2001 (cont)

+

The next few months passed uneventfully. The gangs out for Duo's homosexual blood cooled it when they heard that Heero Yuy would defend his friend if he was ever attacked. No one had forgotten James Trident. They kept an eye out for times when the two were far apart, but never really found them. The two were almost always together.

Quietly, so Duo wouldn't know about it, Heero spoke to the tap teacher, and set the wheels in motion. He also spoke to the board for scholarships attached to the school, the ones who either approved or sent packing potential candidates. He caught each member privately and spoke to them. Neither one of any of these people would ever say what had passed during the discussion, but Heero had his results by the time Duo's birthday rolled around the corner.

In a strange twist of fate, Duo's birthday was the same day as the opening night of their tap show. Heero told Duo he needed to see him after to show to give him his birthday present.

"Oh! Oh! What is it, what is it!" Duo said on hearing this, bouncing up and down while trying to tie his shoelaces at the same time. The teacher/director had allowed him to modify his costume somewhat, so he was dressed in jeans (like the rest of the cast) and a shirt. He somehow managed to look both feminine and masculine at the same time.

"After the show, baka," Heero gently admonished, walloping him on the head.

Duo pouted. "Please?"

"No," Heero said firmly.

Duo pouted some more, giving him the mournful puppy-dog eyes attack.

Heero responded his look that Duo had nicknamed 'Eat Shit And Die'.

Heero won. Duo dropped the look and sighed, rolling his eyes. He finished tying his shoelaces and stood, brushing down the red shirt. It occurred to Heero that he'd only ever seen Duo wear one other set of clothes apart from the black jeans and PE kit. He shook his head, wishing he could do more for the baka yet knowing Duo wouldn't accept charity.

The show was brilliant. The audience loved it, giving them a standing ovation at the end. The clapping and cheering went on long after the cast had given their last curtain call.

"Okay, so now gimme my present!" was the first thing Duo said when they left the stage. He planted himself in front of Heero and stood there, hands on hips.

Heero surprised everyone present by throwing his head back and laughing. "In a minute, baka," he said. "Let me get changed first."

"No! Now!"

"Baka," Heero said, pushing past him. He grinned when he heard Duo's frustrated, "Heero. . . ."

As soon as Heero came out of the changing cubicle, Duo pounced on him. "Now?"

"All right, all right!" he growled. "It's at your house."

"Yippee!" Duo bounced off down the corridor, then ran back to the walking Heero, then ran on. He see-sawed back and forth like that even when Heero growled at him to calm down.

Heero had recently passed his driving test, so he drove them to Duo's and Solo's house. By the end of the ride Duo was wondering out loud how the driving instructor could ever have let Heero pass. He clung onto the door in panic most of the ride.

"Hn. Baka," Heero said, climbing out. Duo's driving was far worse than his.

They were met at the door by a bemused Solo. "Heero," he said, "where did you find that much chocolate. . . ?"

"Chocolate?" Duo's eyes lit up and he ran into the house.

Heero gave Solo a nasty look. "Thanks for ruining the surprise," he said.

"Oh! Oops," was all Solo said. "I have a surprise of my own," he added as he let Heero into the house. "How did the performance go?"

"You weren't there?"

"I couldn't afford the ticket -- and anyway, my boss made me work late again." Solo's boss was a tyrant who seemed to be bent on working him into an early grave for too little pay.

"Tickets are free for family, didn't Duo tell you?"

Solo looked guilty. "Well, yes, he did," he admitted, "but he knows I have to work." He sighed. "I would have given anything to have seen him."

"Wahoo!"

Both young men grinned when they heard Duo's excited yell. "He's found the chocolate," they said in unison.

On entering the kitchen they found Duo sitting in the pile of chocolate on the floor that had apparently fallen out of the wardrobe-sized cupboard when it was opened. He was stuffing his face and grinning like a little child. When he saw Heero he bounced up and charged, hugging for all he was worth and squealing, "Thank you thank you thank you thank you!" at the top of his lungs.

"Ack! Duo! You're getting chocolate on me!"

Duo let go, still grinning like a kid, and dove back into the chocolate pile, giggling. "Yummy!"

Solo shook his head. "You, Heero, are a sentimental sap."

"I know," Heero admitted. "Don't tell anyone, though."

Solo grinned, then raised his voice. "Duo, I have some important news."

"Nani?"

Solo rolled his eyes. "You've been hanging around Heero too much," he said. "Anyway, the news is that I got promoted."

Duo jumped up. "Really?" he demanded.

Solo nodded, a grin spreading across his features even as his eyes betrayed that he had trouble believing it himself. "Yeah," he said. "You're looking at the manager and chief mechanic of Howard's Garages."

Duo's grin looked like it was going to split his face in two. He pounced on his brother, hugging him tight and pounding him on the back. "Well done!"

"Hn."

Both braided boys turned to Heero. Solo narrowed his pale blue eyes. "You're not surprised," he said suspiciously.

"Hn."

"Heero, what did you do?" That was Duo.

"Hn."

"Man, I thought we talked about this. 'Hn' is not a reply, either in English or Japanese. Now what did you do?"

"You're not leaving til you tell us."

Heero rolled his eyes. "I wrote a letter to Howard, you know, the guy who started the whole thing? I commended the service I got from you."

"That can't be all you did," Solo said, eyeing him cautiously.

"I also casually happened to mention that your boss treated you badly."

"What else?" Even Duo was suspicious.

Heero blew out his breath in exasperation. "Oh, all right already! I wrote to Howard and told him that you bent yourself over backwards to help me, your boss treats you and the customers like shit and that I would be telling my father the Senator how good your service was!"

"You what?!?" Solo's eyes were bugging out of his skull. "Heero, I'm grateful and all, but don't you think lying about your parents is going a little far."

Heero mumbled something incomprehensible.

"What was that?"

"I said I didn't lie!" he yelled. "My father is Senator Convy and my mother is the Japanese Ambassador. That's why I never get to see them!"

Both Duo's and Solo's eyes were bugging out of their sockets now. Major facevault.

"You're kidding me, right, Heero?" Duo's voice held a large amount of worry in it.

"No. Sorry."

The next few hours involved Duo and Solo drilling Heero relentlessly about the details of his past and why he had not told them previously he was the son of a Senator and an Ambassador.

"I'm not really part of their official life," Heero said. "That means I don't get to be with them much. They thought it would be better if I didn't have to deal with politics and the media."

That much Duo and Solo could understand. They finally let him go.

"See ya tomorrow, okay?" Duo said at the door. There was a strangely vulnerable note to his voice.

"See you tomorrow," Heero confirmed, then walked off.

Duo watched him leave, his eyes on the strong back. He sighed and pressed his cheek to the doorframe. Heero had done so much for him, for no real reason. He had stuck with him throughout his time in the town, had defended him against gangs out for his blood, had been his friend when no one else would be and didn't care that he was gay. Heero got Solo a promotion so they could afford to have a better lifestyle, and he got Duo enough chocolate to last an entire month! Okay, so with anyone else it would last more than a year, but this is Duo we're talking about.

Duo wondered if Heero would still not care if he was gay if he knew that Duo had fallen hopelessly in love with him. Hopelessly because he felt certain Heero would never want him. He smiled wistfully into the empty darkness outside his house. So much for his plan to get rid of his crush.

+

Heero opened the door to his house to see the majority of the cast there. He had volunteered his mansion for the use of the tap class as a celebration for a job well done. The shows had gone on for a week, with a matinee the next day. Their teacher had called them all together to read the reviews that had appeared in the town's papers.

They were all seated in various places around the living room, on sofas, on chairs, on cushions, on the floor, on the bean bag. Anywhere comfortable. People were drinking casually, chatting away, and nibbling on the snacks they had found when they raided the kitchen.

The teacher stood up and clapped her hand, calling the class to attention. "People, people, calm down," she said, then held up a handful of newspaper clippings. "I have the reviews of our show here." There was an excited silence. Duo was bouncing up and down in his seat next to Heero, on the cushions on the floor.

The teacher cleared her throat, and began reading the first review. " 'The local tap group's adaptation of 'Romeo & Juliet' is not a conventional Shakespearean romance by any means, or even a conventional tap show. There are no words involved, but this does not detract from the overall impact. The tap rhythms and the music they are to are used to denote mood incredibly successfully.' I'll skip the next bit, since it's describing what we worked on for ages. Ah, here we go -- 'The advisability of using a male dancer to play the role of Juliet is somewhat questionable, but only to those who have not seen the performance. The dancer, Duo Maxwell, plays the role beautifully, combining natural grace and talent with complicated dance moves. The same glowing praise can be applied to Heero Yuy, the dancer playing the role of Romeo as there is an on-stage chemistry between the two in more than their considerable dancing ability that far exceeds even the greatest of expectations. For a production by an amateur tap group, this ranks highly when placed against the professionals. Group dances are stunning in their fluidity and near complete perfection. The dancers should all be commended.' "

There were loud whoops heard throughout the room. People were jumping up and hugging each other, yelling their joy at such a glowing review at the top of their lungs. Heero smiled as he and Duo were engulfed by a crowd of gleeful tap dancers.

"QUIET DOWN!" the teacher had to bellow to get them all to be still. "All the reviews follow the same pattern. You did brilliantly." More cheers, but this ones stopped when she raised a hand. "First of all, I would like to thank Heero for letting us use his house for this."

Duo grinned at Heero as the teacher continued. "I'm very proud of all of you. You worked very hard and turned out brilliantly. As the review columnist said, you are all to be commended." She started a round of clapping that once again disintegrated into cheers and whoops.

"All right, calm down!" she yelled. The class quieted. "Now, you probably all know we opened on Duo's birthday. There's no way you couldn't know, since he was pestering Heero constantly for his present." There were laughs. "Anyway, there were two halves to that present -- no, Duo, it's not more chocolate," she added when his face lit up. "It's something better." With that mysterious comment, she fell silent.

Heero cleared his throat and pulled out a battered, opened white envelope from his jean pocket. "Here," he said, shoving it into Duo's hand.

"Heero, you can do better than just 'here'," the teacher said, fond disbelief in her voice.

Heero glared at her, then slouched back, obviously uncomfortable at giving Duo the envelope.

Duo stared at him, then at the teacher, then at the tap dancers all around who were watching him eagerly. They knew what was in the envelope. He turned to Heero again.

"Well, go on, open it," was all his friend said.

So Duo did. He unfolded the piece of paper, read it, read it through again, then just stared blankly at it. He looked up, unshed tears in his eyes. "I -- I don't understand. . . ."

"Hn. Baka," Heero said gently, staring at the bewildered expression on Duo's face. "It's a scholarship to the college of your choice."

"I -- I can't accept -- you all knew?" Duo got out, choked.

People were silent around the room. The teacher spoke up. "Yeah, we knew," she said. "We all helped to get you it, but not as much as Heero. I think he tracked down every board member in the state and talked to them all privately."

Duo turned to Heero, violet eyes wide with disbelief. "You did this all -- for me. . . ."

"You're my friend, baka," Heero said gruffly.

Duo stared at him, then at the piece of paper, then at him again, and suddenly threw his arms around Heero's neck, sobbing out his joy into his friend's shoulder. Heero looked startled, then tentatively put his arms around the boy.

"Thank you," Duo whispered against his neck, then sat up and reluctantly pulled out of Heero's arms. He grinned at all the people assembled, not his usual manic grin, but a truly happy smile. "Thank you all."

+

Late that night Heero couldn't sleep. A few people had stayed the night, one of them Duo, another their tap teacher, more he couldn't remember the names of. He lay awake in his bed, too aware that in the room beside him a beautiful braided baka was sleeping.

He rolled over and punched the pillow. Damn it! How did Duo do this to him? He was so confused. . . .

A few more hours and he was convinced he wasn't going to get to sleep. He shoved the covers aside and walked out onto the communal balcony that all the bedrooms in this wing of the house had access to.

Heero gripped the iron railing hard, shoulders hunched, his breath steaming in the cold night air. It was close to freezing and he dressed in only shorts and an oversized T-shirt, but he didn't care. The cold air helped him think clearer.

When Duo had arrived, he had changed Heero's life forever. He was no longer one of the most popular kids in the school. He was no longer the sole truly intelligent one in the class. He had lost a large amount of superficial friends, but had gained one true one he valued more than anything. All in all, Duo's arrival had been wholly good.

But Duo's arrival also brought a large amount of confusion with it. Heero had always assumed himself to be heterosexual. Whether that was the American environment he found himself in or not, he didn't know, but he had always assumed that was the case. But now. . . . Now he found himself confused in the extreme over what Duo meant to him.

Was he just a friend? Or were these intense feelings the braided boy created -- more than Relena ever had -- more than those for a friend?

Heero shut his eyes and told himself to think about it logically and thoroughly. That was the way he had been taught to get through a problem, after all. He concentrated on Duo, and on the feelings Duo conjured in him.

And after his deep self-inspection was over, Heero knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what the feelings were.

He was in love with Duo.

+

Duo sighed and rolled over for what seemed like the hundredth time that night. As hard as he tried, he just could not get comfortable.

He sighed again and flopped onto his back, limbs akimbo. All right then, Maxwell, he said to himself, might as well admit what's keeping you awake. So, once again with a sigh, Duo did.

It was Heero. Damn him! Why did he have to be so kind? Sure, he'd deny it as hard as he humanly could, but the guy was kind. And generous. And loyal. And drop-dead gorgeous. And heterosexual.

Duo growled to himself. That was the real reason for his complaints about Heero. The boy was perfect, plain and simple, and a better friend than he could ever wish for. He had gone to extreme lengths to improve Duo's life, getting his brother and guardian a better job so he could pay for more food and clothes and better healthcare and all the things they had needed. . . . And now this. A scholarship. 'To the college of my choice', Duo mused. Then he sat bolt upright in shock. Holy shit! That means. . . . I could go to Harvard! Or Yale! Jesus H Christ! He collapsed back against the pillows.

And Heero had arranged it all. Heero had put himself on the line for him, had done everything he could for him. And there was no way Duo could pay him back. Ever.

"I love him," Duo said aloud, then his eyes widened as he realized what he had just said, and its ultimate truth. "I love him. . . ."

Duo swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. He needed some fresh air.

Wrapping a robe around himself, Duo opened the French window and stepped out onto the balcony. He glanced around and started in shock as he saw a familiar figure straighten and turn its head towards him.

Great, just what I need. I come out here to try and clear my mind of the problem of him, and there he is, standing there looking damn fine. . . .

"What are you doing out here, Duo?"

The question was gently asked, unusual for Heero. "Couldn't sleep," he replied, shrugging a shoulder. He began walking towards Heero. "What about you?"

"Me neither."

Duo stopped in the middle of walking towards his friend and love when Heero turned towards him suddenly. "Do you know why I came out here, Duo?"

"No, why?"

Heero took a step closer. That took off a third of the distance between them. "I realized I'm in love."

Duo felt his heart climb in the direction of his shoes at this. "Who are you in love with?" he asked, trying to sound cheerfully interested. "Who's the lucky girl?"

Heero took another step closer, halving the distance between them. "I'm not in love with a girl," he said softly.

"What? But Heero, I thought you were -- "

Heero crossed the remaining distance between them and put a finger over Duo's lips. They were standing so close Duo could feel the other boy's heat as though it was his own. He shivered and tried not to let Heero's proximity affect him. He failed.

Heero stared into Duo's eyes, the violet turned black with the lack of light. The cold blue light of the moon etched one part of Duo's face in stark black and white, which only made it all the more beautiful. Heero knew he couldn't wait any longer, but then he had know that once he had admitted to himself that was in love. "It's you," he whispered.

Before Duo could ask him what he meant by 'It's you', Heero's lips were on his. Duo's eyes fluttered shut of their own accord, his shock not affecting his instinctive response in the slightest. When Heero's thumb gently nudged his chin and his tongue swept across Duo's upper lip, Duo parted his mouth willingly and, determined not to lose a moment of this precious dream, responded in kind when Heero plundered his mouth, slowly and thoroughly.

Duo had just about decided this was a dream. He had been having too many dreams like this recently, with Heero taking him in his arms and loving him. One of the dream-Heero's large, warm hands slid inside the robe, pressing Duo against him, the other cupping his face. Duo slid his own hands up around Heero's neck, playing with the soft, silky hair he found there. The kiss continued, slow, deep, and passionate.

In Duo's dream, Heero slid his other hand from Duo's face and inside the robe around Duo's waist, both fists bunching the oversized T-shirt he wore to bed up and warm hands slipping under it, strong fingers trailing the upper edge of his boxers, then both sliding up and pressing flat against his spine. Duo made a small sound of pleasure as Heero tugged him close, caressing the strong muscles of his back.

Heero broke the kiss, pressing his forehead to Duo's. Duo made a sound of discontent.

"Duo. . . ." Heero gasped, out of breath. For a slow kiss, it had really got his body going. "Duo -- come to bed with me. . . ."

Duo knew this was a dream. A wonderfully intense and realistic dream, but still, it had to be a dream. And if it was a dream, he wasn't about to miss a damn second of it. He would show Heero what it felt like to be taken. "Yes," he said. "I -- I want to show you something... "

Heero smiled. The two made their way into Heero's room.

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