Series: Appearances 2
Spoilers: post Endless Waltz
Summary: It's hour of the wolf in the Preventer kitchen.
Word Count: 3112
Date First Posted: 05-02-2002
Date Revised: 29-05-2011
Awards: Fanworkrecs fic rec, Defying The Stereotype fic rec.
Notes: Duo POV. Out of all the Appearances series, this is probably my least favourite. I know what I was trying to do, but that didn't quite mesh to my end result. The two products were vastly different. I considered rewriting it completely while doing its revision, but decided that there was no way I could think of to actually fix it properly, and get it closer to my initial vision for this installment. Besides, even if I personally don't like it much, it does its job in furthering the story with these two, threads begun and continued in this run through later sections. I guess it'll just have to stay as one of my lesser favourites :)
Feedback: always welcome, as is constructive criticism.
Also Archived At: LJ | FFN
Clothes make the man. Or so I've been told. I mean, there's such room for variation. They can tell you everything you need to know about a person, or cleverly nothing at all.
You get the right ensemble, though, and it just bares open the soul.
Pajamas are the ultimate soul book. There's nothing more vulnerable than the clothes you chose to sleep in. And if you wear nothing at all? Even more telling.
They say a lot about who you are, your personality, and what you think of yourself.
I rub my shirt-clad chest fondly. My pajamas are special. Not because they're particularly attractive or expensive (I tried to sleep in silk once, slipped right off the covers, and never went back), but because... they're me.
If I could come back as any clothing, I'd come back as my grey t-shirt with a big ol' Flash Gordon-y lightning bolt printed on it and black shorts.
They're comfortable. More than that... I don't wear them to the gym. I don't wear them underneath my uniform, or any other outfit I might have on during the day. They're just for me. I doubt anyone's ever even seen me wear them. It has nothing to do about embarrassment, or insecurity, they're just mine. And I like it like that.
The lightning bolt has a slight metallic quality to it -- even if it is worn in places -- and it kind of glitters in the lights of the quiet hall as I walk through.
The skeleton crew of HQ guards are on. I could avoid their sweeps if I wanted to, but they wouldn't bother me, anyway.
After all, it's only me with a file of paperwork, heading off to the kitchen for a snack and some quality report-writing time at 2am. Nothing out of the ordinary.
One of the simple things in life I take great pleasure in (aside from showers, hot buttered popcorn and the sand between my toes at the beach) is seeing the look on Une's face when I hand in a report on one of my ops on time.
I know she appreciates my more militaristic skills, but she -- like many other people -- don't deep down really believe I can do all the little niggly things this job entails.
Maybe it's because I go outside the military fashion, don't get caught and still make it work. My reports, for instance. I can survive on very little sleep, so rather than wasting part of a beautiful day inside writing, I'll go to sleep at 10pm and wake up at around 1 in the morning. For some reason, this time of the morning finds me particularly clear-headed and focused. Do a few hours’ worth of work, and be back in bed in time for a catnap before Reveille.
I reach the mess hall, which is really more high school and less boot camp, bypassing the large room of chairs and tables, heading straight for the kitchen. The staff leaves the place open for anyone who comes back late after being on assignment and needs food.
They know I spend a few nights a week in there, making my culinary concoctions and working in the humble surroundings of the kitchen. But it doesn't bother them. I always clean up after myself, and leave notes if we're running low on anything I've used.
I think they understand a bit, too. I like the surroundings. It's... comfortable. I mean, I know I could quite easily work back in my room, but wouldn't take the chance of waking Eric, my bunkie. Nice guy, but obsessive about uninterrupted sleep, sheesh. You can tell he's never slept anywhere but a comfy bed.
In the interests of assimilating the Gundam pilots into the Preventers a bit more, we who had always been roomed with each other got split up. Sharin' the Gundam love around, y'know.
Ah, I don't mind. New people are cool. And it's great to hear that they've roomed Heero with someone that continues the fine Maxwell tradition of making that little vein on his forehead throb. How I miss that sometimes.
I push the swing door to the kitchen open and flick on the light, throwing my file down on the steel bench. The fluorescent lights flicker to life, making me squint. Damn but if I get radiation poisoning or cancer or something, I'm going to blame those things.
First up, food. Growing boy and all that. Two eggs, a handful of cheese, small white onion and a dash of bell pepper in a fry pan later, and I've got a nice little omelet to nosh on while I work.
I spread yesterday's op info on the table, absently stabbing my food with a fork. Sensor logs, security camera photos, a pile of other pieces of paper and my own hastily scribbled notes make for food for the brain.
It's all steel and pristine surfaces, but the kitchen has this kind of homey feel for me that can't be duplicated anywhere else. And at this time of night (or morning) there's absolutely no sound except for here. Whirr of the freezer units, drip from a tap, hum of the lights... it's a delicious white noise that keeps me comfortable.
In fact, this is the unlikely place in which Duo Maxwell lives. Not Agent Maxwell, or Shinigami, or even everyone's friend, Duo.
The layers get stripped away and in the end, it's just... me.
I'm a people person, I know, but because of that, my friends and... well... everyone gets the impression that I'll wilt or something if left alone. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth is that I've had to share my life with someone or a group of someone's for as long as I can remember. Solo, the Church, Gundam pilots, Preventers... it's always been about me taking up the same space as someone else.
That’s great, because I've never felt alone for very long. But you can be by yourself and not be 'alone', y'know? Spending time by myself is a little luxury I indulge in when I'm able. You know that old song, "I've been to paradise, but I've never been to me..."
I hate that song. But it's got a good point. And it's the 'by myself' time that I don't seem to be able to get a lot of. So, I take what I can get. Right now, I've found my sanctuary in the kitchen.
It's when I'm feeling the most naked and cosy that I get the ever-loving crap scared out of me.
Someone just barged through the swing doors and -- admittedly -- made me jump off my freaking stool, knocking it over. Believe everything you're told about the reflexes of a Gundam pilot. I was up, stumbling backwards and clutching my heart even before the door swung shut. Oh yeah, I'm a living legend.
Small consolation that I startled whoever walked in as much as they got me. Back against the wall looking like a deer in headlights, as a matter of fact.
It takes me a very, very long second to figure out who it is.
To tell you the truth, it looks nothing like any Trowa I've ever seen. He's wearing a dusty blue singlet, messily half-tucked into a pair of drawstring navy sweat pants. His hair is kind of sticking up in some places, and light stubble shadows his chin.
Trowa is rumpled. I would have expected to see a unicorn before I saw that. It's so odd; I've never ever laid eyes on him before looking anything but fastidiously perfect. And it's not the sort of perfection that looks like he's taken hours to achieve, it's the kind that you assume he must just get out of bed in the mornings looking neat as a pin.
I take a deep breath and bend over to put my stool upright. "You scared the living daylights out of me, man."
"I'll go," he says in a roughened voice, turning to leave.
"No!" I blurt out, freezing his movement. "I mean, you obviously came here for a reason, I don't wanna chase you away."
Trowa still looks like he's going to bolt. The best thing to do to convince him he's not disturbing me is to just keep working. So that's exactly what I do. I straighten up the scattered papers and sit down again.
The tenseness in my friend's shoulders dissipates somewhat. I can tell he almost believes me.
"Getting a bite to eat?" I ask, picking up my pen and scribbling a note. He nods mutely and I grin.
"Well honestly Tro, I would have never guessed you for the midnight kitchen raid. Now me, I'm an obvious suspect, but you? Never would have picked it in a million years."
"It's always the quiet ones," he says solemnly, but with that hint of dry humour that I have come to expect.
I chuckle. "That it is. Do you know I caught Chang down here red-handed one night?" I don't know how he does it, but he can get the 'Really?' look on his face without actually changing expression. God only knows how he can accomplish that.
"It's true! I rocked down here to find his head down and skinny ass poking out of the fridge. Nearly jumped clean out of his skin when I told him the mayonnaise was turning.
"Do you know what the dumbest thing was? He claimed he'd come here looking for me, all the while trying to sidestep to the door with a sandwich behind his back..."
This earns me a precious chuckle. It's nice to make him laugh, you know. The sound is delicate and soft, and quite beautiful, like a burbling spring. Clear and gentle.
There's a pause and we both look at each other, not exactly sure of what to say. Trowa clears his throat and walks towards the fridge while I look away and start work again. Awkward much?
I go back to scribbling notes as he clanks around in the fridge. He keeps this up for at least a minute, obviously not finding anything to his tastes. I chew on the end of my pen; the indecision gets to me.
"Hey, Tro?" I ask, spitting the pen out onto the table, "want I should make you something?" He only half-turns his body, but eyes slide across to look at me. Ooh, incredulous, ladies and gentlemen. "Because I can, y'know," I get up and start to walk towards him slowly.
"It's alright, Duo. Really." He actually seems a little confused and frustrated when I don't stop. Not that there's a mega difference on his face... it's more of a... feeling.
Yeah, I'm all too aware I'm not actually Quatre, but you don't need a Space Heart, or whatever it’s called, to accurately read people.
"I know!" I smile brightly, abruptly changing directions, heading for the sink instead. The frying pan I used to make my snack is still there. It didn't miraculously clean itself in the meantime. Yes, the Preventers are still working on those automatic dish-cleaning sinks. I think they'll get to them right after the vaccine for that new biological flesh-eating virus. Priorities, peh.
I pick up the pan and wave it cheerfully. "I'll make you an omelet!"
"Your trouble isn't necessary,"
"Trouble? A squadron of Leos is trouble. A Presidential assassin is trouble. An omelet? Not so much.
"Besides," I continue, dropping my eyes. "Omelets are the perfect midnight food. Easy to make, but tasting so good... Light and fluffy on your tongue... and freshly made and eaten?" I flutter my lashes. "They slide down your throat in a hot trail, heating up each part of you from the inside out until finally coming to rest as a pit of warmth in your belly."
Trowa's stomach suddenly makes a loud grumble, and I have the pleasure of seeing Mr Barton blush. Ha! I should've had a camera.
I gesture vaguely to another stool in the corner and grin. "Park your butt. I'll be four minutes -- if that."
He's actually too hungry to say anything else or even blink disapprovingly, so he drags the spare stool over and sits at the end of the table, perpendicular to my spot.
With new ingredients from the fridge, I quickly begin to cook. "Have you ever had an omelet before?" I ask, cracking two eggs.
"Ah, but you've never had a Maxwell omelet before."
"What's the difference?"
"A few choice hip movements." I proceed to demonstrate my illustrious technique.
Trowa doesn't answer me, but I can feel his slight amusement behind me. It's a companionable minute we share in silence as I cook before he clears his throat uncomfortably.
"Can I do anything?"
"Na, I've got it," I say, frying pan in one hand, rifling through a cupboard for a plate with the other. The spatula scrapes the omelet out of the pan, I add the final light dash of pepper and...
"Et voila!" I smile triumphantly, holding a fork high. Draping a dishrag over my arm, I approach him with the exaggerated walk of a waiter.
"Would sir care to see the wine list?"
He gives me that Look again. "Wine and omelet?" I nod. "You're classy, Duo."
I laugh loudly in delight, throwing the dishrag in the sink. "You know it, man!"
I sit back down and briefly re-scan my notes and stab at the remains of my own snack for a minute before I notice there's no movement out of the corner of my eye.
Trowa has both of his hands, palms down on either side of the plate, staring intensely at it. He looks hesitant to even touch it, and yeah, I can't help but feel a little put out by that.
"It won't bite and/or poison you, Tro," I say, keeping the little hurt I feel out of my voice. Well, mostly anyway.
His brow furrows a little more, before his eyes drop off the plate, resting in his lap somewhere.
"I can't cook," he states softly and somewhat cryptically.
"But I can fix your bike. You said there was a rattle last time you rode it?"
"Yeah, near the fuel tank... what does that have to do with anything, though?"
Trowa nods to his plate of food, bang bobbing oddly. "I don't like being in anyone's debt."
"Debt...?" What is he talking about? I don't underst-
"Trowa, a snack isn't a debt of honour. It's a snack. You don't owe me anything for it."
He glances up at me sharply. "You don't want anything," It's a question, but he makes it a sarcastic statement.
"No, I don't," I finish chewing my mouthful of omelet and swallow hastily before continuing. "Haven't you ever read 'The Elves and the Shoemaker'?" He stares at me blankly. "There were some elves, and a cobbler... some funky little clothes, and maybe even something about lederhosen... the point being, is that sometimes people do nice things for you with no expectation for reward or recognition. The do it just because it's nice."
Nine times out of ten, if you're under Trowa's direct scrutiny, you don't know it. He's so covert about observation. But having him blatantly study me is more than a little weird. I don't flinch away, though. Hell, I have a formidable stare of my own.
After a long moment, the muscles in his jaw twitch.
"I... I need to do something. That's how it works," he says, and I can't even begin to describe the low intensity of his voice.
He believes what he's saying. He believes that he has to pay back any kindness anyone shows him, no matter what.
Well, it's a good thing I believe what I'm saying, too.
"Trowa," I begin in my most serious voice, "I didn't make you an omelet with an ulterior motive. And I didn't make it so you'd 'owe me one', or so I can hold it over your head. It was just something I did.
"Now, if you feel like you want to do something -- even though it's totally unnecessary -- that's fine. We can tinker with my bike, or whatever. But don't you dare do it because you feel obligated, because that's just insulting us both.
"Now start eating or it'll go cold and you really will owe me."
Trowa hardly moves at all through my speech. Then he blinks slowly, a curious look on his face. With a careful hand, he picks up the fork and takes a stab at his plate. I try not to make too much of a big deal out of him eating by staring, so I continue to shuffle through my papers.
"It's nice," he comments, words muffled around half a mouthful.
"Good," I reply, not looking up, "I won't have to kill you, then."
He eats silently, with a small smile on his face.
You know, there are times when small talk is great. Fills in those awkward moments, or silent stretches.
And sometimes? You just don't need it. I write, Trowa eats, and we're both perfectly happy with that situation. And I feel comfortable again, even though someone is sharing my sanctum sanctorum.
By the by, he finishes. With some semblance of his normal grace (must've woken up some more) he walks to the sink with the empty plate. Once there, Trowa rinses the plate and fork carefully, before picking up a scourer and cleaning the dirty frying pan. Finishing, he sets them all in the racks to dry before turning. I can see him cast a glance at the door from underneath my bangs. It looks like he's waiting for some tasteful segue way to leave. Ah well, I please to aim.
"Going back to bed now?" I ask, looking up. Trowa nods, looking slightly relieved and begins to walk to the door confidently. "Goodnight then."
He pushes the swing door open, before pausing.
"How is 1500 hours tomorrow for you?"
I look up, puzzled. "Uhm, okay I guess. What for?"
"I..." pause. "I want to help you with your bike." His brows are drawn together, but still manage to go up slightly, and are coupled with a hesitant quirk of the lips.
My face breaks into a grin. "It's a date."
Trowa gives a proper little smile at the acceptance of his proposal, and takes a step back. "Good luck with your report," he says softly, before the door swings shut behind him.
I turn the page and correlate my figures, chuckling. "You're welcome, Tro."