Jaded Trade
by Trixie

Heero's eyes stared with steely focus. He had the size advantage. He had the equipment advantage. And he'd been through this cellar hundreds of times on his own. He would not be deterred. He would emerge victorious.

Furiously, he pounded on the keys of his controller. He snarled as his character ripped through a mass of zombie witch warriors.

Next to him, Duo yawned loudly. "Are we almost done yet?"

Duo wasn't even watching the game 100%. He was absently guiding his character through the maze to get to the prize at the end of the tunnel. His fingers moved with dexterous grace over the keys, as if the controller was just an extension of his body, and he was actually moving his character telepathically.

Heero glared at the screen. He had been duped. This could *not* be Duo's first time playing.

"We just have to get to the thingamabob and seal off the whatsit, right? Then we can stop?" Duo stretched out, slaughtering the unholy living dead with a flick of his wrist as he did.

Quatre laughed from the couch. "Well, *you* will be done then. Heero's guy will be sealed off for eternity with the undead."

Heero *hated* losing, but he hated losing even *more* when it was something that was supposed to be his forte. He would not forget this lightly. "Let's play the pyramid game."

"Aw," Duo sighed. "D'ya have any of those racing games where you get to be the cartoon character, and leave bombs behind and stuff? Those rock."

Heero sulked. "We need to play *again*."

"Heero," Duo sighed, "you've said that like six times already! Maybe we should stop playing these competitive ones."

Heero narrowed his eyes. He would *win*, damn it, if it was the last thing he ever did.

Quatre sighed. "You know, when you invited me over to spend the evening with you and Duo, I had actually envisioned having a lot more fun."

Duo's back stiffened minutely. It wasn't something that just anyone would notice, but Heero felt like he was very attuned to Duo's body. He put down his controller and glared at Quatre.

"Hey, don't look at me like that!" Quatre held up his hands in a show of nonaggression. "Watching paint dry would be more fun than watching you lose to Duo again... and again... and again... He's better than you. Deal."

Heero turned back to his game. "One more," he stubbornly insisted.

Quatre sighed heavily. "Ok, then, I'm going to let myself out... I think I need to get my circulation moving again..."

Duo smiled halfheartedly at Quatre. It had been something of an awkward evening, but it had been Duo's idea. Heero didn't have many friends, and Duo wanted to be on good terms with those that he had. It was just unfortunate for Duo that Heero's only friend was Quatre.

Heero nodded absently. "Have a good night..."

Quatre grumbled as he slipped his feet into his sport sandals. "Hope you have more exciting plans for the night than video games... so boring!"

Duo sheepishly grinned at Heero as he effortlessly vaulted his character past the mummy guards. "I didn't chase him away, did I? I mean, I tried to be nice..."

"Doesn't matter," Heero grunted, still two rooms behind.

Duo shrugged. "Well, I mean, it *does* matter... He's your friend, right? I don't want him to hate me..."

Heero winced as he took another hard hit, but he caught some luck in gaining super speed as he killed the chief guard. "You're more important."

Duo didn't say anything, but stopped hitting the buttons for a second to look at Heero.

This gave Heero the chance to get ahead.

Duo leaned against Heero, putting his head on Heero's shoulder. "Thanks. Hey, Heero, can I ask you something?"

Heero blinked. His fingers slowed down on the controller. He processed each bit of information slowly. He felt Duo's hair next to his cheek. He savored the scent of the top of Duo's head. He basked in the warmth of Duo's body pressed against his. He tingled at each point where Duo's skin touched his.

He should be getting used to this by now, but he really wasn't. He couldn't be. Especially now, when he looked into Duo's eyes, and he felt like Duo was really *seeing* him, to have *anyone* really see him, and have it be Duo, and have Duo still receptive to him... He would never get used to this.

His character got mauled by the mummy tiger. He dropped his controller.


Duo absently punched the buttons, slipping past the high priest defenders. "Well, there's this thing... Solo's got a gallery thing? And it's this weekend. I was... I was kinda hoping you would maybe want to come, and, you know, just meet Solo, and Hilde. And see Solo's art. Maybe. I mean, if you don't want to, it's no big deal, I understand. But it's really cool. I mean, I'm not really into art, and I'm not really unbiased and shit, but Solo's really good. It's..." Duo defeated the pharaoh's ghost in seven moves. As his character was exalted, he dropped the controller, and placed his hand on Heero's thigh, his fingers curling toward the center. Heero's shorts were just nylon, and he could feel the warmth of Duo's arm, feel the way Duo's fingernails scratched at the cloth. "It'd be really great if you could come."

Heero nodded silently, leaning over so that his cheek rubbed against Duo's head. Duo grinned, and turned his face to smile at Heero.

"Did you... still wanna play video games?"

Heero shook his head, leaning over Duo until Duo had to lean back on his elbows, until Duo was flat on the floor.

He licked sticky sweat from Duo's abdomen, and forgot to care about winning.

The bathroom mirror was too steamed up to see anything in, so he wiped off a corner of it so he could shave. His facial hair still didn't grow in fast enough to really warrant multiple shaves a day, but he wanted to perfectly smooth for that night. After all, with all the hair he had hanging from his head, any amount of hair at all on his face made him look unbelievably scruffy.

His nerve endings were all jangled and jazzed. Solo had a gallery show tonight. He'd taken his last summer school final that morning, giving him two blessed weeks of nothing but working. Howard was giving him extra shifts. They'd even worked out a deal with Hilde's doctor.

Heero was going to meet his family.

Duo splashed the blade under the water. It was hard to keep from grinning. It felt like he'd fallen into an unbelievable patch of luck. There were so many times in his life when he'd been willing to throw caution to the wind, because he just didn't care what happened to him, but somehow, things had turned out all right.

He just had to make sure that Heero liked Solo and Hilde, and that was sure to be easy. Of course, Hilde took some getting used to, but she was nice, and fun, and Solo was just the best. Duo washed his face off, almost laughing into the water. It wasn't even a question in his mind; Heero *would* like Solo. He *had* to, after all, because Solo was Solo. Heero wouldn't like Duo if he weren't going to like Solo, too.

It had taken him some time to adjust to the idea. He'd have been perfectly happy to spend his life with Solo alone, but then Hilde came along. He didn't begrudge her or Solo for it, and things had worked out very nicely. But he'd never have believed that he might... have feelings for anyone else. He certainly felt something for Heero. And the more he thought about Heero being added to their merry homestead, the happier he felt.

It was in the stars, perhaps. They were just destined to cross paths and cross lives.

He shuffled through Solo's bottles of aftershave and cologne. Duo never liked that stuff, but Solo was something of a connoisseur. Solo was sensitive to some scents, so his collection was carefully selected to be pleasing. Duo pulled out a thick blue bottle, and dabbed a few drops onto his fingers. He spread the liquid down his neck, over his pecs, and down his sides. It was his favorite smell on Solo, a light spicy smell that made him feel sexy.

"Damn, you're going all out," Solo drawled from the bathroom doorway. He was wearing his tight, black jeans, and nothing else.

Duo smirked at him, feeling his heart jump and his skin flush.

Solo smiled appreciatively as he looked Duo up and down. "You'd think this was your show."

Duo broke out into a smile that threatened to blind. "Heero's going to be there tonight."

"Yeah?" Solo stepped into the bathroom, his interest peaked. "So we finally get to meet the great Heero, eh? 'Bout time." He stood behind Duo, and put his hands on Duo's hips, his long fingers curling close to Duo's groin. "Pity, though. I'd kinda hoped that all this was for me." He touched his lips to the skin above Duo's jugular, and exhaled against Duo's flesh.

Duo shuddered. He put his hands back to grip Solo's hips. "Always for you," he murmured, turned his face to catch Solo's lips in a teasing kiss.

Solo slipped his hands across Duo's stomach, crossing them to hold Duo tight against his bare chest. "You are so beautiful, Kid. I love you so damn much."

There were no words that Duo could conjure to reply to that, so he opened his mouth to Solo instead.

Solo stepped back, licking his lips to linger over Duo's flavor for a minute longer. "Want help with your hair?"

Duo grinned.

There was nothing better than letting Solo brush out his hair and dry it. He had grown his hair out for Solo especially. Solo loved to touch his hair, to run his fingers through it, and to let it fall from his hands in a cascade. Duo sat in the middle of the bed, and leaned back on his hands so that Solo could brush out his hair slowly. Solo knew all the tricks of dealing with long hair after years of tending to Duo's. He started at the bottom, brushing out small chunks, and moving up slowly until it was all tamed. He had toweled it out some, but he used the hair dryer on low as he brushed to get rid of most of the dampness. Duo's sole luxury when it came to his maintenance was his hairbrush, a wooden handled brush with stiff hairs that was gentle and thorough. He loved the way that Solo massaged his scalp by digging the brush in at the top of his head, and he loved the patience of each stroke.

His body melted into a languid stupor, until he was leaning back further and further, and finally he just lay down on the bed. Solo held out his hair so he could continue to brush it out and dry it as Duo closed his eyes, idly moving his fingers over his chest.

This was what sex with Solo was like. Slow, gentle, and steady, Solo knew everything about him, inside and out. Solo knew every nerve ending in his body, and he knew every reaction that Duo had. Whereas Heero inspired kinetic desperation in Duo, Solo provided him with a rock-solid sense of peace that bled from every pore in his body.

"You're thinking about sex," Solo informed him, whispering right over his nose.

Duo opened one eye, and smirked. "How can you tell?"

"You're squirming," Solo teased, his eyes drifting down to Duo's chest. "And your fingers won't stop moving. Not to mention even more obvious indicators..."

Duo spread out his legs, lifting one knee. "I like the way you touch me."

"Good," Solo sighed, bending over Duo to kiss Duo's chin, allowing Duo to kiss his chin. "Because I like touching you."

Duo lifted his arms, feeling weighted down, like he was swimming through jelly. "You're not planning on stopping, then?" He ran his fingertips through the trails of Solo's hair that were dripping over his cheeks.

Solo bent down again to kiss Duo, his lips ghosting over Duo's cheeks and his jaw and his neck. Duo arched his back, separating his lips as he silently begged Solo for more. Solo put his thumbs on each of Duo's temples. "Open your eyes," Solo requested. "Let me see you. Watch me."

Duo blinked his eyes open, staring into the maelstrom of Solo's sleepy grey eyes. He shuddered.

Solo dipped down, kissing Duo's mouth ravenously, awkwardly.

"Hey, no fair, I'm too pregnant for these kinds of games," Hilde protested wickedly.

They didn't stop.

She sat down on the edge of the bed, bouncing in until she felt secure. She ran her fingers through the mass of Duo's hair that were spread out across the sheets, fingering the strands. "Aw, I want to play, too... But I don't want to crush you."

Solo broke the kiss, grinning up at Hilde. Duo wiggled his hips cheekily.

"Hey," Solo smiled, "guess what? We get to meet Heero tonight."

"Really?" Hilde grinned. "Excellent! Is he ready for our tests?"

"Tests?" Duo laughed as Solo licked his way down Duo's chest.

"Sure," Hilde nodded, fingering Duo's ear playfully. "You don't expect us to let just anyone have access to this beautiful body, do you? There are certain standards we must maintain..."

Duo closed his eyes to hold onto his smile. "Oh, really, huh? And yet we let you play..."

Solo laughed as Hilde slapped Duo's arm lightly. "Hush, you! Or I'll tell Heero all about the time you lost your underwear at the ballgame."

"Ha! She fights dirty, you know?" Solo teased.

Duo grinned, nodding. "I know. She's an evil, evil woman. See, this is what happens when you let breeders into the kennel..."

Hilde tweaked Duo's nipple fiercely. "Don't try my patience, boy. Just because I'm the size of a boat, that doesn't mean I can't make my wrath known."

Duo squirmed on the bed, shifting himself from one side to the other. His stomach was flipping and turning, and he felt unnaturally hot at the surface of his skin. He let his fingers drift over his skin, wondering if they were going to let him go out like this, or if they would take care of him first.

Solo's fingers went between his legs, gently probing, prodding. "Our little family just keeps growing bigger. Soon we'll be able to reach cult status... and then we'll really be able to implement our world domination schemes."

Duo was too busy being aroused to continue following the conversation. He thrashed a little, petulantly pushing himself in Solo's direction. "How about dominating a little closer to home first?"

Solo pulled up so that he could cover Duo, holding himself above Duo's naked body by inches. "Is that what you want? You want me to take you? Do you want me to be inside of you? Or are you waiting for your Heero?"

"I don't care!" Duo called out, reaching up, needing Solo in his hands. "In me, over me, you, Heero, whatever, please, please!"

Solo dove down, sticking his tongue into Duo's greedy mouth, using his hands to cover Duo, to stroke him and entice him.

Duo knew this game. He knew the taste of Solo's kiss, the distractions and the evasions. Solo wasn't always able to get it up, because of his health. It wasn't a question of desire, simply of strength. Solo's autonomic nervous system just couldn't maintain his heart rate and his respiration rate long enough for him to get completely hard. But that never stopped him.

Duo felt weak, unable to cling, like he was nothing but putty in Solo's hands. He felt so *loved*, right down to his toes, like his body was overflowing with the feeling. He felt so damned close to Solo, like they were just halves of a whole, and there could never be words between them that would mean as much as the way they searched each other's eyes.

He felt broken apart and put back together again, and that was before he had his orgasm.

He lay boneless on the bed, just letting two sets of hands clean him and brush out his hair and start to dress him. He knew that Hilde was picking his clothes, but he didn't mind. She had good taste, and he liked these vinyl pants anyway.

He was just useless with being happy.

Heero adjusted his tie seven times before just taking it off. It was an art show, not opening night at the opera. He combed his fingers through his hair, long having found that to be much more effective than actually brushing his hair in the fight to keep himself looking debonair. After another minute of staring into his own eyes reflected in the glass, he mussed up his hair, turned his back to the reflection, and strode out of his apartment as quickly as he could.

He probably should have taken the bus. It was a good thirty block walk, and he didn't want to meet Duo's family smelling of sweat and the street, but he didn't want to get there too early, either, and he did want to burn off some of the extra energy that was coursing through his blood stream.

Taking deep breaths, he reminded himself that it was just an art show. It wasn't anything major. So he was meeting Duo's Solo for the first time. Solo was going to be busy being the artist; he wasn't going to put Heero on trial to decide if he was worthy of Duo's attention. He wouldn't have time.

Heero opened and closed his fists at his sides as he waited for a light. This was just another night. Even if Solo did end up hating him, or judging him unworthy, it was still Duo's decision. It wasn't up to Solo. So Heero didn't have to feel pressured.

He walked past the gallery, watching the crowd peripherally as he wove through the people to get to the corner. He crossed the street, turned, walked to the next corner, crossed the street again, and headed back to the gallery. There were more people there than he expected. On the one hand, that was good, because it would make conversation difficult, thus increasing the possibility that Solo would not get a chance to judge him. Heero stood behind an emaciated yuppie couple who were feigning goth on the way in the door. They made several caustic remarks that spoke more about them than the people they were skewering. Inside, there were mobs of people, so the din of the place just barely managed to punctuate the pounding rhythm of the music playing. Heero thought the music could be best described as pretentious, but he'd never been a follower of any genre, so it might have been faux punk.

He wove through three rooms of people before he got the lay of the place. Hardly anyone was looking at the art, and those that were only did so in order to sound witty to their friends while sipping overrated wine. Heero felt the back of his neck itch, a common thing when he was surrounded and feeling trapped.

He stepped into a large room with a model of the Mona Lisa fashioned from sport drink bottles in the center, and he heard it. The unmistakable sound of Duo's laughter pierced the room. Heero turned, homing in on it immediately.

Duo was a room away, in a smaller room. The walls were covered in paintings, but Heero wasn't able to spare a glance at them. He was absorbed by the man whose arm was around Duo's shoulders. He was a little less than a head taller than Duo, and, amazingly, even thinner than Duo. He had ink black hair that framed his face in drooping strands. He wore skin tight black jeans that hung off his hips, a silver shirt that was open at the neck and waist, a silver cross hanging from a black cord, and Duo's braid wrapped around his hand, pressed to his lips.

Heero felt the room get very cold.

It wasn't the way that the other man was curled around Duo, or the light kiss that he placed on Duo's nose. It wasn't the way his hands touched Duo or the possessive aura that he exuded. It was the look of utter, glowing adoration that beatified Duo's face as Heero had never seen before.

It hurt. It hurt so much more than Heero could bear. He wanted to walk away, but he was rooted to the spot, just staring blankly at Duo and the man that he loved. It *hurt*.

Instinct took over, and when Duo's eyes drifted to him, he bolted. He moved with feline grace out of the gallery, and out onto the street. He wasn't running, but he wasn't walking, either. He slipped from one place to the next, wanting more than anything to just keep moving. He wasn't so far gone that he could actually get lost, but he walked for over an hour with no destination other than away.

His arms felt heavy when he got back to his apartment. His chest felt broken. He thought again about his gun, wishing again that he hadn't been so hasty, wishing that he still had it. He didn't think that he would actually kill himself over this, but he wanted the weight and the coolness of the metal in his hands, he wanted the routine of cleaning it and loading it, the soft click of metal against metal as he inserted bullets into the clip, the sharp, slick noise of the clip sliding into place, ready for action.

He took off his clothes, letting them fall into the pile of the rejected clothes. It had taken him over an hour to pick what he wanted to wear. He felt very, very stupid.

He pulled on a pair of track pants and a tank top that was so old and worn, it felt like he was wearing nothing at all. He liked it, though, even though it was well past its prime time. The color was faded, no longer the vibrant green it had been when he had stolen it from the laundry.

He had been nine. He and Odin were in some small town in France, he couldn't remember the name of it. There were bicyclists everywhere, tourists who were summering in France, pretending they could join the Tour some day. They needed to change their identities, get out of town fast. Odin had more money than the rest of the town combined, but he couldn't draw attention to himself.

Heero remembered slipping on the near-new tank top in the back of the laundromat, watching the tourists like a hawk so he and Odin could get away.

He didn't remember if he enjoyed it or not. He could only see the memory, like he was watching a film. He didn't have any emotional response to it.

But he had loved the shirt. He had worn it forever, and kept it when it was no longer useful. There had been times when he thought the shirt was as much a part of him as his hair.

He wanted Duo desperately. He wanted his arms around Duo's slim body again. He wanted his skin touching Duo's. He wanted his fingers buried in Duo's hair, he wanted to put his mouth on Duo's mouth, he wanted to move inside of Duo and make Duo scream again...

He sat down on the couch and waited for the tears. Heero didn't mind crying that much. He'd watched Odin cry a few times over the years, and he had come to accept it as part of life. The first time he'd cried, though, Odin was already long dead. He hadn't even cried for that girl, though he thought that he would.

He had a nightmare one night about his mother. He couldn't remember her, and he doubted if he'd ever even known her, really, but he'd dream about her, and when he woke up, he cried for a bit. That had been a few years ago. He'd liked the experience; it was liberating, afterward.

He wondered if he could cry enough to get to that feeling now. He wondered why he wasn't already crying.

The phone ringing jolted him. He almost didn't answer, but Quatre was being particularly persistent, and so he decided to be abrupt and send the man away. That had been his plan, but his voice cracked, and when Quatre frantically asked what was wrong, he couldn't speak.

Maybe he was already crying.

Perhaps, company would be ok. Perhaps.

He supposed it was a sign of how he was feeling that he was almost grateful that he didn't have to be alone, even if it was just Quatre.

At about midnight, the mood shifted from being genteel party to being a genuine party. Hilde, Solo, and Duo hid themselves away in an alcove, Hilde and Solo sandwiching Duo. They were sharing a celebratory drink, Hilde cheerfully raising her diet coke, and Solo and Duo clinking champagne glasses. Solo had sold two paintings, a real coup for a first showing.

Solo rubbed his hand over Hilde's belly, grinning wildly. They were all grinning uncontrollably; it was like winning the lottery. There was only one thing that tainted the perfection of the evening, and Duo was working hard at not letting that show in his eyes.

Still, Solo knew him better than anyone.

"Maybe he was in a horrible, horrible accident, and he's clinging to his life in some ER," Solo suggested jauntily.

Hilde squeezed Duo's waist as best she could, with her belly. "Nah, he's prolly just been abducted by inbred serial killers from Texas."

Solo kissed Duo's cheek softly. "Best not to jump to any conclusions."

Thing was, Duo was *sure* he had seen Heero for a moment. Just a flash, true, the back of his head, but still. He just didn't know why Heero would come, and not say anything. He drank down his drink in one gulp, and kissed Hilde on the mouth. He turned to Solo, his eyes gleaming with feral delight. "Dunno, but I'm aiming to find out. C'mere, you magnificent bastard, you." He threw his arm around Solo's neck, hitching himself up enough to possess Solo's mouth. "Congrats," he whispered against Solo's chin.

Solo chucked, his thin chest shaking with it. "Go get 'im, Kid."

Duo winked, and slipped away from them, grabbing an unopened bottle of champagne on the way out. He even splurged on a cab, directing the cabbie as he impatiently tapped his fingers on his knee. His nerves had been jangling all day. He'd been carrying this languid heat under his skin all night. And the thought of seeing Heero made his cock twitch.

He slipped into Heero's building, taking the stairs three or four at a time. He shook out his limbs before knocking on Heero's door. He took two deep breaths, and then pounded on the door.

Heero didn't answer right away. He never did. Duo nearly got himself laughing, imagining what Heero must be thinking. Not that he ever knew what Heero was thinking. Well, he did when Heero was in him; Heero's eyes were completely transparent when he was inside of him. Duo shuddered at the thought, his pants suddenly feeling way too tight, and he no longer cared why Heero had chickened out, as long as he could get Heero's hands on his flesh again.

The door opened slowly, revealing Heero's confused visage, but Duo was too frenzied to bother noticing. He threw himself onto Heero, plundering him with his kiss, rubbing his body against Heero's as he danced across Heero's palate with his tongue.

Heero's hands were roughly grabbing at him, holding him distant but gripping him tightly enough to leave marks, maybe even bruises. Duo suddenly wanted bruises, wanted to be sore the next day. He brushed his face against Heero's, and sighed. "You wuss. You ran away."

Heero was cute when he was stammering. His hands were still pushing and pulling him. Heero's eyes were very dark, and very sexy. "I... You... There's... What... How do you always get in here?"

Duo laughed. It was such a Heero thing to want to know. "Your security system isn't perfect."

Heero blinked. "I checked it over myself."

Duo shrugged. "I guess I'm better than you at some things." He emphasized his point by grinding his hips against Heero's thigh. "Like being social. You ran away." Duo stuck out his lower lip for emphasis.

There was a short chuckle, and a stifled laugh from behind the couch. Quatre stood up, his eyes glowing. "Ah, I guess that's my cue to leave, eh?"

Heero sputtered, his face going red as he looked from Quatre to Duo. "But..."

Duo wiggled his fingers at Quatre. "Bye, bye, Q."

"Bye, Duo," Quatre laughed, clearly enjoying Duo's friendliness. "Bye, Heero. Be good, k?"

"Nope!" Duo shook his head, cuddling Heero's neck.

Heero was shaking in Duo's arms, but Duo wasn't letting go, and Quatre just gave him a funny look that he supposed was intended to mean something, but Duo was exuding sex, and he was confused.

The sound of the door closing left the apartment quiet and empty, like they were surrounded by a chasm.

Duo grinned. "Well? I did see you there, didn't I? Why did you run away?"

Heero glared at him momentarily. "I didn't... *run* away. You were... with someone."

"Ah. I see." Duo sighed. He could, of course, explain it all. He could tell Heero everything, and ask him to understand. That was sort of what he had planned for the night anyway. "That was Solo."

Heero started. "S-Solo?" He flushed, trying to look away, but Duo was too close to him. "I thought... I..."

Duo pressed his mouth against Heero's, waiting for the other man to relax. Waiting for him to open up. As always, it didn't take long for Heero's passion to spark, and soon Duo found himself being crushed in Heero's arms, his mouth probed violently by Heero's needing tongue. Duo felt giddy, he felt reckless. He wanted to fuck so hard that he ached all day tomorrow, everywhere.

"Don't ever doubt me, Heero." He tugged at Heero's hair, grabbing him roughly. "What I feel for you... it's different, separate from anyone else. It's important to me; I'm telling you that *you* are important to me. So don't run away from me again."

Heero was breathing heavily, the sound making Duo sweat. Heero suddenly grabbed Duo by the waist, hefted him up, and slammed him against the wall. Duo felt dizzy and lightheaded, and entirely too happy. Heero pulled Duo's shirt off, and started to ravage his chest. Somewhere, Duo was dimly aware of the relief, the need, and desperation, the *fear* that was guiding Heero's actions, but it was too completely answering his needs for him to question it.

They did end up in the bedroom. Eventually, when they were too tired to do anything but fall covered in sweat and semen onto the sheets and collapse into unconsciousness together. Duo lost his pants in the kitchen. Heero lost his shirt there. Duo proved his prowess in oral sex on the couch, and Heero had Duo seeing stars up against the wall in the hallway to the bedroom. Duo poured champagne over Heero's muscles, and licked him clean. Heero finally got to feel what it was like to wrap his cock in Duo's hair.

When he woke up in the morning, Duo's head was pounding like a freight train. Heero was watching him sleep tenderly, brushing his hands over Duo's skin.

Duo reached up and put the back of his hand gently against Heero's cheek. Heero smiled, and kissed Duo's fingers.

"Love you," Heero said, and Duo could feel how much he meant it.

Duo leaned up and covered Heero's face in hundreds of tiny kisses. "Don't doubt me."

Heero nodded solemnly.

Duo slipped into the apartment, being careful to close the door silently behind him. He was about to reach for the light switch when he looked up, and saw the pale blue glow covering the room. He ambled over to the couch, his eyes glued to the tv set.

It was a miracle. That was all there was to it. He grinned goofily at Hilde, scratching the back of his head. "Damn. That's a beautiful sight."

She smiled up at him from behind the pillow she was clutching to her chest. "I can't believe that's inside of me... it really looks like a person now, doesn't it?"

"Heyhey! Don't call our baby an 'it,'" Duo laughed. "Our baby is a *she*, actually." He stared at the fuzzy images of the sonogram, the flecks of light like dust, coalesced into an image. They could see a face, with a mouth, and a nose, and eyes closed shut.

Hilde sighed, sounding both content and nervous.

Duo sat down next to her, taking her hand. "What's wrong?"

Hilde shook her head. "Nothing. Nothing. Just couldn't get comfortable." She smiled ruefully at him. "It's just so fuckin' hot. And... I don't know. I felt like watching it again." She squeezed his hand and pulled him closer, leaning over to sniff at him. "You always smell so good after sex." Her eyes were twinkling.

He flushed, but only from the memory. "Thanks."

"Why did you come home? Why didn't you spend the night there?"

He shrugged. "Have to work early tomorrow. Figured it would be easier. Oh, Heero bought the cradle. He got the expensive one... It's going to be delivered on Saturday, so I told him to come over and see it. And stuff." He grasped her hand in both of his, needing the feeling of it.

"So, you're finally going to tell him, huh? How do you think he'll react?" Her voice was quiet, and soothing. He scooted closer to her, and put his head on her shoulder.

"Dunno. I mean... he's not a conventional guy. So. Maybe it'll be ok. Maybe he'll like it, even. But... I don't know."

"Are you afraid he'll be possessive of you? He won't want to share?"

It was a reasonable question reasonably asked, so his reaction to it was probably more an indicator of the truth of it. Duo sighed. "I suppose. He's... very intense. And I... I really like that about him. I... like everything about him, really. I just... I hope he can deal, yanno?"

She was smiling a private smile, and Duo wondered who she was sharing a joke with - maybe the baby. "Are you sure the word you want to be using there is 'like,' or is there another word that would be more appropriate?"

"Woman," Duo sighed, "you task me."

She laughed out loud, rubbing her hand over his clasped hands. "God, you know, I don't know this Heero, but I'm willing to wager it'll be ok. I mean, you're Duo Maxwell."

He arched an eyebrow. "I'm aware of that... what is that supposed to mean?"

She shook her head, clearly looking for the words to express what she was thinking. "Do you remember when we first met? God, I can still see you... right after the SATs, just lounging all over Mark Crenton's Mustang, with your sunglasses on, sleeves rolled up, like it was a perfectly normal thing to do... You were so... confident. And sexy. You were trouble with big shit-eating grin. I fell for you right there."

Duo chuckled, running his thumb over her knuckles. He remembered it all perfectly, of course. "And I never would have guessed from the way you started following me around like a lost puppy."

"Ha! You were so tolerant, though. Even when I told you I could change your mind about being gay."

He shook his head, grinning. "I still refuse to admit that you did. I think you are just a man in a woman's body."

She sighed. "I thought you were going to hate me when I started messing around with Solo. I never would have believed that you could have forgiven me. God, when you walked in that day, and we were in the middle of it on the couch, I thought I was going to die. I thought you'd either kill me, or I'd just spontaneously combust. But... you just took it in stride."

Duo shrugged like it was nothing at all. "I love Solo. I always have, always will. And I love you, too, you know."

"I know." She was positively glowing now; he could hear it in her voice. "And I think that Heero must love you just the same. Of course, I think everyone loves you, so."

He chuckled lightly.

She stared at the image of their baby's heart. "I'm so scared that I won't be able to do this."

It was just a whisper, but it seemed to fill the room. Duo swallowed. "Do what?"

"This," she said, indicating the screen with her voice. "I don't... I don't know about it, the labor, and the pain... and then I'll have a baby, and I'm so fuckin' clueless..."

He scooted up so he could stretch his arm out behind her. "Hey, we all are. We'll figure it out."

"How can you be so sure? How can you always be so sure?" She searched his face, her features highlighted by the light from the sonogram, a deep need evident in her eyes.

He smiled and projected all the confidence and security he could. "People have been doing this for millennia, Hil, and they always feel the same way we do when they start out. We'll be better off, even, cuz there's three of us. Maybe even four by the time she gets here. She's going to be one lucky little girl."

Hilde smiled wanly. "Oh, I know that... Damn. I never thought I'd be one of those girls who got pregnant so young. I mean, I did better than half my high school class; I managed to graduate before getting knocked up, but... I always thought girls who did were stupid. Like, how hard is it to take birth control? Inever thought it would be me..."

He leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Not stupid. Just sometimes... life works out like that. Unplanned and stuff. But it works out."

Hilde snorted. "Like a grand plan? You really believe that?"

"In a larger order, everything happens for a reason kind of way?" He shook his head. "Nope. But, you know, I've seen... I've seen a lot of really horrible things in my life, and it's just. You just end up going through it, you know? I'm still here and kicking, right? So it finds a way to work out."

"I guess," she sighed unhappily.

"No, don't do that..." He chided her. "Don't let your fear take this away from you. Look at her. Just look." He laid his hand on her belly, rubbed gently. "She's amazing, isn't she?"

Hilde's sigh became a soft smile. "Yeah."

"We're going to do this, you know. It's going to be ok."

Hilde squeezed his hand hard. "You're incredible, you know? I'm still in love with you. Thanks."

"Thank you," Duo grinned. "You're the one who is going to do all the hard work. Solo 'n' me'll just be trying not to pass out in the delivery room."

"God, you two are sappy," Solo yawned. "Isn't anyone going to sleep with me?"

Hilde tossed her pillow at him cheerfully. "Nope. You're smelly. We're going to boycott, until you take a shower."

Solo grumbled and he lumbered over to sit in front of them, his back to the couch. "Jeez, I get no respect here..."

Duo closed his eyes, and smiled.

He was surprised that he actually believed what he had told Hilde.

"What color are your eyes?"

Duo smiled. Heero loved it when Duo smiled. "You're the one looking at them. You tell me."

Heero sighed. He traced a line just below Duo's eye with his thumb, Duo's long lashes brushing against his thumb just enough for him to feel it. "But I don't know this color... It's so beautiful."

Duo's face flushed. "They're just blue."

Heero shook his head. "No. My eyes are blue. Your eyes are... Indigo."

"Indigo?" Duo grinned.

"Indigo," Heero nodded, solemn.

Duo grinned. "We should ask Solo. He would know."

Heero brushed his hands through Duo's bangs. "Has he painted you?"

"All the time," Duo rolled his eyes. "But he doesn't... you know, he doesn't paint the things per se. But he likes to use the colors that he sees. One of the paintings that he sold in the gallery show was my eye color and Hilde's eye color."

Heero smiled. He liked it when Duo made him smile. "That's really nice."

"Yeah, and you would've seen it if you hadn't been such a chicken," Duo teased, tickling Heero's side a little.

Heero wished he were ticklish. Duo had been so disappointed when he couldn't find a single spot to torment.

"You're coming over on Saturday, right?" Duo's face became pensive, and he rubbed his chin over his knuckles as he waited for Heero to respond.

"Of course," Heero nodded. "I've got the directions. I've got the number. I know what time. We're all set."

Duo smiled, and leaned over to kiss Heero's lips. "Great. That's... Great. It's going to be... That is..."

There was something in Duo's eyes that Heero was uncertain of, something like fear. He had seen it every time Duo mentioned Heero coming to visit, or to meet Solo and Hilde. But Duo had assured him that Solo already liked him, because Duo liked him. He didn't know what else Duo was afraid of, so he had tried to gently mention some of the less desirable places where he had lived so that in case Duo was feeling insecure about his home, he would know that Heero didn't care. That didn't appear to be it, though.

"Is there something you want to tell me?" Heero asked. Directness sometimes yielded a positive response.

From the look on Duo's face, there was definitely something he wanted to tell Heero, but he wasn't going to, at least not yet. "Ah, you know, it's... never mind. Saturday. It'll be great. And we can show you the sonogram! And Solo's painting. And you can ask him what color my eyes are."

Heero pulled Duo on top of him, smoothing his hands down the sleek planes of Duo's back. "Sounds great."

Duo put his head down on Heero's chest. Heero loved this best of all, with Duo's hair fanned out over his skin like a blanket of filmy silk. He ran his fingers through it gently. "I can't believe we have school in two weeks. That bites."

Heero tightened his arms around Duo. The past two weeks had been great. Duo had been working long hours, but Heero had finally convinced him that he didn't need to work himself into exhaustion as long as Heero was willing to be helpful. Heero had gone down Hilde's checklist of things she would put on a registry if she were having a baby shower, and bought everything, including the cradle, which he had upgraded as soon as Duo slipped up and said that the one Hilde really wanted was too expensive. They'd had a great time shopping together, poking through the shelves at the baby store, looking at all the strange things that they had never known previously existed. Hilde's family was less than thrilled with her, so she hadn't wanted to ask them for anything, to prove that they could do it on their own. Heero had even gone to Hilde's doctor, and paid off most of their debt.

With everything finally seeming to be manageable, and the baby so close to coming, and school about to start again, Heero had convinced Duo to take some time off. Today, they had gone to the zoo. Heero ate funnel cake for the first time in his life, and he got to show Duo some animals Duo had never heard of before. They'd been ridiculously romantic and gone to a fancy restaurant for dinner, and taken a long walk home through the park. Heero hadn't been more than ten feet away from Duo the whole day, and the longer they were together, the more of the world dropped away, until he was completely oblivious to everyone around them, everyone who might have been watching them or following them, and Duo had become his whole world.

Duo fell asleep first, as always, and Heero lulled himself to sleep by counting Duo's heartbeats.

On to part ten. Back to part eight.