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fic - gang aft agley - part 3 [novella] - the turnip patch
version 2.0
fic - gang aft agley - part 3 [novella]
Title:  Gang Aft Agley
Part:  3

Gang Aft Agley
sequel to The Best Laid Plans
Part 3

Autumn weather was a wonderful thing.  The days were still bright and cheerful, but the air was cool and crisp enough to take the edge off the heat.  The open windows in Heero's apartment kept the stuffiness away, and the partially open blinds let the light spill over two young men as they laid comfortably entwined on Heero's bed.

Duo was on his side, head propped up with one hand as he looked down into Heero's face, studying the color of his lips, the minute imperfections in his skin, the fall of his hair.  He waited patiently for Heero to open his eyes again before he smiled and leaned down to kiss him, their lips gently teasing each other into cooperation.  Minutes passed, and Duo had just coaxed a contented sigh from his partner when Heero went suddenly still beneath him.

That was Duo's cue to pull back, and he did so reluctantly, masking a sigh.  "You know, it's almost like you've got some sort of timer in that head of yours," he said conversationally, trying to make light of the situation.  "It'd be almost funny if it weren't so... not-quite-funny."  Heero's lips quirked in annoyance and he averted his eyes to a corner of the room.  Duo placed a hand on his cheek and refocused his attention.  "Hey, don't you turn away from me."

It took a little while for Heero to respond, but eventually he permitted eye contact to be established once more.  One of his hands fidgeted with the hem of his shirt.  "You... you don't have to do this, you know."

"Do what?"

"...Be patient with me."  He ended up looking away again.  "Help me... you know, work through whatever the hell's my problem or whatever.  I wish I knew what the problem was."  Worrying at the fabric of his shirt was exchanged for running his fingers through his bangs in frustration, and when he was done, he let his arm fall to the bed.

"You know what I think?  I think that I can tell you all the stories I want to about how I understand, and how I'm not going to, I don't know, look down on you or whatever the hell's going on in that head of yours because of your relative inexperience, but you're just not going to believe me, are you?"

The answering quirk of Heero's lips was wry, though with a little more bitterness it could have been a sneer.  His verbal response, however, held sincerity.  "...Sorry."

"And I don't think that your apologizing is going to get anywhere with me, either, so stop that," Duo chided.  "You wouldn't be you if you were some crazy sex fiend."

"Hn."  If he'd been asked a few months ago, this wouldn't have been him either, lying on a bed with another guy after a light make-out session and discussing his sexual inadequacies.  "I still don't understand why you put up with me.  With this."

The discomfort Duo could put up with, but he didn't know how much longer he could last against the lack of self-confidence.  He would support Heero with whatever he could, but frankly, he'd never played many supporting roles before.  He didn't know how well he could manage.  All he could do was keep his tone level and friendly and hope the sentiment was right.  Something told him Heero would probably scoff at a traditional pep talk on general principle, anyway.  "If you had a list of the top three reasons for why you're interested in me, I'm pretty sure that 'Duo is a hot piece of ass' would not be up there.  I don't think you comprehend how truly wonderful that is."

"You don't feel like this is, I don't know, something stupid and impersonal like therapy or lessons or something?  Like you're putting all this work into me and for practically nothing in return?  Like I'm just using you for your... hot-piece-of-assiness?"

The amused sound in the back of his throat never made it out only with a significant exertion of self-control.  If anything, it would be Duo taking advantage of him.  For all that Heero's kisses were coy, they held a world of sublime.  "...I think it'd be both illegal and unethical for therapists to do this sort of thing."  He moved on quickly before Heero could decide he wasn't taking the matter seriously.  "No, really, Heero, it's not therapy, it's not teaching -- God, I'm not so conceited that I think I could teach you everything there is to know about it.  It's just... a change of pace, that's all."

Heero snorted.  "Yeah, a pace that lasts all of three minutes and fifty-two seconds."

Duo's eyes widened.  "You don't really have a--"

"Kidding, geez."  He rolled his eyes, then returned his gaze to the ceiling.

Phew.  Duo had been worried for a second there.  Okay, back on track.  "It's not like... like our braces are getting tangled with each other, or you have some knee-me-in-the-crotch reflex action or something, and by all that's holy, if you do something weird like transform into a girl when you get hot for a boy or something, I'll accept that, okay?  So I don't know what you're so worried about.  But more to the point, I am getting something out of this, Heero, and it's something much more substantial than just some cheap rush of hormones, okay?  I'd like to think that there's more to this whole relationship than just our kissing skills."

"...Yeah.  Of course."

His tone was reluctant.  He was holding something back.  Not like he was just conceding even though he didn't agree, just to end the discussion, but more like he agreed, but there was some entirely different issue that Duo was completely unaware of that was causing his reservations.  Well, Heero was not the kind of person that could be pushed into anything.  Duo would just find out when Heero got around to letting him in on it, so there was nothing for him to do but move on.  "And anyway, I don't think I have to teach you anything.  I don't think I have anything to teach you.  You have it in you, Heero.  It's in there.  All you have to do is accept it, let it out."

And that was what kept him here, knowing that Heero's heart was in the right place even though his head kept getting in the way.  "You're just self-conscious about this whole thing; I get that.  Well, okay, maybe not really, but... I mean, we're all friends here.  There's nothing to be self-conscious about.  And yes, I know that's easier said than done.  It just needs to be said."  He ran his hand affectionately through Heero's hair and kissed him on the forehead, digging in to wait him out while he brooded and dwelled on the matter.  Heero was nothing if not sensible.  He'd come to the right conclusions, even if it took a little bit of a timeout.  And in the meantime, Duo would squeeze a little cuddle-time out of the deal.

Eventually, Heero turned his head to look at him.  "You'd be straight for me?" he asked, a hint of amusement floating in his eyes.

"Huh?"  Where did that...?  "Oh.  Gosh, you were actually listening to that?"  He chuckled.  He'd just said it on the spur of the moment, no doubt the result of being subjected to too many weird cartoons by his buddies.  "Well... sure, yeah.  I mean, you'd be gay for me, after all.  Or bi, maybe."

The amusement spread from Heero's eyes to the rest of his expression, but it softened as he lifted the arm he'd had draped across his stomach and touched Duo's face with it.  The angle was awkward, but he managed to draw Duo hesitantly down for a kiss, one he honestly tried to deepen, or at least allow to deepen.  Something may have worked, because Duo was soon inspired to greater depths, though he kept his tongue where it belonged.  He had no intention of getting it bitten off accidentally in a fit of surprise.

"See, I don't get how you could possibly think you aren't good at this," he whispered to Heero after they had parted.  Since the matter had been only recently discussed, his mind ran the comparisons and concluded that he'd had too many kisses that were like miniature fights, two people moving to their own separate rhythms and clashing in something masquerading as passion and intensity, but this was different, wonderfully different, frightfully different, different and natural like the ebb and flow of the tides.  "You know, sometimes I feel like the biggest hypocrite when I'm with you.... I went through all that trouble to go and give you this big, impressive speech on how *being* with you like this isn't necessary... and yet here I go, always wanting to *be* with you."

"...Who said I was impressed?"  Heero pulled him back in for another languid kiss.

A insistent sound interrupted them, and Duo withdrew to ask, "What's that?"

Heero had to blink several times before it registered.  "An alarm?  What time is it?"  He struggled to push himself upright enough to see the clock by his bed.  "Oh, it's time for you to think about heading off for class."

Duo checked his mental schedule and found that it was so.  He gave Heero a look loaded with incredulous humor.  "You set an alarm so I wouldn't be late for class?"

"Well, last time you had to bolt out of here like the hounds of hell were after you," he said defensively.

"Or the hounds of Professor Remer," Duo muttered before turning his attention back to the matter at hand.  "I can't believe you.  That is just so...!"  He took Heero's face between his hands and gave him a sloppy kiss, knowing full well that Heero wouldn't be able to respond to his own satisfaction, but just not caring for the moment.  The thoughtful gesture had sparked a delight in him that had to be expressed.  He broke off the kiss and grinned at Heero and Heero's still faintly startled expression, then pulled him in again to playfully rub their noses together and peck him on the lips once more before releasing him, jumping up, and gathering his things.

The respite provided Heero the time he needed to start his mental processes again, and he finally turned off the alarm and got up from the bed.  By the time he regained his feet and made it to the door, Duo had finished packing up.

"Well, gotta go!" the engineer announced.  He couldn't stop himself from draping an arm over one of Heero's shoulders and back around his neck, and giving him another short, but enthusiastic kiss.  When it was over, Duo winked at him.  "Thanks," he mouthed with a breath of sound, and then he was out the door at a light jog.  At that pace, he'd probably get to class early, but he didn't care.  He just wasn't in the mood for a sedate walk.

Heero caught the door before it closed, stuck his head out and watched Duo leave with a charmed smile on his face.  A handful of seconds had passed before he realized he was wearing a smile for all the world to see, and he self-consciously withdrew to the sheltered privacy of the inside of his apartment.  The smile didn't fade, though, nor did that strange feeling of breathlessness that had wrapped itself around his chest, nor the lingering tingle from the feel of Duo's body pressed against his own.  He felt light and warm and happy, and though it was tainted by the thought that he wasn't doing enough to earn it, that it was unfair that he only take and give barely anything in return, it also fueled his resolve to try and correct that.

He came down the stairs on a fine Saturday morning of Thanksgiving weekend and, as expected, found his stepfather seated at the kitchen table with a newspaper, a cup of coffee, and some toast.  They glanced a good morning at each other, and then Odin went back to his paper, and Heero to the refrigerator.  A few cozy minutes later, Heero had a plate of scrambled eggs, toast on the side, and a glass of orange juice.  Before he seated himself across from his stepfather, he pushed half the eggs onto Odin's plate and brought them to Odin's attention with the simple word, "Eggs."

"Hmm?"  Odin pulled his paper to the side a bit to catch sight of the boy that had become his son.


"Ah."  It occurred to him that most of their conversations were short and to the point.  It had almost always been like that, and neither of them had ever seemed unduly bothered by it.  Yet for all of Heero's quiet, self-contained ways, he had somehow managed to inherit his mother's nurturing nature, which, over the years, had proven a very good thing for them both.  Odin's paternal instincts were few and far between.  He was quite fortunate to have had Akiko Yuy coax him out of his careless bachelorhood.  Now who would do the same for her son?  Or would Heero be the one doing the coaxing?  "You've never had a girlfriend, right?"

Heero paused with his toast halfway to his mouth, finding it amusing that his father had to ask for confirmation, but wondering where this was leading, if anywhere.  He really didn't consider the one girl Quatre had set him up with a girlfriend.  They'd only lasted a couple of measly dates, and Heero had never quite developed any interest in her.  "Right."

The newspaper rose again, as if Odin needed some barrier between himself and this strangely fatherly line of questioning.  "You ever think about finding one?"

"Not really."  They sometimes seemed more interested in finding him.

Odin and Akiko had never had any sort of flaming passion or romance, but they had filled holes in each other's life, and things had been pleasantly comfortable when they were together.  It would be nice to see Heero have a taste of that for himself.  "Well, neither did I, I suppose.  But they can be rather nice, you know."

Oh, that was what Odin was getting at -- a 'relationship'.  It occurred to Heero a bit belatedly that this conversation was unnecessary.  He was a little slow on the uptake since his mind didn't logically connect the words 'girlfriend' and 'Duo'.  "Actually, I think I have a boyfriend now."  Having said that with an artless nonchalance, he waited patiently for the outcome.

"Oh, that's good."  The newspaper stilled, then lowered halfway with a flick of Odin's fingers.  He blinked at his stepson over the tops of his glasses.  "...You're gay?"

Heero smiled faintly.  "Yeah, that was about my reaction, too."

"Oh."  He blinked again.  "Ahem.  Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one that seems to have missed it, then."

Newspaper was read and eggs and toast consumed in the following silence, but when the eggs were done, Odin investigated further into this unexpected matter.  "So, who's the lucky girl?"  He blinked.  "I mean, boy?"

"His name's Duo.  Goes to school with me, although I met him pretty early in the summer.  His uncle owns the market where I do my shopping.  He's an engineering major.  Same year as me, too."

"Oh.  Well, that's nice."  It was a bland statement, but Heero knew the part about Duo being an engineer earned him at least a few brownie points already.  Odin respected engineers.  "You should have found yourself a nice physicist instead, though."

Odin had tried to encourage Heero in the direction of his own chosen science, once upon a time, but while Heero had an interest in it, he had never quite taken to it as he had to computers.  "I'll keep that in mind for--"

"...Next time?" Odin finished.

It was Heero's turn to blink.  He couldn't quite imagine there being a next time.  He couldn't imagine there needing to be a next time.  "Hn.  No, maybe not, then."

Odin hmm'ed thoughtfully, levelling an appraising look at him.  "You should bring him by sometime."

Heero raised an eyebrow at him.  It was a little bit early to be meeting the folks, wasn't it?  He ran the possible reasons through his mind for a while before finally nodding.  "Sure."

"I told my dad about you this weekend."

"Really?  He said it calmly, with a hint of amusement, but on the inside, that innocent little statement had been rather heartstopping.  He didn't think he'd ever been important enough to have been shared with parents before.  "Did he take it well?"

"Of course.  He's Odin, after all.  It's not like he was expecting any grandkids out of me, anyway."

'Of course,' he said, like it was the most natural thing in the world.  Duo was glad Heero didn't have parents like he did, but maybe he was a little bit envious as well, even if he had Howard to make up for all of it.  "Would those be, like, stepgrandkids?"

"No clue.  I'm still wondering how a person can have a third cousin, twice removed."

"Yeah?  Me, too."  He looked down at the sidewalk as they walked back to the market after classes, trusting Heero to warn him if he was about to run into a lamp post.  When he caught himself playing the old child's game of avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk, he lifted his eyes.

"How did Howard take it?" Heero asked curiously.  "When you told him you were gay, I mean."

Duo smirked, glad for the distraction.  "Aw, man, I remember that.  It was great.  It was, what, late freshman year, high school?  Anyway, Howie gets it into his mind to sit me down and have 'the talk'.  Well, actually, he was savvy enough to figure that I probably already knew most of it, but he was giving it a go, trying to figure out what I already knew, and after watching him muck through a bit of it, I stop him.  I go, 'Howie.'  And he stops, and he gets this look on his face, like he knows I'm about to say something that's gonna be something of a bomb shell, and he just bursts out, "By all that's holy, kid, if I find out you already know all about this stuff from firsthand experience, I'm gonna--!"  He trailed off laughing.  "And after that, you know, whatever it was I had to tell him couldn't have been all that bad.  So I tell him.  'Howie, I think I'm gay.'  And again with the look on his face.  He was totally cool about it.  It started off with this look of relief, sort of glad there wasn't anything firsthand going on, combined with, 'Thank God I don't have to give him the talk, then!'  And then it quickly changed into, 'Holy crap!  That's a whole other talk I have to give then, and I don't know a damn thing about that!'"  Duo laughed again.  "But me and the old man, we managed to muddle through well enough."

"That's good to hear."  A distant part of Heero wondered how Duo's parents had found out he was gay, but he knew better than to ask.  It was merely idle curiosity, anyway.  "Odin wants to meet you."

"Whoa, what?"  Duo stopped in his tracks for a second, then had to hustle to catch up.  "Did I miss something here?  Have I just been asked to meet your folks?  Folk?  Dad?  Whatever?"  This was moving way too fast.  He was still trying to adjust to the fact that Odin knew he existed.

"I don't think it's as serious as it sounds," Heero answered, thinking not much of it.  "I think Odin just wants to see for himself what I'm doing.  Make sure you're not some evil guy that managed to seduce me to the dark side.  See how serious I am about this, or see if it's just some random little experimental phase.  Maybe just see where I am in life.  You know.  He's a scientist.  Scientists like to see things for themselves."

"Oh.  Well, I guess I can understand that."  He waited an appropriate length of time to demonstrate how disinterested he was in the answer to his next question.  "...So, how serious are you, Heero?"

Heero was not fooled.  "...You know me, Duo," he answered mildly.  "I'm hardly the adventurous sort.  I wouldn't just jump into something like this frivolously."

"Hm."  That was enough of what he wanted to hear, without having to go through the emotional stress of actually hearing it.  He hurried along so his mind wouldn't have the time to supply him with the words he wasn't ready to hear.  "So, think he'll like me?  What should I do to impress him?"

Heero smiled.  "He's a scientist, Duo.  Functionality over form.  Don't try to impress him, and he'll be impressed."

"Aw, man, I totally just bombed statmech!"

From where he was draped over an armchair reviewing a report one last time before he turned it in, Duo looked up at Mueller's loud entrance into the suite.  "Okay, that one's not my fault.  You told me you didn't need any help studying.  Which means you thought you had it nailed, which means you probably didn't do as badly as you thought you did."

Mueller plopped himself down on the sofa.  "Not needing help studying doesn't mean I had it nailed!  Crap, I think I'm going to try and drink myself into oblivion tonight.  I heard Rob didn't do so well on Fourier.  Think he'd be willing to share his stash with me?"

"I think he's done with finals and he's taking off tomorrow.  He might not want to be hungover for that.  Speaking of which, don't you still have your lab to write up?"

"Man, you've been all responsible this semester.  How boring."

"You were just thinking about drinking yourself into oblivion because of one class.  Why would you want to do it for two?"

"One, two, what's the difference?" Mueller bemoaned.  "Either way, I'll be oblivious.  Or hey, maybe I could just do it twice!"

"Would that be before or after your lab partner killed you?"

"Man, Pete's probably as bummed as I am right now.  We're probably screwed on that lab report anyway."

"Rosenbaum will have your asses if you turn in an obviously half-assed report," Hilde said, drawn out of her room by all the noise.  "You have him again next semester, remember?"

He groaned.  "Don't remind me.  I have a whole month before I have to start worrying about next semester.  Blah!  I think I need to shower someone."  He eyed Hilde speculatively.

She held her ground and threw him a threatening look.  "Hell, no.  I know where you sleep at night, remember?"

"Yeah, so?  Who on this campus doesn't?"

On campus, indeed.  Duo grinned.  "Hey, Heero's going to come by and pick me up in a little bit."

There soon bloomed an answering grin on Mueller's face as well.  "How long is a little bit?"

Duo looked at his watch.  "I think his test just ended, unless he finished early, which, knowing Heero, he probably did."

"You know, I got a look at his schedule for next semester.  He's taking Quantum.  For fun."

"He wouldn't tell me when his birthday was," Duo added solemnly to the list of transgressions.

Mueller grinned even wider.  "Hey, Perry!" he shouted towards the door of the freshman's room.  "You busy?"

The door opened.  "Nothing I wouldn't like to get out of.  Why?"

"I heard from Pete you were pretty good at showering their frosh, Whatshisface.  Wanna have one last go before you take off for the semester?"

"Sure."  He rubbed his hands together in overzealous anticipation.  "Who's the target?"


Perry's eyes widened as he retreated a cautious step or two.  "Are you kidding me?  That guy could probably kick our asses!"

Duo smirked.  They only saw Heero occasionally at lunch time or in the suite, and he never said very much to anyone other than Duo, let alone the frosh, and yet he still came across as intimidating.  What was it about the guy?  Maybe Duo just didn't see it anymore now that he'd pierced the surface of Heero's personality.  "Nah, he wouldn't, not for a little fun.  Promise.  Whaddya say, Hil?  You in?"

There may have been a little reluctance at first, but she assented in the end.  "Well, you guys get to take care of the heavy lifting, okay?  I get the feeling he's going to be a fighter."

"Perfect," Mueller answered.  "It's no fun when they don't put up a fight."  The door to their suite opened, and one unsuspecting mostly Japanese young man walked in.  "Perfect," he repeated, putting on one last smug look before casting a significant glance at Duo.

Duo knew what was expected of him.  "Hey, Heero, sit a while, bitch with us."  He patted the armrest of his chair.

"What are we bitching about?" Heero asked, setting his bag down and perching obediently on the side of the chair.

"It's finals week and he doesn't know what he's bitching about."  Duo rolled his eyes dramatically.  Then he grabbed Heero's wrist and made a show of looking at the watch there while toeing off his own shoes and socks.  "Hey, what time is it?  Didn't your test, like, just end?"

"I finished early."

"He finished early," Duo repeated for the group, his fingers deftly undoing the clasp on Heero's watch while the others nodded sagely.

The loss of his watch did not escape Heero's notice.  "What--?  Duo?"

Duo took off his own watch and leaned forward to set them on the low table in the middle of all the seating, then knelt by Heero's feet, lifted one and slipped off the shoe, then the sock.  "You know, this is almost too easy."

Heero looked at him funny, then looked at the others for help.  All he received were grins in return.  "Uh, Duo, what are you doing?"

Duo had turned his attention to Heero's other foot.  "Trust me, this is for your own good.  See, next time, you'll be able to recognize the signs, so you'll be better prepared.  Most people would have figured it out by now, but then again, most people probably have more experience with this kind of thing, so with most people, we'd have to be more subtle about it.  Well, no," he paused, cocking his head to one side in thought.  "With most people, we'd probably just do it in transit, wouldn't we, guys?"  He got three big nods in response as he sat back in his armchair.

It didn't take a genius to realize that something was up.  Heero got up from his seat.  "Transit to where?"

Duo let the suspense build for one tense second, then grabbed Heero around his chest from behind, and Heero had not even the time to get out a "What the--?" before the whole room surged into action.

"Get his feet!"

"I'm trying!"

"Oof, you're heavier than you look, Heero!"

"Put me down!  What the--?"

"I got the water!"

"Oh shit."

"Someone pry his hand off the sofa!"

"D'oh, lost his foot!  Ow, got it again!"

"What did I do to get showered?!"

"Oh, nothing.  We were just in the mood."

"What kind of reason is that?!"

"Ooh, door frame!"

"Got it!"

"Wait, turn!"

"Hil, get his hand, would you?  At least one of them.  He keeps grabbing things."

"He's good for a first timer."

"Hey, watch it!  I'm a lady, you know."

"Careful... careful... clear!"

"You taking the fall, Duo?"

"Guess so."

And then his legs were released and Duo was backing them into the spray.  Using him as a shield against the water, Duo held him there long enough to make sure he got good and wet before releasing him and dancing away to safety by the bathroom door with a merry laugh, a little damp, but certainly better off than their victim.  The others had re-convened in the main suite to recount their adventure.

Heero took a step out from under the spray and glared accusingly at Duo.

"You wouldn't tell me your birthday, Heero," he intoned seriously, humor dancing across his expression.

Heero blinked at him and wiped away the water that was dribbling into his eye.

"Aw, come on.  Don't be like that.  It wasn't that bad, was it?  Heero?"

Out in the suite, Alex had returned, and was groaning about how he'd missed out on all the fun.  The logical conclusion from that, of course, was that they ought to go shower someone else.  "I think Rob needs cheering up," Mueller declared.  "Let's go.  Duo, you in?"

Duo turned to answer him.  "Nah, I'm good, thanks.  Have fun!"  He watched them parade rowdily out the door for their next victim, but before he could get back to coaxing Heero into not hating him, arms wrapped around him from behind in a sweet, very wet hug.

"It wasn't that bad," Heero murmured into his ear.  "In fact, I think I'll do it again."  He tightened his arms and leaned back, hefting Duo's feet off the ground.

It dawned on Duo that the water was still running.  "Aw, shit.  Come on, Heero, this isn't fair!"

"Payback's always fair."

Duo tried to reach out and snag the bathroom's door frame, but Heero had gotten him around the arms and he didn't have the reach or the leverage he needed.  He'd known that Heero had a nice, firm body underneath his clothes, but he hadn't imagined such strength.  He stuck out his feet in a valiant attempt to stall things, and it worked for a while before Heero maneuvered them in and out at just the right angles to deny him any further purchase.  "Hilde~!"

The female engineer stood calmly in the frame of her own door, a towel in hand.  She'd been about to volunteer it for Heero's use, but changing circumstances caused her to simply shake her head and go back into her room to look for a second towel.

"Traitor~!" he shouted after her, sensing his imminent defeat.  It wasn't quite clear to whom he was referring.  He managed to tangle the two of them up in the shower curtain for a little while, putting off the soaking for as long as he was able to manage before Heero got them twisted out of it and under the spray.

"Maybe I'm starting to see the appeal of this," Heero said, placidly holding him captive under the water.  They were both getting thoroughly soaked, but at least they weren't alone.

"Great," Duo groused good-naturedly, trying to blink water out of his eyes.  At least his braid was protected between the two of them, even if it had inhibited his movement earlier.  "I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing."

Heero's grip loosened, but he lowered his head to nibble lightly on Duo's neck, prompting the engineering student to stay right where he was.  There was something delicious about kissing in the shower, or perhaps it was more like rain since they were fully clothed.  "August," he murmured against Duo's skin.

"Hm?"  It was difficult to hear him over the sound of the shower.

"August twenty-third.  My birthday."

"Oh, now he says so.  Well, now I know when not to-- Hey, that was before school even started."

"And?" Heero prodded expectantly, smiling softly into Duo's shoulder.

"And why the hell did you have a button from Quatre on your table in October?"

Heero smirked unseen.  "It took Quatre a while to find me something, and it took me a while to add it to my decor."

"Asshole," Duo muttered affectionately.  "You could have just said so.  We don't shower summer babies.  Not for their birthdays, anyway."

"Can you please not make out in the shower?" Hilde asked loudly from the door of the bathroom.  The shower curtain had been partially drawn over the stall's entrance in their struggle, but she could still see them standing together.  "Some of us have to use that shower, you know."

Heero immediately jerked back at the sound of her voice, and Duo leapt from his grasp, pushed the curtain aside, and escaped, with Heero following close on his heels, a minor scowl on his face for having been caught during a private moment.  He hid it by turning around to shut off the water.

Duo just avoided the topic altogether.  She still didn't know exactly where their relationship stood, after all, and he had no intention of telling her.  Sometimes, he didn't even know himself.  "Hey, Hil, can we borrow those towels now?"  His front was soaked, but his back was only damp from where Heero had pressed up against him.  There were two showers in the suite bathroom, back to back and separated by curtains from an additional changing/drying area in the middle, which in turn had another curtain blocking it off from the rest of the bathroom, and they stayed standing in the middle area now to avoid getting the rest of the bathroom floor all wet.  There was a short ledge there to keep the water in, and it sloped slightly to allow the excess to run into the shower drains.

She shook her head at him again with a smug expression on her face, but she threw the towels at him anyway before going back to her room.

He handed a towel to Heero and wiped off his face with a cheerful grin.  There was always something basic and exhilarating about a successful showering, or rather, stalking, chasing, and catching of prey.  "So really.  Wasn't so bad, was it?"

Heero was leaned over trying to squeeze the water out of his hair.  "Considering the water was not freezing, and you removed my watch, shoes, and socks first, it was a rather surprisingly civilized sport."

"Yup, down to a science, it is.  Showering's supposed to be fun, after all.  School rules state we're not allowed to shower or otherwise prank anyone that's truly unwilling."  He draped his towel over the rod the shower curtain ran along and took a hold of the hem of his shirt.  After a moment's consideration, he pulled shut the front curtain of the changing area.  After a second moment's consideration, he blushed lightly, squeezed his way past Heero, and pushed him towards the dry shower stall.  "Um, I'm gonna try and wring my clothes out.  You can try over there and, umm, well, you know."  He backed into the stall they'd just occupied and tugged the curtain shut before pulling his shirt off and twisting it up, trying to ignore the sounds of Heero doing the same only a few feet away.

"Do this often?" Heero asked curiously.

What, strip to his skivvies in the shower with a really hot guy standing so very close by?  No.  But he didn't think that was what Heero was referring to.  "Um, well, not that often, and when we do, we don't usually stay under the water for more than a few seconds.  Ahem, Heero," he said pointedly.  Not that he hadn't enjoyed it.

Heero's shrug went unnoticed as he hung his shirt on the shower spigot, having decided his shirt was probably as dry as it was going to get for the moment.  It was a sunny day out, so hopefully he'd dry on his way home.  "If you can shower me simply because you felt like it, I don't see why I can't shower you because you showered me."

"And a solo showering, too."  He clamped down on his imagination when he heard the zipper of Heero's pants going down, and wasn't aided in his cause as he tried to wring his own pants out, too.  They were going to be two very wrumpled individuals when they got out.  "Not everyone can pull off a solo showering.  You're a natural, Heero."

"It's just a matter of leverage.  Aren't engineers supposed to know about these things?"

"Yes, but you're a CS major."  His statement was punctuated by the sound of water dribbling to the floor.  "You're not supposed to know anything about how the real world works."

"You must be confusing me for a physics major.  Engineers don't have a monopoly on common sense, after all."  Not that the most prominent engineer of his acquaintance displayed common sense all the time, either.

"You know, I always wanted an infinite sheet of charge.  Think you can find me one for Christmas?  Hmm, or maybe that'd take too much room to store.  I'd settle for a frictionless pulley."

"Hn.  If you want something for Christmas, you'll have to let me know.  Otherwise, like I've said before, I'm not much into gift giving, and neither are my friends."

"Except for Quatre, right?"  It was easier to shimmy back into his pants than it had been to get them off, but it still wasn't easy, nor pleasant.  "But then, don't the holidays just suck for you guys?  I mean, what are they for, if not for getting loot?"

"If we happen to run across something we think would be perfect, sure, but otherwise, we aren't ones to waste our time finding something meaningless and frivolous.  Then it's just... loot."

"Ugh, don't tell me it's the thought that counts.  And here I thought everyone had been brainwashed into the mindless commercialism of the holidays.  Well, okay, if you're just going to get me a gift certificate or something, never mind."

"Fine.  I'll keep an eye out for a frictionless pulley, but no promises."

Having gotten back into his still damp, but considerably less sodden, clothes, Duo drew his curtain back.  "Thank you."

Heero pulled his curtain back as well, then settled back against the wall as he rolled the second cuff of his pants up.  It would prevent the bottom of his pants from drying for a while, but on the plus side, it would keep his pants from sticking to his legs so much.

It didn't bother him that his shirt was still hanging on the showerhead, and truth be told, it didn't really bother Duo, either, though it did do something to him.  He bit the inside of his lip and listened to the voices in his head as they argued amongst themselves.  One camp was shouting, "It's not nice to stare," and other was insisting, "He's *my* boyfriend, dammit, I'll drool if I want to."  The result was a sort of stalemate that left him enjoying the view, but only out of the corner of his eye.

When Heero straightened and went to grab his shirt, Duo let out a low whistle.  "Ooh, that's a nice set of abs.  I thought you were a CS major.  Don't you spend a majority of your day sitting flat on your ass?"

"Yes.  Which is why I need to work out to counteract that."

"Ah.  You know, I wouldn't mind a good work out, once in a while."  He leered, but Heero didn't see it while he was pulling his shirt over his head.

"It really doesn't take much time to stay in shape.  I have a tendency to do sit-ups or something when I'm trying to figure a program out."

"Ah.  Well, I suppose that works, too."  Good ol' Heero.  Painfully naïve sometimes.  So much for innuendo.  "Then how did you get so cut, handsome?  You're not that bad at programming."

"I took up kenpo in middle school.  That's how I met Wufei, actually."

"Really?  Hell, that means you really could have kicked our asses."  He ignored Heero's inquisitive look and moved on.  "You know, I'm dying to meet this Wufei of yours.  He sounds... well, kinda like you.  Only I'm sure you're cuter."

They finally left the bathroom and endured a few friendly jibes from Hilde as they returned the towels to her with thanks.  Gathering up their stuff, they left, and Duo pulled them towards the academic side of campus so he could turn in his lab write-up.

"Wufei's got a girlfriend," Heero mentioned as they walked, taking their time to get the full benefit of the sun's rays.  Apparently people got showered often enough that they didn't rate a second glance.  Well, perhaps a third glance.  "Meiran, I think her name is.  They met this summer during his internship in DC, and it turns out that all this time, they went to the same school.  He said she'd bring her out sometime during the break.  She actually doesn't come from too far from here, either."

"Ah, so one of you turned out straight, eh?"  Duo chuckled.  "You haven't told him yet, have you?"


"Think he'll be surprised?"

"Startled, maybe, since it's unexpected, but I don't think surprised, really.  It's not like I've gone through a platoon of girlfriends or anything."

"Well, this'll be fun."  Truthfully, if he hadn't already met Heero's other two friends, he'd be a lot more nervous about meeting Wufei, not to mention Heero's dad.  He tried to think of it as simply fair.  For the last semester, Heero had been subjected to Duo's world; now it was Duo's turn to take the plunge into Heero's.  But then why did the whole idea still make him feel like his heart was ready to jump into his throat at a moment's notice?

"As much fun as it would be to surprise Wufei on the spot, I think I owe him at least some warning.  It'll be surprise enough, anyway.  And I'll need some time to fend Quatre off, too.  He'll be a little miffed I didn't let on any sooner."

"What about Trowa?"

"Oh, Trowa knows.  He's known since the beginning."

"Oh?"  He waved to someone he knew, easily answering to the observations that he'd suffered a showering.

Heero waited for the moment to pass.  "Yeah, I talked to him.  He needed to return a favor."

"Er, I see."

"But Quatre doesn't know he knows, or rather, we won't tell Quatre he knew, so don't tell, okay?"

"Oookay.  Whatever.  They're your friends, babe."

"Far be it from me to indulge in sentimentality, but... I hope they'll be your friends, too."

Duo laughed.  "You are such a Care Bear, babe.  First trying to get me to like my friends more, and now trying to convince me to like your friends.  You're like my own personal Grumpy Bear, yes you are."

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