Archivist's note: Artwork by ASIA for this story may be seen here. Artwork by Porcelain for this story may be seen here.Head Games
Quatre's a great friend and I just love him to death, but the guy is a hopeless damn optimist and sometimes... sometimes I let the things he says get inside my head and I start seeing things that aren't there. Without really meaning to, he makes me do things that I wouldn't normally imagine doing outside of my daydreams. He's a dyed in the wool romantic, and I let his notions fuel the spark of my own stupid ideas and the next thing you know, I've made a fool of myself. Again. Something I don't usually need assistance with, thank you very much.
It has crossed my mind a couple of times that the guy isn't the sweet innocent that he pretends to be, and that he actually has a rather twisted, sadistic sense of humor. I suppose I'll never really know.
It was Quatre's damn insinuations that had led me to hear one thing when a different thing had obviously been said. Otherwise, why was I standing on Heero's front porch wearing dress pants and a silk shirt, staring at Heero in his grungy jeans and grease smeared t-shirt, a half assembled carburetor in his hand and a puzzled look on his face?
Let's run things back a day or two and see if you can figure it out, shall we?
Wednesday afternoons I have lunch with Quatre. We always eat at the same restaurant and sometimes one of the other guys will find time to stop by and join us. We were still at the drinks and appetizer stage and so far it was just the two of us.
"I'm serious, Duo," Quatre said and I remember how he had leaned forward, fork stabbing the air in my direction, as if to add emphasize to his words. "He likes you... I can feel it."
I snorted and fought against the blush that wanted to take over my face. I swear to God, I'd never told Quatre about the damn torch I carried for Heero Yuy, but somehow the little sucker must have figured it out, how else could he know right where to hit me like this? "Give it up, Quatre," I growled. "We're friends... just friends. He isn't interested in anything but his job and that damn car of his."
Quatre grinned at me and I realized that comment had come out just a little... bitter. Ok, maybe I'd never actually come out and told him that I was pining away after my ex-partner, but I suppose it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. "Maxwell," he informed me between bites of his salad. "Who else does he let touch his 'damn car'?"
"That doesn't mean a thing," I told him flatly. "I'm a mechanic. A highly paid specialist, in fact. Who else would he let touch his precious car?"
He raised one of those pale eyebrows in a sardonic gesture that has been known to make me storm out of rooms before, and grinned almost maliciously. "Trowa, Wufei and I aren't exactly chopped liver, but I don't see him inviting any of us over to spend the day working on engines."
I decided to turn the conversation in a new direction and grinned back at him. "Maybe that's because you, Mr. Winner Industries Executive Hot-shot, haven't had any grease under those manicured fingernails of yours in a good number of years."
"You're in denial, Duo," he smirked at me, spearing a carrot and waving it under my nose, refusing to follow me off his conversational track. "He. Likes. You."
"In your dreams," I growled, resisting the urge to reach out and snatch the damn carrot right off his fork with my teeth.
He almost snickered. "You mean, in yours."
I was almost to that part of the conversation where I was ready to tell him to drop the topic or find somebody else to eat lunch with, something I threatened him with at least once every meal we shared, when his gaze told me someone had entered the restaurant.
I turned in my seat to see the subject matter of our heated debate striding across the room. Striding. God damn, can that man not just fucking walk anywhere? And in that cursed Preventers uniform. It's true what they say about men in uniform. Oh dear God, it is so true.
"Tongue back in your mouth, Duo," Quatre whispered through his teeth in that sweet little singsong way he has.
"Shut the fuck up, Quatre," I replied, just as sweet, and almost as singsong, and definitely through gritted teeth mimicking a smile.
He snickered softly and I wondered again if he wasn't some kind of closet sadist.
"Hey, Heero," I greeted, as the man in question reached the table and pulled out a chair to sit down.
"Duo," he replied, giving us both a nod. "Quatre."
"This is a surprise," Quatre said, smiling at our guest. "What's the occasion? You don't often make it for lunch."
He made it often enough that the waitress brought Heero's usual bottled water when she came to the table to get his order without being told. He waited until she was gone before replying to Quatre's question. "Well, I knew you guys would be here and I was kind of hoping to run into you."
Quatre gave me a look that was meant to be meaningful. I refused to acknowledge it, preferring to wrestle with a stubborn crouton instead. It skittered around the salad bowl, attempting to hide under various vegetables, but I had faith that I would be able to hunt that sucker down eventually.
"Why's that, Heero?" Quatre asked solicitously, ever the gracious host.
Heero had taken the seat next to me, being on the side of the table nearest the door, and suddenly leaned in to pluck the crouton out from under my questing fork. "Eat the thing, Duo," he smirked, popping it into his mouth. "Don't kill it."
Quatre's meaningful look heated up enough that I'm pretty sure the guy was attempting to burn a hole through the side of my head with it.
"Hey, Yuy!" I blurted, ignoring Quatre and his theories as best I could. "Wait until your own damn salad gets here!" He just grinned at me unrepentantly and reached back into my bowl to steal a tomato.
"Well, you're not eating it," he observed dryly, his eyes sparkling with mischief, and he ate my cherry tomato.
That... sense of humor is what got me in the end. While I'd spent a war and the in-between, and a second war thinking that Heero Yuy had the hottest damn body known to man and a voice so sexy it should have been outlawed, I'd managed not to fall head over heels. But then we'd come out the other side. We'd made peace happen and we'd started to live in that peace. We'd grown up a little bit. We'd taken those first steps into the real world. We'd gotten jobs. We'd gotten lives. And Heero Yuy had, somewhere along the lines, picked up a personality. And a damn nice one at that.
And then I had done that whole stupid head over heels thing. With my best friend in the whole damn Earth sphere. The best friend that I was ninety-nine point nine percent sure was as straight as an arrow. Sometimes... I wondered about God's sense of humor.
I deflected Quatre's beaming smile with my patented quantum pain-in-the-ass shield, while defending the remains of my salad from Heero with a brandished fork. "Back off or get skewered," I warned and got to hear Heero laugh. I loved that laugh; it was a sound that hadn't existed a couple of years ago.
"So, Heero," Quatre interjected, grinning somewhat more than the by-play warranted. "You never said why you were looking for us?"
Heero leaned back and folded his arms across his chest, still chewing his bite of my salad, and smiled. "I was actually looking for Duo," he said and I glanced up at him.
"Oh?" Quatre prompted helpfully, his voice fairly dripping innocent interest.
I wanted to say something myself, but Quatre had already used the only line I could think of. I didn't want to sound like a damn parrot, so I just sat and tried to look expectant.
Now keep that Goddamn conversation with Quatre in mind when you hear this next part. Try to remember that I'd been poisoned by the little shit's overwhelming powers of suggestion. It's not my fault... it was all Quatre's.
"I was wondering if you were busy Friday night?" Heero asked and I was pretty damn sure my heart stopped in my chest. I just sat and stared at him, not trusting what I had just heard. It was a perfectly innocent line, had my mind not been tainted by Quatre's damn incessant hints. Wasn't it?
"Duo was just telling me that he didn't have a thing planned all weekend," Quatre supplied for me, quite helpfully, the little son of a bitch.
I tried to shoot Quatre a scathing glare, but had to keep it toned down to a mere pathetic meaningful glance with Heero looking right at me.
"Great," Heero was saying and then the waitress came with his salad and I used that bit of distraction to discreetly flip my blond pain in the butt off. "Ok?" Heero said, and I realized I'd missed something.
"What?" I said brightly, returning my attention to Heero.
"I said," he repeated as though speaking to someone with a somewhat slow wit, "is seven o'clock all right?"
"Uhmm... fine," I found myself saying, suddenly not sure just what was going on. Had Heero Yuy just...? Just asked me...? Nah.
"It's a date then! See you at my place at seven," Heero grinned and bent to eating his salad.
No fucking way. Absolutely no fucking way.
Quatre was trying so hard not to laugh at me, that he choked on his water. I barely managed not to wish he'd just go ahead and choke to death and save me the trouble.
I blame the entire damn mess on the little prick. If he hadn't been sitting there, already laughing his ass off at me, I'd have probably questioned Heero a little more and would not have left the restaurant with such a huge misinterpretation of what we were talking about. But to avoid providing Mr. Winner with any further entertainment, I kept my mouth shut and let the conversation turn to other, more mundane topics.
More's the pity. If I'd engaged my brain instead of my damn hormones, I would have asked for clarification and would not have ended up standing on Heero's porch at seven o'clock sharp on Friday night, wearing a brand new silk shirt that I had spent two hours in the store agonizing over. A silk shirt chosen specifically to 'bring out my eyes', a thing that I had never consciously done before in my life.
"Duo?" Heero queried, cocking his head and giving me a funny look. "That's not exactly something that I'd suggest you wear to rebuild an engine."
It's a bloody damn miracle that I didn't go up in the most spectacular case of spontaneous human combustion ever recorded by man. It's a wonder I didn't just die where I stood. But the bigger marvel is that I managed to get brain and mouth working in tandem, and pulled my sorry embarrassed butt out of the fire.
I flashed a cocky grin and launched into full duck and cover mode. "I just stopped off to tell you I was going to be late. Got stuck in a business meeting and I haven't managed to make it home yet."
His funny look grew a little rueful and his lips quirked up in a grin. "Why didn't you just call; my place is kind of out of the way, isn't it?"
"The meeting wasn't at my office," I lied, pretty damn smoothly if I do say so myself. "It was downtown at the client site and I had to come right by here anyway."
"Oh," he said, still looking a little puzzled and I started backpedaling before he had too much chance to question me further.
"I just need to run home and change," I told him as I stepped off the porch. "I can be back in under a half an hour, if that's not too late?"
"That's fine," he said, giving me a really weird up and down look. "If you're sure you still want to help me; you must be tired if you're just getting off work."
"I'm fine," I blurted cheerily, fishing my car keys out of my pocket and beating a hasty retreat. "I'll be right back."
"How about I order pizza?" he called after me. "It should get delivered about the time you get here."
"Great!" I hollered, and threw myself into my driver's seat completely convinced that my face had to be as red as the paint job on my car. I was rather proud of the fact that I pulled away from the curb without peeling rubber.
I waited until I was out of sight of Heero's house before pulling out my cell phone and calling Quatre's number. I got his damn voice mail, which wasn't going to be near as therapeutic, but I had to make do with what I had to work with. "You are a sick, sad little man Winner," I snapped. "If you don't stop these psycho head-games and get yourself into some therapy, I'm not ever eating lunch with you again. Ever." That just didn't seem strong enough for how I was feeling, so I threw in a scathing, "Eat shit and die," just for good measure, punched the disconnect button and threw the phone onto the floor of the car, where it bounced around enough to make me start feeling stupid. Yes, I have issues with loss of temper.
I could not fucking believe what an ass I'd just made of myself. Heero might not have realized, but damnit... I did. I had just wanted to melt through the boards on his front porch and disappear.
Now, you tell me... wasn't it all Quatre's fault?
I think so too.
I barely remember the drive back to my apartment; I spent most of it reliving the last few days, just to make sure I eked out every last bit of humiliation from the experience. Didn't want to miss anything.
I had spent every waking hour after lunch on Wednesday going over that damn conversation in my head. Looking back now, I could see that Heero's flippant 'It's a date, then' had just been an expression. Everybody says things like that. Hell; I'd probably said it myself before. I had let Quatre's damn comments fuel the stupid longings in my heart and had allowed myself to hear what I'd wanted to hear. What I'd been wanting to hear for ages now. What I was never going to hear.
I swear to God, every time I managed to get my heart convinced to give up on these ridiculous notions, Quatre would start the hell in on me, and get it all stirred up again. This was the last straw though. The next time I saw him, we were going to come to an understanding or he really could kiss our friendship goodbye. He could laugh his lily-white ass off if he wanted to, I didn't find this funny at all. I found this... this whole thing was just... It was just damned...
Ok? Yuck it up all you want. Laugh at poor little ol' embarrassed Duo Maxwell all you want. I wasn't laughing. I was hurting.
I knew Heero didn't think of me that way. I was very well aware of that fact. I had come to grips with it more times than I could count. Quatre was going to come to grips with it too and stop feeding my delusions. If I wasn't careful, I was going to screw up what I did have with Heero and I wasn't about to let that happen just to appease Quatre Winner's strange malicious new hobby.
So I went home to change, carefully hanging up the silk shirt that I had spent hours picking out. Equally carefully hanging up the tailored black slacks, also brand new, also deliberated over for a long time at the most expensive clothing store the city had to offer. I did ok until I got myself stripped down to the just as new, black silk underwear. The utter and complete humiliation welled up in my chest then, and I'm afraid those got balled up and thrown into the corner of the bedroom. God, I was such as ass.
I had to take a couple of minutes then, to sit on the side of my bed with my head in my hands and practice my new catechism.
"Heero is my friend. Heero is not interested in me romantically. Heero is not even interested in me sexually. Quatre is a bastard." Ok, how the hell had that gotten in there? "Heero is my friend. Heero is not..."
After about ten minutes I was able to get up, dry-eyed, and get dressed. Old, stained jeans and a t-shirt. My oldest pair of sneakers, and plain damn normal cotton underwear.
I was about fifteen minutes late getting back to Heero's place, but by the time I got there, I felt almost normal again. Maybe... maybe Heero really hadn't noticed anything too odd. Maybe nobody would ever know what a fool I'd made of myself. Except Quatre, but then I suppose given enough time I could think up an excuse for why I had told him to eat shit and die on his voice mail. I'd burn the damn silk boxers and I still had the receipts for the shirt and pants. I could pretty much erase this whole fiasco like it had never happened.
The pizza had beaten me to the house, and I found Heero in the kitchen putting out napkins and paper plates, setting out a bottle of beer for each of us.
"There you are," he greeted me with a warm smile. "Get lost?"
"Traffic," I mumbled and took my seat at the table.
Heero sat down across from me, opening the pizza box and we each took a slice. I reached for my beer and caught him looking at me with an odd expression.
"What?" I asked. "I can't have pizza sauce on my face already, I haven't taken the first bite."
He snorted, picking his own slice up. "I was just wondering if you felt up to this. You seem... distracted."
"Sorry," I muttered, embarrassed that he had noticed. "It was just... a long day."
"You want to talk about it?" he prompted, cocking his head off to the side in that way he has.
I almost laughed. No, I most decidedly did not want to talk about it. "Nah," I told him, dredging up a bright grin. "Rather just forget about it. So... tell me what's on the agenda?"
So he did. Told me what he'd gotten done on the car since the last time I'd been over, outlining what he had left to do. I started to relax a little; Heero can get so... animated when he starts in talking about engines, that it's hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm. Looked like he was hoping to have the thing done before the weekend was out.
We finished our dinner, took our beer and made our way out to the garage. I only had to work at it for a little while before the awkwardness began to bleed away and I lost myself in the familiar banter, before the task consumed all my attention and I forgot how the day had started out.
This was what had made the two of us good partners during the war, the way we could work together. Sometimes, in my more poetic moments, I thought of it as a dance. I don't have to tell him which tool I need him to hand me... he just knows. He doesn't have to ask me to hold something steady... I just know when he needs an extra hand. Not that I'm saying we work in stony silence, we talk, but we don't need to talk about the job. Our hands just go on about their business, and our minds go off on tangents. We talk about the old days sometimes, but we can talk about the future too. We talk about some of the nightmares that we all seem to have, but we can talk about our dreams as well. We bitch to each other. Sometimes we even gossip a little bit. The thing is... it doesn't really matter. On nights like this, we can damn near finish each other's sentences. It's just so... comfortable.
You understand why I won't risk screwing this up? No matter what the hell Quatre imagines? No matter... what I might wish?
It was damn near midnight when Heero finally called it quits, tugging on my sleeve like a little kid, laughing at my reluctance to give it up.
"Duo," he chuckled, squatting down beside where I was lying on the floor. "Sometimes I think you're more obsessed with my car than I am."
I pushed the rest of the way out from under the frame and quirked an eyebrow, grinning up at him. "How do you ever expect to get the thing finished if you keep quitting?"
He laughed and reached a hand out to rub a smear of grease off the bridge of my nose. "It's not going anywhere. Come on... it's almost midnight."
"Midnight?" I asked, a little incredulous, and let him pull me to my feet. "I didn't realize."
He shook his head, moving off to find us a couple of rags to wipe the worst of the grime off our hands with. "You do seem to lose track of time when you're hip deep in axle grease."
"It's not my fault I happen to like mechanical... things," I informed him in a haughty tone.
"Things?" he chuckled, leading us back into the house. "Would that be the technical term?"
I started to dredge up a witty retort, but found myself yawning hugely instead. "Damn," I muttered. "Sorry about that."
He gave me a rueful little smile, moving to the kitchen sink and turning on the hot water so we could do a proper job of washing up. "My fault for keeping you so late; you told me you'd had a hard day."
I watched him lather his hands, waiting for my turn with the bar of soap. "It wasn't so awful," I appeased with a shrug. "And this evening kind of made up for it."
He handed the soap over and rinsed while I lathered. "You did have a crappy day if busting your knuckles all evening was an improvement."
I started to tell him it was the company. I started to tell him I'd bust every knuckle I owned as long as it bought me an evening with him. I started to say a whole bunch of shit that was all pretty much in the category of 'not appropriate', but caught myself in time, and didn't say anything at all. Heero's elbow found it's way into my ribs.
"Hey," he said softly. "You are tired; you going to be all right to drive home?"
I snorted, taking the hand towel from him. "I'm fine," I said and we headed for the front door.
"You want me to come back tomorrow?" I offered, thinking about how close we were to being done. I reached for the doorknob and apparently Heero did too. I jumped when his hand closed over mine. I turned my head to look at him when he didn't immediately let go.
There was the strangest damn look on his face, something between amused and nervous. Kind of a bastard mix of excited and anxious. I couldn't seem to manage to say anything; just staring at him, trying to fathom what was going through his head. "Don't I get... a goodnight kiss?" he suddenly said, and my mouth went dry so damn fast I thought my tongue permanently glued itself to the roof of my mouth.
"W... what?" I finally managed to stammer out, and was only relieved that the adhesive in my mouth kept me from gaping like a carp.
"Isn't that the traditional way to finish a date?" he asked, and the amusement seemed to be winning over the nervousness.
"You call this a date?" I blurted before I had much chance to think through what I should say to a remark like that.
His hand let go of mine and he crossed his arms over his chest, cocking his head to the side and smiling at me gently. "Well, isn't that what dates are all about? Two people doing something they enjoy together?"
My own hand just sort of fell off the doorknob, completely nerveless. "I... I..." was about all I could manage. Later, about the only coherent thought I could remember forming was, Quatre was right.
Heero seemed to draw encouragement from my state of speechlessness, and uncrossed his arms to rest his hands on my hips, turning me around to face him completely.
My God, I thought I'd been struck by lightening. There was a spark that flared to life in my hips where his fingers were resting against me, that shot like fire down my legs and up into my chest. It kicked my heart into high gear so suddenly that my throat constricted and my knees felt weak. All I could think was... that's through two layers of cloth! Oh sweet Jesus, what would it feel like if he were actually touching my skin?
Heero had shifted somehow, without my noticing it, and was suddenly very close to me. Damn close. And leaning closer. With a somewhat self-satisfied look on his face. The asshole.
My own hands were still dangling at my sides, completely undecided on just what they should do. Wrap themselves around his shoulders? Settle on his own hips? Thread through that damn unruly hair?
"Now about that goodnight kiss..." he fairly whispered and leaned in to claim it.
My right hand, damn near trembling, rose almost of it's own volition and... planted itself in the middle of his face. I pushed gently and grinned at the wide-eyed look I received from between my splayed fingers.
"I don't kiss on the first date, Yuy," I informed him and turned away with a flip of my braid to reach for that doorknob again.
I was actually out the door before his bright laughter burst forth, following after me. I turned on the steps to look back and found him leaning in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest again, grinning at me ruefully.
"Good night, Heero," I called, grinning back, and finished the climb down to the sidewalk.
His laughter had faded to a soft chuckle and just before I climbed in my car he called, "Hey."
I stopped with my door open and leaned with my folded arms on the roof of the car. "Yeah?"
He moved on out of the house, taking the few steps to the edge of the porch and gave me that cocked-head appraising look. "Do you kiss on the second date?" he asked, voice a silken damn thing.
I looked at him for a minute, giving him my own once over, before replying, "Sometimes."
His smile widened. "Then what are you doing tomorrow night?"
It was my turn to laugh and he waited patiently. "What time should I be here?" I finally asked, and it won me a brilliant smile. He took another pace forward, coming down a couple of steps so that he didn't have to raise his voice quite so much.
"I don't want to work on the car tomorrow night," he told me firmly. "How about I pick you up at six and we'll go out?"
It surprised the hell out of me and I could only nod, not sure I trusted my voice. He inclined his head in answer and then turned to start back into the house. I straightened, almost ready to climb into the car, when he stopped and threw me a rather wicked grin over his shoulder. "And how about you wear that outfit you had on this afternoon?"
He didn't wait for a response, but went on into the house. I was just as glad, I wasn't sure whether to try to match my complexion to the color of my car again, or laugh out loud. I settled on getting in and driving away.
A block from Heero's place, I stopped at a stop sign and put the car in park long enough to retrieve my cell phone from the floor of the car. I punched in Quatre's number and sat expecting to get his voice mail again. I was a little surprised when Trowa picked up.
"Should I be afraid to talk to you?" he greeted drolly, obviously having checked the caller id.
I snorted. "Why should you be afraid to talk to me... unless you're in on Quatre's little head-games?"
"Well, your last message was less than... genial," he replied and I could hear the asshole grinning at me. Maybe he was in on Quatre's little... hobby.
"But it was directed to your sick partner," I informed him. "Where is he, by the way? I want to talk to the little jerk."
Trowa chuckled, enjoying himself just a little too much and told me, "In the shower... shall I take a message?"
I sighed, thwarted again, and thought about it for a moment. "Tell him... tell him that being right doesn't make him any less of a bastard."
There was a moment while he contained a snicker. "Ok... got it."
"Tell him just that way, ok?" I persisted.
There was a disdainful little pause before he told me, just a touch haughtily; "Duo, I understand yours and Quatre's... strange communication system. You are the only human being on Earth that can leave an 'eat shit and die' message on his answering machine... that makes him grin like a loon. I'll tell him just what you said."
"Just checking," I groused. "There's a subtle undertone that has to be just..."
He cut me off with an audible smirk, a damn tricky thing to do well, and said, "I have it Duo... I'll tell him. Duo says that 'being right doesn't make him any less of a bastard' and Heero says that 'if he gloats about being right, he'll get beat senseless'. I've got it... goodnight, Duo."
It was just as well he hung up; he didn't have to listen to me squawk like an indignant parrot.
Those God damn, conniving, sneaky, wonderful jerks.
After I got over the squawking, I started to chuckle and ended up sitting there laughing like some sort of demented idiot until somebody pulled up behind me and blew their horn. I hastily put the car in drive and got the hell out of the way, still wiping tears of mirth from my eyes.
Those little scheming devils. I couldn't quite make up my mind whether I wanted to kiss Quatre Winner or kick his ass, but it somehow made me feel better to know that Heero hadn't been a player in Quatre's little head game.
A very great deal better.
And I no longer had any doubts at all about whether I kissed on the second date or not.