Chapter 2: "A Dangerous Smile"
"A new guy?" Hilde looked up from tying her shoelace, squinting in the sunlight. "What a weird coincidence. There was a transfer student introduced in my chem class." She gave what Wufei considered a goofy smile. "Real cute, too."
Wufei frowned at her disapprovingly and let his eyes wander down the track towards where more students were warming up, getting ready for the run. The PE teacher was over by the bleachers, flirting shamelessly with the school nurse. And Heero... Wufei spotted him right away, sitting on the ground by himself, tying his tennis shoes with a look of concentration on his face. A few girls were idling a few meters away from him, casting him shy sideways glances and giggling among themselves.
Wufei reached back to make sure his ponytail was tightly secured and followed Hilde out to the track when the teacher finally peeled his eyes off the nurse long enough to begin barking orders.
"Right, you bunch of slackers, that'll be six laps around the track! No walking! Go!" He blew sharply on his whistle, and the class set off down the track at a jog.
Hilde ran alongside Wufei for the first five laps; he was one of the most in shape people she knew, and she was determined to ace her physical when she graduated and tried out for the military academy. Doing simple exercises like running or push-ups with Wufei had helped hone her endurance.
They always saved the last lap for their race.
The moment he passed the marker that ended their fifth lap, Wufei lengthened his stride and took off at a dead run. Hilde leapt into a sprint, calling a taunt as she quickly came abreast with him.
"You're not gonna win today, Chang," she teased. "I had my Wheaties this morning!"
Wufei snorted under his breath and picked up the pace. Hilde's look of determination and confidence wavered into one of outrage as he easily outstripped her. "Dammit, Wufei," she shouted at his back. "I told you to quit holding back--!"
Wufei ignored her breezily, concentrating on breathing, hurtling his body towards the end marker. Nothing made him feel more free than a good run. It cleared his mind and his lungs and loosened his muscles. Sometimes he felt as if he could run forever.
He heard the footsteps behind him belatedly, and by the time he thought to glance over his shoulder, Heero was nearly on him.
Wufei stared incredulously as the calm-faced boy came abreast with him, then passed him without so much as a sideways look. A spark of proud anger lit in Wufei's chest, and he gritted his teeth, forcing his legs to move faster. They'd left the rest of the class far behind, and the end marker was getting closer and closer. Slowly Wufei inched up to Heero, until he was perhaps a step or two behind him.
Heero passed the marker with a second to spare before Wufei came in right behind him.
From somewhere behind him, Hilde gave a whoop of surprise. Out of the corner of his eye, Wufei could see the gym teacher staring, whistle falling from his open mouth.
The track team had been trying to wheedle Wufei into joining them since the eighth grade. No one had ever seen him beaten so easily.
All this went through Wufei's mind in a heartbeat. Heero had come to an abrupt halt, and Wufei was trying to stumble to a halt, to keep himself from--
His stumble turned into a stagger, and he barrelled right into Heero with a grunt. The two of them went down hard in a tangle of limbs and a cloud of dust.
Coughing, his breath harsh and loud in his own ears, Wufei struggled to push himself off the other boy, reaching up to wipe dusty sweat from his eyes. He wrestled down his embarrassment-- since when was he a clutz, for god's sake?? --and settled instead for the anger that leapt up readily from his defeat. Heero had been showing off, trying to make him look a fool. Damn military nut.
"Damn it, Yuy," he snarled, pushing the other boy away from him roughly. "Don't stop in front of me so suddenly!"
For an instant there was a flare in Heero's previously uncaring eyes. Anger? But it was there and gone almost too quickly to notice. Heero stood up silently and offered a hand to help Wufei up. Everyone had caught up by now and was staring at the two.
Wufei swat the hand aside with a growl and scrambled to his feet, glaring into Heero's stony features. "Stay out of my way, Yuy," he snapped.
Heero stared back, but didn't respond.
Hilde came up behind Wufei and touched him lightly on the arm. "Wufei," she said quietly, her voice a warning. The PE teacher was jogging their way, intent on breaking up what he saw as an impending fight.
"Feh!" Wufei turned his back on Heero and began to stretch, still catching his breath. He could feel Heero's eyes boring into the back of his head for a moment, then Heero turned away dismissively.
As he was straightening from his stretches, Wufei's gaze lit on the bleachers. He could have sworn they had been empty when PE had started, but now there was a girl there, leaning over the guard rail, playing idly with her hair-- done up in a long, thick braid --as she watched the events with a vague smile of amusement playing at her lips.
No-- Wufei did a double take. While Wufei had met one or two girls in the past who had tried to rebel and wear a boy's uniform to school, that slender body was definitely male. And despite the ridiculously long hair, the face was masculine. It was a boy, one Wufei didn't recognize. And he was looking right at Heero, looking as if he was laughing silently at some unspoken joke. His gaze shifted, and Wufei found himself for the second time in one day staring into a pair of strangely colored eyes.
The boy continued to gaze at him calmly, amethyst eyes sparkling with dry humor, and Wufei felt the faintest trickle of unease go up his spine. The boy looked short, skinny, and with that hair, almost girlish. But despite this and the way he so casually lounged, something about him made all of Wufei's instincts take sudden notice.
This boy, his subconscious murmured, is dangerous.
Wufei preferred to eat outside on the school grounds rather than suffer through the noise and crowded atmosphere of the cafeteria. As he headed down the path towards the tree he usually sat under, he spotted two boys under another tree, darkened by the shadow of its branches. He glanced at them sideways as he passed, recognizing them immediately. It was Heero and that braided boy from earlier, disussing something in low tones. When Wufei passed, they both shut up and stared back.
For a moment the image was superimposed on Wufei's mind, later to be found in his memory in surprisingly clear detail as the first time he saw the two of them together and began to become suspicious.
The braided boy was leaning back against the tree trunk, hands shoved in his pockets, a blade of long grass thrust into his lips. His ragged bangs hung in his face, hiding his eyes so that only his strangely amused smirk was visible. He'd unbuttoned the first few buttons on his collar and untucked part of his shirt. Despite his slender build, something about his casual stance and the curve of his lips made Wufei think of a gangster or a fighter.
Heero stood to his left, arms crossed over his chest, uniform freshly pressed and up to school standards. He didn't bother to turn his head to make it obvious he was looking at Wufei, but one cobalt eye was visible through his messy hair, watching as the arrogant boy strode past their tree.
Wufei held his head high and kept his eyes forward as he pretended not to notice their strange scrutiny. Their eyes on his back felt heavy and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
He tried to tell himself he was being paranoid, but the practical side of him was kicking him in the shins and telling him otherwise. It was obvious the two of them had been talking about him, and they'd been staring at him all day. It would be prudent to view them as a possible threat and stay away from them unless they confronted him. For all he knew they were building a gang and looking for a new member. It wouldn't be the first time someone had gotten wind of his skill in martial arts and tried to recruit him for some unsavory group or other.
Hilde usually ate lunch with some of her girl friends-- or other students who were just as into the military as she was --but today she was waiting on the bench under Wufei's tree.
"You know Duo?" she asked the minute he was in hearing range.
Wufei seated himself on the other end of the bench and spared her an uninterested glance as he unwrapped his sandwich. "Who?"
Hilde lowered her pudding cup and jerked her chin in the direction of the tree where Heero and his braided companion were still talking in low tones. "Duo Maxwell. The new kid I told you about, remember?"
Wufei's eyes narrowed as he gazed in the boys' direction, mulling this over.
"I guess they know each other," Hilde mused, licking her spoon clean. "I almost feel sorry for them, y'know? All the girls are talking about them and making goo-goo eyes at them. It's kinda gross."
"You're the one that said Maxwell was 'cute'," Wufei said distractedly, frowning as he struggled with his suspicious nature.
Hilde buried her face in her thermos, muffling her answer and hiding her expression.
Wufei didn't notice. He was glaring at the two boys, backs turned to him. It couldn't just be odd coincidence. They knew each other, evidently. Both of them had joined the school the same day. And they kept looking at him and-- unless he was even more paranoid than he'd originally thought --they were just talking about him a moment ago. It made his gut churn with suspicion, nerves, and irritation, ruining his appetite. He stuffed the sandwich back into its baggy and rose to his feet abruptly.
"Uh oh. I know that look." Hilde peered up at him with a disapproving frown. "You had that look when George and his punk friends were spreading shit about you behind your back. I hope you're not thinking about doing anything stupid. You do remember what happened last time, don't you? When you confronted them?"
Wufei hesitated, glaring back at her.
"Hey, don't give me that look," Hilde protested, holding up her lunch box like a shield. "You're always preaching about how people should only fight in self defense or by protecting the weak. But you always have to be a bull-headed macho idiot and go confronting people that have 'Violence' as a middle name. Which means you get dragged into fights, get suspended for putting guys in the hospital, and get even more crap from Mr. Sanders. I'm just trying to keep you out of trouble."
Wufei winced internally. Her words rang all too true, but his pride would not allow him to back down. "I can take care of myself," Wufei snapped. "You're just a woman. You don't understand this sort of thing, so leave it alone."
Hilde slammed the lunchbox onto the bench and jumped to her feet, violet eyes blazing. Wufei took an involuntary step back, suddenly wary. Hilde didn't get very angry often, but when she did, her decibal level could rival a drill sergeant's. While he refused to be intimidated by anyone-- especially just a girl --he had learned from experience that one of Hilde's furious rants was to be avoided at all costs. And he should have remembered that if there was one thing that could set her off, it was anything discriminatory or harmful towards her gender. "I meant-" he started hastily.
She didn't let him finish. "Don't you pull that macho sexist woman-hating shit with me, Chang," she barked, glaring at him, fists clenched at her sides. "I don't have to take that from you or any guy!"
People were starting to stare. Some were snickering. Wufei managed a weak scowl; not that it did much to improve her temper. "Woman," he hissed, "stop screeching like a banshee. Are you insane?"
"Screeching??" she repeated at the top of her voice.
Muttering in Mandarin, Wufei turned his back on her and strode off, back prickling. He half expected to get a lunchbox to the back of his head for his insolence. Trying to tune out her furious threats and accusations, he made his way hastily back towards the building.
When he passed the tree the two new boys had been standing under, a quick glance showed that Heero had disappeared.
Only Duo Maxwell remained, mouth stretched in a wide shit-eating grin, his eyes dancing with amusement. Wufei, who did not appreciate being laughed at, sent him a heated glare that had made bigger men quail, and stormed into the school. Duo's laughter-- loud and hearty --chased after him.
"He doesn't remember me."
Duo glanced up, rummaging blindly through a bag of chips for the last few crumbs. He was sitting cross-legged on top of a fence post, idly watching the girls walk by as the students poured out of the school, eager to get home after a long day. Heero was leaning against the wall, arms crossed tightly over his chest as he scowled at the ground.
Duo licked salt from his fingers as he gazed silently at his friend for a moment. He knew that pose. His old companion was not in a good mood. Something was bothering him. Heero thought it didn't show-- and in truth, to most people, he didn't look much different than usual --but Duo had learned to read his friend's body language and expressions like brail. And after Heero's abrupt words, he suspected he knew what-- or rather who --was really bothering the other boy.
"Of course he doesn't," Duo snorted, peering into his bag and searching for a chip bigger than a dime. "He was a little kid. So were you. You were... what, maybe five?"
"I remember him," Heero pointed out a little coldly.
"Yeah, but he had a whatchamacallit," Duo argued, giving up on the bag and crumpling it up loudly. "'Traumatizing experience' or whatever. The doc warned us it might be like this. Little kids can block out painful memories. Or maybe, I dunno, he took a hit to the head when it happened and really doesn't remember."
"..." Heero transferred his glare to a bird in a nearby tree. "I thought he remembered," he admitted gruffly. "For a minute. When I saw him in the hall, he looked like he almost did."
"It's the peepers, man, I'm tellin' ya," Duo chuckled, offering a wide grin to a gaggle of giggling girls as they passed. "You 'n' me, we got eyes to die for, know what I mean?"
Heero gave him a dead-pan look. "We are not here for you to exercise your libido, Maxwell," he said shortly.
"Hey, it's not like I plan on dating anyone or anything," Duo protested, eyes straying towards a girl in a short skirt. "I can look, can't I?"
Heero snorted and turned his head away dismissively.
Duo watched him out of the corner of his eye, a grin twitching a the corner of his lips. Duo Maxwell was a man who found amusement in even the most mundane things. It made life more exciting and bearable. Or that was what he told everyone. Like now; Heero may act like he was only concerned about this because of the mission, but Duo knew his old friend well enough to recognize what the outburst was really about. Heero had expected-- hoped? --that Wufei would remember him after all these years. Wufei's blank stare and distant, untrusting attitude towards him had touched a nerve. Perhaps Heero was just annoyed, but Duo was willing to give him more credit and lean towards hurt. Whatever the case, Duo found it privately funny that the infamous Stonewall Yuy had let an arrogant-faced teenager like Chang Wufei get under his skin so quickly.
Not that he was stupid enough to voice any of this out loud.
"C'mon," he chuckled, hopping off the pole and poking his friend in the arm. "Mr. High and Mighty Chang ain't gonna like it if he catches us loitering around here. He's already getting suspicious. Let's head home and make a game plan."
Heero scowled slightly, but didn't protest. When Duo led the way off the school grounds, chattering away a mile a minute about the good-looking girls in his classes, Heero followed in silence.
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