1-6-2003

*****************************
Title: #13 Arnold's
Arc: Life With Heero
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: Jan. 6, 2003
Genre: Domestic, Friendship
Pairing: None yet
Rated: G
Warnings: AU, OOC
Archives: At Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Anyone with archive permission for my other fics can help themselves; anyone else, please ask.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: The arc begins between one and two years after Endless Waltz. Duo POV in this story.

'Thinking'
"Speaking"
*** Time passing or scene change

Author's Notes: This is part of an arc of stories. I don't know for sure how many stories there will be or how often I'll be posting them. The length of each story in the arc will vary, anywhere from ficlet to multi-part. Warnings will vary from story to story as well, as will the genre. Pairings will eventually make their way in. Feedback is appreciated.

#################################################

Duo had half expected Heero to balk when he discovered exactly where they were going to meet Howard and the others. The very popular little diner/club belonged to the brother of one of the Sweepers in the visiting group. He had loosely based it on the diner in an old twentieth-century TV sitcom, even choosing to use the same name - Arnold's. Particularly fitting since his name was Arnold. Rather than being dark and smoky, the club was well-lit and airy. In the daytime, it drew a steady crowd of teenagers and families to enjoy the reasonably priced, generously portioned meals of burgers and fries and the like in the main floor's diner. On the second story, slightly more expensive "business lunches" were available. At night, the teenagers returned to the main floor - the diner area - for the same good food and dancing on the small dance floor to music from a high-tech jukebox or - occasionally - a hot new local band. Those over the drinking age could either choose to stay in the diner area or to go into the club area upstairs. Much like the scrapyard, no one would ever get rich running Arnold's. It was too small, for one thing, and catered to fun and safety - several very burly ex-Sweepers saw to that. But it provided a more than adequate income for its owner/operator, and that was all Arnold cared about.

Just before they climbed out of the car, Heero said quietly, "I called her today."

Duo froze. "Oh?"

"I listened to what she had to say," Heero told him, "then said I'd have to think about it. She was... disappointed, I think. She wanted to know if I would ever consider her a friend again. I told her I didn't know. And I don't." Shrugging, Heero said, "I just thought you should know," before opening his car door and climbing out.

As Duo came around the front of the car, he laid one hand on Heero's arm, stopping him for a moment. "Thanks. For telling me, that is," Duo said seriously.

"Well, well, if it isn't the Kid and Spandex Boy," a loud voice called, interrupting what could have become an uncomfortable moment.

"Howie!" Duo hollered in return, giving Heero's arm a quick squeeze before he released it to bound off and exchange a backslapping hug with Howard.

"Hello Howard," Heero said with a small smile as he joined the small group.

After a quick round of introductions - most of those with Howard had met both Duo and Heero during the war anyway, but there were a couple of new faces in the bunch - the group proceeded into the diner and headed upstairs. Duo positioned himself to see Heero's face as he entered the club area. He was quite certain Heero had never been in a club anything like this one before.

"This is a club?" Heero asked incredulously.

"Yep," Duo answered, enjoying the stunned look on Heero's face. "Not exactly your average club, is it?" That was a major understatement. The dining area of the club actually served meals as well as drinks. It was more well-lit than the average club, yet not exactly brightly lit. And the music, while clearly audible, was not loud enough to interfere with conversations. Now on the dance floor, the story was rather drastically different - Arnold's supplied free sound-dampening earplugs on request, in fact - but the noise of the dance floor started and ended at the edge of the dance floor. Arnold had paid G good money to develop the noise buffers he used in here, and they were worth every bit of it.

Duo kept a close eye on Heero as the group was seated and placed their orders. While Heero was keeping pretty quiet, he did respond when Howard or one of the other Sweepers spoke to him and he was actually paying attention to the conversations going on around him. And although Duo certainly wouldn't call Heero's current state one of complete relaxation, he didn't appear exceptionally tense or uncomfortable either. Good. Very good, in fact.

As the evening wore on, various members of the group drifted off to the dance floor. Even Howard was dragged off by Arnold's oldest daughter, protesting all the way. Duo laughed at the sight of the older man finally apparently surrendering, only to turn the tables on Kendra by waltzing her around the floor rather than following her dance instructions. Turning towards Heero, he caught a genuine grin on his friend's face. "Gonna have to tease Howie about bein' a cradle robber," Duo observed laughingly.

"Howard's a good sport," Heero said, flashing a quick smile in Duo's direction.

"Glad you came?" Duo asked.

"Hai."

"Good."

As Kendra returned Howard to the table, she pleaded, "Please, Duo, come dance with me and show this old geezer how it's done."

Duo started to shake his head, only to be stopped by Heero. "Go ahead, Duo. Have fun. Howard's here to keep me company. I'll be fine."

Giving Heero a searching look, Duo asked, "You're sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Stop being such a mother-hen and go have a good time!" Heero answered, sounding slightly annoyed.

Allowing Kendra to drag him to his feet and towards the dance floor, Duo realized that, while he had the best of intentions, he was probably getting a bit over-protective. And while Heero might not be 100% comfortable on his own, his hovering wasn't good for Heero - or Heero's self-esteem - either. He would have to start trusting Heero to handle things on his own a little more. And there was nothing stopping him from keeping a discreet eye on how things were going from the dance floor.

Nearly two hours later, Duo saw Heero check his watch for the second time in ten minutes. Okay, time to go. Heero had only checked the time three times before that in the entire evening as far as he knew. He had stayed far longer than Duo had dared hope he would, so it was only fair that they leave now that he was getting restless. Slipping back through the crowd, Duo stepped off the dance floor and removed his earplugs. He liked his hearing intact, thank you very much, and wouldn't dream of stepping into that racket without hearing protection. Returning to the table, he asked, "Ready to go?"

Heero gave him a grateful smile and answered, "Hai," as he rose to his feet.

With a quick farewell to Howard and the few Sweepers currently at the table, the two of them headed out. The drive home was spent in companionable silence and it was only after crawling in bed that Duo ventured to ask, "Glad you went?"

"Hai," Heero answered simply.

"Good."

#################################################