"Daydreams...like books in the shelf of my mind"
--Lolah Burford, 'Edward, Edward'
by D.C. Logan
Wufei should arrive within the hour. He'd called ahead to let Heero know that he'd hopped on the first available flight from the west coast after Heero had called and mentioned oh so casually in passing that he was interested in finding out more about one of Wufei's tenants.
The man was a prince really, how many other friends did Heero have that would drop everything and rush to his apartment to talk about some person he'd never met, didn't know the name of, and likely would never even speak to. All right, so Wufei was his _only_ friend, but yeah, Wufei was a prince. Really. Sure the guy was his agent, okay, and they owned the building together, though Wufei did all the managing of it, but they'd been friends long before all that.
Once Heero had started writing and needed someone to handle the business end of it all for him, Wufei seemed the logical choice to ask for advice. Despite a strong caution from fellow writers that friends and business shouldn't be mixed, things had moved forward without mishap once Wufei had taken over the management of his writing career. All he had to do was write, Wufei took care of all the little details that Heero preferred not to. Though, he thought with some regret, without the forced tolerances of having a regular job and having to shop and rub against humanity on a regular basis, his remaining social graces had fallen into disrepair and he feared his inherent shyness had taken over most of the ground he'd fought away from it in years past. His self-confidence, at least when interacting with strangers, wasn't going to win him any prizes either.
So yes, at the moment he was interested in meeting someone based solely on looks, attitude, and occupation, and Wufei had bolted home as soon as he'd mentioned it in passing. Weird that, but he considered it the mark of a true and loyal friend. Then again, given how demanding Heero had been at times, Wufei was probably desperate for Heero to find and develop any relationships he could so Wufei could get a break from Heero's fairly regular claims on his time and attention. Besides, Heero thought optimistically, the guy he'd been watching from his windows over the past three months seemed like a genuinely nice guy, though the odds of him falling within a particular five percent of the population were, well, to put it mildly, slim.
Heero had the idea of calling Wufei only yesterday, and had kicked himself mentally for not thinking of it sooner. Wufei managed the building after all (why else would Heero live there?), and given Wufei's genetic level of anal-retentiveness, Heero was certain that he'd had a background check done on each of his tenants, residential and commercial. Hell, he'd probably run a check on Heero as well just for the sake of ensuring that his files were complete. The guy was a certified genius, and had such a high degree of perfection and standards of living and ethics that he'd been through two serious relationships and a continuous series of lovers that couldn't match up to his rigid set of expectations. Heero had known him for years, and thought the world of him.
Heero's standards weren't that high, at least he hoped not. It was so difficult sometimes for him to figure out where his sense of what was 'normal' intersected with society at large. So very difficult. There was always a sense of feeling alien and different, and somehow just outside the bounds of the system. Part of that was probably a byproduct of his lifestyle, the sense of 'otherness' or 'alienation' that individuals who had selected a lifestyle that removed them from the gene pool--confirmed bachelors, people in the gay community, single adults, and others that had somehow slipped through the system--had. He'd had care to notice how society treated them differently, with resentment and fear and a little bit of envy and curiosity. Most of which seemed to center around the idea of 'If you're not breeding, not raising a family, then what _are_ you up to?'
Now that Wufei was coming, he was starting to doubt his sanity in dragging his friend into his latest obsession, but it was too late to do anything about that now. Besides, it had been his choice to visit, right?
It wasn't until later that afternoon that Wufei made his appearance at Heero's door. His flight had been delayed and Logan International had turned into a nasty swarm of people fighting to obtain rides into the city or make connecting flights. Wufei seemed inordinately pleased about something despite the travel inconveniences, a fact that immediately stirred unease in Heero. Wufei was rarely that smug about anything.
It wasn't until he had dropped his bag and briefcase in the foyer of Heero's apartment and wandered into the living room, poking and sorting through the detritus of Heero's life and making him twitch with unease that Heero was able to place the last time he'd seen Wufei wear that particular expression.
"You set me up, didn't you?"
Wufei turned around and had the grace to actually look insulted, and met Heero's face with a carefully schooled expression of mild surprise.
"Me? What did I do?"
"Something." He paused to consider and match a label to Wufei's expression. "You look smug. What have you been up to this time? If it's anyone like that evil woman you sicced on me last year, you can just forget about it. Besides, I said it wasn't anyone special this time, I just wanted to know a little more about one of your tenants. You needn't have flown back here to talk to me about that; a simple fax or email would have sufficed."
Wufei just smiled. "So, you've finally become curious have you? It's about time."
"What?" Heero did his level best to sound unimpressed.
"Let me guess... Ms. Tyler in 2B?"
"Right, she's old enough to be my mother, and she's _very_ married. Guess again."
"That cute young couple in the apartment below yours?"
"I'm only into one at a time Wufei, not into crowd scenes."
"Aha! So you are interested in more than just a casual way." He paused for dramatic effect, "So, it must be my first floor tenant then."
Heero goggled, then shut his mouth and frowned when he realized how telling his reaction had been as Wufei started to smile and pointed a finger at him.
"How long have you known?"
"That you're into men? Oh, I don't know, years..."
"Then that harridan you sent to me, asked me to date...?"
"Just making sure."
"Fine." Heero dropped to the sofa in surrender and looked up at his friend. Damn if Wufei didn't have a grin stretching entirely across his face. Well, he could count on less than four fingers the number of times he'd been successful at providing _this_ much amusement for his friend. At least he didn't have to tiptoe around the topic of his sexual preferences anymore...and then something occurred to him. "Hey, are you trying to set me up again?"
"Would I do that?"
"Quicker than hell can scorch a feather."
"Well, then," he paused to think for a moment, "not really; but I'd be lying if I said that I never considered the possibility."
"So, he's gay then?" Heero cringed when he couldn't keep the hopeful tone out of his voice.
"If his references didn't lie to me, and they have nothing to gain or lose by doing so, he has a history of relationships with both men and women. It's none of my business which flavor he prefers though. He seemed like a nice enough guy; he was just starting out and needed a lucky break, so I gave him one. He reminded me of us when we were just getting started. It's a good location for a store like his, and I wanted something stable for the ground floor that was a respectable business. The condom shop didn't lend the right air of sophistication to the building somehow."
Briefly distracted, Heero couldn't help but comment on that. "Truth? A condom store?"
Wufei nodded and wandered off to find something to drink out of the refrigerator. Heero rocked to his feet to follow him. He'd passed his initial state of confusion and wanted to know more about the man he was interested in--and Wufei obviously knew more than he was telling.
"Give," he demanded.
"Duo Maxwell. Thirty-two years old. Started the bookstore about three years ago and needed a new location after his last building was sold and remodeled into condominiums..." Wufei shifted the contents of the refrigerator about. "Don't you have anything alcoholic in here?"
"No, I don't drink"
"You're a disgrace to your profession. I thought all writers required some sort of liquid propulsion from time to time to get those creative juices flowing."
"Fine. I'll get some Bushmills to keep on hand for your next visit then." Heero peered over Wufei's shoulder into the depths of his refrigerator, but couldn't remember the contents off hand. "There should be a soft drink or two buried in the back somewhere. Now give dammit!"
Wufei gave up on the hunt for a cold drink and turned to look at Heero, stunned when he saw how flustered his friend was, and acted immediately contrite for teasing him when he knew very well how sensitive Heero was to any type of social banter. "Hey, sorry... This is important to you somehow, isn't it?"
Heero baulked, surprised at the unexpected intensity of his feelings. When _had_ this guy started to become more than an enjoyable distraction? Weird, but he was used to playing his hunches, and this felt like something he was being compelled to follow. The urge and need for more information was important to him, very important--though he couldn't say why. Wufei, seeing his distress and confusion, took pity on him.
"Look, I don't know a whole lot about him, just his name, address, and a few basic facts about his credit rating and lifestyle. If you're serious about finding out more about this guy, since you seem to be more than a little fixated on him, why don't you start by going downstairs and hanging out in his shop for a little while? It can't hurt, and you can see him up close and personal." Wufei looked to the side table, "or are those binoculars on the window sill just for bird watching..."
Heero had the grace to redden, but said nothing more in reply. Wufei already had enough material to make Heero's life a misery for as long as he felt the need to tease him.
Wufei had pushed, Heero had caved, and now he had been left to his own devices to determine what time they would both take the trip down the four flights of stairs, go outside of the building, and then back in again. It seemed like a long way to go to satisfy his curiosity, and without Wufei providing the ballast he needed to take the trip, there was no way he'd consider it; but there was no talking his way out of it now. No matter how much his stomach clenched or his bowels twitched, Wufei would never let him hear the end of it if he backed down at this point.
Heero stood in front of his closet door in indecision. He'd dressed in one of his suits to greet Wufei, but he didn't remember if he had anything more appropriate to wear. The people he watched from his window all seemed to be dressed so casually from what he'd been raised with. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this anxious over anything in his life, but he trusted his gut hunches as well and they told him in no uncertain terms that this was a move he needed to make. Better to do it now and get it over with so he wouldn't worry the idea to death. He gave up and closed the door with a resolute click; what he was wearing would have to do. Wufei would be more certain than ever that something serious was going on if Heero made any special arrangements before leaving his apartment. Not that Wufei would be wrong, but Heero didn't have to let him know that either.
Wufei was waiting for him in the living room, doing his best to hide his amusement over Heero's predicament. "Ready?"
Heero recoiled as the hot humid air in the hallway smacked him insultingly in the face. It hadn't seemed that bad in his artificially cooled apartment, even with the one window open. Ugh, how did people move in this? Wufei, to Heero's eternal disgust, looked cool and polished in his suit. Heero didn't look down to check, but, other than making sure his clothes were clean and nothing untoward was exposed, he didn't dress to impress much. Though, now that he was looking at how his friend would appear to strangers, he rather envied the cultured approach. Too late now.
Heero looked at Wufei blankly, what did keys have to do with what he was wearing? He nodded absently, thinking about the suit he wanted to buy for his next excursion from his apartment.
The endless flights of stairs were far longer than he remembered them to be; but not long enough as they reached the end and the secure door to the sidewalk. Heero swallowed hard and made an effort to stand straighter. He could do this, it had only been... actually, he couldn't recall the last time he'd left his apartment. He made a mental note to himself that he really _had_ to get out more often, this was getting to be ridiculous. Really. He snapped back to the present at Wufei's light chuckle. He was wearing that long-suffering, oddly patronizing smirk that Heero detested so. Probably thought it would help his cause. Right. Sure.
Heero loved him like a brother, but that didn't blind him to the fact that the man was the most sanctimonious tightass that ever walked the planet.
Wufei led him through the door into a wall of noise, a ceiling of brightness, and onto a brick walk that scorched his feet through his shoes. He turned blindly to follow him down the sidewalk to the right, and through another door. After the chaos on the street, it felt like falling into dark, and Heero was momentarily blinded by the abrupt reversal of light. He stood fixed on the threshold and felt more than heard the door automatically close behind him.
It was cool in here, and pleasantly dim; books didn't like sunlight, so that made sense. He looked over the store, gaining his bearings. He started on the left-hand side of the room and realized that he was standing on a platform level with the sidewalk, but that the store proper was a few feet below him and spread out to take advantage of the natural light from the street. It had been a long time since he'd been in a bookstore. He purchased all of his reading material online since it was easier, nearly as fast, and usually less expensive; but he missed the thrill of a 'find' and the silent assistance that books sorted by topic could provide. His eyes swept across the pleasant room, honey-toned oak, gray patterned carpet, some plants (real ones), a life-size statue of a dog on the floor, some framed botanical prints on the wall. There was a comfortable arrangement of upholstered chairs for either relaxing in or for waiting for other customers to finish shopping, Heero was unsure which; he'd never seen chairs in a bookstore before. There were two customers in the store: one on his knees over by a shelf of paperbacks, the other a twenty-ish student consulting a list while collecting a stack of books from assorted displays about the room.
Wufei brushed past him and down the stairs, while Heero watched the student lumber her haul over to the counter. He'd been distracted by his surroundings, enough so that he started when his eyes reached the man he'd traveled all that mental distance to meet. His interest was paying attention to the woman, who had handed him her list and was apparently asking him questions about her selections in a low voice.
Hell, even if the guy was in a serious relationship or detested short Asian men, with any luck Heero would at least be able to hang around in the bookstore and listen to him. A little fantasy couldn't hurt. All in the name of research for his next book right? Yeah, right.
Heero took the opportunity to move down the stairs and into the body of the store. It seemed bigger and yet more intimate from this perspective. The shelves effectively blocked his view of the room, and he cursed his lack of height. He caught sight of Wufei, who was slowly browsing the stacks subject by subject--maintaining line of sight with Heero. It was subtle, but it was obvious to Heero that he was doing it intentionally until Heero gained his confidence over the new space. Oddly enough though, the store felt comfortable to him, nearly familiar.
Wufei caught his eye and pointed at a display shelf at the end of one of the display cases. Heero approached it, curious, and was taken aback when he realized that it contained his latest historical romance along with its prequel. He studied the cover with distaste. Who the hell had made the decision to use this one? He remembered telling Wufei to go with whatever the publisher thought was appropriate, but really. His heroine wasn't a brunette; she had red hair... and it was cropped short in the story, not long enough to drape over the obviously virile, near naked doorstop she was floundering over. Neither of the cover characters was wearing all that much actually. He peered closer with interest. Wufei shrugged and wandered off, apparently pleased at Heero's reaction. The guy in the corner by the paperbacks was watching Heero read over the romances. Heero broke eye contact with him, twitched, and moved on.
He followed the perimeter of the room, passing over the books in favor of getting a feel for the environment about him. No music was playing, and it was notable by its absence. Every bookstore he'd been in had played music and it had always distracted him. This was a refreshing change from the norm, one he found soothing. He ran his hand over the polished wood of the shelves, his finger along crisp spines of the trade paperbacks, recognizing a number of favorite authors in the process. All of this had been waiting for him--literally under his feet the entire time he'd been living here--and he hadn't had a clue. Life was strange.
He heard a rustle as the student's haul was slid into a paper bag and pulled off the counter. The man behind the counter waved at the girl, closed the register, and turned to look at Heero, and Heero froze. He knew he was staring, he knew he was blowing his chance to act normal, and he was powerless to stop the moment from stretching out interminably. The man stared back, and the objective part of Heero's brain noted that this man wasn't much taller than he was, and that distance had done absolutely nothing to hide the man's looks. Heero's survival instincts finally kicked in and he dropped his gaze. Shit, now he was looking at the midpoint of the counter about where the man's crotch would be if he stepped out from behind the counter. Oh merciful heavens... He was moving... and Heero was unable to move an inch.
Wufei intercepted the man before he could reach Heero--and asked him a question about one of the displays. Wufei caught the curious (and perhaps interested?) glance the man threw at Heero before turning to follow his lead across the room. Heero on the other hand, studied the carpet, sent a prayer to his god, and made a note to send Wufei an entire case of whatever alcohol he preferred to drink at the moment. He owed him, big time. He listened while Wufei and the man talked quietly on the other side of the room, and upped his estimation to two cases. He unlocked his legs and moved woodenly to one of the chairs to quiet his heart and absorb the sound of the voices behind him, and then his heart stopped and began tripping again. Wufei was asking about Heero's books.
Heero changed his mind about the second case of Bushmills and started counting off the seconds until he could leave. Oh god, this was getting complicated.