"Daydreams...like books in the shelf of my mind"
--Lolah Burford, 'Edward, Edward'
by D.C. Logan
Duo spluttered as Heero appeared suddenly in front of him again. Wow. Hot damn, he had a second chance, and he was taking it. Wherever direction it took him from here didn't matter. God was listening to him; here was concrete proof.
"You mentioned coffee?"
The edge in Heero's voice snapped Duo back into focus again. "You bet! I promised you coffee, so you're getting coffee," Duo grinned. "Maxwell never lies."
Suddenly, he felt better, nervous as hell, but better. Heero turned and walked off again, but this time Duo tracked him across the street and followed a few steps behind him until he drew even and did his best to match him stride for stride. For someone as uncomfortable as he'd been in his store, the man sure knew where he was going and wasn't taking his time getting there.
"He's not my 'tall dark and handsome'."
It took a second for Duo to rewind the conversation back far enough to find a comment that matched that remark. He nodded, but Heero was watching the street and reading the movement of the people on it, not him. He tried an "okay." Neutral, balanced... testing. There was a question left on the end of that if Heero cared to take him up on it. Hell, they were nearly having a conversation at this rate. Would miracles never cease?
"He's a friend. A good one."
Heero stopped and looked directly at Duo, who stumbled to a halt beside him. "This okay with you?"
Duo looked up in amazement, he and Heero were standing across and slightly down the street from his store by the wide double doors of Duo's regular coffee shop. It felt like they'd been walking far longer, and for a far shorter distance at the same time. That odd elasticity of time... he recognized it from the first lasting relationship he'd had in his life, and little alarm bells began ringing in his brain. Oh shit. He checked to see if he'd said that aloud, but Heero seemed to be waiting for Duo to decide if the cafe was acceptable.
"Yeah, this is great. I come in here all the time."
Heero nodded. Of course he'd seen Duo dive into the depths of this shop on a regular basis, but he couldn't confess that without frightening him off at this point. He did, however, tilt his head to indicate that Duo should precede him into the store.
Heero looked around with interest once inside. It was a tight, cramped space, filled with small tables and a long narrow counter that ran most of the length of the coffeehouse. He immediately felt nervous; Duo seemed right at home and waved to the waitress in the back of the room. Heero stifled a twitch, maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. He had thoughts about turning and leaving, but then Duo ducked under the counter surface and pulled two Styrofoam cups from a dispenser under the coffee machine and looked up at Heero. Well, that explained how he could bypass the usual line every morning.
Damn, Duo thought, the man was gorgeous, but he didn't look happy to be here at all. Duo sincerely hoped it wasn't the company he was with. "You like your coffee black, right? Remember, this one's on me, so go fancy if you want to..."
"Black is fine."
Duo ducked back onto Heero's side of the counter again, and twitched a shoulder in an unspoken invitation to follow him. Heero braced himself to cope with whatever was coming next and followed the tantalizing twitch of Duo's ass and swinging braid around the tables to the back of the room. He didn't realize he'd made it until Duo turned and hooked a foot around a spare chair and dragged it to a corner table. It was quieter here in the back, and Heero drew his first deep breath in minutes. 'Just follow the lure of the braid' had the potential to be his new motto if it worked as well as this on a regular basis.
Duo set the drinks on the table and waited for Heero to sit. Heero waited for Duo to sit. There was an awkward pause, and then Duo dropped with an ungainly grace to the chair with a self-deprecating smile. Duo wasn't sure where he was headed with this guy, but he sure liked the company he was with. Hell, this guy had manners, and was definitely of a more cultured class than Duo was used to dealing with. The light back here wasn't good enough for Duo to do more drooling over Heero; that was poor planning on his part, but he'd wanted a quiet table. Then again, he wouldn't learn anything new about the man under the skin if he stayed focused on the packaging. God though, what wonderful packaging it was.
Heero lifted his cup to his lips, eyes focused on Duo, and started at the unexpected feel of Duo's fingers on his arm. What _was_ it with this guy and all the touching?
"Careful," said Duo, while shifting his hand to his own drink. "It's really hot."
Heero sat mutely, too wrapped up in his own thoughts to respond in kind. No one had physically touched him in a very long time--he was not into any sort of casual contact. He could still feel the hot point of Duo's finger on his chest, the warm press of his palm, and now he'd touched him again. He demonstrated an unnatural familiarity with him, a near stranger. How odd for him to be so comfortable offering so rare a gift; what a waste to dispose of it so casually. Heero thought an internal question that stopped him cold; he'd have to decide if he liked the unfamiliar contact or not... make a conscious decision based on his unconscious reaction. Interesting. He noticed that Duo was smiling at him, and realized that he's been silent and probably uncomfortable company during the past minute or so.
"Hey, I'm sorry about the whole thing with Trowa. He's been off on vacation and said he'd be back tomorrow or later and I wasn't expecting him." Duo looked at Heero, checking to see if he was paying attention or not. "We surprise each other all the time, it's nothing new, sort of a game even, I just didn't think he'd show up in the shop today." Unsaid was the thought that, oh yeah, and I was preoccupied with watching you. "Umm, thanks though. Not just anyone would have jumped in like that. That was really something."
Heero shrugged, he wouldn't have jumped in like that for 'just anyone' either, not that Duo would ever find out that little fact. Okay, at least not right now. Ah hell, he was no good at this... "It was nothing." He looked at his hands, clenched around the hot bumpy Styrofoam. He wasn't comfortable talking about his impulsive behavior, but didn't know how to steer the topic off of his actions in the store.
He didn't look all that happy sitting here, or talking about this... maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Duo looked around for a way out of the situation. If he didn't turn this around quickly, he could blow his only chance. Hell, where _was_ Dorothy anyway? Aha! "Yo, Dorothy?"
"Hey Duo," Dorothy swished over and did a comedic double take when she saw Heero.
"What's new in the case?" asked Duo, "I owe Heero something good."
Dorothy looked Heero up and down, pausing to consider his hands and face as Heero reddened under the careful scrutiny. "You look like a chocolate torte to me," she decreed, and strode off.
If possible, Heero reddened further before asking hesitantly, "What does she mean I look like a chocolate torte?"
Duo stared at Heero, realizing for the first time that Heero had never been in this shop before. "Dorothy is, um, a little strange, she thinks she can tell what type of dessert people need by studying them carefully--odd thing is that she's usually right about it." He paused, thinking, "You don't have any ethical objections to chocolate or something do you?"
Heero smiled back, just a small twitching of the corners of his mouth, but it was a start.
Duo dropped his fork alongside his unfinished slice of cake and sat back in his chair, tossing the torn and crumpled remains of his paper napkin on the table in a token show of defeat. He'd peeled back all the thick frosting from the sides and had concentrated on excavating the cake core. Heero looked down at his own plate. True to form, he'd started in at the narrow end of the slice and had been in the process of methodically working his way to the other end, balancing equal portions of interior with the rich coating. Heero noticed Duo eyeing his plate, and wondered if he was also thinking about the scientific way Heero seemed to approach everything. He hoped not.
"Man, that was rich--too rich actually," Duo checked out the corner of his eye, waiting for the reaction, "Next time we'll have to share a slice."
The brightness that spread across Heero's face was worth the set up effort. Heero's response was perfect, and it told him at least a little of what he needed to know--that the guy wasn't going to ditch on him, at least not right away. He sure hadn't said much, though all the carefully screened glances in his general direction had his hopes up.
Heero gave up and balanced his fork across the edge of the plate. Duo took the cue.
"Sorry to end this, but Trowa and Quatre were just stopping in for a minute or two to see how things were going. They probably need to head home, so I should get back to the store to take over, okay?"
Duo risked a study of Heero's face; he seemed to be deciding on something.
Heero thought about how uncomfortable he'd feel visiting Duo's store whenever Trowa was around, and how very awkward he would feel if he walked in and Duo wasn't there at all. It would be simpler and easier to just get the groveling over and done with right now. He made up his mind, "I should apologize to him."
Duo looked briefly surprised, then considering. "Um, okay. If you want to, he'd probably like that. I think you scared him, moving fast like that. He's used to being the one that's quick."
Duo dropped paper and coins to the table and stood, waiting for Heero to lead the way out of the shop. Heero stood, but instead of moving away from the table, he shifted the chair to the side and invited Duo past.
Duo couldn't contain his grin, this guy was so cool!
Back at the store, things went better than Duo expected. The two of them walked into a shop devoid of paying customers (damn, not good for the business, but not a bad thing at the moment), to find Trowa leaning against the main service counter and Quatre slumped elegantly across a nearby chair. Quatre did everything with style, he just couldn't seem to help himself, it was one of the only byproducts of his upbringing that he hadn't been able to shed. Conversation stilled as he and Heero walked across the room to the pair. Duo caught the glance they shared between them. Obviously he'd intruded on a private conversation, and based on the pink tint to Quatre's face, he'd been the main topic of conversation, again.
Duo went for the easy one first, introducing Heero to Quatre and counting on Quatre's gift of grace under pressure to get the four of them through this without major bloodshed. Duo felt nervous about sharing names in such a formal manner, it lent gravity and seriousness to the situation, almost like meeting a friend's partner or long-term lover for the first time. He felt awkward, and didn't like the knowing way Quatre and Trowa were smirking at him. Duo doubted that Heero had noticed the subtle interaction--but then again, he was tightening up the muscles across his back, pulling the jacket tight, getting defensive. Duo flicked his eyebrows at his friends with a wishful plea--please guys, not this time, please don't say anything wrong.
Trowa took the hint and offered his first name freely. His handshake was firm and solid, and if there was a testing quality to it that only he and Heero knew about, well, so much for the better for this man to know that Trowa would be watching out for his friend--Duo could remain none the wiser. Much to Trowa's surprise though, Heero gave him a genuine smile and nod of understanding. Heh, not so oblivious after all then.
Quatre was fascinated. He watched with avid interest the way Heero was studying Duo out of the corner of his eye; how Trowa had sized him up and had an air of satisfied and grudging respect for the man; and, most telling, how nervous Duo seemed. And how oddly out of character that was for him. Quatre hadn't known Duo for more than a few years now, but he'd never seen him display this abrupt level of interest over anyone before, ever. Heero's reactions to Duo were also very promising.
As he and Trowa left the store, his parting thoughts circled around the shredded and the now very dead idea that _this_ summer would be boring and routine. It had just become intensely interesting after all.
Heero watched the two men leave the store with a thoughtful look on his face, remembering the interaction he'd seen between them that day. "They're together?"
Duo looked up from the counter, "Yeah, they've been together for about three years now. Trowa's a lucky guy; Quatre thinks the world of him. He loves him right back, so it all works out. At least mostly."
"Mostly?" Heero sat in one of the armchairs close to the counter where he could watch Duo's face and read his expressions. They were fascinating.
"Quatre's family... has some... problems with Quatre's lifestyle and choice of partner. Things got really nasty for a while there. They're doing what they can to work it out though."
Something else tripped Heero's memory then, of the way Trowa had surprised Duo, of Duo's reaction, of the blond man's careful study of them. "You all watch out for each other." It was a statement of fact; he'd seen how they were able to communicate with expression alone--that took months if not years of familiarity.
"Yeah," Duo braced his elbows on the countertop and stared into middle distance, remembering.
"Trowa and I have been friends since college. We've pulled each other out of a couple tough corners and have been looking out for each other ever since." Duo suddenly remembered where he was, who he was talking to... and visibly collected himself. "What about you?"
Heero blinked, he wasn't ready to talk about himself yet. Not right now anyway. He looked up at the clock behind Duo and realized that most of the day had burned away already. "I... I need to get going. I have some work I need to complete today." He stood, unsure of how to handle this, the moment of parting, and settled for, "Is it okay if I come back tomorrow morning?"
"It's a public store, everyone's welcome." Duo was miffed. Hell, he'd confessed personal information and now the guy was bailing before he could get anything even vaguely reciprocal out of him. Yet he looked insecure, and lost, and sweetly edible. Hell, Duo's hormones where playing ping pong with his brain again. He sighed and toned his voice to one with less sarcasm, "Yes Heero, you are always welcome here."
Heero turned and walked across the store, pausing at the door to look back down at Duo. "You'll be here tomorrow?"
"I'll see you." Then he was gone with a swing of the door and the chime of the bell.
Duo walked out from around the counter and sat in the chair Heero had just vacated. It was still warm with the heat of his body. All of a sudden the room felt darker and quieter somehow. It wasn't that Heero talked much, but his presence in the room had been loud since Duo had somehow become so sensitive and attuned to his every movement. Today's world was different because he had spoken with Mr. Blue, and he now he had a name, and Duo and he had talked, and had coffee and such. Now he was gone, and Duo felt a sense of loss because of it-that something so meaningful had happened and past.
The rest of the day flattened around him.
Heero slammed the phone back onto its cradle. No, no he was _not_ going to leave yet another message on Wufei's damn answering machine. Where the hell was he anyway? He'd never been absent for more than a few hours before, and Heero needed to talk with him. Now. He paced around the circumference of the room, once, twice, three times. When he finished his tenth rotation, he collapsed into his armchair and hit redial yet again.
In his brightly lit office with views of the California coastline, Wufei craned his neck to read the caller ID code on the incoming call. He considered picking up the phone, but the idea lasted for only a brief moment. He turned his attention back to his newspaper, cracking a small grin as he overheard the frustrated tone of Heero leaving yet another message on his machine. That made four. "If he's still calling on Friday," Wufei thought, "I'll pick up the phone and ease his suffering."
Heero set the phone back onto the cradle, a bit more gently this time. So this was it then, he'd have to do this on his own. Hell. The word had new meaning for him now; _this_ was his idea of a personal hell.
Duo looked up at the jingle of the bell. Damn, just another tourist that effectively doused his enthusiasm for work today. Heero had said he'd be back, but he hadn't said when, and now Duo was starting to doubt the 'if' part as well. So, he'd apparently blown his opportunity yesterday after all. Well, there was no getting around the immutable fact that his life sucked... some days more than others, his life more than most.
The bell jingled again, and Duo fought the urge to look up at the door. 'Better to give it up and get on with your day Maxwell.' He put his mind to other if not better things; sorting the special orders, balancing out the register receipts from last night, and drawing up the deposit slip for drop off that night. The bell chimed three times more, and he steadfastly ignored the temptation to watch. He had his pride after all, even if it didn't serve him well at times.
When next he looked up at the security mirror, Heero was comfortably ensconced in the armchair just beyond the counter, paper in hand, and with a private sort of smile on his face. Duo felt that thread of tension that had woven its way into his spine relax, and he settled back into his routine. Heero had moved closer, abandoning his private chair in the Mystery section. Things were looking up.
Heero had made himself comfortable in what he was beginning to think of as his new chair. Duo had been busy adding figures with a large blocky calculator when he'd entered Daydreams, which was just as well considering how self-conscious he'd felt at the time. He'd expected Duo to at least wave, or send him a customary 'hello' like he'd done every time he'd come in before (and he'd even been prepared to answer him back this time), but the man at the counter had seemed preoccupied with his numbers and figures and was studiously ignoring the rest of his store. Heero had set his coffee in a clear spot on the table, straightened the crease in his dress pants, and settled into the chair after giving his newspaper the proper three folds; and waited.
It took Duo another seven minutes and fourteen seconds to lift his head from his work. Heero had been watching him for weeks now, and he'd never seen him focus on _any_ task to the exclusion of his customers, and it worried him. What other news had Trowa brought with him? Duo looked up, not across the store displays and aisles in his usual pattern, but instead gazed directly into the parabolic security mirror anchored above the register. He'd jumped then, slightly, and swiveled to look directly at Heero. Heero couldn't resist a quick smile back at him, and buried the hurt that came with it. Duo hadn't trusted him to show up today.
He felt a little better after seeing Duo immediately rise to his feet to walk over to him, only to be stopped by a customer and her purchases. His frustrated expression was priceless, and one that Heero would hold and remember for a long time. He grinned, it felt unusual, his face wasn't used to moving that way.
Duo finished with the woman, glanced back up at the mirrors to check the other customers in the store, and then walked over and sat carefully in the wing chair next to Heero's.
Heero ventured a polite, "Morning."
Heero looked down at his body, at his coffee, and looked at Duo over his newspaper, "Did you think I wouldn't be?"
"Maybe." Duo looked uncomfortable at the direction the conversation had headed. "I wasn't sure." He thought briefly that he might have been happier if Heero had stayed quiet and hadn't started conversing with him.
Another customer walked up to the counter, interrupting the delicate moment, and then another. Heero felt awkward trying to hold a conversation this way. The store seemed empty and quiet before when he _hadn't_ wanted to talk to Duo, and now it seemed as if the world was against him, trying to keep him from finding out more about the man he'd been watching for the past few weeks. Life wasn't fair.
Duo gave Heero, and then the store, a considering look. He excused himself from the customer at the counter, walked past Heero without saying a word, and moved up the stairs and to the door. He paused thoughtfully at the back of the door for a second before flipping the sign on the door from 'open' to 'closed'. Then he returned to the counter and waited patiently for the store to clear. It took an interminable twenty minutes before Duo followed the last customer to the door and threw the deadbolt closed behind him. He leaned back against the glass and crossed his arms across his chest, and gazed thoughtfully at Heero.
"So, what do you want?"
Heero thought for a minute, considering the man across the room from him, and raised his voice just enough to carry across the space, which unintentionally added strength and conviction to his words. "I want to know more."
Duo nodded, flipped the sign back to 'open', and drew the bolt back, opening the store for business again. Satisfied with Heero's answer... for the moment anyway.
Duo walked back down the steps without saying anything to Heero and perched on the stool behind the counter. He reached around and shifted the newspaper around to read it from the counter side. Heero folded his own paper and walked over to the counter, peering down at the paper, reading it upside down. "You do the crosswords?"
"The shop gets its own copy of the New York Times, and we leave the puzzle on the front counter and work on it all day. The standing rule is that it has to be completed by close of business. We used to have one guy that had a habit of showing up a half hour before closing just to finish off every unanswered clue." Duo looked up at Heero, questioning. "Do you like puzzles?"
Heero shook his bangs temporarily out of his face and looked directly into Duo's eyes as he answered, "I love puzzles."
Duo paused. Did that mean what he thought it meant? He decided that it was safer to stick with the topic at hand and twisted the paper to face Heero. He reached over to a mug filled with assorted pens and pencils and plucked out a pen to toss on top of the paper.
Heero eyed the pen with doubt, "Daring, aren't you?" But he picked up the pen and settled his upper body across the page and started to review the clues.
Duo watched Heero's progress across and down as he buried his mind in the task. Heero moved to the end of the counter after the next customer arrived, and remained focused until Trowa arrived twenty minutes later, surprising Heero into jumping away from the counter and retreating back to his chair.
Trowa shared a grin with Duo over that, it had been nice to turn about yesterday's surprise. Heero wore a sullen expression for a moment, and then looked up at the two of them by the counter, testing the waters. They waited.
Heero tapped the tip of the pen on 34 across, "I need a four letter answer that begins with 'z' for 'Levantine coffee cup'," and waited patiently. Trowa looked at Duo, Duo looked at Trowa. They both shrugged.
"Let's see it," asked Trowa.
Heero levered himself out of the chair and walked to the counter to position himself opposite Duo and Trowa.
It only took them twelve minutes and the use of three books pulled from the shelves to find an answer that fit.