Visual Art: Browse by Content

My Gundam Wing fanart is not quite a big enough collection to have its own gallery. Some of my original art is of characters you won’t recognize from old stories. There is probably more Rurouni Kenshin fanart around the site that isn’t yet tagged correctly to appear in the galleries here.

2020/04 - Experimental Utena

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2020/03 Red Onion

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I think onions are gorgeous, and I'd been longing to draw some for a while, but this was mostly an attempt to get to know Autodesk SketchBook on my phone better.

2017/09 - Heretic's Reward Shikijou

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A second-wash devoted of Misao.

Visual Art: Browse by Medium

Watercolor Pencil (CretaColor Aqua Monolith) is my favorite medium. I also enjoy graphite. Prismacolors frustrate the hell out of me, though they certainly have beautiful results. I used to work with a tablet quite a bit, but these days fibromyalgia makes that difficult. I did a lot of stuff in pen when I was younger, and most of it was crap, but these days I still combine pen with other media pretty frequently. I’ve experimented with a few other things such as pastel pencil, marker, and makeup.

Rainbow Love Explosion!!

Even in a series where I’m open to lots of potential pairing arrangements, I still have an optimal lineup of couples that provides me with the greatest possible satisfaction at one time. My favorite arrangement of Rurouni Kenshin characters is as follows:

Saitou and Sano
Kaoru and Kenshin
Chou and Kamatari
Aoshi and Soujirou
Hiko and Megumi
Enishi and Misao
Shishio and Yumi

This leaves some characters I’m fond of — Katsu, Tomoe, and Gein, for example — without romantic partners. In combination with the lineup above, I tend to prefer Katsu with practically OC Tokio, Tomoe as Kenshin’s ex (probably dead, poor thing), and Gein as all the single ladies put your hands up.

Interestingly, I’ve never actually written a story or series of stories wherein I’ve hit every single one of these pairings. HoH is going to come close, but Enishi’s dead before the series starts and Misao and Tokio are cats. Katsu’s romantic fate is still up in the air… maybe he will become part of the first cross-fandom pairing and hook up with a Gundam Wing character? We’ll see, I suppose.

Anyway, my point is that, for a pairing that’s part of my optimal lineup, I don’t give Chou and Kamatari nearly enough love. They’re just so freaking adorable together. So I drew a picture of them in their canon outfits (and with Kamatari’s anime hair color, which I am fond of but which tends to revert to manga red for just about every story I write that mentions it). It took me, like, three months to draw on account of being busy, but whatevs! Yay Chou and Kamatari!!

First Kiss

Had it been an apology for all the ill treatment? A premature profession of a secret passion? A goodbye preceding what Saitou knew was coming? Or perhaps just a whim?

Why did Saitou kiss Sano on their way into Shishio’s fortress? Can Sano figure it out now Saitou is dead?


Two steps earlier and Kenshin would have seen. Two steps later and Yumi would have. Two seconds shorter and Sano wouldn’t have been quite shocked enough to keep quiet; two seconds longer and, again, Yumi would have seen.

Saitou certainly had a good sense of timing.

This wasn’t Sano’s only thought on the matter, but it was one of the more prevalent. The universe seemed to have handed Saitou that moment, that perfect opportunity, to surprise and confuse the hell out of Sano, and Saitou had not been remiss in accepting.

And now he was dead.

How long he’d been awake Sano couldn’t be sure; dream and waking thought tended to blend rather uncomfortably when you were wounded. Had he been dreaming about Saitou and was now consciously thinking about him? Or had he been awake, contemplating, and slipped into a dream that still gripped him? Honestly it didn’t matter much; such metaphysical questions paled in comparison with the greater query, Why had Saitou kissed him?

Sano sighed (a gesture that, he thought, indicated fairly well he was awake). He could recall the exact feeling of Saitou’s lips on his, the racing of his heart, the shock that had suffused his entire body, the taste and the smell… but why? Had it been an apology for all the ill treatment? A premature profession of a secret passion? A goodbye preceding what Saitou knew was coming? Or perhaps just a whim?

Saitou was an asshole. This Sano’s logic told him with alarming frequency while these reflections meandered through his head. Saitou was an asshole, and why he’d done anything he’d done during his lifetime could not be a question worth asking. Nor Saitou, the asshole, worth pursuing, nor the feel of his kiss a sensation worth dwelling on. But Saitou was also intelligent and persistent and honorable. Not to mention attractive as hell, but what did that matter? The guy was dead.

The ability to predict and plan for the moment of his own death was something Sano would not put past Saitou’s impressive skill, so perhaps it had been a sort of goodbye. The concept of a ‘goodbye kiss’ was not unusual, after all… just totally bizarre in this context. Because why a kiss? From Saitou? Though it didn’t seem too out of character for Saitou to have left Sano with an insoluble mystery in an aggravating memory just to drive him crazy after he was dead…

And Sano couldn’t regret it. After all, apology, proposition, or farewell, it was the only one he’d gotten.

He’d felt for some time that Saitou’s disliking of him, strongly expressed though it was, really didn’t exceed Saitou’s disliking of anyone else… that Saitou might, perhaps, not even dislike him much at all. It had been a significantly shorter time since he’d started thinking his disliking of Saitou might not be as intense as he’d all along believed. Was that merely because he felt bad about Saitou’s death? Was he cutting him slack because they’d fought side by side and Saitou had eventually given his life for the cause? Sano couldn’t be certain it was only this and not something more, because he’d never bothered attempting to analyze his feelings before.

That analysis was not proving very successful now. His hands ached, his head ached, his entire body ached, and he was operating in a state of perpetual weariness; the mental fatigue that came with this topic clouded the issue further, until he could barely think straight. And wasn’t it a moot point in any case? With Saitou dead, did it really matter how Sano had felt about him?

As little able as he was to distinguish sleep from waking at any given moment of this contemplation — he knew he’d had some real sleep since coming back from the fortress, and acknowledged vaguely that it was now the next day, but more details than this eluded him — he felt it was about time for another long attempt at some real rest… the kind that didn’t involve surreal memories of Saitou’s hand gripping his jaw, holding him in place for precisely four and a half seconds, and what the hell that meant. Afterward, maybe seeing how everyone else was doing and getting a more coherent version than they’d had on their return of what had happened in their absence would distract him from what he’d been thinking about ever since that return.

Just as he was lying back down, however, from the seated position in which he’d been dully looking around the room he’d been occupying in what remained of the functional chambers of the damaged inn, there came a knock at the door. Most likely, he thought, here was that hyperactive girl trying to find anyone to talk at when everyone was as busy resting as she should be after the ordeals of the last few days, but he retracted this speculation when the knock was not repeated.

Despite its probably being someone else, then, he considered not answering, pretending to be asleep — but only for a moment. He might as well see what whoever it was wanted. Something interesting (distracting) might be going on that would be even better than rest for him at present, since if he actually managed to fall asleep he couldn’t be at all certain what type of dreams he would have (or continue to have). So he called for the unknown to enter.

It was one of the two Oniwaban guys, Kuro or Shiro (visually they were perfectly distinct, but Sano sure as hell couldn’t remember which name went with which man), and all he’d come for, he explained apologetically when he saw Sano lying down, was to bring up a note that had just been delivered to the Aoiya. Thinking he’d been right not to pretend to be asleep, Sano thanked the guy and accepted the folded paper, though he didn’t open it until he was again alone.

Its purport was merely that he should come immediately to a certain room of a certain inn, and the unfamiliar handwriting, strong but neat, had a dictatorial slant to it that matched the style of the language.

What was this? Whom was it from, and what did it mean? The writer had put Sano’s full name on the outside, so it certainly hadn’t been misdelivered, but they sure hadn’t bothered to put their own name at the end of the message. With the conflict over and Shishio dead, what kind of meeting would someone feel the need to summon him to at this point?

None of this mattered much, he reflected as he rose from his futon and looked around for something to wear. Pursuing this mystery would be an engrossing pastime, and in that light the note was little less than a godsend.

Given how imperiously it ordered him to come, Sano thought its writer might at least have provided directions to the area of town where his destination was located. He intended to go, and go immediately as instructed, but there was no guarantee, in this unfamiliar city, he would be there anytime soon. That was fine with him — a relaxing walk with thoughts of this unknown communicator to keep him from what he’d been agonizing about was exactly what he needed — but how the sender of the note would feel about his probable lateness he couldn’t guess.

It had rained significantly sometime while Sano had been unconscious, in pain, deliberating, and analyzing, and the brisk wet air under the silver cover of clouds made Kyoto feel like a different world than the one he’d walked through with Kenshin and Saitou to reach the path to the shrine. Of course, that one of those men was dead had an impact on the scene as well. Every death made the world a different place; Sano wasn’t sure why this one should make so much more of a difference than most. Maybe because it had been preceded by that damned inexplicable kiss.

But he really must stop thinking about that. Whatever secretive and dangerous circumstances he was preparing to put himself in would not be improved by thoughts of the taste of Saitou’s breath through barely parted lips, and wasn’t the entire point of going to force his mind away from that topic? Firmly Sano started running through names of potential senders of the note and potential reasons for their having sent it.

Though he’d come up with a few scenarios whose pieces more or less fit together, though sometimes only roughly, by the time (after having separately asked three people for directions that had turned out to conflict in various aspects) he found the stupid inn he was looking for approximately ten thousand miles away from his starting point, nothing he’d thought of seemed terribly likely. This wasn’t terribly important, since the distraction had been unobjectionable, and now he was finally here he could concentrate on what this situation actually turned out to be rather than his speculations about it.

The place looked normal enough, Sano considered as his gaze swept across the second-floor windows, all of them in perfectly natural and innocuous positions, where the room he needed must be located. Of course an enemy could be waiting up there to attempt to kill him silently, or possibly the entire inn was in on the ambush or whatever it was… Sano couldn’t think what enemy it was likely or even possible to be, but it wasn’t impossible. Still, he didn’t really mind walking into ambushes; one against many was his specialty. He would have preferred to be less tired and incapacitated, but everyone needed a handicap now and then, right?

When the employee inside, upon hearing of Sano’s errand (just that he was supposed to meet someone, not that he anticipated an attack), merely directed him politely as if this was expected, Sano’s suspicions intensified. He saw no one all the way up the stairs, and the second-floor corridor was empty, but he listened hard at every step for anybody that might burst out of one of these rooms or try to sneak up behind him. And when he reached the door he needed, after double-checking the note he then thrust into his pocket so as to have his hands completely free, he tensed for action before knocking. He couldn’t help hoping there might be a really fun fight waiting for him in here, and he could lose himself in those good old emotions and forget about everything else for a while.

The door opened, and Sano found himself staring up into narrow golden eyes.

“I sent that message over two hours ago. What could possibly have taken you that long?”

Sano could have told him to fuck off, that Saitou was not entitled to his presence in a timely or even an untimely fashion, that Saitou should feel damn lucky Sano had bothered to respond at all to an anonymous note mysteriously ordering him around, that he might have been in the middle of something and had taken his sweet time responding. He might even have told the truth, admitted he was unfamiliar with the layout of Kyoto and had made one or two wrong turns on the lengthy trip over. But he actually said nothing, at least at first.

For the world seemed to go simultaneously unnaturally sharp at all edges and blurred in the middle, while the saturation of every color fluctuated wildly. A sudden pressure in his head combined with an erratic jumping of his heart made him feel as if he was suspended by the latter in a haze of surprise and other, less definable emotions above an unknown abyss.

The first he knew he was swaying was when Saitou caught him. The feel of the man’s hands on his arms, hot and alive, jolted him out of his momentary syncope. And when the officer said with unexpectedly warm sarcasm, “That happy to see me, are you?” it worked further to bring reality back.

“You asshole,” Sano gasped, and, neither content to leave it at that nor able, just yet, to articulate anything more meaningful, repeated himself in a stronger tone. Finally, after what seemed at least an entire minute during which Saitou had drawn him into the room, guided him to a seated position on the mat, and dropped down beside him, he felt up to continuing. “You survived. You fucking survived, and let me think you died.”

To this there was no response, and Sano needed none to know the rebuke was unjust. Everything around him signified this was almost the earliest possible moment he could have been called here: near the futon not far off were indications of a doctor’s having been in attendance until recently; a thoroughly consumed meal’s empty dishes, though neatly stacked, had not yet been removed; and a packet of what looked like official paperwork had not yet been untied or attended to… indeed, that Saitou was here at an inn at all, rather than already back at a police station plugging away again, seemed meaningful.

And the very instant Sano’s brain had finished up these thoughts, he was overcome once again with the abrupt memory of Saitou turning suddenly toward him, gripping his chin, and kissing him firmly for four and a half seconds. From the cold and light-headed whiteness it had undoubtedly attained during his brief weakness, Sano’s face transitioned instantly to a burning heat that was probably brilliant red. Was that why Saitou had brought him here? To explain his strange behavior? And what would Sano say when he did? He never had figured out how he felt about it.

He opened his mouth to demand to know why Saitou had kissed him, but found he couldn’t quite bring himself (indeed, didn’t even really know how) to tread such vastly alien territory. What emerged instead was, “So how did you get out of there? Seemed like there wasn’t even much ‘there’ to get out of when we were leaving.” The words sounded surprisingly rational, considering how different they were from what he really wanted to say, what he really meant.

“There was a second exit on the other side of the canyon,” Saitou replied, “though it did take some work to get to.”

“Shit! Did you have to climb burning wreckage and stuff?” Though Sano was legitimately alarmed by the mental image of that escape, what he meant by the question was, ‘Why the hell did you kiss me?’

“In between dodging it,” Saitou nodded.

Impressed rather in spite of himself, the younger man gave the older a more thorough visual examination than before. Like Sano, Saitou had abandoned for the moment the ensemble, now rather the worse for blood and battle damage, he generally favored; he wore a more traditional kimono and hakama from under which bandages peeked in bright contrast to the outfit’s dark grey and black. And like Sano, Saitou had about him the kind of passive pained weariness that comes after the first long rest following injury and exhaustion. But in general, remarkably, “You don’t even look all that much more hurt than you were when we left.”

Saitou’s lips lifted at one corner as if he could tell this near-praise was delivered almost against Sano’s will, but he probably couldn’t tell that what Sano would rather say was, ‘So why’d you kiss me?’ At any rate, his reply was, “It looks like you managed to stumble back without hurting yourself too much more as well.”

“Excuse me, dickface,” Sano retorted, instead of asking why Saitou had kissed him, “I am capable of walking across town without fucking dying.”

“But apparently not without taking two hours.” It was irritating how attractive those thin lips could be even when arranged in such a mocking expression.

“You know, you’re lucky I came at all. An unsigned note telling me to come to some strange place for some reason it didn’t bother to mention?” Sano was pleased to make one of the points he hadn’t been able to when he’d first arrived, even if the point behind that point was, “And now you’re going to tell me why you kissed me, right?”

“Certainly nobody with an iota of sense would have come in response to a note like that,” Saitou agreed with mock solemnity. “I was counting on that.”

“Bite me,” Sano growled. “Or at least goddamn explain why you kissed me yesterday.” Yesterday? Had it really been only yesterday? He felt like he’d been dwelling on it for a lifetime. With an effort he forced himself to ask, “Why the hell did you even call me here, anyway?”

“I thought you might want to know I was still alive.”

“You really thought I’d care, huh?”

Rather than point out that, just minutes before, Sano had grown faint at the revelation and then profanely reprimanded Saitou for not telling him sooner, the officer merely said, “I thought it might at least be interesting to you.”

“You know you could have said that in the note, though, right?” Annoyed that he had reacted so dramatically, whether or not Saitou had called him on the discrepancy, Sano sounded more surly than he actually felt. “I didn’t have to come all the way across town when you could have just written, Hey, I’m still alive, and actually signed it.”

“But I couldn’t kiss you from all the way across town.”

Having gone so long without bringing it up and then made inroads away from the topic, then giving this statement so blandly, Saitou took Sano completely and shockingly by surprise, and he’d leaned in and almost connected with Sano’s lips before the stunned young man could react to the words or the gesture. As in the previous instance, Saitou’s nearness and intoxicating smell overwhelmed him, and Sano was for an instant entirely paralyzed.

And then, jumping as if stung, he jerked back and raised a hand to block access to his mouth. “Fucking–” he gasped. “No, just– stop that!”

Though the time that passed between this broken admonishment and Sano’s subsequent words was the span of a breath and no longer, it was enough to observe, interpret, react, and feel a great deal. For Sano thought he read in Saitou’s slight straightening movement toward his previous position some disappointment and resignation, and just that was enough to provide a few answers or at least conjectures to similar effect.

Saitou had summoned him here not merely to let Sano know he was still alive, but to reiterate the overture he’d made at the gates of the fortress… and in that brief moment before Sano explained himself, Saitou interpreted Sano’s impetuous reactive words as a rejection, and was disheartened by it. This was simultaneously, even in that fraction of a second, empowering, pathetic, and irritating to Sano.

He could never have predicted that, having (or perhaps being) something Saitou wanted, he would be able to hold over Saitou’s head his ability to deny him that desire. The lightning-fast realization that he didn’t want to deny Saitou that desire didn’t change the fact that, with this unexpected influence in mind, they were on much more equal footing than they’d ever been before. Much more equal footing was much more solid footing, and Sano felt abruptly much more sure of what to say, much more able to deal with this scenario.

And even that merest hint of disappointment he thought he saw in Saitou made him feel bad for the man. Who hadn’t, after all, experienced fear of rejection, fear of losing or even entirely failing to gain a desired prize? Saitou had too much pride to display anything beyond just that faint hint that couldn’t be hidden, but just that faint hint had been enough to make Sano pity him and feel more disposed toward his cause.

And this was annoying. A normal person, someone not intolerably arrogant and overconfident in their own powers, would perhaps say words to the effect of, ‘I like you; let’s have a romance.’ There might be presents involved, or at least pleasant conversation or other signs of friendship preceding the declaration. But not Saitou Hajime. Saitou would kiss a guy out of the blue, unsolicited, unwarned-for, unexplained, then allow his victim to suffer agonies of indecision and confusion, then try to repeat the performance without ever giving any other overt signs of interest or even good will… and then make a grippingly pathetic display of his manfully repressed sorrow at the apparent failure of his scheme. What a marvelous jerk.

And yet Sano didn’t want to say no, and did feel something in response to Saitou’s disappointment.

He might have tried to play with that power he suddenly felt he had over the other man, but couldn’t quite bring himself to evoke a possibly even stronger dismayed reaction in Saitou. Though Saitou would certainly deserve that, it might get Sano thrown out on his ass before he could admit he was just messing around, making the whole situation much more difficult and uncomfortable. Also, he maybe wanted to hasten, as best he could, the moment when Saitou would kiss him again.

So he lowered his hand, leaving his lips unguarded, and said loftily, “We need some First Kiss rules before you can do that.”

Saitou’s lean toward Sano disappeared completely as he sat straight again, eyebrow raised. “And the previous kiss doesn’t count why?”

Sano’s glare was one of righteous indignation. “Because you didn’t explain anything — like why the hell you did it — and then you went off and died.”

Any and all signs of unhappiness had vanished from Saitou’s demeanor, and the skeptical expression on his face took on a touch of amusement. “Setting aside the fact that neither of those things makes this our first kiss, are those the rules you want? ‘Tell you why I’m kissing you,’ and ‘don’t die afterwards?'”

Pensively Sano replied, “Also you have to promise you’re not just fucking with my head — because you’ve pretty much been nothing but a complete bastard all along to me, so it’s hard to believe you kissed me except to mess with me.”

“Is that all?” Saitou asked with an exaggerated air of patience.

“Um, no, also–”

“These are a lot of rules for something that’s only going to happen once.”

“Well, yeah, but a First Kiss is important!” Sano too was impatient to get on with this thing, but he meant what he said. “It’s a big moment, and it means a lot — it sort of sets up how everything’s going to go from then on!”

“All right.”

“So when you beat me up outside Katsu’s place, you were saying…”

Saitou’s brows both rose as Sano proceeded to elaborate the fourth rule. Presently, with a slight sound of frustration that might have been his forbearance snapping, he leaned forward again and cut Sano’s words off entirely by kissing him.

As Sano’s lips worked slowly against Saitou’s, opening gradually at the advancement of a tongue that tasted more of soba and green tea and less of cigarettes than he would have expected, every nerve in his body seemed to intensify in its receptiveness so his injuries throbbed like his heart. He felt sensitized and dizzy and overwhelmed, and he clutched at Saitou with painful hands as the man pushed him slightly backward with the fervor of their connection.

This was Saitou being an tyrannical asshole again, but Sano could not have complained even if he’d had breath and opportunity to do so. As a First Kiss it was acceptable, even superior, and as a representation of the rest of their relationship, whatever that turned out to be, Saitou muscling past any preexisting animosity to startle and incapacitate Sano with something new and shockingly wonderful seemed neither inaccurate nor undesirable.

When after some time they divided like a chemical bond breaking, forming two entities from what had previously been one, Sano was panting heavily and almost painfully and watching little darting, sparkling dots at the edges of his vision. He was definitely in no physical condition, at the moment, for kisses that passionate; if he had been, he would probably have flung himself on top of Saitou at this point and demanded more… never mind that Saitou’s physical condition seemed even worse than his.

“I did that,” Saitou said somewhat breathlessly, “because I like you. And I have no intention of dying any time soon. And if this weren’t such a bad time for it, I would drag you onto that futon over there and prove that I’m not just fucking with your head.”

The rush of hot blood mobilizing through Sano’s body at these words and at the look in Saitou’s eyes, making him feel all over again as if he might faint, only served to reiterate what he’d just been thinking and Saitou had essentially just said: that, despite how much both of them would love to continue this experiment, this was not a good moment for it. All the interesting possibilities that had arisen between them must be put off until another time.

“I might drag myself onto that futon over there and take a nap,” Sano muttered.

“No. I have paperwork to do, and I can’t have that temptation lying there the whole time.”

Sano couldn’t help grinning a little at what was essentially a compliment no matter how coolly Saitou had delivered it, but he was concurrently annoyed. “You want me to walk all the way back across town again?”

“I didn’t say I wanted you to.” Saitou threw a look half regretful and half irritated at the bundle of papers.

“You and your stupid dedication,” Sano snorted.

Saitou’s gaze returned to him, the quirk of his lips and the narrowness of his eyes now clearly teasing. “Think you can manage it in less than two hours this time?”

“Probably not. I know the way better, but I’m in worse shape now — which is your fault, by the way.”

Without responding to the accusation, Saitou just said, “You’d better get going as soon as possible, then.”

“Fine!” Only Saitou would start something like this and then dismiss his partner like that. Sano climbed laboriously to his feet, somehow managing not to reel once fully upright, and stuck out his tongue at the smirking policeman. Then he turned toward the door. When he’d opened it, before actually leaving the room, he glanced back briefly, perhaps to offer a goodbye, though whether it would be friendly or belligerent he couldn’t be quite sure.

His breath caught, however, and he found himself incapable of speech of any kind when he observed Saitou smiling at him as Sano had never seen him smile before — with a look of fondness, of genuine pleasure, of satisfaction untouched by mockery. In the face of this interesting unknown he’d somehow unlocked, Sano clutched at the doorframe in an unexpected repeat of his earlier imbalance as he blushed madly… but he did manage a return smile before departing.

He made his way back to the Aoiya in continued dizziness and a mixture of buoyancy and discomfort. His injuries hurt more severely than before, and he was far more exhausted than he should have been after a mere two leisurely walks (even with an earth-shattering kiss between them), but his fluttering heart seemed to keep him half-hovering off the ground, and his emotions, though not significantly more coherent than they had been earlier, were now such a pleasant tangle as to give a vigor he could not otherwise have expected to his steps.

By the time he’d reached the blue roofs, some of them even more damaged than he was, and let himself in and found his way back up to his room as quietly as possible, he was happily, fuzzily contemplating both the general future with its bizarrely unexpected pleasures and the very immediate prospect of some thorough rest and recuperation almost this very moment. Though famished and still curious about what his friends were and had been up to, he must consider sleep his absolute first priority; with one contact of lips, Saitou had managed to enforce that.

Sano thought he understood, now, the meaning of the original kiss that had so baffled him at the time. It had been neither apology nor goodbye, as he’d speculated (though there had probably been in it some smugness at the thought of how much it would puzzle and annoy Sano until it could be explained); it had been no declaration of deepest affection, nor yet a meaningless whim; in fact it had been nothing more nor less than a suggestion of something they might try and see how they liked it. Which meant Sano didn’t need to figure out how he felt about Saitou, since the experiment was not over; actually it had just begun.

Currently he felt pretty damn positive about him, despite how much Saitou had annoyed him even during the pleasant parts of their conversation. Currently he felt pretty damn positive about everything. Getting some proper sleep was going to be a lot easier now.

For a second time, however, just as he was lying down and preparing to rest, in this instance far less worried about (indeed, rather looking forward to!) the type of dreams he might have when he did, there was a knock at the door. Also for a second time he speculated it was probably Misao, and also for a second time was proven wrong.

It was the other of the two Oniwaban guys, Shiro or Kuro, and the déjà vu of debating over appellations augmented that of seeing the note just delivered to the Aoiya. That it had arrived directly on Sano’s heels reiterated one of yesterday’s startling points: what an uncannily good sense of timing Saitou had. And Sano’s full name on the outside of the folded paper was so identical to the first, he had to pull the other out for comparison before he could believe there actually were two notes. Then, once again having waited until he was alone, he opened the message.

I thought about it, and that one may not have qualified either. We had better discuss your other rules and try again tomorrow. Come by at around lunch time.

Sano lay back down in triumph and weariness, hugging the refolded note to his chest. That was right; that was exactly right. Saitou recognized his First Kiss requirements, that they hadn’t all been elaborated upon, and that another attempt must be made at meeting them. And if he and Sano didn’t manage it tomorrow, they could easily give it another shot the next day. Eventually, when wounds had started to heal and bodies had regained some stamina (and perhaps when paperwork had diminished a trifle), they could try more than once in a day. His standards were fairly high on this point, after all; the number of attempts it might require could not really be fathomed at this juncture.

He plunged toward sleep happily anticipating something he would not previously have considered a matter of question, something he would have taken entirely for granted before yesterday: the probability that he would never have a proper First Kiss with Saitou.


This fic is dedicated to liveonanon and W. Solstice for the explosion of joy they had recently caused in my life at time of writing.

I’ve rated this story . The part where Sano reacts to Saitou reacting to Sano blocking his attempted kiss is my absolute favorite. The rest of the fic is pretty good, but that part is genius, if I do say so myself. Too bad I can’t say the same about the illustration XD

This story is included in the Saitou & Sano Collection ebook (.zip file contains .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats).


Hospital

I really should make an entry about my internship now that I’m at the halfway point, but I don’t feel like it. It’s going well. Much more interesting than that is the amazing picture drawn by Candra, whose art I have long adored, for me by commission:

This is a scene from Death Wish, and I literally cried when she sent me the initial sketch. Isn’t she just spectacular?? Her commissions still seem to be open, if anyone else is interested in jumping on that chance!!

SHARKFACE

Month after month after month, I put off my art exchange piece until the last weekend of the month, draw something barely passable at best, and tell myself, “Next month I will start as soon as I get the assignment so as to work on it in whatever spare time I happen to have all through the month so my picture will NOT SUCK.” And month after month after month, this doesn’t happen.

But in September, by some miracle, I actually managed to do it. And behold! The picture does not suck!

Busy Week

Although I’m still on for the rest of my lengthy shifts until Christmas, I was fortunate enough not to have to work today. So I decided to finish that picture from yesterday!

I’m more than a little astonished at how nice this turned out. I should start more pictures at work. You hear that, EA customers? Just stop… well, no, I can’t curse my own job like that, for fear of another place I work at going out of business. Aaanyway. Then I decided some color was in order, and I like the color version even better (which is a little unusual for a piece designed in black and white):

It even looks kinda Christmassy, doesn’t it? That’ll have to do for my Christmas offering this year, since I’m sure as hell not going to finish anything else in time. So happy Christmas, everiun!

Incidentally, it became clear, specifically while coloring this, that Duo is wearing Heero’s scarf. I wonder why that is…

Getting paid for this

OK, so, this extremely busy work week has been extremely busy almost exclusively in the mornings. The last few days I’ve come in and mostly just cleaned up after everything else. Lots of dishes, not a lot of arrangements. And today, I have literally nothing to do. So I’ve decided to draw a picture with what materials I happen to have with me. I’ll put progress reports here, and we’ll see how it goes.

So there’s the beginning of a sketch. Man, I’ve used so many kiss refs from Getty Images, I’m starting to forget which ones I’ve already done.

Co-worker called from the other store and said he’s sending an order over here, but I’ve yet to see any sign of it. Onward, then, to the drawings!

So now Heero, like, is a robed faery and Duo is a sleeveless, high-booted jewelry aficionado. Or something. And there is mystic wind. This is what happens sometimes.

After some time wasted spent doing actual work, we are back with more defined lines and the beginnings of a border both on Heero’s rather inconvenient-looking (at least to fly in) robe and the picture as a whole.

Borders and some colors. Dammit, Heero, why do you look like Harry Potter all of a sudden.

OK, I got a little bit further than that, but then I had to wash, like, four dishes and mop the floor, and then drive home at 20 MPH in teh snows. So. I like this picture very much so far, but Poe only knows when I’ll have a chance to finish it.

Have You Done This Before?

Remember not long ago when I was complaining about a paltry $90 charge for a tetanus shot? Well, today I scheduled my three appointments for rabies vaccination at a local health center (since my doctor does not offer this vaccine), and learned to miss paying $90 for a poke in the arm. Even if each of these three visits were only $90 I would be satisfied. As it is, the entire thing is going to cost upward of eight hundred. I’m having serious second thoughts about doing it at all at this point.

Aaanyway, the revelation of this price rendered me useless for most pursuits for the rest of the day, and this combined with a pairing freakout I’ve been having of late led me to do the first drawing besides art exchange stuff I’ve done for quite a while. I don’t know if anyone else has been watching Once Upon a Time, but ZOMFG YOU GUYS Aurora and Mulan. I’ve been shipping them essentially from the off, and the writers have provided no lack of subtext to encourage me in this, but on Sunday they had this moment like no moment I’ve ever seen. So here is a picture:

I colored it, intending it to be a washed-out scribbly piece… but then I found that no combination of lineart and color pleased me nearly as much as each one on its own. So here are some colors:

Now I just have to decide whether I really want this rabies vaccination right now. Well, that and watch my Broncs totally obliterate the Raiders again. What a difficult life I have.

One Year, Two Minutes

One Year, Two Minutes



This story has no chapters, but has been divided into three posts due to length.

1
2
3

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……


One Year, Two Minutes (3/3)



This story has no chapters, but has been divided into three posts due to length.

1
2
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.”

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.