Part the Seventh: A Round of Strip Poker
Duo had concluded that it had been food poisoning that had brought
him down the night of the carnival, rather than the Tilt-A-Whirl/corn
dog combination. He was rather put out that Heero hadn't felt any
adverse affects to the dubious fair food, until Heero reminded him he
couldn't get sick. Duo had tried to pout, but he still felt too ill
for a couple of days afterwards to do anything more than sit in bed
or on the couch and drink plain broth until his stomach felt like
holding in solid food.
Heero hovered over him during those two nights of recovery, almost to
the point where Duo was a hair's breadth away from wishing him back
in the coin. But he had to admit, despite the incessant hovering, it
did feel good to have someone look out for him. He could almost
believe Heero really did care for him, and not just because of the
curse. He knew he was tempted - very tempted - to care back, and he
did, on some level, but he couldn't let himself get in too deep.
Unless he could somehow break Heero's curse, he would lose him in a
little over two weeks.
On the third night, Duo declared himself well enough for more solid
food and strong enough to go out, though not far, to find some food
that he didn't have to drink. Heero had protested at first, but Duo
was stubborn and determined to get out of the room, at least for a
They found an Italian restaurant two blocks from the hotel. Duo
ordered some pasta with a bland cheese sauce, while Heero ordered a
large bowl of linguini, a steak and a large salad. Duo's eyes opened
wide. "Hungry?" he asked, as the waitress took their menus.
Heero shrugged, then nodded. "Starved, actually."
Duo mentally kicked himself, wondering if Heero had neglected his own
needs while he'd been sick. "Didn't you eat while you were taking
care of me?"
"I did, but it was mostly afterthought." He looked at Duo across the
table. "Please, don't worry about me. I told you, I don't need to
"I know but... do you feel pain when you don't eat? Weak? I just...
can't wrap my brain about what life - existence - must be like for
Heero reached across the table and took his hand. "I won't lie to
you. It's a hellish existence, and one I wouldn't wish on my worst
enemy. Yes, I feel the hunger, and it is painful, but I have become
used to it, so it is more like how a dull ache would be to you. It is
nothing, and I don't want you to worry about it."
Duo shifted uncomfortably in the booth, looking at their joined
hands. "You tell me that, but it's not so easy." He looked up at
Heero. "I like you, Heero. A lot. Probably more than I should, but...
oh this is so frustrating! I can't bear the thought of you being
trapped inside that medallion. There must be a way out! If you'd just
tell me, let me help..."
Heero abruptly pulled his hand away, his posture suddenly stiff as he
looked away. "No. I told you. There's nothing that can be done."
Duo opened his mouth to protest, but Heero was saved by the waitress
bringing them a basket of bread sticks. Heero did not look like he
wanted to continue the discussion after she left, so Duo decided to
drop it. He quickly changed subjects, hiding his embarrassment and
frustration over Heero's refusal to let him help. He picked up a
paper napkin and held it in his hands under the table, twisting it
until his knuckles turned white. He wanted to shake the man, get in
his face and yell at him at how he was being a stubborn ass. Heero
had said time and again that he had to obey Duo as Duo was the one
who held the medallion, but he refused to talk about the curse, even
when Duo asked.
Duo felt incredibly frustrated and helpless. He didn't know what to
say to Heero to get him to open up. They only had a little over two
weeks left. And Duo was finding it hard to imagine a life without
Heero there to look after him, make him laugh, be with him. The
napkin in his hands was shredded, and Duo let the bits fall to the
floor, sighing. Maybe if he could just get Heero to open up a little
more, the man would be willing to trust him with his secrets.
Their food came, and Duo picked at his pasta as he watched Heero eat
with gusto. He smiled at Heero's obvious enjoyment of the food,
pushing down the almost overwhelming feeling of helplessness at the
thought of Heero being trapped once again, at the mercy of someone
who didn't truly care about him, only their own selfish needs. Maybe
that was why Heero seemed to be eating a lot, lately. Perhaps he was
trying to preserve some memory of foods he enjoyed, since he had no
way of knowing when he would be released from his metal prison again
or if whoever released him would allow him such simple comforts as
Duo had to try hard to not think about that at the moment. His goal
was to get Heero to open up to him more, so he pasted a smile on his
face and tried to be charming and flirtatious with the man across the
It seemed to work. Heero was just as charming in return, and the meal
was a pleasant one. Duo managed to eat most of his pasta, and was
content to chat and watch Heero eat his own meal.
Afterwards, Duo suggested a walk. He wasn't ready to go back to the
room, and the autumn air, while chilly, smelled wonderful to him. In
a bold move, he took Heero's arm, breathing in the scent of the crisp
fall evening. "I love this time of year," he said, leaning in closer
to Heero as they walked to share the man's warmth.
Heero was silent for a moment before he replied, "I always liked the
Duo wrinkled his nose. "Really? I'm a big, blobbering mess in the
spring. The pollen wreaks havoc on my sinuses."
Heero chuckled. "Yes, I remember..." He looked thoughtful for a
moment before continuing. "I think I loved spring best because
everything was new. And after winter, it was if the gods were
saying, 'This is our gift to you. The past is gone. Be reborn.'" He
sighed and looked wistful. Duo's heart ached at the expression. "I
remember spring was colorful. But I cannot quite recall the way the
flowers looked in the meadows beneath the sunlight."
Duo sighed and leaned his head against Heero's shoulder, biting his
lip so he wouldn't bring up the curse again. It wasn't the opportune
time, not yet. But he ached to be able to give those springs back to
A brightly lit marquee caught his eye as they crossed the street. He
straightened and pulled at Heero's arm excitedly. "Hey! Let's go see
Heero looked up at the sign, frowning.
Duo tugged at his arm again. "Have you ever seen one?"
"I have attended the picture shows twice, I believe," he replied. "It
is like television, only larger and in a dark room where you sit in
the back and try not to get caught while having sex."
Duo blinked in surprise. "You're kidding, right?"
Heero shook his head. "No. Both times I attended a picture show...
let's just say I didn't get to see much of the picture."
"How long ago was this?"
Heero paused to think. "The last one was about a big, killer shark.
And the first... well, I don't really remember much about it, but it
didn't have color."
"Jesus..." Duo muttered, looking up at the marquee. Right. New
mission. "So... pick your poison... action/adventure, chick flick -
ugh - scary movie du jour, comedy..."
Heero looked over the posters carefully. "You wish me to choose?" he
asked. When Duo nodded, he replied, "I think... I would like to
"Comedy it is, then! Come on."
Duo pulled him to the ticket counter where a sleepy looking employee
sold them two tickets to the late late show of the newest comedy
critics were panning. Duo knew from experience that the more
the "critics" hated a movie, the more he liked it.
They stopped at the snack counter when Duo caught Heero looking
longingly at the popcorn. "I can't believe you're still hungry after
that big meal!" he exclaimed as he paid for the snacks.
Heero popped a kernel into his mouth and chewed. "It's good!"
Duo laughed as he carried their sodas toward their theater. "Never
had popcorn then?"
"Not like this." Heero dug his hand into the bucket, pulling out a
fistful of popcorn. Duo declined the offer to share as they found
seats in the mostly empty theater. There were two other couples in
the theater besides them, and Duo pulled Heero to the middle, wanting
to emphasize that they were there to watch the movie and nothing
else. Though he wondered if Heero would mind if he rested his head on
Halfway through the movie, he found out Heero didn't mind a bit.
They stayed up the rest of the night talking, Duo making sure to keep
the conversation light. Heero was so inquisitive about the world, and
again Duo felt pained at the thought of not being able to show him
everything in their short time together.
The next two days were cold and rainy. As Duo slept during the day,
he left a note on top of the pile of dirty clothes that the
housekeeper took away each morning to be cleaned. Heero didn't have
many clothes, but they had bought enough to mix and match. He
appeared in Duo's room every night after the sun went down naked, and
it had only taken two days for Duo to convince him to put clothes on
as soon as he "arrived." When he "left" in the mornings, his clothes
remained behind. And while Duo never saw him disappear, he would pick
up the pile of clothes left behind and fold them neatly for the
The lady who tidied his room and took his laundry away to be cleaned
was very nice, though Duo had never met her, as he was always asleep
in the bedroom when she came in the mornings. But she left little
things for him - extra towels, homemade cookies, a book. When Duo
stumbled out of bed at five the next evening, he smiled at the sight
of the deck of playing cards she'd left on top of his and Heero's
neatly folded shirts. He was hoping she'd be able to being him a set,
as according to the weather forecast, they'd be stuck inside for the
next few nights.
Heero appeared an hour later and went to grab the fluffy robe out of
the bathroom. On nights they didn't go out, Heero wore just the robe
in order to conserve his clothing. Duo sat on the floor in front of
the little coffee table. He grinned up at Heero as the man returned
from the bathroom.
"Sit down, pardner," he drawled in his best imitation Texan accent.
Heero sat on the opposite side of the table, watching Duo shuffle the
cards. "You wish to play a game?"
"A-yup. I'm-a gonna teach y'all how to play poker," Duo replied,
dealing out the card.
Heero picked up his hand. "What's the ante?"
Duo's face fell. "You already know how to play, don't you?"
"A-yup," Heero replied, looking over his hand.
"Damn." Duo opened a bag of M&Ms and dumped them onto the table. He
divided them equally, sliding one pile over to Heero.
Duo had learned poker from Zechs while at the university. He found it
to be a fascinating game, and loved bluffing the pants off people -
literally in Zechs' case when they'd played alone in their room.
Heero was proving to be a talented player, and Duo found he was going
to be hard pressed to keep his candy.
He slapped down the first winning hand. "Ha! Your little pieces of
chocolatey goodness are mine, fiend!" he shouted as he scooped up the
Heero stood, unbelted his robe and let it fall to the ground. Duo
blanched as he looked up in time to see Heero revealed in all his
He stared. He tried to speak. Words failed him.
Heero sat back down, plucking the cards from Duo's paralyzed
hand. "Shall I deal, this round?"
"I... what... why..."
"I lost. Therefore, I lose an article of clothing." He paused and
looked at Duo who was staring at his bare chest. "Is this not how the
game is played?"
Heero grunted and dealt the cards. Duo was too distracted to pay
attention and lost everything he had won in the previous hand. Heero
collected his winnings and the cards, then sat back, looking at Duo
Duo blushed as he realized what Heero was waiting for. "I... no! This
isn't how poker is played!"
"It's not?" Heero looked confused again.
"No! Well... maybe at drunken frat parties or in the privacy of your
own... no! You need to put your robe back on!"
Heero leaned back, stretching his legs out underneath the coffee
table. "I'm comfortable like this," he said, popping an M&M into his
"I thought you had to do whatever I said!"
"You said I needed to put my robe on. You didn't order me to."
Duo threw his hands up. "Argh! You are so frustrating! And put
something on! I can't think straight when you're like that!"
Heero smirked at him and obeyed, pulling the robe on. "You can't
blame me for trying can you?" he asked, giving Duo a look that
promised so much.
Duo shivered. "I guess not. And stop smirking. And stop eating my
Two nights later, the rain was gone but the chilly, late autumn
weather remained. Duo found himself standing next to the window in
the sitting room, staring out at the dark streets below. A movement
behind him alerted him to Heero's arrival, and he kept his back to
the room to allow the other man his privacy as he slipped into some
clothes, though he did take a quick peek in the reflection on the
When Heero was finished, Duo turned to him with a smile on his
face. "I've got a plan for tonight."
"I hope it involves pizza," Heero replied as he finished buttoning
"Pizza, eh? Well, if you play your cards right, I'll see what I can
do." He moved to the coffee table to pick up his room key. "But
tonight, we are going on a covert search and rescue mission."
Heero raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yeah. I was watching the weather forecast before you, ah... arrived.
Summer has officially been beaten and sent home crying to mommy.
We're in for a cold spell and I don't have any warmer clothes with
me. So we're going to my apartment to pick some up."
"Are you sure that's wise?" Heero asked.
Duo shrugged. "Probably not. But I don't have anything warmer and I
don't want to buy anything new, not when I have perfectly decent
clothes at my apartment. Besides, we won't be staying long."
"And you don't think she's having your place watched?"
"Well, it's obvious now that I'm... we're... not coming back. With
any luck, and if we wait until after midnight, we can be in and out
in five minutes." He shifted on his feet. "But you don't have to come
with me if you'd rather stay here."
Heero shook his head. "I go where you go."
Duo gave him a shy smile. "Okay. I'm gonna spring for a cab. In and
out. We'll be gone before she knows we were there. And then we'll
pick up some pizza at that late night place and come back here
and..." He blushed. "M-maybe I'll let you talk me into playing strip
poker after all." Heero's face brightened. Duo laughed. "I thought
you might like that suggestion."
Heero nodded his head enthusiastically. "Oh, yes. That pizza is very
Duo threw a pillow at him, still laughing. "Just for that, buddy, I'm
putting on every single piece of clothing I own and you're wearing
nothing but that robe!"
Heero threw the pillow back. Duo caught it and launched himself at
the man, making a mental note to leave an apology for the housekeeper
in the morning as feathers went flying.