Title: Face Value
Author: Mookie
Pairing: implied, vague Heero/Duo
Rating: PG
Warnings: shonen-ai hints, possible Duo-sue.
Notes: Inspired by/sequel to Poker by Natea. I encourage you to read that one first.

Duo rapped two knuckles on the door, the fingers of his opposite hand curled around the paper sack containing the take-out food he'd picked up on his way over. He frowned slightly at the time it took for Heero to open the door. Usually Heero was at the door almost before he raised his hand to knock.

The door opened and Heero turned away almost immediately, without flashing him his usual smile of greeting.

The frown deepened as Duo followed him into the apartment, closing the door behind him and pressing it firmly closed with the heel of his free hand.

It was a day for surprises, it seemed. A small, square table was set up in the middle of the living room, and the sturdy coffee table was pushed to one side. Two plastic cups and a liter of soda kept company with a stack of paper plates.

Duo raised one of his eyebrows as Heero went into the kitchen to fetch a handful of napkins. He removed the items one by one from the bag, setting them on the table as he watched Heero's face.

He was avoiding eye contact.

Duo, on the other hand, kept his eyes riveted to Heero's expression. It was solemn. He placed the foil-lined bag of breadsticks on top of one of the cardboard - not Styrofoam - containers and carefully folded the brown paper, creasing it sharply.

He knew damn well Heero was aware of his scrutiny. What the hell had happened earlier? He walked over to sink and opened the cabinet underneath, sliding the sack into the small bin Heero kept underneath for just such a purpose.

It was funny, the way they'd changed since the war. Who would have thought that a teenaged terrorist would be ecologically minded? Yet Heero Yuy, former Gundam pilot, was adamant about recycling and conservation of earth's resources. It was almost funny, considering the guy saved the earth from extinction in the first place.

Which was why the paper plates surprised him, and why he was shocked at the plastic cups.

Heero had opened up the take-out cartons and was scooping some of the chicken onto both plates. A breadstick was already on Duo's plate.

Duo sat down and picked it up. He broke it in two and handed one half to Heero, who accepted it with a look of surprise.

"What's mine is yours, Heero," Duo said. Although the words were delivered in an offhanded manner, the sentiment behind them was anything but.

They were both still holding an end of the breadstick. Heero cleared his throat. "The same is true for me."

Duo nodded, then released the bread.

They ate in silence, but it was far from awkward. They had devoted a good portion of their lives to bringing about a time when there was nothing in the background other than the sounds of next door tenants. No explosions, no gunfire, no blood curdling cries, no screams of anguish.

It was, Duo decided, what people meant when they said something was "nice."

Normally after a meal, they'd do the dishes. Sometimes Heero washed and Duo dried, and sometimes it was the other way around. There was no set routine to the chore, but they fell into it as if they'd always done it.

It was one of the things that had made working with Heero, side by side, during the war, easier than he'd thought, after that first disastrous meeting.

The plates and empty containers went into the garbage; the plastic cups, into the sink to be cleaned and reused. Seemed that Heero couldn't entirely shuck off his desire to protect the earth.

Duo picked up a sponge from the sink and wiped off the tabletop, watching Heero as he placed the soda back into the refrigerator.

There was a tenseness in his frame that Duo hadn't seen since Peacemillion. In fact, Duo really couldn't remember seeing it then, either. Heero had known what he wanted to do, and accepted it, and that had resulted in, while not a complete relaxation of his posture, certainly a reduction of what, in anyone else, he'd have called anxiety.

Anxiety and Heero Yuy just didn't belong in the same sentence. Not in Duo's world. He certainly couldn't speak for anyone else, but the Heero he knew...

...was acting damn strangely.

Heero had gone to the bathroom, and Duo quickly rooted through the drawers in the kitchen, silently mouthing a "yes!" when he found what he'd been looking for. He tore off the cellophane wrapper, stuffing it into the garbage where Heero couldn't see it, and then returned to the table.

When Heero returned, Duo had his elbow on the table, his chin in his hand, and he gestured for Heero to join him. Heero noticed that Duo had moved his chair. Originally it had been adjacent to Duo's, but now it was directly across.

"Heero," Duo said without preamble. "If I ask you a question, you'd answer honestly, wouldn't you." It wasn't a question.

"Of course."

"Do you think I would do the same for you?"

Heero had given up his attempts to avoid meeting Duo's gaze. "Yes."

"What do the guys at work think of me?"

"They think...that you're outgoing. Sociable. Friendly. Just...one of the guys."

Duo nodded. "And what do you think of me?"

"You're all of those things," Heero hedged at first. "But you're also...hard working. Determined. Loyal."

"Do you suppose that the guys at work know me?"

Heero looked unsure how to answer that.

"There's no right or wrong, Heero. It's just an opinion."

"I think...they only know the part of you that you want them to."

"Bingo," Duo said, touching his nose with one hand and pointing at Heero with the other. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small box. He started tapping it on the table as he continued speaking.

"There's a bit more to it than that, though, Heero. Back when I was living at the church," his voice thickened a bit, just for a moment. "I had a bit of an attitude, I suppose you could say. I didn't like the way they made me dress, and I didn't like the rules. I was supposed to have my hair cut, which I did get away with keeping, but there were other things. Staying out of fights, doing my homework, taking a bath every night before bed."

He cleared his throat.

"Living there, and going to school, dressed the way I did - it made me stand out like a sore thumb, you see. It wasn't me at all. People made assumptions. Yeah, just kids, and we were all ignorant at that age. Got into a fight a time or two over stupid shit. Insults that were made just so they'd feel better about themselves.

"They - not the kids, but the priest and the nun there - tried to get me to believe in a lot of things that made no sense to me. They preached of a God that I had yet to see evidence of. They preached of turning the other cheek. And they told me that next time someone hurled epithets at me, to tell them that sticks and stones could break my bones, but names would never hurt me. Funny thing is, they never actually preached that to me. They just told me to say it back.

"It reminds me a little of 'Scythe's cloaking device. It never changed the fact that I was there, ready to wreak havoc," he gave a harsh sounding laugh, "but it sure let me get away with being invisible for a while."

He opened the box and slid the contents into his palm, then fanned them out.

"When you look at them this way, they all look the same, don't they?"

Heero looked at the backs of the playing cards and nodded.

Duo held up one of the cards, where the pattern didn't quite match the rest of them. "Think most people would notice that the print is off on this?" He didn't wait for an answer; he merely scooped up the cards and picked up two off the bottom of the deck, turning them face up so Heero could see what they were.

"Wild cards," he said quietly, "aren't needed for this game. They're kind of like Trowa, if you think about it. They can be almost anything at all. An ace, a king, a seven, yet it doesn't change the face on the card.

"Sometimes, Heero, people don't get that. They look at the appearance of the card rather than its value."

He shuffled the deck and dealt out seven cards to each of them and placed the remaining thirty-eight cards in the center of the table.

"Ever play Fish, Heero?" He shook his head. "Scratch that. You familiar with the rules of the game?"

Without waiting for Heero to respond, he said, "I dealt, so you go first. Match up any pairs you have and set them down next to you."

Heero sorted his cards, pulled two out, and set them down face down, one neatly atop the other.

"Now ask me for any card in your hand."

They played several hands, with Heero sometimes getting the card he needed from the deck and sometimes doing nothing more than drawing additional cards into his hand without being able to lay anything down.

When he asked Duo for a deuce, and Duo held out the two of spades to him, Heero reached for it, his fingers slowly closing over the end of the card.

Duo seemed reluctant to part with it, but he did so, watching Heero match it up with the two of diamonds in his hand and placing them on his stack of acquired pairs.

That's when Duo noticed, and said something.

Later that night, after Duo had clasped his hand just a bit longer than he should have when they shook hands in parting, when his other hand rested warmly on his shoulder as he gave him a half embrace, Heero lay down in his bed and put his fingers to his lips. Of all things Duo could have said to him, that was probably what he'd needed to hear the most.

There was a wealth of meaning behind those words, too, and that was something else that warmed Heero's insides.

However, it was the words themselves that had meant the most to him.

"It's good to see you smile, Heero."


04 September 2004