by Dyna Dee
"Ah... thanks, but I think I'll pass," said the tall young man with the waist-length braid to fellow Preventer agent Brown in a polite yet somewhat strained voice. "I'm just not into blind dates." It took a lot of restraint on his part to not show just how insulted he really was by the well-intentioned offer.
"You're sure?" the not unattractive, thirty-ish blond woman in uniform asked. Her green eyes were pleading with him to give her sister the chance to date an eligable former gundam pilot. "I can assure you she's pretty and smart. She's a student at Oxford University and real catch." She was embarrassingly enthusiastic.
"I'm sure she is, Susan," he replied while reaching his left hand behind his head to absently scratch the top of his braid, something he did unconsciously when finding himself in an awkward situation. "But I've learned from past experience not to go into any situation blind. Thanks anyway." He lowered his arm, made a quick turn and bolted from the break room. His well-practiced friendly face dropped upon gaining the corridor, and anyone who happened to glance up to see the glowering expression he wore wisely got out of the way as he stormed towards his office.
For nearly three years Duo had shared an office with five other people, three of whom were his former comrades in war. Of that elite group, only Quatre was missing from their workplace, having declined Une's offer of a job with the Preventers, citing his family's need for his help in running Winner Industries Inc. Though not a Preventer, Quatre had established a house in the same city they had, sharing his heart, home and bed with a former circus clown. Duo had been overjoyed at having blond back on Earth, and not only for his friendship. Quatre, more often than not, acted as the temperamental group's mediator, mentor, confidant and instigator of frequent group get-togethers. He helped to unify and strengthen their bonds of friendship outside the workplace.
The five agents working in the shared office looked up from their tasks as Duo Maxwell dramatically burst into the room. Seeing the stormy expression on his face, the two older men, agents Byrd and Kurhle - who had the misfortune of dealing with the four often temperamental former gundam pilots on a daily basis - deliberately turned their attention away from the upset man, having learned the hard way that it was wise to leave his friends to deal with the rather dynamic agent. They exchanged a knowing look and then a grin. By the looks of it, they would have something interesting to share during lunch that day with their co-workers, always eager to hear the latest gossip about the agency's four intriguing agents.
The other three men in the room watched and waited until Duo sat down at his desk. Without looking up the braided man began hammering at his keyboard, his fingers punishing the keys with their forcefulness while his handsome face remained pinched with anger.
"What is it this time?" Wufei inquired casually, his eyes fixed on the top of the bent head. "Was the soda machine out of order, or didn't the evil snack machine give you back your change and you were caught breaking into it again?"
A large huff was heard before Duo, scowling unhappily, pushed back his chair in order to address the other three who were waiting patiently for his answer. He glanced at his watch and a look of disgust crossed his face. "It's not even eleven and I've already had two people ask me out on a date and two others tried setting me up with a friend or family member. What?" He looked up again with questioning eyes. "Do I have an I'm available and desperate sign on my forehead?" he asked dramatically.
"You're single, attractive and currently unattached," Trowa stated the obvious.
"So what? So are Wufei and Heero."
"Heero scares everyone off and I'm seeing someone," stated Wufei, and the bland expression on his face told Duo that the Chinese agent thought he was being melodramatic about the whole situation. "Besides, anyone else would be flattered to have so many offers in such a short period of time."
"Pfft!" Duo used his hand to wave off the Asian man's comment. "Believe me, it gets old. And it's getting worse here in the office. How the hell am I supposed to work in this kind of environment? I swear, if one more person tries to set me up today, I'm outta here."
Looking for some form of sympathy, Duo observed that Heero merely raised a questioning eyebrow while the corners of Wufei and Trowa's lips twitched upward. "It's not funny!" he insisted, becoming increasingly angry at the two mocking the seriousness of the situation.
"If only our problems were as troubling as your animal magnetism and popularity, Duo," Trowa said with a smirk, indicating he was being sarcastic.
Wufei chuckled before saying in a dramatic and falsetto voice, "Don't want me simply because I'm easy on the eyes. Is it too much to ask that I be appreciated for my intellect?"
A standard issue, battered black stapler went flying across the room. Wufei ducked in a timely manner and the small office tool slammed into the well-dented wall behind him. Duo silently cursed the Chinese man's emerging sense of humor. On days where he was the focus of that humor he wished Wufei would go back to being the holier-than-thou, stuck-up teen he'd once known. Pay back's a bitch. "Shut up!" he snarled at the ebony-haired man, though he always did enjoy watching Wufei expertly duck his flying stapler and them raid his head warily up from under his desk. However, the smile on Wufei's face grew once he caught sight of a slight upward curve of his lips, indicating the lack of malice behind his words and actions.
"If I remember correctly, you haven't mentioned going out with anyone on a date in... quite a while," Heero observed thoughtfully. "Any particular reason why?"
Duo rolled his eyes, indicating that his friend was asking the stupidest question he'd ever heard. "You're right, I haven't dated in some time and, as a matter of fact, there is a reason. A very good reason," he replied.
"Please enlighten us," Wufei said. He had returned to sitting in his chair properly and had set his elbows on his desk in order to rest his chin on an upraised hand, wearing an expression of forbearance.
"Hero worship!" Duo replied. All heads turned to look with surprise at the Japanese Preventer. "H E R O," he spelled the word slowly. "Not Heero," he clarified with another dramatic roll of his eyes. "Ever since the last war ended and our identities were exposed there's rarely been a date where I haven't spent most of the evening dealing with someone looking at me like this." Putting his acting skills to good use, the braided man's face and eyes took on the exaggerated expression of blissful adoration as he gazed at a spot above Trowa's head. He held the pose for a long moment, making sure the others understood what he was saying, then dropped the expression and replaced it with an honest look of disgust. "Either that or they look like I'm going to pull out a knife and gut them at the least provocation. At first it was flattering, and then funny, but now I can't stand it when someone looks at me as if I'm a... a god or something. I've had no less than five women ask if they can have my love child for Pete's sake."
"So your solution is to stop dating?" Heero asked, one eyebrow rising. It seemed to Duo that particular eyebrow was getting quite a workout today.
"Damn right. I haven't had a decent date in ages, so I figure it's time to quit."
"Duo," Trowa cut in, his tone disapproving. "You're only twenty years old. You can't give up this early in the game."
"The hell I can't," the braided man replied hotly. "When I find someone who can treat me like a person and not like I'm the answer to their prayers, I'll giveâ€˜em a chance. Unfortunately, you guys, Quatre and a few other friends are the only ones who do that, and Howard and Director Une definitely don't meet my criteria for a hot date."
"Wish I could help, Duo," Trowa gave him a mocking, over-played and pitiful-looking pout. "But I'm already taken and Quatre insists on not sharing."
"And I'm not gay," Wufei added, leaning back into his chair, looking like he was thoroughly enjoying the conversation.
Before Heero could add his two cents, Duo's vid phone buzzed. With a weary sigh he pulled his chair back into its proper position at his desk and answered the call.
"Hello, Duo," the familiar blond said in greeting.
A bright smile lit up the braided man's handsome face. "Hey, Quat! What's up?"
"Not much," the man in the business suit answered, and from what he could see in the background, Duo deduced that Quatre was calling from his office several blocks away. "How have you been?"
"Good," Duo replied, curious as to why the blond tycoon was calling him in the middle of the day. The two of them were as close as brothers, but most of their conversations took place in the evenings, after work. He wondered if his friend was calling officially, needing some help. "What can I do for ya?"
Quatre had the good manners to look slightly uncomfortable, raising one hand to run his fingers through his thick and straight blond hair as he answered the question. "Here's the thing, Duo," he began, appearing uncharacteristically nervous and his words seemed to come tripping inelegantly out of his mouth, without pause and with growing speed. "My sister Iyenna is in town for a visit and she... heh heh, or rather, I was wondering if you were free this evening. If you are, do you think you could come over to our place for dinner and maybe, after we've eaten and visited for a while, you could show her around the city, you know... take her out?"
Trowa's groan in the background was audible, as were Heero and Wufei's stifled snickers as they watched the majority of the braided man's face begin to turn an interesting shade of red. Through gritted teeth and narrowed eyes, Duo glared at the vid screen and his good friend wearing a hopeful expression. "You mean as in a date? A blind date?"
Sensing something was wrong by Duo's face and the tightness of his lips when he was the word date, Quatre cleared his throat nervously and pulled at the collar of his blue dress shirt. "Ah... yes, I suppose so."
"Well my answer is..." Duo promptly and with unreasonable force hit the disconnect button and hung up on his friend. Jumping to his feet, he grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair and stormed angrily out of the office, living up to his earlier threat.
The vid phone at the braided man's desk rang once again and Wufei turned to Trowa, still sitting at his own desk. "You better answer that and explain to Quatre just how much he screwed up."
The auburn-haired young man nodded and rose from his chair to make his way over to Duo's vacated desk. As he answered the call, Heero glanced at the two other men in the room who were trying hard to look busy and disinterested in what had just happened. "You can sit down and get back to work now," he told them. "The show is over." Both agents, at least a decade older than the young volatile young men they shared the office with, nodded sheepishly and did as they were told.
After storming out of the Preventer building, Duo promptly shut off his cell phone and turend towards the parking garage and his bike. In mid stride he changed his mind and direction, now heading for the front door of the building. Once outside, he turned in the opposite direction of his apartment and began walking, hoping to work out some of his agitation. Slipping on his coat, he shoved his hands into the pockets and more or less sulked his way along the city streets. They just didn't get it, he thought to himself. Never in his life had he felt so... alienated from the human race. What was the big deal if he wasn't romantically attached to someone? It seemed as if everyone believed he couldn't possibly be happy if he didn't have a bed companion. Sure, he'd had plenty of those before and look what that got him: he was still alone and feeling rather lost in a sea of happy couples. He'd tried, honest to God he had. He really didn't want to be alone, but neither did he want an empty relationship. He'd been alone before and managed, though he didn't like dwelling on thoughts of his darker past. So what if he had an unfulfilled love life, despite all the dating he'd done since the last war? Recalling some of his more disastrous dates, he decided that there were worse things than taking himself out of the dating pool and getting on with his life.
He walked to the park, having calmed enough to almost enjoying the cool, early Spring morning. It was still a bit too chilly for his comfort but at least he was outside where the air was fresh and the surrounding foliage was green. The park was a large one and located in the city's center. It had a lake, a lot of open green space, gardens as well as pedestrian and bike paths. With no destination in mind, he decided the walking path that circled around the park would waste at least an hour, then he'd come up with a plan for how to spend the afternoon. He was absolutely, positively not going back to the office.
What was Quatre thinking? he asked himself as he meandered down the path. His sister Iyenna, from what he remembered, was at least ten years older than he was. It wasn't as if he had anything against older women, he just didn't want to date them. In fact, when it came dating, he had just about decided that he enjoyed being in the company of men much more than dealing with women and their perplexing emotions. Men were basic, straightforward and had a let's-get-down-to-it attitude. Women, well, he never did quite figure out exactly what they wanted, and he'd learned quickly that what worked well with one didn't necessarily have the same results with another.
Relationships, he decided, were very complicated, at least when it came to romance. Why couldn't he find someone like his friends? Sure, they were an unusual group, unique in some ways and complicated as hell, but they all got along well despite their differences. Somehow they always worked things out when there was a problem, sometimes coming to blows and other times talking things out. Yeah, friendship was the best kind of relationship. Maybe the problem was that he just wasn't meant to be in a relationship other than a friendship. For some reason that thought depressed him even though he'd come to that same conclusion every time he came home from another failed date, of which there had been way too many.
He walked at a quick pace, his mind trying to work out the differences between the men and women he'd dated. By the time he finished circling the park he'd pretty much come to the conclusion once again that giving up the whole dating experience was the wisest decision he could make. Now all he had to do was convince everyone else of his decision.
He stopped to eat lunch at a bistro he'd never visited before and lingered over his meal in order to take up more of his self-appointed free afternoon. After the waitress had cleared the table, she hovered nearby, displaying rather odd, coquettish behavior by sending come-hither glances that were less than professional. He decided it was time to pay the bill and get the hell out of there.
With his hands shoved into the pockets of his Preventer jacket once again, he strolled down the cleanly-swept city streets, lined on both sides by tall office buildings. After going several blocks his steps slowed and his face lit up when he saw the marquee of a movie house. It would be a perfect way to spend the rest of the afternoon.
The action adventure movie was to his liking, so much so that he'd stayed and watched it a second time. The war of AC 87 had many true tales of both heroes and villains that had proved over the years to be fertile ground for the makers of film and publishing industries. He stepped out of the theater with a grin on his face. Raising his right arm, he pulled back the sleeve of his jacket to see the time was roughly 5:20 p.m. The guys would be leaving the office in about ten minutes. He figured walk back to the office parking garage then drive to Heero's place. That would give his friend a half hour to make his way home before he showed up unexpectedly on his doorstep with the intention of asking Heero for his advice on how to convince everyone that he was serious about not dating.
He was late, and Heero Yuy was never late, Duo told himself as he leaned against the wall adjacent to the brown door with the gold metal number 309 placed at eye level. Though they lived only a nine city blocks away from each other, Duo liked this building better than the one where he'd rented an apartment. In a very small way Heero's building reminded him of L-2, which wasn't necessarily a good thing. Taking in a deep breath through his nose, he detected the aromatic scent of several different ethnic seasonings blending together in the hallway to create an odd aroma. Curry, peppers, onions and garlic were the more predominant odors, as well as the underlying smell of fish. Alone, the spices would probably be pleasant enough, but mixed together it was a bit more pungent than most people could handle. The weird smell reminded him of the soup kitchens on L-2, where they used whatever spices were available and whatever else was on hand to add some flavor to the bland canned meat, dry-packed legumes and/or freeze-dried vegetables.
The elevator dinged cheerfully down the hallway, and, as he had noticed earlier when he'd exited that moving death trap, the doors to apartments 307 and 305 cracked open, the occupants obviously sneaking a peek at whoever was stopping at their floor. When a portly, older gentleman stepped out, the doors shut just as quickly as they'd opened a moment before, leaving Duo alone to watch the man waddle to his door at the far end of the long stretch of corridor.
It was 6:18, and having almost given up on Heero coming home, Duo picked up the faint sound of the handle on the stairwell door turning very, very slowly. The door inched open with extreme caution but stopped abruptly when a slight creak of the hinge broke the silence.
"Shit." The faint curse uttered by a familiar voice came to his ears only a fraction of a second before the two doors that had previously opened at the ding of the elevator cracked open once again, almost as if the action had been synchronized. The door to the stairwell opened with all haste and into the hallway came Heero with his head down, as if he were avoiding eye contact with someone. Not so surprisingly, the two apartment doors opened with a flourish, each revealing a young woman. Both women dramatically threw themselves out of their apartments and into the path of their neighbor.
"Mr. Yuy, how are you today?" An attractive, fair skinned and thirty-ish woman with red hair, long legs covered in pale-blue, skintight pants and low-cut white tank top ran to Heero's side and grabbed hold of his arm. "You look tired tonight. I've made a lasagna for supper tonight and would be happy to share it with you."
The other woman was opposite in contrast with the redhead. She had dark hair and skin and looked to be a little younger, shorter and more curvaceous than the other woman still hanging onto Heero's arm. She obviously felt a need to display those differences by wearing a pair of tight, white jeans and a low-cut floral blouse that revealed her ample cleavage. She was also pretty and looked to be of middle eastern heritage, like one of Rashid's sisters.
"Good evening, Heero," the second woman addressed her neighbor in a deep and sultry voice. "I've got lamb stew over couscous. I'm sure that would be more pleasant to your manly palate than noodles and tomato sauce."
"Are you insulting my cooking?" The redhead snapped as she turned to the other woman with malice burning in her eyes.
The dark haired woman merely smirked. "Cooking? Is that what you call it?"
Duo thought the clearing of his throat to announce his presence was apropos at that moment. Cat fights were interesting to watch, but from their close proximity, Heero would be caught dead in the middle of the scratching and hair pulling. He didn't think his conscience would ever leave him alone if he allowed that to happen to his buddy.
The women momentarily stopped their bickering to glance at him. Both gave him a look that was split between surprise and displeasure at having been interrupted. Heero, on the other hand, looked at him with an expression suggesting he was a bonafide lifesaver that was dangling in front of a desperately drowning man.
"Duo." Heero called out his name in a tone he'd never heard before, sounding both happy and relieved by his sudden appearance. Duo thought it was rather comical watching his normally composed, stoic friend clumsily disengage himself from the ladies' clutches and make a mad dash to his side. The former Wing Zero pilot stopped in front of him and whispered, "Sorry about this." Then without further warning Heero promptly shocked the socks off the braided man by throwing his arms around him, dipping his back slightly and then proceeded to kiss Duo squarely on the mouth, tongue and all.