One Year, Two Minutes (3/3)

“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.”

Back



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 “pretending to be together, they actually fall for each other” 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 . What do you think of it?

An ebook version of this story can be found here.

2 Replies to “One Year, Two Minutes (3/3)”

  1. Amazing.
    I loved this the first time I read it, and it was just as enjoyable the second time! I really really love the humor you endow Heero and Duo with! Unique but so in-character.

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