by Anria Chiou Lalumin

2001

Heero stood at the front of his tap class and scowled. Not that this was unusual. But today there was a reason for his scowl, and its name was Duo Maxwell.

The boy had recently moved into the town, and had quickly taken over both school and extra-curricular activities. He was far more intelligent than he acted, as proved by his test scores, an incredibly good sportsman, and, something that annoyed Heero more than any of these other things, he was a good tap dancer.

When Heero had first begun tap lessons it had been at the insistence of his parents. He had complained long and loudly, articulate for the first and last time in his life, yet after he had passed learning the basics, he had found he truly enjoyed doing the dancing. He was also very good at it; even when he had not liked doing the dancing, he had applied the same narrow-minded focus that made him excel at everything. Once he began enjoying the dancing, he outstripped all of his fellow classmates in the lessons and landed starring roles in their productions. He was a very good tap dancer.

However, Duo was better.

Duo had a natural grace and litheness which made his tap that much better than Heero's. He also had a more extensive range of facial expressions. His charm, intelligence, athleticism and dance talent all added up to make Heero really not like the boy.

But the worst part of it all was he knew Duo had done nothing to deserve it.

Indeed, Duo was nice to everybody. While some girls swooned over him, others who didn't came to him for help with their love lives. Boys did the same, too. How Duo could have so quickly become the person everyone went to with their problems was beyond Heero.

He thought back to the first time he had met Duo.

+

<<Flashback>>

Heero was sitting in his physics class when he first met Duo. He loved physics; it was his favorite subject, and he was very good at it.

Expecting the teacher to begin lecturing, he was surprised when the man said, "Class, today we have a new student." He gestured for a boy who had been hiding in the doorway to move forward. "Please introduce yourself."

The boy was unusual. He was small, around five foot three or five foot four, yet didn't look as though he still had more growing to do. He was dressed in black jeans and a red shirt, had a beaming grin on his face, and a waist-length braid of hair. He raised a hand, the other stuffed in his pocket. "Hiya," he said, and Heero was surprised to hear his voice was a baritone. He thought it would be higher. "My name's Duo Maxwell. Pleased to meet ya."

The teacher smiled and nodded. "Take the seat beside Heero," he said, and Heero raised his hand so the boy knew where he was. "He's my best student: he can fill you in on the work we've been doing."

So Duo walked through the rows, braid swinging, to come sit beside Heero. He dropped his bag on the desk and grinned. "Hiya," he said again, holding out his hand. Heero shook it, and once again the boy surprised him by giving a shake every bit as strong as his own. "Duo Maxwell."

"Heero Yuy."

Duo grinned again (not that he'd stopped in the first place) and sat. Heero passed him his notes from the last few lessons. Duo flicked through them.

"Potential and kinetic energy, huh? Done it. Good notes."

"Hn."

"Not a talker, eh?"

"Hn."

Duo chuckled. They got down to the lesson.

Throughout the course of the lesson, whenever Heero put his hand up to answer a question, Duo beat him to it. And the worst bit of it was he got the answers right, too. It began to annoy the Japanese boy.

Next lesson was basketball. Duo and Heero were on opposing teams, and Heero made the fatal mistake of underestimating the braided boy's talent for the game. Duo stole the ball away from him easily and Heero found himself being laughed at.

He hated being laughed at.

It went on like that. At lunch, Heero braced himself for the onrush of giggling females that always seemed to pounce on him when he entered the cafeteria, yet found they were in a crowd around a laughing, talking, animated braided idiot. Even Relena was in the gaggle surrounding him.

In a way it was a relief to get rid of the girls, and in the way it wasn't. It proved more than anything else how fickle the girls were and that they didn't value him for him. For some reason that bugged him.

It didn't help when Relena, the girl he had been dating for nearly a year, told him she had been asking Duo for advice with their relationship. Asking him what Heero's behavior could mean. Heero asked her what the fuck she meant, his behavior? Relena said he had been withdrawn recently. Heero told he her was always withdrawn. Relena said yes, but recently even more so, and she'd been worried about why. Heero told her if she didn't trust him enough to let him do what he wanted without going to an unofficial relationships councilor, perhaps they would be better off apart. A blazing row had followed, and it resulted in the end of their relationship.

In a way, Heero was grateful. Relena had become extremely annoying, and he didn't know what he was supposed to do about it and his growing dislike of her. When they had begun dating, everything was la-de-da, but after that it kind of went downhill. She wanted more than he was prepared to give anyone. Sex, sure. They'd done that. But she wanted him to promise her that he would be hers always, and when his logical mind told him no one knew the future, he knew he couldn't do that. It wasn't that he had been planning to break it off with her, but Relena seemed to take it that way and was only content that he wasn't six months after she had asked for the promise.

Despite that, Heero hadn't really wanted to break it off with her. As annoying as she could be, Relena was also more intelligent and logically-minded than her predilection for pink would have suggested, and he valued her for her mind more than anything. Now they weren't even passing civil pleasantries with each other.

And all this added up. Heero found himself no longer the teachers' star pupil, no longer the one they trusted to arrange experiments and no longer the one they called on in class when no one else had the answer. He found himself contemplating his severe lack of social graces when, once the girls and Relena had abandoned him in favor of Duo, he found himself alone. He found himself in harsh competition with Duo on the sports field, but Duo was faster and more agile than him even though he had better endurance and so he usually ended up second-best in those contests.

The last straw came when Duo came to his tap group.

<<End flashback>>

+

Duo was a talented dancer, to be sure, but the way he had taken over everything important in Heero's life in a matter of days really pissed him off. And he hadn't even noticed him in the class, even though he was sure his scowl would set the idiot's clothes on fire.

And now the braided idiot was bouncing up to him with a broad grin on his face, having finally spotted him. "Hey, Heero!" he said. "I didn't know you were in this class, too!"

"Hn."

"Y'know, I always used to wonder why I loved doing tap and nobody else did," the boy rattled off, not in the least deterred by Heero's monosyllable response. "All my friends said only a loser would do tap, but now I can prove them wrong! You're here, after all!"

"And what does my being here have to do with anything?"

"What, you don't know?" Duo's violet eyes widened as he waited for a response. When he didn't get one, he kept talking anyway. "Everyone thinks of you as the big macho guy of the school! Well, maybe not big," he amended, his own diminutive size leaving him on eye level with Heero's nose, "but everyone's close to afraid of you, boy! And you don't know?"

"They're afraid of me because I put the last boy who teased me in hospital," Heero said, still in his usual monotone.

"Hey, cool! I got a response!"

Thankfully, Duo was prevented from saying any more by the teacher, who was beginning the lesson. "We are going to begin another production, class," she said, leaning against the desk. "In Romeo and Juliet style. Our most talented male dancer and female dancer will play the lead roles of -- surprise, surprise -- Romeo and Juliet. Auditions begin now."

As the evening progressed the teacher soon found herself pondering both Heero and Duo for the role of Romeo, with Duo in favor, and extremely displeased with her female students. None of them reached the level of talent necessary for what she had in mind.

"Stop, stop, stop," she said finally. "That is it. I have found no one for the role of Juliet." She fell silent, frowning and chewing at her lip. The class waited expectantly for her to speak again.

"All right then," she said finally. "I can find two possible solutions. One is that I myself take the role of Juliet, but if I am directing then I cannot do this since I'll need to see the performance. The second is that I ask Duo to take the role of Juliet." She gave him an apologetic look. "Sorry, but the hair would make it awkward for you to be Romeo anyway."

"I don't mind," Duo said, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

"All right then. Duo will be Juliet, Heero will be Romeo -- and smile sometimes during the performance, please Heero. Jenny, you are Lady Capulet, Robert, Mercutio. Ben, you will be. . . ."

"Can I speak to you, please?" Heero interrupted. He was scowling fit to kill and looked severely displeased.

"Sure thing, Heero. Lucy, read these out, please," she said to one of the dancers, handing her a list. The two walked off a way to speak in private.

"I cannot be Romeo if Duo is Juliet," Heero said flatly.

"If you're worried about the interaction the script calls for, then you needn't be. This is a dance show, there aren't even any lines. . . ."

"No. It is Duo himself I object to."

"Oh? Why?" the teacher folded her arms, looking surprised.

"In the few days since he came here he has been instrumental in causing the teachers at my school to no longer value my work, has isolated me from the few friends I have, given me more bruises than I can count in the name of sport, and even caused the break-up with my girlfriend! And now you say we have to work together on this damn performance and I have to smile at the idiot! I can't stand him!" Heero shut his jaw with a snap on his outburst.

"Ah." Rubbing her jaw, the dance teacher looked thoughtfully over at where Duo was making the rest of the group laugh with a ridiculous parody of a dance he had made up. "He appears to like you, though," she said tentatively.

"The worst bit is that everything he's done has been unintentional," Heero growled. "He doesn't mean to do it, he just does."

"Are you certain you can't work with him?" she asked.

"Hai."

Unlike most of the rest of the town, she was used to his occasional slips into his native tongue. She shook her head and her mouth twisted. "I guess this means I'll have to call the whole thing off, then."

"What? Why?"

"You and Duo are undoubtedly my best students. None of the rest of the class come anywhere near you. If you say you can't work with Duo, then I can't go ahead with the performance. There's no one to take either yours or his place. I'd best break the news to them." She began walking towards the students.

"Matte!" The teacher stopped. Heero scowled furiously. He knew how much the performances meant to the rest of the class and the teacher, and, truth be told, he liked them too. "Suppose. . . . Suppose I do work with him," he said. "How long would it be for?"

"The usual length of time," she said, shrugging. "Three, four months."

Heero thought it over, then sighed. "All right," he said grudgingly. "I'll do it."

The teacher smiled. "Arigato, Heero," she said, surprising him. "I knew you'd come through."

+

In the changing rooms, Duo strolled up to Heero as he was finishing tying the laces of one sneaker. "Hey, Heero," he said. "What d'you want to talk to Miss Sensei in there for?"

Heero scowled at his shoe. "None of your business." He wasn't about to let the idiot know how he felt about him. [1]

Duo plonked himself down on the bench beside the silent boy. "We really need to work on your people skills, man," he drawled, leaning back against the lockers.

Heero stood and scowled at Duo instead of his shoe. "No, 'we' don't need to do anything," he said, grabbed his bag and walked off, leaving Duo sitting there.

The braided boy grinned at his retreating back. "Don't wanna make friends, huh?" he said to the now-absent boy. "I don't give up that easy, pal, and I've dealt with harder cases than you." He fell silent, pondering. The last hard case like Heero had been Chang Wufei, but he finally got the boy to crack and open up a bit besides spouting off about justice. He finally teased the Chinese boy out of his reticence enough that he had recently received a letter from him thanking him for his help in getting him and Meiran together.

Before that it had been Trowa Barton. That one had been especially difficult, since he had had to convince Trowa to be honest with himself as well as with others. When Duo had left that town, Trowa and Quatre had just moved in together.

However, none of those ones had been as obstinately antisocial as Heero. It was almost as if the boy had taken a personal dislike to him, which was a problem since Duo had taken an instant liking to him. More than a liking, actually.

Duo had admitted to himself a long time ago that he was gay. Admitting it to the rest of the world was what had made him and Solo move out of the towns housing Trowa and Wufei, since homophobia was rampant there. His adopted brother had given him strict admonishments not to let anything like that happen again, but Duo found it difficult when his eyes kept drifting of their own accord to Heero's ass.

Plus there was the problem of Heero's own orientation. The boy was virtually a confirmed hetero, as his long-running relationship with Relena showed. Duo still didn't understand why that one had broken up, but he had been dismayed with himself to find he was secretly delighted.

But dammit, the silent boy was gorgeous. A real eye-treat. Add to that his intelligence, reticence and glowers and you had a perfect strong silent type. And unfortunately they were the ones Duo always seemed to fall for.

He frowned, nibbling absently on the end of his braid. What to do about this? Experience told him that when you had a strong attraction for someone you barely knew, becoming friends with them often dispelled it, if only because you found they were not what you expected them to be. So, grinning, Duo decided he would become Heero's friend. Grabbing his bag, he went outside to wait for his brother to pick him up.

+

Four weeks later Heero was seriously contemplating killing the braided baka, as he had begun thinking of him as. The boy just would not leave him alone. Not answering any of his questions didn't seem to faze him, nor did what Relena had nicknamed his pet look of 'I'm pissed off so you piss off'. Simply turning on his heel and walking off didn't work. Avoiding him didn't work. Despite his promise not to hurt anyone else since James Trident went into physiotherapy to regain the use of his legs, Heero had begun to wonder if beating the shit out of Duo would work, or if he would have to end up killing him in order to get some peace.

Right now they were in the dinner queue, Duo chattering animatedly at him, not getting an answer and obviously not needing one. How can one person talk so much? Heero thought. Now I know why I don't talk. Someone else, somewhere in the world, will do it for me.

And the someone seemed to be standing right beside him. I think Duo's doing his share for at least three people as well as himself, Heero thought gloomily. Is he ever going to shut up?

Realizing that was a very good question, Heero decided to ask him. "Are you ever going to shut up?" he interrupted the boy's monologue.

"Nope!" Duo replied cheerfully, obviously not sensing the underlying threat. "Solo says I'll still be talking when they put me in the ground."

"I bet," Heero muttered. He'd heard more than enough about Duo's brother.

To his delight, by the end of lunch Duo appeared to have gotten the hint and had vacated his presence. Limbering up in preparation to run a few laps on the school track, Heero became aware of the other boys watching him strangely. He shrugged and ignored it.

The rest of the day was strange, too. People stopped their conversations when he walked in the room and began whispering, eyes locked onto him. Plus Duo was nowhere to be found. By the end of the day the strangeness of it all had begun to bother Heero even more than Duo's incessant chatter. He was in a bad mood by the time he got to his tap class.

Part of his bad mood was the niggling little voice at the back of his head reminding him that he had actually begun to miss Duo's chatter.

Duo wasn't in tap, either. This was extraordinarily unusual, as the boy loved dancing, but what was more so was when Solo, Duo's six foot four blond twenty-year-old brother accosted him outside of the class.

"You're Heero, right?" Heero nodded. "Have you seen Duo? I haven't seen him or heard from him, and that isn't like him. He didn't come home after school, and I've looked everywhere and I can't find him! Do you have any idea where he is?"

"No. He vanished at lunch."

"And you were too busy reveling in the silence to wonder where he went, huh?" Solo's words brought a guilty blush to Heero's cheeks, although his expression did not change. "Never mind. Any idea where he might have gone?"

"No. Wherever he went, he would have gone to tap, and he wasn't here."

"Damn it."

"He might be in the hospital."

"What?" Solo looked alarmed. "What makes you say that?"

Heero shrugged. "He does crazy things sometimes, like jumping off the school roof and climbing the chimney outside the boiler room. He could've pulled one of his stunts and got hurt."

"Would you come with me? You're probably the last person to have seen him."

"All right." It would make a change from going home to the house empty of anything that had life in it more than a few potted plants and a TV. Heero's parents were never there.

Once in the car and driving for the nearest hospital, Solo suddenly said, "Duo didn't . . . do something, did he? Like make an announcement of any kind?"

"What are you asking me for? I try my hardest to ignore him."

"Oh." Solo chewed on his lip, looking worried.

When they arrived at the hospital, there was indeed a Duo Maxwell in residence. He was unconscious, and didn't have his home number on him, so the only thing that had been notified was the school, who apparently had not seen fit to contact his brother.

Heero saw the braided baka lying out on the bed and wondered why he felt such a stabbing shoot of worry and pain.

The doctors said that Duo had been beaten. He had two cracked ribs, a broken nose, numerous bruises and a mild concussion. He had woken up some time ago, but had almost immediately sunk straight into a deep sleep, although not the partial coma it had been previously. He had not woken since then, and the hospital wanted to keep him overnight for checks.

"What happened?" Solo demanded again and again, to no avail. No one knew.

At Solo's request, Heero stayed with him. He didn't know the man and he didn't like his brother, but he had enough manners not to insist he go home -- mainly because Solo would have to drive him and he didn't want to disturb the man's vigil over the younger boy.

Duo did, eventually wake up. Solo instantly began drilling him for what had happened.

"Whoa, whoa, hold up, Solo-man," he said weakly, with an echo of his former grin. "Gimme some time to answer, okay?"

Solo shut up. Both he and Heero waited for an explanation.

"I'm sorry, bro," Duo said, tears coming to his violet eyes. "I -- I -- "

"Tell me you didn't," Solo said. "Oh, Duo, you promised!"

"I told ya, Solo, I can't lie," Duo said. "Lying by letting other people assume things is still lying. Plus those girls needed the truth."

"I said I never wanted to see you in a hospital bed again!" Solo cried.

Heero was, by now, thoroughly confused.

"What are you talking about?" he said.

Duo turned his head with an effort. His customary grin was gone completely. "You didn't read the school newsletter?"

"No. I never read that thing."

"I put an article in it. I came out."

"Huh?"

"I came out," Duo repeated, only to find Heero giving him a confused shake of the head. "And you call me an idiot. Heero, coming out means telling people I'm gay."

"You're gay?"

"Yeah." Duo lay back , watching him out of cautious violet eyes.

"And you decided to tell people that because? Duo, in case you hadn't noticed, most people here are so obsessed with following every word the Bible says they don't care who they hurt, or how badly. You are an idiot."

Duo blinked. "You know, Heero," he said. "I think that's the most I've ever heard you say." He waited for Heero to say some more, then cautiously offered, "Are you as mad as they were?"

Heero rolled his eyes. "Duo, I am Japanese," he said. "I was raised in Japan. They're more tolerant of things over there than here. I don't give a shit about your orientation. What I do care about is who are we going to get for your role in tap now?"

Duo started laughing, and found he couldn't stop despite the pain emanating from his cracked ribs.

+

[cont]