CHRISTY: Damn it, Krashnark! Will you get over it already?!
[She storms into the room, wrapped in a towel and dripping. Her skin is blue, she's shivering, and icicles are forming in her hair.]
CHRISTY: You're acting like a spoiled brat!
KRASHNARK: That's better than acting like a wimp!
CHRISTY: Well, that's the only way you're ever going to get into Wuffers' pants, so live with it!
QUATRE: I take it Krashnark froze the water heater again?
QUATRE: He's been very good about unfreezing it when we want to shower.
MEL: Yep. He's not mad at you guys, after all.
[Mel chips another chunk of frozen tea out of her mug and sucks on it gloomily.]
CHRISTY: Fine! That's it! Legolas, Quatre, you're showering with me from now on! At least that way I'll get hot water!
QUATRE & LEGOLAS: *gleep!*
MEL: Good idea. Dibs on Wufei and Ardeth for shower buddies.
WUFEI: No fucking way, onna! I'm not getting any closer to you than I have to, and especially not when you're naked! I want to be able to use my eyes to look at normal things!
MEL: *sigh* Duo, you've been a very bad influence on him.
DUO: I know! Ain't it great? I'll shower with you, Mel. I could use a laugh...
[Mel considers throwing her kanji dictionary at him, but reconsiders and chucks the frozen tea at his head instead.]
KRASHNARK: You're the authors! You can write me as acting like a proper god and getting what I want, and I'm not going to stop until you do!
CHRISTY: I'm not talking to you.
KRASHNARK: Ha! Now who's acting juvenile?!
CHRISTY: Heero! Mission!
HEERO: *groan* Ryoukai...
CHRISTY: Go to the character closet and tell the spoiled baby god that unless he stops freezing our showers and coffee--
MEL: --and tea--
CHRISTY: --yes, and tea--
MEL: --and the heaters, and our food, and melting the icecream, and--
CHRISTY: --YES, and all that! Um. Where was I?! Right! Unless he stops being a jerk, we'll fix things so that he never gets anything out of Wu-babe!
[There's an evil glint in his eye. Mel sees it.]
MEL: And Heero? If you don't pass on that message exactly... like, for instance, if you tell Krashnark to keep it up... we'll fix it so that you never get anything from anybody.
[He stamps off, in the direction of the closet.]
CHRISTY: That should do it. I'll give him ten minutes to come to his senses, and then--
[There's a knock on the door.]
DUO: Yes! Pizza! It's here!
MEL: You guys ordered pizza?
DUO: Well, every time you two have been cooking lately--
MEL: *sigh* Yeah, right. Frozen TV dinners, piping-cold straight out of the oven, thanks to Mister Tantrum I-have-godly-power-and-I'm-not-afraid-to-w
[Duo throws open the door and jumps back with a yelp of surprise as a smouldering figure wrapped in a blanket shoves his way in and kicks the door shut. Instantly, four guns (the G-boys), a throwing knife (Ardeth), a bow (Legolas), a kanji dictionary (Mel), and a wet towel (Christy) are aimed at him.]
GUY UNDER BLANKET: Bloody 'ell. I was expecting a better welcome than this. Put the cutlery away, why don't ya?
MEL, CHRISTY, DUO & QUATRE: SPIKE?!
[He drops the blanket and straightens up.]
SPIKE: Yeah, well, y'said on the phone I could drop by whenever I needed a break from Buffy an'that lot, and I'll tell you, I need a break from Miss Indecisive USA right now! Er... that's a nice package, luv, but you might want to wrap it up again.
[Christy eeeps, and puts the towel back on.]
SPIKE: And what's with the icicles? Weird sort of fashion accessory, if y'ask me, but they look good on you.
MEL: Long story. Uh... while we make Spike feel welcome... on with the fic!
Demon of Justice
Wufei fell asleep even before Arwen finished cleaning the blood off him, and slept as if drugged until the members of the Order of Torframos started packing up the camp around him. Whatever woke him, it wasn't a noise; he still couldn't hear anything when he opened his eyes, though his ears had stopped hurting.
Looks like I was right when I thought that my link to Nataku would make me heal quickly again, he mused, sitting up and stifling a yawn. I'd still be in serious pain if I had to heal normally...
Ye gods. What if I hadn't been right?
Exposure to certain irrational personages is clearly making me behave irrationally myself, he thought sourly, shooting a quick glare upwards. Even if deafening myself did get him to leave me alone-- for now-- it was still a stupid thing to do. And if I don't get my hearing back quickly, it could be more than just inconvenient. We are heading towards a battle, after all...
A flicker of movement at the edge of his vision caught his attention, and he looked around to see Naiya and Terrin hurrying towards him. The tall Hradani girl knelt down beside his bedroll, peering anxiously at his ears before saying something.
"I still can't hear," he told her, hoping he wasn't speaking too loud or mispronouncing anything. A look of dismay crossed her face, and he quickly added, "I'll get better!"
"You did say the cuts and bruises he had when he first arrived healed overnight," Terrin shrugged, glancing from the demon to Naiya and back again. "I know the wound he got in the fight with that green thing got better quickly, too. Maybe that's just the way it works for him?"
"But eardrums don't heal," Naiya said miserably. "Or even if they do, people don't get their hearing back!"
"They do if a priest or Champion heals them," he pointed out, "and metal doesn't normally grow back into place, either, but that didn't stop Nataku. I don't think even Wufei would be this calm if he thought he'd be deaf for good!"
"A Champion," she said, seizing on the first part of what he'd said. "We've got two Champions here! I'll go get them."
Wufei looked quizzically at Terrin as Naiya ran off, and the hunter shrugged again, rolling his eyes. "Women," he muttered.
It wasn't long before Naiya returned, looking as if she would have preferred to tow Uthmar at speed rather than just walking beside him. Arwen and Karthan followed, looking rather amused.
"Go ahead," Naiya told Uthmar, in a voice that was just short of an order. "Heal his ears."
"Er... I'm afraid I can't."
Karthan glanced at Wufei and raised an eyebrow; Wufei nodded and they both seemed to concentrate for a moment. There was a brief greenish-white flicker in Wufei's eyes, and when he looked back at the others it was clear that he was following the conversation.
"Why not?" Naiya demanded.
The dwarf Champion sighed. "Some priests of Khalifrio and Lillinara can heal, and so can some of the magi who follow Semkirk. They can heal anybody. Champions, on the other hand... even if they have the right sort of mindset to heal, which I do, they can't heal anybody they don't know well. I don't know Wufei well enough. I'd have to build a picture in my head of Wufei as he should be, clear enough for Torframos' power to reach through me and make the picture real. I might be able to succeed if the problem was something less subtle, like a swordcut, but... well, hearing is a tricky sense to fix at the best of times."
"Oh," Naiya bit her lip, and looked at Arwen. "And you can't..."
"I know him even less than Sir Uthmar does, and I've never even tried to heal," Arwen said quickly, holding up his hands in an oh-no-not-me sort of gesture. "I probably can-- most Champions can, at least a little-- but it's not something I want to casually experiment with!"
"I think I should point out that I am healing all by myself, thank you," Wufei said dryly, voice much clearer than before.
"You can hear again?" Terrin asked, blinking in surprise. "That was quick."
"Not yet; I'm 'borrowing' Karthan's ears," Wufei corrected him. "I do seem to be healing fast, though, so it shouldn't take too long."
"And if necessary, he can always use me as a template to heal himself again," Karthan volunteered cheerfully.
Wufei frowned at him. "The last time I did that, I transferred some of my wounds to you. I'd rather not."
"You also fixed my ribs," Karthan shot back, "and the cuts on my back healed a lot quicker than normal. Not as fast as yours, perhaps, but I still think I did quite well from the exchange."
"It might actually be a good idea," Arwen said, exchanging looks with Uthmar. "We expect to reach the area where the temple is before midday tomorrow, which means that we'll be within easy range of an attack from this afternoon on. It wouldn't be wise for anyone to be handicapped in any way."
"We were in easy range of an attack back at the village," Wufei pointed out dryly. "Or have you forgotten the screaming green blob?"
"It's doubtful whether they can summon another demon so soon after the last one," Uthmar said. "For one thing, it's damned dangerous. For another, they need two suitable sacrifices; one to power the summoning, and one to bind the demon to whatever task they set it. Because the temple was built out here--" He waved one hand at the uninhabited woods on one side and the rocky hills on the other. "--it's much less likely to be found by accident, but it's also much harder for them to find sacrifices. Even if they do find them, one disappearance from a small village is much more noticeable than a dozen in a city."
Karthan grimaced. "The Dark gods' followers haven't exactly given us a list of their requirements, but we have a fair idea. They want sacrifices that will release a lot of energy as they die, so... Preferably young. Preferably virgins. Usually female, because that makes it easier to be sure they're virgins."
"Why is that?" Naiya interrupted. "Why does being a virgin make a difference?"
"The more unfulfilled potential somebody has, the more energy they hold," Arwen shrugged. "If you're young, you have a lot of years ahead of you, and by killing you, the priest destroys that potential. It's the same if you're a virgin; you have the potential to-- er--" He blushed. "Uh, you have that potential as well, but you haven't, er, used it."
"Intelligence counts, too," Karthan continued, grinning at Arwen's embarrassment. "So does magical talent of any kind. In an emergency, however, anyone could be a potential sacrifice."
"So, they probably can't summon another demon, but we shouldn't count on it?" Wufei summed up. At Uthmar's nod he sighed, propping his chin on one hand. "Wonderful. I hate 'maybes'."
"Well, maybe you'll need your hearing," Karthan told him sweetly, teeth gleaming for a moment in his beard as his grin widened. "Maybe you should do something about it, to make sure you don't end up with a nasty surprise."
"And maybe you should consider the fact that I may not be able to heal you, but I do know Karthan well enough to heal him if your injuries transfer to him," Uthmar added, cutting in before Wufei could refuse again. "Hmm?"
Wufei stared at him wide-eyed, then shook his head, smiling a little sheepishly. "I never even thought of that. All right; I can hardly keep listening through Karthan's ears all day, after all!"
* * * * *
Duo let out a quiet groan as he flopped back onto the bed, face scrunched up in pain. "Not gonna happen," he gritted out through clenched teeth. "Damn it."
"I would not feel bad, if I were you, Mister Maxwell," Dr. Modi said soothingly, carefully lifting Duo's leg back onto the bed and fitting the brace around it. "You are already far ahead of any normal patients; very few people try to bend their leg the day after the ligament surgery, and it usually takes six or seven days before they succeed."
"Yeah, well, no offense intended, Doc, but being in the hospital kinda sucks, you know?" Duo said tightly. "The sooner I bend my knee, the sooner I get out of here, and the sooner I can get on with the exercises and get better."
"You were listening when Dr. Po and I mentioned the fact that if you push yourself too far, you will knock yourself straight back to 'crippled' status, weren't you?" Modi inquired politely.
"I don't intend to go beyond my knee's limits. I am going to push things up to those limits, though."
"So long as you listen to me when I tell you that you are approaching those limits, I have no objection to that," the doctor sighed. "And, speaking of limits, one of them is that it would not be wise to take this brace off and-- er-- 'practice' knee-bending by yourself."
"Even if I was stupid enough to do that, Heero wouldn't let me," Duo muttered, mouth twisting in a half-exasperated, half-amused smile. "Don't worry."
"Speaking of Mister Yui, I believe he is waiting outside with a package that smells suspiciously like hot meatball sandwiches," Modi chuckled. "I do hope some form of vegetable matter is going to feature in your dinner as well."
"I asked him to get me a side salad, too," Duo grinned back. "I even plan to eat it, which should keep all my mother hens content for a couple of hours."
Hearing his name called, Heero turned and saw Trowa and Quatre walking towards him.
"is something wrong?" Quatre said anxiously, hurrying the last few steps. "Why are you standing out here?"
"Duo's trying to bend his knee," Heero said shortly. "He didn't want me there watching, so he sent me to get dinner."
"Already?! He just had the surgery yesterday!"
"The doctor said it was okay, so I wasn't going to tell Duo he couldn't try it if he wanted to!" Heero snapped, glaring at Quatre. "If you think it's too soon, you tell him!" You can be the one getting yelled at for being overprotective for a change, he added mentally, shifting the takeaway bag he was holding to his other hand and looking away.
"Sounds reasonable to me," Trowa said quietly, putting a calming hand on Quatre's arm. The blond reddened and also looked away, biting back an angry retort.
"...Sorry," he said eventually. "I shouldn't have snapped at you."
Heero shrugged, relaxing slightly. "It's the same reaction I had, so I can't blame you." Though thankfully, I managed not to say it out loud! "How's Duo's furniture? Pink?"
"No," Trowa said, smirking.
"It's not just Duo's furniture," Quatre blurted out, near-argument forgotten. "Relena furnished the entire house! And none of it's pink! It's fabulous!"
"We have discovered that Relena has taste," Trowa put in. "We have also discovered that Pargan can pick locks."
Before Heero could think of a reply to that, the door to Duo's room opened behind him.
"I am no longer torturing your friend, so you are welcome once more," Dr. Modi said cheerfully, stepping out. "Please hide the takeaway containers if you hear this shift's floor nurse approaching-- even I get out of her way-- and do not tell me what you are doing to get rid of the hospital meals Mister Maxwell is obviously not consuming. I should probably be thankful that the plumbing in this building is so good."
"I can take it," Duo announced, clutching at the blankets and visibly bracing himself. "Give it to me straight. How pink is it?"
"No pink," Quatre assured him. "No ruffles, either. It's... ah... much better than any of us expected!"
"Well, since I, for one, was expecting something out of the Ninth Circle of Girly Hell, it could still be pretty bad," Duo told him, relaxing and starting to unpack his dinner.
"It's fine," Quatre said, exchanging glances with Trowa. "I think you should wait until you see it for yourself, but even you will have to admit it's fine."
"What, I don't get any details?" Duo protested. "No photos? No colour swatches? I want to know how much I should cringe when I walk in!"
Heero smacked him lightly on the back of the head. "If Quatre says it's fine, you won't have to cringe at all. Eat your dinner."
"Quatre wears pastel shirts," Duo muttered, keeping his face straight with an effort.
"Quatre knows that you don't," Heero retorted. "Eat!"
"Real men are secure enough that they can wear pastel shirts and eat quiche," Quatre said loftily. "I-- Duo, what is that?!"
"A deluxe meatball sandwich with extra sauce and cheese," Duo said almost lovingly, lifting his prize out of its tinfoil wrapping and admiring it. "Real food, not that cardboard crap they give you here."
"Shouldn't you be eating something a little healthier while you're convalescing? More balanced?"
"Yes, mother," Duo said dryly, lifting a tub of salad out of the bag and waving it. "Way ahead of you, mother."
"Duo..." Heero murmured warningly. "Less teasing, more eating."
"Or else what?" Duo's voice was light, but there was a dangerous sparkle in his eyes, suggesting that Heero's response had better not be too authoritarian. Quatre winced inwardly, waiting for the explosion.
"Or else it'll get cold, and the cheese will go all... what was that word you used about a pizza a while ago?" Heero replied calmly. "Ah. Yes, 'manky'. I have no idea what it means, but I gather it isn't good, and I didn't go out and buy that thing so you could let it get manky."
Explosion averted, Duo snorted and took a huge bite, chewing happily; then he paused, eyes widening. "Heero," he said after swallowing, "I'm fairly sure I haven't eaten pizza near you for quite a while. When did I use the word 'manky' in your hearing?"
"Approximately... Three and a half months ago."
"And you remembered it?!"
Heero shrugged one shoulder, looking away. "I remember almost everything you ever said to me."
Watching Duo's slow blush and shy smile in Heero's direction, Quatre raised one eyebrow and leaned back against Trowa's warm chest. If that's true-- and Heero may be a lot of things, but a romantically inventive liar he is not-- it's a good sign that Heero really does care for Duo, and has for some time. And the fact that he was willing to say it, in public...
Nudging Trowa surreptitiously as he straightened up, he cleared his throat and smiled at Heero and Duo. "We really just came to say 'hi' and ask if there was anything we could bring either of you," he said, not entirely truthfully. "There's still a lot of unpacking to do, so we need to get back to the house."
"You don't have that much portable stuff," Duo objected.
"Not in the way of personal possessions, no," Trowa told him, following Quatre's lead, "but we now have a full set of kitchen and dining essentials, courtesy of Relena, including 'every day' and 'visitors' sets of plates and cutlery. We also have two lots of audiovisual gear to set up; and you didn't really think we were going to leave your personal stuff for you to take care of when you get out of the hospital, did you?"
"I take it you had some reason to hustle out of there?"
Quatre had the good grace to look embarrassed as he slid behind the wheel of the car. "I thought they might appreciate a little time alone."
Trowa shot a sideways glance at him from under his bangs, and smiled. "So... does this mean you're finally willing to trust Heero with Duo's heart?"
"Well, at least he's honestly trying," Quatre muttered, starting the engine. "If he's willing to make a genuine effort and Duo's willing to let him try, I'm not willing to stick around playing gooseberry when it looks like he's actually getting somewhere."
"And you tell Duo he comes up with strange expressions," Trowa murmured, stifling a snicker. "'Gooseberry'?"
"Three's a crowd," Quatre said primly, concentrating on the road. "Or in this case, four. You know what I mean!"
"Yes, love, but occasionally you need footnotes."
* * * * *
Relena took a deep breath, biting her lip as she looked at the perfectly ordinary door; then she took a firmer grip on her packages and knocked quickly, before she could change her mind.
Heero opened the door, stiffening slightly as he saw who it was. "Relena," he said, voice flat, but eyes wary.
I wouldn't have noticed that a week ago, she observed with a sort of morbid humour. "Heero, good evening," she replied, keeping her voice low and even. "I came to see Duo. Is he... ah..." Quickly, Relena mentally deleted 'awake' and substituted another term. "Receiving visitors?"
"I'll find out." The door swung almost shut.
Inside the room, still holding the door handle, Heero leaned back until he had a clear view of Duo. "Relena's here," he said blandly, grimacing and pointing at the door. "Are you up for another visitor?" 'I'll send her away if you want,' he mouthed silently, knowing that Duo could read lips.
Duo quickly wound his braid around his neck and yanked upwards, gagging silently, then dropped the pantomime and nodded. "Sure, why not?" he said cheerfully, disentangling himself from his hair. "Come on in, Relena!"
"How are you feeling?" she asked, side-stepping past Heero with her arms full of carry bags. Her eyes flicked down to the bulky lump under the blankets that was his leg in the brace, then lifted determinedly to his face again. "I hope you weren't trying to rest; I would have come sooner, but I couldn't get away from the Ministry."
"Ahh, I'm doing okay," he said, waving one hand dismissively. "I like to think of this as a possible first stage towards becoming a bionic superhuman... if somebody ever invents a way of doing augmentation surgery without all of the boring hospital and recuperation bits, that is."
"I'm sure there are research teams working on that problem even as we speak," she murmured, managing a strained smile. "The usual fruits and flowers didn't seem exactly... appropriate as hospital gifts for you, so I brought you these instead."
"All right," he said admiringly, raising an eyebrow as she pulled a huge deluxe chocolate assortment out of the largest carry bag and handed it to him. "This is way better than the watery chocolate pudding they described as 'dessert' today! Quatre's going to flip over the whole 'unhealthy eating' thing again, though."
"About a quarter of that is actually chocolate-covered crystallised fruit," Relena pointed out. "Tell him it has vitamin C in it. And there's these, in case you get bored..." Two hand-held game machines, a selection of program disks, and a cable to join them up for two-player games appeared out of the other bags.
"Oh, hey, thanks, Relena," Duo said, now slightly bemused. "I appreciate it really, but you didn't have to..."
"In other words, I never have before, so why now. Am I right?" she asked quietly, looking back and forth between Heero and Duo. "If I heard that Heero was in the hospital, I'd drop everything to visit him, and Quatre might get flowers, but the rest of you... the most attention I've paid to your injuries in the past has been something like 'How are you, Duo? Getting better? That's nice. Where's Heero?' Right?"
"Well... I wouldn't have put it exactly like that, unless you really pissed me off, but... yeah, that sounds about right," Duo agreed slowly. Heero straightened up from his spot leaning against the wall, frowning.
"Well, if you had told me that was how I was acting a week ago, I think I would have angrily denied any such bias, and then would have filed it away as one more reason why I shouldn't waste time associating with you," Relena said shakily, hunting in her handbag for a tissue as her eyes began to tear up. "I'm sure you can see the little logical error there."
"Relena, Queenie, babe, don't go all watery on me here!" Duo exclaimed, sitting up in alarm. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"May I speak to you alone, Duo? Please? I need to apologise, and explain what I'm apologising for, and I honestly don't think I can if..." Relena trailed off, almost wincing as she glanced over at Heero again, and Duo nodded.
"Ah, yeah, I think I can manage that," he muttered, making a 'beats me' face in reply to Heero's questioning glance over Relena's bowed head. "Sorry to boot you out twice in one day, Heero, but you have to admit this qualifies as special circumstances."
"Agreed," the Japanese pilot grimaced. "I'll get coffee, and take my time. How do you want yours, Relena?"
"No, I don't-- I don't need--"
"Little bit of milk, half a sugar," Duo interrupted, waving off her objections. "Hot drinks are good in stressful situations, so you do need it, Relena. A couple of extra sugars might be a good idea, too."
Relena blinked at him in surprise as Heero nodded and went out. "You know how I take my coffee?"
"I've made it for you a few times," he shrugged.
"Yes, but-- you bothered to remember--" A tear trickled down her cheek, and she hastily wiped at her eyes again, sniffing. "That's exactly the sort of thing I've been ignoring. You've always been nice to me, even when I must have been so annoying, and... well, a couple of times I've asked for coffee as an excuse to get you out of the room so I could be alone with Heero, and looking back I think you must have realised it--"
"Ohhhh yeah," Duo muttered under his breath.
"--but you never gave me bad coffee," she continued miserably. "And you remembered."
"Yes, well, this isn't about remembering your coffee preferences," Duo said uncomfortably. "At least, I don't think it is. What is it about?"
Relena looked down at the damp tissue in her hands for a few seconds, then started slowly shredding it. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you that I have been fixated on Heero for quite some time," she said in a low voice. "Obsessed, even. I thought it was fate, or destiny, or something equally poetic, bringing us together, and of course he would be strong and silent and hide his feelings until the war was over and he was free of that responsibility, and then... happily ever after. The hero wins the princess. All the cliches."
"I take it you've changed your mind?" Duo's eyes narrowed as he studied what he could see of Relena's face. This was not what I expected, he thought. I would have bet that she'd decided the way to Heero's heart was through being nice to his friends, but... this sounds like she's giving up.
"Not exactly. I suppose you could say that I had the truth forcibly introduced to me." Relena managed a thin, tight smile, sniffed, and continued tissue-shredding. "I'm sure you also noticed that I filtered everything to do with Heero through my... little romantic fantasy... and everything that didn't fit in it was ignored or reinterpreted. Heero was the hero, so of course anyone who shot him automatically became the bad guy, no matter what their motives might have been. Thank you for saving my life that time, by the way," she added, glancing up at Duo with another watery smile. "I don't believe I was properly appreciative at the time."
"You could say that," Duo muttered, grinning back. "No thanks needed, ma'am; saving pretty ladies is a perk, not a duty. Go on."
"Well." Relena's smile twisted, and she looked away. "I went on like that for quite some time... until the last time I showed up unannounced at your safehouse. You fell, and hurt your knee again, and Heero..." She swallowed. "I saw his face when... He loves you, doesn't he?"
It was Duo's turn to wince. "We're... kinda working that out," he said slowly. "But... yeah. I think so."
"Well, I thought so too, and I didn't take it well," she said bitterly. "I was furious. Heero was supposed to be with me, after all; nobody else should have been in the picture. So, I nearly..." She took a deep breath. "I nearly did something unforgivable."
"Nearly?" Duo asked. "We are clear on the 'nearly' part, right? I'm not going to have a hit squad kick in my window, here, am I?"
"Nearly," Relena confirmed, not smiling at the almost-joke. "I thought... if I could get Heero to reject you, somehow, everything would be okay. I went looking for something you'd done that I could use, something that would revolt Heero. And when I didn't find anything, I considered making something up. Having evidence manufactured. But then--"
--I saw that photo--
"...I realised what I was doing wasn't anything to do with love. If I really did love Heero, I should have been able to talk to him about it. I should have been asking him what he wanted, not trying to stuff him into my picture of the perfect love and pruning off the bits that didn't fit. Like you, and his friends." She sighed heavily, wiping her eyes again. "So, I did some serious thinking, and worked out what I was really after. I'd convinced myself that I was in love, because that was the sort of thing I thought was supposed to happen, but... after the first flush of infatuation was gone, I think what I was after was a friend."
"Relena... you have lots of friends!"
"I have sycophants, and hangers-on, and yes-people," Relena corrected him. "I don't have anyone who will disagree with me, or tell me I'm doing something stupid, or who likes me just because they like me, not because I'm famous or can do something for them. I have a lot of people who want to be able to say 'Oh, the Vice-Foreign Minister and I are so close,' but nobody who will tell me 'That outfit looks awful, Relena, where did you leave your dress sense today?' Pargan is the closest I come to having a real friend, but he'd never dream of stepping over the line dividing servant and employer." She snorted, a suprisingly unladylike sound. "Heero might not have been the Knight in Shining Gundanium I thought he was, but he also wasn't a-- a toady. He didn't fall all over himself with delight when I gave him a party invitation, he ignored me instead of hanging on my every word... he was honest with me, instead of changing his opinions to match what I said. I might have gotten the wrong idea about why I wanted to have more to do with him, but at least I recognised that he had something I needed." She looked up at Duo again, managing her first real smile since she'd walked in the door. "I got so caught up with him, though, I never saw that the rest of you were just like him in some ways. You've certainly never tried to flatter your way into my 'clique'!"
"Relena," Duo said seriously, "you couldn't pay me to get into your 'clique'!"
"To be honest, if I had the option, I wouldn't be in my 'clique'," Relena sighed. "I liked it when I was in school, but now that I'm trying to do something serious, I don't want to have twenty invitations a week to lunches and afternoon teas where nobody would ever dream of discussing something as boorish as politics." She grimaced, balling up the mess of limp tissue fragments in her hand and dropping them into the bin beside the bed. "Getting back to why I'm here... I've treated you abominably, Duo, and I was willing to ruin your life to get what I thought I wanted. I'm truly sorry. I know perfectly well I can't just say that, and give you a few presents, and have everything be miraculously all right, but I can try to start over and behave properly this time... treat you as yourself and not the villain of my imagined love story. That is... if you're willing to have me around."
Duo picked up one of the game disks scattered over the bed, and studied it, jaw working slightly. "Let me get this straight," he said eventually. "You've basically been a bitch on wheels to me since I saved your life. The first time I saved your life, that is, not any of the... I think it's four times since then. Now you've seen the light and smelled the coffee, so you want to start over and be friends this time. Real friends, that is, not just acquaintances or wishy-washy don't-really-care friends. Does that about cover it?"
"...Yes," Relena whispered.
"Yeah. I don't have that many friends, so one more would be a good thing. You can never have too many friends, after all. And you didn't actually get around to ruining my life... By the way," he added casually, a slight edge in his voice betraying his tension, "what did you find out while you were digging for dirt in my metaphorical back yard?"
More than you ever want anyone to know, I think. "I found out that you're a very hard person to track," Relena said honestly, wiping away fresh tears, and smiling at him. "I found out that you stand by your friends... in fact, you're the sort of person I wanted to think I was. Which just made me more angry at you!" she exclaimed, mock-glaring at Duo as he relaxed minutely. "I was trying to find reasons for Heero to not love you, not evidence that you were exactly the sort of person he should love!"
"Yeah, well, some of us just have to suffer under these burdens of greatness," he grinned. "So, starting over... My first piece of advice to you as your friend, is to lose the pink limo! Or at least have it repainted. Pink is not a good colour for that car. You should probably ditch the pastels out of your wardrobe, too. That royal blue dress is the best thing I've seen you wear, and you'd look killer in deep red. Just wait 'til they let me up and about, and we'll go shopping."
There was a quiet knock on the door, and Heero's voice called, "Can I come in, or should I go and retune an ambulance engine or two?"
"Great timing, Heero! Welcome back," Duo called. "Come on in, all is forgiven... literally." As Heero nudged the door open and walked in, carefully carrying three jumbo cups of coffee, the braided teen continued. "We're starting over, okay? This is my new friend, 'Lena. She's got a famous surname, but that doesn't matter. 'Lena, this is my boyfriend, Heero, a very useful guy to have around..."
Heero stopped short, coffee sloshing slightly, and stared at Duo.
Slowly, a faint, hopeful smile quirked the corner of his mouth.
End chapter 23
SPIKE: So, this godly git is pissed off 'cause you made him act like a wimp?
MEL & CHRISTY: Yes.
SPIKE: I can see his point.
MEL: He still gets to be nasty to us! And we weren't really making him be wimpy. Just... a little more considerate, that's all. And only to Wufei.
CHRISTY: Actually, he shouldn't really be all that mad at us. He didn't have any lines in this chapter, much less wimpy ones.
MEL: Wouldn't you at least consider being nice if it meant you could get into the pants of the object of your desires?
SPIKE: Been there, done that. Bein' nasty seemed to work better. I mean, one time we ended up gettin' it on while I was trying to beat her up!
CHRISTY: ...Yes, well, Wufei is not Buffy.
MEL: He lacks her odder mental quirks.
CHRISTY: Besides, we're not going to make him do anything with Krashnark until he's happy with the idea. Krashnark has to earn him.
SPIKE: Ah. No wonder he's pissed at you.
MEL: He'd better get un-pissed, and stay that way, if he doesn't want something unpleasantly final to happen to his sex life!
CHRISTY: At least he's letting us have hot drinks again.
SPIKE: So anyway, what's the deal here? You're not gonna try to write me into anything, are you? I've got enough problems with one plotline messing with my head...
CHRISTY: No, no, we promise. No fics starring you. We just wanted to give you a safe haven where you could take a break from Buffy and the rest.
SPIKE: Yeah, and that's another thing. If this is going to turn into some sort of encounter group or intervention, I'm out of here. There was this other house full of girls who wanted to break me free of my 'codependent unhealthy relationship', and they really creeped me out. Worse than Jahwa demons, they were.
MEL: Definitely not. We just want to appreciate your presence. You can watch TV with Legolas, though I wouldn't advise arguing with him over channel selection when SBS is showing anime... we have a lot of tapes, books, that sort of thing. Make yourself at home-- er, just don't try to snack on the pets. Trust me. It's not a good idea.
CHRISTY: You can go raid the Prop Box and terrorise Yithar if you want, though.
SPIKE: *grumble* I can't harm humans, remember?
MEL: Oh, Yithar isn't human! He's a jerk.
CHRISTY: And a half-elf.
MEL: And he deserves it.
SPIKE: Sounds like a plan. I am a bit peckish...
WUFEI: I'll show you where it is.
[He leads Spike out of the room.]
CHRISTY: I told you that they'd get along with the proper encouragement.