Soldiers and Fools
Part 02 -- First Steps
(kodoku na okami)
(Sometimes simple changes are the hardest to make. Sometimes fools are right.)
Heero walked into the room and found Duo sprawled on the bottom bunk wearing only a pair of red silk boxers and headphones. One hand played with his braid, the other intermittently fed his mouth popcorn and turned the pages of a book that had too many pictures to be a textbook.
"Mmph. Iwa, Eewo." Duo mumbled around a mouthful of popcorn. He picked up a glass of water from beside the bed and took a gulp, downing the mass, then pulled off the headphones. Heero heard a soft, lilting soprano, "Casadh bean si domh thios..."
"Um, I need a hand with pre-calc when you get a minute."
Duo's voice broke the music's spell. Heero glared. "After I get a shower." /If you need help with pre-calc, what are you doing reading that book instead of the pre-calc book?/ He knew saying it would be a waste of breath. His hand stopped as it reached for the shampoo. "Hnn. What did you do with my shampoo, baka?"
"I told you yesterday, it's real poo. Uh, the bottle's right there in front of you. Why do you think I messed with your stuff?"
The face was utter innocence, but Heero knew better. "Because you didn't put it back where I left it."
"I did too!" Duo tried his best to return Heero's glare, then grinned sheepishly as he heard what he'd said. "Ahm... I thought I did anyway. ... I emptied the bottle and put some of my shampoo in it, OK? Try it. ... Trust me. ..." He wasn't making any headway. "If you try it and don't like it, you can kill me. Or worse yet, I switch to your shampoo." Duo's shudder was half-fake, but Heero put the bottle in the pouch anyway, gathered towel and wash-cloth, and headed for the door.
"If this is a trick, Duo, I will cut your hair off. All of it." The door closed just too hard to be normal, but not quite hard enough to qualify as a slam.
/Geez/, Duo thought as he slipped on the headphones again, /didn't realize he'd be so mad about it. I'm only trying to help./ He toyed with the end of his beloved braid, contemplating life without it. /Heero does know how to deliver threats so you know they're promises,/ he thought, then shrugged. /He'll thank me... no, scratch that. He won't thank me, but he won't be able to deny that I was right when he tries it. Gotta work on that innocent look, though. Or maybe I need to try a different tack with him./ Duo considered that for a moment. /Damn! He made me miss the last verse of "Ta Me 'Mo Shui"./ He hit the stop button and pulled off the headphones, then reached under his pillow and pulled out a comb, dashed over to the sink and replaced Heero's comb.
On the way back to his bed, he stopped at Heero's dresser. He spent ten minutes studying the middle drawer, it's precise alignment with the grain on the facing, looking for hairs or strings or anything that might tell Heero he'd opened it. He inched the drawer open and peeked, shaking his head. /Spandex Boy indeed./ It was full of black spandex shorts and green tank tops -- enough for at least two weeks by Duo's estimate. /How original,/ he thought. He slid the drawer closed, that bit of curiosity satisfied, taking another four minutes to align it just as it had been, then raced back to his bed.
Forty-five seconds later the door opened.
/Right on schedule./
It closed with a definite slam.
/Ohshit./ Duo kept his nose buried in the issue of "Akira" before him as Heero stomped over to the sink, paused, then stomped over to Duo and stood there.
A faint scent of cordite drifted off his body, even though Duo knew he hadn't been near the stuff for days. Most people wouldn't pick it up, but Duo knew the smell too well. /Maybe he uses cordite scented soap./ Violet eyes drifted up the towel wrapped around Heero's waist, along his torso. /Damn. I gotta figure out what his workout program is./ Finally meeting the face, so cold it could freeze air solid ... and spying the comb Heero was holding before him as if it were a hammer he was going to use to beat Duo's face.
"Oh, get off it, Heero. Just try it. If it isn't better you can cut my hair off and have the old one back. Was I wrong about the shampoo?" Duo waggled the end of his braid in Heero's direction, daring him to say, "Yes."
He hadn't been wrong. That only made Heero angrier. The little fool had been right about something. Of course, if he knew about anything it would be a useless thing like hair. How could Duo get to him so easily? Maybe it was because the boy was willing to outright defy him. Or maybe because he made Heero wonder if he was wrong about the importance of unfeeling. No. Duo's skills may be good enough, but Heero knew his were better because they weren't clouded by emotion. He stalked back to the sink to comb his hair. After a few pulls, he admitted to himself that this comb didn't catch the way the other one did -- that he hadn't even realized the other comb had been catching.
/So many pale scars on that pale skin./ Duo watched the smooth motion as the muscles in Heero's back flexed and released, flexed and released. The new comb worked as expected. "Damn. I gotta figure out what his workout program is." Duo clapped a hand to his mouth as he realized he had whispered that aloud. Heero didn't stop combing his hair. Maybe Heero hadn't heard him.
Heero finished, put the comb down, and turned. Though his hair was still the same wild Yuy tangle, Duo could see the improvement. Of course, he was an expert when it came to hair. "You need to work on lower body strength," Heero said. "Your upper body is OK if you'll maintain it."
/Damn! He must have ears like a surveillance mike./
"Why, Heero, I didn't know you'd been checking out my body," his mouth said. Duo's face went red. /Damn your mouth, Duo./ He'd grown up on the streets and had learned to appreciate a good body, male or female -- and Heero had a very good body. But if Heero misinterpreted his meaning... He wanted Heero's respect, badly. He didn't want to risk that just because Heero was a looker. Both thoughts surprised him, but before he could explore them further he saw Heero's blank expression.
Heero didn't get it.
Duo grimaced. /What good is it being a brilliant smart-ass when your roommate is so dull?/ Then again, he hadn't wanted Heero to get it. /Better count your blessings, Duo,/ he chided himself.
"I've been evaluating your weaknesses. My control ordered me to reduce the chances you would become an obstacle."
/That you'll have to kill me./
"Tomorrow morning, weight room, 0600."
"6:00 AM?! Does it have to be that early?" Duo blinked, realizing what Heero was offering. "You're gonna help me?"
"Orders," Heero said. He took off the towel and folded it neatly, laying it on top of the dresser. Then he dug a pair of white cotton briefs out of the top drawer and pulled them on followed by the ubiquitous spandex shorts and green tank top. He pulled the holstered pistol out of his school jacket, checked it, slipped it into the waistband at the small of his back and flipped the tail of the tank top over it to conceal it. Long habit made the whole operation take mere seconds.
Duo watched the proceedings thoughtfully. /So he doesn't take it to the shower./ He looked over his shoulder at his own backside. /Maybe I'll be able to wear a butt holster too,/ he thought. /But not if I have to wear those corny briefs./ He shook his head and chuckled softly, then saw Heero looking at him. "Ah, about pre-calc..."
(Two days later...)
Duo heard the door open behind him. /Ohshit. I'd hoped to be done before he got back. Well, here goes./ He didn't stop putting clothes in Heero's dresser, but his attention was focused on the sounds as Heero shut the door and walked across the room. Duo heard the books thump onto the desk.
"I told you not to mess with my stuff or I'd kill you. I meant it." The quiet voice came from directly behind him.
"I know," Duo said turning around. He had expected to face the gun, but Heero's hands were empty -- twitching, but empty. Duo decided that if Heero had been a normal person they'd be clenching and releasing. He looked into the freezing eyes. Heero was angry and wasn't trying to hide it. /I am in sooooo deep.../ "Um, I was just putting your clothes away." Duo kept his voice calm. Heero was still seething -- that's what Duo knew it was, though anyone watching them would have thought they were just having a quiet conversation.
"I needed to do laundry and did yours too. It's, uh, more efficient." /Ha! Got you there./ "It saves time, water and detergent." /Tell me I'm wrong./ He'd kept the note of triumph out of his voice -- he hoped.
Heero closed his eyes. "Duo, why do you try to make my life miserable?"
He hadn't been ready for that. It was almost an admission of weakness. But Duo knew the answer -- he'd figured it out himself only recently. He thought for a moment, choosing precisely the right words, preparing his voice to be just the right soft tone. "I'm not trying to make your life miserable. I just want you to give me a chance."
Heero half-opened his eyes, looking at him.
"I mean, I didn't choose this assignment. When I walked through that door and realized who I was partnered with, well, I was scared to death -- the gun in my face didn't help. I respect you. You're a good soldier. I'm trying to be one too, so what you think about me matters to me. I know you think I'm just a loud-mouthed amerika-jin baka who couldn't find his way out of an open closet, but maybe you should give me a chance before you write me off. I did save your life."
"That debt was repayed."
The way he said it, that obnoxious tone that said it was just another tick-mark on the mission list, was too much. "Damn it, Heero," Duo snapped at him. "Quit being such an asshole for a minute and tell the truth. Did I save your life?"
Heero saw a hint of the darkness in Duo's eyes. It wouldn't hurt to tell the truth. "Hai."
"Am I a good pilot?"
"Have I been an obstacle?"
Heero thought for a moment. "Iie."
/Damn, I'm actually winning this argument./ "Uh, is me doing your laundry going to kill you?"
"Hn. Iie." That had been harder to say than he had expected.
"And it's more efficient than each of us doing laundry separately?"
"Then why shouldn't I do your laundry if I want?"
Heero didn't know. Maybe it was time to try a different attack. "What if I want to do the laundry next time?"
"Oh, no. All my underwear is silk. I can just see you putting them in the dryer on high and ruining them. Some of my other clothes need special treatment too. I'll do the laundry, thanks."
Heero looked at Duo with an ice-glare cold enough to freeze the boy where he stood. He really didn't want to wash Duo's clothes. He knew he could handle it if he wanted to, but he didn't really like doing his own laundry, much less Duo's. It just rubbed him wrong to give in to the boy -- and letting him have access to the dresser.
The soldier didn't like it. It was risky. /You should get rid of it,/ the soldier whispered in his mind. /NO!/ He didn't know why, but he would not give up... that. He would die first.
The soldier laughed at him. /So much for your self-control./
Eventually, they found a compromise. He pulled the soldier close again. He needed him for this.
"You can do the laundry. You can put my clothes away. But, Duo," he paused, catching Duo's eyes, making certain he had Duo's attention. "The bottom drawer is off limits. If you open it I will know and I will kill you. That is a promise. If you don't find a place for it in the other drawers or the closet, leave it on top of the dresser and I will put it away."
Duo didn't flinch from the stare though he knew Heero was deadly serious. "Ryoukai." He held up his right hand. "I give you my word I will not open the bottom drawer without your permission." He bent from the waist in a small, but respectful bow then turned back to putting away clothes.
Heero walked over to the desk and sat down, opening a book.
"And thanks," Duo said softly to the dresser. The pages of Heero's book stopped turning for just a second. There was no other sign his words had reached Heero's ears. /That's OK,/ he thought. /You just got him to take a tiny step towards, well, "friendship" is probably too optimistic, maybe "comradeship"./ It was a beginning. /And I'll be interested to see if he wears those boxers I slipped into his underwear drawer./
The song "Ta Me 'Mo Shui" is from Altan's album, "Blackwater". Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh's voice is spellbinding (and she plays killer fiddle too!).