Title: While You Were Sleeping
Author: Prynesque
Genre: Yaoi/slash, romance, sap?
Pairing: 1x2
Rated: R
Warnings: OOC (this is an AU – I think it's a given), some swearing, lime/lemon, POV, possible Australian-isms.
Feedback: Hell yeah? What I'm trying to say is that if you feel the urge to review, please indulge it. I don't even care what you say. Good, bad, it's all the same to me – just so long as I get to hear from you.
Disclaimer: Duo, Heero, Gundam Wing… they are copywrited to someone else. They are being used without permission and no money is being made. I reiterate: they aren't mine (and if you think they are you should probably take this opportunity to get your head checked). However, this story is mine and mine alone, and if you so much as think of nicking any part of it, I'll hunt you down and set my demon kitty cat on you (be afraid, be very afraid).
Notes: This story is AU so I think it's safe to say that that means there will be no mentions of Gundams, colonies or any other various fantastical science fiction-related entities. This story is also slash (or yaoi or whatever you want to call it), so if you don't like that… well, bugger off and come back when you have some taste! This fic is based on the movie While You Were Sleeping (starring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman) and I don't own it either. It's a fairly loose basis – namely because I haven't seen the movie for years – and there will be movie plot mixed with my own kooky ideas.

Summary: Duo, a lonely railway ticket booth operator, is infatuated with Wufei, a complete stranger, who buys a token from his booth each evening. One night, Wufei is knocked onto the tracks and winds up in a coma. A mistake at the hospital sees Duo mistaken for his boyfriend and a tangled web of lies is woven as Duo is pulled further and further into the life of Wufei's welcoming family. To make matters worse, Duo discovers that he is beginning to fall in love with Wufei's enigmatic step-brother, Heero.

Author's Notes: Yes, yes, I know it's been forever but… oh, I'm sure you can make up a bunch of plausible excuses on my behalf (something along the lines of 'flying aid packages to remote areas of Africa' or 'single handedly developing a cure for cancer' would be nice).

Anyway, the next chapter is here now, so without much further ado (I'm simply too tired to bother with my usual waffling), I present to you… chapter six. Enjoy, and when you've done that, review – the two go hand in hand together, you know.

While You Were Sleeping

Chapter Six:

"You look like crap," is the first thing Hilde says to me when she walks through the door of the staff kitchenette. She cocks her head to the side and then consults her watch. "And you're on time," she says, slowly closing the distance between us. When she is less than a foot away, she presses her right hand to my forehead. "Are you sick?"

I manage a weak laugh. "I'm fine."

She nods. "OK, I was just checking." There is a pause and then, "You really do look like crap." She dodges the tea towel I throw at her and then fixes me with a strangely serious look. I can feel her trying to read my mind, digging for the truth she knows I'm hiding.

It would be so easy to give in to her gentle prying; to tell her about The Dream, as I've started referring to it in my mind in true mountains-out-of-molehills style. But I can't because if I do, it'll mean finally admitting that The Dream was real, that it happened. I'm not sure I'm ready for that. Besides, the weather here in Egypt is lovely.

I muster up a faint smile and whatever's left of my strength. "Really, I'm fine."

The lie burns acidic on my lips, leaving a lump of guilt lodged in my throat. This lie twists my stomach worse than all the other lies I've told this week because it's Hilde… my darling Hilde who has been my constant for so many years, who has heard all of my darkest secrets and wildest desires.

The truth hovers on my lips… the eyes, so deep and so blue, that burned into me, through me, so vividly that I woke up gasping and hard; the pained, torturous minutes of resistance that I endured before I finally gave in and touched myself; the long, sticky hours I spent desperately trying to avoid falling back into that tempting, blue oblivion; the cold shower that rained down on me just as dawn broke, hard to the point of punishment, and finally, blessedly washed away my dreamtime vision with so much freezing water and determination.

And I want to tell her, so badly I want to tell her. I want to hear the words of comfort I know she'll give. I want to hear her tell me that I'm being stupid, a drama-queen as usual. But mostly I want her to tell me that The Dream didn't mean anything.

Hilde just stares at me and I know that she doesn't buy my lie for even a second. She's known me too long and too well to be fooled by my standard bullshit. All she has to do is give me the faintest of wounded looks and I cave.

"I had a dream," I mumble into my scarf, worrying at a crack in the plastic counter-top with my fingernail.

She presses a mug of coffee into my hand and stares at me, waiting for me to continue. I don't and she raises a questioning eyebrow. "And that's it? You had a dream?" I nod. "Well, unless an angel of God came to you in this dream, prophesizing a coming apocalypse of some kind, then I'd say you were blowing things a little outta proportion." She pats my shoulder in an infinitely comforting manner. "Now, are you going to tell me what all the fuss is about or am I going to have to start making wild, ridiculous guesses?"

"It was…" I begin and then trail off because I'm not sure I want to hear what Hilde would say if I finished that with 'an impossibly arousing dream about my pretend boyfriend's brother that I just had to wank over because it felt like I'd die if I didn't.'

I clear my throat and try again. "It was confusing and… disturbing and…" I trail off again, looking down at her miserably.

"Well, gee, don't overwhelm me with the details!" she says with a laugh. I cast an unimpressed look in her direction and she attempts to look contrite.

"Look, Duo, babe," she says, maneuvering me into the nearest chair and sitting on my lap. "We all have dreams, most of them confusing, many of them disturbing, and you know what? They don't mean shit. Like that reoccurring dream I have where I'm juggling kittens naked on the Conan O'Brian Show. It doesn't mean anything except that I have an overactive imagination and way too much free time on my hands."

We share a look and then a laugh. "The Conan O'Brian show?" I inquire.

"Don't ask," she mutters and wisely, I don't.

We descend into silence, the quiet only broken by the sound of Hilde slurping as she drinks my coffee. I wrestle the mug back from her.

"OK, hypothetical dilemma: what if… what if you were about to get married to Alex and…" I begin.

"Oh my God, has Alex said something to you about proposing?" Hilde interrupts breathlessly.

I pause, thrown. "No."

"Oh," she sounds vaguely disappointed. "Sorry, go on. No, wait! If, you know, Alex did happen to mention marriage or anything, you know… you could totally tell him that I'd be up for that… you know." I blink. "Right, sorry, back to the hypothetical dilemma."

"OK, well say you were about to get married to Alex and you had this dream where… um… you're walking down the aisle but when you get to altar I'm the groom instead of Alex…"

"Oh my God, you haven't gone straight and fallen in love with me, have you?" Hilde interrupts again.

I roll my eyes. "No."

She grins. "Oh, good… 'cause that coulda been sooooo awkward."

I ignore her. "Focus, Hilde. Just say you had that dream… what would you think?"

"I wouldn't think anything. I dream about you all the time. You're my best friend and I love you to pieces. I spend probably seventy percent of my time with you. Of course I'm going to dream about you. Doesn't mean it means anything."

I bite my bottom lip. Well, when she says it like that, she's clearly right and I'm clearly a paranoid moron.

"Right. So if I had a dream about someone that I probably shouldn't have had a dream about but that I'd been spending some time with and getting to know and stuff… and the dream was, you know, a romantic dream… it wouldn't necessarily mean that I was in love with them or anything… right? Hypothetically."

Hilde stares at me, both eyebrows raise again as I stumble through my question and then, "You haven't been dreaming about Alex, have you?"

I laugh. "No. Not Alex. God, no way."

"OK, good. 'Cause again… awkward… hey, what's wrong with Alex?"

"Nothing, Alex is great. Nice, sweet, funny, caring, good-looking… infinitely dreamable. Just, you know, red-heads don't do it for me."

"Oh, OK. Sorry, what was your question again?"

I frown irritably. "Say I had a vaguely romantic dream about someone… it wouldn't necessarily mean that I was in love with them, would it?" I repeat hurriedly, aware of Marge waddling down the corridor towards the kitchenette.

"Oh God no." Hilde waves her hand in a very cavalier way. "I have romantic dreams about people other than Alex all the time. It doesn't mean that I don't love him or that I'm about to run away with Darren from 'Bewitched'…"

"The first Darren or the second one?"

"It doesn't matter. Anyway, those dreams are just that… dreams, meaningless if very sexy, nose-wiggling dreams. Whatever happened in your dream doesn't have to mean anything," she concludes with a confident nod.

And that's all I need to hear. I feel a great weight suddenly lift from around my heart. "I love you," I whisper fiercely, pulling her into a tight hug.

When we pull apart, Hilde eyes twinkling mischievously. "So, who are you dreaming about?" she asks slyly.

Marge finally arrives at the kitchenette door, puffing slightly. She commandeers the coffee pot, glaring over her shoulder at me and Hilde. "You two should stop canoodling!" she says huffily. "Your shift started ten minutes ago." Her beady little eyes bore into us.

Hilde and I share a look, grab our coffees and exit. "It's not Marge, is it?" Hilde whispers loudly as we scurry away down the corridor.

I throw her a sickened look in response. And then all that's left lingering in the corridor is our laughter.

I don't go to the hospital when my shift ends. It's not that I'm afraid of running into Heero again, I tell myself sternly, it's just that I have other things to do, important things, and besides I don't have to spend every single minute I can with Wufei to know that I'm in love with him.

By the time I'm getting off at the right bus-stop, I almost have myself convinced. Almost.

Wufei's stately, elegant apartment building stares back at me. This time I mount the stairs with slightly more authority than I did the first time around, though I still feel ridiculously out of place.

After all, I remind myself, I'm not here because I'm some sort of stalker freak, but merely because I have a responsibility to make sure that his cat doesn't starve. That one also takes some serious mental repetition before it starts to sound even vaguely convincing.

The sound of Natuku's jangling bell greets me as I push the door open. She regards me with blue eyes for a long moment before lowering her head to sniff dispassionately at my left boot. When she looks back up at me, she gives a plaintive little meow that sounds depressingly like a sob.

She winds herself around my legs and then allows me to scoop her up into my arms with only merest wriggle of resistance.

"Yeah, I know," I mumble, rubbing my cheek against her satiny-soft fur. "You miss him." She twitches her nose and then licks her paw, still regarding me with glassy blue eyes.

"I miss him, too," I confess as quietly as possible. She answers with another miserable yowl and then butts my chin with the top of her head. I manage a smile. "He'll be home soon, I promise," I whisper, hugging the warm bundle of white fur closer to my chest. She growls in warning and I laugh. "Alright, alright, enough touchy-feely. How about dinner instead?" She butts my chin again and I take that as a yes.

Natuku manages to consume the grey, tinned mush I dollop into her bowl in approximately 30 seconds flat. When she's done, she glances up at me with a hopeful glint in her eyes.

"Don't even think about it. You've had plenty," I tell her sternly. She twitches her nose and stalks away to the other end of the kitchen bench to vigorously wash her tail. I bow out gracefully, sensing the dismissal in that typically feline gesture.

The first thing that catches my eye when I enter the living room, it that last photo in the series, easily the most arresting of the lot. Those three familiar faces, all frozen in varying degrees of laughter, seem almost other-worldly in their monochromatic two-dimensionality.

I look at each face in turn, peering so close that my breath is visible on the glass. Sally looks much younger than she does when I see her at the hospital. There is no semi-permanent tension in her shoulders, and no pinched lines around her mouth.

I force myself to look at Heero next, at the hidden half-smile he's wearing and the twinkle in his eyes that betray none of the impassiveness I've seen in him, none of the hesitant tightness in the way he moves.

In this photo, they are like two completely different people to the Heero and Sally I've met. And the difference, of course, is Wufei… lying cold and still in a hospital bed in reality, but alive and vibrant in this captured sliver of time.

And finally I turn my gaze to him, to Wufei, my perfect strange with his incredibly black, bottomless eyes and razor-sharp cheekbones. Once again, here we are, separated by a thin pane of glass; for a moment I almost expect Wufei to blink, to smile and nod and wish me a goodnight like he used to do before disappearing down onto the subway platform.

He doesn't, of course, but my universe glides back into alignment anyway. I trail one gloved finger down the glass, following the line of Wufei's cheek, and smile.

"Stay out of my dreams, Heero," I tell his black-and-white visage, suddenly feeling very calm and relieved. "Wufei's the one who belongs in my gondola."

There is just empty silence from the apartment and I shake my head at my own stupidity. Natuku barely looks up when I quietly sneak back out of the apartment.

Hilde sniffles into my shoulder as we wait at the check-in counter. Alex rolls his eyes. "Honestly, you'd think I was taking her to her death, not to meet my mother," he mutters to me over her head.

"I heard that," Hilde's voice says from the depths of my woolen scarf.

"Alex is right, Hilde, there is a distinct mountains outta molehills feel about all this," I tell her, shrugging my shoulder in an attempt to dislodge her.

She glares at me and then at Alex and then at the check-in lady just for good measure. "I think you're all being highly unsupportive. This whole meeting-the-parents thing has the potential to be a complete disaster. I saw the movie, you know."

"I think I can safely promise you that my mother is not Robert de Niro," Alex says as their bags disappear down the automated conveyer belt. The check-in lady waves us away with a nervous smile.

"That's not the point," Hilde huffs.

"You'll be fine," I tell her when we arrive at the departure gate.

She clings to me in a sudden desperate fashion. "I'll miss you," she says fiercely.

"It's only a few days," I say but I can feel my own eyes getting embarrassingly bright. I return the frantic hug. "You'll call me when you get there, won't you? And on Christmas?" I ask, blinking fiercely and trying to sound as nonchalantly manly as I can.

She hugs me again. "Of course! You will be alright, won't you?" She pulls back, searching my face.

I barely have a chance to nod before Hilde whirls away and hits Alex up the back of the head.

"Ow! What was that for?" he asks, smoothing his hair back down.

"How could you even think about taking me away from Duo on Christmas?" is the fiery answer.

I grab Hilde's hands. "I'll be fine. You'll be fine. We'll all be fine."

"I won't be if my girlfriend keeps hitting me," Alex grumbles.

Hilde and I both ignore him. "But we always have Christmas together," she wibbles.

"Everybody needs a change once in a while. Plus this way, I won't have to fight you for the TV remote." She laughs and we hug again, both sniffling in a rather pathetic manner.

I wipe my nose on my sleeve and turn to Alex. He pulls me into a rough one-armed hug. "Take care of yourself," he tells me.

I nod. "Take care of her," I say, gesturing to Hilde who has been distracted by the fluffy headphones a nearby air-hostess is handing out. Alex returns the nod and smiles an adorably goofy at Hilde, now engaged in an argument with said nearby air-hostess over how many earphones she's allowed to have.

"You really love her, don't you?" I ask, even though Alex is clearly so love-struck I'm surprised he still standing upright.

He stares at me. "Of course I do. She's Hilde. How could I not love her?"

I feel a flashing stab of jealousy before I tell myself to stop being stupid and grin instead. "Just checking." He starts to move away and I grab him by the back of the coat, pulling him close. "You know, just for the record, Hilde looks really good in white," I whisper conspiratorially.

Alex gives me a blank look. "I'm not following."

"I just mean, you know…" I look significantly down at my left ring finger and then back across at Hilde.

"OK, either you've gone mad or I've gone mad. Based on previous history, I'd say it was you."

I roll my eyes. "OK, never mind. I was trying to be subtle. We'll talk about this when you get back."

"Talk about what?" Hilde asks, triumphantly holding up two sets of earphones and casting a smug look over her shoulder at the air-hostess.

"The Superbowl," I say the first thing that comes into my head. Alex just stares at me.

"Neither of you follow football," Hilde murmurs, paying more attention to her headphones than to either me or Alex.

"Exactly. That's what we're going to talk about. You know, we're men and we should be doing… you know, manly things… like watching the Superbowl." Now both Hilde and Alex are staring at me as though I've just spouted a second head. There is a voice inside said second head rolling its non-existent eyes at me. "Anyway, you should go. They're boarding."

Hilde gives me a last, strangling hug. "Don't go insinuating yourself into any more families while I'm gone," she tells me with a sly smile.

"Don't worry, I've got enough on my plate with one," I reply, trying not to laugh at the same time as I'm trying not to cry.

Hilde sniffs tragically one last time and they move through the boarding gate. Just before they disappear around the corner, Hilde turns back. "This is your last chance to tell me who you're dreaming about!" she shouts, ignoring the 'tsk' from several other passengers and two formidable-looking flight attendants.

"It doesn't matter," I shout back to 'tsks' of my own. "You were right, it didn't mean anything at all."

Hilde gives me a familiar smug look and then suddenly she's gone. Sniff pathetically, I wipe my nose on my other sleeve; I've never been very good at the whole good-bye thing.

I wait until the dot that is their plane disappears into the grey cloud, then I turn away wishing there was more waiting for me at home than a twisted cat and an un-cooperative heating system.

I've just let myself into my flat when the phone rings. I make a lunge for it, tripping over two sets of boots and Attila before I manage to get the receiver to my ear. "Hello?" I say just as Attila sinks his claws into my leg in retaliation. I wince through the pain.

"Hi, Duo, it's Sally," her voice vibrates in my ear and I feel a little glow in my stomach.

"Hey, Sally. How are you?" I say, wondering how she got my number.

I must have said that out aloud because she laughs as she says, "I looked you up in the phone book. Heero remembered your address. And I'm fine, thanks for asking. Look, Duo, I'm ringing because Heero and Quatre and Trowa and Wufei and I have this tradition where we go out to dinner once a month and tonight's the night. Obviously Wufei is… obviously Wufei can't come but I'd love it if you would come instead."

I find myself grinning. "Um… yeah, sure… that'd be great, nice, yeah." I wince. Why must I be such a tragic, inarticulate loser?

I can hear the smile in Sally's voice when she speaks again. "Good, I'm glad. It wouldn't be the same without you." There is a slightly awkward pause on my end as I wonder what on earth I can possibly say to that. "Heero will pick you up in an hour. Is that OK?"

I nod and then realise that Sally can't actually see me. "Yep, that's OK," I try again.

"Good, I'll see you soon then." Again I nod. "Bye, Duo."

"Bye," I manage to say before the tone indicates that she's hung up.

I replace the receiver. "God, I'm such an incompetent freak," I say to no one in particular. Attila yowls in agreement anyway, smirking at me. I blow a childish raspberry in his direction and then disappear into the shower before he can utilize my leg as a scratching post again.

I've just wrapped a towel around my waist when I hear the knock on the door. Cursing and dripping water across the living room carpet, I answer.

Heero is standing in the corridor, looking altogether fine in dark slacks and a heavy woolen coat. He gives me a bemused look. "You're wearing a towel," he says and then flushes and stares at his feet. "I mean… you're wearing a towel."

I have to smile. "Yeah, I just got out of the shower. Sorry, I'm running just a teensy bit late. No surprises there… I'm late for everything."

"I'll bet that irritates the Hell out of Wufei," Heero says with a smile.

"It irritates the Hell out of everyone," I confirm truthfully.

We smile and nod at each other for a moment and then I remember that we're standing in the doorway and I'm probably looking several shades of ridiculous with this towel around my waist and my hair piled on top of my head in an unflattering kind of top-knot. "Uh, sorry, come on in." I stand back and Heero edges past me. I shiver when the tails of his coat brush against my bare legs and clutch my towel tighter around my waist.

Attila looks up from where he's lounging on the floor long enough to fix Heero with an imperious stare.

"You've got a cat," Heero says and again he flushes. "But then, you already know that. Sorry, clearly I forgot to engage my brain before I came out tonight." There is an odd waver in his voice.

I laugh. "Don't worry, it's a permanent state for me. And this is Attila. He's not quite as gorgeous as Natuku…" Attila bats one eye lazily and flicks his crooked tail. "In fact, I'm fairly sure he's possessed by something evil."

Heero laughs, glances at me and then hurried looks away. "Oh, he doesn't look too nasty," he says, bending down by Attila's left paw.

"Yeah, I bet they said that about his namesake and lived to regret it too," I mutter.

Attila and Heero regard each other for a long moment like two stags about to lock horns. Eventually Attila blinks and very slowly rises up. He sniffs indifferently at Heero's fingers before reclining again. When Heero's fingers extend, dancing down Attila's back in a long sweeping movement he allows it and, after a moment, leans into the stroke. I feel my mouth dropping open in shock.

"I don't believe it. He actually likes you. He doesn't like anyone. He doesn't even like me, and I feed him!" There is a tinge of outrage in my voice.

Heero turns and grins up at me. "Why would you buy a cat that doesn't like you?" he asks as Attila rolls over and allows Heero to tickle his stomach, something I tried once and then never again because I rather like my hands attached to my body.

"I didn't buy him; he came with the apartment," I grumble, hoisting my towel up with a petulant pout. Heero raises one eyebrow, straightening up again.

"He belonged to the old lady who lived here before me," I explain. "He refused to leave when she died. My landlord tried everything to get rid of him and he's still got the scars to prove it."

"Your landlord… he would be the one with the wild hair and the whiskey bottle?" Heero asks, masking a smile.

"Yep, that's Joey. You met him on the way up?"

Heero nods. "I think he tried to proposition me in the stairwell."

"That'd be right. Don't worry, he does it to everyone."

"Oh, and here I was thinking I was special," Heero attempts a wounded look and doesn't quite succeed.

"Oh, I'm sure he meant it with you," I tell him, biting back a laugh. "Anyway, I'm gonna go and get rid of the towel…" Heero's head snaps around in my direction and I flush. "I mean, get rid of the towel and put clothes on instead. Right, yes. So, I'll just do that, then." Heero nods and stuffs his hands into his pockets.

"I'll be as quick as I can," I assure him. "Five minutes. Oh, I should re-braid my hair. Make that ten minutes. Fifteen at the most." Heero laughs. "Make yourself at home,' I tell him. "I'll be back in a sec."

I toss on the nearest clean clothes I can find and am thankful when I look in the mirror and discover I don't look like a total fashion-victim/train-wreck. I'm halfway through brushing out my hair when I hear Heero call something from the other room.

"Wha?" I ask, emerging from my bedroom.

I find Heero in the kitchen, looking at the poster cards that line the wall above the oven. He turns when I approach and takes a tiny step back. "I… um… you look different with your hair out," he says softly. He reaches out tentatively, curling a long strand of hair around his index finger. "It's lovely, though." He lets it drop suddenly like he's been burnt.

"Thanks." I wrench the brush through a particularly stubborn tangle. "It's a bitch to look after when it's down, but… gets all tangled and… yeah." I nod and Heero turns back to the wall. "What did you ask before?" I ask, fiddling with the brush in my hands.

He nods at the poster cards tacked to the wall. "I was looking at these and wondering if you'd been to Italy."

He fingers the dog-eared corner of the picture that has always been my favourite. It features a sparkling blue Venetian vista and a gently rocking gondola. And suddenly, here comes the flashback. I push it roughly aside before I remember that Heero's eyes are the exact colour of that perfect, pristine water.

"Nah, I haven't… been to Italy. Father Maxwell went when he graduated from the Seminary. He used to show me these when I was a kid and tell me stories about all the things he did and saw." I glance fondly at the familiar pictures. I can almost hear his voice, soft and rasping, as he described the places he'd been with such vivid accuracy that, when I closed my eyes, it almost felt like I was there… in that gondola.

I can feel Heero smiling at me. "I've wanted to go there ever since. I used to say that I would go before I turned 30." I sigh and start brushing my hair vigorously.

"Used to?" Heero asks in a low voice.

"Yeah, used to. I turn 30 in April and I currently have $78.32 in my savings account. I don't think it's gonna happen."

"Never say never," Heero murmurs. "My mother used to say that and she had a habit of being right."

I manage a grin and start weaving my hair into a braid. I can feel Heero watching my hands as they work.

"You're very skilled at that," he says when I'm done.

"I've had lots of practice," I reply. "Come on, we should go before I make us even more ridiculously late."

At the door, Heero hands me my coat and scarf and gives Attila one last scratch behind the ear. He positively purrs, something I wasn't sure I'd live to see.

"If we run, we should make to the car proposition free," I say when we reach the top of the stairs. "Race you?" I suggest playfully.

Heero raises his eyebrow at me. "Aren't we a little old for that?"

I consider this. "No," I conclude.

"OK, then," he says, already halfway down the stairs.

"Hey, not fair!" I shout, throwing my mittens at his retreating back. He just runs faster and I find myself wearing a manic grin as I hurtle myself down the stairs after him.

The restaurant is an adorable little Thai outfit, tucked away in a secluded corner of the city. It's fairly busy for a Thursday night, full of laughing patrons and hot, steaming, aromatic food.

When Heero and I arrive at the table, Sally kisses us both on the cheek, favouring us both with a weary smile.

"Sorry, we're late. Totally my fault," I apologise as we all sit down.

"It's fine. We've only just arrived ourselves. Quatre needed to get changed," Sally says, sliding a menu across the table to me.

"I was wearing white," Quatre says, pouring wine with a practiced flair. "You can't wear white to a Thai restaurant! It's just begging to get Panang Chicken dropped on it."

"Thank you on behalf of our cleaning lady," Trowa murmurs, not looking up from his menu. "Does anyone fancy anything in particular?"

I consult my menu which seems to be mostly in Thai. "Whatever you guys want. I'll eat anything," I say, closing my menu.

Trowa smiles. "Well, that's easy. Shall we just get the usual?" He looks around at the others.

"That sounds good, except…" Sally begins. There is an awkward silence around the table that I don't quite understand. "I suppose we might as well not bother getting the Yum Goong. Wufei's the only one who eats it." The lines on Sally's face lengthen in sadness and she takes a long gulp of her wine.

"Let's get it anyway," Heero says determinedly, signaling to the waiter.

Sally recovers enough to smile and then even manages a little laugh. "Yeah, let's."

The conversation turns with unspoken agreement away from the absent Wufei, wandering through the troubles of Quatre and Trowa's cleaning lady (who may or may not been pilfering the silver), before veering off into the narcissism of the Chief-of-Staff at Sally's hospital (who, according to Sally, is in dire need of an operation to remove the pole from his arse) and the insufferable arrogance of Treize Krushrenada (with whom Heero met that morning), and finally arrives at the Hilde-related histrionics I experienced at the airport.

"Well, I for one have some sympathy with your friend," Quatre says with a definite nod.

"I resent that!" Trowa replies with mock indignation. "My mother did you the ultimate service by dying before you ever had to meet her."

"Catherine took up the baton, though. The first time I met her was a very traumatic experience!"

"Catherine is Trowa's older sister," Heero explains, bending close enough to me that his hair brushes my cheek.

"That's a bit of an exaggeration," Trowa says, hiding a smile.

"She threw a knife at me!" Quatre waves his chopsticks for emphasis.

"She was practicing," is Trowa's mild reply.

Again Heero bends into my personal space. "She's a knife thrower. Has a show at the Casino Royale in Vegas."

"Well, I'm not sure Alex's mother is into knives but apparently she is narrow-minded and elitist and votes Republican," I quote.

Quatre blanches. "Oh, well in that case, I'd go with the knife-wielding lunatic any day."

"Watch it! Cathy's flying in tomorrow and I'll tell her you called her that."

Quatre gives Trowa a wounded look. "You wouldn't." Trowa merely smiles enigmatically and receives a napkin in the face for his troubles.

"Anyway, speaking of relatives flying in Iria and Abdul arrived this morning. You won't believe how much little Ali has grown. Oh, and Iria's going to call you tomorrow," he says, leaning across to Sally to re-fill her glass. "Something about not letting you do all the work like you usually try to do."

I turn to Heero to ask who Iria and Abdul and little Ali are, only to find that he's already looking at me with those blue, blue eyes. "Iria is Quatre's eldest sister, Abdul is her husband and Ali is their son. He's 5." I nod, somehow unable to drag my eyes away from Heero's.

It's only when Sally taps my arm that realise she's been trying to get my attention for, probably, an embarrassingly long time. "Sorry, what?" I mumble into my Panang Chicken.

"You'll be joining us for Christmas dinner, won't you?" she repeats, with a level of confidence in her voice that is enviable.

My mouth drops open in an unflattering goldfish impression while I struggle for words. "Oh, I… um… I should… I've got… um…" I wonder if the dim restaurant light is hiding my blush. "I couldn't intrude like that," I finally manage.

"Oh, Duo, you wouldn't be intruding," that's from Quatre who is regarding me earnestly from the other side of the table.

I clear my throat, feeling very awkward and embarrassed and wanting more than anything to say yes because I can just imagine how wonderful Christmas would be with these people.

"I know but… Christmas is for family and I'm sure I'd just be in the way, hanging around and… besides, I've got a date with the TV and for once Hilde isn't around to make me watch 'Miracle on 34th Street' for the billionth time. Besides, I've got Attila for company."

"Are you saying that you'd rather spend Christmas with a disagreeable cat who is named after a barbaric warlord and is possibly possessed by something evil than with us?" Heero's smiling at me as he says this, I can feel it, and for a moment I want nothing more than to hug him.

"No, I just…"

"You said it, Duo, Christmas is for family. So we'll see you at seven, OK?" There is a charming finality in Trowa's voice that makes me smile and leaves a glowing ball of warmth in my chest. "If you're nice to him, I'm sure Heero will pick you up again."

Heero turns a peculiar shade of pink and then mumbles, "I'll happily give you a lift," before lapsing into silence.

"I'm glad we've got that sorted," Sally declares, smiling at me. "Shall we get the bill?"

I rather reluctantly add my share to the total, not quite wanting the evening to end. There is just something about these people that makes you glad to be with them; that makes you want to hold onto the moment for as long as possible.

Perhaps it's something in the easy conversation or the warm friendship. Perhaps it's as simple as the sense of inclusion they generously extend to me. Perhaps it's… OK, I have no idea what it is, but it's possibly one of the most glorious things I've ever experienced.

Sally and Quatre both kiss me on the cheek when we part outside the restaurant and Trowa pats my shoulder and winks in a very mysterious fashion. I just mumble a goodbye and a thank-you before following Heero back to his deliciously modern car.

Heero is very quiet on the drive home. I steal a look at him when we stop at an intersection. His face is bathed in a red glow from the traffic lights. "Thanks for driving me," I tell him, willing him to look at me.

He does, wearing a tiny half smile. "You're welcome. I'm glad you came tonight. I was… I was worried that it would be odd… without Wufei. But it was nice. Different, but nice." He says this very carefully, fixing me with an unreadable expression.

"Yeah, nice," I echo. By silent agreement, we drive the rest of the way in silence. It's inexplicably comfortable, like I've known him forever.

When we pull up outside my apartment building, Heero turns to me. "I'll pick you up then? On Christmas night?"

"You don't have to," I begin.

"I want to." There is that unreadable expression again.

"OK, I'll see you then, then." I give him a lop-sided grin and he smiles.

"Try to be ready on time?" is the gentle tease.

"I make no promises. Love me; love my inability to be on time ever."

There is an awkward silence in which Heero swallows heavily and adjusts his grip on the steering wheel.

"Right, anyway, thanks again for the lift." Another awkward pause envelopes the car while I try to work out how to say goodnight. If it was Hilde I'd throw my arms around her and squeeze her until she knew that I didn't ever want to let her go. If it was Sally, I'd probably kiss her cheek, too inarticulate to express my thanks in words.

With Heero, I just don't know what to do. I know instinctively that a hug isn't the right thing, and Heaven help my already confused hormones if I tried the kiss. In the end I grasp his forearm, trying to pour my words and emotions into that gentle squeeze.

He smiles. "Goodnight, Duo," he says in a very low voice and I nod the same back to him.

I hurry from the warmth of the car to the luke-warmth of my flat. Inside, I draw the living room curtains to block out the cold. I pause when I notice that Heero's car still hovering by the curb, the exhaust fumes gathering in a thick, grey cloud behind it.

The grey tint on the windows is too dark for me to see inside but it stays parked there for several long minutes before it finally lurches away from the pavement and away down the street. I watch it until I can no longer see the red tail lights in the distance and then finally draw the curtains, blocking out the dark, snowy night.

When I tuck myself up in bed, two doonas and a blanket warding against the cold, I sleep the sleep of the deserving, untroubled by dreams of a disturbing nature.

Author's Notes: So the sexual tension continues… come on, you didn't really think I'd give in to requests such as 'slash them now, damn it!' so readily, did you? Of course not. Give me a little credit.

Thank you heaps and heaps, forever and ever, to everyone who has reviewed this fic. Special thanks to those who reviewed the last chapter more than once in the hopes that that might entice me to get off my arse and do some work. It did work, I assure you.

And finally, to those of you following 'A Reason For Me' and losing patience daily, I promise you, I have not abandoned this fic – it will be finished! I am suffering from acute Writer's Block but I am confident of a full recovery. Please stay with me.

Cheers again to everyone, you're lovely and brilliant. Please continue being lovely and brilliant by feeding my starved inspiration with reviews... huggles!