"Daydreams...like books in the shelf of my mind"
--Lolah Burford, 'Edward, Edward'
by D.C. Logan
Good, they were back again.
The shop was quiet and empty except for three of his regular customers, which meant that Duo could dedicate time to drooling over Mr. Blue Eyes in the security mirrors without having to worry about getting ripped off.
It was just too bad he obviously belonged to someone else. His friend didn't let him out of his sight and was careful to guide him through the crowd on the sidewalk when entering and leaving the store. While they hadn't done anything to indicate an overt relationship that he could see, they were more intimate with each other than the polite social limits of good friends. Duo made a mental note to ask Quatre to watch them next time their visit coincided with one of his, the guy was practically psychic when it came to figuring out how involved people were with each other, and in this case he most definitely wanted to know. He was getting mixed signals. Duo sighed quietly to himself, god that man was gorgeous.
It had been an average Tuesday up until the moment Mr. Blue and company had alighted on his threshold. Duo had arrived at eight more or less, unlocked the grate over the main window, rolled it up into the shade, and opened the restored antique door to his pride and joy. He'd gone to the back of the store, run his hands over the switches that controlled light, temperature, and humidity; and noted that Trowa must have dropped by on the way to Quatre's as Sand wasn't in her usual corner of the storage room.
He'd checked his watch, twenty minutes left until 'doors open', so he'd leaned up against the wall to combat the feeling of ennui that assaulted him when he thought of Trowa. He envied what Trowa and Quatre had together, but he'd reached his own settle point three years ago shortly after he'd started Daydreams. This was his life now, it was enough, he'd made it his center and his focus. It was working for him; it had to.
Now this new complication had arrived to unsettle the foundations he'd worked so hard to establish. Hell, he didn't even know the guy's name, didn't think he was inclined or available, and yet he had the power to make Duo question the balance of his life. Dammit, what was _wrong_ with him?
The first time he'd entered Duo's shop had been two weeks ago. He'd arrived in the company of an upright and polished Chinese man who moved so straight and gracefully that his military background, however distant, was still obvious. Both men had been dressed in stylish suits, custom tailored if he wasn't mistaken, and except for the quiet voices and obvious shyness of the one man to the other, were obviously fast friends (and maybe more to each other than that--it was so difficult to tell since customs differed from culture to culture). The pair had paused approvingly on the threshold before entering the shop. Though Mr. Blue had started at the chime of the bell, his attention had quickly moved to the new books artfully displayed to catch the attention of the casual browser.
Duo had watched the pair move around the room, the more confident gentleman leading the way, pausing briefly to tip a volume from between its neighbors and examine the covers, front and back, before replacing it. In correct order, Duo noted and approved, he appreciated a man who paid attention to small details. It was a hobby of his: learning about people from watching their actions. It was a useful skill, and had served him well during his short lifetime.
The other man followed the trail his partner laid around the perimeter of the room, but unlike his friend, his hands reached out for and then recoiled from the books as if they had the power to burn his fingertips. Duo was fascinated, and watched the man surreptitiously by way of the security mirrors. He'd finished with a customer, and turned to ask him if he was looking for something in particular, and had found himself transfixed by the man in front of him. Wow, yeah, the man reduced him to single syllable words; he was that spectacular. Yet if the subtle signals that his friend was giving him were any indication, he was already _very_ taken. Damn. Well, what were the odds that a guy like that would be running around unattached, really? The question was, how attached was he exactly? Was it a close friendship? Or something more than that?
He'd turned and assisted the military guy with the latest release by Tess Zobia. Who would've thought that the guy would be into historical bodice rippers, no matter how elegantly written? He'd declined the book, collected his friend, and said something about stopping by again later. Duo studied the shy one as he left the store, something caught his attention and he looked more carefully, were his lips moving? Yes, they were. He was counting... something. He'd paced after his friend and, with a nod of his regal (there was really no other word for it) head, they'd both slipped out the door before Duo could come up with so much as a "come back soon." Damn.
The strange pair had visited twice again that week, and followed the same routine: stop outside the door, pause, enter, and walk around the circumference of the room and leave. The third time, the one with the military brass jammed up his ass pulled a nonfiction bestseller off the new releases shelf and brought it to Duo for purchase. He studied Duo's face, and Duo wondered if he had dirt on his nose, or perhaps cut himself while shaving that morning or something, but then the man smiled in a friendly manner, and paused for a moment to read the sign behind the counter and consider its message.
"That's an interesting quotation you have posted there."
Duo smiled in return, and looked back over his shoulder at his sign, returning to face the man with a widening grin, "Yup, words I live my life by. I think about that quote every day. One of the neighborhood kids painted that for me after I taught him to read from the book that's taken from. It's one of my all-time favorites, taken from one of H.Y. Elwon's suspense novels. You ever read his work?" If he had, Duo thought, he might have to adjust his opinion of this man upwards, much as that ground against his morals.
Wufei smiled, mostly to himself. This might just work out after all. "Oh, I'm a tremendous fan, I've read everything he's written." His smile broadened, and he passed a look on to his friend who gave a brief glance at the counter and the message behind it before moving off to do another lap of the store. "I've read it as well, it's a good motto for your establishment." He looked around, and made sure Duo saw him do it. "This is a truly pleasant reprieve from the district outside."
The guy had a cultured sort of accent, and his words were artificially smooth and polished. Duo thought he probably worked at one of the international banks downtown. Duo wanted to hear the other guy say something, anything. They were certainly dressed for business, and though he'd written them off as one-time browsers the first time they'd graced his establishment, well, this was their third trip, so he'd have to start thinking about them as regulars soon wouldn't he?
Duo nodded in agreement, proud of his accomplishment. "Are you new to the area? I remember most of the people who come in my shop, and I don't remember you visiting before this month."
The man hesitated, and then continued with Duo's small talk as he spied his companion hesitantly trying out the fit of an armchair on the other side of the room. He was perched on the edge of the cushion, ready to take flight if necessary, but he was sitting. That was a tremendous improvement. "I'm just visiting a friend," he tilted his head meaningfully in the direction of Mr. Blue, but seemed unwilling to divulge any more information. Duo could take a hint with grace, and politely backed away from the conversation, allowing the man and whatever his business was, the privacy he deserved. Though he had a thinly disguised curiosity about the man he was with, he said nothing. It was none of his business. He had other things to puzzle over.
Yeah, right. That quick flash of panicked blue through the unkempt bangs had been living with him since the day they'd first walked into the shop. That shy man was a puzzle, a grand one, and Duo loved working out puzzles. This was a mystery worth working on, there was something there that pulled at him, and he'd felt that sensation only once before in his life. He trusted that feeling, and steeled himself to wait for an opportunity, or for however long it took for him to figure out what was driving the quiet man sitting in the corner of his store. There was a sense of completeness that surrounded him that drew him close. He wanted to find out what it was he found so attractive. Hell, maybe there were more wherever he came from, or maybe his 'friend' would get bored with him and move on. Yeah, right.
Now his two curious customers were back and settling into a pair of overstuffed chairs in a private corner of his shop. They'd obviously stopped at one of the local coffee houses on the way in today and had taken care to place their drinks within comfortable reach, yet out of the way of the books on display. Duo smiled, they certainly were a considerate pair, and had the potential to become good customers if their tastes ran along with their expensive habits. He'd bet lunch that the shoes the Chinese man was wearing cost more than a month's rent on the store--which was considerable. Mr. Blue seemed much more comfortable today. Had they had a fight earlier this week that had been resolved? Something within Duo ran nauseous at the thought, but it was certainly possible, especially considering his gradual change in demeanor over the past week. He often invented reasons behind his customers' behaviors and habits; but this time something was different, this time he needed to know what was real. That rare impulse to uncover the truth disturbed him. He'd toyed with this sort of surveillance on his customers from time to time, but he couldn't remember having this degree of interest before...
Though Duo had a policy of letting his regular customers enjoy the store without interrupting them, he found himself drawn to the couple in the corner and found himself adjusting displays and doing routine re-alphabetizing just so he could eavesdrop on their conversation--and hopefully hear Mr. Blue's voice climb above a soft whisper--just once would suffice. He'd been studying him carefully over his past few visits--but he wanted, no needed, more at this point. Even if he was unattainable--hey, anything could happen right?
Wufei leaned back in his chair and cast a surreptitious glance at the security mirror mounted on the ceiling in the corner by their chairs. He hadn't had his strategy complimented in years now, but that didn't mean that he'd lost his touch--no, not by any means. Heero was contentedly nursing his coffee along while working his way through the paperwork Wufei had presented him with over lunch. And Mr. I'm-interested-and-trying-not-to-let-anyone-know-about-it Maxwell was spying on his location, and had been betrayed by none other than his own security measures.
Maxwell had been really subtle so far--Wufei doubted that Heero had noticed a thing, but Wufei had caught his look of longing on more than one occasion while the three of them played cat and mouse among the books. Things hadn't progressed nearly as far as he'd hoped, but at least he was assured that Maxwell was interested, and if Heero's unusual complacence was any indication, he was equally fixated on the man--just not at all willing to share anything of his thoughts. Wufei shrugged his head and chuckled at their predicament, and Heero lifted his attention from his work.
Wufei played options around in his head, and grasped an idea from the edge of his mind, but when he turned to ask Maxwell a question, he realized that the man had left. He was more talented than he'd originally thought, this could be difficult; but Wufei had to get back to California eventually, and to his business concerns there. Only so much could be done from the other side of the country. It was time to leave Heero to his own devices and to test the waters on his own. He wasn't one for stalling or delaying the inevitable either. "Please excuse me for a moment Heero."
He wished him the best of luck in his mind, and walked over to the counter to see what else he could set in place to start Heero on his way. He needed to speak with Mr. Maxwell for a minute or two...
Duo lifted his head form his task at the gentle chime of the bell. He cocked his head to the side and listened carefully for his visitor, but they'd either ducked back out into the street or were being inordinately quiet for a Tuesday afternoon. A rainy Tuesday at that. He shifted his attention back to the heavy carton lodged between his feet and, gripping the naked razor blade between his index finger and thumb, carefully scored the edges of the box. He watched in approval as the tape parted smoothly under the thin blade, enjoying the gnawing, tearing sound of the parting fibers. He always got a kick out of that noise--but couldn't put his mind to why he enjoyed it so much. He paused, listening carefully for his customer, and then continued with the unpacking of his shipment when empty silence was all that returned to him.
Good, the new books from his distributor were in salable condition despite the crumpled edges on the box. He shifted its contents to the back counter while comparing the packing list to the stack with growing surprise; the invoice matched the stack of new books unpacked and lined up in a row. It was a new record for his distributor, three correct orders in a row. What were the odds of it ever happening again... really? Duo ran a steady finger across the slick stack of volumes. Some of his favorite authors were in this shipment and he was tempted to borrow a select few from the pile and head home to his apartment, his coffee pot, and the handmade quilt the ladies in his building had gifted him with after he'd tracked down that long out of print copy of 'Edward, Edward' for their book discussion group. They'd been most grateful.
He gave the idea all the consideration it deserved, and then ran it through his brain for another try. It had more luck on the second circuit through--and he actually made it as far as the storeroom door, books under his arm and reaching for the light switch before he realized that he had a customer in his shop.
Mr. Blue was back, this time on his own. Hot damn.
His friend had introduced himself and had taken Duo aside last week. He'd been cultured and polite and asked Duo if he'd mind if his friend came in and sat quietly in his store from time to time. Duo had replied with his automatic response of 'comfortable customers always being welcome' in his store, while inwardly he'd clutched at the opportunity to watch the man some more. While there was a definite air of protectiveness of one man for the other, Wufei had mentioned something about going back home to California, which implied that whatever their relationship was, there might be room for Duo to at least find out more about Mr. Blue and explore a possibility or two. He hoped. Lord he hoped.
Duo had been running the small shop for about three years now, and he'd rarely seen a person so uncomfortable in his own skin as this man. His first look at his face was a long two weeks ago, and had only lasted a flash of a second--bright blue under damp bangs that were left to hang as a shield between this man and the world around him. He moved as if hunted, cautiously easing his way into the store, carefully observing and cataloguing the appointments and paths through the stacks, chairs, and shelves. There was nothing overt about his behavior, but it was there and apparent, at least to Duo. For whatever reason, this was a man who was comfortable with himself, but not in his environment. His eyes had flicked briefly to Duo's, but quickly shifted to the floor, the walls, anywhere and everywhere but where Duo wanted him to look.
So now Mr. Blue was back in his store, this time alone and more insecure for it. Though by now the environment should be familiar and somewhat welcoming, it was obvious that this man had some sort of phobia or hang up about being seen out and about in public places. This time his emotional anchor had abandoned him, or was testing him, Duo thought as he watched Mr. Blue search through the shelves in the mystery section. He was obviously looking for something. What? Duo felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, lord this guy was gorgeous. Imminently fuckable, was the fairly crude term his friend Trowa often used, and for once Duo agreed with the label. Yeah, I'd do him, he thought, and then I'd keep him forever
...Now where had that thought come from?
Duo played alternate options in the back of his mind as he considered Mr. Blue in some of his favorite settings and circumstances. Wow, down Mr. Happy. Good thing he was hiding behind the counter or he'd really be scaring off the customers. His eye caught movement to his right, good lord, Mr. Blue not only had a book in his hand, he was actually walking towards Duo. No eye contact though, damn. The book slid across the counter, and Duo smiled broadly, expecting his customer to glance up. But he didn't.
"Ah, Pratchett, the guy's a wonder. You picking this up for yourself?"
There was no response.
After a slight pause, the man reached into his pocket and pulled out his money. About three hundred dollars in body-warmed cash was wrapped around one or two credit cards. He peeled one of the bills from an inside layer and placed it on top of the book, but didn't say a word. Duo checked the book, applied the proper discount, and calculated change that he handed back to the man who held out his hand hesitantly to accept it. Their fingers did not touch, but there was a hesitation between them that Duo didn't think he was imagining. Hell, he didn't know what to think any longer.
Duo tried again to see the man's eyes, wondering if he'd imagined the flash of blue the other day. Luck wasn't with him though, not today. Heck, the guy was Asian, so the eye color was probably the result of designer contacts anyway. No response was forthcoming to Duo's quiet banter, but as the man left the shop, his empty hand raised itself from his side in a casual, nearly invisible wave.
So, with any luck he'd be back again.
The next week he was.
Duo had given it considerable thought and he still couldn't figure out what it was about the mysterious Mr. Blue that attracted his attention so. He had loads of regular customers--most during the lunch hour or shortly after the commuting hours. Weekends, his small shop could get downright crowded, but Mr. Blue had an odd knack, or an instinct maybe, for showing up when the store was empty or at least nearly devoid of customers. He'd progressed from sitting for an uncomfortable twenty minutes to relaxing quietly for hours in one of the overstuffed and expensively upholstered armchairs set up in a corner of the room. Sometimes he'd pull a book from a nearby table for company and feather idly through the pages, most times he just sat with a closed book on his lap and stared at the world going by outside the window. Duo didn't mind; he gladly took the opportunity to watch his strange obsession. Curious about him, where his polite friend had gone off to, why he was free to come and go as he pleased but seemed to derive no pleasure from his personal freedoms. He was most certainly a puzzle.
A new pattern established itself.
His visitor continued to stop by to wear the design off of Duo's chair and settle a delightful perfect-ass-shaped indentation that Duo studied with some care after closing the store one day. He never spoke a word, and Duo wondered privately if he could speak at all, or if some tragic accident, physical or mental, had robbed him of the ability. He pulled at the edges of his mind, but couldn't recall if he'd said anything to his friend the first few times he'd wandered into the shop with him--no, he hadn't said anything then either. Perhaps he'd whispered a response or two? Or maybe not, Duo thought he would have remembered. He'd thought the man stunning from first contact, and he'd had some interest in learning more about him from the start. That initial impression hadn't altered much since that first day--except that Duo was, if possible, even more interested in Mr. Blue.
Duo had tried on two occasions to get him to talk, had offered him a complimentary cup of coffee or tea? water? twice, and then had left the man to his own counsel. He was content for the moment to just watch and study his regular visitor from behind the security of his counter and to sit back and consider all the possibilities. The view in his security mirrors sure wasn't hard on his eyes. Not in the least.
Well, the man was mellowing, no doubt about it. He was relaxing behind a newspaper as had become his habit, and was enjoying the relative cool and quiet of the store. Duo wasn't complaining; he was good company--of a sort anyway. It was nice to have someone around, even if they didn't seem interested in conversation.
For his part, Heero had been quietly learning all he could about Duo Maxwell. He'd taken an interest in the bookstore and had been carefully watching Duo handle the people and the daily tasks involved in running a retail business this size. He observed him with all of his customers, both the tourists off the street seeking refuge from the crowds, and the regulars that he now recognized who visited daily to buy a newspaper or magazine and chat briefly before going about the activities of their day.
There were the quiet moments as well that usually came during the early afternoon; when Duo would walk around the store, replacing a book here and there, shifting the order of a shelf, adjusting a display. He'd take the time then to walk over to Heero's chair (as he was starting to think of it), say hello and sit in the neighboring chair and relax for a moment or two in that easy, familiar and comfortable style and habit he had about him, and would remain there, patient, saying nothing, until a new customer wandered past the chiming bell.
To Heero, it seemed like too large a space and too long hours for one person to run, and he'd overheard talk of two other people who normally assisted in the running of the store, but Trowa and Quatre were never there when Heero arrived. Heero wondered about that, but put the thought from his mind to concentrate on his new favorite obsession--and trying to make such observation as casual and unobtrusive as possible. Heero knew all about stalking a victim, and that was the last thing he wanted this man to think of him... though Heero found himself questioning his own motives time and time again. Just what the hell _was_ he doing?
This sort of mindless pursuit wasn't doing his writing schedule any favors either, the revised galleys were sitting on his desk right now, screaming to be worked on, and he was down here pretending to read a paper he'd finished an hour ago, relaxing in the company of his fantasy. Life couldn't get better or more complicated than this. Right.