Tanjoubi - a birthday fic for Jenn
by Kea

Heavy boots trudged up the narrow stairway, each one leaving a faint, muddy imprint behind. Heero raised a hand to flick raindrops out of his bangs before the sneaky droplets managed to breach the barrier of his face. It was a cold, rainy day on Earth, the skies generous in their liquid gifts, one of the reasons he had walked home in the mess. It was genuine, it was real; no artificial shower generated by a stale-aired colony. It carried the true scents of dirt, grass, engine oil and city to him like an offering, wafting on the wind the scents of life.

He nearly laughed at his inner ruminations. Nine months ago, thoughts like that would have never entered his mind. Then again, nine months ago he had never heard of people like Coleridge, or Yeats, or Byron. There just wasn't room in a soldier's mind for poetry.

He paused at the stoop of his loft apartment, shifting his backpack as he bent over to unlace his boots. It wasn't necessity for which he divested them, or the squishy mud defiantly clinging to the soles; rather, some long-buried sense of propriety in his cultural heritage. Step inside, shoes come off.

He shivered at the temperature change when he stepped inside until his body adjusted to the fresh warmth; no one ever paid to heat the hallways. His socks were wet, and one at a time he peeled them from his feet, sliding the chilled extremities into a pair of slippers. "Tadaima,"[1] he called out, another ritualistic remnant of a custom he barely remembered.

"Okaeri nasai," [1] a breathless voice called down from the elevated bedroom. "You're early." Duo's head popped up over the landing, peering critically down at his dampened lover. "And wet."

Heero shrugged, hanging up first his backpack and then his sodden windbreaker on the coat tree next to the door. "Weatherman lied again, it seems. Good thing you changed your major from meteorology." Stripped to an off-white turtleneck and black jeans, he padded towards the living room area, flopping down on the couch. "Speaking of early...aren't you supposed to be in class now?"

"Nope." Nimbly, Duo climbed up onto the flat, four-inch-wide railing that surrounded the upstairs. "Cancelled." He flung his black-clad body off the edge, grasping the custom-installed floor-to-ceiling fire pole and sliding down it to the main level. "I hate that class, anyways. 'The Social and Intellectual History of Europe'." He snorted derisively. "All I'm getting out of it is that Europeans were neither intellectual nor social." [2]

Grasping the high back of the couch, he leaned forwards, nearly inverting himself with toes pointed towards the ceiling, until his warm lips met Heero's cool ones. "Missed you," Duo said softly, hyacinth-hued eyes scant inches from Heero's. "Wait here, don't come in the kitchen." He frowned, crossing his eyes at the water droplet now attached to his bangs, and shook his head like a dog to dispel it.

Cracking a grin at Heero, Duo pushed off the back of the couch with his hands in a Trowa-like gymnastic move and trotted into the kitchen. Temptation pricked at Heero, wondering what exactly Duo was concocting in his Cauldron of Evil. Which wasn't an entirely accurate statement; Duo turned out to be quite skilled in cooking, once he had enough food and knowledge at his disposal. Silently, he started to rise, hoping to catch a quick peek.

A kitchen towel whapped him in the head. "That means no peeking, Yuy. Dry yourself off, ne?"

Momentarily defeated, Heero sank back down, rubbing his hair with the towel. "Omae o korosu," he growled, trying not to laugh. He didn't want to hold it in anymore. Laughter felt far better than anger; besides, he hadn't meant those words in a long time when he said them to Duo. Nor could he remember if he ever truly meant them at all.

"Promises, promises." Apparently, he hadn't fooled Duo a bit. This...banter, this playfulness...it all felt so right. He'd thought Duo was crazy when he suggested that they take a year or two off from the Preventers and go to college like normal boys. Surely, there could be nothing of value his training failed to cover, nothing he had failed to learn on his own.

That was before poetry. Creative writing. Art history. Bowling. Life. Duo.

Kami-sama, how had he lived without him all those years? How had he believed himself strong when he was unable, or unwilling, to feel?

Without warning, all the lights in the apartment snapped out, casting the loft into total blackness. Heero shot up on the sofa, body tensed, the soldier in him returning. "Duo, status?" he snapped out automatically.

"At ease, soldier boy." Duo's voice held that almost-chuckle he'd once found maddening. Now, its magic was irresistible, and he held to it like a tether in the swimming blackness, as though Duo's voice was the only way out of the depths of his old life, suddenly, starkly symbolized by the darkened room. Kami-sama, if he was deconstructing the meaning of his emotional reactions like one of the poems in class... "I killed the lights."

The voice had moved closer, even if Heero hadn't heard one footfall. He'd always envied Duo's ability to ghost through darkness as though part of it; his braided lover had impossibly good night vision. "What can I say, I think last semester's drama class rubbed off on me?" Nearly in front of him now, Heero noted from the sound of his voice, close enough to touch. He heard the slight give of the coffee table as Duo settled his backside on top of it, facing him. "Close your eyes."

"This is absurd, Duo, the whole place is dark." With the adrenaline rush passed, Heero's curiosity--and by association, temper--started getting the better of him. There were still a few constants left in the universe.

"Close 'em, or I don't tell you how I rerouted the fuse box."

Heero clamped teeth over the throaty growl. He could best Duo in computer hacking, but when it came to Improvisational Electronics 101, his koibito blew the curve. "Okay, they're shut."

A slender hand fluttered forward, delicately stroking over his closed lids. "You're so cute when you're cooperative," Duo purred in that husky, velvet-sheathed voice. Heero heard a small click, and then a slow, small gathering of warmth and light bloomed outside his shuttered eyes, along with the acrid but not unpleasant smell of something burning. "All right, you can open your eyes now."

Slowly, Heero cracked one eye open, and the other snapped wide. The only light in the apartment came from a single candle embedded in some sort of confection balanced on a tray in Duo's lap. The muted glow caught the periwinkle and amethyst and argent flecks dotting through Duo's unique eyes, the gentle illumination, if it were possible, making him even more beautiful. Something fluttered inside his chest, like a small bird or butterfly lay trapped there. He had to try three times before his voice obeyed him. "What is this?" he asked softly.

Duo smiled his best Mona-Lisa, a loose tendril from his braid casting a snaky shadow over his face. "What does it look like?"

Heero pursed his lips thoughtfully and gave the first answer to pop into his head. "A fire hazard." Nevertheless, his eyes smiled when he said it.

Duo groaned dramatically. "Good guess, but no." His eyes dropped almost shyly, long shadows from his eyelashes spiderwebbing across his cheeks like black lace. "It's a birthday cake."

Heero was dumbfounded. "Birthday?"

"You know, birthday. Aaa..." Heero could almost see the mental E-J dictionary scrolling in Duo's mind. "Tanjoubi."

"I know what it means, baka. Doushite?" Why give him a birthday cake?

"Well," Duo began, his eyes still downcast, "neither you nor I know a lot about where we come from, what our real names are, if we have any family, when our birthdays are." Those large, luminous eyes rose to him, pinning Heero to the wall with the vulnerability in them behind the irreverence. "So, I did a little research, and to make a long story short, I decided that today, October 23, is your birthday. That makes you a Scorpio according to Western astrology, which seems to fit you perfectly." Duo leaned in closer, careful not to let his hair flip over his shoulder onto the cake. "Scorpios are determined and forceful, intense, profound and powerful. They're also...obsessive, secretive, jealous, and resentful. It's you to a T, lover. Besides...Scorpio is said to rule over the genitals…" he added with a meaningful waggle of eyebrows. 

When that elicited no response but more silence, Duo's eyes dropped again and he worked his lower lip between his teeth before exhaling a sigh. "So, are you going to make a wish and blow out the candle?"

To anyone else, the words would have sounded trite, casual, but Heero heard the faint hope, the wistfulness, the urge for acceptance there. Nine months ago he could have easily turned his back, demanded that Duo turn the lights on and stop with the adolescent foolishness.

Nine months ago he hadn't known what love was.

He leaned down, blew a puff of air across the candle. The flame flickered and expired, leaving behind only a slightly smoking wick and a room once more in darkness, though their eyes had adjusted enough to see things at a close distance. "Otanjoubi omedetou," Duo whispered, a small smile tugging up the corners of his mouth. "Gomen, it was either bake the cake or shop for a gift and..." his voice trailed off, gesturing at the mound of baked good in his lap.

Heero dipped one finger in the double chocolate fudge icing (his favorite) and licked it off, marveling once more at how Duo knew his tastes better than he did. He hadn't needed to make a wish; everything he'd wanted and more had already come true in the form of a braided dervish that made every second of life worth living. 

"I like the cake better than anything you could buy me," he said, thumbing off another bud of icing and offering it to Duo. The other boy grasped his hand and swiped at the icing with his tongue, cleaning his thumb as thoroughly as a cat, not noticing when Heero took the tray off his lap and laid it on the coffee table. "Besides, you already got me the best gift in the world."

"Mmmm?" Duo's interrogative mumbled around Heero's thumb. He released the digit with a slight popping sound. "What's that?"

Strong hands unerringly found Duo, plucked him up off the coffee table and onto the couch, pinned him beneath the warm weight of a familiar body. "You," Heero murmured, joining the place where his breath ended and Duo's began into a kiss.

Duo kissed him back fiercely, greedily, thankfully as Heero slowly unwrapped his present. "Is that a rising fire sign down there, birthday boy?" he teased, threading slender fingers into Heero's now-dry hair.

"You did say that's where Scorpio ruled, baka," Heero mumbled in between kisses.

Face flushed, breath coming in pants, Duo pushed Heero back just enough to look into his eyes. God, he was so beautiful. "Scorpio also rules here," he added softly, touching his fingers to his heart. "Aishiteru."

Another gift, Heero thought, before turning back to Duo's mouth and drowning in him.


[1] A traditional Japanese exchange when someone comes home. Tadaima=what is said when one returns home (literally: I have returned home safely)  Okaeri nasai=what is said to one who is returning home (literally: Welcome home)

[2] Yes, I actually took this class in college, and yes, that's pretty much what I got out of it, apologies to all my European friends. ^_^

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