by Dyna Dee
The pleasant weekend weather gave way to springtime rain, which happened to be the cause of the sodden state of the braided Preventer's jacket, his frizzy hair and ruined newspaper. If that combination wasn't enough to make the young man a tad cranky on a Monday morning, the lingering feelings of uncertainty, due to Heero's lack of communication over the long weekend, had him dragging his feet as he approached his office. He paused for a moment with his hand on the doorknob, taking a deep breath in an effort to prepare himself for whatever might come his way once he stepped through that door. Shaking off the unpleasant mood, he straightened his back, squared his shoulders and managed a smile as entered the shared room where he immediately received and returned greetings from the other agents. Heero was absent from his desk, Duo noted, and four heads remained turned to his direction, their curious eyes following him as he made his way to his desk where he hung his wet and slightly dripping jacket on the back of his chair to dry. Not ten seconds passed before Wufei was beside him, bending over in a conspiratorial manner to whisper, "So, how was it?"
Duo had pretty much anticipated one of his two friends present to act quickly, inquiring about how Friday night had gone, though he was slightly surprised they hadn't called him at home earlier to sate their curiosity. Plastering a smile on his face, he winked at the Chinese agent. "The date? It was fantastic, Wu. The Oasis certainly lived up to its reputation. It's an over-the-top romantic joint. You should try it sometime."
Wufei nodded sagely, as if he was seriously contemplating the merits of visiting the high-priced establishment. He then leaned in closer and in a low voice asked, "I meant, how did things go with Yuy?"
Duo did his best to look affronted. "You can't possibly think I'm the kind of guy to kiss and tell do you?"
Wufei snorted and rolled his eyes. "Of course I do. I distinctly recall you telling me about certain admirable and abundant assets belonging to someone named Babette. Then there was a well-endowed Jonathan and a talented, between-the-sheets vixen called Shanti, an ambidextrous, double jointed ..."
"All right," Duo hissed sharply, blushing with embarrassment and stopping Wufei from going any further. Detective work, he decided, had greatly contributed in turning the formerly reserved Chinese teen into a guy who found great satisfaction in knowing everything about everybody. At least Wufei wasn't a gossiper, out of their selective group that is. "Maybe I haven't been all that discrete," Duo admitted with a frown, "but I can learn from my mistakes, right?"
"Of course you can," Wufei agreed a moment before he leaned closer and whispered, "But not until you tell me everything that happened Friday night, from the time Yuy picked you up and dropped you off at home, that is, if you actually made it home. Come on, give me some details."
Duo inwardly growled at the ebony-haired agent. Okay, maybe he'd embellished a bit too much about some of his past, somewhat interesting dates. He was embarrassed now by how much he'd thrown himself into the dating scene, trying his damn best to find that something he'd never had before. And, after all, he had a reputation to live up to. Despite his former lack of discretion he felt reluctant about speaking of the few intimate moments he and Heero had shared. Talking about his date with Heero to Wufei, how the Japanese man eating a buttered fig from his fingertips had curled his toes in an oh-so wonderful way and how his kisses had almost melted his insides, would somehow soil the memory of those rare and wonderful moments. Yet recognizing the spark of determination in the ebony-haired man's eyes Duo knew it was going to be difficult to keep his secrets to himself. It was known amongst their friends that Wufei could be as tenacious as he was when they really wanted something; and right now the Chinese man wanted answers. There was only one possible way to divert Wufei's attention from the topic at hand, and that would be a major distraction.
Without taking his eyes off of his nosey friend, Duo held up one finger, a signal for Wufei to hold on a moment. He then removed the cell phone from his belt, flipped it open and hit a speed-dial number. Giving his friend a sly grin, he waited for the person on the other end of the line to pick up the call.
"Director Une speaking," the feminine voice announced in his ear.
"This is Agent Maxwell," the braided man stated clearly, his eyes monitoring Wufei's wary expression. "Agent Chang is currently in the process of harassing me for information of a personal nature. I believe he needs something to do that will keep him better occupied, otherwise I'm going to have to file harassment charges against him and this organization to the proper authorities."
A deep, weary sigh came from Director Une even as Wufei reached for the cell phone and the two young agents began to wrestle for its possession. Duo managed to bat Wufei ‘s hands away with his right flailing arm while twisting and turning in his chair in an effort to keep the phone planted against his left ear. After a long pause his boss answered in a bored fashion, "We are the proper authorities, Agent Maxwell, and it seems to me you've lodged one complaint or another every week for the past three months against Agents Chang, Barton or Yuy. Perhaps it is you who needs to be kept ‘better occupied'."
"I'll take that into consideration after I receive a prompt response to my complaint."
"Very well." Another deep sigh was heard and Duo was pretty sure the hard-working director of the Preventers, who often complained about being more of a babysitter to the four former gundam pilots than an administrative officer, needed a long vacation. "Put Chang on the phone."
With an ingratiatingly sweet smile, Duo handed his cell phone to the frowning busy-body.
"Agent Chang here," Wufei said into the phone piece, having guessed who was on the other side of the call. Duo almost burst out laughing at the immediate change in the other man's expression. Leaning on the edge of his desk, Wufie promptly snapped to attention and looked as though he was either going to salute a superior officer or spontaneously burst from embarrassment.
"Yes, Ma'am," Wufei said stiffly before turning an evil eye to the braided man. "I understand. Right away. Good day."
After closing the phone with more force than necessary, Wufei threw it at his friend. Duo deftly caught the flying object with his left hand, just before it made impact with his head. With a flushed face the Chinese agent turned and briskly walked back to his desk.
Duo grinned wickedly as he clipped his phone back onto his belt, feeling oddly satisfied. Mission accomplished. He mentally patted himself on the back at having diverted Wufei from his inquisition regarding Friday night. Oh, he knew his Chinese friend wasn't really in any trouble, nor was Wufei truly angry, just embarrassed. By now Une knew the four of them well enough that she'd learned when to take them seriously and when not to. Getting Chang flustered was just what he'd needed to get himself out of his grumpy mood. With a gratifying sigh, he turned on his computer and commenced another day of work.
It was always easy for Duo to lose himself in an investigation, and the one he'd been piecing together was definitely challenging. An arms, drug and information ring had been plaguing the smaller European countries who were valiantly trying to thwart that organization's attempts to undermine their governments. Close to a dozen well-planned bombings, aimed at civilian businesses such as movie theaters, dance clubs and civic buildings, had already been successfully carried out. The purpose of the attacks appeared to be the upsetting the public and weakening their overall confidence in their leaders who, at this point in time, were unable to stop the attacks from continuing. Information from various informants had led Duo to believe that the criminal ring was attempting to pull the rug out from under the men and women currently in power. Though it was only supposition on his part at this point, he believed that the very criminals who were perpetrating the bombing attacks were underhandedly attempting to gain political power by backing their own hand-picked political contenders with money and other means of support in an attempt to replace those currently in office. It was a masterful plan, and one he intended to prove all the way to the courtroom even if it took him years to bring the criminals to justice.
His full concentration that morning was directed on following one of the paths the ring used to send arms and weapons into these countries. He'd had to go through thousands of shipping ledgers, searching for some abnormality, some hint that something was out of place. He was so engrossed in his task that he failed to notice the exact moment when Heero came to stand by the side of his chair. In fact, it wasn't until he felt Heero's breath on his ear when he whispered, "Lunch," that he was able to break his concentration. Refocusing his eyes on the handsome face only inches from his own, he answered intelligently, "Huh?"
Heero smiled. "It's lunch time." He then leaned forward, cupped a hand to the side of mouth for privacy and whispered into his ear once more, "We have an attentive audience. It would behoove us to put on a good show."
"Ah." Duo nodded, and shivered when the other man's lips teasingly brushed his ear as he asked. "Where to?"
Heero pulled back slightly. "The cafeteria?"
Duo shook his head. That would be too obvious. Besides, he hated the cafeteria's food and only ate there when the weather was too ugly to go outside. "How about the deli?"
"Yeah. There's plenty of room for all of us." He cast a glance at their other two friends, putting on their jackets. "Is Quatre coming?"
Heero's deep chuckle seemed more like a purr. "Did you really think he'd miss this opportunity to see us in action?"
Looking into Heero's deep blue eyes and seeing that he shared his own amusement, Duo's grin widened. "Then let's do this right and give them something to gossip about behind our backs this afternoon."
Heero stepped back and waited for the man with the frizzy braid to rise from his chair and put on his slightly damp jacket. With a conspiring wink that was out of the others' eyesight, the two men turned as one and Duo loudly announced, "Roberto's." Wufei and Trowa nodded in agreement, then the taller of the two whipped out his cell phone and made the expected call.
Once Quatre had been informed of their destination, the four left their office together, leaving behind the two older agents who both rolled their eyes and shook their heads at the unusual four. "None of our business," one of them muttered. "Damn kids," returned the other. "They're playing with dynamite." They both snorted with amusement. Watching the antics of the almost legal age former terrorists was always interesting, and this latest turn of events was likely to be very entertaining as well.
As they walked towards the café, huddled closely together under Heero's umbrella and just slightly ahead of their two friends, Duo leaned closer to whisper in Heero's ear. "I didn't hear from you all weekend. Is everything all right?" It had taken a lot for him to ask that question and in a casual manner that didn't reveal the anxiety he'd felt over the lack of contact. He was worried that Heero might have gotten cold feet, had re-examined their deal and wanted to back out.
"I had that blind date Relena set up," Heero reminded him with a follow-up sigh. "Her friend was nice, but she seemed to be afraid of me." He gave Duo a small, almost forced-looking smile. "Guess my reputation precedes me."
Duo frowned for a moment, trying to think of how anyone could not be attracted to the man walking next to him. "I don't think your reputation is the problem," he told Heero after coming to his own conclusion. "It's your looks that cause other people to feel unsure of themselves."
"My looks?" Heero questioned, surprise written all over his face.
Duo paused to gaze at the other man. "Heero, you have to know that you're probably the most handsome guy I've ever seen. People don't know how to approach someone who is as good looking as you are."
With an questioning arch of one eyebrow Heero asked, "Do you think I'm good looking?" The upward twitch at the corner of his mouth showed that he was enjoying the conversation.
Duo elbowed him gently in the side. "Didn't I just say so?"
Blue eyes studied him for a moment before Heero continued, a rather serious look on his face, "If that's true, then why don't you have the same problem? You are unusually attractive and strangers as well as acquaintances don't hesitate approaching you in order to ask you out or begin a conversation."
"Damned if I know," the braided man replied with a shrug of his shoulders, though inwardly he was jumping for joy that Heero thought he was attractive. He understood to some degree that the image he saw in his bathroom mirror each morning was something that appealed to others, but hearing that Heero found him attractive was more flattering and meant more to him than anyone else's compliments.
His eyes fell to the pavement as the two of them continued down the sidewalk and he tired to think of an answer to Heero's question. "I suppose people see what they want to," he replied thoughtfully. "And I generally make a point of projecting a friendly face, appearing to be just an average, approachable guy, where your natural expression is a more formidable, don't-mess-with-me look." After sighing deeply, Duo added, "But we're nothing like the average citizen, are we? How can anyone comprehend how much we've sacrificed and suffered when we were kids. My life so far has been anything but normal, and if they knew my skills include fourteen proven ways to kill a man, that I've blown up more buildings than I can count, shot down more than my share of mobile suits, that I can accurately sink a knife into them before they can blink an eye, everyone would see me in a different light, and with good reason they'd fear me. That's the real me, Heero, not the person everyone thinks they want to date." A feeling of sadness swept through him all of a sudden, a result of talking about his less admirable qualities, those that separated him from most of his fellow man. What in the world would Heero want with a miscreant like himself?
"Hmm," Heero hummed thoughtfully. "Maybe that's why we get along so well, because we've got so much in common."
Duo's head jerked up, his heart was immediately lightened by Heero's suggestion, realizing it was true. Every fighting technique he knew, as well as the suffering and sacrifices he'd endured, Heero had, to some degree, experienced as well. "Yeah, that could be," he replied, and looking up again into Heero's eyes he found warm understanding within the deep blue depths.
"But I take exception to your saying you're perceived as ‘an average guy'." Heero said, his gaze not wavering from Duo's eyes. "Average will never be a word used to describe Duo Maxwell."
A ridiculously warm and fuzzy feeling centered in his chest, and Duo drew a bit closer to the other man, looping his arm through Heero's as they walked through the drizzle, umbrella held overhead as they approached the small restaurant.
Quatre arrived at the café five minutes after the four had been seated. The blond immediately took note of Heero and Duo sitting next to each other. That, in and of itself, was not unusual but they were definitely sitting with their shoulders and thighs touching each other's. The business suit-wearing blond slid into the booth opposite them and shifted to his right to sit just as intimately next to Trowa, their hands locking together under the table almost immediately.
"So, what did I miss?" Quatre began, searching the eyes of the other four at the table, noting once again that Wufei had been consigned to sitting in a chair at the end of the booth.
"Duo's decided to be a gentleman and not tell us any details regarding Friday night," Wufei smirked. "So I think we should direct our questioning to Heero."
"We had a very pleasant evening," Heero volunteered, much to the surprise of the other four.
"Just how pleasant?" Trowa asked, his green eyes sparkling with amusement.
"That's for us to know and you to find out," Duo jumped into the conversation, usurping whatever Heero was about to say. Then before he looked back to his menu, he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, fueling the curiosity of the other three. Seeing that he wasn't going to say anything more, his lunch companions followed his example by looking down at their own menus, which they all knew by heart from the many visits to this particular eatery.
"By the way," Duo began in a leisurely manner, though his eyes narrowed in an accusing manner as they searched the faces of his friends. "Is there any chance you guys followed us to The Oasis?"
Of course it was Quatre who responded for the three. The blond was a take-charge kind of man, after all, and though he often chose not to, he could lie through his teeth if the situation warranted it. He actually managed to looked shocked at Duo's suggestion. "What? Do you honestly believe that we would stoop so low as to follow you on your date? Why would we do such a thing?" Quatre's expression and tone of voice was quite convincing of his innocence, but Duo noted the lack of an outright denial.
"Verification," Heero answered, nose still buried in his menu.
"Verification of what?" Wufei asked, looking affronted. It was an expression he'd perfected and used quite often.
"That we were actually going on a date," Heero replied.
Trowa cleared his throat, obviously not comfortable with the conversation, or maybe, Duo thought, of being caught. "Duo has been known to purposely lead us to believe one thing when the opposite is true."
"Are you calling me a liar?" Now Duo was the one insulted.
"Not an out-and-out liar," Wufei added. "But you are skillful in diverting the truth."
"I didn't divert anything," Duo said heatedly. "You heard Heero ask me out."
"We're just concerned, Duo. Please don't be angry because we're worried about this new development," Quatre appealed earnestly to him with his large, entreating eyes. "We just want you to be happy, the both of you."
Duo turned his head to look at Heero, who had also glanced over to him. Both looked confused. "What are they concerned about?"
Heero's eyes narrowed, a sign that he was unhappy with whatever was being insinuated. He turned his eyes to focus on Trowa. The auburn-haired man flinched just slightly under that withering glare. "Tell us," Heero demanded.
Casting a quick glance at both Wufei and Quatre, Trowa's shoulders slumped slightly. "We're worried about the two of you getting hurt. If this experiment in dating ends badly, it could cause a divide in our friendships. We don't want that to happen."
Oh yeah, that was the downside that Duo hadn't come up with when they'd first decided on this ruse. "I'd rather slit my own throat than hurt Heero," he blurted out without meaning to sound so dramatic.
"Likewise," Heero added more softly, gazing intently at the braided man.
"Besides," Duo perked up, and winked at his ebony-haired friend. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?"
Wufei's eyes lit up with excitement. "Ah, but fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
Duo quirked an eyebrow as the other three at the lunch table moaned as the game the two often engaged in began. The Chinese Preventer had given a famous quote, an open challenge to the former Deathscythe pilot, an ace at quoting proverbs. It was now Duo's turn to deliver a famous line. Their friends didn't enjoy this game as much as the participating two. "Faint heart never won fair lady." Duo snickered, then quickly added; "‘Fortune, seeing that she could not make fools wise, has made them lucky', and I'm feeling pretty damn lucky lately."
"Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet," Wufei countered.
Duo grinned. "In life, each of us must sometimes play the fool."
Wufei frowned. "Is that a quote or are you making that up?"
"It's a proverb. I swear it," Duo replied with a chuckle. "I think it's Yiddish. Wait, I've got another one. ‘Looking foolish does the spirit good. The need to not look foolish is one of youth's many burdens.' Novelist John Updike."
"Shakespeare," Wufei countered once more. "The fool thinks himself to be wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."
Duo laughed, a good natured grin on his face. "That's good, Wu. You almost got me except for the fact that I have one more. ‘Love is the wisdom of the fools and the folly of the wise.'"
"Exactly my point," Wufei grinned, leaving the game behind. "This whole venture of you and Heero dating is unwise. One of you, if not both, is going to get hurt."
"Wufei." Heero's growl sent a warning to the black-haired Preventer that he was going a bit too far.
"I have a proverb of my own to add as a followup to the last one," Trowa offered, and four sets of eyes turned to him expectantly. "Love doesn't make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile."
"Agreed," Quatre smiled brightly at his lover, then lowered the wattage when he turned back to the matter at hand. "But let's stop with the pithy duel at this point because I happen to know that both Wufei and Duo know countless proverbs and phrases on the subject of love, and I have to get back to the office sometime today."
Duo gave the blond a crooked grin, glad that he and Wufei managed to distract the others enough so that the conversation changed direction once again. His eyes lingered on his wealthy friend. Quatre alone knew of his former teenage crush on Heero. Of course, being involved in a war, he couldn't have picked a worse time to find himself emotionally and physically attracted to Wing's handsome, mission-driven pilot who also had a penchant for self destructing and just happened to attract the attention of a certain Relena Darlian, later turned Peacecraft. He hadn't expected to find himself attracted to another male before that point in time, and in the middle of fighting a war his feelings for Heero added further to his high level of stress. His confusion and self-doubt about his sexual orientation in addition to his other pre-war hang ups were too much for him to handle at such a young age. If he hadn't already been messed up in the head at that point, he certainly didn't need to add his unrequited feelings for his teammate to his inner turmoil. So his fifteen year-old self had decided to keep his feelings for his comrade hidden in order to do what needed to be done to win the war.
Several times during the first war he'd been surprised and somewhat hopeful that maybe Heero cared for him, at least a little, as exhibited by some of Wing's pilot's actions, like not shooting him in his holding cell after he and Deathscythe had been captured after leaving Earth. He'd pondered long and hard about why Heero had spared and rescued him and arranged to have his injuries treated. He'd also wondered why the other boy had registered himself in a school under the name of Duo Maxwell. To this day he still hadn't received a good explanation for that action.
Damn, Quatre was frowning while he pretended to study his menu. Duo had an idea it wasn't the selection of food being offered that bothered the blond, but rather his concern for what was happening within their group. Quatre was probably using his space heart, he thought. With that thought in mind, Duo focused on calming his inner feelings. In doing so he recalled a time during the first war when the blond had cornered him on the Peacemillion, just after Hilde had been hurt and brought in after escaping Libra and Heero had gone off to rescue Miss Queen of the World. With all that was happening, the tension, the exhaustion and the need to confide in someone, it didn't take much on Quatre's part to get him to open up. He'd blabbed everything to his good friend, his feelings for Heero and his confusion about his attraction to him. After that, his good friend had kept a concerned eye on him, like a mother hen at times, which now and then grated on Duo's nerves. Now the worried look on Quatre's face as he selected his meal told him that the blond was still worrying about his welfare. His good friend and confidant knew, more than anyone, that with very little effort Heero could crush his heart as easily as he could crush an office memo regarding a baby shower.
The waitress came, their orders were taken and soon the five friends were searching for a safe, neutral topic for conversation. Duo began to see just what the three were concerned about. His and Heero's so-called dating was putting everyone on guard. He didn't like that, and it wasn't right. It was pure exasperation that caused him to make an abrupt decision. "Alright, if our going out bothers you guys so much, we'll stop right here, right now." The area around him immediately went silent and all eyes at the table turned to him as he continued. "We won't date each other or anyone else for that matter. We'll just stay Duo and Heero, good friends with no life, no love, just a couple of pathetic guys who gave into peer pressure." Duo realized that no one looked more surprised at his statement than Heero. A long moment passed before anyone reacted, and when they did, all three of their friends spoke at once.
"That's not what we want," Trowa stated.
"You can't think we mean to dictate your life to you like that, do you?" Quatre asked.
"Finally, you're willing to listen to reason," Wufei scoffed.
Four pairs of eyes turned to the Chinese agent and glared.
"What?" Wufei hadn't mastered the innocent look yet.
Quatre slowly turned from looking at the man at the end of the table to his two friends sitting across from him. "We are not about to tell you not to date," he began, softening his voice and expression. "We just want you to proceed slowly and carefully and not rush into anything that you might later regret."
Duo felt Heero shift and then his arm was settling across his shoulder. "We'll take your advice."
"And you'll come to us if you need help?"
Duo sighed, looking at the blond. "When have I ever come to you for dating advice, Quatre?"
The blond rolled his blue-green eyes and pushed some of the long strands of hair out of his eyes. "I didn't mean about dating. As far as I know neither of you have been in a serious relationship before. I'm just saying that Trowa and I have weathered a lot, and we could be helpful if you experience some snags in your relationship."
"Whoa, buddy." Duo put a hand out, indicating his friend should slow down or, preferably, stop. "Heero and I are just dating, alright? Nobody is moving in, picking out rings or buying towels together. We're just dating. It's not a relationship yet. Got it?"
The knowing look the young businessman gave to his braided friend told Duo that he highly suspected where his heart was already headed. But a quick wink from the blond assured him that his friend wasn't going to contradict him, at least not in front of the other three.
"All right." Quatre sat back, looking satisfied, then turned to greet the waitress as she carried five plates of sandwiches, impossibly balanced in her two hands. Heero retrieved his arm from around Duo's shoulders in order to accept his plate, the loss of that warmth was instantly missed by the braided man.
After each of them had taken at least one bite of their food, Wufei asked, "So when is the next date?"
"You'll just have to follow us to find out," Duo said, just before wrapping his lips around his turkey sandwich.
"I'm leaving it up to Duo," Heero answered casually.
"What?" Duo said with mouthful of bread, turning surprised eyes to the man sitting almost in his lap.
"I planned our first date, I believe it's your turn to ask me out and make the plans."
Duo took a quick drink of his soda to help him swallow his food, aware that everyone was waiting for him to respond. Once he could manage to talk he looked at Heero and said with an easy grin, "Okay. Are you free this weekend?"
"Friday or Saturday night is good for me," Heero replied, pulling a pickle out of his sandwich and judiciously selecting a place for it on the edge of his plate.
"How about Saturday, sometime during the day?" Duo reached over, snatched up the discarded pickle and popped it into his mouth, giving Heero a cheesy grin.
Heero paused, then nodded. "I can do my housecleaning and laundry on Sunday if you prefer the daytime."
"Great. Give me a day or two to come up with something."
"It's a date," Heero said, a grin tugging at the corners of this mouth. Then looking up at Wufei, he asked. "How's the Kilpatrick case coming along?" Engaging Wufei in shop talk was the best way to get their Chinese friend's focus off of them. Duo gave Heero's arm a gentle nudge with his elbow, expressing his silent thanks. The sudden touch of a hand on his upper thigh and the squeezing of it caused him to jump slightly and a slight gasp escaped him. He covered it up with a forced cough.
"Too much pepper," he explained to the others while Heero chuckled at his attempted coverup.