Appearances - Armchair Psychology

2+3+2 Duo POV

Notes: whoo, moviestyle length credits for this one. DaMoyre, Babaca, Tink AND Stephanie. As well as Suzume for some nonthreatening (hee) encouragement :)

It's amazing. The thought on the forefront of my mind as I walk through the halls of the base is that the Preventers need more carpet. That's all I'm saying. Most of the floors are this strange grey/brown crap. Like cork tiles and laminex got together and did the nasty, producing an annoying, ugly child; one that needs to be resurfaced every six months to stop the squeaky noises when you step.

A waste of money. But do they ever ask my opinion on these things? No.


Only the offices are carpeted. It's not el cheapo shit, either -- not like the agent's living quarters. Plush, thick wool a deep steel grey, bordering on blue.

I like carpet. It's soft. Good to wiggle the bare toes in. Most of all, it's quiet when you walk on it.

*squeak squeak squeak*

Check me out. I'm so fucking stealthy.

"Hi Duo."

"Hey Zack, love your work, man."

The floors are just... ugly. As shallow as that is, it's true. Someone could have been consulted, right? It's a crime, and while I don't think I've ever wanted to French kiss a nice bit of tile or anything, some surfaces are just far more attractive than others. Varnished hardwood floors are way sexy to me. But I've come to grips with many of my emotional problems, how about you?

Speaking of which...

"Umeko, baby!"

"Piss off, Maxwell."

"Nimru ryokai." Hm, I think I need to work on my Heero impression before the next Christmas party.

The squeaking really bugs me, and it's not just because of the whole money wastage 'your tax dollars at work' principle. It's the practicality of it. I mean, if they're trying to drive people insane, they're going the right way about it.

And really, how smart is it to test the patience of government agents trained in all manner of arms and combat? We have limits just like any postal worker.

I'm not joking about the stealth thing, either. It is damned near impossible to traverse any corridor without someone else knowing you're coming or going. Not exactly convenient. Sneaking up on someone is pretty non-existent.



I think I jump about a foot in the air, spinning at least 90 degrees in the air to face the direction of the voice. No, it's not very suave and yes, I *do* nearly land on my ass, but what else is new?

I glare at my frightener dangerously. "Trobot, that was not. Cool." The corner of Trowa's mouth twitches, but he stifles any expression. "Oh go on, smirk. You know you want to," I grumble, picking up some papers I had dropped when startled.

That does it. He allows himself to smirk, and I have to say, he's a grade A smirker. If you thought Heero or I were the main competitors for pulling off the 'I find this *far* too amusing' expression, Trowa would be the unheralded dark horse.

I don't know why it surprises me that Barton treads like a cat. I glare down at the floor, the vile betrayer. Hrm, but maybe it's my shoes. They're the same as Trowa's, though.

"Damn stupid shoes," I mutter to no one in particular. The smugness in Trowa's expression disappears somewhat.

"The trick is not to drag your feet," he says with a small smile.

I test his theory. Well whaddayaknow, it worked. Not totally silent, but I can work on it. I begin walking again at a more measured pace, Trowa keeping up at my right.

"How is your bike now?" He asks me after a few moments of silence. He knows the answer, but asks just so he has something to ask me. It's his way to start small talk. The question gets me out of my self-imposed floorcovering funk though, which comes as something of a relief. I hate it when I dwell on inconsequential shit.

I grin and nudge him gently. "Purring like a kitten, thanks to you." He nods shortly, acknowledging my praise.

I stop talking then, even though I have a hundred things I could say. See, an idea formed in my head a while back that if I allowed Trowa to pick the topic, he might be more inclined to actually keep talking. It's not as if he's some dumb mute. He does speak, you've just got to be listening when he does. I'd like to hear him more often, though.

It's hard for him sometimes, I know. But skirting the issue is never gonna help anybody. Trowa's not slow. He knows what I'm doing, and he does try. I don't let him hang. As soon as he speaks, I'm right there speaking back.

There's a long pause as we walk. He works his jaw slightly, looking like he's thinking hard about something to say, and I am attempting not to squeak.

"Where are you headed?" he asks, seemingly unhappy with his question.

I hold my sheaf of papers up. "Offices. Then cafeteria." It's lunchtime and I'm famished. I glance at him sideways. "You hungry?" He nods. "If you can weather the detour, lunch is on me."

"Duo, we don't have to pay."

"Thanks for ruining my magnanimous gesture, Tro."

"I please to aim."

The last comment forces me to give him a serious double take. His eyes are laughing at me. I waggle my finger at him, mock-stern.

"You've been hanging around me too much, Trowa."

"So I've been told," he says smugly. I've got time for one more questioning glance at him before we reach the main offices.

Ahh, carpet. No squeaky floors in here. That's the chain of command for you. Trowa follows me into the mouth of hell itself.

There is a young woman hard at work at the front desk, glasses perched on the tip of her nose. They frame chocolate brown eyes. She looks up at me and raises an eyebrow.

"Hello, trouble."

I perch on the edge of her desk. "Listen Nina, we've talked about this. Duo. D-U-O. You're in charge of scheduling appointments and filing and making sure this place doesn't shit itself, and you can't remember that?"

She pushes me off her desk. "You're almost funny. Keep working at it, though." Nina says imperiously, straightening the glasses on her nose. We stare at each other seriously for a moment. For her sake, I crack and smile first.

I feel Trowa's presence behind me. He's backing off, so I do the only thing I should do.

"Nina, you know Trowa Barton, right?"

She nods shortly, a pleasant smile on her face. It's her job to know the regular agents from those with an... interesting resume, like me and Trowa. "Of course. Good to see you again, Mr Barton."

Trowa mumbles a polite reply even as I raise my eyebrow slightly at the formality. She'd only do that if they hadn't really talked. Big surprise.

"Now that we're all sure we've met," I give Trowa a meaningful smile, then turn back to Nina. "We've got to get going. Official business and all that."

"I'm sure," she drawls. "You know, they've got Swedish meatballs today..."

"What are we waiting for, then?" I latch onto Trowa's elbow and lead him away.

Once out, I drop his arm and straighten the creases my grip made. We begin to walk to the cafeteria. Around half of the people that we pass along the way -- fellow agents, administration staff, chefs, pilots -- say hello to me.

Around three of them greet Trowa and keep on walking, who responds with a nod and a name. I notice they all wear the blue-grey coveralls of the mechanics that work in the garages.

The cafeteria is bustling with activity, but it's not all that bad. Everyone takes lunch at different times so as not to cause too much congestion. Plenty of empty tables to sit at.

Trowa hands me a plate and grabs the ladle from the steam tray.

"Meatball?" he asks me.

"Are they Swedish?"

"So the sign says." He points to the neat little label on the tray.

"Good." I gesture for him to heap them on my plate. "Because meatballs from Norway? Nothing to write home about."

I pop one in my mouth as we make our way to an unoccupied table. Okay, ow. Still very hot.

"Are they good?"

"Tastes like burning," I say around a mouthful. Trowa looks mildly disgusted. He sits across from me and prods his own with a fork.

A plate of meatballs is just the thing my stomach needs. I'm glad the Preventer budget covers people who can actually cook edible food working in the kitchens.

I watch Trowa eat methodically. He's not dainty or anything, but he eats moderately fast, and neatly. Typical mercenary eating. Getting it out of the way with little to no mess or fuss, so other jobs can be done.

It's kind of impersonal. I mean, I'm one to talk, but meals are as much a social behaviour as they are for getting necessary nutrition. It's why we have a group eating place, where people congregate to chow down. Not just that it's cheaper for one room -- though it is -- but so people can satisfy their desire for human contact.

It makes me think of something I wanted to ask him.

"Trowa... what was the deal with Nina?"

He looks up, puzzled. "What deal?"

"The Mister Barton stuff. Surely you've spoken to her before."

"Yes." I don't accept the succinct answer and stare at him, waiting for elaboration. "We haven't spoken... extensively."

I smirk. "Well you could have at least lain that 'if you must call me something, call me Trowa' on her," I look down, grinning. Peeking up through my lashes, I see him a bit... flustered. There's a long pause in which he blinks slowly, and even plays with the meatballs on his plate. One might almost call it a nervous gesture. So says Professor Maxwell.

"Quatre told you about that." It's a question, though it doesn't sound like one.

I sat back in my chair. "We spent some time together during the war. Talked about a lot of things. First meeting of the other pilots was a topic for a while. He told me about you, I told him about Heero."

Trowa nods slightly, in thought. "I never did hear about how you met Heero."

I shrug. "Shot him. Twice."

He surprises me with a short bark of laughter. I grin, encouraged. "It was a whole story of shooting, stealing, self-sacrifice and the setting of bones. Would make a good movie."

Trowa chuckles ruefully and I bask in the sound. "And I thought I was being dramatic with surrendering..."

"Trowa Barton, master of the understated introduction. Me? I've just got to make an impression."

"In the shape of a .22 calibre bullet?"

I sit up, archly. "Heero hardly forgot it, did he?"

"I guess not," Trowa replies, amusement in his voice.

I grin and stuff another meatball into my mouth. The imprint of mirth on his face fades to something a bit more... I would hazard to call it wistful. He stabs at another meatball.

"I wish I could do that."

"What, shoot Heero?"

"Talk to people," he corrects me, voice soft.

"What's stopping you?"

He actually glares at me then. I put one hand up defensively. "I'm asking a legitimate question, Trowa. What is physically stopping you?"

He's still glaring, but somewhere along the line the focus shifts away from me, and comes to rest on himself. I tap my fork against my plate.

"Do you mind if I ask you a few more questions?"

"About what?" His defenses are up and he's closing himself off with that indignant tone. Oh yeah, I know all the signs of deflection.

I put my fork down and looked at him. "Just general stuff. Look, it's obvious you can't think of a way to answer my question. I thought maybe if I asked a few... they might help you to figure out your answer. I meant no offense, man. If you don't want to answer anything, that's totally your prerogative."

Trowa is frozen in place. He stares at me intently before nodding once, almost in slow motion. I'm not sure what he's nodding at until he confirms.

"Ask away." He says in a moderate and very wary tone.

"Okay," I pick up my fork to try and emphasise the casualness of the situation. It's not the inquisition, for all he'd love to believe. "First one; Do you like people?"


"Do you like people hacked up and kept in freezers?"


I smirk. "Well, I think I can cross serial killer off your profile." He rolls his eyes ever so slightly at me, but I notice his posture relaxes a little.

"Do you talk to strangers very much?"




"People and workmates who share your same interests?"


"Your sister?"


"Saviours of the Earth and Colonies you fought side by side with?"

Smirk. "Yes."

He's loosening up, I can feel it. "You talk to people. So we can rule out like, xenophobia or something. Do you like parties?"


"Multiple choice, hotshot. Would you rather be a) out on the dancefloor. b) sitting on the sofa away from the main action with a drink and four good friends, or c) in the kitchen, spiking the punch?"

His eyes slip away from mine as he thinks. "B, but considering C," he decides.

I smile at that. "You've got some rebellion, and like a bit of the old fun. That crosses 'automaton' off the list."

"Can I have a look at this list?" he asks.

I laugh and shrug. "Do you want to know where I'm going with this or not?"

He rests his elbow on the table, chin in hand. "Please."

"The point I'm trying to make, Trowa, is that just because you're not a party animal, or outrageous or talk to people you don't really know much... it doesn't make you a freak or a bad person.

"It's no crime to not want to open up to every single person you meet. We have different ways of doing things, and I have a lot of people I'm friendly with, but I can count my true honest-to-god would be with me through fire, flood, famine and fatal disease friends on one hand."

I hold out that hand. I'm not sure he'll take it, so I gently, giving him ample time to pull away, pick up his left hand and hold it in my own. " It's not some emotional dysfunction that you're wary around people you don't know." I give him a small smile, encouraged by the fact he hasn't pulled away. "Shock horror, you just might be a quiet sort of guy by nature."

He stares down at our joined hands, unsure of what to do or say. I think my little speech shocked him a bit. I'm not sure what part, though.

There is a long, long moment where he doesn't say a word, hell, maybe he doesn't even breathe. His bangs spill down, obscuring his face, I don't know what he's thinking. Then, his shoulders shake. Whether he's laughing or crying, I don't know.

Turns out (thankfully) it's the former. He looks up at me, a smile on his face. Not a little smirk, this is an expression that opens his mouth and lets me see his teeth.

"Who'd have thought," he says, voice gruff, "someone would tell me I was normal after all..."

I give him one of my true smiles in return. "Who'd have thought that about any of us, right?" I squeeze his hand slightly. He pauses, then reciprocates, before disengaging our hands.

"Your meatballs are getting cold," he tells me in an attempt to regain some composure. But I can see, he's processing a lot of information, and it's hard for him.

We eat for a few minutes more in silence before I break it.

"Can I ask you one more question?"

He stops mid-chew and meets my eyes briefly, before swallowing. "Go ahead."

"I don't mind in the least, just so you know, but why *have* you been spending so much time with me lately?" Trowa's eyes dart from side to side in an expression that looks vaguely guilty. Ut oh.

"Look, for whatever reason, you can tell me. I'm not gonna break, I'd just like to know. I deserve to, right?"

He nods. "You do deserve to know." He says somewhat solemnly. Ut. Oh.

Trowa sets his fork down and places both hands on either side of his plate, looking up to meet my eyes dead on.

"It's because I didn't think you were my friend." I blink. And because there's nothing else for me to do, I blink again and wait patiently for him to elaborate. He obliges.

"I've spent time with Heero and Wufei and Quatre, all during the war. I got to know them, and they became friends... but I've never really spent any time with you. And with what happened to Deathscythe..." I think my left eye twitches. He pauses, looking unsure of how to proceed.

"I call the others my friends based on knowing who they are, but could only say that about you because you were a fellow Gundam pilot. I didn't want that to be the only reason anymore."

Another pause, this one longer than the last. "I wanted to know you for you".

What he just said could amount to either the most insulting, or the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me. I guess my face must be hovering somewhere near the former, because he winces slightly. "Do you hate me?"

"I- what? No!" I breathe deeply and catch his eyes, which are studiously avoiding me.

"You don't know how much I appreciate the honesty, Trowa. And I understand what you're saying, too. I'm not insulted, not really. I'm... gratified. I like us spending time together, and I'd like you to consider me a true friend on my own merits, too."

His eyes sparkle then, the little Mona Lisa smile curving his lips.

"I already do."