Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, wish I did, just enjoy writing about ‘em for free etc
Category: AU, romance
Notes: Just a conversation over coffee between friends…
Feedback: If you liked it, PLEASE let me know!
For merith : to celebrate the anniversary of ‘meeting’ one of my best friends, whether on or off line *hugs*
The cafeteria was having a busy morning, cluttered with children who were late for school and shoppers who were early for the sales. Their table was the only one free, squashed up in a corner of the room beside a lusty rubber plant in a thick terracotta pot. Heero shifted his chair to avoid one of the leaves stabbing his ear. Then he passed the sugar to Duo and watched as his companion heaped several spoonfuls into his coffee.
Duo’s eyes flickered up to Heero’s face then away again. He grimaced, like he wasn’t keen on the expression he saw there. “Spare me the lecture. I need the sugar rush this morning.”
Heero’s eyebrows raised. “Heavy night?”
Duo sighed. “I wish. It’s just that Quatre’s flight was delayed, so I ended up waiting until past one a.m., to see him off. Then I brought his car back as arranged and had trouble parking the damned thing, it manoeuvres like a tank. Then Hilde rang, that boyfriend is giving her trouble again, never turning up on time, and she thinks he’s seeing someone else at the same time as her. And Wufei had mailed me about some problem with his heating, he knew I’d worked on a similar system some time back and wanted to know if I knew about the thermostats, so I was looking out the manual from that box in the attic …”
He caught Heero’s expression and laughed. “What?”
“I’m exhausted just listening to you! You’re always so busy doing things for other people, Duo.”
A couple of school kids bumped their way past their table, waving half-covered cups of coffee and doughnuts that were scattering sugar over the other patrons. They were arguing with a mixture of habit and half-heartedness, and looked startled when Duo bent down to pick up and return the book they’d dropped from a carelessly open bag.
He turned back to Heero with bright eyes. “You said about being busy? I don’t mind, of course I don’t. It’s for my friends. You do the same.”
Heero smiled back. He liked Duo’s expressions, Duo’s speech; always so lively and alert. His friend was stimulated by people – he thrived on interaction. Heero basked in the reflection of that stimulation when he was with him. It was warm, like a padded coat suddenly drawn around him. He felt a relaxation that he never felt anywhere else – or with anyone else.
“I don’t think I can compare to you, Maxwell. I help a couple of people out with their technical issues, sure. Like I helped Relena when she had those network problems last month.”
Duo reached for another spoonful of sugar and stirred it aimlessly into his coffee. He grinned. “You mean you yanked her out of the brown and smelly stuff when she got drowned in spam.”
Heero looked into the wide, mischief-fuelled eyes and his smile grew broader. “That was amusing, wasn’t it?”
Duo liked it when his friend smiled like that. It creased the smooth skin of his cheeks; it made his eyes glint with the wry humour that he didn’t always show to the public. He liked making Heero laugh. “Yeah. If she’d taken even a fraction of the mail up on its offers, she’d have had a penis the length of the freeway –“
“ – enough money on secured loans to buy a small, richly-armed militia of her own –“
“ – and four cupboards full of miraculous, fat-shrinking diet tablets.”
Duo was laughing aloud, now. Heero smiled at him. “You were a good assistant, Duo – kept her hysteria away from me as I worked, plying her with your jokes and distractions. When I first arrived, she’d been preparing to throw some really fine equipment out of the window.”
“By the time you left, you were the Saviour of Mankind and I was the one she wanted to throw out of the window,” grumbled Duo.
They laughed together. The kids cracked some kind of joke of their own in the background and all conversation was momentarily drowned out by other, more raucous laughter.
“And so how was Quatre?” Heero asked. “You saw him off safely?”
Duo nodded. “He’ll get there in time to see Trowa before he goes in for the operation. I mean, I’m sure the guy will be OK, it’s not a life-threatening thing, but it was important that Quatre got there to be with him, you know? There was no other flight available at that short notice; no other way of getting Quatre to the airport apart from me driving.”
“I know. You offered straight off.”
“Hm.” Duo bit back a yawn. “No problem. They need sorting out, those two. Keep messing about with jobs at different ends of the country when they should be together.”
“Remember when they weren’t?” Heero mused. “A couple, that is.”
Duo looked at him, sharply. Heero didn’t often talk personally about things, let alone relationships. “Uh-huh, of course.” Quatre and Trowa had worked together for nearly a year before they started dating openly. “Far as I remember, it was you who helped them to it.”
Heero looked a little flushed. “No, I didn’t mean … It was about to happen anyway.”
“You asked Quatre to house-sit, didn’t you?” persisted Duo. “Both of them were in house-shares at the time. It gave him and Trowa a chance to spend some time alone together.”
Heero looked like he wanted to argue, but didn’t. “Just coincidence.”
“Not,” said Duo, quite sharply. He wouldn’t take his eyes away from Heero. “It was generous of you. You could have asked me to look after the plants – I’ve not killed ‘em yet. Or you could have taken paying lodgers. You were away for a couple of months on that oil rig project. But instead, you let our friends have some time and space, and next we knew they were snuggling on the bus and nauseating every one of us.”
“Until you found them a car and they took up snuggling in that,” Heero retorted.
“We’re bad as each other,” grinned Duo, and watched Heero’s expression relax again.
Heero sipped from his coffee, but Duo knew it was only a diversion for him, to allow him to gather his thoughts again. He wondered what had made his friend touch on the subject in the first place.
The coffee machine at the counter hissed and someone called cheerily from the kitchen. Some more customers came in – a couple left.
“You said that Wufei had emailed you?”
Duo nodded. “He’s fine, too. Just about getting his place straight now.”
“Thanks largely to you,” said Heero. “If you hadn’t helped him get the apartment renovated, after the fire gutted it …”
Duo dismissed that with an impatient wave of his hand. “I was just glad he wasn’t hurt. Damned landlord should be hung, drawn and quartered for that spaghetti mess of wiring we found. No wonder the place went up in flames. You fixed it for him, anyway, rewired it and it’s good as new. Better, actually.”
“But you were the one who helped him clean and paint it all. Encouraged him to show enthusiasm and pride in it again – helped him salvage some of his possessions when he thought he’d lost everything. Went out to him in the small hours of the morning to talk it all through.”
“Just got him some furniture and stuff.” Duo wriggled a bit on his seat. He moved closer to Heero’s chair, and one of the plant leaves tickled at his neck.
“No,” said Heero, quite softly. “Much more than that. He doesn’t talk easily about his past; about his family. His belongings are precious to him. You helped him come to terms with what he’d lost, and also what he hadn’t.”
“Ah … the least I could do.” Duo sighed and took a long slurp of his drink. Heero watched him with trepidation - he thought that the quality of the refreshments had seriously deteriorated over the last few months of coming to the mall, and Duo’s coffee must have had enough sugar in it to make the spoon stand upright.
Despite all this, he saw a look of utter bliss spread over his friend’s face. “God, that’s better!”
And Heero laughed again – he couldn’t help himself.
Duo grinned at him over the rim of the paper cup. “Yeah, that’s much better. Haven’t seen you laugh for days.”
Heero grimaced. “It hasn’t exactly been an amusing time, Duo.”
shrugged but there was sympathy deep in his eyes. He knew Heero wouldn’t appreciate pity, but
he also knew that Heero was not always the
Heero shrugged as well, but his shoulders were tense. Duo could see that clearly. “I lost my job, Duo.”
Heero rolled his eyes. “Three times in a year?”
Duo’s grin was more rueful this time. “Just bad luck.”
Heero leaned back in his chair, pushing another leaf impatiently out from under his nose. “Thank God I didn’t buy a lottery ticket, then.”
Duo tutted. “Don’t whine. It’s a hard time in your industry, Heero. It’s not personal. No reflection on your giant, miracle-of-modern-science brain. It’s just that there are too many programmers, not enough programs.”
Heero smiled. He wasn’t offended. Duo always spoke like that. It was Duo’s way, wasn’t it, to be blunt – and he liked it. “Right. Do you have any idea at all of what I do?”
Duo smirked. “Geek. You geek a lot. There’s talk of code and binary stuff. Script – assembly – SQL stuff. I listen on a need to know basis, you know?”
Heero raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. The geek industry is under pressure. You’re right.”
“See?” Duo grinned again. “Like I said – there’s too many geeks. And most of ‘em seem to be starting at around age 8. Can’t see how you can compete with that.”
Heero nudged at his coffee cup. He’d been waiting for it to cool down, but now he wasn’t sure he even wanted it. The kids were noisy over in the other corner, and a harmless drunk had rolled in from an uncomfortable night on the street and was hunched over a mug of tea, singing songs from a Broadway show to anyone or no-one in particular.
“What should I do, then? Become something other than a geek?”
Duo leaned back in his chair and slurped again. “Not so sure you have that option. You naturally have the look.”
Heero was startled. “What look?”
“Glazed eyes. Stretched fingers. The ability to remember most of the numbers on my cell, let alone your own. The sad fact of being able to understand all that SQL stuff in the first place.”
He looked at Heero’s face almost surreptitiously. He wanted to see a smile of amusement – he wasn’t sure how close to the bone he was cutting, and he might have misjudged. But Heero wasn’t easily upset. And Duo didn’t unleash the most merciless edge of his humour on Heero. No, he treasured his friend in a rather more protective way.
Heero looked back at him, unperturbed, and gave a slow, wry smile. He saw the slight relaxation in Duo’s posture – the pleasure that flickered in his friend’s eyes. It required confidence and comfort with a person to be able to banter like this, like he and Duo did. It had taken him a while to adapt to it – to learn the measure of them both. It was especially good, though, when he saw he could amuse Duo in return.
“So what about you?”
“Me?” Duo looked puzzled.
“You work in the shop, fixing vehicles in the yard, creating things. What’s your look? Eyes shining like headlamps?”
Duo laughed aloud, and the drunk looked across, temporarily losing his way in the chorus. “Nah. My look can only be described as cute.”
Heero pursed his lips, as Duo smirked confidently. “Cute? Please! Is that really a look?”
“What do you think it is – an ambition?” Duo scoffed. “I have it in bucketloads, Heero Yuy. My cute factor is 10+. You only have to look at me to know it.”
“Cute factor? What the hell’s that?”
“You need to get out more.” Duo drained his coffee and appraised Heero’s barely touched cupful. “It’s an entertainment I have. Everyone has a cute rating – it’s just that some have more than others. Some are off the wall – some are cheesily cute. It’s fun to watch people and imagine what they may be.”
“You watch people here in the mall?”
“Sometimes.” Duo’s tone was breezy, but for a second his eyes narrowed. Heero knew he was remembering when business had been quiet for him, back in the summer. All he’d had to keep him occupied then was to hand out advertising flyers for the repair shop and – obviously – sit around watching people. And Duo was the kind of guy who needed to be occupied, else he got broody. It had been a few months before the customers started drifting back. It had been a time of considerable tension.
It seemed when one of them was in work, the other had trouble. But in a way, it was lucky it was like that. It had become some kind of unspoken arrangement that they supported each other when it happened. Not with money; Heero had tried offering that once and Duo had spent several weeks being particularly brittle towards him – and not even allowing him to buy a coffee. Now they used their company and their humour and their understanding instead.
It worked well. Heero felt the warmth again.
“It must rely heavily on the watcher’s point of view,” he said, dryly. “This cute factor rating.”
Duo nodded, triumphantly. “Hey, you’re getting it! That’s the whole point - if we were all the same, what the hell fun would that be?”
“So some may score you a cute factor of only – say – 3,” said Heero. His face was perfectly solemn.
Duo peered at him, lip curling slightly. “It’s just not likely, is it?”
Heero smiled. “You’re incorrigible.”
“And you,” retorted Duo, “are unusually pensive for an early Tuesday morning.”
He saw Heero’s gaze falter, and worried again that he’d disturbed him. It hadn’t been easy for either of them, the last year. He looked at Heero’s hands, clenched quite tightly together on the table top. They were strong hands, very masculine, but well kept. Heero was creative and sensitive; Duo had received comfort from that side of his friend many times in the past. He wondered if he’d ever told Heero that.
They both looked back up at the same time; their eyes met, quite steadily; quite openly. Duo smiled again, but gently.
Heero stared at that smile with the concentration he usually only gave to the infamous SQL. “I’m just thinking, Duo.”
Heero paused. He saw Duo’s eyes glance over the scuffed table top, and he pushed his cup over for his friend to finish up. He wasn’t that keen on coffee, anyway. “We have a lot of memories, don’t we, Duo? A lot of shared memories. We have good friends, and have fun with them. We’ve helped them, and helped each other. Lots of good times. It’s been a while.”
“A while?” Duo didn’t seem interested in the coffee any more, and there was a flicker of wariness in his eyes. Many of the patrons were leaving the cafeteria now, making their way to their day ahead. There was a small oasis of empty chairs around their table. He leant around the intrusive plant, which took his head a little closer to Heero’s shoulder.
Heero was very aware of it, as if Duo’s body had actually touched him. It was an odd feeling. A fascinating one.
“I meant, it’s been a while since we’ve been friends. Been together.”
“Sure,” Duo replied. He leant in a little closer to Heero. “We’ve built up quite an album, I guess.”
Heero was still staring at him. He’d relaxed his hands and was placing one of them on the table, very carefully, palm down, so close to Duo’s that their little fingers almost touched. Duo held his breath, though he wasn’t quite sure why.
“An album?” Heero asked.
Duo nodded. “It’s cool.” He felt unusually tongue-tied. “It’s like having a virtual photo album in your head, isn’t it? Building memories together. You know?”
“Yes. I know,” replied Heero.
They continued to gaze at each other, not seeing anything weird in it. Heero watched Duo’s mouth; traced the smile with his eyes. It was a little tentative now, but it reached to the very corners of his wide, honest eyes. Heero liked to see that. That was what he liked to watch.
Duo’s voice was a murmur. “Umm … I can’t exactly remember helping you out with much, Yuy. You’re always pretty much self-sufficient.”
“So are you.”
“True,” Duo agreed, nodding. The coffee on an empty stomach after little sleep – it was making his head race a bit. Yeah, that was it.
Heero licked his lips and continued. “But you do help me. A lot. All the time.”
Duo raised his eyebrows in a genuine question.
Heero shook his head a little impatiently, though his eyes still smiled. “You find good things to say; good things to do. You care. You’re there for me. Hell, you’re just there!” He grunted, as if he was embarrassed at last. “Do you know what I mean?”
Duo felt the space around them in the cafeteria sweep outwards, far away, and then back in to enclose them. Just them.
“Yeah,” he said. “Sure I know.” Heero’s hand was pressing on to the table quite fiercely now; Duo could see the veins standing out on the top of it. He watched his own hand nudge another inch across and nestle against it. The mall outside the window of the cafeteria was getting busy; there was muted sound through the thin walls, and the shadow of movement against the frosted windows. Duo felt rather hot.
“It’s the best feeling,” he said, surprised to find he was struggling to find the right words. “That you’re there. It’s the same for me.”
They were quiet for a moment. It was a very pleasant feeling.
“So, Yuy.” Duo coughed, clearing his throat. He felt like grinning. He thought he might close up the shop today and suggest they got some lunch together later. “Shouldn’t we get going? What time’s your interview?”
Heero bit his lower lip. “Not until eleven, but it’s across town. You’re right.” He brushed absentmindedly at his jacket, smoothing the creases at his elbow. Duo thought how good he looked in a suit; his build carried it well. He looked good in most things, really.
They filled a couple of minutes getting up, their chairs hitting the plant pot and rocking it on its base. Duo caught it as it toppled; righted it. Heero watched the careful confidence of his movements.
“Thanks for offering me the lift there, Duo.”
Duo held the door and the two of them filed out. The drunk was asleep on his chair in the corner of the room, his snoring melodic in its own way. The two young men started back to the parking lot, weaving through the shoppers. They bumped against each other, as the flow of bodies took them. It happened quite frequently, considering it was only a short stroll back to their floor.
In the stairwell, Heero paused for a moment as Duo loped past him, rummaging in his back pocket for his car keys. “Just one question, Duo.”
“Huh?” His friend turned back, his face half shadowed.
“What cute factor do you give me?”
Duo started to laugh, but something made him halt. “Didn’t think you bothered about such things, Heero.”
Heero was silent. He stood in that self-contained manner of his, his body still but his eyes bubbling with activity. It made Duo shiver, in a good kind of way. He’d teased his friend about it once or twice – though he didn’t do that now.
Heero stepped down a couple of steps until he stood at the same eye-level again. Duo tilted up his chin. He didn’t think he mistook the light brush of Heero’s arm against his hip.
His chuckle echoed in the concrete stairwell. “Now you, Heero … You’re a 13, I’d say.”
Heero looked startled – maybe he hadn’t expected a proper answer.
Duo grinned again and turned to continue on down to the car. He called back over his shoulder as he went. “Lucky for some, eh?”
“Yes,” replied Heero, almost to himself, his eyes following the twist of Duo’s back. “I know.”