Story: WORTH WAITING FOR
don’t own ‘em, wish I did, just enjoy writing about ‘em for free etc
Pairings: 1+2, 3+4
Category: Humor, romance
Word count: 12,633
Notes: A long wait stretched ahead of Duo in the airport lounge. Luckily he had some unique company to help him while away the time – and, incidentally, to sort out his life.
Feedback: If you liked it, PLEASE let me know!
Duo Maxwell slumped back in the plastic seat, with his arms folded tightly across his chest and his usually attractive face set in a scowl. There was noise everywhere: booming announcements over the speakers and the incomprehensible swell of people’s excited chatter. Kids shrieked, suitcases rattled over the threadbare carpet. Rolling neon signs announced calls to boarding gates, the sadistically-hidden location of the restrooms, and – almost as an afterthought -- the price of the latest, must-have cell phone package.
Airport lounges were one of his least favourite places. He hunched down further, trying to nap. He’d been up since dawn … maybe even a couple of hours before. He couldn’t exactly remember the time, as over the years he’d found that lack of sleep caused him, one, serious memory problems, two, to leave the house in an unmatched pair of socks, and, three, the unmitigated loss of his legendary sense of humour.
He was jolted back to life by a man rushing past and hauling his heavy suitcase over Duo’s feet. Duo wrenched his long legs back under his seat, but not before the wheels had left neat little tramlines over his boots. His toes felt bruised. His mood bordered on homicidal. Luckily the perpetrator had taken a sharp left and lost himself in the crowd around the food counter, else his suitcase – and probably his limbs – might have been scattered to the four winds.
So… a too-early start; a detested location; a psychotic bunch of fellow passengers. The bad omens were already stacking up. Not only that, but he’d arrived here to be greeted with the worst of news.
Ten hours? he thought viciously to himself. He felt like shouting it aloud, as in fact a few of the less self-disciplined airport visitors already had. What do they mean, incoming flights delayed ten fucking hours? He’d stumbled on to his own flight at some Godforsaken hour of the morning to get here on time, only to find the connecting airlines couldn’t meet the same punctuality. Ten hours! It was only late morning, now. Ten hours would take him on into the evening and a large part of the night. Ten hours sat on this seat, in this hellhole, with nothing but the xylophone tones of the airport announcer for company.
Duo suspected he knew what tipped psychotics over the edge. It wasn’t childhood trauma or thwarted world domination. Far from it! It was the agony of a plastic bucket chair digging into the backs of your legs and the grating sound of ‘apologies for any inconvenience caused to travellers’. The robotic monotone was like salt being rubbed into a wound.
OK, so he was in a less than good mood to start with.
He had nowhere else to wait. He hadn’t bothered taking out a rental car, and he couldn’t go on to the hotel Quatre had booked for him because he didn’t know which one it was. His friend didn’t seem to be answering his cell phone at the moment. Like he’d tried seven times already, ever since the first announcements were being made about the delay. No, he knew he was in a tortured limbo world between a proverbial rock and a hard place. In fact, he could feel the hard place biting into his ass right now, as he tried to get comfortable in his seat for the millionth time.
Besides, what could he do but wait? After all, he was here because Heero had asked him to be.
They were both flying in to this same local airport, so Heero had said it made sense for them to travel on to their eventual destination together. He had a car already hired – and he’d also liaised with Quatre about the hotel arrangements for them both. Duo’s flight was due to arrive first, but if he’d then just wait for Heero to arrive, too, everything would be fine and dandy. Well, Heero didn’t actually say that, but that’s how it replayed in Duo’s mind.
He grimaced again, not solely because of the persistent cramp in his right buttock. He was still trying to make sense of the request, to be honest. He was aware that something just didn’t compute, but was unable to think why the hell not. They both came to visit Quatre on a pretty regular basis, but he couldn’t remember any other time when Heero had asked him to meet him from a flight. For that matter, he couldn’t remember when Heero had ever asked pretty much anything from him. Guy was usually self-sufficiency on legs.
Duo could feel the familiar twist of his nerves when he thought about the enigma that was Heero. Guy drove him nuts, sometimes. They were both frequent fliers, weren’t they? Wasn’t as if either of them needed their hand held. If he could reach Quatre and find out the name of the hotel, he’d leave a message for Heero’s incoming flight and take a cab to find his room. Then he could get in some much needed rest after his own flight – he’d come several hundred miles to be here. And Heero could take a cab to the hotel later, couldn’t he, like any other poor sap? Dammit, he could probably hijack the plane and ask it to drop him off there. Heero Yuy had that way of getting things done where his self confidence just beat everyone into submission. Usually, only the moronic or suicidally-brave dared to challenge his arrangements.
Wonder which that makes me, thought Duo, though he certainly didn’t feel like either today.
He tried to remember the exact details of Heero’s call last night, but it had been rushed, and his concentration today was on the far side of hazy. That was probably due to a combination of frustration and that aforementioned lack of sleep, plus the fact he’d had nothing to eat or drink since he got to the airport except for lukewarm coffee and a shrivelled muffin. The blueberries inside the cake had borne more than a passing resemblance to rabbit’s droppings.
He’d not finished eating it, obviously.
He’d call Quatre again in a minute, that’s what he’d do. He felt the slim shape of the cell phone wedged in his jeans pocket; remembered the constant ‘no signal’ message from all his previous attempts. He thought he might wait a while longer. He could only take so much disappointment by the hour.
In the meantime, get some proper lunch, he thought, and felt nausea cramp up in his gut. No, he’d not risk that yet. The queues were already gathering at the food counters; seemed like quite a few flights were delayed, and both passengers and families meeting them were settling in for the duration.
The guy next to him had been in situ since before Duo had even arrived. He’d tried conversation at an early stage; Duo had been polite but discouraging. Then the guy had gone quiet for a long time, and Duo had almost forgotten he had a neighbour. Suddenly there was a loud, nasal snore, and the man’s head slipped sideways to land on Duo’s shoulder. Duo grimaced at the thick sandy hair nuzzling his neck, and rolled his eyes.
I fucked up somewhere in a previous life, he thought, a little hysterically. Else why should I have to suffer like this?
He tried to nudge the guy back up, but he was soundly asleep now.
The loudspeaker twanged, announcing a delay to yet another flight with a simulated cheer that made him want to vomit -- if he’d had enough food in his stomach to make it worthwhile. He shrugged his shoulders under the weight of his new friend, and sighed deeply. There was a long, miserable time ahead of him, and he knew who – however indirectly – was to blame.
Duo must have dozed off himself. He woke with a numbness in his left arm that made it feel like it was the size of a Halloween pumpkin, and a pain in his scalp that meant his hair had got caught awkwardly on the wrong side of his parting. His head was stretched back to the rim of the chair, and his legs were folded under its legs in a manner that would defy professional physiotherapy. He winced. He tried to move his limbs and groaned as the muscles cramped again. It took him a depressingly long time to get himself upright again. He made a mental note to renew his gym membership when he got back home after the trip.
He tugged his braid back up off the floor and over his shoulder, then he examined the loose ends below the elastic. It seemed to have collected an interesting selection of dust particles and the remains of a catering-sized margarine wrapper. Maybe a couple of those blueberry droppings.
He squinted at the lounge clock and saw that a couple of the ten hours had passed.
The good thing was that the sleeping guy had left the seat beside him.
The not-so-good thing was that he had another neighbour and this one was a lot smaller. Probably only about seven. A round, plump-cheeked girl’s face stared at him. Her eyes were sky blue, her hair sandy blond, and she was delicately pretty. She would have looked like some kind of picture-book princess, except that she had a huge, suspiciously red stain on the front of her Hello Kitty tee shirt and her legs were tightly pressed together to contain a pile of sugar-coated candy in her lap. The sugar was stuck all over her skirt and her fingers, and a large proportion of the fallout was over Duo’s jeans. Some of the candy had obviously already being consumed – the sugar was on the end of her nose, and around her mouth, too -- and she chewed thoughtfully as she looked at him.
Duo wrinkled his nose. The candy had a particularly violent and disturbing smell, like a medicine he’d once been forced to take as a kid. He examined his mood and doubted it was one to tolerate children just at the moment. The feeling was creeping back to his arm and it was damned painful. He wanted to swear – he had a good vocabulary, he’d been complimented on it more than once – but, of course, that was now out of the question. He knew that much about kids.
“Hi,” the girl said. “You’re awake now.”
He glared at her, still groggy from his nap, and still aching. His stuffy brain wanted him to say ‘buzz off, kid,’ but his mouth opened and he said, “Hi.” He didn’t know what else to say to such a small person. He hadn’t had a lot of practice with kids.
“You want one?” She held out one of the sickly looking sweets, a vibrant pink and green colour, in the shape of a heart. Sprinkles of sugar whispered off it on to their knees.
Duo pursed his lips. He had an irresistible urge to brush off the white crystals as if they’d rot like poison through his jeans. “No thanks. I – already ate.”
He stared at her. Who did she think she was, his mother? “When I got here.”
“You’ll need more than that,” she said, bluntly. “The Delay is twelve hours now.” Her tone dignified it with capital letters, like it was some kind of alien monster, some Harbinger of Armageddon, some Premonition of Global Doom.
Now she had him doing it, even in his private thoughts. For a second, he thought he might still be asleep and dreaming he was in a late night version of the Twilight Zone. But his back and his toes were still hurting … so it looked like he was awake. Mournfully so.
“You should be with your parents,” he said, just as bluntly.
But she didn’t seem disturbed by him. She put another red and yellow heart into her mouth and wiped her sticky fingers down her tee shirt. It proved that at least the red stain wasn’t blood. Duo wondered at what point he’d even considered that might be the case.
“You’re grumpy,” she said. “Just like Mom.”
“Huh?” he grunted. One thing he did know about kids was that if you encouraged them, they stuck like glue. Or like particularly revolting candy. All he had to do was stifle any conversation, and then in a minute, she’d get bored of him and wander off again…
“I’ll stay here for a while,” she said, patting her lap with determination. A cloud of sugar floated a few inches off the fabric then settled back down again. Duo thought some of it might have got stuck up his nose – every time he moved he could smell the cloying sweetness anew. “Mom and Dad aren’t smiling. My uncle sent me to get some sweets.”
Duo looked around, a little warily. Surely there’d be a couple seated somewhere close, watching their child fondly. Or there’d be a couple walking over to her, calling her back to join them. Or there’d be a couple running back and forth through the airport lounge, weeping and screaming for their lost or kidnapped child –
He couldn’t see anyone taking any notice of them at all.
“So where are they -- your parents? They’ll be worrying about you. Won’t they?”
She shrugged. A small bubble of orange popped at the side of her petite little mouth, and she giggled softly. “Unc said I should get sweets and Dad didn’t say no because he was all red in the face. Mom said I was to go off and skip.“
Duo stared at the blond head and re-examined the carefully pronounced words. Go off and skip? None of it made sense. Was it some new street-speak? Was it meant to make sense?
Then another small but equally clear voice broke in. “What she means is, Mom told her to take a running jump. They were arguing about The Delay. Dad gets very tense with Delays.”
Duo’s head whipped around towards the seat on the other side of him to find the speaker. He stared into clear air, then dropped his gaze down a foot or so. It was another small person; a boy this time.
“Best we keep out of the way for a while,” the boy said, very solemnly. He was just like the girl, though he looked a little older. Same blond hair, same blue eyes. A lot less mess on his face, but in place of it his mouth was twisted into a very sour look. He sat rather primly on the seat, dressed in smart jeans and denim shirt, his feet swinging slightly above the floor. A Gameboy was on his lap, his fingers still hovering over it, as if he’d only just paused ‘play’.
“So?” asked Duo. Your point is? he resisted snapping. His head hurt.
The boy frowned at him. “Well, obviously we’ll stay here for a while until they calm down. They’re always like this when we fly.” He glared over Duo’s lap at the girl. “She should know that!”
“Mom has men strudel,” the girl said, oblivious to the boy’s interruption. Another sweet vanished into her surprisingly capacious mouth.
Duo’s imagination toyed with visions of a rather exotic cannibalistic dish.
“She means menstrual. Mom gets like this every month. My sister doesn’t understand,” the boy said, rather grandly. “She’s only seven. She gets her words wrong all the time.”
Duo looked from one to the other and felt his eyes roll. Fuck, he thought, though he didn’t dare say it aloud. They were like a pair of matching bookends.
Where was the sign on these empty seats that said ‘lunatics, sit here’?
The girl finished her last sweet and brushed the sugar coating off her skirt on to the floor beneath her. And on to Duo’s boots, and his bag, tucked underneath his chair. It was like a thin fall of sticky snow. “I’m glad you’ve woken up,” she said, her face creasing in a particularly beautiful smile. “You were snoring.”
Duo’s eyes widened. “No I wasn’t! I don’t snore –“
“I had to turn up the volume on my Gameboy,” announced the boy.
Duo felt he was being attacked in stereo. “You can move on if you don’t like it,” he said, rather rudely. “In fact, why don’t you –“ But at the last minute he paused, unable to find a suitably withering comment that didn’t involve too many curses or references to adult genitalia.
The girl looked at Duo curiously, then over to her brother. He looked back.
“Let’s get some food!” she cried, brightly. “I’m starving!”
Some time later, the three of them were still sitting together, now sharing two large portions of fries and some ketchup. The boy had gone to buy them – with Duo’s money – and then the girl had shared the napkins out for each of them. Her little hands were very precise as she laid out the flimsy paper across her lap. It stuck immediately to the sugar trails on her skirt, tearing selected patches of paper off and adding to the mess on her clothes.
Duo wisely kept his own napkin in his hand. He asked their names – seemed only polite, after all, they were sharing a meal -- and he caught the quick glance they gave each other.
“I’m Rocky,” said the boy. “She’s San. We won’t tell you our surname.”
“That’s OK,” said Duo. He wasn’t keen on hearing their life history, to be honest, but he was pleased to see they had some awareness of personal safety. “I’m Duo.”
“Dooooo-oh.” The girl giggled. The boy glared at her.
Duo surreptitiously counted the change that the boy had brought back and wondered when they’d quadrupled the price of fries.
He looked back to find Rocky glaring at him, fully aware of what he was doing. “It’s the airport prices, you know!” he snapped, in mimicry of a much older – and less tolerant – man. “Their mark up is disgraceful.” Duo suspected he’d heard his father say it many a time.
San was squeezing out some ketchup on to her napkin, or what was left of it. She held the tip of her tongue between her small teeth as she concentrated. “Dad says they’re parachutes,” she said.
Duo felt that slight flicker of adrenalin that he often felt before a flight. Parachutes…
“She means parasites,” said Rocky. “He calls ‘em commercial parasites.” Duo’s occasional flight nervousness subsided. It was replaced instead by the feeling of a slightly unbalanced roller coaster ride.
“Did you tell your parents where you were?” he asked, rather sharply. He hadn’t seen any sign of doting parents and the kids seemed unable to answer his questions on their whereabouts. Or maybe it was unwillingness. He knew enough about human nature – and remembered far enough back to when he was younger and used to skip both home and school with alarming frequency – to suspect that they were reluctant to go back at the moment. But he felt he should continue to ask.
Rocky was scooping fries on to a comic book that he’d carefully unfolded and balanced across his lap. The X-Men had a dusting of salt all over their spandex suits. The boy – who, to Duo, looked like the kind of kid who cared less about the X-Men -- nodded, dismissively. “They know where we are.”
“So shouldn’t you go back…?” Duo began.
Rocky rolled his eyes in a gesture that was alarmingly like one of Duo’s own. “I’m ten, you know. I can look after us both.”
“He’s my garden ant,” San chipped in, stabbing at some ketchup that was dripping off the hem of her skirt. Duo watched a blob fall on to the slightly open zip of his bag, just at the same time as another blob from the end of her fry spattered on to his thigh. There were quite a few stains already on his clothes from the impromptu snack. He suspected there’d be more before the day was out.
“Guardian,” Rocky translated again, his mouth full of salty crumbs. “Unc says I’m to be her guardian while he sorts out Mom and Dad. He’s good at sorting them out. When they listen to him.” He looked up at Duo with wide, cynical eyes. “Adults don’t always listen very carefully.”
Duo stared back. He wasn’t sure if he was being included in that appraisal. Anyway, he didn’t think the kid expected any kind of a reply. That was another thing about kids, in his experience -- they didn’t recognise any wisdom but their own.
He felt slightly dizzy. The scenario was increasingly surreal; he might have been right in the first place, with his suspicion of the twilight zone. But in the meantime, the fries tasted good – he hadn’t realised how hungry he was. He rummaged for another mouthful.
“Don’t take them all!” snapped Rocky.
“I got the longest one!” cried San, gleefully, waving a pale, dripping fry in the air.
Duo bit back a sigh and resigned himself to picking out some of the crinkled scraps at the bottom of the box.
“There’s ice cream at the kiosk, too,” said San, quietly. Duo turned to her, ready to protest. Her eyes were wide and very blue, and the words caught in his throat.
It hadn’t exactly been a request – or begging. She’d only been making a statement, after all. But there was a tremor to her voice and a flicker of moisture in her eye that quite moved him. And had him reaching for his wallet again.
Another thing he understood about kids; they didn’t play by the same rules. He admired San’s manipulative skills. She’d be good in senior management one day.
He wondered what the hell the rest of her family was like.
The kids had run off back towards the food counters, on the quest for their ice cream.
Duo sat back and drew breath. He rearranged his luggage under his seat, ignoring the small, red spots of ketchup on the pale leather. He did some modest stretching exercises to keep his muscles from locking. There was a lump of solidified food caught in his cuff and he picked half-heartedly at it, but it appeared to need a stronger will than his own to shift it. He sighed and cast a look around.
People were still arriving, but at a slower rate. The message about the delays had obviously got through. Some people were still complaining and bemoaning the situation – he saw plenty of airport staff flinching from the anger of bored and inconvenienced passengers. Other workers were bringing around trolleys of hot drinks and sandwiches, and some enterprising soul was trying to sell blankets. A few babies cried listlessly; adults slumped back in chairs with paperbacks the size of thick doorstops. There were plenty of young couples about, either plugged blissfully into the earpieces of their music providers, or draped around each other, spending their time on the more rewarding occupation of kissing. And more kissing.
Duo tore his eyes away from one particularly passionate couple. A boy and a girl; all they had were backpacks, and it looked like they’d manage quite happily if they had to spend the whole night in the lounge. The boy’s hands were tangled in her long hair, and her own hands had snuck into his waistband, creasing his tee shirt up on the side and exposing some brown, smooth skin. Their heads bent to opposite sides, fitting perfectly in against each other.
I’m just jealous, Duo thought, and smiled ruefully to himself. After all, the delay was inconvenient to all concerned, but most of these people had family and lovers to go home to – to share the frustration with.
He chose to be on his own, right? He liked his own company. He had good, tolerant, enduring friends and he could have physical companionship when he chose.
He bit his lip. If he chose. If it chose him might be more applicable.
A child yelled in temper, the sound piercing his ears as its parent dragged it through the lounge, slung over one shoulder. Loving families or not, emotional fuses were getting shorter and more combustible. He stretched his legs out, savouring the feeling of being on his own again, and smiled a little to himself. He’d never had kids around him much before, and hadn’t felt the need to, either. Quatre had all those relatives through his sisters, and now Trowa shared the extended family with him; Wufei was surrounded by generations of cousins, both biological and adopted, who merged their lives with ease and familiarity. It was all very admirable, but not for him, right?
Duo thought he might open that discussion with Heero, when and if they ever got together after today’s debacle. Guy was usually on his own as well.
A small frisson of sensuality ran its mischievous fingers along his spine; he ignored it. It only happened when he thought about Heero. He wasn’t going to put it into context, either, as he didn’t think he wanted to face what it really meant.
Instead, he considered the probability that San and Rocky hadn’t been that annoying. It was tough for them, trapped in an airport with few facilities to entertain children. It had been OK for him to spare an hour or so to help out, hadn’t it? It’d be his good deed for the day and had certainly taken his mind of the tedium of waiting for Heero’s flight. Sure, the kids had their cute moments, but they were probably back with their family now, having fleeced a late lunch out of him and redecorated his belongings with their foodstuffs, and he wasn’t sorry it was all over.
He sat back further, relaxing, rather self-satisfied at the thought of having helped a harassed family in their hour of need.
Then the kids reappeared at the chairs beside him.
Duo felt the knot of tension return, grinding relentlessly down between his shoulder blades.
“Got you a piss moustache one,” announced San, holding an ice cream cone up for Duo. Green liquid ran down her arm to the elbow and splashed carelessly on to his boot.
Rocky opened his mouth but Duo nodded quickly. “Pistachio. I got it.” He took the cone, gingerly. He hated pistachio.
“Where are your parents now?” he asked. He didn’t expect a sensible answer – he was just putting off the truly evil moment when he’d have to eat the ice cream. Anyway, it was like a game, wasn’t it, and he’d already played the first few rounds. He asked where their parents were, and they ignored the question. Simple rules.
“Where are yours?” asked San, her mouth smeared with a new layer of chocolate ice cream. The last shred of her cone vanished into her mouth. She truly did have an amazing appetite, Duo marvelled to himself.
“I don’t have any,” he said, not really concentrating. He was wondering if green food colouring would brush off suede boots. Expensive ones. “They’re dead.”
He wasn’t prepared for San’s sudden wail. He dropped the ice cream and whirled around in his seat to face her. Her eyes were screwed into small pools of welling tearfulness, and her mouth was wide with anguish. Several people were already looking over, and a security guard was measuring the weight of his radio like he might have to use it as a weapon against an abusive adult.
“No – wait!” Duo said, desperately. “I mean – it was a long time ago. I was a kid. I mean, they didn’t die just now or anything –“
She stopped crying at once. It was like a tap being turned off. Duo’s heart was still racing, and he turned to Rocky, bewilderment all over his face.
Rocky had dropped himself back into the seat beside Duo. He shrugged at San’s behaviour whilst neatly demolishing the last of his mint chocolate chip cone. “Girls,” he said, as if that explained it all.
Maybe, thought Duo, it does. He scrabbled about for some of the discarded napkins from their earlier meal, to wipe up the smashed ice cream scoop. Of course, his boots had absorbed most of the spillage. Lucky, that.
San sat down next to him again. He could tell they were in for the long haul; Rocky had flipped open his Gameboy again and San had kicked off her shoes. She sniffed a bit, and lifted the edge of her tee shirt to wipe her nose. “So why are you here?” she asked. “If you’re not meeting your Mom and Dad.”
Duo smiled, cautiously. “I’m meeting a friend.”
Duo thought how ludicrous it seemed, to call Heero Yuy a boy. But an involuntary smile teased at the corners of his mouth. “Boy. Man, that is.”
“What’s his name?” she asked.
Duo felt the weight of another interrogation weighing in on him. The kids were relentless. They should work for a ruthless, enemy super power. He looked at the state of himself and his frazzled nerves, and concluded that they probably already did.
“Heero. His name’s Heero.”
“Like in a book,” San giggled. “Like I’m a princess.”
“Like you’re the witch,” snarled Rocky and she stuck her tongue out at him.
Duo didn’t think he should have to explain his friend’s name. He was distressed that he was even considering it. He couldn’t understand where it had gone wrong – the theory about keeping the conversation to a minimum and encouraging kids to go away.
“Is he a good friend?” pursued San. “Is he a cold flea?”
“Colleague,” murmured Rocky.
“He’s – both,” said Duo. The words seemed unusually reticent. He didn’t really talk about Heero much, did he? They had the same friends – they all spent time together when they could. Everyone knew what he was like, and what Heero was like. He didn’t need to describe Heero.
He wasn’t sure how he could. The thought was rather unsettling.
“Don’t you like him?”
He realised that San had bent her body around to stare up into his face. She was frowning.
“Of course I do. What do you mean?”
“Your face screws up when you talk about him,” she said, pointing at a spot in the vicinity of his nose.
“No, no,” Duo laughed, a little uncertainly. “He just -- annoys me sometimes. That’s it. “
“He punches you,” said Rocky, firmly, like he had personal experience of such friendships. “If he had a gun, perhaps he’d shoot you…”
“No!” Duo’s laugh was genuine now. “Of course he doesn’t punch me – or shoot me! We get on very well, actually. We like the same sports, the same movies…”
“So it must be that he’s ugly,” San stated. “Makes you feel sick.”
Duo had a suddenly vivid image of Heero with a scoop of pistachio ice cream for a head. “No, San,” he said, rather more firmly than was needed. “Actually, he’s very good looking. Look, there’s no problem at all, right? I like him a lot.”
Rocky looked at San and she wrinkled her nose at him.
“How long have you known him?” the boy asked. Duo felt like he was at some kind of an interview. He had that strangely upsetting feeling as if he knew he’d never get the job: his resume was turning out to be less than acceptable somewhere along the way.
“I’ve known him since – oh, for years. Since we were young boys.”
“So now he’s old, like you!” said San, a note of triumph in her voice. “So he must be ugly!”
“For heaven’s sake,” sighed Rocky. “Duo’s not ugly, is he?”
San appraised the man beside her very carefully. Duo felt the heat of a blush on his cheeks; he found himself – for some inexplicable reason -- sucking in his stomach.
“He’s OK,” she finally said. Her judgement was obviously final; he certainly wasn’t arguing with it, anyway. “His hair’s great. I wanted to put my Barbie clip in it but then he woke up.”
Duo’s mouth opened then shut again. Words escaped him.
“So you’re good friends with Heero?” asked Rocky. “Best friends?”
Duo was going to laugh again, but something in Rocky’s child-adult tone made him hesitate. “Yes,” he said. “He is my best friend, I guess. I like to see him; I look forward to it. We have a laugh together.”
“But he annoys you.”
Duo puffed out some breath. He was tired of this line of questioning; he realised that actually he was nervous of it. “Not deliberately. It’s just that – well, sometimes it’s like I look forward to seeing him too much. More than he looks forward to seeing me. He likes to go his own way, do his own stuff. He doesn’t need help. Doesn’t need company.”
“You need him to do your hair,” San announced, gravely. “You can’t reach on your own. It’s difficult, I know. I can’t do my plates on my own.”
Rocky caught Duo’s eye. “Plaits,” he mouthed.
Duo smiled. “No honey,” he said. “I can do my own hair. I like Heero’s company for – other reasons.”
“So why are you here and he’s on a plane?” Rocky looked genuinely intrigued.
Duo started to reply then paused. It was something he asked himself now and then – rather more frequently, nowadays. “I don’t know. We work in different cities. I travel a lot. So does he.”
Rocky shrugged. He kicked his feet against the chair leg, almost aimlessly. His eyes were on his Gameboy screen, but his words were for Duo. “So change job. Dad does it all the time.”
“Dad gets done dancing a lot,” sighed San.
“Redundancy, you silly girl,” said Rocky, but quite cheerfully. “Why don’t you do that, Duo? Then you can go and work with Heero.” Then he looked up and stared straight into Duo’s astonished face.
Duo stared back at the strange little boy whom he was beginning to suspect was the spawn of some new breed of aero spatial demon, endemic to airport lounges. It was like Rocky knew… That a child he’d never met before somehow knew that he’d just been offered a job in the same city as Heero! That he was genuinely thinking of taking it, even if he hadn’t told Heero yet, even if Heero had never seemed to give a shit where he worked from one year to the next …
“He’s got that screwed up look again!” cried San, probing a damp finger at Duo’s cheek.
“Do you want some more ice cream?” asked Rocky, quite solicitously. They both stared intensely at him.
Duo thought it wise just to shake his head. He shivered to rid himself of the clinging paranoia. His gut cramped painfully and he winced.
“Do you need to go to the toilet?” Rocky hissed at him, in rather a too-loud tone.
Duo looked with desperation across the lounge. The clock told him he’d passed another couple of hours. It mocked him.
It was the thought of more pistachio ice cream that was disturbing him – that was the problem. Obviously. He folded his arms around him in a defensive position and grimaced at the kids.
He rather suspected that resistance – as they say – was futile.
The kids had been quiet for a while. Duo had bought them a pack of cards and they proceeded to grunt and frown and whoop over a selection of games. They currently sat at his feet, using the top of his bag as a makeshift table. They slapped each card on to it with a gleeful aggression. ‘Snap’ had engendered too many homicidal tendencies – both between the kids themselves and for the people within earshot. So Duo had taught them blackjack, and hoped the parents would forgive him if they ever found out.
San was currently cleaning up as the bank. Rocky owed her several Gameboy games and four pounds of red-heart sweets. Only on paper, so far, though Duo suspected she’d be as relentless as a Mafia casino boss in collecting her dues.
He let his mind drift gently around their previous conversation. Not necessarily a wise move, of course, but things stuck in his mind, the way that awkward thoughts always stuck. Like those damned sweets.
I like Heero’s company for other reasons.
Well, that was true. Of all the guys, he was the one Duo sought out the most. Kept in touch with most frequently, even if his long, ill-punctuated emails were responded to rather brusquely. But that was Heero’s style – he didn’t waste himself on written words. When they were together they talked easily enough. Duo certainly enjoyed it all. Heero listened to him; Heero nodded, and added his own opinions, and Heero would also challenge him. Duo liked that even more. The others seemed to think their time together was for social and relaxation purposes and always too brief to spend on debate, so their conversation should be kept fairly superficial and amusing.
Heero didn’t think that. Heero saw any time together as an extension of normal life. If something needed discussing or considering at that time, well then that’s when he raised it. And he’d keep Duo up most of the night as they gnawed away at whatever topic they’d chosen to pursue.
And then sometimes there was no discussion, just laughter and stupid jokes and the review of new movies and something mindless on the TV and new foods to try out…
And Heero laughing with him. Sitting beside him. Vibrant and lively and full of confidence.
A bit like the kids, really. Not that Heero was childish or anything – but he knew what he liked and what he wanted to say, and went right on and did it all.
Duo had been surprised once to hear that Heero didn’t really bother replying to anyone else’s email correspondence. It seemed only his got through; only his got read and responded to. At the time, he hadn’t known what to make of that.
“Hit!” shouted Rocky. Duo flinched, but it was only the kids’ card game.
He sighed, and wriggled down in his plastic seat in the lounge. He didn’t know why the rather intensive company of two small children should be causing all this introspection.
A woman wandered past them, struggling with more hand luggage than could service a family of six. One of the cases fell off her trolley as she passed, and Duo jumped up to help her balance it back on. She thanked him profusely.
“So nice to find a helpful young man nowadays,” she gushed. “And such lovely children! You must be very proud of them. They’re like angels!” The woman gazed affectionately at San and Rocky. Duo turned to stare back at these presumed cherubim. Both kids sat with hands in their lap and their eyes wide, smiling obligingly at their new fan. They had grubby faces and their clothes were badly creased from being cooped up in an airport lounge, but their faces shone with a youth and innocence that was positively transcending. Butter wouldn’t fucking melt, thought Duo, rather gracelessly.
He started to explain they weren’t his, but found he hadn’t got the energy.
“You won’t mind if I just give them a little kiss? I’m on my way to meet up with my own little darlings, but heaven knows when my flight will arrive…” The woman was swooping in on them; Rocky’s eyes widened and San’s nose wrinkled again in what might have been horror.
Duo smirked. “Of course not. Go right ahead. They love to meet new people. Don’t you, kids?” He watched them wince under the onslaught of dry, perfumed kisses on their respective cheeks, and decided that revenge – however small a dose -- was one of the sweetest things he’d tasted for a while.
When the woman had moved on and Duo sat down again, Rocky snorted at him. “People do that all the time. Think we’re like angels. Makes me gag.” He glared at Duo, angry with what he perceived as adult treachery, but grudgingly accepted one of the ubiquitous napkins from him. He scrubbed the scarlet lipstick off his face quickly and viciously.
“I want to be an angel,” said San, airily. “I want big, white wings and gold shoes.” There was still a streak of ketchup in her angelically-blond hair. It almost matched the large lip print left on her cheek, which she didn’t seem to mind at all. Then she turned so quickly to Duo that he was caught unawares. “Are your children like angels, Duo?”
“I…” he stammered, then started again. “I don’t have any kids.”
“Your wife will be sad about that,” she said, settling a mournful expression on her face.
“Mom says no children would be a blessing,” grunted Rocky.
“I don’t have a wife, either,” said Duo, swiftly. Perhaps he could distract them with some more sweets. Perhaps they’d just go off and bother someone else… “Anyway, where is your Mom?”
There was no answer to this as usual. “Mom says,” began San, and Duo felt her brother tense up beside him. “Mom says that men-who-don’t-have-wives hang about with wobbly women.”
Duo laughed out loud at that. He stared at her, shaking his head. “Wobbly women?”
San looked at him as if he had very, very special needs, and she should be especially protective of him. “Wobbly, like my tooth. Look!” She opened her mouth wide and wiggled her lower front tooth. “It’s loose!”
Duo grinned even more broadly. For the first time since he got to this Godforsaken lounge, he was starting to enjoy himself. “Well, that’s not me, San. I don’t hang out with any loose women, you’ll be pleased to hear.”
“So who do you hang up with?” she asked.
Rocky butted in then. “It’s hang out with. And it’s with Heero of course!” he snapped. “Isn’t that true, Duo?”
Duo sighed again. “Yeah. When I can. That’s why we’re both meeting here actually. We’re going to meet up with some old friends and have a vacation together.” He felt a warmth inside, anticipating the pleasure of seeing the guys again. “We get together when we can. One of the guys lives in this city, you see, and he’s arranged hotels and things for us. We’ll hopefully all meet up tonight and catch up on news and stuff.”
“We don’t live here,” said San. Duo hoped she didn’t see his breath of relief.
“Tomorrow,” said Rocky, firmly.
“You’ll meet them tomorrow, not tonight,” the boy said, rather primly. “You have to wait for Heero.”
“And he won’t be here until after The Delay!” announced San.
“OK,” sighed Duo. “Thanks for the reminder.”
“You’re welcome!” grinned Rocky, truly pleased with himself. Duo didn’t have the heart to be angry. He couldn’t expect a ten year old to cope with irony, could he?
“You won’t be so grumpy when you’re with Heero, will you?” said San. She beamed with her own certitude.
Duo had to smile. “Maybe not.” Depends how he takes the news, he thought. Might be annoyed that I’m moving in on his life. Might not like me cramping his style. Might not care if I’m there or not…
He wasn’t sure which was worst.
“You need a rest,” announced San. Duo thought the tone was just right for a Mom. He suspected that she practised it quite a lot. He tried to hide his instinctive grin.
“OK, you’re right. I probably do. It’ll be a welcome break from work – and a chance to see my friends again. Relax for a week or so, you know.” He thought he was rambling a bit. It had been a long time since the fries and he was feeling a little weak again from hunger. “I haven’t seen the guys for a few months.” Heero, even longer.
“We’ve just had a break,” San chirruped. “We’re on our way home now after staying with Unc.”
Rocky scowled. “Mom says it was a break all right. Stuck with us all day broke her heart.”
“Dad says her shopping broke his bank,” San bounced back.
They pulled faces at each other, the most perfect antithesis of angels that Duo could ever have imagined. Then they cleared their expressions like they’d been wiped off a chalkboard and they laughed together.
He looked from one to another, feeling at a complete loss.
“Look kids…” he started nervously. “Parents, you know --? They might fight a bit, but they don’t always mean what they say.”
The children both turned to stare at him with amazement. It was that ‘special needs’ look again, mirrored in two sets of clear blue eyes.
“It’s fine, Duo,” said Rocky, quite gently. Like he had to explain it very slowly and very carefully. “It’s just part of growing up. For the adults. We don’t let it get on top of us.”
Duo wondered what it must be like to be in the mind of a kid. He wasn’t sure any amount of therapy could cope with it.
“Can we get some more fries?” asked San. “With extra ketchup?”
The evening was beginning in the lounge, and stranded passengers were searching for places to lie down and rest. Duo scoured the notice boards for any further information but there was no change to the ETA of Heero’s flight. Funnily enough, he didn’t feel so angry about it any more.
Exhaustion, he expected. Still eight or so hours to go. He wondered if Quatre would call forward to the hotel and tell them he and Heero would be late. He still hadn’t been able to get through on his cell phone to Quatre, who was going to be their host for this visit – maybe the reception here in the airport lounge was bad. He thought about trying again – then dismissed it. What would be, would be.
He was wryly amused at his newfound tolerance.
Rocky had insisted on being the one to go and get the fries, so Duo was left with San. She chose that time to snuggle up to him and have a rest. Not a nap! She was very firm about that. She could stay up longer than any person who could stay up longer than the world could stay up around the moon. Or something like that. He couldn’t follow the words, but he liked the determination in her eyes. It reminded him of the guys when they were younger – when they were so passionate about stuff.
He looked down on the blond, tousled hair that rested on his arm. “Will Rocky be going to check in with your parents?” he asked, softly.
San bit back a yawn. “Prob’ly. Garden ants have to do that. Last time he went he said Dad was still red and Mom was in the toilet. But Unc will sort them out.”
“You love your Unc?”
She nodded. “He gets me sweets. He makes me laugh. Helps me with my school work. Rocky says he boils
“Spoils,” Duo murmured, instinctively.
“He’s a friend like your Heero,” she smiled. She pushed back some hair to stare up at him. The Hello Kitty tee shirt looked worse than ever, but she still looked impossibly cute.
“You seem strangely fascinated by Heero,” Duo smiled back.
“I can be fancy mated by him, can’t I?” she pouted. “You are.”
“Hey…” Duo protested gently. “Sorry, kid, but you know nothing about it, OK? You only just met me. You don’t know Heero, or how we are together.” He didn’t think he’d been too fierce, but he watched with some alarm as her face struggled with sudden upset.
“Don’t you want him to boil you?” she moaned. Her sniff sounded suspiciously like a snivel.
Duo stepped mentally on eggshells. “Spoil, honey. No, I don’t expect that. Adults don’t do that, you see, not the same way as for kids.”
“Yeah,” Duo broke in, ready for her this time. “He makes me laugh. Maybe he’d get me sweets. But the spoiling business isn’t for guys like us.”
“You shouldn’t be such a sick nickel,” she snapped, her mood turning from anguish to anger in a split second of time. Duo swallowed hard and tried to keep up. “I think he’s lonely without you,” she insisted. “That’s why he’s meeting you here.” She seemed to have recovered from his rebuke and was back on the offence.
Duo was still decoding cynical, and she’d caught him unawares again. “No,” he sighed. “That’s not really how it is. It’s just convenient we meet here...”
“So does he have a wife? Lots of kids?”
Fuck, thought Duo. Now he had Heero’s resume to cope with, too. “No…” he said slowly. “But I don’t think that’s anything to do…”
“So he needs you,” she grinned. She stabbed a sticky finger at his chest like a weapon. “You can boil each other as neither of you have kids like me. ‘S perfect.”
“I -- don’t think we want kids. I mean – neither of us wants… individually… you know…” No, he thought wryly. She wouldn’t know. He and Heero had already made decisions and taken directions through adulthood that San was years away from. They were talking from very different ends of the spectrum.
She looked at him with furrowed brow. “But you’d want some if they were like me. And Rocky. Of course. Right?”
“Right. Of course. You two apart,” Duo soothed. It was a minefield, this dealing with kids. Where the fuck was the manual?
“You do like me, Duo, don’t you?” The wobbling lower lip was back in evidence.
“Of course!” he exclaimed. “A lot.” It was a flip reply, but he realised that it was true. Sometimes he forgot she was only seven; that she’d invaded his space with sugar and ketchup; that she’d brought her matching bookend brother.
He liked them both, he thought. He wasn’t sure how he’d have coped so far without them. They’d made The Delay almost bearable. Though he wished Rocky would come back soon with the fries and it wasn’t just because he was starving.
But San snuggled back down against him and seemed to have abandoned her emotional arguments. “I like you a lot, too, Duuuoooo. And you like Heero, just as much. He’s special,” she said. Her voice was muffled against Duo’s shirt – now also stained with chocolate ice cream – and she was a little sleepy. He bent his head to try to catch her words.
“Well, of course he is,” he murmured. He tucked some of her blond hair back behind her ears. Her Barbie clip was hanging loose and he re-fastened it. “I have lots of special friends.”
“No,” she said, sighing as if life was a dreadful trial for one so young, especially with a new friend who was proving to be so dense. “He’s special special. Your eyes go weird when you talk about him.”
“As well as the screwed up face?” said Duo, dryly. He was getting used to the contempt that kids seemed to hold for the adult race.
“Yes,” she said, quite matter-of-factly. “With both your eyes and your face, you look a dork.”
She fell silent, though she was obviously fighting off sleep. Duo just sat there and tried to stretch himself comfortably under her limp little body.
Heero’s lonely without me, she thinks. He smiled to himself, though a little sadly. Wasn’t that the most unlikely thing this side of Christmas? Just the opposite was true, of course. It was his loneliness that was nagging at him; his painful need to see his friend. He was mildly surprised that such a realisation was suddenly so blindingly clear to him.
I look a dork, she said. He mentally slapped his forehead. Well, doesn’t that just sum me up!
Rocky had arrived back with provisions and the proud tales of having fought off marauding tribes of rabid passengers for the remaining food. Duo looked at the squashed packet of fries and admitted that it did indeed look like it had gone four rounds with Genghis Khan and lost on points. Rocky plumped it on the man’s lap and settled himself back into his chair.
Duo lifted the packet, looked at the grease stain on his jeans and abandoned any hope of saving his clothing.
They started to munch on the fries with familiarity. Duo left the longer ones for San, and let Rocky take the first handfuls. He thought briefly about just pouring the ketchup on to his knees for them to dip into it, but decided that was a little extravagant. Far more fun to see the gradual re-colouring of the denim to a dark – and erratically spotted – crimson hue.
The announcements were starting up again with some hope that rescheduling had occurred. A few of the flights were arriving earlier than expected – The Delay was being reduced.
San was refreshed after her snack and peering at Duo with barely suppressed glee. “He’ll be here soon,” she assured him. “Heeeeeero.”
“OK,” smiled Duo. “I know. I’m cool.”
She turned to her brother with the unmistakable light of triumph in her eyes. “Heero is his special friend. Heero gets him sweets. They’re going to have six kids like
“No!” gasped Duo. The twilight zone music hammered in his head like a playground chant. His eyes had rolled so frequently today he’d need a trip to the opticians by nightfall.
Rocky snorted, unimpressed. “Guys can’t have kids, stupid.”
Duo shut his eyes, briefly. If he were a religious man, he’d have prayed to whatever patron saint there was of embarrassed young men and over-sensitive young girls.
But San seemed to have recovered her equilibrium now. She just shrugged as if everyone knew – didn’t they? – that her brother was only one evolutionary step up from ketchup itself.
“Where there’s a wheel…” she said, in a sing-song voice. Duo didn’t catch Rocky’s eye, and the brotherly contempt he knew would be there. San’s gaze swung back to challenge him. “And you do think Heero’s special, don’t you?”
Duo groaned inside. “Umm… yes, of course…”
Umm… yeah…very much. His gut was cramping again and he knew it wasn’t the fries.
San stuck her tongue out at her brother as if to say, ‘see?’
“Why?” Rocky was finally pitching in with his inimitable contribution. “Why’s he so special?”
“He’s bright and brainy. Sporty. Loves music, though not always the same stuff as I do.” What the fuck am I doing? thought Duo, astonishing himself more than anyone. Suddenly he wanted to talk about Heero – he wanted to have him beside him, and if he couldn’t have the body itself, he wanted him in his mind, in his words. “He’s loyal and thoughtful and confident.” And gorgeous and sensual and more than hot in that blue shirt I helped him choose last summer… “He saved my life once. He’s helped me in my work. He laughs at my jokes. He remembers things I said and did – oh – months ago.” Duo smiled, his mind so far away from the kids now that he didn’t see the smirk San hid behind her hand, or Rocky’s raised eyebrow.
“You sound so sappy –“ she giggled. Rocky punched her on the arm and she glared back at him.
“So you told him all this,” stated Rocky, as if needing to check something off.
“No.” Duo’s mind was full of strange thoughts and emotions. “Well, I said something to him about it…last time we met up.” It had been one of their late night discussions, all the other guys had given up and gone to bed, there was nothing left but him and Heero and a suddenly frightening honesty; a discussion all about loneliness and friendship and …
“Not personally about us or anything, you know?” Duo gabbled on. “Just – some general stuff. About life. About sharing it on a more personal level – the richness there could be; the comfort; the excitement. You know.”
“No I don’t know,” came Rocky’s prim voice. “Adults are very poor at explaining stuff. Seems to me it’s a word they use when they can’t be bothered with kids.”
Duo wasn’t really listening. “He looked at me like I was mad,” he said slowly, his face reddening at the memory. “Quite suddenly. He looked very shocked. Nearly spilt his beer. I moved the topic on at once. I mean, that was the best thing to do, wasn’t it?”
“He thought you were under the elephants,” announced San, cheerfully. “That’s what beer does to you.”
The influence of something, thought Duo. But not alcohol.
There was a new announcement in the background that nagged at him to listen. The Delay was almost caught up; there’d be no need for him to spend the night on the chairs. A few people cheered, tiredly. There was a list of flights now arriving over the next hour or so, the loudspeaker was rolling the numbers out of its electronically-modulated mouth slowly and with inappropriate relish. One of the first numbers announced was familiar to Duo.
Rocky groaned theatrically, wrenching Duo’s attention back to them. He was glad of the distraction; there was a strange ache in his chest that was a mixture of misery and confusion and an overwhelming desire to return to that evening of honesty.
“Mom says,” continued San, “that men-who-don’t-have-wives mess about.”
Huh? Duo thought it sounded like he’d been discovered in the sand box, or painting with his hands on the living room wall. “I don’t know what you mean, honey.”
Rocky coughed to gain his attention. “What Mom actually said was that they fool around – that’s what all her friends say, anyway. Actually,” he went on, and his face had gone a bit red. “Actually, what her friends really say is that single men like to screw ar--“
Duo interrupted quickly. “OK, that’s enough I think!”
“Why?” San looked surprised. “It’s rude to butt in, you know.”
“Please,” Duo said, and could hear the heartfelt plea in his voice. What the hell was this business of apologising all the time to young kids? “I want you to know that not everyone’s like that. Not every single man, anyway. I mean, I’m not like that, I’m pretty sure I’m not.” He cast his mind back over a sex life that was notable for its careful respect but intermittent frequency, and he felt more than embarrassed at discussing this with children. “Guess I’m still waiting for the right person to come along.”
San looked up at the announcement board and then back to him. “Fifty-five minutes,” she said. Her words were clear and she obviously didn’t expect any argument from him. “That’s how long you have to wait for him.”
Yes – resistance was futile.
There was an atmosphere of anticlimax in the lounge. The passengers’ anger and frustration had largely dissipated; people were tidying up their mess and getting ready to complete their journeys.
Duo couldn’t remember what his lounge-rage had felt like. He just had a thudding heart that kept pushing the nausea up into his throat. He didn’t think anything he’d eaten over the last 24 hours – despite its dubious quality -- was to blame in any way.
Rocky leant back in his chair, thumbs flashing over his game and his eyes glued to the lights and figures. San seemed to have dropped off to sleep on Duo’s arm and he didn’t have the heart to move her just yet. Plenty of time before Heero’s flight arrived. Plenty of time to find San and Rocky’s elusive parents and to tidy up his mess…
He didn’t mean the kids.
“Duo…” Her voice was very soft and sleepy. He smiled at the sound.
“Are you upset you can’t have kids?”
He brushed his lips against her hair. He was quite used to her special little-girl smell now, a mixture of soap and sugar and the tang of petrified ketchup. He realised he’d quite miss her and her bookend brother when they all moved on.
“No, love,” he murmured. “It’d be difficult to find another one as cute as you.”
She wriggled against him, pleased. “So are you homey special?”
He frowned. He didn’t want to keep questioning her, but this one had him foxed. No combination of vowels or spoonerism made this one clear…
Rocky barely moved his head but he answered as usual for her. “She means ho-mo-sex-u-al.” He enunciated every syllable as if it were a marble in his young mouth. He seemed extremely proud to have pronounced it correctly.
Duo’s mouth fell open and stayed there. He could have caught flies.
“Rocky, does she know what that means?” He looked down at San’s messy blonde head, and then across to Rocky’s. “Do you?”
“You like to kiss boys, not girls,” said San, in her sing-song voice. It didn’t seem to faze her.
“Not – just kissing,” said Duo. Starship
“We know,” said Rocky. He stabbed at the Gameboy, concentrating on a battle. The subject of personal sexual preferences seemed to have passed out of his mind as soon as spoken.
“Mom calls you happy,” giggled San.
“Huh? I don’t know your Mom…”
“She says men like you are happy!”
Duo stared at her, uncomprehending. He’d rarely felt less happy in his life.
“She means gay,” said Rocky, and now there was a grin on his face. Duo felt a similar grin creeping over his own.
“Kids, does it upset you?”
Rocky snickered. “No, of course not. We’re used to lots of different people. Do you think we’re babies or something?”
“No,” said Duo. “Perish the thought.”
San yawned and lifted her head. “So do you kiss Heero?”
“That’s enough about me,” said Duo, firmly. “Adults don’t like discussing these things out loud, you know --“
“You should,” she muttered. “Specially if you love him.”
“San, please don’t worry yourself about people you don’t really know. It’s not a question of love. You get your words mixed up, honey.”
“Not always, I don’t,” she sighed.
Duo looked to Rocky for masculine support, but it wasn’t to be. “Not always, she doesn’t,” he said. He looked across at San, then his eyes dropped back on to his game. San snuggled back up against Duo and fell silent.
Why do I feel I’ve been out-manoeuvred again? Duo thought. He had that feeling of being out of his depth. It was the same feeling as missing the plot of a movie because he was still out in the foyer, deciding on what popcorn to buy…
The loudspeaker twanged. Heero’s flight was due in fifteen minutes.
San was a soft, gentle weight on his arm; Duo found it quite soothing. He could feel the tiredness also catching up with him, now. He yawned. “Your sister is really something,” he mused aloud.
Rocky coughed, pityingly. “I know. That’s what my Uncles say all the time.”
The handsome blond man stood on the upper level of the airport lounge and scoured the crowds below. “So where the hell is she? Damned woman… I said I’d speak to them both and yet I can never get the two of them together…”
A tall, slim young man stood beside him, soft chestnut hair brushed attractively over a smooth forehead. His eyes also searched the lounge, but they returned more frequently to his companion. “She’s in the toilets again, I believe,” he murmured. “She said something about how he couldn’t hold on to a job unless it were stapled to his dick. Then he said something rather inflammatory about her weight; pregnant gorillas were mentioned. There was a loud altercation and the pair of them split off in different directions.”
The blond man groaned. “The woman is beyond help. She may be family, but I don’t know why the hell I have to be marriage counsellor as well as brother. She can’t keep her voice below decibel level or her temper under wraps – and her husband’s no better. They can sort it out between themselves.”
The other man wisely kept silent. It appeared that he’d come to a similar conclusion some hours ago.
The blond man turned to him, and a rueful smile split his face. “Told me so, eh? And I’ve lost all sense of time, chasing after them. All I wanted was to see them off on to their connecting flight, then get back to prepare for our friends arriving tonight. Do you think the guys have already been and gone? I can’t remember if I told them I changed my cell phone number. But the delay to incoming flights seems to be easing up now.”
The dark-haired man moved a step closer and for a moment his hand brushed against the small of his companion’s back. The blond man was looking back over the lounge again, but the touch seemed to please him. A private smile teased at his mouth. “Yes, OK, I know,” he said, softly. “I get too easily distracted. It comes with family life. Though you don’t deserve having to take all that on board as well…”
The other man grinned. “I’m cool, Quatre. It’s a family I never thought to have of my own. All your family is welcoming to me -- and I love the children’s company.”
“But can you believe it?” The blond’s indignation flared up again. “Trowa, my sister says she hasn’t seen the children for hours! What kind of a mother is she? Says they’re well able to look after themselves. They’re only children, for heaven’s sake!”
Trowa’s gaze homed in unerringly on a particular row of seating in the centre of the lounge. “They’re OK Quatre, believe me. I take my role as honorary Uncle very seriously. I’ve been keeping an eye on them all along.” His grin seemed to get even broader. “And I rather think they’re a little more than just children.”
Down in the lounge there was one of those spooky moments when someone realises they’re being watched. A boy with soft blond hair, a grubby outfit and a hand gripped around a Gameboy suddenly looked up to the upper level and caught Trowa’s eye.
Rocky’s eyes lit up. He smiled slowly and then waved.
When Heero actually arrived, Duo might have missed him. He was asleep on his chair, his legs folded awkwardly around his bag and his braid trapped around one shoulder. His head lolled down on to one arm as if it had been resting on something supportive.
He opened his eyes a little painfully, squinting into the still-bright lights of the lounge. A man stood in front of him, patiently waiting. Duo straightened up, groaning aloud.
“Heero? Shit, I can’t believe it, after all that I fell asleep – “
“Duo,” the other man greeted him. Dark blue eyes ranged over him; a smile brightened the travel-weary face.
“Hi,” said Duo. It seemed to be all he could think of to say. “It’s good to see you.”
They stared at each other for a moment. There was something indefinably different in their attitudes. Duo blamed Heero’s state of tension on the stress of the delayed flight, and his own on the stress of life in general. He stretched out his arm which was painfully stiff from hugging San to him. He looked around, but neither of the kids was anywhere to be seen.
“I really hoped you wouldn’t mind meeting me,” Heero said. His voice was unusually hesitant, but he still smiled at Duo like he found nothing but pleasure in the sight. “You see, I wanted some time with you before we go on to the hotel. Otherwise we’ll soon be meeting up with the others, and whilst I’m looking forward to that, it means we don’t get time together on our own. Do you mind?”
“Mind?” Duo still felt a little disorientated. Where were the kids? Were they OK? “Of course I don’t mind…”
“I’d like to talk to you about some – stuff…”
Stuff? Heero didn’t use slang like that; Heero was always articulate, albeit he chose his words carefully and without waste. Heero was the epitome of self-confidence and assertiveness.
Duo looked more carefully at his friend. He was acting kind of weird, though he looked OK. His clothes were creased and a little sweaty, but he looked damned good as always. Duo grinned. “You look good in that blue shirt, Heero. Guess you always know how to dress for the occasion.”
Heero coughed gently. His eyes slipped over Duo’s body again. “I wish I could say the same for you.” His smile took any offence out of the words, but Duo looked down with rueful dismay at the ketchup on his jeans and the palette of stains all over his shirt.
“Hell, I need to freshen up. Perhaps we could go find some coffee or a beer or something. What was the stuff you wanted to talk about?”
Heero seemed to take a deep breath. He looked around the lounge, then he dropped his bag and sat carefully down on the next chair. His thigh brushed Duo’s. “It was about what you said the last time we met up. It’s been worrying me ever since – that I didn’t make myself clear. That I may have given you the wrong idea.”
“Wrong idea?” Duo seemed to have spent most of the last day of his life trying to make sense of other people’s conversations.
“You talked about something more personal to us; about a relationship that might be more than friendship.”
Duo opened his mouth, then closed it again. He waited for the kids to come back and interrupt this conversation – possibly one of the most important of his life – but there was still no sign of them. No, he thought. I’m just not that lucky…
“It’s been the distance, the travelling.” Heero was watching his face, trying to gauge his reaction. “I’ve never been able to offer you anything more than these fleeting visits, and I thought it wasn’t really fair. Besides, I wasn’t sure for a while if you were even interested in me – you know, romantically…”
“I’m homey special,” said Duo, like his mouth opened by remote control and someone else’s words sprang out.
Heero looked puzzled. “Whatever. This is difficult for me, Duo, but I wanted to say it, to clear the air between us. You just expressed everything so well that night; I’d been feeling alone for a long time, and dissatisfied with it. But I had no intention of rushing into anything without knowing what I wanted.” He laughed, a little self-consciously. Duo thought how damned delicious that sounded. “It sounds ridiculous, but then I realised what it was I did want, all along. I may have misunderstood you last time… I really hope I didn’t. And I hope I haven’t missed my chance to explain all this to you. To explain how I feel about you.”
“No,” said Duo, quickly. There was a stupid grin on his face and suddenly his ass didn’t feel quite so cramped on the seat. His boots were still ruined, but then he could care less at the moment. “And the travel thing? Well, that can change, you know.”
“I have – stuff – I wanted to talk to you about, too.”
“So -- we can talk about it all, then? If not now, maybe tonight after we’ve checked in and let Quatre know we’re safely here…” Heero’s face was bright with anticipation; his eyes didn’t seem to want to leave Duo’s face. “I can’t really believe this, you know? I’ve had a lot of long, boring hours to think and rethink what I was going to say to you. Then I get here and it all just spills out.”
“Like ketchup,” said Duo.
“Sure. Maybe.” Heero laughed. “I’m sorry, it’s not been fair to you, camped out here for all these hours. I shouldn’t have asked you to wait around…”
Duo smiled back with a warmth he hadn’t felt for years. “It’s cool. No problem. Worth every minute. You spoil me, Heero Yuy. I’d kind of like to do the same for you in return.”
Heero stood up. He shook his head slightly, as if he thought Duo was still half asleep and slightly delirious, but it was all just part of the adventure. “We’ll go on to the hotel now, shall we?”
“I’d like that,” said Duo. He stood up too, picked up his bag and his stupid grin and let his shoulder nudge against the other man. Felt good. Felt damned good.
“Why are you looking around?” Heero asked, curiously.
“Just wanted to say goodbye to some friends,” Duo said. It’d be a pity if he never saw the kids again. He kind of missed them. He didn’t want to examine too closely just how bizarre that thought was.
But for now, he had Heero to concentrate on.
“Is that him?” hissed San. She and Rocky were sat up on the upper level, faces pressed up against the plastic viewing pane, peering back down into the lounge. They were watching the two young men meet and move around each other like they wanted to touch but were nervous of it.
Rocky nodded. “Uh-huh. That’s Heero. Unc goes on about them so much, I easily recognised them both.”
San wrinkled her nose at her brother’s tedious self-importance. “He could have brushed his hair. It’s not like Duo’s. It’s all dark and spiky.”
Rocky shrugged. “Guess they both like it like that. Whatever.”
San looked down a little mournfully at Duo Maxwell, the man she’d grown to be quite fond of. Despite him throwing his ice cream so wastefully on the floor. Duo was standing up; he was very close to Heero. They were both beaming smiles. “Tell me again what we were doing for Unc.”
Rocky sighed. “Helping them get together. Unc said it was time they finally got it together.”
Rocky pursed his lips. “Don’t know. It’s what adults do. It’s probably stuff, you know? Anyway, both Uncs go on and on about it…”
“… and on and on,” added San, giggling. A few feet away, another couple of men turned to look at them. The blond one had suspicion in his eyes, but the dark-haired one smiled fondly.
San looked at Rocky and he looked back. They winked at each other. “We sorted ‘em,” she said.
“Uh-huh,” he agreed, and they both grinned.
“Do we just leave them now?” asked San. She looked back down at the men in the lounge area. Nothing very exciting seemed to be happening. Maybe they were bored with each other already. “Do they need some more help? Some ice cream?”
“No,” hissed Rocky, though he looked as bemused himself. “They’re not taking any notice of us anyway.”
“They need to be lonely,” said San, gravely.
“Not lonely,” snapped Rocky. “Alone. Don’t you ever get anything right?”
San stuck out her tongue at him and grinned, not the slightest bit offended. “Yeah. Lots of times. Can I see them kiss?”
Rocky looked like he’d swallowed glass and it was bogey-flavoured. “No you can’t! Yeuwww, any kissing is truly gross.” He got up and dusted off his clothes. “Come on! You have to get Mom from the toilet and then we have to go find our own flight. You can see them next time we visit Uncle Quatre and Uncle Trowa.”
He strode off towards his uncles with the little girl in hot pursuit, romantic visions forgotten.
“But you still owe me four pounds of sweets!” came her plaintive voice.