Disclaimer: This is fanfiction based on the characters and universe of Gundam Wing.

Another Version of Events
by Karan Seraph
Chapter 67

Heero let the first guests in at about seven in the evening and by eight, nearly everyone had arrived. Already he had an endless list of things to do, for as soon as he had made sure the last guest's drink was full, that there were enough snacks set on his coffee table, or that they had enough ice someone else would arrive, finish a drink, or need to know where towels were. Heero was still happy, especially when he could not spare a second to sit down.

He had moved his desk into the bedroom for the occasion and rearranged the furniture just slightly to make way for a larger table, which was in reality just a sheet of composite board over four lunar concrete blocks with a deep green tablecloth draped over it. No one had guessed that it was not real furniture, Heero hoped this was because he had gone to the effort to pay the workers at the local home improvement center to round the corners and bull-nose the edges.

Heero's guests had all complimented the arrangement, except for Ursula, who had whispered to Heero that next time he should use a bit of decorative fabric as a table runner.

There were candles lit and music playing at low volume and the kitchen island had been made into a bar.

Heero was in the kitchen with Koi, counting out plates to bring to the table with his potato salad, when the door's buzzer rang again. "Maybe that is Relena," Heero said. All but four guests he had originally invited had arrived and Yanagi had already informed Heero that Aishawn would not be able to attend the dinner party. There were only three people who could be at the door... unless it was unrelated to the party.

Heero maneuvered around the bar and Koi and reached the door. He opened it and saw Relena and Adin were there. Heero smiled. He had gone through more words than necessary trying to explain to his guests what manner of dress was suggested before Relena had informed him that giving them the phrase 'dress casual' would do.

Accordingly, Adin wore a dress jacket with his kilt and t-shirt, but no tie. Relena wore a short skirt and a sweater, but the luxurious sheen of the fabrics and her arrangement of jewelry, hair and makeup made more than just casual.

Heero had gone for the black velvet jeans and Cheong-Leen shirt combination, even though some of his guests may have seen him in these garments. Relena seemed to approve.



She leaned toward him.

"Watch the apron." Heero leaned forward so that Relena was able to kiss his face while their chests were much further apart. Heero touched his lips to Relena's cheek just as she had touched his.

She straightened slowly and looked into the apartment.

Heero felt Relena reaching for his hand with her fingertips and he took hold of her hand and lifted it.

"Oh, Heero, everything is just gorgeous."

"You thought it would just be guns and computers."

It took Relena a moment to catch onto the deadpan humor, then she laughed. The others in the room also laughed.

Heero kissed Relena's fingers then dropped her hand. "That was what Mariemaia said, that she thought it would all be guns and computers."

"Mariemaia has been here?"

"Once, on an errand for Une."

Relena moved into the apartment. Adin gave Heero a look that seemed sly. He raised a hand and touched Heero's chest, rather he touched the black rubber apron Heero wore and ran his finger along its surface. "Nice, Heero." He grinned; it was almost the sort of look Duo would give him.

"It is not fetish," Heero said softly, "it is just a chemist's apron."

"It comes in useful when he's using his kitchen to cook up explosives!" Midii said loudly.

Most everyone laughed, not realizing that Midii had told the truth, or not wanting to realize.

Adin shrugged and strode into the apartment. Heero let the door close behind him.

"There is just one more guest we are waiting for?" Sake asked.

"Yes," Heero answered.

"I bet it's Duo," Vero said.

"No. It is not Duo," Heero said seriously. He had not even invited Duo or told him of the party. Heero had worried over the issue for a few days and concluded that it was kinder not to invite Duo to a party he was not going to be able to attend. He was so busy with work, and Hilde needed him.

Heero tried to make himself look happier. "I am just about to start serving dinner. Please help yourself to the snacks here. Can I get either of you a drink?" Heero pointed out the drinks just as the door buzzed again.

He could hear the guests wondering aloud whom else Heero had invited. They seemed to agree that if he was going to invite one of the other Gundam pilots he would have invited all of them, and so it could not be Trowa, Quatre or Wufei.

Heero knew whom he had invited of course. The thing was, it had been an impulsive invitation and he was not sure if it had been the right thing. He opened the door, ready to face the consequences.

There he was, the awkward black-haired boy straightening his tie. Had Heero not described 'dress casual' in enough detail? He wondered. "Hello Tobey," Heero said as brightly as he could manage.

"Oh, it's Tobey," Heero heard Vero announce flatly.

Please do not let him be Vero's ex-boyfriend, Heero prayed to all the Powers That May Be.

He was not sure if anything or anyone answered his prayer, but the expression Vero gave the boy did not seem the sort of longing, awkwardness or bitterness one would have for a past lover or partner. Vero seemed to express only uneasy recognition, as if he really did not understand Heero's interest in the young man.

"Well, come inside Tobey," Heero told him in a low voice. He held the door open until Tobey was clear and then shut it. "I was just about to make introductions again as Relena and Adin had just arrived."

Tobey turned his head and focused on Relena. Heero could not see his face clearly then, but he imagined it must be awe. Heero had even seen experienced politicians gaze in awe of her. She just had something special about her. There was the matter of being beautiful and famous; a boy like Tobey might have dreamed of meeting Relena one day.

At that moment, Heero saw Adin's arm rise to Relena's shoulders and draw her to his side possessively. It might have been protective as well, but there was definitely claiming there. Heero thought it sweet. Someone who knew Relena would not doubt that she could not be possessed by anyone she did not choose, so Heero did not view Adin's move as aggressive. It could have looked like that to a young man who was interested in Relena, however.

Heero laughed. He did not really find anything funny, and the forced laugh probably sounded nervous or cold, but something needed to be done. "So, I will do the introductions!" he announced. "Tobey, anything to drink first? Maybe you want to take off your jacket or tie, since you just came from work?"

The boy looked at Heero, his hands clutching his tie. Heero knew he had made a mistake. This boy had seemed so socially awkward and Heero knew how that was, so he had impulsively invited him to his party, but he saw now that he was too socially inept himself to really help Tobey.

Clearly Tobey had rushed home and put on a different suit and tie before coming here. Heero had just made him feel inappropriately dressed.

There was a slight sound from Adin that few might have noticed and then Adin swung his jacket from his body and tossed it to Heero. He now looked under dressed. "You didn't offer to take my jacket yet, Heero!" He said.

At the same moment, Relena spoke to Tobey. "That tie does match your shirt perfectly, but I do not think it would be inappropriate to take off your jacket, if you want to. It is warm in here."

"Warm," Tobey said softly. This boy was like Trowa in a way, he said almost nothing, until you found a subject he was knowledgeable about, and then he would not shut up.

Heero took Tobey's jacket from his shoulders without asking. He hung it on the stand near the door with the other coats and bags.

Heero moved closer to the table then, it was only a few small steps as the table and the guests around it took up most of the room. "I will introduce everyone again since I believe Relena and Tobey know the least amount of people here." Some of the others had not know each other before, but Vero had already been very obviously prying to discover if Hiro was gay and Sake and Shizen had talked about graphics software and galleries and brought out sketching paper and drawing tablets both to do drawings of Koi.

Heero gave everyone's familiar names and explained how he knew each of them. Shizen he had almost not invited, though he admired her work, but he had happened to see her in the hub while shopping for tableware and got her personal number so that he might invite her. Heero did not know Sake as well as some of the others, but he did like her and Heero believed she was a good person to have at parties because she was friendly and outgoing. Midii and Ursula were almost like family to him now. Even Vero seemed like the brother he did not want to have, but Heero felt that normal people had siblings they found annoying and part of him was fond of Vero's sense of humor. Yanagi and Hiro were the ones Heero saw most within the neighborhood, though he knew others well enough to greet on the street. Heero was not certain himself if Hiro was homosexual or whether he was dating Yanagi or ever had. They just seemed to be together a lot. Adin worked for him now, and Heero did like him, but sometimes Heero felt awkward with him. He was sure that normal people would have more clearly defined boundaries between business socializing and personal socializing. They would understand the difference between friends and business associates. Heero did not know well enough how to separate different kinds of social activity and he sensed that at times Adin was not sure either, if they were allowed to joke with each other, or must be more respectful.

"Everyone, this is Relena," Heero said. "She has been my friend for a while and she is almost like my sister. Please be nice to her."

Relena bowed to the group, as she was not yet seated but fixing her own drink.

"This is Tobey. He works at Lowe Electronic Supply. He knows a lot about game systems and mecha and... fashion." Heero smirked. "So I am sure some of you will have very interesting conversations with him."

"Hello," Tobey said shyly.

"You want I should search him for weapons?" Midii asked.

This made Ursula giggle behind her hand.

"I'm sure Tobey is a very kind person if Heero invited him," Relena said as she moved around the table to find a place to sit.

"I will get the salad," Heero sighed.

Heero brought the large serving bowls of salad and smaller plates to the table and encouraged his guests to help themselves.

"Aren't you going to join us?" Relena asked as Heero was rushing back to the kitchen.

"I am the host and the chef, I cannot just sit down and eat," Heero said. It was not only a matter of etiquette. "I am making some sushi and tempura also, and it all needs to be served as soon as it is prepared."

"I did cheat and make some maki earlier today," Heero said as he was setting out the ingredients for the nigiri and oshi was going to make. He had prepared in advance as much as possible but some things did not keep as fresh if cut beforehand. He did not want things to get stale either.

Heero simply listened to the conversation and called his input across the room when he had something to say. He took the sushi rolls from his refrigerator when his guests seemed nearly done with the salad. Heero cleaned up the abandoned plates and checked again that everyone had drinks.

He loaded the plates and bowls into the washer and stacked the glasses near his sink. The apartment seemed to have been originally constructed either before water service was provided to the entire colony or kitchens had been required by residents. It was strangely plumbed, with water in the bathroom only. The dishwasher was sonic and the small basin was only a collection point for materials to be fed to the garbage disposal. Heero found himself buying extra bottled water rather than fetch water from his bathroom. Whatsmore, his dishwasher had recently decided to start shattering glass and Heero suspected the sonic generators needed tuning.

He was still determined to have a dinner party and poured a small amount of water into a bowl to help keep the rice from sticking to his fingers. He had cool hands, so it was not usually a problem, but the water helped him feel clean.

"I never had sushi," Tobey said.

Heero turned full around.

"Are you kidding?" Vero asked.

"I have never tried it, Yemon-san."

"Tell him he can call you Vero, Vero," Heero said.

"Just because Heero and I own the store you manage does not mean you have to use honorifics or even our family names," Vero said slowly, like he did not mean it. Heero supposed some people within the family did disagree with him, but they were very traditional for Colonials.

"We are not in the military, or on a mission or in a meeting with clients, so there is no need for rank. Someone tell Vero about 'perpetuating the class systems taught to us by Earth.'"

"He knows a dangerous amount about politics," Relena said dryly. Heero caught the joke; he thought she was referring to that old saying that said a little learning was a dangerous thing.

Heero knew a quote. "A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle."

"You are right about the class systems at least," Relena said, "If we were to follow the old ways I couldn't even date anyone unless they were a prince, or at least very very rich. I imagine I would have been engaged to Quatre!"

Midii choked, Heero laughed and Adin sort of groaned and shrugged.

"That would have been a loveless marriage," Midii said.

"Not to gossip, but I am fairly sure Quatre could have gone either way."

"Those two have been in love at least since the day they met," Heero said. "Try some, Tobey. It's good."

At that, nearly everyone felt compelled to assure Heero that the food he had made was very good.

"It's not raw, if that's what you think," Midii said helpfully.

"Oh, I forgot!"

"Heero forgot something?" Vero asked with mock astonishment.

Ursula swatted at him.

Heero took a platter of sashimi fro his refrigerator. He brought it to the table. "I did not make as much of this, because I was not sure everyone liked it, but I know Midii does. The salmon is farmed in a seawater drum, so it's safe."

"Spasíba!" Midii said happily.

Heero went back to preparing food. He was starving. He had understood that there would not be very much time for him to eat with the others, but he had not anticipated the degree of his own hunger after keeping so busy today. He practically stuffed his mouth with a fistful of rice and several slices of tuna just to quickly get food to his stomach.

When he had made some more sushi Heero called for someone to bring a plate to the table while he continued to work. Yanagi came to help him; she had been closest.

"Problem with the dishwasher?" Yanagi asked, tipping her head toward the glasses.


"You should tell your landlady. The owner of the lease with the colony will pay for upkeep of the apartments if you are renting here. Actually, you do not have to pay rent if many things are broken."

Heero shrugged. "The sonics are off. I might be able to fix it."

"You should call, Heero. That is how neighborhoods become slums: when people do not take action to maintain the buildings. You should not have to fix it yourself. You pay rent."

"I do not want a repairer coming inside my apartment," Heero said. He had not realized this was entirely true, nor had he realized how loudly he had spoken, until after it was said.

"Something broken?" Hiro asked. "My aunt lives in this building. The kitchens are not that good. But if you call, they'll come fix it. There's nothing to worry about."

"Asking repairers for ID is perfectly normal and understandable," Ursula said sensibly.

"Heero is just being paranoid because he probably disguised himself as a worker to gain entry to buildings..." Midii said.

"Spaceport ground crew," Relena added.

Midii laughed. "I think I heard that story!" Heero had not been the one to tell her, but he thought he knew what Midii would say next. "Did you hear about the bomb bear?"

People at the table were asking what this was. It was exactly what Heero had not wanted Midii to say. She was like the annoying little sister he did not really have. He growled and tried to ignore her. "Here, take these," Heero told Yanagi, handing her a platter and some clean plates.

"I am sorry that I upset you," Yanagi whispered.

"No!" Heero said quietly. "It is no problem! I am fine, really. I will call... if Trowa or Duo tell me they cannot fix it, then I will call."

Yanagi nodded but Heero felt like everyone thought he was a crazy person. He had ten people over for a party, so how could he be afraid to let one repairer into his home?

"They are both better with strictly mechanical devices than I am," Heero said. He knew he was going to have to call his landlady and ask for a repair to be made. He could hear Duo's voice in his head, 'You need parts! Even the best mechanic in the world can't do anything without parts!'

"And you were going to sell them to me? Always have been quite the entrepreneur."

No one was listening to Heero. They were all riveted to Midii's retelling of Heero's battle with Duo below the spaceport. Duo was a tough opponent she said, and very crafty. She glossed over Duo's being able to snatch weapons without use of his person and told everyone, through much laughter, how Heero and Duo had tried to seduce each other into submission. "Anyway, we got out of there and wrote the report that saved the port and Duo kept the bear. He turned in the fake bomb to Headquarters, apparently, but not the bear. You know what he did with it?"

No one claimed to know. If Adin knew, he said nothing.

"Sleeps with it and calls for Heero to come and get him in his sleep?" Relena guessed.

Heero fell over the counter in a fit of silent laughter, but looking around his own shoulder he could see Adin sitting beside Relena and how he straightened up when he realized Relena could be talking about what she had done with her bear.

"Well, it was already emptied of stuffing from the main part of its body, so Duo put some fasteners on the open seam to make it a container that would open and close. And he takes it on all his sleepovers stuffed full of condoms and lube and stuff like that!"

Some people at the table, like Tobey, who only knew Duo as a famous Gundam pilot, were a little shocked by this part of the story. Mostly they laughed. Heero had to admit, the bomb bear was a silly thing, and he had actually seen Duo carrying the little bear in his arms or clutching it close to his body while asleep, so it was really funny to him.

"See, that cheered him up," Midii said.

Heero brought the next batch of sushi to the table then.

"Please sit down with us, Heero," Ursula said.

"I do not want my muse to starve for having fed me," Shizen said. She had a naturally low voice and so she made being a muse sound much more intimate or personal that Heero supposed it should be.

"Is he your muse too now?" Sake asked.

"I thought I was your muse," Ursula said very quietly.

"Ursu-chan, you are my muse that is a girl!" Sake said lightly, "But lately I have seen Heero on TV and I want to make clothes for him."

"I do like your clothes," Heero said. "I like the clothes you made for Duo, too."

"I would like to see Duo-kun again. He really understands me, but if I designed clothes for Duo-kun, no one else would wear them."

"I would also like to see Duo again," Ursula said. Yes, Heero thought, she and Duo could help each other.

"I have to make tempura," Heero told the girls, "of course I would like to sit with you, but I am hosting today. You do not always have time to sit with me if I come to see you. Ursula knows where I hung Shizen's work. Ursula, you could show them. It is just in the bedroom. You can go see. We just have to keep the door open in case the business line rings."

"You two never stop working," Vero teased Midii.

"Work is healthy," Midii said, crossing her arms.

"I can make tempura," Hiro said.

"Yes?" Heero asked.

"Some of my past jobs were in food service. I make very good tempura. I could help you, if you do not mind and will show me where you keep the ingredients and utensils."

"That would be poor manners: to invite you to dinner so you can cook for me."

"I really do not mind."

Heero considered this. "We can help each other. That way neither of us will have to do as much work." Heero looked to the girls, Ursula, Shizen and Sake who were sitting together. "I am sure I will have time to sit down at dessert. If you do not all have to leave soon, we can have some more drinks... I will show you the game machines I restored."

"You did it?" Tobey asked.

"You have game machines?" Relena called.

"What about the 2600?" Tobey demanded.

"Which ones do you have?" Relena asked.

Heero smiled. He thought Dr. J would have felt so stupid if he lived to see how easily he could have trained Relena. She would have worked to beat every level of his simulators even more eagerly than Heero had. He had let her go when he had her, but not Heero. It would have been such a different world if they had killed Minister Darlian, when the order came, and taken Relena to train as one of their pilots.

"I have quite a few now and most of them work. None of the newest machines that are at your house, but I have the Atari and several Nintendo and Sony systems... I am considering which ones I want to sell."

"Your Atari works?"

Heero smiled and nodded. "Yes, thanks to you. That old soldering iron you had in the bargain bin worked better than my newer tools on its primitive circuitry. The shop was very well stocked, Tobey. I can bring you the cables and components I did not use soon, and we will settle up."

"Where are the machines now?" Tobey asked.

Heero stepped back and drew the sheet from the collected devices and monitor that were sitting on the floor in the corner. "Check them out if you like. I am going to make tempura." He tagged Hiro's shoulder and then went to the kitchen.

Soon Heero and Hiro had completed the batter and the dipping sauce and were frying seafood and vegetables in the hot oil on Heero's stove. Midii and some of the girls had gone into the bedroom, supposedly to see the paintings, but probably to go through all of Heero's stuff. Relena was with Adin and Tobey. Tobey was examining the intricate eave of cables and custom switchbox that allowed any one game machine to be routed to the monitor and its attached speakers at a time. Relena and Adin were looking through the game discs and cartridges. Yanagi cleared the used glasses and plates from the table and brought them to the kitchen.

As they brought small batches of the tempura to the table the others came back to eat. Heero sat down for just a few minutes to eat, but then he insisted he get up to clear the table and serve dessert. After dessert was on the table, cleaning up could wait.

Yanagi and Hiro must have felt bad about being waited on; perhaps they were too American. They helped Heero to clear the table, load the dishwasher and run it. Yanagi even took glasses to the bathroom sink to try cleaning them there in water. There were not many, as most people had been drinking the same thing through the night and kept their glass. Heero had contributed to the mess by giving out fresh glasses earlier.

Heero had purchased containers of ice cream, sponge cake, whipped cream, fresh strawberries and some flavored syrups for the party and he brought these to the table, as well as the spoons and dishes required for eating. "I purchased the cake," Heero explained, "but I did decorate with strawberries and cream all by myself."

"Take off the apron, Heero," Relena said softly, "You do not have to do any more work."

Heero smiled half a smile and then sighed and walked to hang his apron in the kitchen. He walked back to the table and sat down between Sake and Tobey, where there was a small space. Because there were eleven people around the table and some sat on their knees and others cross-legged Heero found he could fit in and reach the table best if he drew his right knee up and folded his left leg across the floor in front of him.

"That is a nice outfit," Relena said.

Heero smiled. "These are my favorite pants."

"The shirt is House of Cheong-Leen?" Sake asked at his ear.

Heero nodded for her. He scooped himself some vanilla ice cream and then piled strawberries over the cream. He took a spoonful into his mouth. Strawberries and ice cream made him think of Duo. Heero was not sure that did not make the food taste even better.

"Didn't notice the rosary beads under your apron," Adin said quickly. He was still building a dessert.

Heero touched the beads with his left hand. "They belong to Duo."

"He tell you it was sacrilegious to wear them like that as decoration?" Midii asked.

"Yeah..." Heero answered slowly, maybe it was even dreamily. He was sure everything these beads meant to him was sacrilegious. He remembered Duo first showing him the beads and saying, 'You want to pray with me, Heero?' Heero had agreed of course, because injured as Duo had been, he had already shown that he was well enough to be interested in sex and make bad puns. 'Right now, let's say every one of these beads here is a stroke. You can do it with your hand or your mouth or whatever, but just ten in a row. Ya gotta count them out.' Then Heero has asked, 'What about these beads in between those?' Duo had grinned in that dark space beneath the sheets. "Tonight I think I'll make that a French Kiss.' And finally, 'What about the other beads and the medal and the cross, Duo?' Duo had leaned as close as he could without feeling pain. 'We are not ready for all the games we could play with these.'

"He's thinking about the boyfriend again," Vero teased.

Heero had been, so he admitted this with a nod and then quickly tried to forget about Duo and eat his ice cream. The others did not really help.

"Heero, where is Duo's ring, if you are wearing the beads?" Relena asked.

"I put it on my foot."

"Your foot?" Relena laughed. It was a gentle sort of laughter.

Heero twisted around, putting his back to Tobey. He drew his left foot from beneath the table and extended his leg until it was nearly parallel to his torso. There was a black leather thong tied around Heero's left ankle and the large, gold ring was lashed to it. "When I started working out again and sparring, I found that it gets in the way, so I moved it. It stays on my foot unless I need to wear boots, then I move it somewhere else."

Heero lowered his leg, noticing the peculiar way Sake was looking at that leg. "I started yoga," Heero whispered.

Sake giggled.

Heero went back to his dessert.

After they had eaten dessert, the group split up again. Heero still made sure that all his guests were entertained, but now they were spread throughout the two main rooms of the apartment and engaged in different activities.

Heero first followed the girls into his bedroom to make sure they were not spying too much, but they were just talking about Gonin Team. Heero smirked then left the room. Heero then sat down on the floor near Tobey, who was playing with the game machines. Relena and Koi were also on the floor with the machines.

"Do you want to check out this Atari, Heero?" Relena asked.

"I checked it out last night." Heero switched the monitor over to it's signal then plugged in a plastic game cartridge and switched the console on. The machine beeped cheerily. "You'll like this one," Heero said, smiling. He handed Relena one of the joysticks. "You can play against her," Heero told Tobey.

Tobey lifted the second joystick.

"Select like this," Heero explained, "Tank Combat. This is funny."

"Oh My God! This is so primitive!" Relena squealed.

The low-res sprites rolled uneasily against the solid background in a simple maze of partitions as equally primitive sound effects played.

"Ah ha ha!" Relena cried out, "That's a tank?"

"Make it go diagonal!" Heero urged.

Relena moved the joystick toward a corner of its base. The sprite suddenly looked even less like a tank.

Tobey's tank was slowly firing little white specks at Relena's tank.

"Single fire button?" Relena asked.


"Prepare to be defeated!" Relena cackled.

"I am pretty good at computer games," Tobey said defensively.

"Lena's better than good," Adin called from the table. He was playing a card game with Yanagi, Hiro and Vero.

"Feel free to try all of these games," Heero told his two closest guests. "I tested the machines, but not with each game, so be warned of that."

Heero then turned toward the dinner table. The food was mostly cleared but for some remaining chips, pretzels and pocky. Most of the beer had gone, but there was still some amount of wine, and sake around. They had finished the flavored vodka Midii had brought and were now adding juice to a new bottle.

Heero got up, fetched a clean glass and then sat down to pour himself some wine. He really did not know very much about wine, but he knew this one was red, from California and a few years old. It tasted like wine should taste he supposed.

"Poker?" Heero asked.

"You play?" Adin asked.

Heero nodded.

"Want to?"

"On the next hand?"

"That's fine," Vero said when the other gestured agreement.

On the next hand, they dealt Heero in. Koi came to lie at his side and put his head on Heero's thigh. Heero pet Koi, played poker, and drank wine. They were only betting pretzels at first, but then they decided to play for money, assigned a value in Esdees to the pretzels, and agreed on how many each of them would buy.

They played some more hands, rotating dealer. Heero was fairly confident that he had no tells, but he also was aware that the others might play this particular game more often and have better strategy. It was not a large advantage to be able to bluff when everyone else had better cards. Heero would end up staying in until the end only to lose to better hands.

Heero was stirring his wine with chocolate pocky and starting to think that he was drunk to the point where he could not even bluff. Not that his others guests were not drunk; they were. It was just that up until then Heero had counted himself having another advantage.

"That's cheating," Vero grated.

Heero sucked wine and chocolate into his mouth. "What? I put one card in and took one new card. That's perfectly legal!"

"Ch'. Just stop."

"I don't think he knows," Adin said.

"I am not cheating!" Heero laughed.

"I believe the gentlemen are suggesting that your oral activities are a distraction tactic," Hiro said.

"Gentlemen," Adin coughed.

"It was working then?" Heero asked.

"Yes," Vero said, "and I am irksome?"

"I was losing so badly I had to do something!" Heero confessed.

"You watch out," Adin said, "Heero is good with losing battles. He'll make a comeback and take all our money."

"Wait a second... 'gentlemen?' Is that some kind of euphemism? You're... het?"

Hiro chuckled. "Have you not heard that all Colonials are bisexual?"

"Unless they are with someone," Yanagi added.

"I've lost it!" Vero cried. He poured several fingers of vodka into his glass.

"Faulty radar," Adin said.

"You need to get that fixed," Heero said.

Vero straightened slightly and looked seriously at Heero. "I need a fix. You know any good technicians?"

Heero nodded slowly. "None I would send to you, I am afraid."

"Kisama," Vero slurred.

Heero ignored the insult. "It's not that I do not really want to help you get laid, Vero," Heero said, "it is just that... that..." Heero could not think what it was. "I do not want to help you get laid. You... are cute and you... have more experience than I do... so you should not need my help."

"Man, what's your problem?" Adin asked. "I hate to see a guy this desperate. You should have just told me. I'd have a'least recommended a club or a bar or something."

"Well, if it is just sex, I know where I would send you," Heero said smugly.

"Yeah... I saw you there the other day. What were you doing on that banquet?"

"What the fuck's a banquet?" Adin asked.

"It is a very fancy bench!" Vero informed him.

Heero laughed. "Let me tell you this story. I was in that place you know, taking a break in that room, and I decided to call Duo."

"Oh!" Vero said.

"We were just talking while I was stretched out on the banquet there, and I hear this tapping sound from outside the headphones. So, I tell Duo to hold, which he did not like very much. I look around, and the guy on the other side of the partition is knocking."

"What did you do?" Adin asked.

"By the way, let me just say that I know the place you are talking about and that everyone knows Heero goes there now and that he owns it," Yanagi announced.

Heero shrugged. He had never cared about the public knowing this. He really did not care if they believed he did spend all day with various prostitutes. The rumor that he was selling himself at some ridiculous price only bothered him a little. "Anyway," Heero said. He took a sip of wine. "I stood up and looked right over the partition. Of course, the man there looked horrified, but I quickly informed him that I was staff. So, I asked what he wanted and he said he wanted to know what line I dialed because he could not help but overhear and he thought it sounded good."

"What? How absolutely lacking in manners! It is one thing to overhear, but another to admit it or act on what you learned."

"Aa. I told this man I could not give him the number because it was my boyfriend but if he told us what he was into, maybe we could recommend a line."

"And he told you?" Adin asked.

"Aa... and Duo said I should give him his number, because he was going to mess with the guy for interrupting us, but I did not like that idea so I asked Duo if he knew an actual line and he did."

"I bet Duo gave him the number for some other kind of line that he was not into, just to get revenge," Adin said, laughing.

"It was a real number. It was one of those lines that you call to hear two people speaking to each other."

Everyone laughed.

"But I want to know what you were doing there," Heero said. "I mean, the real reason." Vero had to make an appointment to be in the waiting room, but Heero suspected that was not really why he was there, but his excuse for staying.

Vero shook his head. "I cannot say."

"Tell me," Heero said firmly.

"I found out someone else was going there and I wanted to see them so I went in there."

Heero outright laughed at him. "I know who it is. We will not say who, but I know. You still have a crush on him?"

Vero nodded.

"That is your problem!" Adin said. "When you get a crush like that it does not matter who else you have sex with, it does not help."

"Yet I keep hoping someone else will just make the crush go away. You know who my last crush was?"

"Oh, yes, I know." Heero said.

"Who?" Adin asked.

"We do not need to say. It is better Vero has his current crush."

Vero groaned.

There was silence for a moment, excepting the noise of the video game console, and then Heero said, "Maybe you could win him in a poker game."

There was another moment of silence and then Vero started laughing loudly. He laughed until he fell over. Heero laughed until tears were leaking from his eyes and he was shaking so much Koi got to his feet.

"Poker... win him!" Vero gasped.

Maybe if they were sober they would have not thought it so funny to gamble for humans, but at the time it seemed like the funniest thing Heero had ever heard or said.

Koi whined.

Heero pushed himself up, nearly hitting his head. He did not even remember getting onto the floor. Someone was calling him. Heero noticed that his bedroom door was only slightly open.

"Heero-kun!" He hated that. He supposed they were drunk. He was not even sure which girl was calling.

"Heero! It's not the business line!" Midii yelled.

"My phone," Heero said to himself. He crawled into the bedroom, because he was already on the floor. He found three young women were all sitting on his bed. Midii and Shizen looked on the verge of making out. Sake was looking through Heero's closet. Ursula was searching the desk, which was pushed up against the far wall, without out understanding how to activate Heero's phone.

Heero scampered up onto the bed and across the futon to his desk and quickly received the call on his personal line through his mobile computer. It was Duo.

Heero's vision had gone a little fuzzy, the key-labels were blurred, but he could see that Duo was using a remote camera, or else sitting far from the lens. He was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his hands hanging between his legs. His head seemed to be bowed and either his braid was a loose one or Duo's hair was not braided at all. It hung down over one shoulder. Heero did not think Duo had a shirt on.

"I would have gone blind if I took this on the headset."

The girls laughed.

Duo looked up. "It rang long enough, you don't let the machine answer?"

"Private number. If you have the number, the call is important to me," Heero said.

"Shit, you're drunk again... and with girls in your bed, I see."

Heero sat on his knees at the edge of the bed, not knowing what to say.

"Hello, Duo," Ursula said.

"Ursula. Who else is there?"

Sake came from the closet and knelt behind Heero. She leaned on him as she waved to the lens. "Hello, Duo-kun!"

"That's Sake? You are all a little close to the lens for me to see everyone..."

Heero pushed the mobile further back on the desk.

"Yeah, hold on..." Duo said. He looked away from the lens and said something that the mic did not pick up. Heero was too drunk to lip-read. He had enough remaining logic to know that Duo was likely speaking to Hilde. She came into frame a moment later and sat down beside Duo. "Now I have one of my own," Duo said.

Hilde whispered something to Duo.

Duo might have grinned. "That's Shizen just behind you, with Midii?"

Heero nodded slightly.

"Hey, Shizen, did you find Heero's pillow book yet? It's on that shelf behind you. He wrote notes in it and everything."

"Duo!" Heero scolded.

Hilde kissed Duo's face then spoke to Heero. "Why didn't you invite us to the orgy?"

"It's not an orgy!" Heero insisted. He realized afterward that Hilde had not been serious. It was too late to make a witty retort.

"What is the occasion?" Duo asked.

"No occasion, just a dinner party."

"We were really busy at the garage today."

"I figured."

"Woulda been nice to get invited. Don't want us to show up uninvited and curse your children."

The girls laughed. Heero could only guess this was yet another literary reference he did not understand. "I thought it would be kinder not to tell you." He figured there was no pointing keeping the truth from Duo now.

"Yeah, but I did find out, and now I know I wasn't invited."

"Duo..." He wanted to apologize.

"Just remember for next time," Duo said cheerily. He probably was not happy, but Heero was grateful he put the mask on in front of the girls. Duo was saving face for him, though, so that meant he knew Heero was sorry. Duo knew Heero had been wrong. "So, how many people were there?"

"Ten guests. They are all still here."

"Really? And none of them Preventers or Gundam pilots?"

"Adin and Relena are here."

"Still, that's pretty impressive," Duo said. He sounded impressed, but Heero was not sure how he should take the comment. "Ten guests and you're keeping them all entertained."

"I wish you were here to see," Heero said.

"Oh... I see."

Heero grimaced. Ursula had practically fallen into his lap; Heero thought she was half-asleep. Sake was now hanging on his arm. He was not sure what Midii and Shizen were doing. "Who is she, Heero?" Sake whispered.

"Hilde. That's Hilde. She is Duo's friend."

Duo seemed to be pointing out the girls to Hilde as well.

Midii then leaned on Heero's other shoulder while Shizen stood on her knees behind Heero and peered over his head. "He really is gorgeous," Shizen said.

"You want to hear about the things that kept us busy today?" Duo asked.

"Yes," Heero answered, assuming this was correct.

"We incorporated under a new name," Duo said with a wide grin.

"That sounds good. What is your name?"

"Maxwell Technologies."

"So, it is named after you."

"It has a nice ring to it," Hilde said.

"Yeah, because if I ever have a kid one day, they'd be a Maxwell," Duo winked. Heero thought he could see one eye close. "So it'd be nice to have something to leave to them, if I died."

"Not that anyone would expect you to have a kid very soon, right, Duo?" Midii asked.

Duo laughed. "Right. Just planning for the future. Right, Baby?" It took Heero several seconds to understand that Duo was speaking to him.

Heero forced laughter. "Sure, Honey, for the future," He said lamely. Only then, did he catch up with the input he was receiving and realize that Duo was telling him Hilde was going to give her child Duo's last name. Well, parents could pretty much choose any last name for a child these days, so Heero knew it did not mean they were getting married. He supposed it was nice, Hilde having a Maxwell.

"Ya wanna know what else happened today?" Duo asked.

He is not angry with me? Heero wondered. "You are not mad?"

Heero thought Duo was raising his arms in a dismissive gesture. "OK, I admit I was pissed for a minute there, but then I realized my assumptions might also be wrong. It is normal for you to have friends. For me to insist that I be invited to every singly social activity that you attend is just jealousy. I've been in that exact position before, Heero." He clearly meant being in a bed with four girls at some party. "Who am I to blame you for just living?"

"I drank to much wine," Heero said.

"Mm, I bet everything feels really good to you right now... and warm."

Heero nodded. It was true. Sometimes things with Duo felt different. Sometimes he made Heero feel... small.

"I wish I was there to crawl all over you," Duo said. "What do you think I should do to him, Hilde?"

"Duo knows?" Something about the tone of Duo's question said that he did.

"I always knew what she was up to I just chose not to comment. So, Hilde...?"

"Duo is not a bad writer himself," Midii said. "What was it you said you wanted to do for Christmas? 'I want your presence. I want to spend a day beneath mistletoe. I wasn't to spend a night gazing at the stars while you stoke the fire inside me.'"

Duo laughed nervously.

"I thought that was a bit over the top for Duo," Hilde said, "but he thought of it all on his own."

Duo made a small cough. "It was not all smutty! You forgot the part about wanting to know that we are not only able to fight and kill!"

"Yes. 'I want to feel your wounded heart beating against mine. I want your blood-stained hands on my fragile body. I want your pure essence flowing through me,'" Heero quoted.

"That sounds more like Duo," Hilde teased.

"I thought it was beautiful. I understood perfectly. I love the Holiday List. Duo, have you gotten through my reports yet?"

"Still rationing myself, but the ones I have read are my joy... seriously!"

"I didn't see any reports!" Midii complained.

Heero smiled.

"Heero?" The voice came from behind and it was Relena.

"Relena," Heero said as he turned. Yanagi and Hiro were with her.

"We came to say goodbye," Yanagi told Heero.

"We put your table away," Hiro said, "That was a good idea."

"Aa. If you are having a party, you can borrow it. I do not know how I will store it."

"Ask if you can put it in basement storage," Yanagi suggested.

"Aa... you will be alright getting home?" Heero asked. He climbed up from the bed slowly.

"It is just down the street. Thank you for inviting us," Yanagi said.

"Thank you very much for coming." Heero gave Yanagi a hug. He looked at Hiro and Hiro bowed, so Heero only bowed back to him. "Take care."

"We will," Hiro promised. They started to move from the bedroom.

"Oh, and thank you for helping with dinner!"

Yanagi waved and then they walked through the other room.

"The boys have passed out," Relena reported. "It is probably best if you let them stay."

"I did provide a lot of alcohol," Heero said thoughtfully.

"I would like to stay if that is all right," Relena said.

"Of course. Yes."

Relena gave a nod and then moved past Heero. Sake was chatting with Duo and Relena stooped down beside her in the place Heero had been. "Hi, Duo," Relena said, "Hilde. I did not have as much to drink as the rest of them, so you know I will look out for everyone."

"You are so kewl," Duo told her.

"Tell him not to leave yet," Heero said quietly. He knew he had to make sure everyone was well, that they had a blanket or a pillow if they needed it and that there was water, tea and coffee for the morning.

"It's OK, Duo says he knows the drill."

Heero hurried as much as he could. Tobey was awake actually, but he looked half asleep as he was playing a video game. Heero dropped a blanket over his shoulders and told him he could stay. Adin and Vero were sprawled on the floor near each other, their heads resting on some of the cushions that had been around the table. Heero gave them another of his blankets and then moved to the kitchen.

He set out cups, tea, and coffee neatly on the counter. He put the teapot on the stove. Heero checked that there was water in the refrigerator.

When Heero got to the bedroom Koi had arrived before him to curl up on his own bed near the desk. Shizen was missing and the bathroom door was closed, so that explained that. The others were all gathered around the mobile chatting with Duo and Hilde. It was much earlier in the day where they were and it probably entertained them to speak to drunken girls in Heero's bed.

Heero waited until the bathroom was available and then entered. He used the toilet, washed up and found a bottle of painkillers. He took several with tap water and then returned to the bedroom.

"I want to talk to Duo now," Heero said flatly.

The girls made space for him to sit as Duo was telling Relena that it was OK for her to give Sake and Shizen his number. "So, I'll talk to you about that thing later, Sake," Duo said as Heero sat down at the edge of the bed. "Nice talking to you girls!" He waved.

"I am back," Heero said.

"I see. I was just telling all the girls there about the naughty things you do for me." Heero did not think Duo was lying, only exaggerating. He had merely been having fun with the girls, or he was with Heero.

"Right," Heero said. "I should try to sleep."

"Yeah. Hope to see you soon. It's been a week."

"I know. I am doing all right. Not that I would not like to be with you."

"I know."

"Definitely by the Fourth."

Duo grinned; Heero was sure. "I want to see fireworks on the Fourth of July! I want to feel heat on my body. I want to lick food from your fingers, feel a sweating bottle against my skin and taste beer on your lips. I want to absolutely know that we are free."

"I like that one a lot. I think I can make all those wishes come true."

"It's only the sixteenth!"

"I will do my best to get to see you before then, but at least it is something to look forward to."

Duo laughed. "I think Sake and Shizen really want to put you in red, white and blue now."

"I am their muse," Heero said, laughing slightly.

"Mine too," Duo said. He sounded like he was smiling. "Goodnight, Heero. Guess I'll talk to you in a day or so, when we are both awake again." The difference in time zones meant that Duo was often asleep by the time Heero was waking. There was a period of ten or twelve hours a day when they could not communicate because at least one of them was asleep.

"Goodnight, Heero," Hilde said.

"Oyasumi," Heero sighed. He heard Duo's laughter and then the line was disconnected. Heero rolled his shoulders and then lay down.

He ended up mostly between Relena and Ursula, though Sake was somehow entangled with his legs. Ursula was mostly asleep already and she cringed and whimpered just a little when she felt Heero touch her; it was a crowded bed.

"Heero da. Oyasumi nasai, Ursu-chan," Heero whispered.

Relena pressed herself against Heero for a moment in half a hug. "You are just like a big teddy bear!" she said.

"He is fuzzy too," Sake said. Heero felt her hand on his leg and gave her a light kick.

"No groping," Relena said authoritatively, "we are merely safe-keeping Heero for Duo."

Heero sighed and did his best to fall asleep.

on to chapter 68

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