Time of Day: Morning
Part 1: El Manana
That Monday morning I can honestly say was the worst in my immediate history. It had started well - rather like any other Monday morning. I woke (oddly alone, having fallen asleep not alone), did my run, started coffee for my roommate, took my shower and dressed for the day. I was in the middle of the regional news section on the local paper's news feed when my roommate made an appearance. Still a typical morning seeing as my roommate made a habit of not stirring until he absolutely had to.
Duo stumbled by the kitchen table where I sat to the counter, barely acknowledging my greeting with a grunt. I watched him pour coffee into a mug with an amused lift of lips. Wearing rumpled boxers and a tank tee, his braid in a disheveled mess, he still tempted me to forget that it was a workday, and to try to think of a way to entice him back to bed to continue what the weekend started. When I woke, discovering he had left sometime in the night, I wasn't too surprised. What began in the late hours Friday was still so new, and we had yet to talk about this step in our friendship. Saturday it hadn't seemed important; Saturday was for exploration, experimenting, and satiation. Sunday had been too filled with things left undone; the night ending with continued touches, kisses, and sharing bodies. Words didn't seem necessary. At least, not to me.
I went back to reading news feeds, finishing the fruit in my bowl and tea in my cup, knowing that conversation would be impossible with Duo until after coffee and a shower. Maybe that's why when Duo started to speak, it came as such a shock, not expecting him to do more than grunt or mumble. Maybe if I had expected more, his words wouldn't have cut as deep. Maybe, but I doubt it.
His words were still reeling in my head, and I could only stare at him, trying to fathom where they were coming from - why he was saying them. He was looking at me, waiting for a response, his eyes clear and sleep-free, his mouth set.
"It's for the best, you know. Shouldn't have..." his hand waved in the air vaguely between us.
"But..." I blinked and shook my head. "I don't think it's for the best... I want what we've started."
"Look," he said, and turned away. "I shouldn't have kissed you. We'd been drinking and... and..." he was looking back at me again, fiercely, anger sharp and pointed in his eyes. "Damn it, Heero! You're my fucking best friend, and I'd rather put a bullet in my head than ruin that!"
He was glaring at me, breathing heavy, waiting; emotions barely held in check. I could only stare mutely back, trying to figure out what went wrong, when it went wrong and how to make it right again. Finally, after a minute or five, he dropped his gaze, shoved his cereal bowl away, and rubbed his face, raking fingers through his bangs. "God, Heero. I fucked up, and I'm so sorry. I wish I could take it back, but I can't. Please..." His voice trickled away, and he sat there with his head bowed, face cradled in both palms.
The waver in his voice did what his words could not. Whatever was bouncing around in that head of his, whatever he truly felt, I knew it wasn't going to be resolved then. It wasn't the end of the world, wasn't the end of 'us' - at least the part of us that remained friends.
"I understand," I told him softly though I didn't really. I understood that he didn't want to face it, whatever we were becoming. Didn't want to talk about it any more. Rising to my feet, knees feeling weak and shaky, I reached out to grip his shoulder briefly, a firm squeeze and release. "I do not regret what happened," I continued, my voice still soft, barely there. "And I hope that one day, you will feel the same." Without waiting for him to say anything more, I picked up my dishes, took them to the sink, rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher in automatic fashion. He was still bowed into himself when I turned to retrieve my palm comp, and left the kitchen.
It was still a workday, and my calendar was full.
The morning passed quickly, more from my wanting to forget our breakfast discussion than with work needing to be done. My partner and I were actively investigating a case; however, we'd reached a standstill. He was currently down in the dungeons of the County Clerk's office chasing a potential connection between the warehouse we were interested in, and the business under suspicion. Wufei's research difficulty increased ninety percent once it was discovered the index key for the county records for the span of time we were interested in had been... scrambled. File index numbers were not matching to business charter to tax and property information; the hunt became the proverbial needle in a haystack, and I wasn't expecting him back at the office for at least two or three days.
I kept busy typing up both our field notes, completing case updates to division, and tracking down and scheduling interviews with peripheral persons of interest. When I finally looked at the clock, it didn't surprise me to find that it was on the other side of one. What did surprise me is, I hadn't heard from Duo. While we didn't have lunch together every day, he usually called or dropped by at least once when we were both in the office. I knew he wasn't working an active investigation; he had been complaining on Friday about the paper shuffling he and Trowa (his partner this quarter) had been doing.
The call to his desk wasn't picked up. A quick jaunt to his shared office showed that both he and Trowa were gone. I stood in the doorway, frowning at his empty desk, debating on whether to leave a note, or wait until later that night, after we were both at home.
"Maxwell and Barton have been roped into the Greenwich project," a voice behind me informed. Turning, I caught sight of another senior agent, one who'd been around from the Preventer founding days. I offered my thanks in the form of a nod before pushing off, and returning to my own office. Lunch was forgotten; I kept protein bars in the back of one of my desk drawers, and I still had phone logs to review.
It was past six when Wufei called informing me he was done for the day. I had been dreading an update from him for most of the afternoon, expecting a highly agitated rant about government systems and minimum dollar employs. But instead, Wufei's report was short, letting me know he thought he had determined a pattern to the mixed up index key, and might have better luck in the morning. After telling him to go home, I decided to take my own advice.
Duo hadn't called all day.
The apartment was empty; no message waited, and no sign that Duo had been there since the morning. I went about normal routine dinner, dishes, shower, and bed, all in automated fashion, refusing to dwell on thoughts of change, refusing to allow the disappointment to surface, refusing to acknowledge the pain picking at the edge of my soul.
Exhausted in a way that defied logic, sleep was still nearly elusive; I was awake the moment the front door opened, my hand instantly reaching for my off-duty weapon. Familiar and comforting noises I'd come to associate with Duo after years of living with him drifted down the hall, and I relaxed. Briefly, the idea of rising to physically check on him was reviewed and dismissed. If he hadn't wanted to see or speak with me all day, he definitely wouldn't at one in the morning. Instead, I closed my eyes, envisioning his movements by sound alone.
The soft clicks as he flipped the locking device to the front door. The muted scuffle of boots being unlaced and slid off, only to be carried first to the kitchen, where he opened a cupboard, fetched a glass and filled it with water, all without turning on a light. His footsteps were light, ghosting sounds as he left the kitchen and made his way down the hall to the bedrooms. There was a hesitation in motion outside my door, and I opened my eyes, peering through the darkness, wondering if he'd knock or come in and join me. A handful of seconds passed, and I heard him sigh and move away. The knob of his bedroom door rattled, followed by the snick of the door closing.
I closed my eyes again, knowing he'd be stripping off his clothes, and climbing between the sheets of his own bed. There would be no repeats of the weekend. At least, not in the foreseeable future.
Tuesday morning mirrored Monday without the breakfast discussion. Mainly due to Duo having left before I'd finished my morning run. At least, there'd been a note left behind propped up against the tea canister. A scrawl of two barely legible lines - Working heavy hours. Won't be around much. - with only the initial of his first name. I set his note aside and finished preparing my breakfast. I knew yesterday when I'd heard he'd been assigned to the Greenwich project I might see little of him. Rumors of the black hole agents fell into working on that case were commonplace.
The highlight of the day came from Wufei, arriving just after lunch with documents giving us the much-needed link sought after. The rest of the day was spent putting our evidence in order to obtain search warrants, collecting our evidence team, and executing five simultaneous no-knock searches in separate locations. Our investigation had hit with all the force and speed of reentry.
Less than three hours before dawn, I arrived back at the apartment and discovered that Duo was home. And by the leftovers wrapped in the refrigerator, he must have expected me there as well. Frowning, I unwrapped a strip of chicken breast, and poured water into a glass. Duo's chicken was good, and finished long before I'd wanted it to be; hunger gnawed quietly now, and I finished off my water while penning a quick message to Duo, using the back of the one he'd left me that - Tuesday - morning.
Needing sleep since I had to report to the office no later than nine in the morning, I left the kitchen and headed to bed. But, I stopped and stood outside the door to Duo's room, letting my palm resting lightly on the wood. I wondered if he was asleep or if he had woke and was now listening to me, as I had him the night before. I wondered what his reaction would be if I gave in, opened his door, and joined him in his bed. I snorted softly, and forced myself to turn away. His words Monday had been clear enough.
Between our suddenly busy schedules, I didn't see, or hear, from Duo at all on Wednesday. The night was another late one, though not as late as the day before. At least now, the case was in the DA's hands. Wufei and I had made our case, though there was still evidence collected in the warrants served to sift through, and a half dozen interviews yet to complete. What was left was day work, and reports to finish, nothing that would keep me tied to the office past normal working hours. I wanted an early night Thursday, to sleep, and maybe, a chance to talk with Duo again.
Duo put in an appearance just before noon, dropping into the chair beside my desk and exchanging derogatory banter with Wufei like he had nearly every day when he had the chance for the past three or four years. I could only stare at him, glancing to my partner when he rose, and waved a folder in the air.
"I'll get the hardcopies filed before Moritz comes down to pick them up himself."
"Good idea," I told him. "He's called four times for them already." I watched Wufei exit, and waited a moment before turning my head to see Duo looking at me. He dropped his gaze immediately and began spinning the clear plastic resin paperweight I'd received for the anniversary of my fifth year as a Preventer.
"So, you good to go grab some lunch now?" He asked, his eyes on the gleaming gold disk shining up through the bottom of the paperweight.
I waited a moment before answering. "I have time," I said quietly, and began locking up my computer and putting case materials away. "You're not busy?" I asked, eyes flicking his way and back. "Not sucked into the black hole yet?"
He laughed and let the paperweight drop back to the desk. "Nah, they only need Tro and me to retrieve a bit of intel for them." Duo shrugged as he stood stretching lazily, and moving away from my desk. Standing at the office window over looking the south parking lot, Duo added, "Now we're back to paper shuffling."
"Something will come up," I consoled, like I did every time assignments slowed, and Duo became restless. "It always does." Desk cleared and data secured, I rose and Duo turned toward the door.
"Yeah, what I wouldn't give for a good long infiltration with a bit of explosion for the finale," he tossed over his shoulder exiting the office.
"Maybe if you didn't advertise that wish at every resource meeting, it just might be granted," I told him, shutting, and locking the door behind me.
Duo laughed again, telling me he thought he might have a chance as soon as the R and D director's eyebrows grew back. And as I joined him, he launched into the story on how exactly the director's eyebrows were singed away, and how part of the R and D resembled a war zone. I knew the story; he'd told it to me often enough. I'd been there in the labs watching as Duo showed the director and half his staff the chemicals he'd used to create the small controlled explosion, damaging a cache of weapons belonging to the resistance group he'd been watching. Unfortunately, it didn't work quite so well for the director.
Walking at his side, I was smiling, oddly comforted in the rituals that made up our life together.
Normal seemed to have returned, if the past week were removed from memory. Duo made a point of acting as he always had - prior to Friday night's drinks being not being the only thing shared, prior to Monday morning regrets. And I let him. It had only been a few days, but I had missed my friend, missed having lunch together, missed his laugh.
After dinner on Thursday found us side-by-side sitting on the floor in front of the couch, game controllers in hand and a head-to-head battle on the vid screen. A series of rapid button pressing had his player pinned, and the count began to endgame. Duo's body jerked, his thumbs frantically working the controller trying to remove his player from obvious death, and his mouth yelling obscenities at the screen, and dire threats in my direction.
Just before the countdown ended, Duo's shoulder collided with mine, and my hold slipped, freeing his player. I growled and crashed back into him; my player tossing his to the mat once again, pinned to the canvas. Duo was laughing, and he crashed into me again, his upper body behind the jolt. It rocked me to the side, but I had expected it, and kept his player pinned.
That didn't stop me from my own assault.
Duo's hand rose from his controller, and he shoved my shoulder. I rocked again, giving him a smug look. He growled, tossing his controller aside, and as the 'GAME OVER!' message flashed neon bright on the screen, he was pushing me to the floor, back to the carpet. I was laughing, expecting a barrage of taunts, and mock punches. I wasn't expecting Duo's mouth on mine. I wasn't expecting his hands to bury themselves in my hair, or his body to be pressed against mine, letting me know more than his abs were rock hard.
And I'll be damned if I didn't answer him kiss for kiss. Legs parting, and hands gripping the denim of his jeans, squeezing his ass, I pulled him closer, longing to feel his cock against mine again. Fire sparked instantly, and I was moaning into his mouth, hips thrusting upward into his, desperate for more.
"Heero," he groaned, mouth moving from lips to neck. His hand pulled on the collar of my tee shirt, shifting it away and his lips fastened on my collarbone. My body arched up to meet his lips, and I felt him smiling on my skin.
I released my grip on his ass with one hand, let the other span out, and keep his grinding rhythm hard, deep, and close. His shirt had pulled free from his pants, and I slid my hand up his side and ran fingers along his shoulder blades. His teeth raked furrows up to my shoulder; my nails raked shallow scratches on his back. I sought his mouth with mine, wanting to taste him, wanting the feel of his tongue in my mouth.
The phone sounded shrill and sharp, abrasive as sandpaper along nerves. We jerked apart, still clutched together; I stared up at Duo, and he down at me, the both of us panting. The answering machine kicked on with the first ring, and a male voice filled the room.
"Hey Duo, it's me," the voice was nervous, but the tone friendly, hopeful. "You said to give you a call if I wanted to meet up for coffee or something, and-"
Duo's head jerked to look at the answering machine, then down at me. Something flashed in his eyes, and he frowned. He was on his feet in the next moment, jumping the couch and snatching up the phone before I had caught my breath.
"Hey JT!" Duo was saying into the phone. "Sorry 'bout that. My roommate uses the machine to screen out those annoying sales calls."
I sat up slowly, straightened the collar of my shirt, and peered over the couch, watching Duo's back, and wondering what the hell had just happened.
"That sounds like a great plan, man. I've never been there, but know where it is," he was telling JT through the phone. Duo was keeping his back to me, one hand holding the receiver to his ear, and the other working fingers through his bangs. "I'll meet you there in fifteen." I rose to my feet as I heard the quick goodbye, arms crossing in front of my stomach. He was moving, turning from the phone, and heading swiftly for the front door.
"Duo?" I asked softly.
"Uh..." His hand on the door, Duo didn't look at me, couldn't look my way. He sighed softly, and his forehead met the door. "Sorry, Heero. I... I gotta go." He jerked the door opened and raced out, slamming it closed behind him.
I stared at the door for over a minute, waiting for it to open again. For Duo to return and continue where we were before the call. When nothing happened, I slowly eased down to sit on the edge of the couch, and turned to watch the vid screen. The bright neon letters continued to flash, informing me that the game was indeed, over.
As if I needed some 124-byte piece of graphics to tell me what I already knew.
I can honestly say I didn't wait up for Duo to come home; I didn't even wake up when he came in. Whether it was from some perverse sort of self-preservation or plain exhaustion, I slept through the night, woke minutes prior to the alarm, rose, dressed, and went for my run.
There was no hint of Duo emerging from his room when I returned, though I wasn't expecting there to be. But, when I was finished with my shower and headed cross the hall to my room, Duo's door opened, and he passed me in the hall, giving a semi cheerful 'good morning' in passing. I turned to watch him enter the bathroom, eyes narrowing.
He stuck his head out the door, caught sight of me still standing there, and grinned. "Don't bother making anything for me this morning," he said with that same cheerfulness never seen on Duo at that hour of the morning. "I'll be meeting up with JT for coffee and such." He ducked back into the bathroom, and a minute later, I heard water hitting the shower wall.
"Who the hell is JT?" I asked the empty hall, the towel I'd been using to dry my hair hanging limply from my hand.
Movies, beer, and pizza had long been a Friday night ritual. It had been one even before Duo and I moved in together, starting just after Duo moved back to Earth and before he joined the Preventers. Unless it had to do with work, plans made to break the tradition usually included the both of us - like last week's outing to the club for drinks and distraction.
That Friday night, I sat alone, watching some strange sci-fi classic that almost made sense the more beers I drank. Two boxes of pizza - one cheese and mushroom, the other a meaty works - had long gone cold, grease from the cheese and meat congealing in the dips and hollows of the pizza landscape.
I glanced at the clock as it neared midnight, and leaned forward to grab the remote. The vid screen went black, and a blue light on the disc player blinked at me, letting me know the movie still played. I watched it blink, counted each one until it went red and switched off automatically. Glancing at the clock again, I downed the last of my beer.
Rising to my feet, I closed each of the boxes, and briefly debated storing them for later eating. They had sat out for hours, and I knew the answer without giving it much thought. I carried both boxes and the six-pack of empty bottles to the trash bin, and returned to the apartment. Switching off lights, locking the door, and setting the alarms used up five minutes. Brushing my teeth, washing my face, and dressing for bed used up another five.
No more chances for stalling; Duo still hadn't come home.
My Saturday morning alarm rang just loud enough to bring me to consciousness, and I shut it off quickly. Swinging legs out of bed, I wished I had kept to my three-beer maximum. My mouth felt like I'd been swallowing elephant piss. I was not quite hung-over, but I sure knew his cousin.
A deep breath, and I was up and moving. Muscles remembered even when the mind couldn't be bothered. Sleep shorts were dropped in the laundry basket, running shorts were pulled up over briefs, and a tank top was pulled over my head. A quick stop in the bathroom, a longer stop in the kitchen to re-hydrate, and I was ready.
Early morning stretches were kept simple but effective. Basic arm, back and leg stretches to pull the muscle without strain, to flush the muscle with oxygen, and open sleeping pores. Arm behind my head, and the opposite hand clasping the elbow, I was bent over to the side when the door opened. I straightened slowly, and frowned watching Duo fight his key free of the lock. He muttered a curse, and pulled it free, but dropped the set and nearly toppled over bending down to pick them up again.
I snorted, and went back to my stretches. Seems I wasn't the only one who had one too many the night before. Briefly, I wondered if he'd attempted to drive himself home, if he'd gotten a ride or called a cab. I wondered at the stab of pain in why he hadn't called me. In the early days, just after Duo settled dirt side, he had frequented the clubs and nightlife on a regular basis. To lose himself in the crowd and noise, he had told me then, to forget for a moment on who he was and what he'd done. And when he knew he'd drink too much, he always called me for a ride. Always.
It made me wonder why he was drinking again.
A touch pulled me from my musings, and stopped the hamstring stretch I was in the middle of doing. Duo was standing behind me, his eyes wide and bright, his tongue licking at his bottom lip, and his hand caressing the span of skin showing where my shirt had pulled away from my shorts.
"You look fucking amazing doing that," Duo said in a low voice, his gaze never rising above my waist.
My eyes narrowed, and I shook his hand off and turned back to the wall, continuing my stretches. Duo was chuckling softly behind me, but the sound was moving, and I could see from the corner of my eye that he was now propped up against the wall next to me.
"Hell, Heero. You're fucking amazing just breathing." He was whispering now, leaning close. I could smell the alcohol on his breath, and the residue of cigarette smoke clinging to his clothes and hair.
"And you're drunk," I told him, switching legs.
Duo chuckled again, and his hand was touching my shoulder, running a path down my back, stopping to rest on the cheek of my ass. "And you're hot as fuck," he whispered loudly.
I grabbed his wrist, ready to shove his hand away, and Duo was pressing forward, leaning into me, and pushing his face into mine. His mouth was hot, his breath vile, and his lips wet; the kiss was sloppy and badly aimed. I used the arm I still held, and in one fluid movement, had it twisted up behind his back, and his face pressed to the wall.
"Don't ever fucking touch me when you're drunk again," I told him harshly. I let him go, and stood shaking with a rage I couldn't explain.
"Ah Heero, don't be that way," Duo mumbled into the wall, turning his head to look at me. He was smirking at me, his hand reaching for me, and I stepped back quickly.
"Go sleep it off, Duo," I told him, and rushed out the door.
Five days ago, I thought I knew what pain was. I was wrong, and had the feeling I was going to find out how much it was going to hurt. There had been a time I had the ability to dismiss such sentiment, to negate emotions and bury them with work, override their synapses code with mission specs and logic routines. Those days were long gone, but with each footfall of my run, I dusted off rusty techniques, and began to override and reroute thought parameters, reinforced emotion controls, and erected a bunker around my already bruised heart.