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fic - gang aft agley - part 5 [novella] - the turnip patch
version 2.0
turnippatch
turnippatch
fic - gang aft agley - part 5 [novella]
Title:  Gang Aft Agley
Part:  5



Gang Aft Agley
sequel to The Best Laid Plans
Part 5


"Heero."  His name fell from Howard's lips like a heavy accusation, though the young man in question had barely even crossed the threshold of the market.  "What the hell is going on?  What did you do to him?"

He lifted an eyebrow in eloquent denial, crossing his arms over his chest and taking a firm stance in front of the counter.  He was a man on a mission today.  "That's what I'd like to know.  He was acting odd when he got to my place yesterday.  I was hoping you could tell me what the hell's been going on this last week."

It'd been a while since Howard had last seen Heero in all his stubborn glory.  No, usually when he was with Duo, there had been all the warm fuzzies Howard could possibly want to see for his kid, but this attitude made him remember again just one small part of why the two pig-headed asses were so good for each other.  "I don't know," he shrugged, willing to be as helpful as he could be.  "Nothing weird that I could tell, except Duo just being Duo.  The moody, broody Duo, that is."

"Starting when?"

"Hard to say.  At least three days ago.  Don't know what caused it.  Last time I saw him like this was when, well, when he was trying to figure out what to do about you, back towards the end of summer.  Nothing really started it.  Just him thinking about you and him."

"Hn."  Some people might have been offended by that.  Heero's mental processors just accepted it as fact and got to work.  Was Duo having the same doubts as before?  He'd been reluctant to get into a relationship with Heero because he hadn't thought it was what he wanted at this point in his life, and while he'd been in denial, he had treated Heero with the same plastic smile he gave everyone.  The pattern of symptoms held, so far.  So why was he suddenly reconsidering his decision to accept Heero into his life?  Had Heero somehow walked into one of the pitfalls that Duo had been hoping to avoid?

Heero saw something out of the corner of his eye, and his quick reflexes had him turning in time to see a braid swish out of sight through the front window of the market.  He muttered a quick thanks to Howard and rushed out the door.  "Duo."

Duo kept walking, and Heero followed, maintaining the distance between them.  They walked for a handful of blocks that way, and then suddenly Duo stopped.

Heero finally caught up to find an angry look on Duo's face.  "We can go to my place," he offered quietly, noting that they had, whether purposefully or not, been heading in the direction of his apartment.  Whatever 'discussion' they were about to have, he was pretty sure he didn't want it happening in the middle of the street.

From the tightening of Duo's expression, he could guess that their route had not been deliberately chosen.  Duo turned around, brushed by him, and started to walk back in the direction they had come from.

"Or we can go back to the store."  Heero turned to follow.

He had not gone one step when the one he was following turned around again to face him.  Duo opened his mouth as if he were about to say something unpleasant, shut it again, looked over his shoulder, then frowned darkly as he decided to head back in the direction of Heero's apartment, saying nothing at all.  Heero shrugged and trailed along silently.  One way or another, they would talk.

Duo leveled only a purely annoyed look at him once they had arrived and he had to stop and wait for Heero to catch up those last few steps and unlock the door.  Once they got inside, Heero decided Duo didn't look like he was going to talk any time soon, so he opened his blinds just a little to let in some light, then crossed his apartment and flipped on his ceiling fan.  If the situation had been a little more normal, he would have opened the window to let in some air, but he didn't want voices that would inevitably get raised to carry out to the public.

Duo glared at his back the entire time, and when Heero turned around to face him, he glared at his front.  Neither of them sat down.  "It's over, Heero."

"It's not over until I say it's over."  He said it evenly, but his words were starting to sound very stalker-like to him.

"Oh, I totally misread you, then.  Beneath your outer Grumpy lives a fat lady, eh?"  His arms crossed aggressively over his chest.

They glared at each other some more, during which Heero clenched and unclenched his hands.  "I'm not letting you walk out on this."

"You can't stop me."

"But I can and will follow you until I get some answers."

"You're a freak sometimes, you know that, Heero?"

As if insults were going to get him anywhere.  "Perhaps, but then I'm a freak that you were involved with, and I'm a freak that wants answers.  Why are you doing this?"

"Why can't you just accept it?  I don't want to be in a relationship with you anymore."

"If you want to break things off, fine, I accept that, but what's with all the animosity?"  If Duo didn't want to be in a relationship, they could end things cordially and civilly.  It would hurt, but he would get over it.  What he couldn't get over was the fact that Duo just seemed to hate him all of a sudden.  "What did I do?  Does it even have anything to do with me?"

"What did you do?" Duo repeated with a slight incredulity.  "You... you... Christ, you're YOU!"

Heero blinked at him.  "You're going to have to do a little better than that, Duo.  What is it that offends you, all of a sudden?"

"Nothing!"  His expression was a little wild around the edges, and it didn't seem like he'd really meant to say that.

"Then what, Duo?"

"Let it go!"

"No."

"Please, Heero."

Wait.  That didn't sound angry.  That sounded desperate.  "Duo..." he said softly, taking a step towards him.

Duo recoiled, his hands going up to his head to press his palms against his temples.  "Stop saying my name like that!"

He paused.  "...Like what?"

"Like... with that little Japanese accent on it.  Like 'Dyuo' instead of 'Duo'."

"...Hn."  He'd never noticed, but now that Duo mentioned it, he supposed he did, sometimes.  It just slipped out.  "Dyu-- Duo.  Okay, I'll stop."

"Don't."  It was almost nothing more than a soft breath, but it was there.  "Don't stop."

Heero stared at his stricken expression for a good, long moment before he sat down heavily in the chair by the desk next to him.  "If I ever seem miserably confused to you, Duo, I hope you understand why."

"Heh, join the club, buddy."  Duo sighed tiredly, backing up until he hit the wall, and then sliding down it until he could sit on the ground, rest his elbows on his knees, and hide his face in his hands.  "Join the club."

Well, they weren't shouting at each other anymore, so Heero supposed things had improved, but at least previously, he'd had some idea of what to say.  He was at something of a loss, now.

"No one else says my name like that," Duo said, just loud enough for him to hear.  "Well, I suppose I don't know any other Japanese people, so I shouldn't be surprised, but... you're the only one that says it like that."

And if Duo didn't want him to stop, then he supposed Duo must have liked it somehow.  Perhaps there was hope yet.  "What happened, Duo?  What started this?"

Duo's shoulders shuddered in what Heero hoped was a soundless, weary laugh.  "The stupidest little things...  The littlest things.  You promised, Heero.  You promised you wouldn't take me away from my family."

His eyes widened in alarm.  It was a promise he took seriously.  "I haven't--  If I've done something, Duo..."

Duo shook his head, hands finally dropping from his face, though he still did not lift his gaze from the carpet.  "You're taking me away from life as I know it.  And it's not your fault.  God, it's not..."  He exhaled audibly.  "You know, Howie gave me an early Christmas present.  Just a couple of days ago.  Gave me a cell phone.  Gave me a goddamn cell phone."

"...Is that... a good thing or a bad thing?" Heero asked hesitantly.

He chuckled weakly.  "No stinkin' clue.  Said he figured I wouldn't be home a lot, what with you and all..."

A larger picture was finally beginning to form, and Heero couldn't say whether or not that really made him feel any better.  Duo was right; it wasn't his fault.  It wasn't anyone's fault.  The understanding brought little more than a gentle sadness.  "Duo..."

"Heh, there it is again."  He'd said it in his own unique way once more without intending to.  "Heero... He's right.  I know you don't mean it, but..."  Duo laughed softly again, like he was really, really trying to see the humor in this situation, but not faring so well.  "You know, just yesterday, before I left to go over to your place?  He said... he said, if I lose track of time and it gets to be too late, I should bully you into making sure I stay the night.  It's not the first time he's said that, but... it just meant something all of a sudden.  It just felt like... like I was being kicked out of the house or something, and he was happy to see me go."

His shoulders shook again, and the line between a laugh and sob was fine enough that Heero got out of his seat, crept across the room, and settled himself carefully next to him.  When Duo didn't show any sign of minding, he placed an arm gently over his shoulders and tugged him close.  "You know that's not how he meant it, Duo.  You know Howard would be appalled if he knew that's what you were thinking."

"I know that," Duo murmured, not really melting into the embrace, but quite unable to refuse it as well.  "But he's been all I've had for the last... and I can't just..."

"I know, Duo.  I know."  He sighed.  He couldn't really know.  He didn't have the same kind of close relationship with Odin, so he didn't have the same problem.  But he understood enough to spare Duo the pain of having to come up with the words.  It was the same understanding that had led him to make his assurances to Duo way back before they had ever started, and it was the same understanding that would let him walk away now if he had to.  If he had to.  He didn't quite accept that there was no compromise yet, however.  He had the reason he'd demanded, but he still wasn't just letting go without a fight.

"I don't like feeling this way, Heero.  Like... like there's something huge and inevitable happening, and I can't do a damn thing about it."

"And they call me a control freak," he teased lightly.  It garnered no reaction.  "Ending this isn't going to make that go away, Duo.  I don't like feeling that way, either.  But the way I figure it, if you can't beat it, join it."

"How about running?" Duo answered with a tired humor.  "Think I can run from it?"

The corner of Heero's lips quirked up.  "I think it's like stepping in gum.  It'll follow you wherever you go, and you'll never be able to scrape it all off.  And you can just ignore it, but then all sorts of nasty things will just get stuck in it.  And it might get all old and dry and crusty, but it'll still be there, stuck to the bottom of your shoe and throwing off your stride.  It could clog up your tread, too, and--"

"Alright already.  Geez."  He chuckled softly.  "So you're stuck to the bottom of my shoe.  Hey, maybe I can crush you under my heel, then.  No, wait, that might grind you deeper into my sole."

Heero groaned, and sound blended into laugh towards the end.  "That was lame, Duo."

"Hey, cut me some slack.  I'm not at the top of my game right now."  He sighed, remembering why they were huddled on the floor having this conversation.  His eyes were directed towards their feet, and he suddenly realized that they both had their shoes on.  Heero, who for all the months he had known him had been very anal about forbidding shoes in his living space, had foregone the reminder this time.  It was strangely touching.  Or telling, perhaps.  "I had a dream about you the other night."

"Oh?"

"You know what we were doing?  We were talking.  Talking, of all things!  And I mean, talking.  Like, I was telling you stuff I've never told anyone.  Stuff I haven't even told me, because I won't even let myself know what we were talking about, but I know it was some pretty serious shit.  That was just wrong, man."

"...Did it not go well?"

"I don't know....  I woke up before you could tell me it'd all be okay."

Heero's hand stroked his braid.  "It'll all be okay, Duo."

He snorted.  "What, you put off saying it then just so you could say it now?"

"Would you have believed it in a dream?"

"No.  But then again, I'm not so sure I believe it now, either."  He sat up and pulled away, feeling the loss of the comforting weight of Heero's arm over his shoulders as a necessary evil.  "I... I'm sorry, Heero.  I want this.  I really do.  But..."  He trailed off for a while, unintentionally leaving Heero in agonizing suspense as he thought.  "I just can't think right now.  It feels like I'm trapped in either one or the other, like I can't have things both ways, and I'm sure that doesn't make any sense, but... I just can't... I just can't deal with this right now.  Not when it feels like I'm going to sink or swim in the next five minutes, and no matter what I do, I'm going to end up losing something I don't want to lose."

Heero tried to muster up an understanding smile for him.  It fell a little flat, but at least it was an honest effort.  He understood the need for time.  It was why he had let Duo march out of his room the previous afternoon.  "Take some time.  Take a step back.  Put things into perspective.... Go home.  Get your feet back under you.  I... We can wait."

"That's... okay with you?"

Did he have a choice?  There was a voice in his head chanting, 'Choose me! Choose me!' despite knowing it wasn't as easy as all that.  Did that constitute 'okay'?  He knew this was the right thing to do, alright, but oh it had been so hard to go through with saying what he knew he had to.  Heero had a large emotional investment in this relationship, and he wasn't sure he wanted to absorb the loss.  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, running a hand through his hair.  "Well... as long as you don't hate me or anything, I guess I can deal."

"Oh.  Yeah, and, you know... sorry about, um, yesterday.  I shouldn't have...  And today.  And crap, dinner!  I totally wasn't thinking about--"

"Don't worry about it, Duo.  I let Dad know you... were a little ill at ease about things yesterday, and we thought it'd be a good idea to put off making your first impression until you could make a good one."

"Uh, yeah, that's one way to put it," he mumbled.  "No, Heero, I don't hate you.  I kinda wish I did, though.  I mean, things would be simpler then."

"You said something along those lines once before, you know.  You asked why I had to be so damned right.  But you decided to go ahead and go through with it anyway.  Remember that."  Heero made the conscious decision to try and let that be the last thing he said to try and convince Duo to decide in his favor.  There really wasn't any more he could say that would help.  Duo was a smart guy.  He knew all the arguments, even if he chose to reject them.

Duo sighed.  "I'll keep that in mind.  ...Thanks for coming out here.  And being the stubborn asshole you are.  I'll keep that in mind, too."

"Great," he drawled dryly, before pushing himself to his feet.  He offered a hand to Duo automatically, but the other young man got up on his own.

Duo didn't forsake the hand entirely, though.  After he had regained his feet, he took the hand and pulled Heero in for a hug.  "'m sorry," he whispered again.  "It's only 'cuz I like you so much, you know...."

"'s okay, Duo," Heero answered in kind, forcing himself to believe the words.  It didn't hurt, really.  Their relationship wasn't over, after all.  It just felt like he was about to hold his breath for a very long time.  They disentangled themselves and ended up standing an armslength apart.  "Just... keep me informed or something, okay?"  He itched to ask for some sort of ETA, but swatted the urge away to avoid the additional pressure.

Duo granted him a lopsided smile.  "Okay.  I'll get my head wrapped around this, I promise.  So, umm, I guess I should get going."

"Yeah."  He felt like there was something more that he should be saying, as if he should be ranting at the gods or pleading his case with Duo, but words and thought and action eluded him.

They stared at each other for a while longer.  "Yeah."  It took a few more seconds after that for Duo to blink and force himself into motion towards the door.  "I'll-- yeah.  B--  See ya, Heero."

"Yeah.  See ya, Duo," he echoed faintly.  Once the door was shut behind him, Heero leaned against it with a tired sigh.  When he finally felt ready, he turned around and studied his apartment for no discernable purpose.  His gaze fell upon Grumpy Bear, his constant companion throughout this whole thing.  "This sucks," he announced to the bear.

The bear agreed, but offered no sympathy.  Life always sucked to him, otherwise he wouldn't be so grumpy all the time.

Heero decided they both needed a hug.  He wrapped the bear tightly in his arms, but it barely ranked as a faint echo of the Duo-hug.  He decided it didn't matter.  Digging a bag out of his closet, he tucked Grumpy inside, apologized briefly for the indignity, shut off his ceiling fan, closed the blinds, and left the apartment.



Heero wiped his hands on a cloth before picking up the cordless phone in the kitchen.  "Hello?"

"Uh... hey."

"Duo?"  He put down his dish rag, sat down in a kitchen chair, and reminded himself firmly to maintain a neutral tone.  Well, okay, maybe a little eagerness could seep in there.  "Hey."

"Yeah.  Um... Well.  How've ya been?"

"Uh... okay, I guess."  He was certain they probably sounded really pathetic, but he just didn't give a damn right then.  Duo was on the other end.  "You know, just... doing stuff.  Hanging out.  Catching up on some reading.  You?"

"Oh, well... same old, same old, I guess.  Helping out at the market...."  Several ellipses passed before he continued.  "Thinking."

"Yeah?"  An 'And...?' hovered on the end of his tongue, and he forced himself not to say it.  It was a tough battle.

"Yeah..."  Duo suddenly burst out laughing, and Heero was left only wishing he could hear it in person instead of over a tinny phone connection.  "Ye gods, this is sad, isn't it?"

"Well... yeah."  No point in denying it.

"Hey, don't you start that again."

Heero closed his eyes and imagined the grin that would go with the words.  "Well, give me something else to talk about, then."

"Oh."  In his mind's eye, he saw the smile slip.  "Well, umm..."  He heard Duo take a deep breath.  "Okay.  So... I guess for starters, I had a little chat with Howie.  That was, uh, a little rough, I guess."

"What did he say?"

"Well, I don't mean 'rough' like 'harsh', you know, just, um, 'tough'.  'Emotionally draining'.  I tried to keep it short and, you know, not very girly.  It was still rough.  God, I don't know how chicks manage to deal with all this emotional crap."

Heero snorted lightly.  "Prolonged exposure, maybe.  They have their whole lives to get used to this sort of thing."

"Yeah, I guess.  Incidentally, I gave him a great, big hug, and told him it was from you."

"Uh... okay."  He wasn't quite certain if Duo had meant it as a joke, or if he had done it simply to avoid responsibility for the sentimentality, but he was fairly certain Duo left it deliberately vague.  "Did it help?  The chat, I mean."

"Kinda.  It wasn't like the end-all, cure-all, but... well, I felt a little better afterwards, if nothing else.  You know, just... getting it all out into the open.  But... it's not like it fixed anything, really."

"Oh."  Don't show disappointment, he admonished himself.  "So what about... um..."  Not 'us', he thought, trying to figure something out.  Don't say 'us'.

"...Us?"

"Uh, yeah.  That.  Or, you know," he rushed on to say.  "Whatever."

"Whatever.  Right."  Duo gave a short laugh.  Heero could imagine he'd be running his hand through his bangs right around now.  "Well... I'm still... I'm still working on that one."

"...Oh."

"But not like-- Well, kinda-- Bleh."  He took another breath and started over again.  "I mean... I still like you, you know.  I like you a lot.  That hasn't changed.  There's just... there's just other stuff, you know?  I mean, I'm just not quite sure... Okay, well, I'm pretty sure that if I just suck it up and take it, it's not going to turn out bad or anything.  I mean, I'm not a baby; I don't need to be clinging to Howie's shirt for the rest of my life.  And I'm not an idiot; I know that things change.  I know that most of this stupid stuff's just in my head, right?  But I've got to work up the guts to suck it up and take it first, you know?"

My, didn't that make their relationship sound wonderful?  "I know the feeling."

"Heh, now I guess I know how you felt all those times you... you know.  Um, stopped."

That was kindly diplomatic of Duo.  "And I guess I know how you felt all those times, too."  No, well, he didn't really.  He thought he handled things better than Duo did, but he could be diplomatic, too, if he had to.  "Whatever.  So I guess we're on even ground now."

"Yeah.  I guess."

They both lapsed into silence, trying to figure out if there was anything left to say.  "Hey, Quatre wanted us to all get together again on New Year's.  I'd understand if you wanted to spend the day with your uncle or something...," he offered, giving him an out.

"Oh, well... uh, that sounds... nice.  Can I let you know?"

"Yeah.  Sure.  But, um, don't worry about it.  It'd just be a little informal thing.  Of course, it'd be at Quatre's house and he isn't really known for keeping things plain and simple but... you know.  No worries.  I can e-mail you his address, if you want."

"Uh, yeah.  That'd be great."

The heavy silence fell between them again.  It lasted a few awkward seconds before it was interrupted by a mighty beep.  "What was that?" Heero asked.  It didn't sound like it came from his end.

"Um, hang on, I think the cell phone gods are trying to tell me something.  Hmm, yeah, looks like my battery's low."

"Ah.  So you're using the phone?"

"Well, I got the damn thing, might as well use up the minutes we paid for.  And free long distance and all that, you know.  I've just... had other things on my mind besides checking the damn battery charge."

"Yeah.  Uh, well, why don't you go plug that in before it cuts us off, and..."

"...And I'll get back to you, okay?"

"Okay.  Umm, until then, I guess."

"Yeah."

"Yeah."

"...Yeah.  Okay.  This is stupid.  I'll talk to you later, Heero."

"Yeah-- I mean, uh, talk to you later, Duo.  Bye."

"Bye."

They both lingered for a couple of seconds, not wanting to be the first to hang up, before finally slapping themselves and just hitting the damn off button and heaving a sigh.

Heero went back to cleaning up the kitchen in the wake of dinner, determined not to think about anything at all, but as he might have expected, that only made him think about it.  His mind took it upon itself to relentlessly play back snippets of their last two conversations, and some time after he had finished up in the kitchen, after he had gone up the stairs and into his room and sat down in front of his laptop with Grumpy, something kept nagging at him.  Something just wasn't quite adding up right, and it continued to take pot shots at him all night long.



"Is Duo coming?"

Heero suppressed the twinge of something that tried to flare up at the reminder.  "...I don't know.  He said he'd call."

If Quatre had not liked Duo, the look he gave Heero would have been severely disapproving.  It was, after all, only an hour or so before the planned gathering.  As it was, his face was merely concerned, with a hint of a frown.  "And he didn't call?  Well, maybe you should call him and ask?"

"Maybe."

The vague answer only raised Quatre's level of concern, and when he got concerned, he often trod the fine line between friendly support and intrusive nosiness.  He looked to Trowa, who was sitting by his side, and received only a slight shrug in response.  The gesture did not allay his piqued protectiveness at all.  If Heero had been playing with him, Trowa would have sported a shadow of a smirk.  "Are you two having a fight?"

"...Not really."  Heero refused to make eye contact with the blonde and instead concentrated on the random magazine he had picked up from the coffee table in Quatre's living room.  "US News and World Report" was not his normal fare, but it served its purpose.

That was close enough to an affirmative for Quatre.  "Well, shouldn't you be talking to him or something?"

"We're done with the talking part already," Heero answered levelly, knowing from prior experience that he had best appease Quatre with some information.  If Quatre didn't get what he wanted, he'd sic Trowa on his best friend, and Heero didn't hide things from Trowa, which would leave Trowa in the unpleasant position of having to withhold information from his boyfriend since he didn't break Heero's confidence.  "This is the part where I back off for a while and wait for him to realize what an idiot he's being."

Trowa hmm'ed contemplatively.  "That sounds wonderfully simple.  I think they're on to something there, Quatre."

Heero shrugged.  "Duo doesn't like people hovering over him.  Besides, if he doesn't figure it out, I can just go over there and kick some more sense into him."  His current working theory was that Duo had some issue besides the one with his uncle that he probably wasn't even aware of, but was incorrectly lumping together with the singular problem they had already identified.  It didn't make sense to him that Duo's growing distance from Howard could be solely responsible for the entire mess.  The way Duo sounded, he made it seem like he was just feeling uncomfortable about how things were happening between them, and Heero felt that if there was anyone that should be feeling uncomfortable, then it should have been him.  Heero was, after all, the one who'd had his entire identity flipped upside down upon meeting this one person, but as he reckoned things, the way he felt was the way he felt, and there was no use trying to fight it as Duo seemed to be doing.  He felt sort of bad that the whole situation seemed so straightforward to him, but he really didn't see any reason in complicating his life with unnecessary overdramatization.

"A little too simple," Quatre sniffed playfully.  "If you ask me, you're only better off here because Duo can't miss you if you're there."

The other two shared a look: Trowa a tolerant one, and Heero a commiserating one.



Wufei had long since arrived with Meiran and ensconced themselves comfortably in the living room along with everyone else when the doorbell rang.  From the depths of some other room, someone of the Winner household called out that she would get the door, and thus was the matter subsequently ignored and practically forgotten until Heero looked up and saw a nervous someone hovering just outside the room.

"Excuse me," he murmured to the others as he got up without fanfare and went to Duo's side, paused, then headed towards the kitchen with a tilt of his head to indicate that Duo should follow.

Once they found themselves in relative privacy, they spent a few long moments just looking at each other, waiting for someone to break the silence.  Duo cracked first.  "Quatre's got a nice pad here."

Heero raised an eyebrow at him in recognition of the stall tactic, but he played along, trying at the same time to interpret Duo's intentions through his body language.  Other than the obvious anxiety Duo was betraying, there wasn't much else to be divined.  "Yeah.  His dad's a wealthy businessman."

Finally, after trying to find something else to say that wouldn't sound too vacuous, Duo sighed and decided to take the plunge.  "Well, I've got good news, and I've got bad news."  He peeked at Heero's expression, which stayed carefully blank at the announcement, so he had no recourse but to continue.  "The good news is... that I'm not running anymore.  But the bad news is that that just means I'm... walking now.  But the best news is that, um, even though I'm still... 'walking', I think I'm going slow enough that I can handle that and you at the same time.  That is, if you're okay with that, because I can totally see how that's unfair and--"

"Duo."

"...Yeah?"

Heero didn't have anything prepared to say.  He'd just wanted to take the verbal ball away from Duo and spare them both the aimless babbling.  Now that he had it, he let a part of it pass in profound silence while formulating a question.  "...Do you even know what you're walking away from?"

"I'm not walking away from--!" Duo bristled indignantly before realizing what Heero was referring to.  "Oh.  You mean, like, running-walking, not walking-away-from-this walking.  Sorry.  Well, of course.  The, um, well... you know.  The, uh..."

Heero raised an eyebrow dryly at him, watching as Duo started to run into the realization that he couldn't really be 'walking' from the issue they'd discussed.  That had all been laid out quite plainly and fully confessed to all relevant parties, with resolutions firmly in the offing.  No, Duo was only walking now because he was all done with the Howard thing, but still running from something completely unacknowledged, and it averaged out to a walk.  Heero decided not to press the issue.  If Duo wanted to try and recognize a problem without ever acknowledging it by slipping it in under the guise of another, then Heero could try slipping in a solution to that problem under the guise of a solution to the one acknowledged problem.

"Never mind," he dismissed, shaking his head.  When Duo's mouth turned into a frown, as if he thought Heero was just patronizing him, or perhaps expressing disappointment, Heero attempted to correct the mistaken impression.  "Some things are hard to put to words.  So what does this 'walking' mean?  That you're going to be all hot and cold on me again?"

Apparently, Duo was content with the change of topic.  After a moment, he grinned apologetically.  "I hope not.  That was... that was denial, a failure to realize just what was going on in my head.  I think I'm past that.  Now... I don't know.  Not straight back to where we were, not right away, I guess.  Things are never that simple, right?  Or if they are, then something's probably wrong.  You think we could maybe back up a little?  Give me a little time to deal?  There's just so many things now that I just didn't see before....  If we could, you know, sort of back up and then inch our way forward?  Do things properly this time so I can adjust and don't suddenly find myself overwhelmed by a mountainload of crap?  Uh, the crap being my crap, I mean, not like us-crap," he appended nervously, gesturing vaguely with his hands.  "Heh.  Um.  But you know, if I see it coming this time, then it shouldn't be so bad, right?  Maybe kinda like when you... you know."  He didn't want to bring it up because it made things seem so much like a comparison between them, a mud-slinging competition, one trying to one-up the other, but it was unavoidably relevant.  "Do you mind?  If I can forgive you when you get spooked, can you forgive me when I get spooked?"

Heero gave him another long, measuring look, thinking to himself that they were way beyond the Howard issue now.  He didn't know what Duo was getting spooked by, but it was more than just separation anxiety.  But if Duo wanted to deal with this unspoken something else by pretending he had successfully identified the root of the problem, if he wanted to pretend that this all made sense that way, then they would pretend.  The results would be about the same.  "Not really."

"Hey, that's not really fair.  I mean--"

"When I get spooked," Heero cut him off.  "I may freeze up, and it may annoy the hell out of you -- you and me both -- but at least I stay where I am, take a deep breath, and try to calm down.  I don't go... running off or... getting all moody and evasive or something.  I can forgive that you get spooked, but I'm not particularly pleased with the way you handle it."  He hadn't expected he would say that aloud, but if there was a time to say it, now was that time.

Duo's jaw worked for a while as he tried to figure out just what he wanted to say about that.  Yes, he knew it was unfair, but that was all he knew how to do.  "So what do you want me to do about it?"

"I let you try and convince me my fears are unfounded.  Now, maybe it works, or maybe it doesn't, but at least I listen to you tell me what an idiot I am, and I try to take that to heart.  It would be nice if you'd give me that same opportunity to tell you that you are an idiot."

Such eloquent phrasing.  He tried to get angry and stay angry, or something, but in the end he just snorted in amusement.  "So, are you trying to tell me that I'm an idiot right now?"

"Absolutely."

"Okay," he said slowly, pausing for a deep breath as if steeling himself for what came next.  "And now you're going to tell me why?"

"I think we've already covered most of it.  Next time you get spooked, don't you leave the damned city.  There's no reason for that.  Or at least do it without pretense, although some warning would be nice.  But you should stick around, and let me remind you why this is such a good idea.  The fact that you came back here... you need to remember the why of that, and remind yourself of it when something like this happens again.  I think this is worth it, which is why I'm sticking with this, and I guess you thought this was worth it, which is why you chose to stick with it, so dammit, stick with it, okay?"

"You... wouldn't like it if I decided not to stick with it, huh?" Duo asked with a quiet that hinted of shyness.

Now what kind of silly question was that?  "Of course not.  I like this.  Well, not 'this' as in 'this right now', but us."  He gestured to the air between them.  He accepted the 'us'.  The only thing he wasn't sure about sometimes was what to do about it.  "I like us.  I like -you-."

"I like you, too," Duo echoed slowly, hesitantly, softly.

If Heero had been anyone else, the expression on his face would have been a spritely smile.  As it was, his lips merely held a slightly sardonic tilt.  "Then we shouldn't have a problem.  Now come on.  We should probably get back to the guys.  And girl."  He turned towards the kitchen door and glanced over his shoulder expectantly.

Duo hovered where he had left him.  "Hey... You think...?"  His stance was unsure, his shoulders sort of hunched in protectively even as his hands drifted vaguely outwards in an unspoken request, one Heero calmly accepted.  The short distance between them was closed with a few measured steps, and they wrapped their arms around each other with slowly increasing pressure until their bodies were flush against each other in a firm embrace.

Duo sighed, his breath ruffling the short hairs on the back of Heero's neck.  "I missed this."

A small sound of agreement was muffled against his shoulder.  "Well then, Maxwell, hurry up and get your head out of your ass.  There'll be plenty more hugs like this one waiting for you on the other side."

His laughter shook both their frames.  "My, what a self-righteous bastard you are."

"Hn.  Maybe.  Now come on.  Quatre's probably driving Trowa crazy out there."

The rest of the day passed quietly enough, despite Heero's earlier warning that Quatre was given to productions of a sort.  Indeed, Quatre didn't believe in doing things in half measure, but the full measure was accomplished with a smooth grace and a certain mellowness nevertheless.  He knew the virtue of catering to one's audience, after all.

Heero and Duo returned to the company of their friends without anyone making a remark on their absence.  Only Trowa silently inquired as to their status with a simple look at his longtime friend, and his concern was subsequently allayed with a tiny, almost infinitesimal smile noticeable only by those that knew him well.  Quatre, knowing that the pair had some sort of issue floating between them, was calmed by the easy way they interacted with each other and the rest of them.

What was perhaps the most surprising to all three of Heero's friends was their apparent closeness.  None of them had noticed anything amiss at their last gathering, so skilled was Duo at evasion and Heero at being inscrutable, and besides which, the notion of Heero having a boyfriend was still quite novel to them, though to Trowa less so than the others.  They saw nothing wrong with the distance that had been maintained, but on this day, that distance seemed sorely lacking at times.  Given Heero's known aversion to being touched, it was decidedly unexpected to see them stand close enough to feel each other's heat, more so to witness Duo sit at Heero's feet and lean casually against Heero's legs, and even awe-inspiring to observe Duo's arm sneak around Heero's waist and settle there as if it belonged.  They were only small things, but graced with significance.

What Heero alone saw was the faint jumpiness on Duo's part, often followed by some sort of apologetic gesture, some quirk of the lips or cant of the head.  At times, it followed some absentmindedly intimate gesture, and others, it preceded some hesitant, deliberate gesture, as if Duo were unsure of his right to express affection in the relationship that he had brought to a brief standstill, and that was only just now getting started again.

Heero was willing participant to it all, and even encouraged a few scraps of it.  They were both in need of a little reassurance.  He would never be an open person, but he figured that if there were anyone in the world he could comfortably show sentimentality before, it would be his loyal friends, and perhaps Odin in time.  He made no plans on extending that privilege to anyone else, but this he could or would manage.  At school, only Howard got to see their closeness.  No one else knew they were an item, save perhaps Hilde, who had quite a few suspicions about the nature of their relationship, though many of them were likely incorrect.  It was not through a concerted effort at secrecy that they were not open, but only a fierce privacy which both surprised and comforted Heero.

The night ended not unreasonably late, and after Duo had bullied Wufei into having Meiran occupy his home's guest room for the night, Heero turned to him with the ready expectation of doing the same.  Duo looked uncertain for a moment, and it did not pass unnoticed.

"I know Howard probably said he expected it," Heero mentioned.  "But maybe you can give him a call anyway?  I'm sure he'll okay it."

There was only the briefest pause before Duo smiled brightly.  "You know, I think that's a good idea."  He whipped out his cell phone to do just that.

While he was occupied, Heero located Trowa and interrupted the quiet conversation he'd been having with his boyfriend.  "I'm going to get a ride home with Duo," he informed Trowa, the information relevant since Trowa had given him a ride here.

Trowa nodded, but from the look on his face, Heero could tell there was something else under consideration for voicing, so he waited his old friend out and was rewarded.  "I never thought I'd see the day."

Which day in particular didn't really need to be specified, especially since it referred to a number of different days.  Heero shrugged.  "Neither did I."

"Comfortable?"

"Not as sudden as it seems."

"Different here."

"Aa."

Trowa tilted his head in Quatre's direction, with an inquisitive brow raised in company.

Heero gave a little shrug and a faint smirk filled with mystery.

Quatre frowned at them both.  "Ugh, you two.  I can never follow one of your conversations!"

The smirk grew a little wider.  "Thanks for having us over and all that.  We'll see you guys later."  He crossed the room to fetch his errant Duo, who was just now finishing up his conversation with his uncle, and shepherded him in the direction of the door.

"Uh, yeah, what he said!" Duo called over his shoulder on the way out.  By the time they got to the car, Duo ground to a halt and had to ask a question.  "What's the hurry?"

Heero blinked with true innocence at him, having expected him to simply unlock the doors.  "Hurry?  Oh, no hurry.  When we say we're going to leave, we leave.  No productions.  No stalling.  That's all."

It sounded shady, but given Heero and his best friend, Duo could believe it, so he let it go and they made the trip back to Heero's house.  They were upstairs collecting blankets from a linen closet for his use when he spied a familiar face through an open door.  "You brought Grumpy back," he noted, detouring into Heero's room.

"Uh, yeah."  The confession was no louder than a reluctant mumble.  No need for it to get around that he was using a teddy bear to stave off loneliness.

"Hey, Grumpy," Duo greeted cheerily, scratching the bear behind his fuzzy ears.  The bear scowled back at him.  He smiled.  Sometimes that bear was so much like Heero it was scary.

When it seemed he was lingering, Heero followed him into the room and sat down on the bed.  "Howard's okay?"

"Hmm?"  He'd been momentarily distracted by the idea that Grumpy was Heero's Grumpy, and Heero was Duo's Grumpy.  "Oh, yeah.  Of course."

"You okay?"  That seemed the more pertinent question.  It wasn't Howard who had had the problem, after all.

Duo smiled for him and sat down beside him.  "Yeah.  I still don't know why I just... spazzed out like that.  I guess it was just sudden or something.  I mean, Howie's never done this before, so I guess it just... caught me offguard when he did."

"This?"

"Yeah, you know...."  It took Duo a long moment to actually come up with what he was supposed to know.  He hadn't thought about the statement before he'd spoken it, true though it seemed in hindsight.  He grunted contemplatively.  "I guess... he's never really encouraged me before.  I mean, with boyfriends.  He wasn't strict about it, but I knew where he stood.  He never really warmed to any of them, but he knew they were nothings anyway, so..."  He drifted off at the realization that Heero was a something, maybe a big something, and a something that Howard approved of, no less.  It wasn't as if that was any surprise, but for some reason, it still startled and froze him for a moment every time it occurred to him all over again.  If he could see his own face, he'd recognize the expression as one he saw on Heero's face every now and again.

Heero noted the lapse and cataloged it in his mental database for correlation with the rest of his observations, but Duo attempted to cover it by acting as if he'd just realized something else entirely.  "You know, Heero.  Christmas seems to have totally passed us by."

"Next year," Heero dismissed casually.  "I didn't manage to find you your frictionless pulley, anyway."

"Aww."  The mock-pout was charming, to say the least.  "Well, next year, I suppose.  I can hold out hope, right?  And... I admit, I, uh, have been a little distracted, so..."  And he was distracted right now as well.  Next year?  That was a whole twelve months away.  He'd never had a relationship last over twelve weeks.  Some had lasted less than twelve days!  And now they were talking twelve months?  He counted months in his head and realized that they'd been more or less together for at least four months.  It seemed somehow so much longer, and somewhat shorter, too.  His heart rate may have spiked, but he commanded himself not to fidget under the weight of the revelation.

"I told you, Duo, you don't have to worry about it.  I'm not in the habit of expecting gifts from people.  Except Quatre."

Duo put away his other thoughts and chuckled in appreciation of all the grumpy items littering Heero's living space, then sighed.  "I think my Christmas present to me this year will be... us.  Me giving us a better chance."

"Sounds more like a New Year's resolution to me."

"Maybe.  I hope to stick with it better than I have-- Aw, geez.  I missed giving you your New Year's Eve kiss, too, last night.  I'm really sorry about that."

Heero snorted in good humor.  "I'm the one that didn't invite you over until the time had passed.  Besides, clocks are rarely synchronized, so the idea of 'at the stroke of midnight' is somewhat impossible."

"...That your way of telling me they're overrated?"  A mere shrug as a response was all that was delivered.  A wry quirk of his lips later, Duo lowered his head for a moment, made a decision, and told himself quite firmly that he didn't know what there was to be nervous about.  "Think we'll still get our good luck for the year if we do it now?"

Heero's odd talent for the measuring gaze was wielded once more before he took up the clock on his bedside table and fiddled with a few buttons.  When he set it back down again, Duo saw it now read as about ten seconds before midnight, December the thirty-first.  Duo smiled wryly at him, and Heero smiled back.  "Go for it."

No New Year's kiss would be complete without the countdown.  When the time came, Duo leaned forward a little more on each successive second.  "Three... two... one...."  No fireworks marked the occasion, but for being their first kiss after a turbulent couple of weeks, it was marked enough, despite being oddly similar to their true first kiss.  About half as shy -- although more on Duo's part this time -- but just as intoxicating.








ah, me.  this time the title refers not only to their best laid plans, but mine as well.  i said i wouldn't write a sequel to plans, but i also said i would eat those words, so here we are.

so those of you that haven't had to read Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men for school, there's this poem by Robert Burns, To a Mouse, that has these lines in it: the best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men / gang aft agleygang aft agley is Scottish for 'often go awry' or something to that effect.

so why would i name it something so seemingly random?  well, i was feeling contrary, i was.  that's all.






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