by Aoe

Stuck With You... + Part 3

12/7/204

This morning, I was late to work for the first time since... well, since I can remember. Have I always been on time? God, wouldn't Duo laugh and call me a loser...

Actually, he did just that when he discovered this morning that I am generally awake and showered and dressed an hour before I'm due at work. Of course, the laugher didn't come until after he was done cursing and glowering at me for disturbing his rest on the couch. I couldn't really help it. My apartment is not big, and it's even smaller with two people in it. The couch shares space in my kitchen/dining room/den/work area, so I had to wake him up with my puttering. What else could I do, stay in my room and sit on my bed until he woke up?

Anyway, once he got over being annoyed, he made me breakfast as a thank you for letting him stay. I was surprised. He fries a decent egg. Of course, normally I would have just had cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, but I suppose one egg won't kill me.

After breakfast, Duo had to shower and get dressed. He told me he still isn't used to how quickly he can shower now. He lets his hair air dry, which is good, since I don't own a hair dryer. If I try to blow mine, it gets all puffy. He says the same thing happens to him.

Once the hair issue was resolved, Duo had to find something to wear. I pointed out that he really ought to wear a Preventer uniform, but he said he didn't take any on vacation with him (duh, Trowa), so he didn't have any. I offered to lend him one of mine. He looked skeptical, but said he'd try it.

I have to say results were mixed on that experiment. The uniform didn't fit too long in the legs and arms, too small in the waist and chest but I did get very definite proof that Duo has spent a lot of time on a beach somewhere lately. And he was probably working out on the beach, because... he looks good. I swear he didn't have muscles like that before. He's always tended to my body type, wiry and lean. Not skinny, as some uncharitable people would describe it. Heero, Wufei and Quatre have turned out to be the bulky ones. Not that that was surprising from the Asian contingent of our group, but Quatre really grew up after he hit puberty.

But I digress. Anyway, once Duo was done flashing tanned skin through the gaps in my clothing and making me drool, he just put on another pair of jeans and another tee shirt, this one fire engine red and... clingy.

I gave him a ride to work. It's really not motorcycle weather here.

Trowa looked up from his screen to see Heero walking up to Duo's desk, a scowl on his face. Trowa frowned, wondering what that was about.

Heero stood behind Duo, fists planted on his hips, for a few minutes before the American noticed him. Or before Duo stopped pretending not to notice him, or deigned to acknowledge him, it was hard for Trowa to tell from this distance.

But then Duo spun his chair around, slouching down and looking up at Heero with an expression of bored tolerance.

Trowa couldn't hear Heero's words, but he could guess the sentiment when Duo frowned and asked incredulously, "Home?"

Heero said something else, fists grinding into his sides. Duo snorted and snapped back, "No, I don't live with you."

Finally, Heero was agitated enough to raise his voice to the point that Trowa could hear him. "Yes, you damn well do! You've lived with me since we were eighteen!" Heero barked.

Duo's frown deepened into an angry scowl, and he growled in reply, "I lived with you until I left your sorry ass six months ago!"

This seemed to surprise Heero. He actually took a step backward, and Trowa couldn't hear his next words.

Duo stared at the Japanese man in amazement, and slowly shook his head. Finally, he said, "Well, I'm sorry if I didn't make things clear to you, Heero. I thought it was pretty obvious to everyone who was in the office that day that we were finished. But since you seem to have missed that point, I'll make it very clear right now. There. Is. No. Us. We are through. Ended. Finito. Stick us with a fork and cue the fat lady. And so therefore, it is none of your concern where I spend my nights nowadays."

Trowa repressed the urge to applaud the speech. A muffled cheer went up from the water cooler area, but quickly fell silent under Heero's frigid glare.

"But that does remind me," Duo added in a thoughtful tone. "I do kind of need my stuff. At least some uniforms and winter clothes."

Heero turned back to Duo, but at enough of an angle that Trowa could hear him offer, "I'll bring them over. Just tell me where you're staying."

Duo stared at Heero for a moment through narrowed eyes, then shrugged and turned back to his computer, informing Heero lightly, "I'm at Trowa's place for now."

Heero turned, slowly, to glare at Trowa. Trowa raised an eyebrow calmly. Heero jerked his head in direction of the door.

Trowa sighed and got up, walking unhurriedly to the main exit from the office room. He stopped just outside the door, next to the soda machine, to wait for Heero. A moment later, the Japanese man arrived.

"Why is he staying with you?" Heero demanded harshly.

Trowa shrugged, long accustomed to ignoring Heero's attitude. "He needed someplace to crash. I had an empty couch," he explained. Heero snarled wordlessly at him.

"He has a bed waiting for him in my apartment," Heero growled.

Trowa frowned at the shorter man. "Well, apparently, he isn't interested in sleeping in it," he replied slowly.

Heero took a half step towards him, and Trowa let his arms hang loose at his sides, fists beginning to clench. The tension in the air was almost palpable, and the taller man couldn't quite figure out what had caused it. Of course he understood Heero's anger at being publicly snubbed by Duo, but how could the Japanese man have possibly thought Duo would be coming home to him after their parting?

"What is Duo interested in, Trowa?" Heero demanded angrily. "Why don't you tell me, since you're such an expert?"

Trowa opened his mouth, but knew he wouldn't get the chance to voice a reply, as he could see Heero's arm drawing back for a swing. Trowa started to shift his balance to the balls of his feet, ready to spring out of the way of the shorter man's fist, when suddenly the door opened behind Heero and a blond head popped into the hallway.

"Oh, there you are! Heero, they need you down in Forensics!" Quatre declared brightly. The Arabian was either completely oblivious to the tension in the hall, which was damned unlikely, or was ignoring it.

For a moment, Trowa thought Heero would take a swing even with Quatre watching, but then the Japanese man just snarled at him in warning and strode off angrily down the hall. Trowa watched him go, still somewhat confused by the whole encounter.

Quatre stepped out into the hall, and Duo followed him, watching Heero until he disappeared around a corner. Then Duo shook his head and rolled his eyes.

"See, Quatre? Nobody's dead or bleeding," Duo prodded the blond in exasperation. He grinned at Trowa and tossed him a wink. "Trowa can handle Heero. Right, Tro?"

Part of Trowa wanted to grunt and strut and posture in a masculine manner, and part of him wanted to yell, "No!" and run for the hills.

He settled for a middle ground. "What have you gotten me into, Duo?"

Duo frowned slightly, crossing his arms over his chest. "Nothing. Heero's just a jealous ass," he muttered.

Quatre frowned at Trowa. Trowa ignored the blond and frowned at Duo. "But there's nothing to be jealous of! You're sleeping on my couch!" he protested.

Duo shrugged, studying the dirty tile floor. "That's enough, for him. Besides, I betcha he doesn't believe for a minute I'm sleeping on your couch," Duo explained with a twisted grin.

"But... but... you are!" Trowa sputtered exasperatedly.

"Well, I know that, and you know that, but Heero? He lives in his own little world," Duo declared irritably. He shook his head. "He makes me so damn tired sometimes. And I got work to pretend to do. See you guys later." And with that, Duo walked back into the office, leaving Trowa and Quatre alone in the hall.

Trowa turned to the blond, who was watching him with concerned eyes. "What?" Trowa asked shortly.

Quatre dropped his gaze to nervously twisting fingers. Trowa considered telling the Arabian that just looked silly now that he was no longer a scrawny, androgynous child, but held his tongue. "Well, Trowa... I was just wondering. Is it really... wise... to have Duo staying with you?" Quatre asked hesitantly.

Trowa frowned at him. "Why wouldn't it be?"

Quatre bit his lip. "Well... you know, Duo's just been through a bad break up. I mean, I know it was several months ago, but he hasn't been around to deal with the aftermath until now, so it's like it just happened... And Trowa... I know how... emotionally vulnerable you are, and how much you like to take in strays. If you can be a friend to Duo when he needs one, that's great, but... well, as long as you're just a friend. It wasn't so long ago that you had your own... loss... and I just don't think it would be good for either of you to get into a rebound relationship, especially not with each other... "

"He's sleeping on my couch because he doesn't have anywhere else to stay. It's just a temporary arrangement between friends," Trowa growled, cutting off Quatre's rambling speech. "And we broke up over a year ago now. It's hardly a recent loss." It's hardly a loss, he added mentally.

Quatre gave him a look of mournful compassion, as though he could see that his good advice was being disregarded, but he had to let nature take it's course. Trowa gritted his teeth to keep from swearing aloud.

"Just... be careful, okay?" Quatre asked wistfully, pulling open the door. He gave Trowa one last sad look and sighed softly. "My poor broken clown," he murmured as he shut the door.

Trowa spun around and slammed his fist into the wall.

Then he walked away quickly so no one would hear him yell and associate him with the new hole in the plasterboard.

It's hard to type with swollen knuckles.

I think everybody knows I put the hole in the wall, but nobody's ratted me out yet.

I couldn't help it. God, it PISSES ME OFF when he calls me a broken clown! I'm not broken, and I haven't been a clown in years! Condescending asshole!

Not that Heero's much better. What the hell is his problem, crawling up my ass because Duo's staying with me? He didn't seriously think Duo would be staying at his place, did he? After the way he treated Duo before? After everything that happened months ago?

Well, maybe he could think that. This is Heero Mr. Oblivious To Human Emotion Yuy we're talking about.

But still, where does he get off threatening me? And what if Duo wasn't sleeping on the couch? What right does Heero have to say what Duo can and can't do? Or who, for that matter?

Not that I want to sleep with him... I mean, yeah, he's gorgeous and everything, and it has been a while... But... he's Duo. My friend. And I've sworn off relationships with friends. Right?

Okay, five minutes of vapid staring at the back of his head has given me no answers.

Total honesty, since I'm just talking to myself here:

Yes, I'm attracted to him.

Yes... I'd do him if he offered.

No, I'm not desperate to jump him.

No, I don't want a relationship with him. I mean, other than the one I have. Relationships can ruin perfectly good friendships. Quatre probably wouldn't bug me nearly as much if we hadn't slept together for eight years.

Duo's fun. He's bouncy, and lively, and he makes me smile. I like spending time with him. Why can't we just do that, just hang out, without raising all these suspicions and jealousies? He's been gone for almost seven months! He's back for one day, and everybody's wildly speculating that we've started up this torrid affair... It's just fucked up.

Much as I like having him around, I hope he finds his own place soon, if only so people will drop these stupid speculations. There's nothing going on, neither of us is interested in the other, we're JUST FRIENDS.

And Heero and Quatre are jerks.

Duo was surprisingly picky about Chinese take-out.

Hoping to dispel some of their mutual tension after the events of the day, Trowa had suggested picking up Chinese on the way home. Duo's less than enthusiastic response probably ought to have clued him in to the fact that this wasn't his best idea, but Trowa was still, after so much time spent with his comrades, unsure of his own ability to read their responses. So, since Duo didn't voice any outright objection, they got Chinese.

It wasn't until about the fifth wistful sigh and comment on the blandness of the food that it occurred to Trowa that Duo just might have been accustomed to authentic Oriental cuisine.

As soon as this thought entered his mind, Trowa looked across the small kitchen table at his housemate, watching Duo pick disinterestedly at some lo mein noodles.

Duo sighed again.

Damn it, Trowa thought to himself. I was trying to get Heero off both our minds, and instead I brought him home for dinner.

At that moment, there was a sudden sharp knock at the apartment door.

Duo looked up from his mostly untouched dinner to stare at the door in mild trepidation mixed with annoyance. Trowa recognized the knock as well. With a sigh of his own, the tall man rose and opened the door to a scowling Heero Yuy, arms laden with plastic bags. The bags were overflowing with clothing. Heero scowled at Trowa, scowled at Duo, stepped into the apartment, and unceremoniously dropped his load on the floor.

Clothing spilled out over the polished linoleum, a crazy hodge-podge of fabrics and colors. Trowa spotted the navy and tan of Preventers uniforms tangled among faded denim, black leather, red satin... More colors than he had associated with Duo. Perhaps because of their early association, Trowa always pictured the American swathed head to toe in black.

It occurred to him that it had actually been years since Duo's wardrobe had been entirely comprised of funereal tones.

The scrape of Duo's chair on the floor broke Trowa out of his bemused study of the pile of clothes on his floor. He looked at Duo to find his guest frowning at Heero.

"I've got more clothes than that," Duo snapped, crossing his arms over his chest. Trowa wondered if that was an aggressive or defensive pose.

Heero grunted behind Trowa and muttered, "In the car." Trowa felt the Japanese man's presence depart the doorway, and a moment later Heero's voice echoed from the hallway, "If you don't come carry some of it, I'm not bringing it all up."

"Asshole," Duo muttered, but he shot out the door after his ex, pausing only to give Trowa a brief grin of weary apology. Trowa heard Duo's light steps pattering down the hall as he ran after Heero.

Left alone in the kitchen, Trowa scooped up the dropped clothing in his arms, then looked around the tiny apartment, trying to figure out where to put it. Finally, he just dropped it on the couch, Duo's temporary bed.

Then he turned and left the apartment, heading down to the street and Heero's car.

The bulb over the building's street exit had burned out again, leaving the entrance in shadow. Trowa paused on the threshold, studying the two men who stood beside Heero's small car. Heero was parked under a streetlight, and a soft rain had begun to fall. It looked like a scene out of a movie, the two of them standing there. Rain was slowly plastering their hair to their foreheads, but they didn't seem to notice or care. They just stood, staring at each other, Duo with his arms crossed over his chest, Heero with his fists clenched at his sides.

Finally, as though someone had given them the cue to start the scene, Duo dropped his gaze to the sidewalk and shook his head.

"I don't want to have this conversation with you right now, Heero," Duo said. His voice was weary, but Trowa could detect a note of warning in it as well.

Heero either didn't hear the warning or didn't care. "Well, I do," he snapped back.

Duo looked up at Heero again, glowering angrily at the Japanese man. "Well guess what, Heero? I don't give a fuck what you want anymore!"

Heero's scowl deepened and Trowa could see the knuckles of his hand whitening, the muscles in his shoulder bunching like they had in the hallway at work.

Apparently, Duo saw the same things, because he uncrossed his arms and spread his feet for balance. "Don't you fucking try it," Duo growled.

Heero seemed surprised at this statement. His eyes widened and he blinked at Duo, the scowl fading from his face to leave a blank expression behind. Trowa saw the tension drain immediately from his hands and shoulders and he backed up a step, to the edge of the circle of light.

Trowa relaxed slightly, deciding that maybe he didn't need to reveal his presence just yet after all. He wasn't about to let the two of them get into a fight in the street, but the fight seemed to have gone out of Heero for the moment.

What Heero did next, though, was almost as unsettling as seeing him attack Duo would have been.

Very slowly, as though afraid to spook the American, Heero raised a hand, palm up, until it hovered between them. Rain dripped from his fingers, and Trowa wondered if it was only an illusion of the water that made the hand seem to tremble in the streetlight.

Duo stared at the hand as if it were a poisonous snake, coiled and ready to strike. Heero stared at Duo, his face somehow softened in the rain and the shadows of the streetlight. He looked very young, Trowa thought.

"Duo?" Heero said softly, in a tone of voice Trowa wouldn't have believed the Japanese man could produce. With that same tone of nervous hope, Heero added even more quietly, "Please?"

"Fuck off," Duo choked out, and turned and ran back into the building, barely avoiding a collision with Trowa who fell back against the wall to get out of the American's way. When Duo was gone, Trowa looked back to the street to see Heero scowling furiously at the pavement.

Trowa stepped out into the street, into the circle of light cast by the streetlight.

Heero looked up at him, scowling still. They stared at one another wordlessly for a moment.

Then they turned to the car and began unloading the bags and boxes of Duo's possessions.

The task went quickly with Heero and Trowa working together in silent efficiency. They managed to get everything up to Trowa's apartment in only four trips, piling it all around the tiny living room area. Duo remained conspicuously absent throughout, the only indication that he was even in the apartment being the bar of light beneath the locked bathroom door.

As soon as the last load was in the apartment, Heero turned and left without a word, not even slamming the door behind him. Trowa took a moment to gaze in mild dismay at the cluttered state of his usually orderly little apartment, then walked over to the bathroom door and tapped lightly with his knuckles.

"Duo? He's gone," Trowa informed his roommate nervously. He wasn't at all certain what to make of Duo's reaction to Heero. He also wasn't sure what the hell the American was doing in the bathroom. He somehow doubted it was just yesterday's anchovies come back to haunt him. "Duo? Are you coming out?" he asked after a moment of silence.

"In a minute," Duo replied, his voice muffled by the door. There was the sound of running water from within the small room.

"Okay," Trowa answered immediately, trying to encourage the American to keep talking. But Trowa wasn't much in that habit himself, so didn't really know what else to say. Finally, he added hopefully, "Well... I'll be here."

This earned him a snort of amusement as the door eased open. Duo smirked wryly at him, his eyes only slightly red-rimmed. "There's not far to go in this place," Duo observed.

"Um... yeah. Well. I just meant... " Trowa gave up with a shrug, watching his friend worriedly.

Duo shoved a hand into his hair and sighed, sliding around Trowa's body in the bathroom doorway to get back into the apartment's main room. He stared at the piles of his possessions nearly overflowing the small living room area and sighed again. Trowa stood behind him, noting the tension in Duo's shoulders beneath the tight red shirt he still wore.

Duo turned slowly to face Trowa, scrubbing at his eyes with one hand. "I need a... hug," he declared wearily.

Trowa raised an eyebrow at this statement, feeling slightly nervous. He wasn't much for touchy-feely stuff, but... Well, it wasn't too hard to figure out what sort of need Duo was really feeling from the fine trembling in the hands that were now plucking nervously at his clothes, from the way he was avoiding Trowa's eyes...

Swallowing his misgivings, Trowa stepped closer to his guest, and slowly wrapped his arms around Duo's shoulders.

The other man melted into Trowa's hesitant embrace, Duo's arms wrapping tightly but not uncomfortably around Trowa's waist. There was about a seven or eight inch difference in their heights, so Duo's head fit neatly beneath Trowa's chin, and the American snuggled shamelessly against the taller man.

When it became apparent after a moment that Duo wasn't letting go any time soon, Trowa began to try and relax in his friend's arms. It wasn't that hard, really. Duo was a world-class hugger, and it wasn't long before Trowa was leaning against Duo just as much as he was supporting the shorter man, and his fingers were lightly stroking Duo's back in soothing circles. Duo made soft noises of contentment against Trowa's chest and Trowa smiled to himself.

This felt... nice. Very warm.

Yes, warm was definitely the word.

Quite warm.

In fact, one might almost say hot...

Trowa's eyes widened in alarm as he realized what sort of reaction he was beginning to have to Duo's body pressed tightly to his own. That wasn't good. With one last squeeze, he gently but firmly broke the embrace, pushing a reluctant Duo to arm's length.

Duo pouted at him a moment, nearly breaking Trowa's resolve altogether, but then he smiled brightly and stepped away from Trowa's hands, turning back to the kitchen table and beginning to clean up the leftovers.

Trowa's hands fell to his sides as he watched Duo putter around the small kitchen. He wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed that Duo had accepted his ending of the embrace.

A silence stretched out between them while Duo worked, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. Trowa would have offered to help clean up, but the kitchen was too small for two people at once. Instead he just watched as Duo cleaned the dishes and packed away the food.

After a while, Duo dried the last dish and turned to lean against the counter and smile at Trowa. "Thanks," he said simply.

Trowa blinked in surprise. "For what?" he asked in honest confusion.

Duo shrugged, his smile widening slightly. "For letting me stay with you. I know it's a pain, but I... " Duo trailed off in a sigh, looking down at the floor. "If I was alone," he continued quietly, "I probably would have just gone home with him. And that would have been... a bad idea."

"Aa," Trowa acknowledged softly, not sure what to say to that.

Duo looked up from the floor, smiling warmly, that rare genuine smile of his that was not often seen. "I just... Thanks. You're... a real friend," Duo informed Trowa sincerely. Then he crossed the room into the couch area, beginning to shift bags around so he would have somewhere to sleep that night.

Trowa sat at the table, studying the clean surface. A friend. A real friend. That was what he was. As he'd asserted to himself earlier that day, just a friend.

Damn it.

[part 2] [part 4] [back to Aoe's fic]