Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Heero crossed Tenth Avenue when he saw the teahouse, Koi padding behind. Like a number of to her buildings in this district and elsewhere on Tenth, it differed in appearance from the usual concrete box. Heero imagined the low building was made to replicate a Japanese style teahouse of centuries past, but being a young man who had grown up in the Colonies he had never been to one of those old buildings to be able to judge first-hand.
The larger sign above the narrow porch read Gekka's in the Roman type lettering that many languages used and which was used in signage throughout most of the Earth Sphere. On the doors and windows the name was longer and seemed to be given as Gekka no Cha. Heero was not sure if he was supposed to interpret Gekka as someone's personal name or as a noun. Heero didn't have to read kanji on a daily basis and he had to admit, he might not have immediately known how to read the word if he had not already been told the name of the tea house, but knowing that he was able to figure the meaning. He was fairly certain it was roughly equivalent to moonblossom. Still, that did not tell him if it was a person or not.
Heero shrugged and walked in through the sliding doors. They were glass, with an etched floral design and opened quietly and automatically as Heero stepped close. Inside Heero saw that the décor was mostly the Colonial Japanese that many other shops and homes did have. Here and there Heero thought he recognized an element that was oriental but not Japanese, a column that he thought was Chinese for example, or some sari fabric. White flowers seemed to be used as a motif throughout the large visible dining room with many matching low square tables. There were some other doors open and elsewhere tall windows with blinds drawn up to uncover the lower portion, all looking out onto a garden courtyard.
The servers here were predominately female and seemed to not have a uniform but a dress code. They wore gowns of embroidered silk in light colors with mandarin style collars and frog closures. But there were hostesses apart from the other servers who were in traditional Japanese costume. All of this latter group had their hair styled in the same way, in many very thin braids decorated, or perhaps held in place, with colorful wooden beads on the ends. That seemed Egyptian to Heero, or what ancient Egyptians in paintings looked like.
There was an archway to the left and the narrow room beyond seemed to be meant to keep shoes and jackets. One of the women in kimono bowed. Heero bowed. "This way, please," she said, walking into the coat room. Heero followed. He sat down on the bench and removed his shoes. The women were talking to each other. Heero gathered they were trying to decide what to say about the canine being present.
"Reservation or walk-in, please?" another of the women asked.
"Reservation. I am with a group. I was told to give the name Yemon."
The women giggled as one. It was really a bit unnerving, the way they laughed just the same and lifted hands to cover their mouths. Like... it was an act. Heero decided it was an act. He really did not understand women!
"Oh, you are here to see Ursula," one of them said, the first one. She was somewhat younger than the other, though, she could have been almost twice Heero's age, "She will be here shortly to escort you. She left to escort others of your party to your dining room."
The older woman took Heero's shoes and placed them in a small cubby among others along the lower walls. Heero thought she was Korean, he couldn't name which features made it so, he just thought she looked Korean. When she returned to Heero she handed him a small wooden object with a number painted on it and a pair of slippers. They looked like the sort found in hotel rooms and on first class shuttle flights, except they had a few decorative strips of ribbon across the top of each to decorate them; the other item looked as if it should be familiar, though Heero had never seen one of these before. It seemed old and worn smooth with use.
"Do you wish me to take your jacket?" the older woman asked.
Heero touched his sleeve. It was the jacket Sake had designed. He was only wearing a shirt he had found in his closet beneath the jacket. Found, because he had never bought it or meant to have it. Duo had thrown it out into a hall with him along with many other things. Heero had labored over deciding what to wear. He really had, and he still didn't feel good about his clothing. It was an unusual feeling, to care so much about pleasing anyone with his appearance.
He thought the shirt was meant to be worn as part of a specific style of tuxedo; it had double rows of ruffles either side the front buttons and more ruffles on the sleeves. Even though the ruffles were very visible and Heero didn't think the shirt matched well with the cut of his jacket, he was hesitant to remove the jacket because the rest of the shirt was so thin.
"No, don't you think it is an indoor sort of jacket?"
The ladies assured Heero that it looked like a very nice jacket that could be worn indoors. The older one smiled slightly and took the wooden object from Heero to push the divided end of the dowel-like device over the edge of his jacket.
"It's a clothespin," the other woman explained.
Heero thought it was a device to hang laundry. "Thank you," Heero said, "I was wondering."
"He must not do his own laundry," the older one said.
Heero did laundry. He had washed all his dirty clothes and sheets the night before, actually. "Do you ladies tease all of your customers?" Heero asked very quietly.
They laughed in unison again. "Only cute young men that Ursula brings in," The older one said.
"We are much more formal and polite with everyone else."
"Lucky me to be privileged to enjoy this entertainment," Heero deadpanned.
Another one of them came into the room, and then Heero realized it was Ursula. Her hair was also in many slender braids now and she was wearing a rather customized furisode. The body of the garment was mainly pink with a floral print, the long sleeves were pale blue with clouds and birds and the obi was of a third fabric with a geometric pattern in violet and black.
She stood out from the other women. She looked special, especially as Heero had never seen Ursula in such dramatic make-up. She didn't even look human; she looked divine. She said something, but he didn't actually hear. He thought she said, "Yuy-sama." She bowed. Heero quickly stood, shoving his feet into his slippers. He bowed.
"You look beautiful," Heero said.
"It is kind of you to say so. Give me your arm. I will take you upstairs."
Heero offered his arm. Ursula took the leash from his wrist and then put her hand on it as they walked.
"Do you think Koi would like the garden, or should we take him to our dining room?"
Heero snapped out of his daze, embarrassed that he had been dazed. They were in a narrow space. On one side doors slid open to a dining room decorated in an English style with numerous small round tables and matching chairs. On their other side glass overlooked the courtyard.
"I don't think he has been around... nature very much. He might have an instinct to dig."
"Let's try. He will be safe here. He is a very handsome animal, so I don't think the guests would mind him in their view. I can always let him in later if he misses you."
Heero agreed with a nod. As Ursula opened the door Heero released Koi from his leash and told him to go outside. Heero watched as Koi slowly walked along the path, sniffing things. He seemed all right.
Heero let Ursula guide him upstairs. They walked along another hallway and then Ursula stopped in front of some doors and bent down.
"What are you doing?" Heero whispered.
"Kneeling to operate the door."
Ursula smiled. "It is my job. Just stand. I'll open the door for you."
The door slid open. Heero saw some guests were there already. Vero, Midii and Adin. Heero had not known that Adin would be there. This room, it did not look Japanese. Heero thought its decorations were from India. There was a low table and many floor cushions over a rug and in general things in this room were red and green.
Heero walked into the room. Behind him Ursula stood. He looked over his shoulder and saw her walk into the room, kneel again, then shut the door. It seemed very inefficient.
"Please have a seat, Yuy-sama," Ursula said.
Heero gave a nod. "You don't have to call me that," he whispered. There was plenty of room left at the elongated octagonal table. Heero thought it was made of some worn wood beneath the various cloths decorating it, at least it had veneer. He put himself at a relatively empty part of the table, but close enough to Vero that Heero didn't think he was being entirely anti-social.
"Does anyone need anything right now?" Ursula asked. She knelt close to Heero, a little more distant from the table than he was. She drew her sleeve aside to reach for the scroll on the table. She unrolled it before him. Ursula pointed out the listings for particular services. "It has already been arranged that you will all share these two services here, that is a traditional tea service and entertainment. Since I know most of you will not have had dinner yet, I suggest you try anything else you like from our menu. The food is all light fare, but very good. And of course, teas are our specialty." Ursula moved her fingers over the menu. Her nails were painted in translucent pink polish. "Here you see is the single items, here the platters and services."
Ursula stood up. "I will go see if our last two guests have arrived. If they have I will have the server come in for your orders soon after."
Ursula left, again kneeling on either side of the door.
"Why does she do that?" Heero asked when Ursula was gone.
"One of those nonsensical Earth customs," Vero said.
"He's being irksome again," Midii laughed, stealing Ursula's usual line. "It is what she was trained to do in the geisha school, along with traditional arts. I am certain there is some reason behind it, I mean, originally there was, but since I didn't go to the school, I couldn't tell you."
Heero looked over the menu. Gekka's specialized in Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Russian and English tea services, traditional Japanese entertainment and, besides the foods which were traditional to each regional style of tea service, desserts from all over the Earth Sphere. Heero didn't see how it was specializing when they did so many different things.
Ursula returned fairly quickly with both Duo and Sake. Duo looked over the room quickly. His eyes settled on Heero longer than on the rest of the interior, but only a moment longer. His hair was in many tiny braids, the way Ursula's hair was. Heero had rarely seen it outside the single thick braid. It almost seemed loose, falling over his back and shoulders, braids swaying every time he moved. Heero's eye settled on the jacket he wore as Duo was speaking to Ursula.
"I think I would like to take my jacket off now I am inside." It looked just like one jacket Wufei had often worn, except that it was black. The pants and socks also seemed stolen from Wufei, though, Wufei was smaller than Duo, so Heero didn't imagine Duo had literally borrowed clothes from his friend.
"I will help you. We can lay it over here," Ursula said.
"I also wanted to take my jacket off before eating," Heero announced quietly.
"Come over here, Heero-san," Ursula said. The change of address pleased Heero.
He stood up and walked the few steps to where they were gathered. Heero began to remove his jacket.
"Oi, Fashionplate!" Sake said, "Has someone been buying you clothes? I like this look for you."
Heero felt everyone staring. He didn't look that special. He was only wearing his black velvet jeans and the shirt that he had meant to put in the Not Willing to Wear pile.
"Nice," Duo said softly. He was wearing black lipstick.
The shirt Duo had bared seemed to be too small. It was white, sleeveless, had a mock turtle neck and the lower hem was so high it bared Duo's navel and his lowest ribs. The color made his skin seem dark in comparison, like peach rather than cream.
"Nice," Heero said.
"You may all find seats. I think now that everyone is here I may have to make a few introductions, ne?" Ursula asked.
"Yes. I haven't been introduced to Duo," Vero said.
Heero glared at him, a little, as he took his seat again. Duo sat across, between Midii and Adin and Sake sat beside Heero in the remaining space.
"I will make the introductions, everyone is here because of me," Ursula said. "Midii-san was the best friend I made while at school in Nihon and she helped me when I needed it. I am grateful. And now she lives in the Colonies I have a live-in bodyguard. Vero-san and Adin-san both grew up in the same neighborhood with me as a child. Vero-san is like a brother to me and Adin-san used to say he was going to marry me when we grew up."
"You aren't still holding me to that are you?" Adin laughed.
"And Adin-san does not speak very much Japanese, so you all must be kind and speak Russian... or English." Ursula smiled at Duo, but he wouldn't have seen, since she was behind him. "Sake created the very special kimono I am wearing along with others, under less than ideal circumstances, I am grateful for that."
"You are that Sake?" Duo hissed across the table.
"You interrupted Ursula," Midii said.
"And Sake does not speak Russian, but she does speak Japanese and English. Heero-san also helped me when I needed it, as Midii has, several times. And he apparently has an affinity for teddy bears that I was not aware of when I received one from him."
Heero chewed at his lip, but Duo only laughed.
"Duo-san, though I have only just met him in person supplied the excuse for me to decorate Heero-san's apartment, which provides me with a very influential job reference. As well, Duo-san has featured in many entertaining anecdotes I have heard lately and I hope he will not disappoint me and will tell me his side of these stories."
"Just who has been telling stories about me?" Duo asked.
"Why, everyone here, besides Sake. It seems you and she have just met."
"Yes," Duo said. "You are the fashion designer. I am a fan of your work." Duo made a slight bow to her. "Utsugi, is she your mother... or do you just work together?"
"She is my real mother," Sake answered.
"I was given a kimono she made. I love it. It is so beautiful!"
"I know. I helped her make it. Mother knew that it was going to be for you."
Heero frowned. Duo liked it so much it was hanging in Heero's closet.
"Have you worn it?"
"No." Duo frowned. "It's so lovely. I haven't had an occasion to wear it. I don't often attend very formal events."
"Don't you have a school dance or something coming up?" Heero asked, trying to sound as if he did not know. He glanced in Adin's direction, to see how Duo's schoolmate reacted. Heero wondered if Duo had known that Adin would be here.
"Prom?" Sake asked, "that season is coming up. We have some orders in for Proms."
Adin sort of rolled his eyes and turned toward Duo. So, Heero looked back to Duo.
"Prom?" Duo asked. "I suppose on could wear a kimono like that to prom. I suppose I was waiting to see which of my real friends at school got dates. I'd hate for just one of us to be left out, so I thought I'd just go if someone needed a partner."
"Yes, it would be a shame if someone like Yasmin didn't get to go to her Prom," Heero said.
"Shut up. I happen to actually like Yasmin. She brought me flowers once."
"She brought you flowers?" Adin asked.
Duo tipped his head and chewed at his lip. He really looked beautiful, even making a face. Heero had never been aware of Duo having bad skin, but tonight his skin looked more perfectly smooth. Heero thought it was cosmetics. His lids were dusted with streaks of red and his eyes were lined in black. Except for the creamy black lipstick he looked a bit like Ursula and the other geisha. Heero wondered if Duo had done that on purpose, since he also wore his hair as they did.
"I didn't tell you that story? Relena knows I think, but maybe that was because Yasmin told her..."
"Let's decide what to order and then Duo can tell us about the flowers when we are waiting," Midii suggested.
Ursula was repeating what she had told Heero about the arrangements and the menu.
"I actually like matcha," Duo mused, "I have been here before and I know I like just about everything on the menu, though, they usually only let me sit I that waiting room with the other walk-ins."
"Duo-san, I am sorry," Ursula said.
Duo shrugged. "You didn't work here then. Besides, I probably showed up during their rushes or something, after school or after being on assignment late at night. The uniforms don't do much for the atmosphere of the dining room, I'm sure."
"Well, reservations are encouraged, but to not let you see any of the other five dining rooms they are otherwise so proud of...? Did you have matcha here?"
"Then Gekka or Cassiopeia must have served you. Do you know who it was?"
"Gekka. She was very nice to me of course and her ceremony was beautiful, she just kept me in the front room."
"She is the greatest Colonial master of tea ceremony," Ursula said seriously, "And she must have liked you to do the service herself."
Duo shrugged. "I didn't mean to be disrespectful. I liked everything else about this place, I just wish I got to see the other rooms. This one is lovely. It is like India. I should have worn my Indian outfit."
"I will make sure you get to see any room you wish if you return, Duo-san," Ursula said. "Please, decide what you will eat. I will be back shortly. I should check where our server is."
"I don't know what I will order," Duo said. "I could eat everything." He put his elbow on the table and rested his chin in one hand. He had dark metallic blue polish on his fingernails.
"Duo," Heero said.
"You like everything and I haven't even had most of these foods. Perhaps you could suggest some things for me to order and then you could have a little bit of mine if you are still hungry. We don't know, you might grow even taller."
"I wasn't thinking of mushrooms," Duo warbled.
"Never mind," Duo whispered. He looked down at the scroll before him, moved a finger as he read. That blue polish really glittered when the light hit it, though it looked so dark otherwise.
"Midii, Vero and I were thinking of getting one of these platters, maybe two. If any of you want to share one..." Adin said. "They really have a lot of foods here for a place that says they only serve tea."
"That's because it's Tea, the meal," Midii said, "These days people want the snacks with their tea, even in Kyoto, it must be an American influence."
Duo shook his head but said nothing.
"I might like to try some of the English style breads and pastries," Sake said, "I haven't had very many before."
"Relena has invited me to Tea before," Duo said casually. Vero and Sake made little sounds of astonishment. Duo didn't seem to realize that it impressed them that anyone they knew had also had tea with the Foreign Vice-Minister and once Queen of the World. "It involves a lot of spreads and stuffings on pastries and bread and biscuits. So, if you like carbs and butter and fruit spreads that's the way to go. I kinda like the 'Chinese' and 'Indian' tea meals, with curry in everything and things like boiled peanuts and things flavored with sesame and anise."
"I want the roll-your-own sushi platter," Midii said
"I could eat that," Duo said, "they have smoked salmon. Of course English and Russian style service here usually also has smoked salmon. I think I am craving that."
"I like that too! I like sashimi too, but smoked fish and sticky rice is one of my favorite foods."
"Well, Vero and I have decided we want to try the Chinese platter," Adin said.
"Why don't we just get the International platter?" Duo asked everyone. "Look, it has everything we want. That costs less that getting all different platters or each ordering individual dishes. Two of them would not be very expensive I think. And then we can each order one other item that we really like, if we want to. I know I am going to find one special thing for Heero to eat."
Everyone said that Duo's suggestion was a good one and they agreed. Heero rolled up his scroll and went to the partially open doors that led to the courtyard. There was no direct access here, being on the second floor, but the doors slid open to reveal a railing and view of the garden below. Heero watched the garden while their server came in and took orders. He was vaguely aware of Duo saying, "It's OK, I'm going to order for him." Heero never let his defenses down entirely, as much as he might slip into daze or fantasy he was always partly aware of what was going on around him, even if it was subconscious.
Koi looked well. He was resting on a patch of grass beneath a tree. Some of the other rooms had doors open and Heero could see bits of Chinese or Indian décor. Downstairs he could make out the more formal Japanese dining room.
The garden was beautiful too. Heero thought it was Japanese style. Even the rocks seemed carefully placed, yet, it all looked as if it could have grown that way. The human influence wasn't obvious. It was nice. And it was real. Expensive to have soil and seeds and plants and rock all imported. It was possible to dig up moon rock and put it in a washer with other rocks and have it come out looking as if it had come from a river on Earth, but Heero didn't believe those were moon rocks.
He knew that Earthlings tried to sell rocks to colonial tourists. They got such a laugh out of it. It wasn't that funny. When your home was entirely a human construct of metals mined on tamed asteroids and lunar concrete and so many materials imported from Earth... you didn't even have dirt. You might have soil samples and crushed rock and dust, but it was devoid of any truly organic nature.
To have a garden you had to import worms and ladybugs and other little creatures that Earthlings took for granted. And import of live creatures was strictly controlled. The Colonies would end up with Australia's rabbit problem or something like that if they didn't maintain control of their ecosystem.
There was a pine tree in the garden. Heero could smell it. The interior lights that supplemented the reflected sunlight were just beginning to dim at this hour.
"Maybe he's going to write us a haiku," Midii said.
Heero turned around. Everyone was still at the table. Ursula had returned, just now it seemed, she was setting a tray on one end of the table. Duo was in the middle of telling a story and it seemed everyone was just rapt.
Heero moved back to his place at the table as Duo said, "There was no way we could defuse the bombs, all we could do was try to evacuate all the civilians living there before the bombs exploded or an attack came. Rashid, that's Captain Kurama, he called everyone together, and he announced the plan to abandon the village. I was so angry, I know Quatre was too, because if they found us there, or we fought, OZ might attack one of the Colonies. There was no way we could risk that! And then Rashid said that there was one other task all his men, the Maganac and the Independent Middle East Forces I told you about, under Commander Sadaul, had to do. They had to help the Gundams escape!"
"Escape?" Sake asked.
"Yes," Duo said, "I don't care what culture you're from, I was feeling every kind of dishonored and useless! We weren't from a nation, we weren't even representing the Colonies in any official way. We were just people who chose to fight the ones we knew were the real enemy... and they'd beaten us. They'd found the threat they needed to blackmail us. I felt terrible! But then Rashid gave this speech and he told everyone how the Gundams were really fighting for everybody and how we'd fight again one day and we would save everyone, I think he really believed it then. And so, he told them, they should be glad to return the favor in advance, saving us, because one day we would save them and prove it hadn't been in vain!"
"I wish I'd heard that speech," Vero said.
"It was really good," Duo said. "So then, me and Quatre went to our Gundams to load then onto carriers. And this girl runs up, two of them actually. But this one girl from the village handed flowers to me. And it was Yasmin, but I didn't know her then. She was just this girl. And she was giving me flowers because she thought I was such a hero and all. I wanted so badly to be able to do something good for them. Man, their whole village was going to blown up! Fortunately they did have an escape route they could take, so all the civilians did get away."
"And what about all the soldiers, the one's OZ accused of being rebels when they surrounded the village?" Vero asked.
"They were hiding in this underground bunker. That was one of their favorite tactics, the fortified underground bunker. Anyway, Quatre and I eventually got into the air. From the plane would could see some of the battle. The bombs exploded and then the OZ mobile suits moved in and then all these Maganac burst up from the secret doors in the sand and covered our retreat. But I knew they might loose some good men. So, I asked Quatre, because he was flying the plane, to circle the battlefield. Then I got in Deathscythe and I took this beam rifle that we'd liberated along with the carrier and I opened the cargo doors and I fired on the OZ mobile suits!" Duo paused for a moment. "I know it's kinda messed up to sound so happy about it. Those suits had pilots too. But, ya know! They were the ones who put bombs in a village to punish them for sheltering soldiers and they were the side using blackmail. They were attacking a region that only wanted to maintain its independence. They called the Maganac rebels, but from the local's point of view, they weren't even rebels, they were just the local military that was keeping out the Alliance and OZ. They were defenders. Anyway..." Duo laughed, "When I started going to school at SJC, one day this girl runs up to me and starts gushing. So, that's not too out of the ordinary for me..."
"But then she starts telling me how she knows that everything that her father and Captain Kurama and Quatre said was true and that I really had saved people that day and she was so happy and... then I knew she was that girl that years ago had brought me some flowers. And, I found out. She was the Commander's daughter! Good thing I didn't try messing around with her! Commander Sadaul probably had some big plan in mind to marry her off to Quatre! Guess he didn't think about the sort of preferences those two would develop!"
"What preferences would those be, Duo-san?" Ursula asked.
"Yasmin has a big crush on a girl we know," Adin explained.
"And Quatre is so obviously in love with a guy we know."
"Trowa," Midii said.
"So, Heero-san, have you written us a haiku while you stared out at the garden, to recite while I prepare the tea?"
"I think haiku are too long," Heero said seriously.
"Too long?" Midii teased.
"Yes." Heero said, refusing to be bated. He looked to Duo, but Duo was only quietly watching Ursula now. She had brought in canisters and bowls and pots and wisks and many other paraphernalia of her tea ceremony. Heero thought that she really could make anything look special and elegant.
Of course, tea ceremony already had the ceremony in it. It was long established and refined to be an art and graceful and so on. But, Heero suspected that Ursula could have made tea bags look magical.
"I do not mean to disturb you, Ursula, but I see you practice this all the time. I'd like to hear Heero's theory on poetry."
"Maybe they are naughty poems Heero writes and he would rather not recite them here," Duo said quietly, not his usual full joking mood, more of a half-hearted stab at a jest while he was paying attention to Ursula's hands scooping powder from a canister.
"I haven't actually written any, it's just a theory. It's probably offensive to people who actually know about poetry."
"I learned some poetry," Ursula said softly as she was continuing, "I promise not to take what I learned so seriously that I will not consider your theory."
Heero sighed. "I am not an expert, I have just heard and read poems of various kinds, and I do understand that whatever the length much importance is put on the choice of words and the way they sound together. I have no problem with that. The masters know their art. But, many common people compose poems to, and with haiku for example, they try to make them short, to simplify things down to a the essence of an observation and... other things that I don't feel competent to explain."
"To paint a picture in a set number of words or syllables?" Ursula offered.
"I suppose," Heero said, "Only, when some people do it, they use so many conjunctions and 'kireji' and postpositions and all that."
"That is just how haiku are," Midii said. "You just have to know how to use 'kana' and 'ya' and so on to compose haiku."
"Well, then my theory might not interest you. Give me an example, that might be easier."
"I know one," Ursula said. "Vero, are we disturbing you? I am very sorry if we are."
"I just never heard so much chatter during tea ceremony."
"It is my fault," Midii said, "Shall we give you quiet?"
"No. Now I am curious to know what Heero is talking about. It's not like I know. Maybe most people chat away while their geisha prepares tea."
Heero laughed. It seemed a rather deadpan joke to him. Most people did not have a geisha.
"You liked that, ne? They will say I am being irksome next, you watch," Vero whispered.
"Forgive, Vero, he takes great pleasure in being irksome," Ursula said, "Though I have had training in traditional customs, I find many of them are unable to be appreciated today because they simply no longer make sense. I believe that you can do whatever makes you most comfortable and happy while I fix your tea. That is the proper spirit of the ceremony, in my opinion."
"I don't think you want us doing that here. Midii's knuckles might go white again," Duo warbled.
"Perhaps Ursula will recite her poem now," Midii said loudly, trying to ignore Duo.
"It is by Basho, and I hope that I am not very mistaken in recalling that this was among the first true haiku he wrote." There was silence and then Ursula recited, "Kare-eda ni karasu-no tomari-keri aki-no-kure."
"That's a little spooky for tea ceremony, isn't it?" Midii asked.
"It sounded lovely, but I didn't understand it all. I might if you repeat it. I understood something about a crow on a branch and, I think, night," Duo said.
"You know that much Japanese?" Ursula asked.
"My vocabulary is limited and my grammar is very bad. I tend to reverse things to the English order too often."
Ursula made a slight bow of her head toward Duo. "I am not very good with translation. If I speak in English, I have to think how the English would say that thought. If I think in Japanese and then try to translate I sound very uneducated, when it is simply that I have other skills apart from being good at translating from one language to another."
"But your English does sound very good," Duo said.
"Yes, but if you asked me to repeat what I just said in Japanese, and I did, and you compared the sentences, it would be very far from a literal translation. You understand?"
"Hai, wakarimasu, Ursula-san."
"When I went to school on Earth I remember there were girls who had read a book in Japanese and then they were reading the same book in English for school. Or, they had seen a movie in one language and understood it and liked it very much. Then, when they read the English text or saw the movie subtitles or dubbed, they would get very upset, and argue the word choice of the translators and say that it gave the story entirely different meaning. Now, in a few cases, the translators had not been highly skilled or the work had been very complex and included many plays on words which simply were untranslatable. But, most often, these girls argued silly little differences. And I would say, 'you must understand, no English or American person would say things that way. For the story to make sense to them one must allow a few changes.' I would agree that the translation was not literal, but I had grown up with different cultural influences and I could see that in some cases, literal translation does not work. You must replace with idiom or slang or jokes from another culture in order to continue your story."
The door opened. A tray was pushed into their room and then a serving girl followed. She knelt again to close the door.
"What do you think that haiku means in English?" Duo asked.
"There may be several ways to paint the same picture in English, I think one way would be to say, 'On a withered branch a crow has settled- Autumn nightfall."
Duo nodded as their server placed platters and plates onto the table.
"Well, this Basho doesn't waste very many words. But, couldn't you just say, 'Withered branch crow nightfall,' and give the same meaning in less words? 'kareeda karasu kure.'"
Heero didn't suppose he should expect anyone to understand.
"But I like the 'tomari'," Midii said, moving her fingers down from a place level with her head down to the table to suggest settling.
"Well, I am sure it is beautiful as is. I only meant..." Heero didn't know how to explain exactly. "I mean, what else would the crow do with the branch? You say branch and then crow. What do you first think of?"
"What about 'aki'?" Sake asked.
"The branch is withered. That means it looks dead and has no leaves. I suppose it could be a diseased tree in spring, or it might be winter. But, I don't think you need the 'kigo' in there. When else would you imagine a crow and a branch like that?"
"I think it would be lovely to read at Halloween. Maybe it is even harvest time in the poem," Duo said.
"Basho's people did not have Halloween, Duo-san, but certainly it could be a harvest time," Ursula said. She pushed a bowl of matcha to Duo. Midii and Sake already had their bowls.
Duo shrugged. "Well, Heero... I don't think it is a haiku when you say it, but I think it might be something else that is just as good. I understood what you were saying." He quickly turned to Ursula without waiting for Heero to reply. "Arigato, Ursula-san, It smells good. I will drink it when everyone has some."
"That would be polite." Ursula pushed a little bowl in Heero's direction. He could not remember if he had ever had matcha. Heero lifted the bowl into his hand, to avoid Ursula having any more difficulty with the table cloths.
Soon after Adin and Vero also had their bowls. Heero saw Duo lift his little cup and drink, so he did the same. It tasted, bitter. Heero looked up and Duo was laughing at him, silently. "Try again," Duo said, only mouthing the words.
Heero tried, supposing it was an acquired taste. It wasn't awful, but he didn't think he wanted to drink it.
Duo gave him a nod when Heero looked up again. Duo downed his matcha quickly. He put his bowl down and grinned. "So, Ursula, tell me about this teddy bear!" he said. Ursula began to tell Duo about feeling bad and receiving a gift. She left out why she had felt bad and Duo didn't ask.
Heero saw that as Duo was speaking his hand was pushing his empty bowl across the table. Heero realized Duo meant for them to switch. He quickly put his own bowl near Duo's fingers and took the empty one.
"This is very good," Duo said, lifting the bowl that had been Heero's and drinking from it. "Don't you think so, Heero?"
"Aa." Heero lifted his bowl. "Yes. I finished it. Aa. You gave me just the exact right amount so I don't even want any more." Heero hoped that was the right thing to say. "I'll try some food now."
"Let me help you pick, OK?" Duo asked.
Duo pointed out various items on the platters with his chopsticks, careful to touch only what he put on Heero's plate or his own. "You look good in that shirt; I never thought you would wear it. Like a glove, ya know?" Duo whispered between explaining what chazuke was and offering a scone.
"You look..." Heero looked to his sides, really expecting everyone was listening in. Everyone there knew how he wanted Duo. Adin mostly knew from hearing Duo's side of things, but Heero imagined Midii and Vero had since filled him in. He had been wanting to tell Duo that he looked beautiful since he had walked in. He wasn't even sure if 'beautiful' was what Duo would like to hear. Maybe he should say handsome or gorgeous.
"That good, huh?" Duo said very quietly. He was probably leaning across the table a bit much to be polite, but Heero knew he was just trying to be less embarrassing by not being overheard. Even if the leaning was embarrassing.
At least it wasn't some horrible political function.
Heero glanced up at Duo again. He was spooning rice and tea from his bowl and had not yet mussed his lipstick. That was impressive. Heero didn't know how people did that, male or female. The stuff seemed to wear off quickly during kissing, yet eating hadn't yet smudged the black outside the perfectly curved line of Duo's lips.
Perfectly curved. Heero even though himself desperate.
"Caliente," Heero said suddenly.
"What's that Heero?" Midii asked.
Heero looked at Duo. Duo knew. He mouthed the words to Heero, "Muchas Gracias." Heero usually didn't have to lip read Spanish, but he thought that was what Duo had said.
"The curry. It's hot," Heero said flatly.
"Yeah, so's the wasabi," Duo said, winking across the table. "That stuff is hotter than some six alarm Texas chili!"
Heero laughed quietly at Duo's affected regional accent.
"I could eat it all night though," Duo said.
Heero smirked. "Caliente, that is all I am saying." He went back to picking at a scone.
"Have you tried this clotted cream?" Sake asked Heero from his side, "I never had it before."
"It is not quite ghee or butter, ne?" Heero said.
"It is butter-like."
Across the table Midii and Duo were giggling conspiratorially as they placed strange combinations of ingredients on the sheets of nori along with their sticky rice. Heero was sure Duo was going to try and get him to eat one of those rolls.
Heero took the dish from Sake and spread some clotted cream on his scone.
"Do you ever go to Romeo's, Duo?" Vero asked.
"I was there a few times."
"I think I saw you there once, with Relena Darlian and... I forget his name again... Chang?"
"Wufei. Chang Wufei. I have been there with both of them before. Was it very long ago?"
"Yes. Maybe last year."
"It might have been to celebrate my birthday. I don't usually go there if I am paying."
"You have a birthday?" Heero asked quietly.
"Do you like that restaurant?" Vero pressed.
Duo gave a nod to Heero. "I celebrate it on Halloween, but even on my ID it says January 1st, which we all know usually means a war orphan with lost records." He turned to Vero. "Yes, it's a nice restaurant. Relena and I go there sometimes for lunch if it is not crowded."
"If you like it, I wouldn't mind buying you dinner some time," Vero said.
Heero did not believe Vero had said that. Vero knew that he wanted Duo! Heero clenched his fist around the butter knife.
"You mean like a date?" Duo whispered, his eyes were on Heero, on the absence of his hand above the table.
Vero's hand closed over Heero's. "Yes. I don't recall you mentioning that you were committed to anyone."
"Oh," Duo said, "Well... you see, as kind as Ursula has been to include me, Heero invited me here, with advanced notice, and offered to pay for my share along with his... and I specifically asked Heero if it was like a date, and he said, 'You will be my date,' so, Vero, don't know what's going to happen after tonight, but tonight I can't even give you an answer except to say that you shouldn't even ask me a question like that in front of Heero."
"Oh. You are right. I am so sorry," Vero said, not very sincerely. "Heero-san, From the way you treated him, I had no idea he was your date. Don't you think you should tell him how lovely he looks or something?"
Heero pulled his hand from Vero and dropped his knife on the table. This was Vero's cute way of helping him? Embarrassing everyone because it amused him. He really was irksome!
"Hey, Vero, he told me. Heero just used code is all."
"Right, really complex code," Midii said, "Cocoa is all over the hummus. Repeat. Cocoa is all over the hummus. You read, Wasabi?"
"Roger that, Red Caviar," Heero said.
They continued joking and eating. Heero even ate the strange sticky rice, butter and fruit rolls that Duo made him. There was another round of tea. No one had matcha this time, but tried various blends of tea and herbal infusions. Heero drank sencha and chrysanthemum with lots of honey. He had a few sips of Duo's assam and blackberry with sugar, that was good, in a different way.
An additional platter of only sweet dessert foods and fruit was ordered and by that time Ursula began pouring sake from pretty vases and the stories Ursula, Midii and Duo were telling got sillier and sexier.
Heero drank two little cups of sake and then he told Ursula he did not want to get drunk. She poured a third cup for him, smiling. Heero decided then the right thing to do was to not finish the third bowl. She wouldn't pour more if he looked like he wasn't finished with this one.
No one else had stopped at two, but Heero felt he was content to listen and nibble delicately at his hoard of fresh fruit.
Duo was telling a story about his friend Christie having a party, which he had attended, and being tied up by Christie and a friend of hers who was only a semi-professional dominatrix.
"You go to parties with dominatrixes?"
"Should that be dominatrices?" Midii asked.
"It's probably not as bad as you imagine. There weren't people having sex all over the place. I mean, no more than at a party given by businessmen or school teachers or anyone else. There weren't even people tied up, really. Just a few people that came in on leashes and a few people in bondage of some sort, mostly as a gag. It was tame. Not like the stuff Christie does at the club."
Heero didn't even want to know what happened there. Well, he was mildly curious, but he knew he didn't want to hear Duo tell it to a whole lot of people. Heero said he would go to the washroom. Ursula said she would show him where it was. Heero thought he could find it on his own, but then maybe it was Ursula's job to not have guests wandering the upstairs hall unattended.
When Heero came out from the washroom Ursula was in the hall speaking with the other geisha he supposed was called Cassiopeia. "I am here, Yuy-sama," Ursula called in a girlish voice. She bowed to the older woman and came to Heero's side.
Heero looked back and saw Cassiopeia going down the stairs. "Are you doing all right?" Heero asked.
"Ursula, could you forget to fill Duo's cup for him unless he asks to?"
"I wouldn't forget..." she paused, "Oh, you think he's had too much to drink already?"
"I wouldn't care except, I wanted a chance to talk to him later. He is so busy most of the week. I don't mind him drinking. I just want him to understand and remember what I say to him."
"I will make an excuse, unless he asks for more. Then you will have to stop him."
"I hadn't seen him in person before," Ursula whispered, "He's really very attractive. Did you see his shirt? And he talks so much!"
"I think he gets nervous if no one is talking, so if others are quiet, he will just talk and talk. I figured this out a while back, but sometimes, I let him keep talking so I can listen to him."
"I know he drank your matcha, Heero. Don't feel bad. Not everyone likes it. I thought it was sweet he tried to save face for you."
"Yes... I didn't feel he was doing that so I would be indebt. I think he might have just wanted me to feel better."
They went back into the India Room.
Vero was telling a joke about people of three different religions or nationalities and it seemed the Catholic priest didn't come out in a positive light. Heero saw Duo starting to huff in preparation for a rant or a really biting remark.
"Duo," Heero called, touching his shoulder. "Duo, come over here for a minute."
"That long, huh?" Duo asked, but he stood up and followed Heero to the bench against one of the walls.
Heero sat down, touched the place on the bench beside him so that Duo would sit.
"Yeah?" Duo asked, voice gone flirty.
"Don't get into it with Vero."
"Yeah, you were gonna kill him with the butter knife."
Heero shook his head and then held one finger before his lips. "I was not actually going to hurt him. It's just pointless."
Duo sighed. "Yeah, well, I figured that he's the one you were shopping with when Gibson saw you."
Gibson he could kill with a butter knife, Heero thought, but he didn't say that out loud. "Yes. Midii and Ursula were also there. We went over this."
"Yeah, but I had never met Vero then. You really listened to sex advice he gave you?" Duo looked down and grumbled, "I don't know who would get with him."
"Well, he's rich and his father has certain influence which he will inherit and he isn't ugly by any standards that I know. He's cute I guess, even if the snideness is irksome."
"I didn't say I wanted him. Anyway, he asks me about you all the time. He has a huge crush on you."
"Yeah, like that's new. I'm the cute one I guess. Huh?"
Heero didn't quite follow. "Well, explain that to me later. I wanted to ask you something."
"You didn't indicate to me if you had plans for later. If you do, no problem, but if not, I wanted to offer that you could come to my place. If doesn't seem like a good idea to you, could we go out somewhere for a little while, alone, and talk? I'll make sure you get to wherever you need to go afterward."
Duo looked up and smiled. His lipstick was wearing, so that his lips were black at the edges and pink in the center. It looked strange. "I was thinking, that if you offered, I would try staying with you, but, no sex tonight."
Heero nodded. "I won't argue that, we haven't had the best of luck trying that, have we?"
"Right, we haven't. But... going out anywhere sounds good. Talking's OK. Is there anything else to do at your place?"
"Just a few things. What do you like to do? For example, if you like movies, we can rent or buy one on the way. There's a basketball court right across the street, maybe not tonight, but, any other time you want to play, you could come over. The kids there seem nice, so I am sure they would let us join a game or give us a basket."
"Kewl. Yeah, all that's kewl. You aren't... upset?"
Heero shrugged. "If you say no, what am I going to do? Beg? Force you?" Heero shook his head. "In any case, I told you, I agree, because we might not be ready. The only small regret I have is..." Heero wasn't sure he should say. "Never mind. No argument means no argument. I didn't mean to tease."
"Yeah, but now I want to know, stricken from the record or not."
"I guess that means ice cream is out too?"
Duo grinned. He hissed a breath. "That's a tough call, Wasabi."
Heero laughed at the nickname.
"I mean, the ice cream itself is just practice, not sex. Technically we can eat as much ice cream as we want together. But, that will make it pretty tough to resist the, uh, live tests."
"They have ice cream here," Heero said.
"I saw it on the menu."
"Damn, let's settle the bill and get out of here," Duo laughed.