Ch. 7 ~ "Special Interest"
"OH MY GOD, WHAT HAPPENED?" Aubrey practically shrieked on Monday when she got a good look at Wufei.
Wufei winced at the volume and the attention it earned from curious students, trying unsuccessfully to tug his sleeve over the bandage that nearly reached his elbow. "I fell," he intoned.
"Down how many flights of jagged rocky stairs?" Aubrey demanded incredulously. She squinted. "Is that a black eye?"
Heero steered her towards her desk with a hand to her shoulder. "He's fine," he said firmly. Aubrey craned her head around to gape at Wufei, and spotted Trowa as he came wandering into the classroom as well. She seized Heero's arm. "Did those two get in a fight or something?" she hissed, staring hard at the bandaids on Trowa's chin and temple.
"Drop it," Heero advised. He caught Wufei giving the girl an oddly dangerous look, and wondered at the other boy's bad temper.
Aubrey looked at Heero with a strange mixture of suspicion and embarrassment. "Uh... you didn't do that to him, did you?"
Heero stared at her, nonplussed, before recalling the argument he and Wufei had gotten into the previous week. That little tiff had also resulted in some ugly bruises, but nothing so bad as Wufei's arm injury. And something about her almost accusing tone made him bristle unconsciously. "Of course not," he snapped.
Aubrey made a face, then shrugged with a defeated sigh. "Boys," she grumbled.
The teacher gave Wufei and Trowa odd looks as well, but didn't ask any pointed questions, and the rest of class went normally. Aubrey fidgeted a lot, though, gnawing on her pencil and peering at Wufei with an unreadable expression on her face.
"He said he fell," Heero reminded her a trifle sharply at the end of class.
Aubrey jumped guiltily, turning to face him as she scooped her books into her bag. "What?"
"You keep staring at him."
"Does that bother you?"
Heero paused, thrown off. "It will bother him," he said. Except Wufei had done pretty well so far at ignoring other girls' more whimsical stares, he remembered. So why was he even saying anything?
Aubrey frowned at him in frustration. "I don't get you two," she grumbled. "Just when I think I might have nailed it, you go and display your horrifying ignorance of alternative lifestyles. And here I thought it answered so many questions."
Heero stopped in the classroom doorway and pinned her to the spot with an impatient stare. He was not in the mood for riddles. "What are you talking about? What questions?"
"Well, uh, like..." She looked him in the eye boldly. "Why haven't you asked me out yet?"
There was the thump of a book being dropped, and Heero dragged his blank stare away from Aubrey to where Wufei was still collecting his things at his desk. Wufei was already crouching to get the textbook he'd dropped, and wasn't looking their way, so there was no help from that corner. Heero looked back towards Aubrey, his initial shock turning swiftly to panic. This was not a situation he was exactly trained for.
"What?" he asked intelligently.
Aubrey's mouth quirked in wry amusement. "It's taken threats of violence to keep the others from asking you, so I think it's about time I get it out in the open myself. Aren't you even interested in giving it a try? One little date won't kill you, you know."
"....You're asking me on a date."
"Yes. Since you're obviously never going to get around to it." Aubrey hesitated, a flicker of uncertainty in her eyes. "I'm not trying to pressure you into anything," she said quickly. "Even friends can go on casual dates, Heero."
Wufei came over, but ignored Heero's silent plea for aid. Without looking at either of them, he breezed right between them out into the hall, face placid.
Heero winced internally. Or perhaps this was his way at getting back at Heero for the whole Penny incident.
"Sorry I asked," Aubrey mumbled, looking hurt and embarrassed, which was an odd expression on her. She clutched her bag to her like a lifeline and turned to leave.
Impulsively, Heero lifted his arm and placed his hand against the doorframe, blocking her way. He hadn't realized until just that moment that he was not quite willing yet to lose a potential friend over something so harmless. He had made friends with Aubrey by himself, with no badgering from others, no forced closeness of war, and of his own choice. The possibility of her avoiding him as Penny did Wufei became suddenly unacceptable. "All right."
She looked at him, startled, then suddenly smiled brightly. "Really? Great. It'll be fun, I promise. How does laser tag sound to you?"
Perfect, actually, Heero thought with relief and a bit of mild surprise. He might actually enjoy himself somewhat, and it was definitely unromantic. "Okay."
"How about tomorrow night?" She grinned impishly. "By the way, I'm pretty good. I hope you're not a sore loser."
Heero arched a brow at her. "We'll see."
"I'll meet you outside your dorm tomorrow at five, okay? Bye!" Still grinning widely, she hurried off down the hall.
"You didn't make her cry, did you?" Wufei asked dryly the minute Heero entered their room after his final class.
Heero set his bag on his desk, glancing towards his roommate. The other boy was, predictably, lying on his stomach on his bed, chin on his folded arms, an open book propped up on his pillow. He hadn't even glanced up at Heero's entrance, but there was the faintest suggestion of a smirk playing on his lips.
"No." Heero glanced at his watch as he tugged out his textbooks. "You'll have the room to yourself for a few hours tomorrow evening."
"Going out to dinner?"
"Maybe." Hmm, he hadn't thought about that. If they were leaving at five, maybe she expected to get dinner while they were out. And weren't men supposed to pay for dinner on dates? He wasn't sure, but that's what he'd heard. He opened his wallet and checked to make sure he had cash. How much did laser tag cost, anyway? "Aubrey asked me on a date."
"Hence my first question," Wufei drawled. Then he suddenly rolled over and sat up in one quick movement, staring at Heero suspiciously. "Wait. You said yes?"
Heero frowned at him over his shoulder. "Yes. It's just laser tag. And I have no intention of alienating her as you did with Penny."
Wufei opened and closed his mouth, expression darkening. "You--" He stopped, then shook his head. "Fine, have fun. Let her win, it will earn you some brownie points." He flopped onto his back and settled the book on his stomach.
Heero didn't miss the slight frown still hovering on the boy's face. "What?"
Wufei didn't even look up from his book. "What?"
Heero felt his own mouth turn down in an impatient frown. "Do you have something against Aubrey?"
"I don't know what you mean."
Something about Wufei's breezy voice irritated Heero to no end. He slapped his wallet closed, glaring at his partner. "I'm not bringing her on a mission, Chang, I'm going to play a game with her for an hour or two. It doesn't affect you and it doesn't blow our cover."
"I know it doesn't." There was a slight edge to Wufei's voice, now. "Do what you want. Do I look like I care?"
"No," Heero snapped.
"Fine." Stuffing his wallet in his pocket, Heero snatched up his room key and headed for the door.
What was Wufei's problem? Heero thought impatiently as he thumped down the stairs and exited the dormitory. His words had seemed innocent enough, but dissatisfaction had practically been coming off of him like heat waves. What, did he think that because he had no problems with turning a girl down flat, Heero had to follow his example? Did he think less of Heero for "giving in" to a girl? That was ridiculous. Wufei was being stupid. Annoying, short-sighted, stuck-up and stupid.
Stupid ignorant Wufei.
Heero pulled short his internal fuming, looking around. He'd gone striding down the path in no particular direction, and wasn't sure where to go now. He didn't want to go back to the room just yet, and he wasn't hungry enough to get dinner. He realized his feet had unconsciously taken him in the direction of the library, and continued on his way. The library would be a nice quiet place for him to relax and prepare himself mentally for his.... date.
Heero Yuy going on a date. With a real girl.
Duo would be proud, he thought sardonically.
There were quite a few students in the library, grouped at tables as they studied together quietly, or roaming the aisles. But it was blissfully quiet, with only the low murmur or muffled cough to interrupt the silence. Heero began wandering aimlessly, eyes skimming the bookshelves restlessly. He had only been to the library a few times, and hadn't even been to the second floor yet. The first floor was mostly reference materials, with the second floor taken up mostly by fiction, magazines, and the like. Heero took the creaking staircase up, and paused in surprise. There were tables and computers, just like downstairs, but there was also a tiny coffee shop, complete with comfortably plush armchairs and couches where a few students were lounging, noses buried in books. Why didn't Wufei read here? It looked like the sort of place that would suit him; Heero could easily imagine him tucked into an armchair, a mug of tea nearby and a book in his lap. It was nice and quiet; why keep lugging all his books back to the dorm room where he could get interrupted by his roommate?
Spotting a familiar shock of dark hair, Heero turned on his heel and made a beeline for the nearest aisle. He still felt uncomfortable around Penny ever since his blow-up with Wufei about "hook-ups". Once he was sure he was safely hidden by the shelves, Heero slowed and scanned the titles without much interest. He'd seen Wufei reading fiction along with his history and autobiographies, and had glimpsed a few titles-- The Count of Montecristo, The Prince, Paradise Lost. He recognized the classics, though the only one he'd ever read had been The Prince. It was the other ones he was more interested in-- the ones that got a chuckle or a quiet snort out of Wufei. Usually Wufei was silent as a church mouse while he read, but with books that he seemed to especially enjoy, he reacted to what he was reading unconsciously. Heero was careful never to point it out or look at the other boy when these involuntary noises escaped; he found it amusing in some odd way that Wufei could get so wrapped up in a book that he would forget himself like that. Eats, Shoots, and Leaves was one of the books he'd tried to foist off on Heero, but Heero had never gotten around to reading it. He glanced around aimlessly, not sure what section to find it in. There were a few shelves against the wall marked Special Interest. Well, that might work. The book was supposed to be about grammar or something, wasn't it? And not many people were interested in that, or so his interaction with some of his classmates had taught him to believe. There were three other young men perusing the books, most of them clustered in one area. Heero ignored them, ducking behind the second aisle quickly. Penny was headed his way, a look of determination on her normally passive face. Snatching up a random book, Heero buried his nose in it, trying to look absorbed. Maybe she hadn't seen him. Coward, his subconscious sneered in derision.
Caught. He looked up, resigned, but Penny was turning away from him so fast he didn't even get a look at her face. He watched her rush off in confusion. She'd called him, hadn't she? Frowning, he closed the book. He shouldn't be hiding like a child. He should let her speak her piece. It was his fault for encouraging her interest in Wufei, even if she'd never been aware of it. He looked for the place where he had taken the book from and froze, eyes flicking back and forth in growing disbelief over the titles before him.
100 Ways to Please Your Man. Coming Out of the Closet. We're Here, We're Queer. Identifying Your Sexuality.
With sudden alarm, Heero shot a look to the cover of the book he'd unthinkingly picked up.
Twenty of History's Most Famous Gay Men.
He shoved it back into its spot as if it had burned his hand.
Surely Penny wouldn't say anything to Aubrey. That would certainly make for an awkward first date. How could he explain his mistake without making Penny feel worse?
He stood helplessly for a long moment, staring at the covers.
Girls gossiped. Even he knew that. He'd figured that out back at Preventers HQ; college girls were just as bad, if not worse. He heard them in the halls and in class. And after the casual way Aubrey's group had discussed Dinah Bishop's love life...
He was screwed.
As resignation settled in, his eyes skimmed the titles unconsciously, and latched onto one book smaller than the others. Tugging it out, he studied the plain cover. Take no Chances: Gay Sex, the Safe and Fun Way. His mind flitted back to the conversation at the restaurant, and Aubrey's confusing attempt at an explanation. Flipping open to a random page, he skimmed a few paragraphs.
There were some helpful black and white photos scattered across practically every page. Some of them were examples of products, but others were of pairs of men.
Some of them were kissing. Others were in positions that were both compromising and at first glance looked extremely uncomfortable. Until a quick glance at the models' expressions dashed that assumption quite thoroughly.
Heero slapped the book shut hastily. His face felt hot and--
He stood stock-still in wild confusion and alarm. It took him a moment to recognize the odd curling, shivery sensation in his stomach and gut. It had been a long time since his body had reacted this way. Stuffing the book back on the shelf, he turned on his heel and strode off, blanking out his mind until he had control of his traitorous body once more.
He fled from the library at a fast walk, but every time he'd started to gain the upper hand, an image from the book would flash in his mind, and incite another surge of adrenaline and anxiety.
What the hell was wrong with him??
Perhaps Wufei sensed Heero's inner turmoil, or maybe he was still sulking for some unknown reason; either way, he didn't even look up from his homework when Heero returned, and didn't say anything when Heero went to bed early without any dinner.
It took Heero a long time to fall asleep. He was still staring blankly at the far wall when Wufei went to bed around ten. Finally, around midnight, Heero had managed to shut his brain up and shove the whole ridiculous situation out of his mind. Relieved and exhausted, Heero rolled over and fell asleep, ignoring his grumbling stomach.
He shot up in bed, wide awake, heart hammering in his ears at three in the morning. He couldn't remember the majority of his strange dream; it had been vague and strange. But one of the pictures from that book had played a predominant part. Heero couldn't decide which part alarmed him more.
The fact that he'd woken up hard...
Or that one of the models in his dream had for some reason had Wufei's face.
A cold shower at three, and another one at five, along with some fairly intense meditation exercises Wufei himself had taught Heero in the past finally got rid of the dreams and the lingering feelings and thoughts they and the book had evoked. It also, however, assured that Heero got very little sleep. He'd gone for days without sleep before, so it shouldn't have been a problem, but Wufei, who slept like a cat, complained of the tossing and turning that had woken him up a few times in the night as well. Heero mumbled some sort of incoherent excuse and hurried from the room the second he was dressed. He couldn't look Wufei in the eye all day. In fact, he was so busy focusing on not focusing on Wufei that he completely forgot about his other problem.
In the class he shared with Penny and Aubrey, he finally realized that Penny was avoiding him as carefully as he was avoiding Wufei. "Did I offend her?" he asked in mild puzzlement, mind still distracted by the 24/7 task of not thinking about men at all, one man in particular, and especially not that book that he'd-- Oh.
Aubrey, who'd been quiet all morning, suddenly burst out laughing before Heero had a chance to worry. "She spotted you in the library yesterday in the gay and lesbian section and jumped to conclusions. I guess she forgot how homosexual-stupid you are. I told her you were probably just doing research like you do on everything you don't know about, and now she's kind of embarrassed. Though really, Heero, you should be more discreet in satisfying your curiosity. People talk, you know."
Heero nodded, hiding his relief-- and his surprise. He hadn't been aware that Aubrey had already come to know him well enough to notice his research habit, though usually he looked for answers online.
"Next time, just look up potentially embarrassing facts on the internet," Aubrey teased as if reading his mind. She smiled at him, and Heero decided her assumption was better than him trying to explain his blunder. "So, we're still on for tonight, right?"
"Yes." The internet. That's what he should have done. Surely there would be more information-- No. No, he didn't want to know anything about it. Not after last night's disturbing half-formed dreams.
"Oops," Aubrey muttered, ducking behind her textbook.
Heero glanced a few rows down in time to see Wufei turning around to face the front of the class.
"I guess he heard me," Aubrey mumbled, looking embarrassed. "Sorry. I hope I didn't just make things awkward for you two. You're going to have to explain that you were only doing research. I don't know if Wufei's a homophobe, but guys still usually don't really like to be rooming with gay guys."
"Yeah, like Jake, but uh, worse, I guess. People that really don't like gay people."
That had never even occurred to Heero. He stared at the back of Wufei's head, feeling his stomach turn unpleasantly. If he'd overheard and assumed what Penny had... and if he was a "homophobe" as Aubrey suggested...
What if Wufei wanted to switch rooms? Worse, what if he no longer wanted to go on missions together? The two of them worked well together, and Heero was loathe to give up a good partnership and risk getting stuck with a less reliable teammate from Preventers.
He was going to have to set the facts straight quickly.
Or lie his ass off.
Because he was seriously starting to worry about his reaction to a few not-so-innocent black and white photographs.
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