sparsenicjade
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AN: Huge thanks to my beta, ihearttwojacks, all remaining mistakes are mine.

For my girl, egelantier, for her birthday.

***


Une said, “We’re gonna go watch Stiles play club lacrosse, you should come.”

Heero looked up from his work and asked, “Why?”

“Because he plays for MIT, and because I’m not sure you’ve seen the sun in the last month.”

Heero went back to what he’d been doing. “We live in Boston. There hasn’t been any sun for the last month.”

“Heero,” Une said. Her tone wasn’t even impatient or nagging. It was just a clear, you should do this, you know you should.

Duo, who’d gotten home from work early, popped his head out of the kitchen and said, “He’s torn, because of his gigantic crush on Stiles.”

Heero couldn’t even find it in himself to be surprised by the betrayal. Or, for that matter, the fact that Duo knew. He chose not to acknowledge the comment. It was really his only logical course of action.

Une said, “Huh.”

“You’ve been a little distracted,” Duo told her. “Miss If-it-stays-still-long-enough-I-will
-make-out-with-Derek-atop-it.”

Heero sneaked a look up. He liked the way Une didn’t shy from the accusation, the way she just raised an eyebrow as if to say, Yes? Is there an issue?

He liked Une with Derek. Une and Derek made sense. Their tall frames with dark hair and light skin, their taciturn natures, the way they were each bruised under the surface.

Stiles and Heero, on the other hand… Yeah, he was aware the guy was out of his league. Stiles was the exact-right level of weird for MIT and had friends seemingly everywhere. Even before Derek had introduced Stiles to them, Heero had noticed the hot kid in his Planning, Execution, and Learning class. The guy who came up with the answers that were the furthest outside the box, who made class more fun every time he opened his mouth.

Stiles was whip-smart, competitive, and social. Also, really attractive. Heero was alive and in his twenties. He noticed these things.

He also noticed that Stiles definitely’d had flings with at least two seniors as a freshman, one of them Lydia Martin, who besides being gorgeous, had gone onto a mathematics doctorate at Carnegie Mellon. Stiles’ type, so far as the pattern to date would suggest, was insanely good-looking, off-the-charts intelligent, outgoing girls. Heero was an average-looking guy who’d only gotten into MIT off their waiting list and had trouble stringing together full sentences when in public. He could crush all he wanted, he knew how the world worked.

He rubbed his hand over his face. “Lacrosse? Really?”

Une said, “Derek says he’s terrible at it with occasional flashes of brilliance.”

This was such a bad idea. Horrible, really. Heero glanced down at his textbook. “I’m not getting anything done here, anyway.”

*


Derek was not kidding about Stiles being mostly terrible. There was a lot of flailing involved. It was kind of reassuring, in a mean way, that he wasn’t successful at everything he tried. That didn’t stop Heero from being distracted by the length and breadth of his chest when he swapped out t-shirts at the end of the game.

Somehow they ended up going out for pizza afterward. Heero didn’t remember agreeing to that, but where Duo and Une were concerned, he often just tagged along. In this instance, it was an evening of watching Duo and Stiles do what they each did best: tell amusing stories, keep the conversation lively, be bright and shiny and alive.

Heero loved Duo to the ends of the earth and beyond. And he was glad, if somewhat mystified, by how he’d grown into his skin, managed to become the healthy, happy adult he was. But sometimes he was also so jealous it burned.

Heero watched and tried to learn how it was that Duo got Stiles to laugh, but it looked so easy when Duo was doing it. Heero knew, though, when he tried to tell a story, or, heaven forbid, a joke, it came out like a robot. Unless that robot was JARVIS, who was just fine at being amusing. Heero, when it came down to it, had been engineered wrong.

*


It was Stiles who sidled up to Heero in their Intro to AI lab and asked, “Partners?”

Once partnered it was for the semester. Heero stopped himself just in time from asking, “Really?” and diverted into, “Yes.”

Stiles smiled, broad and unrestrained. “Awesome. We’re gonna blow this shit out of the water.”

AI was easily Heero’s worst area, which was ironic, given how often he worked with Tony, but Heero was good with details, with the building of the machine, not infusing it with life. He suspected he didn’t have enough experience to go on.

He said, “Um. Yeah.”

*


They were working on their second project late one evening, when Stiles asked out of the blue, “So, what’s it like? Working with Tony Stark?”

Heero had low emotional intelligence, but he wasn’t stupid. He looked at Stiles and said, “If that was all you wanted to know, you didn’t have to sign up to be my partner all semester.”

Stiles blinked. “Wow, okay, I don’t know what I did or why you up and decided I’m a douche, but I’m actually not. Mostly, anyway.”

Heero had the strong desire to slam his head against the lab table. “Sorry.”

Stiles cocked his head. “I’m guessing a couple of people around here have done that? Tried to be your friend because they learned about Stark?”

Tony had come to give a keynote Heero’s freshman year, then stayed and taken him out to dinner. Heero’d been pretty popular for the few months after that, until he’d managed to make it clear he wasn’t interested in helping anyone meet Tony.

Because he kind of was an asshole to Stiles about it, and Stiles was still sitting there, Heero ventured, “I didn’t know who he was when I met him. Tony.”

“You didn’t know...I’m sorry, did you live under a rock?” Then Stiles clamped his hand over his mouth and said, from behind it, “No, Jesus, don’t answer that, that was a douche question.”

Heero looked down and smiled. Maybe because Stiles had apologized, or maybe just because it would be easier if Stiles knew upfront, knew better than to try and be friends with him, he said, “A lab. Then cages. So, sort of.”

Stiles’ hand dropped to his side. “A lab?” Just as quickly as before he said, “Fuck, no, seriously, you don’t have to answer that. I have lack-of-filter syndrome, it’s a medical thing, you can ask Derek--”

“Our doctors, the ones who took care of us when we were found in the cages, they say I’m completely human. But I don’t remember anything before the lab, so. Maybe not.”

Stiles swallowed. “Did they--did they hurt you?”

Heero flinched, the automatic sense memories of cut and burning flesh, of needles and cold tables, of being tested on his strength and endurance to a point beyond exhaustion swamping him for a moment before he could take a breath, regain his equilibrium. “I survived.”

Stiles’ eyes darkened just slightly. “And they put you in a cage?”

“I think they sold me to the cages.” Heero wasn’t super clear on why he’d been taken from the labs and put in the fights. He wasn’t sure if he had failed as an experiment, or if he’d been bred for that type of sale, just that it had happened. “They’d have us fight. In the cages. Cage fights.”

“Us.” It wasn’t a question. It was quiet and horrified.

Softly, Heero explained, “There were a lot of us, in the cages. And when they found us, when the police and the FBI came and got us, there wasn’t anywhere for all of us to go. We were too volatile to put in the system, and none of us had homes. Tony gave us somewhere to live until they could find places for us.”

Heero bit his lip. “I didn’t have a clue who Tony Stark was. But he might as well have been a superhero. He kind of still is. To me. In a way.”

He looked away, down at the table. Stiles said, “Hey. Hey.”

Heero glanced up at him, and Stiles smiled. “Next time some dickface asks you what it’s like working with Tony Stark? Tell’em it’s like having that crazy uncle over for Thanksgiving dinner, and let’em puzzle it out.”

After a second, Heero laughed, a sharp bark. “Honestly, it kind of is like that.”

*


“You should ask him out,” Duo said, out of nowhere.

Une was staying the night at Derek’s, so at least Duo wasn’t double-teaming Heero, but this still wasn’t a conversation Heero wanted to have. Heero glared at Duo, just to see if it would work. It didn’t, which was a given, but Heero had to try.

“Seriously, Hee. He knows you grew up in a lab, that you fought in cages, and since he found out he’s added more study sessions for you guys to work together, hasn’t brought up Tony once; he’s signaling every way a guy can signal. Meet him halfway.”

“Pretty sure he just likes my work ethic. And wants to be friends because of Derek and Une.”

“He wants to be my friend because of Derek and Une. He wants to suck your cock.”

Heero took a beat. “Classy.”

Duo grinned. “Ask him out.”

Heero forebore throwing anything at him. He was practically a saint.

*


Stiles and Heero were helping each other with homework that in no way required them to work together when Heero noticed Stiles’ hands shaking. He didn’t say anything, because Stiles hadn’t, and for all Heero knew, that was something that happened when Stiles drank coffee or took too much Adderall, or whatever.

A few seconds later, Stiles set down the pencil he was using and stood up without saying anything. Heero debated following for all of about three seconds. He knew the body language Stiles was sporting, knew the sound of that uneven breathing.

He found Stiles curled in a ball under one of the sinks in the men’s restroom, head between his knees, breath stuttering and choking. Heero locked the bathroom door, then turned back to Stiles.

Heero was generally opposed to using his slightly super-human strength on others, but he gently, if firmly, pulled Stiles out from under the sink so that he could get one hand on his chest and the other on his back. “I’m going to press in for three seconds, then release. Breathe to the pattern.”

While he applied the subtle pressure, he spoke quietly. “We’re in the bathroom in the school library. The tile is cold underneath you, try to feel it. It’s just the two of us, and I’m not letting anybody past that door. Nothing can get to you right now. You’re safe. Derek is safe. We can call him if you want, so you can hear his voice.”

“N-no.”

“Okay. Keep breathing with the pressure. You’re doing great, doing well, that’s right.”

It was easily a good ten to fifteen minutes before Heero was certain he could put his hands down, and when he did, Stiles made a tiny, broken sound, so Heero sat back against the wall and pulled Stiles between his legs, holding him. “Better?”

“I don’t think my self-respect is likely to make a full recovery, but otherwise, yeah.”

“Stiles--”

“You’ve done that before.”

Heero frowned. “Of course I have. Duo used to have them all the time. Neal has had them, John and Ro’s mom Jen has them occasionally, Jamie’s had a few, Tony, most of us have had at least one at some point or another.”

“Tony? Tony Stark?”

“He was kidnapped and held prisoner by terrorists, you realize?”

“And Duo? Duo’s so--”

“Happy? Bright? Fun? Like you?”

Stiles twisted around to look at Heero without actually moving. It was very bendy. Any other time, Heero probably would have been distracted. Stiles frowned. “You think Duo and I are alike?”

“You don’t?” Heero challenged.

“No,” Stiles spluttered. “Duo’s brave and put together and fucking gorgeous. I mean, not my type, I like them, um, you know what, nevermind, the point is, no.”

“Duo is all those things, by some miracle, but you--” Heero looked away from Stiles, took a breath in, and told himself not to be a coward. “You are too.

Stiles’ hand came to Heero’s jawline and turned his face back to where they were looking at each other. “You just saw me fall apart.”

Heero shook his head. “I saw you be human.”

“You’re human,” Stiles said, his expression fierce.

It was too nice a sentiment to argue with, so Heero didn’t. Stiles sighed. “You survived the impossible and I grew up in suburbia. There’s nothing brave about--”

“You lost your mother and all you had left was your father, but a kid who was bigger and older and scarier than you came along and you just decided to share that one thing. I was so afraid of Derek taking away Une that there were nightmares. And I have Duo and Q and Trowa. Trust me: you’re impossibly brave.”

Stiles blinked. “Are you still gonna feel that way if I ask you to take me to Derek’s tonight, because I don’t want to be alone, even for as long as it takes to get there?”

Heero smiled a little. “Yeah. Still definitely going to feel that way.”

*


Heero ended up staying the night at Derek’s, with Stiles. He hadn’t intended to. The plan had been to get Stiles on the T, and safely into the apartment, and then head home. But when Derek answered the door, he took one look at Stiles and said to Heero, “Why don’t you come in for a bit?”

“Une here?” Heero asked, thinking that was the impetus behind the invitation.

Derek shook his head. “Her and Duo were going to spend some time together.”

She’d been really good at making sure to schedule time with each of them, especially since Duo had used his big boy words and told her that they missed her. Heero said, “They won’t mind if I crash.”

Then Stiles said, “You can go. If you want.”

Heero wasn’t sure when he had learned to hear Stiles’ reluctant tone, but that was definitely in play. Heero said, “Maybe we could eat some dinner?”

Stiles smiled. “Pizza? Chinese?”

Derek offered, “I could run out if you wanted something pick up.”

Heero shook his head. “I’m not picky. Pizza’s fine.”

They sat down and Derek let Stiles pick what they watched while waiting for the pizza, which led to a six hour marathon of season three X-Files. Somewhere around the time Derek was throwing away the paper plates, Stiles not-so-subtly curled into Heero, eyeing him sideways to seemingly check if that was all right. Heero just hooked his arm around Stiles’ shoulders and kept watching.

By the end of the last episode, Derek said softly, “He’s asleep.”

“I know,” Heero told him. He’d felt the moment Stiles body had released the tension ever so slightly.

Derek turned off the TV and stood, walking over to the windows. After a moment he said, “I’m trying not to be an interfering big brother.”

“But?” Heero asked.

“Stiles doesn’t just fall asleep on people.”

There were a few moments of silence before Derek turned around and came back to the couch. “Just. He does better, after an attack, when someone’s in bed with him. Usually I do it, but I think--”

Heero said, “It’s late anyway.”

The look of relief on Derek’s face was almost painful. “Thanks.”

Heero did his best to pick Stiles up without waking him.

*


Heero awoke to the sight of Stiles’ facing him, watching him silently. Stiles smiled a little, and said, “Sorry. Wasn’t trying to be creepy.”

Heero raised his eyebrows in an inquisitive motion. Stiles didn’t pursue the topic, though, instead choosing to say, “You didn’t have to stay. Derek would have taken care of me.”

“No. I didn’t have to.”

“So, um.” Stiles swallowed. “Did you actually mean that thing, last night, about me being brave, and, and stuff?”

Heero made himself hold still. “And stuff.”

“Because you know how I said Duo wasn’t really my type?”

Heero nodded.

“My type is more the hot-but-aloof-and-unattainable.” Stiles looked at him like this meant something.

Heero blinked. Stiles sighed. “You’re very...cool.”

After a second, Stiles laughed. “Stop looking at me like I’m crazy. You’ve got this lone wolf thing going--”

“I live with two other people I can’t do without.”

“Well, no, now I know that, but the first time I saw you, in class, you were just hot and stand-offish and I pretty much had to have you from the first, even if it was hopeless.”

Heero bit the inside of his cheek. “And now that you know the truth?”

“That you’re actually just shy?”

“And socially inept,” Heero pointed out.

“Now I also know that you’re smart and kind and you laugh at my jokes, even the bad ones.”

Heero could list at least ten reasons this was a bad idea, beginning with that if this didn’t work out, Une and Derek would probably still be together and they’d still have to see each other. The sensible thing to do would be to get out of this bed, train home, take a shower, change into some new clothes, and go back to being study partners like this had never happened.

Instead, he said, “I’ve never-- Duo’s the one of us who dates.”

Stiles smiled. “I’m pretty certain Une and Derek are dating. Not to ruin the surprise or anything--”

Heero rolled his eyes. “Before Derek. Before Derek she never dated.”

Stiles laughed. “No, this is good, really. You won’t know when I’m doing a terrible job of it. It’ll be like taking candy from a baby.”

“Romantic of you,” Heero said dryly.

There was something just a little bit serious in Stiles’ eyes when he said, “I’m gonna sweep you off your feet.”

*


Their first date was at an Italian place in the North End, complete with a candle on the table and low-lighting. Stiles said, “The lasagna at this place is seriously ridiculous.”

Heero ordered the lasagna, and let Stiles pay without a fuss, just a simple, “Next time’s on me.”

As they left, Stiles said, “Lemme walk you home?”

Heero raised an eyebrow. “I’m taking the T.”

“It was metaphorical. Ride with you home, stand on your steps, kiss you goodnight, you know.”

Heero looked down at the ground. “I like that idea.”

On the T, Stiles slipped his hand into Heero’s while discussing the latest Iron Fist comic he’d read. Heero just listened, enjoying the excited cadence of his voice, the way he questioned everything, but still found pleasure in it.

At Heero’s door, Stiles fitted his hands over Heero’s hips and leaned into him, bringing their lips together. Heero breathed, “Oh,” into the contact, and Stiles used the opening to suck in Heero’s lower lip. Heero responded instinctively, rasping his teeth over Stiles’ lips. Stiles laughed into the kiss, and Heero stuck his tongue out, lapping up the sound.

“Jesus,” Stiles mumbled, his tongue swiping against Heero’s.

Heero asked, “Wanna come inside?”

“That’s not how a goodnight kiss works,” Stiles said, a little breathless.

“Wanna do it anyway?”

“Yes,” Stiles said, practically before Heero could finish the question.

They all-but ran up the three flights of stairs, Stiles giggling as they stumbled into the apartment. Nobody was home, so they were able to go to Heero’s room without interruptions, falling onto the bed fully clothed. Stiles sneaked his hands up the sides of Heero’s t-shirt, and Heero tried to expand into the touch.

Heero rucked up Stiles’ shirt so that he could splay his hands over the smooth stretch of Stiles’ back. Stiles said, “For the record, I only go to second base on the first date.”

“What’s your stance on sleeping over?”

Stiles eyes went wide. “I’m, uh, I’m more flexible on that point.”

“Because I liked that.”

“Yeah?” Stiles asked.

Heero nodded. Stiles glanced down at Heero’s lips. “Wanna make out till we fall asleep on each other?”

Heero answered with a kiss.

*


A couple of nights later, Heero and Duo were doing dishes, just spending time together since Une was at Derek’s, a couple of nights later. When there was a knock at the front door, Duo said, “I’ll get it.”

He reappeared a minute later with Stiles in tow. Stiles looked uncertain of his welcome, and before Heero could so much as say ‘hi,’ he was saying, “I know that I’m supposed to wait a few days, and like, call before I come and that I’m breaking tons of dating rules--”

“Good thing he doesn’t know any dating rules,” Duo interrupted. Heero smirked, and gestured slightly at Duo to show his agreement.

Some of the tension drained from Stiles’ posture. “In that case, mind if I stay for a bit?”

Heero shook his head at the same time that Duo asked, “Have you eaten yet?”

Stiles smiled. “I’m rude enough to crash your place, not to steal your food, too. Yeah, I’m good.”

“I was just gonna study for a while in my room,” Heero said.

“That’s good. I brought work.” Stiles waved at Duo and followed Heero into his room.

They worked half-silently, half-pitching ideas off each other for a couple of hours, before Stiles said into the silence, “I slept better the other night. And--and the night at Derek’s. I...slept better with you.”

Heero looked up, but Stiles was studiously staring anywhere but at him. He started to say something, but Stiles continued, “It’s not your responsibility, or anything. You don’t have to let me stay, or--”

“I like it.”

Stiles did look at him, then, a quick, startled glance. Heero shrugged. “In the cages, we always slept with the others, for heat. And that stuff, sleeping, holding each other, it was the first time in my life I’d been touched like I was a human.” He was the one to look away then. “Half the time, if not more, Duo or Une or I sneak into each other’s beds.”

“Anyway,” Heero swallowed, made himself look back. “It’s nice. You...fit.”

Stiles stood up and walked over to where Heero was sitting, straddling his lap. “What’s your opinion on a little bit of sucking face before bedtime?”

“Favorable,” Heero said.

*


Somehow, in between school and the dates that Stiles planned to the Boston Library and the Science Museum and other touristy places that neither of them had ever been, summer arrived without announcing itself. Heero was looking forward to working with Tony again for a few months, to staying with Q and Trowa, but the idea of three months without Duo and Une and now Stiles was making him more than a little on edge.

Duo slept with him every night that Stiles wasn’t over, getting him to sleep by reminding him that Duo was coming home for the fourth of July, and Heero’d be visiting Une at least twice over the summer. “And Stiles is going to text you 24-7, you know he is.”

“What if--”

“Hm?” Duo asked.

“What if he realizes he doesn’t need me to sleep?” That he can find someone easier?

“All he’s gonna realize is that he misses you so badly that summers are going to be a problem.”

Heero sighed. “This sucks.”

Duo laughed a little. “I know, but it’s good for you. You’ve been...more connected, to everything, since the two of you started dating.”

“Fuck good for me, seriously.”

“Mm,” Duo said, and snuggled in closer.

*


Tony somehow got hold of Heero’s phone the second day Heero was home and had an entire conversation with Stiles about donut shops in LA and what each of them would name a dog, if they had one. Then Tony threatened to erase Stiles’ entire existence and use his ID to commit terrorist acts if Stiles so much as thought about hurting Heero.

Heero, upon recovering his phone, resisted the urge to slam his head against the wall, and texted, “Told you. Crazy uncle.”

Stiles responded, “TONY STARK!!!!!!”

*


Since he was three hours later than Stiles, Heero would send a wake up text at around ten, and Stiles would text with him until he fell asleep around eleven. In late July, one night, Stiles said, “I miss you.”

They hadn’t said anything like that to each other. Heero was still trying to figure out exactly what to say in response when Stiles texted, “I didn’t mean to freak you out.”

Heero shook his head, even though Stiles obviously couldn’t see. He settled on, “I wish you were here.”

“Yes, that,” was Stiles’ response, and Heero smiled.

“Texting isn’t as good,” was his follow-up.

Stiles responded, “Not even close.”

Heero asked, “When are you getting back to Boston?”

“August 18th. You?”

“15th. Come stay at my place on the 18th?”

“I promised Derek I’d have dinner with him. Wanna double date then go back to your place?”

“I’m inviting Duo. He hasn’t seen Une all summer.”

“He hasn’t seen me all summer, either, let’s be serious, here.”

Heero muffled a laugh behind his hand. “Totally serious.”

“All the seriousness.”

Heero rolled his eyes fondly and went to sleep clutching his phone.

*


Stiles spent most of his welcome back dinner ping-ponging back and forth between being all over Heero and being all over Derek. Heero was always a little surprised by how calmly Derek took the manic whirlwind that was Stiles, but then, he imagined people probably thought that about Duo and himself.

Une said to Stiles, “You know you could spend the night at his place. I’ve had him all summer.”

Stiles kissed her cheek and said, “Best big sister ever, but I’ve got a date.”

Une raised an eyebrow at Heero, who just barely managed not to smile. She did it for him.

Heero’d spent the last two nights sleeping with Duo, both of them clinging throughout the night, as if it’d been years, and not a little over a month since they’d last been together. He was afraid he’d overwhelm Stiles, hold too tight, or smother him.

It was Stiles who moved first, however, pushing Heero down onto the bed and climbing atop him, kissing him almost violently. Heero gave as good as he got, and Stiles mumbled, “Wanna jerk you off, yeah?”

Heero made a noise that wasn’t quite agreement, but wasn’t a refusal, either, and got his hands on the button of Stiles’ jeans, undoing them even as Stiles did the same for him. Heero pushed down his own boxers, and Stiles’, and then pressed their dicks together. Stiles stopped breathing for a moment before humming, “Yeah, better idea, much better.”

Heero wrapped his fist around their dicks and Stiles made an indecent sound before returning the favor. They moved in concert until they were coming, rolling over each other, from side to side. Stiles panted, “That was awesome.”

Heero mouthed, “Missed you,” into his neck.

“We should clean up,” Stiles said, but his words were already beginning to slur.

“Later,” Heero said, and let sleep crest over him.

*


Stiles had been acting strange for about a week when Heero made himself ask, “Are you trying to break up with me?”

Stiles’ eyes went wide and he asked, “What?! I mean--what!?”

Heero looked down at the problem set he wasn’t getting anywhere with. “You’ve gone home to sleep almost every night this week, you keep saying I should spend some time with Une and Duo, you’ve been fidgety, even for you, and you keep starting to say something and then stopping yourself.”

“And the first thing you came up with from all that is that I want to break up with you?”

Heero wasn’t going to admit that he was still pretty sure Stiles was going to wake up one day and be confused as to why they were dating in the first place. Instead, he said, “I’m kind of a worst-case-scenario type person.”

Stiles acknowledged this with a tilt of his head. “I’ve been working up to asking you to come home with me for fall break.”

That had not really been on Heero’s list of possible causes for Stiles’ strange behavior. “Oh.”

“You don’t have to, but it’s just a four day weekend, and I’d really like my dad to meet you, and I thought, you know, I could show you a little bit of California. Since you’ve never been.”

Stiles was about to start speaking--rambling--again when Heero said, “You want your dad to meet me.”

“Well, no shit. Do you not want Q and Trowa to meet me?”

Honestly, Heero felt like that was safer. Like if they never knew Stiles, then at least they wouldn’t know what he’d lost, even if Duo and Une did. In Heero’s silence, though, Stiles looked a little stricken. Heero said, “I’m sorry. I don’t...I don’t know how this works.”

“And to a certain extent, I get that. But Heero, we’ve been dating for almost a year, I’m in love with you, here, and if you’re not, if that’s not what this is, you should tell me. Now.”

Heero dug his fingernails into the palm of his hand. “But you don’t have to love me.”

“I guess. Everything inside me insists that I do.”

Heero closed his eyes and admitted, “That’s what this is.”

“Then come meet my dad,” Stiles said softly.

“What if he--” sees a machine rather than a man, “doesn’t like me?”

“Not gonna happen.” Stiles put his hands to Heero’s face, brushed his thumbs over Heero’s eyes, making him look at Stiles.

“Stiles.”

“Not gonna happen, Hee. If love is what this is, then trust me, okay? Trust that I’m not going to do anything to hurt you.”

Heero swallowed, thinking of the fights where he’d taken one of the others down to keep Dory safe, for all the good it had done. “Sometimes love hurts.”

Stiles didn’t disagree, just said, “This isn’t going to be one of those times.”

*


Heero called Une and asked, “Can you stay with us tonight?”

For the most part, he was doing okay with Une living with Derek. She still came to dinner at least three nights a week, they worked out together a couple of times a week, and if he needed her, she was just a text away. Tonight, he wanted her at home.

She said, “Be there in thirty.”

Duo said, “I can make cupcakes.”

“Yellow cake with chocolate frosting?”

Duo kissed his forehead and said, “You’re boring, but I love you that way.”

Heero just followed him into the kitchen and did all the measuring and cleaning for him. By the time Une came in the door, the cupcakes were in the oven. She said, “Smells like deliciousness.”

Heero grabbed her and pulled her in for a hug. She went without resistance and said into his chest, “Okay, so you’re freaking out.”

Heero was careful not to squeeze too tight, not to dig his fingers into her skin. “I told Stiles I’d go home with him for fall break.”

There was a moment of complete silence before Duo said, “Wait, seriously?”

Heero sighed into Une’s hair. “No, Duo, I’m shitting you about that.”

Une laughed. Duo said, “Point.”

Une rubbed his back, and said, “Okay, baby. C’mon, let’s sit down.”

Duo went and checked on the cupcakes, taking them out of the oven. Then the three of them sat on the couch, cuddling, until Duo said, softly, “This is gonna be good, Hee.”

“You’re biased,” Heero said.

“So’s Stiles,” Une pointed out.

“But not Stiles’ dad.”

Une curled up and said, “I think...I think maybe he is, a little bit.”

Heero glanced over at her. She shrugged. “I love Derek. A lot. But I suspect he was a lot like us when Stiles’ dad dragged him off the streets. And he already had a kid he was taking care of on his own.” She paused. “I dunno. I just get the feeling he’s pretty good with strays.”

Quietly, Heero said, “Derek didn’t come out of a lab.”

Duo cut into the resulting silence with, “If where we came from really mattered, then half of us would be complete psychopaths. Seriously, with the biological parents in our group? Jesus. Being from a lab makes you more safe, if you ask me.”

“That...is not even a little bit logical,” Heero said.

“Neither is your thing where you think you’re not human, but we don’t make fun of you for it, now do we?” Duo asked.

Heero wasn’t going to try and argue with that. It was complete bullshit, but this was Duo, and Heero would lose. Instead he asked, “But what if, just, hypothetically, he doesn’t like me?”

“Then I’ll probably have to break up with Derek and we can spend our nights broken-heartedly eating gallons of Edy’s together.”

Heero fixed Une with a Look. “That is not a solid life plan.”

“Pints of Haagen-Dazs?” she offered, unfazed by his reaction to her response.

Heero leaned back into the couch, giving up. Duo patted his leg. “That’s the spirit. Cupcakes?”

*


Stiles ushered Heero into the window seat on the plane, with the explanation, “I’ve seen it, you haven’t.”

Heero had never actually flown before, so he took the offer, curious. Maybe, for once, after this, he’d be able to understand what John was talking about when he got all excited about flying. Also, if it would keep his mind off the upcoming meeting even just a bit, he’d give it a shot.

Stiles took one look at Heero’s face and put a hand to the back of his neck while babbling about...Heero wasn’t actually sure. Possibly Pokemon. It was good, though, the rise and fall of his voice, the steady stream of input. Stiles ordered them both ginger ales when the flight attendant came around and Heero drank his obediently, glad he had when it helped settle his stomach.

It was pretty amazing, being inside the clouds, and then above them. Heero thought he’d like to do it again some time when most of his mind wasn’t taken up by sheer terror. An in-flight movie came on and Stiles nudged him with the headphones, said, “I’ll provide commentary.”

So for the next two hours of his life, Heero watched what might have been the worst romance ever filmed while listening to Stiles expertly hone in on every moment of ridiculousness and sink into it with his teeth. After that was an equally terrible action flick. Stiles just got them each another ginger ale and kept going.

Heero spent the last hour gazing out the window, watching the earth come ever closer. Stiles slept, his head on Heero’s shoulder. He woke as soon as they hit the ground. He hooked his hand in Heero’s and said, “He just wants me to be happy, Hee. You make me happy.”

Heero concentrated on not squeezing Stiles’ fingers too hard.

*


Stiles’ dad was right outside security. Stiles threw himself at the man, and was immediately enveloped in a bear hug. Heero stood there, trying to not let his anxiety run roughshod over him. After several minutes, Stiles pulled away and said, “Dad, this is Heero.”

Heero held out his hand and said, “Sheriff.”

The Sheriff took his hand, encased it with both of his and said, “Mark, please. It’s great to meet you.”

Mark’s hands were calloused and warm, and although they didn’t feel a thing like Tony’s, somehow the emotional response they engendered was similar. Mark asked, “You boys hungry? I thought we could grab a bite on the way home.”

Stiles was all over that. “Yes, yes, Rosa’s, seriously, you can’t get real Mexican anywhere in Boston.”

Mark squeezed Heero’s hand firmly, but not harshly, and smiled. “Rosa’s it is.”

*


Heero gave up trying to sleep somewhere between one and two. The house was quiet except for all the tiny noises houses make: the ticking of a clock, the hum of electricity, the rustle of wind against siding. Carefully, Heero slipped out the back door and sat in the grass. It was cool out, but nothing bad, and he could see the stars out here, which was novel, being used to New York and Boston.

He looked around when the door opened behind him, expecting Stiles. Instead, the Sheriff--Mark--came out, two steaming mugs in his hand. He sank down in the grass next to Heero and handed him a mug. “Lemon tea. I put some honey in it.”

Heero took the mug. “Thank you. Did I wake you? I’m sorry--”

Mark shook his head. “Just a lot on my mind.”

Heero made himself take measured sips, made himself not run. He was focusing on the feel of the grass under his feet when Mark spoke again. “Stiles was always a smart kid, brilliant when something interested him enough to get his focus.”

Heero nodded. Stiles was still like that.

“But because he’s loud and hyperactive and doesn’t always read other people’s faces and body language correctly, people always assume he’s less smart about people.”

Heero glanced over at Mark, only to find Mark looking at him. Mark said, “The thing is, Heero, Stiles is more smart about people than just about anyone I know. When I brought Derek home--Jesus, the kid was practically feral. He snarled at Stiles more than once. But Stiles, he just, he told me, ‘That’s what big brothers do,’ and kept on thinking Derek was the best thing since sliced bread, and he was right.

“When he decides someone is worth his time, he’s never been wrong. And I don’t think you’re the exception that proves the rule.”

Heero wasn’t sure what to say to any of that. Eventually, he settled on, “I want to be good for him.”

Heero could see the faint traces of a smile on Mark’s face in the dark of the yard. He said, “I know, son. And that’s enough for me.”

“But what if I’m not?”

“I think he’d already have figured that out. If not, though, if I’m wrong, then the both of you will in time. Sometimes relationships end. It doesn’t make either participant a bad person, just not the right two people for each other.”

Heero knew this was true. He’d seen Duo and Uhura and Finn go through breakups, and it hadn’t been because the other person was an asshole. Well, okay, one time with Finn, maybe a little. But for the most part, no. They’d also all been dating people, grown and raised. As much as Stiles and the others insisted Heero was no different, he wasn’t sure, didn’t think he’d ever be sure.

Still, Heero could recognize that Mark was trying his hardest to get Heero to relax. He offered, “Thank you. For the tea. And--and thank you.”

Mark’s smile deepened. “You’re welcome.”

*


Stiles made them all pancakes in the morning, even if he limited the number his father had. They drove out to the nearest shore. Heero had seen an ocean, of course, he lived on the coast, but he’d never seen the Pacific, and he wasn’t used to beaches, had only been to one. It was still chilled, the water in particular, but that didn’t keep Stiles from walking along the water line, picking up shells as he went.

Heero stayed farther up-shore. Occasionally the waves would manage to reach him, but mostly he was just walking on packed sand, listening to Stiles tell him facts about jellyfish. At one point Stiles sneaked his hand in Heero’s, and Heero instinctively held on at the same time that he looked around for Mark.

Mark, behind them, waved a hand at Heero and smiled. Heero paid attention to the familiar feel of Stiles’ hand in his, and smiled back.

*


Scott and his girlfriend Kira came over for dinner Saturday night. Heero’d heard reams about Scott, but was somewhat--probably stupidly--surprised to find out that Scott had heard quite a bit about Heero, as well. It came out in small ways: Scott asking about a school project, or bringing up a story about Duo and Une, things like that, nothing intrusive. Stiles was right about it being hard not to like Scott, he was too easygoing to hold on to much tension around.

After they left, Mark, Stiles, and Heero sat around in the dark on the back porch, roasting marshmallows on the grill. Heero listened as Stiles and Mark discussed a couple of cases Mark was willing to talk about. Stiles talked about his classes, most of which Heero wasn’t in this semester.

At some point even Stiles seemed to run out of things to say, and then the three of them just sat around, watching the sky, listening to the sounds of the night. Mark said quietly, “I was thinking of coming out to Boston for Thanksgiving this year. Meet Une, finally. You think Derek’s up for that?”

Stiles looked over at Heero, who shrugged. Stiles said, “You know Derek. Sometimes you gotta make the first move.”

Mark laughed. “Good point.”

*


Derek and Une were at the apartment when Stiles and Heero stumbled in after the flight and T ride home. Duo said, “We ordered Chinese, it should be here shortly.”

“You are all gods,” Stiles told them earnestly.

“It was a long flight,” Heero translated.

Duo smirked, Une laughed, and Derek grabbed onto Stiles's hoody and pulled him into a hug. “How’s dad?”

“He misses your cranky face. Don’t ask me why.”

Derek buried said-cranky face into Stiles hair. Une and Duo both looked at Heero. Heero let out a long breath, unaware he’d even been holding it, and quirked the edge of his mouth. Duo grinned, and Une’s body posture softened about ninety percent.

The Chinese came, and Stiles sat on Heero’s lap on the couch. Heero rolled his eyes and held on tight.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile