Author: Ponderosa (ponderosa@dragonworld.com)
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Back of My Heart + Chapter 2

"Last of the pot," Trowa said, returning to the living room. The mug he handed Duo was filled a measly third of the way with the dark, fragrant brew, but the longhaired man accepted it greedily.

"This is the best damn coffee I've ever had," said Duo, for the tenth time.

Just as he had each time before, Trowa allowed a slight smile at the compliment. If there was one thing he was proud of, it was the coffee making skills he had been perfecting the past five years. He retook his spot on the floor in front of the loveseat and propped an elbow on the cushioned seat behind him. Regarding Duo curiously, he opted to not resume the debate about Sphere politics and turned the conversation towards a less blood-pressure raising topic: "So, Quatre had told me you were back from Mars..."

Sprawled on the matching couch that formed an L in front of the room's gilded brass fireplace, Duo sipped his coffee and bobbed his head. "Yeah, yeah. Man, what a shithole.

"Piloting the cloud seeders wasn't bad, it was living in those domes," Duo said. "I haven't had such crappy meals since I was living on the streets. It costs too much to transport fresh food, and there's only so much farmable soil, so most nights it was rats."

Trowa made a sympathetic grunt. He had grown up in a mercenary company, and was intimately familiar with the wide variety - and all equally tasteless - types of rations. "OZ surplus?" he guessed.

"Ding-ding-ding! Give the man his prize! Congratulations, Trowa Barton, you've won a lifetime supply of self-heating Salisbury steak!"

"Words cannot express my state of overwhelming joy," Trowa deadpanned.

The American laughed, then waved an arm around, gesturing broadly as he went on about his brief experience as part of the terraforming team. As Duo went on, Trowa decided that he was quite glad he hadn't opted to take a year or two off from the circus to volunteer out there.

"Best thing that came out of it," said Duo, his lips stretching into a wide grin, "was having been there to see Noin give Zechs a black eye when he finally broke down and proposed."

One of Trowa's eyebrows shot towards his hairline. "She hit him?" he said in disbelief. "...before or after he asked?"

Duo grinned wider still and immediately launched into the full story with an infectious enthusiasm that had Trowa hanging on every word. The braided man paused to gulp down the rest of his coffee before it lost all its heat and set aside his empty mug beneath a bulbous lamp crafted of smoky glass. As he began again, Duo unbuttoned and pushed up his sleeves. Maintaining those atmospheric scrubbers under the harsh Martian sun had at least given Duo a lasting tan.

The last few years had also seen the former Deathscythe pilot gain some height; he stood at a respectable 5'10", but that was still a good three inches shy of Trowa. The green-eyed man silently took note of all the changes he saw in his friend and was privately amazed at how many there were. Duo's face, dominated by those expressive, violet-grey eyes, had thinned and lost its boyishness. His jaw, while still smooth, curved handsomely - the subtle angles complimented by the way he wore his bangs longer now towards the ears. There remained an androgynous quality to him, but with age came muscle definition, and some of Duo's masculine attributes were more easily noticed.

"So, Trowa, it's your turn to talk for a while."

"I don't exactly lead a very exciting life."

Duo snorted. "You earn your living by getting knives hurled at your face and taming lions. You don't call that exciting?"

Trowa smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "You stayed with me and Cathy for a week back in '97. You saw what it was like. Not much has changed since then."

"Fine... fine..." said Duo. He closed his eyes and tucked his hands behind his head. "Just talk then. About anything, I don't care."

"All right," Trowa replied.

+

A stuck pig. That's what his alarm sounded like. Its high-pitched squeal dragged Duo kicking and screaming from dreamland and back into the harsh gray light of reality.

"Go to hell," he growled, smacking his hand down on the snooze bar. Only, his hand swooshed through the air and momentum sent him tumbling onto the floor.

"Motherfucker!" Duo cried, scrambling to get up. He wasn't sure what was worse: the biting cold of the hardwood floor, the pain blossoming at his hip and elbow, or the humiliation when he noticed Trowa had appeared in the doorway with a familiar red kettle in hand.

"I see you're a morning person."

Duo shot the tall brunet a dirty look.

"I'm about to put some water on," Trowa said, ignoring the glare. One thin eyebrow curved upward, the only sign that he was amused by the situation. "Did you want a cup?"

"Shower first," Duo croaked, shedding the remains of his makeshift bed as he stood up unsteadily.

"Your clothes are in the wash. Just borrow some from my bag in the meantime. It's in the guest room," Trowa said. His eyes stayed on Duo for a moment longer before he slipped back into the kitchen. "...and I'll turn the heat up."

"Wha-?" Duo's reply died as he glanced down at the last place Trowa's eyes had skimmed past. Staring at his naked body, as if he was seeing it for the first time, he couldn't decide if he was happy about not sporting morning wood.

Snatching a blanket and wrapping it around his waist, Duo headed down the hall. Yawning hugely, he tried to remember what had happened the night before. He winced as the yawn faded and rubbed his throat. It felt a little raw this morning. He and Trowa had talked well into the night about everything up to and including their Gundams, but despite the fact that he had woken up buck naked, he was sure there had been no sex, or anything resembling it. Or, at least he was pretty sure. As the taste in his mouth reminded him, Quatre's bar was down a bottle of whisky.

With a few drinks in him, Duo had confessed everything that had happened with Quatre. Trowa hadn't reacted negatively when he'd outed himself, but neither had he immediately fallen onto his back with his heels in the air and an offer to let Duo have his merry way with him in a wild bout of comfort sex. A pity that wasn't the case, Duo thought as he turned on the shower and fiddled with the temperature. He usually went after blondes, but Trowa had that delicious, lean swimmer's build, and something about him just plain screamed, 'I'm great in the sack!'

Sidetracked for a moment dwelling on those long, well-toned legs he'd gotten a peek at a few minutes ago, Duo went back to mentally recounting the night's events. With a mortified groan, he recalled quite vividly what happened to his clothes.

'Maxwell, when did you turn into such an idiot?' he asked himself as he stepped into the shower and huddled under the spray of sinfully hot water. Trying to work the fireplace with all that happy juice in him had not been one of his smartest ideas. 'And what in the hell happened to your underwear?'

A good fifteen minutes later, he was twisting his hair into a thick yellow towel, and Duo still had no answer to that little mystery. He stepped into the borrowed pair of jeans and struggled to pull them up over his damp skin. They fit well enough in the waist, but dragged on past his heels, and Duo steadied the towel on his head as he bent over to roll back the cuffs.

He took his time finishing up in the bathroom, doing his best to scrub toothpaste into his teeth with a finger and grateful to find a bottle of mouthwash to finish the job. Duo picked up a comb from beside the sink to tame his hair into its usual serviceable plait. The few fine blonde hairs lodged in the teeth reminded him where he was, but he was surprised to find he wasn't as uncomfortable as he felt he ought to be. A final glance in the mirror once his hair was dealt with revealed that, although he hadn't shaved, he didn't look nearly as scruffy as he felt.

Trowa's shirt fit him much better than the pants had. Soft and well worn, it stretched comfortably across his back as he padded down the hall. Unfortunately, the black briefs he'd snatched after some debate felt far more constrictive than his favored cotton boxers, and Duo adjusted himself a dozen times on the way to the kitchen. He wondered if it was worse knowing your friend was going commando in a pair of your jeans, or that his boys were nestled in a pair of your underwear.

He could hear Trowa shuffling around the kitchen, catching the muffled bang of a cabinet closing and the skid of a mug on the tiled countertop. Unspoiled by any other odors, the rich smell of coffee wafted out, and he breathed the lure of caffeine in greedily.

"Gee, after last night, don't I at least get breakfast?" Duo quipped as he swung around the doorway.

"Good morning, Duo," Quatre said.

"Quatre! I uh-" Duo turned a spectacular shade of red as he stood there in Trowa's clothes.

"He went to the bakery on the corner," Quatre said before Duo had to ask, and handed him one of two steaming mugs. The slim blonde was smiling as he retreated to the small breakfast table set beneath a narrow window and pulled up the blinds. Brilliant mid-morning sunlight streamed in through the glass, spilling over the small table and onto the large gray tiles of the floor to form a neat golden rectangle. "It's going to be such a beautiful day today."

With nothing else to do, Duo followed and took the seat opposite Quatre. He tried to act naturally, but his blunder from the night before had been ripped freshly to the forefront of his mind. "I wasn't planning to stay here last night," said Duo abruptly.

Quatre nodded affably and nudged a small pitcher of cream towards the other man. He wrapped his slim fingers around his mug and lifted it, mindful of the heat as he took a sip. He crinkled his nose and set it down almost immediately. "Trowa makes excellent coffee, but I, regrettably, do not," he said, and reached for the sugar spoon.

"I had a little problem with your fireplace," Duo admitted. He poured a good dollop of cream into the dark coffee. If it had caffeine in it, he wasn't about to be picky. Besides, it had to be better than the sludge he normally brewed for himself.

"I saw," Quatre suppressed a smile. "I'll have someone in to clean later today."

"I'll pa-"

The blonde waved a hand, dismissing the offer before Duo had a chance to give it. "Don't worry about it," he said, wide blue eyes forgiving as always. Something shifted in his gaze and Duo suddenly found adding sugar to his coffee a task that required all of his attention. His hope to ward off whatever query lurked on Quatre's tongue wasn't fulfilled, as his ruse failed, or Quatre simply chose to ignore it. The blonde leaned forward conspiratorially and said in a low voice, "So you and Trowa..."

"No," Duo said firmly, quashing that thought before it had a chance to take root.

"Oh," Quatre sat back, his lips set in an unreadable line. His usual amiable expression returned as he looked towards the living room. "Well then, I suppose now I'll have to ask instead of assume why I found your underwear in the cushions of my couch."

"Is that what happened to them?" said Duo, genuinely surprised.

"Nevermind," Quatre said. He picked up his mug again to give the coffee a second chance, and smiled as the tension in the air lessened by a good degree. "I've changed my mind. I really don't want to know."

+

"Well, it seems my vacation has been cut short before it had a chance to begin," Quatre said, setting the phone down. He turned towards Duo with a sigh. "Will you give Trowa my apologies when he gets back? I won't be free until the weekend at the earliest."

The braided man nodded and stood up, hooking his thumbs into the pockets of his borrowed jeans. He followed Quatre to the door, feeling a bit odd since he was technically the guest. "Did you guys have plans for today?"

"No," Quatre answered, and Duo remembered that Trowa had shown up early.

The blonde picked up his keys and briefcase off the endtable and pulled his coat off the rack. He slung it over his arm and paused. "Although, if you're not busy, maybe the two of you could spend some..."

Duo narrowed his eyes. He knew that tone; the subtle, persuasive one so often accompanied by a contemplative draw of eyebrow and a calculating gleam in those bright blue eyes. Was Quatre trying to play matchmaker? He interrupted the blonde mid-sentence, and leveled him with a sharp look. "Are you trying to do what I think you're trying to do?"

Quatre tugged at the cuff of his sleeve and chuckled dryly as he opened the door. "Matchmaking? Hardly. If it weren't for the snags in these negotiations, I would be playing host. The fact that you're here provides a perfect alternative to leaving Trowa without anything to do. The two of you haven't seen nearly enough of each other in the past five years."

"Yeah, you're right," said Duo. Trowa was always moving from colony to colony, and the Mars Project aside, he had been having his fun helping the Schbeiker family's salvage business get back on its feet. He and Trowa had talked a lot last night, but there were still things Duo wanted a chance to catch up on. "Wouldn't mind hanging out with him some more if he's interested."

"I'm sure he's interested," Quatre said.

'Not as interested as I am,' Duo thought. He scratched his elbow and leaned against the back of the couch. 'Wait a minute. What's with me?! Can't have Quatre, let's latch on to the next single male that comes along?' If he was being honest with himself however, there was more to it than that. He'd never truly believed things could work out with Quatre, nor had he spent much time thinking about the reality of such a relationship. The call that had come while they were patching things up was a prime example of what life with the blonde would be like. Between Quatre's erratic work schedule and his occasionally overbearing nature, Duo was definitely happier off as nothing more than friends. Moreover, Trowa was interesting, good-looking, made better coffee than he did, and probably straight; everything he seemed to prefer in a man.

"I'll talk to you later, Duo." Quatre flashed him a smile and Duo lifted his chin in a little farewell nod. The blonde shook his head and chuckled again on his way out, "Matchmaking... really..."

'Huh, little disappointed aren't you, Maxwell,' Duo thought as the door clicked shut.

"Oh, Duo, one more thing..." the door opened a crack and Quatre poked his head through, grinning like a fiend. "Trowa kisses better than you."

+

"How long will it be?" Trowa asked. He crumpled up an empty muffin wrapper and tossed it into the center of the table.

"Until what?" Duo tried to feign ignorance, but he knew the gig was up.

"Until you ask about whatever it is that's making you look at me like that," Trowa replied. He wiped his fingers off on his knee and fixed Duo with an intense look.

Duo suppressed a shiver. Though often half-hidden beneath that mass of hair, he'd always thought Trowa had the most gorgeous green eyes he'd ever seen. They weren't a few shades off blue, they were a true dark green, and, he noticed for the first time, flecked with a ring of light emerald around the pupil. Abso-fuckin-lutely gorgeous. Precisely the kind of eyes you want to stay open when you kiss, just so you could watch them grow heavier with desire as your tongue... Shit. He was staring.

"You kiss-" Duo cleared his throat and glanced away quickly. It really wasn't any of his business. "Eh, just forget about it," he said. He shook his head dismissively and took a big bite of croissant. He could put a lid on his curiosity, all he had to do was think about how good the food was and he wouldn't be trapped into staring again.

"You want to know about me and Quatre," Trowa stated.

So much for that plan. With his mouth full of flaky pastry goodness, Duo could do nothing but nod his head.

"During the war, I thought he had a crush on me, so I kissed him," Trowa said. When it was obvious that Duo was hardly satisfied by that response, he sat back in his chair and elaborated. "I wasn't innocent, I knew what men sometimes did with other men. Quatre on the other hand...

"He was excited at first by the prospect, but it didn't take much before he realized that his feelings towards the same sex simply didn't run in that direction." Trowa crossed his legs and shrugged. "That's all there is to it."

"So you're..."

"Just very good friends," Trowa finished.

That hadn't been what Duo was going to ask, but he felt he had done enough prying for so early in the day and concentrated on wolfing down the rest of his meal.

"Hmm..." The hairs on the back of Duo's neck prickled and he glanced up to find himself the target of Trowa's scrutiny. With a slow nod, the taller man murmured, "I see."

Duo's mouth went dry and he swallowed with some difficulty. "Huh?"

Trowa shook his head and changed the subject back to Duo's offer of finding something to do together for the next couple days. "Are you sure you can take the time off to keep me company?"

"No sweat," Duo said, and the small smile that curved Trowa's lips made his stomach do delightful little flipflops.

+

It was Friday night before he knew it, and Duo tried his best to not let his disappointment show in the cab ride back to Quatre's apartment building. To say he'd had a good time hanging around with Trowa would be a massive understatment. They had always gotten along decently before, but until now, had never spent any real amount of time together alone. Some things he had discovered about Trowa, such as an affinity for bawdy jokes, had caught him unawares, while others, like an extensive knowledge of modern literature, didn't surprise him one bit.

The ride was more than half over when Trowa finally broke the silence. "That was the worst play I've ever seen in my life," he said, adding a low groan for emphasis.

In the window's reflection, above where he'd traced little spirals in the frost, Duo saw Trowa glancing over at him. "Sorry," he mumbled, gnawing on the side of his fingernail. He cleared his throat and dropped his hands in his lap as he sat up straighter. "It's a gamble with last minute tickets like that, you know?"

Trowa shrugged. "I still had a good time."

"Yeah?"

"No small thanks to you."

Duo's heart sped up when Trowa gave him a smile and the rest of the way to Quatre's apartment seemed to go by in a blur. When they arrived in front of the tall building, Trowa leaned forward to pay the driver. Duo couldn't help noticing how long the other man's fingers were as the cabbie took his money.

He opened the door and paused. "Why don't you come on up for some coffee..."

As much as he wanted that invitation to be hinting at something more, Duo couldn't believe that it was. He shook his head and made some lame excuse as Trowa got out of the car.

"It's only eleven thirty. Are you sure?" Trowa asked. He propped one hand on the roof and leaned down to wait for Duo's answer. The wind flipped up the collar of his coat and tugged his hair out of his face. Duo swallowed as he looked up and found himself at the mercy of that alluring green gaze.

"Last chance," said Trowa, drawing away.

"Well, all right. Just one cup."

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