It felt absolutely surreal. Less than a week ago, my greatest aspiration was landing a permanent day job. Most other dreams had pretty much died by then, or were repressed by my refusal to ask for help, least of all from old friends.
And now here I was, having a definitive domestic moment with my first, and if I had my will - which I fully intended to - final crush. Not only that, we shared a home. Well, close to it, at least. And all I had to do, was come with him when he asked me to; do as he told me.
His demands were mercifully few - but they were big, bigger than I suspected he thought.
He handed me a glass. By the looks of it, it was a tall mustard jar short a label and a cap, recycled into a drinking glass. I smiled a little at that. Duo would not throw away useful things, things that still had potential if in a somewhat different form than it had been initially shaped.
Things like me.
I stopped wiping the glass, and stared down into it. As I looked, it was almost as if it grew shorter, a little wider, a sheen of dark brown coating the bottom, and in the little liquid left I saw my reflection scowling back at me.
Uninvited, my other self told me how I was merely exploiting Duo's generous nature by staying here - not to mention toying with his emotions.
I accepted that as fact, and nodded. I told myself I'd pay him back, somehow. The agreement for manual labor didn't quite seem sufficient. The shimmering face in the drink agreed.
"Drunkard," the reflection accused.
"Yes," I muttered back, sagging my shoulders.
Duo had made me admit it, and I was indebted to him for that. It got easier to say it every damn time - but that alone was a long way from the goal. It was merely a step.
Nobody wants to become an alcoholic. Certainly not me. It starts so innocently; a drink in good company, a small comforter after a rough day at work, a companion with dinner. For some of us, however, one becomes two, becomes three, becomes many, and finally a habit, a vice, an addiction, as each little defeat in life requires a bit of liquid solace or a dash of nerve calmer, until you no longer control it; it controls you.
Once you start down that path, it's remarkably easy to walk forward, but difficult to stop - and you can never really go back. Even if you do stop, the craving remains.
But you can regain control.
I hoped Duo's influence would be enough.
Someone touched my shoulder. "You okay there, buddy?"
I blinked a few times, and came out of my thoughts. "Hm? Oh, I'm fine." I put the glass aside and took the plate he offered.
"Thinking about something?"
I hesitated. Telling myself was one thing - telling him was much harder. Instead, I attempted a distraction. "You and Hilde seem... very close friends..." I nibbled at the inside of my lip. "I was wondering if-"
He was grinning. I was lost. "Wondering just how close?" He chuckled. "Well, we're not friends with benefits, if that's what you're angling for. Thought I'd told you that much already."
He had - but I liked hearing it, nevertheless. I wanted my chance, now that it was so close.
Duo made that impish expression again. "Then again... I couldn't blame her if she went fawning all over me..."
I knew he meant it as a joke, but outwards I took it at face value, putting aside the dried plate. "Me neither."
I could almost see him shiver at that, uncomfortable with my feelings for him. I dared a slight smirk.
He rummaged around in the dark, soapy water, glared at me, face blank. "You're gonna keep doing things like that, aren't you?"
Firm nod. "Until you bend, or break."
His lips curled in a slight smile, and he opened his mouth to retort, but kept it down, instead sighing, shaking his head. "You'll get a sore throat."
I shrugged. "If it works, it's worth it - and then I'd have you to soothe the pain."
Duo grew even more uneasy, but didn't reject it. He gave a nervous laugh and focused on the dishwater, as if the few floating bits of coffee grounds could foretell the immediate future - or at least how he could escape this embarrassing moment.
I went easy on him. Unlike Hilde, I wasn't in it for teasing. I was in it to win him over - somehow.
A war isn't won with a single battle, but through countless small ones. With minor skirmishes and probing attacks, perhaps I could find all his weaknesses - and the path to victory. I glanced toward the living room.
An ally would be beneficial, indeed.