Thanks to Damoyre once again for the beta. You are freakin' awesome.
To all those who read, favourited and reviewed the 3 previous installments, thank you. You actually inspired me to add another part after writing the last one 7 years ago. It's a mad, mad world! I really appreciate it. Feel free to let me know if you enjoy this chapter, i'd love to hear from you!
As always, Duo POV.
There are tons of things I could be doing with my Saturday night. Saturday is, after all, the obligatory social night of the entire week. You could go out on a Thursday or -- god forbid -- a Monday, but it just wouldn't feel the same as if it were a Saturday.
There are so many things I could be doing... I could take in a movie, go to a club, maybe even have dinner in a fancy restaurant, gazing into the eyes of some lovely young thing across a table with candles...
Ok, kidding no one there, I'd go out for burgers and ice cream. And that'd be on the very off chance I even managed to *snag* a date with someone.
Wow, way to bring my mood even further down...
...The point being, I could be doing any number of crazy, interesting, or just plain *fun* activities.
Instead, it's Saturday night, and I'm sitting in a freezing car on surveillance detail.
See, this guy named Arnolds is determined to be a crook, and so Duo Maxwell, saint, and all-round good guy gives up his night of potential entertainment to make sure this parasite doesn't leave his home. And if he does, I'll follow him.
I have the 6pm-6am shift, which means unless Arnolds decides to go somewhere, I get to sit in the one spot for 12 hours, develop deep vein thrombosis in my ankles and pins and needles in my ass from lack of movement. Maybe I should wear those little stockings to improve circulation...
Oh yeah, striking fear into the hearts of scum everywhere with pantyhose, that's me.
It's not so bad. For one, I was meant to have a partner, but Drayson (as well as a bunch of other agents) got a bad case of food poisoning. I feel sorry for the guy, but I've been on stakeouts with him before. He likes to listen to country music and talk about his ant farm. No joke.
Far be it from me to be picky about who joins the Preventers and in what capacity, but Drayson's top skills are being sorely under-used. If the organisation ever needs a master of slow and painful torture, I think his career and promotion prospects would be outstanding. Six hours of being subjected to a pre-colony country music star -- Billy Bob Cyrus, or something -- and I was ready to cry uncle. Forget the bad guys, I wanted to turn *myself* in.
I'm sorry he's sick, but if he were here, I'd be feeling sorry for me, so I guess it sort of balances, and I hope karma doesn't kick me in the ass.
There's always the potential for that, as HQ just radioed me to say Drayson's replacement is being dropped off, and due anytime now.
After an unfortunate incident some months back -- and no, it had nothing to do with me -- no agents are to go on stake-outs alone anymore. Protocol, procedure, blah blah blah.
I guess the only reason someone hasn't turned up again is they're having trouble finding a healthy, qualified agent on short notice.
As boring as surveillance can be, I'm still more than grateful I missed out on veal parmigiana day in the cafeteria and am here, not spending my Saturday night calling God on the porcelain phone.
I turn the heater up a little more. Fucking thing doesn't even feel like it's on, the cold seems to seep through spaces in the door. Don't get me wrong, I love winter. Snow, fireplaces, roast dinners, all that stuff is great, but winter in a car is just uncomfortable.
It's not like I can bring a really schmick car out on recon, either. It's got to have a certain look. And that certain look usually goes hand in hand with door seals that don't seal and crappy heating vents. I always have to make sure I'm bundled up like a freaking snowman.
Drumming my hands against the steering wheel in time with the stereo helps warm me a little. Music is my saviour right now. I can't afford to have it up too loud, but it keeps me from going a little mental.
There're some good tunes on my mp3 player if I do say so myself. Sometimes I'm in the mood for rock or metal or even something a little peppier... but tonight, it's all about the guitar.
My current playlist is all things awesome about godly six-string. Acoustic, electric, doesn't matter. If it sounds good, it's on here. There's something about that particular instrument that mellows and relaxes me, but doesn't dull the senses.
Despite that, I yawn. Recon on my own, no matter how good the music, is just plain mind-numbing.
Hot damn but I could murder a coffee. Double shot macchiato, extra foam and a chocolate mint stick. There was a nice looking coffee place about a block back... but being alone it'd kind of defeat the purpose of putting a home under 24 hr surveillance if I just, y'know, left. Besides, it's after 10 and they're probably closed.
The passenger door to my car opens suddenly, and there's a blast of cold air. My head snaps around quickly, and although the figure is wrapped in a large overcoat, scarf and gloves, I recognise him. Hell, I'd recognise that hair anywhere.
Thing is, I also recognise a particular aroma and I think I really am going a little nuts because I smell coffee.
"Need a pick-me-up?" An all too familiar voice asks me, holding out a steaming takeout cup. I can't help a big, surprised grin.
"Tro! Boy, do I ever. Gimme gimme." I take the cup offered and enjoy it warming my palms nicely. Trowa slips into my car, dumps a bag on the floor and shuts the door behind him. He unwraps the scarf and puts his own cup down, warming gloved hands in front of the heater for a few moments.
I'm surprised to see Trowa. We don't get to work together too much anymore. More often than not I'll just see him around the base or after hours. I admit it's nice to be on task with someone I know more about than the regular Joe Preventer I get paired with. Means we can dispense with small talk and just be comfortable.
The coffee smells too good to be true. Curiosity gets the better of me and I pop the lid of my cup. Double shot macchiato, extra foam. I sigh happily. Perfect. All that's missing is the chocolate mint stick.
"Oh. You mean one of these?" I don't realise I'd spoken aloud until Trowa reaches into the front pocket of the satchel he'd brought with him and pulls out a cocktail napkin. Inside is a chocolate mint stick.
Dear Lord, thank you for this man named Trowa, whom you have seen fit to gift with impeccable timing and insight.
"Oh man. Trowa, will you marry me?" I say, taking the stick and dipping the end into my hot coffee. It melts the chocolate a little. Perfection.
"Not unless you can wear white to the wedding," he replies, sipping from his own cup.
I laugh and take a long sip. It burns my mouth a little, but anything's better than the biting cold. "White's a little traditional for me... what d'you think about taffeta and sequins?"
Trowa pauses. "I never have before..." he looks to properly consider it and shudders. "And hopefully, never will again."
The macchiato is warming me from the chest outwards, and the caffeine is going to kick in any minute now. "Not that I'm not excessively pleased to see you, but what are you doing here?" I ask.
"Drayson's replacement," Trowa answers, blowing on his hot drink. "I was the only one free on short notice."
I shake my head sadly. "Another awesome stud's Saturday night in tatters."
"There was no-one else."
"I get that, but it still sucks your night had to be ruined. I mean, what if you had plans?"
Trowa shrugs. "I didn't, though."
For some reason, I feel like arguing. "But what if you *had*?"
"I would have cancelled." He looks at me with a curious frown. "Why is it bugging you so much?"
I shake my head, putting the coffee down and make a dismissing hand-wave. "Sorry, sorry... it's the stir-crazy talking. Give the caffeine a few minutes to kick in."
We lapse into silence for a little, and I rub my temples a little. Boredom *and* caffeine withdrawal will be the downfall of me. When I peek over my hands, he's still looking at me, like I've just dribbled macchiato down the front of my shirt.
"You've got something to say, Tro? Floor's always open."
He stays silent for another moment. I do not know how he can keep so still sometimes. Maybe I'm just a little envious. "Why is it bugging you so much?"
"The Saturday night thing?" I sigh and look out through the windshield. There's frost forming on the wiper blades. Great.
"Trowa, do you ever think we're giving up our youth for this kind of thing?" The question that pops out of my mouth comes more as a surprise to me than anyone. I mean, it's a genuine question I want to ask, but I honestly hadn't meant to just blurt it out like that.
Trowa's face is thoughtful. A lot of people will tell you Mister Barton doesn't really have many expressions. They are in fact, incorrect. He has plenty; they just come and go in a far subtler fashion than most people are used to. Right now, 'thoughtful' entails his eyes drifting down slightly, brows descending, and a slight pursing of the lips.
Just call me a student of human behaviour.
Then again, I think he is actually getting more expressive -- or what amounts to it from his end -- the more I get to know him.
He takes a moment or two to consider his answer. "On a normal scale, yes. With extenuating circumstances, no."
I raise an eyebrow when he doesn't elaborate. Extenuating circumstances? I'm intrigued. "Please go on, Professor."
He almost doesn't because of the jibe, I think, but decides to give me a go anyway. I don't mean to be a smartass, I really do want to know.
Trowa puts his coffee in the cup holder and turns to face me. He has a pretty serious expression on his face, so I make sure to pay attention, and *look* like I'm paying attention, too.
"If we'd had regular upbringings with families and proper homes, then yes, I believe we would be too young." Trowa shrugs. "But the fact is, we didn't. Hell, we fought wars as teenagers. That makes us qualified."
His face softens a little. "I'm not saying I wouldn't like a safer occupation, a less exciting life, but... I've got what it takes. If I can do this job in the place of some guy with a wife and kids and a real future ahead of him? I will."
Something of that just hurt my heart a little. Make that a lot. "Trowa... *you* deserve those things. Even moreso than the guy who already has them."
"You too," he counters. Trowa turns to look out the windshield. He watches the flickering lamp across the street. "This world doesn't need anymore widows or orphans. I'm good at what I do. Why not do it now and worry about those other things later?"
I don't want to say it, but sometimes my mouth gets in before my brain can veto the suggestion. "Have you ever thought about if you died first?"
Oh, class act, Duo. I'm like a one man disaster. Kids, don't try this at home unless you've got a full can of petrol and some matches. He doesn't look at me, but he does give me an answer in a quiet voice.
"All the time."
We lapse into silence for a while after that, going back to sipping our coffee. I put the driver's seat on a bit of an incline. Trowa's looking out the window right now, he won't mind if I take my attention away from Arnolds' place for a little. Besides, he's given me a lot to think about, including a lot of stuff that applies to myself that I purposely avoid thinking about. Sometimes it's easier to just pretend this kind of life is completely normal.
But mostly, I think about how a stand-up guy like Trowa deserves to do stupid young-person stuff like have plans and go out on a Saturday night and not worry about shady individuals, stakeouts and the fate of the world.
My guitar-inspired playlist dredges up some Santana. Oh man but this guy could play. It takes my mind off serious things and my fingers begin to itch. I strike classic air guitar pose and try and strum along to 'Black Magic Woman'.
The awesomeness of my playing attracts attention. Trowa glances at me out of the corner of his eye and watches for a little, before turning properly.
"That looks authentic," he says with just a dab of amusement.
"No fair comparing my paltry efforts to Santana, big guy," I tell him, still air-strumming away. "I can't keep up with his chord changes."
He looks rather surprised. At least, the one and a half eyes I can see look surprised. "You really can play?"
Santana plays particularly hard riff and I stick my tongue out of my mouth to try and get the fingering on my imaginary fret board right. I kid you not, it helps. "Yes. Well, no. Well..." I stuff it up and give up the ghost. "I'm teaching myself."
I am rather pleased when I see Trowa looks impressed. 'Course, most people wouldn't say he looks any different, but the Maxwell knows better than they do.
"That's very impressive," he tells me. I give myself a brain hi-five. I knew I was right.
"I'm trying at least. I have one of those 'Guitar for Dummies' books, it seems to be going ok."
"You're not a dummy," he tells me quite sternly. I'm a little surprised, but it's not like I'm going to knock back the compliment. I don't really know how to address it, so I just keep going.
"I used to know a little. Back when I was a kid, I got taught a few chords. Always wanted to keep going with it but... stuff happened." By stuff I mean all that pesky OZ business. "I kept putting it off but," I shrug. "it just felt like it was something I wanted to continue now."
Trowa nods slowly. "Why didn't you keep it up during... stuff?" His use of my stupid war euphemism makes me grin.
"No matter how many times I asked Professor G, he never installed that Fender Mustang and amp into Deathscythe's cockpit."
The shock comes after that throwaway comment. Trowa laughs.
Over the past few months I've seen him smile a lot more, even chuckle a fair bit, but never give a real, honest-to-god bellylaugh. It's a rich and full sound, and the action makes the corners of his eyes crinkle. As much as I can talk under six foot of wet cement, his reaction actually leaves me a little slack-jawed. Only for a second, mind you, then I'm laughing right along with him.
It naturally dies away, but I'm pleased to say he still retains a good-sized smile. "I'm glad," he tells me. "I don't know if I could have listened to you butcher 'Smoke On The Water' while fighting a squadron of Tauruses."
"Hendrix nothing, man," I shake my head. "It would've been 'Back in Black' -- no contest."
Something occurs to me then, I nearly forgot. "You play an instrument too though, don't you?"
Trowa nods. "Flute. Not nearly as cool as a guitar."
"Not so," I disagree. "Any instrument anyone can play is cool. Except maybe for a kazoo. It is just inherently not cool... you don't play kazoo, do you?"
"Alas," he remarks in his smarmy-but-not-smarmy way.
"Good. Then you still have my respect." I snap my fingers. "Hey, maybe we could jam sometime? I'm not great yet, but I'm a quick study. And I'm learning acoustic, anyway. That'd go ok with flute, right?"
To my surprise, he agrees. "That sounds like fun."
Cool, I have a music-buddy. "Awesome. We can organise a time later."
"Ok," he says, and we lapse back into silence. I take up my delicious coffee once again. I refuse to let it get cold.
Trowa gives a little flick of the head, getting his hair out of his eyes. "How about... next Saturday night?"
So soon? Damn, I'd better practice some more this week. Still, the fact he isn't repelled at the thought of me murdering some tunes makes me feel good. If I remember correctly, Quatre told me he's pretty damned good.
I grin. "Ok. Deal is, though, if you're asked to do some recon or surveillance at the last minute next Saturday, what are you going to say?"
Trowa raises an eyebrow. "It's nothing I can't cancel?"
Damn his professionalism. "Well, yeah, ok, but what will you say to your partner when *out* on said recon-slash-surveillance?"
Looking at me with an extremely straight face, he says: "'Tonight I have something better to do, but instead I'm watching some sleaze through his window as he vegetates to the home shopping network'?"
I give him thumbs up. "Correct! You, my friend, are a fast learner."
"Tha--" Trowa stops mid-word, head whipping around suddenly. He grabs my pair of binoculars from the dashboard, attention drawn outside. There's movement across the street; that creep Arnolds has left his house and is making a bee-line for his truck.
We both shimmy down into our seats a little so he can't see anyone in the car. Trowa picks up my radio to contact HQ. "Maxwell Barton to Alpha-One. Suspect is on the move, repeat, suspect is on the move. Tracking destination, agents in pursuit." Trowa announces in soft, clipped tones. Well whaddayaknow. Maybe this night won't be quite so tedious after all.
"Somehow I doubt he's after a midnight snack," I say as Arnolds' car drives past ours.
This guy is in for a shock. I'm bored, antsy *and* caffeinated after being cooped up in a car for six hours. Bad guys don't stand a snowflake's chance in hell.
I turn the key in the ignition, kicking the engine over. I can't help a rather feral grin breaking out on my face. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking, 03?" I say, giving my eyebrows a quick waggle.
Trowa shakes his head, but gives me a small smile in return. "As soon as you release the park brake, 02," he replies.
"Details, details," I grouse as our car pulls away from the curb, giving chase.