Disclaimers: not mine, no money!!

Pairing: 1X2
Warnings: Post-war, Heero p.o.v., romance

Author's Note: The heero-muse was bored and made me write this. It's only seven pages!

Summary: After the events of Endless Waltz, Heero and Duo enroll as university students. They depend on each other's love to keep their heads above water during tough times.

This Far
by Granate

April, AC 197. Earth.

The silver Mercedes I catch a glimpse of out the window can only be one person. Quatre always seems to know. I don't know how, but he just seems to know when we're really struggling. I give my attempt at food one more frown, put the lid back on the pot, set the spoon on the spoon rest, and wipe my hands on a dishrag before moving to the front door to let him in. His Benz looks out of place on this street, parked in front of this house. I open the screen door and he waves at me as I come out onto the single, cracked concrete step.

"Hi Heero!" he says as he swings the driver's side door shut. He smiles at me, wide and honest. "I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd stop by and say hello," he tells me. He loosens his tie as he comes up the walk.

"Well, it's always nice to see you," I say truthfully, pulling the door open for him.

He follows me inside, asking, "Is Duo home?"

"Still at school," I answer. I hear the old metal door squeak and clatter shut behind us. Some people might be embarrassed to let Quatre R. Winner into a home in which the mousetraps outnumber the pieces worn second hand furniture, but Quatre is a friend and quite frankly, he's seen worse. Our small house doesn't embarrass me at all, actually.

"How is school going?" my guest asks, taking a seat on the aged orange couch, "I know the both of you got a late start on the semester." I settle for leaning against the bookcase so I can keep an eye on the stove.

"It's going well," I reply positively, "We're enrolling for summer courses, so catching up won't be a problem. I haven't settled on a major yet, though."

"You've still got plenty of time," he assures me.

"How's business?"

He sets his face and nods. "Surviving. The company might take some more losses for a while yet, but I refuse to close anything or lay-off any employees. We'll get through."

"That's good to hear, Quatre - SHIT!"

I hear him chuckle as I dash back into the kitchen to catch my over-boiling pot. There's a smile on his face as he gets up and comes to lean on the doorframe and watch me grumble to myself and try to wipe up the mess. I'm a little frustrated with myself for messing this up so bad because it's my night off from work and the only evening of the week that Duo and I have together. We'll probably spend it doing homework, but at least we'll be together.

"What's cooking in here, Heero? It smells - "

I know he started that comment intending to say 'good,' but I look up just in time to watch a little reflexive frown flicker across his face.

"Burnt?" I finish his sentence for him. Let's be honest here.

He chuckles again. "I wasn't going to say that," he insists.

"Some variation on 'interesting' then?"

"How about… exotic?" he tries, eyebrows raised under his blond bangs.

"Good one," I grunt, amused despite the mess I've made of dinner. I go to the sink to rinse off the rag. "Can you stay for dinner?" I ask, tossing him a hopeful smile over my shoulder.

He shifts, his expression becoming apologetic. "I'm sorry I really can't stay long," he says.

"And eat this crap?" I ask, going back to the stove to give it a futile stir, "I can't blame you."

"You have no idea," he says bleakly, "I really do wish I could visit with you guys more often. I'm going to miss Duo, but I really have to get going."

"I know," I say. Quatre is never 'in the neighborhood,' at least not this one. Knowing him, he probably went out of his way to come here and most likely has someplace he should be instead. "I'll tell him you stopped by," I promise as we move through the living room, back to the door.

"Thanks," he says. He turns to me before opening the door. "You know you two will always have a place with Winner Inc. should you want it, right? Times are tough and all, but I will find something to pay you to do," he promises.

I laugh a little. He reminds me of this almost every time we see each other. "The offer is appreciated, Mr. Winner," I reply. I know he thinks highly of both Duo and me for going to university and his offer is only extended with the best of intentions.

I stand on the stoop again and watch him get back into the car that he got out of only moments ago. I call goodbye and he promises to come by again when he can. I go back into the house and watch through the window as he pulls his car 2 houses down and gets out again. I try not to sigh and go to set the table.

Duo gets home about ten minutes later, Quatre only just missed him. The door slams and there is some general stomping around, the sounds of books thumping into the floor, boots being taken off, and a jacket and computer case being shed onto the couch.

"Attention to whoever is in this house," he calls from the living room, "Duo Maxwell is home, and he's hungry and wants a kiss."

"Dinner and boyfriend are in the kitchen," I say back. "Although one is burnt," I admit when he appears in the doorway.

"Well, in that case, let's hope it's dinner 'cause I want that kiss," he says with a raffish grin. I don't protest as he pushes me back against the counter and kisses me, one hand roaming my waist. My hands slither behind his neck, pulling him closer as I return his kiss.

"Will dinner be as good?" he asks when we finally part. He turns to look at the table, but I catch his face with my hands.

"Don't look," I warn him as if he'll turn to a pillar of salt, "If you don't look at it and hold your nose, you might be able to eat it."

His shoulders shake with laughter. "Heero Yuy, the comedian," he grins at me and I get a peck on the lips.

"He thinks I'm kidding," I say to no one in particular as he breaks away and goes to sit at the table. I have to give him credit for the impassive face he maintains when he sees what's on our plates. He doesn't falter, he just sits down and I sit beside him at the round Formica table.

"Quatre paid our rent again," I tell him as I pour him some water from a bottle. The tap water is so hard it's practically magnetic.

"Son of a gun," he shakes his head.

"He came by about fifteen minutes ago," I relay, "I saw him stop at the landlord's on his way out."

"Let me guess," Duo sighs, "He happened to be in the neighborhood?"

I nod. I know Duo feels the same way I do about it. It's not that we don't need or appreciate the help, we just wanted to be able to do this on our own. It's dismaying that we can't. Sure, we could have made the payment, we probably would have just had to sacrifice the phone bill and some groceries.

There was a boom during 196, hope and rebuilding fueling the economy. It slowed a little in the winter and then crashed after Dekim Barton tried to resurrect the wars. People tried to keep up confidence, but the recession snuck up anyway.

After the Eve Wars, Duo and I both decided to get some kind of degree. Getting in was a snap for two ex-Gundam pilots and we get our tuition waved, but the school can't afford to give us any kind of loan or stipend. However, they were kind enough to employ us both, albeit in low-paying student jobs. Duo works for the network and technical support team and I work in the library.

Working there makes me feel so… peaceful. It's quiet and the books have a certain pleasing smell to them. I grew up surrounded by machines and there is something oddly soothing about the stillness of bound paper. No blinking lights or beeping noises, no whirring fans or clicking gears. Nobody really comes in unless it's for something obscure as most resources are available digitally. Hard copies are occasionally needed, computers go on the blink, or others are drawn to the solitude for study purposes, so I do see a number of students but it is still blissfully quiet.

Neither of us works full-time and it's no secret we are just squeaking by when it comes to living expenses.

"Well, that was nice of him," Duo says of Quatre. "We needed the break this month."

"But what about next month?" I ask. I realize I haven't touched my food yet and dig my fork in. I hear Duo's clatter onto the plate and he stops my hand. I look up to find him wincing comically and shaking his head. He stands up and takes both of our plates.

"That bad?" I ask grimly as he takes them to the back door.

"It's just a matter of eliminating obstacles," is Duo's philosophical answer to my previous question. It sounds like something I would have said during the wars. He opens the back door and dumps our dinners.

"We'll have money someday," he continues as he scrapes them off, "we'll be able to afford a nicer house. First, we gotta get through school. One thing at a time, right?"

I nod a little in agreement, more preoccupied with what we're going to eat tonight.

"I mean, no one said this was going to be easy," he continues, "and I'm not in it for the glamorous lifestyle of the poor university student. We're careful, we do the best we can. Getting a degree is something I wanted to do for myself and I'm going to do what it takes to finish it. I thought we agreed on that, but you know, if you - "

"No, no I do," I assure him, "it's just that…" I let it trail off and stare forlornly at the empty plates, then up at his face. He smiles at me.

I love this smile. During the war of 195, we lived on the run and survived by our wits. He was a cocky pilot with the balls and bravado of a man ten years older. Back then, his smiles never reached his eyes, they hid too much hatred. I had never seen a sincere one until we got to know each other better during the year of peace. I used to visit him sometimes at his salvage business on L2 and then one time, I stayed. That was when I learned what a real Duo smile looks like. Since the first time I saw one, I've wanted those smiles to be for me.

"I know how you try, He-man," he says with that smile, "but let's eat out tonight."

I raise my eyebrows.

"We've got a little leeway with rent out of the way," he says, "we'll get pizza or something cheap. Come on, you deserve it, it's your day off."

"All right," I agree, getting up. Duo is one of the most frugal people I have ever met and I have a sneaking suspicion that he'll skip a few lunches to make up for this dinner, but this is what he wants so I go along with it. One thing at a time.

He takes a moment to dump all the dirty dishes in the sink, squirt some soap over them and run the hot water. "I guess it would be impossible for you to be good at everything," he jokes as he surveys the carnage, "but lucky for you, poor culinary skills are easily over looked when one is smart, gorgeous, an animal in the sack, and has odd tendencies to save the world every Christmas."

I just roll my eyes at him. It wasn't every Christmas, just two, and I'd like to have other plans this Christmas if the world doesn't mind. He winks at me and I follow him through the living room to the door. He puts on his boots, but I stand there frowning at the mess it's become since he got home. His jacket is thrown over the couch, his boots tracked mud on the carpet, there's a shirt and books strewn on the floor. We've had this argument so many times.

He sees me looking around and looks cross for a moment, but it subsides. "Come on, let's not do this now," he pleads, "let's just have a good time, you can reprimand me later."

I decide to be a jerk later and just put my shoes on. We walk a few blocks to a small pizzeria and splurge on a supreme. We talk about the physics professor who is trying to recruit him as a research assistant, we brainstorm repairs for the house that we can do ourselves, and finally conversation turns to lighter, less important topics. We get the remains of our extra large boxed and tote it back for later meals. When get near the house, he runs ahead and locks me out until he has it cleaned up. He lets me in with a grin and we both set up our computers at the kitchen table to get a few hours of work done.

For me, I know things are bad when sex is compromised and it all too often is. I feel like we are too young to be too tired or too busy. Our schedules are not very compatible, either which makes finding time together difficult. Tonight looks like it will go along those lines since Duo's got more homework to do and I have an early class tomorrow. I shut down my laptop when I'm done and say goodnight. He promises to try not to wake me up when he comes to bed later.

I don't fall asleep right away, though, there's too much on my mind. I keep worrying about money, but then I think about the way he smiles at me and all I really want is him next to me, even if we can't make love. The light from the hall goes off only a short time later and Duo slips through the door. I move towards him when he gets into the bed.

"You're still awake," he says quietly.

"Yeah, thinking about stuff," I say.

"Me too," he whispers. His hands search for me and as soon as they find me, I have my arms wrapped around him.

He pushes me away just slightly so he can look at me. The blinds in the bedroom are broken and in just the light coming in from the street, I can see his eyes searching mine.

"Heero," he says, "about before. I really don't care how we live. For me, it's always gonna be step up, no matter how bad it seems. I just need to know that you're ok. I mean, if you're not happy…"

I growl to myself and pull him to me so I can kiss his forehead through his shaggy bangs. "You're all I need," I tell him, heart pounding so hard he can probably feel it. Baring my soul is still a struggle, even to Duo.

It's not an exaggeration to say that if I didn't have Duo, I might not be alive right now, and I don't mean that in any romantic kind of way. It's just a simple truth. I don't like to think about how close I came in the last war. I drove my mobile suit and myself to the absolute brink. Deep down, I know that if I hadn't had someone so important to go back to, I might have crossed that line the way I did during the first war. I didn't though, because what Duo and I were discovering in each other was too precious.

He is all I need. I don't care that we share this house with mice or that sometimes we eat Ramen so many nights in a row that I lose count. I'm just awed that we've come this far. I mean, him and me, let's face it, we're a long shot. We're not just two kids who have had tough lives, we're war veterans struggling to pick up the pieces, only to find we can't fit them together because we don't remember a time before there were battles.

Yeah, nobody said it would be easy, but no one ever said it would be this hard. Adjusting to peace was difficult enough for me. Getting past the training, living with the memories, the nightmares and the constant paranoia. I couldn't trust people, couldn't relate, couldn't understand. I kept going back to L2 because he just made it easier somehow, maybe because he was going through the same thing. I was so aimless until I decided to stay with him. He was and still is my anchor. Our love surprised everyone, but mostly ourselves. Realizing just how far he'd gotten inside me was terrifying at first, and discovering the depth of my own ability to love shook me to the core.

I want to show Duo this love because I am so inept at speaking it. The fact that I have an early class tomorrow conveniently slips from my mind as I slide my hands under his tee-shirt and over the skin of his back. He sighs and leans into my chest. I push his shirt up and my hips move of their own accord, making needy little movements against his. I feel his fingers clutching at the back of my neck.

"Heero?" he asks breathlessly.

I answer this question by rolling us so that I'm on top looking down at him. His Duo-smile is clouded with passion and need for me, and I respond to it instinctively. I kiss him, tasting him like it's been years since the last time. His body's reaction is so hungry that I completely lose any thoughts I might have had about class or work or money.

He yanks my shirt over my head and I make a silent vow to find a way to make more time for him, more time for nights like this. No quickies, no hand-jobs, no brief kisses before running out the door. Tonight we will do this right.

We kick off our remaining clothing and make love like nothing else exists in the world. I'm not the 'animal' he referred to me as earlier, not tonight. We take it slow, loving every inch of each other's bodies, enjoying every subtle movement until we can no longer ignore our lust. We gasp and clutch one another desperately as we surrender ourselves to it.

Afterwards, Duo clings to me for several tranquil moments before getting out of bed to clean up. I wait for him, blinking sleepily. I get a kiss when he gets back in bed and then he maneuvers me so that he can spoon behind me. He wraps me in his arms and nuzzles the back of my neck.

I feel his arms tight around me, and I think of the way he says my name when we make love, the way he always gives the shit I cook at least one taste, and the way he demands I kiss him when he gets home, and I know his smiles are for me. It's times like this, when I can't be any closer to him, that I know we're here to stay. We've come this far and we'll see it through together. I can't imagine it any other way

HA! You have been tricked into reading a SONGFIC! This fic was inspired by the song 'No One Said It Would Be Easy' by Sheryl Crow. *smug*

It's obvious the trouble we're in
when you're father pulls up in a Mercedes Benz.
He says he just happened to be in the neighborhood
but before he leaves he slips the landlord the rent.
And you say, 'It's just a question of eliminating obstacles,'
as you throw your dinner out the kitchen door.
And you say, 'I know how you try,
but honey, lets eat out tonight.'

And no one said it would be easy
but no one said it'd be this hard.
No one said it would be easy,
no one thought we'd come this far.

You can't seem to ever fold up a shirt
and I bring it up, you think I'm a jerk.
But I think we're here to stay
I can't imagine it any other way.

And no one said it would be easy
but no one said it'd be this hard.
No one said it would be easy
no one thought we'd come this far.

But sometimes I wonder who he's picturing
when he looks at me
when he looks at me and smiles.

No one said it would be easy
but no one said it'd be this hard.
No one said it would be easy
no one thought we'd come this far.

Darlin' look, we've come THIS FAR.


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