The Restless Rust
by merith and [ misanagi ]
The auto shop room isn't crowded. Most of the students have finished their assignments already and have left, probably to the parking lot to get high. It is the middle of the afternoon. There's less than an hour left of school but Heero will probably stay longer. A few students are chatting around him, some joking about one thing or another. Heero ignores them. He cannot allow any distractions.
He's working on the car. It seems like it's the only thing he's been doing lately. The teacher walks by him every now and then, gives him a look, and when Heero glares, the teacher goes on his way. Heero doesn't need any help. It's a car. How difficult can it be to make it start? There has to be something he's overlooking. Heero grumbles and starts checking everything again.
Boots propped up on the battered desk, a Chilton's on his lap; Duo doesn't look up as the shop teacher brushes behind him to take his seat. The slam of a drawer does catch his attention, and a finger marks the spot he's leaving off as he glances at the older man.
The teacher shakes his head and pulls out a stack of assignment papers. "For one of the smartest kids in school, that boy hasn't a clue."
Duo immediately shoots a look down the aisle to the second bay on the left. Heero's bay. Heero's car. Duo was present when the pile-o-shit was towed in, and had been curious. A clandestine examination showed what was needed, but Heero continued to refuse advice from anyone. Duo does not want to be turned away, and avoids making the attempt.
Heero leans over the open hood and looks at the interior of the car. He checks the battery, unsure at what he's looking for, and mutters, "The battery sends current to the ignition coil. High voltage goes on to the spark plugs through a distributor." He remembers where he read the information, the page it is on, and the small black and white drawing beside it. He can't, however, make something useful out of the words.
Problems usually have rational solutions. You find the source of the problem, fix it and the problem goes away. The car, however, seems reluctant to follow that procedure. Heero has fixed many things but the problem is still there. It's not rational, it's not logical and it should be something he can handle. He cannot fail. Not with something like this, not with anything.
The clock hand crawls closer to three, and a bell rings just outside the opened shop doors. Duo watches as the last of the students file out of the garage... the last save one. He has packed his own tools away now, and shoves the drawer shut on the rollaway.
He reaches for the hood of his project but he's looking over his arm toward the remaining student. Heero is still working his way from ignition to firing and seems to be making no progress. He lets the hood drop, the sound loud in the near silent room.
"I've got a meeting," the teacher is saying slinging his jacket around his shoulders and pushing his arm into a sleeve. "Make sure you shut the compressor off before leaving, Maxwell."
Duo jerks his head around and nods. He sees the teacher looking down the aisle and hides a grin in his arm at the man's yell to Heero for him to stop jerking his car off and finish up already.
Heero ignores the teacher and doesn't even attempt to reply. If he could finish up with the car, he would be already. He goes back to staring at the battery and hears the teacher walk away. The battery looks exactly like it did the day before, and the day before that. Heero had checked it and the wiring connected to it many times, and he is sure the problem isn't there.
He's also sure there shouldn't be a problem at all.
The first few days, Heero actually enjoyed the challenge of trying to turn the piece of junk into a working machine again. Now, however, he is way past that point. There isn't a solution. How can he fix something that shouldn't be broken by now?
It must be the car, Heero thinks and wipes his hands on his overalls. This car can't be fixed. The matter, then, has a simple solution. He needs to find a car that can be fixed.
He takes a couple of steps back and starts to walk away from the car, then stops.
The car isn't the problem and he knows it.
The distance noises are fading as the school empties for the day. From the shop doors, Duo can see the athletic field and knows it will soon be filled with grunting, sweating jocks, just as the gym will. He should be making tracks for the garage. But for now, the old man can wait; besides, Howard won't fire him anyway.
Duo wanders back through the bay, shutting off some of the still running equipment and assessing progress on a few of the projects in route. He's bee-lining toward Heero, casting looks that way, his disinterest in Heero (and what he is working on) feigned.
"Jeep," he says coming inside the bay. He thinks about parking his ass on the low retaining wall, but the glare Heero gives him makes him grin and lean against the fender instead.
Heero has heard of the other student. Duo Maxwell, a troublemaker. The kind of kid that smokes pot in the parking lot and does stupid things like destroy other people's property. And now, that student, one Heero hasn't seen in any of his advanced classes, is grinning at him, grinning as if he knows something Heero doesn't.
When Duo speaks, Heero glances back at the car... jeep. He knows it's a jeep; a 1973 CJ5, with a manual transmission and a six-cylinder engine; a jeep that will not start. He doesn't see how calling it jeep will make it work any better, but then again, he has tried everything else.
"Jeep," he says, testing the word, and feeling incredibly stupid the moment he's done speaking.
He glares at Duo, trying to hide how embarrassed he feels.
Seeing Heero flush and then glare, Duo can't help the smirk. "Not calculus, is it?" Heero ignores him, but Duo sees his fingers tighten on the hood grille. He thinks he knows what the jeep's problem is, but instead of telling Heero this, he sets the radio antenna in motion, listens to it twang.
"Your pistons not firing? No spark in your motor?" Heero is looking away from him now so Duo thumps his palm against the fender side. "Yeah, you picked a winner with this piece of junk."
Duo looks down the body, sees it for what it could be; what it had been at one time. Old man Peterson had come to the garage that summer, wanting Howard to buy the jeep. "My boy's been gone near six year. Time to take care a'things." Howard turned him away, 'not in the dealing business', he'd said.
Being ignored isn't his goal, but harassing Heero isn't what he wants either. Duo turns his back on the jeep, moves the short distance to Heero's workbench. He can't tell if Heero's watching him, but he picks up and handles all the tools Heero has laid out, tossing them back onto the bench and out of the neat and tidy order Heero had placed them in.
Class notes and an opened auto manual are set amongst the tools. Duo can almost feel Heero's eyes boring into his back. He flips through the Chilton's and slams it shut, leaving a one-eighths closed wrench stuck between the pages. "Stupid piece of shit anyway."
Without another word, Duo walks away. It is Heero's jeep and he isn't being paid to baby-sit him. His boot meets a tire as he passes and he moves off, away from Heero's bay. And his Jeep.
It takes all of Heero's will power not to immediately move towards his tools and place them in the right order again. He doesn't understand why Duo feels the need to disturb him. Heero has enough on his mind to worry about someone looking for trouble. Working on the stupid car... jeep, puts him in a bad mood to start with, and Duo, calling it a piece of shit and kicking it, puts him in an even worse one.
His father hadn't been pleased with the jeep either. He hadn't used Duo's crude language but he had made it clear that he wanted Heero to get another car, a more appropriate one. "This doesn't even have a roof. What kind of hooligan drives around in a car with no roof?" But Heero liked the jeep and, for the first time, he had stood up to his father. He figures that when he's done, the jeep will be a useful vehicle, perfect to fulfill his transportation needs, without being unnecessarily flashy. That's why Heero got it, why he has decided to spend time working on it, and why he simply cannot fail.
However, Duo is right about one thing; this isn't calculus. Calculus makes sense. Calculus is based on precise rules that when properly applied are guaranteed to provide a solution. This isn't that simple.
Resisting the urge to kick the... jeep, Heero gives Duo's back one last glare and starts putting his tools back in the proper order. At least that's something he can do.
He notices his auto manual and frowns. What kind of person puts a tool between the pages of a book?
Using a rag he keeps in his back pocket, Heero wipes his hands before smoothing the open page with his fingers. His eyes run over the words, noticing that the section is on ignitions and the ignition system. He reads the page quickly and then raises his eyes to look at Duo, who still has his back turned to him.
His ears are hypersensitive, and he hears every clank the tools make as Heero puts them back to rights. He should be leaving already, and not monkeying around with things he has no business even being interested in. JT will laugh his ass off if he finds out. Hell, Duo is going to laugh his ass off at himself...once he gets away from here.
It is the sudden silence and the telltale prick on the back of his neck that clues him; Heero has found the page. On pretense of stacking manuals, he glances under his arm, and sees Heero watching him, the Snap-on held loosely between two fingers.
He is smiling, but turns away. Fucking brainiac. Doesn't know jack-shit about cars or tools. Duo slams the cabinet shut and reaches for his jacket. In an almost casual way, he glances back down the aisle at Heero.
"Hey foureyes." Heero isn't wearing his glasses now, but Duo's seen him in them enough to know
how good he looks
he wears them. And all four-eyed brainiacs are nerds... everyone knows that. "Don't touch the coil or anything else that'll kill ya." Duo is turning away, ready to leave and hears Heero correcting his name, protesting his ignorance.
"Later, dude." Dweeb He had meant dweeb, but it is too late, and stopping now would give credence to his mistake.
The shop door closes behind him, and the athletic field is filling with jocks in sweats and track shorts, running and jumping. Duo walks through their structured sets and teams, ignores the yells, and flips off the coach threatening to report him to the dean.
The air is cold for early November, and he stares up to the sky, wondering if it'll snow before he gets off work. Shrugging, he reaches inside his jacket for a cigarette, forgetting he's already smoked his last just before fifth period and hasn't ripped any off like he was going to do.
"Fuck it." He tosses the crumpled pack to the grass and puts on his sunglasses instead.
Heero watches the door swing shut after Duo leaves. He can swear he saw Duo smile just a moment ago but that makes no sense. Duo is obviously angry about something, most likely dismayed by Heero's incompetence. He almost wants to laugh but he doesn't.
The manual is still open on that page. Heero looks down at it but doesn't read the words. Duo marking that page can only mean three things. One, he didn't do it on purpose, which Heero thinks makes no sense based on the way he has seen Duo act. Two, he did it to mess with Heero, which seems consistent with what Heero has heard of him. And three, he actually knows what he's doing and for some reason he wants to help Heero.
Heero knows number two is the most reasonable option, so he doesn't understand why he keeps thinking Duo is actually trying to help him.
Duo obviously doesn't like him, and that should be just fine. Heero doesn't need to associate with people with Duo's reputation; he doesn't need to associate himself with anyone actually.
It's unnecessary to worry about this.
He's getting distracted and he can't afford that now, not when he is failing. He's ready to check the engine once more when his eyes are drawn to the auto manual again.
Scowling, Heero packs up his things, puts on his glasses and heads out of the auto shop, the manual held in one hand. He'll get the part, replace it, and see what happens. It would be stupid of him to ignore the option.
Outside, the cold air makes him sneeze, twice. There's an empty cigarette pack lying on the grass. Heero picks it up and throws it in the first trashcan he sees.