Disclaimers: Gundam Wing and its characters do not belong to me.

Warnings: shounen ai, language in later parts, Relena bashing? (I'm not trying to, but some people will hate her anyway.)

Author's Notes: Yes, miracles do occasionally seem to occur. I promised myself that I would finish this, and I did.

Due to the oddities of the new uploading system, thoughts will now be denoted by '...' and scene breaks by /-/-/-/ instead of the previous symbols. My apologies for any confusion.

Courtship Rituals

By Rapunzel

Chapter 8: Company

When Friday night arrived, Heero found that he was jittery and nervous, but also excited. The prospect of going on a date with Duo somehow seemed more nerve-wracking than all the dates he had attempted with Relena, which was counterintuitive in a way, since there was less of a chance of screwing up royally and offending Duo. Less danger should have translated into fewer jitters, but oddly enough it did not.

Duo was evidently feeling some of the pressure too, for he was fidgeting when Heero came out and found him in the living room. Duo smiled when he saw him and said, "You know, I think I already set the tone for the night earlier when I almost strangled myself trying to get my tie on right. I think for future reference, a less formal place might suit me better."

"Me too," Heero agreed reluctantly, "but I already made the reservation for the restaurant. It seems like I have to go there at least once after all the times I canceled out after 'dates' with Relena. But we'll know for next time."

His spirits cheered by the prospect that Heero was already thinking of a next time, Duo's smile brightened and lost some of its nervous edge. "Well, let's go then," he said. "We wouldn't want to be late."

/-/-/-/

At the restaurant, Heero reflected that he should have listened to Duo earlier and gone with less formality. Damn sympathy for the previously snubbed restaurant; that was fading fast anyway. Since they were not as important as some of the other clientele at the place, they had been stuck in a back corner of the dimly lit room where they would not be highly visible to most of the patrons. Heero considered that the restaurant didn't really cater to the famous, since he and Duo probably had more fame between the two of them than almost anyone else there. Or perhaps notoriety was a better way to describe it. Certainly it wasn't every day that two ex-Gundam pilots stopped by for dinner. Still, they didn't go with the image the restaurant was trying to present, and so they were doomed to be ignored by everyone except their waiter.

This didn't especially bother Heero, he was used to anonymity and rather preferred it to the alternative. What he currently cursed was the large assortment of forks he was presented with. So far as he was concerned, he only needed one of the damned things, but there were at least three lying innocuously next to his plate, and he hadn't the foggiest idea which he was supposed to use first. Heero reflected that chopsticks might have been a safer way to go, but reflected that asking for such things here would probably be looked down upon more than using the wrong fork. Damn. He knew there was a reason he had made Quatre handle any formal dinning occasions during and just after the war.

Still, Heero thought, it could have been much worse. Had he been here with Relena, such a small problem could have spelled disaster. And, he realized, he had his own personal social rituals expert sitting right across the table from him. Brightening considerably at this insight, Heero leaned across slightly and whispered, "Hey, Duo?"

Duo looked at him with mild curiosity. Although their conversation so far had been delivered in low tones, they hadn't resorted to all out whispering. "Yeah?" he answered back just as quietly.

"Which fork do I use first?"

Duo frowned at the question. He surveyed the forks briefly, then looked back at Heero and answered honestly, "I have no idea."

"You don't know?" Heero whispered incredulously. "But I thought you were the expert at social rituals."

"I'm an expert at people," Duo said, "not the silly formal things. Jeez, Heero, think about who you're talking to here. I'm the guy who almost managed to hang himself with a necktie earlier tonight. I grew up on the streets, where we worried a hell of a lot more about what we were going to eat than what we were going to eat it with. You'd have to get Quatre to tell you all about the forks."

Heero sighed dramatically and made a tsking sound. "So you don't even know which fork to use?" he said, imitating the scolding, slightly disappointed tone he had heard all too many times from Relena. "Don't worry," he added, "I forgive you."

For a moment, he and Duo stared across the table at each other straight-faced. Then Duo made a snorting noise, and soon the entire restaurant had turned to look at them, wondering why on earth the two young men in corner were laughing so loudly.

/-/-/-/

"Oh man," Duo said, still chuckling as they left the restaurant almost an hour later. "Did you see the look on the waiter's face? I seriously thought they were going to throw us out when we started laughing like that. And you could just see him twitch when he saw you use the same fork for the salad and the main course."

Heero smiled, remembering how he had simply solved the fork dilemma by picking one and using the same one throughout the meal. As Duo had said, the waiter had not been pleased by this, and had made a point of removing all the forks except one by the time dessert had been brought in, thus forcing Heero to use the correct utensil for at least one course. Not that the man had been any more pleased with Duo, who had eaten most of his meal with a spoon just to be perverse. He and Duo had not been able to stop snickering all throughout the entire meal, a fact which Heero was sure had not endeared them to their server. The man had probably thought they were both drunk.

But now, standing outside the restaurant with Duo at his side and the two of them still laughing, the snobby waiter was all but forgotten. For the first time on one of his dates, Heero realized, he had managed to screw up royally and still have fun. That had to be a good omen.

As if reading his mind, Duo turned to him, still with a grin on his face, and said, "So, Mr. Socially Inept, what did you think of the evening?"

"I think," Heero said solemnly, "that the company more than made up for any faux-pas we might have committed."

Some of the humor left Duo's face, but his smile remained and even seemed to grow brighter. "I think," he said softly, "that you might be right about that." So saying, he leaned over and gave Heero a light peck on the lips.

Heero responded by reaching out and grasping Duo's tie, using it to pull the other in for a longer and much more satisfying kiss. When they finally pulled apart, Heero said, "I think I finally figured out why they make people wear these things."

Duo laughed again. "You know, when you put it like that, wearing them isn't so bad."

"Hm," Heero said, "I still think that I won't make you wear one next time."

"Or the time after that?" Duo breathed softly as he leaned in closer again.

"Or the time after that," Heero confirmed, just before their lips met.

'Or the time after that. Or the time after that...'

Owari

Author's Notes: I know a lot of people thought I had abandoned this one, and I don't blame them. I'm afraid that I have switched fandoms in the past year, so I now no longer write much for Gundam Wing. I'll probably always have at least one toe in the fandom, but it'll be that small, vestigial toe on the outside of the foot. In short, I probably won't be writing many more fics for this series. Maybe it's just as well, since a lot of the sites and forums I knew for Gundam Wing seem to have died or are on their way out. All I can say is it's been fun.

On a brighter note, thanks to everyone who reviewed this fic! Thanks also to Amarin Rose for giving me the idea about the forks. And an extra special thanks to Blue Jeans, for helping me think up courtship rituals for Heero even though she disapproves of my treatment of Relena, and to M.E., my beta reader extraordinaire! Someday I'll actually manage to finish those gift fics for them...