One Year, Two Minutes

When Quatre sat down in his usual place one Friday near the end of the semester, opening his lunch on his knees and leaning against Trowa for warmth in the chilly December air, he noted in a mixture of amusement and pity that his friends had already started the customary Pre-Weekend Harassment Of Heero.

“It doesn’t have to be someone from this school, you know.”

“Though good luck finding another school with this many gay guys.”

“And it doesn’t even have to be someone you really know well, either!”

“Yeah, you should meet more people anyway. Make more friends.”

“And if you don’t like the guy, it’s not like anyone’s forcing you to go out with him again.”

“You know I could find someone for you if you don’t want to bother looking.”

“No, thank you.” Heero would, Quatre knew, eventually drop the ‘thank you.’

Given the clockwork-like prevalence of this conversation — on some Fridays a word-for-word repetition of last week’s — it was a wonder Heero even ate lunch with this group anymore. Force of habit, Quatre thought. Well, and they would probably realize why he was avoiding them and track him down anyway, if he happened to try to find some other, solitary place to enjoy the free period.

“You don’t even have to find someone good-looking! It’ll be dark!”

“Plus it’s a really good movie; I already saw a bootleg before it came out.”

“Yeah, it’ll give you plenty to talk over with someone!”

“Pff, like Heero ever talks things over with anyone.”

“But a movie and dinner aren’t serious enough for you to worry about getting all serious with someone!”

“Yeah, it’s just a casual thing! Come on, man, you’ve gotta come!”

“No,” said Heero.

Quatre hadn’t known Heero well sophomore year — OK, really, Quatre still wouldn’t say that he knew Heero well, but at least these days he referred to him as a friend rather than just a guy he had a few classes with — but it had been obvious even then that Relena was the reason Heero had come out of the closet. Quatre thought Heero would have been perfectly happy to keep the fact that he was gay as quiet as the rest of his personality, despite how friendly the school was toward gay students, if Relena hadn’t been pestering him constantly back then to go out with her.

Of course that hadn’t really stopped; it was just that now she tried to get Heero to join the group dates she was always setting up, whereas before it had pretty clearly been one-on-one time she was soliciting.

“What is your problem?” she was wondering now. “Did you get your heart broken? And you haven’t recovered yet, and you just can’t bear the thought of going out with anyone else, even on a group date with no strings attached just for fun? It is fun, by the way, and you’d really enjoy it.”

Heero looked over at her with an expression that held a trace of ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ but which in general was just his usual nearly emotionless look. “Relena. I’m seventeen.”

“So?”

“So, no, I did not ‘get my heart broken.'”

“You say that like you haven’t had time or something!”

Someone else put in slyly, “I think he’s saving himself for Lady Gaga.”

“What?” Heero demanded in a tone half scornful and half surprised. “For who?”

“More like he’s saving himself for all the more experienced guys he’s expecting to meet at Harvard.”

“I am not going to Harvard.”

Quatre finally decided to step in. Most weeks Heero had to take care of himself, since this happened too frequently for Quatre to be saving his hide every time, but Quatre was feeling generous today. “You know, you guys, it could actually be that he’s telling the truth — that he’s not interested in dating because he’s focusing on his grades and getting into the school he wants.”

They turned on him. “You should talk! You guys hardly ever come out with us either!”

“Yeah, but that’s because we’re…” He threw just the briefest look at Trowa, gave just the tiniest clearing of his throat. “…busy… on weekends.”

Appreciative laughter spread through the group, and Quatre gave Heero a pointed glance to see if he’d gotten the message: that it wasn’t what you said, but how you said it. Trowa and Quatre both usually worked Saturday and Sunday, and did homework the rest of the time; and, though it was true that a weekend rarely passed without their seeing each other at least briefly, it was pure myth that they spent two straight days in bed together or out on exotic dates — myth perpetuated by perfectly true little phrases like ‘we’re busy on weekends’ spoken in the right way and accompanied by the right gesture.

Heero returned the look with a faint, thoughtful scowl. Obviously he wasn’t terribly pleased at how easily Quatre was able to get around the problem he faced on a weekly basis, but at the same time seemed to be struck with an idea; perhaps he really had gotten the message.

“Maybe he’s got performance anxiety.”

“Yeah, he’s afraid he wouldn’t actually be able to ask anyone out, because it would take too many words.”

“You could write ’em a note, Heero… you know, like in middle school?”

Do you want to go out with me this weekend? Check Yes or No.

His brows lowering a trifle, Heero took a deep, quiet breath. “OK, fine, you guys. I’ll tell you the truth.”

Every head turned toward him; everyone went silent.

“I didn’t like to say,” he went on, “because I didn’t want people bugging me about it all the time, but this–” he gestured around– “is worse.”

“What?” Relena was leaning forward eagerly. “What is it? Do you actually secretly have a long-distance boyfriend?”

Heero turned startled eyes in her direction. “How did you know?”

“What?! You really do??” She jumped up. “Oh, my god, Heero, you have to tell us all about him!”

This opinion was immediately ratified by most of the rest of the group; Quatre thought that, Friday tradition notwithstanding, most of them couldn’t actually imagine Heero ever going out with anyone.

“Well,” Heero said slowly, apparently very aware that everyone was suddenly hanging on his every word, “I met him in April… he lives in Gearing…”

And thus began the biggest, most complicated, and by far the coolest and most collected lie Quatre had ever heard Heero Yuy tell.

***

This place was strange.

Oh, the classrooms and hallways and lockers and the way people dressed and the way the teachers treated the students and the schedules and the curriculum were all perfectly normal, as far as Duo could tell, but in what world did everyone you encountered seem to be talking about you behind your back from almost the moment you walked in the door ’til the time you finally managed to locate where you’d left your bike that morning and went home?

Of course it was a little weird — unfortunate, even — for someone to switch schools in the middle of his senior year. Duo would have wondered about anyone in that situation too. Then, his circumstances were pretty interesting… but how many people here could possibly know anything of them yet? Yeah, there were plenty of reasons for most of the school to be whispering about him, but this was just too early. It had started halfway through his second class, for god’s sake! What was going on here?

Applying himself devotedly, on his second day, to picking up what he could of the whispers, he thought he caught an unfamiliar name mentioned in conjunction with his own (to the confirmation that they really were talking about him): Heero Yuy. What he couldn’t figure out was who this Heero Yuy was, what he had to do with Duo, and why this talk had all started up so soon. Presumably the guy had answers, but Duo hadn’t yet been able to determine where and when he might be able to find him, and hadn’t felt like asking directly.

Sometime somebody would have to say something straight out. High-schoolers could keep up gossip in a vacuum far longer than any other group, but eventually they needed concrete to build on. And when someone finally approached him, whatever they had to say would surely tell him what he needed to know.

But it didn’t. Some clues, perhaps, were conveyed by the breathless demand, “So is he a good kisser?” but no real answers. “Nobody here,” the unfamiliar girl in the hall went on, “has been able to find out!”

Duo could have demanded information at this point, but his smartass instinct took over and what he ended up saying was, “Wouldn’t you like to know!” At which point the girl ran off giggling.

So obviously he was supposed to have kissed this Heero Yuy. Being a perverse individual, Duo was unsurprised that his first thought upon learning this was to wonder whether or not Heero Yuy was a good kisser. But his second instinct was annoyance at still being almost entirely in the dark, and after that came even greater curiosity than before.

His third day at his new school (Friday, since the semester had kicked off on a Wednesday) was as provoking as the previous two had been, and the fact that the widespread interest in him and his doings and his apparent connection with the oddly-named stranger didn’t seem to have died down at all was really making him quite wild to find out what the hell was going on. With continued perverseness, however, he was even less interested in asking anyone outright unless that person was Heero Yuy himself. Where to find Heero Yuy was the problem, since it was a big school, and asking someone where to find him would be tantamount to asking everyone why they thought he’d kissed the guy. He would snap eventually, though.

Actually it turned out he didn’t have to.

His new trigonometry class didn’t seem to be quite as far along as they’d been in the old one, so paying strict attention wasn’t yet a matter of great importance. It would be nice to have some homework that was just review, too, for a little while: grab a bit of a break while he got used to everything else here. Things like being endlessly talked about, and Heero Yuy, and all that.

He didn’t realize just how badly his attention had waned until class took him by surprise by ending. Suddenly everyone else was standing and walking out when he hadn’t even started packing. Hastily he shoved loose papers into his notebook and closed the latter, which action knocked his pen to the floor. When he returned from bending to retrieve the dropped article, a new and unfamiliar object lay on top of his things.

Immediately recognizing, from much experience, a private note, Duo looked hastily to see not what it said but, rather, who had left it. And though the guy was moving quickly, rejoining the other students leaving the classroom, Duo could tell he was the one, and got a fairly good look at him before he disappeared.

He’d actually noticed this person earlier — though he hadn’t paid him any particular attention — because of the weird hair. At first glance it looked like a deliberately emo style, but the lack of an outfit or makeup in that vein seemed to contradict such an assessment — which actually made the long hair over the face even weirder. Not that Duo saw a great deal of the face; the guy didn’t turn even slightly back in this direction to see if he’d found the note, and soon was out of sight.

With rising excitement, Duo reached for the folded paper. Was it possible that not-quite-emo guy had been the mysterious Heero Yuy himself, and here was an explanation of all the strange goings-on? This hope was dashed, however, even as a new one arose, when Duo finally opened the note.

It read, Heero Yuy’s locker is B-213, if you’re looking for him.

***

Without having to take in anything more than what the corner of his eye could show him, Heero knew exactly who it was that had appeared so abruptly next to him at his locker. He hadn’t caught sight of the guy prior to this, but knew very well what he looked like, and that he must have good reason to seek Heero out before too long. As a matter of fact, Heero really should have sought him out sometime earlier than Friday afternoon, but hadn’t really had his thoughts in order yet. Well, time to face the music.

The first he’d heard of it had been in his third class on Wednesday. Sylvia, who had been present that unfortunate lunchtime back before break when Heero had made up all that nonsense, sat behind him, and, coming in late, had barely had time to hiss at him before the teacher called them all to order, “Heero, why didn’t you tell us your boyfriend was transferring here?! He’s in my history class, and it surprised the hell out of me!”

There had been no time for Heero to express his shock or issue a denial at this point, as class was beginning. Since the teacher had only a fairly brief greeting for them, however, before getting them started on an assignment she’d written on the board, there was leisure for quiet conversation after not too long.

“Heero has a boyfriend?” was how it started. Heero didn’t know the name of the girl that sat behind Sylvia, but he could tell just from the skeptical tone of these murmured words that she, like the rest of the school, had a hard time accepting the idea.

“Yeah, he’s totally hot.” He could hear Sylvia shifting in her chair to deliver this reply to her rear, but he himself kept absolutely still; if the teacher was going to throw a dry erase marker at anyone for gossiping instead of completing their assignment, it wasn’t going to be at him.

“You saw him?” the whispered conversation went on. “What’s he like?”

“Totally hot; I just said!”

“Yeah, but what does he actually look like? Maybe I’ve seen him in the halls!”

Sylvia poked Heero in the back of the head, which was very annoying. “He looks just like Heero described him.”

Sincerely doubting that, Heero flipped through his notebook, seeking out the page on which he’d written in neat bulleted lines, just in case he ever needed to continue the deception, the points he’d made about his utterly fictional long-distance boyfriend back in December. As they continued talking behind him, he stared down at the improbable list.

“He’s got the longest hair in the world. He’s got it braided today; you can’t miss him.”

Subtly, Heero put a tiny checkmark next to Good-looking, and another beside Hair down to his thighs.

“And he doesn’t exactly have what I’d call purple eyes… they’re blue, but it’s a sort of purpley-blue that I bet you’d definitely call purple if you were going out with him and wanted to make him sound all exotic.”

The other girl giggled madly, and Heero, somewhat reluctantly, checked off Purple eyes.

“He said he just moved from Gearing when he turned eighteen; I bet he came just to be with Heero.”

Sadly, Heero checked off Lives in Gearing while simultaneously trying to shut his ears to the “Aaww!” of the other girl before Sylvia added the final point:

“I think he said he did, like, three different sports at his old school; too bad it’s too late for him to really do anything here.”

Athletic went the way of the rest of the list as the other girl mused, “Well, he could still go for–”

“Ladies, I somehow get the impression you’re not discussing the assignment back there.”

Heero was grateful for the teacher’s intervention, but had a hard time turning his own concentration toward searching for similes and metaphors in the short story they were currently studying. It was obvious that the damage had been done: if Sylvia had jumped to the conclusion that this handsome, purple-eyed, long-haired athlete from Gearing was Heero’s fictitious boyfriend, even if she hadn’t spread the news to everyone she knew, others might well have made the same connection. How on Earth had someone matching all of those improbable criteria shown up here so soon after Heero had invented them? And what was Heero going to do about it?

This question had occupied him throughout the last three days, and he’d never arrived at a satisfactory answer. It would be, he’d thought, good manners to give the newcomer a heads-up… well, it was probably too late for that, but at least an explanation of the weird treatment he was undoubtedly already receiving would be appropriate. But Heero had procrastinated because it seemed so odd a thing to have to confess and he’d never decided how to word what needed to be said. And meanwhile the gossip had only heightened, and the comments people threw him in passing become more and more embarrassing; god only knew how the stranger was taking it.

And now here was this same Duo Maxwell, having very understandably tracked Heero down, standing casually next to him at his locker, giving him an appraising look and exuding an air of curiosity and expectation with maybe just a touch of righteous indignation thrown in.

“You know,” he said at last, “I’ve had a lot of really weird experiences in the past… but having a boyfriend I’ve never met is a new one.”

Heavily, Heero shut his locker and turned toward him. “I can explain.”

“Good! ‘Cause I’m really curious.”

Heero looked around at their fellows, many of whom were surreptitiously watching them. “Not in here, though.”

“That’s fine,” said Duo affably. “I’ve gotta get my bike anyway, from the entrance that I thiiiiink is this way…” He pointed, though he looked a little lost.

Both in agreement and to confirm Duo’s guess as to which direction the bike racks were, Heero nodded. When he turned away and started walking, Duo hopped after and fell into step beside him.

As they moved through the halls, Duo’s glances in Heero’s direction seemed to indicate that he was about to start asking questions, despite Heero’s not yet having allowed the time and place to be right. Heero braced himself. Those selfsame glances, however, seemed to have informed Duo that Heero still wasn’t ready; instead of what Heero had expected, what came out of Duo’s mouth when it opened was, “So, ‘Heero Yuy’ — that’s, what, uh, Martian?”

“Japanese,” Heero informed him, grateful to have this to talk about and a few more minutes to try to come up with a way to explain things that wouldn’t make him sound like a total idiot.

“Oh, cool. Do you speak Japanese?”

“Yes.”

“Awesome! Say something for me! In Japanese, I mean.”

Heero sighed faintly, and wondered, in Japanese, why people always made that request.

Duo was grinning appreciatively. “That’s awesome,” he reiterated. “I’ve seen some of those Japanese cartoons, but they’ve always got the voices all redone in English. Oh, bikes! You found them!” He gave a gesture of mock admiration and gratitude to Heero for the feat of having led them out the correct door to locate the bike racks, and moved to unlock a fairly new-looking grey one from the midst of the line.

Standing back and watching, Heero tried, almost frantically now, to get his thoughts in order. It didn’t help that this Duo Maxwell fellow was… well, ‘totally hot’ on Sylvia’s part had been an understatement. And supposedly he was an athlete too? If Heero had been looking for a boyfriend, this guy would have been way out of his league.

Bicycle extracted, Duo rejoined Heero, cheerfully wheeling the vehicle alongside. “OK, where should we go?”

Heero pointed. “I live that direction; I usually walk home.”

“Oh! Well, I live that way too! Lucky coincidence.” In a slightly louder tone he announced, “Means I can walk you home, boyfriend.”

Somebody nearby giggled. Heero didn’t look around to see who it was or put his burning face on further display.

A brief discussion of relative locations as they left school property revealed that Duo lived a couple of miles past Heero’s neighborhood, which was itself a mile and a half from the school. No wonder he would be biking there and back rather than walking. More of a wonder was that the place was an apartment belonging to Duo and a roommate, that Duo had moved to town without parents or anything. But before Heero could question him on the interesting circumstance, Duo glanced around to verify that none of their schoolmates were nearby and then said, “So what’s the deal? With you and me, I mean. Why does everyone think we’re dating when I haven’t even ever seen you before today?”

Heero never had thought of a good way to put this, so there was nothing for it but just to confess. “It’s because I made you up last December.”

Duo started theatrically. “Are you telling me that I’m a figment of your imagination? And that all my memories of my life never actually happened? And that if something happens to you, I’ll totally cease to exist???”

Unable to remain unamused by this, Heero nevertheless explained seriously. “What I mean is, I made up a fake boyfriend to get some friends to leave me alone about finding a real one, and what I described turned out to match you perfectly.”

“Really?” Duo looked a little skeptical. “Because, not to sound conceited or anything, I’m pretty unique.”

“I know. I don’t know how it happened. I chose the most improbable things I could think of off the top of my head — the long hair, the purple eyes… I was trying to describe someone who didn’t exist anywhere in the world.”

“Huh. Weird.”

“So you showed up and of course everyone–”

“Thinks I’m your boyfriend, yeah. My eyes are blue, though.”

“It’s kindof a purpley blue,” said Heero helplessly.

“So why’d you invent me? Your friends wanted you to find a boyfriend?”

“It’s more like they’re always bugging me to find a date and go out with the group on weekends… but I’m not interested in dating right now. I don’t know how anyone can be, with the amount of homework we get.”

Duo chuckled. “OK, I get it. So you invented a fake boyfriend. Lemme guess — I was from out of town and you only saw me on weekends or something, so it was a perfect excuse not to go out with your friends.”

“You…” That pronoun was a little awkward, actually, in this context. “‘He‘ was from Gearing.”

“Oh, wow. It just keeps getting weirder.”

“Well, we do sometimes get people transferring in from Gearing — and Steppe and Coachroad — because of the whole gay thing… That part wasn’t as weird as the rest of it.”

“Yeah, how’d you manage to get my hair and everything?”

“I have no idea.” Heero shook his head, more helplessly than ever. “And I would never have said all of that,” he added in sincere apology, “if I’d known someone would show up who matched it all so well. I didn’t mean to make everyone think you were my boyfriend, I promise.”

“Not everyone thinks that, though… The guy who told me where your locker was couldn’t have thought we were dating, or else why would he have thought I… didn’t know where your locker was?”

“What guy?”

“Some guy with weird hair.” Duo dug through one of his pants pockets with his free hand, and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “He handed me this in trig.”

Heero opened the note; half a glance was all it took to solve the mystery. “This is Quatre’s handwriting,” he said dismissively. “The guy you saw was probably Trowa, his boyfriend, running errands for him as usual. Quatre is a sort of… social guru. He knows who everyone’s dating, and everyone’s schedule, and a lot more about the entire school than he should. Of course he knows you aren’t actually my boyfriend.”

After a long, pensive silence, Duo said slowly, “Well… I don’t see why I can’t be.”

Heero found himself blushing hot all of a sudden. “What?” He barely got the word out coherently in his surprise and embarrassment.

“Not for real,” Duo assured him hastily, undoubtedly marking Heero’s flustered reaction. “But if everyone already thinks we’re together, why not let them keep thinking that? Then your friends wouldn’t keep bugging you to find a date, you wouldn’t have to admit you made the whole thing up, and you could get on with your life in peace.”

“That… that sounds like a perfect setup.” Having regained his composure, at least outwardly, Heero was able to speak in a fairly businesslike tone. “But… not to sound ungrateful or anything… why?”

Duo shrugged. “We’re already going the same direction to get home… I’m going to be working most days, and if you’re going to be doing homework, why not let people think we’re spending all our time together after school?”

“And…” It was a fantastic-sounding plan, but there was a side to it that Duo hadn’t touched on. “And at school?”

“Well, you seem like a decent guy, and I never mind having new friends to hang out with.” Duo grinned. “But even if we don’t hang out all that much at school, it won’t look weird if it still looks like we’re going home together every day, right? And if it turns out we really can’t stand each other at all, we can claim we broke up and just end the whole thing.”

So overwhelmed was Heero by the abruptness of this unbelievably fortuitous idea and the apparent quickness of Duo’s resolve, he couldn’t for a moment say anything. Finally, though, he managed, “But why would you do this? It’s… it seems really nice of you… and you just met me…”

Again Duo shrugged. “Why not? I’m going to be busy too; it’ll be nice if people aren’t bugging me about dating either.”

“But what if you want to go out with someone?”

“Why should I? Truth is, I got a lot going on: I’ve already got hours of homework after only three days, and I have a full-time job.” He gave a nod of satisfaction so brisk it made his braid bounce. “No, I think this will work out really well. I mean,” he added with a sidelong glance at Heero, “if you want to. Don’t let me push you into it if you’d rather just–”

“No, no!” Heero broke in hastily. “You’re right; it seems perfect. I just…” He scratched his head a little nervously. “Just can’t believe my luck.”

“It does all seem kindof astrology or whatever, doesn’t it?” In a deep, portentous voice Duo announced, “The stars aligned that day to throw together two strangers on the path of destiny.” Then his demeanor changed entirely as he asked casually, “What’s your sign?”

“Uh…” Thrown off-balance by Duo’s sudden alteration of tone, Heero struggled to remember. “Pisces, I think?”

“Hmm. No good for a Saggitarius like me. Good thing we won’t really be dating.”

Heero supposed that was as valid a reason as any to be glad they wouldn’t really be dating. “So you’re interested in astrology?” he asked cautiously.

“Sortof. It’s fun to follow. I like reading horoscopes and seeing how stupidly general they are. Like every single one of them could probably apply to anyone, no matter when you were born. The one I just read for myself the other day — no, actually, it wasn’t for myself, sorry; it was for Cancer — it was talking about relationships, and……”

The next mile, spent discussing astrology and Duo’s semi-satirical interest in it, was enough to convince Heero that some stars must indeed have aligned in order to bring them to this pass: his new fake boyfriend, with whom he would, presumably, be spending at least some time on a regular basis for a while, wasn’t just quickly decisive and unexpectedly understanding and helpful; he was also very entertaining. Heero was enjoying the conversation so much that he found himself a little reluctant to stop at the corner where he needed to break away from Duo’s homeward path.

“I have to go this way,” he said, pointing.

“Oh.” Duo looked in that direction, then on down the street where he needed to go. “Hey, I don’t have to work today, and I’m just going to go home and do homework… do you want to actually hang out? Might as well do homework together as separately, right?”

Marveling at the ease with which Duo suggested so friendly an activity to someone he’d just met, but seeing nothing wrong with the idea, Heero said, “Yeah, why don’t you come to my house?” He added somewhat warningly, “If you’re serious about doing homework. Because I have a lot of it.”

“Now, what would make you think I’m ever not totally serious about anything?” Duo demanded in the most innocent of tones as he followed Heero around the corner.

***

Duo had rather hoped to coincide with Heero on the way to school on Monday, but thought the difference in timing between a walker and a cyclist was a decent enough explanation for why he didn’t. Although he’d never hated school the way some people did, it wasn’t exactly his favorite pastime either — but today he was actually quite interested in being there. Having a secret was always fun, as was putting on a show for people; and becoming better acquainted with the quiet, intelligent Heero had its attractions as well.

Besides, this time when someone Duo didn’t know came up to him in the hall and asked what struck him as an extremely rude personal question having to do with the accuracy of the portrayal of Japanese men’s anatomy in anime porn — an inquiry whose significance would have gone completely over his head just a few days before — he was able to reply immediately and cheerfully that he would be quite willing to dole out punches to the face of anyone else that was curious.

The weather was cold, but evidently Heero’s group of friends wasn’t going to let a little thing like January deter them from eating in their customary outside spot. Anything to maintain their territory and avoid freshmen, Duo supposed. And the central courtyard was pretty nice, if a bit of a walk from the cafeteria if you happened to be buying school lunches (which, Duo had determined after some calculations, were cheaper in the long run than trying to figure out something else every single day). So the only problem left was coming up with an explanation for why he hadn’t eaten lunch with Heero last week, why he was eating with him today, and why he might not be again in the future.

Interestingly, Heero was more taciturn with his friends than he had been with a complete stranger on Friday, and evidently they’d been unable to get a thing out of him last week regarding his newly-arrived boyfriend. Since Heero had mentioned in some embarrassment that he’d put off seeking Duo out because he hadn’t been sure what to say to him, it shouldn’t be too great a surprise that he hadn’t discussed the matter with anyone else either. But it also meant that his lunch crowd was even more curious than they might otherwise have been because of the perceived secrecy.

They mobbed Duo the moment he appeared, a little later than most of them due to the aforementioned walk from the cafeteria and a disorientation about the layout of the school that he hadn’t yet quite overcome. Space was made beside where Heero sat unobtrusively in a corner so Duo could squeeze in next to him — right next to him, which was a pleasant warmth in the cold outside air, but Duo couldn’t help wondering how Heero felt about it.

The reason he gave, in response to the immediate questions about why he’d been neglecting his boyfriend, was that he’d been checking out lunch venues throughout the school — which he in fact had. His response to the information that Heero had been unhappy here without him was a serious inquiry of Heero whether or not this was true, to which Heero replied with a slight quirk of a corner of his lips that he’d been fine. His astonishing answer to the demand that he eat lunch here with Heero and the rest of them from now on was something silly to the effect of his being an itinerant at heart and unable to stay in one place long or consistently.

Then, in order to cover up the whispering that started as they all tried to wrap their brains around this and began to speculate what it would probably mean for his relationship with Heero, Duo asked to be introduced to everyone. When it became obvious that Heero wasn’t about to take this task upon himself, it was performed instead by a girl named Relena. Duo was interested to note both the all-knowing Quatre and lackey Trowa among the group, and also that Heero didn’t actually seem terribly friendly with most of these friends of his. It made Duo wonder how it was that he’d come to eat lunch with them every day at all.

Once Relena was finished rattling off names (and accompanying facts that were probably designed for further identification but that meant nothing to Duo), she settled down against one of the large concrete squares stationed throughout the courtyard. These had undoubtedly been intended by their builders as benches, but the one in this corner was used by this group as a shelf and a seat-back; Relena’s current position in relation to it put her near and directly facing Duo in what almost resembled the attitude of an interrogator across a table from an unwilling informant.

“Now,” she said in a complacently authoritative tone, “you have to tell us everything: how you guys met, what it’s been like being long-distance, what made you decide to move up here — everything!”

Duo had actually given a fair amount of thought to this during the long hours he’d worked over the weekend, and entertained himself making things up; though he hadn’t consulted Heero yet about the stories he’d concocted, he deemed it unlikely that Heero had fabricated anything too terribly complicated on his own that would contradict what Duo had to say. However, though Heero might not object, within the context of the scam, to Duo waxing eloquent on their supposed relationship, he might mind for other reasons. The briefest glance in Heero’s direction showed him already blushing faintly just at hearing the questions asked; the answers, fictitious or otherwise, couldn’t improve his condition.

“You know,” Duo said instead, with a grin, “I’d rather not take all the mystery out of that story by telling it all at once; it’ll be so much better if I just give you little hints over time. So for now, how about I tell you all about the fabulous Duo Maxwell instead?”

Relena’s expression of slight discontent was the first hint Duo had that she was perhaps less interested in him personally than as he related to Heero. But all she said was, “OK, fine.”

So he spent a happy lunch hour complaining about how his foster parents hadn’t really wanted a son, but, rather, a minion they could shape and control; how they’d pressured him for as long as he could remember to prepare himself for a military career, and how he’d never been interested; how he’d put up with their demands and insistence for a few years and then rebelled, and how tense things had been thereafter; about the nuclear-level explosion he’d occasioned by announcing that he was bisexual; and, finally, about his lengthy and careful preparations, during the year he would turn eighteen, to get himself out the moment that happy event took place. That had been last December, and as soon as school had halted for the winter break he’d moved away from Gearing.

“I came here — I mean here specifically — because of Heero, obviously,” he concluded, joggling his ‘boyfriend’ slightly with his elbow. “But also because I knew this school was all famous for being so gay-friendly. I read that one article in that magazine–”

“You and everyone else in the world,” someone put in laughingly.

Duo grinned. “Yeah, the one where they said this was probably the only school in the country where you could get beaten up for being a homophobe — and I was like, ‘I am so there.’ I figured even transferring schools in the middle of my senior year would be worth it to come here for a while.”

“And he didn’t tell me any of this,” Heero put in unexpectedly. It was the first time he’d spoken in quite a while.

“What do you mean?” Relena sounded incredulously amused. “He didn’t tell you he was moving here?”

Heero shook his head.

Taking the cue, Duo grinned broadly and expanded on the subject. “It was pretty much the best surprise ever, if I do say so myself. Whenever I was complaining before about how much I hated living at home, Heero would remind me that high school was almost over, if I could just hold on a little longer…” This fictitious advice seemed consistent with what Duo had observed of Heero so far. “He had no idea I was already planning on getting out before high school was over!”

“So you just showed up here with, what, a truck full of stuff or something…” Incredulity now tinged with delight, Relena turned to Heero. “And that was the first you knew he was coming here?”

“Something like that,” Heero mumbled. He looked embarrassed, maybe because he was so bald-facedly lying, but Duo thought this had been a good move on Heero’s part: it would at least partially explain why he’d been in a weird mood last week — anyone might be a little stunned if his long-distance boyfriend suddenly joined him in his hometown without warning.

“So if you and Heero met and started going out last April…” This was the very innocent- and harmless-looking little blonde Quatre, and he had Duo’s immediate attention. “And you were getting ready to get away from your parents all of last year… that means you already knew you’d be moving and changing schools before you even met him. Did you have this school in mind then?”

Duo wondered where Quatre, who knew the truth, was going with this question. Maybe he was just trying to guide the topic back to something that would embarrass Heero less. Perfectly happy to accept the subject shift in that or any case, Duo nodded. “Yeah, ever since I read that article…”

“So you were already interested in this school,” Quatre mused, “and then you met Heero.” His pointed yet half-veiled gaze indicated his awareness that, with the way he’d worded it, this was totally accurate. “It’s kinda like destiny or something.”

Duo remembered his own comment last Friday about stars aligning, heard the giggles and charmed noises of some of the girls in the group, and grinned as he leaned over the very small distance it took him to rub his shoulder against Heero’s. He still wasn’t sure what Quatre meant by that line of inquiry, and didn’t know that it was likely to embarrass Heero any less, but he didn’t hesitate to agree, at least verbally.

It turned out he needn’t have worried so much about Heero’s level of embarrassment. On their way home that afternoon, almost immediately they were down the street away from the school and the ears of fellow students, Heero brought it up.

“I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t happy not to have to get into relationship talk over lunch,” he said, “but I’m not fragile. You’re obviously a better actor than me, so you’re welcome to choose what we talk about to everyone, and I’ll just try to keep up.”

“Well, I thought you did fine,” Duo assured him. “That idea that I supposedly didn’t tell you I was moving out here was pretty funny, and I thought you pulled it off perfectly.”

“Thank you.” Heero smiled slightly; it was the first time Duo had seen him do it, and it was remarkable what a striking, attractive change the expression made to his face. “This is…” The smile turned into a bit of a grimace as he admitted the unpalatable fact. “Well, I didn’t think I was going to like this, but actually it’s been kinda nice so far.”

Duo wondered whether this unobtrusive person had ever received so much positive attention at school before. “Even if some of it was embarrassing?”

“I said I’m not fragile,” said Heero, now somewhat irritably. “Just because I get a little embarrassed about something doesn’t mean anything changes.”

Now Duo had to wonder whether anyone around here took Heero at all seriously in a social sense. He was an exceptionally good student — Duo knew that quite well even after such a short time — and there was a general tendency among people their age to equate that with a lack of social skills. Maybe that was at least part of the reason everyone had been so interested to discover Heero ‘had a boyfriend.’

Anyway, Duo didn’t feel like trying to analyze Heero’s place in the high school strata right now. “We’re only a day in,” he said instead with a grin that was both cheerful and warning. “It could get better or worse from here.”

“And if it’s worse,” Heero said calmly, “we can always ‘break up.'”

It wasn’t real; since they weren’t actually dating, they couldn’t actually break up. But Duo couldn’t help considering this — particularly Heero’s self-reassuringly cool manner of delivery — rather cold. No wonder, again, everyone had so marveled at the idea of Heero with a boyfriend!

After this, however, they moved on to Heero’s favorite topic (homework), with the occasional mention thrown in of Duo’s job at a restaurant not far from his apartment, and Duo pretty much forgot he’d ever felt put off.

***

“So it ended up 37-20, and they’re obviously in. With Manning in there, they’re practically unstoppable. That guy can find a receiver every single time, no matter what kind of heat’s on him; it’s fucking amazing. There’s no way in hell San Francisco can… god, are you even listening?”

“Yes,” Sylvia replied abstractedly, “and I totally agree.”

“Then what did I just say?”

“That you’ve got a crush on Eli Manning,” she replied promptly, finally turning her eyes back toward him.

“Not funny,” Alex growled. “That’s what’s wrong with this fucking school… everyone assumes everyone’s fucking gay.”

“I was totally joking,” she assured him. “But you have been talking about football a lot.”

“Well, what would you rather talk about?” he demanded in that exasperated ‘Oh, my god, why can’t girls ever make sense?’ tone guys sometimes used, glancing around to see what kept grabbing her attention past his left shoulder. Evidently he couldn’t tell what she was looking at, for he turned back to her with no enlightenment on his face.

“Look again,” she commanded, grinning. “Aren’t they totally cute?”

His expression darkened. “I’m not looking again if it’s just to see something ‘cute.'” Then, briefly, a flicker of puzzlement crossed his face and, contrary to his words, he did look again. “Oh, god,” he said as he slowly turned back. “You’re talking about that new guy Duo and that nerd guy, aren’t you? Please, Sylvia, please tell me Duo’s not gay.”

“He’s not gay,” she said immediately.

Alex breathed a huge, exaggerated sigh of relief. “Good, because he’s in my P.E. class, and if I thought–”

“He’s bi,” Sylvia broke in.

“So he is gay! Goddammit, he’s probably been staring at my ass in the locker room ever since he got here!”

Sylvia tried not to laugh. Alex actually seemed angry, but she couldn’t feel sorry for him. “I totally wouldn’t blame him if he did,” she said. “And why would he anyway? He’s together with Heero.”

Alex appeared somewhat consoled by her flirtatious remark, and also curious in spite of a very strong inclination not to be. “Is he? I heard he played soccer at his old school… and Heero’s in, like, five different Honor Societies… why would they–”

“Duo’s totally got a 3.8,” Sylva said, proud of her inside knowledge. “Or at least that’s what he had at his old school; I don’t know about here. I think Heero’s got, like, a 4.7 or something, but anyway they’re both really good students. Probably,” she added in satisfaction, “because they spend, like, every day after school at Heero’s house doing homework.”

“You sure that’s what they’re doing?” Alex asked darkly.

“No,” she tittered. “But they won’t come out with us on Fridays, and they always go home together. Duo doesn’t always eat lunch with us, because I guess he’s already got a lot of friends all over the school, even though it’s been, what, like, three weeks? And I think Heero misses him at lunch, but with Heero you can never tell.” She laughed again. “Anyway, they always go home together.”

“Why are you so interested in this?” Alex’s tone was suspicious as he closed his locker, gave the couple they were discussing one last, somewhat venomous look, and turned away to walk down the hall.

Following him, Sylvia answered cheerfully. “Because I’ve been eating lunch with Heero practically every day for two years now, and we’ve never seen him go out with anyone, and we always thought it would be cool if he did, and now he finally is!”

“I can’t believe that Duo guy’s gay.” This was more in muttered apostrophe than as any sort of reply to Sylvia.

“He’s bi,” she corrected.

“Oh, come on, like any girl would go out with a guy who’d been with another guy,” he said harshly.

I would!”

“God, would you? Have you? Seriously, if you say yes, you are not getting a ride home.”

That, Sylvia thought, was a terribly rude comment, but she had to admit that she never had gone out with a bisexual guy… and she didn’t want to jeopardize her chances of a date with Alex on Friday by calling him on his homophobia. She did, however, as a sort of passive rebellion, keep talking about Heero, and how pleased she was to see him with the very likeable Duo, all the way out to the student parking lot and half the way home.

***

The previous three Januaries had been the heaviest homework months of the school year, as if the teachers were trying to make up for the long winter break and get the new calendar year started off right, and this January had sustained that trend admirably.

“And you know how many pages he wants?” Duo was complaining as they made their usual way out one day near the end of the month. “Freaking ten! That’s practically a book! And he was very specific about margin widths and font sizes, too, so we can’t cheat.”

“Triple-space it,” Heero suggested.

Duo stared at him as if he’d never seen him before. “You’re a genius!”

Heero, who didn’t stoop to such tactics himself but somehow knew them all, and who moreover had written two seven-page essays this month and was inclined to feel sorry for his companion, gave a sympathetic look.

“But, seriously, I’ll still end up having to write eight or nine pages,” Duo groaned. “Who does that?”

“Have you chosen a topic?”

“I was thinking the Civil War.”

Heero laughed. “You can’t just do ‘the Civil War.’ That’s way too general.”

“Way too General Lee?”

Heero rolled his eyes.

“Well, I’ll figure something out. Stupid research paper.”

“Just wait ’til college. We’ll be writing twenty-page research papers, and we won’t have nearly as long to finish them.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. How’s it going with Stage, by the way?”

Willum Stage University, located in a town called Placette only a couple of hours’ drive from here, was the school Heero had in mind, and he’d just finished the application process earlier this week. For this he was duly congratulated, after which they fell silent for a block or so — one of them, presumably, still mulling over the paper that had been assigned in his history class today. But it was just occurring to Heero to wonder something about Duo.

Finally he asked. “Where do you want to go to college? I’ve never heard you mention.”

Duo pushed out his lips in a silly, almost pouty way and looked sidelong at Heero. “Iiiii don’t know if I do want to go to college,” he said a little reluctantly.

Surprised, Heero said, “Really? You’re a good student; I thought…”

“Yeah, that’s how everyone reacts,” Duo mumbled, “which is why I don’t talk about it much.”

“Everyone does tend to assume we’ll all be doing the same things once we’re done with school,” said Heero carefully, “but… some people work for a while first… some people travel… I guess some people don’t go to college at all…”

Duo made a weary, protesting noise. “You make it sound like it’s a really weird concept.”

“College has been my goal for as long as I can remember,” Heero admitted apologetically. “What do you have in mind instead?”

“I kinda want to be a chef.” Duo apparently didn’t have a great deal of hope that this would be in any way acceptable; his parents probably had something to do with that.

It sounded fine to Heero; he didn’t even have to give it much thought. “So, a culinary school, then?”

“Yeah, maybe.” Evidently heartened by the lack of immediate condemnation from Heero, Duo went on more enthusiastically. “What I think would be really cool is to have a combination restaurant and car repair shop so people could drop off their cars for whatever and then come inside and eat! Except I don’t actually want to run the place, I just want to do the cooking. I might take a few business classes just so I’ll have some idea what’s going on, but mostly my plan is to do some other cooking jobs so I can get really good at that and save up enough money to find a partner who can handle the business end of things while I make all the awesome food. And of course we’ll need a really good mechanic who…” He paused. “I lost you at ‘combination restaurant and car repair,’ didn’t I?”

Trying very hard to stifle his laughter and speak seriously, Heero said, “No, no, I think it’s a great idea.” In truth he considered it a remarkably childlike idea: something not necessarily impractical or inappropriate, but that few adults would come up with. Obviously one of those few was Duo, whom Heero couldn’t help considering, in light of this, rather adorable. Forcing calm upon himself he reiterated, “Really. Not a bad idea at all.”

Across the bike that separated them, Duo peered suspiciously at Heero. “You mean it?”

Solemnly Heero nodded.

Breaking into a brilliant grin, Duo exulted, “Hah! You’re the best ‘boyfriend’ ever!”

With a slight blush Heero said, “Who you should really talk to is my mom. She sometimes does catering. Just for small events, because it’s just her and a friend doing the cooking, but she still knows some things about the business…”

“Oh! That explains why she always has the Best Snacks Evar for us whenever I’m at your house doing homework! I meant to get the recipe for those little potato skin things, but I forgot. How come you didn’t tell me she did catering??”

“I didn’t realize you were interested.”

Duo frowned. “It’s probably not good that we ‘boyfriends’ don’t know all this stuff about each other. I mean, what if someone asked? Anyway, it’s definitely not good that we real, actual friends don’t know.”

Unexpectedly pleased at having Duo refer to him as a real, actual friend, Heero suggested, “We should have a question and answer session.”

“Yes! Yes, we should! OK, let me think of questions.”

This activity occupied them the rest of the way to Heero’s house. There, because Duo wanted to harass Heero’s mother and Heero wanted to do his homework, they agreed that the best way to go about this was for each of them to write down a list of questions, which they would then exchange and answer in between their other tasks as they had time and inclination.

Between the culinary discussion in which Mrs. Yuy was happy to indulge Duo for quite some time and the homework that Duo, who wasn’t nearly as irresponsible as he sometimes acted, started in on afterward, it wasn’t until nearly two hours later that they gave each other their questions. And then, not for the first time that day, Heero had to try to stifle his laughter.

1. What’s your favorite kind of ice cream?

2. What was one thing you used to want to be when you grew up that totally changed?

3. If you could take the characters from any movie and put them into a new movie about a DANCE COMPETITION, which movie and characters would you choose and why?

4. If you could have any animal in the world for a pet (and it would be friendly to you no matter what it was), what would you choose?

5. Do you have any awesome tattoos, and how do you feel about tattoos?

These weren’t really the sort of questions Heero had had in mind, and totally dissimilar to his list, which was about things like politics and important formative experiences… but honestly he was rather looking forward to answering them. Not only that, but it struck him after a few moments of thought that Duo actually had the right idea: Heero had conveyed plenty about his plans for the future and other such serious topics; it was the extracurricular aspects of his personality Duo would know least about at this point — and vice versa for Heero about Duo.

So, setting aside for the moment the book he was reading for English and the notes he was taking thereon, he centered Duo’s sheet of questions in front of him and set down his pencil without looking in order to choose one at random. Upon rereading it, he decided he would need more space than what Duo had allowed him, and extracted a fresh sheet of paper.

Am I limited to animals? he began writing. Because if it will be friendly to me no matter what it is, a banyan tree……

***

Of the two of them, Duo seemed to be the more consistently aware of the deception they were perpetuating and how best to keep it up. This was the case, he believed, for two reasons: first, the plot had been his idea originally, and he was probably enjoying it more and therefore more invested; second, Heero’s insistence on not dating seemed to be of long standing, and Duo was starting to think his ‘boyfriend’ had never actually gone out with anyone at all and wasn’t really sure how it was done (and therefore what he should be doing to imitate it).

This was both surprising and entirely predictable: surprising because Heero was at the very least an excellent homework companion and quite good-looking (and what more did you really need in high school?), predictable because he was also so damn serious about everything and so single-mindedly dedicated to the future. Homework, homework, homework… this and college applications were to him, evidently, the only suitable occupations for a high school senior. And while Duo was finding that doing homework with Heero was actually surprisingly fun — especially when questionnaires were involved to break up the monotony — he thought Heero could stand to be a little more aware of their ‘romance.’

So, when Valentine’s Day was on the horizon and the student council had set up a related fundraiser, Heero sent Duo roses and chocolate for the occasion without even knowing that he’d done so.

Duo pored over the limited selection of candy and flowers on the order form for a good ten minutes before filling it out in as precise an imitation as he could manage of Heero’s excessively neat, tiny handwriting. Then he tried to convince Trowa to take it to a member of the student council (or designated representative) on his behalf, since verisimilitude would suffer otherwise and Trowa was one of two other people in the school that knew the truth.

“No,” said Trowa. “This little game of yours is stupid.”

“You brought me that note about where his locker was!”

“That was for Quatre,” Trowa replied in a ‘that’s totally different’ sort of tone.

He’ll do it for me,” grumbled Duo. “Except I won’t see him until lunch, and it’s so hard to get him alone… it’ll look really weird if I ask to speak to him privately or whatever.” He gazed at Trowa beseechingly. “Please? I’ll split the chocolate with you?”

Trowa raised a brow. Actually he might have been raising both, but with that hair it was impossible to tell. “And that won’t look weird? Everyone already thinks it’s suspicious that you don’t eat lunch with him every day… it won’t help your case if you give half the chocolate he supposedly sent you to another guy.”

“I am a man of many friends,” Duo said loftily. “Anyone who knows Heero at all knows he’d much rather eat lunch without me than get dragged around to all sorts of–” He cut himself off, since there was no reason to be making this excuse at this point to this person. “Aaahhh, come on, Trowa, you’ve gotta help me out!”

Trowa shook his head.

“You know Quatre will probably just ask you to do it once I ask him anyway… why not skip the middle step?”

At this eminently valid point, Trowa’s stony expression softened a trifle.

Encouraged, Duo went on. “Quatre wouldn’t ruin this for us… and he wouldn’t like it if you did…”

“Fine,” Trowa sighed. “Give me the stupid order form. Only don’t get angry if I lose it or forget about it.”

Though Duo had known him for only a month and a half or so, he was already able to postulate at least tentatively that Trowa had never lost or forgotten anything in his life. With a big grin he handed over the envelope containing the order form and his payment. “You better not!” he said cheerfully. “Thank you so very much!”

Trowa just turned wordlessly away.

The appeal of this procedure was not so much the items themselves — roses and chocolates were neither rare nor too terribly expensive even for high-schoolers — but, rather, the fact that they would be delivered in the middle of classes all through the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. This way, the recipient could be surprised and delighted, and possibly delightfully embarrassed, in front of various classmates, thus flaunting their relationship status before the world. And this relationship was one that could do with some judicious flaunting right about now.

Valentine’s Day was next Tuesday, and it was the Friday beforehand when Duo’s present ‘from’ his ‘boyfriend’ arrived. Since this had been going on for several days now, everyone in the room knew what it meant when the student wearing sparkly hearts bobbling on a red headband entered the classroom; the teacher gave a longsuffering sigh, a couple of the girls in back squealed with joy, and Duo craned his neck hopefully.

Having no idea when his offering would appear but knowing one was coming at some point, he was more interested, perhaps, than anyone else in the class. Given that he’d seen no reason not to be extravagant, and had ordered the opulent chocolate sampler box and a full dozen roses, he should have been able to tell right away whether or not his purchase was being delivered now… but it appeared that there were several orders to distribute in this class, and the wise delivery boy, knowing his showmanship, saved Duo’s for last. So it took Duo a minute to be satisfied that it was finally his turn, that he could sit back and prepare to be surprised and delighted and maybe delightfully embarrassed.

He really was pleased. There was a lot of chocolate, which looked pretty delicious, and the roses were a nice mix of colors and smelled good. But mostly he liked the reaction he got from the rest of the class and the guarantee of a compounded reaction throughout the rest of the school throughout the rest of the day. Anyone that didn’t think Heero was a romantic devil with impeccable taste would have reason to change their mind when this gossip hit them.

Which reminded Duo that he should probably inform Heero about this at some point.

Heero’s remark after school, however — “I hope I get some of that chocolate” — made it clear that Duo needn’t worry about pouring out the story.

“It was really very sweet of you,” Duo replied in a tone of mock adoration.

“So I’ve been told by at least four people.” Despite Heero’s flatness, it was obvious he wasn’t really unhappy about the circumstance.

“And, sure, you can have some of the chocolate,” Duo grinned. “Though I should remind you that you have a mom who makes you super-delicious food all the time!”

Heero gave him a long, serious look. “Yes,” he said at last, quietly, “I do.”

“Whoa, hey,” protested Duo, “I wasn’t trying to be like, ‘Oh, your mom’s so much cooler than mine’ or anything!” And when Heero’s expression did not change, he demanded, “You’re not feeling sorry for me, are you?”

Turning his face from Duo, Heero was completely inscrutable for half a block. Finally he said, “No, I’m not sorry for you at all.”

Duo made an offended noise. “That’s so cold!”

“I thought you didn’t want me to feel sorry for you.” Now there was a hint of laughter in Heero’s voice.

“Yeah, but you don’t have to be like that about it.”

“I’m not sorry for you,” Heero explained in a tone that was part his usual solemnity and part amusement, “because you’ve done so well. You didn’t have a very good home situation, but you made the best of it and got out as soon as you could… and now you have an apartment and a job and plans for your future, and you don’t even act bitter about your parents or your past. Most of the time. I don’t think many people could have come through what you have and still been as… cheerful–” he frowned a bit, as if this wasn’t quite the right word– “as you are.”

Duo thought he was blushing a little at this totally unexpected praise. “Wow, Heero, thanks!” It wasn’t just the praise, though. His own reaction to it — a warmth that went beyond only his cheeks, tingling all through him — was totally unexpected too. With a wide grin he added, “Just for that, you can have as much chocolate as you want!”

And though Heero’s answering smile was triumphant, as if that was the goal he’d been aiming for with all those pretty words, Duo was no less pleasantly convinced that he’d meant them.

***

Relena felt she knew Heero better than most other people at this school did, for all they’d been buried in gossip about him recently. It wasn’t just because she’d been crushing on him so hard a couple of years back, either. Well, not entirely. She knew what people said about that, too, and she didn’t care. She still considered herself something of a Heero expert: she had hung around him, watched him, and dragged him into conversation probably more than anyone else had ever bothered to make the effort to do.

Because it was an effort. He could become quite animated on a topic that interested him even if it wasn’t homework, but getting that process started was a cold and brambly business for which most people just didn’t have the stamina. He could and sometimes did express concern for the issues of those around him, but it was almost as if he had to receive some sort of mysterious authorization from somewhere to feel that he was allowed to. And even Relena hadn’t quite figured out how to push the right buttons to get him to act like a human on a regular basis.

Sometimes at lunch it seemed he was listening quietly to the conversation around him even if he wasn’t taking part, but most of the time he was off in a different world (probably a world of homework) and would be irritable and only a little less laconic if you attempted to drag him out of it for something as unimportant as friendship. Assuming he even knew what that word meant.

It took the briefest look around at such times to see just how many friends Heero had… or claimed to have. Relena had long been fairly secure in the sad belief that he’d allowed her to drag him into this particular group solely in order to be able to claim he did have friends, so people wouldn’t get on his case about being more sociable… which was, she supposed, understandable. Certainly this little circle already gave him hell about his general unfriendliness.

Because he never came to their parties, never hung out with them anytime or anywhere besides lunch at school, never joined them for group discounts at the local amusement park or watched movies with them or came over to see so-and-so’s dad’s new motorcycle she was going to get to learn to drive, or anything. Almost nobody in the group had ever been to Heero’s house or even knew where he lived; those that had visited had done so in the context of group assignments for some class or other, hadn’t managed to see Heero’s bedroom, and had come away with far more information about his mom’s cooking than any other aspect of his home life.

And yet here was Duo, who had somehow gotten past everything that kept Heero distanced from everyone he called a friend and evidently knew exactly which buttons to push. Duo was at Heero’s house every day, apparently, talked to Heero all the time without annoying him, somehow even managed to make Heero smile on a regular basis…

Relena couldn’t help feeling a little wistful about this. She was over the crush, really, but she still liked Heero. It was great to see him so happily engaged with another person… but sometimes she still wished, for all she told herself not to, that she could be that person. After all, she’d tried so hard… not just to get him to pay attention to her specifically, but to realize that general sociability was a healthy, positive thing.

Duo was helping with that too. Heero was far more willing to join in the group discussion when Duo was a part of it, seemed much more interested in the doings and opinions of his fellows in echo of Duo’s interest. Admittedly he was still dreadfully bad at following gossip and keeping track of what was going on socially, especially outside their circle, but perhaps such minute interest wasn’t for everyone. In any case, Duo was obviously pulling him out of his shell a bit, and Heero was all the better for it.

Relena sighed at herself as she turned these thoughts over while perhaps not-so-clandestinely watching Heero and Duo over lunch. It was that smile that did it, really. She’d barely even been aware that Heero could smile, and now here he was doing it all the time. And apparently it brought out her obnoxious stalker side despite the fact that she had no trace of romantic intentions left toward him. She just wanted to be his friend (and, by extension, Duo’s, though that wasn’t nearly as difficult), and have him know that she was there for him. And maybe she wanted to make up for how she’d behaved before.

One thing she definitely planned on was proving to him, somehow, that she truly wasn’t chasing after him anymore, that he could feel safe around her. It would be nice to prove that to everyone else, too. She really had gone a bit overboard back when she’d been pursuing him; she supposed high school was full of embarrassing circumstances that must be regretted later, but she wasn’t finished looking back abashedly on that one yet.

Duo happened to glance around just then, and, catching her eye by chance, favored her with one of his big, friendly grins, so opposite Heero’s shy, precious little smiles. With the sudden thought that they were a couple of oddly disparate shapes that fit together remarkably well, she returned the smile warmly… and she thought that doing so served to dispel, just a little, some trace of suspicion that might have been in Duo’s eyes. It would be good to prove to him, too, that she wasn’t after his boyfriend. She would have to get working on that right away.

***

“I have today off!” Duo announced on Tuesday as they headed home from school.

“I know,” Heero replied. “You’ve been crowing about it ever since you got your schedule, but you never told me why it’s so exciting.”

“Because I have…” Duo dug around in a pocket. “A coupon that’s only good today! ‘Buy one regular price entree and one drink, get one entree of equal or lesser value and one drink free. Excludes alcohol.’ Might as well use it, right?”

“Have fun with that.”

“What, you think I’m going to eat two entrees on my own? You’re supposed to come with me.” Duo obviously saw that Heero was about to refuse with the usual excuse, for he went on quickly, “We can do homework there as easily as at your house… and I don’t want to waste the coupon…”

Heero supposed he was right. “What restaurant is it?”

“It’s actually not too far from my work.”

“Farther than I want to walk,” Heero concluded. “We’ll see if we can borrow my mom’s car.”

This permission granted and all the homework items Heero thought he would need packed, they headed for the restaurant in question. And once there and seated, Heero would have gotten right back up and marched right back out again, after his initial glance at the prices on the menu, if Duo hadn’t had that coupon.

He’d debated the merits of finding a part-time job during his last year and a half or so of high school, and decided that working only over the summers and concentrating fully on schoolwork the rest of the time was a better idea. As such, his parents still gave him an allowance… but that didn’t mean he had a lot of extra money floating around — or any inclination to spend what he did have on overpriced food. Splitting the cost of a single entree and drink with Duo, however, was acceptable.

It wasn’t the type of restaurant he would have chosen of his own accord in any case (which might have been why Duo had never mentioned the name of the place). The decor, layout, and advertising were clearly aimed at big groups of sociable people, and the waiter was trying too hard to be hilarious. But they were seated at a large booth with plenty of room to spread out homework across the table, and the music wasn’t too loud; it shouldn’t be a bad couple of hours.

Duo was decorating his trigonometry homework again. Heero couldn’t even begin to guess what his teacher made of the completed assignments, which were probably 125-150% as long as his classmates’. He put fancy borders around all the problems, and the number for each he drew ornately in a box like an illuminated letter in a book. And, just to be sure they weren’t overwhelmed by their surroundings, the figures and symbols involved in the problems themselves were big and bold.

Today’s theme seemed to be snakes (which it not infrequently was, since these were easy to make into borders and whatnot), and Duo had added a red pen to his previous lineup of black and blue, so the end result was even more colorfully squiggly than ever before. This only made Heero shake his head; they’d already had a ‘You’re going to get in trouble for that eventually’ / ‘No, I’m not!’ conversation, and there was little purpose in discussing it any further.

But then he noticed that Duo had somehow managed to draw a snake on the edge of his paper too.

Heero had always prided himself on the neatness of his homework, especially math. This snake, except for the wide-mouthed head that was pointed threateningly at one row, was approximately centered in the empty margin, and therefore didn’t necessarily negatively affect the look of the page… but he did wonder what his teacher would have to say about it. It had stripes and spots and a little heart in its tail.

Duo, surreptitiously watching him discover the serpentine embellishment, was trying to keep a straight face. Calmly Heero asked, “When did you even do this? I never saw you with my papers.”

“That,” Duo replied with swiftly-eroding solemnity, “is because I am a ninja. A snake ninja.”

“You don’t look much like one.” Heero could keep from smiling far longer than Duo; he always won these little unofficial contests.

“I mean I’m a ninja of snakes. Not, like, a snake that’s a ninja.”

“You don’t look much like any kind of ninja.”

“That’s just part of my disguise!”

Finally Heero broke down and returned Duo’s grin. “I’m just not sure what Mrs. Aberich thinks of ninja snakes.”

“Well, here, let me fix it,” Duo laughed, snatching the paper away from Heero and starting to add something to his design. Heero tried to get it back or otherwise prevent this, but Duo scooted out of his reach and kept at whatever he was doing. When the math homework was finally retrieved, more because Duo was finished than because Heero was assiduous, the latter discovered that Duo had written in a column under the existing picture, This snake escaped from Duos homework because Heeros looked SO MUCH MORE DELICIOUS.

Heero gave a pained laugh and added apostrophes to their names.

“Oh, wait!” said Duo in a tone of epiphany. “Hang on, let me–”

Ready to defend to the death this time, Heero drew back, but battle was forestalled by the arrival of their food. They had to make room for it on the table amongst their various assignments and things, and by the time the plates were settled and the waiter had delivered a few bad lines and left to get them some drink refills, they’d lost track of the snake issue. They might have gotten back to it if, oddly, someone they knew hadn’t appeared at their table just as they started eating.

“Wow, Heero, I didn’t expect to see you here! Like, ever!” Sylvia was looking very pretty with glittery barrettes in her hair and a face full of makeup; she must have stopped at home after school to change clothing, too, since her current outfit definitely suggested ‘date.’ Funny coincidence that she was here, though.

“Duo had a coupon,” Heero answered her.

As Sylvia’s gaze roamed across the homework-covered table and her mouth tried futilely and obviously not to smile, Duo greeted her too. “Hi, Sylvia. Are you actually officially going out with that guy now?”

Heero subtly followed his slight gesture, and caught the tail end of a dirty look from the beefy blonde football player just settling into a booth not far off.

“Yeah, kinda…” Sylvia did not look back at Alex; she knew what Duo meant.

“‘Yeah, kinda’ is not officially,” said Duo sternly.

“Well, yeah, we’re going out.” Sylvia giggled a little nervously.

“That’s too bad,” Duo stated. “‘Cause he’s an asshole.”

She squirmed. The fact that she didn’t jump immediately to the defense of her new boyfriend told them a thing or two. None of their friends thought much of her taste, but apparently, in her mind, the lure of dating a popular running back overrode any concern that the guy might also be a complete jerk.

Heero had never bothered to state his opinion, since most of the time he wasn’t directly involved in conversations on the subject and had never been the type of break in. At the moment, however, he was involved. “Yes, he is,” he agreed quietly.

Sylvia gave him a startled look, but all she said, in weak excuse, was, “Well… I’ve gotta go eat. Good to see you guys here!”

Heero did not watch her walk away, only shook his head and returned to his meal.

Their conversation after this was quiet and predictable: what did people — especially girls — see in guys like that? They had come to no satisfactory answer before they were interrupted again, this time by an accusatory voice saying, “Heero! This looks suspiciously like a date to me! On a Tuesday! Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”

Before Heero could overcome his surprise at this second, even greater coincidence of Relena showing up at the same restaurant both he and Duo and Sylvia and Alex were patronizing today — not to mention his immediately-aroused suspicion at the circumstance — Duo jumped in and neatly parried her unexpected attack. Waving a casual hand at the paper-littered table he said, “If this is what you call a ‘date,’ your group things on Fridays must be a lot less fun than I’ve always figured.”

Relena laughed. “OK, well…” She looked as if she might want to pursue this, but she’d been throwing ever-more-frequent glances at the booth where the first coincidence sat. “I have to go say hi to Sylvia and totally ignore Alex,” was her abrupt goodbye. And she did exactly that, ostentatiously, and finally took a seat down at the end of the row with someone whose back was to them.

“Who is that?” Duo asked, peering in that direction with wide and extremely curious eyes. “Who’s she here with on Valentine’s Day?”

Valentine’s Day. It was Valentine’s Day, wasn’t it? That started to explain things.

Heero glanced around. “Looks like Wufei Chang.”

“Oh!” Duo appeared pleased.

“So… this coupon of yours…”

Duo cleared his throat.

“You didn’t happen to–”

“Bathroom!” Duo announced, jumping up.

The moment he was gone, Heero shuffled through the papers on the opposite side of the table and located one he’d noticed earlier: a printed worksheet for Duo’s German class that was only a page and a half long. Working quickly, Heero began to fill the resultant empty space on the second paper with an admittedly rather clumsy drawing of a giant spider with stripes, spots, and a cluster of heart-shaped eyes.

So intent was he on getting this finished and the assignment replaced before Duo returned that he didn’t even look up when Quatre’s voice said from nearby, “I thought we might run into you guys here.”

Heero just grunted.

“And what a romantic setting it is,” added Trowa, rustling a couple of the papers on the table to indicate what he meant. There was no sarcasm in his tone; he didn’t need it.

Heero just grunted again.

Quatre laughed. “We’ll leave you to it, then.” And they did.

A top hat and a monocle and a speech bubble that read, in Japanese, You’ll never figure out what this says, completed Heero’s artistic endeavor, and as he was adding them he was thinking about his absent ‘boyfriend.’

Surprisingly, he wasn’t annoyed at Duo for essentially tricking him into a public appearance like this. In fact, the circumstance didn’t bother him at all. They were getting their homework done, and the food was pretty good, and — assuming the coupon actually existed — he’d already determined the price wasn’t bad.

And besides that, he was… enjoying himself. He liked being with Duo.

He had thought, back when they’d met, that Duo was out of his league, and he’d worried at first that their deception would be all the more difficult because everyone else would think so too. But it hadn’t taken him long to realize that Duo was, in fact, in a league of his own. He didn’t conform to any of the standards and stereotypes with which the high school world was so rife. He had friends everywhere, 9-12, A-Z, utterly regardless of cliques, and everyone in school seemed to love him — but in a casual, subtle way that didn’t turn him into one of the high-profile popular kids with reputations to maintain.

That didn’t mean Duo was undiscriminating about people, though. He’d known since his first meeting with that guy Alex that Sylvia was better off without, and he wasn’t afraid to say so. He wasn’t afraid of anything, it seemed. He drew snakes all over his math homework — math homework that was, as far as Heero could tell, 100% correct — because he never hesitated to do whatever he wanted, even if it seemed silly or childish or inscrutable to those around him.

Heero had been skeptical about his good luck when he’d first met Duo, but hadn’t, at the time, had any idea just how well things had worked out, just how lucky he’d really been, because he hadn’t known yet what kind of person Duo was. He didn’t think he was completely in the know even now, but finding out was proving unexpectedly pleasurable, even when it involved being tricked into pseudo-dates.

That didn’t mean he didn’t fix his ‘boyfriend’ with a very stern look upon his return.

Duo grinned sheepishly and tried to head him off. “I see Quatre and Trowa are here.”

“I expect they have a coupon,” said Heero dryly.

“Yeah, they were kinda for sale from the student council… you know, along with the flowers and candy and stuff. The coupons, I mean, not Quatre and Trowa.” Duo’s eyes and the arrangement of his expressive lips as he slid back into the booth had a trace of anxiety and simultaneously a hint of bravado, and he was just so cute that Heero couldn’t help grinning at him. In response, Duo’s face changed to a mixture of relief and smugness, which made Heero laugh and shake his head.

“Happy Valentine’s Day?” Duo offered.

“Finish your food,” Heero ordered, still smiling. “And do your German homework.”

***

“Hi, Sally.”

This greeting in passing was accompanied by a hand briefly on her shoulder, not so much part of the hello as a gesture that said, ‘I’ve been forced to walk really close to you by the crowd in the hall; don’t step back suddenly.’ Sally felt herself stiffen right up at the voice and the touch, felt a slight flush rise to her face, and reflected that it was getting worse. She could practically measure scientifically the increase in her level of awkwardness with each encounter… but nobody else ever seemed to notice.

Though the other girl was already a pace or two past her, Sally managed to return the greeting more or less audibly and coherently. And nobody would ever have guessed from her tone that there might be more she wanted to say; her natural easy frankness entirely precluded any such assumption. Neither would anyone have guessed that a student at this school, especially the self-assured and determined Sally Po, might be suffering from that problem.

The hall was indeed very crowded at the moment. It often was at the end of the day — being, to the weary dismay of those with lockers there, the final corridor between the fleeing masses and the student parking lot — and therefore it wasn’t unusual for passing conversations to happen right in Sally’s ear as she was packing up to go home. These days it didn’t even startle her when it burst out loudly all at once, as it did now, in the form of hearty laughter.

“How could he actually say that?” the laughing voice was demanding incredulously. It was familiar, but Sally still had to glance around to be sure of whom it belonged to: Duo Maxwell, the only person in her German class that didn’t tease her about her name (though she was fairly sure he wanted to). Now there was someone with no problem whatsoever admitting he was gay… or wearing his hair in a way no other guy in the school would dare even if they could get it to grow that long. Sally envied him both the lack of inhibitions and the length of tress.

His boyfriend, Heero, was walking beside him. Sally knew him only a little; she’d had a few classes with him, but that hadn’t served to acquaint her with anything more personal than what a good student he was. Most of the upperclassmen, however, had been lousy with gossip about these two back at the beginning of the semester, and thence she had learned that shy, studious Heero was generally thought to be extremely lucky to have attracted the attention of such a popular, sporty guy as Duo.

Sally wasn’t really qualified to form an opinion, but the one she’d formed anyway was that, what with Duo’s somewhat flighty nature (apparent to even a casual acquaintance) and Heero’s grounding stability (equally easy to see), it was rather the other way around.

“It seems fine to me,” Heero was responding to Duo’s amused question. They’d been stalled just beyond Sally’s locker by some group’s clever and polite decision that the middle of the hall was the best place to cluster up for a private, five-person conversation. “Just because he knew the whole class would disagree doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have said it.”

“Yeah, you’re right, of course, you’re right.” Duo was still laughing despite this concession. “He’s never going to hear the end of it, though.”

Those two were not the only ones inconvenienced by the sudden stationary discussion, but some people didn’t bother looking far enough ahead to see what the actual holdup was, and just blamed whatever stood immediately in front of them. One such was a sour-faced blonde guy, who remarked in one of those tones that pretended to be under his breath but was still loud enough for everyone in the immediate vicinity to hear, “If these fags would get out of the fucking way…!”

He’d used a word that was dangerous around here in any context not of reclamation, but she supposed he felt safe in his status as a large and successful member of the football team. Still, she was curious what the general reaction would be, and turned quietly once again to watch.

General reaction was there none — again, big football player — but the fags at whom the irritated statement had been specifically directed had definitely taken note. Heero’s lips were compressed into a hard line that made him look a little frightening, and there was an equally threatening glitter in Duo’s eyes. But their only response was for Duo to throw his arm around Heero’s shoulders and say in a loud voice, “Man, I can’t wait to get you home.” And though Heero was visibly blushing at this still-relatively-tame public display of affection, he made no attempt to evade it or alter their arrangement as the knot of students beyond them finally loosed and allowed them — and the jackass behind — to pass.

Sally wanted to applaud. Someone cowed by the remark might have pretended to ignore it while slinking off and making no such affirmative gesture; someone overreacting might have started a fight. And while beating a classmate up for being a homophobic jerk was no more appropriate than beating one up for being an innocent homosexual (that one article’s comments on the subject notwithstanding), it was similarly inappropriate not to stand up for what you were and what you believed. Those two had found the perfect medium, and sent a clear message to anyone watching that they weren’t going to let someone else’s behavior dictate their own. It struck Sally as a very mature reaction.

It struck her as something than which she could do no less.

Filled with new resolve, she turned back to her locker and closed it decisively. Shouldering her backpack, she hastened through the crush out into the student parking lot. There she scanned the area for one particular figure and, before she could lose her nerve, called out immediately she’d found her.

“Noin! Hang on! I need to talk to you!”

***

“So are you guys fucking?”

Duo didn’t usually run into Heero in the mornings before classes started, but today he’d tracked him down to tell him something or other, which latter was immediately forgotten when Diane Staltor, whom Duo knew from a couple of different classes, approached them with this personal question.

His eyes moved immediately to Heero, and found him an attractive shade of burgundy and quite clearly unable to speak. To buy them both time Duo said casually, “Why do you ask?”

“Hilde paid me to.” At this, across the hall, Hilde, undoubtedly catching her name even if she couldn’t hear the rest of it, squealed and darted away; apparently she’d neglected to order Diane not to divulge this bit of information.

“I… we… we’re…” Duo had never seen Heero so much at a loss for words and yet so apparently determined to get some out anyway. Evidently he hadn’t been in the least prepared for this perfectly logical and predictable inquiry, which Duo thought was simply adorable.

“Wellll,” Duo drawled, grin lop-sided beneath narrowed eyes, totally overriding Heero’s flustered attempts at denial, “you should go find Hilde and tell her it’s none of her goddamn business.”

Diane glanced at Heero, raised a brow, and said, “OK. Sure.”

“She’s going to tell her I practically said yes,” Heero managed eventually, long after Diane was gone.

“It can’t hurt our cause,” Duo reassured him. With a teasing smile he lowered his voice and wondered, “So who’s not fragile?”

Having returned to his usual placidity with his usual facility, Heero said, “I just didn’t expect someone to walk up and ask so bluntly.”

Duo had planned on eating lunch with some freshman friends today, but after the morning’s encounter decided to cancel that and join Heero’s group instead; Heero might need the moral support. They two weren’t nearly so consuming a topic as they had been at the beginning of the semester… but the news that any couple (even one that hadn’t been such a buzz at some point prior) was having sex and one of them was extremely embarrassed about it was sure to interest the student body. In fact, Duo had gotten oblique references to it in two of his three morning classes. And where he could just laugh it off, he wondered how Heero had been dealing.

Heero’s demeanor and expression were the same as ever when his ‘boyfriend’ joined him in the courtyard, but if the slightly-harder-than-usual way he leaned against Duo as the latter sat down was any indication, he appreciated Duo’s presence. There were a lot of surreptitiously-exchanged looks and a few surreptitiously-jabbed ribs among the rest of the group then, and an even greater number of low, private conversations than on most days, and it didn’t take long for Duo to become annoyed. Sure, it was natural to be curious, but couldn’t they see they were making Heero uncomfortable? These were supposed to be his friends.

Before Duo could decide what to do about this, however, Heero took care of it himself. He’d finished eating — one of the delicious-looking lunches his mom always packed so he could taste-test things for her — and, after brushing crumbs from his lap and setting aside his cute little compartmented lunchbox-thing, he suddenly stood. “Hey, you guys,” he announced. He didn’t wait for everyone’s attention, but went on immediately. “It’s nobody’s business but ours, but since it’s obviously all over school by now I might as well mention… Duo and I are not sleeping together.”

Everyone, whether or not they’d been listening at first, now stared at him for a long moment. Then there was some laughter, and a few inquiries why not (which they couldn’t possibly expect Heero would answer), before they mostly went back to their lunches. Heero resumed his seat beside Duo, red-faced but steady.

Duo was immensely impressed. He had no idea what that had cost Heero, who clearly hadn’t wanted to do it, but he was getting a good picture of the kind of inner strength his ‘boyfriend’ possessed. Heero might occasionally put it off when he didn’t know precisely what to do, but in the long run he never shirked his duty, no matter how unpleasant it was; though he was shy, he never shied away from anything he thought needed to be done. Duo might have teased him earlier about the ‘fragile’ comment and his blushy reaction to Diane’s questioning, but the truth was that Heero really was as solid as diamond. And sometimes as cold. Easily as beautiful.

It made Duo curious. And whenever he wanted to know something about Heero, there was at his immediate disposal a pretty sure way of finding out. So in his first class after lunch he pulled out a blank sheet of paper, made sure he appeared to be taking notes and that nobody around him was likely to indicate otherwise, and numbered the page one through five at decent intervals.

How five had come to be the standard he wasn’t sure, except that it was how many questions he’d originally written, but he had no objections… though he didn’t know that he had five separate questions in this instance. He chewed on his pencil, deciding exactly what he wanted to ask and how to word it.

In the end he came up with only two queries on the topic at hand, but he thought they were enough. The rest he filled with other random things he wanted to know, and was satisfied. Then, after class, he made sure to walk a route to his next one that would intercept Heero so he could hand him the folded paper. Heero accepted it without any hesitation or surprise; they’d done this exchange quite a bit since the first time, and he was used to Duo having thought of a new set for him sometime in the middle of the day.

What was less precedented was for Heero to answer it all during his next class and return it on the way to last period. In fact it was so unusual — the first time ever, if Duo recalled correctly — that, despite needing to pay actual attention in this particular class, he spread the page out behind his open textbook and read through the entire thing.

Heero not infrequently wrote short essays in response to Duo’s questions, and usually needed at least the back of the paper if not another sheet or two, but this time — probably due to the circumstances in which he’d done his answering — he’d squeezed what he had to say into the spaces between the questions in his tiny handwriting. It made Duo smile (and sometimes squint) as he read over the page.

1. What IS your opinion on people having sex at our age?

Depends on how mature they are and what kind of relationship they’re in. I can’t make a blanket statement. I have no moral issue with it, if that’s what you mean, but I don’t think it’s always a good idea, either. Condoms always are, though… except for lesbians, of course. Actually… what DO lesbians use?

Duo laughed silently, not sure he knew. He noted also that Heero hadn’t picked up on (or at least responded to) the unwritten, If we really WERE dating, ever since last April, what would we have gotten up to by now? No real surprise there… though Duo would definitely have liked to know. His eyes moved down to the next question.

2. What would you say if I told you I’m not a virgin?

Probably, “Neither am I.”

The brevity of this answer spoke far more than its actual words conveyed, and yet not nearly enough. It managed simultaneously to say, Not being a virgin is not a problem, but I don’t really want to discuss it right now, and, Hey, Duo, wouldn’t you like to be desperately curious about this forever more?? Duo stared down at it for a long time, wondering… wondering a lot of things, really, cursing himself for his assumptions, hoping that someday Heero would open up to him about this but fearing it would never happen.

The next three questions were less crucial, but not unimportant.

3. What was your favorite cartoon as a kid and why?

“Jackie Chan Adventures.” I wish I could say I had some deep or artistic reason for this, but in fact it was just because the main character was Asian and the kids at school thought I looked like him. Though, looking back, I don’t remember it being TOO bad; I guess I could have liked worse things. At least it had a plot.

Duo didn’t think he’d watched that show more than a couple of times, and could barely remember anything of it — but Heero’s reason for liking it was more interesting than any recollection of the series itself. It was a little too easy for a white guy like Duo to forget that growing up as a minority would have been an experience specifically different from his own; he might have some questions about that on his next list. For the moment, he moved on to the next question on this list.

4. If dragons were real, what color would they be?

Dragons would be the ultimate predators. Other animals like that that I can think of (lions, crocodiles, etc) don’t necessarily need to blend in to their surroundings but tend to do it anyway, so dragons probably would too. So it would probably depend on what type of environment they lived in: green and brown for forests, gold for deserts, etc. If they were intelligent dragons that were going to mix with humans, they’d probably be just as varied as humans are, but in a more lizard-like set of colors. My guess is greens and grays.

Duo definitely legitimately wanted to know important information like this, but another part of the reason he asked Heero such questions was that it was endlessly entertaining to get such answers. He wondered how many other people knew that Heero’s tendency to take everything seriously carried over to matters like this, or how much fun that was. Probably not many. And as for the last question…

5. Aren’t Hummers cool?

I can’t believe you asked me this three questions down from questions about sex. Or was that on purpose? Anyway, I would never own a Hummer. They’re not efficient in pretty much any way. But I guess they are pretty cool-looking. I saw a custom one once that was green with tropical flowers painted all over it.

Duo speculated that Heero had been running out of time when he’d gotten here, since it was unlike him not to go into detail about how Hummers weren’t efficient. Or maybe he’d thought it was enough to point out Duo’s inadvertent double entendre. Duo was definitely still blushing about that — not so much because he’d done it as that he’d done it without realizing — and might not have paid decent attention to talk of gas mileage and safety features in any case.

It was funny how, at the end of the day, Diane’s question of the morning had left both of them blushing, and only raised further questions, some of which must go unanswered. It was funny how every set of questions Heero answered made Duo want to write him out a new one, a longer one. The whole situation was pretty funny, really, but sometimes it was that ironic type of humor that almost stung more than it amused.

***

Anymore it was never much of a surprise to have the young Mr. Maxwell appear out of the blue at any given moment or come home with Heero after school. In fact, though she didn’t see Duo more than two or three times a week, Kiku Yuy had started anticipating his presence and expecting the sound of his voice whenever she did the same for those of her son. And once that cheerful tone had confirmed the arrival of Heero’s ‘boyfriend,’ it was also unsurprising for Duo to pop into the kitchen with an enthusiastic greeting and usually some culinary question for Kiku.

Today’s was about chuck tender roast. Kiku, busy with her thorough Spring Cleaning on her beloved kitchen, was happy to answer as always. Apparently this young man pretending to date her son had pretensions to professional chefdom, and was certainly enthusiastic enough about it; she was glad to help in any way she could.

“Oh, Heero,” she remembered, once the conversation in which he had taken no part had come to an end, “your birthday present from Baa-san came; it’s on the table.” She gestured into the dining room.

Heero closed the fridge he’d been looking through for a snack since Kiku, sadly, hadn’t made him anything today (Spring Cleaning took top priority, and several hours). “Thanks,” he said, and turned in the direction she’d indicated. “Probably more manga.” Despite his flat tone, typical when mentioning such a gift, his mother was fairly certain he always read them in their entirety the very night he received them and then wrote a suspiciously voluminous (as between fans) thank-you email.

“What’s that?” Duo followed Heero into the next room, from which Kiku could still very clearly hear their voices.

“Japanese comics,” Heero replied.

“Heero! Are you secretly a geek??”

A long silence, but for the sound of a package being torn open, preceded Heero’s calm, “Maybe.”

“Well, this looks pretty cool. Hey, what’s… oh, what? That gun’s as big as a– this hot girl’s turning into a ginormous– are those two guys kissing?? Maybe I’m secretly a geek!”

Heero sounded amused as he said, “It goes the other way. Right to left.”

“Right, ’cause it’s in Aa-sii-aan,” said Duo wisely. “So what’s this thing about?”

Heero gave a brief but surprisingly in-depth summary of the story so far (it sounded excessively strange to his mother, but she’d been a big fan of Black Jack back in the day and had no room to talk), but then declared it was time to get started on his chemistry homework. Evidently they were going to remain at the dining room table, at least for now, instead of relocating to the den as they usually did; this was nice, since it meant Kiku could continue eavesdropping.

Sounding disappointed, Duo acquiesced. However, after a few wordless minutes he spoke again. Whether or not they’d abandoned the manga, his thoughts obviously hadn’t turned toward homework. “So, wait. When’s your birthday?”

“Saturday.” Heero said it a little reluctantly; he never liked to advertise the date, since it drew him unwanted attention, and apparently even his ‘boyfriend’ was no exception.

“That’s… the twenty-fourth of March?”

“Yeah; why?”

“Then you’re not a Pisces at all; you’re an Aries.”

“Is that important?”

“You know how in that one article it brought up the question of whether there are more gay kids at our school because more of the students are comfortable coming out in that kind of environment, or whether the great atmosphere and all the tolerance are a result of there being so many gay kids?”

Kiku didn’t have to wait to hear the entire question to know which article he meant; it had made such an impact on the community — indeed, the subsequent horrified ‘we need to do something about this’ discussions at church had caused her to seek out a different, less bigoted congregation — that even now, a year and a half later, anyone with any connection to that particular school had only to say, ‘that one article,’ or sometimes even just, ‘the article,’ to be immediately understood.

“Yeah.” Heero too obviously understood. Or at least he knew what Duo was referring to;he sounded as if he wasn’t quite grasping, just yet, why Duo was on this topic at all.

“Doesn’t that seem kinda pointless? Whether one caused the other or the other way
’round? We’ve still got a great school where people feel safe being themselves… does it really matter which one caused which when the result’s the same?”

“Of course it matters.” Heero sounded a little startled. “There’s a huge difference between a school that just coincidentally happens to have more gay students than most and an environment where gay people feel comfortable admitting what they are, to themselves and everyone. Because the second one kinda suggests there may be a lot more people in the world who are gay but just can’t let themselves see it or tell anyone else because they’re in a bad environment.”

“OK, OK, OK, I see what you’re saying; that makes sense. But still, even if it doesn’t suggest that and it is just a coincidence, we still have a great place to go to school.”

“Sure,” Heero allowed. “And what does this have to do with my astrological sign?”

“Nothing…”

“You brought it up as if it did.”

“Well, I was thinking about how at some point I said something about the stars aligning, and then, like, the very next day, Quatre said it was destiny that I already had this school in mind when I met you.”

“OK,” said Heero, now perhaps with a touch of skepticism to his tone as Duo worked so gradually toward his point.

“So I was thinking… that’s what happened according to our story. But what really happened was that you made me up and then I appeared at your same school. And, you know, we do go the same way home every day… probably even if you hadn’t made me up and we never met in Gearing last April the way we didn’t, we’d still probably have met and ended up being friends and maybe pretend-dating anyway. So I was thinking, what does it matter how we got there?”

“Well, in at least one case it’s a relationship based completely on lies.” But Heero said this laughingly and entirely without malice.

Kiku had to laugh too, quietly, to herself. She took Duo’s point a little differently: it didn’t really matter whether those two were dating or just pretending to be; the result was about the same. And it was a result of which she heartily approved.

***

Trowa sighed when he identified the paper Quatre had just placed on top of what he’d previously been looking at. “I guess you’re going to make me do this again.”

“Obviously,” Quatre murmured in return. “You know I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

Trowa sighed again, but it was less unhappy this time; Quatre’s breath on his face tended to have that effect. “Can we at least do something intelligent afterwards?”

Lowering his voice even farther and leaning even closer to Trowa, Quatre said, “What did you have in mind?”

Though Trowa did manage to control the shudder these words occasioned, it was a close thing. He did not mention any of the ideas Quatre had very deliberately planted in his brain. Instead he just said, “Anything less idiotic, pointless, and tacky.”

Quatre smiled sweetly at him and promised, “We’ll figure something out.” Then, pointing to the sheet he’d given Trowa, he ordered, “Fill that out.”

Yet again Trowa sighed. Only for Quatre did he put up with this kind of nonsense.

As he attempted to force himself to read the paper in his hand, he noticed that he wasn’t the only one with problems along these lines. Not too far off, Heero, sans ‘boyfriend’ this lunch period, was being harassed by one of the girls in the group on essentially the same topic:

“So have you decided how you’re going to ask Duo yet? Or is he going to ask you?” She laughed as if she’d just been extremely witty in acknowledging that traditional gender stereotypes didn’t apply here.

Evidently taken by surprise, Heero said haltingly, “I don’t know… if we’re even… going.”

“What do you mean?” She was quite clearly aghast at the idea. “How can you not go to your Senior Prom with your boyfriend?”

Realizing that he had already started digging himself into a hole and needed to get out quickly, Heero was obviously thinking fast. “Well, it’s… it’s on the twenty-first, right? That’s our one-year anniversary, so we might be doing something else.”

“Ohhhww!” (It was some very annoying, squealing indication of how sweet she thought this was, anyway.) “A whole year?? And, like, two thirds of it was long-distance, wasn’t it? Congratulations!” Heero must have nodded his confirmation and thanks, for there was a pause before the girl went on. “But what could you possibly do on your anniversary that would be better than Prom??”

Trowa could think of about a million things, and he speculated Heero could too — especially given that the anniversary was totally fictitious. A question more to the point was, how much longer could he and Duo possibly keep this up?

“I don’t know yet.” Heero’s calm had returned. “I have to see what Duo wants to do.”

“Well, you should do that by asking him to Prom!” the girl insisted. “Then you’ll at least have asked him, and if he wants to do something else, he can just say no!”

Wondering what, then, if Heero wanted to do something else, Trowa also had to restrain himself from openly shaking his head at this indication that publicly asking someone to Prom was easily as important as (and in fact might make up for missing) Prom itself.

The girl went on to enumerate various ways she’d heard of people carrying out this all-important asking, and declaring, based on some inscrutable criteria, whether or not each method would work for two guys. In this she was swiftly and eagerly joined by much of the rest of the group, and Heero was able to drop mostly out of the conversation, undoubtedly to his relief.

It was not impossible that Trowa had been paying attention to this more as an excuse not to fill out the form Quatre had handed him than because he at all cared; now, finally, with an indrawn breath that he did not allow to transform into another sigh, he turned his attention toward the paper in earnest.

Vote for your 2012 Prom Court, it read. What an idiotic tradition. Trowa was about to check a box at random, as he’d done last year, when a particular couple of names halfway down the page caught his eye, moved his pen immediately in that direction, and forced a faint smile onto his face. Here was, unexpectedly, the first trace of real interest he’d found in this entire business.

***

“We’ve got a problem.” This was Heero’s rather dire-sounding greeting when he met Duo after school.

“Uh-oh,” said Duo. “Is someone on to us?”

“Prom,” Heero replied flatly.

“So you mean we’ve got a Promblem. Is Prom a problem?”

Rolling his eyes and trying to stifle a grin at the idiotic joke, Heero nodded. “Are we going to… you know… do all that?”

“Go to Prom, you mean?” Duo seemed to give the matter the first serious consideration he’d offered during this conversation; it ended with him shrugging, as Heero had rather expected. “Yeah, we probably should.”

Heero swallowed, and reminded him reasonably, “It’ll be expensive. We’ll need tuxedos, and you’re expected to go out to dinner first, and…”

“It’ll look weird if we don’t go,” was Duo’s just-as-reasonable counterargument.

“And I can’t dance,” Heero finished pathetically.

Kindly Duo smiled at him. “Everyone can dance. It’s only funny shy people like you who decide they can’t.”

Blushing faintly, Heero had to return the smile, just a little, but still also to protest. “I’m pretty sure some people really can’t. Some people have no sense of rhythm, and some people are just clumsy…”

“Not you,” stated Duo, simultaneously positive and dismissive. “So don’t worry about that. I still think we should go. How would it look if people saw us two great boyfriends not going to Prom?”

“Especially after I said it’s our one-year anniversary,” Heero muttered.

“Did you? Well, that’s good to know. Yeah, so, anniversary date at Prom. Besides, you only get one Senior Prom in your whole life; it’d be stupid to miss the chance just because we’re not really together.”

The cavalier manner in which Duo made statements like ‘we’re not really together’ bothered Heero, but there was nothing to be done about it… especially when he was the one uninterested in dating anyone. There was no way he could admit now that he secretly wanted to go to Prom with Duo, even if he honestly was uneasy about the public social nature of the event and the dancing required. All he could do was agree in terms of their subterfuge.

“It probably would look weird. I guess you’re right.”

“I’m glad you think so…” Duo looked down at his bike, flexing the fingers of his left hand out to encompass the brake and retracting them again in a movement that almost seemed nervous. “‘Cause I… kinda… already bought us tickets.”

“Did you.” It was half annoyed demand and half amused acknowledgment.

Duo looked sheepish but unrepentant. “One of us should probably still officially ask the other, though. People expect that.”

“I’ve noticed,” Heero muttered. He sighed slightly, but once again (as was not infrequently the case around Duo) couldn’t help smiling a bit too. “Well, let me take care of that.”

“Really?” Duo sounded startled.

Wryly Heero said, “I’ve got to pull my weight sometime.”

“OK, then! I’ll try my best to be surprised at whatever you have in mind.” Duo was grinning as if his expectations were not terribly high, and undoubtedly with good reason.

Because what Heero had in mind was not likely to be particularly surprising, given that it was exactly what he’d done before — or rather, what Duo had done for himself in Heero’s name. The student council, as he’d been informed earlier by just about every single one of his friends while discussing Prom, had once again set up a service by which flowers, candy, and miscellaneous romantic items could be delivered to classmates in the middle of school in front of everyone. Heero was going to take full advantage of it this time to try to assuage his bitterness at not having done so before.

The only way this course of action could be regarded as original or romantic was with the knowledge that Heero hadn’t actually been the one to send Duo roses and chocolates on Valentine’s Day, and regretted it. And since Duo would take the offering as just another playact in their long deception, and wouldn’t know of Heero’s regret, it was likely to look pathetic and uncreative to everyone. But Heero was going to do it anyway. He was going to order Duo the biggest bouquet they offered and a whole box of the type of chocolates he’d liked best in the sampler last time, and he was going to mean it.

***

Duo wasn’t terribly surprised when Heero’s idea of a surprising method of asking him to Prom turned out to be to mimic Valentine’s Day. Heero hadn’t seemed too enthusiastic about the idea of going to Prom at all, and couldn’t be expected to waste much thought on a clever way of requesting that Duo accompany him. Actually, Duo considered himself lucky that Heero hadn’t been annoyed at him in the first place for buying tickets without any prior discussion, or even flatly refused to attend.

He’d definitely gone all-out, at least. He was probably trying to outdo ‘himself’ from last time, for there was an entire planet’s worth of flowers (which Duo didn’t have any idea how he was going to get home) and a big box of the caramel pecan things Duo had so passionately adored at Valentine’s Day.

By coincidence, these romantic offerings were delivered during the same class in which the latter holiday’s had been. At least Duo assumed it was coincidence, since he doubted the student council was interested in minute schedule coordination. Anyway the teacher, obviously remembering the already-extravagant presents of that instance that were, improbably, outdone by today’s, raised her brows at him. Duo just shrugged and grinned.

She kept throwing him skeptical looks, though — or what she could see of him past the flowers taking up most of his desk — so it was several minutes before he felt safe attempting to read the folded sheet of notebook paper that had been delivered along with the more colorful items. He’d seen at a glance what it was, but class was almost over before he managed to apprise himself of what it said.

1. How familiar are you with the Metric System, and do you think switching to it on a nationwide level is a good idea?

2. If you could assassinate one person without any type of consequences to yourself, would you do it?

3. Will you go to Prom with me?

4. Do you think solar energy is a viable renewable energy source for the majority of the world’s population (sometime in the future)?

5. What are your thoughts on other methods of fortune-telling besides astrology?

Somewhat to his own shock, Duo felt the beginnings of tears in his eyes. He wasn’t in any danger of actually crying over this, but there was a definite prickle back there. Damn Heero and his attractive cleverness that could make this repetitive gift suddenly fresh, and his desire not to really go out with anyone, and his unexpected sweetness that made Duo wish more than ever before that it could be otherwise.

Trowa had been right — this little game was stupid. It was the type of thing that got people hurt. Never again would Duo do anything like this, neither to keep himself free to get things done nor out of pity on anyone else.

But he was definitely going to Prom with Heero. At least he would have that to look forward to, and to look back on after this was all over. With a careful glance at the teacher, he reached for a pencil with which to answer the questions on the paper, starting with #3.

***

Zechs had only an unclear idea of what his roommate and the ‘boyfriend’ were doing out in the tiny apartment living room, but so far it had been pretty hilarious to listen to.

“It’s just clinging to each other and kinda shuffling in a circle,” Duo was saying reassuringly; “it’s not hard.”

“I do know how it’s technically done,” the grim-voiced Heero replied. “It’s not like it’s a ball or something.”

“It’d be pretty cool if it was, though.”

“No. It would not. If it were a ball you would not catch me within a hundred miles of it.”

“So you’d actually travel away from here to make sure you weren’t that close?”

“I’d take a Greyhound.”

Duo laughed. “OK, fine, no ballroom dancing for you. But you’re going to have to come here and prove you do know how to do it before I let you out of this room.”

“You can’t just take my word for it?”

“Not with Prom on Saturday!”

This was one of those reminders Duo sometimes inadvertently delivered… In light of how accountable he was and the fact that he hadn’t been late or short on his half of the rent even once, the fact that Duo was still in high school sometimes escaped Zechs. Actually the discovery had made for a very pleasant surprise; Zechs had been leery at first at the idea of a roommate so young, but at that point he’d had to have some roommate or find a cheaper apartment, and Duo’s timing had been just right… and he’d never regretted it.

For all Duo seemed childishly easygoing on the surface, he was perfectly responsible underneath; this faux-boyfriend thing, Zechs thought, was his only real immaturity. Why not just actually date the guy? Heero wasn’t necessarily what Zechs would have considered Duo’s type, but he was definitely good-looking.

And a little awkward, which was what made the pseudo-couple’s occasional visits to the apartment so funny to overhear.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Heero was still trying to get out of what Duo was trying to get him to do. “Don’t you have anything to eat around here?”

“Probably not,” Duo admitted. Which was true: he got a free dinner at his restaurant every time he worked, bought lunches at school, and sometimes ran culinary experiments at home, but the result of this was that all he ever stocked the kitchen with was ingredients that would take an hour to turn into an actual meal; everything immediately edible in there right now probably belonged to Zechs. “And you’re not really hungry; you’re just making excuses.”

“Yeah, well…” Heero’s tone, Zechs thought, was one that acknowledged the truth of Duo’s statement but insisted perversely on arguing anyway. “Why today? I’ll probably repress this traumatic memory by the time Saturday gets here.”

“So harsh!” protested Duo, sounding dramatically wounded. “How could you say something like that to your very own boyfriend?? Besides,” he added, abruptly switching back to a normal voice, “I have to work for the rest of the week, so there won’t be time. So come over here.”

Heero laughed faintly, but it didn’t sound as if he obeyed the command just yet.

Really, it was idiotic those two weren’t actually together. The impressive Duo, who was successfully juggling his last semester of high school, a full-time job, a cooking hobby, and a fake relationship while managing to remain energetic and optimistic, seemed to have met his equal in the hard-working, intelligent Heero that had gotten himself accepted to the college of his choice and had the steady upward route of the next several years of his life meticulously planned out. They were fools not to be together.

But of course it wasn’t any of Zechs’ business, except as far as he enjoyed laughing disdainfully at them from the next room.

“I need to get my mom’s car back home. I already feel bad about taking it from her all day.”

With this topic, it sounded as if Heero had successfully distracted Duo from whatever his nefarious purpose was, for Duo said sincerely, “It was nice of you to think of bringing it.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to give you all those flowers and then make you try to carry them home on your bike.”

“You are so thoughtful,” Duo crooned. Then, in a very different tone, “Gotcha!”

There was some shuffling and a few noisy footsteps. Zechs couldn’t be sure what trick his roommate had used to get the ‘boyfriend’ to… whatever he’d gotten him to do… but that foul play of some variety had been involved he did not doubt, especially when Heero said in a mixture of amusement and bitterness, “You’re a sneak.”

“Yep!” Duo agreed cheerfully. “And now you’re going to prove that you know how to dance!”

Given that Zechs’ classes were in the afternoons and evenings — as a matter of fact, he needed to be leaving pretty soon for today’s — and Duo barely even came here except to sleep and make the occasional staggering mess of the kitchen, they didn’t actually run into each other very often. This only enhanced Zechs’ opinion that someone as faithfully industrious as his roommate deserved a little fun (read: romance) in his life. He was fairly sure the only reason Duo wasn’t actually dating Heero was that he was so busy, and that was stupid. Greater difficulties than that were surmounted in the name of love on a daily basis.

For this very reason, to set a good example for the misguided young men, Zechs had overcome his own romantic difficulties (namely a vicious, determined rival that he’d been a little worried might actually offer him bodily harm) and struck up a thus-far-very-rewarding relationship with one of his classmates.

Well, he might have had more reasons for this than just wanting to prod Duo. But that had definitely been at least some fraction of his motivation.

Out in the living room, Duo had started loudly singing some slow love song from twenty years ago. Whether his lack of adherence to its key was deliberate Zechs had no idea, but at least he kept the timing right in order to have a beat to dance to. Halfway through the first verse, however, he cut off abruptly. “You don’t have to be so stiff, you know.”

“Sorry,” Heero replied. “But it’s hard to do right with you yelling that awful song right in my ear.” Zechs didn’t have to see him to detect the stiffness Duo objected to; the statement might have been written in block print on a piece of plywood for the tone in which it was uttered.

“OK, how about this one–” Duo started in on a different song, this one hip-hop and a good deal faster.

“No!” Heero said vehemently, now sounding very flustered. “No! I’ll do slow dances because it’ll look weird if I don’t dance at all. But not fast ones.”

“OK, fine. One more slow one, then.”

Perhaps because the threat of the faster piece had been so much worse, Heero acquiesced without argument this time. Duo toned down both the volume and the (apparently purposeful) out-of-tune nature of his singing, and evidently they managed to get through the rest of the song.

“I knew you could do it,” Duo said when he’d finished his more musical vocalizations.

“Then why did you make me do that?” Heero demanded.

“Because you didn’t think you could do it,” was Duo’s soulful answer. “But you just had to believe in yourself!”

“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen ‘believe in yourself’ mean ‘be forced into it.'” Sardonic though he was, Heero seemed much less stiff and unhappy now that the ordeal was apparently over.

“You’ve been a very good boy,” Duo commended him.

Dryly Heero wondered, “What’s my prize?”

“You get to do homework with me for the rest of the day!”

Heero laughed. “You are incorrigible.”

“I’m sure I am,” was Duo’s complacent reply. “And I just remembered… I think I do actually have some Swiss Cake Rolls left, if Zechs hasn’t stolen them.”

Zechs, who had, jumped up quietly and headed quickly for the door.

***

Heero had cut it rather close with his asking; they’d discussed going to Prom weeks before, but he hadn’t actually asked Duo until five days prior to the dance. Fortunately, they’d long since agreed on colors and gotten fitted for their tuxedos, and Duo had put in his request for time off work plenty early; so the asking was a mere formality — one that needed to be observed, yes, but not something that would throw a wrench in any plans if it came a little late.

Actually, it was probably for the best that Heero had sent the stuff essentially at the last minute, since that minimized the amount of time to be survived between that and the dance. Because Duo wasn’t bothering to lie to himself and try to pretend he wasn’t hugely looking forward to the event. Roses and homespun dancing practice at his apartment on Monday got him good and excited, and then four long school and work days had to be endured before the big Saturday — but at least it wasn’t eleven or seventeen.

All the upperclassmen were, of course, talking about Prom, and a student council member just might have approached Duo with instructions regarding one particular aspect of it, and these facts didn’t help him get through those four days at all; he had to struggle not to be absolutely useless in every subject and annoy all his teachers by paying the poorest attention he’d ever done; not to mention twenty-four hours of work that he couldn’t remember a single minute of afterward… but somehow he did manage not to explode throughout the rest of the week, and finally Saturday came.

Heero had obtained the loan of his mom’s car for the night — she was always so obliging about that, though that might have been because Heero didn’t ask very often — and arranged to pick Duo up at seven. They’d discussed a price range for dinner, and then Heero had chosen a restaurant without yet telling Duo which one it was; if it turned out to be as unexpectedly romantic a surprise as his gifts on Monday, Duo knew he was in for a great night.

He was looking forward to a great night no matter where they ate, to be honest. This was as close as he was going to get to a proper romantic outing with Heero, and he planned on making the most of it. And as such, he’d fussed over his toilette more than he had in he didn’t remember how long. He’d spent an awfully long time in the shower, especially considering the standalone water bill; he’d brushed his teeth as if his life depended on it; he’d agonized over cologne and body glitter far longer than any such decisions should ever take; and he’d had some actually-rather-too-enthusiastic assistance with his hair from Zechs, who was going to beauty school to be a stylist.

After this Zechs had informed him pointedly that he would be out all night on a real date with his real boyfriend, so if Duo, for whatever unexpected and totally unforeseen reason, happened to want privacy in the apartment after the dance, he would have it. Then Zechs had swept grandly out, leaving Duo to wait in solitary agitation for his fake boyfriend to arrive for their fake date.

He spent that time trying to prepare himself mentally for the sight of Heero in a tuxedo. Like practically everyone, Heero wore t-shirts and jeans to school, and he looked damn good in those; Duo had never seen him in anything more formal, and was afraid that his first encounter with such a remarkable sight might be overwhelming if he wasn’t braced for it. So he was lost in a fluttery daydream of angelic beauty when the real thing appeared to prove or disprove the mental image.

The latter had been deliberately extreme, but still the former almost lived up to it. Which was a little silly… there was no real reason for the sight to have such an effect. It was just a guy in a tuxedo. Duo already knew what Heero looked like, already knew what tuxedos looked like. There was no real reason for his lungs to refuse to function and his heart to try to make up for that by working double-time and his whole body to heat up like a furnace. Just a guy in a tuxedo.

Just a guy he really, really liked in professionally-fitted formalwear of glossy black with accessories in a particularly flattering shade of red. Heero had steadfastly resisted Duo’s attempts to get him to wear a red tuxedo, and not merely because it would have been more expensive than the black one, but at least he’d agreed to that as a secondary color.

As Duo was attempting to get hold of himself and not drool all over the floor, Heero was returning the examination with an eye easily as minute, if a good deal steadier. Evidently he approved, for he nodded shortly. Then he produced a boutineer in a clear plastic box, and handed it informally to Duo.

The latter was relieved to see that this item was no more fancy or attractive than the one he’d bought; he’d somehow managed to forget completely about that particular tradition until just yesterday, and when he’d placed his order at the grocery store floral department, the harried old man there had given him a little lecture about timely planning.

They spent the next few minutes wordlessly helping each other pin the tiny flower arrangements in place. It was unusually quiet, actually: Heero, who was probably bracing himself for an evening he didn’t want to spend the way he was going to spend it, was even more taciturn than usual; and, busy with admiration of his attractive companion and working hard not to express this and other forbidden thoughts aloud, Duo didn’t say much more than Heero did.

Before they left the apartment, however, he insisted on snapping some pictures — just a few at arm’s-length with the camera in his crappy phone — since they’d opted not to do any formal Prom photos. The expense seemed unnecessary in their situation, but Duo would be damned if he came away from this with nothing by which to remember Heero in a tux. He had no rational excuse to offer Heero for this behavior, but evidently the casual bravado with which he carried it out served him well enough, for Heero did not protest. And then it was off to dinner.

It was the first time he’d been at a restaurant with Heero since Valentine’s Day, and perhaps Heero’s choice of Japanese cuisine was a sort of small revenge against Duo for that incident. Not that Duo had any objection to trying new things or foreign foods, but he certainly felt as out of his element here as Heero obviously had in that party restaurant back in February. Why weren’t there chairs at this table? What were the damp cloths for? How the hell did you eat with chopsticks?

Or perhaps Heero had just chosen it because he’d heard that a group of school acquaintances would be eating there as well; he’d been getting better, of late, keeping an eye on their visibility as a ‘couple.’ He didn’t acknowledge their classmates, but Duo exchanged waves and ‘You look great!’ greetings with them before sitting down.

By tacit mutual consent they did not discuss Prom or any other aspect of their fake relationship over dinner. Instead, they talked about race relations, Heero’s experience as a Japanese-American, attitudes, stereotypes, Duo’s complete inability to manage chopsticks, and so on. This might by anyone else have been considered potentially more awkward and agitating than the other subject, but here it was worlds better. In fact they were so absorbed in the interesting conversation that they barely noticed the passage of time, and, before they knew it, not only was the restaurant closing but they were past due for the beginning of the dance.

“Well, that was pretty delicious,” Duo said as they headed for the car. “Good choice!” He was trying to keep things at the same level of ease as inside the restaurant, but unfortunately his endeavor failed. Heero, obviously slipping back into the greater-than-usual silence of earlier now that he was once again being forced to think about the ordeal ahead, just nodded. And as Duo couldn’t think of anything more to say at the moment, he found himself quickly following suit.

***

Heero had been to exactly one school dance prior to this, during his freshman year when his mom had convinced him to give them a try before making an indiscriminate entry on the list of events in which he was actively disinterested, and that had been nothing like this. For one thing, that had taken place in the larger of the school’s gyms, whereas this was in a nice hotel’s ballroom with a grand staircase and everything. For another, there hadn’t in that previous instance been nearly so many emotional complications.

He wished he could say that the room they entered now looked good and the setting promisingly romantic, but in fact the decorations were overdone to the point of tackiness, the refreshments on the sideboard made the place look like a kid’s birthday party, and the music was too loud. But, then, it had never been the dance itself he’d been looking forward to, just the opportunity of attending it with Duo.

Of course various people — the majority of them from the lunch group — ganged up on the ‘couple’ the moment they walked in, and their excitement bombarding Heero from all sides made him long to escape out the open double doors at the far end of the room onto the patio or into the garden beyond. People had either to shout or lean close to him to make themselves heard, and then the only thing they had to say was how glad they were to see him there or how nice he looked in his tuxedo. Neither of these bright and original sentiments did much for him, but it only got worse after a few songs had played and they turned to queries about why he wasn’t dancing.

Honestly, he feared dancing poorly less than he feared dancing with Duo at all. He was absolutely certain he would, under those circumstances, transform instantly into a slack-jawed, glaze-eyed, tripping-over-his-own-feet, unable-to-force-anything-from-his-mouth-but-drool stupid idiotic moron, and this was something he wanted to avoid at all costs — even the cost of actually nerving himself to ask other people to dance instead.

Relena was the obvious first choice, since she was certain to be enthusiastic about accepting, but it was still a little difficult — and not because of the slight glower this won him from Wufei. Fortunately, it soon became easier. The actual dancing turned out not to be a problem (as Duo had said, it really was ‘just clinging to each other and kinda shuffling in a circle’), and Relena talked so happily and incessantly, about the song and the decorations and the refreshments and where she’d found her dress and how happy she was to see Heero and Duo there and probably some other things, that Heero wasn’t really required to speak.

The ice thus broken, further forays onto the dance floor were less of a problem (though Heero still couldn’t say he really enjoyed them). His friends were pleasantly surprised to be asked by him, and, seeing that he was willing to dance, some of them asked him where apparently they hadn’t originally planned on bothering to try. He even danced with a couple of straight guys; being comfortable with gay people was the cool thing to do around here, and though that didn’t stop them from being about as nervous and awkward as Heero was, he appreciated their willingness to make the attempt.

So he was pretty thoroughly booked, and thought he was doing rather well. But he also came more and more to question the expediency of this strategy. Surely it seemed strange to everyone else that he never danced with his ‘boyfriend…’ and hadn’t he been looking forward to this because it would be a romantic night with Duo even if they weren’t in an actual romantic relationship? Yet here he was avoiding him like mad.

Still he couldn’t bring himself to risk it. He met Duo sometimes between slow songs (he absolutely refused to attempt dancing to fast ones under any circumstances), and then they partook of the refreshments and chatted in just as friendly a manner as ever… but it must look weird, and Heero really wished it could be some other way.

Duo sometimes danced the aforementioned fast numbers, and at these times Heero’s eyes were glued to him from afar. Because when the dance didn’t consist solely of kinda shuffling in a circle, Duo… Duo danced like a complete dork. He flailed maniacally, did silly moves based on various ungraceful gestures such as fishline-casting, dragged people around him into his absurdity, and made everyone laugh.

And Heero adored every moment of it. That was his fearless, energetic Duo, who a few minutes later would come grinning back to Heero’s side to guzzle some punch and calm his breathing, and whom Heero could never quite manage to compliment properly. And still Heero fled him during slow songs.

Eventually, when it felt they’d been going through this for an ambivalent eternity, and after dancing with everyone else in his lunch crowd and, in fact, practically everyone he knew — including a teasing Quatre that seemed to comprehend precisely why he was avoiding Duo, a very stonily silent Trowa that obviously didn’t want to be here, and a couple of extraneous lesbians (one at a time, of course) whose names he barely remembered and that seemed to have some inside joke or something regarding him and Duo — Heero came to be dancing with Sylvia. And her odd behavior was enough to drag him, finally, away from his thoughts about his predicament and the guy he’d come here with.

“Why do you keep looking around like that?” he wondered, trying not to sound uncomfortable. Was she counting down the moments until she could get away? Was his dancing that bad? Clearly he was too distracted.

“I’m…” She gritted her teeth. “I’m kinda worried about how the rest of the night’s going to go.”

“Why?” Heero should have known he wasn’t the only one likely to be having problems at Prom. Promblems.

“I’m… I’m breaking up with Alex tonight.”

“Sylvia!” He did something he had done maybe once throughout the entirety of high school, and he couldn’t even remember when before that: he voluntarily hugged someone. Of course it wasn’t a huge change in relative position, given that they were already pretty close for the dance, but it was a pointed gesture that couldn’t but shock her practically out of her wits.

He drew back to find her blushing and gaping. “My god, Heero,” she stammered. “Did you just hug me?”

“Yes,” he said. “Sorry.”

“No!” Her expression turned to an astonished grin, and Heero thought she might start to cry at any moment. “That totally makes me feel more confident. I’ve been really worried about it.”

Getting the feeling they were being stared at, Heero tried to encourage Sylvia to start dancing again.

As she complied, she went on. “Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you hug anyone — not even your boyfriend.”

Heero cleared his throat. “Well, it was good news.”

She beamed at him. “I kept seeing the way you and Duo are together… you guys are always so… like… considerate of each other… and I started thinking that maybe a guy just being cute and whatever isn’t enough. And I know Alex wants to have sex tonight,” she went on, blushing more deeply, “and when I say no he’s going to be a jerk about that, and I just… I’m tired of it. So I’m going to tell him at the end of the dance, and go to Relena’s after-Prom.”

Heero couldn’t quite decide how he felt about the fact that his ‘romantic relationship’ with Duo had set that kind of example. Was it delightful or painful? Honestly, if it had helped Sylvia to this resolution, he didn’t care. “That’s fantastic,” he reiterated. “Let me know if you don’t want to go to after-Prom, and I’ll give you a ride home. Do you mind if I tell Duo?” Because he couldn’t wait; Duo was going to be ecstatic.

“No,” she said, “but don’t let it go any further, OK?” He wondered how many people she’d said that to tonight. Not that it mattered.

His promise that he would keep quiet, and hold Duo to the same, came just as the music began to shift into a different song — a faster one this time — so they wandered off the dance floor and parted in warmer friendship than they two had ever before shared.

When Heero located his ‘boyfriend,’ he pulled him back into a corner in order to tell him the good news. The latter was received by Duo with as great a joy as (and, indeed, a much greater show of excitement than) it had been by Heero, and they stood discussing the matter happily throughout the next couple of songs.

Then, as another slow number began to play, Heero suddenly realized that there was nobody else around for him to dance with and therefore that Duo might ask him at any moment. Shifting uncomfortably, forgetting the conversation they’d just been engaged in and how incongruous his question might seem in its wake, he asked, “How much longer is this thing?”

Duo glanced at his watch, but Heero got the feeling he wasn’t checking for the answer to that question. When he raised his eyes to Heero’s face again, it was with a deep breath and a slightly nervous expression. “Actually, we… kinda need to… go over there.”

“Go over where for what?” Heero demanded suspiciously.

“Promise you won’t kill me,” was Duo’s urgent reply.

“I won’t kill, but I reserve the right to maim.”

“I guess that’s the best I’m going to get…” With another deep breath Duo spilled his secret. “We… may have gotten elected Prom Kings.”

Heero felt the blood draining gradually from his face. “Please,” he faltered, almost inaudibly, “tell me you’re joking.”

Duo looked at him somewhat miserably and shook his head.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Heero was still unable to speak above a whisper — well, the equivalent of a whisper in a room this loud.

“I’m sorry… You wouldn’t have wanted to come at all if you’d known… and I really wanted to…”

Heero got a grip on himself. No use admitting that, despite his utter horror at the idea of being Prom King and whatever that would require of him, that last statement on Duo’s part was all it would have taken. Which didn’t mean Heero wouldn’t be contemplating some appropriate manner of revenge in the future, but at the moment it would probably be best to steel himself and get this over with.

“All right,” he said calmly. “What do we have to do?”

On the face of it, the procedure didn’t seem too terribly bad, if he concentrated on keeping his nerve up. They would have to wear sashes and jewel-encrusted plastic crowns and walk out on the stairs in front of everyone, but at least this would take place to the tune of their various scholastic achievements being announced. And if Heero had to make a spectacle of himself, while having his academic prowess acknowledged was certainly the best time to do it.

He wasn’t surprised that Duo, so charming and so celebrated in so many circles, had won this particular popularity contest, which of course dragged Heero along in his wake; what did surprise him was that Duo had managed to keep it a secret from him. Didn’t people… talk about… the Prom Court? Shouldn’t Heero have had to… sign something… or something? He tried to recall what he knew about that, exactly, or what he’d heard in previous years, and realized he really had no idea. Which, he supposed, was what he got for generally ignoring gossip and those that purveyed it.

There was one other thing to be said for this parade that was about to take place: Duo looked fantastic in that silly sash and crown. It was such a little thing that shouldn’t have made much of a difference, but it had a remarkable effect. Duo really resembled royalty with that strip of red velvet across his chest. Its glittery gold edging wasn’t the only thing that sparkled; he’d obviously also combed something shimmery through his hair, which hung loose except for a well-placed couple of small braids.

Heero had managed sufficiently to admire the effect of a sparkly-haired Duo in a cream-colored tuxedo earlier, when he’d arrived at Duo’s apartment, without too much brain-dead foolishness on his own part, and thought he’d been ready for the rest of the night… but here, in this mixture of shadow and light, at the top of the stairs getting ready for this Prom Court presentation nonsense, he couldn’t take his eyes off him. He just knew he was going to trip over something on the way down, and somebody was sure to get a picture of it. If Duo was also in the picture, Heero didn’t even think he would mind; he would have a much better excuse for requesting a copy than he would asking for the ones Duo had taken earlier.

Somehow, whether it was the buzz he got from holding Duo’s arm and walking beside him, or the sincere sound of the applause and cheers as the announcements were made, or just that this really wasn’t as difficult as he’d convinced himself it must be, he made it through the introductions without disintegration or spontaneous combustion or any of the other fates he’d vaguely feared upon being informed that he had to do this. The rest of the Court was composed of people Heero didn’t know very well, and none of them had the type of academic accomplishments to their record that he did. This, combined with the fact that he and Duo were the only gay couple in the lineup, filled Heero with a sort of pride of exclusivity that probably helped him through the ceremony as much as anything else.

And he’d just thought of himself and Duo as an actual couple.

Eventually all the names and credentials had been listed, a lot of pictures had been taken, and Heero had begun to think this wasn’t so bad, and in any case must be about over. But he realized the next moment what a very false sense of security this was when the girl doing the announcing (another senior he recognized but didn’t really know) said, “And now your Prom Court will perform the traditional Royal Dance!”

“The what?” Heero hissed in a panic.

“Just a normal dance,” Duo whispered in reply. Then, stepping back, he made Heero a deep bow that would have been more elegant and courtly if he hadn’t turned a grin beneath twinkling eyes up at Heero at the last moment.

That answer had not dispelled Heero’s panic. Obviously this, more than any dance prior, was the reason Duo had insisted he practice on Monday, but Heero didn’t think he was ready for it… and that had nothing to do with how much practice he’d had. He and Duo had never taken their charade as far as close physical contact, which was not only in-character for Heero but also the most morally appropriate way to handle a pretend relationship; so the closest he’d ever been to Duo all along had been sitting against him sometimes at lunch and the occasional instance of Duo throwing an arm across his shoulders, which was really more friendly than anything else. And even those had been growing more and more difficult to deal with calmly as the weeks went by. He’d barely survived the dancing practice… here, in this much more serious setting, with everyone watching, he was sure he couldn’t do it. He was going to fall apart. He was going to make a complete fool of himself. He was going to–

And then Duo reached for him.

***

Sometimes it seemed as if everyone in the entire school knew everything about everyone else — or at least all the wrong people knew all the things you’d rather they didn’t. Things like the fact that Relena had pursued Heero through half of freshman and sophomore year and only given up perforce when he came out of the closet. It wouldn’t have been a problem for them to know this if they hadn’t then whispered viciously to each other that the only reason she was going out with Wufei was that he, as another Asian guy, was a stand-in for Heero, whom she’d never gotten over.

It was more insulting to Relena than to Wufei, the latter thought, which meant there wasn’t much he could do about it. He’d noticed that intelligent girls didn’t like having a guy try to defend their honor. And anyway, Relena was here with him, and Heero (even if he had made a rather suspicious beeline for her when he’d entered) had that long-haired boyfriend of his. Everything was going fine.

Of course, Relena was watching Heero now, but just about everyone else in the room had been at one point or another, including Wufei himself. Duo had made such a splash on the social scene, and seemed like such a polar opposite to Heero, it was difficult not to be at least a little interested in their relationship. Besides, though he considered himself straight, Wufei was confident enough that he could acknowledge the attractiveness of others of his sex, and had to admit that both of them were good-looking (and even better-looking in combination).

Still, he didn’t much care who the Prom King and Queen were — or in this case, he supposed, Prom King and King — and he’d been fidgeting (at least mentally) through the presentation ceremony. He wanted to dance with Relena, but, despite the fact that others had taken up this pastime after giving the Court a verse or so to get started, she insisted they wait until the Royal Whatever was finished. Which meant there was nothing much to do at the moment besides watch Relena watching Heero and Duo and be discontented at how rapt she was at the sight. His consolation must be that she wasn’t the only one.

Those two just were not that interesting… though their visual contrast did rather draw the eye. They’d gone with this cheesy inverted-colors scheme, and… well… it actually looked pretty good. Wufei supposed that was one benefit to wearing the same type of garments your date was; god knew it was a hassle to try to find a cummerbund to match what your girlfriend described as ‘peacock blue…’ if you could both order your outfit from the same place, it would probably be much easier. He wondered if they’d notified the student council in advance that they would be dressed in black and off-white and red so whoever was setting up the Prom Court thing would know to get crowns with red jewels.

This was stupid. Why was he standing here analyzing some dudes’ clothing when he could be dancing with Relena — whom, incidentally, peacock blue suited extremely well? He shifted irritably. She didn’t even seem to notice.

Heero and Duo were certainly into each other out there. They looked like they’d forgotten everyone else in the room, and their gazes were locked together with easily as much steadiness and fascination as half the room’s gazes were locked on them. Then, there was something about the way they moved… they weren’t any more graceful than any other couple on the floor (though, honestly, ‘graceful’ wasn’t a word that could generally be applied to this type of dancing), but they seemed to fit together, somehow, better than anyone else currently visible. Ah, the profundity of true love at a high school dance. Now if they would just stop being so damned interesting so the rest of the attendees could have some too…

The song was finally coming to an end, and the slow, small circles made by the gyrating couples were halting as well. Wufei, who’d given up trying not to watch the same thing Relena was, had to admit that it was rather nice to see the distance between Heero and Duo close and their lips meet. From what he knew of Heero, it wasn’t a gesture many outsiders were likely ever to see again; those two must really have forgotten where they were.

At the sounds of applause and cheering and some wolf-whistling — most of it, probably, in response to the successful conclusion of the ‘Royal Dance,’ but some of it, definitely, specifically aimed at the kissing couple — they parted. It wasn’t an abrupt separation, but, rather, a gradual drawing away as if they were only slowly realizing there was a world beyond themselves. An intense but glazed look on the face of each, they hadn’t yet broken their eye contact.

Heero said something that presumably no one but Duo could hear, and then, taking him by the hand, drew him out of the mob in the center of the room toward the open doors onto the veranda and into the garden.

At last Relena turned toward Wufei once more. The expression on her face was the same he’d observed there, in the past, at the happy endings of various movies, and he definitely liked it in this context; it seemed to him a pretty good indication that she really wasn’t interested in Heero anymore (romantically speaking) if she was so pleased to see him making out with someone else.

“Thanks for humoring me,” she told him, and kissed him on the cheek. “Now let’s dance.”

It may have been a little pathetic on his part, but he found himself completely mollified. Far greater amounts of annoyance than he’d just suffered could be wiped away by a kiss from Relena.

***

Duo couldn’t believe he’d just done that. Could not believe it. Well, OK, actually, he could easily believe it. He’d been soaring back there in Heero’s arms, moved by music with Heero so close against him, riding on the energy of everyone’s approval of their togetherness, feeling as if that togetherness was something real, something Heero was feeling too, something they could keep forever; it had been entirely natural, almost subconscious or instinctual, to kiss him in the midst of sensations like that. And the kiss itself had been so sweet and so perfect, he could never have believed it anything but real and pure and a promise of a future every bit as wonderful as these last few minutes had been.

But Heero’s solemn face and vulnerable eyes — unhappy eyes, wounded eyes? — and the low, serious tone in which he’d immediately announced that they needed to talk had brought Duo crashing down from his romantic high into painful uncertainty and growing fear.

He had started this whole thing. At the time, he hadn’t known Heero well enough to realize that he should be a little gentler with his suggestions; maybe Heero had never really wanted to do this at all. Duo had press-ganged him into it in the first place; then he’d tricked him into a variety of public scenes, dismissed all his concerns about Prom (for which he’d gone over Heero’s head to buy tickets), deliberately neglected to tell him about the Court thing, and then kissed him in front of everyone. He’d been pushy and inconsiderate throughout their entire acquaintance, and the fact that he had a huge crush on Heero was not a valid excuse. Now Heero was going to let him know that he didn’t appreciate this kind of behavior and that they needed to ‘break up.’

Duo had had a lot of really weird experiences in the past, but being dumped by a guy he wasn’t even dating was a new one.

Heero still held his hand, pulling him along to wherever he thought would be the best venue for a heart-shattering breakup conversation, and Duo concentrated on the warmth and strength of that hand around his own while he had the chance. If only he’d said something earlier, before he’d made Heero uncomfortable multiple times in front of half the school. If only he’d controlled himself better and not kissed him.

And yet he couldn’t regret that kiss. It had been so amazing, so much what he wanted. At least he would have that to remember, to cling to once this was over and he was miserable and lonely and bereft of Heero for the rest of his pathetic life.

So he thought until, upon reaching the very private lee of a giant grey urn full of trailing vines, Heero paused, released Duo’s hand, and turned to face him. Even in the shadows of the low-lit garden at night, it was not difficult to see that Heero’s eyes were more vulnerable and worried than before. Obviously Duo could regret that kiss; he suddenly found himself blathering without remembering when the impulse to speak had arisen.

“Heero, I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have kissed you without making sure it was OK with you first. That was totally–”

“No, stop,” Heero broke in firmly. “Don’t apologize.”

Duo fell silent, staring at him hopelessly, waiting for what he knew must come.

After a deep breath, without breaking eye contact, in a perfectly level tone that still seemed, somehow, to contain all the hesitance and concern that showed in his eyes, Heero said, “Duo, I really like you — in a romantic way, I mean. I want–”

“What?!” Duo cried. “What??”

“I know I got into this as a trick to fool everyone else,” Heero went on hurriedly, probably misinterpreting Duo’s surprise. “I know I said I wasn’t interested in dating. And I know I sound like a complete idiot now, after specifically saying that, turning around and telling you I like you. But I can’t keep it to myself anymore. Not after you kissed me like that.” He gave a weak and wary smile. “If you kissed me at all. I thought it was more me kissing you. Anyway, I want–”

Again Duo interrupted without really meaning to. “Heero, you are unbelievable!” He gripped Heero’s black-clad shoulders, staring into his face with what expression on his own he couldn’t quite tell, and went on breathlessly, almost wildly. “Why the hell would I think you were an idiot for saying that when I’ve been doing the exact same thing all along? You didn’t want to date anyone, and I was so damn busy, and we’d agreed this was all for show, so I felt like telling you I was madly in love with you would just be really stupid, but I swear, it’s been since at least Valentine’s Day — god, maybe since we first met; I don’t even know!”

Heero’s tentative smile had spread into a disbelieving grin as Duo spoke. “If we’re complete idiots together,” he whispered, “I guess it’s OK.” His eyes had lost all trace of the discomfort that, Duo realized now, had been in anticipation of the confession he was worried about making, not because Duo had been too forward. “I want–” he began again. But Duo kissed him.

It was even better than before. Heero, obviously no expert in this area, was a little clumsy, but, far from objecting to this, Duo thought it rather enhanced the experience. As his lips moved avidly against Duo’s, Heero’s hands ran up Duo’s back and into his hair, where they knocked his crown free; abstractly Duo heard it clatter to the ground, but didn’t give it a thought since the movement of arms had pulled Heero’s body right up against his.

Duo’s own arms snaked around him, hands clutching, never wanting to let go. Even when they finally separated to stare into each other’s eyes again, Duo didn’t allow Heero farther away than a few inches. He loved to be so close, to see every little detail of Heero’s wondering face, the glint of his wide eyes, to feel the panting breaths emerging from between faintly-smiling lips. Only after several moments of this near-silent beauty, and then only gradually, did he remember…

“I am a terrible person,” he declared. “I’m so damn pushy, and I keep interrupting you. What were you going to say you want? Tell me everything you want.”

“‘Everything’ sounds about right.” Heero’s voice was intense and unusually cheerful, and Duo loved the sound of it. “I want all sorts of things I probably can’t have. I want you to be my boyfriend for real; I want you to let me spend the night at your apartment sometime; I want you to come live with me in Placette when I go; I want you to marry me someday.”

“Wow, you don’t ask much, do you?” Despite the lightness of his tone, Duo’s face was very hot and probably very red. “But I don’t see why you can’t have all of that.”

Heero’s grip on him tightened, and his smile became wider and even more full of overjoyed astonishment. “Really?”

“Yes! Yes! Anything you want!” Loath as Duo was to let him go even for a moment, there was motion to which he was irresistibly compelled. He broke away from Heero and spun around giddily, laughing. “My god, this makes me so happy!” Heero was watching him with a grin, and once Duo had finished his wild demonstration of glee he was drawn back to him as if by a magnetic force. “Speaking of which,” he said as he moved close again, “happy anniversary.”

With a slightly derisive chuckle Heero said, “We can stop lying about everything to everyone now.”

“This isn’t a lie!” protested Duo. “We’ve been together for two minutes! That’s, like, the air molecule anniversary! It may not be gold or platinum or whatever, but it’s still important!”

Leaning over so his forehead came to rest against Duo’s and their eyes, very close, locked through the shadows once more, Heero let out a soft, warm breath that brushed gently against Duo’s lips. “Happy anniversary, then,” he said quietly. And Duo, overcome with joy and affection, slipped forward into his arms again, squeezing him tightly.

“I think, though,” said Heero, a little breathless in Duo’s crushing hug but still with his usual precision, “that’s it’s been more like six or seven minutes by now.”

Duo laughed. “I guess it depends when you’re counting from.”

“From that kiss inside, obviously.”

Perfectly happy to debate the matter, Duo replied, “From there I think it might have been more like eight… maybe even ten minutes.” The conversation could have been plenty more inane than this, with his head on Heero’s shoulder, and he wouldn’t have minded. Actually, if the felicity of the circumstance became any more overwhelming, his brain was probably going to turn to jelly and the conversation would become plenty more inane. And he still wouldn’t mind, as long as Heero’s arm was around him like that.

“We’ll probably never know for sure,” said Heero with mighty solemnity.

Again Duo laughed. Seeking another kiss, he straightened, but in doing so had his eyes caught by the stars that shone in the sky past Heero’s beautiful profile. As he turned his gaze even farther upward to see them he murmured, “I think some stars really did align for us.”

“I don’t care what it was,” Heero said. “The result would have been the same.”

“Yeah, that’s destiny for you,” grinned Duo. And, letting his eyes fall back from the bright constellations to the beloved face near his own, he kissed his boyfriend again.

***

Quatre had stationed himself firmly beside one of the double doors, where it would very logically seem, in the growing heat of the room, that he was enjoying some of the cooler air from outside, rather than waiting for anyone in particular to return from an unexpected foray into the garden and soothe his curiosity. Nobody would ask him to dance as long as Trowa continued to brood beside him with that palpable aura of discontent and scorn, and, anyway, if the song currently playing wasn’t the last, it must at least be part of the final countdown — so he deemed himself safe to carry out his purpose.

After a dance during which a clear connection had been made and a very public kiss that hadn’t appeared to be at all for show, there were only a few reasons Quatre could think of for a couple of Prom Kings that weren’t actually a couple to escape into the garden alone, and he was more than a little eager to find out which it had been and what would be the result. He had his theory — a very logical and orderly theory based on careful observation of Heero and Duo since January, and one he fervently hoped would prove true — but there was always the possibility that this was just another part of the deception and they were platonically talking homework out there… or, worse, that one or the other of them had gone too far and they were now ‘breaking up.’

Even if he hadn’t been so interested, personally, in the outcome of this situation, still he would have been waiting here to see it. Since he and Trowa were — as far as he knew, which was generally pretty far — the only ones in the room aware of the true nature of the relationship between Heero and Duo, they must also be the only ones to understand the potentially momentous changes that might be taking place out there in the garden. Such an important moment — or at least its immediate aftermath — required witnesses; Quatre would not shirk his social duty.

But he was personally interested. He’d been entertained by this affair from the moment Heero had unwittingly described Duo to the lunch crowd last December; he’d been hoping for a legitimately romantic outcome almost as long. And he was on tenter-hooks now waiting for their reappearance from the garden. He could see it all: the dramatic mutual confession, the fall into each other’s arms, and… whatever might follow. If only that was indeed what was happening out there!

He wasn’t so lost in his warm and fuzzy mental images that when the wanderers actually did return he was in any danger of missing them… but they were obviously lost enough in their warmth and fuzziness entirely to miss him. In fact they came through the very door he was standing beside, but his little wave and wide smile of greeting seemed to go completely unnoticed as they passed without so much as a twitch in his direction.

The only aspect of their appearance that didn’t tally perfectly with his hopeful predictions was that, although Duo had lost his crown somewhere and Heero didn’t appear aware that his was askew, they were in general less disheveled than Quatre had expected… but he supposed, when Heero was involved, there was only so far to go in a place so public. Everything else — eyes so bright they practically produced their own light, a smile of the most exquisite happiness on each face, buoyant steps, clasped hands — everything else was precisely what Quatre had anticipated and wished for.

Several of the other members of the lunch crowd, observing their reentry, moved toward them like a group of paparazzi with noisy jocular comments about their time in the garden and questions about which (if any) party they would be going to from here, but the newly-minted couple sublimely ignored every one of them and moved to take up the dance for however much longer it lasted. And now they appeared even more detached from the rest of creation than before, even more enthralled by each other, even more perfectly fitted.

Quatre was satisfied and delighted.

“You know, if I didn’t know you as well as I do,” Trowa murmured suddenly, darkly in his ear, “I might get just a little jealous at the way you’re always staring at other guys.”

“I stare at girls too!” Quatre reminded him with a grin.

“Yes,” Trowa allowed flatly. “You do. Can we leave yet?”

“Yes… our work here is done.” Quatre had to laugh at his own tone and wording, since he really hadn’t had any part in this except for observing it from beginning to end and perhaps dropping a helpful hint here and there. But that complete observation gave him a feeling of gratification almost as great as if he’d indeed taken a personal hand in the matter.

He turned toward Trowa, looking up into green eyes almost desperately bored, and his grin widened as his own eyes narrowed. “Let’s go find you something more interesting to do.”

This was written for the 2012 Moments of Rapture contest, whose theme was “anniversary,” but it might have been better suited to the previous contest that was all about cliches, because I think this is the tritest thing I have ever done. Seriously, make a trope drinking game out of this and let me know at what point in the story you pass out. Especially when one major concept here was directly inspired by The Materializing of Cecil by L. M. Montgomery (which may be read via Gutenberg here).

That doesn’t mean I’m dissatisfied with it, however. I had fun writing it, and I’ve had fun rereading it. There are some tropes I will probably never get tired of, and the fake dating thing is one of them.

Here you can take a look at the gorgeous cover/title illustration, drawn by the amazing hasu, without the lines and words:

Of course at that point in the story, technically, they’re wearing their sashes and crowns, but since that would be a minor spoiler to have in the title image, I did not request it when I commissioned the artist. I mean, just the fact that they dance together in tuxes at some point is a minor spoiler, but it is is a high school AU, after all…

I’ve rated this story . For the ebook, this .zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats.

6 Comments

  1. shadownitewolf

    This fic was fun to read! I definitely enjoyed it :)
    Thanks for sharing and taking part of the Moments of Rapture contest :D

    Reply
    • momentsdrift

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  2. corpus_yaoi

    baaaa ha ha ha, I can’t even remember if I thought this was yours or not when I was reading the stories forever ago XDDD
    I DO, however, have a file complete with comments about your story, I can send it to you if you want (but I think I’d need and honest to betsy email address for that…I bet I could cyber stalk that out of the inter webs if I put my mind to it)

    I really liked this story, though. The characterization was pretty awesome after what seemed like a kind of hard to follow set up, all the parts fell in place pretty clearly (plus all that stuff I typed out forever ago).

    Reply
    • momentsdrift

      I am laughing at you needing my email address, considering that I have two of your email addresses from prior conversations XD I would be glad to hear what you had to say about this tritest of all trite stories, but I think I’ll make you cyberstalk just to see how long it takes you.

      Also, I unfortunately can’t reciprocate in this instance. I meant to do exactly what you did (same as last contest) and keep a running log of commentary on the contest fics I managed to read… but, partly because of being in the middle of evacuating when they all went up, I didn’t actually manage to. So other than a meaningless, “Yay story! I liked it!” I can’t really comment much until I reread :

      Reply
  3. crystal_lilly

    *squeeeee* This was one of my favorites! *bounce* Wow, that is so cool that you wrote it! *grin* I’m going to have to read it all over again. ^_____________^

    Okay, I’m going to make sure to friend you so I don’t miss your updates. XD I thought I already had friended you… I guess I just got your other journal and missed this one.

    Reply
    • momentsdrift

      ^__^ Thanks! I’m glad you liked it! You know, I, too, could have sworn you had me friended here. But that totally explains why you missed Reciprocity, which was one I thought you would be interested in :D Anyway, welcome aboard!

      Reply

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