Over Coffee + Part Six (cont)

Duo quickly undid the envelope, and skimmed through its contents. "Let's see-good comprehension of kitchen hygiene practices, baking needs more work, more care required on finishing touches,-- 76%. Quatre, that's an A-!"

I gulped. "You're kidding!"

"No, it says right there-A-. Look!"

Duo was right. I laughed, and hugged him. "I passed! I passed the course!"

"I knew you could!" Duo spun me round. "Well done, Q!"

I drew back breathlessly. "I'll take the job!"

"What?"

"I'll be your business manager!" I said, happily.

Duo took a breath. "You mean that? Really?"

I nodded happily.

Duo threw himself around me. "You won't regret it, I promise! Thank- you Q! It's going to be great!"

There was an unamused cough behind us. "I take it you've got good news?"

Trowa.

While I beamed and showed off my A-, Duo packed up his stuff and left, saying he had to get ready to meet Otto.

"I was hoping that we could do something together to celebrate the end of the course," Trowa said. "How does dinner sound?"

"Great!" I said. "As long as its not high cuisine. I've had enough of gourmet cooking to last me a lifetime."

Trowa ruffled my hair affectionately. "How about pizza?"

Pizza with Trowa sounded great. So did clubbing afterwards.

"You know what would make this night perfect?" Trowa said, as we took a moment from the dance floor. "Watching the night sky with you. There's a full moon tonight, it should be beautiful."

"Sounds very romantic," I said happily.

"You'll need a jacket. Would you like to stop by the flat first?" Trowa suggested.

I thought this was a good suggestion.

It didn't look like Duo was home yet. I grabbed a jacket and scribbled a quick note for him. Locking the door after me, I headed back downstairs. Hearing someone come up the stairs, I stepped back into the little alcove halfway up that we used for storing umbrellas to allow them to pass.

Only they didn't.

"Thank-you Otto. I had a lovely time," Duo said, lingering on the bottom stairs.

"There's a but, isn't there?" Otto said.

"I'm afraid so," my friend answered softly. "I would like to get to know you better but at the moment I don't think I'm ready to be more than friends. I'm sorry."

Still Heero? I would have groaned, only that would have given away my position. I already felt arkward enough about overhearing what was obviously a private conversation.

"I understand," Otto answered. "Thanks for being honest with me."

"Would you like a coffee before you head home? I still owe you a cup for the rose bush incident-"

"That's all right. I'll get going."

Instead of leaving, however, Otto hesitated on the threshold, then turned back to Duo.

"There's someone else, isn't there?"

Duo nodded.

"Well, if the situation changes, you've got my number," Otto said, turning away. "And Duo? I hope Quatre realises what a lucky guy he is."

I was close enough to Duo that I saw his cheeks flame scarlet.

For one long moment Duo stayed looking after him. Then with a sigh and a muffled exclamation that sounded rather like 'idiot' he turned around. I froze as he passed the little alcove, but he didn't so much as glance in my direction. I heard him fumbling with his keys and then the click of the door. As soon as it clicked shut I crept down the stairs as quietly as I could.

Trowa was just getting out of the car. "I was just coming to find you," he said. "What kept you?"

"Couldn't find a jacket," I lied. "Let's go."

It should have been a magical evening. Cuddled up with Trowa, sharing a spectacular view of the cityscape and the night sky-yet I couldn't concentrate. My mind kept returning to two things. Duo had feelings for me-and Duo had turned Otto down because of me.

"You must be tired," Trowa said. "You've been very quiet."

"It's been a long week." I yawned, his words immediately making me feel sleepy. "Maybe I should turn in."

Despite my tiredness, I was reluctant to return. How could I face Duo, knowing what I did?

By the time I tiptoed up the stairs and into the flat, however, Duo had gone to bed. A note stuck to the fridge told me that he'd given us the next day off and I could sleep in as long as I wanted. Just as well, I thought sourly as I climbed into bed. I didn't see anyway I'd be getting much sleep tonight.

+

It was eleven o'clock before the smell of coffee and the sound of the frying pan lured me out of bed. Duo was making omelettes.

"Wufei mentioned your family was Muslim, but you've never said anything about it, so I thought I'd wait and see if you ate it before adding bacon," Duo said. "You've got perfect timing, actually, I was about to go and see if you were awake."

"No bacon, thanks," I said.

"Sure," Duo said, putting a package back in the fridge.

"You don't have to miss out on it because of me," I said quickly. "I mean, I was going to have toast for breakfast-"

"Don't be silly, Quatre. Its not a big deal. Besides, I like cooking for y--other people."

He'd been going to say you. I sipped my coffee thoughtfully. Had I noticed that because I knew? How long had he felt this way about me?

And what was I going to do about it?

"If I'm going to make breakfast, the you should make conversation," Duo teased, as he set a plate in front of me. "Did you have fun last night? What did you do?"

It was hard to gush about Trowa when I knew what I did. I didn't do a very good job.

"Is something wrong?" Duo asked worriedly as I finished.

I sighed, staring intently at my meal. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-I overheard you and Otto talking last night."

Duo didn't say anything.

I risked a look up at him.

He didn't look mad. He just looked stunned. And pink.

Very pink.

"Duo?" I said, concerned that he might not actually be breathing. "Duo, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Duo said, the catch in his voice belying this statement. "I just-aw, shit, Quatre. I didn't want you to find out like this."

My heart lurched. So it was true-

"In fact, I didn't want you to find out at all-"

"Why?" I asked. "Because of Trowa?"

"You're really keen on him, Q, any fool can see that. I don't want to stuff up whatever you have going. I was going to wait and see on the chance that things might change-" Duo wound a finger round the end of his braid.

"I see," I said.

"So now you know... I guess there's no harm in asking. What do you think, Q? Could you ever fall in love with me?"

I blinked, startled. I hadn't thought that far through-I was still getting used to the idea that Duo loved me. "I don't know-I'm so used to thinking of you as a friend-" Unbidden the memory of kissing Duo kicked me in the-well, it wasn't in a nice place.

"That's okay, Q, I understand," Duo said. "I should get over to the café now. I want to incorporate those new pastries we learnt into our new menu."

"Have fun," I said, as Duo left. "Oh, Duo?"

The door slammed before he heard.

I looked at his half of the omelette, still in the pan.

"Weren't you going to eat something?"

+

To put it politely, the next week was pure hell.

Trowa was wonderfully attentive and charming, dropping by to see me every moment he had spare. Much as I basked in his company, I was beginning to worry. Duo said he didn't mind me missing the odd minute there, or finishing early... but I was beginning to feel guilty for taking time away from work to be with Trowa and because even though Duo smiled and urged me to go, enjoy myself, I knew he wasn't totally happy.

It was worse because there didn't seem to be any way to resolve things... and talking to Sally and Wufei didn't help.

"I don't know why you spend so much time fretting over this guy," Wufei said as he guiding his character through Mortal Kombat 3. "Either he likes you, or he doesn't. Find out which."

"It's not that simple, Wufei," Sally reproved him. "I think the two of you should have a good long chat about where your relationship is heading. You need to make sure you both want the same things."

"But what if we don't?" I wailed. "What if he says no?"

"Then find yourself a better boyfriend," Wufei said, death-dropping his current opponent. "Duo's available, isn't he?"

I choked. Did Wufei know... ?

"It's not that proposterous a solution!" Wufei said, turning his attention from the screen. "He's intelligent, nice, friendly, the two of you get on well-not to mention he's very attractive-"

"Uh," I said flushing, looking awkwardly from Wufei to Sally. "Should you be-ah-"

"Oh, don't worry about that, Quatre," Sally waved a hand at me. "I know Wufei is bi, remember? I met him through Duo after all... and anyway, as a psychologist, I should encourage my partner to vocalise his desires. Even without bring Freud into it, repression is not a happy state to be in-"

I'll omit the psychology lecture. Anyone I could have gone to for advice would have told me the same thing: go for Duo. After all, my friends were his friends too... I needed to find an unbiased opinion, problem was I had no idea where to get one.

That problem was solved for me by an early morning phonecall.

I found breakfast laid out for me (a filled bagel) with a note that informed me that Duo was sleeping in-he'd been up late taking care of another wedding the night before. My shift didn't start until after lunch so I ate leisurely, reading the horoscopes in the paper.

I was trying to work out what exactly classified as an unexpected fruitfall when the phone rang.

"Hello," I said. "May I help you?"

"I don't believe it," an exulting chuckle roared on from the other end. "Duo's got a boyfriend with manners!"

"Howard?" I said.

After I'd explained it was only me, and I wasn't Duo's boyfriend, Howard and I had a pleasant chat. He wanted to know how his grandson was, I asked how he was finding Mexico.

"Is Duo around?" Howard asked eventually.

"He's sleeping in. I'll go and see if he's awake," I offered.

"Been busy?"

"We had two weddings over the weekend and Duo stayed up to oversee both of them," I said.

"Then don't wake him. He's a good kid, but he's prone to forget that he needs sleep just like anyone else."

"Duo?" I knocked softly at his door, not wanting to wake him if he was asleep. When there was no response I pushed the door open quietly and stepped in.

Duo was sprawled across his bed, tangled in the blankets. His hair was loose, and spread out around him. He was snuggling one of his pillows, and his expression was one of blissful unconsciousness. I smiled in spite of myself.

Being sprawled out with as much grace as a sack of potatoes somehow made Duo look very vulnerable... and extremely cute. I leaned down to shift a strand of his long hair out of his way, feeling a burst of warmth run through me. Duo made a whiny noise in the back of his throat, much like a cat and burrowed further into his pillow, all without waking up.

I smiled, and stretched out a hand to stroke his hair-pausing as I realised that Howard was still on the phone.

"Howard? Are you still there?" I said breathlessly. "Duo's still asleep-doesn't look like he'll be awake anytime soon."

"That's a shame. Let him know that I rang, and I'll try again about this time tomorrow."

I agreed and put the phone down somewhat dazed.

What had come over me? I sighed, running my hands through my hair. Why should I be so flustered simply by being around Duo. I had a perfectly good boyfriend, after all, I had no business being attracted to-

Oh, heck.

I was attracted to Duo.

I stared glumly at my half eaten bagel. What was I supposed to do now?

It would help if I had someone to talk to about this. Someone unbiased, who was concerned for me, much like Duo had Howard-

Maybe I did.

+

"Oh, Mr Winner will be pleased. He gets so few visitors these days," the nurse said, leading me down the passage.

I shifted uncomfortably. To tell the truth it had been ages since I'd thought of visiting my father. We'd never been close-he was always busy. The few months we'd been working together in the office had been great. I'd seen and been able to respect him as a business leader. But just as I was beginning to know him as a person, he'd had the heart attack-his doctor had recommended a complete withdrawal from business. Iria had asked for our help to keep the business running 'as a tribute to Father' and I'd thrown myself into it, finding it easier to assuage my concern that way then to speak to a man I barely knew who had lost everything he enjoyed most. My sisters had made a show of visiting him, I'd assumed that there was no need for me to-

I had to stop making assumptions.

"Quatre?" The smile that greeted my arrival made my guiltiness double. "How nice of you to visit. I can't keep you long-you must be taking time away from the office?"

"Actually," I said, surprised my sisters hadn't already told him of this. "I no longer work for Winner Enterprises."

"I'm sorry to hear that," my father said. "Sit down, Quatre, tell me all about it."

My father made no comment when I told him why I'd been dismissed. I made the proceedings sound more dignified that they were. I didn't know how he felt about having a son who was a blight on the Winner name after all.

"So I'm working for Duo now," I said. "I'm his business manager. Some people would think it's a comedown but-"

"There's nothing like working in a place where you know all the employees," my father said. "Makes me nostalgic for the early days. Winner Enterprises started as a single office, you know."

I didn't. My father and I chatted, and I was surprised to discover how much we had in common. The nurse eventually came to hint that 'Mr Winner needed his rest.'

"I don't need half as much rest as they insist on giving me," my father grumbled as she departed. "It was a pleasure seeing you, Quatre. I hope you'll visit again."

"Maybe you can visit me," I suggested. "I'd love to show you the café."

"I'd like that too," he smiled.

I hesitated at the doorway.

"Is there something else?"

"Actually, I was hoping you could give me some advice," I sat down beside him. "There's a guy I'm going out with, that I really like. But I found out recently that another of my friends has feelings for me, and I don't know what to do about it."

"You've made it clear that you're currently with someone?"

"He knows. That's not the problem-he doesn't want to come between us. The problem is that I know, and I can't just dismiss him-"

My father thought for a long time. "Without knowing either of the people involved, I can't offer you more definite advice than this. Your grandfather told me this. It's rather simple, but true. When someone is in love with you, you can tell because no matter how bad a mood they're in, no matter how sad or depressed things are, they will always make an effort to be cheerful and supportive of you." He shrugged. "It's an old man's advice, so I don't know how much its worth. Also, I can gurantee my father was thinking only of girls when he gave me that advice, but I'd say the principle would be the same-"

He didn't care.

I hugged him. "Thank-you, Father. For everything."

"Let me know how it works out," he said.

I promised I would.

I was in a much better mood as I left the nursing home. This feeling lasted right until I got to the café.

Trowa and Duo were standing outside the staff entrance glaring daggers at each other.

"I told you, he left before I got up! I don't know where he went."

"So you say."

"Yeah, I say. Do you want to search the place or something?" Duo's eyes flicked beyond Trowa and he spotted me walking down the path. "Quatre!" he greeted me. "Perfect timing."

"Sorry I'm late," I said. "I went to visit my father. Hello Trowa, I didn't expect to see you."

"I was hoping to take you out for lunch," Trowa said. "Of course it's rather late for that now."

"Any later, Q, and I swear your caring boyfriend there would have accused me of keeping you sedated somewhere for my own wicked pleasure," Duo joked.

[back] [cont]