|Standard disclaimers apply.|
"Where's Duo?" Quatre asked, loading bags into the back of the car. "He was here a second ago..."
"In there." Trowa nodded towards a small second-hand shop across the road from the carpark.
"Great," Heero snorted. "Do we sit in the car for two hours or go and drag him out?"
"Neither," Trowa said calmly, pulling the keys out of his pocket and settling into the driver's seat. Across the road, the shop door banged open and Duo bolted out, clutching a large paper bag to his chest. "See?"
As they pulled out of the parking lot, Quatre leaned over and poked curiously at the bag. "What did you get?"
"Uh, just a couple of things I wanted," Duo said, quickly rolling the top of the bag over and squashing it down between his feet. "A shirt, stuff like that. I didn't mean to keep you guys waiting, sorry."
Trowa shook his head, flicking a glance down at the bag as he looked over his shoulder and changed lanes. "You didn't. Don't worry about it." *That's a big bag. A shirt and what?*
Duo yelped as he stabbed himself with the needle for about the fifteenth time. "Ow! Damn it... if I bleed on this, I'll be so pissed," he mumbled, sucking on his finger.
"I didn't know you could sew," Trowa said, leaning around the door. "What are you doing?"
Duo yanked the black cloth out of sight, looking guilty. "Sister Helen taught me to sew so I could mend my own clothes. I'm actually pretty good at it."
"Doesn't sound like it."
The braided pilot grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, well, the more careful I am about where the stitches go, the less careful I am about where my fingers are. If I'm doing really good work, I usually donate about a pint to the cause."
Trowa chuckled softly. "Whatever you're doing should be a masterpiece, then. Ever heard of thimbles?"
"On all ten fingers? I don't think that would work."
"I don't suppose it would. Coffee? I'm making a pot."
"There'll be some left if you change your mind," Trowa said, turning away. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Duo picking up the bits of black cloth again.
"Where's Duo?" Wufei asked as Trowa walked into the kitchen. "Is he even in the house? I'm cooking, but he isn't hanging over my shoulder making comments," he said dryly, flipping sliced vegetables in the frying pan. "Nobody's stolen a taste. It's almost frighteningly peaceful."
"I had a taste," Quatre said apologetically.
"Yes, but you asked for it. You didn't dive under my arm, snatch it out of the pan, run away laughing maniacally and then complain about burnt fingers."
"He's in the lounge," Trowa said absently, starting to set up the percolator. "Sewing. Don't distract him or he'll probably stick the needle through an artery."
"Duo can sew?" Heero asked, looking up from his book.
"Yes," the European teen said, "and in case you hadn't noticed, he cooked dinner last night. I have also seen him wash and iron clothes without causing a disaster area in the laundry, unlike you. Why does the idea of him sewing cause surprise?"
"Who's surprised?" Heero raised an eyebrow. "I thought I sounded hopeful. Do you think he'd mend a few things for me? I have this shirt..."
"I've seen it," Wufei snorted. "I don't think it can legitimately be called a shirt any more. An oil rag, maybe."
"It was worth a try."
"I can't sew," Quatre said mournfully. "I've tried. I ended up with more of a mess than when I started. Trowa, is Duo any good at it?"
"I didn't see the results," Trowa shrugged. "He must be serious about it, though. He didn't want coffee."
Wufei froze in the act of serving food onto plates; then he carefully put the frying pan down, walked over to the door, and peered around it into the lounge. He watched silently for a few moments, then spoke. "Duo? Dinner's ready."
"Hmm? Oh, sorry, Wu. I'll get something later. I'm not hungry right now," a preoccupied voice answered him.
Wufei slowly turned around and walked back across the kitchen. "Armageddon is at hand," he said solemnly. "Our God of Death is not hungry, nor is he caffeinated. Repent, ye sinners."
Quatre seemed torn between giggles and concern. "Duo does not miss meals," he said. "I mean, he isn't greedy, but-- um--"
"He takes great joy in food," the Chinese teen supplied dryly. "We know. He doesn't seem unwell, though, just... distracted."
"He probably just wants to finish whatever he's sewing," Heero suggested, getting up to fetch glasses and cutlery. "What is he sewing?"
"Mending, maybe," Trowa muttered, switching the coffee pot on. *He didn't say it was mending, though, and it didn't look like it either. Bits of black fabric... maybe he's making something to wear?*
*That can't be right. It didn't look big enough.*
*Unless he's making something like... a pair of boxer shorts? A tight midriff top? He'd look good in one...*
Trowa's eyes widened slightly as that image came to mind. He spent some time dwelling on it, until Quatre poked him in the ribs and demanded to know why he was still standing staring at the coffee pot when the coffee had been ready for five minutes, and his food was getting cold.
After dinner, the other four pilots went into the lounge, only to find that Duo had packed up his sewing and disappeared into the room he shared with Quatre.
"I'm really getting curious now," Quatre announced.
"Best just leave it," Heero said, sitting down and picking his book up again. "We'll get to see whatever it is sooner or later."
"But why is he hiding it now?"
"Maybe he gets distracted by people watching over his shoulder?" Wufei suggested. "Maybe he doesn't want anyone to see it until he's sure it's going to turn out all right?"
"Says the man who hides in the woods to practice his new sword manoeuvres," Trowa muttered.
"Exactly," Wufei said loftily. "I know what I'm talking about. True art should only be presented to an audience once it is polished."
"I thought you always insist your sword forms are 'serious combat practice, not'... what was it again? Ah, yes, 'not just waving a piece of metal in pretty patterns so you can show off'," Heero said casually, not looking up.
"Hilde compared my swordwork to a fight in a movie," Wufei huffed. "A very badly done fight, in a very melodramatic movie. It's still art."
"So, I should leave Duo alone until he produces his masterpiece," Quatre said wryly, taking a seat between Heero and Wufei on the sofa. "Does this mean I have to sleep out here?"
Trowa smirked. "You could move in with Wufei for the duration."
"I doubt Duo's going to be sewing all night!" the Chinese pilot sputtered.
"Relax, Wufei, nobody's going to invade your personal space..."
A door banged out in the hallway; then Duo leaned into the lounge room, clutching the paper bag to his chest. "I'm just going out to Deathscythe for a bit," he said quickly. "Don't wait up. I just need to do a couple of things, then I'll come straight back."
"Need any help?" Trowa asked.
"Nah, it's nothing serious," Duo insisted, backing away. "See you guys in the morning."
The front door banged, and he was gone.
"...He's going to walk through the woods for twenty minutes, after dark, with no trails, to get to Deathscythe and do 'nothing serious'?" Heero said into the silence. "Does anyone else think this is strange?"
"I hope he took a torch," Quatre said weakly.
Later that night, after everyone had gone to bed, Trowa heard the front door open and close. Quiet footsteps tiptoed down the hall and into the kitchen.
"Now he's hungry," Heero muttered from the other bed, and turned over. "Should've eaten before he left..." The words trailed off into a jaw-cracking yawn, and he fell silent.
Trowa stayed awake, listening to the tiny noises Duo made as he moved around the kitchen, then tiptoed into the lounge. The springs in the old, sagging sofa squeaked audibly as he sat down.
Fifteen minutes ticked by without another sound before Trowa got up to check on him. He found Duo slumped against the arm of the sofa, snoring softly, with a half-eaten plate of cold stir fry on his lap.
"Duo," Trowa said softly. Nothing happened; he sighed, picked up the plate and took it into the kitchen. "At least he did take a torch," he muttered, eyeing the high powered flashlight that was lying on the bench with its batteries in the recharger.
Plate covered and in the refrigerator, Trowa ducked into his room and returned to the lounge with a blanket. He pulled Duo's boots off, carefully slid him into a more comfortable position, and tucked the blanket around him.
Duo sighed and shifted a little, one hand coming up to grasp the edge of the blanket and tug it closer, then relaxing, lying open next to his head. Trowa blinked as he saw the bandaids on the braided pilot's thumb and middle finger, and reached out without thinking to run a finger across the callused palm, feeling the dozens of pinpricks that hadn't been bad enough to be bandaged.
The hand twitched and Trowa jerked away, blushing. "Idiot," he muttered, and stalked back to bed, unsure whether he'd meant Duo or himself.
After that, everything seemed normal. Duo had mended one of his black shirts, and exhibited it to prove that he could sew, but Trowa remained convinced that Duo had been working on something else when he had seen him. Something... smaller. He kept quiet about it, though, and just watched as Heero tried to wheedle the American into mending his ex-shirt.
"You have got to be kidding me, man," Duo snorted, holding up the ragged garment. "A professional seamstress couldn't fix this shirt. What did you do, get blown up in it?"
"Riiight. Look, I'm sorry Heero, but this is beyond me. You're better off just buying a new shirt."
"But I like this shirt!" Heero blurted out. Duo stared at him incredulously, then slowly grinned.
"I get it. This is your favourite shirt, right? Heero Yui, mister who-needs-a-personal-life Yui, has a favourite shirt. And you ragged at me for having a favourite pair of boots!"
"Yeah, well, I didn't realise how much I liked it until it got wrecked," Heero mumbled, blushing slightly.
Duo groaned. "Oh, man, don't look like that. It's not you."
"It does look rather unnatural," Wufei murmured, hiding a grin behind his tea mug.
"You stay out of this, Wu, or I won't darn your floofy white pants and you'll be stuck doing it yourself. I heard you muttering about 'women's work', too, so watch it." Duo picked up the shirt again, examining it. "Tell you what, Heero, I can use bits of this to patch your darker blue shirt. Happy?"
"I guess so," Heero sighed. "You're the one who knows how to do this."
"Right. That'll be one bag of Gummi Bears, thanks, and I want a package of Oreos from you, 'Fei-fei."
"'Fei-fei?" Wufei yelped. "'Wu' is bad enough, but 'Fei-fei'--"
"Ah-ah-ah! Don't yell at the tailor," Duo grinned. "You do want those mended with white thread, don't you?"
"You are a cruel, cruel man, Duo Maxwell," Wufei grumbled.
"I know. Ain't it great? Taking unfair advantage is fun. Anyone else want something fixed?"
"Ummm..." Quatre was standing behind Duo, hopefully clutching a couple of shirts and a pair of boxer shorts.
"Ooh, another soon-to-be-satisfied customer. Let's see here..." Duo hummed to himself, examining the garments. "Eh, nothing serious. I'll do 'em for a bag of Fritos and some salsa dip. You need anything mended, Trowa?"
Trowa shook his head and smiled slightly. "I do my own."
Wufei jerked upright in his chair. "You can sew too? Barton, why the hell didn't you say so before this blackmailing fiend got us all in his clutches?"
"Because I don't like doing it. I'll do my own, but it'd take a big bribe to get me to do anyone else's. I'd rather knit."
Now everyone was staring at Trowa. "...Knit?" Duo asked, a wide grin blossoming on his face.
Trowa stared back calmly. "Sure. A lot of mercenaries do it. Where did you think I got all of my turtlenecks?"
"I thought you bought them," Quatre said, blushing; the European pilot shrugged.
"The ones in shops are never long enough."
"Trowa, pal, buddy, I see a compromise here," Duo said, sidling over and grinning up at him. "Can you do fancy knitting? Cables, and stuff like that?" Trowa nodded, and the braided teen continued. "So, you don't like sewing, and I can't knit. If I do all of your mending for a while, will you make me a sweater?"
"Sure. You buy the wool, though."
"Excellent!" Duo chortled, bouncing off into the lounge clutching various items of clothing. "I've got to go shopping later. I need some more sewing stuff, and I wanna get the yarn now so I can get my sweater faster."
"I'll go with you," Trowa told him, following him out. "It needs to be the right yarn for the design, and if you want cables, I'll have to get cable needles..."
Left behind in the kitchen, the other three pilots looked at each other.
"Duo can sew, and Trowa can knit," Wufei said finally. "That's so... domestic."
"The really unfair part is that none of us can do anything domestic," Heero said. "At least, nothing that they can't do. If we did, we could swap."
"One of my sisters knows how to crochet," Quatre mused, sitting down and propping his chin in one hand. "Maybe she could teach me?"
"I'm sure we'd all love afghans in our Gundams," Wufei said acidly, "but I think it's a bit late to start. Things like knitting and sewing take a lot of practice before they're marketable skills. I suppose I could offer to take over Duo's turns at cooking..."
"He likes cooking," Heero pointed out.
"I know. That's why it wouldn't work."
"So swap with Trowa," Quatre offered.
"I don't want anything knitted, I want my mending done!" Wufei almost yelled.
"Then you're stuck bribing Duo. Live with it," Heero advised him.
"I'll live with it, but I don't have to like it," Wufei grumbled. "Especially if he keeps calling me 'Fei-fei'."
"Would you really want him to act any other way?" Quatre asked.
"No... but don't tell him I said that."
After dinner that night, Trowa and Duo settled down in chairs in the lounge and got to work. Duo had a battered shoebox full of spools of thread, with a pincushion tucked into one corner and a box of bandaids in another, and a pile of clothing to be mended on the floor next to him. Trowa had a bag full of multi-coloured balls of wool and was knitting with surprising speed.
"Trowa, what are you making?" Heero asked, watching bemusedly as the length of wool shaded from turquoise to rust to gold to teal to purple.
"Duo's sweater," Trowa answered. The tone of his voice added 'of course' without him having to say it.
"But... it's not black!" Heero protested.
"Ex-cuse me?" Duo drawled, looking up from his sewing. "I do not always wear black. It's not my favourite color, you know. That stuff is cool, so I chose it."
"It's about as far from black as you can get, too," Wufei commented.
"So, I felt like a change," Duo said airily. "I--OW! Jeez, guys, you're distracting me! I've got to concentrate here."
"Heero's shirt?" Trowa asked, glancing over at the two-toned blue fabric in Duo's lap.
"Mnrble," Duo agreed, sucking his finger. He took it out of his mouth and examined it critically for signs of blood, then picked the shirt up again. "I'm not just patching it, see; I'm doing a design with the bits of the other shirt. I'm creating something, not just mending, so I have to concentrate or-- OW! Shit, not again... I have to concentrate or that happens," he mumbled, popping the finger back in his mouth.
"I see," Trowa murmured, pretending to concentrate on his knitting. *So you were making something last night, not just mending your shirt. I thought so...*
Quatre's and Duo's laptops beeped at the same time, and Duo spiked himself in the palm with the needle as he jumped.
"Ow ow ow ow bugger ow ow," he muttered, yanking the needle out of his hand and grabbing for his laptop. "Shit. I hate it when that happens."
"I hope it doesn't happen often," Quatre said, flipping the screen up on his computer.
"When I get distracted it does, which is why I usually sew in private," Duo growled, reading his message. "Ooo. Mission. Yay."
"Try to sound a little less enthusiastic, Maxwell," Wufei said dryly. "Need any back up?"
"We're just going to take out a base," Quatre sighed, standing up. "It's not even a big base. I think we can handle it!"
"Ah, Wu's just worried that I'll get flattened before I can fix his floofy pants," Duo said, shutting his laptop down and stuffing the pile of mending into a bag.
"Do you have to call them that?"
"Yes," the braided pilot grinned. "Please note, gentlemen and gentlemen, that the defendant did not deny my explanation of his behaviour--"
"Get out of here before I beat you senseless and have to take the mission myself!"
"See you in two or three days, guys," Quatre said cheerfully, pushing Duo out the door in front of him.
< < Damn it, Quatre, I thought this was supposed to be an easy mission! > > Duo yelled over the com. < < You said there weren't supposed to be any mobile suits at this base! > >
"That's what H told me!" Quatre yelled back, spinning Sandrock around to take on another couple of Leos coming up behind him.
< < Well, shit. They never tell us the whole story, do they? > >
"I doubt they have the whole story to tell, most times," Quatre said. "Give them the benefit of the doubt."
< < G's definitely gonna be hearing about this from me, you bet your ass, > > Duo snarled. < < I mean, this time we can handle it, surprise or no surprise, but what if-- yikes! > > An interesting range of thumping and clattering noises came out of the speaker as a Leo got Deathscythe in a bear hug from behind.
< < Get off me, you stupid prick! > > Duo sputtered. < < What does this idiot think he's doing? > >
"Trying to get Deathscythe in a headlock, it looks like," Quatre told him, slashing at his own opponent. "Need a hand?"
< < Nah, I've got it. > > The huge green energy scythe shut off, then spun back over Deathscythe's shoulder as if Duo was trying to put it back in the clips on his Gundam's back. The business end clanged against the back of the Leo, and Duo grinned wickedly. < < Here goes-- > >
He activated the scythe and the blade flashed into existence, straight through the body of the Leo, just missing the Gundam. Not surprisingly, the OZ suit exploded.
< < Whoa! > > Duo yelled as Deathscythe tumbled forwards. < < Hang on, Shi-chan! > >
*Shi-chan?* Quatre wondered. "Duo, who-- look out! Launcher!"
The com image fuzzed out as the rocket detonated against Deathscythe's torso, but not before Quatre saw something dark tumble into view and hit Duo in the face. "Duo?! DUO?!"
< < *ssssss* --orry, Shi-chan-- *crackle* --not strong enou-- *crackle* --fix it later, > > Duo muttered. The screen was still blank. < < You can-- *crackle* --in here, okay? > >
"Duo?" *Is he concussed?* Quatre thought, starting to be really concerned as he charged over to keep the enemy suits back. "Duo, can you hear me? Are you all right?"
< < I'm fine, Q, just a little seasick, > > Duo said cheerfully. < < All this tumbling around is like being in a wash cycle. > >
"Who were you talking to?"
< < Uhhh... nobody, > > Duo answered, sounding a little embarrassed. < < Let's just trash these idiots, blow up the base and go home, okay? > >
"Sure," Quatre said doubtfully, then smiled as the static cleared, showing his friend a little mussed, but not visibly hurt. "Oh, good, you are okay!"
< < I said I was, didn't I? > > Deathscythe clambered to its feet and started forwards.
"I know, but I thought I saw something hit you just as the com picture went," Quatre explained, keeping pace as they advanced towards the remaining mobile suits. "I guess it was my imagination, or static, or something."
< < Sounds reasonable, > > Duo said, looking away.
The rest of the mission went smoothly, and they returned to the safehouse to find that Trowa had finished the back of Duo's sweater and started the front. Duo soon finished the mending, too, and Quatre forgot about his strange comments... until Duo went on a mission with Wufei, and the Chinese pilot came back looking puzzled.
"Does Duo often talk to his Gundam?" he asked while Duo was in the shower.
"Sometimes," Heero muttered, glaring at the knitting needles and wool Trowa had loaned him. "Usually he talks about it. 'You'll regret taking on me and Scythe', that sort of thing."
"'Scythe'?" Wufei asked. "Not 'Shi-chan'?"
"Scythe," Heero confirmed, glancing up. "I don't think even Duo would call a Gundam '-chan'; it's a diminutive. Why?"
"I thought I heard him talking a couple of times during a fight," Wufei said, looking emarrassed. "'Hang on Shi-chan, it's gonna get bumpy.' 'Hey! You nearly shot Shi-chan, you bastard.' Stuff like that. I, uh, didn't like to ask him directly."
"Why not? We know you talk to your Gundam," Heero said, then looked back at his knitting to discover that half a dozen stitches had slipped off the needle and unravelled. "Fuck!"
"I heard him on our last mission, too," Quatre said. "I asked who he was talking to, and he said 'nobody'. It didn't sound like he was talking to Deathscythe, but I don't know who or what else it could have been."
Trowa reached over, took the knitting out of Heero's hands, and calmly started picking up the dropped stitches. "If you stop in the middle of a row, make sure the knitting is pushed well back on the needles before you put it down or look away," he advised. "Does it really matter who Duo was talking to?"
"Well, no," Quatre admitted.
"Duo argues with people on TV," Trowa pointed out, handing the knitting needles back to Heero with a flourish. "So do the rest of you, if saying 'Well, that was a stupid thing to do' counts as arguing. Duo just does it more. Hearing him talk during battle is not a surprise."
"Usually he yells at the enemy, though," Wufei protested. "I do not think he was talking to the enemy this time. There wasn't a single 'take that' or 'HA! Didn't even scratch the paint job' in there."
"Maybe he's got an imaginary friend," Heero said absent-mindedly, eyes firmly on his knitting as he slowly made a stitch. "Through and around and back annnd off... oh, shit. Trowa! Two came off at once."
"Give it here and I'll fix it... Heero, has it occurred to you that perhaps knitting is not your forte?"
"I'm not giving up yet. I've nearly got the hang of it."
"Fine, if you're determined," Trowa sighed, handing it back. "I'll show you how to purl tomorrow, then."
"You mean there's more?!" Heero said, horrified. "I thought this was it!"
Trowa sank his head into his hands and started to laugh.
"Whoa," Duo said, standing in the doorway with a towel around his hair. "Who gave Trowa laughing gas?"
"Nobody!" Heero snapped, concentrating fiercely on his knitting. "I just... oh, shit!"
The next mission didn't involve Duo, but then he went on a three-man mission with Trowa and Heero. And sure enough...
< < Whoa! Watch where you're bouncing there, Shi-chan, you nearly hit me! > >
< < Hang on, pal, this is getting rough! > >
< < OI! Watch it, you OZ prick! You nearly shook Shi-chan out of his harness! > >
Trowa and Heero exchanged silent glances over the com and just kept fighting.
On the way back, Heero opened a private channel to Trowa. < < He definitely wasn't talking to his Gundam. > >
Trowa shrugged. "So?"
< < So, I want to know who or what he was talking to! > >
"So, ask him," Trowa said, determined to be unhelpful.
Heero squirmed a little. < < Why don't you ask him? > >
"Because I don't want to know as badly as you do." *And I don't want to pry,* Trowa thought. *I don't want to embarrass or upset Duo...*
< < But he's more likely to tell you! If Quatre asked and Duo just said 'nobody', you're the only person he might answer straight out. > >
"...What makes you say that?"
< < You're his best friend, > > Heero said impatiently. < < You defend him when he's not around, he defends you when you're not around-- > >
< < --you spend more time together than you do with anyone else, and he tells you things he wouldn't tell anyone else! He told you about Maxwell Church months before the rest of us found out. Ask him! > >
Trowa stared at nothing for a moment, absorbing what Heero had just said.
< < Trowa? > >
"No," he said decisively. "Ask him yourself. If he wants to tell you, he will. If he doesn't want to tell you, I'm not going to get it out of him and pass it on."
Heero muttered something rude-sounding and switched off.
Trowa sat back, a small smile curling his lips. "Best friends, huh?" he whispered. "Well, it's a start..."
Heero didn't ask Duo who he'd been talking to, but he did spend a lot of time over the next couple of days staring at the braided pilot when he thought nobody was looking (often to the detriment of his attempts at knitting). He hung around when Duo was working on Deathscythe, and noticed that when Duo was adjusting systems near the cockpit, he left the armoured door open and directed occasional comments that way.
Late one night, Trowa was half asleep when Heero got up, got dressed and sneaked out. He lay there in the dimness, wondering whether or not he should investigate; then he heard the front door close quietly and shoved the covers back, swearing under his breath.
"Where are you going?" he hissed, catching up with Heero five minutes after entering the woods.
"Deathscythe," Heero hissed back. "I want to see what Duo's got in his cockpit!"
"Dammit Heero, why can't you just ask?"
"This is more reliable!"
"And a hell of a lot more offensive," Trowa snarled. "You'd get pissed off if Duo went poking around Wing's cockpit!"
Heero snorted. "I haven't got anything to hide."
"That's not the point! You--"
"Is there a purpose to this midnight excursion," Wufei inquired grumpily, coming up to them with an unlit torch dangling from one hand, "or is it designed solely to interrupt others' sleep? Perhaps you enjoy standing in the woods, waving torches around like searchlights and arguing with each other?"
"Heero wants to break into Deathscythe's cockpit to find out what Duo's been talking to!" Trowa said indignantly.
"Sounds like fun," Quatre said, appearing at Wufei's elbow in his fuzzy pyjamas and low boots, yawning. "Can I help?"
Wufei blinked, considering. "While it is a breach of privacy, I have to admit to a certain amount of curiosity..."
"Oh, fine," Trowa snorted, throwing his hands in the air. "We'll go look. But we are not touching anything, or taking anything out of Deathscythe. I just hope Duo stays asleep until we get back."
Back at the safehouse, Duo got up and sleepily wandered into the kitchen for a drink of water. Tiptoeing back into his room, he blinked as he saw Quatre's empty bed in the dimness.
"Q?" he whispered, sticking his head back out into the hall and looking around. "Q-man? You there?"
He listened for a moment. There was no sound of Quatre padding back from the bathroom. There was also no sound of anyone turning over in their sleep, snoring, _breathing_...
"It's quiet," he muttered half-jokingly. "Too quiet."
The four investigating pilots arrived in the clearing where their Gundams were hidden under camouflage netting, and stood staring up at the sinister-looking Gundam for a moment.
"I'll get it open," Heero muttered, stalking over to the giant leg and reaching under the knee. There was a loud click, and the hatch swung open. "What the-- did he leave it unlocked?!" Heero yelped, ducking down to look at the small switch panel. "Anyone could-- oh. He's got it set to let any of us in without a passcode."
"Probably because he trusts us not to try to get in without a good reason," Trowa said sourly.
"This is a good reason," Heero retorted. "We're preserving my mental health."
"Well, it's open," Wufei said, stalking forwards. "I'll look. Assuming Trowa trusts me not to interfere unduly with whatever's in there?"
"I'll look," Heero and Quatre chorused, then glared at each other.
"We'll all look, damn it," Trowa growled.
They climbed up to the platform together.
Duo stamped through the woods, muttering softly to himself. "Where the hell did they go? It's like an alien abduction or something. The Twilight Zone... Maybe they heard something and went to check it out... but why didn't they wake me up? For all I know, they could be getting captured by OZ right now! I swear, if this is a joke, they are so dead..."
They stood in a circle, looking at what Heero held in his hands.
"So this is it?" Wufei asked. "This is what Duo's been talking to?"
"It's cute!" Quatre said.
"It's a teddybear," Heero said disgustedly. "All this over a teddybear?"
To be precise, it was a rather battered dark brown teddybear. One ear was tattered, and it was missing several patches of fur and one eye. Something about the snagged embroidery that formed its nose and mouth gave it a wistful, slightly sad expression. It was an armed and dangerous teddybear, though; somebody (undoubtedly Duo) had made a little scythe out of a thin stick, cardboard and tinfoil, and had attached it to one paw. The bear was also wearing a meticulously detailed copy of Duo's usual 'priest' outfit, right down to the little white collar and rolled-up sleeves. To top it off, the bear was wearing a small leather patch over its missing eye, and had a tiny safety harness, complete with buckles, that had been clipped onto a ring on the cockpit wall when they found it.
"Shi-chan, I presume," Trowa murmured, smiling slightly. "I guess we know what Duo bought in the second-hand shop."
"But why would Duo get a teddybear?" Heero asked, bemused.
"He was in the window and he looked lonely," Duo said, snatching the bear out of Heero's grasp and clutching it to his chest. "I get lonely, too, sometimes, so it seemed like a good idea. It was someone to talk to... I don't believe you guys did this!"
"Ummm... you woke up?" Heero said lamely.
"Obviously, Yui." Duo glared at them all. "How could you guys just go poking through my stuff?! I don't go looking around in your Gundams! All of you... I suppose you've been planning this behind my back?" he asked, looking thoroughly betrayed.
"No!" Quatre blurted. "Heero and Trowa sneaked out, and Wufei followed them, and I followed him--"
"Don't blame Trowa," Heero said unexpectedly. "I was coming out to look, and he followed to try and talk me out of it. He only ended up coming along to make sure we didn't mess up your stuff. It's my fault. I'm sorry."
"What were you looking for?" Duo yelled at him, hugging the teddybear. "And why did the rest of you go along? Just because it's Heero's idea it's okay, is that it?"
Wufei gestured awkwardly at the bear. "We, uh, wanted to know who you've been talking to. Um. It was a bad idea, you're right. Sorry."
"Oh, like that makes it all right, does it? 'Sorry' didn't make it all right when I painted Nataku pink, and I used water-based paint. I didn't paint inside Nataku, either. Well fine, now you know who I've been talking to. I talk to my teddybear. So it's stupid, and childish, and embarrassing, but I do it and it makes me feel better when I'm feeling lonely or there's something I can't talk about to anyone else--"
Trowa leaned forwards and kissed him.
There was a pause.
It lasted for a while.
"Um... why did you do that?" Duo finally asked in a tiny voice.
Trowa shrugged, looking down at his feet. "You looked really upset," he said softly. "Well, you were really upset... I wanted to make you feel better, but I couldn't think of anything to say, and I didn't want you to feel lonely and I've wanted to do that since... um... I screwed up, right?"
"Not really," Duo whispered, and leaned forward for another kiss.
Wufei's eyes were huge as he watched. "Now, that was unexpected," he said slowly.
"Only because you aren't very observant, 'Fei-fei," Quatre said complacently, watching with a happy smile on his face. "I've been waiting for them to get around to this for months."
"I had some idea, but... hm." Heero paused, then turned to look at Quatre. "Are you moving in with me, or am I moving in with you?"
Wufei nodded, not looking away from the continuing kiss. "I see what you mean. I'll help with the move. We should go away now and give them a little privacy... unless they're planning to come up for air any time soon?" he called, raising his voice. "HEL-LO?"
"Fuck off, Wufei," Duo said, pulling back from Trowa's lips a millimeter or so. "I'm still pissed off at you three. Go away."
"We'll be going now," Quatre announced, grabbing the other two and dragging them towards the edge of the hatch platform. "We'll discuss who's moving where when you two get back."
"If they hadn't pulled this stunt, I might never have gotten up the nerve to kiss you," Trowa pointed out quietly.
"Eh, I'm not really mad at them anymore," Duo muttered, winding one arm around Trowa's neck. "I suppose I'll thank them eventually."
"I'm still mad at them," Trowa growled, pulling Duo close. "Let them squirm for a while."
Shi-chan bumped into Trowa's nose as Duo rolled over, and the European teen blinked awake. Picking up the teddybear, he grinned at its little knitted sleeper suit, and set it aside.
"Damn it, Heero, I'm not rescuing those two again," Duo mumbled. "Quatre's got a stitch unpicker, he can use it himself..."
"Duo?" Trowa said softly, pushing himself up onto one elbow. "Duo, you're dreaming..."
Duo suddenly sat bolt upright, braid snapping out to slap Trowa in the face. "Whoa," he said, eyes wide open. "Tro, I just had the weirdest, most realistic dream... We were like sixty or seventy years old, rocking on our front porch. You were knitting, and I was sewing, and Shi-chan was in a little rocking chair on the table between us, wearing a little cable sweater and blue jeans...
Trowa and Duo both looked up as they heard the ancient truck coming down the road.
"Sounds like Wing," Duo said cheerfully, peering over his sewing glasses. "I wonder what Heero wants?"
The truck pulled up and Heero got out. "Hi," he grunted, then reached back in and pulled out his knitting bag.
"Damn it, Heero, aren't you ever going to learn to pick up your own dropped stitches?" Trowa said, exasperated.
"Hn. I knit just fine, most of the time," Heero said, walking stiffly up the porch steps. "I didn't hear you complain about the sweater I made you for Christmas. Damn this leg..."
"I told you that you shouldn't set it yourself," Duo sing-songed.
"I'd already seen that sweater five times, picking up stitches for you," Trowa retorted. "Hand it over."
"Didn't drop any this time. Figured it was time I got out of the house for a while," Heero muttered, lowering himself into his chair.
"Oh? Why?" Duo asked, hunting for another spool of thread.
"Quatre sewed himself to Wufei, and Wufei to the sofa, again," Heero explained, pulling out the pink baby sweater he was knitting for Relena's first great-granddaughter. "'Fei-fei saw the funny side of it, but I didn't figure that would last, so I handed 'em both mint juleps and got out of there."
"...and that's when I woke up," Duo finished.
"Heero, Quatre... and 'Fei-fei?" Trowa asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I know," Duo agreed, nodding vigorously. "It's crazy. They'd never..." He trailed off, looking at Trowa. "Would they?"
"Let's check," Trowa said, throwing back the covers, and reaching for his sweat pants.
"Let's check on Wufei," Duo whispered as they crept out into the hall. "There's only one of him, so there's less chance of someone being awake in there." Trowa nodded, and they tiptoed to the Chinese teen's room.
Wufei wasn't there.
They looked at each other, eyes wide, then sneaked to the next door down. Trowa had his hand on the knob when Wufei spoke up from behind them.
"What are you two doing?"
"'Fei! Um... hi!" Duo said, looking at the glass of water in Wufei's hand. "Well, that explains that..."
"Duo had a dream," Trowa said calmly. "We were just... checking."
"Nothing, obviously, since you're here!" Duo said brightly, towing Trowa down the hall. "We'll just go back to bed now!"
Wufei watched with a puzzled expression on his face until their door closed behind them; then he shrugged, opened the door to Heero and Quatre's room, and went in.
"Thanks, 'Fei-fei," Quatre said, reaching for the glass. Wufei glared half-heartedly as he peeled off Heero's sweat pants and climbed back into bed.
"I wish you wouldn't call me that," he grumbled, trying to sound offended.
"What was that, out in the hall just now?" Heero asked curiously, inching over to give him a little room to get settled. "Who were you talking to?"
"Let's not start that again," Wufei snorted. "Duo had a dream or something. He and Trowa were wandering around."
"We should probably tell them about us," Quatre said thoughtfully, sipping at his water. "They're going to wonder. It's not like we can hide it anyway."
"Why would we?" Heero yawned. "They'll probably say they expected it all along..."
"They would make a good trio, though," Duo said thoughtfully as he and Trowa settled back under their blankets. "Don't you think?"
"Mmmm," Trowa agreed. "Just one thing."
"Don't teach Quatre to sew."