A Moment of Perfection
As I waited on the curb for Duo to pick me up, I thought to myself that seven days had never felt longer. Spending each of those days memorizing protocols and convincing the head of the local Preventers unit - and myself - that I was fit for duty, didn't make the time pass any faster either. I had also managed to stop myself from making up excuses to call Duo every night. I don't know if that made things better or worse.
"Wear something comfortable you can move in," he told me, the one night we did talk on the vid.
Mission accomplished. Beneath my sensible dark brown wool coat, I had on standard fare. Dark blue t-shirt and a pair of jeans that were getting a little threadbare in the knees, but were too comfortable for me to give up easily. He had also mentioned great music and a fantastic lightshow, so when he pulled up at a quarter to nine, I got in his car ready to be taken to one of those wild L2 nightclubs that one hears so much about.
His outfit didn't confirm nor deny my suspicions. It was pretty much the same thing I'd seen him wear every day that I spent staying with him; jeans, this time they were black, and a leather jacket over a dark gray tee shirt with the word "Jawbreaker" looking like it had been spray painted on. The only thing markedly different was a dark red, woolen scarf with frayed ends that looped loosely around his neck.
Conversation during the ride over consisted of Duo sharing little anecdotes about everyone who had applied for a job at the yard. All of them seemed to have some fault that he just couldn't overlook. I felt he was being over critical, but I didn't want to start the evening off bad by pointing that out. And so, he drove and talked, and I listened and filed away my comments to share with him later. At one point, he told me, out of nowhere, that he liked it when I wore shirts that matched my eyes. I didn't have time to feel the warmth of pleasant embarrassment reach my cheeks, before he segued into a story about how one of the applicants had a glass eye and it had fallen out during his interview.
I was still laughing about the ending to that tale, when we pulled into a ridiculously expensive public garage in the heart of downtown. I wasn't familiar enough with the section of the city yet to know all the establishments, particularly the odd and eclectic ones that Duo was notorious for discovering. So I still had no idea where we were headed as we walked down the street.
Duo sidled ever closer to me and finally put an arm loosely around my shoulders. The contact made me feel even more energized. As we neared the corner, he pulled me in a quasi-hug and clamped one hand over my eyes. I made a halfhearted squirm coupled with a hopping step to regain my balance.
He clucked his tongue as I tried to duck my head down. "No peeking. I want this to be a surprise," he said. Duo then proceeded to lead me from behind in a blind walk that was probably more aptly described as a stumbling waddle.
"Given that I don't know where we're going, isn't it already a surprise?" I pointed out. I felt a rush of air and heard the changes in sound that told me we'd moved past the sheltering side of the building.
"Well, it doesn't matter," said Duo, removing his hand. "You can look now."
He left his arm draped over my shoulder and he pointed as if I hadn't already seen the park myself. It was beautiful.
"Weren't expecting this were you," Duo said. The pedestrian light across the street blinked 'walk' and he dragged me across the way. He had a big grin on his face, the sort you get when you've given someone a present they've always wanted.
"No," I replied, my face the awed counterpart to that grin. It was a good thing Duo had me by the hand and was pulling me along; otherwise I probably would've just stood and stared at all the lights.
And there were millions of them; twinkling like tiny stars in great looping swirls amidst bare branches. They crisscrossed in relaxed strings that ran from tree to tree and ended curled around thick trunks.
"First day of the Christmas Season," said Duo. "Snow will be turned on around the beginning of next week."
"Aa," I breathed.
We passed under the first of the trees and that was when I first heard the music. It was some kind of neo-swing that had me walking to the beat instantly. Overhead, each little light combined its power with its neighbors to send the paths, that spider webbed from the central plaza, awash with a gentle glow. Larger globular lights were suspended around a large fenced off oval. A dozen steps later, I could finally make out the vocals of the music, and a few steps beyond that, the sharp squealing laughter of children, as they raced each other on the smooth surface of the ice.
"Don't worry, you'll pick it up in no time," Duo assured me when I told him I'd never gone ice-skating before.
It didn't take long for me to learn, I hadn't expected it to, but the ice was much bumpier than it looked and I did take a few nasty spills in my first couple minutes. Falling wasn't really all that bad, since each time I ended up on my rear, I dragged Duo down with me. Having him help get me standing again with little lingering touches and laughter and wobbling knees was all part of the experience.
"Having fun?" he asked, spinning around and skating backwards in front of me.
What a showoff, I thought and couldn't help but smile as I answered, "Yes." I had gotten a good handle on what I was doing now; a little longer and I was certain I could mimic the best of his tricks.
"I'm glad," he said. His skates hissed as he whipped around again and grabbed my hand so we could skate like most of the other couples there, hand in hand, side by side.
A couple laps went by in joyous silence, then Duo asked me if I'd been assigned a codename yet.
"My superior says I'm allowed to choose my own," I answered.
"Anything in mind?" Duo asked curiously.
"Hmm, how about Apollo?"
"Sure why not. Patron god of music and poetry and good looking young men," Duo grinned and gave my hand a squeeze.
I shrugged. The name was as good as any. Scratch that. It was better; Duo had suggested it. "I'll submit the request on Monday."
A proud little smile replaced his grin and I untangled my fingers from his. He gave me a questioning look; I responded by snatching the scarf from his neck and testing my new proficiency on the ice, by skating as fast as I could.
I could hear Duo laughing as he pursued me as I wove through the leisurely circling crowd of people. It was fun while it lasted; a big burly man in a fur lined jacket appeared and brought about an end to our little chase.
"Young men your age should act with a bit more maturity," Duo said in a gruff voice that was a fair imitation of the bruiser that had ushered us off the ice.
I chuckled as I tied my shoes back on, then I leaned back against the chill wooden slats of the bench and relaxed as Duo left to return our rented skates. He took a detour afterwards, and went over to the small concession stand that was selling hot drinks. I watched him as he leaned against the counter and engaged the older woman in the booth with easy conversation. He pointed at me and the woman smiled and patted his hand as her helper set down a pair of steaming paper cups.
I stood up as he headed back and he passed one of the cups over to me. We sat together and chatted about the new band that had taken the stage at the far end of the rink. While Duo and I filled in the sketchy details of music likes and dislikes we'd discovered the week prior, I noticed the warmth of the cup had begun to send little needles stinging through my fingers. Soon, I had I curled both hands around the thin paper cup; I hadn't noticed just how cold I had been until the heat seeped into me.
It was a lot like how I felt about Duo.
I hadn't noticed how truly lonely I had been until I was around him again.
He's like the human equivalent of hot chocolate, I thought as I glanced over at him and raised the cup to my lips. He caught sight of my glance and raised an eyebrow curiously. I just shook my head and hid my smile in my cup.
Duo shrugged, but he shifted a little closer to me and pressed his knee against mine.
I didn't want to be driven back to the spartan apartment I had rented, but just like the last time our evening together had come to an end, we were soon making plans to see each other again. And just like last time, that promise of seeing Duo again, made the thought of the days to come bearable.
Besides, I still had his stolen scarf, so there was a little reminder of him coiled up on the top of my television set.
At some point our dates stopped feeling like dates and we were inviting ourselves over to one another's place at random times. By the time spring was rolling around, I had a weekly ritual of coming by his studio on Saturdays to amaze him with my cooking skill and he visited my apartment every Wednesday to return the favor. I think we both spent the evenings we weren't together, experimenting with new recipes in the hopes of outdoing each other.
"Here's the proof," Duo said loudly as he walked through my door carrying an armful of grocery bags. "I do my own shopping!"
"I don't know, Hilde could've flown in from L3 and bought you those," I smiled and glanced up from the paperwork scattered across my coffee table. "What's on the menu, tonight?"
Duo walked past me and deposited the bags onto the counter next to my fridge. He waggled his finger and made a stern face, "Ah-ah-ah. It's a surprise."
"It's always a surprise with you," I snorted and turned back to my work. "I know... no peeking."
I kept my ears sharp and hoped I'd hear the telltale rattle of boxed noodles. I discovered that Duo made a delicious vegetarian lasagna. I didn't hear much more than a few soft crinkles before my attention was pulled back into my work, and I forgot all about dinner, until the savory smell of it was wafting from the kitchen.
"Voila," Duo settled down on the floor next to me holding large bowls of stir fry in each hand. "I went for simple tonight," he said almost apologetically.
I gathered up my paperwork and stacked it neatly on the floor beneath my coffee table. It had a glass surface with wrought iron legs, a smaller rounder companion to the one at Duo's place.
"I don't mind simple," I said, plucking one of the curled prawns out from the mix of veggies that was piled atop a mound of white rice. "I do prefer not to have to eat with my fingers, though."
"Oops!" Duo chuckled and got up to fetch some silverware.
"I got an postcard in the mail today," I said.
"Relena?" he called over his shoulder.
I nodded, then realized his back was to me and said yes aloud.
"Did it say 'wish you were here?'" he teased as he returned.
I chuckled and shook my head "They decided to stretch out the honeymoon for an extra week so they could go grav-skiing at that new tourist colony."
"Sounds like fun," Duo said as he mixed his food together.
I hadn't realized I was so hungry until I took my first real mouthful of hot food and after that, the amount in my bowl diminished rapidly.
"We could take a trip there ourselves, this summer," I suggested before I scraped the last bit of rice into my mouth.
"Nah," Duo pushed his plate away and leaned back with his hand on his stomach. He'd inhaled his food as quickly as I had and was making little sounds of contentment. "I had enough snow this winter to last me until next year."
He looked down at his watch and muttered. "Damn, took me longer to get away from the yard than I had planned for. I'm going to miss a good half hour of the Flares' game."
I pounced on the opening and mentioned as casually as I could manage with my heart thundering in my chest, "You could always just stay the night."
We'd been intimate for some time now, but never to the 'wake up beside one another' point and I knew Duo was thinking about that as he favored me with a measuring look through the shaggy mass of his bangs. Finally he nodded and grabbed the remote off the couch. "Yeah, I could do that."