10-13-2004

Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing or its characters
Title: Love Thy Neighbor
Author: Karen, The Huntress hickman@rockbridge.net
Rating: R
Warning: AU, language
Pairing: None in this part.
Part: Prologue - Part 10/?
Feedback: Always appreciated
Archive: http://www.psinergy.com/dryerspace/gundaniumline/karen/karen.html

Summary: A new neighbor sparks Duo's interest.

Love Thy Neighbor

 

Prologue:

Saturday morning offered the perfect opportunity to sleep in but, unfortunately, Duo's internal clock was still set on "workweek" time. He had managed to lounge in bed until 7:30 but by 8:30 he was heading to his balcony with a glass of orange juice, a bowl of Raisin Bran and the New York Times.

The seventh of May had ushered in milder temperatures but a chill still lingered in the early morning air making Duo glad he'd opted for a sweat suit rather than the tee shirt and shorts he had originally consider putting on after his shower. He had left his hip-length hair in a loose ponytail, after all Saturday was a casual day.

The sky was speckled with wisps of white clouds that played hide-and-seek with the orange sun. Duo's apartment on the second floor kept the traffic noise to a minimum but he could still hear the revering engines and the occasional honking of impatient horns from the busy avenue.

Opening the newspaper to the entertainment section, Duo smoothed out the page then anchor the corner with the cereal bowl against the intermittent breeze blowing up from the rear courtyard. Wanting to eat before the bran flakes turned to mush Duo leaned over the bowl, scooped up a raisin-laden spoonful then found himself thankful that no one could see him as a line of milk dribbled down his chin.

"Way to go, Maxwell." Duo grinned, using a paper napkin to dab away the leaking liquid. "You can do a complicated step combination but you can't feed your face without makin' a mess."

The following spoonfuls were delivered with a steadier hand and soon the bowl was empty except for a thin layer of bran-tinted milk in the bottom. With a triumphant sigh Duo settled back to finish his juice, catch up on the latest celebrity gossip and read the show reviews.

But tantalizing tidbits about Paris Hilton's latest romping partner or which superstar had been arrested for drunk driving weren't nearly as fascinating as the person that just strolled up to the courtside pool. Duo lowered the paper and discreetly peered over the balcony's railing at the man, yes most definitely a male, dressed in formfitting swim trunks and a tank top.

Even from Duo's lofty position he could clearly see the well-defined muscles that accented the man's shoulders and rippled along bulging biceps. Trim buttocks were neatly tucked into the trunk's stretchy material and Duo had no doubts that the frontal view would be as pleasing.

Leaning closer Duo's now not-so-discreet scrutiny to get look at the mystery man's face was defeated by the man's wind-blown brown hair that made Duo suddenly yearn for a first floor apartment. The modern day Adonis laid a towel on a chase lounge then stripped off the tank top to bare an equally muscular chest and abs of steel.

"Not only is he handsome," Duo muttered out loud, "but he has the balls to brave pool water that has to be colder than a whore's heart."

As if on cue the enticing stranger walked to the deep end and entered the water with a fluid motion that would put an Olympic diver to shame. Strong strokes propelled the swimmer with hardly a splash, leaving only faint ripples in his wake. Four or five laps had Duo fantasizing about stamina and endurance that didn't necessarily involve water sports except the ones played in the shower.

More laps, the newspaper slipped from Duo's fingers, fluttered across the balcony and became plastered against the French doors. "He has to live in the building or he couldn't use the pool." Duo reasoned.

*Unless he's visiting someone.* his mind added the unsavory afterthought.

Duo had stopped counting the completed circuits by the time the man swam to the pool's side. Instead of using the ladder he flattened his palms on the tiled edge and hoisted himself out of the water with ease. Now Duo was treated to that highly anticipated frontal view and he was not disappointed.

Cascading water shimmered in the mid-morning sun as each lucky droplet slipped over every inch of tanned skin. The man mopped back wet bangs and for a moment Duo caught a glimpse of striking blue eyes.

"You can't tell his eye color from here." Duo's mind was again playing the devil's advocate. He ignored the cerebral comments. "They're blue, I know they are."

The man seemed to remain oblivious to Duo's secret observations as he dried off and tugged the tank top over his damp chest. The towel was draped around his neck then he quickly disappeared around the building's corner.

Duo eased back into his chair with a frustrated puff of air that ruffled his bangs. "I've got to find out who he is but how?" he wondered aloud in his continuing conversation with himself. "Hilde is working today and if I use the Maxwell charm maybe I can get the information I need."

Duo quickly gathered up his breakfast bowl and glass, crumpled up the stray newspaper and went inside. He put on shoes, hurriedly braided his hair and headed downstairs to find out all he could about the attractive stranger who, if Duo had his way, wouldn't be a stranger for much longer.

 

Part One:

"Hilde." Duo called to the petite woman with short black hair sitting behind the High Street Apartments' reception desk.

Hilde Schubeicher glanced up from the computer then locked her green eyes on the energetic man with the beautiful braid. Duo Maxwell had occupied apartment 202 for eight months. He'd moved from Brooklyn to seek employment as a dancer, finally signing on with an off-Broadway company.

Duo wasn't famous...yet...but Hilde had no doubts that, with his engaging personality, enthusiasm and natural talent, he was destined to be a star.

With the same graceful strength Duo displayed on stage, he sauntered up to the desk. "Hey babe." he grinned, leaning his elbows on the desktop. "I'm in desperate need of information and you're just the person to help."

Hilde couldn't help returning Duo's smile that seemed to be contagious. "Stop calling me babe and I'll consider reducing your desperation." She didn't really mind being called babe but she wasn't going to give in too easily.

Duo stepped around the desk and braced his hip on the edge. Still maintaining the infectious smile he craned his neck to see the computer screen. "Could you sneak a peek at the resident records and tell me in which apartment the hunky guy that just left the pool area lives?"

"And what hunk is that?" Hilde wondered even though she had seen an athletically trim man in swim trunks get on the elevator not more than fifteen minutes before Duo's arrival.

Duo paused to pull up a mental picture, "He's about my height, brown hair, blue eyes, I think, and did I mention his body puts Superman to shame."

"You know I'm not supposed to give out private information." Hilde stated as she positioned her shoulder to block the screen.

"Come on bab...ah...Hilde," Duo whined, "it won't take a minute and I won't tell anyone."

"What's in this deal for me, Maxwell?"

"A large multi-topping pizza, a cold six-pack and my undying gratitude." Duo sweetened the "deal".

"Maybe I'll go after him myself." Hilde announced, "All is fair in love and war, babe."

"You don't want me as an enemy, not when it comes to love." Duo warned, "Just a peek, please."

Hilde shot a fleeting look around the lobby, assured herself that no one was watching then quickly entered the list code. "If I'm thinking of the same person your "hunk" hasn't been living here but a few weeks."

"Do you know if he's single?"

Hilde shrugged, "His name is the only one on the lease and I haven't seen him with anyone but I can't say for sure." She scrolled down. "Let's see, Heero Yuy, apartment 302." she said before hitting the back button.

Duo stood up and pulled Hilde into a tight hug, "I'll name my first born after you." he promised.

Hilde patted Duo's back then leaned back until she stared up into his gorgeous violet eyes. "Don't make promise you're not likely to keep. Now go stalk your next conquest before I up the ante to two six-packs."

********

Entering his apartment, Duo toed off his shoes and flopped down on the sofa. "So the water god lives directly above me."

He stretched out, slipped his hands behind his head and studied the ceiling. "Now to figure a way to meet Mr. Yuy without being too obvious. You could be lounging by the pool." he continued his "stalking strategy". "The laundry room." came the next idea.

Duo sighed as the picture of perfect pectoral muscles glistening with pool water replaced the ceiling contemplation. *Don't let lust get the best of you.* his mind warned.

He sat up with another long sigh, "Not lust. Not just sexual." he countered his mind's council. "Something else." he whispered, "A tingle in my heart."

********

Sunday morning stretched into afternoon without Heero Yuy taking a swim. Duo spent most of those hours either sitting on his balcony or getting up every half-hour to look out the French doors. He hadn't slept much the night before, tossing in the throes of fleeting images, thrashing water, nude bodies and blue eyes that saw straight into his soul.

Finally Duo gave up his wishful thinking and decided to go to the dance studio to practice. He had to do something to keep his thoughts from wandering and his body from reacting to the stimulation those wandering thoughts triggered. If he didn't channel his libidinous energy into a healthy outlet, if he didn't push himself to the point of exhaustion, Duo felt as though he was going to explode.

He gathered up his practice bag and headed for the stairs. The elevator was too slow, he couldn't wait...he had to get away. He had to resist the urge to run up to apartment 302, knock on the door and make an utter fool of himself.

"What's wrong with you?" Duo muttered under his breath as he hurriedly walked down the hall. "You don't even know if he'd be interested."

He grabbed the stairway exit's handle, flung back the metal door so hard it almost hit the wall and began to descend two steps at a time. Another forceful push threw back the first floor door.

Duo ran into the lobby so absorbed in his anxious flight that he didn't see the other person until they bumped shoulders causing Duo to drop his practice bag. "I'm sorry." he apologized, leaning over to pick up the bag.

"No harm done." A male baritone answered.

Duo straightened up and froze in place as he found himself drowning in twin pools of cobalt blue. As hard as he tried Duo couldn't pull free from the orbs' hypnotic influence and he certainly couldn't make his body move or his voice form any understandable sounds.

"Are you all right?" the bewitching man asked in response to Duo's stunned stare.

A hand on Duo's shoulder broke the spell. He blinked back from his trance then felt his face warm with embarrassment. "Yes." was all he could push passed the dryness in his throat.

The man held out his hand. "I'm Heero Yuy."

Duo took the offered hand. Electricity sparked in his fingertips and the current coursed up his arm so strongly that it threatened to take his breath away. "Duo." he replied barely above a whisper then regained enough volume to finish the introduction. "Duo Maxwell."

"Nice to meet you." Heero replied, letting his hand lingered in Duo's hand for a moment that seemed to stretch into forever. "Do you live here?"

"Yes, 202." Duo managed to reply.

Heero's hand slipped free and Duo immediately missed the contact. "I'll see you around Duo Maxwell." he promised huskily.

All Duo could do was nod as "the hunk" disappeared into the elevator and the doors cut off his view of the captivating stranger. But the separation didn't lessen the residual waves shivering along Duo's skin or erase the intense blue sight indelible etched in his mind.

********

Two hours later Duo flopped down on the practice floor sweaty and exhausted. A long gulp of water partly emptied the bottle; the remaining liquid was poured over his head. He settled back against the cool concrete wall, closed his eyes, let the water drizzle through his bangs, down his flushed face and further saturate his already wet tee shirt.

Other dancers had come and gone but Duo had nowhere to go...nowhere but home and right then that was the last place he wanted to be.

He fumbled in his bag for a towel. "You made a damn fool of yourself." He wiped stinging sweat from his eyes then draped the towel over his head. "What are you doing to do the next time you see him," he mumbled into the terry-cotton material, "stammer like a pubescent teenage?"

Duo's body felt heavy, his legs rubbery and he knew he'd definitely overextended himself. A dull arch ran from shoulder to shoulder and down both arms. Clumsily he fattened his palms on the floor and pushed to stand up. He winced and sucked in a sharp breath as his muscles registered a keen protest.

*A hot shower before you stiffen up so you can't move at all.* his mind offered sound advice. "I know." Duo grumbled out loud, shouldering his bag.

The locker room was as deserted as the practice area. Duo peeled off his damp tee shirt, shorts and underwear. Soon steamy mist swirled over the frosted shower door. The full-force spray pelted Duo's shoulders and back, soaking his frayed braid. He turned around allowing the water to pummel his chest.

Leaning his shoulder on the smooth white tile Duo let out a weary sigh as his last of his energy gave out completely. He stayed hunched over for a few minutes savoring the hot water as it tingled over his body until every inch was super sensitive.

A dollop of liquid soap was worked into a lather. Duo started with his neck, his shoulders, both arms. The cleaning continued across his chest, his stomach but when his frothy fingers brushed over his genitals, his penis twitched and a shiver coursed through his crotch.

Duo didn't have to look down to know that he was definitely aroused. A dancer and his body were always in tune. Duo had command over each tendon and ligament, muscle and joint. He could control his breathing and balance. He was also skilled in the fine art of self-satisfaction.

Slick fingers curled around the rigid shaft. Fondling caresses, alternating between gentle and firm, teased along every inch. A rough thumb rubbed over the head. Duo braced one hand on the wall while the other hand kept to its pleasuring task.

The shower noise softened the sounds of ragged panting and faint moans. This time Duo didn't give a damn about control. He wanted wild abandonment, to free his body from its strict training. His eyes were squeezed shut; he felt nothing but the stinging spray and the throbbing in his engorged erection.

"Need help?" The question echoed inside his head or had it been whispered next to his ear?

"Yes." Duo replied through shallow gasps for air.

Duo jumped as a hand flattened over his stomach and pulled him back against a toned body. A solid erection ground against his buttocks causing him to go weak in the knees. He sucked in a hard breath as a hand folded over his hand and joined in the sensual stimulation.

Together Duo and his phantom lover rocked in time with each stroke. Heavy breathing was hot on Duo's neck. "Come for me." the order was growled huskily.

Heat rose up both legs then gathered in Duo's groin. "Heero." He gritted his teeth. "Ah, yes."

The orgasmic ejaculation caused a shudder so strong Duo struggled to remain upright. As the shower washed away all masturbatory evidence, residual waves quivered along his softening member.

Suddenly there was no contact with the hard body that only existed in Duo's wet dreams. He opened his eyes. There was no one there, no one to share the afterglow.

Sliding to the floor Duo drew his legs to his chest and rested his head on his knees. The only sounds were pounding water and muffled sobs as Duo realized that he was indeed alone.

 

Part Two:

Duo's practice bag was dropped next to the front door. Discarded clothing made a path to the bedroom. Duo didn't care if his braid was frayed or that he hadn't taken the time to wash his hair before he had thrown on his clothes and ran from the dance studio like a fox from the hounds.

As nude as the day he was born, Duo curled under the sheet and stared wide-eyed at the far wall. He had cried out all his tears. Now his head felt like it was stuffed with cotton and his nose emitted a whistle each time he breathed. His exhausted body begged for sleep but he was reluctant to close his eyes, afraid he might sleep...might dream of blue eyes and strong arms holding him tight.

"What's wrong with you?" he chided himself for letting lust rule his mind and arouse his body. "If you keep this up you're going to make yourself crazy."

But Duo knew that fact...that his emotions had taken over his better sense.

Dusk arrived with ominous clouds that defied the sunset's efforts to paint color across the sky. A pale aura momentarily shimmered on the horizon. Solar flares spiked through the thickening clouds then the defeated sun disappeared in mute surrender. In the distance thunder's deep baritone announced the approaching storm.

Soon large droplets pelted the window and lightning lanced the sky, the dazzling flashes forcing Duo to shrink from the revealing brightness. With each burst of heavenly light Duo caught fleeting glimpses of his faint reflection in the vanity mirror then the boom of thunder would follow closely behind and vibrate directly into his troubled soul.

*Either act on your feelings or forget Heero.* Duo's mind pressed him to move in one direction or the other.

"I don't think I can forget him." Duo whispered into the bedroom's gloom. The thunder answered back with a rolling growl. "Then do something!"

********

Mercifully Duo didn't dream but the lack of night visions came at a price. By 4:00 a.m. changing positions every half an hour proved to be an exercise in futility. Finally at 5:30 he gave up and prodded off to take a shower. However, this time he kept his hormones in check and his urges under control.

Freshly washed body and hair put Duo in a more agreeable mood but his cleanliness didn't stop his internal conversation with that damned annoying inner voice.

*What are you going to do?* the voice nagged.

Duo brushed the last tangles from his hair and began the well-practiced braiding. "I'll look up Heero's phone number and call him sometimes." he mumbled, feeling silly about the one-sided exchange.

*In person is better.*

"No, I can't think when I look in his eyes."

The voice persisted, *You'll have to face him sooner or later.*

Duo pulled a light blue shirt over his head, retrieved his braid from the collar and flopped down on the bed. "I have to be at rehearsal by 10:00 a.m.," he thought, "and I won't be finished until at least 4:00 p.m." he continued the mental figuring.

He rolled on his back and studied the ceiling for a moment then sighed. "I don't even know what Heero does, what work or if he works at all. Maybe he's independently wealthy, his own boss or..." The next thought sent a twinge through his heart. "maybe he's married or engaged or has a significant other. Hell, Maxwell you don't know if he's gay." he snorted in frustration.

*You won't know until...* his inner voice chimed in again.

"I know, until I talk to him." Duo finished the cerebral sentence.

The voice spoke once more with an insistence tone. *Tonight?*

Duo closed his eyes and let another weary sigh escaped over his lips. "Yes, tonight, dammit. Now are you satisfied?" he hissed.

********

The off-Broadway troop consisted of six male dancers, four female dancers and a male and female singer. Then there were musicians, the choreographer Jay Johnson, but everyone called him J. J., and the director, Mr. Patterson, whom everyone called, "The Slave Driver" behind his back.

Duo put all his nervous energy into rehearsing, repeating the steps over and over again until he moved flawlessly through each combination. The musical was entitled, "Dance into the Fire". A story of a man who battles the devil to return to earth to be with the woman he loves. There were five scenes alternating between earth and hell and, of course, the hero wins in the end.

Duo was the third "evil minion" in the front line. It wasn't the starring role but paid better than being the second position. His costume of form-fitting black with iridescent flames running up his legs, his chest and over his shoulders was sexy but it was hot as hell...no pun intended.

"A true performer must suffer for the arts." was Mr. Patterson's motto. Yeah, easy for him to say as he sat in his chair sipping imported flavored water that he paid too much for.

Jay clapped his hands to meter out the cadence, "One, two, three four, don't rush the pace. Five, six, seven, eight." he'd count then begin again.

The dancers took an hour lunch break then four more arduous hours before "The Slave Driver" decided that he had crack the whip long enough. "I want everyone here at ten o'clock tomorrow morning." he announced dropping the fifth empty water bottle in the trash. "And be on time."

*******

By 4:30 p.m. Duo had changed and was on a bus back to the High Street Apartments. Lack of proper rest and the grueling rehearsal had taken a heavy toll. Duo slumped his shoulder against the seat and stared out window. Traffic snaked around the avenue. People packed the sidewalks.

The city's bustling activity was usual stimulating to Duo, he usually gleaned energy from the nonstop confusion of cars and taxies and delivery trucks and the various voices and accents that gave life to the concrete and echoed through the manmade canyons of brick, mortar and steel.

But now the city street, jumbled with humanity, was overwhelming. The stench of gas fumes and the general odor of so many people packed together tuned his stomach and the chaotic noise was giving him a headache. Now all Duo wanted was a simple meal and sleep...sound and dreamless sleep.

"Tonight." The single word nagged uncomfortably in the back of Duo's mind.

He shifted position then mumbled a string of curses as the bus hit a bump which, in turn, jostled his entire body. An older woman seated across the aisle nodded in agreement as the bus aligned with the curb. Gathering up two plastic bags of groceries she gave Duo a small smile then stepped into the street's organized chaos.

"One more stop before home then you talk to Heero." Duo stated in an attempt to embolden his courage.

********

Hilde waved from the reception desk. Her eyebrows drew together at the sight of Duo's haggard appearance. "Excuse me for saying so but you look like hell." she observed.

Duo fingered combed bangs from his sluggish eyes and offered a worn smile that lacked its normal cheer. "Rough rehearsal."

Hilde leaned closer, "I'd say a rough couple of days and not much sleep."

"Yeah that too."

"Still thinking about your hunk?"

Duo's eyes widened at the unexpected question. "Is it that obvious?"

Hilde took Duo's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Why don't you call him and invite him out for a drink, after you've had some sleep." she added as an afterthought.

Duo shrugged, "Shower first, then food then sleep."

"Don't wait too long." Hilde called as Duo stepped into the elevator.

As the elevator doors closed Hilde let out a long sigh. "I hope it works out for you Duo, you deserve some happiness."

********

A long, hot shower vanquished Duo's headache and eased the stiffness in his overworked muscles. Shampooing replaced the rehearsal's sweat and city's grim with the refreshed scent of aloe and herbs. Repeatedly washed jeans and a soft cotton pullover shirt felt good on his skin. Reheated lasagna and two cups of hot tea satisfied his stomach.

But all though the cleansing and eating Duo's mind was still occupied with thoughts of Heero Yuy. What was Heero's alluring power? Why did this stranger plague his mind and bother his body?

Heero was a stranger, Duo knew nothing about him. "He could be an international spy or a hit man wanted in every country around the world." Duo let his imagination run wild with the possibilities. "Or an entrepreneur or a prince or...Stop it!" he hissed, "stop this damn foolishness."

Duo rinsed off the dinner dishes and piled them in the sink; the washing would have to wait. One thing was certain, something had to give, something had to happen right now. He knew there would be no relaxed days or peaceful nights until he at least talked to Heero. If something would meant to happen it would, if not...then Duo would resign himself and move on...that's all he could do.

Ten minutes later found Duo outside apartment 302. The hall was vacant so it was easier to hear the muffled sounds filtering through the door. He could make out voices and perhaps music.

"He's not alone." Duo whispered, the quiet words seemed to scream in the hall's emptiness. That twinge in his heart returned, this time feeling like a knife stabbing in his chest.

Duo turned to leave; he would be damned if he would put himself though any more upset. "It was a stupid idea anyway."

*You don't know if someone is with Heero.* his mind tried to be optimistic.

Duo shook his head so hard that his braid whipped over his shoulder. "I know."

"KNOCK ON THE DOOR!" his inner voice demanded, "It's the only way you will know for sure."

As if guided by powers beyond his control, Duo curled up his fingers and gave the door a tentative tap. His fist quivered in midair and as hard as he tried he couldn't pull it away. Another, stronger knock then Duo held his breath as the doorknob rotated from the inside.

 

Part Three:

Heero Yuy, backwashed in an aura of soft light, peered out of apartment 302. For a fleeting instant his haunting blue eyes widened at the unexpected sight of Duo standing in the hall but they quickly lost their surprise and reflected a pleased _expression.

"Hello, ah Duo Maxwell, isn't it?" Heero asked for confirmation.

Duo had his own moment of surprise when Heero remembered his name. He swallowed to wash down the lump in the throat and managed to find his voice. "Yes, Duo." he acknowledged the correctness then figured he'd better explain his unpredicted presence. "I know it's late but I was wondering if you would like to go out for a drink, of course, if it's not convenient I'll certainly understand." he stated, running one word into the other.

Duo paused long enough to suck in a breath. "It is late but I knew you were new to the building and probably didn't know anyone and I....."

"Slow down or you're going to hyperventilate." Heero interrupted then offered a smile that turned Duo's guts to goo and his mind to mush."Would you like to come in?"

Duo had to mentally prod his body to move but with extra effort he put one foot forward then the next and was soon standing inside Heero's apartment.

"Let me cut off the radio so we won't have to shout. Sit down." Heero motioned to a sofa covered in a floral pattern of beige, peach and pale blue.

The apartment's interior layout was a cookie cutter image of Duo's residence. The sitting area ran across the room's width and on the right a counter divided off a compact kitchen. No doubt the combination bedroom and bathroom was to the left of the French doors opening out to the balcony. However that's where the similarities ended.

Heero's furniture was definitely more expensive than Duo's hodgepodge of odd pieces purchased from thrift shops and secondhand stores. A dishwasher and a flat screen television also told him that Heero's income exceeded his by a considerable amount.

There were few personal touches in the decor but what possessions were displayed clearly had an Asian influence. A large painting depicting a graceful Geisha hung on the one uninterrupted wall.

Three red porcelain vases with golden dragons slinking around their smooth surfaces were grouped on a black-lacquer chest that had red and orange fish and white cranes painted on the front. Brass rings with red tassels served as door pulls on the beautiful cabinet.

It was obvious that Heero enjoyed a different lifestyle and that fact caused Duo to wonder if they would have anything in common. But it was too late to question his and Heero's compatibility; Duo had to take his best shot and hope that having "things" or, in Duo's case, the lack of them wouldn't matter.

When the radio was switched off, the resulting silence made it easier to hear the blood rush in Duo's ears. Even though nervous tension caused his hands to tremble and his breath to catch in his lungs, he feigned a self-assured posture.

Putting on a confident mask Duo eased down on the sofa's plush cushions. "Nice place." he commented taking a second to glance about the room.

Thick carpet muted Heero's footsteps as he walked around the sofa. "Thank you. Speaking of drinks, can I get you something? I have white wine and beer." he graciously offered, "or fruit juice or water if you prefer something nonalcoholic."

Duo didn't have a high tolerance level for alcohol but right then he desperately needed to take the edge off his nerves or he was afraid that he might bolt for the door.

"Wine, if its not too much trouble."

"No trouble."

Heero returned from the kitchen carrying a tray with two glasses, an uncorked bottle of Black Swan and a plate of cubed cheese and grapes. "I thought about calling you later this week." he stated matter-of-factly, filling a glass and handing it to Duo.

Heero took a seat in the matching chair opposite his welcomed visitor."Then you show up tonight, isn't that interesting?"

Duo got the distinct impression that Heero Yuy was a man who didn't waste time getting to the point. His direct approach was evident in both his body language and tone and Duo found that "take charge" attitude strangely appealing.

Duo took a sip and let the wine trickled warmly down his throat. "You were thinking of calling me...why?"

Heero popped a grape into his mouth and took a moment to chew. "I've been in New York City for about a month and you were the first person I bumped into," he grinned as he recalled his and Duo's lobby collision,"so why not call you?"

Heero lounged back and gave Duo his undivided attention."Now that the fates have graced me with your company, tell me about yourself, Duo Maxwell."

A longer gulp drained Duo's glass. As he poured a second drink he noticed that his hands were steadier and that a tipsy tingle had begun to neutralize some of his nervousness.

Duo told Heero about being raised in Brooklyn. "Beginning in middle school I studied at a local dance studio. After high school graduation I moved to New York City." he explained, "I spent several months auditioning before getting a part in the musical, "Dance into the Fire", which will be opening in two months."

Duo paused long enough to help himself to a piece of cheese."Dancing is hard work but I wouldn't want to do anything else."

Heero refilled his own glass. "I would imagine that dancing keeps you fit."

"Yes, it's good for the heart as well as muscle development." Then with the wine making Duo a bit bolder, he added, "Speaking of being fit, I noticed you swimming last week and you're in great shape."

Heero tilted his head at an inquiring angle. "So that was you spying from the balcony?"

Wine-induced heat quickly traveled to Duo's cheeks and he could feel them blush as he realized his ogling had not been as discreet as he thought. "I hope you're not insulted."

"If the situation had been reversed," Heero leaned forward, focused his charismatic sight on Duo's flushed face and declared "I might have done more than look."

A few seconds passed before Duo recovered from the startling declaration. Was Heero being flirtatious or was he just an arrogant bastard who had an inflated opinion of himself?

As fascinating as Heero Yuy was Duo needed to find out what was actually hidden behind Heero's carefully crafted facade. Now it was Duo's turn to get some pertinent information.

Duo sat down his glass...no more alcohol to cloud his judgment or give him false courage. "So you haven't been in the city but a month." he reviewed, "Where do you call home?"

"Mercerville, New Jersey."

"How did you end up in New York?"

"I work for the architectural firm of Barnes and McKinley."

Duo raised an eyebrow, "An architect," he declared, "where did you go to college?"

Heero hesitated. He knew Duo only had a high school education and he didn't want to sound haughty but Duo asked. "Princeton University."

Both of Duo's eyebrows danced on his forehead. "Princeton." The differences between his and Heero's backgrounds were becoming more apparent causing Duo to speculate if the financial and educational gap was too wide to breech. "That's some fancy school. Your folks must be well off."

From Duo's reaction Heero realized what he was thinking, how Duo perceived him as coming from a privileged class. "No, my family is average. I received a partial scholarship to be on the swim team and I worked part time on campus while I studied Architectural Design."

"Swim team, " Duo repeated, "that's explains why you're so strong in the water." A smile flickered across Duo's lips, as he couldn't resist his own bit of flirtation, "No wonder you put on such a good show."

Heero leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees and let his empty glass dangle from his fingers. "Do you have plans Friday evening?"

*To the point.* Duo's inner voice confirmed.

"I have rehearsal until 4:00 p.m. but I'm free after that."

"Would you like to have dinner?"

With the dinner invitation Duo's nervousness resurfaced. The wine's fading influence and his lingering self-doubts that he and Heero could have a future prompted his uncertainty. Did Duo dare put his heart on the line and could he be satisfied with friendship if Heero didn't reciprocate his feelings?

*Say yes.* Duo's mind ordered.

*But what if....* Duo augured with his bothersome brain.

*If you don't you'll never know what might have been. Even if you don't have anything more than friendship, at least you can be with Heero.*

"Dinner would be nice."

"Good. Give me a time Friday and I'll come by your apartment to get you."

"I'll need to shower and change after rehearsal." Duo figured aloud, "How about six o'clock?"

"I'll see you at six."

********

Duo didn't turn on a light when he entered his apartment. The city glow through the window provided enough illumination to see to toe off his shoes by the door and make his way to the bedroom.

He went into the bathroom, "took care of business", washed his face and brushed his teeth. In the same streetlight-kissed dimness he sat on the bed, stripped down to his boxers and slipped under the cool sheets.

Staring into the midnight gloom Duo pictured Heero's face, his strong jaw line, high cheekbones and golden tanned skin. Duo looked deeply into Heero's eyes, the twin mirrors of his soul. In the orb's blue depths he saw honest concern and, perhaps, a glimmer of sadness...or was that poignant melancholy a reflection of the loneliness that ached in Duo's heart?

Duo had never felt this way before and it scared the hell out of him. "One day at a time." he whispered into his pillow. "One day at a time."

 

Part Four:

"Stop!" Jay Johnson threw up his hands in frustration, "Take a fifteen minute break."

"Duo." he called as the dancers drifted off the floor.

Duo knew what the choreographer was going to say and he couldn't blame J.J. for being irritated. His concentration had been nonexistent during the Friday morning practice session. His timing was off and he had almost dropped Susan during a routine lift. "I'm sorry." he apologized, mopping his face with a towel.

J.J. took a bottle of water from the ice chest that served as a makeshift refrigerator, tossed it to Duo and motioned toward several metal chairs grouped in the corner.

Duo flopped down with an aggravated sigh. "There's no excuse for my sloppy work." he stated before taking a big gulp then regretted drinking too quickly as the icy water gave him a momentary headache.

"Your body is here," J.J. observed, "but I have no clue where your mind is. Is there anything you want to talk about?"

Duo took a cautious sip, leaned back and stretched out his legs. "No, its nothing I can't handle but thanks for your concern."

J.J. took a moment to study Duo. The braided man definitely looked haggard around the edges and his eyes weren't as bright as usual. "How much sleep did you get last night?"

Duo finished his water, "Obviously not as much as I need." he admitted more to himself than J.J.

A sly grin crept over Jay's lips, "Love life keeping you up all night?"

Duo shook his head negatively, "I wish."

The dancers, engaging in quiet conversation, began to file back into the room. Duo glanced at his fellow performers, "No more mistakes." he promised. He tossed the empty bottle in a trashcan and started stretching to warm up his muscles.

J.J. ran his fingers through his black bangs and gave Duo an encouraging nod.

"Just be glad Mr. Patterson had a meeting this morning or he might having you hanging by yours balls."

Duo winced at the painful possibility of the "Slave Driver's" punishment then joined the dancers and took his position beside Susan.

"All right boys and girls let's see if we can get in an hour of productive rehearsal before lunch." J.J. announced as he cued up the prerecorded practice CD.

********

During lunch Duo decided it wasn't fair to himself or the other entertainers to let his mind wander. He had to put his thoughts of Heero in proper perspective. "Don't put too much anticipation into a simply dinner." he warned against being overly hopeful of what might happen in the future.

*Don't set yourself up to get hurt if nothing comes of it.* his inner voice advised.

"But its been so long..." Duo began then stopped himself from thinking about how lonely he had been since leaving Brooklyn.

He had been in a brief relationship--no--not a relationship--purely sexual--for a few weeks when he first arrived in New York City. But even though the sex was great there was no intimacy, no connection or caring.

After Duo and his fuck buddy parted company there had been an empty place in his heart but he had no right to expect Heero to fill that void. "Enjoy tonight and don't worry about tomorrow." he sighed as he walked back to the rehearsal hall.

*******

True to his word Duo stayed focused the entire afternoon. He put all his attention into each step, every bit of his energy into "Dancing into the Fire".

Was dancing into the fire what Duo might be doing by pursuing Heero? Could he risk fanning the flames of desire? Could Heero cool the smoldering embers in Duo's soul that threatened to erupt into a full blaze?

"I have to find out even if I do get burned." Duo decided, waiting for the bus back to his apartment.

********

Punctually Heero arrived at apartment 202 and knocked. "Six o'clock, right on time."Duo thought, checking his appearance in the vanity mirror.

Duo had chosen black trousers and a red button-up silky shirt. The shirt was not a bright scarlet, he didn't want to look like an apple, but the color was muted and perfectly suited his skin tone. His hair was freshly washed and neatly braided.

The opened door revealed Heero casually dressed in navy trousers and an azure pullover sweater that brought out the blue in his eyes. A lightweight gray jacket was draped over his arm. His hair was not as tousled as the night Duo had unexpectedly dropped by but there was still a hint of unruly rebellion in the dark brown locks.

"Come in." Duo invited, moving aside to clear a path. A wafting scent of spicy aftershave lingered as Heero passed and Duo paused a moment to enjoy the heady fragrance.

"Would you like to sit down or do we have reservations?"

"No reservations." Heero replied taking a seat on the slip-covered sofa. "I thought the evening would be more enjoyable if we were informal. Do you have a favorite place you like to eat?"

"There's a nice cafe on Fifth and Commerce then there is the Salty Dog on Ninth Street, they have great seafood. Both places are within walking distance if you don't want to share a cab."

Heero left the choice to Duo."I think walking would be fun unless you want to go further uptown."

"I'm in the mood for tuna steak and salad, if that's all right?"

"Then the Salty Dog is fine." Heero smiled, genuinely pleased with Duo's decision.

"Would you like a beer or Pepsi before we leave? I'm afraid I don't have much else to offer."

Heero locked his eyes on Duo with a degree of seriousness that made him wonder if he'd said something wrong. "You have a lot to offer," Heero declared never lessening his somber sight, "don't ever apologize for who you are."

Duo stared. Even though he knew that Heero was a straightforward person, his directness was still startling. But even more surprising was how quickly Heero's expression softened and his eyes lost their intensity.

"I shouldn't have said that." Heero's voice was low and his shoulder slumped in a clearly regrettable posture. "I don't know you well enough to tell you how to act."

Duo sat down beside Heero. "You didn't mean any harm."

Duo needed to assure Heero that he understood what had prompted the statement. He might not have a lot of money or matching furniture but Duo did have a good sense of self-worth that wasn't defined by possessions.

"Let's skip the drinks and go get something to eat." he suggested, "We both need to relax and unwind."

********

Bright blue neon letters that spelled "Salty Dog Bar and Grill" glowed in the large plate glass window. A bar constructed from dark wood that had been scarred and pitted by many years of use took up the front area. Glass shelves, attached to a mirrored wall behind the bar, supported a variety of bottles.

Eight or nine chrome barstools were bolted to the worn wooden floor. Five men occupied the middle stools, each enjoying drinks, salted peanuts and "talking trash" with the bartender. Arranged in the rear section, eight round tables were equally scratched but the chair cushions had recently been reupholstered in hunter green pseudo-leather.

The diner was moderately crowded considering it was the dinner hour. Duo lead Heero to a back table away from the front door and the noisy bar.

A row of four ceiling fans created a whoosh of air overhead but their rapid rotation did little to keep the odor of smoke, the smell of beer or the general murmur of conversation from reaching Duo and Heero's location.

"If it's too smoky in here we can go somewhere else." Duo raised his voice above the clinking of glasses and dishes and the cook calling for a pick up on a completed order.

"This is an interesting atmosphere." Heero observed, "I did say I wanted to be informal."

"Well this is as informal as it gets." Duo replied as a twenty-something waitress dressed in blue jeans and a pink tee shirt with "PRINCESS" printed in silver glitter placed two sets of flatware wrapped in paper napkins on the table. Plastic laminated menus were handed out.

According to her nametag, Ronda asked in a thick New York accent. "Can I get you two something to drink?"

Duo ordered Bud Light...had to watch his weight or the only dancing he'd be doing would be the lead hippopotamus in the Lion King. Heero requested a gin and tonic.

Heero scooted sideways in his chair so he could take in the afore mentioned atmosphere. To his left a young couple sat close together talking and touching and sharing a plate of French fires smothered in ketchup.

Two older ladies were seated on Heero's right. They were dressed in pastel spring shades, had on too much makeup and wore enough gold jewelry to make it dangerous to stand beside them in a lightning storm.

Laugher rose from the bar, no doubt the result of an off-color joke. One burly man wearing a New York Fire Department jacket puffed on a cigar, downed the last of a beer and loudly commented on the odds that the Yankee's baseball team would have a winning season.

Duo sat quietly, observing Heero's curiosity. He reckoned that working for an upscale architectural firm didn't give Heero a chance to mingle with the "common folk". Duo imagined that dinner was usually at a higher-class restaurant with fine china plates, crystal stemware and clothe napkins.

But then he remembered that Heero had come from humble beginnings. He had gone to college on a partial swimming scholarship and worked while he attended classes. Perhaps Heero was more out of his element in fancy restaurants rather than the neighborhood eatery? Maybe they had more in common than he first believed and maybe, just maybe, they could become friends?

It was too early for Duo to wish for more than friendship. He didn't even know if Heero would be comfortable with more. But there was vibes between them. Heero was sending out some kind of signals or was it Duo's imagination?

Ronda interrupted Duo's contemplations concerning his and Heero's possible connection as she sat down their drinks and asked if they were ready to order.

"I'll have tossed salad with Ranch dressing, tuna steak, cold slaw, a baked potato and iced tea." Duo stated.

Heero, who hadn't bothered to look at his menu, copied Duo's order except for Italian dressing on his salad. He handed Ronda the menus and took a sip of his drink. "I'm taking your word that the tuna steak is good."

Duo smiled, it was the first time since he and Heero sat down that he felt at ease. After the problems at rehearsal all he wanted to do was relax, enjoy a leisurely meal and Heero's company. "No only is the tuna steak great but the deserts are incredible." he promised.

"Desert?" Heero ginned, "You certainly have an appetite."

"Dancing makes you hungry." Duo proclaimed in his own defense.

Heero raised his glass in an impromptu toast, "Then here's to food to satisfy our stomachs, drinks to numb our minds and laugher to lighten our hearts."

********

Duo was right, the tuna steak was delicious. The conversation was also engaging. Heero had worried that he and Duo might not have enough to talk about and there is nothing more uncomfortable than silently staring across the table while you eat.

Duo talked about his family. His father was employed as a mechanic for a car dealership. His mother worked at home as a bookkeeper for a florist. He had an older brother named Robert and younger twin sisters, Lily and Rose.

"That's right Mom named my sisters after flowers." Duo grinned at Heero's raised eyebrows. "I guess she figured it fit since she did the books for a flower shop."

Then it was Heero's turn to share. "My parents divorced when I was ten. I lived at home with my mother and older sister, Jena. My father traveled a lot as a sales representative for a software company but I saw him on weekends."

"It must have been hard not having your parents together." Duo stated.

Heero shrugged, "It was better than listening to them fight all the time."

********

It was 7:30 when Heero finished his last bite of baked potato. "That was an excellent meal." he praised Duo's choice of the Salty Dog's cuisine.

Duo wiped his lips to removed the last traces of tartar sauce, "Ready for desert?"

"I don't think I have room." Heero answered honestly.

"But the strawberry cheesecake here is sinful, can't I tempt you?"

*You mean can I tempt you with something more than food.* Duo's inner voice whispered inside his head.

Duo ignored his brain's lustful prodding before another part of his anatomy also became too insistent. "How about coffee and sharing the cheesecake?"

Ronda cleared the table then brought two cups of coffee, a generous slice of cheesecake and two forks. Heero was amused as he watched Duo add milk until his coffee turned a light caramel color. "You like a little coffee with your cream?" he teased.

"I got in the habit when I was younger. Mom used to let us have coffee as long as it wasn't too strong. At least I don't use enough sugar to rot your teeth." he added as Heero stirred in his second spoonful of the grainy sweet substance.

********

The Salty Dog's blue neon blended with yellow streetlights. Traffic flowed steadily along the avenue. Even at 8:15 the sidewalk bustled with activity. The assorted citizens resembled a stream of ants merging left and right and from between parked cars.

Duo and Heero stopped at the intersection of Ninth and High Street until the "WALK" sign flashed then joined the scurrying crowd as cars, trucks, cabs, a bus belching diesel fumes and a loudly idling motorcycle impatiently waited for the light to go from red to green. Blocks away a siren wailed then faded until it melted into traffic's continuous clamor

A left turn on the other side put Duo and Heero in a homeward direction. Even though Duo could have easily been caught up in the city's hurried hustle and bustle he opted for a leisurely stroll.

Heero fell in step using the slower pace to his advantage, firstly to allow his stomach to properly digest his dinner overindulgence but, more importantly, to share more time with Duo.

The architect and the dancer meandered through the maze of pedestrians, paused to window shop, commented on the new spring fashions and even investigated the intriguing "toys" in the "After Dark" sex store.

Halfway home they passed the "Blue Note Jazz Club". The sultry sounds of piano, bass guitar and saxophone mixed with a hint of flute and an echo of drums, drifted out onto the street. Pale amber light shone through the window and bathed Duo in its golden luster as he demonstrated a series of graceful dance steps.

Duo's feet seemed to glide over the concrete. His legs and arms matched the music's rhythmic meter and his hips swayed to the pulsing beat. His braid also kept the sensual cadence as it brushed across his buttocks and swung from side to side. He closed his eyes, lost in the pure joy of dancing and became totally oblivious to any curious glances or the fact that several people had paused to watch.

Heero was also unaware of anything but Duo's complete abandonment to the music. Duo's serene smile and his effortless movements held Heero just as spellbound. And, strangely, Heero discovered that he, too, was swaying.

It was only after a young man with purple spiked hair and his "Gothic" girlfriend applauded did Duo open his eyes and realize that his impromptu performance had an audience.

A rosy blush warmed his cheeks and he managed to mumble, "Thank you." and give a quick bow before grinning back at Heero and nodding down the street. "Let's go." he whispered.

********

"I can't believe I did that." Duo announced as they crossed the side street two blocks from the High Street Apartments. His face was still slightly tinted with an embarrassed shade of pink.

"You're very talented, " Heero declared, "I enjoyed the show."

Duo glanced sideways but didn't make direct eye contact. "There is a time and place for dancing and the middle of the street doesn't fit either criterion."

Heero couldn't resist the urge to tease. "Criterion." he repeated with a hint of good-natured sarcasm, "You're not only talented but smart, too."

Duo didn't miss a beat in his equally playful reply. "I studied more than dancing in school. You might be surprised what I could teach you."

A man and woman coming out the High Street Apartments' lobby entrance interrupted Heero's clever comeback. As he stepped aside to let them pass he backed into Duo who hadn't anticipated their sudden change of direction.

Unbalanced by the solid bump, Duo wobbled then arms flapped franticly as he tried to stay upright. Heero pivoted in place and slid an arm around Duo's waist just in time to check his backward momentum.

Duo grabbed onto the fleshly lifeline and pulled forward to regain his equilibrium. However, the overcompensation resulted in he and Heero ending up face to face with their noses merely inches apart.

For seemed like forever Duo and Heero looked into each other's eyes. Time stood still. The only sound was soft breathing; the only sensation was their hearts hammering in their chests.

Heero was the first one to recover from the quite surprising closeness. His blue eyes blinked as they struggled to refocus. Then his voice spoke of its own accord. "You have beautiful eyes." he whispered so lowly that only Duo could hear.

Duo remained still. He was afraid if he moved he'd discover that the entire evening had been a dream and he would wake up alone. But somewhere in his entranced senses Duo knew everything was real, that he was not dreaming.

On the street a horn honked. Heero and Duo jumped in unison breaking the engrossed gaze. Duo took a deep breath and reluctantly backed out of Heero's single-arm embrace. "I had a great time tonight." he declared, trying hard to control the quiver in his voice.

After a slight hesitation, Heero let his arm slip free. He swallowed and made a nervous noise in the back of his throat. "I did, too."

Duo turned toward the door. "I have rehearsal in the morning so I'd better get to bed." He took a tentative step. "Can I call you sometime?"

"Of course, we're friends aren't we?" Heero replied in a positive tone.

Duo smiled to ward off an underlying sadness as he realized that Heero might never want more than friendship. "Yeah, friends."

"Duo," Heero called just before Duo stepped inside, "do you have rehearsal on Sunday?"

"No that's my day off, why?"

"The firm I work for designed a house in the Hamptons and its almost finished. I wanted to drive down and see how it turned out, would you like to go with me Sunday afternoon?"

"I'd like to go. What time should I be ready?"

"How about eleven o'clock? We could stop for lunch on the way."

"Eleven o'clock." Duo confirmed, "I'll see you then."

********

Duo took the stairs instead of the elevator. Right then wasn't the best time to find himself in a tightly enclosed space with Heero. He unlocked his door and made his usual streetlight illuminated trek to the bedroom.

He undressed in the bathroom, his clothes destined for the laundry hamper since they smelled of smoke and the city's general pollution. As he unbuttoned his shirt a trace of Heero's spicy aftershave caressed his nose.

That night Duo slept in his red silky shirt.

 

Part Five:

10:00 a.m. Sunday morning and Duo was still wondering what to wear for his and Heero's trip to The Hamptons. He didn't think there was a certain style for visiting a nearly completed house but the property was located in a very ritzy area and he didn't want to look out of place.

Several outfits lay on the bed. He had narrowed his choice down to two; tan trousers and a pale blue knit shirt or nicer blue jeans and his favorite black cotton tee shirt with the Ocean Pacific logo on the pocket.

*Don't ever apologize for who you are.* echoed in his mind.

"Heero's right," Duo addressed his reflection in the vanity mirror, "I'm the only person I have to please." The blue jeans and OP tee shirt were finished off with lace up black boots and a blue denim jacket.

When Duo answered the knock on his door he found that Heero had also opted for the casual look with jeans, a green and white polo shirt and athletic shoes.

"Ready?" Heero wondered.

Duo made sure he had his wallet and apartment key then pulled the door shut behind him. "If you rented a car I want to pay half." he insisted as they stepped into the elevator.

"I have the use of a company car for the weekend," Heero replied, "but thank you for offering."

********

"Fancy wheels." Duo commented taking a moment to admire the silver BMW with "Barnes & McKinley Architectural Design" printed on both doors.

Heero shrugged, "The firm has five of these." he stated, opening the driver's side, "Personally I think it's a waste of money but I suppose they have an image to keep up."

Duo settled into the soft leather passenger seat and buckled his shoulder harness. "Do you have a car?"

"No, don't really need one. The subway goes everywhere and if I want to travel I fly or take the train."

"I'd like to have a car someday." Duo said marveling at state-of-the-art consol with CD player, a satellite tracking system and several buttons that he couldn't identify. "Too bad I didn't bring some CDs; I bet the speaker system is great."

Heero checked the rear mirror then blended into the traffic flow. "You're welcomed to use the radio. Just don't blast out the windows." he teased.

Duo tuned in an easy listening station and set the volume at a pleasant level. At the third intersection Heero turned right and headed out of the city. "Is there any place in particular you'd like to have lunch?"

"Anywhere is fine."

*As long as we're together.* Duo finished the sentence in his mind.

*******

After a satisfying meal of turkey and cheese sub sandwiches, potato chips and lemonade at a roadside diner, Heero and Duo set course for The Hamptons.

The sky was a dazzling shade of blue. Fluffy clouds, that reminded Duo of marshmallows, drifted lazily on the warm spring breeze. The hard cityscape faded away into expansive areas of green grass carpeted with wild flowers. Rows of trees lined the highway and grouped in woody patches.

"This looks like Central Park without the park." Duo declared, then grinned as he realized how silly he sounded. "I mean...."

"Without the joggers and muggers and dog shit." Heero added with a grin that matched Duo's.

Gradually modest homes with swing sets, decks, barbecue grills and two car garages were replaced by larger estates with stone walls and security gates. Luxurious houses with tennis courts and swimming pools were tucked away amidst acres of flawlessly manicured lawns and forests of trees. Horses grazed in fields next to equally grand stables.

Duo gazed out the window at the splendor and wondered what it would be like to live that way. But he also had to wonder if the people who hid behind the walls and gates and security systems were truly happy in their self-imposed isolation.

He recalled growing up in Brooklyn surrounded by family and friends. Sitting on the front pouch in the cool of the evening talking and eating ice cream or playing stick ball in the vacant lot next to Smith's Market.

Sure he and his brother and sisters would argue and sometimes fight but they never stopped loving each other. His bluish-purple eyes stung. He sighed and blinked back the welling tears that threatened to spill over his long eyelashes.

Even though Heero couldn't see Duo's face he could read the slump of his shoulders and hear the unmistakable exhalation of a heavy sigh. "Something wrong?"

Duo straightened back against the seat but didn't look directly at Heero, "I was just thinking about home. I miss my family."

"Yeah I know." Heero responded not only with empathy for Duo but his own admission that he also suffered from being separated from his family.

********

The next five or six miles were spent in silence. Duo continued his nature study out the side window. Occasionally, when shadows caused the glass to become opaque, he would catch a glimpse of his reflection. When he thought Heero was concentrating on his driving, he would steal a glance at the handsome architect.

Another sprawling estate...more multi-million dollar seclusion. Twin stone columns supported a black metal arch. "ROSEMONT" was scrolled across the apex; the letters intertwined with flowing vines and roses that were forever frozen in perpetual blossoms.

Equally ornate double gates, that matched the arch's graceful curve, were also decorated with three-dimensional vines, roses and what Duo guessed were weeping willow trees.

"This is it." Heero announced as he turned right and pulled up to the closed gates.

A square box with an electronic "eye" and a speaker was mounted on the left column. "Once the house is occupied a visitor will have to buzz the house or the family will use a remote control to unlock the gates but I have the entry code so we can get in now." Heero explained as he produced a small unit from his pocket.

"You have the code? I'm impressed."

Heero offered a thin-lipped smile, "As soon as the family moves in they'll change the code and most likely hire a guard. We just get to pretend we're rich for today."

With the touch of a button the gates swung back. Heero drove through then the same remote magic closed up the entrance.

Recently planted trees, with dome-trimmed bushes evenly spaced in between, flanked the wide driveway that ran a quarter of a mile. Beyond the trees Duo could see the house's third story looming against the sky.

A bit further along the lane and the rest of the Mediterranean style mansion came into view. High stone walls hid the actual entrance but Duo had no doubts of its grandeur.

Once the driveway reached the house it looped around a white marble scallop-edged fountain topped off with a Greek or Roman woman holding a stone jar. The lady's carved toga draped in delicate folds and bared a single breast. Her hair hung in soft tresses about her smooth pale face.

Water bubbled from the jar, cascaded down her body, washed over her sandalled feet then filled the bowl to be recycled back through the system.

A circular planting of tiny pink and white flowers with shiny leaves was a nice contrast to the fountain's hard base. The floral color pallet was copied in flowerbeds lining the courtyard, which served as another barrier to the house.

More wrought iron roses topped the courtyard walls and interlaced in the single iron gate. To the left and right large expanses of green lawn dotted with boxwoods and mature trees offered a breathtaking panorama.

Heero climbed out of the BMW and stretched his travel-weary legs. Duo came around the car's rear end and paused to gaze up at the glistening lady who returned only a stony stare. "Damn." he muttered as he took in the opulent surroundings.

Heero nodded in agreement. "You think this is something wait until you see the house. Come on." He searched on a Barnes and McKinley key ring until he found the correct key to open the gate and moved aside to let Duo go in first.

The courtyard floor and interior walls were covered with lemon yellow, brick red and tan tiles. More mulched beds framed the outdoor room but this time lilies in vibrant hues of yellow and orange lent a bold splash of color. Stone urns were filled with variegated vines and in the right corner a slender four-foot obelisk and a round ball made of the same marble as the fountain added the finishing touches.

A covered porch supported by thick wooden beams protected the stained glass paneled front door. Another key was selected and Heero and Duo stepped into an atmosphere of splendor that was totally opposite of their intercity lifestyle.

Their footsteps echoes on the foyer floor set in a checkerboard pattern of black and white marble squares. A massive crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling's center. Undressed windows that ran from floor to ceiling let in an abundance of natural light.

Straight ahead sets of stairs with brass banisters branched off on either side and formed a semi-circle exposed hall at the top. Under the elevated hall an archway led to the rest of the living areas.

The house had not been furnished but thick carpet eliminated the echo as Heero and Duo continued to explore Rosemont. As they entered the great room with its vaulted ceiling, Duo used a low whistle to accent his asset of the square footage. "This is bigger than half my house in Brooklyn."

The tour moved on. The dining area was as large as the great room. The library with it's mahogany book shelves had a fireplace trimmed in what else---rose patterned tiles. Then there were three more rooms that Heero had no idea of their intended usage and a guest bathroom with a separate sitting area.

"Would you look at this kitchen!" Heero exclaimed.

More black and while tiles, gray granite countertops, polished stainless steel sink and appliances. Dark oak cabinets specially designed for every conceivable function covered each wall. There was even a temperature-controlled wine cellar.

Duo was beginning to wonder if there were any tiles left anywhere in the world. "At least the decorating theme is consistent." he commented craning his neck up at the skylight over the center island.

The second story contained six rooms, each with a full bathroom; three had a private balcony. The third story had a matching number of rooms, bathes and balconies. From any balcony the view was spectacular. As far as the eye could see the landscape was beautiful. The breeze was sweet and birds warbled in every tree.

"Let me show you my favorite place." Heero announced excitedly as they descended the last few steps.

Extra wide French doors off the great room opened to the covered patio. More urns were filled with brilliant flowers. A smaller three-tiered fountain added a soothing sound. Four wicker chase lounges sat in a row. A round glass-topped table with a blue umbrella was ringed with four chairs upholstered in blue and white striped material.

But it didn't take a genius to figure why this was Heero's most desired space. A huge swimming pool dominated the yard. The afternoon sun shimmered on the water like a thousand diamonds, the sparkle made even more intense by the deep blue tiles lining the entire underwater surface.

Heero's pleased smile was all the proof Duo needed to know that the former swim team member was in his version of heaven. The sun's reflection danced over his tanned face and glittered in his cobalt eyes.

"Wow!" Duo whispered in awe of the sheer volume of water.

Heero nodded, "Can you imagine doing laps in there?"

A vivid picture of the first time Duo saw Heero swimming suddenly replayed in his memory. *Bulging biceps...muscular shoulders...a streamline body slipping through the water like lube on his....*

Duo closed his eyes and shook his head to dislodge the enticing images before his imagination shut down his brain and spurred his lower anatomy into inappropriate actions.

When Duo opened his eyes he was startled to discover that Heero had turned his attention from the tempting pool and had redirected it squarely on him.

Another shock quickly followed as Duo detected a subtle gleam in Heero's wide pupils. "I have an idea." the liquid-addicted architect declared.

The spark escalated into a full blaze that put Duo on notice that Heero had mischief on his mind. "Let's go swimming."

"Swimming?"

"You do know how to swim, don't you?"

"Yeah, I grew up with a community pool but...."

"But what?" Heero interrupted. Again his sight centered on the water.

Duo cast a quick glance at the pool then back at the man he now believed was beyond all rational thought. "We don't have any swim trunks." Surely Heero would understand his argument for common decency.

"Don't tell me you've never gone skinny dipping?"

It was official...Heero Yuy had dropped over the edge, plunged past the point of no return. Not to mention the pool did not belong to them and if they got caught they'd be in big trouble.

Now Duo felt he was the only voice of reason. "No I have not gone skinny dipping."

Heero leaned closer as if to share a secret. "Well, there's a first time for everything." he stated as he freed his shirt's hem from his waistband.

 

Part Six:

"HEERO!" Duo exclaimed in slack-jawed surprise.

Despite Duo's obvious shock at the architect's skinny dipping suggestion, Heero continued to strip. Divested of his shoes, socks and shirt he unbuttoned low-rider jeans that rested so far south they left little to the imagination.

Up to this point Duo hadn't considered his new friend's underwear preferences. Boxers, briefs...it hadn't mattered...not until the waistband parted, the zipped followed suit and the jeans slipped effortlessly over Heero's hips to reveal a skimpy black "bikini" that exposed most of the his secrets.

Framed by the pool's deep blue water shimmering at his back and an equally blue sky sparkling overhead Heero looked like the well-endowed sculpture of Michelangelo's "David" or, better yet, "Mr. June" from a beefcake calendar that used to hang in Duo's bedroom in Brooklyn.

Duo stared, momentarily overwhelmed by Heero's sexy physique. Sure he'd seen Heero in swim trunks but this time, this close, Duo found himself besieged by a combination of fascination and embarrassment. A rosy blush warmed his cheeks and breath caught in his lungs.

Heero appeared unaffected by either his near nakedness or Duo's flushed face and wide-eyed stare. Shamelessly he hooked his fingers in the bikini's elastic band to remove the last barrier to his intended swim.

Duo swallowed hard. His palms were damp and his heart hammered in his chest. He had seen men naked, in high school gym and the showers at the rehearsal hall. He'd had two lovers but they had eased into levels of familiarity. Only once had he jumped into a relationship and that had been a four-week disaster that ended in bitter regrets.

Involuntarily, Duo's eyes squeezed shut before Heero began the downward tug that would put him in a completed state of disrobement.

Heero's hands stilled, his head tiled at an inquiring angle. For the first time he realized that Duo was not comfortable with the unfolding events. Up to that point his thoughts had centered on what he wanted, not on Duo's wishes.

Heero had ignored the other man's body language, his nervous reactions but the sight of Duo's tightly closed eyes and evident upset made him reconsider.

"Duo...I'm so sorry." Experiencing his own pangs of uneasiness, Heero began gathering up his discarded clothing from a chase lounge.

Duo drew in a steadying breath and opened his eyes. He had but seconds to make a decision. His head was telling him to take things slow, that he didn't know Heero well enough to engage in a nude swim. But his heart was pressing him to take the chance or was lust guiding his choice? Caution or reckless abandonment, why did it have to be one way or the other?

"Wait." The halting word was spoken before his brain could silence his voice or rebuke his heart for its foolishness.

Heero froze as if that single word had total command over his every movement. He tried to read Duo's expression, to decipher any subtle clues that might tell him what Duo was thinking but all he saw was confusion in those strangely beautiful blue-purple eyes and all he heard was hesitation in Duo's lowered voice.

Suddenly Heero was also uneasy. A chill prickled on his skin and it felt as though the whole world could see his mostly bare body. Now all he wanted to do was hide away from the disgrace that he had unfairly inflicted on Duo.

"I'm sorry." he apologized again, clutching his shirt to cover his front. "This was a bad idea."

A long silence passed between the dancer and the architect. In a nearby tree a bird chirped out a carefree song but the warbled notes were hollow in Heero's hearing.

Finally Duo broke the strained silence. "I want to go swimming but..." More hesitation.

*Follow your heart.* his inner council advised.

"Dammit." Duo mumbled, berating his indecisiveness.

Heero kept up his limited concealment and moved a few steps closer. "Tell me what you want." he urged.

This time Duo's eyes were clear of confusion and his voice was steady and strong. "I want to go swimming with you."

Heero nodded, "All right let's do this another way. You turn around until I finish undressing and get into the water then I'll close my eyes while you undress and join me. Any time you're uncomfortable we'll stop. Okay?"

Duo focused on his feet, studied the creamy concrete, anything to keep from looking at Heero. He couldn't believe he was being so shy, after all he wasn't a timid teenager anymore. He was an adult, dammit, so why was it so difficult to let go and have fun.

*Because you want it to be special with Heero.* his heart proclaimed.

"Duo?" Heero pressed for an answer.

"That's a good idea." Duo agreed then turned to face the house.

A soft swish told Duo that Heero had finished undressing and had eased into the water. "My eyes are closed."

Duo put a teasing tone in his voice to lessen the tension. "Can I trust you not to peek?"

Heero's immediate reply rang with unmistakable truth. "I would never betray your trust." he promised sincerely.

Duo stripped and laid his clothes beside Heero's on the chase lounge nearest the pool. Surer steps carried him to the ladder at the shallow end where Heero waited with his eyes tightly closed. Although the water was crystal clear it created enough distortion to offer an acceptable margin of modesty.

The first step then the second and sun-warmed water molded around Duo's body. Third and fourth steps, Duo's braid floated out behind him then slowly sank as it became waterlogged. Finally he stood chest-deep within three feet of Heero.

"Ready." he announced in a bolder tone.

Heero opened his eyes and a smile bloom in his lips. Even though most of Duo was underwater he could still see the athletic strength of a dancer. Duo's chest wasn't as broad and his arms not as bulked up but his form perfectly matched the function of dancing.

He recalled Duo's impromptu performance outside the jazz club, his poise, his power and knew that same power would be as graceful in the water as on the stage. "Let's swim."

Side by side Duo and Heero slipped through the water. Arms pushed the liquid aside, legs paddled with hardly a splash. Strong strokes propelled their bodies along like dolphins skimming sleekly just below the surface. They moved in unison as if guided by the same intuitive currents.

At the deep end they pivoted, planted their feet and pushed off the side. They glided soundlessly for a few feet then coordinated their movements as if they had always been together.

Stroke for stroke, lap after lap, until exhaustion slowly replaced the exhilaration. Breathing hard but happy, Duo folded one hand over the smooth blue tiles and allowed his body to be buoyed by the water. Heero held on, too, his hand inches from Duo's.

"Are you all right?" Heero asked, doing some panting of his own.

"Great." Duo smiled, "I'm glad we decided to do this."

Heero raised his head to gaze at the sun poised just above the tree line. "It's late. We should get ready to go. I won't watch while you get dressed then you can turn around until I get dressed."

"That's not necessary." Duo insisted. He was now very comfortable with Heero and with himself.

Duo grabbed the ladder and rose confidently from the water. His soggy braid slapped his bare buttocks as he retrieved his clothes. Without hesitation Heero followed and began sorting through his pile.

Duo tugged his boxers over his damp skin then rung out his braid the best he could; hopefully it wouldn't get the car seat too wet during their return trip to the city.

The setting sun had begun to cast shadows over the pool and the breeze had definitely lost most of its warmth. The chilly air encouraged the damp pair to dress quickly.

"My hair is going to be a bitch to comb out." Duo commented as he tied up his boots.

"Would you like me to help?" Heero offered.

Once more Duo was challenged on the matter of trust. His braid was a private part of himself that he was reluctant to share. There had been a few occasions when past lovers had seen his hair down but rarely had they ever brushed the lengthy locks.

"It takes a long time to get the tangles out and I know you don't want to be too late getting back." Duo stated. His protective side hoped Heero wouldn't insist on helping but his heart wished he would.

"Please let me help, after all I'm responsible for your hair being wet."

Duo gazed into Heero's eyes, into the mirrors to his soul. There he saw assurance and genuine concern. "Okay." he heard himself saying without conscious consideration. He took a comb from his jacket pocket, handed it to Heero, sat down on the chase lounge and turned around to give his friend access to his personal space.

Heero removed the elastic band, unwound the braid and carefully finger-combed the damp hair to avoid tangling it further. He started at Duo's crown and patiently worked the comb inch by inch through the snarled mane.

The setting sun disappeared behind the trees, the shadows grew longer but Heero kept steadfastly to his task. The repetitive process of combing and his hand's gentle caress soon lulled Duo into a relaxed state of mind and body.

When the tangles were eliminated and the strands smooth and silky, Heero expertly braided and tied off the tip. "Finished."

"Thank you." Duo pulled the long rope over his shoulder and admired the handiwork. "Where did you learn to braid so neatly?"

"I used to braid my sister's hair and sometimes my mother's."

"Now I have an idea," Duo declared, "Let's get dinner, all that exercise has made me hungry."

Bright pink painted the horizon and tinted the gates of "ROSEMONT". As the sun retreated before the rapidly gathering darkness Heero switched on the headlights and turned out onto the highway.

"Do you like Italian food?"

"Of course, doesn't everyone?"

********

6:45 p.m.--Twenty blocks from the High Street Apartments.

"Cafe Romano" was completely opposite from the "Salty Dog Bar & Grill". There was an understated elegance in the decor of blue checked table clothes, matching napkins and gleaming stemware. Men in stylish suits and women in classy dresses engaged in quiet conversations.

Flickering candlelight and soft music also added to the ambiance as Heero and Duo waited at the door for the hostess to seat them. "I think we're underdressed." Duo whispered.

Heero leaned closer, "We might be but I don't give a damn. All I want right now is a large bowl of pasta smothered in marinara sauce and a bottle of wine."

The neatly attired hostess in her navy blue tailored trousers, crisp white blouse and flawlessly coiffured hair was also quite opposite from Ronda and her "PRINCESS" tee shirt. The older woman eyed the plain pair with thorough scrutiny that Duo decided bordered on snobbery.

"I'm sorry sir but we require a tie for dining." she stated in a tone that further bolstered Duo's appraisal of the woman's snooty attitude.

"I don't suppose you could bend the rules just for tonight?" Heero requested then offered additional encouragement in the form of twenty dollars discreetly pressed into the hostess's hand.

"A table for two?"

Heero displayed some "attitude" of his own insisting on a table away from the restaurant's crowded center. "Arrogant bitch." he mumbled under his breath as he scanned the menu for his desired meal.

Duo grinned at his dining partner's assessment of the hostess's canine lineage. "You get grumpy when we're hungry." he observed good-naturedly.

Their waiter, Robert, could have cared less about anyone's lack of fashion sense. As far as he was concerned if the patrons tipped well they could dine clown costumes.

Robert took matching orders of pasta, garlic-butter breadsticks and a fine vintage Merlot then glanced around to make sure that the haughty hostess wasn't watching before leaning closer to Duo and whispering. "Great hair."

"Was he flirting with you?" Heero asked rhetorically.

"Jealous?"

A thoughtful pause preceded Heero's reply. "Maybe."

********

Two hours later excellent food had satisfied Heero and Duo's hunger and an entire bottle of wine had put a mellow buzz in their brains and erased any lingering memories of the offensive hostess or the flirtatious waiter.

Despite Duo's full stomach, his low tolerance level for alcohol had been reached after his second glass and had been exceeded by the third. Now tipsy euphoria made him warm inside and very relaxed.

Heero was in better condition. Although he certainly felt the wine's influence he was in total control of both his brain and motor skills as he paid the check and added a generous tip for Robert who, in spite of hitting on Duo, had provided good service.

"Ready to go?" Heero asked even though he was sure that in Duo's inebriated condition he was going to need help navigating through the labyrinth of tables and out the door to the car.

Duo struggled to focus his blurry eyesight then finally pulled Heero's handsome face from the wine-induced haze. "Where are we going?" he wondered in slightly slurred words.

"Home."

"Now?"

Heero took Duo's arm in a gentle but firm hold and lifted him out of his chair. "Yes now." he insisted.

Fortunately only three tables were still occupied and they weren't in the architect's and his wobbly friend's path. Also fate had come down on their side, as the hostess was nowhere in sight.

********

Legally Heero shouldn't have been operating a motor vehicle. But in bumper to bumper traffic that didn't allow any speed over twenty-five miles per hour his chances being stopped by a NYPD patrol car was nil...besides the police permitted the cabbies to drive like maniacs so why should they notice him?

As Heero drove home through the motorized maze of cars, trucks, buses and pedestrians who decided to cross the street wherever they pleased, prostitutes trolled for "dates", gangs hung out on the corners and drug dealers sold their poison in the alleys and desert buildings.

Duo sat quietly, staring out the passenger window. His wine-altered senses painted the city over in bright neon lights that blended into a garish rainbow. People moved along the streets like cartoon characters sketched by a madman and animated in slow motion.

The pervious warmth had begun to wear off but his mind was still muddled, his hearing murky and his reactions sluggish. He rested his head heavily on the seat and willingly surrendered to the dizzying confusion knowing that Heero would bear him safely home.

"Are you okay." Heero wondered as he stopped at the last light before the High Street Apartments.

Duo nodded "yes" then shut his eyes against the swirling images that threatened to suck him under their swamping tide.

Heero parked in the apartment's private lot, switched off the engine and got out to retrieve his somber and, perhaps, more sober friend. Duo lifted his eyes, squinted in the security light's harsh glare then held out his hands to let Heero help him stand up.

"Easy now."

Duo clutched onto Heero's arm until his rubbery legs decided to cooperate. "I'm sorry." he sputtered out the apology.

*Great all I need is a mushy drunk.* Heero thought to himself but said out loud, "It's okay you just need to sleep."

Duo remained silent on the elevator trip to the second floor. He stared down at his feet emitting a soft sigh at regular intervals. Standing before apartment 202 Heero asked Duo for the key.

"Its here somewhere." Duo mumbled patting his jean's front pockets.

It had been a long day and even though Heero had enjoyed Duo's company, their tour of "ROSEMONT" and, most of all, their swim, he needed to get Duo in bed and get some sleep of his own.

Tomorrow began another workweek and Heero didn't want to be dragging into the office. "Let me see." he said wearily, slipping his hand into the right pocket.

As Heero's fingers snagged a key ring they also brushed against Duo's groin causing him to flinch from the unintended touch. "Wow, do that again." he urged, a silly grin plastered on his face.

Heero disregarded the inappropriate proposal, unlocked the door, swiped the light switch and tugged Duo inside. He took Duo directly to the bedroom because he knew once the braided man sat down it might be difficult to get him on his feet again.

Duo flopped on the bed and leaned back supporting himself on his elbows. Heero squatted and removed Duo's boots and socks. "Help me with your shirt." he instructed. Duo sat up and lifted his arms to allow the shirt to slide over his head.

"Go to the bathroom, wash your face and brush your teeth." Heero ordered, "And don't forgive to pee. If you feel sick call me."

While Duo was "taking care of business" Heero spread back the coverlet and sheet and got a bottle of water from the refrigerator. Duo needed to drink plenty of clear liquids to prevent dehydration and lessen the morning hangover.

Duo seemed a bit more alert when he emerged from the bathroom, his bangs damp and breath smelling like mint instead of wine. One final step and hopefully he could get settled for the night.

"Now pants off and get into bed."

A sly smile curved on Duo's lips and the dullness in his eyes was replaced by a sparkle. Without warning he slid his arms around Heero's neck and locked his blue-purple orbs squarely with the startled man's widened eyes. "Are we getting naked again?"

 

Part Seven:

"Are we getting naked again?" Duo cooed.

Heero forced his expression to remain stern. Duo was handsome and seemingly more than willing to advance their friendship to another level but right then, under the circumstances, was not the time or place. Even thought Duo had sobered up passed the point of bodily imbalance, his brain was still functioning under the wine's influence.

Allowing his clearer head to prevail, Heero took Duo's hands and with gentle but insistent pressure, unlocked their hold around his neck. "No, we ARE NOT getting naked." he insisted, placing the inflection on the negative part of his reply.

Duo's lower lip stuck out in a pout that made him almost irresistible...almost. "Why not?"

"Because you need to sleep." Heero answered as he pivoted Duo to sit on the bed. He uncapped the bottle of water and handed it to his tempter. "Drink this so you won't get dehydrated."

Duo took the bottle with an irritated puff that ruffled his bangs. "You're no fun."

"Maybe not, " Heero grinned, cracking his uncompromising facade, "but you need sleep more than fun."

Duo drank his water in sulking silence, occasionally cutting his eyes to test the Japanese man's resolve. Finally when three-fourths of the water had been drained he announced. "That's all I can drink."

Heero sat the bottle on the bedside table then crouched to grab the hem of Duo's jeans. "Lift your hips." The jeans were yanked between Duo's butt and the bed then freed with one last tug and left on the floor.

"In bed." came the next order. This time Duo cooperated without protect as he scooted in and rolled on his side facing Heero.

Heero picked up the digital alarm clock. "What time do you need to get up?"

As Duo situated the sheet and coverlet over his slender body until his bare chest was partly covered, he shrugged. "I don't know, eight I guess."

"If you're sluggish in the morning will that give you enough time to get to rehearsal?"

"Yeah I don't have to be there until ten."

Heero set the clock for eight a.m. and made certain the alarm button was on then slid the phone within easy reach. "If you wake up during the night and need me call, okay?"

Groggily Duo nodded "yes". The long day and the wine's residual aftereffects were apparently lulling his mind into a sleepy state. Heero switched off the bedside lamp and immediately the streetlight's yellowish glow stroked over the room.

Heero waited until his eyes adjusted to the limited light then turned to leave."Good night Duo." he sincerely wished his friend a peaceful night of dreamless sleep.

Suddenly animated, Duo reached out and snagged Heero's arm. "Stay."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

Duo's fingers clutched at Heero like a drowning man clings to anything to keep him afloat. "I don't want to be alone tonight."

"Duo I....."

"Please." There was a hint of desperation in the plea that took Heero by surprise. "We don't have to do anything." he continued to beg as if his life depended on not being abandoned. "I promise to behave."

In the bedroom's murky shadows Heero swore he saw a single tear shimmer over Duo's cheek and that poignant sight broke his heart. "Of course I'll stay." he declared without a second thought.

Even if Duo didn't keep his word and attempted to entice him into crossing the line, Heero knew he could be strong for both his and Duo's sake. What might happen between them in the future would not be dictated by lust or need but by mutual respect and perhaps, one day, love.

"Let me go to the bathroom." Heero requested, easing his arm from Duo's anxious grip.

When Heero returned to the bedroom he found Duo curled up like a kitten snuggled under the bedcovers but wide eyes stared into the dim room. When Heero sat on the bed's opposite side, Duo rolled over but kept his promise not to invade his bedmate's space.

Heero striped down to his black bikini, slipped under the cotton sheet and quilted comforter then turned to face Duo. "I'm here, sleep now." he whispered hoping that the soothing sound would calm Duo's anxiousness.

For a moment it seemed that Duo would fight the urge to sleep. His eyes closed, opened halfway, closed and opened again. "Thank you." Then a soft sigh signaled that the sandman had won the battle.

Heero laid still not wanting to risk disturbing his friend's fragile slumber. Soon quiet breathing confirmed that the dancer had indeed drifted off to dreamland.

Now sleep eluded the architect but it didn't matter. Heero discovered an unexpected contentment in watching the muted light play over Duo's serene features.

A single finger brushed back bangs that were tangled in Duo's long eyelashes. "You came into my life like a whirlwind and stole my breath away." Heero confessed to the slumbering dancer who had also stolen his heart. "Damn Duo there should be storm warnings posted whenever you're around."

********

Rosy post-dawn light streaked through the bedroom window. Duo involuntarily threw an arm over his eyes to ward off the unwelcome brightness then snagged his ragged braid that had twisted around his neck.

Gradually his sleep-addled senses began to identify various stimuli. His sight had already registered the brightness. His touch had responded unfavorably to the stubble on his chin scraping over the pillow and his taste...well...his tongue was covered in a fuzzy coat of something better left unnamed.

While his hearing was muddled, sounds don't process well through a hangover, the smell of coffee and cinnamon or, perhaps, a nutty scent did managed to punch through the sensory confusion but even those normally pleasant aromas were offensive.

Cautiously Duo opened one eye, blinked away the stickiness then its matching oddly colored orb was revealed beneath a cascade of snarled bangs.

The red digital numbers on the clock fused together into an unreadable blob but right then he didn't care about the time of morning, not when his brain felt like it had slipped off-center and every inch of his body was objecting to the simple act of breathing.

But it was his bladder that was the most persistence in its protest. "Okay, dammit," Duo snorted, "don't be so pushy."

Sitting up was accomplished in progressive stages until Duo's legs dangled over the bed and his bare feet timidly touched the floor. Bending over to retrieve his jeans sent a sharp pain lancing through his head and a queasy wave crashing through his stomach.

With extra effort he pulled on his jeans and fumbled with the zipper and button then decided to forego hunting for his tee shirt. Just as warily he draped the coverlet around his exposed shoulders, stood up and tested his legs and balance before taking a step.

Duo shuffled off to the bathroom. Caped in the wrinkled coverlet he looked like a beggar who fancied himself to be king, crowned with unruly hair and a braid that had all but become undone.

It seemed as though fifteen minutes passed before Duo finished relieving his pressing problem. It wasn't until he leaned over to flush that he realized he'd forgotten to lift the seat and had missed the mark in several places.

As he pulled off a length of toilet paper to clean up the mess he mumbled, "Heero's goin' to be pissed." then chuckled at the irony that "piss" was exactly what Heero would be pissed about.

Heero had stayed that night, hadn't he? Duo had vague recollections of the ride home from the restaurant, a conversation concerning nudity and a disturbing trace of emotional disconcertion. His remembrances came in flickers of memory and disjointed sensations of weight and warmth, a solid form sharing the bed. There was also a voice whispering reassurances and urging him to sleep.

Then the thought that everything had been a dream and that he was alone hit like an earthquake and shook him to his very core. But was the smell of coffee also his imagination?

Duo paused at the mirror and rested a supporting hand on the sink. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, his eyes were bloodshot and underscored with dark circles.

*Fool.* his inner voice rebuked his excessive drinking and the resulting irresponsible behavior.

Duo didn't argue or offer excuses. "You probably blew your chances with Heero." he scolded his reflection.

*But he stayed last night.* the inner voice reminded.

"Yeah out of pity." Duo finished his part in the phantom conversation. "Might as well face Heero's disappointment." he reconciled himself to fate's whims.

********

As Duo approached the kitchen his nose confirmed that the coffee smells were indeed real. Stepping inside the compact space he was relieved to see Heero sitting at the table.

The glass pot from the "Mr. Coffee" machine was sitting on a tile trivet beside a box of muffins from the "Sweet Treats" bakery and a tub of "I Can't Believe Its Not Butter". Two plates, an extra mug and a pile of paper napkins finished the breakfast setting.

Heero glanced up from the morning addition of the New York Times he had purchased from the box in the lobby and set down his mug. "Good morning." he called. "I hope you won't be offended but I snooped through your cabinets to find the coffee and filters."

Then a frown pulled down his mouth's corners. "You look like hell." he observed dryly.

Duo straightened the coverlet that threatened to slide off one shoulder. "No offense taken." he replied as he eased into the opposite chair and filled his mug with the dark, steamy liquid that hopefully contained enough caffeine to counteract the cobwebs in his brain.

"You want a muffin?" Heero asked, "There's cinnamon swirl and blueberry."

Duo stared at the miniature cakes wondering if his stomach would better tolerate dry toast. "Blueberry will be fine," he decided to take the chance,"but no margarine, please."

Heero wiped margarine off his knife, cut a blueberry muffin down the middle, placed it on a plate and handed it to the dancer who would be king.

After a few minutes of half-heartedly munching on his muffin between sips of strong black coffee sweeten with one spoonful of sugar, Duo finally worked up the nerve to talk about the previous night and perhaps fill in the missing pieces of his memory.

"I acted like as ass last night." he admitted.

Heero folded up the paper and centered his attention on Duo."Not really."

Duo remained unconvinced, "I shouldn't have drank so much. I hope I didn't embarrass you."

Heero leaned back and finished the last of his mug. "You got a little frisky but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle." he stated and added a smile to reassure Duo that everything was all right.

Duo rubbed his temples where a dull ache had taken up residency. "I'm really sorry."

"Don't worry about it." Heero insisted, "Why don't you pour another mug and take a shower then you'll feel better."

Glancing at the clock on the stove Duo realized that it was passed nine o'clock. "Shouldn't you be at work?"

*That's great Maxwell, you made him late for work.* the inner voice continued the reprimand.

"I took a vacation day. I hardly ever take time off and I decided I deserved the time today."

"But you shouldn't have wasted a day because of me." Duo proclaimed, shaking his head then regretting the unwise action.

Heero leaned across the table and locked his blue eyes so that Duo couldn't look away. "You didn't make me do anything I didn't want to do. Now get your shower or you'll be late for rehearsal or do you feel too bad to go?"

"I need to go, we only have a month before opening night and it's not fair to the other performers if I miss."

Heero nodded, "Would you be up to dinner at my apartment tonight? I have the entire day to shop and I love to cook."

A grin tugged at Duo's lips at the thought of being with Heero again. "Aren't you tired of me?"

"No, I enjoy your company." Heero answered truthfully, "So it is a date?"

"A date?" Duo repeated, "Are we dating now?"

"If you want to."

"Yes I would like that very much."

Heero smiled at Duo's acceptance of their first official date. "I'll see you at seven." he confirmed, then couldn't resist some additional teasing. "And we'll skip the wine tonight."

 

Part Eight:

Duo exited the bus and crossed the street to the three-story building housing the rehearsal hall. Jay Johnson sat on the front steps smoking a cigarette and studying the constant stream of people flowing up and down the street.

Two girls, one in pants that looked like the clingy material had been spray-painted on her slender hips and her walking partner in a short pleated skirt, ambled along the avenue. Cookie cutter men dressed in tailored suits, carried brief cases, shouldered laptop cases and talked on cell phones. Many women who appeared to be produced from the same corporate mold mingled among the nondescript throngs of humanity.

Jay took a draw on his cigarette then discharged blue smoke from his nostrils. "They look like cattle."

"What?" Duo asked as he eased down beside the observant choreographer and set his practice bag on the same step.

"Cattle...you know moooo."

Duo nodded in agreement, "Yeah like migrating herds in National Geographic or ants stirred up with a stick."

Jay gazed through the cigarette's wispy haze and thoughtfully deliberated the sidewalk scene. "Poor bastards." he commented then turned his attention to the braided dancer.

The bloodshot traces in Duo's eyes and his general lethargy were easy to read. "You look like shit." J.J. commented with his usual brutal honesty.

"I've already been told that."

"Too much bangin' the headboard?"

Duo shrugged, "Too much wine."

Another puff on the cigarette. "You gotta watch that pansy-ass excuse for booze." More expelled smoke, "It'll sneak up and pickle your brain."

"At least I don't have that nasty habit." Duo retorted cutting his eyes at the paper cylinder filled with burning tobacco.

Jay frowned down at the "bad habit" smoldering between his fingers. "We all have some kind of monkey on our backs." he stated then crushed out the glowing end, tossed the cigarette in the bushes flanking the steps and stood up with a weary sigh. "Let's get to work."

Duo gathered up his bag and followed J.J. inside. The door closed behind them muting the traffic noise and throwing up a barrier between the real world and the fantasyland of dance.

********

Heero tugged at the shopping carts and, with some effort, finally freed one from the entangled row. Of course he had to pick the cart with a squeaky wheel that wobbled and pulled to the left.

It didn't take him long to remember why he hated shopping for groceries. Luckily it was mid-morning and most kids were in school but there were still enough whiny pre-schoolers and exasperated mothers to make up for the older student's absence.

Then there were the senior citizens who parked in the middle of the aisle to chat or took forever to choose a brand of peanut butter or sped around in battery-powered scooters like their were racing in the Indy 500.

Combine the hectic chaos of customers with the constant beeping from the checkout lines, outside venders and store employees restocking the shelves, piped in 70's music and the call for "Clean up on aisle seven." and Heero quickly became besieged by sensory overload.

His only saving grace in the muddled mess was that his shopping list was specific to his and Duo's dinner. He had decided on a menu of stir-fried shrimp with broccoli, carrots, mushrooms and water chestnuts. No white rice...long grain wild rice was the healthiest choice. Also included on the list: green tea, peanut oil and soy sauce.

For dessert, Heero remembered Duo's passion for strawberry cheesecake. The sweet treat was not as traditional as fortune cookies or sugar-sprinkled dumplings but he wanted their first private dinner to be special. He replenished his supple of custom-grounded cinnamon coffee, shuffled into the nearest non-express lane and resigned himself to a ten to fifteen minutes wait.

Outside the super market Heero hailed a cab since he didn't want to haul his groceries through two subway changes. A quick stop at the Green Thumb Florist Shoppe to pick up fresh flowers for the table and Heero headed home to get everything ready for a pleasant evening of good food and Duo's enjoyable company.

********

Both the morning and afternoon rehearsal sessions were intense. With only four weeks until opening night Jay Johnson pushed the dancers to perfection. At 4:30 Duo flopped down on the bus stop bench then wondered if his tired legs would lift him up again.

"You have no one to blame but yourself." he mumbled out loud as every muscle registered keen protests over the physical exertion forced upon them.

The extra strength Advil Duo had taken after he showered and changed hadn't kicked in and he hoped his muscles wouldn't tighten up too much before it did. Even his braid sandwiched between the bench and his back pressed painfully into his spine. He tugged the long rope of hair over his shoulder and scowled at the bad braiding job he had hurried done then made a mental note to redo the disaster before going to Heero's apartment.

At his apartment Duo changed into gray trousers and a black and gray striped shirt and broken-in shoes. He rebraided his hair and shaved away a stubbly patch on his chin he'd missed in the locker room's awful lighting then finished the job with a splash of Old Spice aftershave.

At 6:45 Heero answered the knock on his door and offered Duo a warm smile. He was dressed in silky blue lounging trousers, a matching short sleeve pullover and soft cloth shoes.

"Relax." Heero motioned to the sofa, "Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. I hope you're hungry."

Duo happily settled into the sofa's comfy cushions, leaned back and savored the wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen. "Dinner smells delicious and, yes, I'm hungry." he proclaimed.

The tuna salad on whole wheat and fruit juice he'd had for lunch had been worked off by mid-afternoon and the several bottles of water had been absorbed by his dehydrated muscle tissue.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Duo called above the tapping of a spoon on something metal.

Heero reappeared from the kitchen, "Nope, I'm waiting for the rice to steam. I brewed green tea, is that all right?"

"Fine. I'm glad we're having dinner here, I don't think I have the energy to go out."

"Rough day?" Heero wondered setting his hip on the sofa's armrest. "How did you feel this morning?"

"Once I got started I was all right but my stamina wasn't up to par."

"We have all evening to eat and unwind, why don't you take off your shoes and make yourself comfortable."

"You don't mind?"

"You aren't a guest, you're a friend and friends should always feel at home."

********

Heero pulled out a chair at the kitchen table's end, "Please sit down." He waited for Duo to sit then took a chair on the side so he could easily serve dinner.

The table settings were yellow plates ringed in sage green. Round cups without handles matched the yellow and sage pattern. The customary knife and spoon occupied the plate's right side while a fork held its place on the left.

Cloth napkins embroidered with pale yellow flowers were folded lengthwise across each plate and a pair of chopsticks tied together with bright red ribbon laid horizontally across each napkin.

A square yellow teapot, suspended above the table on four rounded "feet", was decorated with twin emerald dragons. The ancient mythical creatures faced each other with claws and fangs bared. Golden smoke bellowed from their flared nostrils and their crimson eyes seemed to glow.

Two large bowls, one filled with the stir fried shrimp and vegetables and the other filled with long grained wild rice sat to the teapot's right. A smaller bowl contained honey to sweeten the green tea.

Completing the Asian theme, an elegant yellow vase with a simple arrangement of red and yellow pincushion chrysanthemums and feathery ferns graced in the table's center.

"Everything is beautiful." Duo praised his host's taste in both decor and presentation. "Especially the flowers. What kind are they?"

Heero's fingers gentle caressed one mum's puffy petals. "These are chrysanthemums, often called "The Flower of the East". They have been grown in China and Japan for over 2,000 years. In 767 the Mikado, meaning ruler of Japan, made the flower his personal emblem and issued a decreed that it could only be used by royalty."

Heero let his fingers slip free and redirected his attention to Duo."Mums are also used to honor a special person." he declared with a humble bow of his head.

"You did all this for me?" Duo grinned; obviously pleased with the extra effort Heero had made just for him.

Heero returned the smile, "All this for you. Now pass your plate and we'll make our stomachs happy."

While Heero heaped on the food, Duo placed his napkin in his lap then untied the scarlet ribbon holding the chopsticks. "I've never used these." he admitted as he held one polished rod up at eye level and squinted at the odd wooden utensil.

Heero set down Duo's plate. "They're not hard to use once you understand the basic principle." he replied as he poured out the tea.

Duo wrapped his thumb around one stick and tucked the second between his index and middle fingers. The sticks tapped together once then slipped free from his unsteady grasp. "Would you be offended if I used my fork?"

Heero picked up the dropped sticks. "No, but try for me. Give me your hand."

Duo complied and held out his right hand. "Now you put this one here and this one here. Loosen your grip then tighten, see?"

Heero couldn't help but be amused at the acute concentration on Duo's face. The tip of his tongue protruded from his mouth's corner and his eyes focused until they were narrow slits of violet.

"I can't do this." Duo puffed in frustration as he chased a chuck of carrot around the plate.

"Everyone has to develop their own style. You just need to find out which way is the best for you." Heero proclaimed. "Wait. Put them down." he ordered.

Duo rested the sticks on his plate.

"Pick them up."

Duo paused a moment then picked up the wooden challengers.

"Now don't think, eat."

Duo's fingers folded naturally around the chopsticks and per Heero's instructions he didn't think about the method but the motive...food.

Soon Duo was pinching the tips together precisely enough to snare the delicious tidbits and was getting most of them in his mouth. Occasionally a morsel would escape but it didn't matter as eating had now turned into a game of fox and geese with Duo as the hunter.

However, he did use a spoon to eat his rice otherwise he would have had more of the sticky grains on his shirt or the floor than on his plate.

********

Heero and Duo ate at a leisurely pace. Duo talked about his rehearsal, went into details concerning his role and happily answered all of Heero's questions. Duo was flattered by his friend's genuine interest. It felt good just to be able to talk and laugh and enjoy a meal without the distractions of being in public.

"Save room for dessert." Heero urged as he pushed his plate aside.

"Dessert!" Duo repeated with the same enthusiastic expectation he had displayed while wandering around Rosemont. "What kind?"

"It's a surprise. Why don't you relax on the sofa? I'll fix coffee then bring dessert to you."

"Only if you let me help you clean up first." Duo insisted.

Heero started the coffeepot while Duo cleared the table. They loaded the dishwasher, wiped off the table and countertops then Duo reluctantly left the kitchen.

After a few minutes, Heero brought in a tray with two slices of cheesecake, forks, mugs of aromatic coffee and paper napkins to lend a casual air to the after dinner treat.

"Strawberry cheesecake!" Duo cooed at the creamy cake smothered in whole strawberries and gooey syrup. "This is soooo good." he mumbled before he finished chewing. The pure pleasure of cheesecake made him temporarily forget his manners.

Heero set his empty plate on the coffee table and took a careful sip from his steaming mug. Duo swallowed the last bite and displayed a satisfied smile.

"I think you missed some." Heero announced. Using his index finger he wiped away the remnants of a stray strawberry stuck on Duo's lower lip.

Before Heero completed his cleanup task, Duo intercepted the fruit-laden finger, engulfed it with his mouth and sucked seductively.

Heero froze. His hand tingled as if an electrical current flowed between him and Duo. The warmth and wettness of Duo's mouth treased his finger as the suction held it in place.

Duo elevated his violet sight to meet Heero's enlarged pupils. There was a feral aspect in his focused stare, a predatory gleam like tiger eyes reflecting the moonlight. Then his tongue flickered over the enveloped fingertip and Heero flinched from the unexpected sensation.

Heero drew in a startled breath and struggled to raise his voice above a whisper. "Duo?" His tone questioned his friend's sudden flirtaious behavor.

"Hummmmm." Duo's lips vibrated, sending another shiver prickling over Heero's skin.

"Duo...I." Heero began but was distracted by the sexy dancer's next action.

Duo's lips curled back in a sly grin then loosened just enough to allow Heero's finger to slip out with a sharp pop. Without a word Duo leaned forward until he and the astonished architect were face to face.

"What?" Duo asked huskily, a hint of strawberry wafting on his breath.

Heero swallowed hard and tried to force his mind to produce just one coherent thought or his mouth to mutter a halfway sensible sentence but the only sound that rose from his throat was something akin to a low whimper.

"Tell me what you want." Duo demanded with a guttural growl that matched the primal desire dancing in his eyes.

Heero's lips parted to reply but all sounds were silenced by Duo's total mastery of the moment. It was as if time stood still and Heero was suspended inside an hourglass fillled with strawberry scented sand.

"I know what you want." Duo cupped his hand under Heero's chin and moved closer for a kiss.

 

Part Nine:

"I know what you want." Duo cupped his hand under Heero's chin and moved closer for a kiss.

Just before their lips touched, Heero stiffened and a shudder shook his entire body.

Duo stopped but kept his hand in place then leaned back enough to gaze into Heero's unsure eyes. "Do you want this?" The predatory tone had now been replaced with genuine concern.

Heero studied Duo's face searching for any sign of deception, any hint of illegitimacy or falsehood but found unconditional acceptance of his decision.

"I...." he began but uncertainty clouded his mind and plagued his heart.

What did Heero want? Ever since the night when Duo drank too much and they platonically shared a bed, confusion had slowly wormed its way into his feelings about the charismatic dancer.

Heero had no reservations about Duo's friendship or his sincerity. The hesitation stemmed from the question of orientation. "I've...never been... with a man." he stammered between catching breaths.

Duo's hand dropped away. He straightened up and widened the gap until he was no longer in Heero's personal space. "I'm sorry." His voice was barely above a whisper.

Now Duo was uncomfortable, just as confused. He lowered his eyes and his shoulders slumped in a repentant posture. "I misread the signals. No, I ignored the signals." he confessed. "I wouldn't blame you if you never wanted to...talk...to me again." His voice cracked and it was evident he was fighting the urge to cry.

Heero started to speak but Duo's raised hand cut off his words, "I've ruined our friendship." he continued then paused to suck in a trembling breath. "Please don't think this is your fault." he begged as he shifted his weight and pushed to stand up.

Heero reached out to halt his troubled friend's retreat. "Wait." His hand closed around Duo's forearm and held on tightly.

He wasn't certain about a sexual relationship but he was sure he didn't want Duo to leave. They had to talk, to explore their emotions, even if that exploration ended in a broken heart.

Heero felt Duo quiver with each shallow inhalation. Now it was his turn to cup Duo's chin and raise his head until their eyes met and he could clearly see his pain.

"Please don't leave. We need to talk not run away."

Duo nodded, his lips parted then closed again with a shaky sigh.

Keeping his hand in place for fear Duo might bolt for the door, Heero stated honestly, "Right now I don't know exactly how I feel but I do know I want you to stay. You're very important to me and..."

He swallowed hard to force down the emotional lump clogging his throat. "Oh hell, Duo." he whispered then pulled his friend into a crushing embrace.

Duo momentarily resisted the close contact but the unpredicted intimacy quickly eroded his resolve and he melted into the refuge of Heero's enfolding arms. He buried his face in Heero's chest, opened the floodgates of his heart and let his loneliness gush out in unbridled tears.

Heero rocked Duo in silent reassurance. As he also wept away his heart's isolation they clung to each other as if they were the only two people in the world.

Heero didn't know what the future would bring, he didn't even know what might happen in the next minute but at that exact moment in time all he wanted was to hold Duo, to comfort him and ease his heartache.

"It's okay, let it all out"

Gradually Duo's tears ran out and the wrenching sobs lessened to subdued sniffles and replenishing gulps of air. "I'm sorry." he apologized again, the words muffled by Heero's tear-moistened shirt.

Heero wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and hoped Duo wouldn't notice that they were puffy and ringed in red. With gentle persuasion he encouraged Duo to sit up. "Look at me." he ordered tenderly, brushing back stray wisps of hair from Duo's damp cheek.

"Wash your face while I put on a fresh pot of coffee then we'll have a quiet conversation."

For three hours Heero and Duo talked and listened and shared what was on their minds and hearts. Heero discovered that gender wasn't as important as purity of character and that caring for another person's welfare had nothing to do with being male or female but being human.

They both agreed there was no reason to rush, there was no strict time schedule. They'd take one day at a time, enjoy each other's company and if they were meant to move to the next level then they would travel together with love, not lust, guiding the journey.

The architect and the dancer made a pledge to be honest with their feelings and not assume what the other one might be thinking. Clear communications was the key to any healthy connection between friends or lovers or soul mates.

Sometime before midnight several doses of caffeine had worn off and were replaced by physical and mental exhaustion. Both men had to work and there would be a rude awakening in the morning if they didn't get to bed.

Wearily Duo stretched until his spine popped softly. "I hate to go but we need to sleep."

Heero glanced at his watch and realized the late hour. "You could stay."

"Are you sure?"

"Can I trust you to behave like a gentleman?"

"Of course unless enticing blue eyes and a smile that should be rated X leads me astray."

Heero tiled his head and studied the way the lamplight glowed on Duo's face and shimmered on his silky hair. "There is one thing I have to know before we retire."

Duo's eyebrows pulled together at the odd statement. "What?"

Heero stroked Duo's cheek, "What it would be like to do this." he whispered just before his lips brushed chastely across Duo's mouth.

Duo savored the coffee-flavored caress but didn't attempt to take advantage of the situation.

When their lips parted Heero whispered, "Thank you for understanding."

Duo smiled, "True friendship is the link between heart and harmony."

********

Since Heero had to leave for work first, Duo began fixing breakfast while he showered and grudgingly adorned himself in a charcoal gray suit, black shirt and a white, gray and wine striped tie.

Heero laid his suit jacket on the sofa and strolled into the kitchen. He hadn't fully tightened the tie. He'd have all day to be tortured by what he deemed to be a pointless accessory designed by a sadistic bastard who obviously derived perverted pleasure from other men's misery.

Duo glanced up from setting the table and expressed his appraisal of Heero's fashion sense with a long, low whistle. "You clean up nice."

"I'd rather be slopping around in stonewashed jeans and a fade sweatshirt but I don't think Barnes and McKinley would approve of being that casual."

Duo motioned to a chair, "Sit down. At least you can make your stomach happy."

There wasn't time for a fancy morning meal but orange juice, Corn Flakes with freshly sliced bananas and toasted English Muffins generously spread with honey would provide a good start for the day.

Duo sat opposite of the smartly attired architect and helped himself to a sweetened muffin. Heero sipped his juice then expertly scooped up a piece of banana with his spoonful of milk-moistened cereal.

"When do you finish rehearsing?" Heero asked between bites.

"We usually stop around 4 p.m. but with three weeks before opening night J.J., he's the choreographer, has been asking us to stay an extra hour."

"I don't get off until five." Heero replied, reaching for a muffin. "Do you want to meet downtown for dinner?"

Duo paused with his spoon in midair. "I'm low on money and won't get paid until Friday." he stated honestly.

"Would you object to me picking up a pizza, my treat."

"Only if we eat at my apartment and I buy the beer. We could watch television or rent a movie."

"Okay." Heero agreed, "When I get home I'll change and come over about 6:30."

Duo smiled at the idea of spending another evening with Heero. "A second date. How many dates until I get to give you a proper kiss?" he teased.

Heero reached across the table and took Duo's hand. "You could kiss me now."

"Are you sure?"

Raising from his chair Heero stepped around the table, braced his free hand on Duo's chair and bent over. "I'm sure."

This time there was no hesitation. Heero tiled his head, closed his eyes and freely offered his mouth for the taking. Duo threaded his fingers in Heero's hair and paused to breathe in that spicy scent he remembered from the first time they met.

Lips pressed together, warm....tender. Breaths mingled and hearts raced. Butterflies fluttered in Duo's brain and Heero became weak in the knees.

Duo drew Heero nearer and deepened the kiss. He wanted Heero. He longed to touch and taste and be claimed by the intriguing man with the beautiful blue eyes. But as his genital hunger responded to the heat, respect tempered his corporal desire.

Before need overwhelmed his senses Duo reluctantly broke the kiss. "Are you all right?" he asked breathlessly. He afraid he might have pushed too hard, too fast.

Heero expelled a breath he didn't realize he was holding."That was...amazing."

A grin tugged at Duo's mouth. "Don't tell me that was your first kiss? Hell, I'm not that good."

"No but it was the first kiss that made me tremble all over."

Duo graciously accepted the compliment but added for good measure. "If I have my way it won't be your last kiss."

"Do you always get your way?"

"Always."

 

Part Ten:

Duo made it home with thirty minutes to spare. Fortunately he had already showered and changed into stone washed jeans and a light weight cotton sweater at the rehearsal hall leaving him plenty of time to prepare for the pizza he had been craving all day.

*That's not all you've been craving.* Duo's inner voice declared as he put a six pack of bottled Bud Light--beer in a can tasted like piss water--and two litter bottles of Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke in the refrigerator to chill.

"So I have a healthy appetite," he countered his perceptive council's observations on both the pizza and Heero, "but I also know the price of over indulgence." Wisely he had decided on a self-imposed two-beer limit, as he didn't desire a repeat performance of his embarrassing wine intemperance.

Duo thought it would be fun to eat "Japanese Style" so he arranged four oversized pillows on the floor around the coffee table and set out plates, paper napkins and forks but no chopsticks. He had achieved a partial mastery of the wooden utensils but the Italian treat presented more of a challenge than he cared to accept.

********

Promptly at 6:30 Heero arrived with a Papa John's Pizza, garlic-butter bread sticks and a half-dozen cinnamon-swirled muffins. He had traded his gray suit and detested tie for his favorite black jeans and a black tee shirt with "FEAR THE DRAGON" printed across the front in bight red letters.

"Let me help you." Duo offered as Heero juggled the large pizza box, the smaller bread sticks box and the bag of muffins while trying to close the door.

Carrying the pizza, Duo preceded Heero into the kitchen. "The pizza smells great."

"I hope you're hungry."

"I'm always hungry." Duo grinned. He transferred the pizza to a plate that would take up less table space; the bread sticks were left in their cardboard container.

"You want beer or soda?"

"Maybe we should have soda." Heero answered, mindful of Duo's low tolerance level for alcohol.

"I've set a two-beer limit for myself."

"Okay then we'll have beer."

********

Heero and Duo sat side by side relishing the food and drink and the pleasure each other's company.

Duo lustfully bit into a thick slice of pizza. He clamped his teeth over a piece of pepperoni, a sliver of roasted green pepper, a lump of limp onions and a sizeable chunk of sausage then frowned as a sting of melted mozzarella cheese stretched to the breaking point before it let go.

"Mmmmm." he mumbled, trying to chew the mouthful of tasty toppings, "Messy but delicious."

Heero turned up his beer and took a gulp then winced when several drops of cold condensation slid down the bottle, splashed on his tee shirt and immediately soaked in.

"Hot pizza, cold beer," he raised his bottle for a toast, "and no damned suit and tie."

Duo touched his bottle to Heero's with a soft clink, "Fair weather and friendship."

********

"This is nice." Heero commented, easing back against the sofa's front. His hunger was satisfied and there was just enough "beer buzz" to ease him into a state of contentment.

"You want a muffin?" Duo wondered.

"I'm full. I think we'd enjoy them more if we wait awhile.

"Want to watch television?"

Heero shrugged, "If there's anything on worth watching."

"I have an idea." Duo announced, "Are you familiar with Anime?"

"I know what it is but I've never watched any."

"I don't have many shows but I do have a movie you might like to see."

Not bothering to stand up, Duo scooted on his trim backside to the television and searched through a stack of DVDs. "Here is it." he beamed holding up a brightly colored case.

Duo switched on the TV, inserted the disk then remote control and empty case in hand, scooted back to join Heero, who hopefully would soon be converted into an Anime fan.

"Akira." Heero read the title out loud.

Duo settled one pillow at his back and rearranged his rear end on another beneath him. "Its about a guy named Tetsuo who has this freakin' hot motorcycle but the story is dark and violent so maybe we should watch something else."

Heero turned the case over in his hand and studied the picture of a futuristic motorcycle and a lone man walking towards the red machine. "A landmark achievement in animation." he read part of the description, "Classic film, digitally re-mastered. Sounds interesting."

"Then you're okay?"

"Yeah, if I get scared I can always hold your hand."

********

Less than an hour into the movie the floor began to get uncomfortable so Duo and Heero sat on the sofa. A half an hour more and the Akira viewers had taken off their shoes, stretched out with Duo's back against Heero's chest and Heero's arm was draped over Duo's waist as they shared the same pillow.

The sun surrendered to the night and the only disturbance in the resulting darkness was the flickering light from the TV. Heero divided his attention between watching the movie and putting to memory the way the screen's brightness played across Duo's handsome face in ever changing patterns of light and shadows.

Wispy stands of reddish-brown hair caressed Duo's cheeks and his bangs engaged Heero in a game of hide and seek with his intriguing blue-purple eyes.

About twenty minutes from the movie's end, Duo sighed, wiggled and closed up the last few inches of separation until his lean but muscular frame molded into the curve of Heero's body causing the crotch of the architect's jeans to tighten considerably.

Finally the concluding credits signaled that the warmth and closeness had almost come to an end. Now it was Heero's turn to issue a regretful sigh. The movie ended, Heero pressed the stop button on the remote control, the screen went blank then bathed the room in a pale blue aura but Duo didn't move.

Heero braced his elbow on the sofa cushion and raised up enough to peer over Duo's shoulder. He half-expected to find Duo asleep since he hadn't shifted positions in the last ten or fifteen minutes. Instead he found the dancer gazing at the blue screen with a faraway look in his glistening eyes.

"Are you all right?" Heero whispered. Although lowered in pitch, his voice seemed to shout in the room's disquiet stillness.

Duo sighed again then reached up to tug his braid free from its entrapment between his and Heero's bodies. "Yeah just thinking."

Heero slide his hand along Duo's arm until his fingers touched his hand. Without hesitation the dancer who had captured Heero's heart interlaced his fingers and squeezed gently.

"It's sad." Duo declared in a subdued tone.

"What's sad?"

"So many people are lonely."

Heero ran his thumb in tiny circles over Duo's smooth skin."Are you lonely?"

"Sometimes."

"Me, too, but we don't have to be."

Duo rolled onto his back then locked his misty eyes on Heero's blue-tinted face. "I don't want you to do anything you don't want to." There was a hitch in his voice that caused Heero to suck in a troubled breath.

"We have a solid friendship," Heero stated with certainty, "but I wouldn't object to a more intimate relationship. I think we're already moving in that direction."

"But we...you," Duo paused as he searched for the right words, "you aren't gay."

Heero slipped his hand free and ran a single finger down Duo's high-ridged cheekbone then traced around his inviting lips. "I don't know if I'm gay or not but I do know I don't want anything to change."

To emphasize the declaration, Heero drew Duo's closer and used a kiss to underscore the truth. Duo returned the kiss with all the passion he could muster. His arms encircled Heero's neck, legs intertwined and groins ground together in a dance as old as time.

Heero willingly yielded to the heady sensations. He shut his eyes and gave himself permission to defy his head and follow his heart. Friction between the tangled bodies pushed up the tee shirt and the sweater. With the cloth barrier eliminated, stomachs and chests were bared for further exploration.

Hands roamed, fingers generated hot currents. Shared breaths were husky with need and low moans accentuated their rising arousal. Duo's right leg became pinned between Heero's thighs and the enamored architect used the leverage to stroke his sizeable erection. Duo rocked his hips insistently begging for immediate relief.

Duo snaked his hand through the minute space separating him and Heero and managed to find his button and zipper that were straining against his growing bulge. The button popped opened with little effort and the zipper eagerly copied the unveiling.

Without any verbal guidance on Duo's part Heero's hand found its way to Duo's very prominent protrusion. The slightest touch of his fingers caused Duo to buck and groan in Heero's ear. "Ohhh...yessss." That was all the encouragement Heero's needed to launch into a bout of full-fledged fondling.

Not wanting to receive pleasure without returning the favor, Duo worked at his impatient partner's jeans until their equally taut closures revealed all of Heero's secrets. Thankful that Heero still preferred bikini briefs, Duo wasted no time lowering the skimpy undergarment's waistband and seizing a handful of incredibly engorged manhood. He was rewarded with a flinch and a "Damn Duo!"

Heero quickly followed the leader hooking his thumb in Duo's waistband, tugging down the hindering fabric and finding his own hidden treasure.

Two bodies moved with one rhythm. The cadence was called by mutual need; the tempo set by their intrinsic responses to each other's enticing stimulus. Fingers teased...stroked up the lengths and back down again in enflamed caresses until both men writhed in the throes of pure sexual gratification.

Guttural gasps combined into a sensual song that was pounded out by hammering hearts and accented with mumbled curses and crude proposals that would make a sailor blush.

Ecstasy stoked the embers; torrid currents ran up legs and tingled in sultry waves.

Duo was the first to find release. With a forceful inhalation every muscle tensed then his hot seed spewed like molten lava from an erupting volcano. His mouth gapped open to shout or swear or gulp in enough air to keep from passing out but only a sated whimper vibrated against Heero's sweat-soaked shoulder.

Involuntarily Duo's hand clasped tighter on Heero's manhood and in less than a heartbeat a total-body shudder told the dancer that his partner had also reached an orgasmic climax. Much like Duo's failed attempt to voice his euphoria, the only sound that Heero could manage was a primitive grunt and a hiss of air through clenched teeth.

For many minutes Heero and Duo laid exhausted in a tangled mass of twisted clothing and arms and legs that were too weak to move. Their damp hair stuck to their equally moist faces as they tried to slow their breathing enough to keep dizzying hyperventilation at bay.

They were overheated. Their softening lengths, as well as their hands, were sticky but they didn't care. Right then nothing mattered but sharing the afterglow.

"I can't believe we just did that." Duo proclaimed as the held up his fluid-coated hand for inspection.

Heero nodded affirmatively then frowned as stringy strands of brown hair tickled over his forehead to limply hang over one eye. "I think you have all the proof you need." he stated cutting his eyes at Duo's hand.

Becoming aware of how close he was to falling off the sofa, Duo shifted his weight In spite of his messy fingers he placed his thumb under Heero's chin and locked his eyes with Heero's beautiful blue sight. "Do you regret what just happened?" he asked seriously.

The smile on Heero's lips was clear evidence that he had no regrets. "I was the one who started this." he reminded Duo, "I wouldn't have kissed you if I had any doubts."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm very sure." Heero reaffirmed his decision. "However I would like to make one suggestion."

Duo raised his eyebrows, "What?"

"That we end this perfect evening sharing a shower, snuggling in bed and getting a good night's sleep."

Duo grinned slyly. "Can we have muffins in the morning?"

"Yes we can have muffins in the morning."

End Part Ten

TBC