1-25-2003

Title: #23 Touch - Part 1
Arc: Life With Heero
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: Jan. 23, 2003
Genre: Domestic, Friendship
Pairing: 3+4 implied
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. This story and #24 (Heero POV) go together - almost like a two-part fic with one part from each POV.

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

Author's Notes: See earlier fics for notes on the arc as a whole. Feedback is appreciated.

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"Okay," Heero said calmly.

Duo nearly choked trying to smother a snicker at the look on Wufei's face. Somehow, he didn't think that was quite the answer Wu had expected when he'd told Quatre that he would go out dancing if Quatre could persuade Heero to go. Duo wasn't too surprised, though. He had yet to get Heero out on the dance floor, but they had been back to Arnold's a few times since that first trip with Howard and some of the Sweepers. Fortunately, he had noise-dampening earplugs with him. Heero's sense of hearing was even more sensitive than his own and he expected Heero would need them the whole time they were at whatever club Quatre had in mind. It was unlikely to have the sort of sound-dampers that Arnold's used to keep the noise on the dance floor only.

Glancing at Heero, Duo saw the tiny smirk tugging at the corner of his lips as Wufei sputtered in disbelief and tried to renege on his deal with Quatre. Heero had probably agreed for the sheer shock value as much as anything. Duo had a feeling that Heero was really getting a kick out of surprising the others. And Heero had proven over the last few days to be willing to - well, to push the edges of his comfort zone - in order to spend time with his friends doing the things they wanted to do. Heero willingly going to a club was a distinctly bigger surprise to them than him agreeing to go shopping or to the movies, though.

"Now Wu, surely you aren't going to go back on your word?" Duo teased. "Where's the honour in that?"

"Maxwell..." Wufei growled, exasperated.

"Yes?" Duo answered innocently.

Throwing his hands up in frustration, Wufei said, "Oh fine, I'll go then."

"Wonderful!" Quatre exclaimed. "Meet down here in an hour, okay guys?"

***

Duo laid his "clubbing" outfit out on the bed, started to change, then reconsidered. He wasn't sure what Heero intended to wear, and if Heero was going with something more casual, he'd better as well because he knew Quatre wouldn't be. Duo couldn't help but grin at the thought. 'Trowa's in for a bit of a surprise, I do believe... Cute and sweet will definitely not be suitable descriptive terms for Q tonight...'

As Heero came back from taking a quick shower, Duo dug through the clothes he'd brought and pulled out a pair of black jeans as an alternative to his leather side-laced pants. Glancing over at Heero, he saw him surveying the brown leather pants he'd worn for that first trip to Arnold's - and a couple more since. Heero was looking distinctly hesitant and Duo could certainly understand why. Those pants were quite definitely drastically different than something that any of the others would expect him to wear. Going to a strange club was a pretty big step all on its own, Heero didn't need to start the evening off feeling uncomfortable.

Walking over to stand by Heero, Duo told him quietly, "Those new black jeans you bought when we were shopping would be perfectly suitable, Heero. Don't wear the leather if you're not comfortable with it."

Heero sighed and shifted slightly so that their shoulders touched. 'Yep, he's definitely feeling uneasy,' Duo thought. He'd noticed a while ago that whenever Heero was feeling out of place or uncertain, he could expect Heero to brush up against him or even - if he was really feeling stressed and they were in private - ask for a hug. Duo supposed that he had got him into that habit. He was a very tactile person and tended to touch Heero whenever trying to draw his attention away from something that was bothering him. Heero had just reached the point of seeking that contact automatically.

"I'm just not sure," Heero admitted. "I'd like to see the looks on their faces when I show up wearing these... But these make me feel - so conspicuous..."

"It's up to you, buddy. If you wear the leather, you won't be the only one," Duo told him, indicating his own pants laying on the bed. "You won't be the only one if you choose to wear the jeans, either..." He nodded towards the black jeans he'd tossed over a chair when he came to join Heero. "Of course, nobody's gonna notice either one of us," he grinned. "They'll be too busy gaping at Quatre..."

Heero snickered in response to that observation, undoubtedly remembering his own reaction when Quatre had hesitantly exited the changing room in the outfit Duo had picked out for him. "True," he smirked. "Trowa won't be calling him 'sweet' tonight..." With a shrug, Heero decided, "Leather it is..."

As they dressed, Duo considered the whole question of Heero and his increasing tendency to touch Duo, almost as if he was grounding himself, when tension started to creep up on him. He was a bit surprised at how frequently Heero did touch him, but on the other hand, Duo himself had been making a point of touching Heero in order to get him used to casual physical contact.

There were dozens of times in an average day that co-workers or even complete strangers bumped, brushed, or otherwise touched. While Duo himself was always aware of that type of contact - anyone who'd been a decent pickpocket was - it didn't particularly bother him. The kids in the street gang had often huddled together for warmth and Sister Helen and Father had been forever placing a gentle hand on a shoulder or ruffling someone's bangs affectionately. Even Howard and the Sweepers made a habit out of ruffling his bangs, squeezing his shoulder, or giving him a casual slap on the back. To him, touch was a source of reassurance, of comfort. A reminder that he wasn't alone. Yeah, it could bring pain too - his training and later the time spent in Oz's custody had certainly reminded him of that - but it was the good associations that stuck with him the most.

Heero, though, who'd been raised most of his life in virtual isolation and had never been touched for any purpose other than correction or punishment, had a very hard time adjusting to the idea that touch was not necessarily a bad thing. At one time, Duo would never have touched Heero without being certain he realized Duo was there first; that was a lesson he'd learned the hard way. Back during the war, he'd snuck up behind Heero and thrown his arms around Heero's neck in a loose hug. The next thing he'd known, he was lying on his bed with a throbbing head, a black eye, and a very bruised neck. He and Heero had just been starting to become friends then, and Heero's guilt over hurting him had translated to Heero being furious with him for "doing something so stupid". Duo had understood and had apologized and promised never to do it again. And he hadn't.

Now, though, things had improved a lot. Duo still wouldn't surprise Heero with a touch anywhere near a particularly vulnerable area like the neck, but he did touch him casually without making a point of warning him in advance. Most of the improvement was still just with him - though he had noticed Heero had managed not to flinch away from Quatre's touches since they'd been here. And Heero would only tense slightly when Hilde happened to lean past him to grab something from the desk. So he had learned to at least tolerate contact from people he knew and trusted to a certain degree. The greater the degree of trust, the less negative his reaction and the more contact he would tolerate.

But crowds and the inevitable physical contact with complete strangers definitely still bothered Heero. As did excessive noise - even with sound-dampening ear plugs - since it interfered with monitoring the situation around him. Which meant that this evening was likely to push his tolerance to its limits, since Duo had yet to see a club other than Arnold's that was not crammed to beyond its true capacity and noisy in the extreme.

***

Duo dropped into a chair and flashed a grin at Heero. "I'd say Tro decided he liked Quat's new look after all," he commented, looking out at where the two of them were dancing. Earlier, he and Heero had timed their arrival downstairs perfectly. Heero's leather pants had drawn shocked looks from both Trowa and Wufei, but any comments had been completely forgotten as Quatre arrived in their wake. His electric blue leather pants fit like a glove, and the eye-catching gold lacing in front only served to emphasize the snugness of the fit. Heero had smirked at Trowa's dumbfounded gape as those green eyes travelled over his friend's body, taking in the silky gold shirt that hung open over a brilliant blue mesh cropped-off shirt, then up to the usually-soft hair that had been heavily gelled to make it hold a wildly-tousled style.

Quatre's eyes had sparkled with wicked mischief, clearly enjoying the reaction. He had confided to Duo that his relationship with Trowa seemed to have stalled at the kissing-and-cuddling stage and that he suspected that his "cute, sweet, and innocent" image had a lot to do with that. Judging by the way Trowa couldn't seem to keep his hands off of Quatre tonight, Duo was guessing that wouldn't be a problem anymore.

Duo pulled his eyes back from the dance floor as Wufei was coerced away from their table by a cute redhead. Considering how much Wufei had protested about coming, he had spent an awful lot of time on the floor.

Turning to comment on Wufei's popularity, Duo was just in time to catch the involuntary flinch as another young lady latched onto Heero's arm to try and coax him out for a dance. Though tempted to intervene, Duo bit his tongue and let Heero handle the situation himself. It was too noisy to hear what Heero said and he was facing the wrong way for Duo to read his lips, but since the girl seemed merely disappointed, not upset, as she released his arm and departed, Duo was glad he'd stayed out of it.

As someone squeezed by the table, bumping the back of Heero's chair and making him tense up a bit more, Duo laid his hand lightly on Heero's arm to get his attention. "It's getting pretty crowded in here. Do you wanna go?" he asked, making sure to directly face Heero so he could lip-read whatever was inaudible.

Heero glanced towards the dance floor, then shook his head. "They're having too much fun. I don't want to spoil it for them. And you know Quatre will worry if we leave early."

Duo smothered the urge to grin. Heero was certainly right about Quatre. But even more importantly, Heero had automatically assumed Duo meant that he would leave with Heero. He'd obviously finally got the message that Duo genuinely didn't mind cutting things short and would rather leave with him than stay on his own. 'And it only took how many times of telling him that?' Duo thought. 'Thank god he finally understands that he really isn't imposing on me or spoiling my fun...'

After yet another person jostled Heero's chair, Duo looked around the room for a less crowded spot. At this point in the evening, the dance floor was actually less crowded than the seating area. 'Well, I haven't asked him yet tonight...' he decided, '...might as well try it - one of these days he'll give in!'

"Ya know, Heero, the least crowded spot in this place right now is probably the dance floor," Duo observed. "Wanna give it a try?"

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