by: Caroline

After Image + Part 6

Duo's heart was pounding in his chest as he walked up the street to the bar Heero had wanted to meet at. He hoped he looked all right. He'd made himself take a nap after Heero had dropped him off at Quatre's clinic. Naturally, he'd ended up oversleeping, leaving him little time to get ready.

'Figures. My first semi-real date in months and I oversleep,' he thought as he tugged self-consciously at his red V-neck. At least he wasn't late. He may be out of breath from scrambling to get ready, but he'd be there on time.

The bar, called Pub32, cast a warm glow out onto the darkened sidewalk. Duo could hear music from inside spilling out into the street. Celtic rock - one of his favorites. He grinned as he opened the door and stepped inside the vestibule. He had a feeling he was going to like this place.

The inner door to the bar swung open just as he was reaching for it. Duo yelped in surprise and jumped back, tripping over a small bench and ending up on the floor. A deep chuckle from above caused Duo to look up.

"We simply must stop meeting like this," Zechs Merquise said, offering his hand to pull Duo up.

Duo gave a shaky laugh of his own as he allowed the tall blonde officer to help him to his feet. "Nice to see you again, Detective."

"Call me Zechs. Please," the man insisted.

"Okay. Zechs."

"Why don't I buy you a drink? It seems the least I can do for knocking you over twice now."

"Ah, actually I'm here to meet someone."

"Really? Who?"

"Heero Yuy," Duo replied, then laughed. "Is it just me or are we experiencing a little déja vu?"

Zechs smiled warmly at him. "It's not just you. And it appears I am in luck. Yuy is not here yet. Let me buy you that drink while we're waiting."

"I don't know..." Duo began.

"Please, I insist." Zechs took hold of his arm and pulled him into the bar. The room was crowded but not unbearably so. Warm colors seeped from the walls, making the place feel homey. At one end of the large, open space were several billiard tables. To the other end was the long, polished wooden bar. And in between were tables for eating or playing card games. There was even a small jukebox. Fortunately the music wasn't too loud. Duo hated going into a place where the music was so loud he couldn't even hear himself think.

The braided teen allowed himself to be led to the bar. He cast curious glances at the taller man as they went. He felt uneasy being with Zechs, especially when he was supposed to be meeting Heero. It felt... wrong somehow, though he didn't know why. Under any other circumstances, he'd have jumped at the chance to have a drink with a man like Zechs. The blonde detective was an Adonis, and certainly Duo was attracted to him - but there was something wrong about being here with him. It just wasn't... right. Heero.

Duo sighed. That was what was wrong. Zechs wasn't Heero. The dark-haired cop had been so kind to Duo. Heero had believed in him when he said he was innocent. He'd asked Duo to dinner, and while he knew it wasn't an "official date", Duo felt all warm inside at the thought of spending some time with the older man. Yet at the same time, he was apprehensive. Heero was beautiful both inside and out, and Duo knew he could easily fall for someone like him. But he had to be careful. He didn't want to set himself up for another heartbreak. Hell, he wasn't even sure if Heero liked guys. He'd have to be cautious - he didn't want to do anything to jeopardize their newly developed friendship.

Zechs led Duo to the far end of the bar, away from the crush of the other people. The blonde took a seat and gestured for Duo to do the same. The braided boy hopped up on a stool next to him, making sure he had a clear view of the door in order to watch for Heero. The bartender walked over a moment later to take their order.

"I'll have a glass of whatever's on tap, and Duo..." He looked at the boy expectantly.

"Club soda, please."

The bartender nodded and walked away. Zechs looked down at Duo, one eyebrow raised.

"Club soda?"

"I am underage," Duo replied, picking invisible lint off his shirt. "And this is a cop bar. Wouldn't look too good for the police if their favorite establishment was serving alcohol to minors right under their noses, now wouldn't it?"

Zechs laughed loudly and patted Duo's hand. "Good point, good point. Though to be honest, I wouldn't have guessed. How old are you?"

"Nineteen," Duo replied, frowning. "Funny, people usually think I look younger, not older."

Zechs shrugged, his hand still touching Duo's. Absently he started running his thumb along the back of Duo's hand. "It must be the way you carry yourself. Your stance, your countenance, your amazing eyes... they all make you seem so much more mature."

Duo blushed, pulling his hand away. He didn't know what to say. Fortunately the bartender came back with their drinks. Duo immediately wrapped both hands around his club soda and started to sip on it.

"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you," Zechs said.

"D...don't worry about it," Duo replied. "I'm just a little speechless I guess. No one's ever said anything like that to me before."

"Well believe it." He moved his hand to brush the back of his fingers across Duo's cheek. "You certainly are beautiful, Duo Maxwell."

Duo felt his face flush. He drew his head away from the man's touch and hastily looked down.

"Ah, thanks Zechs," he said quietly, avoiding the man's eyes.

"I mean it. This may be presumptuous of me, but... may I call you sometime?"

Duo's eyes flew back up to look at Zechs. He couldn't believe this was happening. Men who looked like Zechs just didn't ask him out. It was almost too good to be true. And yet... oddly enough, he didn't want Zechs's attention.

He wanted Heero's.

"Zechs, I'm really flattered, and you are certainly an amazing guy, but..."

"But there's someone else," Zechs finished for him.

"Well, not really... or rather not yet, but yes. There's someone else I like. But I'm not sure if he likes me back. Still, I need to find out if I even have a chance before I... move on."

"I see." Zechs grabbed a cocktail napkin from the bar and pulled a pen out of his pocket. He scribbled something on it and handed it to Duo. "This is my home number and address. If things don't work out, maybe you could give me a call."

Duo pocketed the napkin and smiled at Zechs. "Thank you... for being so understanding."

"No problem. I know how it can be." He lifted his glass. "So, why are you meeting Yuy here tonight?"

"He wants to talk to me about a case he's working on - the Peacecraft murder."

"Ah yes. I'd heard about that one. Also heard you'd been locked up for a while as a suspect."

Duo made a face. "Yeah, well, that was all a misunderstanding," he muttered.

"I'm glad."

Duo blushed again. "Anyway, I was the one who found the body. He wants to see is I can remember anything about it I guess."

"I heard the poor girl's body was found in a remote region near Widowmaker's Canyon. However did you manage to find her?"

"Uh, well... you may not believe me."

"Oh now I'm intrigued. Please tell me."

"I... had a vision. I saw her in my head."

He felt Zechs stiffen beside him. 'Great,' Duo thought. 'Now he'll really think I'm nuts. Good going, Maxwell. Scare off the nice, gorgeous officer.'

"What exactly did you see?" Zechs asked softly.

Duo shifted warily on his barstool. "I... I saw her die. You know that little overlook on the canyon road? That's where she died. She struggled but she wasn't strong enough..." He broke off to take another trembling sip of his drink.

"Did you see who did it?"

Duo shook his head. "No. It wasn't clear - just a bunch of blurred images in mind." He looked away. "I'm sorry, Zechs. I'd rather not talk about it right now."

"I understand. And this is probably my cue to leave," the blonde said.

Duo looked up quickly, afraid he'd said too much and frightened the man off. "I'm sorry, Zechs."

The blonde detective chuckled. "Don't be. You haven't scared me off, Duo. Yuy has just arrived."

Duo's eyes flew to the door. Sure enough, the dark-haired detective had just stepped inside and was scanning the room looking for someone.

"I should go meet him," Duo said. "Thank you again for the drink."

"You're welcome. And remember, if things don't work out, give me a call."

"I will," Duo replied, smiling.

"Good night, Duo."

"Bye, Zechs."

Duo watched the blonde man walk away, then turned to wave at Heero. The detective caught sight of him and waved back. He quickly hurried over to where Duo was sitting.

"Good evening, Duo," he said, sitting down next to the boy. "I'm sorry if I kept you waiting."

"That's okay, Detective Yuy. I'm... just glad you're here," Duo replied shyly.

"Please, call me Heero," the Japanese man said, smiling slightly.

"All right... Heero."

"Have you ordered anything yet?"

Duo lifted his glass. "Just this. What's good here?"

"Just about anything..."

"Heero! There you are," a voice called out over the din. Trowa pushed past another couple to lean on the bar next to his partner. "You should take a look at the guy at the end of the bar. He's really cute and you might like... oh. I'm sorry. I didn't realize you had company already," he said, catching sight of Duo.

The braided teen's eyes opened wide as he looked at Heero who was blushing slightly. 'Did... I just hear that right?'

"Trowa, you remember Duo Maxwell? Duo, this is my partner, Trowa Barton."

"Hello," the violet-eyed boy said, still reeling from Trowa's little slip about Heero.

"Oh right. The 'psychic'," Trowa said almost distastefully. Before anyone could say anything else, Torwa's beeper went off. "Well as much as I'd love to stay and chat and try to contact Elvis," Trowa said facetiously, "my wife is probably wondering where I am. Need anything before I go, Heero?"

"No. Go home, Trowa. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay. Good night then. And Heero, don't beat yourself up over Relena. You couldn't have done anything to save her."

"I know, Trowa. I know."

Duo watched Trowa walk away. "He doesn't like me very much, does he?"

"He's just wary of anything he doesn't understand. He's not a bad guy," Heero replied.

"Oh."

The two lapsed into an uncomfortable silence for a moment. Duo glanced over at Heero and cleared his throat nervously. "So, uh, you're gay?" he blurted out, then groaned inwardly. 'Idiot!'

Heero looked at him and smiled. "Yes. I'm gay. Have a problem with that?"

Duo grinned back. "No. Not at all."

[part 5] [part 7] [back to Caroline's fic]