Part Twenty: A Bird That Nests Inside
There's a bird that nests inside you
Sleeping underneath your skin
When you open up your wings to speak
I wish you'd let me in
--- Adam Duritz
The waitress appeared with another round of drinks, and Heero's hand snaked out, catching the whiskey before she'd even had a chance to set the glass down. Tipping it back, he swallowed the shot and slammed it down on the table, his eyes never leaving Kino. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Trowa swirling the tequila thoughtfully before taking the shot.
There were several other drinks on the table. Two beer bottles, and two tall glasses. One glass held a liquid that reflected brilliant green under the black lights, and the other was a pale blue. Both had little umbrellas, and Heero blinked at them, his gaze scanning the group around the table before noticing the drinks had been lifted and were clinking against each other.
Following the hands up to their respective owners, his eyes went momentarily wide to see Hilde's mouth pressed against Enny's ear as she talked. Enny was giggling, her gaze flitting between Trowa, Heero, and Duo. Heero narrowed his eyes at the sight and leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms as he pondered this curious sight.
Hilde and Enny are friends, he thought, irritated. Well, that does explain a lot, the small voice crowed. There was a shout, and Heero looked up to see two more men joining the table. A black-haired man with a ponytail leaned over and hugged Duo tightly while the thief laughed and pretending to be choking and gasping for air. The second man, short and broad with a buzz cut, slapped Trowa on the shoulder while asking him a question. The Heavyarms pilot nodded, smiled a little, and shook his head, saying something and pointing to his knee.
Hilde was laughing at something Enny had said, and it distracted Heero long enough that he didn't immediately notice a new girl approaching the table. She smiled at Trowa, said something to Kino, and threw her arms around Duo's neck. The long-haired man's hair was mussed, sweat-stuck to his forehead, and his eyes were wide as he put his head back and laughed at the girl's inaudible words. Then he leaned forward, his eyes closing as he put one hand against her cheek and kissed her deeply.
Heero fought back a snarl. His blue eyes flickered to Trowa, who was now listening to something Buzz Cut was saying. Kino was talking to Ponytail, his expression undisturbed as it darted over to Duo, who was still kissing the girl passionately. Heero could see Duo's other hand snaking down to the girl's hips to pull her closer, and something in Heero's gut wrenched and flipped.
His skin prickled, and he cut his eyes over to Hilde and Enny, who were watching him with appraising looks. In the bar's dark lighting the glow from their blue and green drinks reflected into their eyes, giving their faces an eerie cast. Heero stared back at them, challenging, pleased when their eyes dropped away from his. A motion in the corner of his eye made him look back in time to see Duo's braid flying around behind him as the girl yanked him towards the dance floor.
The music had modulated into a new pattern, quick-footed across the scales, mirrored by a single note acting as percussion. Heero followed Duo's progress, unconsciously glowering as two more people approached Duo. The thief's body language, even when dancing, was easy for Heero's keen eyes to read. Deathscythe's pilot was in his element, moving with a grace and power that denoted comfort and ease in his body: eminently approachable, yet somehow still unattainable.
Someone pressed up close to Heero, and he turned to see it was Trowa. The taller man's hair had fallen over his eyes again, and the single visible green eye was glinting dangerously.
"Carpe diem, and all that," Trowa mouthed. Heero ducked his head, turning away from Trowa to stare across the dance floor again.
It certainly hadn't seemed that having an audience bothered Duo, nor had the girl seemed like more than a friend, when she'd first walked up. Or perhaps Duo was just the kind of person to be as affectionate sexually as he was when just a friend. The thought of Duo as a sexual being made Heero's heart lurch, the ache radiating from there down through his stomach and sending a flash of heat into his groin.
Heero put his head back to stare up at the club's ceiling. The lights were hung in racks, swinging and flashing in time with the relentless pounding of the backbeat. A sampled line was being repeated, but Heero couldn't make it out, and it condensed into one more factor pressing on his awareness. Vaguely he realized it was a sample of a girl's voice, crying in ecstasy, and he winced.
Now that he'd recognized the sound, it was impossible to escape, and it was raising the worst kinds of questions in his head. He wondered what Duo was like in bed. Did he moan? Did he talk constantly?
Heero reflected on that for a minute. Duo certainly talked a great deal when they'd worked together in the past, but he was capable of silence, too, when it was required. Was Duo the kind who screams? Would he whisper obscene suggestions in his lover's ears? The thought made Heero's groin ache, and he leaned against the wall, tightening his arms across his chest, trying desperately to push the thoughts away. They wouldn't leave.
Angrily Heero snapped his fingers at the cocktail waitress, leaning over to shout in her ear that he wanted a ginger ale, damn it, not another whiskey. She nodded, grinning widely, and ducked back through the crowd to the bar. Heero looked over to see Trowa's head down, listening to something Enny was saying. The girl was gesturing wildly, and when she was done he rewarded her with a polite smile. Heero watched with a slightly wry expression.
Turning his attention back to where Duo was dancing, back-to-front with Kino, Heero furrowed his brows as he tried to concentrate on what he'd say once he had the world's attention. Assuming, of course, the world would even notice him at this point, he admitted ruefully. He was a drab crow in a room of fancy peacocks, even if his shirt was silk. It wasn't really his, and his discomfort showed. Maybe he should have worn the green... Heero shook his head at himself. There really wasn't a right thing to wear to ease the uncertainty in his head.
I'll tell him I'm sorry, Heero decided. And... I'll tell him I won't leave again.
The dark-haired man squinted as his eyes focused on the dancing crowd. The music was lighter now, a lively beat, and the crowd reflected the mood's change, bouncing nearly as a single entity. Heero could see Duo grinning widely as he jumped up and down between two of his friends, their arms snaking up and around his as he moved his hips against theirs. It was a light-hearted melody, and Heero unwillingly found himself absently tapping a finger in time.
No, he thought, dragging his attention back to the inner monologue. I told him already that I won't leave, and that wasn't enough. He wants to know why I'm really here. I'm here because... Heero took the ginger ale handed to him, not even seeing the waitress' smile. Why am I here?
He sipped the drink, and held the cool glass against his face for a second. His head was now nodding with the cheerful remixed refrain as it faded in and out, amplified and extended with an equally merry counter-melody.
I came because I assumed Duo would need my help. Heero was startled to find himself disgusted at how much he'd truly underestimated Duo. The only thing keeping Heero from slamming the drink in anger about his blindness was the fact that he was smiling at the happy beat on the dance floor. The contrast struck Heero as infinitely funny, and he glanced over at Trowa with a half-grin.
"I'm the idiot here," he mouthed. "Pen and paper?"
Trowa laughed, and dug in his jacket.
I am the idiot, Heero repeated silently as he took the playbill and pen from Trowa, composing his sentences before uncapping the pen. I ran here because I thought Duo's sabotage meant he was in trouble. I was going to take care of it all, fix it for him, save the day... and push him to the back. I only wanted to make sure he was safe, all those times, in the war. It was for Duo's own good.
At least, Heero thought wryly, that was my excuse. I liked him. He was my friend, the first person who was ever my friend. I wanted him to be safe. If I didn't live through the war, he would, and somehow, a part of me would keep going, as long as he did.
Heero rubbed his neck and let his eyes drift out across the club again. If I'm going to stay here, he decided, I need to tell Duo I'm not here to protect him. Not unless he wants it, or tells me to, Heero amended. I want to watch his back. I want to watch his front. I want to watch him... Heero groaned as his mind starting flashing painfully erotic images at him.
No, no, no, he snapped silently. Don't go there.
The Wing Zero pilot had let his mind run in its own paths all afternoon, and the most he'd managed to conclude was the realization that he was remarkably unfazed by the notion of being attracted to men. In fact, it was almost a relief, to be attracted to someone. He'd never thought girls -- or women -- were someone to obsess over, to fancy, to dream about. For the most part, he'd been indifferent; Relena had been a special case, and that was less due to her gender and more to her persistence dragging Heero back into the human race. His affection and care for her had always been built on a curious foundation of admiration and protectiveness, and neither was really the basis for good old-fashioned lust.
But lust wasn't the real clincher, Heero had recognized that afternoon. He'd been trying to decide between the green mock turtleneck and the light blue t-shirt, and it dawned on him that he didn't care what he wore, ate, drove, or bought. What he wanted was someone else who'd care. That someone else could be a one-legged man with a glass eye and lobster-level sunburn and the gruesome appearance would still take a backseat to the joyful completeness of being loved.
Heero supposed J had loved him, in his own way. The brutalities of training, conditioning, and genetic manipulation were somehow, at least marginally, balanced by the scientist's eventual realization that Heero had to decide for himself. Heero returned that respect with complete loyalty. Maybe the only thing J gave him was a name, but after five years, Heero was almost certain that J gave him, like Odin, the closest thing to love that Heero had ever had.
So strangely, Heero found himself nonchalant about the concept of a specific sexual designation for his attention. What kept bothering him was the fact that it was Duo he was thinking about. Duo. The thief! The idiot with the yard-long braid, stealth, and over-sized doses of irreverence towards everyone's skills, who had a joke for every occasion. And yet Duo was also the handsome engineer with godlike hacking skills, brilliant cunning, and a smile for every stranger. Duo was one of those dazzling peacocks, and Heero was certain there wasn't a person in the club who hadn't been smiled at, touched, hugged, or kissed by the man -- and those who hadn't were waiting anxiously for their chance. If Duo wanted friends, people were lining up. What could Heero possibly do to compete with all of them? Why would Duo ever notice him?
Turning to Trowa, he tapped the tall man on the elbow and handed him back the pen.
"Trey," Heero mouthed, his brows knitted slightly, the merest public expression a visible sign of the depth of his anxiety. "What can I possibly offer the world?"
The Heavyarms pilot was silent for a moment as he put the pen away, then his lips quirked up quickly at the edges as he mouthed his response. "The simple fact that you'd ask says you have more to offer than most."
Heero reviewed his note one more time, then folded it back up and shoved it in his back pocket. Say it to him, the small voice chided. But he couldn't get by without mentioning some history, to acknowledge the mistakes he'd made and wouldn't make again. What if someone were able to read his lips? The pilots could all do it, why not someone else? So as quickly as Heero had put it away, he'd dug the note back out and shoved it in his shirt-wrist for easy access. The truth was, he admitted unhappily, that he was completely unable to muster the courage to say any of it to Duo straight up.
Stop that, he reprimanded himself. Plan what you're going to say, or you won't be able to find the words fast enough before he's given up and walked away.
Heero thought of Duo walking away, like he had that morning from the hotel room, and something inside him starting aching. It felt like there was a fist planted in his chest, squeezing hard. Exhaling slowly, the dark-haired man focused his eyes back on the dance floor, searching through the bodies for a braid swaying in counterpoint to a body moving with the beat. He couldn't see Duo anywhere.
Turning around to stare at the bar, Heero glared at nothing in particular and swung around again only to come face-to-face with Duo. The man's braid was coming undone, and sweat-damp wisps were pasted to his neck and face. The longer loose strands were floating, lit in blue and purple under the club's lights, a strange halo dancing around his face.
Heero belatedly noticed the young man draped over Duo's shoulders. The kid had one hand around Duo's neck, and the other curled possessively over the thief's bare stomach. Duo's black shirt was open to the waist and falling away from his body, and Heero scowled, suddenly unable to force air through his vocal cords. Glaring at the unknown kid, Heero pulled out the note and thrust it at Duo.
Duo took the folded paper, one eyebrow raised, then put the note to his lips, holding it gently between his teeth as he pried the kid's arm from around his neck. The kid sulked for a minute, but Duo pushed at the boy's chest until he walked away, longing glances thrown over his shoulder.
Heero debated melting back into the crowd, but found his fists were clenched, ready to start punching if the kid hadn't split on Duo's command. He steeled his face into lines of indifference, but his eyes were narrowed as Duo slowly unfolded the note. Duo's luminous eyes studied Heero for a long and careful minute before dropping to the paper, his lips barely moving as he scanned Heero's broad scrawl.
Duo held the paper for a long time, clearly reading much slower than normal. Heero stared at Duo's hands, unable to tell if they were shaking as badly as his own. He blinked, squinting to refocus. If Duo's hands were shaky, they were steady now, accompanied by a glimmer of pleasure pulling up the corners of the thief's lips. A second later Heero again doubted what he'd seen, as Duo's lips went tight and pinched. Must've been the light that made me think he was smiling, Heero thought, dismally.
When Duo finally raised his eyes to meet Heero's, the thief's expression was dull.
"Friends like we were," Duo mouthed.
Heero swallowed hard, and nodded apprehensively.
Duo's face was still, but Heero realized little muscles were tensing and flicking, in the longhaired man's jaw, at the corners of his eyes, lines appearing and disappearing between the thief's brows. And then it was all smooth, and Duo was smiling, shrugging gracefully as the paper was tucked away into a pocket. Heero watched the smile, his anxious scowl fading into a look of simple confusion as he realized the smile wasn't reaching Duo's eyes.
"Hey," Duo said, forming his words like they used to on missions when silence was key. "Thirsty? Want a shot?"
Duo's gestures were fluid, his body language friendly, but his eyes were distant. Polite. Cool. Heero gritted his teeth, waiting for several heartbeats before slowly shaking his head.
"Think I'm gonna head back," the dark-haired man replied.
There was a flash of an unrecognizable emotion across Duo's face, and then he shrugged again. Almost instantly that same kid was at his side, and Duo had pulled the kid close with an arm around the boy's waist. Duo turned them both, and waved over his shoulder at Heero, a casual motion without looking.
Heero was out the bar's front door and halfway down the block before he was able to properly catalog the strange feeling in his chest. That fist, digging around his heart, was now pushing against his lungs. It was hard to breathe. The waves of impact were rolling down his gut and into his hips where they radiated back up his spine, coiling in his throat. No. It was nearly impossible to breathe.
What was it this time, Heero bemoaned. I thought it'd be better, writing it down so he wouldn't have to wait while I found the words. But I still did something wrong, and I don't know what.