granted a work visa as long as an employer brings them in," Heero started to explain. "King's is willing to bring you in, but the problem is they don't actually have a position for you."
"Ok, what does that mean?"
"That means they'll hire you part time or on a contract basis. You'll probably have to find other work to support yourself," Heero said apologetically. He knew this probably wasn't the deal Duo had been hoping for.
"Really?" Duo asked excitedly. A piece of shrimp fell from his chopsticks but he didn't seem to notice. "They're really going to take me?"
"Yes. You can negotiate the terms of the visa with the department, they'd really like to meet you."
"Can I come with you tomorrow?" he asked and chomped down on his empty chopsticks. He removed them from his mouth to frown at them and then diligently sought out another piece of shrimp.
"I was hoping you would," Heero nodded.
Duo eventually managed to get a mouthful of shrimp and peapods and chewed thoughtfully. "So, what is King's College like?" he asked.
"A decent school, part of the University of London," Heero said.
"So what drew you? It's a long way from home."
Heero shifted a little. A long way from home had kind of been then point. "Several things drew me," he answered, "somewhere new, full scholarship plus stipend, and they agreed to reopen the excavations at Lepcis Magna. I basically get to be in charge."
"Wow!" Duo gaped and dropped the peapod he'd spent well over a minute chasing. "Lepcis Magna? No kidding? That's in Libya, right?"
"Right, southern rim of the Mediterranean," Heero said.
"Holy cow, that's awesome! You been there yet?"
"Not yet. I've spent the year slaving over the old excavation records to plan the dig. Artifacts, papers, crew journals, you name it. I'll be taking a small crew with me this summer to do some prelim work," Heero trailed off as he watched Duo chomp at another peapod and lose it. "I can get you a fork," he offered, eyebrows lifting.
"Are you kidding? I'm doing awesome over here," Duo said, cheeks tinting slightly again, "I am a master!"
Heero just smirked and went back to watching since he was already done. He would have offered pointers already if it weren't so amusing. It was pretty obvious Duo had not used chopsticks often. He didn't know not to order the medium. He seemed leery of the beer so long as his mouth wasn't on fire. Heero wondered how much more Duo had not experienced before. There were so many questions he wanted to ask but it felt a little early for the third degree. He thought he should give Duo a chance to sort things out for himself. Even if his life had been stifling before, he seemed determined to try new things and that's what Heero found so charming. That and the way he was licking sauce from his lips after a successful attack on a shrimp.
"Hey, how's your uncle doing?" Duo asked.
"Jay? Oh, he's good I think," Heero answered. "He was teaching in the fall and writing up his manuscripts since we wrapped up in Ashkelon. Right now he's on sabbatical looking for a new place to dig."
"That's cool," Duo said as he tried to wrangle another piece of shrimp. "Any leads?"
"Oh, I'm sure he's got something up his sleeve," Heero said.
"I feel like I should apologize to him or something," Duo commented and dropped the shrimp.
"For what?" Heero asked.
Duo shrugged. "I don't know, I've had the wrong impression and been thinking of him as some kind of ogre all these years," he frowned.
"He is an ogre," Heero deadpanned. Duo laughed. "I'm sure he wouldn't mind hearing from you," Heero said, "he'd remember you."
Duo just nodded. Heero watched him lose a clump of rice and end up nibbling a single grain of rice and finally caved. "All right," Heero said, picking up his chopsticks, "I'm going to teach you how to use these."
Duo was an excellent pupil as Heero taught him the proper way to hold and manipulate the sticks. He finished the second half of his meal much faster than the first half. Clean up was blissfully simple. Lacking a dishwasher, Heero washed up the plates as Duo put the cartons in the fridge.
"You know, Duo," he said as Duo dried off the plates, "you're welcome to stay here as long as you need to. Don't feel like you need to be in a rush to move out."
"As long as I bring you Thai every Tuesday?" Duo joked.
"Exactly," Heero smirked.
The next day, Duo accompanied Heero to meet Dr. Lowe and get the details of his visa worked out. Since Duo didn't have a Bachelor's degree himself, he couldn't be given a teaching or even tutoring position, but there was a position for him part-time in the library. Heero was pleased that Odin seemed to like Duo right away. It occurred to him that Duo could take classes in the fall if he chose to stay that long. After the official papers had been signed and everything taken care of, Heero took Duo to the basement.
"Welcome to the cave," he said, unlocking the storeroom. He flipped the light switch and Duo entered, taking in the tall metal shelves full of boxes, files, artifacts, and everything else that had come out of the dig in Lepcis Magna.
"You'll have gone through all this stuff by June?" Duo asked.
"I'm right on track," Heero reported. "All I really have left of the organization stage is a few loose forms and a few mystery artifacts. After that, I get to plan what we'll be doing this summer."
"Well, what can I do?" Duo asked.
"We could start with that document I brought to you in New York," Heero suggested.
"Oh, right!" Duo remembered.
Heero got him set up at the folding table with that and a few more unknown documents, and showed him how to fill out the official forms once he had translated them. "And remember," he said as Duo got to work, "you still owe me the temple floor translation."
"Right, the Phoenician. Let's not forget the water colors I owe you, too," Duo joked back.
Duo got to work and he settled himself on the floor by the shelves since there was only one chair. Duo seemed to get right into work mode, so Heero did the same.
Duo's snickering sometime later caught his attention. He got up to stretch his legs and then went to the table. "What's so funny?" he asked.
"This one is a slanderous leaflet insulting a candidate for magistrate," Duo grinned, "they seem to be implying he has romantic relations with mules."
"How very Shakespearian," Heero smirked. Duo laughed. "Is that the one I brought you before?" Heero asked.
"Nope, that one's all done. It was the account of a traveler," Duo replied. "The dialect probably threw everyone off. I'd never had any experience with it myself, only heard of it, but it was a snap once I got the hang of it."
"Wow," Heero intoned, leafing through Duo's translation. He had gotten that done so quickly. He put the papers down and caught Duo's scratch paper caught his eye. He hadn't used the scratch paper for notes to himself the Heero usually did when he was translating, instead there were little sketches all over it. One figure was sitting like he had been before on the floor and definitely had his hair.
"Do you draw a lot still?" he asked.
"Hm?" Duo hummed, looking up from his work. His eyes followed Heero's down to the sketches. "Oh," he chuckled a little, "nah, not anymore really."
"Well, I still need an artist and photographer for this summer, if you're interested," Heero said.
"Are you saying you want me?" Duo asked, nearly dropping the pen he'd been flipping around.
"Yeah, if you want to stick around that long," Heero offered.
"Yeah, I do! I mean, I will! I'd love to do that!" Duo gulped, trying to recover his pen.
"Good," Heero said, smiling again.