here and otherwise
Duo was making a serious attempt to focus on the book he was reading. He reread the last paragraph for the second time and shifted again on the couch, this time bringing both of his legs up and tucking them underneath himself. "Where the hell is he anyway?" He mused, looking across the room toward the door to their apartment.
His roommate's punctuality was one thing that Duo could consistently count on: he could practically set his watch by Heero. There was, of course, the occasional incident that Heero had no control over, but those instances were few and far between. Heero had called him at work to say that he had a few errands to run, but that he would be home by 6 and for Duo not to worry about dinner. Duo looked down at his watch. "It's almost 7:00." He noted. "As if I wasn't tense enough already!"
Closing the thin paperback and setting it beside him on the couch, Duo laid his head back against the high, cushioned sofa back. It had taken a wealth of contemplation to arrive at this decision and a strong dose of courage to decide that he needed to have this talk with Heero tonight. "Tonight." He reminded himself sharply. It had to be tonight. No more putting it off. He could no longer handle the strain the situation between them lead to. It had not always been that way, especially not in the beginning when Heero had first arrived.
A good six months had passed since the attempted coup by Dekim Barton and Mariemaia had been brought under control. Duo had barely had time to gain employment and settle into a small two-bedroom apartment on L2. Finding a job on his home colony proved to be easier than he had initially thought. There was little glamour in manual labor, but the work was satisfying, the pay adequate and the commute was a just shy of 10 minutes. Duo had come home on that Friday night in July a little later than usual, and with his standard packaged dinner in tow. It hadn't taken him long to conclude that cooking for one was hardly worth the time and effort it entailed and the added expense of eating out was not an issue.
The loud knock on the door of his apartment startled him and Duo rose to answer it: cautiously peering through the small peephole in his front door first. Seeing Heero on the other side probably topped Duo's list of things that he would least likely expect to happen. Unlocking the deadbolt, he opened the door with a smile and stepped aside to allow his former comrade to enter. The evening saw no questions asked and no answers to be had. The two had talked well into the morning hours though, touching only briefly on what they had each been up to for the past half year. It was well past 3am when they decided they should call it a night. Duo had insisted that Heero spend the night on his couch and Heero was gracious as he agreed to his friend's offer of hospitality.
The following morning brought with it a combination of food and conversation. Duo had woken early to find Heero in the kitchen and in the process of preparing breakfast. The two broached topics they had, it seemed, purposely avoided the night before. Heero revealed to Duo that he was still uncertain of what it was he wanted. He admitted to Duo that he had been through a number of odd jobs and indicated he found them unsatisfying. The subject of Duo's job came up as well and the two discussed that in some detail. Though there was strong curiosity, Duo did not ask Heero why he was there. He was of the opinion that Heero would most likely prefer to be on his own, but he was happy to have him there nonetheless. Duo imagined too, that there were only a limited number of places and still fewer people that Heero would be comfortable around. There was satisfaction knowing that Heero considered him in such a way. Something about that first morning meal, made Duo come away with the distinct impression that Heero was there to stay: at least for a while. Duo found that he liked the idea.
Duo had spent several hours the following weekend in Heero's absence, cleaning out the tiny room that was his second bedroom. Its 12X10 size could have classified it a closet and Duo used it as such: storing his bicycle in it, along with a half dozen or so huge cardboard packing boxes that he kept stacked up in the corner. Heero had been surprised and pleased by Duo's gesture and accepted the offer of a place to stay, along with assurance of his willingness to pay his own way.
Heero had spent the following day shopping: purchasing a twin sized bed and a tall, unpainted chest of drawers. Duo had been more than happy to outfit Heero's new mattress with a spare set of his sheets and took from his bed the extra pillow he kept on it. Amidst Heero's protest, Duo also removed the second blanket he kept on his bed and laid it atop Heero's bed. "You need that. You are always cold." Heero reminded him.
Duo smiled even now as he thought about it.
It would have worked well to deny Heero's accusation, but having shared more than a few dorm rooms with Heero, Duo knew that his attempt would futile and to assert that that had changed, would have been an outright lie. It was less of a problem now though; since he'd gained a decent amount of weight and his diet had improved significantly. He instead, combated Heero's reluctance by admitting he usually ended up throwing it of during the middle of the night anyway. Duo found his blanket returned to the former position it held on his bed the following day and inquired about it, only to learn that Heero had gone out and purchased one of his own.
It had taken nearly a month for the two to develop a somewhat effective routine. It was Heero who pointed out the benefits of dividing the chores between them, as opposed to them wasting their time and energy duplicating their efforts. They had divvied up a good portion of the work, and chose to share a number of the more mundane tasks. While Duo had volunteered to do the laundry, Heero had taken on the role of chef and a regular dinnertime was eventually established based on Duo's work schedule.
Duo smiled as he fondly recalled how easily the two fell into their current partnership, likening it to working alongside one another during the wars. Duo had noticed only very minute changes in Heero's behavior since then. He was still quite solemn, reserved and ever focused. He did not pry into Heero's affairs and put only minimal effort into trying to draw him into conversation. It had taken far longer than Duo thought it would for Heero to start feeling at ease. The first year and half they cohabitated was little more than two bodies sharing one space and occasionally occupying it at the same time.
Duo found that he enjoyed being with Heero and was pleased that Heero sought out his company whenever time allowed. They spent a large part of their weekends together, playing racquetball and sometimes taking in an occasional movie. Eventually, Duo's memories of his attraction to Heero when they'd initially met began to resurface. It was inevitable, Duo reflected, that their growing friendship would make him want more than what they currently had. He found it was becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore the feelings he had for Heero. All that had transpired between them brought about his current situation: nervous and threatening to wear a hole in the living room carpet as he passed the time waiting for his friend and partner to return home.
The muted sound of keys just outside their apartment door caused Duo to pause and seat himself quickly back down on the sofa. He looked up and smiled at Heero as he entered the room, then softly closed the door behind him and locked it. Giving Heero only enough time to take his jacket off and set his keys down, Duo spoke. "You got a minute?" Not expecting a negative response, Duo moved over to the extreme left hand side of the couch and watched as Heero sat cautiously on the other end.
"This isn't an easy thing for me to do, Heero." Duo began.
Heero fixed his gaze on Duo's hands to find them clasped tightly together in his lap before looking up to meet his eyes. "What is it, Duo?" He asked calmly.
"I think it's time you found a place of your own."
The expression on Heero's face spoiled, if only for an instant, before regaining its composure.
"It's not that we're not getting along well and everything, cause we are." Duo started to explain, "It's just that I think I'm ready to find someone." He said as he looked up at Heero. "It's not like you're in the way or anything." He reassured his friend. "It's just that I don't really feel comfortable doing that with you here and all. Yanno?"
Heero gave a curt nod in response and followed it with carefully chosen words that were obviously intended to ease what he perceived as Duo's discomfort. "That is probably a good idea. It was never my intention to stay here for this long."
Duo smiled. It was difficult to believe that it had been almost three years. "I've enjoyed having you!" Duo told him in all honestly. "And it's not like we still can't hang out and stuff."
"I would like that." Heero said, excusing himself then, to prepare dinner.
Duo closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. He had accomplished what he set out to. He felt a strong sense of achievement and more importantly, tremendous relief.
Heero began his search for a new apartment almost immediately. Duo reiterated several times that there was no rush, and despite the fact that Heero acknowledged Duo's statement, he was steadfast in his determination; spending all his spare time scouring the internet and the colony of L2 itself via foot. It was only a matter of a few weeks before Heero informed Duo that he had found a suitable place to live. Duo sensed Heero's trepidation as he told him over dinner of its location and then asked Duo if he thought the close proximity would be a problem. Duo, in essence, said that it was perfect; trying hard not to reveal the hurt he was feeling at Heero's implication. Despite numerous attempts to dispel the notion, Heero seemed to believe that Duo was trying to distance himself from him.
Being that the apartment was currently unoccupied, Heero began to pack his belongings shortly after he'd returned from the real estate office where he'd signed the lease. He had stopped by the local liquor store on the way home and picked up a few sturdy cardboard boxes and was in the process of emptying the sparse contents of his dresser drawers into them when Duo came home from work. He thought about offering his help, but feared that Heero might take it the wrong way and assume that Duo only wanted to help facilitate his departure. He didn't think he could handle seeing any further indication of his perceived rejection in Heero's eyes.
Over dinner that night, Duo volunteered to assist Heero in making the physical move since Heero had no car. His was small, but Heero didn't have much in the way of furniture and only a dozen or so medium sized boxes that needed to be transported. Heero had accepted at once and Duo felt compelled to ask Heero to take with him some of the things he had bought over the past few years. They had been purchases made for the apartment in general, but some were more specifically used by Heero and Duo felt strongly that Heero should take those items with him. Heero, of course, had refused, using the excuse that he bought them for ‘the apartment' and that he didn't feel right about taking them.
The night before Heero was due to move, Duo stayed up late to collecting the things they had discussed earlier in the week. Duo moved quietly around the kitchen, gathering the small food processor, wok and a few odd utensils from the tiny drawer beside the stove. He ventured into the living room then, taking several pictures from the wall and picking up several of the potted plants as well. He had not been blessed with a green thumb and smiled as he recalled how Heero was always so swift to remind him of the fact. The plants were one of the homey additions that had arrived only after Heero had. Duo had never really seen a purpose for them, but had grown to enjoy the greenery that Heero had scattered around the apartment.
Packing a couple of left over boxes with everything he had gathered, Duo looked over the contents once more. He had very little use for most of it; some of it he would just never use and others would only serve as an unwelcome reminder.
Six hours and two trips later, Heero was gone.
It was still early on Saturday afternoon when Duo returned to his empty home, feeling both physically and mentally drained. Heero had politely refused his offer to help unpack and settle in; aside from assistance he'd given Heero in the placement of the two large pieces of furniture. Heero's apartment was nice: small, but well lit with a newly renovated kitchen and bath and within walking distance of Duo's apartment. He had managed to convince Heero to take with him the kitchen accessories, as well as most the plants, but the rest of the items sat in a box on his kitchen table.
Duo carried the box into Heero's vacant room and set it down on the floor in the corner. Seeing the room this way brought with it a sadness beyond what Duo had prepared himself for. There was never a doubt that he would find himself missing Heero. It would not be easy for him to forget all they had been through together the past three years. Their friendship had matured way beyond what Duo had ever hoped it would. Sure, there had been complications, but the fond memories were by far, the strongest.
Pulling the door to Heero's room closed, Duo made his way across the hall into his bedroom. He removed his shirt and tossed it onto the floor, before pushing the pile of blankets off to one side. Sitting on the edge of his bed, Duo bent to untie his sneakers and slipped them off before stretching out to lie down. He shifted then to bring his arms upward, tucking both hands beneath his head and closed his eyes. Today had not been easy. He had known it wouldn't be. He wondered how the whole ordeal was affecting Heero. Nothing in Heero's behavior this morning had given Duo any indication of how he was feeling. Heero had not wanted to leave, though. Duo was certain of that. They had invested a lot in each other the past few years with neither one seeking out friendships beyond the other. He hoped that this wouldn't affect things between them. Taking a moment to reassure himself that in spite of all the negative thoughts he was having, he had indeed, made the right decision, Duo struggled to control the hurt he was feeling.
There had been agreement made between them the day that Heero left, that they would get together. More than two weeks had passed and Duo had not heard from Heero yet. Duo figured that he would call to give him his number when he got his phone installed. Duo could have emailed him, or even stopped by, but chose not to; noting that Heero himself had not taken the initiative on either of those fronts. He did understand that Heero was probably still very busy settling in. He was basically starting from scratch. There was furniture for several rooms that needed to be bought, as well as the chore of outfitting the other rooms with all the necessities like bedding, dishes, towels, etc.
Duo had accepted his superiors offer to work overtime every night for the past eleven days and had worked a half day last Sunday as well. The extra money was welcome, as was the opportunity to fill the void he now found in his life. There was little to look forward to at home. There were no home cooked meals, no last minute plans to take a walk to Baskin & Robbins, no one to tease about their naiveté and no one to explain old sitcom humor to. Gone too, were the scent of Heero's cologne from the bathroom, and the sharp aroma of his sandalwood soap. Duo even noted the lack of tiny dark hairs on the white porcelain sink that always remained after Heero shaved, despite his former roommates near thorough cleaning ritual.
It was on a Thursday night, nearly three weeks after Heero had moved out, that Duo decided he needed to do something to get himself out of the slump he'd fallen into. Perhaps going out this weekend would be a good idea. It always seemed to help in the past. Maybe he should take action and really do what he told Heero he planned to. Find someone. He did feel guilty about lying to Heero, although he didn't technically consider it an outright lie. Duo really did wish to find someone; he had simply omitted the part where he confessed to Heero that he was the one he wanted to be with.
Duo's mind-set turned somber then, wondering if he was capable of finding someone who could affect him even close to the way that Heero had… someone who was attractive, highly intelligent and able to understand and accept him for who he was without the need to delve into the past. Someone he didn't have to explain the terror of his nightmares and seemingly irrational fears to… someone he could trust implicitly enough to share his life and his bed with.
Another week had passed and with the time came no resolution to the general sense of apathy that was threatening to overwhelm Duo. He had forced himself to go out last Friday night and had had a miserable time, despite being with several of his co-workers whose company he usually enjoyed.
Duo rolled over with a groan of irritation when the doorbell rang, waking him far too early on a Saturday morning. Why was it that people always thought that Saturday morning was a good time to sell you something? This particular caller was more persistent than most, though, and Duo rose, treading heavily as he made his way toward the door in annoyance. Without checking to see who it was, Duo flung the door open in anger, having every intention of giving the unwanted caller a very small, but rather wicked piece of his mind. He stood frozen with his mouth open when he saw that it was Heero on the other side.
"May I come in?" Heero asked.
"Uh… sure." Duo replied, stepping aside. Half asleep and still in a somewhat shocked stupor, he closed the door, locked it and followed Heero into the kitchen.
"I brought fresh bagels." Heero said as he set the bag he was holding down on the counter. "Did you eat yet?"
"No." Duo said, shaking his head slightly from side to side. "What the hell time is it anyway?"
"Eight Thirty." Heero told him, taking a moment to look Duo up and down. "Did I wake you?"
Duo nodded and Heero turned his attention to the condition of the room they were standing in. Duo cringed as he watched Heero's visual appraisal and the accompanying expression it brought to Heero's face.
"I kinda let things go, I guess." He said somewhat sheepishly, as if truly noticing the mess for the first time.
Once again focusing his gaze on Duo, Heero nodded. "Why don't you go take your shower and I'll clean up in here."
"Heero, you don't…"
"I don't mind. Now go." Heero said.
And Duo did.
Not rushing through the pleasure of his morning shower, Duo returned to the kitchen 30 minutes later to find the room remarkably clean. It was probably not quite up to Heero's customary standards, but it was in far better shape than it had been since Heero left. All the dishes had been washed, dried and put away, the chairs were tucked neatly under the already set table, the trash pail that had been overflowing had been emptied and a fresh bag had been placed inside. There was, Duo noted, also a fresh pot of Heero's infamously strong coffee brewing on the stove.
"Better?" Heero asked as he watched Duo survey the room.
Duo smiled. "Yeah. Much. Thanks."
Heero smiled at him in return and filled two mugs with coffee before seating himself in his place at the kitchen table. Duo too sat in his usual seat and looked across the table at Heero. He was able to pretend for a minute that the last three weeks had never happened, that Heero had never left.
"Is everything alright, Duo?" Heero asked. "Are you okay?"
Duo smiled toward Heero, hoping it didn't betray his melancholy. "Yeah." He said afterward. "Everything is okay. I'm fine." And at that moment, he actually was. Heero didn't look quite convinced though. "Sorry about the mess." Duo apologized. "I've been working a shitload of overtime. I hate it when I let things go like that."
Despite the way the morning had started, breakfast was pleasant: simple and comfortable in a way that everything he and Heero did together was. They made small talk as they ate, briefly discussing their jobs, but spoke mostly about how Heero was managing in his new apartment.
"We should get together next weekend." Heero suggested as the two worked to clear the breakfast table.
"That would be great" Duo said. "Racquetball at the gym? He asked.
"Saturday at 3?"
Duo nodded and followed Heero as he made his way to the front door. "I have plans this afternoon." Heero offered as an apology for his short visit.
"No problem." Duo said. "Was good to see you, man. Been too long."
Heero's small smile let Duo that he agreed.
Wednesday night, Duo had stayed late again at work. His boss had made arrangements to purchase a small fleet of older shuttles from a company that was going out of business and it was Duo's responsibility to determine that the vehicles were in good condition and had been properly maintained. His role in the arrangement didn't require he physically check each of the crafts out, but rather that he oversee the process and confirm the validity of the mechanics findings.
Dropping his car off at home, Duo took the four block walk to his favorite pizza place to buy dinner. He looked over the menu briefly before placing his order and headed next door to the newly opened café to pick up a cup of coffee. Curious, he looked up and into the recently remodeled space as he reached for the handle on the inner door. The inside was barely recognizable and had undergone structural as well as superficial changes. Pleased with the overall atmosphere, Duo made a note that he would have to stop in one night. He headed for the counter and reached for a menu, then paused momentarily as he caught of glimpse of Heero sitting with Relena at a table for two in the corner. A bit disconcerted, he set the menu back down on the counter and swiftly exited the café. Walking next door, he picked up and paid for his dinner before quickly making his way back home.
It bothered Duo seeing Heero with Relena. He knew that it shouldn't, but it did. It wasn't as if he hadn't thought about the possibility before. It was clear that during the wars, Relena was interested in Heero. Heero seemed to be drawn to her as well. He should be happy for them… for Heero. He was, after all, Heero's best and perhaps only friend. Heero deserved to be happy; Duo wished nothing less for him. Theoretically, if Relena was capable of doing that, he should have been all for it. Duo understood that, though there was nothing he could do or say to convince himself of it.
Heero was already inside the court and warming up when Duo arrived at the gym on Saturday afternoon. They greeted one another as Duo set his bag down in the corner of the largely glass enclosed space and removed his jacket. On Duo's suggestion, Heero stepped forward to serve and Duo returned the volley with an equal amount of force.
The games were fast paced, with neither of them showing the other mercy or using self-restraint. The pair were known to be highly competitive and often ended up with a bruise or two as a souvenir. Heero had won all three games this time, but only by a small margin and Duo made a mental note that next time he should set aside a few minutes to practice beforehand. They both took a moment to get their wind back and then shook hands before heading into the locker room.
"You wanna come back to my place and hang out for a while?" Duo asked as they dressed.
"I'd like that." Heero replied.
Duo had planned to invite Heero over this afternoon and was glad he had accepted the invitation. He'd spent a number of hours straightening up his apartment, so as not to have a repeat of last week's performance. He was still quite embarrassed by the episode, mainly because he was well aware of how meticulously neat Heero was. He had adapted to it over time, but found it all too easy to revert back to his old habits.
"You straightened up the place." Heero said shortly after he'd stepped inside.
Duo couldn't help but grin. "Yeah. Everything is back in order." He knew that it made Heero feel comfortable and he himself preferred to keep things tidy and uncluttered.
The two gravitated without words, into the living room and sat on the couch. Duo, again, felt relieved and was pleased by the ease with which they seemed to fall into their old routines. "You want to watch something?"
Heero nodded. The pair was physically worn-out and this had long ago become a standard following a vigorous game or two at the gym. After about an hour, the program they were watching ended and Duo's thoughts turned to the conversation he planned to have with Heero. His curiosity had been peaked at finding Heero and Relena together. While part of him didn't want to hear what Heero had to say regarding it, the part that was Heero's best friend knew that he should. The matter settled itself without requiring further thought as Heero spoke up. "Have you been making progress with trying to find someone?" He asked.
Duo shook his head no, initially surprised that Heero had even asked. "Getting out when I can, but it's been really busy at work." He said. He saw no need to admit to Heero that he'd been out only twice and that one of those times was when he'd gone to the movies alone. Seeing this as the perfect opening to question Heero, Duo decided it was now or never. "What about you? Anyone special?"
Heero looked taken aback, but silently indicated that there was no one. Duo felt slightly disappointed, but didn't press the issue, not mentioning to Heero that he had seen him with Relena.
It was nearly three weeks before their schedules were no longer in conflict and on a Tuesday evening, Heero had called to invite Duo over to his apartment. Heero suggested they have dinner the following Saturday night and Duo had eagerly accepted. Immediately after hanging up, he gave some thought to what he should get Heero as a kind of housewarming gift. Heero probably wasn't expecting one, but Duo felt the gesture was important. It was, after all, the first time Heero had had a place of his own. He had not been aware of the custom before Hilde had done the same for him, and recalled how he had been affected by it. Not knowing what Heero had already purchased for his new place made the task of choosing the right gift a complicated one. Duo knew Heero fairly well though, and given enough time to think about it, he was sure he would come up with something that Heero would be pleased with.
On Thursday morning, Duo started his workday by making a request for the afternoon off. Aside from the rare sick day he'd taken, his boss was unable to recall the young man that stood in front of him asking for time off and he willingly agreed; even suggesting to Duo that he take the entire day for himself if he needed it. Duo thanked the older man, but declined the offer and at several minutes after twelve, he punched out, grabbed his bag and headed into the washroom to clean up and change out of his grimy coveralls. He had located a store on the net that would more than likely have just what he'd planned to buy for Heero. A quick shuttle trip to L4 and back, and he'd be all set for Saturday night.
Duo was surprised to find the décor in Heero's apartment, in many ways, mirrored that of his own. There was a minimal amount of furniture scattered throughout the two main rooms and bright recessed lighting illuminated all the rooms. The kitchen, while primarily white, had been accented in black with just a touch of red here and there.
The two had talked over a glass of wine for a good half hour before Heero indicated that it was time to eat. As expected, dinner had been wonderful and Duo complimented Heero on it several times, both during and after the elaborate Japanese meal. He almost wished that he'd suggested to Heero that he open his gift when he'd first arrived, but felt a little foolish. Heero had not asked about the gift, though he had clearly seen it in Duo's hands when he had first arrived.
"I got you something." Duo said once they had cleared the table and seated themselves on the couch.
"Duo…" Heero began. "You didn't…"
"I know, " Duo started, seeing that Heero felt a little uncomfortable. "…but Hilde said it's something of a tradition when someone moves into a new place." He shrugged his shoulders then. "Anyway, just go ahead and open it."
Heero took the shiny silver package from Duo and looked down at it curiously. "I let them wrap it at the store." Duo explained with a sheepish smile.
Heero's amazement was evident as he removed the first of the gifts from the white tissue paper. "Duo, these are beautiful. I've never seen anything like them before." He said. Duo felt pleased as he looked over at the set of 8 matte-finished, stainless chopsticks that Heero was holding. "You can find anything on the net if you look hard enough." He told Heero.
Reaching back into the box, Heero pulled out the next item, and held it up. "Gundanium knives?"
Duo laughed. "Yeah. It's the Chef's set. There's a few specialty ones in there. I figured you'd know what to do with them."
"I had no idea they even made these." Heero said, as he looked them over.
Duo hadn't either. Once he'd seen them in the store though, there was no way he could resist buying them. "There's one more." He told Heero.
"Three?" Heero said in surprise, to which Duo nodded. He had been surprised to find that he tiny shop had such a vast stock of unusual items that he thought Heero might like. It had been difficult for him to decide on just one.
Pulling the last item out, Heero sat the empty box on the floor near his feet and unwrapped the last gift from its paper. He looked up at Duo once he'd finished. "I wasn't sure if you had one already or not."
"I don't." Heero said looking down at the deep gray porcelain and bamboo sushi set. "Thank you, Duo. Really. I don't know what to say."
"No problem, man." He said, setting his hand on Heero's shoulder and squeezing it slightly. It was clear that Heero was touched by his gift and Duo felt extremely gratified. Waiting several minutes, Duo finally broke the strange bout of silence between them. "You wouldn't happen to have any more of that wine, would you?"
"I've missed you."
Duo looked up with a smile as Heero spoke and reentered the room with the bottle of wine in hand. Heero's admission had totally caught him off guard. No sense in denying the truth. "Yeah. I've been kinda lonely too." Duo said.
"I've been seeing Relena." Heero suddenly blurted out as he sat on the couch next to Duo.
Duo reached over to take the bottle from Heero's hand and poured a full glass of wine for himself and filled Heero's glass as well. "That's cool." He told Heero. Heero remained silent, but Duo could see the tension in his posture. Duo forced himself to smile as he spoke. "I guess I never really saw the two of you as having all that much in common, but hey, whatever works for you."
Heero appeared to be a little stunned by Duo's comment, but again, said nothing. "Look Heero, don't feel bad that you found someone and I haven't yet. It's not like I've actively been looking."
"It's not like that with Relena." Heero told Duo. "We talked about you most of the time."
Duo could not have been more surprised and was certain it showed.
"I was feeling very alone once I moved out. Like I said before, I missed you." Heero looked over at Duo then and Duo nodded. "I explained everything to her… about how I was feeling. What I was feeling. She helped me come to a conclusion."
"A conclusion?" Duo asked, still confused.
"Relena thinks we should go out." Heero said.
"We do that all the time." Duo said. "Not so much lately, cause we've both been busy, but…"
Heero shook his head. "No. As a couple." He said quietly.
Duo could feel his jaw go slack as he focused his gaze on Heero. "A couple? So… what?… you're saying that you're gay?"
"Probably?!" Duo asked.
Heero shrugged. "It's just you that I find myself attracted to."
Duo took his time trying to digest this new information. It was something of a formidable task. Heero remained still and silent as he watched Duo struggle with his thoughts. "When did all of this happen? I mean… we lived together for almost three years. You never said anything."
"It wasn't until after I moved out that I started to become aware of it." Heero told him.
Duo shifted on the couch, a little nervous by what he was about to reveal to his best friend. "You know I've liked you for a while, Heero." He said. "That's pretty much why I asked you to leave in the first place."
It was Heero's turn to be puzzled now. "I don't understand." He admitted.
Duo was feeling mildly flustered. Perhaps he shouldn't have said anything to Heero and just see where Heero planned to take things. It was too late for that now. "I didn't want you to move out so that I could find someone, Heero. I asked you to move because I already had found someone. You." Duo said. "I was sure you would never feel the same way back."
"I didn't know..." Heero said, slightly embarrassed.
Duo laughed then. "Yeah. Well, I'll take that as a compliment, then. I tried not to be too obvious."
Heero seemed to be thinking about what Duo said. "I don't know how I would have reacted if I knew you liked me like that." Heero said seriously. "I hadn't figured things out yet."
"I'm glad you finally did." Duo said with a smile.
"Relena had a lot to do with that." Heero admitted. "It might have taken me forever to put two and two together."
"Well, I'm happy that it didn't take forever." Duo said in all honestly. "So what's this about a date?" Duo asked.
After very little discussion, they had agreed to go out the following Saturday night. Duo spent all week a little nervous about the upcoming evening. It wasn't like he'd actually ever been out on a formal date before and knowing that Heero hadn't either, made him that much more anxious about it. Heero had also not told him where they were going. Duo guessed that Heero himself wasn't exactly sure.
He had called Heero early on Saturday morning to make sure that things were still on and to ask how he should dress. Heero's reply of ‘casual, but no jeans or sneakers' had found him searching his closet for a pair of dress pants. He was sure he owned a pair, but couldn't recall seeing them in at least a year. He eventually found the cuffed, charcoal gray pants folded and tucked away in the very back of one of his dresser drawers. Deciding that his long sleeved, indigo silk dress shirt would compliment his eyes as well as being a good match with his slacks, Duo laid the clothes out on the bed and waited impatiently for evening to arrive.
Heero showed up punctually at 8 and the two had walked toward the center of town, without discussing their destination. They had ended up at a small Italian restaurant that Duo had not known about. It was hidden from the street, with only a tiny sign declaring its presence on the second story of an old bookstore.
Dinner had been pleasant enough, despite that they both seemed to be feeling very self-conscious. Duo had said mentioned about it, but sensed that Heero found their current circumstances odd as well. He tried, but couldn't quite put his finger on what seemed different about tonight. Perhaps neither one of them really knew how this dating stuff was supposed to work. Duo found that he was without words a good deal of the time, finally speaking only after Heero too, had appeared to run out of things to say.
The most awkward moment came once their date was over, and Heero walked Duo home. They stood face to face on the top landing of Duo's apartment building steps and Duo thanked Heero for dinner. He could actually feel the blush on his cheeks as he told Heero how much he'd enjoyed himself and when Heero had echoed his sentiment. The exchange was unlike anything that had passed between them before as was Heero leaning in to kiss him goodnight. It left Duo with a strange and overall inexpressible feeling.
He had felt nothing when Heero had kissed him.
Nothing at all.
Duo undressed and climbed into bed with just his boxers on. He laid in the dark for several minutes thinking about the evening he had just spent with Heero.
Heero had arrived on schedule and was dressed in a way that Duo had never seen him. He wore black dress pants, pleated at the waist, and a pair of low black boots with buckles and a slight heel, much like the pair he himself had worn during the wars and a silk button down burgundy shirt. It looked to Duo as if he had even made an attempt to style his hair. Duo too, had gone all out in that area, re-braiding his hair several times that night in an attempt to get it just right.
He enjoyed Heero's company tonight, like he always did, even if it had been riddled by uncharacteristic lulls in their conversation. The night had ended fairly early. Duo figured they might go somewhere afterward, since it was only ten-thirty when they finished eating, but Heero had not suggested they do so and Duo had not thought to invite him in. They could have watched a movie, maybe rented one. That would have been appropriate, a more typical way for them to wrap up an evening together. It didn't totally surprise Duo that none of that had happened.
Nothing tonight had been what he had expected it would be.
"Again with the damn doorbell!" Duo growled in annoyance. "Is Sunday morning not even sacred anymore?!"
The loud bell chimed a second time. "I'm coming already!" He called out.
Duo pulled the door open to see Heero standing on the other side. He looked at Duo and held up a tray that had two cups and a large white paper bag in it. Duo could smell the warm fresh dough and smiled. He did have a weakness for bagels: the warmer the better.
"I know how much you love them." Heero said. Duo closed the front door and not taking the time to put on some clothes, walked behind Heero into the kitchen.
Duo sat and watched as Heero sliced and buttered them each a bagel. He knew that Heero was able to tell that he was still half asleep and that he wasn't expecting his help. He did feel a little guilty about it, though.
Finished with his tasks, Heero sat and watched as Duo removed the lids on the cups and poured a small amount of milk into each of the cups of coffee. He picked up half of his bagel and took a bite out of it.
"Last night was not what I expected." Heero said.
Duo looked over at Heero and sat the bagel back down on its plate. "I thought maybe it was just me." Duo quietly admitted.
Heero shook his head. "It wasn't just you."
Duo felt the same disappointment he read in Heero's facial expression. "We've been friends for such a long time." Duo offered. That was the conclusion he'd finally come to last night. It was just weird kissing your best friend, even if you had fantasized about doing it on numerous occasions over the past two years.
Heero began eating and Duo did the same. They both remained quiet and obviously in thought for the duration of breakfast. Duo could think of nothing to say to help them get over this hurdle. He felt certain that the awkwardness between them would pass eventually and then things could go back to normal. He only hoped it wouldn't take too long.
Picking up the two empty plates from the table, Heero stood and walked to the other side of the room. Duo's gaze followed his friend's movements as he crossed the kitchen. He felt knots form in his stomach as he let his eyes wash over Heero, now standing in front of the sink washing their dishes.
The sight was so familiar to him. Heero was wearing his ‘house sneakers' as Duo had dubbed them. They had outlived their useful lifespan, but Heero somehow couldn't bring himself to part with them. His jeans too, Duo noted, were faded almost white: threadbare at the knees and worn ragged at the seams. And that t-shirt: Duo almost laughed out loud. It used to be his, but Heero had somehow ended up claiming it after Duo had inadvertently put it in Heero's pile of laundry one day. He had never bothered to ask for it back. It was stretched out of shape and moth eaten and besides: Heero looked better in yellow than he did anyway. Overall, it made for a very nice picture. A sudden surge of desire rose up within him and Duo quickly turned his eyes away.
He wanted Heero.
God, how he wanted him.
Still wanted him.
Perhaps more now than before.
Shaking his head to dispel his thoughts, Duo stood and took the two empty cups from the table. He walked toward Heero, his bare feet silent on the cool tile floor. "Almost done?" He asked.
Heero nodded and Duo tossed the two empty Styrofoam cups into the trash. He moved to stand behind Heero and laid his right hand on Heero's shoulder. He felt Heero stiffen slightly as he touched him and he rubbed his hand over Heero's upper arm, sliding it up and under the sleeve of his t-shirt. Heero did not pull away, but remained still, and Duo could feel Heero's muscles tighten beneath his caress as the other man reached out to turn the faucet off.
Encouraged by Heero's response and the desire he felt for his friend, Duo leaned forward and brought his chin down to rest on Heero shoulder, inhaling deeply as he did. Heero's scent was clean, familiar and at that moment, highly intoxicating.
Duo whispered Heero's name and moved to wrap his left arm around Heero's waist. He leaned in, drawing Heero's body closer to his and kissing the side of his neck. Heero shifted slightly from one foot to the other before turning to face Duo. There was a flash of uncertainty in Heero's gaze and Duo panicked, thinking quickly of what he could say to reassure his friend. Before Duo had the chance to finish saying Heero's name, Heero closed his eyes and leaned forward to bring their mouths into contact with one another. Duo moaned, pressing his lips tightly against Heero's and opening his mouth as Heero's tongue slid along the length of his lips. He mimicked the movement of Heero's tongue with his own, taking pleasure in the taste and feel of Heero's mouth. Duo relaxed as Heero's arms found their way around his waist, leaning into the closer, more intimate contact.
"That was very different from last night." Heero admitted sheepishly as they separated.
Duo felt the flush in his cheeks as he nodded. "I didn't feel anything last night." He said. "But just now…"
"Me neither." Heero said.
"Maybe dating isn't the right thing for us." Duo suggested.
"It was… strange." Heero concurred. "We didn't act like ourselves."
Duo nodded. Perhaps Heero had pinned down precisely what had gone wrong last night: and why he felt the way he did this morning. "I admit to being partial to this Heero Yuy." Duo said with a smile.
Heero tilted his head slightly. "This Heero Yuy?"
"Yeah." Duo said with a slight grin. "The one that's not trying so hard to make a good impression on me."
"I thought that is what we were supposed to do."
Duo smiled at that. "I was already impressed, Heero."
Heero leaned forward to kiss Duo again. "I think I have a preference for this Duo Maxwell as well." He said softly as he pulled back.
"That's good to know." Duo said. "So what happens now?" He asked.
"I guess we will have to make the rest of it up as we go." Heero said as he tightened the hold he had on Duo.
Duo smiled and pulled Heero just a little bit closer to him. "That's exactly what I was hoping you'd say."