"You still here? Not gonna grab a bite for lunch?"
Without looking away from the piece of paper in his hands, Heero answered "Yeah, in a minute. Just want to finish this."
Duo gave a quick snort, folded his arms and leaned up against the door frame of Heero's tiny office. "That's what you said half an hour ago, when I asked if you wanted to come with."
That, at least, made him look up. "I did?"
"Yeah," Duo repeated.
"I'm sorry," he said, indicating the paper. "This report is very interesting, and I --"
"It's a memo on the abuse of office supplies, Heero. Une's going off her rocker again."
He started a frown. Duo and the others could dismiss the note all they wanted, but if their boss was going bonkers, Heero wanted to know in advance. Besides, casually reminding her of details like this during performance reviews and wage negotiations tended to be effective. A good terrorist uses any means at his disposal, especially when craving a change of job titles. There were office rumors of an opening.
Duo kicked away from the frame, closed the door and made his way to the small chair Heero's office had to spare for guests, twisting it around to squat across it, leaning in over the back of it. "So, what's up?"
"What do you mean?"
Duo shrugged. "I don't know... but you've been sullen and grumpy all week. I figured there had to be something on your mind."
Heero eyed his friend for a moment, then focused on his desk again. "It's nothing."
Duo rolled his eyes. "Like hell, it's nothing. What is it, huh? Having regrets about not becoming a field op again?" He waited for Heero to take the bait, but as he was ignored, he pushed on. "I don't. I'm having a ball being advisor and instructor to guys twice my age and size, and I'm barely old enough to vote!" He chuckled to himself. "And I'm driving Anderson crazy. I think he'll quit on me."
"That's your fifth partner in two years," Heero commented. Perhaps it was true, then.
"Could be," Duo said dismissively. "Some people just can't take a practical joke or two."
Hundred, Heero added to himself. It took a lifetime to build up immunity. He'd promised himself he'd do it in half -- and he was well underway. He couldn't say the same for poor Anderson.
"Anyway, I suppose doing analysis and intelligence gathering is a bit dull compared to --"
"I've seen the shape Wufei comes back from missions in sometimes," Heero cut in. "I have no regrets, not about active field duties." If Une turned down his request for transfer again, he'd demand her exact reasons. That they were friends could hardly be sufficient grounds, and the same went for them both being young. Their reputations and the skills that made them were well-known. He met Duo's questioning look. "Besides, I made a promise."
He digested that thought, straightened up. "Sticking to Relena for good, huh?"
Heero gave him a glance, then focused on the memo. Only two paragraphs of possible blackmail left, then lunch. Maybe.
"Man, I don't get what the hell happened with you guys. You just... drifted apart, you know? I mean, she was all over you during the war." He thought about it for a second, opted for a different angle. "I think she's growing friendly with Wufei these days. Think she ditched you because of that promise of yours? Maybe she really wanted a bad boy after all."
"She wanted me!" Heero snapped back, starting the statement with a fist to his desk. "We even --" he paused, biting his lip, hesitating. "We tried."
Duo flagged a brow. "Tried... what?"
His lips parted, but the words wouldn't come. "You know what I mean," he blurted out, fumbling with the piece of paper.
"...had a bit of filth in the ol' carburator?" Duo ventured.
Not looking up, Heero nodded with abashment.
Duo waved it off. "Happens to a lot of guys, Heero. You were just nervous, first time and all."
"Not just once," Heero briefly admitted.
He threw his hands up, slid his palms across his face on the way down again. "I don't know what the hell went wrong. I've no problems when I'm alo--" he caught glimpse of Duo's grin and shut up, trying to fight the oncoming flush.
"Maybe Relena just didn't turn you on," Duo helpfully offered.
Heero did not answer that.
"Or is it more of a... general problem?"
"What do you mean?" Hadn't he already said he'd no trouble getting it up on his own?
"Well... ever thought about if you're gay, or something?"
His jaw worked air for a few seconds. "I... haven't really considered that." He paused, met Duo's eyes again. "How would I know, anyway?"
Duo cut short a chuckle. "That's easy enough -- does watching naked men make it swing in your ding-a-ling?"
Heero started to frown. "I've never seen naked men."
"Sure you have."
"And how would you know?" Heero said defensively.
"Boarding school, remember? Gym classes? We showered together afterwards, so I know you've at least seen me naked."
"That's different," Heero objected. "I never really looked then, and sure as hell not with sex in mind." No sooner had the words left his mouth, did it dawn on him what he'd just said, and he failed in holding back the warmth building up in his cheeks.
He was greatly relieved Duo didn't seem to notice. "Okay... Tell you what, come over to my place tonight, say ten o'clock, and we'll fix that."
His eyes widened a tad, and he tried to cover up his bafflement. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah, sure -- no big deal," Duo said casually and tugged at his sleeve to check his watch. He frowned. "Damn, gotta run -- see you later, Heero."
Heero nodded at his friend's back, still digesting their conversation.
And his stomach growled.
The steps up to Duo's third floor apartment had never felt as intimidating. The elevator was busted again, and not for the first time Heero wondered why Duo put up with all the crap the run-down building provided. It did have a good situation downtown, and the rent was probably cheap, but he suspected there were reasons Duo hung out at his place a lot of the time. Reasons with six legs or four, that was the question.
He reached the door, and glared at the number. Duo still hadn't gotten around to fixing the first of the two nines, apparently. The gilded digit still hung from the bottom screw. Putting that thought aside, he took a deep breath to calm himself. The three floors wasn't the only reason his pulse beat stronger than usual. Swallowing, he tentatively touched a fingertip to the doorbell, hearing the three bars go off on the other side.
"Just a minute," he heard Duo call, followed by naked footsteps, the rattle of the safety chain and the squeaky hinges. "Hi, Heero." He balanced the towel with one hand, checked his watch with the other. "Damn, time already? Sorry, got caught up in the shower. I'm almost done."
Heero followed him into the hallway, closed the door, staring at the small of Duo's back until he was out of sight. His pants had been unbuttoned, his shirt nowhere in sight. Heero was sure his heart was about to lurch up into his throat. Slowly, he fumbled with the buttons of his coat.
As if he could see around corners, Duo called out for him. "Oh, and don't bother with the coat, I'll be ready to go in a minute. Just need to find a clean shirt."
At that, Heero startled. He'd very much thought they'd be at Duo's place for this -- and if Duo wanted to be at his place instead, he would have said so. Perhaps he wanted neutral territory, like a hotel room?
Duo came around the bend, jumping on one foot, trying to get a sock over the other. Done with that, he hurriedly buttoned up his shirt save the last two and re-braided his hair. "Okay," he exclaimed, ignoring Heero's puzzled expression. "I'm all set -- ready to go?"
He nodded cautiously, unsure what Duo had in mind.
"Great," Duo beamed at him. "The club isn't far from here, it'll just be a short walk -- and since we get there early, we'll have seats front and center. It'll be great, I'm sure."
"Yeah," Duo said with an ominous grin. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna ditch you once we get there." He zipped up his jeans jacket, flagged an eyebrow. "Unless you'd want me to, that is. Just give me a hint if you find someone you'd like to bring home, and --"
"I won't," Heero cut in. He was finally getting an idea of what sort of establishment they were heading for.
Sure enough, Duo led him straight to a seedy-looking strip joint, tucked down the side of an alleyway with all the discretion of Las Vegas. It wasn't the first time Duo had lured him to such places, but here, there was not a boob in sight -- not on the stage, at least.
The place reeked ambience; cheap drinks served by flirty waiters, throbbing porn beats coming from the speakers, flashy colored strobe lights reflecting in the traces of smoke as well as on the glistening skin of the half-naked male dancers grinding against the floor-to-ceiling poles -- or each other -- up at the stage.
To say Heero felt out of his element was an understatement. Duo, on the other hand, seemed to just brush it all off. For a moment, Heero thought Duo was actually enjoying the show. He knew Duo as free-spirited, at least when compared to himself -- but courtesy of being friends, he also knew most of Duo's dating history. Through bits and pieces of information and cancelled game and movie trips, Heero figured Duo had gone out with at least half a dozen different women in the same amount of recent months. He'd never inquired how far any of those relationships went, but he'd registered Duo's occasional late and dishevelled appearance at work.
Duo looked at him from the corner of his eye, and half-yelled to be heard over the loud music. "Getting anything yet?"
Heero eyed him back, caught the quick glance Duo made to his crotch. His face warmed up as he recalled they were here for his benefit; to discover just where his preferences lay. It helped thinking of it as a recon mission -- intelligence gathering. One of the strippers crouched down by the pole right in front of them, mooning them short of the string between his firm buttocks. Quickly looking down at the table top, Heero shook his head.
Under the bad lighting conditions, Duo missed most signs of Heero's embarrassment, took another swig of his drink and shrugged. "Well, let's give it some time." He grinned mischievously and elbowed Heero's side. "It's not like they're naked yet, right?"
Heero shot him an uncomfortable look, but said nothing. Really, he could care less. The performers were naked enough -- and so close he could touch them if he just reached out-- He closed his eyes, tried to clear his mind. When they'd entered this place, Heero had wanted to hide away in the far corner. Unfortunately, Duo saw fit to drag him to the very edge of the catwalk and place them front and center, as he'd promised.
The well-tanned man who'd swirled before them a moment ago was now engaged in a lewd spectacle with one of the others, his tiger-striped Tarzan outfit grinding against the rear gap of the loincloth-and-chaps of a would-be cowboy. Heero's lips parted slightly, allowing a quick breath.
A cat-call originating right by his ear snapped him out of it, and he turned to stare at his companion. Duo caught the look and chuckled -- Heero never heard it, but he could see just fine. Duo leaned in again. "Hey, he's a good-looking guy and a decent dancer. We're sitting at front row, so we oughta show some appreciation for his efforts, right?"
Heero felt ready to retort 'decent' wasn't really the proper word for the man's... footwork, but Duo pre-empted him by pulling out a couple of bills from an inner pocket. "Here, give the guy a tip, would ya?"
"Tip?" he asked, absentmindedly taking one of the bills.
Duo nodded. "Yeah -- like this!" And he got up, waving the note he had left. Even standing, the stage was still not lower than at his chest. Presumably, the club wanted to make it difficult for drunken patrons to join the stage show. Bill in hand, Duo motioned the guy in question over. The man swayed his way over, knelt before Duo, still rocking his hips as Duo touched his side, hooked the thong string with a finger and slipped his note in to join two previously deposited ones. Apparently, he was not the only one thinking the guy had good moves.
The next to naked man winked at Duo as he returned to the show. Duo smirked back and sat down, and oblivious to Heero's sullen frown he tapped his knuckles to the front of Heero's shoulder, breaking his glare at the stripper. "Your turn!" he shouted over the porn beats.
He was ready to protest, but suspected Duo would hear none of it -- especially with the ambient noise. His mind raced for a way to escape, but Duo had the sort of look that bore promise he'd toss him up at the stage to do it, if he didn't act soon.
With great hesitation, Heero got to his feet and raised the bill, albeit hardly in as flashy a fashion as Duo had. He really didn't feel comfortable calling the guy over.
Duo saw fit to fix that for him, though, making a bullhorn with his hands and shouting "Yo, tiger-thong!"
Tarzan turned around and saw Duo pointing at Heero and his bill. With a smirk, he danced his way over and knelt before Heero, still rolling his hips.
Heero stood as frozen, eyeing the guy; pretty face, good build, decent tan.... Hell, he was barely older than they were, yet confident enough to do something like --
The faint kick to his ass made him snap out of it. He shot a quick, angry glare over his shoulder, then set eyes front, jutting tigerstripes in his face. Thinking along the lines of 'the hell with it' -- or perhaps not thinking at all -- his fingertips touched the stripper's belly, slipped down to pluck at the top of his thong. He shoved the bill inside, and his knuckles definitely grazed something, and the jutting paused. As if burned, he withdrew his hands and sat down, covering his face in embarrassment -- albeit with one palm only.
Duo was busy laughing his ass off, and even saw fit to deliver a friendly slap against Heero's back. "Damn, man!" he half-yelled into Heero's ear. "You've got some technique, wonderboy! Were you gonna rip off his thong right here, or what?!"
Frustration took over, and he scowled at Duo. "I only did what you told me to!" he said in self-defence. "I put the note --"
"You're supposed to do it at the side of his hips, Heero. You don't go for the goods!"
Profoundly uneasy, Heero at last nodded, once more blessing the colored strobe lights flickering through the club.
Duo focused on the stage again and grinned wide. "Well, it sure got his attention, though -- he's giving you some real looks of interest right now."
Heero dared take a look, just in time to catch the dancer giving him a wink, followed by a blown kiss.
After that, the table top turned interesting again.
Duo snickered, shook Heero's shoulder. "Oh yeah, he's in looove..." he teased.
Heero reacted the only way he could think of; a chagrined smile and a soft punch to Duo's shoulder, the first warning he should back off. He shook his head and sighed. "Duo, let's get out of here."
"What?" Duo said with some surprise. "Hey, the show's only just getting started! These guys are just the warm-up, Heero. The full monty isn't for another half hour, and --"
He thought he knew, but asked anyway. "Full monty?"
Duo nodded. "Yeah. You were the one who wanted to see naked guys, right? It's coming right up."
His jaw went lax and worked air for a moment. Gathering his wits, he burst out "I don't need it -- we can leave now."
"Oh?" Duo said with quite some curiosity. "Found your answer already?" He shot a glance between Heero's legs. "Swinging?" he asked playfully.
Heero glared back, not wanting to reply.
Duo knew better than to expect one. "Okay, but I'm sure that handsome guy is gonna be sad if you don't stick around for later. He'd definitely give you a blo--"
"Let's go," Heero cut in, grabbed Duo's hand and tugged him along forcefully.
Stumbling at first, Duo followed, affording a chuckle as they picked up their jackets. "Great plan, pal -- let him down gently by pretending you're taken, right?"
Duo's words gave him a split second of pause. Buttoned up, he took a hold of Duo's wrist again and kept walking, Duo in tow. He didn't let go until they were a good half a block away. Taking his bearings, he slowed down and set a course towards Duo's apartment, intent on walking him home.
That in itself wasn't out of the ordinary, he often did when they'd had a night out -- albeit, tonight had seen a different venue than any of their usual hangouts.
As they turned the corner of Barclay and Seventh, Duo spotted an open Seven-Eleven. He tapped Heero's arm. "Hey, I think I'll get something to eat -- how about you?"
Heero shook his head. "No thanks, I'm fine."
"Suit yourself," Duo said and shuffled off. Heero spent the time waiting with absentmindedly studying the light traffic. It honestly didn't seem that long before Duo returned with a monster hot-dog buried in condiments and a wolfish expression. He opened his jaws for the first bite, suddenly aware of Heero staring at him, and aborted his endeavour. "Sure you don't want anything?"
Heero shook his head and set a slow pace, and from the corner of his eye he saw Duo jam the thing into his mouth and bite. Chunks of lettuce fell to the pavement, and some of the dressing and shrimp salad escaped down the corner of his mouth. Heero had to smile.
Duo had always been a messy eater, at least when it came to junk food. Heero had seen it often enough as they'd headed to or from basketball games or trips to the movie theater. It still amazed him how much Duo could stuff in his mouth and still chew. And swallow. Heero watched his throat work, the way he licked his lips. "So," Duo started after a loud burp. "What's your conclusion?"
"Did you find your answer? Gay, not gay, a little gay? Do I hear jinglebells?"
His pace faltered, and his jaw worked air for a moment. Again, he went for a negative headshake. "Duo..."
He went for another bite -- a far smaller one now, since he was involved in a conversation. "Yeah?"
"When you asked me out today... I didn't think we were going to a strip club."
Duo started a frown, swallowed. "And where the hell else could I bring you to see bare-ass guys? You thought I was gonna flag down a prostitute for you, or something?"
Heero's expression mimicked Duo's. "No -- no, nothing like that, I --" He bit his lip, relaxed his face. "You invited me over to your place, so I thought..." He looked away, then into the pavement one step ahead. "Look, I'm sorry -- I didn't mean to ruin your evening."
Half a hotdog in hand, Duo considered this, and it was perfectly visible on him how the pieces started falling into place. "...you thought..."
Heero nodded reluctantly, but couldn't look up.
He did register Duo's feet weren't beside him anymore, though -- and then, he heard him laughing. "Seriously?"
He stopped, made a faint smile, dared a glance, glad to see that his long-time friend didn't seem pissed. Then again, Duo could be a damn fine actor, so he opted to tread carefully. "I told you I'm sorry..."
Duo hurriedly finished the small remainder of his hot-dog, curled up the paper and tossed it in a trash bin, wiped his mouth with the back of his palm, licked it clean and dried it against his pants, all in quick, well-rehearsed motions. "Don't worry about it." He put a hand on Heero's shoulder, forcing him to meet his eyes. "You're my best friend, Heero, and I'd do a lot for you." He started smirking. "Just be glad we didn't end up in a jail cell tonight, 'cause I would be the guy sitting right next to you, reminding you how much fun we just had."
Heero gave a knowing nod, strengthened his own smile. Duo patted his shoulder once, and they set off again, walking in silence for another half a block.
Duo's apartment building was only a stone throw away when he paused. "...but you still came."
"Hm?" Heero turned to face him.
Duo reached around to scratch the back of his neck. "Well, even if you thought I was gonna give you a little one-on-one show, you came."
His mouth opened to speak, but he couldn't find a good answer to that. Duo was right, of course. Why had he gone, despite thinking that? Was it just to learn if a guy could stoke his fires? Or, was it whether Duo could...
While he'd been thinking, Duo closed the small gap between them, put Heero's cheeks in his palms, coaxed him to tilt his head, leaned in -- and kissed him, right on the mouth.
Taken aback, Heero could taste it; the sausage and tongue and onion and shrimp salad and teeth and lettuce and the damn sour pickles Duo liked so much... and Duo himself, drowning everything else out. He stumbled back a step under the onslaught, but Duo followed, and finding he enjoyed this experience, Heero did what he could to return the kiss. Unsure of where to put his hands, he kept them along his body, focusing on Duo's lips on his, erratic huffs of air escaping Duo's nose and crossing his cheek, warm palms trailing off his jaw.
As they broke apart for air and public modesty, Heero kept looking at Duo, struggling to keep his nervous smile in place.
Duo grinned back, and intent on breaking the tension -- as well as covering up his own butterflies -- he reached up to pinch Heero's cheek softly. "You're a good-looking guy, Heero. I told you there are people out there who like you."
Again, he shrugged nonchalantly. "If you want me to, I wouldn't have a problem with it."
"I... think so," he managed to say.
Duo let go a chuckle. "Great."
They stood in detente for another half a minute before Duo started a slow shuffle towards his building. Heero followed.
"Hey, there's a movie showing at Saunter's tomorrow -- wanna go?"
"What sort of movie?" Heero asked.
"Not sure," Duo casually offered, "But I think it's an action flick. Looks like there's cowboys in it, from the movie poster."
Heero gave him an amused look. "...I might not pay all that much attention to my surroundings or popular culture, Duo, but I do think I know which --"
Duo flashed him the widest grin yet. "As if it mattered." He stepped forward, gave Heero a kiss on the cheek. "Last row okay?"
Heero started to smirk. "Should we ditch the popcorn?"
Duo shrugged at that and put a foot on the stairs. "I'll leave that up to you. Night, Heero."
Heero nodded, watched him walk the few steps up to the door and enter. Only some time after Duo was gone, did he start walking toward the subway station.
It might not have happened quite the way he'd expected -- but...