Crush:  The Dangers of Dating Heero

By BadMomma (badmomam64@aol.com)

Warnings: None really, language, shonen ai, sappy, maybe PG-13.

Spoilers: None.

Rating: PG-13 for language.

Notes:  Trowa's POV.  1x2x1. This turned out to be yet another get together fic, though not originally intended as such. Another one done for a Moments of Rapture Contest.  Contest fics should be up sometime in July, so if you're interested check out MoR at: .  Thanks to Sharon for hosting these little things.  Feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Disclaimer:  In my dreams, and only there, are they mine.  I make no money off these feeble attempts at literature.  Nor is infringement of the legal owners' rights intended.

The Dangers of Dating Heero

It had started out as a joke to them.  I've been present to overhear at least one conversation on the subject while it was still a joke between them.

 'Are you bringing someone to the dinner party?'

 'Yeah, my usual date.'

 'Again? I thought you said you weren't dating, that you're just good friends?'

 'I'm not.  We are.  It's just too much trouble to find someone else to go with me.'

 'I could fix you up with someone.'

 'Nah, I'll pass. I'd just as soon go stag but it's our little joke and we keep each other entertained at these things. Thanks anyway.' 

He'd waive it off and go home as usual.  He'd call his usual date and get the usual acceptance.  Come the night in question, he and his usual date would show up, fashionably late, to the party. No one thought anything of it.  He brought the same person to all of the company functions he attended.

He used to remind everyone that 'Beauty was in the eye of the beholder'.  Why should he not appreciate it just because he happened to behold that beauty in a male and not a female.  He made no secret about the fact that he was an equal opportunity beholder.

And, boy, was his usual date beautiful.  We'd all seen it, we would've had to be blind not to notice.  I myself had suffered a minor case of starry-eyed hero worship until the day he self detonated. It was during that time that I came to know the man he was and began to admire what he did not let most people see.  For all his rough edges, sharp words and mission objectives, Heero possessed a truly a gentle soul, an inherent kindness and a streak of innocence that was incongruous with the soldier we all knew. 

To here Duo tell it, the first time Heero's beauty had rather soundly struck him was when he'd seen the Japanese boy laid out and bound on that Alliance hospital table.  But he'd gone there to rescue what would be his future partner-in-crime and the thought had been tucked away for later consideration.

We'd been young then and, unlike me, he'd not had much experience in that arena; but he knew what a crush was when it hit him.  Sister Helen had explained it all to him.  Or at least he'd thought she had. 

According to Duo he'd learned the awful truth of what a crush was at the tender age of seven or eight.  It was during his time at the Maxwell Church that he'd been accosted, as he put it, by an older woman.  The eleven year-old girl in question, Lily if I remember correctly, had decided that she wanted to marry him when they grew up and chose to seal the bargain with a kiss.  What she hadn't known was that he mistakenly believed kissing to be the same as having sex; something that his former street gang members had impressed upon the younger members, himself included, should always be off limits.   Believing himself to have been badly affronted, he'd hauled off and punched her in the stomach.

Unfortunately for my little braided friend, the nun who cared for them caught him as the punch connected.  Assuming that he'd picked another fight, she'd reprimanded him and sent him off for penance.  Much later that evening when he'd had a chance to explain his reasons to the good Sister, she'd had no choice but to tell him that his bride-to-be was not trying to force sex on him, but that she simply had a crush on him.  The nun had taken the time to explain to him that a crush was just a severe case of liking someone and that sometimes a kiss was the way to show it.  While not totally sold by her claims that kissing and sex were not the same thing, he'd agreed to forgive his friend and apologized for hitting her.  Part of his acceptance had been because he'd realized then that he, too, had a crush; only his was on Sister Helen.

He'd later learned first hand that kissing and sex truly were two separate things and claims to have often laughed at his own naiveté at the time; his tenure with the Sweepers had been very educational on that subject.  But while his understanding of sex had drastically changed over the years, his opinion of it had not.  It was not something he wanted to be doing with just anybody and most definitely not with strangers.  Life as a teenage terrorist had not been conducive to developing too many lasting friendships.

His crush on Heero waned over the years and despite the other boy's initial reluctance the two had become good friends.  They'd had no choice but to rely on each other throughout the conflicts and his crush turned into a deep sense of respect and caring.  Despite going their separate ways after the Barton Insurrection, Heero to find answers about his identity and Duo to make his place in the world, they'd stayed in touch and remotely offered each other the kind of support only someone with our shared pasts could.  They helped each other as best they could through the struggles to fit in, to be normal, in an environment that both knew little about.  When they finally reunited, he says he could still see the beauty in his friend, but it was overshadowed by something that was much more precious.  What he saw was a beauty of character, of heart and of mind.

Not counting Wufei, who'd been there since the beginning of the year, they were the first of us to return to Earth.  Colony life seemed to have lost its luster for them.  The beauty and tranquility that can only be found on the mother planet called out to their weary souls. 

They first settled in separate cities but eventually time brought them together again.  They agreed to settle on the East coast of North America, to resume their partnership and renew their friendship. They each had a small apartment, less than a fifteen minute drive from the other and spent much of their free time together.  They got together during the week to play basketball.  They watched movies and ordered take out on the weekends.  They joined the same gym and worked out together on the weekends.  They went out together while trying to make friends with the people they worked with.  All the while, they continued to be each other's anchors while they battled to live ordinary lives.

We reunited as a group for the first time since the conflicts for the anniversary celebration of the New Earth Sphere Alliance.  At a private gathering before the festivities, the Gundam pilots were presented with official certificates granting us legal status as adults despite having been declared 'Emancipated Minors' over a year earlier, two-year stipends to compensate our unpaid service in the attainment of peace, and an open invitation to become agents for the Preventers, the Earth Sphere's peace keeping force.  With the exception of Wufei, who'd been working there for almost a year, we all declined.  We were told that should we change our minds at a later time, we would need but say so. 

The official celebration began with the requisite speeches.  But a good hour and a half into the celebration, we former pilots were all itching to leave.  We found it uncomfortable to be standing at the front of the crowd as it pressed in around us.  Heero's right arm kept twitching as if resisting the urge to go for a weapon he no longer carried.  Duo's furtive glances at the bodies closing in around us kept meeting mine and Quatre's.  The only one that seemed oblivious to the tension was Wufei.  Unaware of our distress, the crowd continued to press forward as they were swept up in the fervor of the moment.  It turned out that our Chinese friend was not as oblivious as I'd thought.  At the very moment when it felt like all hell would break loose he leaned over and suggested that we retreat, as a group, to 'a less confining' area.

The speeches lasted no more than another twenty minutes, but the experience had left us oddly shaken.  We watched the proceedings wind down from the safety of an open doorway that led out to a covered balcony.  All of us still a bit twitchy and nervous, I was grateful when Duo broke the tension by asking if he was the only one who'd felt like the oxygen had been running out in the room.  We laughed nervously for a while until Wufei caused the last of the tension to go with a rather sardonic comment that it had reminded him of his stay on Oz's Lunar Base.  We spent the rest of the night, huddled for safety on a balcony, away from the masses of ball-gowned ladies and black-tied men.  Eventually talk turned to what we had been and would be doing with our lives. 

Wufei intended to continue his work with the Preventers; he found it very satisfying to apply his natural talents, both mental and physical, to the task of keeping the peace.  Quatre announced his intention to remain on L4 for at least another year to continue learning his family's business; after that, he'd decide what to do.  I announced my intention to stay on Earth for a while and was immediately invited to crash at Duo's place until I'd found somewhere to live. The unexpected stipend would afford me some time to figure out what I wanted for myself; despite having people that I cared for and relied on there, life under the Big Top had lost its luster as well.  I'd grown very tired of wandering.

When it was his turn, we listened carefully to Heero tell us of his inability to find, much less hold onto, a job that interested him. He and Duo exchanged control of the conversation, though Heero remained the main topic for quite a while.  They told tales of failed interviews, lost tempers, and the insurmountable feeling of dissatisfaction.  Duo tried to lighten the mood by teasing Heero about his stint with a construction company, claiming that his friend had been asked to leave the job because he'd been the only worker to get more catcalls from passers-by than he gave.  It was painfully clear to me that Heero was disgusted with the fact that he could not manage to be what he defined as 'normal enough' to survive more than six weeks with a single employer.  Snorting a muted 'baka' under his breath at Duo's tales, he rose and offered to get us all drinks.  He left with the understanding that Duo would continue their shared stories. 

After a while of listening to our braided friend's often hysterical accounts of their normalcy woes, we all suddenly seemed to notice Heero's extended absence.  This was were the evening truly got interesting.

Duo gracefully left his chair and went to the open doorway peering at the crowd inside.  "Where the hell'd my date run off to?" He murmured as he scratched the back of his head out of nervous habit, bringing his braid over his shoulder.

 "Date?" Wufei snorted, launching himself to the other boy's side.  "Maxwell, we've been out here for hours!  How could you leave your guest alone for this long? Your behavior is truly unconscionable sometimes." Slapping him on the back of the head in a brotherly fashion, he too began peering at the crowd.

Quatre shifted in his chair, tilting his head slightly, "Is this something… new? I… you… you've never mentioned…?"

Duo briefly glanced over his shoulder at the stuttering Arabian and waved a dismissive hand at him.  "Just my usual date, we always go to parties and stuff together."  He returned his attention to the crowd.

Standing next to him our Asian friend nearly bristled, "Are you going to give us a description so we can help find her or are you just going to stand there like an idiot all night?"  Quatre and I moved to join them at the door; the blond moving around and in front of the American, I behind but between him and Wufei.

Duo turned his head toward Wufei in what appeared to be slow motion, a who-are-you-and-what-have-you-done-with-my-friend look stole across his face.  "Uuuh, 'bout my height, compact but well built, short brown hair…, blue eyes…,"

Studying the crowd more intently than before Wufei blurted out, "'Short brown hair and blue eyes', do you know how many people fit that description? Be more specific!"

 "Um, Japanese?" The American's expression had turned to one of total disbelief, but his eyes hadn't left the other man's face.

 "Clothing?  Color?  Hair style?  Something useful please!"  Wufei, who had taken a half step forward while peering into the crowd, was determined to find this mystery woman.  The only problem – if I'd guessed correctly – was that it was no woman.  I think I saw realization hit Quatre as well when he turned back toward us.  I also think he was a little shocked.

Duo turned his body fully in the direction of our Chinese friend.  "Chang?" He waited for acknowledgement.  When he got the boy's attention he reiterated his previous description, and then some, "…grumpy, scowling?"

Wufei turned fully back toward Duo and returned the half step he'd taken away.  "What. Is. She. Wearing?"

 "HE."  The American practically shouted, straightening his back, "is wearing a dark blue suit, butter-cream shirt and burnt gold tie with little blue…"  he waved a finger furiously in the air between them "SQUIGGLY things on them!"  He threw his hands up and his head back in supplication to an almighty power, then turned and headed back out to where we'd been sitting moments before.

Quatre tried to suppress a smile which threatened to turn into a laugh.  He covered his mouth with one hand, making another effort to conceal his mirth and joined Duo on the balcony again.

Wufei continued to stare at the space the American had just vacated and furrowed his brow.  After coming to a decision, he followed the others.

Me, I just stood there and watched it unfold. I had a feeling I knew what was going on.  Wufei, on the other hand,  was much too serious and literal about everything, he sometimes required a little more clarification.  I leaned against the doorway, ready to enjoy the show.

Quatre and Duo were already talking quietly when Wufei approached them, without waiting for their acknowledgement he began to seek his clarification.

"Maxwell?"

Duo looked up at him patiently, "Yes Chang?"

"I asked you to describe your date."

"Yes Chang."

Your – and I quote you – usual date."

"Yes Chang."

"You just described Yuy."

"Yes Chang."

"Are you suggesting that Yuy is your date?"

"Yes Chang."

At this point I could see Duo's barely controlled amusement at our Chinese friend.  He was so easy to rattle sometimes.

"I take that to mean, Maxwell, that you and he are dating then?"

"Uum, in a manner of speaking.  Yes Chang."

Our topic of conversation appeared at my shoulder, preventing me from catching the rest.  "What'd I miss?"

My response was an overwhelmingly intelligent 'um'.

"Did I miss the one about the boss that was sexually harassing him?"

"Um, no.  No you didn't."

"Oh good, I love that story.  But he never tells all the dirty little details."  He raised his hands "Give me a hand will you."  I took two of the five precariously gripped glasses.  Catching Quatre's attention he motioned for the blond to bring over a small table as we waded into the action.

"Yuy, I'd like a word with you." Wufei had finally noticed the arrival and turned to greet us.

"Heero, would you please tell him to calm down and listen to me." It appeared Duo had not made any headway.

"Shut up, Maxwell."  The Chinese man's near growl stopped Heero in his tracks.  He looked at the rest of us quickly before returning his attention to Wufei.

"Wufei, please, you're blowing this all out of proportion."

"Can it, Winner."

Quatre answered with an affronted 'hmph' and reclaimed his seat next to Duo, who just rolled his eyes and sought help from the heavens again.

"Shutup Maxwell, Canit Winner.  Hey!  Trowa can be Zipit Barton, and Heero… hmm… you could be Urusai Yuy.  Now all we need is the Chinese word for PSYCHO and our list of pet-names'll be complete."

Wufei turned to him.  "I fail to see the humor in this."  He retorted.  "I simply want a straight answer. How can you be dating but 'not be dating'?"

"I fail to see how you can 'fail to see the humor in this'. If you'd just get that stick out of your butt…"  Quatre clearing his throat made the American rethink the rest of that sentence. He mumbled a quiet "Sorry."

Wufei cleared his throat and tried a new angle. "Heero, if I could just ask you a question and get a straight answer, I'd be satisfied."

Looking decidedly unsure of what he'd walked into, Heero took a glance around, lingering briefly on Duo at the braided man's mumbled remark of 'Oh halleluiah, first names!'  Visibly summoning up his courage he turned his attention back to Wufei.  "Sure, Wufei, if I can."

"Thank you." He sounded insufferably pleased with himself.  "Maxw-.  Duo here says that you have been his date to several functions in the last few months and in turn he has been your date to a few events as well.  Would you say that this is an accurate statement?  Are you and he dating?"

Heero thought about it for just a moment.  "Well, in a manner of speaking, yes, we have been dating."  A decidedly smug look came over him as he smiled down at Duo.

"'In a manner of speaking.'  'In a manner of speaking!'" He huffed in a sneering little voice.  "Why is it that the only answer I can get from the two of you is 'In a manner of speaking.'  What exactly does that mean?  Are you or are you not?!?!"

At this Heero's smug look took on evil proportions and found its twin on Duo's face.  "While I… fail to see… how this is anyone's business but our own, I will answer you this.  Yes, I have officially been Duo's date on more than one occasion.  Technically, I'm his date tonight, and I was his date for his company holiday party a few weeks ago."

 "And Joe's Halloween party, too!"  Duo pointed out, jumping to the Japanese boy's side and slinging an arm around his shoulders.

 "Right, the Halloween party, and… you were my date for Fielding & Harris' Company Picnic."

 "Un-huh and there was that Happy Hour we went to with the boss from hell."

 "Ah yes, but that was because you didn't want her pawing at you!"

Both of them seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their little trip down memory lane while Wufei stood in shocked stillness.  I found myself settling against the railing behind Quatre to watch the proceedings.  I glanced over at the blond and realized that he appeared to be… trembling?

Concerned, I placed a hand on his shoulder.  He was trembling slightly; but the smile that met me was… pleased, happy.  I crouched by him, not being able to shake the thought that the trembling I still felt underneath my palm held some other meaning.

Quietly I asked him, "Are you alright?"

He smiled at me again, though being so close I noticed a touch of sadness to it.  "Yes, I'm fine now.  But, we've been such terrible friends Trowa."  His answer was almost breathy; not, I think, because he didn't want it to carry but because of the emotion behind it.

"How Quatre, what did we do, or not do for that matter?"

"We left them alone.  They've been alone through all of it.  Don't you see?  You've had Cathy and the circus people.  I've had my sisters, my employees, my Maguanacs.  Wufei had Sally and the Preventers.  They've had… no one… but each other."  He broke off and looked back in their direction.  Duo's arm had removed itself from Heero's shoulders but they were still standing together, talking animatedly about some date or another, still trying to get Wufei to understand.

"But-"

"Oh it's alright Trowa, well not that we were bad friends; but they're alright.  I'd been so worried earlier.  Heero was so down, so sad that he wasn't doing as well as he'd wanted.  And despite Duo's joking I knew he was not completely happy with what he was doing either. But… they're OK, I guess.  They've learned to… rely on each other, be each other's strength.  They are very much OK… with each other."

"You can… read?… all that just from them standing there?"

"Yes and no." He smiled a little sheepishly.  "How can I explain this without sounding totally loopy?  Look, to me, Heero has always virtually thrummed with a certain… tense energy.  Tonight, it went up a notch when we started talking about what we'd been doing with our lives.  He was very nervous, I think, that we'd somehow be disappointed in him.  I think that's why he left to go get drinks; he was very uncomfortable, mostly with himself.  It's probably what took him so long to come back.

"As for Duo, he's always vibrated equal parts bravado and uncertainty.  It was a strange… warring mix of emotions, but that's who he was.  Tonight it was a little more settled, not as volatile or conflicting, more peaceful.  When Wufei started questioning him about his relationship with Heero it completely melted away.  He felt… warm, comfortable; he was in a place where there was no tension, no uncertainty.  He was totally at peace with that aspect of his life.  The same thing happened with Heero when he realized what all the fuss was about.  He… he just… went warm."

"Warm, huh?  Sounds like a nice place to be."  I patted him lightly on the shoulder and stood back up.  "And don't worry, that didn't sound loopy at all."

"Thanks, Trowa."  We shared a quiet smile that said more than any words could have and he nodded, seemingly pleased with how things had turned out.  An outburst from the others caught our attention.

"She what!"

"You heard me, she grabbed a big ole handful of my left butt-cheek, with Heero right there, leaning all over me. Shit, Wu-man, we'd even already done the chick-thing and gone to the bathroom together!  Made a big scene about how we were running off together, holed ourselves up in a stall for like twenty minutes playing video games on our cell phones, rumpled our clothes a bit and still she didn't get the hint." Heero was nodding emphatically to reinforce Duo's claims.

"How… vile.  What a dishonorable woman!  Has she no shame?"

"Apparently not, let me tell you, that pretty much sealed the deal for me.  I turned my resignation in the following Monday and called in sick the rest of the week.  No way was I gonna keep working there."

"You should have filed harassment charges, you had more than adequate cause and plenty of witnesses, I'm sure."

"Yeah, well, let's just say she was like the octopus queen that night.  I wasn't the only one she groped and nobody else seemed to mind too much.  I was just glad to get out of there with all my pieces still attached and my dignity relatively intact."

"Still…"

"Don't sweat it Wu.  Matter of fact, that was probably the most amusing of our dates.  Don't you think Heero?"

"Hm.  Either that or the picnic I took you to."

"I did not find that all that amusing."

Having left our seats, Quatre and I decided to actively join the conversation at the same moment.  "How come?"  "What happened Duo?"

Everyone laughed, except the American.  He hung his head slightly and groaned, mumbling a painful 'don't ask'.  Behind him Heero was nodding briskly, actually encouraging us to do just that.

Quatre was the first to pipe up.  "How bad could it be? Just tell us what happened."

Before Duo had a chance to repeat his reluctance to answer, Heero stepped in grinning from ear to ear.  "He split his shorts playing Frisbee!" 

The laughter continued as both men jockeyed for the right to tell their version of the story.  We spent several hours being regaled by the events of their 'joke dates'. 

At the time, they had no way of knowing how quickly the joke would turn on them.

**********************

~~~ early June ~~~

It's about 2 o'clock in the morning and I'm in the bathroom splashing water on my face and trying to wake up.  I can hear Duo in the kitchen making coffee.  Not ten minutes ago, having roused me from my recently achieved, exhaustion induced, slumber; he'd burst into my apartment and begun wearing a hole in the carpet rambling about… something.  I'd tried to focus on what he was saying but I was just too tired; I had only managed about twenty minutes of sleep before he came pounding on the door.  And if you've ever been awakened after only twenty minutes of exhausted sleep – when all your body wants to do is remain comatose – you know that it's not nearly enough sleep to make you coherent.  He'd stopped talking when he realized how out of it I was then offered to make coffee, to wake me up and calm himself down.  I didn't think it would work that way, him calming down, but I wasn't going to argue with him.  Something was eating at him and I wasn't not going to be there for him.  He's done so much for me already.

After making good on his offer of a place to stay, Duo recommended me to his building manager.  The woman had in turn offered to let me have the next apartment that became available.  It became available earlier in the week and I've been moving myself and my belongings in while trying fixing the place up; it needed a coat of paint, some of the rooms needed minor repairs and the carpet had to be replaced in the bedroom.  I'd agreed to fix it up myself as long as I could move in right away.  Heero and Duo have helped out quite a bit in the evenings but there's only so much we could do at night; I've had plenty to keep me busy for the last few days and it'd finally caught up with me.  After living in a trailer for the last couple of years, I'd forgotten how much work, how tiring, moving can be.  I was so tired I hadn't even bothered to shower or change my clothes, I'd just thrown my pillow and comforter on the sofa and passed out – my bed doesn't get delivered until tomor- er, later today. 

"Coffee's ready."

"On my way."  I take a deep breath and look at myself in the mirror. I reassure the zombie staring back at me "You can do this"  before leaving the bathroom.

He's sitting on the floor by the end table, contemplating his coffee.  When I move my bedding aside and offer him a space on the couch he waves it off.  "Sorry I woke ya' man.  Should've realized how tired you were when you called to cancel on us earlier. It's just…"  he shrugs and looks around for a bit, trying to find the right words.  "I need to talk to someone."

"What about Heero?  Weren't you guys… out?  Couldn't you have talked to him?" Oh, that didn't sound right, not what I meant.  "Not that I mind, Duo, really.  It's just, well you usually go to him."

"Yeah but see, that's part of the problem."

"Heero is?"

"Yes."  He nods once succinctly.  "No."  He shakes his head and purses his lips.  "Oh hell!  Um, sort of?  We sort of… I kind of…" His hand is making these circular motions in front of him, apparently he can't quite find the right terminology. "maybe did something I shouldn't've."

"What happened?  For God's sake Duo, just spit it out."

He takes a deep breath and lets it back out between clenched teeth, "I…" He's bracing himself for something. "I accidentally slipped him the tongue."  He brings his mug up to his mouth and pretends to take a lengthy drink, staring intently at what's in his hands.

I'm trying not to laugh.  Really.  I'm actually trying to come up with some intelligent response to that but I'm not having much success here.  I try to speak and have to choke off a laugh.

"It isn't funny." He grumbles, taking a drink, for real this time.

I put my mug on the floor between my feet and rest my elbows on my thighs.  "How does one accidentally slip someone else the tongue?  You tripped, landed on him and all of a sudden your tongue was in his mouth?"

"You're not gonna make this easy are you?"  He looks frustrated and angry.  With himself.

"Sorry.  Tell me what happened." 

"Look, it's a really long story, Tro, maybe"

"Bed's not being delivered until noon." I retrieve my coffee, cross my legs and settle back against the couch.  "Hit me with it, I've got all the time in the world, and obviously, you need to talk about this."

"OK.  Just promise me that you'll talk to Heero too.  I don't know what to say to him right now and I don't think I'll know tomorrow either.  Jeez, how could I have been so careless!"

"Stop beating yourself up and just tell me what happened.  And from the beginning, please."

"Right.  Well.  You know how he's been working on figuring out this whole kissing thing for like a month now?"  I nod.  Heero's latest fascination has been the social appropriateness of kissing.  Who is 'allowed' to kiss whom, where it is acceptable to do so, cheek or lips, why some people kiss and others don't, and how to determine the different levels of kissing.  He's even experimented a little with his friends, us and the girls, mostly.  It's like he's doing research for a paper on the subject.  "Well, we were at Happy Hour with the regular gang when Jeff – that weird guy that's been trying to get me to go out with him – he shows up just as we're getting ready to head out to this new club called The Square.  So he invites himself along and tries to wriggle his way into my company again, trying to catch a ride in my car and shit, you know.  But my car was full cause Heero'd gotten somebody to drop him off after work and I'd already told Marty and Elsa they could ride over with me.

"'Course, Heero and I had already planned a way to get Jeff to back off the next time he showed up and that kind of entailed taking our 'we're dating' joke a bit farther than usual.  So when we got to the club and met up with everybody again, the show was on."

"Farther?"

"Huh?"

"How much farther?"

"Not that much… well, maybe a bit.  A big bit.  You know how we usually just hang off each other, or he plays with my hair, and the hugging and stuff?"  I nod.  "Right well, Plan B – since Plan A didn't seem to work with this guy – had been to, like, hold hands and… stuff."  His hand is doing that circular thing again, meaning I'm supposed to read into his words.  If I'm going to help I need to know.

"Define 'stuff'."

"Damn Tro, couples shit." He's giving me a look that says he'd really rather not say.

"Like?"  I can 'look' just as good as the next guy.

"Fine. Fine!  Hand in the back pants pocket, fingers in the waistband, the hug from behind, the occasional butt-brush,"

"Butt-brush?"

"Yeah, hand A brushes butt B; not quite an accident, but not quite a grope either."

"Ah, sorry, didn't know what it was called.  Is that it?"

"No."  He heaves a large breath and lays down on the floor.  Eye contact is obviously not desired for what comes next.  "And a bit of kissing."

"A 'big bit' or a 'small bit'?"

"Depends on your definition."  He looks over at me moving only his eyes, hoping I don't want more.  My face gives him the answer and he heaves another breath.  "Shoulder, neck, temple, cheek; whatever's within reach depending on how we're standing."  I think he's done with the list, which I must admit is quite a bit – 'medium bit' I'd say – when he mumbles "andtheoccassionalpeck." He's thrown an arm over his face.  I think he's embarrassed.

"As in… lip on lip?"

"Yes."

His arm is still covering his face and doesn't look to be going anywhere soon.  I slide to the floor and sit next to him, prodding him with my foot.  "Why's it bothering you so much?"

"I thought it'd be OK, you know, that I could handle it.  I didn't expect it to… affect me so much.  We were just standing there, by our booth, watching everybody dance one last dance before leaving, we were taking care of the tab.  I was gonna give Kim and Elsa a ride back to their cars cause Marty and Jake and some of the others were going to another club.  So anyhow, he's got his arm slung over my chest from behind and it was nice, comfortable; it was cool.  Then he… he kissed my neck and said something but I couldn't hear him cause of the music, so I turned a little to look at him, to ask him to repeat it and all of a sudden we were kissing.  We're not talking a little peck here, neither.  It was just lip and breath and more lip and I think we'd been going at it for a few minutes when we snapped."

"Snapped how?"  The arm had come down but he was staring at the ceiling.  If talking to the walls made it easier for him, that was fine with me.

"I went to… to turn around and made it about half way when he grabbed at my shirt and – I don't know – it was like he inhaled and exhaled at the same time.  I think he said something, I'm not sure, but when I looked at his face… man, I just wanted to wrap myself around him.  I ended up pushing him against the divider thing between the booths and kissing the hell out of him."

He stopped then and I thought the arm would return to its previous position but he surprised me by turning on his side to face me. 

"You know I had a serious crush on him, right?"  I nodded, we'd talked briefly about it when Heero'd been hospitalized after the Barton thing.  "I thought I'd gotten over it, Tro, but tonight I realized that that's not true.  Guess I just pushed it out of the way so we could be friends, it didn't really matter so much, as long as we could be close.  Uuuuuuunnnnn!"  He rolled onto his back again and pushed the heels of his palms into his closed eyes.  "Gawd!  Two ton freaking lead lust-balloon up and drops on me and I freaking lost it!"  He dropped both arms out perpendicular to his body, closing his eyes and heaving another heartfelt sigh.  "What if I…  I feel like such a pig.  A pervert, you know?  Like I've been taking advantage of him all this damned time!"

I snickered a bit, I couldn't help it, he's really just too cute when he gets all self-conscious.  One blue-violet eye peeked open a hair to sneer at me.  "This is –so- not funny!  You know, it's like my body's known all along that I still wanted him and it's had like this huge, dastardly, covert plan to lure him into my bed or something.  Without even telling me!"

"Your bed!?!  Uh, excuse me? What happened to making out in a nightclub?"

"Well damn man; booth, bed, backseat?  What the hell difference does it make where?"

"Duo!  You made out in the back seat?  Of your car?  When?"

"Wha~at!?!"  He gave me that what's-a-guy-supposed-to-do look.  He closed his eyes and sighed again before continuing much more quietly.  "In order?  No, front seat.  Yes.  While we were waiting for the girls to get out of the bathroom.  Please help me Tro.  I don't know what to do."

I got up on hands and knees, moving over him.  I placed one hand over his right shoulder, the other under his left arm and leaned in until our noses were inches apart.  "Duo."  He turned those sad-puppy eyes at me and it was just so adorably wretched.  "Go home, OK?  Take a shower.  Go to sleep.  I'll call Heero later and ask him to come over to help me with the bed.  I'll talk to him."

"But what if he… what am I gonna do if…"  I cut him off.

"Let me ask you something Mr. Maxwell.  How many times did you make out with your best friend tonight?"

"Twice."

"And on either occasion did he in anyway reject your actions?"

"Er, well… no."

"OK then, I think it's a pretty safe bet that he must have enjoyed it, even if only a little.  I wouldn't worry too much about it.  Now go home, please.  I really need to sleep."

~~~ two weeks later ~~~

Phone's ringing, it better be him.

"Hello."

"I'm here.  You ready or should I park."

"You're the one that's late Yuy, I'm ready.  Just gonna make a pit stop and I'll be right down."

"Couldn't you have peed before I got here."

"Can it, tough guy.  I've had three cups of coffee just waiting for you."

"Sorry, had a little crisis, just hurry up I'm in the middle of the street.  And I'm Urusai, remember, Quatre's Canit."

I bark out a laugh at the comment.  "Right.  Just pull up by the back stairs, I'll be there in a minute.  Zipit out."

I can't help but laugh again at how our 'pet names' keep popping up in everyday conversation.  Ever since that night, not a week goes by without one of us making use of them.  Wufei never did tell us what the Chinese word for psycho was, but it hasn't stopped any of us from using our pseudonyms as often as we remember, especially in his presence.  The last time he was in town Duo spent the whole evening calling Heero and me Urusai and Zipit.  I really thought Wufei was going to punch him by the end of the first hour; but as the night wore on all he did was twitch a little every time he heard it.  Canit had wanted to join us but couldn't get away for the weekend.  He's still on L4.

Bladder relieved, keys in hand, I'm ready to go.  By the end of the day I hope to be the proud owner of a new automobile.  This is the second Sunday in a row that Heero's going car shopping with me.  Last week we narrowed the choices down to four dealerships.  Today we're going back for the final kill. 

As I exit the stairwell, my driver sees me and leans over to open the door.  "Took you long enough." He grumbles as I slip into the seat and he quickly pulls back into the street.

"A little grumpy this morning, are we?  What's the matter, didn't get enough sleep?  Stay up too late last night?"

The only response is a 'hn'.  I'm curious about how it went for them yesterday, if it was Duo I'd just ask, but Heero doesn't like to be interrogated.  I can't wait to find out if their first, real, official, not-joke date went well.  Who says guys don't gossip?

After a minute or two he starts giving me the dos-and-don'ts of car buying and haggling.  I let him but I'm tuning him out.  The Dealership Quad is about a 25 minute drive from where I live, I figure the lecture can't last that long.  His eyes never leave the road, for some reason he almost looks nervous.  After a minute of near oppressive silence following his dissertation, I lean toward the radio controls, he never has it on when he's alone.  "You mind?"

He shoots me a quick look as he says "No, go ahead" and for the first time since getting in the car I see the left side of his face.  It's almost as if the right side wasn't present for whatever happened to the left.  Most of the damage is on that one side. 

"Shit!  What the hell happened to you?"  He looks over at me again and this time I see all of it.  Hidden under those thick bangs of his is what can only be a gauzy white bandage, there is distinct swelling and several dark stitches high on his cheekbone, top and bottom lips both split and starting to bruise near the corner.  I keep staring at him even when he turns back to the road; I notice a few faint scratches across the bridge of his nose and his forehead, there's a small cut just under his right eyebrow.  I also notice that he's sitting rather stiffly, the knuckles on his right hand are scraped a little and the fingers aren't gripping the wheel too tightly. 

"We got into a fight."

I'm dumbstruck.  "Duo did that to you?"

"NO!"  He looks over at me like I've lost my mind.  But – Hello! - what am I supposed to think?  "No!  We got into a fight with some other people.  Six other people to be exact.  Big, bad, and ugly other people."

"Damn that sucks."

"Don't I know it." He grumbles and flexes the fingers on his right hand. 

Leave it the dynamic duo to get into a brawl on their first date…  At an all day amateur volleyball tournament? 

They had been asked by some of their basketball buddies to join the tournament in the 4-on-4 division.  The all-day event is held annually at a local park and from what I've heard, between the competitors, their families, friends and supporters, it draws quite a crowd.  I'd have been there cheering them on too but I just took a part time job and had to work.  They'd decided to make it their first 'real' date.  They'd packed a blanket, a cooler with food and drinks, some extra clothes to change into and an umbrella for shade. 

"You gonna ask or just keep staring at me?  We'll be there pretty soon."

"Sorry.  I'm so sorry Heero.  Guess it turned out really bad, huh?"

"Disastrous, I'd say.  Well, not entirely."  He tries to shrug but ends up wincing instead.  "It started out alright, actually.  We got there early so we could register and stake our claim to a nice piece of lawn.  We ran into Chris and Mark who'd signed up for the 2-on-2, so we all decided to set up our chairs and stuff in the same area.  Everybody brought somebody along for support; most the guys brought their significant others and Chris brought his little sister, Kate, you remember her?"

I grunt an affirmative, so he continues. 

"Well, we made it to the Best of Three round with 15 other teams.  I thought we had a good chance to advance to the semis, Duo and I had seen our next opponents play earlier and they weren't that good, we figured we'd kick their asses in two games straight.  So we decided to go look for Clay and Diggs to tell them we'd scoped out the competition when we… got a little sidetracked."  He looks over at me and cocks an eyebrow. 

He doesn't need to explain getting sidetracked.  In the last two weeks I've encountered them 'getting sidetracked' quite frequently.  The most recent being just two days ago.  I'd gone to the lobby to pay for the take out we'd ordered, expecting the table to be set by the time I got back.  Instead of plates, cups and silverware, I found Duo on the kitchen table with his hands in Heero's back pockets and his ankles locked behind the other boy's knees.  Heero for his part, was grasping Duo's neck with one hand, running his thumb along his jawline, two fingers from his other hand were gripping Duo's belt.  They were so lost in each other, they only severed the lip-lock after I cleared my throat.  Heero mumbled a pitiful 'Sorry' in response but barely stepped back, still stroking Duo's neck.  His movement caught my eye, allowing me to see Duo raise his eyebrows and mouth 'Really?' at him.  Heero answered with a definite, but silent, negative.

"Where were you sidetracking?  Not in the bathroom, I hope.  Most straight guys can't handle that kind of stuff in such an intimate setting."

"We're not stupid, you know.  We were out by a tree behind one of the courtesy tents."

"And the big, bad and uglies found you?"

"Yeah.  Guess they all decided to take a piss in the bushes behind the same tent.  Why is it that straight guys can whip out their dicks to piss while practically rubbing shoulders with no problem, but let two guys be kissing within fifty feet of them and we're suddenly a threat to their manhood?"

"Don't ask me.  I've been doing the communal bed and bath thing since I can remember.  Never bothered any of the guys I knew and lots of them were straight."  I stopped for a second to think about it.  I realize my upbringing wasn't normal, but even when I'd worked with the team building Heavyarms, those kind of things never really seemed to bother anyone.  If you weren't into it, you ignored it.  But that did spark another thought.  "They might've been following you.  Maybe they didn't go back there to pee, they might've gone looking for a fight.  You and Duo aren't exactly physically imposing, maybe they figured they could pick an easy fight."

"No, they definitely went to pee.  They just didn't notice us until the first guy was tucking in.  They must've thought Duo was a girl cause of the hair.  I first noticed them when they started snickering and elbowing each other, but when he turned around to see what was happening the shit hit the fan.

"They rushed us and, unlike in the movies, they didn't attack in twos, politely waiting for the first wave to go down before the second joined in."  He shook his head and then winced in reaction to pain.  "Nope.  Three on one.  And they knew how to fight too, they weren't big for no reason.  They must have outweighed each of us by close to two hundred pounds combined.  We didn't fold right away but there was only so much we could do.  One guy literally jumped on me, knocking me to the ground.  The son of a bitch put a knee in my back while the other two punched and kicked me.  Duo says that pretty much the same thing happened to him."

I hissed in sympathy.  He nodded, a disgusted look coming over him. 

"Assholes!" He cursed quietly and shook his head.  "They would've beat us to a pulp if somebody inside the tent hadn't noticed the commotion.  The event security showed up and took us all into custody.  They had to take our statements in the first aid tent cause we were all pretty messed up.  They wanted to call the police but we refused to press charges.  All we wanted was to get out of there before them so we wouldn't chance having them follow us. 

"We were all expelled from the tournament and our teams made to forfeit.  They were banned from ever participating again; and Duo and I have a warning on our record for next year.  We'll be allowed to register, on probation, but if we have another 'altercation' we'll be banned as well.  They even escorted us to pick up our things and then to our cars.  We told everybody what'd happened and Jake drove us home in my car, while Diggs followed in another."

"Damn, that sucks."

"Yeah, you could say that.  Me?  I'd say my first date was an unmitigated failure."  He's thinking about that.  "Does it still count as a first date if I didn't get to kiss him goodnight?"

I have to laugh.  The look on his face when he says it is fluctuating between total bliss and total agony.  I think he'd really been looking forward to his first real date.

He's giving me the laser eyes as we pull into the parking area of the first dealership, apparently all thoughts of kissing Duo have passed.  "Zip it, Barton, or you'll be walking to the next dealership.  Alone!"

***********************************

Duo's reaction to their disastrous date had been even worse than Heero's.  He'd been a hair shy of depressed at the utter failure of their first date.  Part of Heero had been angry at the idiots who'd ruined their date, but another part of him was still very hopeful about turning it into something good.  He'd even asked Duo to spend a few days at his apartment so they could take care of each other.  When Duo agreed, it had changed the tally in Heero's mental books from a negative to a null.  In the end, they'd spent some quality time together.

Two weeks after their failed first attempt they tried again.  Their second 'first date' didn't fare much better for them.  They'd decided to try the outdoors thing again;  this time it would be a day of hiking, animal watching, swimming and the ever-popular sidetracking, at a national park not too far outside of town.  From both their accounts it started well.  They arrived at the park just after noon and within the hour had hiked a decent way up one of the foothills within the park's boundaries where they found a small stream and took a swim.  After lazing around and allowing time for their trunks to dry off, they decided to resume their upward trek.  That's when things started to turn ugly.

They got caught in an increasingly nasty thunderstorm.  When it didn't seem to be letting up, they began their descent in the rain, getting wet and muddy.  Eventually they slipped and fell, tumbling a good fifty feet before being stopped by a tree.  They were both dirty, sore and badly bruised; but the worst news was that Heero had managed to sprain his ankle.  Unable to continue on the slippery terrain, they holed up in the hollow of a tree to wait out the storm.  It was nightfall by the time the storm died down and they had to be rescued by the park rangers.  They were transported, treated and sent home.  This time Heero stayed at Duo's apartment while they healed up.

Date tally: two dates, two failures.

Their third attempt went just as well.  They'd opted for a more traditional approach.  Dinner and a movie.  Unfortunately for them, the fates had alternate plans.  Duo was supposed to drive because Heero'd been running on fumes for two days; when Duo's car wouldn't start, they had to take Heero's and therefore, make a run for gas.  They arrived at the movie-plex with less than three minutes to spare, they picked up the tickets they'd had the forethought to order and hightailed it to the screening room.  But it was opening night for the action flick they'd both wanted to see, the theatre was so packed they had no choice but to sit in the second row.  When the movie ended their backsides were numb and they had cricks in their necks. 

The tension that had been developing was soon washed away by the friendly staff, soft music, good food and warm atmosphere of the restaurant they went to.  Dinner had progressed nicely.  They finished off their Greek coffees, each overturning their cups to read the grinds and prophesy the future.  When they were done sharing their visions and a few languorous kisses, they came to the unspoken agreement that it was time to call it a night.  But before they were even able to catch the waiter's attention, fate intervened again.  The restaurant was held-up by four well armed, well organized, men.  The customers were relieved of their cash and jewelry, and the owners of a day's worth of hard earned currency.  Hours later, after making statements to the police, they returned home.  Shedding only their shoes at the door, they both crawled up under a blanket on Duo's sofa, huddling together for comfort, and wished their nightmarish experiences away. 

That's how I found them the next morning.  We had all planned to go to the gym together and when they didn't answer either of their phones, I checked the parking lot and found both their cars.  Figuring they'd just overslept, I let myself in to Duo's apartment. 

I was knocking on his bedroom door when, what I thought was just the comforter, shifted on the sofa revealing three sock-clad feet on one end and tufts of brown hair in two distinct shades at the other.  I hadn't noticed them on my way in, Duo always kept that huge comforter either on or by the sofa.  When I'd passed it, I'd just assumed he hadn't put it away the night before.  I went to stand over the back of the couch, watching the bundle shift and listening to their murmurings.

"T'much light."  Fingers peaked out and pulled the comforter back over the arm of the couch before quickly disappearing, essentially making a tent of it.

"Sleep s'more."  Someone appeared to be rolling over.

"Ow, 'lbow."  More shifting. The three feet now appeared to be facing the same direction.

"'M, s'rry babe."  Ah, that was Duo.

"S'lright love, s'OK."  One each of the feet disappeared. A moment later, one reappeared and hooked itself around the one still exposed, dragging it back to join its mates.

"Mmm. Stay here all day? N'vr g'out again?"  They continued to shift, making a smooth, curvy S of the bundle.  They appeared to be spooned up together.

"F'r now." Whoever was on the inside of the sofa, up against the back, had thrown his leg over the other one.  The movement managed to reveal three feet again before settling down.  If I'd had to guess whose legs they were, I'd've said Heero was up against the back of the couch, as it appeared to be only one of his feet available for viewing, which meant it was his leg that was thrown over Duo's. 

I decided the gym could wait, or be skipped completely this week, so I headed back towards the front door. Before making contact with the handle I heard another rustle of fabric and turned to find Duo's face exposed, blinking and smiling sleepily at me.  "Oh hey Tro, morning." 

"I was just leaving, just wanted to make sure you guys were OK," I whispered, "go back to sleep." I was just about to turn for the door again when Heero popped his head out from under cover.

He mumbled "We're up" rubbing at his eyes and hair. "Time is it?"

I made a show of checking my watch, "Um, 8:20.  Just go back to sleep, OK.  Call me later when you're up."  All I could see of them was their feet and their heads.  They'd managed not to reveal anything else.  I didn't think they'd been sleeping naked under the covers with only their socks on, but I suddenly felt like I was intruding on something very personal.  It's not like I'd never seen them in semi-intimate situations; be it kissing, hugging or sometimes smooching on the couch.  Whenever Heero spent the night here, they always slept together in Duo's room and his bed I assume.  I'd also been around either late enough or early enough to see them both half dressed, in sleep shorts or underwear; but this morning there was something almost uncomfortably intimate about having found them asleep like that.  They were still very much wrapped around each, covers bundled around them.  Just intimate.  In that moment I realized that I'd never actually seen them sleeping together.  Yeah I'd seen them fall asleep on the couch watching a movie, but never actually waking up after a whole night of being together.  I felt like an intruder and all I wanted was to give them some privacy.

"Make some coffee will ya' Tro?  Me and sleepy-head here'll go get presentable."  He playfully nuzzled Heero's head where it had come to rest on his shoulder.  "Then I'll make breakfast and we'll tell you all about the latest disaster." 

By the end of his speech he'd extracted himself from Heero's embrace, placing a gentle kiss on his lover's tousled mane and tucking the covers in around him again before heading for the bathroom.  When I looked back at bundle on the couch, his face said it all.

"That bad?"

"Worse."

"You both seem to be in one piece?" I sat on the edge of the coffee table and looked down at him still lying on the couch.

"I believe the term is 'emotional duress'. We're oh-for-three now, that's it.  No more.  I can't take the stress, it's killing us.  What's that stupid saying he always uses about three misses, three…?"

"Three strikes, you're out."

"That's the one.  You know what?  That's it, we're done dating.  It's like we're a pair of trouble magnets."

"Heero…"

"No Trowa, I'm serious.  No more official dates, that's it.  This shit is for the birds.  What's gonna happen the next time we go out?  Crazed ax murderers chasing us in the city sewers?  Disgruntled loners shooting at us from a bell tower?  An angry divorcee running us over with her car?  I don't think I want to know what might happen next.  I'd rather go back to the way things were.  I really wanted to try to be normal, but… this is bullshit."

I let out a bark of laughter which made him sit up very quickly.  He rolled the comforter into a huge ball on the couch and tried to glare me into not laughing.  It didn't work.

"You're both idiots, you know that don't you?  Don't you realize that by anyone else's account you've been dating for more than a year."

"No, back then didn't count.  It still doesn't count.  Happy Hour, going to the club, the company functions and stuff like that is what we've been doing since we were just friends.  It doesn't count toward our dates."

I was just about to answer when the braided wonder, or unbraided as the case was at the moment, stopped before entering his bedroom.  "Hey!  I don't smell no stinkin' coffee brewing!  I'm gonna go throw some shorts on and I want some coffee when I get back.  Bathroom's free, babe, and I was gonna get you a t-shirt, you wanna get out of those jeans?"

We both stood, but Heero eyes never left mine.  "No, the jeans are fine, a clean shirt would be nice though."

Duo called 'OK' from the bedroom as we started to make for our respective assignments.  "Let me ask you something Heero, but I don't want you to answer me just yet.  Think about it and answer me later.  In the last year, did you ever act, with anyone else, the way you acted with Duo before you guys started doing these official date things?  And even if you officially stopped these official date things the two of you have decided are all that counts, would you ever act, with ANYone else, the way you act with him?"

"I don't really"

I raised a hand to stall the argument.  "No Heero, just think about it."

"But Trowa, I don't know anyone else the way I know him; except maybe you.  Quatre and Wufei, too, I guess, but… well, I don't really know them that well either."

"Fine.  Then let me put it in more specific terms for you.  Do you really think that it would ever come to pass that Duo would walk into either your apartment or mine and find the two of us on the couch the way I found the two of you this morning?  Don't you see?  Most normal people don't start dating someone only after they've made out with them, they start before.  Making out with someone usually just changes the nature of the relationship.  Maybe it did start as just a joke.  But whether you presented it as a joke or not, the two of you have been dating for quite a while; you've held each other, cared for and comforted each other. You two physically displayed your affection for each other on a daily basis, for the whole world to see, long before he ever slipped his tongue in your mouth.  Even if you stopped these official dates of yours, would you really stop all the rest of it?  You love each other Heero, the only difference between now and three months ago is that now it's more intimate, now you've acknowledged it for what it is, that's all."

I left him standing in the living room looking puzzled.  For all their collective intelligence, the two of them could be real dumbshits sometimes.  I wondered, as I started to make the coffee, if Duo had overheard us, if he'd stop and think about it too.  I finally heard the door of the bathroom shut.  I guess Heero had shaken off his stupor.  A moment later I found myself wrapped up in the biggest bear hug I'd ever gotten. As he tightened his arms around my chest, I smiled and patted his hands. 

"Guess you were listening, huh?"

He squeezed just a little tighter.  "Kind of hard not to, the place isn't all that big."  I could feel him shaking his head as he squeezed one last time before releasing me.  The wonderful smell of coffee beginning to fill the air around us, I turned.  "We're being stupid about all this official and not official shit, aren't we?"

I gave him a lopsided grin, "Maybe."

"So I shouldn't really worry so much about the dangers inherent to dating him?  Cause you know, I was starting to wonder myself if maybe there wasn't something wrong with us."

I thought about that for a minute.  "Well, I have to admit, you have had a little run of bad luck.  But!  That could just be that you were so, I don't know, excited or nervous or anxious to make it so 'just right' that you were inviting trouble, so to say.  Or maybe it was just a run of bad luck."

"I don't know, after last night…"

Since I hadn't heard the story yet, he told it, joined a little while later by Heero.  We all helped in making breakfast, we sat around and talked for a long time; lingering over our coffee, laughing about the absurdities of life that couldn't be changed.  We never did go to the gym that morning.

**********************************

That was five months ago.  They quickly gave up on the idea of official and unofficial dates, they've been happily dating ever since, so much so that they're talking about moving in together when their leases expire in a few months.  Their relationship is as solid as it's ever been.  It's not to say they don't occasionally have a tiff, they're both very strong willed and opinionated, but things are going really well for them. 

Heero eventually gave in to Wufei's repeated requests and has taken a job with the Preventers; but it's a desk job doing data analysis.  He says he has absolutely no intention of going into field work.  Sally and Wufei are still actively trying to change his mind about the department he's chosen; they're trying to convince him to take a position in the Agent Training division, since there's a training facility Wufei occasionally lectures at about 45 miles from we live.  Their argument is that based on his skills, Agent Training is the next best fit for him after Field Agent.  Wufei's sales pitches have him coming into to town almost every other weekend and while Duo teases him that he might start to get jealous if Wufei keeps pursuing Heero so strenuously, I think he secretly agrees.  Last weekend we celebrated Heero's 12th week-iversary with a single employer.  I don't think he's worrying too much about that anymore.

About a month ago, Duo celebrated his first anniversary at Thompson Electronics.  It sounds like a retail store where you'd pick up a stereo or a new set of headphones, but in reality they're a mom and pop run computer company.  They install, maintain and provide training for networking solutions to a rapidly growing customer base of small businesses.  He's the manager of the Deployment Services department, which means once the sale has been made, it's up to him and his team to 'bring it life', he says.  He is thoroughly enjoying his work.

Me?  I'm living mostly off the interest I accumulate from the investments I made with my stipend.  Thank you, Quatre.  I'm going to school and have a part time job.  I may have left the circus, but I miss my animals.  I'm studying veterinary science, it'll be a long time before I finish but it's what I want to do.  I plan to specialize in large animals, specifically of the feline variety.  And to get into practice with their moods, in the not so large department, I have acquired a pair of Persians.  They're beautiful and they keep me company.  I thought of naming them Heero and Duo because when I first saw them, they were leisurely wrapped around each other in a way that very much reminded me of my friends.  Instead I named them Shutu and Uru. 

My attempt at humor was not lost on anyone, especially not Wufei.

Owari.