Duo quelled the tremble in his hand. It was a stupid game and no matter what, it didn't matter in the end. A deep breath and three dice rattled in the cup chasing one another around. The surreality of the moment caused a momentary waver. His last throw, he needed all three to come up twos; this would decide the game.
"You can always call it quits, if you want," she offered in her quiet cultured voice.
He glanced up in time to see the slightest hint of a smile that had nothing to do with manners. Must be taking lessons from that Caladonia bitch. Slamming the small plastic barrel on the table, he ground out, "No thanks." His hand refused to lift the cup and faintly, he wondered how he'd gotten himself into this mess.
The favor, seemingly simple, was granted without a second thought. A lady's retreat, and a large Preventer's operation being held at the same time created a dilemma in security. Involved in the main planning, and being an integral player in the operation, Heero could not meet his other obligation in guarding Relena. There were few others he trusted with the task, and Duo's name was at the top of the list.
Too bad a storm blew in the afternoon before the retreat started. And the main speaker couldn't make it. The retreat was to be held in a castle in a remote location, and before morning dawned on the day of the event, they were snowed in. Since most of the visitors were to have arrived late that afternoon and throughout the evening, only a skeleton staff was on hand; though plenty of food was in stock. As the main coordinator, Relena needed to be on site early, Duo in tow. Five people in a castle built to hold two hundred easily created drafts, quiet and solemnity.
It hadn't taken long to reassure the woman her guests were safe, and no one had suffered a mishap because of the storm. All had either found other accommodations, or stayed at home. Cozily ensconced within one of the many sitting rooms with a fire blazing, Relena curled up on one end of a sofa reading the latest suspense drama on the best seller list. A small tea service sat on the end table next to her, and she sipped her tea comfortably. Occasionally her gaze would rise to the man stalking the room's length and back, her finely shaped brows drawn together.
"Oh for goodness sakes, Duo. Please find something to do and stop that pacing," she exclaimed in exasperation.
"What?" The man looked confused for a moment and then rubbed sheepishly at the back of his neck. "Yeah, well, I hate this. Being stuck, yanno." He sat in a graceless sprawl on the arm chair near her.
"Have you tried reading?" Relena offered, a hand waving vaguely in the direction of the bookshelves lining the walls. "There's so much here to chose from."
A hint of red crept up his neck and he shook his head. "Nah, can't read." Duo looked away, not catching the surprised expression.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know, I wouldn't have offered..." she stammered quickly.
Looking back at her in alarm, Duo gestured negatively. "No! That's not it. I didn't mean I couldn't read. I mean, you sort of have to be able to read and comprehend stuff to pilot. What I meant was," He took a deep breath and stared at his boot tips. "I fall asleep when I read."
"Oh." Relena blinked and fought the smile threatening. "Surely that poses a problem at work."
Duo drummed fingers on the armrest. "Work's different. Things are happening, people coming and going. Half the time I'm trying to redesign the crap," He shot her a look. "Sorry." She waved it away with an indulgent smile. "Yeah, well, I have to rewrite the way the specs are drawn to make it work. So, too busy to sleep. But give me something entertaining to read, and bam! Right out." His lips twisted in a rueful grin.
She smiled faintly at his exuberance. "If this hadn't been set up for a meditation retreat, we could have watched movies or something." Duo's brows rose and lowered. "I think there are games in one of the upstairs closets. We could find something we both like, maybe?"
His attention peaked and he sat forward. "What do you have in mind?"
"Let's go see what's there and decide." Already on her feet, she led the way, bodyguard close behind.
Over the afternoon, they had worked through several of the lower skills games, set aside the multiple player games, and held off playing those needing extended time until later. Scrabble, Yatzee, and backgammon were left - at least until they could find another player.
"Thorax," Duo crowed, placing tiles on the squares. "Double word score, double letter, making it a total of thirty-six."
Relena wrote his score on the pad at her side in neat precise lettering. She thought for a moment, and let out a small gasp. "Xenophobia," she announced, moving her tiles. "Double letter score."
Duo snorted and planned his next move, tuning her out. His mind flipped through possible words, spelling and placement and he almost missed her question.
"Why is it that you do whatever he asks, whenever he asks?"
Raising his eyes from his letters, he frowned. "Who are you talking about here, Relena?"
She shook her head softly, her hair making a soft swishing sound against her back. "You know of whom I speak." The corners of her mouth twitched. "I've often watched you, and wondered."
Tiles forgotten, Duo sat back to watch her. "And what did you wonder about?" The rug he sat on felt cold and hard, suddenly.
Relena dropped her eyes to the tiles, her fingers rearranged the letters before answering. "You love him." At Duo's laugh, she looked up. "It's said you never lie. Are you going to show me you do?"
He glared at her and turned away. "I don't lie."
"So you do love him." She leaned forward over the short table between them.
"I didn't say that. And what's with the inquisition?" Duo shot, pulling back.
"You haven't answered the question, Duo. Do you love Heero?" Her hands clenched together in her lap.
An ugly gleam appeared in his expression. "What about you, Relena? Do you love Heero?"
She released a breath, her demeanor relaxed at once. "Yes, I do. But then, it's never been a secret from anyone." She smiled to minimize the sting. When he dropped his eyes and his fingers began to knot up the fringe on the oriental rug, she stated calmly, "He loves you too, you know."
Duo shot her a look. "What kind of shit are you peddling, Relena? Cause this is starting to get old."
"I see it whenever you're in the same room together. I hear it in his voice when he talks about you." Her blue eyes caught his. "And he talks about you a lot."
There'd been no bitterness, no deceptiveness in her tone, just a statement of facts as she knew them. Duo watched her for a moment before offering in much the same manner, "And you too. Drives me crazy sometimes, to hear him talk about you all the time."
With the look they shared, the knowledge solidified. "He will wear himself out between us, never able to decide but wanting both." Relena was the first to drop her gaze. At the slight catch in her voice, Duo leaned over and picked up a hand, squeezing it in understanding. "We will either have to share him, or one of us will have to step out of the way. Because he won't be able to do it himself."
"He's a big boy. He don't need help with that," Duo replied lightly, attempting levity.
Relena made an irritated sound and pulled her hand free. "Haven't you seen him lately? Haven't you seen how haunted he looks? He buries himself in work so he doesn't have to face it. He does need help."
Hands flat on the table between them, Duo growled out, "There's nothing about that man I haven't noticed. But there isn't anything I can do. I don't..." He clamped his lips tight together and sat back, stretching his legs out in front of him, his expression thunderous.
"It's not jealousy..." she began.
"Never thought you were jealous. Just stubborn." Duo refused to meet her eyes again.
Her laugh was soft, short and eased the darkness from his face. "And I know you are as well. But at the same time, something has to give, or we'll both lose him."
A slow minute passed before he asked, "What do you propose?"
Relena closed her eyes, thinking through all the angles. "We play for him." At Duo's startled exclamation, she held up a hand. "The winner will chose who walks away. And since I know you to be an honorable man, I know you will uphold whatever happens."
"What game?" the words scraped over too numb lips.
"Something requiring little skill, but a lot of luck." Her eyes flashed briefly and she reached for one of the boxes tossed to the side. "Kismet."
His grin deprecating, he tossed out, "Fate? You're putting the three lives on the edge over a chance?"
Her grin matched his. "Isn't that the way it's supposed to be? Young man, go fill your destiny. Gamble your fortune to pennies with the roll of the dice." Humor washed away with her next words. "Throw your life away in the next battle, the next war."
He stared at her for a long moment and then sat up, legs pulled back under him. "So, what? We play one game? Best two out of three?"
"Best over all." Her attention was drawn to the contents of the box, scanning the scoring pads. "Three games in total. Highest score the winner."
Duo began clearing the half finished Scrabble game. "That sounds fair. And what of the loser? What happens then?"
"No more flirting. No encouragement. But remaining friends."
His hand fumbled with the tile bag, his resolve waning. "Are you sure this is what you want?"
"It isn't about what I want, not really. It's about Heero and what we're doing to him." She helped him finish clearing the table and setting up the new game. "You roll first."
He nodded once and picked up the plastic cup, the rattling of the dice loud in the room. "Here's to the future." And the dice tumbled.
Her hand closed over the top of his. "Don't... don't look."
Duo's head shot up. "What are you talking about? I'm not giving up."
She drew a heavy breath. "But I am." Her fingers trembled on his.
"Relena," he said softly, lifting both their hands from the cup.
"Don't." Her head shook and she didn't look up. "Just... be happy." She rose and started to leave.
"You're giving up? Just like that? I thought you loved him." Duo stood as well, closing the gap.
"I do. Please don't make this harder than it is," her voice cracked and she hid her face in her hands.
His arms slid around her shoulders, and he pulled her into a loose embrace. "Let's just forget the stupid game. Keep things the way they are, and maybe... we'll back off. Both of us. Give Heero a break, or something."
The laugh muffled against his shirt, she punched him lightly on the arm. "Damn you. You're making it hard for me to hate you, you know."
He chuckled. "Well, it's not like I hate you either." They were silent a moment, his hand rubbing her back soothingly, her hands still clutched in his shirt. "You would be so good for him."
"So would you. He needs to have more fun in his life," she said, drawing back, but not letting go.
"But you could give him more than I can." He swallowed and lowered his head. "A family, wealth and a shot at something big."
"And you bring him happiness, love and an understanding I cannot and will never match." Her hand lifted to his cheek.
His hand closed over hers, holding it in place. His eyes closed. "Why are you doing this?"
"For Heero. What I can give him he can get from many others. But there's only one you." She rose on tiptoes and brushed her lips softly to his. "I'm tired now. I think I'll go to bed." She extracted herself from his embrace and moved for the door. "Goodnight, Duo."
The door closed behind her before his daze cleared. He looked up and shook his head. "Night, Rel."
He stood over the small table for some minutes before leaning down and lifting the cup. Duo blinked and a low whistle released itself. Gathering dice, score pads, pencils and cup, he put the game away. He sat once more on the abandoned arm chair, and staring at the ceiling, a small smile formed as he whispered, "Yatzee."