Disclaimer: See all the others; status unchanged.

Pairings: 1+2+1, 3+4, 5+H
Contents/Warnings: Shounen Ai/Yaoi, Alternate Universe, fluff, mild angst, language

AN: Written for the gwyaoi.org 2005 novella challenge. Did not place. My thanks to merith for the arduous beta work.

On Track And Off Again
Part 6
by kebzero

The perfectionist's curse is progress - or rather, the lack of it. When every detail must be accounted for before anything is actually done, things do not move forward in a hurry.

Heero did call Quatre that evening - and soon enough had the blond man at the door, eager to hear all about the lunch with Duo. It was very late by the time Heero was done and Quatre satisfied. There was no detail too small for him to ignore and inquire about - especially as Heero was more than willing to provide them.

Of course, the tale came at a cost to Quatre - namely, his advice on luncheon spots. Yet, the simple concept of lunch was made a massive project of potential pitfalls in Heero's mind. While he was not sure quite what to expect to come from such a small meal, much less what to set as his goals of achievement during the course of it, he did not want anything to go wrong. It would all have to be perfect - and if by chance Duo ended up liking him more because of it, all the better. Even so, the notion of a 'romantic lunch for two' was quickly dismissed. Heero's few remaining doubts could not cope with it.

Days went by as Heero thought it all through. His ideas, as well as Quatre's initial suggestions, were rejected, revised and fused as his mind went along, attempting to conceive the perfect non-date with Duo.

Quatre's pointers of eateries in the designated target area - a remarkably small selection when overlaid with Heero's starting parameters - were researched thoroughly. Beyond Quatre's descriptions of atmosphere and the quality of food, Heero opted to look some of the larger places up on the internet, searching for the impressions the places had left on others, especially food critics that appeared trustworthy. The final three candidates he even called to enquire details from, both on the menus, the tables and the staff, disregarding the whiff of insult he tended to detect upon bringing up the latter. He stopped short of going there in person for a final inspection, if only because Quatre at last stopped his fussing about over a call late Monday night, with strict instructions it was time to actually ask Duo out for this imagined lunch. What good was the event without the required attendee?

The truth was, it was harder than ever to find a good time and way to ask. Ever since Duo's visit to Heero's office, their shared commutes had been rather quiet. In the mornings they tended to relax, even snooze, small secretive looks before and after all they shared. On the trips home a few words were usually exchanged, but not close to some of the free-spoken debates they had bickered through as friends. Other than a game or two of cards that Thursday, it seemed apparent something had changed. The easy banter between them had temporarily gone on vacation, replaced by a pressing sensation in the air.

There were a select few words that had the power to release everything - but even now, neither were willing to speak them.

When Quatre called that evening to nag, Heero had already made up his mind where to go. Heero had told his friend as much. The cafeteria was small and a bit out of the way, but it was within walking distance of Hammond Industrial Park. Quatre had described the place as 'cozy', among other things. Heero had been skeptical, but Quatre's elaborations had eased his qualms. If it was good enough for Quatre's business associates, if only the less posh ones, it was certainly good enough for him. By contrast, Heero felt nothing could be good enough for Duo.

There was another factor that had weighed heavily in this particular choice of venues. Quatre had told the cafeteria had several booths and the tables tucked away between structural dividers and high walls of greenery, ensuring some privacy to contain bad reactions - or good ones. Heero was at least delusional enough to hope he'd finally be able to voice his feelings outright.

That the place served warm lunches was a boon too. The price level wasn't too daunting either. Heero still hadn't forgotten one particular dinner he'd had with Quatre at a much too well-reputed restaurant. The sparse meal was one surprise, the bill for said meal quite another. Quatre had footed the bill, but that had only made Heero feel more out of his league than when he had first entered the dining area under the disapproving glances from some of the apparent regulars.

That had been the only time they had gone to such a place. Fortunately for Heero, Quatre was not a big fan of fancy meals. While a necessary evil as a level playing field versus his business associates and clients, it was not Quatre's preference. The Saturdays he and Heero spent together sharing junk food and movies definitely shored up under that truth.

In short - the chosen restaurant was a place he could take Duo again, if there was an occasion for it. Them becoming regulars was unlikely, though. While Duo might make it on a daily basis, Heero knew he could not. The trip would reduce their shared time to a five-minute-meal if he was to stay within the confines of his normal lunch break.

Redistributing his breaks to afford one long lunch a week he could manage, though - and that was what he hoped for.

If Duo liked the place, of course.

And if he liked the company.

Heero had a plan.

And hopes.

Unfortunately, very few plans remain intact once they're set in motion. Even less reach their intended goals unless they are revised on the go. Preparation might be key, but spontaneous and dynamic decisions saves the day. The perfect scenario is only perfect in theory. Reality rarely is - but we all learn to make do.

So did Heero, after a while.

As he got up Tuesday morning and went through his daily routines, he remained fairly confident that he'd ask Duo out on the morning commute to Lexington. He was still sure of that as he boarded the train, albeit there were many a butterfly doing loop-de-loops in his stomach - and perhaps there were some other wiggly insects in there as well. It most certainly felt that way. Approaching Stillwater, his insides would have pleased any entomologist.

He'd sat down in the vast regular section of the train that day, this one rare time abandoning the slight tranquility of the quiet zone car, if only for the chance to ask Duo out without being hushed to silence. Everything had to be perfect, even this.

He looked out the window, saw Duo struggle with his bike, amazed Duo dared ride it even now. Morning frost had begun to set in, and it was only a matter of time before snow - or the initial sludge that would become ice under the snow - would begin to fall, despite whatever the misguided modern equivalents of fortune tellers predicted during weather reports. Crystal balls and animal signs might have been replaced by satellites and radar, but the general accuracy remained.

Heero softly tapped the window, hoping to gain Duo's attention. He smiled as he got it, saw Duo grin back and make his way to the nearest door, boarding as per usual just in the nick of time. Soon enough, Duo was there to give Heero a nod of greeting. He promptly sat down in the empty seat and placed his bag between his feet. "Morning, Heero."


Duo's face started showing concern. "Everything okay?"

"Uh - yeah, sure. Why?"

He shrugged. "Nothing. You just seem a bit pale, is all."

Heero's stomach did another somersault. He prayed it was only nerves, not last night's dinner wanting an encore. "I do?"

Duo grinned. "Just a bit. Maybe you're catching a cold, or something."

Heero frowned slightly, snorted to match. "I don't get sick."

He got a chuckle for an answer. "Oh?"

He gave a firm nod. "I make sure to eat plenty of fruit, and I try to exercise regularly."

Duo's amused expression turned impish. "Like, once every blue moon or so?"

"I'd like to see you walk twenty flights of stairs in one go and not complain - and do it at least twice a week."

"And I'd like to see you cart wheelbarrows, vault sledgehammers, haul cement bags, do carpentry and lay down tiles for days at a time."

Again, Heero snorted, drawing a wry smirk. Duo had to one-up him, he always did. Heero decided to give him this victory - if only because he could not find a good comeback.

Heero had only gone aggressive in the first place because he was nervous. Why he was, he couldn't quite grasp. After all, as Quatre had told him repeatedly, it was only a simple question; a small, insignificant invitation.

"So, not running silent today?"


Duo raised his hand, indicated their surroundings.

"Oh... Yeah, I didn't feel like napping."

Duo smiled, reached for the push-button to recline his seat. "I'm afraid I do, though. Didn't go to bed early enough last night. Two of the kids have gotten sick, so I had to help out."


He pulled on his shoulders. "Probably. Mild fever and nausea yesterday. I checked in on them before I left this morning. Seems like they're recovering." He paused to chuckle. "Wish I had a camera. You should have seen them - and Sister Helen asleep next to them. She can be a real worry-wart..." He yawned. "Anyways... nap time."

Heero whetted his lips, once, twice, as Duo settled in. "Uh... Duo?"

The one eye still open looked back. "Yeah?"

"I... I was wondering..." He glanced away momentarily, focused. "I was wondering if - if you might-"

The glass doors two seats back slid open, and a gruff voice called out "Tickets, please."

Duo muttered a soft curse, fumbled around his coat pocket for his transit pass, just in time to flash the conductor with it. Tucking it away, he flashed a grin towards Heero. "Always forget the damn thing when I'm drowsy..." He started settling in again, eyes already closed when he remembered, one re-opened to glance at Heero. "Oh, sorry... You were asking me about something..." He yawned again.

Heero looked at him, gave a lopsided smile and shook his head. "It can wait. Get some rest, Duo."

Duo grinned. "Thanks..."

No sooner were Duo's eyes closed and his mind distant did Heero start staring out the window. He clenched his teeth and mentally recited curses far more potent than the mild one Duo had whispered aloud.


His chance had been missed, at least that morning. Once they arrived at Lexington Grand Central, their shuffling towards the subway and consequent train ride left no good opportunity to convey the invitation. In truth, Heero had lost his nerve again. While he might have been able to ask in the relative privacy and quiet of the train, there was no way he could shout the message to Duo through the general hustle and bustle of the large station or the subway train.

He reached the Worthstone Building feeling generally grumpy. Wufei was the first to pick up on it, courtesy of their standard morning briefing. The chief of security had been very cautious in inquiring about Heero's mood - so cautious he was left without good answers - but with enough hunches to know Duo had something to do with it. From what Wufei had learned in the last week, he surmised Duo probably didn't even know it.

Not wanting to pry, Wufei opted to let it go - but planned on cornering Heero about it later that day if things did not change. Despite their strictly professional relationship, Wufei had come to like Heero, not simply respect him. Watching him this unnerved was not comforting - nor easy.

Heero had gone through his usual routines, but his work was not as efficient as it usually was. He got into an argument with a janitor over some failing lighting tubes when he got the floor number wrong. A curt nod was all the greeting he could muster when he ran into Relena during a check-up of a faulty security camera on the third floor.

Around ten thirty, he was back at his office, knuckles against his cheeks, elbows to the desk, staring at the phone and brooding over his missed opportunity. Sure, he would get others - but he had already procrastinated so much over everything that involved Duo. Why did such little things have to be so hard?

Finally he picked up the handset and began dialing a number.

The long hums before he got an answer were torments. The call itself was a defeat - but a necessary one. To lose one battle is sometimes necessary to win the war.

Static masked the reply, as did the ambient noise. "Quatre Winner speaking."


Following a brief pause came the hiss of the airways, all accompanied by the muffled background hum of a car engine. "Heero?" Another pause. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah..." For his own benefit, he shook his head in negative. "I mean, no. I mean-" He sighed. "I messed up again."

"Is this about Duo?"

Heero hesitantly nodded. "Yes..." Static interfered. "Quatre? Still there?" And faded away again. "Quatre?"

"I'm here. Sorry, Heero - hit a tunnel. I'm in the car right now, I'm heading for a business meeting. The signal is weak out here." Quatre sighed. Heero imagined him giving a resigned smile. "I would say I'd call you back, but I suspect this is urgent... You chickened out again, didn't you?"

"No, not... really..." His voice faded out.

Quatre barely managed to make the last word out. "What do you mean?"

"I was going to ask, but the conductor showed up, and then Duo wanted to rest, and I didn't want to bother him. Never found the right time to ask after that, and-"

He took a deep sigh. "Heero, you're my best friend and the brother I never had, and I love you - you know that, right?"

A bit perplexed, Heero frowned. "I know, but what's that got to do with-"

"And as a friend," Quatre cut in, voice firm over the ambient noise, "I'll be honestly blunt with you. You're a fool. A fool in love. There are worse things to be, but not many when you're also a scaredycat."

His frown deepened greatly. It had been many years since Quatre had last called him that. The dare made and the resulting hospital visit had ensured that. While Heero had only fallen down two floors and broken his arm in the process, the incident from when they were ten forever left him with a mild case of vertigo. Heero had avoided roof climbing and potentially dangerous dares ever since.

"Heero, if you're afraid of calling his boss' cell phone again, why don't you just do what he did? Go to the construction site, find Duo and ask if he wants to go out for lunch with you. I bet he'd agree."

This dare was not without peril either. He remained silent for a few heartbeats more. "You think?"

Gentle laughter came from the other end. "Heero..." Quatre said, his chipper but resigned inflection that of someone addressing a child asking 'why?' one time too many.

Another pause preceded Heero's reluctant answer. "I'll do it."

It was Quatre's turn to hesitate. "Are you sure?"

"I... yes, I'm sure."

"Sure you don't want me there to hold your hand?"

"Quatre..." Heero growled.

Snickering came from the other end. "Sorry. Go ask, Heero. I bet you he'll come with you. It's only lunch, you know."

Heero shook his head. "It's more than that."

Quatre sighed quietly. "I know..." He paused. "Heero, I'm almost there now - I have to go. Want me to call you later?"

"No, that's okay... Thanks, Quatre."

"Any time, Heero. And I'll call you anyway - and you damn well had better pick up then. I want to hear all about your date."

"Lunch appointment," Heero corrected.

Quatre chuckled. "Like I said, a date. Don't be difficult, Heero." An afterthought hit him. "And don't pout. I know you are."

Heero relaxed his face, denying he ever had been. "Bye, Quatre."

"Bye, Heero. Have fun."

Static was replaced by dial tone. Heero put the handset back down, took three deep breaths to calm his nerves. Quatre was right. If he still planned on asking Duo out for lunch, there was no time like the present. He reached for a blank piece of paper, scribbled a few capitalized words on it and stood up. He picked up his jacket, stuck the paper in between the blinders and the window facing the hallway and left. If anyone were to come by, they'd be met with his makeshift 'out to lunch' sign.


Carting future landfill one wheelbarrow at a time was tedious work - and excessively boring. While Howard had hired diggers to knock down the smaller buildings, scoop up the mess and toss it in the waiting dumptrucks, there was more than one structure situated or built in a way that made this brute method close to impossible to apply. The larger buildings would have to be demolished by explosives, the small fraction remaining had to come down by hand - meaning sledgehammers, jackhammers, pickaxes, shovels and wheelbarrows - and a whole lot of toil and sweat.

Most of the things they could salvage had already been picked clean from the carcass of Hammond Industrial Park - yet even landfill went for a price. It was not nearly enough to cover expenses, but enough to make the task worthwhile while they waited for the go code to blast. One small corner of the former industrial park had been cleared fully, and Howard was intent on starting construction there first thing come January. With luck, they wouldn't miss their final deadline by too much.

Duo could barely wait. Shuttering, mixing cement, putting up prefabricated walls, laying electric wires and roof tiles, painting panels and planting lawns - all of that would be more fun tasks than this sort of muscle job. Creating something was more fun than destruction.

Except when it came on the real large scale, of course. Blasting was his profession, his pride - and his greatest kick.

Duo delivered another wheelbarrow of debris and chose to take a quick breather. If the smokers were entitled to their five-minute pit stops once every two hours - or more frequently, depending on the severity of their addiction - then surely he was entitled to a few deep breaths of his own.

He just chose to inhale air with less dangerous substances in it.

Then again, what little smog Lexington sported wasn't good for his lungs either.

Trowa carted his own load to the same destination and emptied it in the dumpster. He then came over to Duo, having decided to rest his legs for a bit as well. He used a wooden crate as a makeshift chair, sitting opposite of Duo's stack of pipes. Howard had already begun stocking up on construction material, citing it was best to buy it in bulk when they got a good deal. That policy had resulted in Clean Sweep Construction having to rent storage space on more than one occasion, often close to eating up the profit margin of Howard's bulk purchases.

"So..." Trowa began. "How's things with Heero?"

Duo shrugged. "Fine."

He started a lopsided smile. "Oh? Just fine? Does that mean you've finally gone and done it?"

Duo met him with a faint frown and positively deadly eyes.

Trowa raised two flat palms in defense. "Okay, not there yet, obviously. Still think things are moving in the right direction? Even if they move incredibly slowly?"

Duo hesitated, sighed. "I think so..."

"I'm only asking because I'm your friend, and ever since that date last week-"

"It wasn't a date."


"It was lunch between friends, that's all."

Trowa snorted and shook his head. "I give up... Don't you want this guy?"

Duo glared at him. "Yeah... I want him... and I want him, like you mean it, too... I kinda want the whole romance business before a good shag, though."

He produced a wry grin. "You're hopeless. What's the fun of courtship? Courtship is only there to ensure you get laid in the end, and that game constantly delays you from getting to the good stuff."

"Who's saying dates and flowers and movies and all that crap can't be good, too?"

Trowa's answer came with half a smirk. "I am."

Duo stared for a moment and sighed before grinning again. "Well, you're biased. When have you ever been in love?"

Trowa's face blanked over. "I've been in love."

"Oh yeah? In lust, that's what you've been, and very often. I've never seen you in love, though. When was that?"

Trowa grew silent, stared into the dirt for a bit. "It was... a long time ago. Seems like another lifetime now..."

Quiet descended upon them again. A chill swept past them, and Duo finally noticed his inactivity again as a shiver traversed his spine. He opened his mouth to ask more, but Trowa beat him to it as he got to his feet again. "Well, we'd better finish up. It'll be lunch soon."

Duo nodded, but promised himself he'd try to ask Trowa again later. If Trowa had ever been in love, it had to have been before they'd ever met - but the image of a five year old Trowa with a severe crush was too farfetched.


Half an hour later, he was still carting shattered pieces of bricks and mortar to the main dumpster. Feeling the need for another break coming up, Howard's call was almost welcome - even though it usually means trouble if the boss wants your attention. This time, however... "Duo! Duo, you've got a visitor!"

He straightened up at that, emptied his wheelbarrow in the dumpster and made his way down the narrow plank of an on-ramp. Howard rounded the corner of the main stack of barracks, heading his way. "So, there you are. Duo, there's someone here to see you." The old man scratched his cheek, waved to someone still beyond the corner. "He's right over here."

Duo set aside the cart and approached, but froze mid-step as Heero came into view.

The only time he'd been more baffled by unexpected company at a worksite had been when Sister Helen had shown up with the lunch box he'd forgotten at home. That had been years and years ago, during the summers he'd worked with Howard's crew assembling cabins around Stillwater. Granted, other than being a surprise, it had also been damn embarrassing.

Why did he have this impending feeling of doom this visit would fall in the same category?

Oh, yes. Howard's devious grin, that was why. No doubt the old man had picked up a rumor or two on site, or simply guessed what Duo's extended lunch last week was about - and who he'd been seeing.

At length, Duo managed to push out a meek "Heero?"

Heero merely nodded, studying Duo from head to toe - easily done discretely at their slight distance. Even in coveralls, sturdy boots, gloves and a hard hat, Duo looked good in his eyes. The light toolbelt only made things better. Still, this was obviously the winter wardrobe. With half a smirk, Heero pictured the summer collection. Duo in tight jeans barely held up by that same toolbelt, perhaps some good shoes... and little else beyond a mischievous grin. Perhaps he could even lose the toolbelt - and subsequently, the jeans.

It took a hand waving before his eyes for Heero to snap out of it again. "You okay, son?"

Startled, he glanced at Howard, then at Duo, back to Howard. "Uh - yeah, I'm fine."

Howard nodded, Heero answered in kind, walked over to meet Duo half-way.

All gloves came off. "What are you doing here, Heero? Not like I don't appreciate the company, but-"

Heero cut in, not sure how much longer his resolve would last. "Duo, I was wondering if... if you'd like to join me for lunch."


He smiled nervously. "Lunch. I still owe you for last week. If you'd like, I know a place fairly close - probably five minutes walk or so. My treat, of course."

Duo's jaw worked air. The offer was unexpected, but certainly welcome - if not for a few small annoying details. "Uh - does this place of yours have a dress code?" He tugged at the leg of his orange coveralls. Then, he grinned. "Or a smell code? I've worked up a good stink by now..."

Heero's plans met another snag. This, he had not considered. Duo hadn't been 'in uniform' during their office outing, and in hindsight, he realized Duo had obviously changed before seeking him out that time. He'd been a fool to think Duo would be ready to go at a moment's notice. His face fell just a bit. "Uh... I don't know. I don't think so."

He chuckled. "Well, I'd really like to come with you, though - I'm already overdue for lunch. I'd like to change and get a quick wash first. That'd take about ten minutes - is that okay with you?"

Heero smiled weakly and nodded with the same hesitation. "Yeah, that's fine." If it weren't for the fact Heero felt onlookers all around them, he might have dared a soft blush. Things were awkward enough as it were, if he wasn't to compound it with that. And, as much as he'd have liked to, he was not there to pick Duo up for a date.

But it still felt like it. Howard made a good substitute parent - and he made Heero plenty more nervous, especially with that knowing grin of his. It reminded Heero of a certain someone; another wizened face wrinkled in a grin, masked by sparse facial hair and odd spectacles. That thought only made the image all the more disturbing. One crazy old coot like that was enough.

"Okay, then. I'll just go-" A hand landed on his shoulder. Duo turned to look, faced Trowa. That lopsided smile promised trouble.

"What's going on here?"

"Nothing - Heero just invited me out to lunch, that's all."

Trowa's left brow raised a notch. "Oh? Where are you going?"

Duo shrugged. Trowa looked to Heero. "It's a small place a few minutes away," Heero explained. "They serve warm lunches, and I hear their coffee is really good."

"Oh yeah? Sounds nice..." He paused briefly as he sent a jet of air into his bangs. "Mind if I tag along?"

It was tough to tell which was the more baffled by Trowa's request, but the glare Duo gave Trowa suggested he was more upset with the idea of a tagalong than Heero. Heero didn't notice that, but made another quick revision to his plan. Today might not be the coming-out day, then - but he'd still be with Duo. And his friend. Any friend of Duo's was worth turning into a friend of his own, he surmised. Besides, Trowa intrigued him. Duo obviously had a rather turbulent friendship with him, and this outing might prove a good chance to learn more about that - and about Duo. "Not at all."

Duo had opened his mouth to tell Trowa something along the lines of a polite 'hell, no!', but having been beaten to the punch, he could only turn his gaping mouth to Heero. Slowly, he closed his jaw again and pursed his lips. There was no way he could escape Trowa without turning Heero's proposed lunch into something more than a mere meal. For the time being, he opted to endure - and plot revenge. "Okay... Trowa, come along - we need to change."

Trowa didn't even manage to finish his nod before Duo grabbed his arm and all but hauled him towards the locker room barracks. Trowa looked over his shoulder, flashed Heero a smile and gave him a quick salute before following Duo's rapid lead.

Wisely, Trowa braced himself for Duo's anger the second the door to the barracks closed behind them.

"Trowa, what the hell do you think you're doing?!"

Trowa presented a sly grin. "Going for lunch - with you and Heero."

Duo tossed his gloves aside, removed his hard hat and put that away as well. Trowa tentatively matched his moves. "That's not what I meant, and you damn well know it! You know how I feel about Heero, and still you butt in like that!"

Trowa raised his left brow again, undid the two buttons at his collar and unzipped the coveralls to the waist. "Oh, yeah? Thought you said you two were still just good friends, nothing more." He paused, far more amused of Duo than afraid of him. "We'd better wash up and change - Heero's waiting..."

Duo glared at him for a moment, then growled a curse and began removing his own coveralls. "Well, I'd still like to become more than his friend, and this could have been a good shot at that."

Trowa crossed his arms and hooked the hem of his soaked T-shirt before peeling it off. "It still can be."

Duo glared at Trowa's chest, lingered for a moment and looked away, gritting his teeth. "You know what? Fuck you, Trowa."

Trowa tossed the bundled T-shirt aside, bent down to remove his boots, grinning. "Now there is a novel concept - but no thanks, Duo. I don't do that, as you very well know."

Duo grunted, removed his own T-shirt.

Soaking a cloth in the washbasin, Trowa added "But if you'd ask me to fuck-"

Duo put his own boots aside and dotted Trowa's sentence with the one-finger salute. "Can it, Trowa. Don't go there." He shimmied out of his coveralls, went for a cloth of his own. "And I did notice Julian took yesterday off."

Trowa chuckled dryly as he swept his cloth across his neck. "Yeah... He complained about being a bit sore..." He glanced at Duo. "Guess I went a little too rough on him."

He returned a threatening glare. "Trowa, I swear, if you hurt him-"

Trowa paused, his grin replaced by a frown. "I don't do that. You know I'd never do anything like that."

Duo pushed his braid out of the way, made a sweep down his spine. "Except their emotions."

Trowa paused before shrugging, sighing. "Well, that, I can't help. Some people are just not tough enough to cope with it just being a good shag, and nothing permanent." With a lopsided smile, he swept the cloth along his arms and back up to his armpits. "I think Julian understood, though. He even pulled a twist on me. That's what got him so tender, I think."

Duo gave Trowa a glance, reached for a towel to dry himself off with. It was a meager wash, but it'd have to do. "Oh yeah? What sort of twist?"

There was no hiding his leer. "An Oliver."


Trowa shifted his voice to match the phrase. "Please, Sir - can I have some more?"

Duo's eyes widened just a bit. Then, covering his face with his palm, he groaned.

Trowa's snickers rang in his ears. "Well, can't let you two go out without a chaperone..."

The faintest of hopes came to Duo. "Is that it? That's the only reason that you're-"

Putting his towel aside, Trowa went to his locker and picked up a clean shirt. "Sure. You're my friend, so it's my duty to make sure this guy is good enough for you, right?"

Duo remained suspicious as he went for clean clothes of his own.

"He sure did look nice, though... Very nice..."

Duo momentarily froze, turned around to look at Trowa, much dismayed to see that particular glint in Trowa's eyes. His own dagger-like glares could not dismiss Trowa's hunting expression. It was clear enough who the prey might be. "Don't you dare, Trowa. Don't even think about it. Heero is mine."

"Is he? Thought you said you were just friends?"

"Trowa, don't fuck with me on this one. You know how I feel about this guy. Don't make me kill you."

He smirked, but his eyes remained unchanged. "I know. I just want him first. Just once. You can have him after that, I don't mind."

Duo growled, slipped on his shirt and took three threatening steps in Trowa's direction. "Trowa, I'm so not in the mood for your jokes on this one, okay? You stay away from Heero. The thing with Hilde was bad enough. I'm not going through something like that with you again, is that clear?"

The look faded. Trowa shrugged. "It's not like it'd be the same - unless you've decided you're straight again."

The silence that followed was heavy and pressing. "Trowa, promise me. You leave Heero alone, got that?"

He raised his palms in defense, but made no commitment. Duo knew that was about the best he could expect from Trowa. Promises were not Trowa's forte. Trowa put on and buttoned up his pants, reached for his jacket. "Come on, Duo. Your boyfriend is waiting."

"He's not-" Duo bit down the words, seeing Trowa's teasing smirk. Oh, this lunch was going to be a thrill... He zipped up, took a quick whiff of his armpit as he donned his own jacket. Not as good as a full shower, but it would have to do. He quietly prayed the deodorant applied would cover the rest without smelling suspiciously strong.


They kept a brisk pace towards the cafeteria of Heero's choice, what little idle talk passing between the three of them centering on the big game last Sunday and a movie on TV the night before. They seemed to share an unvoiced consensus of not drifting to more delicate topics, given present company.

The area was not unknown to Duo. While there were a fair number of small eateries around, the particular street they walked along cut the choices down to less than the number of digits on his left hand. Plus, they were also approaching another familiar place. "Heero, do you drink?"

The question interrupted the argument Heero and Trowa were having about Guerrez and Fulton, two of the main players from the aforementioned game. While Trowa felt Guerrez had played best, Heero vigorously disagreed, siding with Fulton on the opposing team. That Trowa's team had won didn't matter. It had been with a slim margin.

It took Heero a few seconds to truly take Duo's question in. He shifted his attention to Duo, gave him a perplexed look before shrugging his shoulders. "Well... Not usually - but I can take a few beers, if that's what you mean. Why?"

Duo grinned, nodded towards a brass sign sticking out over the street barely hundred feet in front of them - and a few up. "Because then we should go there sometime. It's a really nice place. We used to hang out here before, back when we were fixing up a place over at Willow Heights." Again Duo nodded his head, this time in the direction of the former worksite.

"Duo's right," Trowa added. "McDougal's is one of the best bars in town. I'm sure you'd have a great time, with the right comp-"

Duo discretely nudged his elbow in Trowa's side, barely resisting the urge to put excessive force in it. "See, we went here often enough to get to know some of the barkeeps - one of them in particular, since her shift matched our off-time."

Heero frowned, his mind quickly conceiving unwanted scenarios from that statement. He managed to dismiss them soon enough - if not in entirety from his face. "Oh?"

Duo nodded. "Yeah... Trowa even went out with her a few times. It didn't last, of course."

Heero looked to Trowa, got a weak smile and a nod in confirmation.

They passed the entrance, directly under the sign. The locale was dark, and a note was stuck in the see-through glass of the thick oak door. "Looks like it's closed now, though..."

"They reduced opening hours," Trowa explained. "The customer base dried up, so they cut expenses."

"How do you know that?"

He gave a faint smile. "I've been here a few times lately. Got the story from one of the new barkeeps. It is still a good hangout. Nice crowd on Friday nights. Haven't seen Clarisse there yet, though. I think she's moved on."

Duo mumbled a "Good for her..." and kept walking. Quiet descended on the trio, and it lingered for half a block. They were fast approaching the end of the street, and Duo's suspicions of where they were headed came down to just his thumb. "Heero - we're going to the Green Oasis, aren't we?"

Heero stopped and stared. "Yes - you know the place?"

Duo let go a quick chuckle. "I've been there a few times."


"He was here just last week," Trowa cut in. "That's the place he got that picnic basket."

"It is?"

Duo nodded. "Yeah. Been a long time since I actually sat down and ate there, though."

Heero briefly pressed his lips together, made a curse only for his inner ear to hear. "If you don't like the place, I'm sure we can find-"

"Oh - no, it's not that. Just saying I haven't been here for a while. Say, do they still have those oversized shrubs everywhere?"

"Yes," Heero and Trowa answered in unison, quickly exchanging a look, sharing a smile.

"Damn... I remember wishing I had brought a hedge trimmer the last time. There was this branch that threatened to drop leaves in my coffee. Only dumb luck it didn't happen."

Heero dared put his hand on Duo's shoulder. "I think it won't be that bad today - we'll just pick a table without any dangerous overgrowth."

He grinned. "You mean they have one?"

Heero shrugged. "Guess we'll find out - unless you want to go someplace else?"

Duo shook his head. "No, this is fine. Heck, at this rate it's becoming our regular dining place. Might as well get used to the excessive greenery."

That answer took a small burden off of Heero. Perhaps he hadn't messed up with his choice in establishments after all. He held open the glass door for Duo and Trowa, and they found themselves a table in a quiet corner. While far from full, the Green Oasis had its fair share of patrons, most apparently out in the same principal errand as the trio - namely lunch.

After placing their order, more of the light banter ensued.

This didn't change until well after they got their meals. While the food was good for the palate - and all the better as it was warm, short of the salads - it also helped set a relaxed atmosphere, ripe for a drift in topics.

Before they knew it, they were sharing stories from their pasts. More accurately, Trowa was - to Heero's delight and Duo's utter frustration - telling stories from their childhood. While nothing really significant, most of it the sort of embarrassing tales anyone living through a childhood accumulates, they still left Duo with a healthy skin tone and a desire to sink through the floor. Duo did his best to reciprocate, but Trowa seemed to be far less bothered by the silly things he did when he was six.

To Duo's relief, Heero cut in at one point, sharing a select few of his own memories - like how his friend Quatre had once dared him to walk along the very top of their roof, and how he'd subsequently fallen down to break his arm. He'd lost much of his rash nature after the stay at the hospital.

Duo couldn't quite imagine Heero as rash, but didn't comment on that. If he ever had been, it was certainly gone now.

As they talked, Duo even forgave Trowa for coming along. Trowa dared do what Duo himself did not - namely ask Heero specific questions. In short order, he learned that Heero too was an orphan - that his parents killed in a car crash when he was fourteen. He learned that Quatre's father had applied to be Heero's custodian until his adulthood. He learned of the inheritance Heero's parents left him, including the family house. That detail finally made Duo realize why Heero hadn't moved to Lexington. He definitely understood the need to stay where living memories resided. Trowa's 'twenty questions' routine also revealed that light blue was Heero's favorite color, that he preferred coffee over tea - which Duo already suspected - and that he did in fact own a car but that he didn't drive it, despite having a driver's license. Further inquiries on the same topic were neatly parried - which only made Duo even more curious.

Trowa definitely played the part of chaperone or protective parent, probing to see whether the candidate was worthy - or at least suitable - for his best friend.

Thankfully, Trowa avoided a certain set of questions. The most pressing one to Duo, Trowa did not ask. He skirted the issue as he eluded to his own preferences, commenting on the looks of a young couple dining at the other side of the cafeteria - both of them, not just the lady. Duo was glad Trowa stopped short of saying he'd like to bag them both, separately or together - but the glint of the hunter in his eyes screamed the desire at Duo. Heero didn't seem to notice, judging by the way he contentedly finished up his salad.

Trowa began another anecdote, and true to customs, Duo cringed as his long-time friend uttered the phrase "Has Duo ever told you about the time when..."

And, as all the times earlier, the answer was no. Still, it was never anything truly bad. Embarrassing, perhaps, but rarely worse than things Duo could laugh at as well. This time, it was from when they first arrived at Saint William's.

"See, Sister Helen did her best to untangle the mess that was Duo's hair-"

"My hair was not messy," Duo defended himself. "I was five, nobody had told me about conditioner! Heck, I'd barely even heard of hairbrushes and soap, much less shampoo! Wasn't like anyone ever told me how to treat my hair. I just let it grow, and-"

"That he did. You should have seen him, Heero. Even back then, his hair reached all the way down his shoulder-blades. Helen wanted to cut it, but Duo refused." He glanced at Duo, as if seeking approval to tell the story.

Duo gave a lopsided smile. "Thanks... That's speaking diplomatically, of course. Go on, Trowa. Tell the truth."

Heero leaned in as if he'd miss something otherwise. Trowa grinned. "Fine, 'refused' is phrasing it lightly. Duo fought tooth and nail for his hair - and I do mean that. Both Father Maxwell and Helen tried to subdue him, but as long as Helen kept the scissors, there was no way. For a five-year-old, Duo's vocabulary was pretty evolved."

"In swearwords, he means," Duo cut in. "I had picked up on how to use my fists and feet in a fight fairly well, too." He briefly hid his face in his palm. "God, I wish I could undo that... They were only trying to do what they felt would be best for me. They probably thought my hair was this way because of neglect. They learned otherwise."

"Duo was a stubborn child."

Duo chuckled.

"And he still is."

While he smiled on the surface, he gave Trowa a blatant, soft kick under the table as he exclaimed "Hey!"

Trowa dodged and reached for his cup of coffee. "They let him keep it, obviously. Helen was the one that taught him how to braid it."

Duo nodded. "And how to treat it properly." He sighed. "I owe them a lot..."

Trowa sipped from his coffee, gave a barely perceptible nod. "We both do."

Duo shook his head, a weak smile on his face again. "Those first few months... Hell, the first few years - I can't imagine how they managed to live with us. They have to be saints, or something."

"Yeah, you were quite the little hellion, Duo."

Duo tapped his elbow to Trowa's. "As if you were any better... At least I wasn't the one that set fire to the back porch."

Trowa faked being shocked. "That was an accident! And at least I wasn't the one that decided to drive Father Maxwell's car at age eight..."

He chuckle. "Right... I didn't get very far, though. Only put it in neutral and rolled into the fence. Got forced to spend much of the summer to mend and repaint it, all on my own. Well, almost alone." He gave Trowa a mirthful glance. There were other incidents that summer, too. "I haven't driven a car since." Duo let go another sigh. "Trowa's right... I was a right devilspawn of a kid. Can't imagine what it was like for Sister Helen."

Trowa shrugged. "We were only kids. We'd never been properly raised, that's all. Until Sister Helen taught us, we'd never known how to behave."

Duo nodded in agreement. "We really were young and stupid back then..."

He made a lopsided smirk. "And some of us haven't improved much since then."

He snorted. "Speak for yourself. I'm a model citizen now."

Trowa chuckled. "With a craving for large-scale destruction, sure."

"At least I operate legally, right?"

Trowa conceded that much.

Heero remained silent, not wanting to disturb the flow of the unfolding stories. In the brief half hour so far, he'd learned more about Duo than he'd done over the last several months of train ride conversations. Trowa turned out to be the catalyst and mediator they needed to open up the vaults of memory - with luck, they'd be able to do it again on their own later. This place might help, too.

"I hated those adoption parties they arranged..."

"I think we all did, Duo."

He sighed. "Yeah... At least you got adopted early. Nobody seemed to want me..." He caught the intensely sympathetic look Heero sent him at that, broke out in a grin. "I make it sound so bad, don't I? Well, it wasn't. I mean, it's not fun getting passed over for adoption. We were all just kids, we'd all been through some bad stuff, and we all dreamed of having decent parents - but people can be so cruel when they come to those parties to 'pick' their child. It's like a damn contest - I see it now too. The kids that aren't adopted... God, it's hard to face them that evening. Have you ever watched a six-year-old girl with crooked teeth and pigtails cry herself to sleep? It's tough, I tell you."

Trowa nodded in agreement, and not the first time that evening, Heero felt his lot in life had been a damn lucky one, all things considered. Somehow, all the aimless anger he'd felt at his parent's untimely death seemed less justified now, listening to Duo's stories.

"I think most people passed me by because of my braid. It just didn't fit with their vision of a family to have a boy with long, braided hair. Some of them even asked if I'd be willing to cut my hair. The first few parties, I always said no, in a not too polite manner. After a while, it got harder to deny them that, but..." He reached around for the end of his braid, played with the end of it. "This is one of the few things I've always decided for myself. I couldn't control a lot of the things that happened... but this - this was mine to deal with as I liked. Not sure why I decided to save up my hair. I just... did. Never really stopped. Can't let it grow much longer than this, though. It gets messy when I take it out of the braid. I'm not trying to become Rapunzel, or anything."

Trowa smiled. "I remember some of the ways you told them no." He turned to Heero. "You should have seen Helen's face when Duo all but attacked the first young couple that asked him. Duo caught quite a few stares from that."

Duo grinned sheepishly at that. True enough, he had demonstrated his eloquence that time too. "Yeah..."

Then, Trowa's expression grew stern, his eyes to the table. "And being adopted didn't mean everything would become bliss, either..."

Duo clenched his teeth, much of his mirth dispelled. He put a hand to Trowa's shoulder. "Sorry, Trowa - I didn't mean it like that, you know that... You really had shit for luck back then."

At length, Trowa shrugged. "It worked out..." He shook his head, glanced at Heero again. "Anyway - Heero, how's your coffee?"

Now, that was a save if Heero had ever heard one. There was certainly more to their childhood, as there were more to his own - but such things would come in due time, he hoped. He accepted the desire for a topic change. "It's fine, thanks."

Trowa wrinkled his nose, mustered a smile again. "Just fine? Then they didn't make it right. You should complain and get a refund."

Duo snorted, took a big gulp to finish his own. He couldn't find anything to complain about. The food had hit the spot, too.

"Oh - by the way," Heero began, suddenly remembering, "I ran into Hilde Schbeiker on my way out. She told me to remind you to call her, next time I saw you."

Trowa gave Duo a quick, inquisitive glance.

Duo put his palm to his forehead. "Damn - right, I totally forgot about that..."

"You're still seeing Hilde?"

He turned to Trowa. "Well... Yes and no - she's landed a job at the building Heero works at, and I ran into her there last week."


Heero studied them both, but didn't ask. For a moment, he wondered if Hilde really had been a girlfriend of Duo's... But at least Trowa's reaction ensured him any such relationship was in the past. That, at least, was a glimmer of hope.

"Thanks, Heero. I'll try to give her a call tonight."

Heero nodded. Trowa checked his wristwatch. "We should probably head back. Howard can get cranky if we're not on time."

Duo spun his empty cup around on the plate. "Yeah, this one time, we-" He cut his sentence short, finally remembering something. "Damn, I totally forgot - Howard told me to pick up his lunch on our way back, didn't he?" He got to his feet, struggled with his jacket. "The place is a bit out of the way, and there's probably a line - I'd better run. Trowa, you know the place, follow me there, okay?" He turned to Heero. "Sorry to run like this - really enjoyed lunch, Heero. Thank you."

"No, thank you..." Heero mumbled to himself.

And Duo was out the door, and gone.

Heero sighed, raised a hand to signal for the bill and took out his wallet.

"I can pay my share, if-"

Heero shook his head. "No, that's okay. I was the one who invited the two of you out to lunch."

"Okay..." Silence fell as the note arrived. Heero checked the sum total, calculated a reasonable tip and counted up the bills and dimes. Trowa studied the meticulous activity. "Ready to go?"

Puzzled, Heero had to ask. "Go where?"

Trowa grinned. "After Duo, of course. He told us to follow him."

Heero countered with a soft frown. "I thought he told you to-"

Trowa shook his head a negative. "He meant both of us, I'm sure of that. Come on, it's not that far." He stood, put on his jacket. "But he's probably right about there being a line, even at this hour."

Heero followed Trowa's lead, walked after him out the door and around the first corner. "Why do I get the feeling Duo didn't just run off to the nearest Starbucks? I think I heard your boss say he wanted 'his usual', but-"

He gave a quick chuckle. "Well, you're right about that. Howard can be a bit... eccentric. His usual varies with who he sends off to get it. Duo hardly ever gets that job."

"Why is that?"

"Because it isn't every day Howard prefers a liquid lunch and a ham and cheese baguette to soak down with it."

Heero frowned at this. "Your boss drinks while on the job?"

Trowa met Heero's resentment with a mirthful glance. "Like I said, only once in a while. Usually when he feels like celebrating something."

"Does he have anything in specific to celebrate today?"

Trowa smirked, but delayed in answering. Finally, he shrugged. "I don't know - you'd have to ask him."

Heero knew he never would.

"He'll probably save the drink for tonight. That's what he tends to - but he likes to send us out on those little errands. He doesn't like to show up at the liquor store in person. Says he has a bad history with the owner."

They turned another corner, and nearly crashed into someone heading the opposite direction. "I'm sor-" Heero began, stopping short when he recognized the mildly startled face. "Quatre?"

"Heero? What are you-" Glance at Trowa, back to Heero.

"I think that's my question," Heero asked with as much restraint as he could muster, frowning.

"I had a business appointment in the area - we finished early, so I thought I'd stop by the Green Oasis for a bite to eat."

Quatre's disarming smile did much to undo Heero's initial ire, but irritation remained. A bite to eat, and a mission update, more like it. Heero couldn't really blame his friend, though. His desperate call earlier that day deserved nothing less than a follow-up like this.

Beside him, Trowa cleared his throat in a fairly conspicuous manner.

Heero snapped out of it. "Oh - Quatre, this is Trowa - he's a friend of Duo's."

Trowa nodded, extended his hand. "Trowa Barton."

"Quatre Winner - I'm Heero's friend."

He produced a lopsided smile. "So I gather..."

Quatre made a quick peek over Heero's shoulder, obviously expecting another. "Where's-"

"We were just going to pick up Duo," Heero cut in. "He had an errand, so he ran ahead."

"Oh - so you've had lunch already?"

Heero nodded, wishing Quatre could wipe that satisfied expression off his face. Noting Trowa's half-smirk at the corner of his eye made him uneasy, too.

"Want to come with us?" Trowa asked. "I'm sure Duo would like to meet you - if you have time, that is."

Quatre nodded. "Sure, I have time - if Heero doesn't mind me tagging along..."

There was no way for Heero to say otherwise, not with Trowa around. He did not want to leave a bad impression with Trowa, since he was sure word would get back to Duo. Nothing had gone as planned today, but then again, nothing had gone horribly wrong either. Indeed, things had gone very well.

Except for two details. He still hadn't gained the absolute conviction Duo was interested in him, and he still hadn't voiced his feelings to Duo. It would have been much too awkward to blurt it out in front of Trowa - and yet he had to give Trowa the credit for allowing him to learn as much about Duo as he did.

He shrugged. "No, I don't mind - Trowa's right. I've told Duo a few things about you, so..."

Quatre chuckled. "Only good things, I hope."

Heero snorted as he started a wry smile. "You wish..."

Quatre gave Heero's arm a light punch, and followed Trowa's lead down the street.

They came upon the liquor store soon enough, just in time to meet Duo rushing out of the place, stopping short when he saw the company. "Oh - Hi, Heero. I thought-"

Heero shrugged. "I wasn't in a hurry. Besides, I wondered why you ran off."

Grinning, Duo held up two small plastic bags, one obviously carrying something heavier than the other. "What, this? It's just Howard's lunch, like I told you. Didn't want to upset the boss by forgetting, that's all." He paused as he finally caught a glimpse of Quatre, realizing he wasn't just a passer-by.

Heero followed his look. "Oh - Duo, this is Quatre, a very good friend of mine. Trowa and I ran into him just down the block, and he wanted to meet you."

"Is that so?" Duo offered his hand. "Duo Maxwell. Pleasure to meet you."

Quatre took it, shook it slowly. "Quatre Winner - and the pleasure's all mine. Good to finally get a face for the man Heero's talked so much about."

"Oh?" Duo gave Heero an amused glance.

"Well, yeah. He-" Heero tapped his foot to Quatre's, a little too hard to be coincidental.

"Enough of that, Quatre. Duo, Trowa - thanks for joining me for lunch."

Duo chuckled. "Hey, it was your treat. Thank you."

"Maybe... maybe we could do it again sometime."

He nodded slowly. "I'd like that..." A quick afterthought hit him. "But next time, let's split the tab."

Heero grinned at that. "Fine by me." His expression sobered as he picked up the light snicker at his side. He gave Quatre a quick look and noticed the highly amused expression on his friend's face. Heero cleared his throat. "We'd better go - I have to get back to the office, and I'm sure your boss is waiting for you - and his lunch." He nodded to the plastic bags.

"Yeah, I'm sure he does... See you on the train home?"

He nodded. "Of course. Bye, Duo." He turned around, took a hold of Quatre's arm to coax him along.

"Bye, Heero," Duo called after them, before following Trowa in the other direction.

More than once, Heero glanced over his shoulder, watching them leave. The last time he did, Duo turned to return the look. They exchanged smiles, quick waves - and were gone around separate corners.

Quatre shook his head, sighed into a smile. "As if I didn't already know... You're hopelessly in love, Heero."

He gave a soft grunt. He wasn't going to deny it, but he wasn't going to succumb to his friend just like that either.

"But... Duo's friend..."


Quatre nodded. "He seemed pretty nice too, didn't he?"

Heero shrugged. "I suppose - why?"

Quatre's smile wavered, and for a grand total of three times, he pursed his lips, searching for the best way to phrase it. "I noticed the way he looked at you, and... Well, I got the distinct impression he's interested in you."

Heero stopped walking. "Come again?"

"I think Trowa likes you - in that way."

He flagged a brow of scepticism. "What, gaydar telling you this, or something?"

He was met with a weak smile, then a sigh. "Maybe. It's more of a gut feeling."

Heero nodded. "Like I said, gaydar."

Quatre grinned, poked Heero's chest. "Which you seem to be missing, my good friend."

Heero shrugged. Perhaps he did. Not that he really believed in something like that. Being observant, he could understand. Playing the stereotype as an eye catch, he could understand too. Going blind and still seeing he did not believe in. Quatre's observation fell in that same category. "Guess I'm waiting for mine to be installed."

After Quatre's quick chuckle, they started walking again.

"Quatre, why were you really heading for the Green Oasis?"

"I told you the truth earlier. My business meeting ended early, and I was thinking of where to go for lunch."


"...and I thought I'd check up on your progress - killing two birds with one stone. After that call earlier, I wasn't sure if you'd even dared ask Duo out in the first place. I called your office, and it pleased me to learn you'd gone out."

Heero made half a smirk. "So, you decided to snoop?"

Quatre gave a sheepish smile, his cheeks warming up. Slowly, he nodded. "Sorry... It's your own fault, really."

"Your nosiness is my fault? How do you reason that?"

"The way you've been talking about Duo, you make him sound like he's the second coming."

Heero broke out in laughter. "Okay, so I might have exaggerated just a bit - but he sure is something, isn't he? You have to give me that much..."

Quatre grinned, nodded. "From what little I've learned of him... Yeah, I suppose I can agree with that. Duo seems like a real nice guy. Handsome, too." They reached a crossroads. Quatre put his hand on Heero's shoulder. "I wish you luck with him, Heero. I got the feeling Duo's interested in you too."

Again, Heero raised a brow. "Are you sure? Just a moment ago, you said-"

"I know what I said. They both seemed to like you. You should be careful, Heero. Gaydar never fails." He sighed. "It's the follow-up that usually does - at least in my case." Quatre's stomach gave a weak rumble. With an apologetic smile, he gave Heero's shoulder two taps with his palm. "I'd better get something to eat. See you later, Heero."

"Okay - bye, Quatre."

A final shared look later they split up, Quatre heading to tend to the pit in his stomach, Heero to tend to the Worthstone Building.

Yet, the sad expression of Quatre's lingered with Heero throughout the afternoon.


"Heero seems nice..."

Duo gave Trowa a glance, searching for malice, but he found nothing apparent. "He is."

Trowa made a big grin. "I'm sure - but what I meant is, he looks good."

Duo stopped. "Trowa..."

"Hey, I'm only looking out for my kid brother here... I need to know he's really worthy for you, in every way."

Duo glared at him, well aware Trowa meant in bed as well. "Don't fuck with me on this, Trowa... Heero is not going to be one of your conquests, not now, not ever - not while I still breathe. And I'm two months older than you."

"Oh, come on, Duo - one chance, that's all I ask. After that, you two can live happily ever after, for all I care. You know me. This is better than if I tried to steal him later, right?"

"Trowa, I said no. If anyone is getting into Heero's pants, it'll be me. You stay out of this."

Trowa gave a dark chuckle. "You really like this guy, don't you?"

Duo served him a deathglare. "You think?"

With his open palms up, Trowa took a step back. "Now, that is a scary face, Duo. Haven't seen that in years." He sighed. "Fine... I'll try to keep my hands off - but if he makes a pass at me, all bets are off. Fair enough?"

Duo gritted his teeth. Such an accord was a decidedly double-edged sword - especially since Trowa was involved. With enough effort, the bastard could charm a rock - and crumble it to dust later with no effort at all. "Look, I don't want to go through something like what happened with Hilde again."

Trowa snorted. "That again? Sheesh... It's not like this is anything like that. She was head over heels in love with you back then, and you never even noticed. Of course she wanted to do something to open your eyes. Is it my fault she chose me to make you jealous?"

Duo stared into the pavement, muttered "You could have turned her down..."

Trowa put his hand on Duo's shoulder. "And since when have I ever turned down a good-looking body coming my way? Besides, she did finally figure out you were gay afterwards."

"You used her."

Trowa shrugged. "Perhaps - but she wanted to use me, too. What goes around, comes around - and she had no complaints during those two weeks. Not my fault she decided she loved me when she found out about you. I had never given her any promise of commitment."

Duo sighed. That had been true enough. It wasn't as if Hilde didn't know of Trowa's reputation, either. She'd fallen in the trap of many a girlfriend and boyfriend of his - the delusion they could tame him, keep him monogamous, or at least reasonably faithful. It didn't seem Trowa was meant to be paired with merely a single soul mate. Few of his brief flings seemed to understand this, much less accept it. None had endured, all eventually forming the same mistaken assumption Hilde did. The night Hilde had finally figured out she couldn't cope with it she had called Duo up, and he'd gone to comfort her as best he could. Later, he'd gone to confront Trowa - something he'd regretted countless times since then, for as many reasons.

But the past was the past. Duo could only live in the present, and prepare for the future. Heero was at stake now. They started walking again, in silence for half a block. "So... Trowa, what did you think of Heero's friend?"

"Hm? That blond guy?"

Duo nodded. "Yeah, Quatre. Seems like a nice guy, doesn't he?"

Trowa produced half a leer. "Mm-hmm... I do have a weakness for blondes..."

Duo all but rolled his eyes. "What don't you have a weakness for, Trowa?"

He grinned wide. "Excessive age difference and a lack of beauty."

Duo snorted.

"Hey, I might be a biased bastard, but at least I'm honest." Duo's look made him think it over. "Well, after a fashion, at least."

"But you liked Quatre?"

Trowa nodded. "Yeah, I like him, too. He looked like a good fuck."

Duo shook his head. "That's not what I meant." Only it was. It was a mean thing to do, but if Heero's friend would be enough to throw Trowa off track for just a little while, it was worth it. Feeding Quatre to the wolf that was Trowa did not come easy to Duo - he hoped the blond was tough enough to cope with Trowa's brute rejection once he'd gotten what he wanted. All that mattered was that Trowa kept away from Heero.

Heero was for him only, and nobody else.


True to tradition, Duo was running to catch the train home. He had opted to wait for the next subway train rather than ride with Trowa. Apparently, his friend had a date in town that evening. Duo suspected Trowa hadn't anyone specific in mind yet, but most likely would before the night was over. It would all be over tomorrow. Duo didn't think there'd be any tears.

He had spent most of the afternoon contemplating how to best greet Heero again. A few ways had occurred to him, but some he considered too forward, others too awkward. In the end Duo opted for a simple, standard hello and sat down next to him.

They were back to the quiet exchange of smiles, and it remained like that for most of the first leg of the trip. Neither of them could find a decent topic to start a conversation on, and while they both had questions they wanted to ask, they did not dare. Curiously enough, they both found themselves missing Trowa by the time they passed Leigh.

In the end it was a concern of Heero's that broke the tranquility of their ride home. Not beating around the bush, Heero simply asked "Is Trowa gay?"

Duo choked on his breath, taken off-guard by the direct question - so close to the one he wished Heero had asked, just so the last shred of ambiguity could be dispelled. He struggled to answer, coughed twice, stared at Heero, then mellowed over. "Uh - well, I suppose that depends on his mood."

"He's bisexual, then?"

Duo nodded. "Yeah..."


Duo could feel a lump grow in his throat, his heart beating faster. A dark suspicion formed in his mind, a great worry Heero was asking because he was interested in Trowa rather than him. "...why?" Duo finally managed to ask.

Heero gave him a lingering look, settled down in his seat. "I was just thinking... Trowa seems like a nice guy."

Duo snorted, frowned to himself. "You don't know the half of it." Anger went outwards, insecurity inwards. He prayed his fears weren't true, prayed what he suspected wasn't happening.

Heero looked into the back of the seat in front of him. "I think... Well, he and Quatre might hit it off together, that's all."

Duo's jaw fell, and he struggled to work it back up. "Say again?"

Heero smiled cautiously, still not facing Duo. "Yeah, Quatre's gay."

Duo mentally shook his head. That wasn't quite what he meant, but still... it wasn't as if he hadn't had the same thought earlier - if for different reasons, most likely. "Are you serious?"

Heero nodded, gave Duo a glance. "He's your best friend, isn't he? Then he can't be a bad person - and Quatre's really great, once you get to know him. He'd never hurt Trowa, if that's what you're thinking."

Duo caught himself cringing. No, that was the least of his concerns. The opposite, on the other hand... The knowledge of Quatre being gay only shored up under his plan to use him as a distraction. It would probably make things easier - but not for his conscience.

"I just thought... maybe we should try matching them up sometime."

Duo vaguely nodded, but couldn't help feeling like a right bastard for supporting this idea rather than tell Heero the true extent of Trowa's illustrious nature - but if he did that, Heero might fall prey instead, and that was an unthinkable outcome. The topic was not one he cared to discuss further. A shift was necessary. "I really enjoyed lunch today, Heero. Thanks."

Heero broke out in a smile at that. "You told me that already. And you're welcome."

Duo grinned sheepishly. "I did, didn't I? Uh, Heero... You don't have that much time for lunch every day, do you?"

A sheen of sadness befell Heero's face as he shook his head. "No... I took half an hour extra today. I'll have to shave that time off my lunches for the rest of the week to make it all add up."

Duo slowly nodded. "Okay... So... there's no chance we can do it again tomorrow?"

Heero tilted his head to better look at Duo's face, the warm smile back. "Afraid not - but I think I could manage once a week. The food at the Green Oasis was really good, so I wouldn't mind going there again."

Duo straightened up a bit. "Me neither..."

"...as long as you're going, of course."

Duo felt a warmth blossom in his chest from that. He returned Heero's smile, if in a somewhat shaky reflection. Again, he nodded. Stillwater Station was announced over the PA system. Duo sighed. "Time to go. I'll see you tomorrow, right?"

Heero gave a firm nod. "Of course." As an afterthought, he added "Want to meet up in the quiet zone?"

Duo chuckled. "Please. I wouldn't be all that surprised if some of the other kids have gotten sick by now. Might have another restless night ahead of me." He stretched his arms, wove his fingers together and cracked his knuckles to the sky. "Guess I'll just have to make the best of it." He stood up.

"Remember to call Hilde. I got the impression she really wanted that call."

Duo grinned. "Oh, I bet she does. Yeah, I'll remember. Thanks again." The train came to a halt. "Bye, Heero - see you tomorrow."

Again, Heero nodded. He watched Duo pass the sliding doors of glass, studied his progress across the platform to the bicycle rack and all but stared as Duo bent over to work the lock. Heero's lips formed a slight leer, just as his mind formed dirty thoughts.

Only when Duo stood up did Heero realize it had started snowing. It was only thin, flimsy flakes, hardly enough to become permanent yet - but still enough to cause trouble. As the train started moving again, he hoped Duo would make it back to Saint William's okay, and that the chill in the air wouldn't bother him during the trip.

There was no need for his concerns. While Duo's bike was rusty and old, the ground was not very slippery yet - and while it was cold outside now, Heero had left Duo's insides feeling far warmer than usual.

on to part 7

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