Usual disclaimers apply.

R for language. Consider language underlined -- there's quite a bit of it this time around.
Angst, post-EW, newtypeness, 1X2X1.
And please, in most humble supplication, let us know what you think, even if it's to fling a tomato! We are insecure and needy authors to whom feedback is as ambrosia to the gods.

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

Long Odds
7. Irrational Equations
by Saro and Merellia

Duo was staring so intently at Heero's plate that he felt moved to take a look at it himself, studying it critically in the light of the florescent kitchen lamp. Nothing unusual met his eye, however: simply a few grains of rice and a smear of orange sauce from the last of the previous night's chicken. A lone slice of green pepper drew his attention, so he snared it with his chopsticks and ate it methodically, not really enjoying the flavor, but it least it gave him something to pay attention to besides dwelling on this morning. Peppers did not reheat well.

He looked up to find Duo's glance still fixed on the plate. "What?"

Duo answered slowly, as if he were still turning things over in his mind. "You ate all your food." Duo's own plate still had some of the fried rice on it, but his elbow was on the table, chin propped on hand with his fork set aside.

Such an obvious statement couldn't be the sum of what Duo had in mind, so Heero prompted him with an, "And?" as he got up and carried the paper plate to the sink, flipping open the cupboard beneath to throw it in the trash. He didn't really want to hear what Duo had to say about this. He'd rather get it out of his mind as soon as possible, would that faint background rumble only stop teasing at his senses.

"You hardly touched lunch. Were you sick or something?"

"I don't get sick." Heero said shortly as he threw the chopsticks after the plate. The lie sat uncomfortably on his tongue, so he kept his back to Duo after he said it, turning the tap on to let the water warm up. Even the hum of the refrigerator and the rush of the water reminded him of it, made him think of the noise of Wing's engines heating.

The synthetic wood of Duo's chair legs creaked as he shifted. When his voice came, Heero could tell that Duo had turned to look at him. He filled the drinking glass once the water began to steam. "C'mon, man. You looked like shit, and then you brushed me off. You wouldn't do that for no reason. Did something happen?"

Heero frowned at the glass, emptying it. He had finished with the matter. He didn't need Duo's curiosity resurrecting it. The sound of the refrigerator was nothing more than the sound of the refrigerator. Squirting green dish soap into the glass, he said flatly, "Your concern was inappropriate." A change of subject would, at the very least, get Duo away from airing his thoughts about this morning.

"What?" Cloth rustled, presumably as Duo straightened, his voice baffled and touchy, as if he were on the verge of being offended. He focused on that word, as Heero'd known he would.

The Wing pilot wet the sponge, filled the glass partway with water and began washing it. Irritation and unease lessened as he considered his next words carefully. There was a difference between explaining things to Duo and pissing him off; negotiating that divide was a welcome diversion. "Our jobs... they are public. And our relationship is private."

"I'm certainly not going to spill my guts to Une about it, no," Duo said tensely.

Heero ran the sponge around the rim of the glass, watching the bubbling trail of soapy water left in its wake. "Yes. Private should stay private, and public stay public. Mixing... causes confusion."

More than a little disbelief in his tone, Duo asked, "You mean, the way we didn't fuck while we had missions, we shouldn't let our hooking up overlap with work?" Accusingly, he said without waiting for an answer, "You told Sally."

Duo and his obscure L2 slang, Heero thought, his earlier irritability returning briefly before he rinsed the glass off and set the sponge aside. He forced himself to reply evenly, "She asked me if I was sexually active. I said yes. She knows we just moved here; with that data, are you surprised that she guessed?"

Instead of answering the question, Duo irritatingly asked another. "What about the Wufei? Quatre knows, and since he does, Trowa's going to. We keeping Wufei in the dark?"

"We're professionals."


"He's a coworker."

He could feel Duo's glance resting on him with a steady focus. After a brief pause, during which Heero placed the glass on the drying rack, swished the sink clean and ignored the buzz of the ceiling light, Duo said, "Hadn't thought of it like that." His voice was carefully neutral to Heero's ears. He fell silent a moment more, then said, "Yeah, man, I guess if that's how you want to play it, I'm game."

Relieved at having avoided a scene, or at least a challenge about how enjoyable a little overlap could be now and then, Heero grunted an acknowledgement of the comment, turning around to collect Duo's flatware and plate. "Done?"

"Huh?" Duo's intent look of thought faded as he jerked his glance down to the plate and the scraps of food left on it. "Guess so. Yeah." He lingered at the table as Heero tossed that plate into the garbage as well, and began to wash the flatware. "Yeah, so... you -- you got any plans for tonight, babe?"

"No." Heero contemplated the water running off the edge of the knife, flexing his fingers beneath the outpour from the faucet. Was Duo going to suggest sex? He wouldn't mind that. Being inside Duo... felt warmer than this. His scent wasn't that of scorched Gundanium and hydraulic fluid. He was alive, bone and muscle and flesh that Heero could hold onto and lose himself in. Heero drew in a breath at the thought of that release and resulting ease, turning the tap off as he anticipated Duo's next words.

"So, you, uh... " Duo's voice held atypical hesitancy; Heero restrained himself only with an effort from saying something and diverting the proposal. Slowly, Duo continued, "want to, maybe, rent some videogames tonight?"

The backboard of the sink was fourteen tiles wide and eight tiles high. Heero counted them all as he gathered his thoughts. "Videogames?" he asked at last.

Duo's chair scraped against the linoleum floor as he stood. "I thought... maybe we could do something besides sit around and watch some newscast," he said.

Besides sex. Heero concentrated on keeping his fingers relaxed where they gripped the edge of the counter. And breathing evenly. From the nervous tread of Duo's steps behind him, what he had said must have bothered Duo more than his roommate was choosing to let on. Hinting at sex now would serve no useful purpose. "Alright."

Duo's voice brightened with relief. "Really? Cool, man! I'll go see what kind of hook-ups our 'screen can take for the game console. We'll go when you're ready, 'kay?"

In Duo's wake, Heero dried his hands off with a towel, then dried the two glasses and Duo's flatware as well. There hadn't been anything difficult about his request. It wouldn't be hard for Duo to maintain some separation between the public and private aspects of their lives. And then difficulties like today's encounter outside the restroom wouldn't reoccur.

The glasses went in the cupboard above the sink, flatware in the drawer to its left. In the living area, he could hear Duo putting on his shoes and knocking the toes against the base of the step into the living room. The noise made Heero flinch in renewed annoyance. Did Duo have to do that? He had to be able to do something as simple as putting on shoes without being needlessly loud. After wiping the sink dry in a last measure of tidiness, he followed Duo into the living room, nodding in response to Duo's cheerful, "Ready?"

Duo locked the door behind him after Heero slid his shoes on and stepped past. The three blocks Duo said it would take to get to the nearest video store were mostly filled with the sound of his voice ranging lightly from topic to topic. He started with a, "I still can't believe what Chas said about not wanting to take us inside a bar. What, does he think it'll corrupt us or something? Lured by the wickedness of alcohol, we'll become terrorists? "

The last word was laced with enough irony that it would have roused Heero to an involuntary laugh, were he not already criticizing Duo's penchant for hyperbole. Even Duo's skill at making things look easy was just a form of exaggeration. He changed the topic. "These videogames you mentioned. What did you want to get?"

"Oh, whatever," Duo said carelessly. "Maybe two to start? You could pick one and I could pick one. I don't know much about them, really. Though I think a lot come from Asia. Japan."

Heero sidestepped to avoid knocking down a little boy tugging on his mother's hand as he tried to hurry her forward. At least Odin had taught Heero how to behave himself in public. "Not likely in Japanese," Heero said. The lights changed and they crossed an intersection.

Duo shrugged his shoulders beneath the jacket he wore, his hands tucked in its pockets against the winter cold that still kept the trees bare even at the end of the season. The red collar of the turtleneck he had on beneath it showed when he looked away to watch a bicycle pass them, his glance lingering on the rider's pumping thighs. "Beats me. Nah. Probably they'll all be in German."

"That'll be a problem for you?" Heero asked, turning his attention from the cyclist to the street in front of them.

He saw Duo's mouth curling in derision out of the corner of his eye. "Not any more than it will you, Yuy."

Feeling back on familiar ground, some of the tension leeched away. His hands relaxed inside their pockets. Heero said, "What will I get if I win?"

Duo grinned, the light in his eyes one easily recognized. This was perfect: Duo would wager sex; he'd follow suit with the same, and either way the results went, he'd have what he wanted from the evening. "Well," Duo said in a low voice as they turned the corner. Heero cast an inquiring glance at him, catching that odd uncertainty he'd heard earlier in Duo's voice. At a more normal pitch, Duo asked, "What would you want?"

The shift in tone startled Heero. Why was Duo being so indecisive all of a sudden? Was he implying that he should want something else than sex out of such a deal? What other options were there? Were there things other people -- other civilians, a corner of his mind whispered to him -- typically bargained for? Dourly, Heero cast around for some other possibilities. Brownies?

"Wait, here we are," Duo said, a hand to Heero's arm checking him before he could walk past the glass door with its theatre lights and neon signs glowing cheerfully into the dim evening air.

A chime rang as they entered, eerily like Wing's life support loss-of-integrity alert. Heero stiffened his shoulders as he followed Duo to the console shelves, shoving the memory aside to focus on the units Duo indicated with a sweep of his hand. "Any of these'll work with our 'screen. I don't think all the games are compatible, so you pick one of these -- I don't know anything about 'em -- and then we'll each get a program to go with it, okay?"

Heero resisted the urge to ask how Duo expected him to make any more informed a choice and abruptly picked up the first console within reach, a sturdy cube that would be easy to carry. "This one."

"Alright," Duo said, scanning the placards lining the tops of the shelves and then nodding. "Over there. Any of the Seno games."

Nodding, Heero carried the console to the indicated section. All the game chips were in alphabetical order, their sleeves decorated with colorful letters and cartoons. This was easy. Heero picked up the first game in the first row, glancing at its logo of racing wheels and flipping it over. He ignored the advertising text with its eccentric vocabulary and verified that -- yes, it was a two-player game. That would suit Duo, he was sure. Expectant, Heero looked up for his roommate.

The other pilot strolled casually down the aisle on the far side of the shelf, his head inclined as he read the labels of the games arranged on the shelves. Heero stared at Duo, disbelief needling him. Duo couldn't be intending to evaluate every game here before selecting one, could he?

As he watched, the other pilot stopped and picked up a cartridge, flipping it over to read the summary on the reverse. Heero began to relax, but stiffened once more as Duo put the cartridge back. "Duo?"

Duo glanced up as Heero followed him around the corner to the next aisle, his eyebrows lifting when he caught sight of the cartridge stacked on top of the game console. "Figured out what you want already? That was fast, babe."

Heero just grunted acknowledgement of the comment, impatiently watching Duo stroll down this aisle without even picking up a single game chip. Near the end of the aisle, Duo selected a couple cartridges and read the summaries, taking his time to look between them both. Heero could see his lips move slightly, as if he assessed the weight of their titles for entertainment potential.

When he put them down again, Heero muttered, "I'll go get us ready to check out," and stalked towards the front of the store without waiting for a reply. The store still empty except for them and the clerk, but even the lack of a line didn't settle the frustration knotting Heero's spine. This wasn't a life decision. It wasn't even like buying fruit at the grocery, where you took your time to ensure you didn't select substandard produce.

His gathering scowl must have startled the clerk, for the girl stammered as she approached the check-out desk. "Y-yes?" She was taller than Heero in a manner that suddenly made his neck itch in aggravation; it wasn't so bad on L1 or in Asia, but here in Europe almost everyone overtopped his height, and it was annoying.

"I'd like to apply for a membership," he said flatly. "What information do you need?"

The stuttering clerk typed in his address and phone number, making at least three mistakes per line as he stood there with the console held in the crook of his arm. He gave her Duo's name as well; hearing it, Duo approached just as Heero handed the clerk his bank card. "Almost finished, huh?"

"Have you made a decision yet?" Heero asked, his jaw tightening as he looked down to see a game chip in each of Duo's hands.

"Still deciding. What do you think -- "

Still coming to a decision? Furiously, Heero said, "We'll just take them both," and suited action to words, snatching them from Duo's hands and setting them down on the counter with the game console.

Or, rather, slammed them on the counter. The Seno console shattered under the impact, its black casing breaking apart to spill a tangle of wires, chip reader, and motherboard onto the countertop.

The clerk gasped, jerking back as Heero lifted his hands and shook a few clinging fragments of black plastic from them. "Damn it."

"What the hell was that for, Yuy?" Duo snapped in a hiss, empty hands curling into tight fists.

All the day's frustrations burned through Heero, a fire's leading edge which left an blaze in its wake. He balled his own hands. Turning to face Duo, he spat, "Why the hell can't you make up your mind?" Nails bit into his skin; heart pounded as if, caught in the flames, it had run out of oxygen.

"Um," said the clerk.

Duo drew back as if struck. His mouth thinned as his lowered his chin aggressively, eyes dark as he glared back at Heero. "Hey, man. I don't know what the fuck's your damage, but -- "

"Um -- um, please leave now," blurted the clerk. She flinched when the two of them spared her a look, but held out Heero's bank card at the end of her fingertips, keeping as much distance from them as possible. "The console will be charged to your account."

Duo snarled, "Fucking charge away," turning his back on Heero to shove the door open and leave. Heero snatched his card from the clerk, teeth set grindingly tight as the door shrilled its alarm at Duo's and his own passage. Duo was waiting outside, his hair and jacket glowing red in the light cast by the neon sign on the shop window. "Do you realize what you just did?" he said as Heero glared at him. His voice was sharp, the words biting.

Heero said savagely, "If you hadn't -- " He forced the words out through the fury blocking his throat, but Duo overrode him.

"That fuckin' unit cost half a paycheck! And you broke it because you were pissed I took too long?" Duo had lost any pretense of keeping his voice lowered; giving them wary glances, pedestrians began to walk into the street to avoid passing too closely. "Do you know what kind of attention that stunt could get you?"

"The time needed for executing such a decision -- " Heero ground out, his blood thundering so loudly in his ears that his head throbbed with it.

Duo interrupted him again, his glare furious. "Execute the decision? We ain't in the fuckin' war anymore, Yuy! I can make my mind up slow's an armless crip wanks off for all it matters, Mr. Not-in-fuckin'-public asshole!"

It wasn't like fury lit by adrenaline, which sharpened his senses and brought Wing to life around him; this fire grasped at any straw in an attempt to burn to greater heights, fueling Heero's rage but bringing no light with it. "Your use of language leaves much to be desired."

Duo narrowed his eyes, one fist drawing up as he let loose with a stream of profanity in at least five languages, finishing with, "And if you don't get that, then screw yourself sideways with a razor and a clamlappin' goat, you cunt-rag sumbitch!" Turning on his heel, he stalked down the street, passers-by shying away from him.

Heero stood in the space left around him by the pedestrians, clenching and unclenching his fists, then turned back towards the way they had originally came. The first breath he forced himself to take shuddered its way into him. His shoulders were so tight it felt as though his muscles would tear. "Shimatta." He said, then again and again, until it became a chant, leaving him feeling burnt-out and hollow. "Shimatta, shimatta, shimatta."

He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the jumpiness of his thoughts, the way the honking of horns and tread of feet and sound of brakes and the shrill - nasal - deep -- scratching voices of people tried to blow the embers back to life. He focused on his heartbeat and, returning to the exercises of his childhood, tried once again to slow his speeding pulse; this time -- he took another breath and released it slowly -- this time it worked, even if he felt raw with the loss.

He would go home and... He cursed again, viciously, as memory flickered to life and seared him. He hadn't brought his keys. Duo had locked the door behind them; Duo had the keys, but he didn't. And from the direction Duo had taken off in, he wouldn't soon be returning to the apartment. His ire rekindled. Of all the days for Duo, who was the one who knew how to pick locks and had the least need for them, to have the keys. Heero didn't even have a gun on him to shoot the lock with, and if he kicked in the door, that would be another charge against their security deposit.

He gave a bitter laugh, and began walking in the direction of the video store once more, heedlessly brushing his way through the other pedestrians in the straightest line possible. He'd find Duo, and he'd get the keys, and then Duo could come home when he liked.


In the quarter hour it took Heero to locate his roommate, Duo had apparently had time to talk himself out of his temper, for he acknowledged Heero's presence with a sideways look and a quirk at one corner of his mouth that wasn't too far away from a faint smile. That was just like him, Heero thought sourly. As quick to anger and calm again as he had been to shoot and kill during the war. If only he made up his mind with that kind of haste.

Duo was also apparently taking Heero's return as some sort of apology, for he cleared his throat after they paced in silence a few more minutes and said, "All that shoutin' has dried my throat out. Wanna get somethin' to drink?"

Heero just shrugged, deciding to humor the other pilot; the sooner Duo satisfied this impulse, the sooner they could get home. And Duo could think what he liked, since he apparently had thoughts to spare and then some when it came to making decisions efficiently.

Taking Heero's shrug as assent, Duo tipped his head back to scan the signs of the shops that lined the street. He nodded to one with letters shining with gilt in the light of a fairly tame lamp. "That one."

The inside of the restaurant was subdued and quiet; Duo claimed two seats for them at the bar and gave an order to the waiter there.

"Identification, please?" The man asked. Instead of pulling out the new card from his wallet which he'd just gotten that morning, Duo showed the waiter the older one he'd been using. Heero recognized it for one which listed Duo's birthdate as a year prior. Duo's pointed look had him keeping his mouth shut as he handed the waiter his own matching identification card.

"It's champagne," Duo said, after the waiter had returned to deposit to stemmed vials of a pale, bubbling liquid. "'Cause, well, I figure we've had our first fight and can be glad it's over now, hey?" He gave Heero a measuring look; Heero wasn't sure if it was lingering anger or distrust that made it look less than friendly. "You first."

Heero eyed the straw-colored alcohol, then drank a mouthful, swallowing a couple of times as the liquid slid down his throat. "Uh," he said, less than thrilled with the experience. It was sour, bitter, and pointless, all of which made it an odd choice for a celebratory drink, but that matched his mood. He decided against drinking some more.

Having watched him a moment with the sharp gaze of a scientist eyeing a specimen under a microscope, Duo finally condescended to take a swallow of his own. His grimace was more pronounced, as was his expression of distaste. "That stuff is foul. What the hell do people think they're drinking when they have it? I bet Deathscythe's coolant fluid tasted better." His eyes slid back to Heero. "You gonna drink the rest of yours?"

The lingering slurring of Duo's accent into the more careless rhythms of L2 was probably Duo's way of daring him to comment further on the topic. Finding himself rather tired at the thought of responding in any way -- let alone with the excess he'd displayed earlier -- Heero just shook his head in reply.

"Wanna leave?" Duo asked.


Duo produced some credit chips from a pocket. Heero had never been able to figure out how he stashed them so that they didn't make noise as they rubbed against each other when Duo moved. Leaving them on the counter, Duo slid off the stool. "Me too."

Walking down the street once again, Duo surprised Heero by asking, "So... what d'you wanna do tonight?"

Heero considered that, trying to figure out from the street signs where they were in relation to their apartment; none of the road names seemed familiar. That Duo was asking the question again probably meant no sex of any sort would be happening at all. He didn't even feel dismay at the thought; the prospect of the energy which Duo usually brought to the act just made him feel more tired. "I don't know," he said after they had passed a few more businesses.

From the tightening of Duo's mouth, he supposed more effort than that was required. "We could play a game." Since Duo had been engaged enough in the idea to suggest it in the first place.

Duo shot him a sharp glance, the flickering light from a storefront catching on the faint shadow of stubble that lined his jaw. "Know any card games?" he asked, pointedly not mentioning the evening's earlier prospect.


"Any board games?"


Duo stopped and pointed to a gaily lit shop across the street. Its display window was full with the mechanized twitches of miniature robots and luridly colored mobile plushes. "Go pick something from there, then," he ordered, looking suspiciously gleeful under the cast of his stubborn expression. "I'll wait out here."

If Duo could make a decision with so promptly now, perhaps he had purposefully been trying to irritate Heero earlier. It was in perfect accord with some of Duo's established patterns of behavior. Heero grunted, waiting until there was a break in the flow of automobiles, and crossed the street.

Noise and color assaulted him the minute he walked in the shop door. Past tables piled high with boxes and bins overflowing with even more unrecognizable items, it looked as though there was an entire aisle filled with nothing but an intense shade of pink. No wonder Relena liked the color, if she had been indoctrinated with these things.

"Can I help you find something?" the cashier asked, coming around from the counter and looking at Heero curiously. He had no sense of balance; Heero could have taken him out by hand before he'd turned eight. Or at least what Heero had been told was his eighth year. "Are you buying a gift for someone?"

"A board game," Heero said, and nodded once when the cashier directed him to an aisle furthest from the pink row. He selected the first box he came to which didn't have caricatures or iridescent print on its lid; its picture of a cup and some dice looked rather mild by comparison. Maybe it was not even a board game at all. Duo could take what he got, however.

He paid for it and returned to Duo's side, thrusting the bag stiffly at the other pilot. "Here."

Duo gave him the first grin since they'd left the apartment, tucking the package under one arm. "Thanks, babe."

From the way Duo walked, he, at least, knew where they were. "I don't think it's a board game," Heero said, trying to ignore the way the smile made him feel marginally better at the same time it irritated him with guilt and irked him that Duo could be so casual after having caused such an uproar earlier. They headed down a side street.

"You chose it," Duo said cheerfully.

"That doesn't make it special," said Heero flatly.

Duo's chuckle stung Heero. "I just meant that if it sucks, it's your fault."

"Be glad it isn't colored pink," Heero said as they waited for a crossing light. Perhaps this was the night to see about getting some of those questions he'd had about Duo answered; Duo certainly owed him some sort of explanation in exchange his night's work.


Heero set the game up in a silence that sawed at Duo's nerves, only breaking it to explain the rules in an unrelieved monotone. He couldn't be angry still, could he? Not after he'd followed to apologize, though Duo hadn't made him say anything aloud. But what the hell was biting his ass today?

Duo drew a cube on his score pad while Heero took the first turn, thinking. And that whole fucking not-at-work thing. He hadn't realized Heero intended their relationship to be that casual. It was how you handled the people you dated, like Hilde with Jean, not the people you roomed with. And Wufei was a friend, not just a coworker. Heero's view of things has some weird boundaries, he decided. Not that Duo was going to volunteer to be taken down by friendly fire again tonight by saying anything.

They swapped the dice and, over the course of a few more such exchanges, the cube transformed into an external diagram of Deathscythe's hyperjammers. Duo scratched it out irritably when he noticed, and used the end of the second game as an excuse to start with a fresh score sheet. It developed a pyramid formed from silhouettes of Heero's favorite Beretta bullets until Duo scratched it out, too, and determined to pay better attention to the next game.

It was kind of amusing, Duo decided, watching Heero's hand as he shook the cup of dice for another turn. Calculating the probability behind the dice rolls was somewhat interesting, too.

But Heero still hadn't said anything about a wager accompanying the game. Duo felt the silence pressing down a little too tightly to make him want to risk raising such a topic again -- Heero had certainly seemed thrown off-balance enough by the first time he'd done it, though it was hard to tell how much of that directly related to Duo's suggestion and how much to whatever screwy things were going on in Heero's head lately. Especially when he's so eager to make me into a scapegoat, he thought resentfully. Heero tipped the dice onto the kitchen tabletop.

Heero chose to roll a third time after studying the second set of dice and marking down something on his score pad. Duo snorted to himself. He'd be better off cutting his losses and not having bothered. That only had an 8% chance of helping his score. He let his mind wander back to his previous train of thought when Heero passed him the dice cup. He gave it a shake. This isn't making a difference. We talk more watching a newscast, for Chrissakes. This was a stupid suggestion, Hilde.

He spilt the dice out, barely paying attention as he marked his choices and decided the odds were in his favor if he rolled three of the dice again. I think I'm gonna win this time, too. Wonder if I should try that bargain. He did sorta imply we could keep it going, and I haven't asked him a thing. Don't know how this is supposed to be better than having sex otherwise.

As if anything is better than sex, he thought without much enthusiasm, passing the cup to Heero rather than taking another turn: the probability it would improve his score was too remote to even ponder, let alone make it worthwhile. He ignored the comparison between Deathscythe and sex which wanted to make itself concrete in his mind, belatedly remembering to mark down his scores from the second roll.

I could ask him about... I could ask him about... Duo contemplated the possibilities. Don't exactly want to jump into the 'who'd you first kill' level of things, but I'm damned well not gonna ask what his fucking favorite color is! Besides, the mood he's in, chances are good he'd ask about something he knew I wouldn't want to talk about on purpose.

Something nagged at his attention, drawing his thoughts away from the various questions to find Heero fixing him with a predatory challenge in his gaze. It wasn't a look Duo remembered having seen before, certainly not one of the usual glares. "Heero? Isn't it your turn to roll and all?"

Instead of answering the question, Heero set the cup down and said evenly, "I wish you would stop cheating."

"The hell? " Duo blurted, stunned. He lifted his chin from his hand to glare at Heero. "What the fuck do you mean by that?"

Heero's expression didn't change; he continued with his assessing look. "I mean you've been cheating."

Duo stood angrily, the movement shoving his chair back from the table. "I don't know what the hell you've been on today, Heero, but if you think I'm gonna let you suggest -- "

"You have won all three of our games so far," Heero said calmly, his voice piercing through Duo's words. "You're winning this one, as well. Not a single roll you've made has been to your detriment. What's the chance of that?"

"I -- " Duo said haltingly, trying to think back over his casts since the game began. I haven't. Have I? A chill crept into his belly.

"I said, what's the chance of that," Heero pressed.

God damn it, Duo snapped to himself, closing his eyes and then blinking them open before he could be drawn into focusing on how likely it was that he had done as Heero suggested. He glared at Heero. "I don't know."

"Not 'I haven't' but 'I don't know,'" said Heero in a measuring tone. He must have caught the flinch Duo made at that, for he continued, "Do you know why you jump before someone touches you? Do you know why you knew it was a telemarketer before the phone rang? Do you know why you had 'bad feelings' about things when we were fighting OZ? What's the chance of that?"

Goaded, Duo burst out with a, "Is tonight's entertainment going to be round two of trying to fuck with me, Heero? 'Cause I'm not the only one who'll end up with shit on his face if you want to start ass-betting like that."

Heero's expression grew cold even as Duo could see an angry heat flushing up his neck. "Your problem with the videogames -- " he began.

"That was your problem, Heero, not mine!" A thump on the ceiling suggested their voices had become too penetrating for their upstairs neighbor's liking. Duo rested both hands on the tabletop and leaned forward to say venomously, "So if you wanna talk about my freaks, we're gonna discuss some of yours."

Duo was so close he could see the crease appeared between Heero's brows, the minute forerunner of a frown. "Mine?"

"God!" Duo snapped upright, folding his arms as he glared at Heero. "Yes yours! What the hell did you think you were doin' tonight, breakin' the console in public like that? All but send up a signal flare you're a fuckin' newtype -- no shittin' wonder she asked us to leave! And then that table at lunch, did your brain short-circuit in the shower this mornin', or have you been hopin' I'd invite the motherfuckin' media for you?"

He kept his eyes fixed sharply on Heero, whose eyebrows had twitched up a hint. His jaw worked a little in silence. "I'm not like you," Heero said at last. "I used the Zero System, I wasn't the Zero System."

Duo just stared at him, feeling a furious heat creep into his cheeks. "I'm not some fuckin' psychotic tool, so fuck you, Heero Yuy!"

He turned away to leave the kitchen, ignoring the scrape of Heero's chair as his roommate stood. Heero could take the fucking Zero System and shove it up his Gundamfucking shitcrack. And where did Heero get off going around as flashy about his abilities as Quatre, when Heero didn't have Quatre's resources, Quatre's family, or Quatre's job? And then coming down on Duo for it, the hypocritical asshole.

"Duo," Heero snapped.

Duo kept walking. I'm the one with the fuckin' sense to keep it quiet, and he suggests -- His thoughts underwent a reversal. Damn right he's not like me! On the heels of that thought came the prickle of hunch and he focused on his surroundings --

-- -and spun and caught Heero's wrist before his hand could grab hold of Duo's arm. "I want to talk," said Heero.

Duo's fingers were white-knuckled with his grip of the other's wrist, ignoring the way Heero wasn't resisting the hold. "And I want to take a shower," he hissed. He threw Heero's arm away from him, pulling back with his shoulders straight, then purposefully relaxed his taut muscles. "Know what, Heero? There's an 80% chance in the next thirty seconds that I'll be leavin' to do that, too. There's a 5% chance that I might just deck you one." He smiled, sharp and cold. "And the odds are three to twenty against that you can say something that'll make me change my mind. That a gamble you wanna take?"

He could almost feel the way the possibilities fluctuated and shifted as Heero took that in; the way one future after another cut off when Heero considered and then discarded different responses, only to have others flicker into awareness as he moved on. Then everything came together, narrowed, focused as Heero said, "Yes."

Duo smiled mirthlessly, hooking his thumbs in his jeans pockets. One set of possibilities fell away under the impact of the moment and new ones sprang from it, like fucking spider cracks in a windshield. He shifted his weight, preparing to turn around. "Fourteen seconds and the odds are one to five in my favor."

"Our bargain. I asked and you answered. It's your turn," Heero said, crossing his arms and staring at Duo with belligerent challenge in his expression.

"You shit," Duo said with feeling, hands slipping from the pockets to fist tightly. "You always beat the odds." That fact, before so reassuring, was now just another kick in the head. He crowded Heero, stepping closer until they were almost toe to toe. "So you want questions? Then I'll ask. What the fuck's got into you today? You like poking at corpses to see 'em twitch? And why the hell don't you follow your own rules and keep your newtype crap private?"

Heero somehow managed to give the impression that he looked down his nose at Duo, despite their equal heights. "The first two. Are they rhetorical questions or are you asking for answers to all three?"

"You can take your rhetorical and shove it -- "

Mouth flattening in a line, Heero said, "J never asked me to."

Duo looked at him incredulously for a moment, then said, "You just remember that the colonies cast us both off durin' the war, and they'd do it a lot faster if they knew what you were. More like a devil on the doorstep than a saint, and no-one goes for either." He stepped away, then turned around and headed down the hall towards the bathroom. "I'm takin' a shower. Now that we're fuckin' even on the questions."

Heero told his back, "I'm going to use the computer."

"As long as you're outta my room by the time I'm done, Yuy. And screw you in advance about any hair in the bathroom."


It wasn't surprising to Duo that he had trouble getting to sleep. What better way to end such a bad day than with a little insomnia to add insult to injury? Or maybe just insult to fucking insult.

His anger had cooled while he lay in bed starting at the textured ceiling, but, uncommonly, it hadn't left. Most of the time, if he could get away from whatever had pissed him off, he could talk himself down from whatever ugly mood he'd gotten worked into. This time, however, his internal diatribe kept going, covering the same ground again and again, wearing paths into his thoughts. The fucking Zero system. He didn't even want to get started on that obscene little piece of shit. And what the hell was Heero thinking? J hadn't told him to. You didn't have to be a genius to take the initiative on this one. He'd had the gall to look surprised, too, when Duo had turned the tables on him. As though it had never occurred to him that bending steel with his bare hands was conspicuous.

Duo flipped over on his side, staring at the clock instead. It was only a little after midnight -- still time for him to get some sleep. His hand went automatically under his pillow, and his fingers met the reassuring metal of the gun he'd tucked there.

Hell of a security blanket, he thought grimly.

He'd rather have had Heero, but something had apparently crawled up his ass and died. Whatever it was, he could pick it out on his own.

A headache was growing behind Duo's eyes, doing nothing to improve his mood. Maybe the result of focusing so much on his dubious talent. Turning his face into his pillow and shoving back his drying hair, he tried and failed to push his agitation aside so he could get some sleep. He and Heero were supposed to go in to the office for a half-day tomorrow. He just wanted to shut off for a few hours before he had to face things again.

But he smelled Heero's aftershave on his pillow. It was something cheap, and it was supposed to smell spicy, but in reality it was just hot and bitter. The smell hit the back of his throat and settled on his tongue. Duo's headache flared in response. Fuck.

Was there some sort of law of nature that said shit had to all come down at once? Or was it just his luck?

The smell burned his mouth, and suddenly the leftover Chinese he'd had for dinner became more of an unpleasant premonition than a memory. Swallowing, he tasted aftershave, and his stomach clenched. It was a feeling he knew from his childhood, from when he'd stolen something too sugary or too rich for his system to handle: he was going to throw up.

In a flash he saw the likelihood that he'd be able to keep his last meal down dwindle away and he shot to his feet. One hand clamped over his mouth, he rushed to the toilet. He managed to lift the lid -- which Heero had inconveniently left down for some totally unknowable reason -- mostly in time to avoid making a mess.

Duo knelt, shaking and clutching the bowl even when he his heaves settled for the moment. His head felt like it was about to crack open, and his eyes and nose stung. His throat felt scraped. With one shaking hand, he twisted his loose hair back, silently thankful that it had avoided getting puked on.

Then his stomach twisted again. He tried to hold it back, but it was a loosing battle.

He hadn't heard Heero follow him, didn't know he was there until the other pilot gathered his hair and held it while his body rebelled again, emptying what seemed like more food than he'd eaten in days into the toilet bowl. He didn't say anything, just calmly waited for this round to pass.

Panting, Duo pressed his forehead against the cold porcelain. The bathroom seemed almost unbearably warm. The cold was a welcome relief.

"Are you alright?" Heero asked quietly.

"Yeah," Duo said bitterly, wincing. "Just fuckin' peachy." Talking made his headache worse, like someone was hammering spikes into his temples. "How 'bout you?"

He didn't turn to see, but he could feel Heero shifting behind him. He didn't bother trying to figure out how his roommate would respond to that; his head hurt too much to care.

"It couldn't have been food poisoning," the other said, leaning down behind him. Duo could feel him, not quite touching, just a solid presence at his back. Yeah, that was Heero. "We ate the same thing."

Duo squeezed his eyes shut, pushing away the pain like he would have an injury during the war. But it didn't work the way it should have. The feeling remained lodged in the front of his mind. "Maybe," he gritted, "or maybe I'm just not as perfect as you. Maybe -- "

Whatever else he might have said was cut off by a dry retch that shook his whole body. And again. And again, as his stomach fought to bring up even more. His hands tightened convulsively against the rim of the toilet, as he coughed, choked, and sputtered his way through the latest assault. When he caught his breath again, Heero was gone, and his formerly clean hair had fallen forward....

Fucking hell.

Rising unsteadily, Duo flushed the toilet, then went to the sink to wash his face and get some painkillers from the medicine cabinet. His whole body ached, and he was tired. He didn't think he'd ever been this tired before in his life. Sighing heavily, he climbed out of his boxers and stepped into the shower.

Despite it all, he still had trouble getting to sleep when he finally made it back to bed.

on to part 8

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