Down the Road
Heero gritted his teeth as he followed the wine man down the hall to the delivery door. The cases filled with bottles of bubbling dessert wine from a Sonoma Valley winery were waiting for inspection. He was happy to get the shipment, but did it have to be now? He needed to tell Duo about the restaurant, his restaurant, but so far he had not found the proper opening. Why was it so difficult? He had brought Duo here to show him his work, his creation, and to have Duo add something to it. It would be a beautiful collaboration, and hopefully the first of many.
Heero did not want these games, the games he had learned to play to weed out the leeches. It was time to be honest. Duo meant more to him than a one night stand. After only one night together he knew that Duo could never be just that.
+ + +
Duo settled in a chair, flipping through his sketches once again, and wishing he had brought his pencils. The color red kept playing in his head, and he wanted to draw. Red would be perfect if it was used with proper restraint. He did not want to overwhelm the space or upset the balance; he only wished to enhance it.
A young man peeked around the door, knocking on it at the same time. "Mr. Yuy? Oh… hi. I've got a question about my timecard.... What you got there?"
"Just some sketches. I'm hoping to commission murals for the main dining room, and I'm waiting for the owner."
"I bet he's handling that delivery. It won't take long unless it's the wine… then you might have to wait. That got messed up last time when Natalie signed-off for it without opening the boxes."
"She's the hostess. I'm sure you met her when you came in. She's Mr. Yuy's watch dog."
"Mr. Yuy?" Duo gave a little laugh at the formality, but then wondered why the hostess would be so protective of a lowly chef?
"It's no joke. He runs a tight ship. But if you're gonna work for him, don't worry."
"I'm not a cook."
"I can see that," the boy said, laughing. "Mr. Yuy loves art, so you must be good if he's interested in buying some of yours."
The sketch pad slipped from Duo's hands.
"Hey, it's nothing to be nervous about." The young man rushed over and picked up the pad, setting it on Duo's lap and smiling.
Duo was certain he had misunderstood. "You mind telling me the owner's name again?"
"Heero Yuy. And I'm Ray. Maybe I'll see you around. Good luck!"
Duo barely noticed the young man leave the room.
For fuck's sake, Heero owned Sushi Bob's? He stared at the desk and his cheeks burned with the discovery.
"He led me on…"
But how could that be? Heero must have said something, done something along the way… No, he had not. Heero had talked of cooking and working here, but he had never hinted at ownership.
Duo was stunned. He had only known Heero a short time, but he felt an intense connection to him. Had he misunderstood what was happening between them? Quatre had called it love, and Duo was eager to believe that, but now he was not so sure.
He ran his hand over the cover of the sketch pad, considering what to do next. His Aunt Emmy would tell him not to jump to conclusions. Give Heero the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that kid was joking, setting up the new guy to look stupid in front of the real boss.
Yeah, that must be it, Duo thought. He breathed a little easier, but his heart would not stop pounding.
At last, Heero returned.
"Sorry it took so long. Trowa's here, and he and Quatre are having a drink... You okay? You look warm."
Duo blinked, looking up at him. He needed to know the truth. "I met Ray."
"One of the waiters, I guess." Duo felt like he was in a dream, like everything was going in slow motion. "He wanted help with his timecard."
Heero chuckled. "I hope you didn't authorize any overtime."
Now that sounded distinctly like a boss talking. "Are you Sushi Bob?"
Duo got up, carefully setting his sketch pad on the chair, and looked Heero in the eye. "You are, aren't you?"
Heero broke eye contact, and then leaned back on the desk, seeming to steady himself. "Yes."
The simple affirmative sent a jolt through Duo. "We've been talking about showing your boss my sketches, but you're the boss."
Heero gave a heavy sigh. "I was going to tell you—tonight."
"But only after you had a good laugh."
"I wouldn't do that."
"Not to my face, anyway."
"Duo---" Heero took a step forward, reaching out his hand, but Duo moved back.
"Look, I'm sure you had your reasons for not telling me. State secret and all." The joke barely concealed his hurt, and the embarrassment of Heero letting him go on about the boss and how much to ask for his work. God, he had been made a fool. Heero had played him and it hurt, but his sense of survival was kicking in. He had to keep his chin high and set those feelings aside. If he put his hurt first he would lose the commission, and that meant losing his farm.
"Okay," he said, clearing his throat to steady his voice and stall while he composed his words carefully. "Now that I know you're the one in charge, we can talk shop. If you're interested in the murals, I'll need a check for $1,500 to cover my start-up costs."
"We haven't negotiated a price."
Duo laughed. "You told me my price was a steal. The down payment is $1,500. I think that's fair… considering."
He wanted to accuse Heero of lying, of thinking he was not good enough to know the truth, but he bit his tongue. "Considering… you liked the sketches, right?" He tried to smile, but he was sure Heero saw through it the way the man was looking at him.
"Duo, is the money important to you?"
"Well, yeah. I think I should be paid… it is a commission."
"Then let's talk about it after dinner. Trowa and Quatre are waiting." Heero turned toward the door.
Duo stepped in front of him, placing his hands on Heero's forearms. "Hey, Bob, do you want my murals or not?"
Heero's eyes narrowed. "Yes, I want them."
"Then what is there to talk about? It's $3,000 for the lot--half now and half when I'm done."
Duo felt his stomach tighten as he waited for Heero's response. He had never charged anyone that much money for anything—art or labor—and it made him a little woozy throwing numbers around like that. But these were desperate times, and he had to hold steady.
Heero hesitated, but then went around his desk, sat down, and unlocked a drawer. He pulled out a large black binder which held the company checks and then withdrew a pen from its holder--every action methodical and slow. There was no satisfaction in this moment, no shared joy at what they were undertaking together and Duo bristled. Heero had no reason to act so sullen. Duo was the only one who had a right to be angry.
"That's Maxwell… M-A-X-W-E-L-L."
"I know how to spell your name."
"Then what gives, man? You always move at a snail's pace when you're doing business?"
Heero did not laugh at the sarcastic remark, and continued to write out the check. Another few strokes and he was tearing it from the book and handing it over. "When will you have something to show me?"
"A couple of weeks. I'll do a few more sketches before I start painting."
"Fine." Heero closed the checkbook and put it away, locking the desk. "Now let's get something to eat."
Duo nodded, but felt deflated by the transaction. He looked down at the check, hoping that would cheer him and had to read it twice: Pay to the order of Duo Maxwell. Six hundred dollars.
"My down payment," Heero said, matter-of-factly.
"I didn't agree to this."
"It's 20% of the $3,000 you are charging for the murals."
"But I need $1,500. I thought we agreed to that."
"It's standard practice to pay 20% down."
Duo saw red. First, Heero lied to him, and now he was jacking him around on the amount. He had to have that money. "Come on, Heero. You know I'm good for the paintings. Just give me the $1,500… Okay?" He leaned forward to kiss him, but Heero pulled back.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to kiss you."
"You're trying to get more money out of me."
"Well, that's a fine way of putting it."
"Am I wrong?"
Duo took a step back, feeling a decided negative energy in Heero's question. Before he could offer an explanation and diffuse the situation in a way that would not sour this deal or reveal his financial failings, Heero was in motion. He pulled out the checkbook, this time opening it with haste. The pen pressed so hard that it scratched the paper.
"Would you like the entire $3,000 now?"
Duo felt his world tilt. "What?"
"I'll leave it blank and you can fill in the amount." Heero tore out the check and held it across the desk. His eyes were hard under the heavy bangs. "I should warn you there's a $10,000 limit."
Duo was frozen, shocked by the harsh display.
"Take it," Heero said, stretching his arm further with a jerky motion.
Duo looked between the blank check and Heero, and his head swam. He needed the money, was desperate for the money, but this was not how he wanted to get it. Damn it, he thought. "All I wanted…" The words were choked. He wanted to explain, but his need was greater, and all he could do was reach his hand out.
Heero pulled the check away. "Get out."
The severe words resonated in Duo with shock and anger. "What bullshit is this? You baited me?" he asked as his chest tightened.
Heero stood up, the chair pushing back with a scrape. "Get. Out."
The purposeful emphasis on each word made Duo stumble back. Was the room shrinking in on him? Everything felt small, dimmed somehow. Numb, he turned for the door, and took one step, then another, expecting Heero to call to him, but there was only silence. At the door he turned to see Heero putting away the checks, ignoring him. "Fuck you, Heero. Fuck you and the high horse you rode in on."
With those words, Duo felt a wave of nausea roll through him. He clutched his middle and ran, bolting from the office and back into the very public areas of the restaurant. He darted between waiters and customers, bumping into several and making no apologies. He made it to the table where Quatre and Trowa sat waiting.
"I'm outta here," Duo said, breathing hard.
"What happened? You don't look so good."
"Heero Yuy is a lying son of a bitch." Duo's voice was loud and angry, and his words caught the attention of patrons at nearby tables.
"What did he lie about?"
"Everything." The nausea hit Duo again, his skin going pale. He put a hand over his mouth and ran for the door, making it outside and to the curb before doubling over and vomiting in the street.
Quatre was at his side in an instant. "Duo!"
The patrons waiting in line began to comment, wondering aloud if it was food poisoning.
"I've lost everything…" Duo said, retching again, and tears filling his eyes.
"Oh, Duo," Quatre caressed his back gently. "I'll get you a towel or something…"
Quatre disappeared from his side, and Duo sat down on the curb, putting his throbbing head in his hands. It felt like his heart had been ripped from his chest. Shit, he had been treated better by truck drivers. At least they never wanted anything more than his body and his time, not like Heero who had taken his entire being, his very soul, and now his last hope at saving his farm.
A tear slid down his cheek, and just then Quatre was back, handing him a wet towel. "Here."
Duo wiped his eyes with it, finding a moment's relief when he pressed the cool cloth to his face. Then he flung it aside. "Let's go."
Quatre frowned. "Okay, but let me tell Trowa---"
"Do what you gotta do. I'm leaving."
Duo got to his feet, unsteadily, and headed in the direction of his truck. He was numb and empty, but he had to keep moving.
+ + +
Fuck you, Heero.
The words echoed inside Heero as he systematically tidied his desk. In seconds it was back in order, checks voided and the space cleared of any evidence of a deal gone sour. He pulled the chair up behind him, and sat down, ready to get back to work, but his mind would not focus on work. Instead, the image of Duo reaching for the blank check played over and over again. His worst fear had come true.
I shouldn't have done it, he thought. I saw his weakness and I tested it.
His eyes burned from the beginnings of tears, and he squinted hard to stop them. It was best this happened now before things went too far. As it was he had been caught up in a ridiculous fantasy, falling for an artist whose only work was on the side of a barn that most of his neighbors considered an eyesore. Trowa was to blame. All his speeches about love and finding true happiness had pushed Heero into false expectations.
It was ludicrous to think that sex would be better if the person did not know Heero had money. It was much less complicated when they did know, making the sex a transaction, a diversion that satisfied and allowed Heero to go on his way unburdened by strange feelings of possessiveness and hunger. Duo had made him greedy, wanting more, thinking of nothing else but being in that bedroom in the old farmhouse and making love until dawn.
Heero rested his elbows on the desk, and slowly, almost painfully put his head in his hands. He was shaking. This was not how he should be acting. He should be relieved, vindicated by his early detection of Duo's true nature. When the signs had appeared that Duo was like the rest, Heero had to be sure, and was right to test him. But strangely he thought Duo would pass. He had wanted Duo to pass.
With a deep rage, Heero swiped his arm across the desk, shoving everything to the floor—pens, tape dispenser, invoices, calendar… all scattered. Damn, Duo for leading him down that road.