8-10-2000

And Never the Twain Shall Meet
Part XVI

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Breakfast was the only time of the day that Quatre would allow anyone to do anything for themselves. He had to face reality. Some people were not morning people and they could be... well... rough around the edges. He had had a few days like that himself and he realized that those were the days that he would rather, as he put it, do things 'his-damn-self'.

Duo and Trowa were definitely do-it-your-selfers.

They insisted that they make their own coffee. Only Duo and Trowa knew the secret recipe. They would prepare their own meals. Trowa would often cook for himself and others while Duo, more often than not, helped himself to a box of cereal. Yes, a whole box.

This morning was no different.

Duo came into the kitchen looking a bit... bedraggled.

Wufei peeked over the top of the morning paper. "A little rough-and-tumble last night, Maxwell?"

Duo puffed a stray lock of hair out of his eyes and stuck his tongue out at Wufei, causing the Chinese man to chuckle softly.

Heero walked in moments later looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He looked as energetic as ever and ready for anything.

Wufei raised an eyebrow and whistled softly. "Must have been something else," he muttered.

Duo grabbed a spoon and flicked it at Wufei who simply raised his paper and deflected it. Wufei flipped the top edge of his paper down and stuck his tongue out at Duo before going back to reading.

Quatre was next into the kitchen.

"Hey, Quatre, where's the cereal?"

"Good morning to you, too, Duo."

"Sorry... good morning. Now, where's the cereal?"

Quatre rolled his eyes and smiled. Duo was impossible sometimes. "In the pantry behind you."

"Oh... thanks."

"Grab a box of something else while your in there too. Trowa and I will be having a quick breakfast."

"Hey, Heero!" Duo's muffled voice could barely be heard before he came bouncing out of the pantry, holding up a box of cereal. "Look, Gundam Crunchies!"

Quatre momentarily had a pained expression which he quickly brought under control. Hopefully, no one had noticed.

Trowa noticed. He stood in the kitchen's doorway and looked from Quatre to Duo, and then he understood why.

Heero looked up from where he was pouring himself a glass of iced-tea. "You're going to share those, right?"

Duo ignored him. "What do you guys want." Duo smiled as he watched Heero out of the corner of his eye.

Quatre cleared his throat. "Grab... another box of those."

Trowa gave Quatre a concerned look.

"Duo!" Heero was quietly seething. "You are going to share those, right?" He was so focused on Duo, that he had missed the fact that there was another box.

Duo took full advantage of it. He turned on his heal and threw a sexy grin over his shoulder. "I'll think about it." Duo disappeared once again.

Heero smirked over this rim of his glass. "Don't make me come in there after you."

Wufei whistled softly. "Something else, I tell you!"

Duo's laughter could be heard quite clearly. Moments later he came out the the walk-in carrying three boxes of the stuff. He placed one box where Heero would be sitting. "Heero, if you can eat that whole box, I'll let you have some of mine."

Trowa set two pitchers of milk on the table, while Duo set bowls and spoons. That was when he realized, the head count was one off.

"Hey, where's Kaylin?"

Everyone looked at Wufei.

"Why is... why is everyone looking at me?!" Wufei asked incredulously.

Everyone froze for a moment. They were all indeed staring at Wufei. They hadn't planned it; it just happened that way. Unfortunately, it made obvious exactly what everyone was thinking. So, everyone immediately went back about their business, trying to act as though nothing had transpired. "I say we let him sleep," said Quatre.

"Yeah, let him sleep, that's a good idea," Duo added for good measure as he filled his bowl with cereal.

Wufei fumed behind his paper.

Duo continued to chatter. "You know... I have to wonder what kind of putz would market this stuff. I mean, how insensitive can you get?" Duo shook his head. "Some idiot somewhere making money off of my hardships... our hardships..."

Trowa cleared his throat. "Duo... look at the... bottom left corner of the box." Trowa sounded more nervous than ever.

Duo and Heero snatched up their boxes and quietly read the text. Heero read the last line aloud. "A division of Winner Enterprises."

One could almost see the steam coming from behind Duo's box. He slowly lowered it looking Quatre dead in the eye.

"Duo, I can explain... My..."

Duo came out of his seat, furious. "Explain!? What's there to explain, Quatre?! You sell our lives for a few measly bucks?!"

"Duo, please listen to me. It's the number one selling cereal. My..."

"Who gives a shit, Quatre! I can't believe you, of all people, would do something like this. What the hell is wrong with you anyway?!"

Quatre slammed his palm on the table, sending his spoon flying. "Duo! Sit down and shut the fuck up!"

Duo did exactly as he was told. Quatre looked almost angry enough to strike him... almost.

The blonde took a moment to regain his composure. "Duo, I'm... I'm sorry... but, please, listen to what I have to say. All of you... please listen."

Wufei came from behind the safety of his newspaper, folding it neatly and placing on the table.

Quatre looked at Trowa.

Trowa just shrugged. "May as well."

Quatre folded his hands on the table. "Gundam Crunchies... is the result of the collaborative efforts of three of my sisters. They did it... behind the companies back... so to speak."

Duo opened his mouth to say something.

Quatre held up his hand. "Let me finish. All of the profits from the sale of this product... are going into a fund for... the Gundam pilots."

Heero suddenly sat forward. "What did you just say?!"

"The... Gundam... pilots?" Duo paled.

"The Gundam pilots?!" Wufei repeated.

Quatre nodded.

Heero blinked. "Quatre, we... we can't..."

"You don't have a choice." Trowa interrupted. "The three of them were quite thorough in filling any legal loopholes. The account cannot be closed. You cannot transfer the funds to another account. You can't withdraw cash. Everything must be purchased through the use of a 'purchase card'. If it's not used in your lifetime, then the leftover is absorbed by Winner Enterprises."

"Quatre... I'm... sorry... I..."

"Don't worry about it, Duo. You didn't know. You reacted the way I would have if I thought what you thought."

Everyone sat quietly dazed for a moment.

Heero didn't want to ask the question, but he had to know. "How much?"

Quatre sighed. "Right now... enough to get us through school plus some nice 'starting off' money. You can't exactly continue to hack into the school's computer, Heero."

Heero looked down at his empty bowl. Quatre was right, of course.

Duo leaned forward. "There's that much money in there... already?"

The blonde simply nodded. Quatre and Trowa both knew that the other three would try to think of every reason not to take the money.

"I am not inclined to accept hand-outs," Wufei intoned.

Trowa leaned forward, his elbows on the table. "I would say we all worked very hard for it. Other military personnel are paid. Do you deny that your efforts are worth some compensation?"

Wufei crossed his arms over his chest. That argument was shot down.

"Still, someone is paying for it. Surely Winner Enterprises is taking some kind of loss," Duo argued.

Quatre shook his head. "Every worker at the production and packaging facility is paid normally. Every cost is accounted for. What's left over goes into the account. The cost to Winner Enterprises is zero." Quatre made a circle with his fingers to emphasize his point.

"It will change us." Heero said simply.

"Life will change you, Heero." Trowa said sagely. "Money will as well, but only if you allow it. Have I permitted my proximity to money change me?"

"You have changed, Trowa." Duo was quick to point out.

"Yes... but that is because of my proximity to Quatre, not the money."

Quatre smiled a bit at that analysis.

Everyone was silent.

Quatre looked at his watch. "Trowa, we have to go."

"W... Where are you guys going?" Duo asked as he tried switching his brain into a different gear.

"To the airport to pick up Catherine." Quatre leaned on the table. "Listen, I was as angry as hell when I found out about this. I have already had all of these arguments with my sisters. They thought this through very carefully before doing it. They knew most of us would be struggling to make ends meet even if we all decided to stay in school. Their argument is that we have all struggled enough. I know this is a bit of a shock to everyone. Please, just think about it. Ok, guys?" Quatre righted himself and walked toward the kitchen door. "Let's go, Trowa."

The three remaining men sat in silence staring at the boxes of cereal.

Wufei picked up the box in front of him and opened it, peering inside. "I wonder if they're any good."

Duo grabbed a pitcher of milk and poured it over the tiny mecha in his bowl. "Well, Quatre did say it was their best seller. There's gotta be sumthin' to 'em." He picked up his eating utensil and shoveled a spoonful into his mouth. Duo's eyes lit up. "Wow! These things are great!" he exclaimed around a mouthful of cereal.

And so, the other two, knowing full well that Duo was the connoisseur of cereals, filled their bowls.

Heero read the box very carefully as he ate. Nowhere did it indicate that the profits from the sales were going the the five of them... which was a good thing to Heero. He didn't want people buying the stuff out of pity for them. The fact of the matter was... Duo was right - the stuff was pretty damn good.

Wufei had gone back to reading the paper as he ate... which bugged Duo to no end.

Duo wafted a piece of dry cereal over the top edge of the Chinese man's reading material.

Wufei watched as the little puffed mobile suit slid down the fold of his paper to land in his lap. He flipped the top of the paper down to glare at Duo. "Don't try to start a food fight with me, Maxwell. You will lose." Wufei flipped the paper back up to hide his face.

That was when Duo noticed the full page advertisement on the back. He gasped and reached across the table, snatching the paper from Wufei's grasp.

"Damnit, Duo! Give me back my paper!"

Duo ignored him. "Heero, look! 'Phantom Jam' is in town... and tonight's their last night!"

Heero gave the paper Duo was holding a disinterested glance. "Phantom who?"

"'Phantom Jam'. They're a rock group. They're awesome! I can't believe you've never heard of them."

"Duo, you know how far my interest in that genre of music goes."

"I know... but... Heero... "

Heero was already shaking his head. "I know what you're going to ask, Duo... and I'd rather not."

Duo gave the stubborn man his best 'puppy dog' look. "Awww... come on. It'll be fun. Can we please go see them? Please?"

Heero shook his head. "Sorry, Duo. I just don't see the point in torturing myself for two hours."

Duo came out of his chair, angry as hell. "Torture yourself?! Fine! If that's how you feel, then... then I'll go by myself!" Duo stormed out of the kitchen.

Heero stared at the kitchen door with his mouth hanging open before giving Wufei an equally surprised look. "What the hell did I say?"

Wufei snorted and shook his head. "You really don't get it, do you? He doesn't want you to go to the concert to listen to the band. He wants you to go... to just be there with him."

Heero immediately looked ashamed of his own words. He dropped his spoon in his bowl and walked out of the kitchen.

Wufei grabbed his paper from where Duo had left it and buried himself in it once again. "Ah... peace at last."

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Kaylin found that it took a great deal of effort to open his eyes... and for good reason. He had found someone to talk to, and that someone was, of course, Wufei. They had stayed up quite late last night as Kaylin spoke frankly about his feelings and his problems in dealing his father's death.

Wufei had been there for him. The Chinese man hadn't given much in the way of advice, but he did listen. He had also asked a few well worded questions that always led Kaylin back to the same answers. "It wasn't my fault." - "It wasn't my father's fault." - "He was sick." - "I did the right thing."

The most astounding conclusion he reached out of his whole conversation with Wufei was that, had he not been there, the war would not have ended. Neither Trowa nor anyone else would have been able to distract Braithwaite enough to get in a clear, safe shot. Treize would have died. The war would have escalated.

Kaylin was somehow humbled by how far-reaching his own actions were as he thought about their conversation from the night before.

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"Destiny," Wufei said, "is a very fickle fellow. He can ravage an individual, rend them to shreds... or he can be as intimate and seductive as a lover. If cautious, one can take the inevitable and work it to their advantage. Take Treize's actions as a 'for instance'. Five years of war in exchange for the promise of a hundred... or maybe even a thousand years of peace? I seriously doubt that humankind will undertake such an endeavor again in the near future." Wufei nodded his head emphatically. "Oh, yes, the General is quite intimate with Fate, Destiny... whatever you wish to call it. Has it occurred to you, Kaylin, that he has also guaranteed his place as a major power in this world?"

Kaylin looked surprised. "Yes, as a matter of fact, it has! He proclaimed the end of the war. He was the target of several assassination attempts by one of his own people while in the process of negotiating an end to the war. That will undoubtedly gain him quite a 'sympathy' following. And having one of the Gundam pilots stand up just moments before his announcement and say, 'I quit - I don't wanna play this game anymore'?! The very people who fought hardest against him?!" Kaylin shook his head in disbelief.

Wufei just sat there and continued to nod his head.

Kaylin continued. "But... a major peacetime power in this world... I don't think that's what he intended."

Wufei sat forward with a sinister grin on his face. "And that, Kaylin, is where Destiny has royally fucked him. He has no choice now but to be the administrator of peace. He has been charged with the responsibility of doing so... by Destiny himself. It is his penance." Wufei chuckled. "He will undoubtedly have everyone believing it is what he has chosen to do."

Kaylin looked confused. "But... if it was Destiny that started the war... Destiny that ended the war... and Destiny that is making him pay for it... " Kaylin shook his head, totally lost. "Destiny just doesn't seem fair."

Wufei leaned back in his chair and smiled broadly, folding his hands over his belly. "And now, my dear Kaylin... you understand."

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"Now I understand." Kaylin repeated the words as he crawled out of bed.

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Even through the spray of the shower, Duo could hear the door to the bathroom open and close. He knew who it was, but he couldn't help but take a peek from behind the shower curtain. What he saw was a pouting Heero, sitting on the lid of the toilet. Duo smiled and went about his shower.

"Duo, I... I want to go to the concert with you."

Duo's smile widened as he thought about it and rinsed himself off. "Nah... I really don't want to go anymore."

Heero looked toward the shower and frowned. "Yes you do, Duo. I can hear it in your voice."

Duo turned off the spray and unselfconsciously threw the curtain open, grabbing a towel.

Heero had to forcibly keep himself from looking away out of habit and respect for privacy. Duo was already angry with him and he didn't want to make matters worse.

"Ah... but you don't really want to go, do you?"

"Yes, I do." Looking at Duo was getting easier and more difficult by the moment.

Heero probably wouldn't say that if he didn't mean it. "What changed your mind?" Duo asked as he stretched long, sinewy limbs to dry his back.

"Something Duo said."

Duo looked at him strangely. "Something who said?"

"Wufei! I meant... something Wufei said." Heero's mouth was getting dry despite the humidity in the bathroom.

Duo was in the process of drying his privates and his backside. "Heero, if you really don't want to go..."

"I do!" The dropping temperature in the bathroom did nothing to prevent the heat from rising in Heero's cheeks.

Geez, Heero, OK, but... "What are you gonna do while I watch the concert?" Duo asked as he bent over to dry his legs.

"I will... occupy myself." ... something I am having difficulty resisting at this very moment.

"Oh? Doing what?" Duo asked, wrapping the towel around his waist.

Heero gave a mental sigh of relief. "Watching you."

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"... peace at last." Wufei flipped the top of the paper down. Or so I though. But this is one distraction I will... cope with. "Good morning, Kaylin. How are you feeling?"

"Good morning, Wufei. Tired, actually. Coffee?"

Wufei pointed to the coffee pot and watched as Kaylin poured himself a mug. Wufei almost shuddered as Kaylin took a sip of the stuff.

"Mmm. Duo makes one hell of a good cup of coffee. Strong."

"You... you can drink that vitreous concoction... and like it?"

"I like it strong. It's an... acquired taste brought on by the pressures of college life."

"... and a few too many late nights, I'm sure." Wufei added.

Kaylin shrugged and smiled. "It works."

"Your mood has improved. Good." It was a clinical observation, but he said it with a smile on his face.

"Yeah... about that... " Kaylin peered into his coffee mug, "... thank you. I really needed someone to talk to. Now instead of feeling guilty about feeling miserable, I just feel miserable... which is definitely an improvement."

"We can talk more anytime you like."

Kaylin patted Wufei's shoulder as he headed out of the kitchen. "I will undoubtedly take you up on that... later."

Wufei followed Kaylin out of the room with his eyes. "I look forward to it," he said quietly.

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The first thing Catherine noticed about Trowa was his smile. Well, not just his smile, but everything about his face was more... expressive. It had been a year and a half since she had seen him. Now, she understood how important Quatre was to him... and how good Quatre was for him.

They talked for hours that day, about old times... the war... school... the other pilots.

The circus.

Trowa knew that, once they turned to the subject of the circus, his sister would ask him to come back.

"You know... you're always welcome to come back."

Trowa smiled and ran the tip of his finger around the rim of his water glass. "I know, Catherine... and you know... I must decline."

Catherine looked into her own glass, obviously upset by Trowa's answer.

"The circus... it was... perfect for me at the time. I could hide from everything there - life, the war... myself. Ever since... ever since Quatre... I don't want to hide anymore. He's shown me how to embrace life... how to be happy. He has shown me... my self."

Catherine looked up from her glass.

From the look on her face, Trowa discerned that she wasn't expecting him to say something like that. "I'm growing up, Catherine. I will miss the past, but I am happy where I am... and I could never... never leave Quatre behind. My future is with him. Call me selfish."

"Selfish..." Catherine turned her mouth up at the corners, "... but right."

Trowa was not expecting that. "Pardon?"

Catherine leaned back in her chair. Even in jeans and a tank, she looked sophisticated and lady-like. "Trowa... you always came back when it suited you... which was fine with me. It gave me a chance to protect you from the outside world. It gave me a chance to see you." Catherine smiled serenely. "Quatre has been very good for you. It shows in the way you act... the way you carry yourself. You have found someone who has helped you grow as a person and helped you see. What you see is that you don't need to hide from yourself or life anymore." She leaned forward again and looked earnestly into the depths of her brother's eyes. "This will be the last time I ever ask you this. Do you want to come back with me?"

Trowa had to stop himself from answering immediately. She had asked the question as though she expected him to seriously think about it one final time. So, he did.

"No."

Catherine smiled and patted him on the knee. "Good for you, Trowa... good for you."

Trowa smiled. He finally had his sister's blessing. He was happy.

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Heero found that he was actually bored. Duo, Wufei, and Kaylin had decide to go into the city to do some 'window shopping', as they put it. Heero knew the braided young man was up to something when Duo insisted that he stay behind. So, here he sat, rocking slowly to and fro in the front porch swing... thinking about things.

What the hell am I going to do with myself? I've never had to chose a career path before. I didn't think I would be alive long enough. Now, here I am, a college Sophomore, and I have no idea what I want to do. Computers? Maybe. I enjoy computers though. I fear that I would end up disliking them if I chose it as a career path. I need a challenge... I thrive on challenges. One of the sciences? Chemistry? Physics? Duo seems to like the subject now. Literature? One of the arts? Painting? Music? I can't sing worth a damn... but I'm not tone deaf. Maybe an instrument. I really like the piano. How lucrative would that be? I could give lessons. I could teach music. I don't have the background though. Is it too late for me to start?

It may be too late for me... period.

Heero pulled himself from his thoughts when he realized they were about to turn into a session of self deprecation. He stood and stretched just as Quatre stepped out of the front door. "Hi, Heero."

Heero yawned and nodded.

"I'm taking a walk down to the lake. Would you like to come along?" Quatre looked hopeful. Catherine had confiscated Trowa's attention and he craved the company.

Heero shoved his hands into his pockets and smiled, following Quatre down the stairs. "Where is the lake?"

Quatre pointed to the line of trees to the south. "About fifteen... twenty minutes."

They walked in companionable silence for a period of time before Quatre spoke. "That was really neat... what you did for Duo last night."

"The skywriting?"

Quatre nodded.

Heero buried his hands further in his pockets. "That wasn't really my idea... it was Relena's."

Quatre looked at Heero out of the corner of his eye and smiled as they walked. "That can stay between you and me... of course."

Heero gave the blonde a sideways glance and smirked as they stepped into the wooded area separating them from their destination. "Of course."

They continued in each others' company for a time. It was several steps before Heero realized that Quatre was no longer walking next to him. He turned to find the other young man standing on the trunk of the fallen tree over which they had just climbed.

"You really love him... don't you?" Quatre was smiling at Heero.

Shock registered on Heero's face before he cast his eyes to the ground. "I... I think so."

"You think so?!" Quatre's voice rose.

Heero looked up with a defensive scowl on his face. "Yes... I think so. I do not pretend to understand what I feel, Quatre."

Quatre shrugged and jumped down from his precipice. He stood considering the frowning man for a moment. "What do you feel, Heero?"

Heero opened his mouth to answer and then clamped it shut before motioning with his head for Quatre to follow. He gave the smaller man a sideways glance as they continued on their journey at a brisker pace. "I feel... out of control."

Quatre laughed and nodded. "You just answered my question, Heero... whether you know it or not."

"What do you mean by that?"

Quatre shook his head. "It just means that in that vast encyclopedic mind of yours, you have nothing to cross reference your feelings to. So, you feel like you're losing control..." Quatre smiled, "... and I highly recommend it." He gave Heero a playfully suspicious look. "You're scared, aren't you?"

Heero halted and glared at Quatre. "How did you know that?"

Quatre stopped and turned to face the Japanese man, smiling knowingly. "Because I can sense it... and because Trowa was the same way."

"He was?"

Quatre sighed. "Yes... only... he wasn't afraid of loving. He was afraid of being loved."

Heero's face registered as much surprise as Quatre had ever seen from the dark haired boy.

Quatre's eyes lit up when he saw Heero's expression. "That's it, isn't it, Heero?! You're afraid of..."

Heero turned and started walking. He had just been hit with yet another self realization. "We'll talk about it at the lake." I need a few minutes to think about this.

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Duo was a whirlwind that could not be calmed. Kaylin and Wufei were hard pressed to keep up with the braided bundle of energy as Duo pulled them from shop to shop.

Wufei was about to voice a complaint before he saw the next store toward which Duo was dragging them.

"Look, Wu! A bookstore!" Duo burst through the front door, causing the aged proprietor to jump.

The elderly gentleman collected himself and peered over the rim of his glasses at the three young men. "Good afternoon. May I help you?"

"Can we look around?" Duo gave his most congenial smile.

The mouth in weathered face suddenly turned up at the corners. "You most certainly may. Let me know if you need any assistance."

Duo turned his smiling face to his companions. "Have fun, guys. I'll be back in a few!" Duo was out the door before any protest could be voiced.

Wufei and Kaylin watched as Duo walked past the storefront's large window.

Kaylin snorted. "We must have been slowing him down."

Wufei nodded and smiled. "I must give him credit, though. He couldn't have picked a better place to abandon us. Do you enjoy reading, Kaylin?"

"Ravenously."

"Good. This will be time well spent then."

The two turned and dove into the shelves and stacks of knowledge.

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Heero and Quatre sat in silence on a large, flat, lakeside rock. Heero watched as Quatre repeatedly picked through small stones and whipped them into the water with a liquid 'plunk'.

Heero's curiosity was piqued after several minutes of this. "Quatre... what exactly are you doing?"

Quatre looked at him as though he had just crawled out from under the rock on which they sat. "Heero... please don't tell me you've never tried to skip stones before."

"Skip what?"

Quatre immediately felt a pang of pity for the blue-eyed boy. Heero had missed so many of the simple pleasures of childhood. "Stone skipping. You find a flat, smooth rock and try to make it skip across the surface of the water."

Heero observed the process as the blonde picked up another stone and hurled it into the water where it, quite literally, sank like a rock. "I didn't see it skip."

Quatre sighed with resignation. "I'm not very good at it, I'm afraid."

Heero perused his surroundings looking for a suitable stone. Finding one that he thought might be satisfactory, he whipped it at the water. At first, he thought he had had as much success as Quatre... until he saw the water's surface broken by a second ripple.

The smaller man clapped his hands together. "You did it!"

Heero raised an eyebrow and looked around for another stone.

Quatre handed him one. "Here, try this one!" he said excitedly.

Heero rose to his feet and threw the rock with the very best side-arm throw he could manage. It skipped six times before sinking.

Quatre gasped. "How did you do that?!"

Heero shrugged. "You have to take into account angle of deflection, rate of rotation, surface tension..."

Quatre shook his head and snorted. "I should have known."

Heero looked down from where he stood. "What?"

Quatre gazed forlornly out across the lake. "Always analyzing, aren't you, Heero."

Heero shrugged as he sat back down. "It allows a higher degree of success."

"Can I give you some friendly advice?" Quatre turned to look at Heero for a moment. "Don't try to analyze how you feel about Duo."

Heero stretched out and leaned back on his palms, crossing his legs at the ankles. He peered at the point in the water were the stone had finally fallen to the bottom. All at once he realized that no amount of forethought would carry the pebble to the other side. Analysis could only take you so far. He met Quatre's gaze. "I do..."

Quatre wrinkled his brow. "You do... what?"

Heero hesitated before replying softly. "Love him." He sat forward and brushed debris from his hands as he pulled his legs to his chest, resting his chin on his knee. "I didn't realize it, but you were right. I am more afraid of how he feels about me."

Quatre placed a reassuring hand on Heero's shoulder. "Don't worry, Heero. Duo is crazy about you."

Heero took a deep breath and let it out in a huff. "I know. What scares me is that he won't have the patience for me to... openly reciprocate those feelings. I'm afraid he will misunderstand." Heero paused. "I'm afraid of hurting him because I have trouble... saying some things."

Quatre smiled. "You told him the other night at dinner, didn't you?"

Heero's head shot around.

Quatre's smile broadened. "Trowa told me."

"But how..."

"Duo told him."

"Ah."

Quatre's smiling eyes narrowed in contemplation as he considered the other young man. "What made you tell him, Heero?"

"I... I thought he needed to hear it." Heero explained.

Quatre raised an eyebrow. "I see."

Heero noticed the slightly disapproving tone in Quatre's voice. "Duo seemed happy. Did I do something wrong?"

Quatre shook his head. "No. You did the right thing... but for the wrong reason."

Heero's expression conveyed his confusion.

Quatre turned his attention back to the lake. "Stop analyzing, Heero. Don't tell him because you think you have to. Tell him... tell him because you want to."

Fiery blue eyes considered Quatre's profile at length before settling on another stone. Without so much as a thought, Heero picked it up and whipped it at the water.

Quatre counted as the water's surface broke a dozen times. The blonde pouted his lower lip and nodded his head in approval. "Not bad... for a beginner."

Heero chuckled softly.

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Kaylin had found enough reading material to last him for a while. He scouted the aisles of the store, searching for his Chinese companion. He found Wufei sitting on a step ladder in the history section. "See anything you like?"

Wufei raised his head to find Kaylin's blue eyes shining at him. See anything I like?! Hell, yes! Wufei cleared his throat. "I have found some... interesting material." He couldn't help but allow his eyes to drift over Kaylin's form. His appreciative gaze landed - and seemed to get stuck - on Kaylin's midriff.

"Grab 'em and let's go."

Wufei visibly jerked. "Pardon?"

Kaylin smiled suggestively and lowered his voice. "The books, Wufei... grab the books and let's go find Duo. He's been gone for twenty minutes."

Wufei blinked several times before standing. "Yes... of course... Duo..." He placed the books he had been reading back on the shelf.

"Aren't you going to buy them?" Kaylin nodded toward the shelf.

"I... I didn't bring any money with me."

Kaylin rolled his eyes and smiled, fishing around in his pocket.

Wufei's eyes were drawn to where Kaylin was digging. Well... his eye's were drawn to somewhere in that neighborhood, anyway.

Moments later Kaylin produced a purchase card. "Get what you want. I got it for you."

Wufei looked up to see Kaylin smiling knowingly and playfully. He knows exactly what he is doing... doesn't he?! "Kaylin, I will not permit you to spend your money on me."

Kaylin shook his head and crimped his features as he walked past Wufei and pulled the books off the shelf. "Fine. When we get back to the house..." he turned and faced the smaller man with an unmasked glint of desire in his eyes, "... you can repay me..." Kaylin's mouth broke into a wide grin, "... however you see fit."

Wufei's jaw dropped as the graceful giant turned and sauntered down the aisle. Oh, yes... he definitely knows what he is doing.

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The two men stepped back into the sunlight, looking up and down the street for their missing companion. Wufei spotted him across and several storefront displays down the way.

Kaylin shifted his shopping bag to his other hand. "I wonder what's got his attention." Duo was just standing there looking through the pane of glass.

Wufei shook his head as they started to walk. "Something expensive, to be sure."

Duo glanced over his shoulder as the other two men approached. "Oh, hi guys." Duo turned his attention back to the display.

Wufei looked at the array of winter coats in the window. He gave Kaylin a mildly puzzled look. "Duo, it is eighty degrees. Why are you looking at winter apparel?"

"Because winter is coming up," Duo answered matter-of-factly. "Besides... that leather coat is damn nice."

Wufei almost touched his nose to the glass as he looked at the price tag. "... and damned expensive! Duo... I hope your not considering squandering your money on something so selfish."

"I don't have the money for it anyway!" he shouted defensively. Duo regained his composure and cradled his elbow with his other hand so he could more easily bite at a fingernail. "... B'sides... it's not for me. It's for Heero. I'm getting tired of seeing him suffer through winter after winter with that sad excuse for a windbreaker he's got. That... and he would look damn sexy in that coat."

Wufei looked back at the black leather. Duo was right. Heero would be a knockout in the thing. "No sense pining, Duo. You can't afford it."

Kaylin cleared his throat and flicked his thumbnail noisily over the edge of his purchase card.

Wufei noticed and his eyes widened. He shook his head at Kaylin and mouthed the word 'no' behind Duo's back.

Kaylin smiled defiantly. "How much do you have, Duo?"

Duo sighed. "Actually, I do have enough to buy it... but... I didn't bring it with me and I didn't want to spend it all in one shot like that."

Kaylin bounced on his toes and smiled before walking into the small shop.

Wufei watched after him with his mouth opened in silent protest.

Duo watched through the glass as Kaylin drew the attention of the shop's clerk, gesturing toward the jacket.

The clerk reached into the display, looking at the price tag then back at Kaylin.

Kaylin could be seen shaking his head emphatically and pointing at the coat.

Another figure joined the two on the other side of the window. The shop's proprietor, Wufei guessed.

Kaylin lifted the sleeve of the coat to which the price had been attached and spoke at length to the other man.

Duo wished Kaylin would turn around so he could see what he was saying.

The man pursed his lips and considered Kaylin over the rim of his thick glasses before nodding and removing the coat from it's spot.

"What the hell is he doing?!" Duo's eyes were wide.

"Something... unsensible... I fear," Wufei intoned.

Kaylin stepped out of the shop with a box in his hand which he handed to Duo.

Duo tentatively placed his hands on either side of the offered container. "Kaylin, are you crazy? I didn't want you to..."

"Do the words 'half-priced display model' mean anything to you, Duo?" Kaylin asked dryly.

"Rrr... really?"

Kaylin nodded and dropped his hand from the box as Duo's grip on it became more possessive. "You can give me the money later."

Duo finally managed to wipe the surprise off his face and smile. "You won't have to ask me twice, Kaylin. I promise." The energetic youth turned his excitement to Wufei. "Heero is soooo going to love this!"

Kaylin smiled as he palmed the receipt for his purchase and shoved it into his pocket. Well... a little more than half-price... ok, a lot more... but Duo doesn't need to know that.

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Quatre stood at the kitchen window looking across the grounds to the north as he took another sip from his glass of tea. He didn't know whether he should be worried or not. He knew Catherine would ask Trowa to go back with her. He also knew that Trowa would decline, although the fear of losing him gnawed at Quatre's subconscious.

"Hey, Quatre."

Duo's whisper caused him to jerk. Iced tea splashed over his chin and down the front of his shirt. "Duo! Don't sneak up on people like that. You scared the bejezus out of me!"

Duo threw his arm around Quatre's shoulders. "Sorry man. Where's Heero?"

Quatre tugged at the wet fabric that was beginning to cling to his chest. "He's upstairs taking a nap. Why are you whispering, Duo?"

"Good! I'll be right back!" Duo ran out of the kitchen and returned moments later with a package. "Got anything I can wrap this with?" he asked excitedly.

Quatre eyed the box as he toweled off the front of his shirt. "I might. What is it?"

Duo placed the package on the table and extracted its contents, holding it up for Quatre to see.

Quatre gasped. "Duo! That's gorgeous!" The blonde stepped forward and pulled the sleeve to his nose, inhaling the scent of the new leather. "And it's real!" Quatre gave the braided boy a worried look. "You did pay for this, didn't you?"

Duo placed a hand on his hip. "Of course I paid for it.... well, sort of."

Quatre raised an eyebrow.

"Kaylin paid for it, but I'm going to give the money back to him."

Quatre rubbed the material between his fingers. "Duo, this must have cost you a small fortune. Please, tell me you didn't spend everything you have."

Duo folded the jacket over his arm, looking defiantly down his nose at Quatre. "So what if I did? Heero's worth it."

Quatre opened his mouth to say something, but started laughing instead. Duo could be so... standoffish at times.

Duo smiled. "Actually it only cost me half a fortune." Duo turned on his heel and proceeded to repack the gift. "So... you got anything I can wrap it with?"

"I think so... upstairs in the bedroom."

Duo replaced the lid and ran out of the kitchen with the box under his arm. "Let's go, Quatre!"

"No... Duo, wait!"

... but Duo was already to the other side of the house and halfway up the stairs.

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Duo was standing in the doorway of the other couple's bedroom when Quatre walked up behind him. Duo looked over his shoulder and shook his head. "You have... a hot-tub... in your bedroom."

Quatre ducked under Duo's outstretched arm. "Uhhh... yeah." He confirmed the obvious as he moved toward the closet where he thought the wrapping paper might be.

Duo looked at him with knowing eyes. "I knew you were a little sex freak all along."

Quatre chuckled as he began rummaging through the walk-in closet. "Actually... my father had that put in."

Duo arched an eyebrow. "Uh-huh." He leaned against the door frame and yawned, eying Quatre's bed. "Heero's got the right idea. A nap doesn't sound so bad right now."

Quatre stepped out of the closet in time to see Duo take a face-first flying leap onto the bed. "Duo!"

Duo rolled over to look at Quatre... and froze. "Mirrors?!?! You have mirrors in the canopy?!?!" Duo giggled uncontrollably.

"Duo! Stop it!" Quatre was pouting at being the brunt of the obvious joke.

Duo sat up and shook his head, continuing to giggle. "Your father must have been something else."

Quatre blushed deeply. "Actually... I had the mirrors put in."

Duo leaned back in shock... and tumbled to the floor.

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Heero's eyes flew open. What the hell was that? Sounded like somebody dropped something. He smacked his lips once and went back to sleep.

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Duo watched as Quatre wrapped the package.

"Are you sure you're OK, Duo."

"It's a minor sprain, see?" Duo flexed his wrist. "It'll be fine."

Quatre blinked... started smiling... and then started laughing.

Duo pulled his mouth into a thin line. "Laugh it up, blondie."

Quatre brought his laughter under control and continued to wrap the package. "I could have them put in your room too, you know."

Duo's mouth hung open.

Quatre started laughing again.

"You are having way to much fun, Quatre." Duo went silent for a time as he watched the other man make several folds in the decorative paper. "Could you, really?"

Quatre looked up from what he was doing. "Could I what?"

Duo hesitated. "Put mirrors... over the bed... in our room."

Now, Quatre wore the shocked expression... which turned into a lewd grin. "Consider it done."

Duo smiled. He was definitely looking forward to the evening.

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Kaylin looked over the rim of his glasses as Wufei stepped onto the porch.

"I... I didn't realize you wore glasses."

Kaylin smiled as he pulled the spectacles off of his nose. "I don't... normally. Just for reading," he added as he tucked them stem into the front of his shirt. "Care to join me." He patted the empty space next to him.

Wufei nodded and sat next to Kaylin, letting his feet dangle over the edge of the porch. To an outside observer, Wufei would have looked like a child sitting next to the larger man. "What did you decide to read first?"

Kaylin looked at the book which he had placed to the side. "A series of short science fiction works, mostly by nineteenth and twentieth century authors. Not very enlightening, but very imaginative and entertaining."

Wufei wrinkled his nose disdainfully. "Honestly, such tales never appealed to me. They are all so far fetched."

Kaylin chuckled. "That's probably because you've been reading contemporary science fiction. This stuff..." Kaylin placed his hand on the book, "... actually predicted current technology with astonishing accuracy: Hand held computers, space stations, lunar bases, wireless handheld communications, space travel..." Kaylin trailed off and shrugged. "It's all in there, some of it a hundred or more years before its time."

Wufei looked intrigued. "Indeed. Perhaps I should give the authors another opportunity to capture my attention."

Kaylin smiled and handed the volume to Wufei. "Be my guest. I've read them all already."

Wufei's eyes widened. "You've read this entire anthology already?"

Kaylin just nodded.

Obsidian eyes reassessed the larger man. "What other abilities are you secreting away, Kaylin?"

Kaylin considered the question for a moment. "None that I can think of... at least, none that I can tell you about."

"Why not?!" Wufei sounded offended that Kaylin wouldn't entrust him with the information.

Kaylin leaned toward Wufei a bit an lowered his voice. "Because, I would have to show you."

Wufei felt an immediate heat in his cheeks. Even so, he couldn't help but smile at Kaylin's words... and wonder.

Kaylin sighed. "Wufei, I... I shouldn't tease you like that. I'm sorry."

Wufei shot him an annoyed look "Are you, really?"

Kaylin immediately regretted his words. He hadn't meant them anyway. "No. " Kaylin smirked and shrugged. "I rather enjoy it, actually."

Wufei's eyes smiled, even though he did not. "Good... so do I."

Kaylin registered surprise.

Wufei looked at him and shook his head. "You can put that innocent look away, Kaylin. I am slowly... but surely... figuring you out."

Kaylin relaxed his features and considered Wufei for a moment. The blue eyes turned their gaze back out across the yard where they focused somewhere in the distance. Kaylin slowly nodded his head. "Good... because I am having trouble figuring myself out right now."

Wufei looked away and swallowed hard. Kaylin's words were an obvious call for help. Wufei knew he could help the man, but could he do so without hurting him at the same time? "I am here... if you need me." Gods above! Did I just say that?!

Kaylin leaned in and kissed Wufei on the temple.

Yep... I said that. Wufei met the other man's eyes as goose bumps ran down his back and arms.

"Thank you, Chang Wufei." Kaylin stood and smoothed his palm over the top of Wufei's head. "Thank you." Kaylin went back to his room.

Wufei lowered his head... and thought.

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Duo poked his head into the open bathroom door. "You about ready?"

Heero tucked his useless comb into his back pocket as he scrutinized himself in the full length mirror. "Almost... let me brush my teeth."

Duo rolled his eyes. "You're supposed to do that before you get dressed, Heero. What if you accidentally get toothpaste on yourself?"

Heero shook his head. "Never have... never will."

Duo shook his head as he moved away from the bathroom. "Whatever you say."

As he squeezed a line of toothpaste onto his brush, Heero wondered what the hell that was supposed to mean. He proceeded to scrub the enamel as he thought about the boy in the other room. I don't know if I can do this, Duo. I don't understand you half the time. The episode in the kitchen this morning proves that. You are becoming dependent on me... and I am so afraid of letting you down. I guess that's a part of my training I won't be able to shake.

Heero stopped brushing as he looked at himself in the vanity mirror.

Maybe I shouldn't try to shake it. Maybe I should use it. I will not let you down, Duo. I will not.

Heero gave his head a firm nod and went back to brushing.

Seeing you in the shower this morning didn't hurt matters any either. It was an afterthought.

Unfortunately, it was that thought that caused Heero's brush slip at that moment, sending the end hurling toward the back of his throat. On impact, he promptly gagged and sputtered.

Toothpaste was on the mirror, the sink, the floor... and himself.

Heero's looked down at the mess and peered at his mirror image through a creased brow. He smiled.

Duo stuck his head into the bathroom yet again. "What the hell happened?!"

"Shut up, Duo." Heero said simply, but dangerously around his toothbrush.

Duo did as he was told and left Heero to clean up the mess, pulling the door quietly closed behind him.

Heero spit out the remainder and took a seat on the lid of the toilet for the second time today. He laughed quietly... but he laughed 'til he cried.

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Duo looked out of the corner of his eye and cleared his throat as Heero came out of the bathroom... carrying his shirt in one hand.

Heero pulled another T-shirt from the closet and looked toward the ceiling. "Go ahead and say it, Duo. You will, eventually, anyway."

Duo gave a crooked smile. "I think for once I'll surprise you... by not saying it."

"Thank you."

Duo smiled. "... but you know I was right."

Heero gave him a corner-eyed glance and shook his head, smiling slightly. "Yes... I suppose you were," he said, pulling the clean tee over his head. As his face emerged from the fabric, he noticed how Duo was looking at him.

Duo could have eaten Heero on a biscuit at that moment. White T-shirt and blue jeans... hair in more that its normal disarray... curious, blue crystalline eyes. Duo had to bite his knuckles to divert his own attention from his raging hormones. He cleared his throat again. "You look... good."

Heero nodded politely. "Thank you."

Duo shook his head and marveled. It was like courting a new Heero every day. "I bought you something today."

Heero's chin jerked as though he were about to say something.

Duo reached down and slid a box from underneath the bed. He lifted it and held it out to Heero.

Heero stepped forward and took the offering in his hands. It was heavier than Duo let on. "Thank you, Duo."

Duo snickered. "Open it first, you fool." He watched as Heero lay the box gently on the bed. Suddenly, the dark haired boy's hands blurred. Wrapping paper flew. Duo blinked and the box lay exposing its contents... then everything froze.

Heero stood leaning over the bed with trembling hands. "Duo..."

"You like?" Duo batted his eyelashes.

"Duo..." Heero reached down and gingerly lifted the garment, letting it unfold before his eyes so he could get a better look. He was too moved to say anything more than a single word. "Duo... "

"Try it on." Taking the jacket from his mate, Duo held it so Heero could slip his arms into it.

Heero turned and waited for Duo's approval.

The other man just nodded toward the bedroom's full length mirror. Fuck the biscuit. I'll take him plain.

Heero moved to the mirror and stared.

Duo watched with amusement as Heero slowly turned this way and that, looking at his own image. He does have some vanity after all. Duo moved to wrap his arms around Heero from behind.

"You look really good."

Heero looked into the mirror and reflected on the conversation he and Quatre had had earlier that day. "We... look really good, Duo." He turned in the other man's arms and brushed his thumb against Duo's jaw. "... and, I really... really love you."

Heero said it... because he wanted to.

Duo closed his eyes and sighed softly, allowing his forehead to rest against Heero's. God, I needed to hear that.

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Dinner was a joy. Quatre had relaxed considerably since Trowa had filled him in on the details of his conversation with his sister. Catherine and Quatre were getting on marvelously since he discovered that she would never again try to take Trowa away from him. Catherine had even announced her adoption of Quatre as a 'little' brother. The blonde didn't really appreciate the reference to his height, but he allowed it for the sake of diplomacy. Kaylin took to Catherine like a duck to water. Wufei attributed it to the fact that Kaylin had a sister that he was undoubtedly missing. All in all, everyone seemed to be pretty damned happy, and it was reflected in the laughter and chatter over the dinner table... and the empty bottles of wine.

"So... Catherine... do you have a boyfriend?"

"Kaylin!" Trowa's admonishment ended with the name.

Catherine smiled. "It's quite all right, Trowa." She turned her attention back to the larger of the two blondes. "No, I do not. Do you?"

That sent a fit of laughter around the table. Kaylin smiled shyly. "I... don't know. Do I have a boyfriend, Wufei?"

"You better have one... or my entire plan is a failure." Everyone looked up to see Duo leaning against the entryway to the dining room with Heero by his side.

"Heero! Duo!" Catherine came out of her seat. "I didn't even know you boys were here!"

Duo waved. "Hi, Cath!"

Heero nodded. "Hello, Catherine. Good to see you again." Heero smiled as he said it.

Catherine slowly took her seat. "Heero... you're... you're... smiling?!"

Wufei leaned forward, looking past Kaylin to the woman. "He has been doing that a great deal, lately." He winked at Duo.

Heero maintained the smile. He was truly glad to see the girl. Both she and Trowa had played a major part in his recovery from nearly dying. He would definitely need to talk to them, and really and truly thank them for giving him the opportunity... to live. "I'll explain... later."

Duo perked up. "Hey! I could probably get a couple of tickets from a scalper if anyone else wants to go!"

"Duo!" Now, whether Heero had shouted Duo's name because he offered to buy tickets from a scalper - or - because Duo had inadvertently invited the entire group to accompany them, no one could be certain; however, everyone thought the latter... except Catherine.

Heero looked at his watch, "... we are running late."

"Oh... OK... Sorry guys, gotta run. See ya!" Duo waved and threw them a cheery smile as he turned and left.

Heero rolled his eyes and grinned, following Duo.

From where Catherine sat, she watched the men move across the darkened family room. That was when she saw Heero put his arm around Duo's shoulders as they walked toward the other side of the house and the front door. Now, had it been the other way around, she wouldn't have given it a second thought. Even the present arrangement was feasible if the two had become really good friends. But Heero's gesture was no friendly pat on the back. It was possessive and tender.

Catherine's jaw dropped. "Oh - my - God! Heero and Duo... are a couple!?"

There was a solitary snicker from some unknown source before the whole table burst into laughter.

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Duo gave his mate a curious, sideways glance. "I wonder what they're laughing at."

Heero whirled the car keys around his index finger and tossed them overhead. "I think... " Heero snatched the falling keys from the air, "... Catherine just figured it out."

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Duo had a blast at the concert. Consequently, Heero had a blast as well. Duo's excitement was contagious... within limits. Heero wasn't jumping up and down and waving his hands in the air, but his head bobbed to the steady rhythm of the music. The group turned out to be not half bad... actually quite good... much to his dismay.

Then, of course, there was Duo. He was jumping up and down, waving his hands insanely in the air. His eyes shone with joy and enthusiasm. His ever present tail flapped madly about. The whoops and shouts of encouragement he hurled at the band rang ten times clearer than anyone else's, in Heero's ears.

Duo was a sight to behold.

Heero just took it all in.

An intermission gave the two a chance to talk.

"Want something from the concession stand, Heero? I'm going to get some popcorn."

Heero nodded his head as he sat on the ground. "A small one... and a water."

Duo wiggled his finger at the dark haired man. "Now, don't you go away!" He turned and took off in a trot to fetch the goodies.

Heero lay back on the grass and looked up at the stars. If he had known this was going to be an outdoor concert, he might have been a little more receptive to the idea of coming in the first place. As it was, it didn't matter. He was just glad to be here with Duo. A few minutes passed before a backlit figure hovered over him. "Duo... that tub of popcorn is as big as both of or heads put together."

Duo dropped to the ground and handed Heero his water. "Is not."

"It is, Duo." Heero insisted as he sat up.

"Here, let's find out." Duo quickly placed his head next to Heero's and held the tub up in front of them. Duo, needless to say, took the opportunity to steal a quick kiss.

Heero's eyes went wide and he looked behind them. The spectators to the rear were oblivious to what had just happened, which seemed impossible to Heero.

Duo placed his hand on the top of Heero's head and pivoted it toward the end of the row in front of them.

There were two women engaged in a lip lock.

"They ain't just kissin' Heero. They are tongue fuckin'." Duo stuffed a handful of popcorn into his mouth and shrugged. "Mo wahgie hairs."

Heero looked at everyone in the vicinity. Duo was right. No body cared... so why dwell on it. He turned his attention back to Duo. "Are you having fun?"

Surprise afflicted Duo's smile. "Are you kidding?! I am at a live concert with my favorite band. I don't have to get up tomorrow and kill people." The conviction in Duo's voice rose noticeably. "Heero... I am sitting here getting my butt wet from the dew dampened grass under a sky full of stars with the only thing that really matters to me."

Heero was drawn into those ever playful eyes.

"Popcorn!" Duo giggled hysterically and hugged the tub possessively, shoving enough of the puffed kernels into his mouth that his cheeks squirreled.

Heero couldn't help but laugh and shake his head as he watched Duo try to chew with his way-too-full mouth.

Duo chewed furiously for almost a full minute before he could speak. "Are you having any fun?"

"Yes... I am. I underestimated your taste in music... something I need to get out of the habit of doing. They are very good."

Duo cocked his head and grinned. "Is that all?"

Heero smirked. "That's not even half of it."

Duo blushed and smiled bashfully. "You like watching me have fun, don't you?"

Heero nodded, still smiling. "That might have something to do with it."

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The second half of the concert was better than the first. The crowd went absolutely nuts when they played their 'Theme Song'. The performer's hammed it up during a humorous antiwar bit... involving Treize and a barracks full of cadets, no less.

One of the group's ballads found Duo's eyes misting over.

The tune immediately caught Heero's ear and he wrinkled his brow. He had heard this before... only not in this musical form. He suddenly realized why their style appealed to him so. Heero enjoyed the rest of the concert all that much more.

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Their arrival home was met with a porch full of people. Everyone was out enjoying to warm night air.

Duo bounded up the stairs. "Awww, how sweet. You all waited up for us!"

Wufei snorted. "Nonsense, Duo, you are a big boy... contrary to what I've been told."

'Oooo's' and titters could be heard from the rest.

Duo bore a sinister glare which he directed at Wufei. The Chinese boy wanted to play. "At least I have more than my left hand to entertain myself..." He wrapped his arm possessively around Heero's waist. "... or do you use your right?"

"Neither! Unlike you, I have some self control."

Duo shook his finger playfully at Wufei. "That's not what the lady in the laundry room at school says."

"Awwwwmmmmm." Quatre and Catherine made the sound together and then giggled.

Wufei raised an eyebrow. "Interesting. I have received similar reports about the condition of your bed sheets, which I am certain are exaggerated. Even you couldn't be that insatiable."

"Don't be too certain of that." Duo smirked. "So... she is a double agent."

Wufei nodded his head once as though he had just come to a decision. "We will have to interrogate her."

Trowa snorted. "Do the two of you never tire of doing this?"

Duo and Wufei both shot Trowa and innocent look. "Doing what?" they asked together.

"I think it's rather entertaining, myself." Kaylin was the only one to admit it.

Of course, everyone enjoyed the sparring matches between the two, but Duo enjoyed them the most. Although he had filled out a bit in the last couple of years, he knew that, physically, he was still no match for Wufei. The two had naturally sought out a method to test one another on an even battlefield. Both men's whit and tongue were honed to a fine edge. Either of them could probably talk himself out of... or into... almost anything. Duo was well aware of the consideration Wufei took in practicing their skills together.

"So... how was the concert?" Catherine finally asked.

"It was... perfect."

Everyone was a bit surprised, but Catherine almost fell off the front porch. Those words had come from Heero.

"And I am hungry and tired." Duo confessed.

"I had sandwiches made for you. They are in the refrigerator."

"Thanks, Quatre. The popcorn just isn't sittin' quite right." Duo patted his belly.

Wufei looked back at the complaining boy. "Duo, please tell me you didn't eat one of those bigger-than-your-head buckets of popcorn by yourself."

"Of course not! Heero helped."

"Duo... I only had two handfuls."

Duo let his head fall forward. "Ahhh... that explains it then. Popcorn poisoning." Duo shook his head. "Come on, Heero. Let's go get the antidote... some real food."

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With Quatre's permission, the two men retired to their room with their food. Duo watched as Heero briefly rummaged through his duffel bag, producing a pouch which contained several data disks.

"What's that?"

"Music." Heero answered. "I want you to listen to something and tell me if you recognize it." Heero took a bite out his sandwich as he moved toward the room's built-in stereo unit. He dropped the disk into the player and skipped several tracks, before settling on one.

Duo sat forward and pointed at the stereo with wide eyes. "Phantom Jam!"

Heero shook his head. "Nope." He took another bite of his sandwich.

"Oh..." Duo nonchalantly popped his last bit of sandwich into his mouth and pretended to think for a moment as he chewed. "... must be Rachmaninoff's 'Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini' then."

Heero's mouth fell open, exposing his partially chewed food.

"Eighteenth variation... if I'm not mistaken."

Heero's eyes grew round and he closed his mouth and swallowed. "Duo! You knew?"

"Of course I knew. 'Phantom Jam' bases all of their music on classical themes..." Duo smiled, "... even the bit about Treize and the cadets."

"I've never heard you listen to this type of music unless it was for a class."

"I only told you that when you would catch me listening to it." Duo shrugged, "I didn't want the great Heero Yuy thinking I was a geek just because I listened to music from that age."

"That makes no sense, Duo. I listen to it... and if you say it's because I'm a 'geek', I will pull you right off of that bed."

"That's why I knew you would like the concert. Tonight wasn't for me, Heero."

"What?"

"It was for you."

Heero slowly sat on the edge of the bed next to Duo, realization shining in his eyes. Heero's perspective had abruptly done a one-eighty. All night long he had assumed that it was he who was taking Duo out to have a good time, when in fact, it was the other way around. Even though Duo enjoyed the show immensely, his only purpose was to just get Heero to go... even if it meant a squabble at breakfast and a bit of seduction in the shower. Heero was reminded at that moment, how terribly clever and manipulative Duo could be. He almost became angry at being led so easily; however, he couldn't very well do that given the results of Duo's efforts. Duo cared enough to force him to live a little, and that's all that mattered.

Heero wasn't sure what to say.

"Why don't we listen to the whole thing. Go put it back to the beginning."

Heero placed his sandwich plate on the nightstand and walked back to the stereo, restarting the music and lowering the volume a bit. When he turned around, Duo was stretched out on the bed, holding his arms out, beckoning him. He didn't need to be asked twice. Heero slipped off his sneakers and lay next to the smiling boy. "You were... incredible... tonight."

Duo wrinkled his brow. "What do you mean?"

Heero shook his head. "When your energy is that high you... you shine."

Duo brushed the end of his braid against Heero's lips and smiled. "I shine in your eyes. Do you have any idea how romantic that sounds?"

"It was an observation, Duo."

Duo bore a disappointed look.

Heero held up his index finger. "... but I won't deny the possibility that it's a physical manifestation of being in love with you."

Duo's eyes softened and he wore a wide grin. "You said it again?! That's twice in one day!"

Heero's brow furrowed in contemplation. "You're right. Odd. I said it without even thinking about it."

"It's a good thing. Don't look so worried about it." Duo snuggled closer to the dark haired boy as Heero lay back on the bed with his eyes closed.

Heero cradled Duo's head in the nook of his shoulder. When he opened his eyes, he mentally flinched. He thought something was about to fall on him when in reality... "Duo... why are there mirrors over our bed?"

Duo snorted. "Quatre put them in for us."

"What purpose do they serve?" As if I don't know the answer to that!

As if you don't know the answer to that! "So I can lie here and fall asleep looking into your eyes."

"Duo... to use one of your own phrases... you're full of it."

Duo smiled and stuck his tongue out at Heero's reflection. He may have been full of it, but he did exactly as he said he would do. He fought sleep for many minutes, but he never took his eyes off of the other man.

Heero watched as Duo's eyes finally and reluctantly gave in to sleep before extinguishing the light on the nightstand. He lay in the dark listening to the music as Duo's breathing evened and deepened. The music was playful, and angry, and joyous, and sad. An entire orchestra was coaxing a smallish ebony box containing a few strings and hammers into doing things that shouldn't be possible. Even so, they combined to form something beautiful.

Heero smiled in the dark as his own eyes closed. He was beginning to see things from a whole new perspective.