smokingmirror: (Angelus)
[personal profile] smokingmirror
Title: Target Practice
Series: Appearances 8
Author: Avarice
Rating: PG
Pairing: 2+3, 2+CB
Spoilers: post Endless Waltz
Summary: Duo's big mouth is always getting him into trouble.
Word Count: 4083
Date First Posted:
Date Revised: 29-05-2011
Beta: DaMoyre.
Awards: Fanworkrecs fic rec, Defying The Stereotype fic rec.
Notes: Duo POV.
I like the burgeoning Cathy/Duo friendship. I think they'd amuse each other somewhat :)
Feedback: always welcome, as is constructive criticism.
Also Archived At: LJ | FFN

I test the cuffs around my wrists -- they're pretty solid and unyielding. Any slight tug makes the skin they touch itch. And it's not like I can scratch it. Ankle irons are the same.

My legs and arms are pinned to the wooden boards behind me in a starfish-type pattern. I feel like 'The Ventruvian Man' -- that old anatomy drawing by that older Italian artist.

It'd probably be more frighteningly symbolic if I was in the cross position, or something. That'd twang the ol' Catholic guilt, if I hadn't been getting enough of that lately...

Fact is I'm still nailed to a fucking plank of wood and I can't move.

"Are you ready?" a familiar male voice laced with -- I don't know, bizarre amusement? -- asks me.

"Do I look ready?" I mimic sarcastically.

Not for the first time, I wonder how the hell I can get myself into these situations with practiced ease.

One answer, three words. Big. Fucking. Mouth.

I'd been accruing the good old Annual Leave at work like a demon. It was finally starting to build up a little when it was very nicely suggested to me I should make use of some of it. Take some time off, they said. For the good of my mental health, they said.

I guess when it boils down to it, the Preventers are still just like any other corporate-type organisation -- build up your leave too much and they're afraid they'll have to pay it all out when you resign.

So enforced vacation time, on Une's dollar. Heh. I know she doesn't pay me personally, but it's always kind of fun to imagine it that way.

But I digress... It had been a while since I had more than two consecutive days off in a row. After having done a few international ops lately, I didn't really feel like going overseas. Instead, with my newly re-tooled Widowmaker, I decided on a nice rambling motorbike vacation, riding wherever I want, staying wherever I want.

No plans or schedules, just ride around and see where the road took me.

Midway through the second week I happened upon a makeshift city of tents, trailers and vehicles that'd sprung up in a green field just outside a small town. In particular, there was a dusty blue Chevy parked on the lot next to a cheerful-looking white trailer trimmed in yellow.

Trowa had been on leave for a couple of weeks already. I knew he'd gone to visit Cathy in the newly-relocated-to-Earth-circus, which was in the country presently. When I told him about my enforced vacation time over a vidcall, he extended an invitation to visit him if I wanted.

Sounded like fun, and talking over the vid wasn't the same as hanging out in person, so I rocked up.

Cathy opened the door and her face was unwelcoming for a few seconds before it smoothed into a polite smile. I saw quite clearly a reaction to the last time I showed up at her circus looking for Trowa all those years ago, a lioness protecting her cub.

Still, I guess Trowa'd been talking me up to her or something, because she was friendly -- if reserved -- and directed me towards the big top where Trowa was working.

That was a week ago. How could it have all gone wrong in just a week?

Trowa'd been happy to see me, at least. He offered me an inflatable mattress in the tiny living room of Cathy's trailer as accommodation -- the sofa being his bed during his stay -- and I accepted. I'd slept in worse places in my life.

Hell, it beat Cathy's first suggestion of the lion cages.

And we had fun. I helped him out with his chores during the day, or took joyrides in the countryside in Trowa's Chevy. At night I watched the shows -- sometimes from the audience, sometimes from behind the scenes -- always whistling loudest during Trowa's segment. After the show we always went back to the trailer to drink hot cocoa and chat before bed.

Trowa seemed really at home at the circus. He had a tendency to smile with his eyes more, as well as his mouth. I quickly began to realise that Cathy was one of the best people in the world to elicit emotion out of Trowa; whether it was a muffled chortle as she recounted an amusing story from the circus's travels, or a roll of the eyes when she played mother hen and ordered him to take his shoes off when coming inside.

I played on it, too, and enjoyed ganging up on Trowa with her. Not only was it fun to give him a hard time, but also had the added side effect of endearing me to Cathy.

Polite exchanges gave way to sincere conversations, and ultimately, hilariously exaggerated stories of adventure over pots of coffee that lasted into the wee hours. Sometimes she'd retire early to let Trowa and I catch up, and other times we outlasted her brother, who tried to go to sleep with a pillow over his face while Cathy and I sniggered our way into the AM.

I think she began to see me less as a harbinger of trouble or a reminder of uglier times, and more as Trowa's buddy. And I began to see her -- topless.

Ok, there was an unfortunate 'stumbling into the bathroom to take a piss half-asleep and not noticing the shower was going' incident.

I think I was way more embarrassed than she was, and she didn't let me forget it, dropping all sorts of innuendo about it when Trowa was around. He'd missed the event, having started his chores very early. I didn't plan on telling him, either, I didn't really feel like getting my arms ripped off... sufficed to say, I started going outside to take my early morning leak.

Still, it's not as though I complained; Cathy was quite the looker.

But I digress... Trowa pulled off some amazing feats through his performances. I'm not sure I was ever aware of what the human body was capable of doing before I saw Trowa in action. I remember thinking the guy must be at least a little bit double-jointed.

Watching the show again that first night re-ignited my interest in circus skills. I mean, who wouldn't like to ride a unicycle or eat fire?

Turned out riding a unicycle was a little out of my league, and anything to do with paraffin and my mouth was a bad idea. But juggling seemed to come easily to me. With only a couple of hours of Trowa's tutelage I was reverse cascading with the best of the clowns. But soon it wasn't enough, and I needed more of a challenge.

Ok, that was definitely the point everything went wrong.

Somewhere along the line 'learning to throw knives' got morphed into 'volunteering for target practice'.

"You don't look comfortable," Trowa says, rousing me out of my thoughts.

Before I can answer, another voice -- this one Cathy's -- chimes in. "How comfortable is he meant to look? Something horrible is about to happen to him." She really can't contain her enjoyment.

"Good to know you're enjoying this so much," I mutter, pulling at the restraints again.

"Now now," Trowa tuts, "it's important -- for your own safety, mind you -- that you make no unexpected moves, especially with your head. It's not restrained, so there's still room for you to move."

"Unless you want the shackle around your neck," Cathy offers.

"Why Cathy," I say in a scandalised tone, "I didn't know you were into that kind of thing," I admonish. She pokes her tongue out at me.

"It's amazing what the human body can do when put under pressure. So please," he reiterates, "don't move." There is a pause, and a light laugh I recognise as Cathy's.

I am going to die.

There's a flash of metal, a whirring sound, and a thunk.

A knife is embedded in the wood, next to my left thigh. I look up and Trowa stares back at me. A small bench stands next to him, its flat surface lined with stylised throwing knives. They're polished to a blinding shine.

"Good," Cathy tells him, coming out of the shadows around the ring. "Now aim for somewhere opposite, to balance the position of the first throw."

Trowa nods once in ascent, and picks up another knife by the blade. Before I even have time to protest, there's another thunk; this time below my right elbow.

"Very good," Cathy compliments, brushing sawdust from her shorts. "Try for somewhere a little harder now. What about between his knees?"

"Oh hey now," I cut in, "don't I get a say?"

"Nope!" she says, cheerfully. "You're just the dummy nailed to the wood."

"This is because I walked in on you in the shower, right?"

Cathy smiles beatifically as both Trowa and I realise what I've said at the same time. Trowa's face is stony. When he does speak, he scarily enunciates his words.

"You. Did. What?"

Oh shit.

Cathy puts a reassuring hand on Trowa's shoulder. "Don't worry. It was an honest accident."

It's hard to tell from this distance, but I think Trowa's expression softens a little. Thank God.

Ever the actress, however, Cathy strikes an exaggeratedly thoughtful pose. "At least, I think it was an accident..."

I'm either going to die, or I'm going to kill her. Simple.

I would glare at her but there's another knife whizzing in my direction. This one lands squarely between my knees, and I can't help flinching a little. They both shake their heads in unison in my direction. Damn siblings.

"Hey, I couldn't help that. You're knifing near very sensitive areas!"

"I thought you'd be a lot braver, Duo," Cathy tells me, and my cheeks burn. What, not being partial to having knives hurled in my direction makes me a sissy?

A line forms between Trowa's eyebrows and he casts a sidelong glance at his sister. He gives her a short, sharp, shake of the head, and Cathy -- who'd opened her mouth to make another comment -- shuts it.

Heaven, small mercies, as the saying goes.

"Duo's very brave," Trowa announces. I open my mouth to thank him for his support when another knife comes whizzing at me, this one lodging in the wood above my left wrist. A semi high-pitched hiccup comes out instead.

Cathy wisely refrains from commenting.

Trowa glances at me warily. "Are you sure you want to continue?"

I want to say 'no'. I want to say 'undo the clamps'. Then this little voice begins to get to me. For simplicity's sake, let's call him 'Pride'. Pride tells me not to worry. Pride says they're highly trained professionals. Pride says trust my friends with the strange hobbies.

"I'll be fine," I say with as bright a smile as I can manage under the circumstances.

"If the throws are putting you off, you could close your eyes," he suggests.

"Thanks, Tro, but if I'm going to be killed by a flying knife, I'd rather see it coming."

"Piffle!" Cathy says in mild disgust. "He's not going to kill you. He's very good at this."

There's another thunk as another knife embeds itself in the juncture between my outstretched right arm and body.

"He is good," I agree. "How long have you been doing this for, anyway?"

Trowa's eyes are trained on me intensely, planning his next throw. Cathy looks at him, then to me with seriousness. "I don't want him to break his concentration. He shouldn't talk while throwing."

"Ah, of course," I mumble and shut my mouth. Hey, I do not want to distract the man throwing knives in my direction. I haven't had a death wish in quite a while.

The scrutiny I'm under is intense as Trowa stands poised to throw another knife. The blade catches the light a little, so I try to focus on other things. Trowa's feet are evenly spaced apart in a relaxed stance. He holds the blade between the fingers of his right hand, left cupped around the fist.

I stare back at him, not knowing where else to look. He's very still, but once he starts moving, it's like quicksilver. The same time his right hand draws back past his ear, the left extends out to line up his shot. Simultaneously his weight shifts, left foot coming forward in a single step. When his right arm fully extends to become perpendicular to his body, he releases the knife. Mere moments later, there's another dull thunk, this one a couple of inches above my head.

I hazard a glance up to see the decorative hilt of the knife. So glad I didn't distract him on that shot.

"Good job," Cathy praises, one hand on her slim hip.

"You missed me," I tell him; pretty proud of the fact my voice doesn't hitch.

Trowa's eyes flick heaven-wards briefly, and Cathy snorts again. "I think it's time to up the ante a little." She sashays towards where I'm bound up, a suspiciously smug smile in place.

"If for one second you suggest he's blindfolded--" I start to say before she cuts me off.

"Oh no, nothing like that," Cathy's voice is meant to sound soothing, but it does little counteract the winged insects fluttering about my insides as she reaches the circular platform and looks at me. Something's up, and I don't like it.

With a toss of her hair, she suddenly she disappears from my view, ducking behind the platform. Trying to crane my neck around, I catch the glimpse of some kind of pulley system on cogs, kind of like a bicycle chain.

"What's that?" I ask somewhat hesitantly. "Not some kind of medieval torture device, I hope."

She cocks her head to the side attractively. "While that would be a very interesting idea, it's not. Nevertheless, it's something that'll get the crowd cheering."

Whatever it is, it doesn't bode well for me. My brain starts to work quickly, very quickly. Never let it be said I don't do some of my best thinking under pressure.

"Well, if the danger level is increasing, it's only fair that I'm compensated accordingly."

"And what do you propose?"

"There's something I'm going to need." My voice is very low. Trowa looks as though he's too far away to hear me, but he looks up when I speak; I know he can.

Cathy frowns and steps closer. "What is it?"

"The thing is, no matter what you guys say, and despite Trowa's skill -- no offence, Trowa -- it's possible I might get hurt, or worse." I cast my eyes down and wait; she's almost in range. "I need something if I'm going to do this. I think you can help."

She's close, so it's now or never. "I need a--"

Cathy's moved close enough for me to crane forward, braid sneaking out from where I'd tucked it down the back of my shirt, and give her a peck on the lips. At least, it's meant to be a peck. I'd expected some resistance, her pulling back in the very least, but she lets it happen for longer than I expect.

The kiss lasts about two seconds before my shoulders are roughly pressed back. I clunk my head on the back of the platform, but it doesn't matter.

"--goodbye kiss," I finish with a shit-eating grin. Trowa's shoulders are shaking just a little when my eyes flick briefly to him.

"You do have a serious death wish," she tells me, looking slightly disturbed.

"If I'm gonna die anyway, might as well make it worth my while."

"You're lucky I'm not the one throwing the knives."

"I guess so," I tell her, "otherwise I would've had to kiss Trowa."

"I think I would have preferred that," she counters and shifts out of my line of sight once again. There's a loud clunk of metal on metal. She's thrown a lever and the platform begins to move. "Trowa could've enjoyed your coffee-breath instead of me."

I lock eyes with Trowa who's suddenly turning upside-down. He's stopped laughing and is wearing that look of intense concentration once again, knife in hand.

My distraction only bought me a short minute's reprieve from the inevitable.

"Wait until the platform speed becomes constant," I hear Cathy instruct Trowa.

It's hard to concentrate while spinning counter-clockwise, I don't mind saying. The forces exerted aren't nearly as bad as G Forces when entering Earth's atmosphere, but they're enough to make the pancakes I had for breakfast flip around nervously in my stomach.

Everything on the fringes of my vision is blurred, it's like I've developed tunnel vision; the only thing that's clear is the image of Trowa standing what seems like very far away now.

When he's upright I begin counting until he becomes upright again. The platform takes about seven seconds to do a full revolution. At some point when I'm sideways, I see Trowa move again. By time I'm upside-down there's that telltale thunk on the board, somewhere around my feet. I wanna see where, but don't dare move my head.

There's no way I can keep my eyes trained on Trowa without feeling the overriding urge to blow chunks, so despite previous protestations, I let my eyes fall shut.

It helps a little; I know I'm still spinning but I feel a little less dizzy. Probably a good thing I can't hear when he throws, only the sound when a knife hits the boards. And since I have yet to experience any acute pain, they are all obviously missing me.

With the continual motion of the platform, my braid finally slips out from behind my back and starts whipping around. And it's no light object, let me tell you. That hair has more than a few pounds to it. I start to wonder whether it could cause a danger to me or get caught in the pulley; that's when I feel it.

It's a sharp tug on the scalp; around the same time another of the knives embeds itself in the board. My eyes flick open straight away, and I see spinning shock and worry on the faces of both Cathy and Trowa. I try to move my head, but suddenly find I can't.

Ok, that's it, show’s over. I start to pull against the restraints, yelling at Cathy to untie me. She begins moving towards me, but still not fast enough. I see Trowa running to the platform. There's comfort that he's coming over, then there's extreme fear as to why.

Gears clunk and grind the platform's spinning slower, then to a complete halt. I'm not quite fully upright, more on a jaunty angle. I try to move my head again, but there's a pulling sensation.

"Duo, don't move," Trowa tells me, and his tone freezes me, panicked. I hesitate a glance up and to my left, and see the hilt of one of the throwing knives sticking out...

...of the middle of my braid.

"What the f--" I start to crane my neck out to see the damage, yanking at my wrist cuffs.

"I said don't move," Trowa says abruptly. The way he speaks to me really makes me stop in my tracks.

A very sharp blade is sticking out of the rope of hair I've spent most of my life growing, and he tells me not to move. Easier said than done.

I guess the look of frustration must show, because Trowa's face softens. "It's just pinned, I think. But I don't want to sever anything." He swallows, Adam's apple bobbing. "I didn't mean to catch it; I didn't see that it was loose until after I'd thrown the knife."

I look up as much as I can without moving. He splays his left hand out over my braid on either side of the knife. With a steady hand, he makes small motions, wriggling the blade-tip out of the wood.

It occurs to me that I can't bear to watch. If this is the way I get an unexpected haircut, I just can't watch. My eyes fall closed. All I can hear is my own shallow breathing.

There's a tug on my scalp once again, but this time it's accompanied by the familiar weight of my hair. Opening my eyes again, I see Trowa with a relieved smile. Cathy undoes the clamps around my hands and feet.

I step off the platform rubbing my wrists. Self-consciously, I smooth one hand down the back of my braid, comforted it's still there.

"I guess you won't want to stand in for me in tonight's show?" Trowa asks, his tone somewhat meek.

"That would be a 'Hell No'," I tell him, softening my words with a little punch to the shoulder.

"It's too bad," Cathy murmured. "You two could have a great act. If not for the variable of the flying hair, it was a perfect performance."

I look back to the circular platform and see the vague outline of myself in knives. Charming. "How long did you say you've been knife-throwing, again?" I ask.

"About three weeks," Trowa says.

"You have got to be fucking kidding me. You're an amateur?!"

"In a manner of speaking," he winces apologetically, eyes on the floor.

"Why didn't you tell me that before?"

"You didn't ask. And when you did... it didn't seem the most prudent time to tell you."

Touché. I let out a short sigh. "Well, if that's the case, no offense intended, but I don't think I'll agree to be your throwing buddy again anytime soon."

"None taken," he says, a little bit of a smile coming back.

Cathy begins to pull the knives out of the platform. "Maybe you'll change your mind if I'm the one doing the throwing." She smiles crookedly at me and uses the point of one of the knives to trace very close to my cheekbone. "I wouldn't mind the chance after that little stunt you pulled."

Whatever Wufei says, there's nothing dishonourable in retreat. I back away from her slowly, in submission. "I don't think I'm cut out for circus life, despite my mad juggling skills."

Trowa comes to my rescue. "I'm going to need some help with the lions."

"Too bad," she says, disappointed. Almost quicker than I can follow with my eyes, Cathy flips the knife once -- from hilt to blade -- in her hand and throws it. It embeds itself in the centre of a pole halfway across the practice tent. With a girlish toss of the head that belies her knife-wielding ability, she finishes collecting the blades.

Trowa comes to stand in front of me. I pull the collar of my shirt away from my neck in a comedic gesture. "Your sister is a little scary. Pretty, but scary."

"Probably not such a good idea to kiss her, then. Or... do anything else with her."

I laugh. "But I think she likes me a little! Who knows what could happen?" I put my arm around his shoulders. "Maybe in the future we'll be brothers-in-law." We begin to walk out of the tent, side by side.

One of Trowa's eyebrows rises almost imperceptibly. "That's an interesting idea..." Trowa casts me a sidelong glance. "Seriously, though, don't kiss my sister."

I grin. "Or what, you'll feed me to the lions?"

"Absolutely not," Trowa sounds very certain.


"Can you imagine the hairballs?" Trowa looks mildly disgusted. "I wouldn't want to have to clean up after that."

I stop walking and whistle. Trowa stops a few steps ahead and turns. "What?"

"Who knew a little kiss would be all it'd take to bring out the inner sarcastabitch?" I chortle.

"I'm not-- that," he sniffs, offended.

"There's nothing wrong with it," I tell him, hands up in a surrender gesture. "It must run in the family." Trowa huffs and turns away, beginning to walk again. I cock my head to the side, a gesture of his that I may or may not have adopted over time. "Matter of fact, I kind of like it."

He doesn't stop, but I do hear a derisive snort.

Every time I think I have him pegged, he shows me something new.

"Hey Trowa, wait up!" I break into a jog to catch up, a big grin splitting my mouth.


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