Aching To Be Real

They met online.

In a gay chatroom of all places. They'd each joined the group on the same day, and when it quickly became clear that they were the only ones there underneath the age of eighteen – hell, underneath the age of twenty-five – they gravitated towards each other and started exchanging information.

Both of them lived in conservative towns. They later discovered it was the same town, they just lived on opposite ends, and thus, went to different schools. Both of them were high school seniors who were interested in art; one in drawing, the other in painting. They both liked swimming, though for different reasons, and they both were obsessed with the band U2.

One liked to talk; the other liked to listen. One loved fantasy novels, the other science fiction. One liked horror movies and slasher flicks, the other loved war documentaries. They both liked action adventure movies and buddy comedies, and hated romantic dramas.

Both of them knew it was foolish to get involved with someone they'd never met in real life…but neither of them cared.

Real life wasn't exactly the best place for either of them. Neither of them fit in, though the other didn't know exactly why, and they had both been aching for something more. The Internet was an escape from their sad realities.

And when they decided to meet in the real world, both of them could only hope they could still remain the other's escape…

Duo Maxwell had never been more nervous in his entire life. Ever since he'd climbed onto the #1 bus that morning, he'd been cursing himself for a fool.

When I meet Heero, it won't take him long to figure it out. Especially with this hunk of junk on my head, Duo thought miserably as he checked to make the 'hunk of junk' in question was turned on.

"I should've told him sooner," Duo murmured under his breath, though the words were lost to his ears in the noise of the other bus passengers. Nothing good can come from this…even if it wasn't an outright lie.

Seeing his stop coming up, Duo reached over his head and pulled the cord. As the bus slowed to a stop, Duo nerved himself for the upcoming encounter. He was early, but the #1 bus didn't come back around here until 10:30 and he hadn't wanted to be late. It wasn't like he could drive. He'd told Heero what he looked like, so once he stepped inside the coffee shop, there'd be no backing out.

Brown hair in a waist-length braid, blue eyes, black U2 concert T-shirt…

He'd just neglected to mention one other thing he'd be wearing…

Heero Yuy had never been more nervous in his entire life. Ever since his father, Odin, had dropped him off fifteen minutes ago, he'd been curing himself for a fool.

I probably wouldn't be this nervous if I hadn't gotten here so early, Heero acknowledged. But Odin had to be at work at nine AM, and it wasn't like he could drive, so Heero had had to wait for an hour for his and Duo's ten o'clock coffee date to roll around.

A date, Heero thought, feeling that giddy rush of excitement and anxiety whenever he thought about it. He'd never actually been on a date before – none of the other students in his class cared to find out enough about him to attempt such a thing. The only one who had was Relena Peacecraft, who'd cared more about presenting a 'charitable image' to the school than about him.

Even if he hadn't been gay, he still wouldn't have liked her.

Which brought him back full-circle to his worries…

I should've told him sooner – what if hates me for lying to him? Heero thought morosely.

Checking the clock one more time, Heero saw that he still had about twenty minutes left until Duo arrived. He'd told Duo what he looked like, so once he stepped inside the coffee shop, there was no backing out.

Literally, Heero thought with wry humor, as he tried to picture maneuvering his way out of the crowed shop, encumbered as he was.

Dark brown hair cut short, dark blue eyes, and a navy blue U2 concert T-shirt.

He'd just neglected to mention one of his accessories…

Stepping inside the door of the Starbucks, Duo glanced around, searching for his target.

Heh. Sounds like I'm an assassin on a mission. After skimming over the crowd a few times with no luck, Duo tried to keep himself from feeling disappointed.

I'm fifteen minutes early, after all; he's not late, Duo tried to reassure himself. Might as well find a table and wait.

Heading for the back of the room out of habit – it was a damn sight quieter there than up front near the counter – Duo almost fell over from shock as he saw the boy occupying his normal table.

Dark brown hair cut short, dark blue eyes, and a blue U2 concert T-shirt, Duo listed automatically, almost giddy with delight. Apparently Heero was very anxious about their meeting, too; he had a cup of coffee that looked like it hadn't been touched expect to pour three packets of sugar into it – and he was tearing the empty sugar packets into confetti.

This is it, Duo thought, and moved to stand next to the table. Here goes everything…

"Are you Heero Yuy?" a strangely-modulated voice asked.

Heero looked up from where he'd been decimating the used sugar packets – and straight into a pair of the most beautiful blue-violet eyes. Blue doesn't do them justice… he thought hazily. He finally snapped out of his daze when the eyes flicked away and Heero took in the sight of the rest of the young man before him. Brown hair in a braid, blue eyes, black U2 concert T-shirt…

And pink cheeks from the way Heero had been staring at him. Embarrassed, Heero asked, "Duo Maxwell?"

The braided boy nodded, a tentative smile on his face.

"It's good to finally meet you," Heero said, returning the smile with one of his own, though inwardly he was quaking in his chair. Kami, how do I get myself into these messes? I should have mentioned it earlier; it's not like he's going to miss it now.

But luck – or maybe just blind chance – was with him. Duo sat down across from him, and didn't seem to notice anything out of place; though perhaps the tablecloth helped with that.

Of course, it could be because he hasn't taken his eyes off of me – not that I'm any better, Heero thought ruefully. Duo was gorgeous – he'd never seen eyes such an unusual shade of blue; they looked almost indigo. When he'd said 'brown hair in a braid' Heero had be thinking more along the lines of his friend Wufei's slicked back ponytail. Duo's hair was…amazing. He couldn't help but entertain thoughts of what it would look like down, spread out over the sheets of his bed…

"Good to meet you, too," Duo replied, his rather raspy and high-pitched voice bringing Heero swiftly out of his reverie.

Silent blessing his Asian heritage for giving him a skin color which hid blushes well, Heero's brow furrowed as he tried to figure out why Duo's voice sounded so…odd. Sort of blurry and distorted, almost as if he were hearing Duo's words through water. Well, he'd always been told that the only stupid questions were the ones you didn't ask… "Do you have a cold?" Heero inquired, concerned. If Duo was sick, they should have postponed their meeting. "If you're not feeling well, we could meet another time," he suggested, though he was unable to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

Duo flushed crimson and shook his head vigorously. "N-no," he stuttered out. "I'm fine."

"Sure?" Heero asked.

Duo nodded vehemently. "I've been waiting for this all week," he admitted softly, eyes focused on the table.

"So have I," Heero confessed.

Duo's gaze rose back to meet his, slightly confused. "Could you repeat that?" Duo asked in a strangled tone of voice.

"I said that I've been waiting for today, too," Heero replied, only then noticing that the lunchtime traffic had arrived, and subsequently the noise level had risen. "If it's too noisy in here, we could leave," Heero offered calm. Inwardly he was nowhere near as composed – they couldn't leave without Duo finding out his secret.

Flushing, Duo said, "It's not that; I don't hear anyone but you."

Heero thought that while normally that would have been a very romantic phrase, right now it just puzzled him. Duo wasn't smiling in any seductive fashion like one would expect when delivering a line such as that; instead, he looked rather uncomfortable, like he wished he was anywhere but there at the moment.

Looking even more uncomfortable, Duo said, "The range of my hearing aid doesn't extend farther than six feet, and it doesn't pick up soft noises."

"Hearing aid?" Heero asked faintly. Eyes zeroing in on what he'd taken for some sort of odd jewelry hiding under the other boy's hair on the left side, Heero put one and one together and came up with Duo.

Seeming not to have heard what Heero said, Duo focused his indigo eyes on Heero's own blue, and said, voice cracking, "I'm deaf, Heero."

Heero blinked, only belatedly realizing that that explained why Duo's eyes had been so focused on his lips – Duo was obviously lip-reading. But why the hearing aid if he couldn't hear? "And here I thought you were just as obsessed with wanting to kiss me as I am with you," Heero said before he thought, then blushed.

Duo alternately paled and colored out of sheer terror and mortification, respectively. Actually, he had been thinking about what it would be liked to kiss Heero. That was part of the reason why he'd missed the words spoken by those luscious lips. Heero Yuy was 'imminently fuckable' as his rather perverted (but oh-so-angelic-looking) friend Quatre would put it. Even though Duo was inexperienced in such matters – very inexperienced; his first and only kiss had been from his next-door neighbor Hilde during a co-ed game of Truth or Dare when he was ten – Duo couldn't help but entertain thoughts of what it might be like to kiss Heero.

He'd hoped to have a few minutes of actual conversation under his belt before Heero found out about his not-so-little handicap, though. Priceless gems of friendly words that he could take out of his treasure chest of memories and allow the bittersweet remembrances to cheer him up when he was feeling down.

"I-I w-was. Am," Duo corrected himself. He hadn't stuttered this much since he got his first hearing aid when he was six and was just learning to talk. Up until then he could only hear people when they shouted in his ear and had been unable to respond vocally; now he could hear people speaking at normal volume and could talk their ears off in return.

Back then he hadn't had as much to lose – nothing, really. He'd only started making friends once he'd gotten his hearing aid.

He hoped he'd get a chance to chatter into Heero's ears. He hoped Heero wouldn't shun him for being different, like pretty much everyone besides Quatre and Hilde did.

It wasn't like he'd chosen to lose his hearing.

"I…I'm glad I'm not the only one who's nervous," Heero said, so softly that Duo almost didn't catch the words.

Duo smiled shakily. He was glad too – and waiting for the sword to fall and cut through his tentative moment of happiness. Isn't he going to say anything about…?

"If you're deaf, then how can you hear me?" Heero asked, breaking into Duo's thoughts.

Grimacing slightly – he always hated explaining this part – Duo said, "I'm legally deaf. I have twenty percent of my hearing in my right ear, and only ten percent in my left." He gestured to the bulky hearing aid – if they could make cellphones the size of a matchbox, why couldn't they make hearing aids more compact? – on his left ear. "With this I can hear pretty well for about a ten-foot diameter around myself."

Heero looked thoughtful, as if he was assimilating Duo's words. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked, curiosity instead of censure in his voice.

Duo, however, was too depressed to note the lack of condemnation. Miserably, he focused his gaze on his hands, which were clenched together on the tabletop. He wasn't very good at simultaneously trying to figure his own thoughts out and read lips. And Heero's lips were distracting for more than one reason.

Which he so very much did not need to be thinking about right then. "I didn't know how," Duo admitted. It had never been easy for him, meeting new people – in real life, anyway. It was why he didn't really have any friends besides Hilde and Quatre; Hilde because he'd known her his whole life, Quatre because Quatre was nice to everybody and had pestered him for his friendship until he'd given in.

That was the thing about meeting someone online – you had no preconceived notions. It had been exhilarating to converse with someone who didn't immediately back off once they heard him speak in his squeaky-because-he-couldn't-really-hear-it voice. "You and I were getting along so well – and it wasn't like it mattered online – and I didn't want to ruin things." Duo slumped down into his chair and raised his eyes to meet Heero's, waiting for the other boy's verdict.

Heero nodded slowly, and opened his mouth to speak. Duo held his breath, hoping that his not-so-little revelation wouldn't spell the end of a friendship he'd come to cherish over the past few months.

"Do I need to talk louder?" Heero asked, mildly concerned. He knew he didn't need to talk slower; if his twelve months of being bedridden had done nothing else, it had made sure he was exceedingly well read on a variety of esoteric topics.

True, it was a shock that Duo had a handicap of his own – and he would be sure not to let too many more minutes go by before rectifying Duo's lack of knowledge on his behalf – but he'd always recovered quickly from bouts of mental vertigo. He'd had to if he wanted to get anywhere in life. Asking intelligent questions got him farther than expecting someone else to supply all the answers.

"N-no, this volume is fine," Duo stuttered, indigo eyes widening. He looked almost if he would topple over from relief.

Heero knew the feeling well. He'd felt something similar when his friend Trowa, who he'd originally met in his computer class in sixth grade, had agreed to be his partner for their end of term project. No one else had wanted to work with him, despite the fact that he was the best student in the class. Trowa was now his oldest, best, and only friend.

Aside from Duo, that was.

"You're…you're not mad?" Duo asked tentatively. "That I didn't tell you before now, that is?"

"I understand why you didn't," Heero said. Boy, do I. "As a matter of fact…" Heero took a deep breath, steeling himself. This was never easy, but his planned action was made doubly hard by how much he cared for Duo. "I have something to tell you, as well." With that, he pushed against the table, rolling back far enough so his actions could speak for him.

Duo was initially surprised when he saw Heero's easy rolling movement as he pushed himself back from the table. Once he caught sight of the chrome wheelchair the other youth was sitting in, however,comprehension dawned.

He's…like me? Though Duo knew it wasn't very sensitive of him to be happy that his new friend had physical problems of his own, he couldn't help the rush of relief the revelation brought. So many times prospective friends had left once they found out about his deafness. If Heero had his own handicap, maybe he wouldn't. Duo remembered how Professor G, his wacky chemistry teacher, had lost his nose in a lab accident his freshman year, and had it replaced with a Cyrano de Bergerac knock-off. All the kids at school made fun of him. But Professor G was one of the few people that didn't think Duo was nuts for wanting to attend regular school – instead of one specifically for deaf people – and treated him just like everybody else.

Maybe Heero would treat him like he was normal, too. At least, as normal as Heero was. A very irreverent thought popped into Duo's head, and he couldn't hold back a chuckle.

Heero's brows rose into his messy brown bangs. "What's so funny?" he demanded testily, obviously nettled.

"It's…it's not you…" Duo hastened to reassure the other boy. Reconsidering, he corrected, "Well, it is, but I'm not laughing at you."

"You're not laughing with me, either, since you haven't let me in on the joke," Heero pointed out dryly.

Duo flushed and ducked his head, admitting, "I…I was just thinking that I've finally found someone who can't run away from me when I talk too much." Please don't let him take this the wrong way, he pleaded with a deity he wasn't even sure existed.

Maybe She did. And perhaps She would take pity on him and have him reincarnated as someone whose life made sense next go-round. But then again, normal was pretty much overrated. And not nearly as interesting as what was currently happening in his life.

Heero snorted. "Maybe I can't run, but this old bucket of bolts–" he slapped the armrest of his chair, "–can move pretty fast once I get it going."

Duo tried to stop himself, but he couldn't. He snickered.

After his friend's laughter finally tapered off, Heero said, "Besides, I like to listen to you talk."

Duo's cheeks warmed and he smiled involuntarily. "You want to go somewhere quieter?" he asked. "Somewhere where we could talk more?"

"Sure," Heero agreed with an upward quirk of his own lips.

Ten minutes later found them both strolling – or, in Heero's case, rolling – along a paved pathway in the nearby park, warm sunlight and a gentle breeze their only companions besides each other.

Kicking a rock out of the path of Heero's wheels, Duo had to laugh. "We're both tiptoeing around it, aren't we?"

Heero's brows knit together in confusion as he pushed himself forward. His wheelchair did have a motor, but only came with two speeds – Too Slow and Too Fast. Manual movement was preferable, even aside from the fact that he was a bit of a control freak. "Tiptoeing around what?" The fact that I can't tiptoe? he thought with his usual sardonic wit.

"The fact that we're both…handicapped," Duo said softly, indigo eyes skating away to focus on a far off cluster of multi-colored wildflowers.

"Aa," Heero agreed, voice equally as soft.

"Do you wanna go first, or should I?" Duo said, grinning with resigned cynicism.

"With the explanations?" Heero hazarded a guess.

Duo nodded.

"Car accident when I was kid," Heero explained briefly. And at least I'm alive…unlike Kaa-chan. "I can walk," he added, glancing down at his jeans-clad legs. The bones had healed, but were too weak to support him without help. "If I wear leg braces." And am willing to look more idiotic than Forrest Gump ever did and go slower than a snail. But at least he had that much – and he looked normal when he was stationary. "My physical therapist, J, said that swimming should help me build up my muscles. One day, maybe they'll work right again." I'll never be able to run, jump, or climb trees… But I might be able to walk without the braces.

Luckily he was a computer nerd, and had never wanted to enter the Olympics. He didn't think it was too much to ask to be able to get a midnight snack without trying to navigate a darkened house in his chair, though.

"Meningitis when I was a kid," Duo replied quietly. And the doctor said I was lucky to make it through alive. Solo didn't. "I can hear pretty good if I wear this," he added, gesturing to his hearing aid. He shoved a loose lock of hair behind his ear, eyes flickering away momentarily. "As long as people are close."

"I'll make sure to stay close to you, then." Heero quirked a half-grin, then looked ruefully down at his chair. "As close as I can, anyway."

Spying a stone bench not too far away, Duo said with pleased satisfaction, "I can fix that." He strode over and plopped himself down on the very left edge of the bench, gesturing for Heero to roll up next to him.

Smiling slightly, Heero did as 'ordered.'

They say there for a few moments in companionable silence, just enjoying the simple calmness of the park, the warm sunshine, and the novelty of being with someone who understood.

"I'm really glad I met you, Heero," Duo said all of a sudden. He opened his eyes and raised them to meet Heero's steady gaze.

"Me, too, Duo," Heero replied warmly, one hand reaching out towards Duo's. Their fingers tangled together seemingly of their own accord. After a few moments of staring down at their entwined hands, Heero's own eyes were warm, as well.

Duo worried his lower lip between his teeth and then locked eyes with Heero. "I believe this is…" He paused and cleared his throat. "Isn't this the part where we kiss?" Duo asked, his brazenness offset by his bright eyes and blushing cheeks.

Heero started, radiating a muted blush of his own, then smiled, his eyes twinkling. "On the first date?" he asked, mock-scandalized.

Duo gave that funny little snorting laugh of his and ducked his head. "I think we've been cyber-dating for several months," he pointed out, peeking up through his lashes shyly.

"True," Heero agreed, cheeks still slightly pink, leaning closer to his friend.

On an indrawn breath, Duo removed his left hand from Heero's grasp, placing it on the arm of Heero's chair as he slowly moved closer.

"Wait," Heero suddenly stopped him. He was uncertain if this was the right time…but it felt like if he didn't 'say' it now, his heart would burst right out of his chest. "Duo… How do you say 'I love you' in sign language?" he asked, voice breathless.

Hardly daring to believe his ears – his hearing aid must have been malfunctioning – Duo nonetheless held out his free hand, his middle two fingers pressed against his palm, the other three extended.

Serious blue eyes locked with Duo's own wide indigo ones. Left hand mirroring Duo's movements, Heero pressed their palms together, his thumb wrapping around the other boy's.

And then they were leaning in towards each other, and despite knowing where their lips were going, they were kissing almost before they realized it. It was clumsy, and tentative, like all first kisses.

But above all, and most importantly…it was real.