Author: Flamika
Category: Drama, Supernatural Warnings: ghosts, sadistic ferrets on the loose, Heero's POV
Pairings: 1+2, 3+4 (implied)
Rating: PG-13
Beta Reader: Fafnir
Disclaimer: These guys don't belong to me. And Fifi belongs to Fafnir. ^^
Notes: Fifi the Ferocious Ferret makes her grand appearance...
Arc: Domestic Bliss
SPECIAL THANKS TO FAFNIR FOR ALL THE HELP AND IDEAS SHE GAVE ME FOR THIS HERE FIC. ^_^ *

The Golden Boy

Slowly, I crept closer to the couch, my sneakers making no sound on the living room carpet. I only permitted my fingertips to ghost lightly across the carpet fibers -- a single, fleeting touch, never resting too much weight on my fingers. Such a thing might upset my balance and prove fatal in such a precarious situation. I would have to ready to lunge at any time.

Something shifted in the darkness underneath the couch, and I froze, my muscles locking into place. Adrenaline flooded my stem, and the familiar battle rush settled over my mind. But all this happened a second too late.

A furry missile shot out from underneath the couch, speeding right between my crouched legs. I tried to snatch it as it ran underneath me, but my hands grasped nothing but empty air and the end of a furry tail. Immediately, my reflexes kicked into high gear, and I pivoted to lunge after the creature...

... and promptly ran headfirst into the coffee table.

"K'so!" I swore in my native tongue, sitting on the ground and rubbing the top of my head. Pain coursed through my body in short, sporadic waves that I knew would be gone within a moment's time.

Still... how embarrassing. I'd been so caught up in the thrill of the hunt that I'd gotten careless. Good thing Duo wasn't here to see me making a total klutz of myself. Not that he had a lot of room to talk.

"Fifi!" I roared, jumping to my feet and scanning the living room for my tormenter. This was supposed to be my day off, and here I was chasing what turned out to be Quatre's sister's boyfriend's brother's ex-girlfriend's ferret around the apartment. I froze as I heard the skittering of claws on the kitchen floor.

"No, Fifi!" I snarled, leaping clear over the couch. "Get out of the kitchen! No ferrets allowed in the kitchen!"

If she hid behind the refrigerator, it was all over. I'd never get her out from behind there. I'd have to wait for Duo to come home from work so he could lure her out with the end of his braid. Fifi has an acute fascination with Duo's braid.

I caught the ferret red-handed; she was just about to slink into the narrow space between the refrigerator and the counter. She saw me racing after her and gave one of those weird ferret chuckles as she craftily changed directions, heading for her second favorite hiding place: the trash can.

Only sadistic ferrets make you dig through coffee grains and rotten banana peels to get them out of their makeshift burrows. Fifi was Class A Sadistic Ferret. If she took a dive in the trashcan, then I was going to leave her in there to wallow in the garbage all she damn well wanted. Duo could dig her out when he came home, since he was the one who had told Quatre we would ferret-sit for an extra week. Still, letting the ferret climb into the garbage can wasn't the most optimal of decisions, at least from my perspective. She would be stinky for one thing, and another thing... she would be stinky. So I decided to make on last-ditch effort to catch her.

Seeing that Fifi was already halfway across the kitchen and a good distance away from me, I quickly decided to use my environment to my advantage. I flung myself to the linoleum and used my momentum to send my body sliding across the kitchen floor. Fifi tried to evade my grasp, but this time she wasn't fast enough. Gathering her furry body tightly in my arms, I closed my eyes and braced myself as I collided forehead-first with the wooden cabinets. A loud bang echoed in the quiet apartment as a couple of pots and pans in the cabinet dislodged from their positions and clanged against one another. I thought all the noise was rather melodramatic. I wasn't even in any pain; I have a hard head.

Grunting, I rolled onto my back and sat up, holding Fifi the Ferocious away from me so that I could make a mean face at her.

"How the hell did you get out of your cage?" I demanded of the black and white little fuzzball in my hands.

Fifi sniffed curiously at the fingers that were clasped around her midsection, her whiskers and cold nose tickling my skin. I really didn't need both hands to hold a slender creature such as herself, but I wanted to be on the safe side. I had quickly learned that ferrets were professional contortionists.

"No, no, no," I snapped as Fifi tried to wriggle out of my grasp. I cradled her close to my chest and allowed her to hook experimental claws into the fabric of my tank top. It was one of my more ravaged ones -- courtesy of Duo Maxwell and his overeager sex-drive. I pulled my finger out of the way as Fifi tried to bite it. "What am I going to do with you?" I demanded of her, trying not to think of how odd I probably looked, sitting on the kitchen floor in jeans, a tank top, and my old sneakers (Fifi likes to bite toes), holding a finger-nipping, tank top-chewing ferret in my arms and talking to her as if she would be able to actually formulate some kind of reply. Duo always jokes that I talk to Fifi more than I talk to most people.

And I was about to start lecturing the inattentive ferret when the doorbell suddenly rang. Strange. We usually didn't get very many visitors, especially during the day when everyone was at work. "I hope that's Quatre," I told Fifi as I got to my feet. "I'm gonna tell him what a bad ferret you've been."

Fifi chuckled and nipped me on the chin.

"Damn ferret," I declared and stuffed her down the front of my tank top. She likes it in there for some reason. Probably because Duo's always carrying her around in his jacket with her head poking out of the collar.

The doorbell rang again as I walked out of the kitchen and to the front door. Ignoring Fifi as she wiggled around to make herself comfortable, I looked through the peephole before remembering that Duo had gotten smudge prints on the outside surface of the glass. All I could see was a blurry, golden figure. Blonde. Maybe Quatre, but for some reason, I didn't think so. Though I didn't like the idea of not knowing who was at the door, I couldn't just leave someone standing out there. I'm sure it was probably considered rude or something to do that. So I began to undo all the locks on the door, telling myself that I was going to be polite this time. No more scaring the neighbors away.

But when I opened the door and saw who was standing there, I frowned deeply. This most certainly wasn't one of our neighbors.

The stranger at the door had to be one of the oddest-looking people I had ever seen in my entire life. He was golden from head to toe. Hair the color of cornsilk grew to his collar, but a few sections had been cut -- rather unevenly -- to lie against his high cheekbones. His clothes were well worn, a little ragged, maybe. A brownish-gold button-down shirt with the sleeves cut off bared slender, lean arms. A scar wound down the side of one of them, marring the unblemished skin, which was an odd shade of pale gold -- the color you would get if you mixed Quatre and Wufei's skin tones together. It might have looked sickly on anyone else, but it suited him well. His pants were made of some indeterminable brown material, and they were far too long, bunching up at the ankles and nearly covering his dingy yellow sneakers. Sneakers that I saw were identical to mine. Hn. So much for originality.

But it wasn't the similarity in our footwear that merited my attention. It was the stranger's eyes. The golden irises were entrapped on either side by a black pupil and an equally black ring on the outer edge. It made the eyes' unnatural color very evident and lent to them an incredibly piercing quality that I had never beheld in any individual before. It made the stranger look hostile and wild -- almost savage. They were the kind of eyes that you saw on someone who truly didn't know the meaning of the word "defeat." He would have made a perfect soldier.

The stranger's eyes narrowed, and I realized that I had been glaring at him. It was time to be polite. Time to be cordial and neighborly.

"What do you want?" I demanded grumpily. Well, so much for that. Mission failed. What a pity, but somehow I didn't think a few harsh words were going to be make this guy run home crying to his mother. He looked rather amused, but in a bitter sort of way.

"Well, aren't you a nice guy? Do you treat everyone who comes to your door like shit?" he asked wryly. He had some kind of accent, harsh on the ears but interesting nonetheless.

"What are you doing here?" I asked him. My mood hadn't lightened in the least. Something about this guy was... off.

"Hmph," the stranger grunted. "I'm looking for someone."

"Hn," I said. If he wanted to have a grunting contest, he was in over his head.

The golden boy shoved his hands in the pockets of his baggy pants and rocked back and forth on the soles of his feet, staring hard at me. Nervous? No, he was just making habitual gestures. I knew that this stranger surely had to be capable of feeling anxiety, but when he did, he wasn't the type to show it.

"Who lives here?" he suddenly demanded of me, leaning to the side so that he could peer into the apartment. Lovely manners he had there. Never mind the fact that I would have done the same thing. Only I would have been more discreet about it.

I stepped in his line of vision. "Just me and my roommate," I said flatly.

His golden eyes narrowed, and I suddenly felt as if someone were driving an insubstantial arrow through my forehead. "Who's your roommate?" he asked, only with his accent, it came out sounding like, "who's yo'oomate?"

"Who are you looking for?" I deadpanned. He must have been thinking I was some kind of fool if he believed I would just answer his questions mindlessly.

He looked me right in the eye and said, "He's goes by the name of Duo Maxwell."

I didn't say anything. I couldn't.

"You know him," the golden boy stated, taking a step closer to the door. The look in his eyes was suddenly earnest, if not a tad hopeful -- a child in a man's body. It was rather disconcerting.

I nodded. What else could I do? "I know him," I said. "He lives here, but he's not home right now. He's still at work."

"Do you know what time he'll be back?" the golden boy asked. Now he was demanding again. Just great. A capricious one.

I was about to answer him when Fifi decided it was a good time to make herself known. She poked her head out of the collar of my tank top, nose twitching as she sniffed the air curiously. I had to move my arms to form a net at waist level in case she decided to dive out of my shirt completely. She's done that before.

"Holy shit! What the hell is that?!" the stranger exclaimed, backpedaling a couple of steps, clearly alarmed by Fifi's sudden appearance.

I blinked at him. "She's Fifi. She's a ferret."

The golden boy stared at me incredulously. "A ferret? She looks like a frickin' weasel!"

"You've never seen a ferret before?" I asked him as Fifi decided that she was more interested in chewing on the collar of my tank top than peering the stranger at the door.

The golden boy crossed his arms across his chest. "No," he said sullenly, suddenly reminding me of Duo in pout-mode. "I've never seen one of those before. She looks like a rat."

//She looked like a weasel a couple of seconds ago//

"Do you want to wait here for Duo?" I asked him, backing up and holding the door open. Nothing like a ferocious ferret to lighten a tense situation and make you feel gracious.

The golden boy was suddenly hesitant. "Well... I don't have much time. When is he gonna be back?"

I frowned. "He should be home in about half an hour unless he has to work late."

Golden eyes narrowed with something resembling suspicion as they darted from me to the ferret and back. Why he was looking at Fifi, I didn't know. She was intent on devouring my tank top and wasn't paying any attention to him.

"Alright," he finally said. "I'll stay for a little while."

I lifted an eyebrow and jerked my head slightly, indicating that he would enter while I held the door open. After one last glance at the distracted Fifi, the golden boy strode past me and into the apartment. My eyes followed him almost unwittingly, and I suddenly found myself resisting the urge to shiver. What was it about this guy that was putting me on edge?

I kept my gaze on him as I shut the door and refastened all the locks. He was staring at our living room and adjoining kitchen with something that might have been awe or wonder in his eyes, which I found a bit odd since Duo's and my apartment isn't even all that impressive or interesting. Unless Duo leaves some peculiar object lying on the floor or we have Meiran's [1] toys scattered all over the place, our abode is perfectly normal looking. Of course, since I had been stalking Fifi for the entire afternoon, our living room was just slightly out of order. I had knocked one of the cushions off the couch, and the coffee table was slightly crooked due to my headlong collision with it. Fifi had also dragged a pair of Duo's sandals out of the closet and into the middle of the living room floor.

"It's a little messy," I told the golden boy, not knowing what else to do. "Fifi got loose this afternoon."

He turned to stare at me. "Are you guys rich or something?" he demanded, eyes suddenly gone flat.

"Not really," I said slowly. Just what was his definition of rich? If he wanted rich, he should visit Quatre and Trowa's mansion or take a ride in Relena's private shuttle.

The golden boy frowned at me, as if suspecting me of lying. He didn't seem to be a very trusting sort, but then again, neither am I. Fifi was probably the only one present in the room that didn't have some kind of paranoia complex. Bully for her. I'd rather be an ignorant ferret than a mistrustful human any day.

A rather uncomfortable silence fell between us. This was why I avoid social interaction at all costs, with the exception of a choice few individuals. Most think that because Duo Maxwell is my lover and roommate, some of his charming personality and endless effusiveness will rub off on me. Well, they have another thing coming, of course. I don't like dealing with people. Never have. Never will. I don't chitchat. I don't have long-winded conversations on the telephone or the vidphone (it's a waste of breath). And I don't entertain strange guests who have nothing to do with me in the first place.

Naturally, though, I had some interest in this enigmatic individual. He had had past relations with Duo, and I wanted to find out what they had been. I was surprised at how much I wanted to find out. I'm normally not the type to pry into other people's pasts unless I absolutely have to, but I really wanted to know just who this guy was and why he was looking for my lover. I had to restrain myself from just starting to fire questions at him until I had my answers. Since most people usually considered that rude, I decided to make a conscious effort to be courteous. Something that is harder than it looks.

"Do you want to sit down?" I asked awkwardly, gesturing towards the living room area and trying to ignore Fifi as she scratched my stomach with her nails. Damn ferret.

The golden boy looked at the living room and then back at me. "You want me to sit on your couch?" he asked, sounding confused for some odd reason.

"Sit on the chair if you want," I said with a shrug as I walked past him in the direction of the couch. He stepped back from me a little hastily, as if afraid to let me invade his personal space. Or he might have been afraid of the ever-ominous Fifi, who was in the process of making an impressive hole in the collar of my tank top.

I sat down on the end of the couch, keeping my eye on the golden boy at all times. I started to fold my arms across my chest until I realized that I would probably end up squashing a certain ferret. I folded them over my stomach instead.

Hands shoved in the pockets of his baggy pants, the golden boy sauntered into the living room and stared dubiously at the leather couch before finally deciding to flop down into the only chair we have in the living room. He seemed to want to avoid the more luxurious items in the apartment, but I wondered briefly if he would have chosen the chair if he had known that Duo and I had been "enjoying ourselves" in it a week ago. I didn't know what he would have done, and for some reason, that bothered me. I don't like spontaneous, unpredictable factors in my life. Except for Duo, of course.

"What are you looking at?" the golden boy demanded of me, and I realized that I had been staring again. However, there was only a minimal amount of nastiness in his tone; it was just a simple question, at least to him.

"Just how do you know Duo?" I asked.

The stranger put his hand on the top of his head, and the sudden familiarity of that gesture sent chills down my spine. "Well," he said carefully. "We were friends... a long time ago."

"What kind of friends?" I blurted. It suddenly dawned on me that I might be speaking with an ex-lover of Duo's. That bothered me. Duo was the first man or woman that I had been romantically involved with, and I had just assumed that I was his first as well. Primitive logic, especially when I knew that Duo wasn't a virgin when we became lovers.

The golden boy stared at me shrewdly; he hadn't missed the tone of my voice. "We were best friends," he said, with special emphasis on the word 'best'. "I haven't seen him in years, though."

"How old were you when you two knew one other?" I asked, trying not to let my voice slip into "interrogation-mode." I knew instinctively that the stranger wouldn't take kindly to such an authoritative tone.

The golden boy stared at me. "Hell if I know. We were kids. We didn't exactly have watches and calendars to keep track of the time, ya know. Most street rats didn't."

He was watching my reaction carefully, but I kept my face an impassive blank. I had already known that Duo had lived on the streets for a certain time period in his life. I just hadn't been expecting phantoms from the past to come and pay us a friendly visit.

"Tell your weasel to quit staring at me," the golden boy suddenly snapped.

I looked down to see that Fifi had abandoned the task of chewing on my shirt and was sitting shock-still, all her attention riveted on the stranger sitting five feet away from her. Her nose was twitching a little too rapidly, and I could suddenly feel her discomfort, a fine trembling running through the entire length of her body. The unflappable ferret that could bully dogs a hundred times her size was actually frightened.

"Fifi, what's wrong?" I whispered, reaching down to touch the dark fur on her back. Big mistake. She jolted like I had shocked her, scrambling out of my tank top so quickly that she scratched my chest with one of her claws. The pain was sharp and insignificant, and I ignored it as I tried in vain to grab her as she clambered over my shoulder and leapt off the back of the couch, making a mad beeline for the refrigerator. I spun around and started to climb over the back of the couch with the intention of chasing after her, but I knew it was over when I saw the end of her furry tail disappearing behind the refrigerator. Damn. Wily creature.

"What a crazy weasel," the golden boy commented. "Do they all fritz out like that?"

"Something scared her," I said flatly, reseating myself on the couch and glaring hard at the golden boy.

He didn't miss my silent accusation, either. "Oh gimme a break!" he exclaimed indignantly. "What would I get outta scaring away your goddamn weasel? She probably has fleas, you know."

"I didn't say you scared her away."

The golden boy folded his slender arms across his chest and stuck his nose up in the air, suddenly bearing an uncanny resemblance to a certain braided baka I knew and loved. "Guys like you never say a thing," he commented mysteriously. "But I know your kind. Don't think I don't."

"Hn," I grunted noncommittally. I had no earthly idea what he was talking about anyways.

"You're not a people person, are you?" the golden boy asked bluntly.

"No," I answered flatly.

"Man, how the HELL did someone like you become friends with Duo?" the stranger mused, more to himself than to me. Before I could say anything, he suddenly sprung up from his seat with unnatural grace. "Can I take a look around your pad?" he asked, stretching his arms above his head before shoving his hands back in his pockets again.

//Pad? Oh... apartment//

"Go ahead," I replied distractedly. The golden boy grinned at me slyly. He wasn't fooled by my casual manner; he knew I was going to be watching him every step of the way.

And watch him I did, my eyes never leaving his lanky form for a second as he examined our TV with interest. He lifted his hand several times like he wanted to touch the screen or fumble with the buttons, but he always shoved his hands back in the pockets of his baggy pants at the last minute. His messy blonde hair brushed the collar of his shirt as he tilted his head back to stare at the top of our entertainment center, where Duo had jokingly placed two of Meiran's Barbie dolls (Skipper and Teresa, I believe). He joked that he wanted two "sexy ladies" to watch him while he cooked in the kitchen all the way across the room. I thought there might have been another Barbie up there, but Fifi had spirited her off somewhere the other day. We'd probably never see her again. The Barbie, I mean.

Something about the way the golden boy moved was irking me. He didn't make any noise when he walked, something that I found odd. You usually don't make a habit of moving quietly unless you absolutely had to. There was also a certain spring to his step that I found eerily familiar; it was almost as if he were walking an air.

I frowned and folded my arms across my chest, startled when I felt a sharp sting lance across my skin. I looked down and saw a shallow cut on my chest, bleeding thinly. Damn that Fifi. She must have scratched me harder than I had originally thought. I grabbed the frayed collar of my tank top and was about to put pressure on the cut when the air suddenly shifted close to me, and I realized that the golden boy was wandering in the direction of the hallway -- and our bedroom.

Instinctively, I reached out and grabbed the golden boy by one of his slender wrists. Or at least I tried to. I'm not quite sure what happened. My hand was lurching forward to latch onto him, and I could have sworn that I managed to grab his wrist, but... my fingers hit nothing but empty air. And then they went numb as some sort of strange, thick resistance flowed around them. It felt like they were stuck in an unknown substance, and that substance was slowly spreading down my hand, to my wrist... I jerked my hand back as if I had been stung. I couldn't feel my fingers. It was like they weren't even there.

The golden boy also recoiled-- a belated reflex to my trying to grab him by the wrist. He looked angry until he saw the way I was staring at my fingers. Then he just looked flat-out worried, though he concealed it quite well.

"What did you do that for?" he tried to snap, but there was no fire in his voice.

I didn't answer. I was too busy flexing my fingers to see if I still had any feeling in them.

"If you didn't want to me to go over there," the golden boy continued, "you could have just said so. No need to get all grabby."

I wiggled my fingers until I felt the blood start to flow back into them. What had just happened? There was no way he could have moved quickly enough to avoid my grasp. I KNOW I touched him...

"Don't go into the bedroom," I warned belatedly, glaring up at him.

The golden boy was offended. "Like I would REALLY do something like that! Contrary to what you believe, I do have manners. Wait a minute... you and Duo sleep in the same room?"

//In the same bed, too.//

"Yeah," I told him curtly. "Is there something wrong with that?" The words came out a bit ruder than I had been planning. My mood seemed to have darkened considerably. This stranger was starting to creep me out a little.

"No, nothing wrong with that," the golden boy deadpanned, but his eyes told a different story. He suddenly lifted his arms and folded them behind his head, interlocking his slender, golden fingers at the nape of his neck. He started to wander nonchalantly in the direction of the mantelpiece as I just stared at him in shock. That gesture -- the arms behind the head -- was something only Duo did. I felt gooseflesh rising on my arms.

//Kami-sama, who the HELL is this guy?//

"Hey, you," the golden boy suddenly called over his shoulder as he examined the framed photos on the mantelpiece.

"Heero," I snapped.

He looked me, puzzled. "Huh?"

I rose to my feet, muscles tense. "My name is Heero Yuy."

One of his eyebrows shot up. "Oooohhh," he drawled, looking me up and down with those unnerving golden eyes of his, speaking in that unnerving voice with its unnerving accent, making his unnerving gestures and moving that with unnerving grace...

"Who took these pics?" he asked suddenly, turning back to the mantelpiece.

I walked over, making sure to keep a few feet between him and me. "Our friends took them," I explained in a neutral tone. "Then Duo's friend Hilde came over one day and insisted that we redecorate by framing them and putting them on the mantelpiece. She and Duo were real enthusiastic so I went ahead and let them do it."

An oddly affectionate smile came the golden boy's thin lips. "Even if you didn't let him, Duo would probably go right ahead and do it anyways."

I felt one corner of my mouth curl into a smile. "You have a point there."

The golden boy stared at the framed pictures for a few seconds more before he asked the question I had been waiting for. "You and Duo are more than just 'friends', aren't you?" He sounded like he couldn't decide whether or not to be angry or wistful.

I nodded. "That's right."

Slowly, the golden boy let his hands drop from behind his head, and he began to reach forward like he wanted to touch one of the pictures, but he was afraid it was going to bite him or something. Tentatively, his graceful fingers ghosted across the smooth, cool metal of one of the frames, then retreated back slightly, only to one again proceed forward. This time he wrapped the fingers of both hands around the edge of the frame and lifted the picture up with surprising gentleness.

The picture was one of three framed photos we had on the mantelpiece. It truly had been Duo and Hilde's doing. I'm not one for looking at either pictures or mirrors. Call a low self-esteem complex, but I don't like seeing myself. It bothers me for some reason, although Duo is constantly telling me how gorgeous/sexy/beautiful I am. Each time he does, it gets harder and harder not to blush. It was only because Duo had seemed so eager that I had allowed him and Hilde to "beautify" our mantelpiece.

The first picture was of the five of us ex-Gundam pilots, all dressed in Preventers uniforms, even though Duo, Wufei, and I are the only "real" Preventers. Quatre and Trowa are more like alternates. Sally, our ingenious photographer, had all insisted that we sit on stools for the picture. It definitely wasn't one of my favorites. Duo and I were really the only ones looking at the camera. Wufei was purposely looking somewhere else just to grind Sally's nerves, and Trowa was distracted by Quatre, who was slowing falling off his stool and into Trowa's lap. Which actually did happen a split second after Sally took the picture. Quatre lost his balance, fell into Trowa, who in turn fell into me. Wufei and Duo managed to survive unscathed, something I would have done if Duo hadn't decided to be cute and sit on my hand in the middle of the photo shoot. I had to force myself to be still for five pictures with Duo's ass crushing my fingers. Not that I was complaining, of course.

The second one was a rather simple one. It had been taken four years ago, right after Wing Zero and I had destroyed the piece of Libra that had been plummeting towards the Earth. One of the Maguanacs had been walking around with a camera while we were recuperating on the colony. I had walked into the hangar, dressed in spacesuit and all, to find the lens of said camera being shoved in my face. Just as I was raising my hands to avoid having my photo snapped, a certain braided baka had waltzed up and flung his arms around my shoulders, pressing his cheek against mine. And so the picture had been taken with Duo grinning like a madman and me looking like a scared rabbit. Bad, but not as bad as the previous one.

The last one, however, was the most recent of the trio of photos. Two week's paid vacation found Duo and I on L3 in one of Quatre and Trowa's mansions, hanging around their monstrous swimming pool. Since I really wasn't one for swimming, I had been sitting on the edge of the decking, reading a book, when Duo had come at me from behind, dressed in only a pair of red swimming trunks, and wrapped his arms around my neck. He wanted me to get in the pool with him and had threatened to start kissing and groping me in front of "everyone else" (Quatre and Trowa, wowee) [2] if I didn't comply with his wishes. I had smirked and told him to do his worst. I hadn't known that I had been smiling when I said it, or that my eyes had been half-closed in a relaxed, languid fashion. Duo grinned and was just leaning into to kiss me when we were interrupted by the sound of a camera shutter closing with a loud, cheerful snap. So the photo was of me holding Duo's hands to prevent him from pinching my nipples while we were literally nose to nose, both of us grinning like idiots with our eyes closed. I never did get my kiss, as Duo had suddenly become more interested in chasing the madly triumphant Quatre around the yard.

I love that picture of us. It was also the one that the golden boy had decided was the most interesting. Now all I had to do was wait for his reaction. Would he be horribly disgusted that his childhood friend Duo had taken another male for a lover? Would he be jealous of me? Would he hate me?

"He sure has grown up," the golden boy suddenly said softly, cradling the picture in his hands. I tried to read the look in his eyes, but his hair had fallen across his face, hiding everything above his mouth from view.

"Yes, he has," I agreed.

The golden boy suddenly lifted his head and stared hard at me. "What is Duo to you?" he asked, voice surprisingly gentle, not at all matching the wild look in his eyes.

I blinked. "Hn. I'm not sure what you mean."

"Is he your friend?"

"My best friend."

"You two screwing each other?"

I frowned at his choice of words. "He's my lover, yes."

"He your boyfriend?"

"No."

A scowl came to his face. "But you're sleeping with him?"

"Yeah."

"Why don't you call him your boyfriend then?"

"Because he's not my boyfriend."

Something dark and dangerous flickered in the depths of his eyes, and when he spoke, there was a slither in his voice that hadn't been there before. "So you're just with him for the sex, then?"

I was starting to get a little annoyed. "No. I don't call Duo my boyfriend because he's so much more to me than just that. I won't do to say he's just my boyfriend."

The anger melted away from his face, replaced by something extremely melancholy in nature. "You love him?" he asked, his voice almost a whisper.

"Yes, I do," I said softly, my eyes glancing briefly at the picture in his hands.

"How much?"

"More than... anything," I answered truthfully.

Golden eyes pierced my own blue ones. "Would you die for him?"

"Yes," I said immediately.

The golden boy held my eyes for a few seconds more, still gripping the framed picture, as if afraid to let it go. I normally don't like to try and read people's emotions unless I absolutely have to, but the conflict I saw in the tawny depths of his eyes was so painfully evident that I couldn't help but feel a quick flash of pity for this stranger who had journeyed from the shadows of the past to come visit Duo.

"Well, Heero," the golden boy suddenly said. "It's been nice talking with you." He reached out and placed the framed photo back on the mantelpiece, adjusting its position until he was satisfied. I blinked in surprise. "You're not going to wait for Duo?"

The golden boy turned to me and smiled tiredly, running a hand through his blonde hair. We were less than a foot away from each other. "No," he said quietly. "I don't have to wait. I'm tired. I want to go home now."

I suddenly felt a spark of anger ignite in the back of my mind. "If you were Duo's best friend like you claim to be, then I'd think he'd want to see you again. What kind of friend are you, anyways?"

He laughed softly, as if sharing a private joke with himself. "Take care of Duo for me, Heero, 'kay?" he asked, smiling at me. "And tell him Solo stopped by to see how he was doing."

"Solo," I repeated. For some reason, the name made my heart skip a beat. "I'll remember that."

"Thanks, Heero," he said sincerely, cocking his head to the side and winking before striding past me, so close that our bare shoulders almost brushed. He had no scent.

Solo... Duo... Solo... Duo... Solo...

I turned around, suddenly remembering that it was only polite to walk guests to the door and see them out. But the apartment was empty. Solo was nowhere to be seen.

Funny. I hadn't even heard the door open and shut behind him.

+

It was fully night by the time Duo returned home. I was sitting on the couch in the dark living room, my arms slack at my sides with my eyes staring blindly up at the shadowy ceiling. The apartment all around me was quiet, and so the sounds of Duo fumbling around outside the door didn't escape my detection. There came the sound of metal keys jangling as they fell to the carpeted floor out in the hallway, followed by a muffled curse. I closed my eyes, savoring the sound of Duo's voice, however distant it may have been.

The door squeaked slightly as Duo opened it. I could hear the sounds of his boots sinking into the carpet. The scent of his shampoo was carried to my nose by the currents produced by the air conditioner. I felt his presence filling the room as the door clicked shut behind him. The sound of his bag hitting the floor, and I knew he was standing in front of door, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, even though Duo still has very good night vision. There were the sounds of clothes rustling, and a then I felt the light from one of the lamps suddenly snap on with a click, illuminating my "sleeping" form. I heard Duo's soft laughter, deep and affectionate as he walked around the back of the couch and leaned over me. The back of the couch shifted underneath my head as I felt him plant his hands on either side of my face. A wave of delicious warmth hit me, followed by the tickling slap by the end of a certain braid.

I opened my eyes to find Duo staring down at me with a smile on his face, the end of his braid hovering over my nose.

"Sorry about that," he apologized, flicking the rope of hair back over his shoulder. "My braid was happy to see you."

"Really?" I asked, smiling a little. I was happy to see him, too, goofy braid and all.

"Sure," he drawled, leaning down and kissing me on the nose. "It still likes you even though you were hacking at it a couple of weeks ago. It doesn't hold grudges."

"That's nice," I commented as I slowly leaned my head forward, rubbing my neck to ease the ache that came from remaining in such an uncomfortable position for so long. I turned around and watched Duo as he peeled off his Preventers jacket and hung it on the back of one of the kitchen chairs, yawning widely as he did so. His movements were graceful, unconsciously so. His limbs moved with a certain fluidity as he undid the knot of his tie and tossed it on the kitchen table, the end of his braid lightly striking his lower back as he did so.

"Is the Beast running around the house?" Duo asked me as he started to unlace his boots. He was referring to Fifi, of course.

"Not anymore," I answered. "She's sleeping in your underwear drawer."

Duo laughed, lilac eyes shining with mirth even though it was obvious he was tired. "Damn bugger. Getting ferret germs all over my boxers and my whitey tighties." The last word was punctuated by a deep yawn as he nearly fell trying to extricate himself from his boots.

"How was your day?" I asked him awkwardly. The words were coming easier to me, but they still sounded weird coming out of my mouth.

Duo didn't care, of course. "Tiring," he answered, walking over and leaning heavily against the back of the couch so that his face was only inches from mine. "Une sent me on a mission with Wuffer-boy and Larsy Marsy the One-Man Party."

I had to smile.

Duo rolled his eyes in exasperation. "God, I swear, Lars makes one more snide comment to me and I'm gonna strangle him with my braid! And one day I'm gonna tell him about our lewd sex life just to watch him get all hot and bothered and jealous."

"Our sex life isn't lewd."

"Oh really?" Duo said breathily, a slow smile spreading across his face as he leaned forward to give me a long, thorough kiss on the mouth. I reached up and slid one of my hands to rest on the nape of his neck, pulling him closer and deepening the kiss. I wanted him be near to me, to my body, where I could hold him. Duo made a sound of mirth in the back of his throat, surprised by my sudden eagerness. His lips were soft underneath mine, warm and pliant. I slowly let my tongue slip into his mouth, finding his and caressing it languidly, enjoying the taste and feel of him.

"Whoa!" Duo cried when I suddenly reached up and wrapped my arms around him, pulling him over the back of the couch and into my lap. One of his arms slipped around my shoulders instinctively, and I looped my own arms around his waist, holding onto him tightly. His body was warm and light in my arms, and the faint but pleasant smell of his shampoo drifted to my nose. "Someone's full of energy tonight," Duo joked, smiling at me. "Surprising actually, being that you probably spent half the day chasing the ferret around the apartment."

"Yeah," I agreed.

"So what else did you do besides play hide and seek with Fifi the Ferocious?"

I paused, my voice lost to me for an instant. Should I tell him? I knew he wasn't going to react positively. He was going to call me a bastard, a liar. He would lock me out of the apartment, out of his heart. But... he would never forgive me if I didn't say anything. Solo wouldn't forgive me, either.

"One of your friends came to see you today." The words tumbled from my lips on their accord.

Duo blinked in surprise. "Really? Cool. Where did they go?"

"Home," I said. "He went home."

"Aw, that sucks!" Duo lamented. "But... who was 'he', Heero? I don't think I have any friends outside the Preventers."

I swallowed and stared at him. I saw the delicate ignorance in those blue-violet eyes and braced myself. "Solo came to visit you, Duo."

For a moment, nothing happened. The silence in the air was deafening. Duo's body was still, his face and eyes devoid of any emotion. Then, before my eyes, I watched his emotions claim and ravage him in phases.

All the color drained from his face, leaving his already pale skin a ghostly shade of white. His body started trembling slightly, and his eyes shone with something that might or might not have been tears. I wasn't given a chance to dwell on it, because I suddenly beheld what I had been waiting for: a rising tide of violence in his eyes, which were slowly turning deep violet with rage. The corner of one his upper lip started edging upwards, much like the lip of an offended beast, promising bloodshed. His muscles were rigid. All these signs were indicators I had come to associate with the being known as Shinigami, a creature I hadn't seen in years.

He suddenly shifted violently in my lap, hands fastening around my shoulders in a painful grip that nearly numbed both of my arms. I didn't make a move to defend myself; I was lost in the churning depths of his enraged eyes, my arms still wrapped firmly around his slender waist.

"Liar," he hissed at me. "You're lying to me!"

"No," I said simply. "I'm not lying to you, Duo."

"Solo is dead!" he all but screamed at me, fingers digging into the bare skin of my shoulders.

"I know."

Instead of placating him, my words of agreement only managed to infuriate him further. He shook me hard, and I knew that if I hadn't been prepared, my body would have jerked back and forth in his large hands like a rag doll. "Then how could he have come to see me??!!" Duo yelled. "He's dead, fucking dead, I tell you, you heartless bastard! How dare you mock me like that! How dare you!"

I ignored his cursing and said as calmly as I could manage, "I'm not mocking you, Duo. The man I saw in here today was Solo. He said so himself, and I know he didn't lie. Just like you never lie, Duo."

"No, no, no!!" he cried, shaking his head violently. Hot tears flew from his eyes as his braid lashed the air behind him, seemingly alive with his agitation. "You're lying! You have to be!!"

"I wouldn't lie to you about something this important, Duo," I said. I didn't know why I felt the need to keep repeating his name. "Even Fifi knew something was wrong with him. He didn't have a scent. There was no warmth in his body. I tried to grab his wrist and my fingers passed right through him."

The rage in Duo's eyes abruptly started to wither. "You're not lying to me," he whispered brokenly. It wasn't a question, just a statement of acceptance. I don't know what he was seeing in my eyes, but whatever it was -- whatever emotion -- I was grateful for its presence. There were just some things I couldn't say in words.

All the fight drained out of Duo's form. His muscles went slack and quivering in my arms. He lowered his head, bangs hiding his face. Slowly, his hands slid from my shoulders, only to become balled up in my tank top, fingers scrabbling for purchase on the well-worn cloth, like a drowning man fighting for solid ground. I had the sudden urge to clasp him close to me and rock him back and forth until he felt better, but something stopped me. Maybe it was the tears silently rolling down his cheeks, or the painful half-moon indentations his nails had left in my shoulders. Maybe it was the way he was breathing heavily, fighting for control of his emotions.

"What did he say... when he was here?" Duo suddenly asked, and his voice was amazingly steady. I had forgotten how strong he was.

I automatically tightened my grip around his waist, trying to offer him some sort of solace. "He said to tell you that he came to see how you were doing. He told me to take care of you for him. He loved you."

Duo looked up at that, eyes glittering. "He said that?"

"No," I said softly. "But you could see it in his eyes. I'm sure he loved you more than the waking world."

Tears ran anew down Duo's face. He closed his eyes tightly to block their passage, but they leaked out of the corners of his eyes, unstoppable. "How was he, Heero?"

"What do you mean?" I asked carefully. I didn't want to prolong this experience any more than I had to, but I didn't understand what he was asking.

"Was he sad?" Duo whispered. "Was he happy? How was he?"

I closed my eyes briefly, remembering Solo and that deep-rooted weariness I saw in his face, in those unfathomable golden eyes. "He was tired," I told Duo. "Very tired. But... he's gone home now. He'll be fine, I'm sure. I... I can take care of you now, Duo." The sudden desperation in my words took me by surprise. Duo looked up and gave me a watery smile.

"I know you can, Heero. It's just... I wish I could have seen Solo before he left."

I tightened my grip on him, pulling his body closer to mine. He melded himself against me, resting his head on my chest, just over my heart, which I suddenly realized was beating loud enough for the blood to rush and pound in my ears. I hadn't even noticed it before. What did it mean? Was I scared? Scared that Duo would have rather have been with Solo in death than here with me? If Solo had been a living, breathing person, and he suddenly showed up on our doorstep, would Duo have chosen him over me? I didn't even want to think about that.

I buried my face in his hair and whispered, "Aishiteru, Duo."

I felt him smile against my skin. He shifted slightly and kissed me on the chest, on my heartbeat. "I love you, too, Heero."

We were quiet after that; there really wasn't much more we could say. I kept my arms wrapped around him. I don't think I could have let him go if I wanted to. If I was holding him too tightly, he didn't complain.

Every once in a while, I would feel a hot tear roll down my chest and would know that Duo was lost in memories that had been locked away until now. And he was alone with these mnemonic phantoms. All alone.

So I asked him to tell me about Solo. And after a brief hesitation, he did. He told me how Solo had found him hiding from some police officers and had helped him escape from the unjust grasp of the law. Duo didn't have a name back then. He was just "Kid" or "Purple Eyes". But he didn't care. He loved Solo; Solo was his best friend in the whole universe. Solo didn't make fun of his long hair or his skinny little chicken legs. Solo actually liked his hair. One time, he had even tried to braid it but, without the knowledge of how to do such a complex thing, had made a bit knot out of it, which he had actually taken the time to finger-comb out. Solo was tough, smart, and kind. Solo always took care of his small little friend. Solo promised they would always be together.

Solo had eyes the color of the sun over Earth. Solo had hair that would probably shine like a jewel if they could wash all the dirt out of it. Solo was golden. And that golden boy was killed by a plague. He died in the arms of his best friend, and on the wings of his death, Duo the Great Destroyer was born. When the silence descended this time around, it wasn't so terrible. Duo was emotionally exhausted, and it didn't take long for him to fall asleep in my arms, snoring softly. He was relaxed, peaceful with the closing of one of those internal wounds that I knew had remained open and bleeding until tonight. I pressed a kiss into his hair and, closing my own eyes, tried to give myself over the same oblivion that had offered Duo escape from the divine torture of consciousness.

But the afterimage of Solo burned clearly behind my eyelids, everlasting and immortal. Golden.

Rest in peace.

~owari

And I don't want to world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am

"Iris" - Goo Goo Dolls

[1] This will be explained. Never fear, my friends. ^_^
[2] Okay, I KNOW that it may be OOC for Heero to make a comment involving the word "wowee", but is it SO inconceivable that some of Duo's humor might have rubbed off on him? ^^

Wow! You guys actually lasted this long?? Thank you SO much for anyone who read this thing all the way through! I didn't mean for it to be this long, honest. O_O Please send me your comments!

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