WARNINGS: References to non-consensual sex.

by Artemis

One sip told the young man he did not like American coffee. The strong, bitter drink left a fowl after taste in his mouth, but he would make the effort for his host. He picked up the small, silver container of cream off the table and poured nearly half of it into his cup. The white liquid swirled into the dark brown, turning it a pleasant tan. Another sip. A little better, but he was still unhappy with the taste. All this fussing was simultaneous as he listened to the list of properties that for one reason or another his host, a real estate broker, thought would make good investments. The man was eager to do business with Yuy International, a Tokyo based hotel and restaurant dynasty.

"I know you don't own any nightclubs, but there's a man here in Chicago I'd like you to meet. His name is Lou Almati, he owns several clubs and some rental properties, and he's interested in expanding and partnering."

"Yuy International does not partner," Heero Yuy, the son of the company's president, said. His voice was flat as his eyes gazed past his lunch companion to a group of young Americans being seated across the room. "Do Americans always dress so... casually?" he asked, his eyes narrowing on their shorts and t-shirts.

The realtor looked over and grinned. "I guess so. We're a bit less formal than you Japanese," he said, noting that even though the temperature was in the high 80s today, Heero was dressed in a suit and tie, but did not appear to be sweating.

Yuy International had long dominated the hotel and restaurant business in Japan. In the last decade it had expanded into the world market with establishments in Britain, Australia and Singapore, and most recently in the United States. And now, with Heero taking on more of the responsibilities from his semi-retired father, they were striving to make more inroads into the American market. This was his third visit to the States, but for all intents and purposes it was his first real exposure to America and Americans. The previous trips had been brief and only as a participant in the grand openings in New York and Honolulu.

"Anyway, I think it'd be a good use of your time to visit one of Lou's clubs," the realtor continued. "If nothing else it may give you some ideas of your own."

"All right," Heero said. He would be in Chicago several days, and this realtor came very highly recommended. He would look at the properties and meet the individuals he suggested. In the meantime, he would try to drink the rest of his coffee.

Twenty minutes later, as they were leaving the restaurant on their way to look at a vacant building for sale, a young man came rushing through the door, practically knocking Heero down. They bumped squarely chest to chest.

"Hey, sorry man," the American said as he took a step back and looked the stranger over. "Isn't it a little warm for a suit?"

Heero was about to comment on the American's state of near undress in his cut-off jean shorts, t-shirt and tennis shoes, but instead he found himself drowning in the largest violet eyes he had ever seen. "I'm fine," he managed to say.

"Cool," the young man said, smiling and then continuing into the restaurant.

As the American brushed passed him, Heero noticed the long braid hanging down his back. He turned to watch him go, fascinated by the plaited chestnut hair. In Japan, only women or very eccentric old men wore their hair long.

"We should be going," the realtor said, bringing his potential client back to the moment.

Heero shook his head, feeling like he had temporarily left this dimension.

The realtor noticed his continued distraction. "He bumped into you pretty hard, you sure you're okay?"

"Yes, thank you," Heero said and then followed the man out to his car.

That evening, Heero and the realtor arrived at one of Lou Almati's nightclubs before it opened for business. They were ushered inside by a bouncer and seated at the bar. The club had a certain quirky charm. Its walls were painted black with large, white polka dots and the barstools were covered in vinyl zebra stripes. Heero liked the decor, and when he inquired about the designer the bartender informed him that the owner's "personal assistant" had fixed up the place.

"Used to be real dark in here... all black, but he gave the kid free rein and this is what he came up with," the man said as he filled bowls with popcorn and set them on the mirrored countertop. "There he is now," the bartender said, waving. "Hey, Duo, these guys like what you've done with the place."

Heero looked over his shoulder and was surprised to see the young man with the braid from earlier that day. Tonight he was dressed in all black--a black t-shirt tucked into tight, black jeans, a silver studded black belt and black combat boots. The look was definitely American, and Heero found himself turning on his barstool to get a better view.

"Who are you?" Duo asked as he walked over to them.

"I'm Jim Marks with Chicago Realty, and this Heero Yuy of Yuy International."

Heero stood and bowed in traditional Japanese fashion, causing Duo to give a little snicker as he said, "Never heard of ya'."

"They're here to see Lou," the bartender told him as he handed Duo a beer.

"Oh," Duo said, unimpressed.

Heero frowned. The notion that Americans were less formal than Japanese was an understatement. Americans were downright rude.

Duo gulped his beer, looking over his glass at the young man in the suit standing before him. "Hey, don't I know you?"

"You bumped into me this afternoon at..."

"That's right! You're the guy I nearly knocked over at Zabe's. Sorry about that. Sometimes I don't watch where I'm going," Duo said, and then shrugged as he took note of the contrast between the man's pressed suit and his tousled hair. "Well, Lou ought to be here any minute," he said, and headed off to talk to some of the employees.

Heero's eyes watched, transfixed, at the sway of Duo's hips as he walked, and the way his braid brushed over his behind. He had never seen anyone like this. He had never been so instantly drawn to anyone.

It seemed the bartender noticed his interest as well. "I don't mean to be a butt-insky, but Lou's real possessive and well... let's just say he wouldn't take too kindly to you looking at Duo like you're doing."

Heero looked up at the bartender, embarrassed that he had been that obvious. "I apologize. It's just that in Japan men don't wear their hair long and..."

"I got ya'," the bartender said and winked. "Duo's pretty unique here, too."

The disc jockey had just arrived, and Heero got back up on his barstool and watched as the dance floor lights were checked. Everything from strobe lights to a disco ball to colored laser lights were turned on to ensure they were working properly.

"Hey, Duo," the DJ announced over his mic. "How 'bout warming up the dance floor for us?"

Duo tossed his head back as he let out a huge, happy laugh. "Depends on the song."

The DJ laughed and then announced, "this one was written for you." A second later the club began to pulse with the rhythm of Blondie's "Atomic."

Heero's mouth dropped open as Duo cheered and made his way out onto the dance floor all by himself. Heero looked over at the realtor, who shrugged his shoulders, and then back at the lone figure standing amid the colored lights.

"Tonight, make it magnificent...," Blondie sang. "Your hair is beautiful, oh-oh, tonight..."

The song was perfect, Heero thought as he watched Duo slowly groove into the music, slowly warm his body to the rhythms. Duo rubbed his hands over his thighs, stomach and chest as he began to gyrate and to move to the thumping beat. In moments, his braid was swinging wildly as he twirled on the dance floor, a sensual feast for anyone lucky enough to be watching.

Heero swallowed hard; this was the most erotic thing he had ever seen, and it was having a decided effect on his body. His heart was pumping hard against his chest. Duo was one with the song. He was magnificent and his hair was beautiful in the changing lights. But the spectacle came to an abrupt end as a large man stalked onto the dance floor, grabbing Duo by the wrist and pulling him forcefully to a darkened corner. Squinting, Heero could see the two men arguing and Duo wrenching his wrist free and stomping off. A moment later, the music stopped as well. Lou Almati had arrived.

With the club quieted, everyone went back to their assigned tasks. Lou came up to the bar and held out his hand in greeting. "You must be Yuy. So what do you think of the place?"

Heero stared at the proffered hand a moment and then shook it. "It has a certain... charm," he said.

Lou gave a low chuckle and then gestured for them to follow him into his office. He was a very tall, very broad man with thick dark hair and a bushy mustache. Dressed in a black silk short-sleeve shirt and slacks, Heero could see that the man was hairy all over. His arms and his chest were covered in the stuff. Perhaps he was more ape than man, Heero thought trying to rationalize the mistreatment he had witnessed.

The three men spoke for some time about the nightclub business, and then Heero and his realtor left. The club was full of young patrons as they departed, but Heero did not see Duo again.

The next day, Heero carved out a few hours to enjoy some culture. It was something he tried to do in every city he visited, but he was especially excited about the prospect of seeing the wonderful French Impressionists' paintings at Chicago's world famous Art Institute.

After paying his admission, he made his way to the second floor galleries, pleased that they were not overly crowded for a weekend afternoon. He took his time at each painting, admiring for long minutes the bright colors and intricate brushwork of the masters. The museum's collection was very fine and he was glad he had opted to come here rather than have lunch with Jim the realtor again.

He stepped into another gallery of Impressionist paintings, walking along, hands clasped behind his back, as he admired the work of Monet, Manet and Seurat. A series of paintings from Monet's garden at Giverny especially interested him and he stepped back to have a look from a distance.

"Hey, do you think you could move a little to the left?" a voice called from behind.

Heero immediately moved aside and then turned to give his apology, but the words stuck in his throat. Sitting on the floor just behind him was Duo, sketchpad in hand.

"Thanks. Didn't think you saw me down here," Duo said, smiling.

"No, I didn't. I'm sorry," Heero said, his pulse racing to see the long-haired American again.

"No problem. I'm just glad you didn't trip over me," Duo said, looking passed the stranger to the painting of Monet's water lilies. His hand brushed over the paper and then he began to sketch again with his pastels.

"You're an artist?" Heero asked, unwilling to move elsewhere in the gallery even though he knew he was interrupting.

"Well, I'd like to be when I grow up," Duo said and laughed. "Right now I'm just practicing."

Boldly, Heero leaned over to see the drawing. It was not an exact copy of the master's work, but rather an extension of it. It seemed Duo was using this painting as inspiration for another idea.

"You look like an artist to me. And from what I saw at the club last night, you have an eye for design."

Duo looked up at the stranger, his brow furrowing. "You were at the club?" he asked, and then Heero could see in his eyes the moment he was recognized. "Oh, wow, it's you again. Guess I didn't recognize you without the suit," he said, grinning.

Heero smiled, too. He had made an effort to look less formal today, to fit in a bit more with the locals, so to speak. Instead of a suit and tie he was wearing navy slacks, and a white, short-sleeve polo shirt and brown loafers.

"I'm Heero Yuy," he said, extending his hand in the Western manner.

Duo put down the blue pastel chalk and wiped his hand on his jeans and then shook Heero's hand. "Nice meeting you. I'm Duo Maxwell. You're not from around here, are you?" he asked, as he withdrew his hand.

"No, I'm Japanese."

"No kidding? You don't sound Japanese," Duo said as he began to gather his supplies into his backpack.

"How should I sound?"

Duo shrugged, looking up in the middle of his task. "Dunno. Like you have more of an accent I guess."

"Yes, well, I've been speaking English my whole life. My mother is British."

"Oh, that explains it," Duo said, smiling. "So what brings a guy like you all the way around the world to Chicago?"


"With Lou?"

"Not exactly. My American real estate broker would like me to buy one of Mr. Almati's clubs, or possibly partner with him in building a new club. I'm not really interested though. I'm looking to possibly build a hotel or restaurant here in Chicago."

Duo nodded, impressed. "I'm headed downstairs for something to eat. Would you like to get a coffee?" he asked, as he got up from the floor.

"Yes," Heero blurted out, even though he disliked coffee, but the offer was one he could not refuse.

They walked downstairs to the museum's cafeteria where Duo ordered two apple turnovers and "one Coke and one coffee."

"You're drinking a Coke?" Heero asked, as he reached into his wallet to pay the cashier.

"Yeah, I hate coffee," Duo said, handing the cashier the money first. "It's on me."

Heero nodded his appreciation. "I don't like coffee either."

"Then why didn't you say so?"

"Because I... I didn't want to say no to your offer," Heero said, swallowing.

Duo looked at Heero and gave a sly grin. Either the guy was just being polite or he was interested. "We'll get you a Coke instead, okay?"


The pair sat down across from one another at a table near a large potted plant.

"You're Lou's personal assistant?" Heero asked as he sipped his Coke.

"Uh... yeah," Duo said, nearly choking on his mouthful of turnover.

"And that includes interior design?"

Duo finished chewing the savory treat and then swallowed. "Sometimes."

"You must enjoy working at the club. You're a very good dancer."

Duo's face warmed. He had forgotten about that. "Lou doesn't like me to dance in public," he said, suddenly feeling a little embarrassed and realizing he should let Heero know how things were. "Last night was a mistake."

Heero gave a slight nod. He remembered how Lou had hauled Duo off the dance floor and they had argued briefly. He wanted to ask Duo what this all meant, but he didn't need to. Duo was quick to clarify.

"Lou pays for everything," he said, his eyes slipping from Heero's and looking down at his dessert. "He takes care of me."


"Look, it's not something I'm proud of," Duo said, interrupting and looking up again. "But he's been real generous and I've been able to concentrate on my art. If this makes you uncomfortable, I'm sorry. It's probably not something people do in Japan."

There was a short pause as Heero stared into Duo's eyes. They were so intensely blue, violet blue like the flower. He barely knew Duo, but he could see what he was saying was true. He wasn't proud of this arrangement.

"The only difference between this and how people behave in Japan is that you're much more open about it. In Japan, men pursue their... needs in many ways," Heero explained, speaking softly so as not to be overheard by other museum visitors. "An individual must never forget his duty to marry, have children and be productive at work. If he maintains this image, no questions are asked about his private life."

"Are you married?" Duo asked, suddenly intensely curious.

"No," Heero said, looking away a bit shyly. "I'm still young for marriage and have much I need to accomplish in the company."

"How old are you?"

"I'm twenty-one."

"I'll be twenty-one in a few months," Duo said, liking that they were nearly the same age.

"I thought you were older," Heero admitted.

"Why's that?"

"Because you were drinking at the club. Don't you have to be twenty-one to drink here?"

"Yeah, stupid, isn't it? Hey, don't tell anyone they were serving me or Lou will get into trouble, okay?"

Heero smiled at Duo's concern.

They sat for nearly an hour, talking about art and the differences between Japanese and American culture. Finally, Heero had to leave in order to go back to his hotel to change for a meeting with the realtor.

"It was very nice talking to you, Duo. I'm glad I got in your way."

Duo laughed. "Yeah, me, too."

"Good luck with your art," Heero said, and bowed.

"Good luck to you, too," Duo said, feeling sad to see Heero go. He couldn't remember another time when he had enjoyed such a nice conversation with another guy.

As much as both young men had enjoyed each other's company, neither took the next step in asking to see the other again. Duo figured Heero was straight and too busy to want to spend any more time with him. Heero thought it foolish to try to start something when he would only be in Chicago a few more days and he had already been warned that Duo was off limits.

Still, over the next two days, the friendly meeting lingered in each young man's mind. Heero went back to the nightclub twice, hoping to glimpse Duo again, but he was not there. And Duo spent another afternoon at the Art Institute and was disappointed.

Monday evening, Heero received a call from his realtor.

"Lou Almati's got some drawings of a new nightclub he'd like you to see. We have a meeting with him tomorrow morning, but I can't swing by to get the drawings tonight. Would you mind going over there?"

"To the club?" Heero asked, as he towel dried his hair.

"No, to Lou's house. I don't think he'll be home, but the plans will be in an envelope taped to the front door."

Heero was ashamed of pursuing a possible partnership with Lou. It had everything to do with wanting to see Duo again and nothing to do with good business sense. His father would most certainly disapprove, but at this stage he didn't need to know and Heero could continue pretending to be interested.

After dressing in his navy suit, minus the tie, Heero took a taxi to the address the realtor had given him. The upper middle class neighborhood was lined with mature trees and 1930s era, brick row houses. It was more pleasant than he expected.

"I'll only be a minute," Heero told the taxi driver as he got out.

He opened the iron gate that fenced in the small front yard and walked up a brick sidewalk to the steps. He smiled at the whimsical touch of potted, red geraniums sitting on each side of the steps, and wondered if Duo had done this or if he even lived here with Lou.

At the top of the steps, Heero looked around for the envelope, but didn't see one. It was getting dark, but not dark enough to miss a large manila envelope. He hoped a passerby hadn't snatched it off the door, and then, through the frosted glass of the front door, he noticed a light flick on inside the house. Someone was home.

He pressed the doorbell, sending his heart pounding. Did he dare to hope that Duo lived here and was home? A moment later and someone was coming to the door. The chain and deadbolt were unlocked and then the door slowly creaked open.

"Heero," Duo said, smiling. "What are you doing here?"

"Lou was supposed to leave some architectural drawings for me to look over," Heero said quickly, irrationally fearful that Duo would close the door in his face.

"Oh," Duo said, opening the door wider and going back inside to have a look.

Heero watched from the door stoop as Duo sorted through a pile of mail on a long, narrow table in the hallway. He was wearing only cut-off blue jean shorts and a snug white tank top. Heero watched, letting his eyes follow the movement of Duo's braid as it swayed over his bottom, and the gentle brushing of fringe at the edge of his shorts as it caressed the backs of his thighs. He moistened his lower lip as he willed Duo to bend over, just a little further, so he could see the place where the young man's thighs and buttocks met....

"Is this it?" he heard Duo saying, startling him out of his daydream. Duo turned around and handed over a large envelope. "This was on the door when I got home and I just figured it was for Lou."

"Y-yes, that's it," Heero said, still a little foggy from his fantasy. He took the item from Duo's hands, and with his errand complete, felt his heart sink. He'd have to return to the hotel now, knowing that Duo was living here with Lou.

The two young men stared at each other a moment and then Duo peeked over Heero's shoulder. "That your cab?" he asked.

Heero looked to the waiting taxi on the street and frowned. "Yes."

"You in a hurry to be somewhere?"

"No. I don't have any plans," Heero confessed.

"Would you like to come in for a minute?" Duo asked with hopeful eyes.

Heero wasn't sure how to answer. He wanted to say yes, but he had a taxi waiting, and he was afraid that Lou would be home any minute. "I'd better not," he finally answered.

"Oh," Duo said, disappointed. "I just thought... well, we had such a nice time talking the other day, and if you didn't have any place to be... but that's okay. I understand."

"You understand?" Heero asked.

"Yeah, you really don't have time for someone like me," Duo said, a little embarrassed at how desperate he was sounding. There was something exciting about Heero, but it wasn't becoming to be throwing himself at the guy... especially if he was straight. Duo stepped back, swinging the door closed as he added, "Good night, Heero."

"Wait," Heero said, holding out his arm to stop the door from closing. "I would like to talk, but do you think it's a good idea to ask me in?"

"Why, because of Lou?" Duo asked with a snort. "He's at his house in the 'burbs with his wife and kiddies tonight."

"Lou has a family?"

"Surprising, isn't it? I guess he'd fit in real nice with your Japanese customs."

Heero looked at Duo a moment, considering, and then smiled. "Excuse me," he said, and went back down the steps to the waiting cab. He handed the driver the fare and sent him on his way. In less than a minute he was back at the front door.

Duo stepped back and opened the door wide. "Come on in," he said, grinning ear to ear.

Heero walked into the hallway and slipped out of his shoes, a Japanese custom that made Duo grin. Duo then closed and locked the door behind them. As the door clicked shut, there was a nearly audible sigh from them both. It was as if they had just shut out the world, creating a place where they could talk and get to know each other without interruption.

"Lou's only here a couple nights a week," Duo explained a bit shyly. "He'll probably stay tomorrow night since he's got a meeting in the city, but usually he's not around during the week and I have the place to myself."

Heero looked around as Duo led him into the living room. The house was handsomely decorated in Prairie style furniture made of dark wood and accented with earth-toned cushions. The oak floor was covered in a large woven rug with a geometric design at its center.

"Did you decorate this?" Heero asked, indicating the welcoming decor.

"Yeah, I know it's probably not what you were expecting," Duo said, shuffling his bare feet across the oak floor. "It's a fantasy really... it's what I think it'd be like to have a home and a family."

Heero's brow furrowed. "You don't have a family?"

"I did once... But what use is a fag for a son?" he asked and forced a little laugh, before looking away quickly.

"I'm sorry," Heero said, stepping closer and placing his hand on Duo's arm.

Duo looked down at the hand and then up into Heero's eyes. "You're real nice, you know that, Heero? You must come from good stock."

Heero grinned. "Thank you."

"Hey, can I get you something to drink? There's wine, beer, Coke..."

"A beer would be good, thank you," Heero said, taking his hand away.

Duo dashed into the kitchen and returned with two glasses of beer, handing one to his new friend.

"Are any of these yours?" Heero asked as he nodded to the framed prints on the walls.

"No, I bought those at art shows," Duo said, sitting down on the couch.

"You don't display your work?"

"No one's ever been interested," Duo admitted.

"I'm interested," Heero said, as he joined him on the couch.

Duo's mouth went dry at the tone in Heero's voice. If he didn't know better he'd say Heero was interested in more than just his drawings. "I could show you what I've been working on," he offered, timidly.

"I'd like that," Heero said, smiling, conveying his true interest.

Duo nodded, setting his beer on a magazine on the coffee table and getting up to retrieve his portfolio in the other room. When he returned, he set the black leather case between them on the couch and unzipped it. "I've never shown these to anyone."

"Are you okay showing them now?" Heero asked.

"Yeah," Duo said, softly.

Inside the case was a very private part of Duo's life. All his work, his thoughts, his creative self... his very soul... was contained in this leather portfolio. And Heero understood this immediately.

Slowly, Duo's hands moved over the contents of the portfolio. Piece by piece, he revealed watercolors of the Chicago harbor, pencil sketches of flowers, street bums, alley cats, seagulls, torn out pages from magazines with notes written in ink, and the pastels inspired by Monet's water lilies he had completed at the Art Institute.

As Heero watched Duo's hands sorting and holding his creations, he realized he had stumbled upon a great talent. "These are wonderful," Heero said.

"Thanks. I'm just fooling around mostly..."

"No, these are as good or better than what I've seen for sale in Tokyo and London."

"Yeah, right," Duo said with a snort.

"I'm serious," Heero said, looking into Duo's eyes. "Have you done anything bigger? Oils or watercolors on large cavases?"

"I'd like to, but I'm a bit intimidated by the idea."

Heero smiled. "You're already larger than life. I would think painting big would come naturally to you."

Duo laughed and smiled brightly. "Yeah, I see what you mean. Well, maybe someday I will."

They talked for a little while about his work, what inspired him, what blocked his creativity, and then Duo took one of the water lily pastels and handed it to Heero.

"I want you to have this," he said, his cheeks faintly pinking.

Heero took the drawing in hand and felt a calm come over him as the lavenders and blue tones soothed his tired eyes. "Thank you, but I can't accept this," he said, handing it back. "You should give this to one of your friends."

"But you are my friend," Duo said, with wide, blinking eyes. "You're the first person to show a real interest...," he said, his words trailing off as he turned his face away to hide the tears brimming in his eyes.

"What's wrong?"

Duo swallowed and wiped at his face with his hand. "Do you have dreams? I mean... for your life?" he asked, looking at Heero again.

"Of course," Heero grinned.

"Yeah? What would a guy like you dream about?"

"Lots of things... seeing the world, making a name for myself, but most recently I've been dreaming that my new American friend could be more than just a friend." He gently laid the drawing down and reached his hand across the other artworks to touch Duo's hand. "What do you think? Does this dreamer have a chance?"

Warmth rushed through Duo, settling sweetly in his cheeks, and coloring them a deep rose. He had secretly wished that Heero would want him, but this couldn't possibly be real. A low sob escaped Duo's lips as he realized he must have misunderstood.

The anguished sound caused Heero to pull away. "I'm sorry," he said, sitting up straight. "That was very forward of me."

"No," Duo said, blinking back tears. "I liked it."

"You did?"

"Uh-huh," Duo said, nodding. "I just didn't expect it from you."


"Well, you're straight," Duo said almost apologetically, but suddenly wasn't so sure and asked, "Aren't you?"


The answer was so simple, so succinct that Duo thought he had heard incorrectly. "You're not?" he asked, his heart pounding harder. Hope surged and then ebbed... "Okay, but you couldn't possibly want to be with someone like me."

"And why's that?"

"Well, because of what I am," Duo said, raising his chin even though he now felt ashamed.

"Because you're an artist?" Heero asked, knowing what Duo was referring to, but refusing to acknowledge its significance.

"No, not that..."

"You're an artist, Duo," Heero said, taking Duo's hand again. "That's who and what you are to me."

Beautiful, intense blue eyes looked back at Duo, pulling him in. Duo unconsciously leaned forward, wanting to get closer and said, "Kiss me..."

Heero's breath caught at the invitation, but he did not hesitate. He leaned in and took Duo's mouth in a tender kiss. Their lips pressed together, soft and warm. The kiss lasted only seconds, but when they pulled apart, each slowly opening his eyes, the possibilities were suddenly apparent.

"That was nice," Duo said, only inches from Heero's face.

"Yes, very nice," Heero agreed, and then leaned closer until their lips met again.

This time the kiss was electric, sending nerve endings tingling, firing. It progressed quickly as they reached across the couch for one another, sliding hands up arms to necks to lock the kiss in place. Their lips lingered as hungry little moans escaped them, putting voice to desire.

A knock at the front door broke them apart, startling them back to their respective places on the couch. Both their cheeks were flushed red.

"Someone's at the door," Duo said, hopping up from the couch as though it was on fire. "I'll just go and see who it is," he added nervously as he headed out into the hall.

Heero knew it wasn't Lou, the man who ruled this roost would have a key. All the same, the interruption was a bit unnerving and it set him to thinking. What exactly was he doing here?

Duo was back a moment later, holding a plate of chocolate chip cookies. "Old Mrs. Mahoney sent her granddaughter over with some freshly baked cookies," Duo said, smiling as he held the plate toward Heero. "Want one?"

The young man on the couch was shaking his head 'no,' and getting up. Duo sensed it was more than a dislike for chocolate chip cookies that was making his new friend uncomfortable.

"What's going on?" Duo asked, setting the plate down on the table.

"I think I'd better be going," Heero said, apologetically. He stood at the opposite side of the low table, looking at Duo with a jumble of emotions racing through him. "It's getting late."

"No, it's not," Duo said, his emotions quickly turning to anger. "It's barely eight o'clock."

"Yeah, and I've got an early meeting tomorrow morning..."

"Oh, I see."

Heero's brow furrowed as he looked at the disappointment and anger on Duo's face. "No, I don't think you do. I'm only in Chicago another couple of days..."

"And you'd rather not get involved when it can't possibly go anywhere," Duo finished for him. "Yeah, I get it."

Heero stared at Duo a long minute without saying a word. He was very attracted to this American, more attracted than he had been to anyone. There was something intrinsically beautiful and wonderful about Duo, but Heero wondered what he could possibly offer him -- one night, maybe two nights of passion, if they were lucky?

"We're from different worlds," he said, finally, even as he stepped forward.

"Yeah, east meets west," Duo said, trying to make light of watching this gorgeous young man walk out of his life.

"Japan is on the other side of the world," Heero explained, taking a couple more steps forward. "It's a culture rich in traditions, but also burdened by the very traditions that make it beautiful."

"And a kid from Chicago could never understand that... is that what you're saying?"

"No," Heero spoke softly, his steps shortening as he came to stand in front of Duo. "I'm saying that I can't exactly bring you home to meet my mother."

Duo smiled. There was a joke in there somewhere... and hope. "She wouldn't approve of you having a long-haired, American guy as your lover?"

The question made Heero's heart pound, his blood pulse hard in his veins. "Mothers are funny that way," he answered, and then in a rush of lust, swiftly, powerfully took Duo into his arms and covered his mouth in a fierce kiss.

Duo was stunned for all of two seconds, and then he responded, enthusiastically. His arms came about Heero, holding him tight, trying to convey with his body that he couldn't bear to have him walk out that door.

They clung to each other like drowning men, need thundering in their ears, resonating in their bodies and souls. This was right. This had been coming for days now.

They broke apart from the kiss, gasping, sucking in great gulps of air.

"Damn," Duo said, panting. "Damn, you can kiss."

Heero smiled. "You make it easy."

He pulled Duo to him once more, brushing his lips over the young man's and then nuzzling along his jaw. "Duo..." he said, liking the sound of the name on his lips.

Duo leaned into him, melting as Heero's warm breath seduced him further. "Heero... Do you want to...?"

The answer was clear in Heero's eyes, and so Duo took Heero by the hand and led him up the darkened staircase to the second floor. No lights were turned on as they walked down the hall and into a large bedroom. Indirect light from the street filtered into the room through beige sheer curtains, giving it a soft, warm glow.

Duo sat down on the edge of the large four-postered bed and pulled Heero between his legs. He ran his hands over Heero's stomach and chest, looking up at him with a wide, appreciative gaze.

"I've never met anyone like you," Duo said, feeling his whole body's longing to be with this young Japanese businessman.

"I feel the same," Heero said, reaching out and brushing his fingers over Duo's cheek. "And I've met a lot of people."

"Have you... been with a lot of those people?" Duo asked, surprised at himself for asking, but wanting to know.

"No," Heero answered simply.

Duo smiled as his hands continued to wander over the slender body. He reached up and pushed back on the navy suit jacket, pushing it off Heero's shoulders.

Heero shrugged out of it the rest of the way and then leaned down to brush his lips over Duo's forehead, the long bangs tickling. Then his lips drifted down, gently planting kisses across Duo's nose and cheeks until their lips met again and they shared a kiss rich in the promise of passion.

Duo stretched, reaching up with his body to meet that kiss. Oh, he had never tasted lips like this, he had never warmed so easily from a kiss.

"You asked me if I wanted to," Heero said as he pulled away slightly to unbutton his shirt.

Duo swallowed and nodded, watching the shirt open and exposing a finely defined and muscular chest.

"You saw the answer in my eyes, but let me say it to you ... yes, I want to," Heero said, kissing Duo briefly and then pulling the young man's white tank top over his head and tossing it aside.

They moved onto the bed, their lips coming together again and never separating as they scooted back and Heero finally lay on Duo, covering him with his body. Their arms went around each other with a shiver of delight as they pressed into each other and into the thick mattress, kissing slowly, moaning softly. Both were lean and short for their age, but Heero was slightly more muscled. Duo thrilled at this discovery, his hands slipping into Heero's open shirt to explore the hard muscle and breadth of Heero's back.

"Let's get out of these clothes," Duo suggested, even as he began to unzip and wriggle free of his shorts.

Heero slipped off his shirt and then got up to shed his pants, underwear and socks before lying back down on Duo. The touch of hot, naked skin made them each hiss with pleasure, their bodies nearly sizzling with energy and need.

Duo spread his legs, wrapping them around Heero's thighs, arching his back as Heero kissed a wet path from his lips down to his chest. Each young man wrestled with the need to take this slowly and the need to fuck in a mating frenzy.

Duo, who had made a life from knowing how to please a man, fumbled nervously as he reached blindly for lubricant on the bedside table. He knocked his watch off the stand before finding the tube of lightly scented oil. He handed it to Heero who was still nuzzling his neck.

"Hnnn," Heero moaned, as he closed his hand around the cold tube. A shiver raced through him, knowing in moments he would be inside the beautiful young man who had transfixed him from the moment they had collided in that restaurant.

He kept his lips suckling at Duo's neck as he worked the tube open and squeezed a portion of the gel onto his fingers. Then he reached down, his fingers brushing, trailing down the soft skin of Duo's body until his hand came to Duo's cock. He grasped the hardened shaft fully, wrapping his hand around it, holding it, feeling its weight and size and then stroking it until Duo was gasping on the verge of orgasm.

"Not yet," Heero whispered, and then released the cock to apply more gel to his fingers.

"Don't play with me like that," Duo said, breathing hard. "I want you..."

Heero smiled and kissed Duo so that he would know he wanted him, too. Then he moved his hand over Duo's balls, fondling them just long enough to make a brief acquaintance before moving on to his final destination.

"There," Heero said as he rubbed two fingers over the tight pucker of flesh.

"Yesss," Duo moaned, letting his legs fall open wider.

Heero kissed Duo's chest as he sank the fingers into the tight passage, feeling them sink inside. In seconds he was up to his knuckles, and then his fingers were completely engulfed in that amazing velvety heat, a heat that Heero was eager to explore in other ways.

He knew that Duo was another man's lover, that this was the bed they shared, but somehow it didn't matter. He knew something special was happening between them and he concentrated on that feeling. Their mutual attraction had thrown them quickly into a dance... a dance that had begun when Duo had taken to the club's dance floor and let loose in a beautiful and free sensual rhythm.

Heero now knew that Duo danced for himself, and certainly Lou Almati knew that, too. That was why Lou had stopped the dance. Heero was slowly realizing the complex life that Duo led... beholden to a domineering man and yet not allowing himself to be fully possessed. And now, to be risking his comfortable life for a night of passion....

"More," Duo said, moaning and writhing beneath him. "More, Heero."

Heero considered inserting a third finger, but the need laced in Duo's voice, and his own need, made him decide to move ahead. He slicked his own aching and neglected cock with the lube and took a deep breath as he pressed it to Duo's opening. Their eyes met and he pushed forward, slipping the head in easily.

"Oh, yes," they moaned simultaneously.

Another long, hard push and Heero was completely inside, feeling Duo all around him. They were soon in motion, thrusting with the sometimes ill-timed rhythm of new lovers, but making up for it with enthusiasm and need.

Duo moaned with each thrust in and out of Heero's ample cock. The smell, the look, the feel of Heero was so different than... Oh, Duo didn't want to think about it. All he wanted now was Heero.

"You're so gentle," Duo said, as he brushed Heero's long, damp bangs away from his eyes.

"Would you like me to be more rough?"

"No, I like this," Duo said, grooving now, feeling the easy slide of hard flesh inside him. "It's like... like you're making love to me."

It's like I'm dancing with you on that dance floor, Heero thought as he thrust deeper, losing himself to the silky warmth of Duo's body.

"I am making love to you," Heero said, grunting.

As many times as Duo had had sex with men, no one had ever made love to him. He knew because none of those times had felt like this, like his lover actually cared for him and that they were equals on this ride... floating away together into sexual bliss.

"H-Heero..." Duo breathed out.

"Duo," Heero said, moaning and grinding harder. "You're... incredible."

Their bodies slick with exertion, Heero moved over Duo with ease... inside and out. It was as perfect a first time for new lovers as it could be and each of them wanted it to go on and on, but release was inevitable and fast approaching.

"I'm going to..." Heero began to say, and then Duo finished his sentence, "come." Each felt the strong pull toward orgasm.

Duo came a split second before Heero. "Yes! Oh, fuck yes!"

And then Heero, "Yes, Duo! Come for me!"

And they pounded into each other with their last remaining strength, sating themselves completely before falling limp to the bed.

Minutes later, Heero was the first to move. He raised himself onto his hands and looked down at Duo's resting, glistening body. They were still joined, and his semi-hard cock stirred as he admired the nakedness beneath him.

A little moan from Duo's lips prompted Heero to make the effort to roll off him. "Are you all right?" Heero asked, as he moved.

"Stay," Duo whispered. His hands came up and rested on Heero's buttocks, keeping him exactly where he was. He opened his eyes to see Heero looking down at him, and smiled, a lazy, sated smile. "Mmm, that was nice."

"Yes," Heero said, and bent down to kiss him.

Duo's hands skimmed Heero's back enjoying the feel of soft skin over hard muscle. He teasingly thrust his hips.

"Ready for more so soon?" Heero asked.

"If you are," Duo said, practically purring in his contentment.

Heero gave a low chuckle and experimentally thrust back. When Duo began to moan and writhe beneath him, the sight brought him fully erect in seconds.

"Oh, yeah... you feel good inside me," Duo said, marveling at the delicious sensation of Heero hardening.

With each thrust, Duo felt the increase of flesh inside him. His own cock and nipples were erect as Heero moved in the already slick passage. He loved the feel of Heero's cock... it was just the right size to fill him and it was perfectly proportioned to Heero's body.

"I want you to give it to me fast. Take me from behind... do me hard," Duo said as he petted the young man's buttocks and thighs.

"I don't want to hurt you," Heero said, though his groin stirred with interest.

"You won't," Duo said, now pushing at his lover to pull out. "I want you to take me as deep as you can."

Duo's words made it nearly impossible for Heero to stop thrusting, to pull out. Everything about this moment was screaming for him to be joined with Duo and now he was being pushed off.

When they separated completely, Duo was quick to turn over and get to his knees. Heero kneeled behind him and before he could position himself, Duo reached back for his cock and took hold of it, guiding it to his opening.

"Hurry! Take me as deep as you can..."

Duo's ass and Heero's erect cock were lined up perfectly, and the cock slid back in with little effort.

"Oh, yes," Heero moaned as he sunk in to his balls, his eyes rolling back in his head as he was surrounded by that tight warmth again. His hands settled on Duo's slender hips as he began to pull out and thrust back in... out... in... building the rhythm quickly.

"That's it... so good," Duo said, grabbing the headboard to brace himself.

Heero felt his control slipping as he slammed faster into this willing young man. He had never let go like this... never been encouraged to let go by a lover before. It was maddening, it made him want more and more, made him want to go deeper, faster, harder... all the things Duo was begging for.

As Heero's body smacked Duo's ass with each powerful thrust, the headboard banged against the wall and the bed creaked noisily. Heero honestly thought the bed and the floor might break beneath them... but he didn't care... he knew they'd still be fucking as the place crashed down around them.

He took Duo's braid in hand, holding it like the reins of a bucking stallion. No, he wouldn't break Duo of his spirit, but he would ride him as hard and as long as he possibly could.

"Yes, Heero! Yes!" Duo cried out as he was vigorously taken and his braid tugged so hard it pulled his head back. This was exactly what he wanted. If he and Heero only had a short time together, then he wanted it burned into their memories, branded on their bodies.

Too soon they were on the brink again, grunting and moaning as the pleasure built deep inside them. In moments, that pleasure was radiating out... tingling, firing and then bursting forth in a tsunami of orgasm.

"Duo! Ahhhh!" Heero cried out with a force of voice equal to the force of this coupling. His body tightened, froze as he thrust one last time, emptying himself in his lover.

Duo arched back and gave a wild cry of release and then collapsed forward onto his arms, his ass still in the air with his lover deep inside.

For the next several minutes all that could be heard were the loud, almost frantic gasps of two young men exhausted and desperate for air. This time, Heero's cock slipped out as it softened and he fell on his side, bringing Duo with him. He wrapped his arms around Duo, spooning his body as they both continued to shake and come down from their incredible ride.

"Thank you," Heero said, as he caressed Duo's flank.

"Mmm, I should be thanking you," Duo said and giggled.

They both laughed, knowing it had been very, very good for both of them.

"Want some ice cream?" Duo asked.

"I need to rest... no more sex for a little while."

"No, silly," Duo said, laughing. "Ice cream to eat, not to use for sex!"

"Oh, right," Heero said, and then frowned as Duo wriggled free of his arms and went to the bathroom to retrieve a couple of towels.

Duo playfully threw a towel at Heero and then wiped himself off. He then went over to his dresser and pulled out a pair of blue jeans and a white t-shirt with "Chicago Cubs" emblazoned on the front in blue and red.

"You getting dressed?" Heero asked as he finished cleaning up.

"Uh, yeah," Duo said, giving Heero an odd look. "Maybe it's not a problem in Japan, but around here you'd get arrested for public nudity."

"We're going out? Isn't it a little late?"

Duo looked over at his digital clock. It read 10:30 p.m. "If we hurry, we'll just make it. The Crême Café is open til eleven."

Heero sighed. He would've much preferred lying abed with his lover, snuggled and sleeping until their bodies stirred once more. But he wouldn't refuse Duo this treat. With some effort, he pulled himself from the bed and picked up his clothes from the floor. Looking around, he could see they had been in a hurry to shed them.

Outside, the temperature had cooled only a few degrees. It was a typical muggy Chicago night, but that didn't seem to be keeping anyone indoors. They walked companionably along the sidewalk, but did not hold hands. In fact, Heero carefully kept his hands tucked inside his pants pockets. It wasn't as though people would've bristled at two men holding hands, not in this neighborhood anyway, but there was an unspoken understanding that they needed to be a little cautious with their affection, just in case the wrong person happened to see them.

Even at fifteen minutes of eleven, the Café was crowded and there was a line to order. Duo used the time to explain the different flavors and why this ice cream was so much better than any other, because of all the natural ingredients they used. Heero, who hadn't had American ice cream before, had no reason to doubt his new friend. By the time it was their turn to order, their decisions had been made. Cherry vanilla with chocolate chips for Duo, and coconut pineapple for Heero; and Heero insisted on paying.

They found a table for two out on the patio, which was actually a little alleyway between two buildings that had been decorated to look like the South of France. Duo ate the rich treat, eliciting some of the same moans he had during sex. The sound made Heero blush and turned the heads of more than a few other patrons.

"This is good ice cream, but do you really have to do that?" Heero asked in a near whisper, begging Duo to stop.

His long-haired lover smiled deviously. "Getting to ya', huh?"

"And to everyone else in earshot," Heero pointed out as he nodded to the stares they were getting.

Oh, I shouldn't tease him like that, Duo thought and then laughed. "You wanna get outta here?" he asked with a wink. "They're about to close anyway."

"Sure," Heero said.

They took their cups of ice cream with the little plastic spoons and slowly took the long way back to Duo's house. Along the way, they found a park bench and sat to enjoy the rest of their treat.

"This is so normal," Duo said as he took another spoonful of his melting ice cream. "It's like we're a couple."

"Well, we are... for a little while anyway," Heero said, setting down his cup.

Duo bowed his head and then looked up at him. "When exactly are you leaving?"

"Two days."

"The jet set life of an international businessman, huh?" Duo asked, forcing a little chuckle.

Heero stared at Duo a moment, deciding not to tell him that he had already postponed returning home once. "This all happened a bit fast, didn't it?"

"Yeah," Duo agreed, quietly.

Neither said another word as Duo finished the rest of his ice cream, and then took their cups and tossed them in a nearby garbage can.

"The Cubs," Heero said, nodding to Duo's shirt as he rejoined him on the bench. "That's your local baseball team?"

"Yep. Baseball is the only sport I watch. Do you have baseball in Japan?"

"Of course, it's very popular which must have something to do with our fascination with all things American," Heero said, smiling.

"Is that right?" Duo chuckled.

"It might interest you to know that I played baseball at school," Heero added, anxious to feed on his lover's interest in the game.

"Well, it all makes sense now. I thought you had the body of a ball player. Trim and toned," he said, letting his eyes rake over Heero.

Heero swallowed and straightened his posture, and then casually put his arm over the back of the bench, creating closeness between them.

"Did I mention why I like baseball so much?" Duo asked, scooting a little closer.

"No," Heero said, suspicious and yet terribly curious.

"The uniforms. I love the way men look in those uniforms."

"I know what you mean," Heero said, and they both laughed.

"So, were you any good?" Duo asked, his hand now resting on Heero's thigh.

"Better than average," he admitted, though at home he would've been expected to downplay his ability and give all the credit to his coaches and teammates.

"Mmm, that makes two sports you're better than average in," Duo said with a wink.

Heero nearly groaned at the not-so subtle reference.

"Do you still play?"

"There isn't time," Heero said, a bit sadly.

"Because of work?"

Heero nodded.

"Don't you have any brothers or sisters to help with the family business?"

"My older sister is married with two children, and my two younger sisters and younger brother work part-time for Yuy International. It's a large family by Japanese standards. But I'm the eldest son, so I carry the burden of responsibility. But what about your family?" The question was out before Heero remembered Duo's bitter remark earlier. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..."

"No, it's okay," Duo said, lightly. "I have a younger sister that I see once or twice a year when she can sneak away and meet me. My dad's the jerk. If it wasn't for his prejudices we'd have a nice family."

"And your mother?" Heero asked, hesitantly.

"Ah, mom's under dad's thumb. He won't even let her drive. Every so often I get a package from her with cookies and stuff. She'd like me to come home to visit, but the last time I did things got real ugly with dad."

"I'm sorry, Duo," Heero said, putting his hand on Duo's knee.

"Don't be. I've worked out a place for myself here."

"With Lou?" Heero asked, and then mentally kicked himself for bringing that guy into their conversation.

"Yeah... Lou," Duo said, knowing that his sugar daddy's name had to come up sooner or later. "I want you to know something, Heero," he went on, caressing Heero's thigh. "What happened with us tonight was really special. It meant a lot to me... more than you'll ever know."

The fact that Duo had spoken in the past tense did not go unnoticed by Heero, but he would not mention it. Duo already had a lover who housed, clothed and fed him. This affair, just like this night, would soon be over. Part of Heero wanted to leave now, get up and walk away and not look back while he still had the will to do so. But a bigger part of him wanted to grab onto Duo and never let go. It was a feeling, a torment that had been growing in him since Duo had practically run him over that day in the restaurant.

And I can't tell him, Heero thought, knowing it would only create hardship and pain. He was leaving in two days, returning to the bosom of his family and the family trade. He certainly couldn't bring a male lover back with him to Tokyo... unless he wanted to subject Duo to a life even more restrictive than the one he led here.

"You're so quiet," Duo said, reaching over and touching Heero's face with his hand. Maybe I shouldn't have told him that, Duo thought. Some guys don't want to hear mush like that...

"I apologize," Heero said, blinking and refocusing on the bright face before him. "I was thinking of... Well, it's not important now," he said, deciding to live in the moment. He smiled then as he noticed the look of concern and interest on Duo's sweet face. "You're really something," he said, brightly. "Remember when you asked me if I had any dreams and I said I wanted to make a name for myself and see the world?"

"And be more than a friend to me," Duo finished with a small grin, happy to have Heero back with him. "Looks like you're two for three on your dreams."

Heero smiled. He had never smiled so easily in his life. It would be a shame to lose that.

"Now it's your turn to tell me," Heero said, trying to shake his sad thoughts. "What does a guy like you dream about?" he asked, duplicating the question Duo had asked him.

Duo was touched by the request. Everything felt so right with Heero, and sharing his dreams was right, too.

"Okay. The first one's a bit obvious. I'd like to make a living as an artist. An openly gay artist," he said, snickering.

"That's a great dream. I think you could do that."

"The second dream could get expensive," Duo said, his voice and his face revealing his excitement in sharing with Heero. "I'd like to live somewhere with a view of the ocean. Have a house on a cliff with a path running down to the beach." His eyes got a bit dreamy as he imagined his perfect home. Over the years the location had changed from the West Coast of the United States to an island in the Pacific, but it was still the same dream.

"Hmm, the ocean would inspire your art," Heero said, thoughtfully.

"Yeah," Duo nodded, happy that Heero understood.

"Anything else?" Heero prompted, sensing the biggest dream of all was waiting to be voiced.

Duo blushed, embarrassed to share anymore.

"Would you like me to guess?" Heero asked, noting the hesitation.

"If you think you can."

Heero smiled, accepting the challenge. "If you were a successful artist and had your palatial home by the ocean what would you need to complete the picture?"

Duo's eyes blinked as he listened attentively and anxiously.

"Maybe a big, fluffy chow huddled at your feet?"

Duo laughed. "Definitely a loyal addition to my dream."

Heero nodded and went on. "Or maybe a lifetime subscription to the chocolate of the month club?" "Oh, where do I sign up!" Duo cheered, giving Heero a quick hug.

"But somehow I don't think that'd be enough. You're too outgoing... you'd want to share your perfect life with someone. Ah, of course... a lover. Someone who would love you, faults and all. Though your faults are hardly apparent."

Duo's eyes had gone wide. Who was this guy that he could so easily see into his most secret dreams? "Yes," he said in a whisper.

"Then I guessed correctly?" Heero asked, lifting his chin in triumph.

"Yes," Duo repeated, his eyes glistening with a dreamy quality. "Heero... would you stay with me tonight... all night?"

The hope had been there, but until this sweet invitation had been spoken, Heero had not wanted to assume.

"I'd like that," he said, leaning in and rubbing his nose on Duo's. "I'd like that very much."

Duo breathed out in relief and then tilted his head to take Heero's lips in soft kiss. Please let this night last forever, Duo thought.

Back at the house, they stripped out of their clothes and slid beneath the sheets, coming together in a passionate embrace. Their bodies moved like an undercurrent below the surface, in constant motion and growing heat.

"Duo... you are a dream of flesh," Heero said as he laid claim to Duo's body once again. "Your eyes are as bright as the sky in morning," he said, kissing each cheekbone as he thrust inside him. "And your need as full as the moon at night."

Duo moaned at the words and what Heero was doing to his body. He didn't know whether he was quoting a Japanese poem or if the words were flowing from him spontaneously, and he didn't care. It melted him to hear them spoken, to hear a man recite such beautiful words as they made love.

"I summon the rose in your cheeks as I fill you again and again," Heero continued, trance-like as he succumbed to Duo's beauty.

And so, the poem continued, broken only by deep, lingering kisses as their bodies rocked together slowly just as they had when they had first made love.

Long after their shared climaxes, Duo lay with his face on Heero's chest, his fingers moving in circles over the finely toned body.

"What were you quoting... when we were making love?"

"Quoting?" Heero asked, looking down to see Duo's large, blue eyes staring up at him. "That was from my heart... and maybe a little from ancient poets, but truly I was speaking from my heart, Duo."

Duo leaned up on his elbow. "Now I know you're a figment of my imagination."

Heero smiled. "I take it you liked my poetry."

"Couldn't you tell? You were driving me mad. I'm amazed I didn't come sooner!" he said, smiling brightly and then leaning down to kiss one of Heero's rosy nipples.

Heero caressed Duo's hair and watched him suckle and lick his nipple. He knew they would make love again, and very soon, but first he needed to wrestle with his growing feelings. His heart was pounding in his chest and in his brain, demanding he pay attention. He had never felt anything like this before, feelings so extraordinary, so new that they could only mean one thing...

I'm falling in love, Heero thought. Or I already have. The realization passed through him with a wave of dizziness... or was it just the motion of Duo's tongue over his nipple making him dizzy? Oh, but he knew better, it had to be love, and it had struck as hard and as true as any arrow from Cupid's bow.

Damn, he thought, turning his face away and covering his eyes with his forearm.

Duo released the now tender nipple and looked up. "Too much?" he asked, and stretched up to cover Heero's lips with his own. "Hey, silly, we can take a break if you need to."

"No, it's not that," Heero said, oddly using a business-like tone.

"Then what is it?"

"I want you to come to Japan with me," he said, letting his arm drop to look at Duo. "But I know that's a selfish request."

"And why is it selfish?" Duo asked, half-thrilling at the invitation, but sensing it had already been retracted.

"Because it wouldn't be the life you deserve. If you think being gay is difficult here, you should try it in Japan."

"Out of the kettle and into the fire, huh?" Duo joked, though he didn't laugh.

"I'm sorry," Heero said, brushing Duo's bangs from his eyes. "I shouldn't have said anything. You probably think I'm a jerk for mentioning it." And a coward for not telling you that I love you...

"It's okay. Gee, me in Japan... talk about sticking out like a sore thumb."

Heero smiled. "You'd be a trend setter with your long hair and tight jeans. They'd love to hate you."

"And that's a good thing?"

They laughed and held each other, both too tired to continue this conversation. Heero regretted bringing it up, not only because it wasn't possible to bring Duo home, but because Duo hadn't seemed interested. He was now glad that he hadn't shared more... and that was Heero's mistake. Duo's heart was still pounding hard with the knowledge that Heero had even thought of taking him with him.

The next morning, Heero went through his exercise routine while Duo showered. The slow, purposeful movements of T'ai Chi Ch'uan calmed and centered him for the day. He dreaded this day, because he knew it was his last in Chicago and he would be spending much of it apart from Duo. He had a morning meeting scheduled with Jim and Lou, and then he was off with Jim again to look at several more properties. He had considered canceling his afternoon appointments, but quickly reminded himself that this was a business trip and he still had responsibilities. In any case, he and Duo would be having dinner together this evening.

Duo emerged from the bathroom in a satiny sky blue robe, and sat on the edge of the bed to brush his towel-dried hair and to watch Heero. The sight of Heero, dressed only his navy trousers and moving with the fluidity of a feline, made Duo ache. Heero was beautiful in so many ways, but especially in his intensity. Though he was physically perfect, it was the combination of this with the intensity in his eyes and the tone of his voice that set Duo's heart racing. And now, to see Heero move like this made Duo sense all the more what pleasures and comforts they would miss not being together.

I swore I would never fall in love, Duo thought as he admired the young man before him.

"What ya' doing?" Duo asked with sincere curiosity.

"It's called T'ai Chi Ch'uan. It's a blend of the healing, martial and meditative arts," Heero explained as he continued with the slow movements. "It was developed by monks over a thousand years ago for health and spiritual growth, but also to defend themselves against bandits."

"How could they defend themselves moving that slow?" Duo asked, snickering, but his laughter was silenced when Heero suddenly sped up his movements a hundred fold. "Oh, wow!" Duo said, smiling brightly. "Just like Kung Fu!"

Heero's brow knit as he slowed his movements once again and stared at his lover. "Kung Fu?"

"Yeah, I loved that show. It was about this Chinese monk. I think his name was Grasshopper. He killed the emperor's nephew and had to leave China..." Duo explained, but he could see that Heero didn't have the faintest idea what he was talking about. "Oh, it doesn't matter. But I see now how this T'ai..."

"T'ai Chi Ch'uan," Heero said.

"Yeah, that it could be used for self defense. Very cool."

Heero smiled, and decided that was enough meditation and exercise for one morning. He joined his lover on the bed.

"Your hair is beautiful," he said as he admired the long fall of dark chestnut hair.

Duo smiled, looking at him with eyes nearly purple in the morning light. "Thanks," he said, shyly.

Heero's hand reached out, brushing through Duo's hair, and then he leaned forward and kissed him. His thoughts went back to the night at the club when Duo had danced to that song. "Your hair is beautiful tonight," the lyrics had rung out over the loud speakers. Now he understood completely why the DJ had chosen that song and why everyone had watched with mouths gaping. "Tonight, make it magnificent, tonight, make me tonight... oh... atomic." Though atoms were infinitesimally small, they could cause massive destruction and change, something that T'ai Chi Ch'uan taught as well... change was inevitable and should not be resisted.

And so, as Heero pulled back from the kiss and sat next to his lover on the bed, he was shaken by how a seemingly inconsequential meeting of two young men could so profoundly change his life. And it wasn't fair, because from this day forward he would have to move through life knowing that a young American named Duo Maxwell existed... walked the earth, breathed city air, and laughed his cares away... and Heero Yuy could not have him.

"You're far away again," Duo said, setting his brush on the bedside table.

"Just wishing for a little more time..." Heero said, taking Duo's hand in his.

A noise downstairs turned their attention toward the open bedroom door.

"What's that?" Heero asked.

Duo looked to the clock and then back at the door. "Shit, it's Lou!"

"You're joking," Heero said, but Duo was immediately in motion.

"You've got to get out of here," Duo said, nervously. "If he finds you here..." He didn't need to explain, instead he was rushing to throw open the window. "You can climb down the fire escape."

Heero grabbed the rest of his clothes from the floor and then felt a burning in his gut. "My shoes!"

"Look under the bed," Duo said, motioning frantically for Heero to hurry.

"No, they're downstairs... by the front door."

Duo's face paled. "Shit!"

An image of Heero taking off his shoes as he came into the house flashed through Duo's mind. What had seemed a charming Japanese custom now had become nearly a criminal offense.

"You can't go down there," Duo said, rushing to Heero's side and pushing him toward the window.

"Duo? Are you home?" came Lou's voice from downstairs.

Both young men froze. Their eyes met with fear. At last Duo went back into motion and scurried over to the door.

"I'm here, Daddy. Just getting out of the shower... I'll throw something on and be right down."

Heero's blood boiled. "Daddy?"

"It's what he wants me to call him," Duo whispered and gave a shrug. "I don't know why he's here." He rejoined Heero and ushered him again to the window. "Maybe he's just swinging by before his meeting with you..." Duo noticed the fierceness in Heero's eyes and shut up.

"What about the shoes?" Heero asked, his jaw clenched.

"Oh, right... I'll distract him somehow and set them on the front porch for you. Just wait by the side of the house."

"How will you distract him?"

"Let me worry about that, you just get out of here. I've got to get dressed."

Duo gave Heero a quick peck on the cheek and went back into motion. Heero threw one leg over the low windowsill and watched as Duo rifled through the closet and then pulled out a cotton skirt.

"Is that what you're wearing?" Heero asked.

"You still here?" Duo said, turning to the window and frowning. "You've got to get out of here..."

"Answer my question first," Heero said, suddenly not caring if he were caught.

Duo sighed. "Lou likes me to dress as a girl sometimes... that's all."

"That's all? All right, you're coming with me," Heero said, and climbed back into the room.

"Who are you talking to?" Lou called from the bottom of the staircase.

"Shit," Duo said, shoving Heero back to the window. "Just myself, Daddy," he called back over his shoulder.

"Well, get down here!" Lou shouted. His tone made it obvious that he was getting impatient.

"Be right there!" Duo shouted back and then put his hands on Heero's bare biceps and squeezed. Damn, Heero was adorable when he was jealous and scampering out of the window with half his clothes tucked under his arm.

"You've got to go," Duo whispered. "We'll see each other for dinner like we planned." He kissed Heero then, hard and deep, their tongues twirling around each other. "Now go!"

With one last long look, Heero went out the window and down the fire escape.

With his lover gone, Duo flung off his robe and quickly slipped into pink silk panties, a short, red skirt and a white cotton blouse. As a final touch he pulled his damp hair into a ponytail with a pink ribbon.

As he descended the wooden staircase, Lou looked up from sorting through the mail. "There's my girl," the large man said.

Duo stopped several stairs from the bottom and leaned playfully over the railing. "I wasn't expecting you, Daddy," he said, blushing at the name Lou demanded he use.

"I missed you last night," Lou said, reaching up to touch Duo's hand. "I got an early start this morning and have a little time before my meeting..."

Duo knew that tone and that caress too well. Lou was here for sex.

"Oh, Daddy, you're terrible," Duo said in a teasing voice. He continued down the stairs, eyeing Heero's shoes by the door. Damn, how was he gonna get them outside?

Lou followed his eyes. "Those damn shoes," he muttered. "Since when do you leave your shoes at the door? I nearly tripped over them."

Duo gulped. Praise be, Lou thought they were his!

"Sorry, Daddy," Duo said as he came to stand on the bottom step.

Lou came over and stood before him. Even standing on a step the top of Duo's head barely reached Lou's chin.

"How's my girl?" Lou asked, as his big hands came around and grabbed Duo's ass.

Duo yelped at the touch. "There's something I want to show you," he said, as Lou pawed him and nuzzled his neck.

"There's something I want to show you, Daddy," Lou corrected as he nipped the pale skin under his lips.

Duo shivered at the man's touch. "Yes, Daddy, there's something I'd like to show you, but it's in the other room. Could you go in there and wait for me?"

The man groaned as his hands reached under the skirt and found the silk panties. "Mmm, all right, but I can't wait long," he said, slowly releasing Duo.

As Lou let him go and went into the living room, Duo let sighed in relief. His stomach was doing flip-flops from nerves and repulsion. What was happening? Lou was his bread and butter, if he couldn't perform for the man, he would be out on the street.

Once Lou was safely in the other room, Duo grabbed Heero's shoes and quietly opened the door. He set the shoes on the porch and without looking around for his lover, retreated back into the house. He couldn't bear for Heero to see him now.

It was a little after six o'clock in the evening when Heero arrived back at Duo's house with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of Japanese plum wine. After spending a long, unhappy day apart from his lover, Heero was looking forward to taking Duo for an expensive dinner and spending the evening talking and making love. It would probably be their last chance to be together... his flight left the next morning... and he wanted everything to be perfect.

The house seemed unusually quiet when he approached, and when he rang the doorbell there was no answer. He rang again, imagining that Duo was upstairs dressing for dinner. Another ten seconds passed with no answer. Heero checked his watch. It was after six and they had clearly agreed on that time to meet, so he rang again. Finally, through the frosted glass of the door, he saw Duo's silhouette approaching. Heero's heart raced. He couldn't wait to take Duo into his arms again.

The locks were unlatched and the door slowly opened.

"Duo," Heero said, smiling, but his smile quickly faded. The young man staring back at him looked listless, broken, and he certainly wasn't dressed for dinner... he was wearing only a white, long-sleeved shirt. "What's wrong?" Heero asked.

Duo turned away. In one glance, he had seen more than he could bear. Heero looked incredibly handsome tonight in a caramel colored suit, and his arms overflowing with flowers and wine. What could this successful businessman possibly see in him and why wouldn't he stay away?

"Aren't you going to invite me in?" Heero asked, confused by the change in his lover.

"For one last fuck?" Duo asked, as he looked back over his shoulder. "Well, come on in. I've got ten minutes to spare."

"Why are you talking like that?" Heero asked as he stepped inside and closed the door behind him. "I thought we had a date tonight."

Duo gave a derisive snort and then turned to face his persistent suitor. "Is that what you're calling it? A date?"

Heero stared dumbfounded at his formerly cheerful lover. Obviously something had happened to change Duo's sentiments toward him, but what? Was this just Duo's way of breaking things off? Was this how he was dealing with their impending separation, by causing a fight on their last night together?

"Yes, it's a date. I brought you flowers," Heero said, holding out the bright bouquet. When Duo made no move to accept the gift, Heero set them and the plum wine on the table. "We have reservations at the Japan Garden for seven..." he said and then stopped, the words just stopped coming from his mouth as he noticed an angry cut on Duo's lower lip. "What's that?" he asked, reaching his hand out to touch the swollen spot.

Duo turned his face away to hide the mark. "I tripped... going up the stairs," he said, pointing to the staircase. As he pointed, his unbuttoned sleeve slid up his arm, revealing a darkly bruised wrist.

Heero stepped forward, taking Duo by the waist and turning him back to him. "How did this happen?" he asked, his eyes dark with burgeoning anger.

"I told you... I tripped,"

"And I'm telling you that I don't believe you. Did Lou do this to you?" Heero asked, his voice going deeper as he inspected Duo's other wrist as well. "I know I didn't leave these marks on you. Damn it, Duo. Tell me!"

Duo pulled away. "All right, he did it!" he shouted as he stumbled back and bumped into the wall. "I didn't want him touching me after... after I'd been with you." His hands went up to hide his face as he began to cry.

Heero felt a rage building inside him and was frightened. He had never felt such a consuming anger in his life. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to center himself. He would need more than a deep breath to calm, but it did help... a little. When he opened his eyes he went to Duo, holding out his arms to comfort him, but the young man pulled away again.

"Tell me exactly what happened," Heero demanded as he helplessly watched Duo cry.

"No," Duo said, shaking his head.

Heero would not be deterred. "The last I saw you, you were putting my shoes on the front porch... you looked fine. So what happened?"

Duo looked up through his hands. He hadn't wanted Heero to see him. "After that I went into the living room where Lou was waiting, but I wasn't in the mood for what he wanted," Duo said, quietly.

"And you told him this?"

Duo nodded. "It didn't matter. He was here for one thing... and I'd never resisted before."

"Did he hit you?" Heero asked as he reached up and wiped some of Duo's tears away. This time Duo allowed the touch.

Duo nodded again. "We were heading upstairs, but I didn't want to go with him," he said as a shiver raced through him at the memory. "I was trying to get away, but he was holding my wrists tight... and then he hit me and I fell onto the stairs."

"You tripped, huh?" Heero asked, seeing now how Duo had tried to rationalize this scenario.

"I can't tell you anymore," Duo said, looking away as the tears spilled down his cheeks again. After the beautiful lovemaking he had shared with Heero he couldn't bear to have Lou touching him, and now couldn't bear to think of how Lou had claimed him so ruthlessly.

"Did you call the police?" Heero asked, guessing that Lou was not the kind of man used to getting 'no' for an answer.

Duo laughed. "What for?"

"To file a report of abuse."

"Even if I thought the cops would give a rat's ass, I know they wouldn't arrest Lou."

Heero's eyes narrowed. "I don't understand."

"Lou Almati is part of the syndicate here in Chicago," Duo said, and when Heero didn't seem to understand he worded it differently. "You know... the Mafia."

The color drained from Heero's face. "I've been in negotiations with the Mafia?"

"Yep," Duo said, wiping his nose with the sleeve of his shirt.

"Then Lou is running more than a nightclub operation?" Heero asked, tentatively.

"You catch on real fast."

"Well, then I definitely don't want you here," Heero said, taking Duo by the arm.

"Hey, what do you think you're doing?" Duo asked, pulling back, but was unable to break free of Heero's grasp.

"I'm getting you out of here," Heero said and turned for the door.

"Who said I wanted to go?" Duo asked, as he gave Heero a solid punch in the arm.

That got Heero to stop in his tracks. "The guy forced you..."

"I know what happened and whether you want to believe it or not, Lou's a decent guy. Yeah, he's with the mob, and yeah he can be a bit rough sometimes..."

"This has happened before?"

Duo sighed. "I don't know what you're trying to do here. I was getting along fine..."

"I'm in love with you," Heero blurted out.

Duo froze, his mouth hanging open in shock. "W-what did you say?"

A blush colored Heero's cheeks. He hadn't meant to say that, but now that the truth was out he would not deny it. "Yes, I've fallen in love with you, hard and fast, just like the sex."

Duo shook his head. He still didn't think he had heard Heero correctly, or if he had, then Heero must not know what he was talking about. "You're dazed from the great sex we've been having..."

"No, that's not it," Heero interrupted, putting his fingers to Duo's lips. "It's not my cock talking, it's my heart... I'm in love with you, Duo. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me."

The lips under Heero's fingers began to tremble and then Duo swatted Heero's hand away. "Don't tell me things like that," Duo said, going to the table and picking up the flowers and the wine. "Now get out of here." He shoved the gifts back at Heero.

Heero took the items automatically, but was stunned by Duo's reaction. "What's going on?"

"I want you to leave... now," Duo said, his tone harsh.

"But I just told you that I love you," Heero said, certain that Duo must have misunderstood, otherwise he wouldn't be acting this way.

"A lot of good that does me," Duo said, shoving Heero towards the door. "You're going back to Japan in the morning."

Heero put his hand on the door, preventing Duo from opening it. "I'm sorry," he said, looking into Duo's eyes.

Duo was just barely holding onto his composure and it didn't help having Heero looking at him that way. "I'm going to ask you again nicely... please go."

Heero let his hand fall away. Duo opened the door, and after one last glance at his lover, Heero walked out the door and onto the front porch. The door closed and locked behind him, sending a shiver through his body. Unsure of what to do next, Heero stood on the porch and tilted his head back, looking up at the night sky, hoping for a sign. Instead, he saw nothing but blackness; the light pollution from the city prevented the light of any stars getting through. It seemed only fitting. The loss of Duo was nothing less than the loss of all the stars in the night sky.

Why won't he let me love him? Heero wondered as he stepped off the porch. But of course he knew. It would've been better for Duo if they had never met.

Inside the house, Duo turned away from the door and headed upstairs. Halfway up, he stopped, his entire body trembling. He could not take one more step... up or down, backwards or forwards. There was no point in it. He had just sent away the most beautiful man he had ever met.

"Heero...." The name tore out of him with a gasping sob as Duo collapsed onto the steps, broken hearted.

The Yuy Family had not come to dominate the hotel and restaurant industry in Japan by sheer luck, but by an extraordinary family trait... perseverance. Heero Yuy exemplified this family virtue. As a child, he was tenacious to a fault. If he lost at a game, he would play it until he mastered it. If he scored anything less than perfect on a test at school, he would deprive himself of all extra-curricular activities until his grade was brought up. His English mother had often worried that his intensity, his seriousness was unhealthy, but his Japanese father only had praise for his desire for perfection.

It was this tenacity that led Heero Yuy, eldest son of Nakahara and Madeline Yuy, back to Duo's house that night. After their last, disastrous rendezvous, Heero had returned to his hotel to think. When Duo had shoved him out the door with not even a kiss of farewell, Heero had been torn apart. Perhaps it had been too soon to tell Duo of his love for him, and he reasoned that if their roles had been reversed, he would have acted as Duo had, ending their affair as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Four hours later, Heero had paper strewn about him on the desk and the bed behind him. Lists of the pros and cons of bringing Duo to Tokyo, of Heero moving to Chicago, or of them living apart and seeing each other only once or twice a year. Of all the choices, the last seemed to upset the status quo the least, but it didn't matter, none of the choices were acceptable.

In his frustration, Heero crumpled the pages before him and threw them into the waste bin. It was ten o'clock, and though he didn't have any answers, he knew one thing... he loved Duo. And so, Heero found himself standing on Duo's front porch once again.

He rang the bell twice, a testament to his impatience, but there was no response. The house was dark and Heero feared he would have to break in to gain entry. Fortunately, a neighbor was watching and took pity on him.

"Duo's gone out," the middle-aged woman called to him.

The voice startled him, and then Heero's eyes adjusted to the figure sitting on a nearly identical front porch just twenty feet away. "He's out?" he repeated.

"A car picked him up about a half hour ago. Looked like he was dressed to go clubbing," she said.

"Clubbing?" Heero asked, unfamiliar with the term.

"Sure. You can probably find him at Lou's."

Heero took a deep breath. Damn, that complicated things.

"Thank you," he said, bowing, and then headed down the porch steps.

"Aren't you the boy who was here earlier?" the woman asked.

Heero froze and then turned to her in the darkness. "Yes. I was picking up a package from Lou..."

The woman chuckled. "Never heard Duo called that before."

The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. If this woman had noticed him going into the house and not coming out until this morning... He shook off the dread that threatened to engulf him. Even though he wanted to know if she had told Lou what she had seen, Heero didn't want to play her games.

"Good night," he said and headed off down the walk to hail a taxi.

And so, Heero found himself standing at the front door of the club, giving the bouncer his name and waiting for word from inside whether he could enter or not. A couple of anxious minutes ticked by before the door swung open and he was welcomed.

The mood of the club was much different tonight, different than he had seen it during pre-open hours and when it had been pulsing with the energy of a full house of young club goers. Tonight the club was about half full with patrons crowded around the bar, in booths or on the perimeter of the dance floor. About a half dozen couples were dancing, but Duo was not among them. Heero pushed through the club, searching for Duo. After a couple of inquiries, he was pointed to a booth in the corner -- a booth hidden from the glare of the psychedelic lights and the booming dance beat.

Heero approached the booth with a pounding heart. He had no idea what he would say when he saw Duo, he just knew that he had to see him again. In seconds, he was standing in front of the table, his eyes adjusting to the near darkness of this secluded corner, and then focusing painfully on the sight of Duo sitting on Lou's lap. Duo's face was heavily made up with dark eyeliner and pink lip gloss. He wore black patent leather shorts, a sleeveless, high-necked black spandex shirt, leather wrist cuffs -- to cover the bruises, no doubt -- and polished black combat boots. This metamorphosis of the Duo he had made love to made Heero's stomach knot. His eyes met his lover's, but then Duo looked away, burying his face in Lou's neck.

The fact that several of Lou's business associates were seated around the table snorting lines of cocaine was quickly disregarded. All Heero cared about was Duo.

"Mr. Yuy, I wasn't expecting you this evening," Lou said, noting Duo's sudden shyness.

"I-I'm leaving in the morning," Heero said, now looking directly at Lou.

The man wound his arm around Duo's waist more tightly. "Did you change your mind about opening a nightclub in Chicago?"

"No... I mean, I'm not sure," Heero stammered, his mind blank as his belly whirled hot with jealousy.

Lou's eyes narrowed. "You seem... distracted, Mr. Yuy," he said, pushing Duo off his lap. "Be a good boy, Duo, and get the box of Cubans from my office," he said, patting Duo on the rear.

"Sure, Daddy," Duo said, as he walked away, keeping his eyes to the floor as he swooshed his hips seductively the way Lou like him to do.

Though his body showed disinterest, Duo's heart hammered as a foolish hope rose within him. It was late the evening before Heero would be leaving... they had parted badly... maybe Heero was here to sweep him off his feet?

Stupid dreams, Duo thought as he sauntered toward the club's office. It couldn't work, Heero had said so himself. Japan was no place for a gay relationship and besides, Heero had just gotten an eyeful of what Duo was really about. No self-respecting young man would try to make a life with a whore.

"Have a seat, Mr. Yuy," Lou said, gesturing for his colleagues to move over.

Heero sat down, hesitantly.

"Would you care to join us?" Lou asked, nodding to the lines on the table.

Heero shook his head.

"Smart boy. It's a nasty habit," Lou said, chuckling.

"Eh, Lou," one of the men spoke up. "I'll give you a thousand dollars if you let me have Duo for the night."

Lou laughed.

"A thousand dollars and you can watch," the man added.

"Five thousand and you can do whatever you want with him," Lou countered.

The other men at the table whooped and slapped the man making the proposition on the back. "Go on Charlie, accept, you know Lou doesn't like to share."

Heero averted his eyes as the bile rose in his throat. How could these men casually talk about whoring Duo out for the night?

"Excuse me," he said, standing and thinking that the Mafia bosses in Chicago must have very low standards. "Where's the restroom?"

The men quieted, staring at the stranger with suspicion. They didn't like their fun interrupted.

"Over there," Lou said, nodding toward the far wall.

Heero couldn't get away from the booth fast enough. As he approached the restrooms, he spotted Duo coming out of Lou's office, a box of cigars in one hand. Heero stepped in front of him.

"Do you know what they're doing over there?" Heero asked, dispensing with the greetings.

"Yeah, drugs... the stupid fucks," Duo said. He tried to act cool, as if it didn't mean anything having Heero standing so close, even though it made his head spin.

"Not that," Heero said. "Lou's just sold you for five thousand dollars."

"So what's the big deal?" Duo asked, shaking his head. He didn't like the idea of having to go home with one of those dope heads, but he really didn't have a choice.

"No one should treat you like that!" Heero exclaimed, angry at Duo's nonchalance.

"How else should they treat me? I'm a whore, Heero, or hadn't you figured that out yet?"

The challenging tone infuriated Heero. How could the man he loved think so little of himself? He let his eyes rake over Duo's body, assessing it as though he might make a purchase as well. Duo's outfit was very provocative and snug in all the right places.

"You're certainly dressed like a whore..." Heero said.

"You bastard!" Duo cried out angrily, slapping Heero hard across the cheek. "You're no better then those horny old men!"

"You don't want me to be any better," Heero shot back. "Because then you might have to care." Heero grabbed Duo by the wrist, pulling him close and holding firm. He suddenly felt panicked as he realized things weren't turning out the way he had hoped. "Are you listening to me?" he asked, angrily.

Duo's eyes went wide at Heero's intensity, and then even wider as he looked over Heero's shoulder to the looming figure standing behind him.


"W-what?" Heero asked, but barely had the question formed when he felt a large hand grip his shoulder.

"What's going on here?" Lou asked as he spun Heero around, causing Heero to release Duo's wrist.

"It's nothing, Daddy," Duo answered, smiling nervously. "I've got your cigars..."

"What are you two talking about?" Lou demanded.

He now stood before Heero with his fists on his hips. The man was very tall and very broad, something that Heero had noticed before, but had not felt intimidated by until this moment.

"Nothing, Daddy," Duo repeated.

"I want him to answer!" Lou shouted, giving Duo a hard look and then focusing blazing eyes on Heero. "If you think you can do business with Duo directly to save money, you're very wrong. You'll negotiate with me or not at all."

Heero's eyes widened. For a brief moment he had thought Lou had found them out, but it seemed he was only concerned that Heero might sleep with Duo and not pay for the privilege.

"This is a private conversation," Heero said, raising his chin.

Lou's eyes narrowed. "Nothing's private when you're on my property. Now if you want to continue your conversation with Duo you'll pay for the right."

"I won't degrade him by paying to speak with him," Heero said, defiantly.

"Heero," Duo said, reaching out to touch the young man's arm.

"What's this?" Lou asked, looking back and forth between the two young men. "Then it's true...?"

Lou took Duo by the arm and pulled him toward him roughly. "The old bitch was right!"

"No, Daddy, I don't know what you're talking about!" Duo exclaimed as tears formed in his eyes. The grip on his arm was brutal.

"If you want to live to see tomorrow you'd better leave, Jap boy," Lou said to Heero.

"Let him go," Heero said, his eyes narrowing as anger swelled within him.

"You don't seem to realize the gift I've just given you. You should be dead right now," he snarled. "Duo belongs to me!"

"He belongs to no one," Heero said in a flat, but firm tone.

Lou released Duo's arm, shoving him down to the floor in the process. "Have it your way," he said, and without further warning he took a swing at the much shorter man.

Heero stepped back, feeling the whoosh of the fist as it missed his face by a fraction of an inch. Lou swung again. This time Heero turned and kicked, making contact with Lou's thigh.

"You little shit!" the man yelled as he lunged forward to wrestle Heero to the ground.

But Heero was fast. His T'ai Chi Ch'uan training made him limber and quick. He ducked and spun away from the larger man's grasp, and then delivered a punch to Lou's stomach. The blow did little damage other than making the man angrier.

Duo slowly got to his feet, watching the scene with wide eyes. Were they really fighting over him? Well, Lou was fighting for dominance and property, but Heero... could he be defending Duo's honor?

As fists and legs flung out before him, Duo's only thoughts were of Heero. The young man was fast and well trained in the martial arts, but Lou was meaner and larger and had more to lose. Then the odds got worse as two of Lou's bouncers responded to the commotion. Outnumbered, Heero was cornered and then grabbed and held from behind. Lou took a great deal of pleasure in punching Heero in the stomach and then watching him crumple to the floor.

Duo cried out and rushed forward to comfort his lover, but Lou turned and swung an arm at him, striking him and sending him back onto the floor. By now the crowd in the club had formed around the scene, making it even more important for Lou to save face.

Heero looked up from his kneeling position on the floor. He would be lucky to get out of here in one piece. He held up his hand to fend off another attack, but Lou grabbed him by the collar of his suit jacket and yanked him up to his feet.

"You're a dead man, Yuy," Lou said, venomously. "I won't kill you in my club, but you'll never be able to sleep with your eyes closed again."

"No," Duo said with a sob. He knew from experience that Lou never made idle threats. Heero was as good as dead.

Lou shoved Heero back to the floor, his knees hitting hard, sending a shooting pain through his legs. He wasn't down for long, Lou's bouncers took him by the arms and dragged him from the club, tossing him out onto the sidewalk.

As his ass hit the pavement one of the men shouted and pointed a gun at him, "Say your prayers, dead man."

Heero watched as the door slammed behind them. The club's neon sign shone brightly above. Dead or alive, what did it matter? He couldn't have the man he loved.

Inside the club, Lou stood at the center of an adoring crowd, his prowess and his position reaffirmed. When Duo stepped forward, looking as though he might go after Heero, Lou grabbed him by the shoulder and whirled him around.

"Little slut," Lou said, gripping Duo's arm hard. He leaned close to Duo and said, "Not getting enough cock, huh? I can arrange for you to get it 24 hours a day, starting right now." He pulled Duo toward his office.

"No, Lou!" Duo said, afraid. Lou's ego and his adrenaline were pumped full right now and there was no telling what he might do.

Lou didn't acknowledge the protest as he opened the office door and pushed Duo inside. Duo stumbled in; the cigars scattered on the floor. He turned and looked up at the large man before him. "Lou, you don't want to do this."

"You're to call me Daddy!" came Lou's angry response, as he hauled Duo to his feet and shoved him onto the couch.

"Please, Daddy, don't..." Duo began to say, and then Lou backhanded him across the face. The blow turned Duo's face away and burned like a brand. Duo had never seen Lou so angry before... it frightened him.

"You're more of a whore than I gave you credit for," the man said as he unbuckled his belt.

"No, Daddy, please don't... not now," Duo pleaded again, holding his hand to his cheek.

"I'm going to teach you and your boyfriend a lesson."

"It wasn't Heero's fault... I seduced him," Duo said, hoping to draw Lou's anger away from Heero.

Lou only laughed. "I'm giving him an hour's head start. I think that's generous under the circumstances."

Duo felt a heaviness in his gut. Lou was really going through with this, and knowing Lou he would probably even call in a couple of favors to make sure the job was done right.

"Heero's the son of Yuy International's president," Duo said, trying to reason with him. "The Japanese government will investigate..." He was unable to finish as he was struck in the face by Lou's open hand.

"I've given you everything... a house, clothes, whatever you've wanted and this is how you repay me? There's nothing you can do to save your lover. Now turn around..."

Duo tensed as Lou gripped his biceps painfully and forced him to turn around, pushing him down onto the couch.

"Let go of me! You're hurting me!" Duo cried out.

"I'll do what I please," Lou growled back.

Just then a knock sounded on the door.

"This better be important or you're a dead man!" Lou shouted, looking at the door angrily.

"Sorry, Mr. Almati, but it's the cops," a man's voice said, muffled through the closed door. "They heard about the commotion and they need to talk to you."

"Fuck," Lou said, annoyed. "This'll have to wait," he told Duo as he got up from the couch and righted himself.

Duo sagged against the thick cushions.

Before leaving the room, Lou turned to Duo once more saying, "You'd better be ready for me when I get back or I won't just have Yuy killed, I'll have his head brought to you on a platter!"

When the door closed behind Lou, Duo sat up, wild-eyed and shivering. Life as he knew it was over. After tonight he'd be lucky if he slept in the same bed twice... and with the same man. The tears that had been forming now fell freely as Duo put his face in his hands and cried. This was all his fault. He should have never slept with Heero, but not for his own sake. Heero had been hurt twice over... first by having his love pushed away and then by endangering his life.

"I'm sorry, Heero," Duo said aloud, wishing that he could apologize in person. I'll do what I can to stop them from hurting you, he thought, brushing away the tears.

A fierce protectiveness washed over him. Even though his own life was shit, maybe he could help Heero, protect him from Lou's wrath. But there wasn't much time to think... Lou would be back any minute. Duo wondered what he could do to strike at Lou, to hold him immobile while he slipped away into the night and Heero returned unharmed to Japan.

His eyes settled on Lou's desk. The heavy cherry wood furniture gave the impression that a powerful man sat behind it. But Duo had an advantage over that powerful man, he knew his secrets. Lou had arrogantly conducted illegal business in full view of Duo.

The young man rose from the couch and looked to the door, his blood pulsing loud in his ears. He reached over and locked the door, buying himself an extra minute should Lou return too soon. He went to the desk, but not having a key took a letter opener from the top drawer. With trembling hands, he worked the lock on one of the drawers, but it didn't open.

"Damn," he said in frustration as he began to look around for something else to try the lock.

He grabbed a paper clip, but again no luck. Then, searching through the top drawer again, he came across a Swiss army knife. By now his hands were trembling almost uncontrollably. Lou would be back any second. Fumbling with the knife he found the nail file and fit it easily into the lock. Almost instantly the door unlocked and he pulled it open. Without hesitation, Duo reached inside and grabbed three ledgers. He didn't need to open them to know their contents... one contained a list of every person who paid Lou protection money. That book he set aside. It was the other two books that were worth Duo's weight in gold. At first glance, these books were identical, but Duo knew better. One held the actual earnings of Lou's clubs while the other was the doctored version of those earnings. The doctored ledger, in Lou's own handwriting, was shown to the mob each quarter for accounting purposes. Lou was skimming off the top from the mob, and with these ledgers in his hands, Duo essentially held the noose around Lou's neck.

"He has to let me go now," he said, and found a piece of paper and a pen to jot down a hasty note.

Despite the safety the possession of these ledgers could give him, Duo still needed to get away from this place without being seen. His hand worked quickly, writing a warning to Lou. "I have the books," it read. "You know which ones. If you come after me, or if you hurt Heero or my family in any way, these books will be sent to your bosses."

Duo didn't actually know the names of the men Lou worked for, but he prayed that Lou didn't know that. Hopefully, just the fact that he had the books and might possibly hand them over would be enough to stop Lou's vengeance.

God, I hope this works, Duo thought.

He hurried across the room to his backpack and stuffed the ledgers inside. Now he had to get out of the club. With a deep breath, Duo unlocked the office door and poked his head outside. As he'd feared, one of Lou's bodyguards was standing guard.

"Hey, Joey," Duo said, casually despite his legs trembling beneath him.

The man nodded. "Lou told me you're to stay in his office."

"Yeah, I'm waiting for him," Duo lied. He looked the burly guard over, remembering a brief encounter they had had many months ago. "I just gotta take a whiz," he said, posing seductively as his eyes raked over the guard.

"Nah, Lou said not to let you leave this room."

"Oh, come on, Joey. You know it ain't good for a guy to hold it in. It'll just take me a minute and then I'll be back."

Joey shook his head.

"Lou won't know... and I'll make it worth your while," Duo added desperately.

The guard's eyes drifted over Duo's body. They had managed a little pleasuring some months ago and no one had found out. He had wanted more, but this was the first Duo had offered since then.

"Okay, but if you're not back here in one minute I'm coming in for ya," Joey said, hoping Duo planned to lure him into the restroom for a quickie.

"Thanks, man," Duo grinned and then winked as he slinked past.

At the restroom door, Duo turned back to see if Joey was watching. He was. Damn, that complicated things. He was hoping to sneak out the back door, but now he had to pretend to be using the restroom. He went in and looked around, thankfully there was no one there.

How was he going to get out? He could wait until Joey wasn't looking and slip past to the back door, but he only had a minute. With the look he had given the bodyguard, the man would be waiting for the chance to get that free blow job.

Duo's eyes scanned the light blue tiled room and cringed. He had wanted Lou to put some money into re-decorating the bathrooms, but the man had always refused, claiming the added expense added nothing to the club's appeal. It amazed Duo that Lou's clubs made money at all with that attitude, but they did, even with filthy bathrooms that looked like they belonged in a 1960s gas station.

Shaking off his frustration, Duo saw his only way out... a half window above the sink at the far end of the room. If the sink would hold his weight he just might make it.

With his backpack slung snuggly over his shoulder, he hoisted himself up onto the sink in a squatting position. When the sink groaned under him, he froze. His heart was beating wildly in his chest, but with no further movement under his weight it seemed the sink would hold. Reaching up he unlatched the window and pushed, but it didn't budge.

"Damn it," he said, feeling completely trapped. He had to get out and quick if he and Heero were going to live to see another day.

Maybe he should've invited Joey into the restroom with him? An opportunity might've presented itself to dart out of the room and through the back exit. But the thought of servicing one more man made his stomach turn. If he survived this night, he would have to find a new way to make a living.

With the blood pulsing in his ears, he tried to listen, to be aware of anyone coming, but it didn't matter, he just had to act fast. Desperate, Duo banged at the window with the heel of his hand and pushed again. This time he felt some play in its hinges. Another bang and push, and the window lifted enough to put his hands under it and open it all the way.

A rush of warm night air poured into the room, making Duo realize he wasn't sweating because the club was so hot, but because he was so damn nervous. The club was actually quite cool from the high-powered air conditioner humming behind the building in the alley. Duo poked his head out the window. Unfortunately the air conditioning unit was not under the window. He would have to drop six-feet to the ground.

"The first step's a dousey," Duo chuckled. "But it's the first step of my new life."

With that simple encouragement, Duo maneuvered his small body through the window, legs first. With a pounding heart, he clung to the sill as his legs dangled down, and he took one last look back into the restroom. Just then, Joey came walking in.

"Hey!" the guard called out.

"Shit," Duo said, letting go of the sill and dropping to the ground. He landed on his feet, dropping into a roll and knocking his elbow and knee hard on the blacktop.

Joey stuck his head out the window. "What the hell are you doing?" he asked, and then ducked back inside.

Though dazed and smarting from the fall, Duo knew he had to get moving. Somehow he pulled himself up, thanking God he hadn't broken anything. With some effort he moved forward, practically stumbling all the way down the alley as he got the feel of his legs under him. Distantly, he heard Joey yelling at him, but he didn't look back. He just kept running, clinging tightly to his ticket to freedom -- the pack on his shoulder.

He was still alive. Ten hours had passed since Lou had threatened his life, and yet Heero Yuy still walked and breathed. He had taken a circuitous route back to his hotel, trying to shake anyone who followed -- if they followed. The feeling of being pursued, hunted in a strange city kept the hairs on the back of Heero's neck on end and his heart rate up. He had met the eyes of every person on the street, wanting to look death straight in the face when it came, but it had not. He couldn't explain why he was still alive, but that mattered little to him, knowing that he had left Duo behind at that club.

All night long, Heero tortured himself by reliving moments with Duo. Everything from ecstasy to rejection played in his mind and slipped into his dreams as his weary body finally succumbed to sleep. The next morning he was surprised to wake unharmed in his hotel room. He quickly showered, dressed and packed his suitcase.

Standing in front of the hotel, he double checked his Japan Air Lines ticket and sighed. In two hours he would be 35,000 feet above the Earth and speeding away from this place forever. When the taxi pulled up he got in and told the driver to take him to the airport.

"There's a water main break down the street here," the driver said. "Gonna have to take Michigan Avenue."

Heero nodded, not caring what route the driver took so long as he got him to the airport on time.

Traveling down Michigan Avenue, Heero's heart started pounding. He recognized landmark buildings and realized he was only a couple of blocks from the Art Institute. Impulsively, he checked his watch. The museum had opened fifteen minutes ago. Was there time for one last sentimental tour of the Impressionists' gallery?

"Driver, I've changed my mind," Heero said, not believing what he was doing. "I want you to drop me at the Art Institute."

"What about your flight?" the man asked.

"I've got time," Heero answered, feeling a fierce desperation grip his heart.

Despite his continued fear that he needed to get out of town before the mob got him, Heero got out of the taxi across the street from the museum. Surely he wouldn't be gunned down at a public museum. With his small suitcase in hand, he crossed the street and took the museum's stone steps two at a time.

Inside, he paid his admission and followed his heart upstairs to the Impressionists' gallery. A part of him believed he would find Duo there, sitting on the floor, sketching away. The image made him smile, but as he came into the gallery, eyes scanning, his heart sank. Duo was not there.

Heero's lips trembled. He had yet to cry over the loss of his lover, but he was very close to crying now in this very public place. He turned to the wall, as if examining one of the masterpieces, and clenched his fists tightly. Despite his best efforts, tears fell down his cheeks. Even with years of T'ai Chi Chu'an training and his Japanese upbringing, Heero could not stop the rush of emotion that was flooding him. He needed Duo in his life and coming here had been his last hope.

If I could turn back time, Heero thought as he wiped mercilessly at the tears. Please... let him be here when I turn back around.

The foolish wish only produced another disappointment. Duo was not here. The young man with the beautiful long hair was gone from his life... hopefully safe and happy... but gone.

Angry at the fates for toying with his heart, Heero looked down at his watch only to see his time was up. If he didn't leave now, he might miss his plane, and right now home was sounding very good.

He descended the stone staircase to the first floor and was immediately overrun by a group of schoolchildren. He tried to wade through them, but many were holding hands as instructed by their chaperones, and he was swept along toward another exhibit gallery.

By the time the group entered the Asian art gallery, Heero was able to break free. He turned to retrace his steps and head out of the museum, but noticed a sign for an exhibition of original prints by the famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. Seeing the familiar name brought some calm to Heero's frazzled nerves. He stepped into the gallery and sighed. What a blessing to find this little piece of home here in Chicago.

Looking at his watch again, Heero decided he could give himself ten minutes. He walked slowly, stopping in front of each woodblock print, admiring the master's skill of composition, color and pure artistry. As he made his way around the room, he kept hoping he'd find Hokusai's most famous work, "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa." He had no idea if it was here, but his heart raced with anticipation as he looked to the next print, and the next.

At last, his eyes and his heart leapt as he saw the blue and white foaming wave. He felt joy, relief and sadness all at once. The tidal wave seemed to be about to swallow the mountain in the distance, surely a metaphor for the tumult of his own life, the mountain his very soul about to be drowned. He stepped back, aghast at the print's power over him and how something so beautiful could cut so deep.

"Duo..." he said, in little more than a whisper, and then turned, self-consciously, to see if anyone had heard.

The gallery had been empty when he entered, or so he thought, but now his eyes fell onto a curled form, sitting on the floor across the room. He blinked. Was that young man wearing black combat boots?

"Duo?" he asked, hesitantly as he crossed the room.

The bowed head came up slowly, revealing large, blue eyes ringed with smudged eyeliner. "Heero?" Duo asked, rubbing at his eyes as they opened. "What a strange dream," he mumbled as he stared at the slight figure coming toward him. His lover had magically appeared and was coming for him just as he had wished.

"You're not dreaming," Heero said, kneeling in front of him. "At least... I don't think you are." Heero smiled, throwing caution aside as he pulled Duo into his arms, hugging him tightly against him. "I knew I'd find you here."

Duo gasped at the fierceness of Heero's embrace. "You're alive," he said, breathless and still only half believing. And yet a smile curved his lips as the reality of Heero holding him overpowered his senses.

They held each other for a long moment before Heero pulled back and looked at Duo. Now he realized Duo was wearing the same clothes from the night before and his makeup was streaked as though he'd been crying.

"What happened last night?" Heero asked, wiping at the black smudge under Duo's left eye.

"I got out of there... for good," Duo said, too exhausted to explain his escape or how he had wandered the streets all night afraid for his life. Nothing mattered now that Heero was back. "Damn, it's good to see you."

"I was on my way to the airport and I had a feeling..." Heero's words drifted off as he brushed aside a lock of Duo's hair. "I thought Lou was going to have me killed."

"He was, but I found a way to keep us both alive," Duo said, picking up his backpack and unzipping it. "I stole these accounting records from his desk. The mob wouldn't be very happy with him if they saw these."

Heero took one of the ledgers and flipped through it. He nearly laughed. "You mean I'm still alive because of this?"

"I think so."

"You did this for me?" Heero asked.

"For us," Duo said, grinning.

Heero shook his head in awe. "After yesterday, the way you pushed me out of your house and the way you acted at the club, I thought..."

Duo pressed his hand to Heero's lips. "I'm sorry," he said, looking longingly into Heero's eyes. "I was afraid of what was happening between us. We both knew it couldn't go anywhere and..."

Now Heero pressed his hand to Duo's lips, and gently pulled Duo's hand away. "Something was happening between us?" he asked as though he really didn't know.

"Yeah, something special," Duo said, as Heero's hand slipped from his mouth.

"Something more than a one night stand?"

Duo's eyes widened. "You know it meant more to me than that."

"Do I?" Heero asked, skeptically. Certainly Duo hadn't made him pay for that night, but for all he knew, it meant little more to Duo than a nice way to spend an evening. "You know how I feel, Duo. I've fallen in love with you, but as far as I know you only think what we had was something special."

Duo looked away. It hurt that Heero doubted his feelings, but then, Duo had been very careful not to reveal too much.

"You don't love me?" Heero asked, bravely as tears welled in his eyes.

"The truth is," Duo began, choked and barely above a whisper, "I've loved you since that afternoon here at the museum." He looked back at Heero and trembled as he saw the tears in the other young man's eyes. "I'm in love with everything about you. But what's the point?"

Heero smiled at hearing that Duo loved him, but he couldn't understand the young man's hesitation. "What do you mean? What's the point?"

"Don't you have a plane to catch?" Duo asked, bitterly.

Heero sat back on his heels. "Do you really think I could leave you now?"

Duo looked puzzled. "Yeah, maybe," he said, now finding it hard to look into Heero's eyes. "You've got obligations to your family."

"You're right. They are expecting me to return home, but maybe I can extend my business trip."

"Indefinitely?" Duo asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No, but it's a start," Heero said.

"Then you're serious about us staying together?"

"Yes," Heero said in earnest. "I want to buy you that house by the ocean you've always wanted."

Duo scooted back on the floor, distancing himself. "Just because we're in love doesn't mean you own me," Duo said as his cheeks reddened.

"Of course not," Heero said, resting his hands on Duo's knees. "I just thought..."

"You thought wrong," Duo snapped, defensively.

Just then several museum visitors came into the gallery, forcing the two young men apart. Duo got to his feet quickly, slinging the backpack over his shoulders. The small group of women stared at his unusual clothes and then eyeballed Heero who was slowly getting to his feet as well. Heero and Duo walked out of the gallery then, into the main corridor, and then Duo turned to Heero, his eyes ablaze.

"I'm not looking for another sugar daddy," he said, in a low voice. "I've gotta be my own man now."

Heero smiled inwardly. He liked the fire in those violet eyes and liked that Duo was telling him that he was leaving that life behind.

"Do you think you could be your own man with me at your side?" Heero asked.

The lightness, yet sincerity in Heero's voice caught Duo off guard. He wanted to be angry, wanted for some strange reason to keep Heero at a distance, but Heero wasn't going to let him.

"Then you understand how I need to make my own way?" Duo asked, a little suspicious.

"Yes, and I respect that. You told me about your dream to be an artist, and I believe that you can."

Duo smiled. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Heero said, repeating the slang. "And I've wanted to be your dance partner ever since I saw you on that dance floor at the club."

"My dance partner?" Duo asked, chuckling. "Wow, that's romantic."

With the hum of museum visitor's and tour groups around them, they stared into each other's eyes. Each still not quite believing that the other was here. And yet, even with their feelings clear neither was quite sure what to do next. But then, quite suddenly, Duo took Heero by the hand and pulled him toward him for a quick, public kiss. Heero was surprised to feel warmth in his cheeks.

"You're blushing," Duo said in a whisper, and then led Heero out of the museum hand-in-hand.

"Where are we going?" Heero asked as they descended the museum's front steps.

"To the airport," Duo said, as though it were completely obvious.

"Wait," Heero said, bringing them to a halt at the bottom of the steps by yanking on Duo's hand. "We can't go to Japan." "I know, I don't have a passport," Duo chuckled.

"Then where?" Heero asked, his heart pounding with the ambiguity of their situation.

"Anywhere but here... as long as we stay in the good old U.S. of A.," Duo said, as he hailed a taxi. "And you've got twenty minutes to decide."

"Why twenty minutes?"

"That's how long it'll take us to get to the airport," Duo said and laughed as the cab pulled up to the curb. "Now get in, lover boy," he said with a wink.

Heero shook his head, laughing as he ducked into the taxi behind the braid. Life was going to be very good from now on.

As they held hands in the backseat of the cab, an image played in Heero's mind... the image of he and Duo living in a house overlooking the sea. He hadn't been kidding when he had told Duo that's what he wanted to do. And that's what he still intended on doing, buying Duo that dream house he had always wanted. And Heero Yuy could afford it. Though his salary at Yuy International was not exorbitant, it was sizeable and he had been frugal. Now he had a reason to spend all those saved yen, turn them into something in which to be proud and something that would make Duo even happier than he was at this moment.

"Hokusai's 'Great Wave'," Heero said as he caught a last glimpse of Lake Michigan.

"What?" Duo asked, peering out Heero's window.

"The Japanese block print in that gallery. Did you see it?"

Duo shook his head. He had gone into the gallery seeking comfort, thinking that being surrounded by Japanese art would make the loss of Heero easier. Instead, it had made him feel worse and he had sat down on the exhibition hall floor and cried.

"The 'Great Wave' has always been my favorite by Hokusai, but in the past I only saw Mount Fuji as being swallowed by the tidal wave," Heero began to explain.

Duo nodded though he wasn't sure where Heero's thoughts were leading.

"Today, when I first walked into the gallery I felt the same way... no, I felt worse," he admitted as he turned more fully to Duo and caressed the young man's hand. "But after finding you and learning how you feel, I know that wave isn't going to drown that mountain... it's going to carry it on its back."

Duo reached over, putting his palm to Heero's forehead. "You all right?" he asked, thinking a fever was making Heero speak so strangely.

"I'm fine," Heero said, smiling. He took Duo's hand from his head and kissed its palm. "Don't you see? We're not going to drown, Duo. We're going to make it, and I know just where we can go."

The next day, having followed Heero's revelation, they found themselves at a Yuy International resort -- this one on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands, nearly halfway between North America and Japan. The resort was a great excuse for Heero to remain in the United States and with some persuasion he hoped to make this his and Duo's permanent home by asking his father to allow him to manage the resort. But that would all be worked out in the coming days. The priority of the moment was getting down to the beach.

Dropping their meager belongings in their hotel room, Duo and Heero opened their patio door and inhaled the mild ocean breeze. Without a word, they looked at one another and smiled, and then took each other's hand and walked the path that led to the resort's private beach. They were still dressed in their trip clothes... Heero in his suit pants and now just the undershirt having taken off the shirt, and Duo in the jeans and t-shirt Heero had lent him, and no shoes.

The sand felt warm and soft under Duo's feet as they made their way down to the water's edge. He couldn't help but continually look over at Heero and smile. He had learned a great deal about him in the last day, much of it from their long conversation on the flight over, but also from Heero's determination that they be together. Duo was in awe that anyone would go to such lengths to be with him, and even after they both confessed to having some fears for the future, Duo still knew that everything would be all right, because they loved each other.

It was the perfect compromise for two young men from different worlds. In Oahu they had great hopes of making a world just for themselves. And now, as they reached the point where the land met the sea, Duo sat down with Heero kneeling next to him. They looked out onto the vast ocean, contemplating the distance they had traveled together both in miles and in emotions.

"It's so big," Duo said, suddenly feeling small on this island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

"It has to be," Heero said as he deftly pulled the tie from Duo's hair. "It holds all our hopes for the future."

Duo looked up at him and smiled. "An ocean of dreams... that's beautiful."

"You're the one who's beautiful," Heero said, watching as Duo's chestnut braid unraveled and blew in the warm, tropical breeze.

A pink blush colored Duo's cheeks as he gave a little laugh. "Flattery will get you everywhere," he said and tilted his head up in invitation.

Heero let himself be pulled to Duo like the tide and was quickly swept away by the taste of sweet lips. The kiss lingered, neither young man willing to be the first to pull away. So much was written in that lazy, hungry kiss... promises, hopes, desire and especially love. This was the first kiss of their new life together. And now with the pact sealed, they slowly pulled apart, breathing in each other's scent, and turned to face the future... together.

The End
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