by Bronze Tigress

It's Not Like That

The bar is dark, but noisy. Cat calls and whooping drunken jeers accompany the man - in his mid-40's, beginning to develop a shocking widow's peak, and with the knot of his tie hanging precariously at his third undone shirt button - who is currently sitting on the high stool behind the microphone stand on the small stage. He is warbling something that sounds suspiciously like "An die-ee-ah wilawwwheeze lah view" at the extreme top end of his vocal range. Whitney was never so painful to listen to. Most surprisingly, the audience seems, in some bizarre manner, to be actually enjoying the performance. Perhaps this is caused by the same gene which causes people to stop and watch train accidents in progress.

At one table, about halfway down the outside wall, a pair of young men sit. It's difficult to tell them apart, except that one is marginally taller than the other, and has green eyes rather than the very blue ones his partner has. In the darkness, however, you'd be hard pressed to notice that much. Neither one is more than 170cm, and both are slight, of the sort of sinewy bony build that is so often very much stronger than it appears. Both have fair complexions, and brownish hair styled in neat, almost military short haircuts. They wear matching taupe-coloured T-shirts and the sort of crisp flat-front olive gabardine slacks that spell "uniform". What uniform, exactly, isn't clear, since neither brought a jacket into the bar with him. The pair could be anything from private school seniors to fast food workers to Sheriff's assistants to visiting Preventers.

Of course, they're awfully young for anything but high school or flipping burgers. The servers have already checked their ID cards three times, only to find that both are, in fact, legal. Barely so, and they wouldn't be in the next jurisdiction over, but still. They are allowed to be in here. And it's not exactly as if it's been a problem. Blue-eyes is nursing a cola - straight up, virgin, no ice - and Green-eyes is doing the same with an iced tea. It's not the Long Island variety, either. It seems they're here, incredibly enough, for the ambience.

So, in the entire crowd of drunken people, this is probably the only pair who are finding the horrible singing to be the sort of torture it actually is. Anyone else, on coming in and hearing it, has either left immediately, or summarily signalled the nearest server for several shots.

There is a brief lull in the entertainment, as the singer wobbles off. Blue-eyes stops scanning the room, glances at his watch, quirks an eyebrow at his partner, and then leans forwards to whisper, "It's just about time; whattaya say we go give these people something to pay attention to instead of..." His voice trails off meaningfully, and his head tips towards the man who has just tripped off the last step down from the stage.

Green-eyes nods agreement. "Right. You're doing the conversation?" He sounds, oddly, a little unsure.

"That is why you're here with me. You're not getting stage fright, are ya, Tro?"

The question gets an amused chuckle in response and the tiniest negative sign. "Stage fright, Duo? Me?"

Duo gives him an answering chuckle. "Good man. Couldn't do this one without you, ya know. You've got the lights?" A tiny nod this time, and a sign that means it's already been taken care of. "Good. I've got the songcard, it'll only take me a minute to set it up." Another nod, even as Duo stands up, stretches demonstratively, and bounces up towards the stage with a huge grin on his face.

Duo doesn't manage to get there before the next song begins - something moderately sappy, again, although the girl who's singing this time is neither quite so thoroughly drunk nor so melodically challenged as the previous contestant. He is happy enough to let her sing, using the time to duck under the table the machine sits on, locate the hidden and rarely-used access slot on the back, and slip in a small datacard, then stand up again and key in the commands - from the normally completely inaccessible root directory command line of the machine - that will load the songs on the card into the temporary memory in turn, play, and then erase each from the RAM without touching anything else on the system.

By the time the girl is finished singing, Duo has completed his work, retrieved his datacard, and made it vanish. "All set?" comes a soft voice from behind his shoulder as he finishes, and Duo jumps, startled.

"Damn it, Fei, quit sneaking up on me!" he hisses in an undertone.

For answer he gets a sardonic smirk. "I should think you would have learned by now that it must be me, if it is done at all," the supremely smug voice answers. Duo grins and tosses his head a little at the truth of the statement. "Shall I go first, or do you want to play this one without the warning shot?"

"Oh, heck, if you're volunteering! Be my guest, let 'em know we're coming." Duo grins widely, and punches in an over-ride command, queuing up one of the 'optional' songs nearer the bottom of the list, and gesturing grandly towards the stage. Duo's Unit Leader drops him a small bow and takes the stage as the song begins to play. Chang Wufei, in dark uniform pants and a skintight black muscle-shirt, stalks up to the microphone exactly the same way the opening riffs of the song - Bad Company's "Here Comes Trouble" - strut through the air. His attention doesn't seem to settle anywhere as he sings, but those watching him closely can see that it drifts occasionally towards one particular table. Around the room, a few figures quietly slip along the walls, largely un-noticed as they head towards the bar, the bathrooms, the back exit, and eventually the employees-only door that leads to the underground part of the club.

The music winds down, and with a gracious bow for the applause, Wufei places the microphone back into it's stand and looks over towards where Duo stands. In fact, Duo is practically jigging in place at the edge of the stage, eagerly awaiting his turn at the microphone. Wufei nods briefly, and signals an almost imperceptible "all's well" to Duo as they pass each other at the top of the stairs.

As Wufei vanishes seamlessly into the crowd, Duo's music cues up, and he bounces onto the stage. "Thank you, thank you," he replies to the half-hearted cheering of the crowd, who are amused to find yet another sacrificial victim putting his voice and reputation on display. The opening music plays. It is clearly older music, from the way the drums don't pound quite so hard, how the guitars don't scream quite the same way. Otherwise, the song is ordinary enough, until the lyrics register. A "Ladies' Man," Duo proclaims himself, the old April Wine song openly inviting, and his body language matching the lyrics perfectly. Several of the young women in the crowd react to his "Come and get it," surging forwards most predictably, and he smiles warmly at them as he sings, puts just the right suggestive hip swivel into his small dance.

Most of the folks in the room, of course, have been watching the stage. Those further back, however, are startled to see the singer's partner stand up abruptly, his chair clattering to the ground behind him. Fists clenched tight, Trowa stands stiffly, swinging his arms uncertainly for a couple of bars, and then he stalks, quickly, angrily, towards the booth.

Onstage, Duo finishes and sweeps the audience a short bow as the music concludes, and the ladies, quite predictably, all cheer. Several give appreciative whistles as he straightens and waves, a brilliant smile on his face. He looks ready to walk off, when a single spotlight hits the place where Trowa sits, perched on the front edge of the stage, his hand extended for the microphone.

The microphone changes hands just as the synthetic technopop of "Your Woman" - a song that made White Town a one-hit-wonder once upon a time - begins to beat tinnily from the speakers. Trowa's voice, even more obviously masculine than the original vocals, makes the lyrics particularly ironic. And the sentiment - as if he has just discovered something he had been denying to himself for too long - is perfectly reflected in his tone and facial expression. Trowa gestures towards Duo's retreating back, as if he's been proven correct, right in time with the lyrics that decry his man's walking away, and the audience snickers and boos accordingly.

Duo whirls, as the words and censure appear to register, and he turns back, looking as if he would deny the charge, but he is waved to silence. Trowa continues singing, explaining that it's true, he could never be the right woman for a man like his partner. Duo stands, staring incredulously, and then whirls and drops off the stage, to check that the next song is the Bryan Adams one as planned. Meantime, Trowa hops upright and performs his own dance during the musical bridge. The prissy little two-step and exaggerated preening gesture have the audience laughing. "Oh, don't like that? How about this," he laughs through the mike, and then gives them a little flex and a pose, which earns him a round of cheers.

The rest of Trowa's dance serves to demonstrate just how much he is not the right sort of woman, or any sort of woman at all for that matter, in fact, and one of the - more than very drunk - girls who have come to line the front of the stage appears to be on the verge of hollering for him to lose some of the clothing, if the credit note she is waving is any indication. He is spared that indignity, however, by the end of the bridge. With a small flourish he drops the mike into the stand and half-sits on the tall stool to sing the last chorus, just in time to greet Duo's reappearance with a challenging pose and the microphone, visibly daring his partner to correct him.

Duo takes the microphone with both hands, taking care to wrap them around Trowa's and hold them there briefly. The gesture doesn't go unnoticed; Trowa's startled glance down to where his hand is being held between Duo's makes sure of that. And then Duo is drawing back, taking the microphone in time to speak a few words over the introductory notes of the next song. "Come on, Baby, you know it's not like that." It's clear enough that he intends everyone there to know just what it is like. "I'm a Liar," the lyrics proclaim, and his lover shouldn't take his words so seriously, but what would it take for Trowa to believe him?

Trowa is evidently less than impressed as he snorts and stands up. The stool tips over onto the stage as he does so, clattering as it falls. He ignores it and stalks around behind Duo, making his way to the booth. "Unbelievable," he mutters, disgust clear in his voice, as he rounds the wall to find that he isn't alone. A young woman stands there, to his apparent surprise - although in truth he'd noticed her slipping up to the front and is now playing for her benefit as much as the rest of the crowd's - and she winces sympathetically at his tone as he murmurs, "Simply unbelievable. Here, would you mind?" She shakes her head and steps back from the console. "I'm sorry," he continues, "this might take a few more. Can you wait a bit?"

"Sure, but, you know, he sounds pretty serious up there. You might wanna give him a chance, hmm?"

Trowa pauses in his task - his song is already cued, so it hardly matters - and makes a show of considering her words, but then turns back to stabbing at the buttons. "No. He's done this once too often, you know? I don't... I can't... Oh, hell. I'm up. Thanks for trying." And he is gone, back up to the stage, where he stands with his arms folded defensively across his ribs as he listens to Duo sing. He thrusts his hand out for the mike even before his partner is finished.

Trowa's music, an EMF song, starts up as soon as Duo's ends, to a smattering of cheers and an equal collection of hoots of disbelief from the audience as the tune and lyrics register. He is clearly not alone in his (purported) assessment of Duo's sincerity, especially in view of the blue-eyed man's first song. A lone voice - female, and slurring in unsteady bobbles - whoops, "You tell 'im, baby! Lyin' cheee-- Yi!" Her voice cuts off abruptly in the wooden crash of a toppling chair and a solid thump as something fairly heavy lands on the floor. More female voices join in with affirmative cheers, however. A small chorus of "You go, girl!" and "Yeah, man, you tell 'im!" and the like float up to underscore the sarcastic tone of the music.

Trowa grins toothily into the first small break, and sketches a small bow towards his more vocal front-row supporters. He sneers his way through the rest of the song, gesturing animatedly along with the lyrics and seeming quite unhappy with the man who can't be anything but his lover, given their choices of songs and the expressions they've employed in singing them. Perhaps even, some are thinking, his just-become ex-lover.

Duo, for his part, merely shakes his head a little sadly and drops down into the booth. He mumbles something quite indistinct in reply to the girl still standing there. She wavers for a moment, and then evidently decides that it will be far more comfortable to wait at one of the tables, wandering off as Duo scrolls a finger down the screen. It takes him less than a chorus to "choose" his reply. He nods once, sharply, as he works with the machine. His alibi made, he walks softly back onto the stage, where he takes a moment to set the tall stool upright again behind the microphone stand. Trowa has no need of it, clearly, since he is dancing for the audience again, riling them up in his defense. Duo merges quietly into the shadows at the edge of Trowa's performance, just out of range of the wildly waving arm, and waits for his turn, still shaking his head in denial.

Trowa finishes the song on one last, almost shouted imprecation, and shoves the microphone at Duo almost accusingly. Duo smiles, a little sadly, and indicates the stool behind Trowa. "Please?" Trowa straightens, head tilted somehow so that he looks down a mile upon his partner - a look he has copied from Wufei, Duo realizes - but backs obediently towards the stool until one leg bangs into it, and then eases himself down to rest one hip on the stool. It's not quite the seat that Duo seemed to have intended, and Trowa's posture remains stiff, closed, and upright as the first soft strains of Bon Jovi's "In These Arms" begin to drift across the air.

The quiet ballad makes an abrupt and distinct contrast with the angry mood Trowa's song set. A chorus of soft "Aww"'s go up from the girls in front as the opening lyrics - words of commitment, longing, and heartbreak in the face of rejection - are sung, and more follow when Duo goes so far as to kneel, first on one knee and then both, before Trowa as he sings. His hands clutch the microphone in front of his chest in a gesture that mirrors an attitude of prayer. Trowa's crimson blush at lyrics of clothes left scattered on a bedroom floor is confession enough of their relationship, should any there have had any doubt. Most telling of all, it is clearly a song Duo knows well. While the audience can clearly follow the words on the teleprompt screen, Duo, who is turned to face Trowa, can not, and doesn't need the assistance in any case. He is word-perfect, with nary a stumble, and the aching longing in his voice rings true in every note as he begs his lover's forgiveness and acceptance.

A complete hush falls over the crowd as the music ends, the audience and Duo alike waiting tensely for Trowa's reaction.

Trowa simply sits there for a moment, eyes locked on Duo's face, then takes one deep breath, and leans forwards, as if to speak to the man kneeling before him. He stops, shakes his head, and then reaches down to give him a hand up, taking the microphone out of his hands and putting it neatly back in the stand. Then he looks over Duo's shoulder towards the sound booth, and nods. When his eyes return to Duo's face, the next bit of music has already started, and he takes Duo's hands in his own to lead the way off the stage to wild cheers from the audience. The tall blond man who comes up onto the stage next winks broadly at Trowa as the pair disappear, before launching into his own song. The music doesn't completely dispel the romantic mood that has been set, but it goes a long way to breaking it.

Back at their table, where they stop only long enough to put down enough money to cover their small tab, the pair exchange a few quiet words.

"He's singing the Kansas one. Good; means they got their guy. You okay, Tro?"

"Yeah, fine. Glad Zechs got there when he did, though."

"What, you didn't enjoy blushing for the audience?" Duo teases gently.

"It's not that, Duo. I just don't think the Scorpions song that's next in the play list fits. You know me already."

"Only you would be worried about that. It's just a performance, you know, a distraction for everyone not involved in the raid, so they don't get involved in it. Shit, Trowa, 'Soul Behind the Face' was the only thing I could find that worked, and wasn't a girl's song."

"Well, true, although it didn't stop you from using a 'girl's song' for my next one. And I hate seeing you have to lie up there. I know it goes against," Trowa begins but is cut off by a puzzled sound from Duo.

"Lie? How so?"

"Well, to start with, Duo, you can't possibly be 'a ladies' man' and that hung up on me. And then there's your entire second song... Do I need to go on?"

"What, that? I can't help what the words those people wrote say; I'm just reading them." The tone is almost elaborately casual as he passes the question off. "And you know the ladies love me!"

"And the last one, Duo?"

"Oh, look, Zechs is done. And, there, that girl we've been putting off for the last little while is finally getting her turn. She doesn't look too put out about having had to..."

"Duo. Look at me." Trowa's quiet words - and one hand laid ever so gently along Duo's jaw - bring the rattling to an abrupt stop. "You weren't reading the last one."

A very small voice answers, "I know," and Duo's eyes, the only parts of his face not held in place by a firm hand, drop to the floor.

Trowa raises one eyebrow - a fact which Duo would surely have been able to notice, had he been looking - but lets the matter drop for the moment, turning to more immediately solvable concerns. "Come on. I want to get back to the station and hear what they managed to pin on our guy." But before he drops his hand, his thumb traces a gentle line across Duo's cheekbone. And when he turns to lead the way out of the bar, he isn't surprised at all when light fingers tentatively brush the back of his hand. Behind them, the music of the Bangles' "Eternal Flame" seems a most fitting counterpoint to the mood. Trowa smiles as he turns his hand to take the offered one, and squeeze it once in reassurance before letting go again.

Outside, the late-afternoon light, eye-wateringly bright after the darkness inside, is nearly as blinding as the smile in Duo's eyes.

~Owari~

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