Title: #15 One Step at a Time
Arc: Life With Heero
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: Jan. 9, 2003
Genre: Domestic, Friendship
Pairing: None yet
Rated: PG-13
Warnings: AU, OOC, Swearing
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.

*** 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 frowned slightly and dug through the papers on his desk. Nope, not there. They should have a copy of those papers around here somewhere... "Hey, Hilde, do you have our copy of those 'Official Notification of Destruction' papers for those Tauruses we scrapped a few months ago? I just got off the phone with a government inspector claiming they never received their copy and they need it by the end of the month. The paperwork was due a couple of months ago but they're cuttin' us some slack 'cause we usually get stuff in on time..."

"I don't think I have it, Duo," Hilde answered, peeking inside Duo's tiny office. "I'm on my way out now, but I'll double-check in the morning." She disappeared for a moment, then poked her head back in to add, "You'd better get moving too - your ride will probably be here any minute. How long's he planning to sponge off you anyway? He's been hanging around almost three months already..."

"Hilde," Duo said darkly, "do NOT say anything even remotely like that again, got it? Heero is sharing a house with me, not 'sponging' off of me or any of those other comments you've been making lately. What I do outside the office is my business." Directing an extremely annoyed glare at Hilde, he continued, "Just what the hell is your problem with Heero anyway? I could understand it before, when I was subletting from you and he was staying with me. But now, I've got my own place."

"I just don't understand what you see in him, Duo," Hilde replied with a shrug. "He can't hold down a job - and no wonder, when he worked here while he was staying with you before, I was continually talking the other workers out of quitting in aggravation at his comments on their 'inefficiency' and his 'advice' on how they should do their jobs. It would be easier to carry on a conversation with a brick wall than with him, and he's about as warm and friendly as an iceberg. Why on earth you insist on calling him your best friend is beyond me."

As Hilde spoke, Duo rose from his desk and moved to his office door to keep a watchful eye out. The last thing he wanted was for Heero to overhear this conversation. Or rather Hilde's half of it. His own wasn't going to be anything that would cause any kind of problems. "Hilde, you're judging him on what you see, not what I see. He is my best friend, I don't just call him that. He doesn't have to be warm and friendly all the time. He'll always be ready to help if I ask, always be there to back me up. That's what makes him my best friend. The fact that he doesn't show his friendship by laughing and backslapping like some of my other friends doesn't mean that he's any less of a friend. He's proven his friendship in other ways, starting with rescuing me instead of killing me back during the war.

"You know, when I told Heero right after the war that I was putting my money into this," Duo gestured to indicate the office and the salvage yard that went with it, "he couldn't understand why I would do such a thing. To him, I was throwing away money that, well-invested, could support me for years. The salvage yard was in debt and didn't look very promising. But once he'd made that initial statement, I explained that it didn't matter, I was helping a friend who needed it. Someone who'd helped me during the war, at considerable risk to herself."

Hilde shifted her weight from one foot to the other as if uncomfortable, avoiding meeting Duo's eyes.

"And you know, he never made another negative comment on the subject again. He might not have agreed with me, but he didn't go around deliberately disparaging you or the yard or my decision to invest in it." Duo crossed the space separating him from Hilde and used a hand under her chin to force her to meet his gaze as he finished, "I would really appreciate it if you would return that favour now. Please do not keep running Heero down and making snide remarks."

As Duo released her chin and stepped back, Hilde sighed and said, "Okay. I'll try."

"You'd better do more than just try," Duo told her a bit grimly. Hearing the sound of a familiar motor outside, he shook a cautionary finger at Hilde and warned her, "Be nice," before turning to head out to the car.

Reaching the vehicle before Heero had a chance to turn it off, Duo hopped in quickly. He really wasn't too sure Hilde would do as he asked, so he'd just as soon get out of there without her having a chance to speak to Heero. He gave a quick wave at her out of the window, then pulled his seatbelt on and said, "Okay, let's go. The market awaits!"

As Heero pulled out into traffic, he said quietly, "I already got the groceries, so we can just go home. Then if you still want to, we can go play a little one-on-one before supper. I'm not too hungry yet. Mama Lucia's lunches are filling."

Duo gaped for a moment before realizing that was a rather inappropriate response to something that should be a commonplace event. "Great!" he exclaimed, hastily trying to decide whether to treat Heero's outing as the red-letter event it was or to treat it as the everyday errand it should be. Deciding in favour of the latter, he continued, "After a frustrating afternoon looking for missing paperwork, I could use a good workout to blow off a little steam. Think you're ready to get thoroughly shut out?"

Flashing a cheery grin at Heero, Duo decided he'd made the right choice. Heero had a very small smirk on his face as he replied, "Shut out? Me? I think it's much more likely to be you that gets shut out."

As they continued to good-naturedly banter back and forth for the rest of the trip home, Duo reflected on how far Heero had come in just under three months. Oh, he still had a long way to go - Duo knew that. And he knew that there would probably be minor setbacks along the way. But things were definitely improving. This Heero, the one who would joke around a bit with him in private though still very reserved and seemingly cold in public, was very close to the Heero he had first come to call his best friend during the war. Heero still didn't have all of his self-confidence back, but that would come in time. Then they could work on getting Heero to loosen up like this around other people too. 'Just one step at a time, Heero. One step at a time,' Duo thought hopefully.