We don't own GW blah blah blah. 

R for language and crass sexual jokes; 1x2x1; post-EW; newtypeness.

Twelve-word summary: The pilots discover the side effects of being Gundam pilots without Gundams.

Long Odds
5. Oblique Relationships
by Saro and Merellia

Duo put the glass of milk and plastic container of raspberries down on his computer desk.  The raspberries were still dripping water from having been run under the faucet, so a moment's shuffling through some of the papers he had stacked there -- Heero had paid the first set of bills, so this month was Duo's first turn to pay them -- turned up an unopened envelope.  Its grinning cartoon mascot identified it as junk mail, so he stuck it under the wet container as a makeshift coaster.  There.

He'd picked a good time: evening in Bremen meant early morning on L2, and Hilde answered the call wearing her salvage jumper.  That meant she was already set for work, but had plenty of time before she needed to leave.  She fixed him with a glare the moment the video turned on.  "Duo, you asshole, you've been moved in for more'n a week and you haven't called me.  Tell me Heero has been screwin' your brains out, 'cause otherwise I'm gonna be pissed."

"Heero has been screwing my brains out the whole time," Duo said promptly, and ate a raspberry after giving Hilde a grin.  Hilde set herself up for torture all too easily sometimes.  It was harder to resist taking advantage of that with her than with Heero -- Hilde could always be counted on for a good response.

She leaned closer to the screen excitedly. "Really?"

"Of course not," Duo said dryly, enjoying the slump of her shoulders.  "We have to go to work, y'know."  It was a relief talking to Hilde, not having to keep so close a watch on his accent.  Falling back into the familiar speech patterns, listening to Hilde, relaxed him.

Hilde brushed that necessity away with a flip of one hand.  "Yeah, but, afterwards.  Or before! You said you thought it'd be a change for the better."  She gave him a flat look.  "Not that I agree with you that a move away from my salvage yard is gonna be better."

"Hey, hey, Hilde-baby," he said, holding his hands up in mock-surrender.  "No flak for the yard from me.  You know I liked workin' there."

Hilde sighed. "Yeah, when you weren't off starin' at the Earth.  Where's Heero?"

"Buyin' groceries for dinner.  We didn't have the kind of cheese he wanted." Duo held back the smile that wanted release at the memory to avoid encouraging a remark from Hilde.  Heero'd looked so serious when he shook his head at Duo's suggestion to use an equal amount of the processed cheese slices they already had, which was too bad because it would've been interesting to see how that would have turned out.   Cooking was rather cool that way, like a personal chemistry lab.  Mix Component A with Component B and hope it does what you think it should.

"Cheese, huh?  Very domestic," Hilde managed to twit him anyway before her demeanor sobered.  "I wasn't too surprised, y'know.  You Gundam pilots -- I don't think any of you could be happy for long, workin' for some two-bit salvage affair."

Duo swallowed a raspberry and said firmly, "You've gotta better place than that, Hilde, and you know it."  He quickly moved to change the topic: that Hilde's comments could strike nearer the bone than that damn psych doctor he'd seen the other morning -- it was one of the disadvantages to having friends.  "Speakin' of, how's it goin' with O'Rourke's account? You find any of those parts for him?"

She grimaced.  "Yes and no. We found the 167 timing converter, but between his placin' the order and our findin' it, guess what happened?"

"He gave up on the project?"

Hilde blinked at him, startled.  "Yeah, pretty much that's what he did.  He had a mechanic look at the Metahelion and whatever that guy told him made O'Rourke decide against the repairs.  Did he say something to tip you off he was thinkin' about that? You didn't say anything to me."

Duo shook his head.  "Nah.  He just didn't seem too committed when I first talked to him, was all."  Heh.  It had been the first time Duo'd attempted to track probabilities for more than a few minutes or so in advance; the headache he got when the possible futures exploded into the infinite was real persuasive against trying it again.  "You charged him for shippin' costs and all, right?"

Hilde's expression was grimly satisfied. "You bet.  It cost him, too, 'cause I'd had that thing sent in from one of the L3 colonies. But Howard bought it off me -- said he's got a buyer down on Earth somewhere -- so it turned out alright."

"Cool," Duo said approvingly, rocking his chair back so he could cross his legs under the desk.  The secondhand chair squeaked with a protest of plastic at his shift in pressure.

Hilde eyed him, a gleam of speculation in her gaze.  "So, wanna come back and help me keep this place from turning into one of those two-bit salvage yards?"

Duo shook his head.  "You're doin' fine without me.  'Sides," he added with a quirk of his lips, "you'd be hard put to beat an offer of sex from Heero."

"He's that good, huh?" Hilde said teasingly.  When Duo just flashed her another grin, she said, "So it's goin' well.  I'm glad.  What about your job, d'you like it so far?"

"Yeah, mostly.  They had us memorizing those new interplanetary laws for carrying personal firearms this week.  And some stuff about armament control.  Then reading some briefs that're being considered by the ESUN Dispute Resolution Committee."  Duo tried to keep out the sneer that wanted to creep into his voice every time he thought about the DRC. Those politicians whose papers he'd scanned had as much a chance of success as -- as Trowa did getting out of Quatre's clutches.

"That sounds fascinating," Hilde cooed with patently false enthusiasm.  "You left me for that?  It can't be all you're doin' or you would've gone mad by now."

"Clean bill of mental health as of Tuesday from the company shrink," said Duo loftily.  "But yeah. It's not what'll be typical, far as I can tell.  My partner and I, we're prepping t'go on an assignment next week.  Not too big a deal, they wanna make sure I'm up to snuff before letting me out on my own," he said, with a wry expression.  "But it's not make-work, either. Investigating some weapons stockpiling.  Maybe I'll get to blow something up," he said, playing up the wistfulness in the phrase for the pleasure of seeing Hilde laugh.

"If they won't let you have any fun, Agent Maxwell, come back for a visit and we'll set you to salvaging some of the old minefields, 'kay?"  Hilde brushed her hair out of her eyes and glanced past Duo's shoulder, taking in the apartment, he assumed.  "What'll Heero do while you're gone?"

He shrugged, picking up the stack of unsorted mail and flipping through it.  "He hasn't mentioned a mission to me yet, though I dunno. He's pretty close-mouthed about work stuff, so he might have one.  Stay home if he doesn't, I guess.  He'd enjoy himself more if he'd go out and hook up, but he sorta likes stayin' at home."

Hilde chortled.  "Take his left hand for a date, then, huh?"

A handful of circulars got tossed into the trash.  "Tcha," Duo noised derisively.  "He's right-handed."

She snickered appreciatively, then asked, "So, if he's not much of a go-outer, what do you guys do for fun?" At Duo's pointed look, she laughed again.  "Yeah, yeah, I got that part.  But what else?  What's Bremen like? Any sights to see, groundside attractions to take a look at?"

Duo shrugged, taking a swallow of the milk and eating a raspberry with it.  "I dunno that.  We haven't done much, really. Unpack, start work, go home, that sorta thing."  He began to slice open the envelopes of the keeper mail.

Hilde said dubiously, "You haven't done anything?"

"We went out to a movie on Monday," Duo conceded.  "It sucked, though.  We left early and went home to screw around," he said, smirking.

Hilde propped her chin on her linked hands. "Lemme get this straight.  You've been livin' with the guy in the capital of Europe for two weeks, and that's all you've done? Work, home, sex?"

Nettled, Duo said, "We had dinner out before the movie." Empty envelopes followed the circulars into the trash with a little more emphasis than strictly necessary.  Being grilled, even by a friend, pushed all the wrong buttons.

With exaggerated patience, Hilde said, "So have you guys done anything besides work -- and grocery shopping doesn't count -- that hasn't ended in sex?"

"What is this, Hilde?  Nosy Bitch Day?"  Duo leaned away from the screen and crossed his arms, his mouth thinning.  He couldn't quite maintain the expression, though, and slid her a sly look. "Grocery shopping ended with sex, too, a couple of times."

Hilde laughed, her bangs slipping down in front of her eyes. She pushed them back again.  "I'm nosy? Who was it warned me away from that dick Pat Benton?  Answer the question already."

Duo countered irritably, "So what if we screw a lot? What's your problem with that, Hilde? Hell, it's half the reason I moved in with the guy."  And the other half he wouldn't mention to anyone, especially after Sally's interrogation on Monday.  The discussion of that particular mine was one he had no interest in triggering. He sucked a raspberry seed from between his teeth.  Straightening, he said with a smile, "You oughta settle down with one of your men, do the good Catholic wife thing for a while.  You've got the role down already."

She frowned at him. "We can talk about me later.  Besides," she said lightly, "maybe I already have. Thought of that, huh?"

"What? Shit, you've got to be kiddin' me!"  Duo jerked in his seat, indignant.  Plastic creaked as the chair's back flexed. "One of your guys actually proposed? In the past week?"  He sat back, narrowing his eyes as he studied her face.  "You're lyin'."

Hilde grinned.  "Got you.  Anyway, Jean might.  He appreciates a girl who knows what his favorite color is."

"I know that Heero can hack through a firewall in forty-five seconds and break a paracol-128 encryption key within sixty," retorted Duo. "I think that counts for a little more than what his fucking favorite color is."

"Depends on whether you're talkin' about a coworker or a lover."   With a glint in her eye and a cloyingly sincere tone, Hilde said, "You guys need to bond, Duo."

This sounded like a comment straight from one of those women's magazines he'd looked at out of curiosity in the psych's office, full of touchy-feely shit.  "Fuck, it's not Nosy Bitch Day, it's Miz Therapist Day," Duo announced to the room at large, throwing up his hands.  "Parade at ten. Thanks, Hilde."

"Look," said Hilde patiently, pushing her bangs back again. "All I'm suggestin' is that you do stuff together. Get to know him outside sex and work.  Play board games, for God's sake."

"Board games?" Duo said disbelievingly.

Hilde made a face at him. "A videogame, then.  Whatever it is guys do."

We have nightmares together, Duo thought sourly, this morning's early awakening coming to mind.  "Yeah, Hilde, whatever."  War was supposed to be the most bonding experience there out there, wasn't it?  They'd gone through it together, sometimes the only allies each other had.  He didn't see how shooting some badly animated Aries suits would make them any closer. It'd be worse than the fucking simulator.  He fingered the raspberries and ate another.

"That's rude, Duo," Hilde snapped.  "I'm just sayin' that you seemed more taken with the guy than I've seen you with anyone else.  If you want it to be a flash in the pan, then fine, go right ahead and keep right on doin' nothing with him but screw."

"Hilde, look at how old we are," Duo said, going for patience in the face of her rebuke and crossing his arms.  He ignored the queasiness that had uncoiled in his gut at the thought of Monday afternoon.  "Guys our age are supposed to screw a lot."

"Guys your age don't have half the experience you do, and they aren't livin' together and holdin' down permanent jobs."

Uneasily, Duo shifted in his seat.  "You make it sound like we're married or something."

Grinning, Hilde said, "If the shoe fits -- "

"A gnat couldn't wear that shoe.  That shoe's on the far side of Jupiter and heading away at light speed."  Damn it, what was this?  Show some interest in a guy -- alright, he'd never moved in with another guy before, but it wasn't like Heero would get a typical response any more than Heero was a typical guy -- and Hilde already had them walking down the aisle of her mind. "I think," he said before Hilde could open her mouth to let loose with some other whacked-out proposal, "that it's time to talk about your sex life.  You usin' protection and all? Not gonna end up with any 'war orphans' of your own?"

He relished the discomfited look on Hilde's face.  "Of course," she said tartly.

"Good girl," he said with caressing condescension, watching her eyes narrow in irritation at his tone.  It was almost like springing a trap on OZ.  Timing, speed, surprise, preparation -- they all worked together, were all working together now as he smiled to himself and unleashed the really good question on her.  "Have you gone down on Jean yet?"

Her expression of appalled shock was all he could have wished for.  "Duo!"

He watched with satisfaction as Hilde turned red.  Just as he'd thought; she was willing to talk about this if it applied to him, but she wasn't willing to have the tables turned. He crossed his legs again, tapping one foot idly.  "What about the other, what was his name?  Paul? Or was that the previous guy? I could give you some pointers. Want some pointers, Hilde?"

"No!"  She all but squirmed in her chair.

Duo grinned at her, leisurely propping his elbows on the back of his seat.  "There's a spot right behind the balls -- "

Even Hilde's neck was flushed. "You asshole! I don't want to hear -- "

"I bet your saint would like that.  And even more if you'd swirl your tongue right around -- "

"Damn it, Duo!"  Hilde punched the disconnect button in retreat, but not before Duo had dropped the pretense to laugh at her.  God, it was good being able to set her off like that!

A thump and a rattle at the front door brought Duo out of his bedroom to see Heero shoving the door aside, arms laden with plastic grocery sacks. He was still chuckling as he crossed to his roommate and shut the door for him, flipping the deadbolt locked. "Got the cheese, babe?" he asked.

"Two shops," Heero muttered in displeased reply as he headed towards the kitchen.  "Why are you laughing?"

"No real reason. Just a call with Hilde." The last time he'd played with anyone else his age, he'd still been learning not to color outside the lines.  Wait, no, he'd played chess with Wufei and Trowa on Peacemillion.  But Heero'd never agreed to a game, so how was he supposed to know what kind of things Heero would like to do?  "So, whatcha get besides the cheese?"


Quatre leaned forward eagerly as the screen lit with video feed and Duo smiled at him.  "Hey, man! It's been a while.  -- It's Quatre," Duo said, flicking a glance towards someone offscreen, Heero presumably.  Despite the grainy image from an inexpensive vid camera, the Deathscythe pilot looked well.

"Only you would say a month and a half has been that long," Quatre said, smiling, and holding back the grin that wanted to burst free only with great effort.  You head WEI now; you can take the time to be pleasant before hijacking the conversation to your own purposes! Forcing himself to be patient, he focused on the image before him.  The video quality couldn't disguise the decade-old style of the cabinetry in the kitchen visible behind Duo, even covered by fresh paint.  An open cabinet above the sink showed boxes of foodstuffs, the vid resolution too poor to permit reading them. They were arranged in soldierly rows by height.  Had Duo been responsible for that, or Heero? Or maybe they had a maid service?

A mumble sounded from elsewhere in the kitchen; Duo looked back to the screen and grinned.  "Heero says hi, too.   And it has -- been a while, I mean.  You heading this way anytime soon?"

"I've got a con -- Duo." Quatre came to an abrupt stop, his excitement growing cold and the words tangling in his throat as he stared at the grainy image.  "What did you do to your hair?"  It was all gone, shortened into some style that barely brushed his ears.  Quatre knew the astonishment in his eyes had to be giving him away, but he couldn't stop staring at the other pilot in horrified fascination.

"My hai -- oh!"  Duo's mouth twitched before he broke into a laugh. "God, you should see your face, Quatre.  I haven't done anything, see?"  He reached up behind his head and pulled out something; the familiar braid tumbled over his shoulder and Duo's mouth tipped up at one corner at Quatre's reaction.  "Just keeping it out of the way of the stove."  He displayed a long-shafted wooden spoon in explanation of his words, apparently the item that had been used to skewer the braid out of the way.

Quatre drew in a rough breath, feeling his heart rate slow down again even as he fought back the embarrassed expression that wanted to paint itself on his face.  To have been misled by substandard video equipment, even.  He could only hope that Duo didn't think it a joke worthy of passing along to others.  "That's -- that's a good idea," he said, struggling for nonchalance.

"You bet," Duo said.  "I learned that lesson last year when I lost a chunk of it 'cause I didn't realize it had fallen on one of the burners.  Man, the stench!  So I shove it down my shirt now."

"You used my chopsticks last night," Heero grumbled, still off-screen.

"Hey, I promised I'd leave them alone in the future," Duo protested, turning away from the screen to plead his case with Heero.  He turned back to Quatre when that only got a grunt from the other pilot, saying in an undertone, "He acted like I'd been eating off a plate I fed rats from."

"I am the one who would have to eat with them," Heero corrected in a pointedly stiff tone.  Quatre had heard him talking like that aboard Peacemillion, on the rare occasions Heero deemed some action taken by their opponents imprudent enough to warrant comment.

Duo's face turned sly before he vanished off the screen. "Then I'll," Quatre could hear him saying, accompanied by the clink of metal against glass, "just have," and the sound of scuffling feet on a waxed floor, "to eat you."  A thump that Quatre could clearly envision as an elbow to a gut cut off whatever Duo had been about to say with a pained grunt.  Quatre held back on a laugh; he admired Heero for cutting straight to the point.  It was a tactic which often seemed to have the best results with Duo.

The double meaning of Duo's words caused Quatre to pause as Duo stumbled back in front of the screen, wheezing with breathless chuckles around a mouthful of something. I didn't think they were together like that. "Heero's... making a... pasta casserole," he offered in explanation as he caught his breath, one hand pushed gingerly to his stomach.

 "My nanny used to say that to me," Quatre offered with a slight smile, considering the possibility.  Maybe... ?   "Then she'd pull up my shirt and blow a raspberry on my stomach."

Swallowing the last of his mouthful, Duo nearly choked on a laugh. "She said she'd eat you?"  He gave a speculative glance away from the screen. "Maybe I should try that on Heero, that blowing thing. . . ."  The grinding sound of shattering glass answered that suggestion.  "Shit!  Oh, Heero, man, shit! You okay?"

"Heero?" Quatre asked worriedly, setting aside his reanalysis of Heero's interactions with Relena.

Heero moved towards the sink, opening the cabinet beneath that to drop the shards of something into it.  Quatre could hear the heavy clinks of thick glass shards landing on each other. "I'm fine," he said shortly, sticking his hand under the faucet.  "It was just a cup of tomato juice."  He spared a glance at Duo, peering over his shoulder. "You will not try that."

"Didn't even cut yourself," Duo said, bemused, before his smile snapped back into place with every ounce of the insouciance Quatre had seen him display during the war.  "Guess I can't offer to kiss and make it better, then."

Quatre watched Heero closely; the other pilot didn't even blink at Duo's reply, as if he were used and resigned to hearing outré statements like that. Quatre wished he could read emotions over vid units; then he would know for certain. It's just Duo joking.   "Quatre," Heero greeted, moving back towards the counter where he'd been preparing the dishes.  He stopped ignoring Duo long enough to ask, "Is there another measuring cup?"  They would have told me if it were more than that.

"I didn't have any more glass ones," Duo said, leaving Heero to rummage through a drawer as he turned back to Quatre.  "So, why the call? Not just making sure we haven't killed each other yet?  Heero has come close to it a time or two," he said with a deadpan expression, "but he restrains himself when I point out that he's the one who gets up at two in the morning to clean his guns."

Quatre's earlier excitement returned full-force with an euphoric rush.  He smiled, this time knowing knowing he looked smugger than Wufei when a woman's misstep had proven his misogynistic views correct. "Trowa proposed," he announced, allowing himself to gloat openly.

Duo's eyes flew wide in astonishment.  "Trowa?"

"Of course Trowa," Quatre said indignantly before Duo's grin caught up with him.

"Congratulations, man!"   Heero appeared next to Duo's shoulders to agree to that with a nod.

"Why'd you say it like that?  Trowa," Quatre asked, trying to mimic Duo's tone around the smile that continued to interrupt him.

Duo just laughed, crossing his arms.  "'Cause I figured you'd be the one to ask him.  So when'd this happen?"

"This morning."  Quatre's smile grew wider at the memory.  "He had to leave last night -- the circus starts its spring touring next week -- so he put the ring around my toothbrush where I'd find it first thing."

Even Heero looked amused at that, huffing a breath that was almost an outright chuckle.  Duo's face scrunched up, as if he were trying to hold back another laugh.  Quatre eyed him, trying to appear ready to be offended. "Well?"

"That's just -- so -- so fucking Trowa for you," Duo said at last on a plosive breath, his eyes alight with the laughter he held back.  "I guess it's good he didn't punch you in the gut to pass it to you that way.  You said yes right away?"

Quatre folded his hands together solemnly despite his continued delight.  "I messaged him immediately."

"I bet you guys're gonna have a fun reunion," said Duo slyly, getting jostled a little as Heero nudged him. "Hey!"

"Not everybody appreciates your jokes, Duo."

"But you do, huh?"  Duo aimed a grin at Heero over his shoulder.

Heero moved back to the counter, out of the range of the camera. "Not always."

"You definitely have it good, Quatre," Duo said, turning back to face the vid unit. "Your roommate is good to you."

"Oh, he's very good," Quatre said with a wry chuckle and earning an appreciative guffaw from Duo.  "There are several reasons why I'm marrying him."

"Like?" Duo invited with a smirk.

"Like..."  Quatre mused, then smiled. Duo would expect a joke, but it wasn't something he wanted to joke about. "Like the way he can figure out the right counterpoint to play to my music, every time.  Like the way his happiness feels.  Like," he finished, seeing Duo shift his weight and then stop the movement before it could become a fidget -- Duo must be uncomfortable with the mushiness -- "the way he didn't kick me out of bed the other night, when I woke up with a nightmare and kneed him in the groin."

Duo all but choked on a laugh at that.  "A definite keeper, I guess!  Congrats again, man.  That's really cool."

Quatre propped his chin up on one hand, grinning at the other pilot. "We'll be setting a date soon, I think. It will probably be next summer -- so keep your schedule clear, alright?"

"Next summer?" Duo said, astonished, then continued, "Will do.  More time to think of a really great gift for you guys, I guess."

Quatre laughed. "Thank you," he said dryly.  "So, you'll excuse me, right?"  He said in explanation to Duo's look of expectation, trying not to let his smile become something foolish and infatuated, "Trowa's evening performance ends soon, and he -- he might call."

"Sheesh, man! Don't let us keep you."  Suiting action to words, Duo disconnected the call before Quatre could even give him a proper farewell; the window faded to black with a final sight of a cheerful wave from the other pilot.

Quatre stared at the blank window a moment in the silence of his office, thinking, then keyed in a hold on all incoming calls but Trowa's into his system.  That done, he rested his glance on a stack of documents, feeling the excitement of the announcement drain away in the face of a wait. "I suppose -- " His computer beeped in announcement of an incoming message.  His hand flew to accept it. "Trowa!"


"Yuy," Heero said, answering the beeping vid unit without turning away from the pan he was scrubbing.  He seemed to be making very little progress.  Had he known how hard viscous cheese could become when properly heated, he would not have suggested casserole for dinner.

"Well that's a fine hello," a familiar voice remarked wryly.  "You could at least look at me when you say it."

"Hello, Relena," Heero said, shifting so he could see her face.  She was watching him with fixed interest, chin propped up on one fist and eyebrow cocked at an amused angle.

"Hi, Heero."  The eyebrow lifted a bit more.  "You know, I realize that vidphones are complex machines, but I think a big, tough Gundam pilot like yourself can brave it from time to time to call a friend, don't you?"  Her eyes flicked over the dishes he was scouring.  "Which one of you takes the credit for this culinary disaster?"

Heero snorted.  "Did you just call to tease me?"

"Ah," she said, smiling. "That would be you then.  Do you have any idea how to get baked on cheese off a pan?"

"Duo suggested solvent."

Glancing up, he had the privilege of seeing Relena gape.  Finally, she managed, "He was joking, right?"

"He could have been," Heero told her with a shrug.  "Sometimes it can be hard to tell with him.  He might have been joking, unless it worked."

The girl sighed.  "How about if you let that soak for a while and talk to me, okay?  How is it going with Duo?"

"We're figuring things out," he said, after a pause.  There were a number of things about living with Duo he hadn't anticipated, but thus far, nothing he couldn't cope with.

"Figuring things out?" She repeated incredulously.  "Which is Heero-speak for... ?"

"For: we're figuring things out."  Heero chuckled softly as he considered his reply.  "I'm getting used to sleeping without a pillow."

Relena laughed, and he decided to take her advice and let the casserole dish soak.  Drying his hands on a dishtowel, he focused his whole attention on the phone.  She looked pleased with herself.  "So," she said, "living together is working out?"

"We've only been living together for two weeks," Heero told her.  "I think it's a little early to make conclusions like that."

"But you're getting to know each other better?" She pressed.

"Yes."  He was learning new things about his fellow pilot, and it was different than their brief stints as roommates in boarding schools. Duo was... not entirely what he expected. The more time he observed the other pilot's seemingly casual actions, the less casual many of them seemed to become. The method behind them remained largely a mystery, however.

"And that's what you wanted, right?"

Nodding, he leaned against the counter top.  The incident with the telemarketer flashed through his mind, and the way Duo had seemed to anticipate the go ahead on the firing range.  Other things that hadn't caught his attention when they happened, but which, when viewed in light of the theory Heero was piecing together, took on new importance.  The way he'd sounded so confident when they were moving in and he said that the cereal and milk were going to spill, or the way he'd rushed to open the window seconds before the smoke alarm went off while making dinner weren't much on their own, but taken together, it was enough to make him wonder.

"So, is this a good thing?"

"Yes," Heero told her, taking his time with the answer.  "I think it is."

"I'm glad to hear that!" Relena said, and sounded it.

"You just like being right."

"Who doesn't?" she came back immediately, waving the sentiment away with a gesture that conveyed both carelessness and refinement. "I can be happy for you, and happy because I'm right at the same time.  The way I'm being run around these days between school and politics, I'm getting accustomed to multitasking."

"I'm sure," Heero said dryly.

"Where is your better half, anyway?" she continued, not noticing or willfully ignoring his tone. "I wanted to say hi to him, too."

"I doubt either of us qualifies for that title," Heero commented, crossing his arms across his chest. "And he's out picking up Chinese takeout."

"Very wise," Relena said with mock solemnity.  "I'm not sure whatever was in that pan was edible."

Choosing not to respond to that, Heero said instead, "He should be back soon, if you want to wait.  Or you could call back later."

"I don't mind waiting." A knowing grin was growing on the young woman's face as she spoke.  "It gives me time to grill you for all the juicy details."

"Relena," the Wing Pilot chided, "it sounds like you're asking for information about my sex life."

Relena feigned innocence very well.  The guileless look she gave him was very believable.  "You know," she said, "I nearly think I am.  So are you going to tell me, or do we keep playing twenty questions?"

"I have no complaints about that aspect of our relationship," Heero said, a little smugly.

"No complaints?" Relena asked.  "I wanted gory accounts of seduction and conquest."

"He woke me up on Saturday with a blowjob." Perfect deadpan. "Does that count?"

"Only for a guy," she told him, sighing melodramatically.  "Don't you have anything a little better than that?  I need romance and drama to live vicariously through."

"You need a boyfriend," Heero corrected.

"Details!  I need details!" She smacked her desk in emphasis.  "I need something to distract me from the Political Philosophy reading I've been doing for the past two hours.  If I don't get some sort of outside stimulation, I'll probably have dreams about John Stewart Mill."

The door opening interrupted what Heero was going to ask about her preference of dreaming about Duo and himself, and his housemate's voice announced, "Hey, babe.  I got the General Tsao's extra spicy.  I know you don't mind -- " he appeared in the kitchen carrying a pair of white plastic bags with little red pagodas blazoned on them.

"Oh, hey kitten," he said with an exaggerated airiness as his eyes landed on the vidscreen.  Heero knew it was tone he reserved specifically for the young pacifist leader. Idly, Heero wondered if Duo had a tone like that for him.  Relena waved hello.  "How's things?"

"Better than when I had to read Neitzsche in Ethics," she said, wrinkling her nose in distaste.  "That man made me want to beat my head against the table.  I think Romefeller must have cut their teeth on The Antichrist."

Duo tutted sympathetically as he unloaded the food.  Heero watched the exchange with interest.  If Duo didn't know who Neitzsche was, he showed no sign of it, breezing through his response with characteristic ease.  "I'd have thought they would've let you through those classes on a gimme.   Maybe you should visit us sometime.  We'll help you relax."

A what?  Heero started as his housemate arranged the cardboard takeout boxes on the countertop -- parallel to the edge of the counter, but staggered regularly against each other.

"You two could visit me sometime."  She countered, ushering the conversation away from her studies.  "I already told this guy," she indicated the young man who had answered the vid with a jerk of her thumb, "that the phone wouldn't bite him.  I should yell at you for not calling, too.  You know how much I love you two."

"Yeah, I love me too," Duo said, handing Heero a pair of disposable bamboo chopsticks.  "Here you go, so you don't have to use the hairy ones."

Heero accepted the chopsticks without comment, while Relena gave both of them a suspicious look.  "The hairy ones?  Dare I ask?"

"Nope.  Too kinky for you," Duo replied, his grin twisting up into something lopsided and lecherous.

"It wasn't kinky," Heero explained, rolling his eyes.  "He used them in his hair, to hold it up."

"Just spoil the whole mystique, why don't you," the long haired youth said with mocking regret. "Guess I'll just have to come up with a kinky use for them later."

Relena laughed, a happy, expressive sound that drew Heero's gaze straight to the vidscreen.  He had the distinct impression that she was laughing at him, even though Duo was the one who'd made the joke.  The impression was only heightened by the way her eyes twinkled as she glanced between them. "This is why you have to call me more often.  I need to laugh like this more."  The last chuckles died down as she spoke.  "Unfortunately, Mister Mill is calling.  I have to finish On Liberty by next class and I'm supposed to read the other Heero Yuy's treatise on colonial rights before next week, so I should probably get on that."

"Alright," Duo told her, grinning as he helped himself to the first serving of chop suey.  "We'll talk at y'later."

Heero nodded a goodbye just as the screen blacked out, then turned to dinner, and his housemate who had already moved on from the chop suey and was dishing out the General Tsao's chicken.  Picking up his own plate, he asked quizzically, "What's a 'gimme?'"

"What?"  Duo looked up, his expression momentarily clouded.

"You said you though Relena should get advanced through her Ethics class on a 'gimme,'" Heero prompted, watching as the other's face abruptly changed with understanding.

"Yeah, I did say that, didn't I?  It's just something obvious.  You know, like the fact Relena already knows about ethics is a gimme... " He trailed off.  "I don't know where the saying comes from.  'Give me a break,' I suppose."

"I've never heard you say that before," Heero told him as he got a serving spoon for the rice.  "Is it an L2 thing?"

Duo shrugged indifferently. "Mostly. So, how's Relena doin' besides the class load stuff?"

"Fine."  He let a smirk touch his lips as he continued.  "She was curious about our sex life."

Instead of the answering smile and jibe Heero expected, the former Deathscythe pilot said, "I imagine with Quatre and Trowa's little announcement, she'll have other things on her mind for a while."

"You didn't seem surprised by the announcement so much as the instigator," Heero said, remembering the earlier conversation, and making a mental note to buy a new pyrex measuring cup.

"Nah," Duo told him around a mouthful of noodles.  "It seemed pretty likely something like this would happen soon.  I just figured Quatre's timer would wind down quicker than Trowa's.  You can be sure I'd kick you out of bed though, if you kicked me in the nuts during one of your nighttime rampages.  I draw the line at waking up to shouting in three different languages."

Heero's cheeks heated slightly at the memory, but he managed to keep his expression neutral. "I'm not the only one with trouble sleeping.  You are just as bad.  And apparently, Quatre is too."

"Not so surprising, I guess," the other said stopping to think about it.  "We've all seen enough to give a person an excuse to have nightmares."

Agreeing silently, Heero ate his meal.

on to part 6

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