Jaded Trade
by Trixie

The school year started up again, much to Heero's relief. He had not been able to go back to the club after the night when he found out the name of his Beauty. Something had altered in their relationship, fictitious though it may be, and Heero had yet to adjust to the newness of it. Quatre tried valiantly to cajole him to go out, but Quatre's pleas always felt a little selfish, and Heero distrusted the other man's motives.

A few days before the term began, more of Quatre's wide circle of friends returned to campus, and Heero got a bit of a reprieve.

Normally, he would go to the bookstore and buy his books and supplies before the campus got too busy, but this term, he stayed in his apartment and reached dizzying new levels of mastery over his playstation, retreating most noticeably from the world. So much so, that when he had to get dressed for class, he couldn't find anything in his apartment that didn't smell like day-old pizza.

His schedule was light this semester. He had three Tuesday-Thursday classes, one Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and a lab on Thursday. He was carrying a decent number of hours, and the single lab class promised to be relatively stress-free, being that it was a fairly basic physics class. He found himself looking forward to his classes. He was a math major, with nearly enough hours for a computer science minor, were his university to offer such a thing, but he always peppered his class load with enough humanities to keep things interesting. Heero really didn't see the point coasting through school without ever challenging himself, and he already knew most of what he was learning in his major.

This semester, his electives included physics, which he added when he realized that he had not taken any pure science classes, and an Eastern philosophy course, which he thought would be enriching since he had always been under the impression that his parents had been from Japan. Those plus combinatorics and number theory made for a full, but not overly taxing, schedule.

He liked to leave enough time in his day for his personal reading and, of course, gaming.

His combinatorics professor had an odd habit of twitching, which Heero attributed to the sheer volume of tweed he was able to pile onto his body at one time. He also had a slight lisp, and he tended to write things on the board that had little, if anything, to do with what he was saying. Heero loved it. Quatre was taking Eastern philosophy as well, and came to sit next to Heero before Heero could do anything about it. It was all right, though, because even though Quatre had a less than stellar work ethic, he was always able to talk about and form opinions on anything under the sun, and it distracted from Heero's quietness. The physics class looked like a complete waste of time. It was a large class of over 200 students, and the teacher seemed intimidated by crowds, but even if he wasn't going to learn anything new, he really liked the textbook that they had been assigned, and he was looking forward to the lab. The lady teaching number theory wore her hair in a tight bun that screamed 'tight ass,' but she was efficient and diligent, and Heero appreciated that.

He didn't even think about going to the club until Wednesday night, when Quatre actually showed up at his door at 10:30 and insisted that Heero come with him. It was tempting, and Heero let Quatre hang around his apartment for nearly an hour while he wrestled with it, but ultimately, the fact that his longest school day was facing him made up his mind.

He wanted to see Duo, though, badly. It had been nearly twelve days, and Heero's obsession was only getting worse. He would see a flash of color in the corner of his eye, and he would turn suddenly, chasing after a phantom braid. He heard laughter, and his pulse would throb. He watched people on campus, and he found himself searching for anything Duo-esque.

His beauty haunted him in his dreams, leaving him satiated and weak, the bed sheets crusty and dank.

If he allowed himself to think about Duo, his fingers would itch with the absolute *need* to touch him, to put his hands in Duo's hair, to look deeply into Duo's eyes and see nothing but love...

It was a fantasy. He didn't have to tell himself that - he *knew*. But the fantasy was sweet and it lingered in his senses, and he wanted to indulge it.

By the time the four o'clock lab was starting, Heero was ready to collapse. In between all the spaces in everything else in his day, his thoughts had been filled with the images of Duo that his imagination trussed up for him. He was halfway thinking he would drag Quatre out to the club, halfway thinking he would stay in and go to bed early, halfway thinking he would take some quality time tonight to enjoy himself and exorcise some of his demon desires, and halfway thinking he would go to the club alone, watch Duo, and follow him home.

It was no wonder his head was throbbing, as he had two full brains squished inside his skull.

He picked a lab table off to the side, but in the second row. He liked to be close to the blackboard, and he disliked the students who hesitated and remained drifting in the back. One by one, the tables filled up, each table occupied by two or three people, most of whom seemed to know each other.

Heero didn't care if he ended up working on the experiment alone, anyway. He'd rather not have an incompetent partner, after all.

The TA was getting ready to start class, passing out handouts and an attendance sheet. The last person to walk in had closed the door behind him, and everyone was seated.

Duo made quite an entrance when he breezed in, grinning wildly at the TA who had just begun his opening lecture.

As if he had known where he was going to sit all along, Duo went directly to the empty seat next to Heero. Heero's brain was simply not able to process the disconnect of seeing Duo here, next to him, wearing regular jeans and a t-shirt with the name of some band on it, and the image of Duo, glittering and perfect, inside his head. It made it awkward when Duo tried to introduce himself, but if he had attempted speech, he would have found his tongue ten sizes too big for his mouth anyway.

Duo slipped his backpack on the back of his seat loosely, and pulled out a thin spiral-bound notebook and an erasable pen. He flipped his notebook open, and poked at the collection of mechanical parts in the tray on their table. He grinned at Heero and made some comment that must have been funny, because Duo's eyes were sparkling as he spoke.

Duo had a backpack. Heero glanced at it from the corner of his eye. It was just an ordinary backpack, like the backpacks carried by people who weren't Duo. Heero could see nothing about it that made it extraordinary or special at all. He used a notebook he bought in a drug store. Just like the notebook Heero had, kind of, except Heero's was more of a binder and less of a notebook. He said things that were directed at Heero and were not related at all to drinks. Duo was a student.

Honestly, it had never occurred to Heero in a million years that any of these things could be true.

The TA began his spiel, unbeknownst to Heero. He was too busy watching Duo's long, sprightly fingers move as he tapped his pen against his notebook nervously. Sometimes, he would write in the notebook. Duo had long eyelashes, and when he looked down at his notebook, his eyelashes would almost touch his cheek. Duo had nice skin, too. And the braid was a lot thicker than it looked from far away.

Heero had forgotten how to breathe.

The TA stopped talking, and Duo started to poke at the parts again. Heero tried to follow along with the worksheets they had been given, but it was distracting, because Duo kept chatting with him. Duo liked to chat. He seemed friendly. He even bantered with the group behind them as they tried to swap extra parts so they would each have all that they needed.

Heero thought that he had given Duo his name, and he thought that he had laughed at something that Duo said, but he wasn't really sure.

They finished before most of the other groups. Duo had neat, but very large handwriting, and he filled out the worksheet in quick, jerky movements. Heero corrected him once, speaking up purely through a knee-jerk reaction to seeing the wrong number being fit into the slot. Duo beamed at him and thanked him.

Heero felt like his head wasn't quite right.

They turned in their sheets, and packed up their stuff. Duo ambled down the hall, lazily making conversation. He drawled a little, a dialect that spoke of the streets to Heero creeping into his voice. He asked Heero if this was his last class, and how many classes he had that day, and which section of physics was he taking. Heero replied to each question, and reciprocated. That was all he could do.

They were out on the quad, the draining light of the sun glinting on the windows of the drab buildings in full technicolor, when Duo actually touched him. He reached out to touch the button on the strap of Heero's bag, his fingers brushing against Heero's arm. Heero's eyes widened, and he stared at Duo.

"You active?"

The question seemed like a complete non sequitur. Heero struggled to find the context of the statement. There was something in Duo's eyes, a glaze of subdued fear. Heero looked from Duo's eyes, to his fingers, where he was still touching his arm. The pieces tumbled together like a lock reluctantly granting access to a thief. "Oh. That. No, not really... My friend is one of the officers, he made me come to a meeting or two." Heero shrugged, his face flaming red. He had totally forgotten about the pink triangle Quatre had affixed to his bag last year.

"Yeah?" Duo smiled, blushing himself a little. "I went to a meeting once, but it seemed like a lot of whiny, spoiled college students. I mean, I suppose I should care and stuff, but I'm not really political, you know? I just live how I live." Duo shrugged, dropping his hand to his side. He hooked his thumbs over the waistband of his jeans, which seemed kind of too big for him, now that Heero was looking.

Heero's nostrils flared. "That's good. No, I mean... What else matters? It doesn't... it doesn't make sense to be so... *political*, you can't even enjoy what you are fighting for."

"Exactly!" Duo got animated, his eyes bright, and he nodded vigorously. He lifted up his hands in a pale victory gesture. "Yes, that's it. What's the point of getting so worked up over each injustice, you can't even get good and properly laid every now and again?"

Heero's vision got hazy.

"You live on campus?"

It took Heero a moment to register the question. He blinked, swallowing hard. "No," he shook his head just once. "I live near Mason and 4th."

Duo nodded. "Ah. We should get together and study, you know, two heads better than one and all that. Though, I'm guessing this class'll be cake."

Heero nodded mutely.

Duo eyed Heero, sizing him up. "I keep thinking I've seen you somewhere before, but I can't put my finger on it... Am I out in left field, or what?"

Heero stared.

Shrugging, Duo waved and took off toward the left. "See ya later, then, Heero!"

Heero watched him leave, feeling weightless and immobile. His head was pounding for over a half an hour later.

Duo had touched him.

Dropping his book backpack right inside the door, he flicked the locks shut absentmindedly. It had been a long day, really, but he was glad to be home. He grinned as he sauntered into the kitchen, shaking his head as he avoided his two rambunctious roommates fooling around in front of the garbage.

"You two are disgusting," Duo teased. "At least get on the couch to do that. I mean, think of what you are exposing that poor child to!"

Hilde giggled, her cheeks nearly as red as her lips. "Ah, lay off, Duo, we're just expressing our love for each other."

Duo rolled his eyes, popping open the milk to take a long pull right from the carton. "Whatever, scavenger-girl. You just like hanging out with the trash."

"Thank god, too!" Solo cried out, spinning Hilde around in his arms. "Imagine the trouble we two boys would get into without her!" He kissed her cheek sloppily, still spinning her so that they were running into Duo.

Hilde laughed, and slapped Solo's arm. "Jeez, don't tell horror stories. You two alone? There wouldn't be a building left standing!"

Duo grinned and winked at Solo just as Solo grinned and winked at him, leaving Hilde to dissolve into laughter. Hilde tried to spin away, but Solo still had her in his arms. Her belly was just beginning to protrude, just enough so that it was clear what was going on inside of her. Duo felt the same surge of warmth spread through him as did any time he thought about Hilde's pregnancy. "So, how did the appointment go?"

Hilde and Solo glanced at each other briefly, and then Solo dazzled him with his grin. "Fabulous! Everything looks great... Oh! And we have pictures! And a video!"

"My god!" Duo gasped, tingling from head to toe. "Poor kid's not even born yet, and you're already taking pictures? Well... do they know?"

Hilde couldn't contain her excitement. "Well, they aren't *sure*, you know, because it is still kind of early, but the doctor said she was *nearly* sure she had seen a little wee-wee."

Duo was too excited to even mock the euphemism. "A boy! Really!"

Solo threw his arm around Duo, pulling him in. "Yup, and it's gonna be up to you 'n' me to teach 'im to be a real hellraiser."

"Couldn't have it any other way," Duo proclaimed.

Hilde sighed dramatically. "I'm gonna be outnumbered!"

Solo winked. "You're outnumbered now, hon."

They kept talking. Laughing, joking, teasing each other. Duo went about making his dinner unobtrusively, slipping in between them when he could. He loved his family. It had taken him a long, long time to get anything even close to this, and now he wasn't going to waste a second of it. He ignored the red notices on the countertop, and the niggling voice in the back of his head that said that they were going to need to buy a crib and a playpen and a stroller and god knew what else, and he ignored the feeling that Hilde and Solo were keeping something from him, and he pretended that he wasn't watching the clock, biding his time until he had to go to his horrible, demeaning, degrading, but incredibly high-paying job.

It was worth it, for his family.

They watched the streaming sonic lines that only looked like a baby if they squinted. They joked and they laughed over it, each one of them feeling too exuberant. Solo and Hilde goofed off on the couch while Duo poked around, preparing for class the next day. They ate mac and cheese to celebrate, drinking pop from the cheap wine glasses Hilde had brought here with her.

When it was about time for Duo to get ready to go, Solo dragged Hilde back to his studio, to pose for another of his portraits. He had an oversized canvass he was going to fill with images of Hilde throughout her pregnancy. It was going to be his gift to Hilde, for everything she was going through for their baby. Duo was glad for the chance to be alone. He went through the bills on the counter, taking a mental sum as he did. He figured weekly costs of groceries and sundries, and then padded the total to account for splurging. He took out a wad of cash from his store under his desk, and put it in a folder for Solo.

He got dressed, scowling at himself in the mirror, sticking his tongue out at himself. He didn't like wearing these clothes much, but he got better tips when he did, so he sexed himself up but good.

Poking his nose into Solo's studio, he said goodnight to his roommates, enjoying their cheerful camaraderie for a moment before trekking off, repeating his mantra over and over again in his head, 'It's for them, it's for them, it's for them...'

On to part three. Back to part one.