1-26-2003

*****************************
Title: #24 Touch - Part 2
Arc: Life With Heero
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Completed: Jan. 25, 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. Heero POV in this story. This story and #23 (Duo 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.

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

Heero tensed as his chair was bumped yet again. He hadn't realized just how different Arnold's was from a regular club, or he might not have been so quick to agree to come. The well-spaced tables and sound-dampeners that Arnold's boasted were - to him at least - far better than this crowded, noisy place. A familiar touch on his arm drew his attention to Duo.

"It's getting pretty crowded in here. Do you wanna go?" Duo asked.

Heero glanced towards the dance floor, then shook his head reluctantly. "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."

Heero couldn't help flinching slightly as he was jostled yet again. He truly hated the continual physical contact with complete strangers that was inevitably associated with crowds. The only thing keeping his tension at a manageable level was Duo's light touch on his arm, an unspoken reminder that he was not alone in this crowd of strangers. He had "backup" - though he was trying to learn not to think in those terms. The soldier wasn't that easy to put aside, however. It was ironic that the soldier in him liked the thought of having backup at the same time as it disparaged his need for said backup and reminded him that he wasn't supposed to "need" anyone or anything.

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

'Ah yes, time for the ritual invitation,' Heero thought. Duo never asked more than once during a club trip. No nagging or coaxing, just a simple invitation. About to refuse as usual, Heero changed his mind abruptly as a decidedly tipsy couple ran into their table. "I doubt if it can be much worse than sitting here," he muttered.

Duo laughed in response to his comment. "Probably not." Rising from the table, Duo gave him an encouraging smile and said, "Come on, we'll find a spot towards one of the edges where we're less noticeable. You've watched everybody else dance enough that I imagine you'll pick it up pretty quick. It's not like formal dances where there's actual set steps to learn, after all."

'Those are actually easier, I think,' Heero thought as he rose to follow Duo. 'As long as you follow the rules, you won't look out of place.'

Duo led Heero to the far edge of the dance floor, away from the thickest of the crowd. Taking up position facing Duo, Heero very self-consciously tried to mirror his movements.

"Hey, don't think about it so hard," Duo told him. "Watch my face, not my moves. Just relax and move with the music, Heero."

Lifting his gaze to Duo's face, Heero answered, "I feel silly. Like the whole crowd is watching me make a fool of myself."

"Back to the crowd again, huh?" Duo gave an exasperated huff, then said, "Ya know, Heero, there's more than one way to think about a crowd..."

"Sure. It restricts movement. It's full of people watching you. It..."

"No, no, that's not what I mean..." Duo's voice trailed off for a moment. "You know what I see when I look at a crowd? I see cover - protection. To a street rat, a crowd like this was a dream come true. It's easy to lose pursuers in a crowd. To just disappear. The more people there are, the more likely they are to not even notice you if you don't do anything to really stick out," he explained.

Heero blinked in surprise. He'd never really thought of it that way. Maybe because he had tended to do things to make himself stick out. Or maybe just because his pursuers were usually shooting and a crowd full of innocent bystanders was the last place he would have wanted to be. Now, though... 'Duo's right. If there were only a few people on the dance floor, people would be more likely to notice me than they are now. The dance floor's so crowded that most people wouldn't even see me let alone take particular notice of me, no matter how awkward I feel...'

As another dancer rubbed up against him, Heero thought disgustedly, 'But I still don't like crowds!'

Shifting a bit closer to Duo to get away from the other dancers, Heero asked, "How long do you think the others are going to want to stay?"

"Probably till closing..."

Horrified, Heero exclaimed, "But that's hours away!" They never spent more than a couple of hours at Arnold's after finishing their meal. They'd been at this club longer than that already.

"Yeah, it is. Unfortunately," Duo said, grimacing as an overly-enthusiastic dancer nearly knocked him over. "After being used to Arnold's, this isn't as much fun as I remember it being..." he commented. "I think I've had about enough myself. Let's get out of here, 'kay?"

"You don't have to ask me twice," Heero responded in relief. "As long as you're sure we won't spoil Quatre and Trowa's evening..."

"Nah, we've got an early flight back to L2 tomorrow, so we've got an excuse that should keep Q from fussing about why we're leaving so soon. C'mon, we'll just let Q and Tro know we're leaving, then we can split."

Following Duo across the crowded dance floor, Heero smothered his instinctive feeling of guilt at pulling Duo away from the fun. While Duo undoubtedly was ready to leave too, he knew that was mostly because his friend was well aware of how much the crowd and noise level were starting to get to him. But he also knew that if Duo had genuinely wanted to stay longer, he would have said so. There had been a few occasions where the two of them had gone out with a group and Heero had wanted to leave before Duo was ready to. Depending on the exact situation, they had either compromised on the time to go or Heero had gone ahead and Duo had followed later.

Making their excuses to Quatre and letting him know that they did not expect him to get up early enough to see them off in the morning took only a few minutes, then they were out of the club. "Cab or walk?" Duo asked, head tilted slightly in inquiry. "We're not all that far from Q's place and it's pretty well-lit along the way..."

"Walk sounds kind of nice," Heero answered, enjoying the relative quiet of the city night. It was late enough that the traffic volume was minimal, though there was still some traffic. The sidewalks were very sparsely populated as well. Like Duo, he had noted the lighting and neighbourhood on the way to the club. While no area was ever perfectly safe, particularly this late at night, this area appeared to be fairly well patrolled. And while having a gun with him would make him distinctly more at ease, he wasn't exactly unarmed. 'And Duo probably has enough knives on him to open a shop,' he thought with some amusement. 'He wears those high boots for a reason; the same reason that I have a pair on tonight...'

As they walked along in companionable silence, arms brushing every few strides, shoulders bumping occasionally, it suddenly came to Heero just how frequently he was touching Duo lately. It had started as a way to ground himself when he was trying not to tense up or slide into mission mode. A reminder that if Duo wasn't tense, there was no reason for him to be either.

Now, though, it had gone beyond that. He was starting to seek out contact with his friend even when he wasn't feeling particularly stressed. 'Why?' he wondered silently. 'Why is it that I feel the need to touch him so often?' Stealing a sidelong glance at Duo's content face as they walked, Heero couldn't find an answer to that question. Not yet, anyway. Having noticed it, however, he certainly wasn't about to stop looking for one.

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