Author: Merula
Eventual 1x2x1. AU.

Californication + Part 1

Heero stepped off the plane, looking around. Winner had assured him that someone would be waiting on the other end. Heero had no desire to fumble his way around the mysteries of the LA freeway system.

He had expected a limo driver- someone in a suit, carrying a sign, prim and proper.

He had forgotten that this was LA.

The young man waiting for him was dressed in tight black jeans and a purple shirt, sunglasses shading his eyes despite the fact that they were indoors. His hair was long, tied back in a braid that flicked back and forth as he moved. He looked like some kind of indy movie star-then again, Heero thought, this was LA. He probably was.

He moved to intercept Heero, smiling.

"Mr. Yuy?"

"Yes."

"Quatre Winner sent me to pick you up." He reached out a hand to grab Heero's carry-on. "He wants you to come to his office right away. I can take you to the hotel afterwards." He set off at a brisk pace and Heero moved to keep up.

"Wants to get right to it, hm?" Heero commented, nearly under his breath.

His escort gave him an amused smile. "You only gave him a few days to convince you to sell him the option."

"I thought it was only one presentation." Heero rolled his eyes.

"You have a reputation as a tough sell, Mr. Yuy."

Heero had to agree with him there. He hadn't even wanted to attend this meeting, (and now it sounded like more than one) but the new book was giving him trouble and he needed a diversion. His agent had jumped when Heero mentioned needing a vacation.

Heero didn't see how attending meetings with movie people to discuss a movie he didn't want made was a vacation, but Dorothy had a way of being persuasive. "How was your flight?" His odd escort asked him on the way out to the parking lot. Heero blinked in the bright sunlight, fumbling for his sunglasses.

"Lousy. Turbulence. Delayed..."

"All around awful, it sounds like." He smiled again. "I know Quatre said right away, but if you need to stop somewhere we can. Get somecoffee? Tea? Smoothie? Energy Drink?"

Heero blinked at the young man's casual use of his employer's first name. Then again, they did things differently out here.  

"Is it safe to drink that kind of stuff here?" Heero asked. "I hear you guys add weird stuff to it- grass for example?"

"Don't believe everything you've heard about California," the other laughed. "The food here is pretty great- traffic sucks, but well, what can you expect when you live in a state like this one?"

He stopped by a black mustang and popped the trunk, placing Heero's bag inside. "So, what do you say, Mr. Yuy? Care to stop somewhere?"

"I would like something cold to drink-" Heero paused. "I'm sorry- I didn't get your name."

The other smacked himself in the forehead. "My bad!" He extended a hand to Heero. "Duo Maxwell, at your service."

He opened the car door and Heero followed, gaping a bit at his name. "Duo Maxwell? Aren't you the one that wrote Kindly Stopped? And the other- Fly Buzzed?"

"That's me." Duo smiled- a real smile, Heero noted- "I didn't think anyone had read Fly..."

"What are you doing here?" Popped out before Heero could stop it.

"Scriptwriting." Duo's mouth turned down a bit and he slid into the car.

Heero joined him, waiting until for a moment, wondering if he had offended the other somehow.

"I really enjoyed both your books," He offered tentatively.

"Shouldn't that be my line?" The standard smile was back. "I only wrote two books and the second was panned by the DP critic..."

"I don't know why that idiot has so much clout," Heero shook his head. "Though he can usually target the good ones. I didn't understand his review of it though- that viciousness wasn't like him, he's usually more subtle." He closed his mouth in dismay. What was he doing? He never talked like this to someone he just met.

Then again, Heero had really enjoyed his books.  He had hoped to meet Duo at a conference or a signing or event someplace...

"I know why," Duo rolled his shoulders. "I gave him a black eye."

"That was you?!"

"You saw it?"

"Couple years ago? Right eye? I wondered who had clocked him."

"Yeah, he said the price of a good review was a little service he wanted me to perform for him."

"Ah," Heero nodded. "I've heard he does that."

"Never asked you, huh?"

"Me? Horror Shock writer that I am? He compared my writing to vomit once." Heero smiled. "He'd rather die than read one of my books. Too common."

"Still good though," Duo grinned. "I liked them."

Heero was oddly pleased by that. "Thanks, but yours were better."

Duo, much to Heero's amusement, turned a light pink.  "Uh... thanks. You know- you're not what I expected..." He closed his mouth, looking slightly horrified.

"What did you expect?"

"I wasn't really sure. I mean- I've seen your pictures on the books... but, uh- well- I've driven a lot of writers in to meetings and..." He stopped, a bit redder.

Heero chuckled. "I know. We tend to have over inflated opinions of ourselves."

"Well, tons of people read and love your work..."

"I don't," Heero shrugged. "I mean- I like to write, but the stuff that sells is my nightmares... not my dreams. I have to write it down- so it doesn't come true." He looked out the window, wondering why he was confiding in this stranger. "I make them real in my books, you see.That way they won't happen."

Duo nodded, that real smile back on his lips. "I understand." Then he switched the conversation to the landmarks they were passing, somehow understanding that Heero was feeling awkward over sharing so much.

Duo drove Heero through a coffee shop, got him an iced coffee that he declared totally lawn free and then took him to the studio.

They walked in through the lobby which had way too much glass to make Heero feel comfortable. Duo caught him eyeing it. "Modern LA architecture not to your taste?"

"Don't you guys have earthquakes here?" Heero asked as Duo took off his sunglasses and pocketed them.

"Sure." Duo's eyes met his and Heero blinked when he realized they matched Duo's shirt. Unusual.

"And this is all safe?" Heero gestured at the glass.

"Sure." Duo repeated, pointing to the joints. "They flex. Don't even worry. Don't think a little thing like an earthquake is going to stop a designer... It's the style, you know?" He rolled his eyes. "Besides, this way everyone can check themselves out as they walk through- no lines at the mirrors in here..."

"I hope you're kidding."

Duo just smiled again as they arrived before the receptionist's desk. "Hey Hilde! Got the writer man here to talk to the big guy."

The girl, a pretty tan brunette, smiled as Duo leaned over her desk. "Sure thing Duo. He said to go on up when you got here." She turned the power of her smile on Heero. "Welcome to Winner Studios, Mr. Yuy!"

"Thank you." Heero managed as Duo dragged him off towards the elevators.

The doors slid open and inside the elevator already was a pretty woman with dark blonde hair. She looked vaguely familiar.  A dark-haired Asian man in a black suit stood next to her. "Hi Duo!" She chirped.

"Hey Relena! Mind if we share your elevator? We're going up to see Quatre."

"So am I."  She waved her hand and they stepped in. "Who's your friend?"

"This is Heero Yuy. Heero, this is Relena Peacecraft- not that I think you need to be introduced? I'm sure you've seen some of her movies?"

Heero clasped the actress's hand. That was why she looked familiar. "Yes of course," he replied, and hoped he wouldn't be called on to remember which ones he had seen. He wasn't a big moviegoer.

"Heero Yuy, the writer?" Relena smiled wider.

"That's me."

"Oh! So you're finally here to discuss the movie deal with Quatre? How exciting! I hear they want to do All Fall Down- I would love to be Mary!"

So that was the book he was here to talk about. No way in hell. He smiled though, not wanting to be rude. "I guess that's the one they want."

Relena gave him an odd look, as if he had missed a cue somewhere. He wondered what he had said wrong. Luckily, Duo came to his rescue.

"They want several actually," Duo told him. "Hey Chang, how's it going?" This was addressed to the other occupant of the elevator, who merely lifted an eyebrow in reply.

Duo turned to Heero. "Chang doesn't talk while he's on the job. It might distract him from protecting Relena."

Relena laughed. "Some of us take our jobs seriously Duo!" She teased.

Duo put a hand to his heart. "Are you implying that I don't?"

The elevator chimed. Chang stepped out first, looking up and down the hallway. Heero was suddenly glad that he had told Dorothy no on the security issue. That kind of thing would drive him crazy. Sure, he got death threats and odd stuff all the time- all horror writers did, but he figured that either he'd deal with the threat, or he'd go down and his nightmares would be over.

He followed Duo and the other two down a short hallway and into a large office. Three men were waiting. One was sitting elegantly draped over a chair, one was behind the huge desk and the third was leaning against the wall.  Relena went to go sit on another chair, Chang standing behind her.

"Here he is, Quatre," Duo said as he led Heero forward to the desk. "This is Heero Yuy. Heero, this is the head of our studio, Quatre Winner." The blond haired man looked a little too young and innocent to be running a studio, but Heero guessed that his appearance was more than likely an asset. Who would want to yell at a guy who looked like someone's kid brother?

"A pleasure to meet you," Winner got up and leaned over his desk to shake Heero's hand, beaming as he did so. "You have no idea how delighted we are that you agreed to come and talk to us! We have several presentations for you- everyone in the studio has been so excited at the idea of taking one of your books and bringing them to life." He smiled warmly. "We're so glad you decided to come and see us..."

Heero found it hard to interrupt. Winner was known as a dealmaker, and he could see why. It would be hard to resist all that wholesome, seemingly sincere charm.

"I'm afraid we had a mix up," he said. "My agent told me there was only one presentation, and in all honesty, this is more her idea than mine. I'm not sure that my books are really the kind of thing the public needs to see on the screen..."

"Agents," Winner laughed. "We know all about them here, trust me! Don't we Lena?" He turned and smiled at the girl.

"Now, now, Quatre," she laughed. "You know you love Trieze! And he is one of the best agents I've ever had." She turned the power of her smile on Heero. "He convinces me to do all kinds of things I would never think of either! Usually for my own good!"

Heero wasn't sure what to say back to her. He liked Dorothy well enough, but he didn't think a movie deal was for his own good.

"Why don't you let us start with one, and if it goes okay, maybe we can charm you into watching the rest?" Winner asked Heero after a moment. Again, there was that feeling that he'd missed a cue somehow.

"All right," he agreed, turning back to the studio head. "That would be fine."

He could always say no later. Or sneak out of the hotel. Either would work.

"All right then," Winner gestured to the man leaning on the wall. "This is Trowa Barton, our special effects guru."

"Pleasure," Barton came forward and grasped Heero's hand. "I've enjoyed reading your books." His brown hair fell over his face so that only one eye showed, almost as if he was wearing a mask, Heero thought. "You describe things very well. My team and Zechs' have put something together to show you."  He gestured toward the other man, still elegantly draped over the chair.

Apparently they felt he needed no introduction, and Heero supposed they were right. Zechs- no last name, was one of the hottest directors around. Even Heero had heard of him.

Apparently they had pulled out the big guns for this meeting.

"If you'll follow me to the screening room?" Trowa gestured towards another door. Heero nodded. A screening room? He had expected to be given scripts and maybe some pictures or a PowerPoint of some kind.

The room was set up almost like a real movie theater, but with only about ten seats. The others had followed them in, and Heero sat down in an aisle seat against the back wall. He didn't want to be surrounded.

Barton didn't bat an eye, though Winner looked slightly nonplussed. He took the seat in front of Heero, Relena next to him. Barton sat on Heero's other side. Zechs draped himself over the seat beside Relena.

Duo flashed Heero a grin as he went to take his seat next to Barton. Chang stood in the doorway, dark sunglasses still on. Heero wonderedbriefly if they ever came off.

"We did a little test film to show you what we could do with your stories," Barton told him. "I think we did a very good job."

"Roll the clip," Quatre called up to the booth.

The room darkened and images started to appear on the screen.  

Heero hadn't been lying when he said his books were nightmares.

And he saw one come to life on the screen in front of him.

Barton had done a good job- too good a job. His heart started pounding in his chest as he watched the scene play out in front of him. This was why he had never wanted his books done like this... he wanted to leave, but the images captured him, held him, wouldn't let him go...

Just like his nightmares did.

Heero was relieved when the lights came back on. Winner and Relena turned around, looking for his reaction.

Heero got to his feet, feeling himself shake.

"Excuse me," he muttered and dashed out of the room, pushing past Chang.

He went out the door and turned, looking for a spot to recoup himself. There was a balcony at the end of the hallway and fortunately, the door was unlocked. Heero stepped out onto the balcony and began taking deep breaths of the smoggy air, trying to regain his equilibrium. He knew he should be feeling embarrassed, he had written the damn thing after all- but his books were a way of purging those images. They never came back to haunt him.

That had been quite a haunting.

"Heero?" Duo's voice was soft. "You okay?"

Heero turned, expecting to see mockery in those eyes, but found Duo looking at him with concern.

"That was a bit too realistic," Heero told him.

"That's Trowa's style," he smiled understandingly. "Not ready to see a nightmare when you were awake?"

"No."

"I can understand that." He nodded.

Heero took another deep breath. "I'd better go apologize."

"For what? I'll bet Trowa's thrilled that he got it right..."

He was, oddly enough. When Heero and Duo entered that office again and Heero stumbled his way through an explanation, Barton actually smiled.

"Thank you," he said. "That's quite a compliment."

"So- are you ready to talk details?" Winner asked.  Heero shook his head.

"No."

Winner stared at him, looking shocked.

"But Mr. Yuy, Heero," Relena pouted at him from her perch on Quatre's desk. "You said everything was perfect- right out of your book... and wouldn't I make a great Mary?"

"I just don't feel that my books are really the kind of things people need to see..." Heero protested. How could he explain that he didn't want these things to become more real?

Relena's pout increased, and Quatre chuckled. "Mr. Yuy, how is that any different than someone reading your material? They see it in their minds as they read- all we've done is give it a true visual. And you know they will be popular! Your fans want these movies- can youdisappoint all those people all over the world who read your books?"

"The books should be plenty," Heero replied. "I never wanted these to be made into films, and all that clip did was prove it. I'm sorry to have wasted your time." He spun on his heel and left the room.

Dorothy was due for a phone call. Had she known about the clip?

Heero pressed the button for the elevator.

"Wait for me. I'm your driver remember?" A voice said from behind him. He turned, Duo stood there, looking slightly out of breath.

"You are too good a writer to be someone's driver," Heero snapped. "Just give me my bag and I'll take a cab to a hotel." Dorothy had saidhe had a room reserved somewhere- had he written it down?

"You think you can sleep after seeing one of your nightmares?" Duo retorted.

That was a bit too personal.  The elevator dinged and Heero stepped inside. Duo followed.

"I don't sleep much anyway," Heero told him. "Catnaps, dozes... I usually write at night... Just give me my bag and I'll get a cab. You do have those here right?"

"Sure we do, but it's no trouble. I'll drive you." The doors opened and Duo followed Heero across the lobby, easily keeping pace. "Besides, Quatre is hoping I'll convince you still. The meeting tomorrow is still on after all."

Heero stopped and looked at him. "I said no."

"So?"

"I stormed out."

"Heero, people do that all the time here."

"So they expected that?"

"Sure, it just means that they think you want more money."  Duo grinned.

"Like I need that," Heero rolled his eyes. "Fine. Drive me to the hotel."

"Thank you." Duo started to walk again, waving at Hilde as they passed the front desk.

"It doesn't mean I'm going to the meeting tomorrow. If anything I'm going back to the airport."

"Then I'll drive you there." Duo gestured at his car. "Get in."

"Why are you being so nice about this?" Heero asked.

Duo shook his head. "Relax, I'm on your side. I was once the one they were wooing here. I said no and hung on to my artistic principles. Then my second book crashed and Quatre offered me a job."

"That's why you get the crappy pick up the writer jobs too." Heero got into the car.

"No. Quatre's not that mean."  Duo joined him, fastening his seatbelt. "I get them so that I can remind people that fame is fleeting. The been there, done this kind of thing. I was lucky Quatre was nice enough to offer me a job." He started the car up and pulled out of the parking space. "Except it all doesn't apply in your case. You've been writing and selling for a long time. You could put your name on a phone directory and people would buy it."  

Heero sighed, wishing he had some kind of comeback to that. Then he wondered what the hell he was doing having this kind of conversation with someone he just met. He seemed to be doing that frequently with Duo. Was it just because he had liked the guy's books? Because he had identified with his characters and fallen into the whole world that he had created? Wished that his dreams could've been more like the world Duo wrote about?

"Which hotel do you want?"

Heero turned his head and blinked. "What?"

"We made reservations at three of them- well, the studio keeps suites. What kind of hotel do you like staying at?"

Heero groaned. "None of them. I don't want to be obligated to the studio. Is there one I can go to that they don't have a suite? Or maybe you could just drop me off at the airport." That sounded like a good idea.

"You want to leave the Golden State so soon? You haven't even seen all the sights yet!" Duo protested. "Look, let me take you to dinner at least." He gave Heero a smile. "And then you can come and spend the night in my guestroom, okay?"

"I don't want to impose..."

"It's no imposition." Duo shook his head. "Really. Then I can show it to people and say 'Heero Yuy slept here.'"

"You wouldn't do that."

"You're right, I wouldn't." Duo laughed. "Well, only with dates I wanted to impress! So, is that okay?"

"It really isn't an imposition?"

"Nope. I'd love to have you."

"All right. But dinner is on me, okay?"

Duo gave him an arch look, letting his eyes slide down Heero's torso. "Now there's an idea," he purred. Heero felt his blood heat up.

 "Please tell me you aren't trying to seduce me into this movie scheme?" He asked, managing to lift his eyebrow and keep his tone light.  

"Nah, Relena was supposed to, but you didn't bite." Duo grinned at Heero's expression. "What? You didn't see all that eyelash fluttering she was doing? She's made tougher men than you turn into mush."  

"Ah," Heero nodded. That's why he kept feeling like he'd been missing his cues with her. "I still don't understand why you guys were going to all that trouble- I mean- there are tons of horror writers out there..."

"You do realize how popular your books are right?" Duo gave him an amused look.

"Yes, but still..." Heero shrugged. "To me they aren't anything really special- not like the ones you wrote..."

"But that's just it." Duo pulled into a parking lot and searched for a space. "Yours are about everyday people facing bad things... that really resonates with a lot of people out there. People like themselves dealing with and surviving bad things. Universal appeal." He pulled into a space. "Hope this is okay for dinner. You don't seem like the fancy type."

Heero looked at the yellow, white and black sign. "California Pizza Kitchen? Sure, that sounds fine. Pizza is pizza even in California-right?"

Duo laughed. "You'll see."

[part 2] [back to Merula's fic]