The Babe Magnet
by D.C. Logan
"Have your dog. Black and tan, pink cast on her leg, pretty tired out at the moment, thank you very much." He shrugged, even though Heero couldn't see him over the phone connection.
There was a pause of about five-seconds, during which Duo wondered if Heero had heard him correctly, then Heero's voice resumed with an urgent quality that had been missing for the past few moments. "You have my dog? How did you find her? She got out of my house... Is she okay? And..."
Duo laughed in relief. "Yeah, yeah. I do, yes, or at least I'm ninety percent positive that I do, since she responds to Little Girl and has the day-glo attribute you mentioned. I saw her running across the road in a nearby neighborhood on my way to work and stopped and picked her up and brought her into the shop. I looked up your name in the file of records we maintain of people who order pet identification tags from us, and then called you." Duo added a rueful chuckle. "I believe that brings us up to the present time."
"Is she okay? How's her leg?"
"She seems to be doing fine. Tired, but fine. I checked her for cuts and for heat and swelling around the cast." He paused, replaying the conversation so far. "You mentioned something about a meeting?"
"Ah hell... hell.. yeah. Listen. I'll call around and see if I can find someone who can present this stuff for me and I'll..."
Duo could practically envision the look of sheer panic on Heero's face. "It's okay."
"It's okay." Duo smiled at the confusion he could hear on the other end of the line.
Howard peered out from around a tall stack of Eukanuba dog food. "What's okay?"
Duo waved at him to be quiet and covered the mouthpiece of the receiver. "You're still taking inventory."
Howard's eyebrow went up. "Is that Mustang Boy?"
He motioned frantically for silence before hissing, "Yes, yes! Now go."
"I'm going... I'm going..." Howard wandered off while muttering, "What's this world coming to? See what I'm reduced to? A slave taking orders in my very own store." But he smiled as he walked backwards, waving Duo on, enjoying the rare moment of watching his normally unflappable nephew blush and stutter on the phone before he turned to check on his inventory order.
Duo shook his head at the retreating Hawaiian shirt and concentrated on his conversation. "I mean, she's okay here until after your meeting is over and you can come pick her up yourself. She's fine, she's just a little tired. I'll just get her a little snack and find her another blanket. She's already half asleep behind the counter and she's going be perfectly okay here for a while if you can't pick her up right away." She wiggled her head off of his foot in protest of his nervous tapping and looked up at him before dropping it back down on the top of his boot with a solid thunk. "Honest."
Heero's mind was racing. She was okay. She was with someone he knew. Well... sort of knew. Wanted to know better, anyway. And Trowa hadn't called him back yet, and Wufei would be at the same meeting he would be at so he couldn't pick her up either... the very same meeting that he would be late for it he didn't make a decision in the next minute or two.
Still, he hesitated. "You're sure she's no trouble?"
Duo wiggled his toes a little in his boot. She didn't move. "No trouble at all. She's already sound asleep with her head on my foot."
"I'll be there as soon as my meeting is over. If it wasn't a client meeting, I'd be on my way to get her already, but this is something we've been working on nonstop for three months now, and I have to present a key part of it and... hell... is that really the time?"
Duo laughed. "She's not going anywhere. We'll be here when you're done. Good luck on your presentation!"
"Thanks. I'll see you in a few hours. And Duo?" There was a pause while Heero tried and failed to come up with something better. "Thank you."
Heero dashed out of his condo, spirits indelibly lifted by the double boost of the safe return of his dog and the surprise bonus of early morning contact with the object of his latest mental obsession. Luck. It had to be a sign of good fortune. He called Trowa and Wufei on his drive into the office, relaying the good news.
Wufei met him at the front door of Epyon, automatically reaching over and straightening Heero's tie. "You're late, and that is the ugliest thing I've ever seen you wear."
Heero gave him a stressed look. "I ran into a bunch of guys putting up orange and black protest signs on my way to the office."
"The ones saying 'end construction'?"
"Yeah, they're picketing in your neighborhood too?"
Wufei paused to give Heero's suit a critical once-over and nod of approval, reaching over one more time to brush invisible lint off of his tie. "And I got your message. You found her? She's okay?"
Heero brushed Wufei's hands off. "That's my lucky tie, you cretin, hands off. And Duo found her for me."
"Duo, huh? Isn't he the one that..."
Heero rolled his eyes and pulled away. "Yes."
Wufei's look turned speculative. "And now he's got your..."
Heero's answer was clipped and abrupt; designed to dissuade further comment. "Yes."
Wufei held his tongue, but Heero could tell that his mind was working over that tidbit of information. No good could come of this. Wufei waited until they were seated at attention around the gray conference room table. Just before the clients were introduced, he tugged on Heero's sleeve and whispered close. "So, he found your girlfriend for you, right?"
Heero nodded cautiously, sensing a trap.
"And he's watching over her today and keeping her safe and out of trouble until you can pick her up?"
Heero nodded again, irritated that Wufei would press the point in front of customers like this. It wasn't like his friend to be so unprofessional.
"So." Wufei waited for an additional tension-raising moment before continuing. "Have you figured out what his reward for finding her is going to be?"
Heero reddened abruptly as his thoughts headed south, then blanched white as the ramifications of those particular thoughts hit him. He sent a prayer skyward in thanks for the solid oak conference table. The ones in the small group consultation area were made from clear glass.
Wufei smiled, licked the tip of his finger and drew an invisible line on the table while mouthing the words: "My point, Yuy."
Heero winced and hissed back a barely audible, "Screw you."
The dimming of the room lights interrupted Wufei's whispered sing-song return volley of, "Apparently, I'm not the one you're thinking of...," and signaled the start of the presentation. Heero kicked his friend under the table and claimed victory before launching into his segment of the presentation.
By the time the afternoon hour approached, Duo had a fair idea of how Little Girl had managed to escape from two households in her admittedly short life.
Duo pushed a black and tan head out of his way for the fifth time and looked up at his uncle. "Did you run out of words for 'annoying' in your vocabulary?"
"No." He watched the pair of them for a few minutes before asking, "Is she letting you get any work done back here?"
"Not much, no. She's been a bit of a pest. No wonder he wanted an extra-secure crate for her. She's been following me everywhere and getting into pretty much everything."
Howard leaned back against the doorway to the storage room with an enigmatic smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
Duo tilted his face up at his uncle, trying to head his expression. "Okay, I give up. What is it?"
"Looks like her ride's here." Howard stepped away from the door, revealing a slightly puzzled Heero standing behind him. "I'll be in the front." Howard walked away, leaving Duo with a jaunty half wave as he moved off to the front of the store.
Heero peered into the back inventory room, previously off limits to customers. "Is this... ah, hello." Little Girl, now the proud owner of four new toys she'd managed to wrangle off of the display shelves and mildly deface into making her own, tripodded the favorite of her new acquisitions over to Heero and proceeded to convince him that he had been sorely missed during his absence by squeaking the pink hippo against his crotch in a bid for attention.
Duo chuckled. "She's, uh, something else."
Heero made a desperate grab for the saliva-coated hippo. "She's unique, that much is certain."
Duo raised a can of Coke from the top of a stack of boxes and toasted Heero's comment with it. "Here's hoping that much is true."
Heero watched as she paraded her new toys out for him, delighting in showing him first one, then turning and pouncing on another in turn. Despite his fears and concerns, she seemed to be behaving normally and doing just fine.
Duo, displaying that uncanny ability to read his thoughts, spoke aloud. "She's been acting okay, but you should probably get your vet friend to take a look at her."
Heero nodded in agreement. "Great minds... I have an appointment at Tallgeese for her in about thirty minutes to get her checked over, just in case."
Duo nodded. "Good idea. You can never be too safe, especially considering all that she's been through recently." He knelt down in front of her and laughed when she instantly sprawled in a belly-up tangle of legs, begging shamelessly for tummy scratches and affection. "Ah, who's the good girl then, hmm?"
Heero watched, and as part of his mind calculated the difference between her cool reserve with Wufei, her reaction to Trowa, and her comfortable affection when she was with him with this happy abandon, the other part of his mind simply enjoyed the moment, savoring it for replay later. Heero found himself, however briefly, envying his own damn dog. Hell. He shook his head to clear away the forbidden thoughts, but they proved pervasive. He waved at the toys and sighed with unfeigned dismay at the sodden pink hippo. His dog had no taste. "I suppose I should get her to the clinic. What do I owe you for her new favorite distractions?"
Duo stood and gave Little Girl a final rub along her side. "On the house." Duo laughed softly at Heero's expression. "Hey, given the way this creature of yours mows her way through toys, I figure you're good for the repeat business." He watched as Heero attached her leash to her collar and she moved to sit close to her master's side, changing allegiances as simply as that. "Goodbye, Sweetie." Duo gave Heero a calculating look. "Hey, if you ever need someone to dog sit or watch her when you go on vacation or anything..." He shrugged, feeling her loss already, not to mention that of her owner, who hadn't been there long enough to suit him yet. "Well... she's a great dog."
Heero gave Duo a considering look, sliding an extra sideways glance at him. "I'll do that. Thanks."
"And let me know how she does at the vet, okay?" Duo slanted a bit of a rueful grin up through his bangs, and the glint of deep blue through the sun-chased gold-brown of his hair caught and held Heero tight. "I've a bit of a vested interest in how she does from here on out, you know what I mean?"
Heero smiled, offer acknowledged and accepted, and nodded in agreement.
It wasn't until he was safely back in his car that he allowed himself to relax his hands on the steering wheel and rest his forehead briefly against his knuckles.
God he was in trouble. He definitely needed to think about the directions his hormones were leading him in.
After a moment's pause, he turned the key in the ignition and turned down the highway toward Tallgeese, Little Girl twisting against her restraints in the back seat and watching him in the rearview mirror.
He stopped looking, shook his head at his dog, and shifted gears.
"Hey, Heero." Trowa dropped into the seat next to Heero as if poured there and slumped uncharacteristically across both his seat and part of the end table. "Doctor S is doing a series of x-rays, just to make sure that everything is still where we put it, but so far, everything looks good. We can wait for her here in the waiting area and he'll bring her out when he's done."
Heero took a long look at his friend, added up the difficulty in contacting him via cell and home and office phone, and his current shredded appearance, and came up with only one solution to the puzzle in front of him. "Long day?"
"And night, yeah." Trowa cracked an eye open and peered at Heero through the filter of his bangs. "So... Duo found your dog for you..."
"Yeah, he did."
Trowa nodded and slumped back along the hard wooden bench, completely exhausted. "I wonder if that's how she got loose before. Only she didn't get found that time."
Heero's mind was on a different track entirely. "I was lucky that he found her."
"Lucky he was at the right place at the right time." Trowa hoisted an eye open with a great deal of effort in order to check Heero's reaction to that statement.
Heero grunted in response, not certain how much luck had to do with things, not sure how much Trowa was trying to imply with that statement, and content for the moment to sit in quiet companionship as he waited for news on his dog. He looked up as Zechs and Noin entered the waiting area and crossed the room from opposite sides, he from surgery recovery, she from patient room one. They looked up at each other, smiled, touched the edges of their clipboards lightly in passing with the air of regular custom, and continued in the opposite direction without saying a word to each other, but a smile that had been absent before the moment of contact remained in place after.
Heero looked over at Trowa to see if he had noticed that moment, that connection, the subtext that passed between them. He pointed at the other side of the room where the two doctors had disappeared. "I want that."
Trowa shifted in his seat, pulling himself upright. "No, no you don't."
Heero offered a confused look back. "Why the hell not?"
Trowa looked at the closed door and counted on tired fingers. "Well, for one, you haven't seen her before her first morning cup of coffee." He cringed and pointed in the general direction of the closed door. "Oh my god she's awful. And, two, you haven't seen him when he's dealing with someone who's obviously abusing or neglecting an animal. Basically you haven't seen them at their worst or when they're irritated and angry with other people or at each other. They really aren't the best people to be around."
"I don't care. I saw that moment. And I want that with somebody else."
Trowa started to protest, and then paused when he saw the expression on Heero's face, and simply nodded in return. "Fine. You win. You want that." Trowa pointed at the exit door, too tired to belabor the point. "Go and get it then."
"Yeah, well...." Heero looked around the room, at a loss for words before turning back to his best friend. "How?"
Trowa looked back at him, suddenly feeling equally tired, confused, and exhausted. "Damned if I know how."
Little Girl entered the waiting room then, breaking the tension of the moment, straining at the end of her leash and lunging towards her owner on the zero traction of the ceramic tile. Trowa was too caught up in his thoughts to pay attention to the reunion, suddenly saddened by the realization that Heero had never had a moment like the one between Zechs and Noin with anyone in his life. He seemed to be craving a serious relationship very badly. And Heero was a man who obviously knew what he wanted, that didn't seem to be the problem.
Trowa sat back in his seat, rocked there by the realization that, while he and Wufei might have been teasing Heero about this over the last few months, that all this time Heero had apparently known subconsciously exactly who and what he had been looking for. And that for whatever reason, he had been using his job, his car, his clothing, his selection of locations and date activities as his litmus test, as his screening agent and method of filtering the women he'd been dating.
And he had been doing it in such a brutally efficient manner, that he'd been successfully eliminating them on his first dates. In three hours or less.
And he didn't even realize that he'd been doing exactly that during all of this time.
Trowa sat back and smiled at Heero and his dog. His dog, that, like it or not, was leading Heero in an entirely different direction. One that Heero didn't seem to be protesting all that much, come to think of it.
"Have you decided what you're going to offer Duo as his reward for finding Little Girl for you?"
Heero offered a sly look in return, but didn't answer that question right away. After a moment, a smile twisted his lips and he lifted his eyes to Trowa's. "So, can you explain to me how this gay thing works? I mean, how can you tell if someone is interested in just being friends or if the interest is sexual or not?" He looked back down at the floor. "Cause I can't seem to get my eyes off the way his jeans hug the curve of his ass." He looked tentatively back at Trowa. "That's a sign, right?"
Well, this was unexpected. Good. Direct. But unexpected. Heero was accepting this change of events much easier than he'd expected him to. Maybe having a gay best friend all of your life had advantages after all. "You mean, how can you tell if Duo is interested in you?"
"Well, yeah, I think so. Assuming that I'm interested in him." He fiddled with the end of Little Girl's leash while thinking. "Okay, yes."
"You have it easy. You already know that Duo is gay. All you have to do is tell him about yourself, that you're not sure how you feel, but that you'd like to ask him out on a date." Trowa smiled. "You even have a ready-made excuse: take him out for dinner as your thank-you for finding your dog for you."
Heero was looking at the registration desk, more specifically at the man currently talking in slow soothing tones to someone on the other end of a phone connection. He lowered his voice and moved closer to Trowa. "So you haven't asked him yet, hmm?"
"It's different when you don't know if they play on your team or not, Heero."
Trowa gave a frustrated sigh. "Well, if he's not interested, and not curious, and he's the least bit offended by my interest in him, I could wind up with my nuts ripped off and stuffed down my throat."
Heero couldn't quite suppress the grimace. "Thanks for the vivid visual." He glanced over at the counter, then back again. "But you like him, right?"
"Yeah, yeah I do."
Heero risked another glance at the blond man standing at the desk, now sorting client data and checking the active terminal. "He sure doesn't look that intimidating."
Trowa followed Heero's glance, and let his eyes rest on the man standing capably at the counter. Tall, blond, with an open expression and cheerful demeanor that hid a keen intelligence and charm. "You haven't seen him lift a snarling hundred-pound Rottweiller like he was a feather pillow."
Heero tapped him good-naturedly on the shoulder. "You should say something to him."
"No. Not yet. It's too soon."
"You should. His eyes follow you when he thinks you're not looking." Heero nudged Trowa again. "I think he likes you."
"He does not."
"He does too. He's done it three times since I've been watching him."
Trowa gave Heero a level look. "Okay, fine. You go back over to the Safari and ask Duo out to dinner. I'll stay here, suck it up, and go see if Quatre has any interest in the male of the species. Sound like a deal?"
Heero offered a laugh in return and waved at the blond at the counter, who returned a puzzled look, a shy smile, and a hesitant wave back.
Trowa glared daggers at Heero. "Stop flirting with my date."
"He's not your date yet. Time to get to work and change that."
"Fine. Take your dog and get the heck out of here."
Heero wrapped Little Girl's leash around his wrist, took her clean bill of health and his thoughts and walked out of the glass doors of the lobby, giving Trowa a thumbs up as a departing salute on his way out.
Trowa ambled over to the high counter separating the waiting area from reception and casually leaned over the divider, admiring the more than pleasant view and kissing any hope of neutrality goodbye.
Quatre turned up a curious look at Trowa as Heero walked away. "Is he a... friend of yours?"
"Heero? Yes. We've been best friends for years. Went to high school and undergrad together. He became a software engineer. He's got a new dog now, the HBC that came in last week that he just walked out with. I also thought he was gay, but then he turned out to be straight and was dating, but now he's not so sure that he's straight anymore, and he had some questions that he needed answered about faded denim and the sexual attractiveness of the male species."
Quatre blinked, and blinked again, slowly setting aside the clipboard he was holding before he dropped it. "Perhaps you'd better explain that to me again, as I'm not so sure I got that right the first time around."
"How about discussing some of those details over dinner tonight."
Quatre's smile broadened as he smiled up at Trowa's face. "That would be lovely."
Trowa picked up the clipboard for his next case. His day was looking up.
Heero fitted Little Girl back into the buckle collar and short leash Trowa had suggested for securing her to the seatbelt restraints in the car, and gave her a comforting pat for being good and holding still during his amateurish fumblings. "Trowa made this look easy, didn't he? You ready to go visit Duo again? Daddy's going to go ask him out on a date."
He closed the door and walked around to the driver's side and leaned against the door while muttering, "I can't believe that I just referred to myself as the dog's 'Daddy.' Must make a mental note never to do that again. Ouch."
Once they entered the Safari, Little Girl strained at the end of her leash, and for once, Heero didn't need to ask Duo's uncle where Duo was in the store; Little Girl seemed to know exactly where to find him. She pulled him on a direct beeline course with her leash angling around corners and her toenails sliding and clicking on the tile floor.
Duo jumped down from a short stool when he saw the two of them coming down the aisle. "Hey! All clear on the bill of health?"
Heero thought the beaming smile might be infectious. As it was, he couldn't seem to take his eyes off of Duo's face, even as Duo dropped down to his knees to greet Little Girl as she slid into a wiggling mass of puppy at his feet and tried to snuggle closer.
"She passed with flying colors. She's apparently none the worse for wear for her latest adventure." Heero looked down at his puppy, who even now was sprawled across the linoleum like a dead cockroach, shamelessly begging for tummy scratches.
Slowly, carefully evaluating and measuring every word, "Speaking of which, after I drop her off at home..." Duo looked up openly at him, patiently waiting for Heero to piece his sentence together. "Would you be interested in going out to dinner tonight as a thank-you for finding her?"
Duo settled comfortably on his heels, his hands smoothing over Little Girl's coat, and looked up at Heero neutrally. "Dinner with you?"
Heero pulled back, startled. "It doesn't have to be. I mean, I could get a gift certificate for any place you like and you could go later with someone els..."
Duo reached up and touched Heero's hand, halting his words. "Dinner is good. With you is good." He stood up, bracing himself against the display unit and automatically held out his hand to prevent Little Girl from leaping up to solicit more attention, the hint of a smile starting to twist the corners of his lips. "Tonight, you said?"
"If that's okay with you. Any place you want to go. I'll need a few minutes to drop Little Girl off and change clothes..." He trailed off at the mirth hiding in Duo's expression. "What is it?"
Duo chuckled. "My choice? Any restaurant?"
Heero relaxed a little and started to smile in return. "Your choice."
"Then you don't need to change, and you don't need to drop her off. She can come along, just so long as you think you can manage to keep her off of the table long enough for both of us to actually eat something."
Heero smiled, and felt the power of his elation run through him. His day felt brighter, his body lighter. "I think I can manage that. Now?"
"Now is good. I mean, now is great!" Duo untied his working apron, tossed it casually to the side, and cracked a wicked, kid-like grin at Heero. "Does this mean I finally get to ride in your car?"
Heero laughed, giving his unexpected joy an outlet, and waved Duo grandly towards the exit of the store and the late model, high-horsepower, metallic blue sin that rested on seventeen-inch rims just beyond the door.