Ch. 4 ~ "Unexpected Reactions"
Aubrey was indignant.
Heero was struggling to think of an excuse to placate her.
The weekend had come and gone, with-- infuriatingly enough --no missions. "All quiet on the western front," Une had quipped, and hung up in the middle of Heero's dark silence before he could come up with a threat or argument to sway her. But he and Wufei had been sitting by the phone waiting for a mission that never came, and had missed the party neither of them had been particularly keen on attending anyway.
Thus the ingination on Aubrey's part.
"You were supposed to come!" she hissed at him during class, ignoring his attempts to ignore her. "How are we ever going to get Penny and Wufei to notice each other if you two won't climb out of that cave dorm room of yours and socialize??"
She was really going to let him have it at lunch, he was morbidly certain, and was actually planning on avoiding the dining hall when Wufei pulled an abrupt 180 on him just before lunch period.
"I guess I'll go to the dining hall with you," he said off-handedly at the end of their Literature class. "The library's closed for the afternoon because of a busted pipe, so I don't have anything better to do."
Well, that explained where he'd been spending his lunch period, Heero thought as he reluctantly led the way to the dining hall. Though he should have guessed. He was still a bit curious as to why Wufei had even decided to go with him to lunch rather than hide in their room, but the sight of a now-familiar shock of dark hair at the group's table gave him a kick of reality.
Of course. He'd said in the library that he would have spent lunch with them if he'd known one of them was actually interesting. He was here to see Penny.
Heero's mood, which should have brightened at the success of Duo's plot, instead took an unexplainable turn for the worse. Luckily the others were getting used to his silences, though Aubrey seemed to sense his bad mood and left him alone. Wufei seated himself on Heero's right, which put him on Penny's left. Heero shoveled food into his mouth without tasting it as the two struck up a tentative conversation that quickly got more animated as they discussed the one thing they both loved: literature. Aubrey must have prepped the others on how to behave on the off-chance that such a thing happened, because even Jake left the two of them alone, and the rest of them carried on their own conversations, flicking knowing little grins to the oblivious pair every now and then. Heero stared stubbornly at his tray as he ate and ignored everyone.
He'd seen enough couples in the school to have an idea of how things would naturally progress. The two would start meeting in the library to study or look for their stupid books, they would chat during lunch every day, and within a couple of days Wufei would move to sit next to her in class. Sooner or later he would find excuses to be with her more often: walking her to class, dropping by the convenience store together... and then he would catch them holding hands in the hallway one day, and then... Well, okay, he wasn't sure exactly what to expect after that. He had always ignored couples for the most part. Kissing was involved, certainly; he'd often spotted couples hidden in some dark corner kissing as if the rest of the world didn't exist, or exchanging quick little pecks outside classrooms or on paths outside. That seemed to be what made it final; after that, the two were usually connected at the hip. Hm. Perhaps he'd been paying a bit more attention to couples than he'd realized. The whole "romance" thing was a foreign concept to him, and he hadn't realized until just then how curious he'd been about it. Partly because he couldn't see the allure of letting someone get that close, of opening up to someone. It all seemed like a waste of time and a huge risk to him. Opening yourself up like that left you vulnerable, showed your weaknesses to someone who could turn on you at any time. And to have someone around all the time... wouldn't that get tiring? He couldn't really see the fascination everyone seemed to have with kissing and sex, either. He certainly couldn't remember ever spending much time thinking about it too deeply. He was young, he was male... there of course had been the occassional strange, unnerving dream, never remembered upon awakening. But he'd been told these were perfectly normal things to go through as a teenager, and it only took some intense mental exercises to get rid of that nonsense. Since his knowleldge on the mysterious subject of sex was sadly spotty in the first place, and he had never found himself interested in that way in another human being, it was not difficult to banish dreams and feelings that were already vague and uncertain to begin with.
A strong hand riddled with pale scars from years of working with the sword appeared in his line of vision and nonchalantly stole the last of his strawberries. Startled out of his dark confused musings, Heero jerked his gaze up to his partner. Wufei was arching a brow at him, a faint frown of disapproval hovering on his mouth. 'What's with the silent act, Yuy?' he mouthed.
Heero hesitated, flicking his glance to Penny. She was talking to Aubrey. Heero straightened in alarm. Had she lost interest in Wufei already? Had Wufei made her upset? She didn't look like she'd been crying...
Wufei caught his glance and scowled, popping the strawberry in his mouth. "What?"
"Nothing," Heero muttered, finishing his drink quickly and rising to his feet. It was a bit disconcerting to have Wufei's undivided attention. And besides, the idiot was supposed to be talking to Penny, not him. Maybe if he left, they would start talking again. "I'm going to head to class."
Everyone looked up in surprise.
"In a hurry, Heero?" Brianna teased. "You wolfed that down in like five minutes. There's still plenty of lunchtime left, you know."
"I have homework to look over before class."
Wufei stared at him with hooded lids, not falling for the obvious lie, and Heero hurried off.
Heero was baffled.
Wufei did not sit by Penny in class; he kept his seat near the front. Nor did he go seeking her out. He went on reading on his bed in his spare time, and didn't talk about her. Heero knew they'd run into each other in the libary a few times, but aside from lunch, the two of them didn't seem to have much interaction.
Heero couldn't understand it. Wufei had to have some degree of interest in the girl, or he wouldn't even speak to her during lunch. And Aubrey had already made it clear how Penny felt. Something was going wrong, and Heero was at a complete loss. The next time he had the room to himself, Heero made another reluctant phone call.
"Heero, people are not machines," Duo sighed after hearing the story. "You can't just place two compatible parts together and expect the whole thing to start running smoothly."
"I know that," Heero said shortly, unwilling to admit he'd kind of hoped things worked that way.
"I'll help you because Wufei could do with a little TLC, and because it's cute that you're trying to do him a favor," Duo relented, sounding amused and resigned at the same time. "Okay, obviously he's starting to get suspicious because you're failing at the whole subtlety thing, so tread carefully." He hesitated. "Of course, there could be two very different explanations for his irritation at your obvious interference," he muttered thoughtfully. "He could just be being Wufei, and doesn't like that you're sticking your nose in his affairs and trying to fix him up. Or..."
Duo was quiet for a long moment. "Forget it. I'll figure that out my way. For now, let's try a new angle. Get with that Aubrey girl-- she sounds like a good co-conspiritor --and fix this up. Get Wufei to go with you somewhere-- the store, shopping, a movie, somewhere off-campus. Aubrey will do the same with Penny. Then you'll all meet up together completely by 'coinsidence'. At some point, you and Aubrey high-tail it out of there. Leave it to her to think of an excuse. Girls are good at stuff like that. It'll give those two a chance to hang out somewhere other than the school, and get to know each other better."
"Is this what you really want? I mean... do you really want Wufei and this Penny chick to start dating?"
Heero blinked, a little thrown by the unexpected question. "It's not really up to me," he admitted. "But if I can help them, I should, shouldn't I?"
"That's not really answering the question, Heero. It doesn't, er... bother you or--"
The door opened, and Heero hastily hung up, turning and hiding the phone behind his back. Wufei was concentrating on balancing his newest stack of novels and didn't notice. As he shut the door, Heero slipped the phone into the desk drawer.
"Here." Wufei tossed him two books. "You seemed pretty interested in those other ones you checked out last time. You might like these."
Heero studied the cover of the first curiously before flipping through the yellowed pages. "Old Japanese folk stories and legends?"
"Your knowledge on your own culture is pathetic. It'll give you something to do on a rainy day besides tap away on your laptop." Wufei set his stack on his bedside table and curled up on his bed with his back facing Heero, already opening a book and tuning out the world.
Heero hesitated, watching him. It was odd, this peek into Wufei's private life. Was this how the other man always spent his free time? Did he sit down in his apartment with a book as soon as he returned from missions? Heero still couldn't quite understand his fascination with stories, but it was still interesting seeing Wufei's absorbed, contemplative side. Heero checked his watch. He still had an hour until his next class, and he had nothing better to do. Besides, he was starting to get accustomed to the comfortable silence of the other man in the room. Sitting down at the desk, he opened the book to a random chapter and began reading.
The stories were the most bizarre he'd ever read; they made no sense whatsoever, and the heroes in them did impossible things. Likewise, the world around them seemed to bend the laws of reality regularly. Talking animals, spirits, immortality... He eventually put the book aside, a bit disappointed, and reached for the second one. It seemed to be focused mostly on samurai and the warring clans, which was much more interesting as far as he was concerned. He flipped the pages idly, keeping one eye on his watch. Foreign words jumped out at him, incomprehensible. There were photos of ancient scrolls and paintings, and he glanced over several idly as he thumbed through the pages.
One in particular caught his eye, and he paused, frowning slightly in mild perplexion. He had taken it at first to be another romance painting, but the woman was not wearing the fancy dresses most wore in other pictures. In fact, the closer he looked, the more the woman looked... well, less like a woman. His eye flicked to the text on the opposite page automatically, seeking an answer. Perhaps it was a chapter about Japanese wrestling. The term shudo first appeared in the 17th century--
"Yuy." Heero glanced up to see the other young man making his way for the door, stretching after lying in the same position for so long. "Time for class."
Heero nodded, jerking his eyes away from the glimpse of bronze skin revealed as Wufei's shirt rode up with his stretch. The reaction to the sight of Wufei in any state of undress had become so automatic and commonplace over the last year that Heero barely even acknowledged it anymore. Getting to his feet, Heero closed the book, retrieved his bag, and followed his room mate into the hall.
Trowa was waiting for them outside their room after their last class of the day, shoulder propped against the wall, arms crossed loosely, face set in its familiar unreadable mask. "Lesa's here," he said shortly, and headed across the hall to his own room.
Wufei and Heero exchanged a brief glance. If it was about a mission, why had she come in person? Was there bad news back at Preventers HQ? Grimly, the two boys set their bags down inside their room and hurried into Trowa's room.
Lesa was sitting on the edge of Trowa's bed, looking quite at home. Trowa was on the other side of the room, as far from her as he could get, arms crossed again. The girl bounced to her feet at the entrance of the other two, all smiles. "Hey, there, did ya miss me? Go ahead, close the door already. I don't want Trowa to get in trouble for smuggling a girl into his room." She pranced over, her cheerfulness easing some of the tension.
Heero obeyed automatically. "Why are you here?" he demanded, turning to face her. "Is anything--" the words choked in his throat and refused to come out as he stared in blank surprise at the girl.
She'd sidled up alongside Wufei and was propping her elbow on his shoulder as if he was a convenient shelf, though she had to stretch a little bit to do so. Ignoring their stares and Wufei's visible irritation, she explained brightly, "Une wanted me to check in with you all personally every other week or so to see how you're really doing, make sure the other students don't scuttle for cover at your approach, that kind of thing. I'm just making sure you haven't blown your cover, you're getting good grades, and that you're actually attempting to enjoy yourselves." Wufei's jerky shrugs finally dislodged her elbow, but she barely seemed to notice. He took a deliberate step out of her immediate reach, then blanched when she quickly nabbed him, twining her arm through his and still chatting, seemingly oblivious to his discomfort. "Is it true you two have been making friends? I'm proud of you. But you, Trowa, you need to learn the meaning of communication. Go talk to your classmates. Hell, join Wufei and Heero at lunch and meet the people they eat with. Seriously, you guys, loosen up. This is school, not basic training. Quit wiggling, Wufei."
Wufei scowled at her darkly, attempting to pull his arm free from her death-grip. "Let go of me, woman."
"Oh, don't be shy," she giggled, batting her lashes at him shamelessly. "You know, you might actually be cute if you just didn't scowl all the time."
Wufei stared at her in bewilderment and annoyance.
Heero couldn't seem to drag his stare from her grip on Wufei's arm. His shoulders and neck felt incredibly tense, and he had to fight to keep his face expressionless. It's because she's getting in the way of what you're trying to accomplish with Penny, he told himself firmly. Lesa smiled back at him impishly, as if she could see right through him.
Heero looked towards Trowa, taken off guard by the sharp tone. The taller boy was no longer leaning casually against the wall. His arms were still crossed, but his entire body posture was stiff, and there was the faintest air of disapproval to his normally impassive face. He was practically bristling.
Trowa's tones were as monotonous as always, but Heero could detect the hint of steel in his voice. "Unless you have something pertaining to a mission to discuss, you're wasting our time."
Lesa blinked, looking at him in surprise. Heero frowned at her. She seemed to have almost expected Heero to react in some way, but Trowa's hint of displeasure had evidently caught her off guard. She blinked again, then slowly flushed red, and released Wufei abruptly. There was an awkward silence, with her staring nervously at Trowa and Trowa glaring at the far wall, as if waiting for her to leave or continue with her one-sided conversation. But the wind seemed to have gone out of her sails, and she flapped a hand lamely, voice a bit subdued. She spoke to all of them, but she kept sending Trowa quick, unsure glances out of the corner of her eye. Wufei edged away from her warily, but she didn't seem to notice. "Um, anyway, keep up the good work with your grades. And there should be a mission this weekend, so keep your eyes peeled. Sorry for dropping by unannounced. Um, see you later, boys." She sent Trowa one last searching look, then hurried from the room.
"What the hell is wrong with that woman?" Wufei fumed the second she'd left, scowling at the door.
Trowa ignored the question, striding over to his desk and sitting down in silence, pulling his homework to him. Heero and Wufei recognized the unspoken dismissal and left.
"Notch has always been strange," Heero pointed out as they headed for their own room. "I don't think Trowa likes her very much."
Wufei hesitated, frowning at him. "You mean that little mood swing of his?" He lapsed into thoughtful silence, going to his bed to dig his own homework out of his bag. "No," he said finally, voice quiet. "I don't think that's the problem. Huh. How unexpected."
"Nothing." There was the faintest hint of a smirk hovering on Wufei's lips, which was infuriating. Heero got the distinct impression that Wufei had figured out the reason for Trowa's strange behavior and wasn't about to clue him in. "But I'll bet money Trowa's pacing a hole in his floor right now. In fact..." Abruptly he went to the door and put his eye to the peephole. Heero watched him in confusion, but Wufei stayed where he was for several minutes. Then he grinned abruptly, a self-satisfied expression on his face. "And there he goes," he muttered. "Predictable, Barton."
Faintly Heero heard a door shutting in the hall, then the sound of quick footsteps passing by.
"How unexpected," Wufei muttered again, then returned to his homework and ignored Heero's frustrated stare. Finally Heero dug out his own textbooks, pushing the incident to the back of his mind. He was still a bit unsettled by Lesa's odd actions, and his own reaction to them.
Penny had nothing to fear, at least, he consoled himself. Wufei had expressed his distaste in Lesa's touchy-feely attitude quite clearly. That certainly explained his overwhelming sense of relief.
"You're an evil man, Duo Maxwell," Lesa announced the second the line picked up.
Duo laughed. "Oh, man, you actually went through with it? Anyone who knew those blockheads better would have known better. Did Wufei threaten bodily harm?"
Lesa grinned, cradling the cell phone in the crook of her neck as she dug her car keys out of her purse, striding down the path with long steps. "No, but thanks for the warning. Why did you contact me anyway? We've only met like... once."
"Who else was I supposed to con into this? So how did it go?"
"Oh, no. First you explain why the hell I evidently just put my life on the line. You told me to be all flirty and girly and watch Heero, and I did that. Mind telling me why?"
"If Heero reacted the way I think he did, the answer should be obvious," Duo said slyly.
Lesa chuckled. "Ever heard the expression 'if looks could kill'...?"
"I KNEW IT," Duo exclaimed triumphantly, and she winced at the volume. "God, what a thick-headed idiot. He's so oblivious it's almost physically painful to witness." He adopted a gruff mimicry of the other man's voice. "Duo, help me hook Wufei up with this random girl I know, because I don't know what the hell I'm doing and I am quite comfortable here on Planet Denial." He snorted loudly. "Moron. That's kind of depressing, though. That means he really has no idea--"
Lesa caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and stopped by her car with the keys clutched in her hand. "Um, look, Duo, I've gotta go," she said hastily, watching the young man striding towards her. "It looks like I've got some unexpected ruffled feathers to smooth."
"Huh?" A note of glee crept into Duo's voice. "Is Heero coming? Does he have that 'Kill anything that moves' look on his face? Or does he just look confused? Don't hang up, I wanna hear--"
"It's not Heero," Lesa murmured, and hung up.
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