Author: Maldoror
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

//THIS// is Heero's entries on his laptop.

Trial and Error + Chapter 9

//Mission Duration: 11 days 9 hours

Operation 2xHD
Status: Under consideration

Spent two hours with Hugh Daniels (HD) in coffee shop. HD appears to have a caffeine addiction. That may be a positive point, paradoxically. 2 has one as well.

Points comparison against description of 2's type of man (source = 4):

- Challenge, can tell 2 when he's wrong:
Unknown, but likely. HD has told 5 he was wrong to call RP a 'silly woman' and that took more guts than most people have.

- Understanding:
HD visibly not afraid of Gundam pilots, and has made efforts to befriend two of them - 5 and the one he knows by reputation (ref- 'Ice Prince' denomination) to be the most destructive, emotionless and anti-social one. Not the two easiest Gundam pilots to get along with. Either proof of HD's great patience or slight mental instability (verification required). Has war experience that might help explain his forbearance.

- Sense of humor:
Check. Not overwhelming but sufficient.

- War and MS experience:
Check, HD fighting for New Zealand rebels against OZ for years.

- Physical attributes:
Not an expert on subject of male beauty but mixture of deep brown eyes, tan, and golden hair should be classifiable as handsome and exotic. Actual hair color surely not important.

- Smile:
Warm. Sufficient?

Next step: Arrange a meeting.//



"I swear that kid over there just took one look at you and burst into tears."

Duo's teasing voice made Heero turn sharply. He was never at his most comfortable in a public place like this, even if the week-day shopping crowds were sparse. He was annoyed Duo had managed to sneak up on him.

"He was already crying before he looked at me." He informed the cheerful teasing smile seriously. "Apparently his mother didn't want to buy him a toy Gundam."

"Oh man that bites! When G said I couldn't have Deathscythe I was so upset I turned to shoplifting!" Duo chortled, keeping his voice low. His eyes were also flicking over the mall's crowd in automatic recon, but he was, as always, a lot more relaxed than Heero.

"Wasn't G the one who suggested-"

"Joke, Yuy."

"Oh. Well I don't think they should make toys based on weapons of war." Heero grumbled, and Duo rolled his eyes. It was one of their old, ongoing arguments.

"So just don't buy one of them for Relena's birthday then and get over it. Talking of which...what did you have in mind for the pink princess?"

"She hardly ever wears pink anymore and she prefers-"

"-to be addressed as Minister Darlian, yeah yeah. So are you going to get her yet another teddy-bear? 'Cause I think that girl's room is starting to look like a taxidermist's nightmare by now."

"That's why I invited you here, Duo, I was hoping to get another idea this year. Besides, I have to shop for you and Trowa as well."

"And we have to shop for you!" Duo nodded vigorously. It had become a custom among them, one of many. Since three of the five pilots had no birthday that they knew of, and Quatre's birthday was two weeks before Relena's as well, it had become a yearly habit to celebrate everyone's birthday at the same time.

"And here's Tro." Duo said suddenly, waving at the taller boy weaving his way gracefully through the crowd.

Trowa gave them his slight smile for greeting.

"Thanks for coming." Heero said politely. "I know you're busy."

"Yes, that new act we're working on takes up a lot of time. I can't stay too long in fact, I'll leave you two alone in an hour or so." Trowa added. His small smile seemed directed at Duo. Heero caught an answering grin and a faint flush from his best friend.

"Oh well, guess the lions can't wait or whatever. Let's go get Trowa's gifts, and then it's just you and me, Heero buddy!" Duo gave Heero a wide smile and a small punch on the arm.

"Actually there will be one more person with us." Heero said, just as a voice behind him murmured: "Oh I see your friends have arrived."

Heero turned and nodded to Daniels who handed him a cup. "Your orange juice, just like you like it; fresh pressed, with a dash of lemon, and I watched her make it so no funny stuff in it." Daniels had accepted Heero's paranoia with patience and humor, which Heero found promising.

"This is Hugh Daniels, I've mentioned him before." Heero said, turning towards Duo and Trowa. They both looked exceedingly startled. Heero realized he was probably the last one of the pilots they'd expect to make friends outside of their group.

"Yeah, you have." Trowa said absently, returning Daniels' handshake. "Trowa Barton." He added.

"I hope he painted me in a positive light?" Daniels smiled at Heero, who nodded seriously. He didn't know if Duo and Daniels would hit it off, but he had been telling all the others about the man and his positive points in the last few days, just to do some groundwork.

Daniels extended a hand towards Duo, who was looking nonplussed.

"I'm Duo Maxwell. Er, you just run into Heero while he was waiting for us?"

Daniels smiled. It was broader than the smile he usually gave Heero, it showed a few teeth. He took a few seconds before he said: "No, Heero invited me to come. He said he needed help with Minister Darlian's gift, and he wanted to introduce me to his friends."

"Oh really?" Duo was still shaking Daniels' hand. Heero, who always tried to limit physical contact when possible, wondered if this long handshake was a good sign. Duo was smiling too but his eyes were watchful.

Well that Heero could understand. He felt the same tension whenever Relena introduced some friends to him. A soldier couldn't be expected to relax when faced with an unknown quantity. But Daniels had been vetted and approved by Heero, so Duo had no reason to worry on that account. Heero put a hand on Daniel's shoulder, to reclaim the man's attention. He felt more than saw blue eyes rivet themselves on that contact; Duo would appreciate the significance of the gesture, an indication that Daniels was not a threat.

"Shall we start looking around? We three normally choose gifts for each other and for Relena."

"Sure thing, Heero." Daniels said pleasantly.

Heero almost corrected him, but they weren't at work now, and insisting Daniels call him Yuy when the others didn't would be strange. He also didn't make an issue when Daniels rested his hand just briefly on Heero's lower back as they walked away. He didn't really appreciate the contact but it was not a gesture he would have allowed a casual acquaintance, and this would also show Duo and Trowa that Daniels had been checked and was trustworthy.

"Coming?" Daniels asked, and Heero realized the hand on his back had been meant to indicate he had to slow down. Duo and Trowa hadn't actually moved. They were both staring at Heero and Daniels, bemused. Daniels had not only noticed they weren't following, but he was looking particularly at Duo, with a wide smile. Duo's eyes were twitching from the hand on Heero's back to that smile and back again. He had the strangest expression on his face, behind his usual 'who-me-care?' grin. Heero wasn't sure he'd ever seen that look on Duo before and he didn't know what it was; the closest it came to was a touch of Shinigami, but that didn't make any sense. Duo didn't seem inclined to move until Trowa put a hand on his shoulder and nudged him forward, then they walked up to Heero and Daniels. The former was thinking that this wasn't a very promising beginning, but the afternoon was just starting.

Heero wanted to maneuver Duo and Daniels together, but it wasn't that easy. Daniels didn't know the other two so seemed much more comfortable walking and talking with Heero. Normally you could count on Duo to be an efficient ice-breaker but for some reason he seemed strangely subdued today. On other occasions he'd taken over the conversation with strangers, letting Heero take a step back in relief but now it was Duo who was hanging back. He walked a few steps behind them, with Trowa, talking with the other ex-pilot quietly. Maybe he was still suffering from the after effects of that cold, Heero thought...But several times Heero caught Duo's eyes on Daniel's back, with an intent expression that could be promising.

Finally Heero managed to get Duo and Daniels off into a shop of sports and hunting equipment to discuss his and Trowa's present and he was able to stand back and discreetly watch them through the window. For all of three seconds, then strong fingers curved around his forearm and turned him towards Trowa.

"Heero who is this guy?"

"I told you about him -"

"Why is he here?" Trowa interrupted him curtly, watching him with a rare intensity for the reserved man.

"I invited him." Heero braced himself. With his usual efficiency, he had decided on two operations this afternoon, one of which was to take care of Trowa. Operation 2xHD was well underway; he could see Duo and Daniels talking near the hunting knives section. Duo was leaning against a display case, with a huge smile on his face as he twiddled a serrated blade between his fingers, his eyes on Daniels. The latter wasn't looking at Duo but at the display case. He was smiling too, and talking. Heero automatically read his lips. '- he's told me a lot about all four of you, actually. Just the other day, in the cafe - we go out after work, hang out for a couple of hours -'

'Oh really?' Duo's lips moved. His smile widened even more, turned up in one corner. Heero wasn't sure the expression was completely friendly but Duo could be hard to read when he wanted to.

'Yes, he was telling me about the time he had to punch your lights out to get you out of his way, during the Eve war.'

Duo tapped the knife against his knuckles and laughed. 'Oh yeah, that time. Heero has a funny way of showing affection, but I guess you wouldn't know. You only met him a couple weeks ago, right?'

'Yes, it's amazing how well we get along considering the short time we've know each other.'

"...Heero?" Trowa's voice was hesitant. Heero cursed himself. He'd been so engrossed in the conversation - and hoping it would go somewhere promising - that he'd forgotten Trowa's question. Trowa's eyes were wide, he'd probably caught Heero staring at Daniels through the glass. Heero didn't want Trowa to start lip-reading the conversation as well so decided to get on to the second part of the afternoon's program.

The suspicion Trowa was showing towards Daniels, even after Heero had shown him to be trustworthy, was raising alarm bells in Heero's mind. Could it be Trowa was a bit jealous? That he wondered who this man was, who had seemingly captivated Duo's attention? Heero had invited Trowa so that he could start working on the acrobat's case as quickly as possible. He had to find out what Trowa looked for in a companion and provide it, so that he would not get too attached to Duo.

"I told you, Trowa, I invited Daniels." He said firmly, getting back to Trowa's original question. "We met recently but I found him to be efficient, trustworthy and capable. And also fairly pleasant. Look how well he and Duo are getting along already!"

"Like a house on fire." Trowa said without even looking where Heero had tilted his chin. "Any second now I'm going in there and getting that knife off of Duo, but first, tell me...why...do...do you like this man?"

"Yes." Heero said firmly. "He's nice to work with, and he's very friendly with me. I know I'm not the easiest person to get along with, so that says a lot about his character I would say."

"That's not-" Trowa suddenly rubbed the bridge of his nose. When he spoke again his voice was quiet and intense. "We're friendly and get along with you too, that shouldn't be your only criteria."

"Are you saying I shouldn't make any friends outside of our group?" Heero asked him caustically. Trowa winced.

"No of course not, but, well, if you wanted a, a -..." He trailed off. Heero saw him glance through the window where Duo and Daniels were examining crossbows; Duo was leveling one at Daniels in a playful way and they both seemed to be finding something very funny, the way they were grinning at each other.

"All we've been through..." Heero's voice was so soft he knew only Trowa's trained ears could pick up his words. "We've become as connected as the fingers of a same hand. We all rely on that. But maybe it's time we started looking for more, or rather, for something different." He felt Trowa stiffen beside him. "If one of us decided that he'd found another kind of connection with someone outside of our group, we'd all be there for him, and wish the best for his happiness...wouldn't we?"

The acrobat slowly turned his head to look at Daniels and Duo, who was examining the crossbow bolts in their security case with a longing look. Heero made a mental note to see if that might make a good birthday present for his friend.

Trowa sighed, a surprising sound from the normally stoic man. "Yes, Heero, I know what you mean. I...I understand. Okay, if you're sure about Daniels, well...I guess it'll just be up to us to get to know him better."

"You'll like him." Heero said, with more hope than foreknowledge. It wouldn't be easy for Trowa to accept any stranger, much less one who was apparently getting along so well with Duo. What the man needed, of course, was a distraction and Heero knew just the kind. "Daniels has many positive points. Say, Trowa...what would you consider important in a relationship? What would it take for you to like someone?"

"He'd have to be nice to my friends. If he hurt someone I loved, he'd be dead before he knew it." Trowa said softly. He was watching Daniels again, and Heero winced at the warning in Trowa's voice. Well, if Daniels hurt Duo, Heero would exact vengeance long before Trowa could, but he'd be kicking a corpse; Duo himself would be the first to react.

"Sorry." Trowa said suddenly, turning back to Heero. "I didn't mean that to sound-...I'm sure Daniels is a nice man, Heero. Maybe you should bring him over to the house for supper one day. How about Friday, actually."

"That's no good, Duo is going to be at that Sweeper's party Friday."

"Perfect. I mean, pity. What a pity. But at least Daniels could meet the rest of us."

"Good idea." Heero knew that Wufei got along fairly well with Daniels - as well as with anybody, they argued noisily but so far Wufei hadn't actually injured him so it was likely they could become quite good friends - but he needed to make sure Quatre and Trowa did too. Duo couldn't be paired up with someone his friends didn't like, that would be hurtful all around.

Trowa had to leave for his act shortly after that, and Duo, much to Heero's disappointment, decided to go with him.

Heero and Daniels were silent, watching Trowa and Duo disappear, weaving quickly through the mall's shoppers.

"And that was your friends." Daniels finally said, turning to Heero with a smile.

"Two of them, yes." Heero hesitated, trying to look at Daniels without seeming to, wondering how to ask-

"So..." Daniels had turned towards a shop window, apparently quite intent in examining baby clothes. Maybe he had young nephews and nieces, Heero concluded. "Duo..."

Heero focused entirely on that word. Hah.

"He's just a friend, is he?" Daniels looked at something blue with a purple dinosaur on it, but Heero caught a brief glance in his direction.

Just a friend? That completely puzzled Heero. Friendship was something rare, individual and precious, like the pattern of light dancing on a lithe and playful rope of hair, the fall of bangs over a quiet, understanding green gaze, the geometry of the gentlest, kindest smile he'd been graced to see, the solid, reassuring presence of a strong sword arm at his back. It was something beautiful, like a flower handed to him in a world of cold death and machines. How could the word 'just' even come near something like that?

"Duo's my best friend." He answered, perplexed, wondering if there had been something else behind the question.

"Ah right. Bit of a sore loser, maybe?" Daniels was looking at him out of the corner of his eyes.

"Yes." Heero admitted. If you actually beat Duo at a game, you had to be prepared for the consequences, the least of which was a few days wasted as he played you again and again until he finally won, and then grinned like a demon into your face.

"Dangerous?" Daniels was still smiling, but his eyes had narrowed.

"Yes." Heero had to admit again. "But only to people who hurt him or his friends."

"Duly noted." Daniels said, his grin widening as he faced Heero fully. "He's quite a card, I'll give him that. Very nice. Funny sense of humor. Obviously loves teasing people. So...shall we finish shopping? I know a little place near here we can have lunch later, if you want. It's quite good, got recommended by-"

He nodded as he tuned Daniels out, listening to one word out of three and reconstructing the essentials of the conversation with the ease of practice he'd picked up with Relena. His mind was busy running over the encounter.

Heero knew he would not be able to recognize love if it came at him with a buster rifle, but he recognized hostility when he saw the slightest particle of it. After all, it was only in the matter of interpersonal and romantic relationships that his training had been lacking; it had been more than adequate when it came to mastering hate, anger, fear and fighting.

So he was quite aware that Duo's predominant feelings during their trip, hidden behind his jester's mask, had been hostility, defensiveness and a touch of anxiety, and all focused on Daniels.

But why? - Heero nodded absently at something Daniels said - Duo always got along with people even though he kept them at arm's length with his easy humor and relaxed attitude. He'd never behaved like this towards anyone before, not on a first meeting - hell, he'd not displayed this amount of concealed aggression since the war. Yet he'd not attacked Daniels, or challenged him; they'd had a whole conversation without so much as an insult, in fact Duo had appeared to be quite curious about the man. If only Duo wasn't so hard to read; the joker's mask was as difficult to break through as the soldier's fašade when he wanted it to be. Other feelings could have been lurking there...

A prickle ran up Heero's spine - as he held up a jumper that Daniels insisted would make a good present for Trowa. Duo could not think that Daniels was an enemy in the classical sense; he trusted Heero like Heero trusted him, he'd not doubt him if Heero said Daniels was safe. But maybe the emotions running around here were not the kind Heero was used to, the ones you'd expect to find in battle. Maybe there was an element of interest, of attraction between Duo and Daniels that Heero was, due to his lack of knowledge, completely missing. The aggression could then be the result of uncertainty, or of what Relena was talking about - hostility masking an unexpected affection. Duo also had his war wounds, like the rest; maybe he didn't know what to do with these feelings he was experiencing towards Daniels...?

He wanted to catch up with Duo and ask what he thought of Daniels, subtly of course because he'd be walking on a mine field. He'd never had much doubt Daniels wouldn't be attracted to Duo but he wanted to see what the latter thought. Leaving Daniels now would probably be rude though, so he put his feelings of curiosity and impatience away for later that day. He would see what Duo really thought of Daniels by how the braided man acted this evening.


//Mission duration: 14 days 11 hours

Operation 2xHD

Status: Promising.

HD was very positive about 2. HD also seemed very pleased to get dinner invitation later, and mildly disappointed to hear 2 wouldn't be there. Said he'd 'miss the little firebrand'. Sounds positive. Unfortunately cannot check other side of the equation because 2 has unexpectedly gone to stay with Hilde Shreibecker (HS) for tonight. Will check later. On reflection, the strange hostility mixed with anxiousness, combined with the obvious desire to talk to HD and ask questions, might be an indication of interest from 2.//


+

[ AN: You guys do remember I promised you a touch of angst, right...? ]

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