Warning: A little sap near the end... And BTW, this fic is shounen-ai. 1+2, to be more precise. Don't like, don't read.
Notes: As usual, I disregard the fact that "Endless Waltz" ever existed. ^.^; Author's privilege and all that.. kekeke. This fic is post-war, though. I wanted to do a calm kind of fic about Duo & Heero's relationship. And I couldn't resist dumping some of my habits onto Duo. For instance, the sugar scene is all me. lol I have such a sweet tooth ^.^;;; Oh, and you'll notice the ppl don't really speak much Japanese here, cuz they're on L2, which is mostly Americans (well.. not officially, but to me it is o_o;;)
Disclaimer: Fic is mine. You steal, I kill. The G-boys are not mine. More's the pity.
It had become a ritual by now.
Duo had learned quickly the art of sleeping in on weekends. He relished the feel of his body slowly coming awake on its own, with no blaring alarm or jolt of adrenaline propelling him from sleep to battle. Sometimes he slept in as late as ten; any later than that and Heero tended to roll him off the bed.
They didn't even need an alarm clock. Heero's internal alarm was sharp as ever, and he was awake every morning just before six. Duo's instincts hadn't slacked off much, either; the sudden loss of weight on their shared bed as his lover got up and headed for the shower was enough to stir Duo from a deep sleep.
It had been hard, at first, to tone down his first instinct of defense. The bed would shift, Duo would snap into awareness, and scrabble for the gun underneath the mattress. That first time, Heero had simply stopped and stared at him for the doorway, unsurprised to find a gun pointed unerringly at his chest. Duo had lowered it hastily once he realized his mistake, but he didn't apologize, and Heero hadn't asked for an explanation. He'd simply continued on his way to the bathroom. He understood Duo's reflex, as his were exactly the same. Bursting into the apartment an hour earlier than he was expected several months ago, Duo had gotten similar treatment when his lover had turned smoothly from the closet, gun already out and aimed to kill.
Gundam pilots were not used to being so relaxed, even in the company of each other.
But they were not Gundam pilots any longer.
It would be a year and a half next Tuesday that they had turned their backs on that life, in an attempt to start anew. The Gundams had been turned over to Quatre Winner and his Maganacs to dispose of, at the end of the war. Whether he had destroyed them or holed them away safely, no one had bothered to ask. They would rather not know, or dwell on it. That life of terrorism and death was behind them now.
Quatre had taken over his father's role as president of the Winner Cooperation. Trowa had returned to the circus and continued his performances with Catherine and the troupe for all of four months before he'd unexplainably packed his bags and moved in with Quatre. Duo suspected either Catherine had knocked some sense into him, or he'd come to a realization all on his own. Whatever the case, he and Quatre seemed content enough together, and Duo was honestly happy for them.
Chang Wufei continued to be the elusive yet fierce dragon they'd come to know and respect. Last Duo had heard, the swordsman had been on L5, revisiting the few survivors of his clan. Whether he was still there or off wandering the galaxy was a mystery. Recently, Relena had been asking for his whereabouts. In the light of the recent sporadic assassination attempts, she was willing to offer him a position as her personal bodyguard. Such an honorable job would surely seem reasonable to the justice-driven warrior, and maybe help him find his feet. Relena had turned out to be surprisingly sensitive and shrewd on this matter, and Duo silently applauded her efforts. At least he no longer had to worry about her stalking his own lover; she seemed quite happy with her current one- a certain Hilde Schbeiker. Apparently they'd really hit it off when Duo had introduced the two.
As for the remaining two pilots...
They were squirreled away on L2 in a small but comfortable apartment not two blocks from the monument erected so long ago to the fallen Maxwell Church.
They had all gone their separate ways after the war, and Duo himself had gone straight back to his home colony. He hadn't the stomach to linger and watch a romance blossom between the Perfect Soldier and the former Queen of the World. Not when he himself was still internally wrestling with confused feelings about Wing's hard-faced pilot. Still, he supposed Relena and Heero deserved each other, in a way. She saw him as her prince in shining armor, and his protection of her ideals had warped into a protection of the girl herself. Maybe he did love her, after all.
So no one had been more surprised than Duo when Heero Yuy had shown up at his salvage shop a month later, clad in jeans and customary tank top, staring at him with those shielded Prussian eyes of his.
The first thought to flit through Duo's head was, irrationally, "It's too fucking cold for tank tops."
There had been an awkward moment of silence, then Heero had intoned, "Let's get coffee."
Those three simple words might as well have been "Will you marry me?", because ever since, the two had been together. They had lived, slept, ate, and worked together since that day. What had started out as a tentative friendship had grown into something more, and then finally spiraled into a full-fledged relationship.
And Heero had yet to say the other three words that would make it all complete.
Not that Duo was complaining-- out loud. He could wait. He had all the time in the world, now. He wasn't about to ruin things by pressuring his solemn lover too fast. Besides, some things didn't need to be said to be felt.
Duo's shop was his own, and as such, he controlled the working hours. His workers were to show up no later than eight, and he himself arrived around seven thirty.
Heero, who had surprised the hell out of him by asking for a job, went in with him. Duo had often told the other boy to find a better paying job; one that could flaunt his talents with weapons or more sophisticated mechanics.
But Heero wouldn't hear it. He was more than ready to bury his old life of death and fighting and destruction. Besides, he pointed out, he could use some of his skills with mechanics in the shop.
He'd quickly discovered that Duo surpassed him by far in that field, so instead he took care of the more computerized equipment. Duo still thought his lover could find better work elsewhere, but he had to admit Heero's contributions were a big help. And he liked working with the other boy again, even in such a mundane job as salvage and repair.
But back to that ritual.
Every morning before work, they would walk four blocks to the Cool Bean- the coffee shop the two of them had gone to that fateful day when Heero had set foot on L2. Duo referred to it affectionately as "The Bean". The coffee was good, the atmosphere was cozy, and it was just down the street from work.
This Thursday morning was no different. Duo dragged himself out of bed a few minutes after his lover had left for the shower, and staggered into the bathroom to brush away his morning breath. He lingered over the sink, watching the silhouette of the man behind the shower curtain. He was half tempted to join his partner, but decided a second later that he didn't need the aggravation of wet tangles in his hair. Besides, he liked to shower at night.
Duo was shrugging into his bomber jacket in the kitchen, a piece of toast hanging from his mouth when Heero emerged from the bedroom ten minutes later, dressed and ready to go. Duo swiped his keys and followed his lover out of the apartment, swallowing the last of his toast as he locked the door.
They took the stairs down to the main lobby, Heero acting as a silent listener to Duo's early morning chatter. The braided mechanic waved to the friendly door guard, and then they set off down the street in the still-chilly weather. "I don't see why climate control can't make it a little warmer," Duo grumbled, zipping his coat halfway and flicking his braid over his shoulder in an impatient gesture. "It's only a week 'til spring. Jesus." He reached out and captured Heero's hand with his own, slipping his own fingers through Heero's calloused ones. He remembered how it had taken him months to work up the courage to hold the other man's hand for the first time, and how surprised Heero had looked. Now, the ex-soldier merely gave him a light squeeze in return, still looking straight ahead. Content, Duo continued to talk about the weather, the rude neighbors, and anything else that popped in his head.
They reached the coffee shop at six thirty, and the little bell above the door jingled merrily as they entered, grateful for the warmth in the small shop.
"Welcome~" the young woman from behind the counter called with tired cheerfulness. Duo flashed her his most dazzling grin as he released Heero and made a bee-line for the counter.
"Hey, Alice," he greeted with the easy familiarity Heero had never managed to master. "The usual, please."
Duo's grin was infectious, and the girl smiled helplessly back as she handed over "the usual": two mugs of black coffee, a bagel with cream cheese, and a large cheese Danish. Heero took the mugs over to the side counter of condiments while Duo paid. He set Duo's mug down on the small counter, then stood back to sip his own coffee- he liked it black -and prepared to watch his lover's predictable destruction of a perfectly good cup of coffee.
Duo set the food at a table by the window and came over to "fix" his coffee. Heero watched with vague amusement as his lover began emptying packet after packet of sugar into his mug. It was like this every morning. He meticulously ripped open anywhere from fifteen to twenty little paper bags of sugar and dumped them into his coffee. "I hate these stupid little packets," Duo grumbled for the umpteenth time. "They should just put out a huge communal bowl of sugar and a ladle. Er, spoon." Finally finished with the sugar, he then proceeded to pour three tubes of powdered creamer into the mix, still muttering. "And I hate this powdered crap. Don't these people believe in real cream?"
Heero snorted into his mug. Despite the bitching, Duo still enjoyed the coffee, or he would've sought out a new morning hangout. Heero was of the firm opinion that Duo just liked the sound of his own voice sometimes.
They returned to their table, where Duo attacked his Danish like he'd just ended a ten year famine. Heero ate more sedately, sipping at his hot coffee and spreading the cream cheese over his bagel as Duo talked around a mouthful of pastry and coffee.
"Did I tell you Jack is asking for a raise?"
Heero finished his bite of bagel before answering. "Aa. Something about bills."
Duo nodded, swallowing his oversized bite with a little difficulty. He took a gulp of coffee to clear his throat, and swore when he burned his tongue. "Yeah, says he can't pay for his electricity bill or something." He glanced up through ragged bangs to judge Heero's reaction. "What do you think?"
Heero blew on his coffee to cool it a little, giving a nearly invisible shrug. "It's up to you," he pointed out. "You're his boss."
Duo had learned to read his lover's body language and tones well by now. "But..?"
"Paris lives next door to him. She says he spends his paychecks on gambling." Heero reached for a napkin. "I wouldn't bother. Let him learn the hard way."
Duo grinned, ignoring the napkins and swiping a bit of cheese from the corner of his mouth with his thumb. "That's what I was thinking. Live and learn, eh? Besides, I don't like him. He's got an attitude problem."
Heero looked up at him with dry amusement. "Then why did you hire him?"
Duo shrugged expressively, popping the last of his Danish into his mouth. "He qualified."
Heero was well aware of Duo's requirements for employment at "Maxwell's Salvage Shop". Duo never forgot his roots; every single man, woman, and child working under him was from the streets. Orphans, runaways, and the homeless were the only ones he hired. Secretly Heero thought the other boy paid some of them more than they were worth, but Duo hadn't the heart to turn them away. Quatre had been kind enough to fund his pet project, and what would otherwise have been a disaster had flourished into a profitable business. Who would have thought that an out-of-the-way salvage dump run by a teenager and a crowd of street rats would have become such a success? Quatre's money had helped get it on its feet, and the skill of its workers helped it to go far. The only thing Duo refused to repair were weapons and mobile suits intended for fighting. He would in no way contribute to anything that could lead to war or murder, despite the fact that it would have doubled his income. That was another reason Heero had decided to work at the shop.
Finished with their food, they sat leisurely sipping at their coffee and talking quietly. Much of the conversation was one-sided, but only because Heero wasn't used to filling in silences. And Duo wasn't the only one who liked the sound of his voice. Heero liked listening to the other boy talk, as long as he wasn't in a bad mood. The fouler his mood, the less he wanted to listen to his lover's animated talk. Luckily, Duo had learned that simple fact early on in their relationship.
Today, however, there was a nervous edge to the braided mechanic. He fidgeted a lot more than usual, toying with his mug, Heero's crumpled napkin, his braid... and his eyes kept shying away from Heero's gaze. Heero frowned slightly, hiding the expression with his mug. Something was bothering his lover. He knew better than to pressure the other boy, though. They were alike in that regard; neither would say something until they were good and ready.
"Heero," Duo said abruptly, interrupting his own gossip. Heero set his mug down to look him full in the face. Here it comes, he thought with slight resignation, and steeled himself for the worst. Duo was looking at him with earnest amethyst eyes, brows furrowed in uncertainty. "Are you happy? With- ah, with me, I mean."
Heero blinked. Well, that certainly hadn't been what he'd been expecting. He'd been prepared for a confession of the accidental destruction of their china, bad news from their fellow pilots (ex pilots, he corrected himself), or another try at getting Heero to get a better job. At the worst, a financial problem. "What?" he asked blankly.
Duo was fidgeting again, avoiding his eyes as he tapped his fingers on the sides of his mug in agitation. "I thought selective hearing was my department," he pointed out a little snappishly. "Just answer, will you? And be honest."
Heero continued to stare at his lover, perplexed, coffee forgotten. What sort of question was that? Heero was content with his new lifestyle- more than he'd ever hoped to be, actually. Things were working out well enough to make him nervous. He kept waiting for something to go wrong. Instead, things just kept getting better, as corny and impossible as it sounded. He and Duo hadn't killed each other yet; he enjoyed working with the other boy. Living together hadn't been too hard to adjust to, and had turned out to be something familiar and pleasant. If Heero was completely honest with himself, he was the most content and.. happy.. he'd ever been in his life. There was no war, no fighting, no "Perfect Soldier" routine. He was living a normal life, and... he was happy with Duo, for lack of a better word.
Not that he ever voiced any of these feelings aloud. He hadn't even dwelled too much on it himself. Was that why Duo was asking? Was he feeling suddenly insecure? Duo, who with his charm, strength, and smarts could have anything or anyone he wanted?
Or was he unhappy with the way things were going? Heero's mouth tugged downwards in a frown, his eyes narrowing slightly as he tried to analyze the boy across from him who was staring in feigned fascination at something outside the window. Duo's face was an open book as far as emotions were concerned-- the meaning behind those emotions, however, had always been a mystery to those around him. Even his lover. Sometimes the baka was as much an enigma as the solemn pilot of Heavyarms.
Heero wasn't sure what answer Duo was looking for, or even what the braided boy was getting at, so he fell back on being blunt. "Yes."
Duo looked at him with a little surprise. Either he hadn't expected Heero to answer so truthfully, or that hadn't been the answer he'd been anticipating. Heero was just about fed up with the whole thing and was about to demand an explanation, when Duo suddenly grinned at him. "Me, too," he said quietly.
Heero stared at him, lost for words.
What the hell was this all about?
Duo rose suddenly, stretching. "We'd better get a move on," he pointed out in his normal, cheerful tone. He glanced at his watch. "It's already five 'til."
Heero decided to let the matter drop. Duo could be damn stubborn. If he was through with something, he was through, period. Nothing short of pissing the other boy off would make him talk about it. Heero took the last sip of his now-cold coffee and rose to his feet. Duo slipped on his bomber jacket, called a farewell to the cashier, and led the way outside into the crisp morning air.
They walked in silence this time, Duo still lost in thought. Hands stuffed in his pockets, head lowered, he kicked a rock along in front of him as he brooded, face serious and still a little anxious. Heero walked beside him, his own hands in the pockets of his jeans, content to let the boy work out his problem.
A pair of street rats darted by, yelling at each other, and Duo glanced after them unconsciously, already memorizing their faces and assessing the possible use and strength in those scrawny arms. He was constantly on the lookout for new workers, despite the fact that he had more than enough already. Despite his bad boy attitude and the darkness he had witnessed in his young life, Duo could not stand to see others suffering the same as he had. Underneath the sarcasm and the crass behavior, Shinigami was softhearted. Heero had once seen this as a weakness. Now he recognized and respected it. He doubted he would ever be able to open his heart to so many people as Duo and Quatre did so easily and readily.
Their shop was on the edge of a bad part of town, and a few shifty-looking men called out lewdly from the shadows of an alley. Unconcerned, Duo didn't even bother to look at them. He gave them the finger as he passed without so much as a quirk of the eyebrow, ignoring the sneers and insults.
Duo reached into his back pocket and tugged free a pack of cigarettes. Heero glanced at him, but remained silent.
It was one of Duo's new habits that Heero disapproved of. He was not, however, one to tell someone what they could or could not do with their own body. All he asked was that Duo keep it outside; if it was raining, he had to smoke in the kitchen with the window cracked. Duo complained sometimes, but not much. Besides, he usually only smoked when he was angry or deep in thought, like now. It was just another of many compromises in their relationship. Like getting Heero to remember to quit shutting down the computer when he was done with it. It was a habit left over from the war, but with two people using the same PC, he had to teach himself to leave it up and running so Duo could get on to check his e-mail or play his games.
Duo lit his cigarette with his orange "Mike's Grill and Bar" lighter, inhaling a lungful of smoke before blowing it out in a slow wispy cloud. Heero watched the smoke drift upwards, twisting and expanding before fading slowly in the breeze.
They were almost to the shop, and Duo was halfway through his cigarette when the braided boy abruptly turned and stood in Heero's path, flicking the butt into the street.
He pulled his other hand free from his pocket and cupped Heero's face in his chilled hands, leaning in to plant a deep kiss on the other young man's mouth. Heero was used to his partner's spontaneous displays of affection by now, and opened his mouth readily, returning the kiss.
They stood like that for several long moments, lazily re-exploring each other's mouths until the need for air forced them to pull apart. Their eyes met and held, and Duo's expression was soft. His fingers lingered on Heero's cheeks as he studied his lover's face in silence.
"I love you," he murmured.
Heero stared at him in silence.
It was a sentence Duo had said only once before-- seven months ago as they lay sated in bed, limbs tangled together despite the stickiness and sweat. Heero hadn't been sure how to respond then, too floored by the mumbled words to even think coherently. It hadn't mattered, because Duo had fallen asleep an instant later. He hadn't repeated it since.
But this was different. This wasn't a lethargic phrase whispered after sex, uttered on the edge of slumber. This was an open admittance, face to face, out of nowhere.
And Duo Maxwell never lied.
How was he supposed to respond to that? Heero opened his mouth, but could not make himself say the words. They caught in his throat and threatened to choke him. Love was a luxury he had not had the privilege to experience as a gundam pilot. Shields tougher than gundanium had been built around his heart as a result of a lifetime of rigorous training, effectively burying any such emotions.
Was that what he had now? "Love"?
Was "love" enjoying the other boy's company, anticipating seeing his face in the morning, or searching that familiar braid out with his eyes when they were in a crowd? Was "love" letting down some of his shields and allowing another person to touch him, to tease him- to bring out his own responses and gentleness? Making him smile, taunting him into mock fights, sharing their pasts with each other, and holding each other at night? He was in no way qualified to put a label on love. What he and Duo had... he enjoyed it, he was content with it- with the other boy.
This warm yet confusing emotion that Duo brought out in him- that had made him come to L2 in search of the other pilot -was that "love"?
He opened his mouth again, but Duo reached up and placed his fingers lightly against his lips, his own mouth quirking in a small smile. He didn't seem upset or surprised by Heero's hesitance. He gave a small shake of the head.
"You don't have to answer, yet," he said. "I just.. had to say it, that's all."
Heero stared at him and after a moment nodded mutely. Duo lowered his hand and turned away, starting out again down the sidewalk. "Anyway, about Jack..." his voice was light and carefree once more, as if nothing had happened. "I think I'll just tell him to shove it and consider finding another hobby besides gambling. When he gets a clue, I might give him a raise- if he still can't take care of his bills, anyway."
Heero lengthened his stride to catch up. On impulse, he reached out and clasped Duo's calloused hand in his own. Duo glanced at him quickly out of the corner of his eye, a flash of surprise flickering across his face before he grinned broadly. "You can stay and watch if you want. It should be funny. Jack doesn't like the fact that a 'kid' is paying his wages."
Heero shrugged with one shoulder. "He'll get over it."
Duo chuckled, his fingers tightening slightly around Heero's. "He'd better. I hate being called a kid."
Heero gave the hint of a smirk and didn't reply.
The two of them walked down the street, Duo's happy chatter taking away a little of the morning's chill. Inwardly, Heero had come upon the answer to his question.
But he would save it for another time.
It was only seven A.M., and they had all the time in the world.
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