Disclaimer: The boys belong to Bandai/Sotsu/Sunrise, honest.

Notes: Detailed notes are provided with the Prologue to this fic.

"Daydreams...like books in the shelf of my mind"
--Lolah Burford, 'Edward, Edward'

Chapter Four
by D.C. Logan

Duo was fast nearing the end of his patience.

He knew he was becoming obsessed with Mr. Blue, the shop had been paying host to an ongoing throng of paying customers, Trowa had called to say that things had _not_ gone at all well at Quatre's parents' house--and then to top it all off, they'd had car trouble heading back up from Virginia and wouldn't be back until Wednesday, maybe Thursday. Duo had done his best to console Trowa, but as he had a customer waiting at the time, he hadn't said as much as he'd have liked to. Explaining _his_ new compulsive habit would have to wait for his friends' return.

Trowa made it back earlier than expected. Early Tuesday afternoon he walked in through the back alley, then moved into the store proper and looked around to see if everything was in place; it seemed to be. He noticed that Quatre had wandered in through the front door and was already making his way over to the counter, that a customer was sitting quietly near the mystery section, and that Duo was busy staring into middle distance while stacking books into a display case a few yards over. Which gave Trowa an idea. It had been a long time since he'd had an advantage over Duo. He smiled a rare smile, and stalked his prey.

He crept up behind Duo... moving casually as any regular customer might. Then he shifted, turned suddenly and pounced, hugging him tightly to his chest from behind. Duo, preoccupied with watching Mr. Blue through a display of popular children's books, jumped in surprise and, to his dismay, screeched like a cat, clawing at Trowa's arms. Trowa jumped back at once, alarmed at Duo's reaction, and lifted his gaze in time to meet a flash of blue right before he found himself pushed back into the bookcase with a throaty growl and an arm across his neck, holding him fast.

He prepared to fight off his attacker in order to defend Duo, but halted abruptly when he saw Duo's stunned expression. He tried to gauge his friend's response, but the man pinning him to the shelf was a lot stronger than appearances would have suggested; and he had firmly established himself between the two men. Trowa had no idea what was going on--but it was obvious that he'd stepped into a situation that could get ugly--fast. He prepared to resist, could feel the adrenaline running strong...but needed to warn Duo first.


"Trowa... don't move," Duo cautioned as he braced his hand on the shelf before levering back onto his feet. He held out his hand towards the man holding Trowa.

"Hey man, it's okay alright? This is Trowa, he works here okay?" Duo slid a glance to Trowa, begging him to wait until later before asking difficult questions about this. He wasn't sure if he was getting through. He tried again in a soothing, level tone of voice, "Just let him go, alright? I'm fine. Really. Thanks..."

Heero let his hands drop to his sides and he stepped back from Trowa, but didn't take his eyes off of him. Maxwell was _his_ dammit--whether he knew it or not yet, and _no_ one touched him against his will as long as Heero was around. Friend or no, he wasn't expecting to be grabbed like that, and he deserved an apology.

Something of Heero's thoughts rose close enough to the surface for Trowa to read, and he took a hesitant step back from Duo, opening the space between the three men. "Sorry Duo, didn't know you had a new watch dog."

Heero bristled at the description, but didn't say anything in his defense or back down from the taller man. This guy looked like he'd be trouble--what was he doing in Maxwell's store?

Heero looked up as another man appeared at the edge of the display case, a young man who had the decent good sense to stay out of the way, though he seemed concerned over the welfare of everyone but Heero. He crinkled his eyebrows, but said nothing as the three men sorted out their space. Heero cataloged his position in case further action became necessary.

Duo didn't get embarrassed, he got mad--not at Trowa, but at his own lack of control and loss of composure. It wasn't Trowa's fault that he'd tripped a sensitive switch. He looked over Mr. Blue with new respect. It took real guts and determination to try to intimidate someone Trowa's size and appearance--this guy had balls. He slid a second glance at Trowa and saw how hard he was breathing, and the unconscious way he was rubbing his neck. Mr. Blue had surprised him as well--he'd been that quick. Damn.

Duo had never thought to consider how his friends would look through someone else's eyes. Tall athletic Trowa with his shock of copper hair and unusual eyes. Trowa had been working out more since he'd met Quatre, and his tattoos, piercings, and love of all things silver--though it fit the subculture of Cambridge--could easily send the wrong message to someone who hadn't taken the time to look carefully at the man under the urban veneer.

Quatre was a slight young man, and painfully shy at times, but that only served to hide his sheer brilliance for languages and history. He had a gift for assimilating data that Duo envied and an adoration for Trowa that was returned tenfold. Duo envied them. Quatre's uptight, upright, well-to-do family hadn't been able to see the love between them though, and it was a constant source of strife in his life. Trowa had no family save for his friends, and while Duo had done his level best to be supportive, he could do only so much. It was difficult to both envy their good times and regret the bad. Duo had taken them for granted for years now, but Mr. Blue might see them differently...

Trowa deliberately turned his back on Heero and walked over to enfold his partner in his arms. Said partner was looking over Trowa's tattooed and very muscular arm with focused interest at Heero and Duo. It wasn't usual for anyone to leap to Duo's defense. It was generally expected that he could take care of himself, and this man, radiating anger and a feeling of uncomfortable hesitation, just prickled with intensity. Most of it seemed to be targeted at Duo, who was leaning against the shelf and staring back at his would-be rescuer with delayed shock and something else in his expression that Quatre hadn't seen in a long, long while--wonder.

Quatre smiled back up at Trowa, and shifted his eyes to indicate that they should leave, but Trowa was either playing dense (not likely), or hadn't figured out why the man had assaulted him yet. Quatre stroked the arm under his hand and tilted his head back to meet Trowa's face fondly, that wasn't the reason he loved the man, thank god, since he could be dense as a brick at times; but he was tremendously caring, and loyal to a fault for those few he cared about. He'd messed up this time though. Not only had Duo been unprepared for his surprise visit, but there'd been someone else watching out for Duo in their absence. This was someone new and worth watching carefully if Duo's reaction was anything to go by.

Duo straightened and turned to face his defender, slowly raising his face to meet and lock eyes with him. Hot damn, they _were_ blue. Bright radiating blue that looked backlit and almost artificial, nearly too good to be true. Eyes he could get lost in. He broke eye contact, shook himself to rid his skin of the net that had drifted over it, and hesitantly extended his hand to the other man. "Um, thanks. It's been a long time since anyone helped me out like that. Duo Maxwell, in your debt."

The man tipped his head in a subtle nod, attention focused on Duo. "Heero."

He looked at Duo's extended hand, a hand that was drifting back to the man's side in indecision and confusion. He reached out and took that hand in his own and held it--a moment, then two, before releasing it back into its owner's care. Or at least he thought he had; yet when he looked down, they were still holding hands. He felt suddenly awkward and excited and terrified all at once. It was a heady sensation, like the one time he'd had too much red wine on an empty stomach--nausea and all. There was good reason he didn't drink; the feeling that he couldn't control his actions had disturbed him deeply. Control was important, and his hand had ignored him. What was _wrong_ with him? Heero released the hand and started to back away in indecision, but Duo was there to halt his progress with a light touch on his arm, and Heero stilled.

Duo shot a significant glance to Trowa, and turned his full attention to Heero. "Let me buy you a coffee and apologize for Trowa okay? He didn't mean anything by it, really."

Heero's expression plainly said that _he'd_ be the judge of what and wasn't acceptable behavior from Trowa where Duo was concerned, but Duo was already moving towards the door with Heero's sleeve caught in his hand, and Trowa was too distracted by the recent events to notice something as subtle as a silent threat posed at him. Quatre noticed it though, and decided that he needed to find out more about this man. Now. Before Duo got lost again ...and before Trowa got decked.

Duo dragged his willing victim up the stairs, through the door, and out onto the sidewalk before releasing him and leaning up against the side of the building to breathe heavily in relief. He'd done his part, a store and a wall separated the two men now, and he was alone with Mr. Blue, no, he'd said his name was Heero. The man had actually spoken to him. Hot damn. Duo tried the name on his lips. It fit, it felt right, and it apparently worked, because the man lifted his face and met his eyes with an intensity that was both impolite and staggering.

"Your name is Duo." It was a statement of fact, and there was no surprise or discovery in Heero's voice. Either Duo had read his signals wrong or the man had had a great deal of time to practice saying his name already.

Duo nodded, and his bangs flew across his face. His hand went to the top of his head the same time he realized that his cap was probably on the floor in front of the bookshelf. Damn. He turned quickly to go back and retrieve it when something in Heero's expression stopped him. He had grabbed the end of Duo's braid by sheer reflex--after seeing it arc past his range of vision as Duo had spun about. He was looking at it in wonder, turning the end of it slightly and watching as the sunlight cut through it and turned it to red gold. His attention traveled up the interlocking length of it until he reached Duo's face, which looked alarmed and not at all happy. He suddenly realized that he'd grossly overstepped his bounds, dropped the braid immediately, turned, and walked off in the opposite direction--heedless of the people crowding the sidewalk.

"Hey! I said hey!" Duo grabbed what was left of his wits and went pelting through the crowd after him. "Heero, WAIT!" He ran up to him and touched his shoulder, but before he could make full contact Heero spun around and was facing him, also defensive. Duo rocked back on his heels and took an automatic step back, opening the personal space between them, and came face to face with those damn eyes again. He'd never seen eyes that blue before--not the ice blue that a few of his friends had, nor the cornflower hue of Mrs. Howard's, but a beautiful deep multi-toned iris that flared to brilliance in sunlight. Oh, wait, did Heero just say something?


"I said that I should never have done that. I'm sorry. Let's leave it at that," Heero said. "Just go back to your store, you won't have to worry about seeing me again, okay?" Heero waited to see if the words penetrated better the second time around, watching carefully for Duo's reaction.

Duo nodded absently, then caught himself as that last sentence penetrated his haze. _That_ woke him from his Heero-induced stupor with a vengeance.


Duo paused.... No wait--that answer needed something else to put sufficient weight behind it. "No, it's _not_ okay. You visit my store with your tall dark and handsome. Then you come and visit on your own. You stay for hours, you watch me do my work, talk to my customers, and water my damn plants. _Then_ when my friend and coworker shows up unexpectedly, you rush to my rescue. So you tell me. What gives? Huh? Dammit! I've got _hours_ invested in you! Now you're bailing out five minutes after you get up the guts to start _talking_ to me? I don't think so buddy." He shook his head in disbelief. "No. Sorry. The answer is no."

Duo took that step back towards Heero and touched him lightly in the center of his chest, a toned chest that was breathing hard with irregular gasps despite the stoic expression on its owner's face. "You asked me a question, I gave you an answer."

There was a definite 'so there' at the end of Duo's rant. Heero just stood there, stunned with the thought that Duo had been looking at him as well... and he was touching him, and hadn't moved his fingertip yet. Heero could feel the heat of the skin through the cloth of his shirt.

Duo removed his finger after a long silence was made even more awkward by the people moving past them on the sidewalk, and set both hands on his hips as if daring Heero to say something in his defense.

Duo saw something click behind Heero's face and was sure he'd lost his gamble. Damn, what a loss, but he'd fought for the chance the best way he knew how, at least he could turn back with that much said. Heero turned from him and started walking down the sidewalk, not looking back, not acknowledging the stranded man left in the sea of tourists and students. Just walking away.

Duo nearly felt like crying, and dammit, he never cried, not any more.

on to chapter five

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