Disclaimer: I do not own nor profit from these characters nor my stories.

Warnings: humor, fluff

Author's note: Okay, this is two fluff stories in a row, but future, more dramatic stories refer back to these better times, and if you don't read them, you won't know what they're talking about. Not trying to force you to read, just an explanation. Enjoy.

A Little Time Off - Quatre's List 2
Duo's Friendship Arc 6
by Dyna Dee

The late winter day was crisp and clear of the fog and clouds that had hugged the California coast for the last few days. The smell of sea salt and kelp drifted westward on the cool, gentle breeze from off the Pacific Ocean. Five young pilots walked down the scenic paved path that bordered the shoreline of the Monterey Bay. Three of these boys walked a bit behind the other two. They watched as their braided friend walked with a bounce in his step, his long, perfectly braided chestnut hair was swinging merrily behind him. His eyes were as bright as his smile as he spoke animatedly to the blonde boy at his side. That boy's step, his bright blue eyes gleaming, and returning smile, displayed his happiness as well.

The three pilots behind them exchanged mutual looks of amusement, and fond indulgence at the two before them. Heero wondered if this feeling was similar to those he had seen of parents looking at their contented children.

They had arrived in Monterey four days earlier. Their mission was to do reconnaissance on the New Fort Ord Military Base, with orders to destroy with caution if it did, indeed, prove to be a weapons storage area. Long range surveillance had noted an increase of activity in the vicinity, and it was their mission to discover the cause. Rumors abounded of a secret underground chemical lab that may be producing new biological weapons. Such weapons had been banned for over 200 years and the reproduction of such diabolical evil would not be tolerated. If the rumors were true, it would be a very tricky mission to destroy the base and not infect and destroy the entire population of all the western states. They would have to move carefully, and the whole team was tense as they approached the delicate operation.

The first day was spent in reconnaissance, the second in infiltration. There was indeed an underground facility. Yet, they were surprised and relieved to find it was a warehouse of non-military production and storage. They found crates of medical supplies and stored food. The production part of the facility evidently took the fresh food grown in the fertile California valley and canned and processed it for the Oz troops.

All five managed to retreat from the facility without detection. Relief shone on all their faces at not having to destroy what they feared as a potentially deadly site. To celebrate, Quatre suggested they spend the next few days being tourists, something they rarely got an opportunity to do. His treat, he insisted, and mentally checked off another item on his list of things to do for the other pilots.

The hotel clerk was taken aback by the sight of a small, blond haired teenage boy handing him the impressive Gundanium Credit Card. The card, along with the Winner name, signified great wealth. Quatre requested a large suite. Such a room at this seaside resort cost around five thousand dollars a night, yet the clerk noticed the boy didn't blink at the cost, but said that he would want it for at least two nights, maybe more. As it was the off season and business was particularly slow, the clerk checked with the management, ran the card through, and handed two pass keys to the boy. Quatre nodded his thanks, and motioned to the four boys who had been lounging quietly in the lobby's entrance while he checked in. They quietly rose and, in proper decorum, followed him to the elevator.

The suite suited them perfectly. It contained two large bedrooms with King sized beds, and a fold-out couch in the main room positioned directly in front of a obscenely large t.v. screen.

Duo ran into the first bedroom, kicked off his shoes and socks, and took a flying leap onto the large bed. "Oh man, this is living!" he proclaimed deliriously happy. Getting up onto his knees, he crawled to the top of the bed and pulled down the covers. His eyes looked impossibly large as he turned to the other four who watched him from the room's doorway. "Satin sheets!" he breathed in awe. He looked to Quatre. "Can I sleep here?"

The blonde boy laughed with amusement at his friend as he answered. "Of course you can, Duo."

To the other boys' shock, the Deathscythe pilot unbuttoned the two top buttons of his black shirt before he became impatient and, pulling the shirt tails from out of his black jeans, pulled his two shirts off over his head, leaving his chest bare. Quickly unbuckling his belt, he unzipped his jeans and had them off almost instantly, leaving him standing in only his black silk boxers. Four stunned sets of eyes watched as he dove forward onto the pearlescent satin sheets and quickly covered himself with the top sheet, thoroughly enveloping his body with the cool, sinfully smooth fabric. His arms and legs moved over the luxurious material as he rolled around between the sheets, looking as if her were trying to swim in them. The look on his face showed he was completely enthralled with the sensations touching his skin.

The four standing dumbstruck in the open doorway of the room began to chuckle at their friend's antics. Quatre looked at Heero. "You're sharing this room with him, aren't you?"

"Hai." he answered after a long pause.

Wufei clasped a hand on Heero's shoulder. "Can't say I envy you." He smirked

"He'll calm down." Heero said trying to sound convincing. "In a little while... later..... I hope." his voice got weaker as he spoke.

"Oh man, this is so cool." came the obviously happy voice from the bed just before Duo put the satin pillow over his face.

"Now there's an idea." Wufei laughed.

"Don't give Heero any such ideas." Trowa chuckled, trying to hide his obvious smile.

Quatre turned and led the other three to the next bedroom for a quick inspection. It was nearly identical to the other room including the satin sheets. Wufei quickly insisted Quatre and Trowa share the monster bed and adamantly declared that he would be content with the sofa bed.

The next room they toured was an enormous bathroom with a large Jacuzzi bathtub taking up most of the far wall.

"Don't tell Duo yet." Heero warned the others in a low, conspiring voice.

"Don't tell me what?" Duo's voice rang out from behind them. The four turned to see him standing in a thick, white robe with the hotels monogram over the left upper chest area. The view of the Jacuzzi tub was revealed, and Heero groaned even as Duo's voice trilled. "Oh man.....man!" he exclaimed wide eyed. He pushed through them and rushed to the tub of the god's. They all watched as his hand reverently reached out to touch the display of splayed packets sitting on the wide, white tiled corner. Picking them up, he turned and held them in the air. "Bubble bath." his said in breathless amazement, his face reflected his awe, as if he couldn't believe anything could get any better than this.

"Wait" Quatre laughed, motioning for Duo not to start filling the large tub. "It's only a quarter after four. Wait until later, after we have some dinner. What do you think about going to the pier?"

Duo looked at the packets in his hand, and then longingly at the tub, and then back to Quatre. "Alright" he agreed reluctantly and set the packets down. "But I get first dibs on the Jacuzzi when we get back, okay?"

"You know," Quatre smiled at him "there is an indoor pool and Jacuzzi on the fourth floor.

"A sauna and a workout room, too." Trowa added, waving a brochure in his hand.

"But no bubble bath." Duo said, his face devilishly mischievous. With an impish grin as his only warning, he quickly bounced forward, and glomped onto the small blonde. "Thanks Quatre." he whispered into his friends as his arms tightened around him..

Quatre brought his hand around and embraced the other boy in a quick hug. "You're welcome." he replied and stepped back, signaling for Duo to let go, feeling a little self conscience as the other three pilots watched. "Now go get dressed, casual attire." he ordered lightly. Duo smiled broadly in response and flew out of the room.

From a small, informal restaurant on the pier, they had various forms of fish and chips as they watched the elephant seals lounging on a dock as the sun lowered into the western sky. After, they actually had to talk the Deathscythe pilot into joining them at the movie theater. Heero promised him a bucket of buttered popcorn and a large caffeine-free drink. The lure of the Jacuzzi tub and satin sheets were strong, but not as strong as the promise of those offered treats.

It was nearly midnight by the time they returned to the hotel. Duo insisted on his bubble bath and after the others had prepared for bed, he entered the bathroom and turned on very warm water, emptying all of the five packets of bubble bath one at a time.

"Hey guys, look at this!" he called out through the open door. The others curiously left the vid show they were watching to enter the bathroom. A mountain of bubbles, well above the rim of the Jacuzzi, greeted them. "I haven't even turned the jets on yet." Duo snickered. "Anyone want to join me? I'll wear trunks!" He raised his eyes in a challenge as he sat on the edge of the large tub, his shirts were off, as were his shoes and socks, and it appeared that all he wore was his black jeans.

"You want company?" Heero asked, giving the others a knowing look even as Trowa elbowed him in the side.

"Sure!" Duo replied as he turned around to reach over to the faucet and turn the water off.

"Ahhhhhh!" he yelled as he as firmly pushed into the tub, enfolded by the millions of bubbles. He came up gasping, arms and legs flailing. Wiping the bubbles from his face, he glared at the others, a tall crown of suds sat on top of his head. His glare turned to surprise as he watched the other four teens strip down to their boxers, and one by one climbed into the large tub. Duo worked off his wet, tight jeans and threw the sodden mass towards the sink He smiled at the barely visible heads of the others pilots. They were all lost in the basin of bubbles.

"Okay," he looked around to get his bearings. "Where's the magic button?" Duo asked, fumbling his hand blindly to the area he knew the button was located that would start the jets. "Got it!" he announced and the rumbling sound of the jets pumping water out was heard only moments before the majority of the bathroom was filled with a cloud of diaphanous balls of air and soap, and the laughter of five young soldiers.

The next day brought more beautiful weather. They visited the historical sites and shopped downtown. Just north, they spied large sand dunes, and following Quatre's example, climbed up the tall dunes and slid down the sides on cardboard that had been left behind by others who had enjoyed the same pastime.

Duo refused to eat fish a second night in a row, so they settled for a restaurant that served "surf and turf". That night they all arranged themselves on Wufei's fold out bed and watched the large vid screen until early morning.

Late the next morning, they walked the foot path to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Heero observed, not only were the two in front of him happily conversing, but the two beside him walked in quiet contentment. He wondered at the unique dynamics of this team. It struck him odd that the disposition of the two in front seemed to dictate the mood of the whole group. It they were content and happy, so were they all. If they were upset, despondent, or discouraged, that too had an effect on the other three. It therefore made sense to him that it was imperative to keep the two in question content, if possible, to maintain an emotional balance within the team.

The American chose that moment to turn and smile at them, a blindingly bright smile that conveyed his happiness at the moment. Heero couldn't help but wonder if he would ever smile like that, his honest emotions displayed for all to see. Duo was good at that, but equally as good at masking his inner pain. He and the other three had seen glimpses of it, but didn't delve into the purpose behind it, sensing Duo's refusal to share all his pain with them. Quatre, on the other hand, displayed his emotions, whatever they be, on his delicate features. It seemed impossible for him to mask what he felt.

As they approached the entrance, a tour bus load of Japanese tourists were disembarking. Quatre rushed them ahead of the large group to lead the other four to the admission booth and purchased their entry tickets. Turning, he handed each of them a brochure on the aquarium including a map of it's layout.

Duo's eyes lit up at the gift shop at the right of the entrance doors. "Later." Quatre promised him, recognizing the glint in his friend's eyes.

Duo gave a little pout, but turned his attention to his brochure. "Where to first?" he asked to no one in particular.

Wufei said he wanted to take in the movie on whales that was due to begin in five minutes. Trowa and Quatre decided to join him.

Duo shook his head. "I didn't come here to sit, I want to see everything." he stated firmly as his eyes roamed the interior of the building.

Heero looked at the other three. "I'll go with him and keep him out of trouble." he told them and registered the amusement in their eyes. "Let's meet in two hours for lunch in the cafeteria." he suggested further and they all checked their watches to synchronize the time. That done, Duo grabbed hold of the sleeve of his parka and pulled him to the left of the building towards a huge tank of water where a scuba diver was currently collecting kelp from the beds implanted in it.

Schools of fish of many varieties swum around the tank as Duo pressed his hands against the glass. "Look at them, Heero." he said excitedly. He didn't get a reply as Heero had purchased a set of headphones that gave him a lecture in Japanese for each area he visited. He found the information educational and fascinating regarding life in the ocean. They slowly worked their way around to the jellyfish exhibit. The room was dark with many large tanks displaying the mushroom type, diaphanous creatures illuminated by flourescent lighting. Duo became exasperated with the slowness of their progress. The tour Heero was listening to stopped him at almost every glass wall, where he stood silent for five to ten minutes at a time just listening. To slow for Duo Maxwell. Tugging on his sleeve, Duo finally managed to get the other's attention. "Ne, Heero, I'm going to go ahead of you. I'll meet you at lunch."

Heero nodded and waved him off as he reset the headphones on his head and continued with the lecture on mating habits of jellyfish.

At precisely two o'clock, four of the five met in the cafeteria. "Where's Duo?" Quatre asked, looking over Heero's shoulder as he approached.

"He said he'd meet us here." Heero replied as he sat down. "He went ahead of me..." he checked his watch, "over an hour and a half ago."

"Should we wait?" Trowa asked as he peered out the glass looking for the missing boy.

"No," Heero answered, "he should be here soon. After all, there is food involved." They all exchanged a knowing smile. Where there was food, there was Duo.

The cafeteria line was small and more than half of the tables were empty. In no time at all, they all had their meals and were sitting at the table near the window enabling them to watch the antics of a seagull as it dove dangerously close to several tourist's heads. Below in the water, several seals were sprawled on the rocks in the water sunning themselves. At one time or another, each of the four turned to look out the glass door in search of their friend.

"Is there another cafeteria?" Trowa asked concerned as pulled out his brochure from his back pocket.

"No." Heero answered as he gathered together his trash and stood. "I'm going to look for him."

"We'll join you." Wufei said rising with his tray in hand. The other two followed.

Moments later they all stood on the second floor landing looking out over the entry way. The aquarium was a city block long, so the search would be more efficient if they split up. Heero took charge. "I'll look on the second floor going west. Wufei, take the first floor, same direction. Trowa go to the second floor, east. Quatre,"

"the first floor, east." the blonde finished for him with a smile.

Heero nodded. "Meet back here in a half hour. Again they checked their watches. "Whoever finds him, feeds him." he smiled crookedly.

"That's not much of an incentive." Wufei chuckled.

"Just think how grateful Duo will be." Heero replied knowing his roommate would be that persons best friend for the rest of the day. That usually meant no teasing. With a final nod of his dark head, Heero sent them all in their specified directions.

Twenty-five minutes later found the perfect soldier scratching his head. He had walked quickly through the displays on the second floor without any luck. Once again, he ventured up to the third floor which took him to the area where visitors could touch some of the sea creatures. There were a few tourists speaking with an employee as they touched starfish, muscles, and sea anonyme. He walked over to the large shallow pool that held the bat rays. He was sure Duo would be here trying to touch the creatures as they floated by. A young blonde woman stood by the pool's edge, obviously an employee by her uniform.

"Excuse me." Heero said quietly as he approached her.

She turned he head towards him and he noticed how her blue eyes lit up. "Can I help you?" she asked.

"I'm looking for a friend." he began. "Have you seen a guy my age, dressed in black, and with a very long brown braid down his back.

Her eyes sparkled and she smiled warmly. "Yes, he was here, oh, maybe an hour ago. He really enjoyed the bat ray. Called it a fitting pet for Shinni......, something or other." she shrugged her shoulders. "What ever that means."

"Do you know which way he went?" he asked.

For some strange reason she seemed to blush a bit. "I remember him walking towards the stairway." she replied and pointed in the direction she'd indicated.

Heero inwardly smirked. From her blush and the angle of Duo's departure she had been able to watch him walk away. That happened a lot, people of all sorts seemed fascinated by the long hair boy whose looks brought more attention then a Gundam pilot needed, though Duo seemed completely unaware of the attention he drew, either that or completely unaffected by it.

He nodded his head, "Thank you." he said and turning, walked in the direction she had indicated. He wondered for a moment if she watched him as he walked away as she had probably done with Duo. Turning his head quickly, he caught her startled eyes fixated on his backside. He smiled smugly and continued on his way.

He quickly returned to the center court to meet the others. Seeing them all there, and the object of their search not, he felt worry and anger mounting.

"Do you think he left the building?" Wufei asked, his brows drawn in and a puzzled expression on his face.

"No." Quatre answered adamantly. "He was too excited about coming here. You saw him. Why would he leave?"

The others shook their heads, perplexed.

"Did anyone check the outside balconies?" Heero asked as he mentally went over the aquarium's floor plans and noted that was one place he hadn't searched. The others shook their heads. "Split up and meet here in 10 minutes." Again they all checked their watches and went quickly turned from each other, going in the same general directions they had searched before.

It only took a quick glance for Heero to ascertain that Duo was not on the balcony on the first floor. Taking the stairs two at a time, he went to the second level, passing through the Children's Splash Zone. It was a colorful display of educational games and learning centers geared for young children. He noted the lack of those small people today was probably due to the season as he veered to the right to approach the balcony. He stopped in his tracks as he saw the person he was looking for in his peripheral vision. Anger welled up as he observed his friend kneeling in front of a low set aquarium, his back to him, and his hands pressed to the glass. He paused for a moment to calm down. He would throttle the baka later for scaring them. But as he stood there, he wondered what had enthralled the American so much to have kept him in away from their scheduled meeting time and lunch? He waited several minutes, watching and waiting to see if Duo would sense his presence. He would have to talk to him about leaving his back exposed, as he was now doing, and leaving himself open to a surprise attack. Of course, Duo already knew that fact from their earlier training sessions, so why had he left off with his training?

Aware of someone approaching, Heero looked up to see Quatre walking towards him. He motioned the blonde to silence and pointed to Duo's still form. Quatre stood by Heero's side and looked up, silently mouthing, "What's he doing?" Heero shrugged in return and shook his head. The both of them stood there for another ten minutes, watching and wondering over their friend, and soon the other two found them and joined in, curiously observing at their kneeling boy.

Finally, a nudge from Wufei urged Heero to move closer. He stood silently behind the braided boy, and looked into the relatively small aquarium to see what held the American's fascination. Heero leaned in a little closer. His eyes focused on what looked like a small branch floating in water. His stunned gaze returned to the chestnut colored head and wondered if Duo had snapped. His placed his hand on the black covered, slim shoulder. Duo looked up, and seeing Heero, smiled. "Hi!" he said quietly and returned his gaze to the tank before him. "Have you ever seen anything like this before?" he asked, his voice full of wonder.

Heero's eyebrows raised questioningly. "It's a stick!" he said, wondering once again what the fascination was.

Duo glanced up again, his amethyst eyes wide and incredulous. "It's not a stick, it's a Sea Dragon." he pointed to the placard next to the aquarium that described the Sea Dragon and that it came from the waters of the South Pacific.

Heero read the information and turned to look again at the creature before him. At first glance, it did look like a plant. The main body looked like a twig that had been woven through someone's fingers. Shooting out from the sides were what looked like small branches with green leaves, similar to mistletoe. As he studied it, Heero saw the one and a half inch, straight length on top that curved downward did, indeed, had two little bumps for eyes. "Well, it's certainly unusual." he stated.

"Unusual!" Duo said aghast at his choice of description. "It's ...." he seemed to struggle with finding the correct word himself. "Wondrous." he smiled wistfully. "Just look at it, so unique and delicate looking, yet it lives in the ever changing ocean, a very harsh environment.."

The others now came forward to join the two and peered into the glass tank.

"It's alive." Quatre gasped in surprise.

Trowa and Wufei leaned in closer.

"This small creature reaffirms something to me." Duo told them in an unusual hushed and small voice.

"What's that?" Wufei asked, curious to know what the kneeling teen thought.

"That life is precious, all life. This creature might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it's life and its uniqueness is to be treasured, protected, and preserved. And if this seemingly insignificant creature that looks like a stick can reaffirm to me something so important, how much more imperative is it that each human life is important, that we should always choose life over death."

Wufei chuckled. "And this from Shinigami?"

It was obvious to all that Duo's shoulder slumped as if a great weight had been pressed upon them.

"I'm sorry, Duo." Wufei reached out to touch the other's shoulder. "I didn't mean to remind you." They all had the weight of guilt from too many deaths at their hands.

"In war, lives are lost on both sides," Trowa said trying to ease the shift in moods in the group. "We fight for a purpose, against what we perceive as an evil not to be tolerated. We fight for those who can't, for their freedom and from tyranny and oppression towards the colonies and here on earth."

Quatre touched Duo's head, stroking his hair. "Hopefully, in the long run, we will preserve those things that are unique and precious, humans and creatures in nature.

They stood there for a moment, lost in their own thoughts as they stared at the creature floating innocently in the water.

Duo looked up and back at Heero. "Could you do me a favor?" he asked as his violet colored eyes met cobalt blue ones.

"Humm." Heero nodded.

"Could you help me up? I lost feeling in my legs about a half hour ago."

It was good, they reasoned, that there were so few people in the children's area as Duo complained loudly when Heero and Wufei lifted him by his elbows and he attempted to straighten his legs. Trowa and Quatre bent to message his knees and legs until he could stand on his own.

He walked carefully with sore knees back to the entrance surrounded by his friends. When told that Heero was taking him to the cafeteria for lunch, he managed a warm smile for his roommate and a slight spring in his step.

"We'll meet you guys in the gift shop when you've finished." Quatre told them.

Duo dragged Heero away quickly, a gleam back in his eye. He couldn't wait to pick out a souvenir.

Heero glanced back to the other three who smiled at their departure. He smiled himself. Balance was once again restored to the team.


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