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Chapter 14: Killer Night

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Quatre got a text from Heero asking to come over. "...oh. Hang on guys," he said and went to open the front door, Heero was apparently right outside.

Missy knew it would take him a few minutes, they were upstairs, and she wanted to try something. "I want to do a little experiment on Quatre."

This quickly drew Duo's attention away from the prospect of foxy boxing. "Experiment?" he asked, his straw reaching the bottom of the beverage.

"I had an notion. Just keep being okay with waiting for your drink, alright?" she said, not wanting Quatre to know.

He nodded, "If it'll keep him upright, I'm in." Duo wasn't looking to carry Quatre around the school tomorrow, because heaven forbid he miss a day due to a hangover.

"I think this 'temper' of his is a little deeper than that," she said, not wanting to sound like she was trying to torment him, only test him. "Maybe if he saw first hand his own triggers, he'd be able to deal with those 'panic' moments better."

"Alright, but be careful," he pushed his newly emptied glass away. "The guy doesn't ask for much, so he's used to getting it." He didn't think Quatre to be selfish, but, set in his ways.

"Exactly. I think depriving him of that 'control' is going to cause an episode," she returned to her lax position in the chair, "It's a hunch." Leaning forward was hard to do with a corset on. "Like you said...marbles, losing them...bad. Best to know what you're up against." She caught her breath.

Duo took notice, "You don't have to keep wearing that." He got his drink, pleased she went through with the agreement; playing along with her little game was his way of saying 'apology accepted'.

"I'll be fine." She hoped she wasn't overstepping her boundaries with her host, this was a risky test. Quatre was smart, he would be able to notice her acting. She had to be careful.

"If you think it'll help, I'll go along with it. You seem to be really good at reading people," he tossed a compliment her way.

She smirked, "What makes you say that?"

"When I sat down at your bar, you knew exactly what I was going to do right away." He meant he was going to flirt with her but didn't get the chance.

"You talk about it like you'd succeed," she nipped playfully at him. "Don't you think that maybe it happens to me a lot, so I treat everyone with disdain and mistrust because I assume they're hitting on me?"

"You can't really be that vain," he said and laughed it off.

"You wanna' bet," she said without a hitch, "I don't just point out other people's behaviors, I'm aware of my own too. I'm a manipulator."

"I always did like honesty," he made another pass.

"Let's see how honest a response we get from Quatre, not me," she dodged the pass.

Duo began wondering if this was how Hilde felt when he turned her down. It kind of sucked. 'Great,' he thought to himself, now she was on his mind. "Chilly," he said.

"Bring a coat," Missy smirked, noticing the facial expression he made. What idea had popped into his head? Whatever it was, it wasn't good.

Quatre returned with Heero and they caught him up on nearly everything; he got a chuckle out of Duo handling customer service. Back to serious, "That's just great," he folded his arms, "We can't rule anything out. This might not be a girl, they could be using a pseudonym to gain sympathy."

"I hope so," Quatre said as he arranged the ice pack to his hand. He was forced to finish his drink with his non-dominant hand, it was annoying.

"If that's the case, who's to say there's one person using the number to make deals then?" Missy suggested as she noticed Quatre messing around with the salt on his glass. "Could you guys wait five more minutes for the next one? I need a breather," she stretched back in the chair again, allowing her lungs to taste the sweet oxygen they craved.

They kept talking and time passed, five minutes exactly. Again, the one under the knife began to fidget. Missy and Duo intentionally steered the conversation so it lasted a bit longer. By the end of it, there was no salt left on the rim of Quatre's glass. "I think there's still some in the bottom," Missy joked.

He laid the glass down, "Sorry, it's been thirteen minutes," he said without doubt.

Duo checked his phone and his brow quickly knitted, "It has been...exactly," he said as he looked over his shoulder to see if there was a clock on the back wall. There wasn't any. "How'd you do that?" he asked because he didn't see Quatre take his phone out at all.

He shook his head, "I don't know. It felt like thirteen minutes...fourteen by now."

Duo checked the time again, it was going to switch in two seconds, "That's freaky."

"It's neat," Missy said. Her interest was at it's peak, "How come it's bugging you?"

"Oh no, it's not. You just said you'd do it, and didn't...I thought I'd remind you." He wasn't angry, he was actually confused as to why this conversation was happening.

"He's not bringing it up," she pointed to Duo, who had no response.

"...what are you trying to pull?" he asked, becoming suspicious of her intention.

He was too quick for her and figured her plot out right away. "I'm suggesting you take it easy on a weekday," Missy said, quickly covering it up.

"Then why offer to begin with?" He was getting agitated, they could hear it in his voice.

She shrugged, "Wasn't thinking."

The amount of calculations that went on in his head were astounding, both his friends were there to witness it too. A nearly unnoticeable head twitch to the side, twice, and he lowered his brow any number of times, eyes searching from side to side. "But-" he tried. They had seen Quatre calculate situations in his mind on many occasions, but the fact it was a 'predicted behavior' on Missy's part was what made it interesting.

She held up five fingers, "Give me five more minutes, I think you should mention the manga, it's got to be a lead," she continued on, "The store cameras might have picked up someone buying it. This volume's only been out a week."

"Wait. What store?" Heero asked.

"Right; I knew we left something out," Duo said. They got caught up with talking to Quatre, they forgot to mention an important fact. He showed Heero the copied art from the professional piece.

Heero laughed, "Are you serious?" he couldn't describe the amount of joy he felt.

"How's that funny? They can mass produce in a matter of hours," Duo asked.

"Think about it; we've come across a lot of people who were paid for these jobs, right? There's a word for this...why can't I think of it?" Heero thought more, it was on the tip of his tongue.

"Plagiarism?" Missy suggested.

"Not that one, though it is plagiarized; it's, when you lie about what a job would be for..." He thought back to class time; apparently he was the only one who took law. "Misrepresentation. If we find who ever's doing this, do you realize the amount of people who could claim damages? We've got them." He was thrilled with the new development.

"I never even considered that." Duo cupped his mouth with a hand as he spoke though it, "That's got to be at least a dozen people." If they were going to bring the hammer down on this person, they were looking at some serious fines, maybe even jail time.

"Even better than that," Missy added, "If there was more than one person involved, it is a conspiracy, and that's an even bigger legal issue."

Finally an end was in sight. "We should find a way to let them know we've got them in a tight spot; they might be willing to stop all this if we clearly state our position." Heero was enjoying the politics, they could see it in his face.

"When did you take an interest in the legal sciences?" Quatre asked.

"When pillow talk with the wife got stale," Duo snarked. He was booted under the table. "Ow! Worth it," he claimed as he rubbed his knee.

"Celebration drink?" Missy asked.

"It's only been three minutes," Quatre said, knowing he was playing on his own impatience. They laughed.

Again, he was spot on. "That's so cool," Duo was amused.

"It guess it comes from spending prolonged periods in space," Heero added, "You subconsciously learn to use other time cue's to get by."

"I keep forgetting you've all been to space. I'd love to go someday," Missy said from behind the marble surface, "Heero, would you like a drink too?" She was ready to start mixing again, having all she needed from Quatre at the moment.

He considered it, "What are you making?"

"Well, we've got something hot, something sweet," she thought about what other style of drink she could make with the vodka, "How about...something sour?" She prayed he didn't notice the jab she made at his usual demeanor.

He didn't, "I'll give it a try." A sour drink sounded interesting and as good a choice as any. "I have to drive home tonight, so only a single." He made a crack back, apparently noticing the jab after all.

She laughed lightly at herself. Someone had to have told Heero the story from Thursday, because she saw him leave before Duo was leveled. "No prob," she got to work. The three drinks were colored chocolate brown, vibrant red and a lush violet. "Bloody Mary with tobasco, Black Russian and finally, Purple Haze."

"Some of these names..." Heero took a sip, it was puckering and zingy. Regardless of it's ridiculous name, it was delicious; he was definitely going to order one the next time he drank.

"I know, but it's appropriately named. After a few you start to feel kind of hazy," she smirked.

"Aren't you going to have one?" Quatre asked, fanning his mouth. She wasn't kidding, there was no skimping on the hot sauce.

"I play for keeps, one drink won't do. Thanks though," she said, knowing her own limitations. After she felt there was enough support there for Quatre, she headed out. Leaving him alone with Duo might have been grounds to enable each others drinking; with Heero to serve as their anchor, they should have been fine. Should have.

"We need to plan something for the weekend," Duo suggested. He wanted to invite Missy over again, hoping to get some 'time spent' with her. He couldn't help but notice how taken she was with the whole set up at Quatre's pad, it was perfect.

"That reminds me. I forgot to mention this yesterday," for he was too pissed, "Trowa's got free tickets to the circus this Saturday."

Quatre's eyes perked up, "Circ de Soleil?"

"Yes. He said there's enough for each of us to take someone. Wufei's got work that night, so he gave up his tickets; we've got two extra." Duo suggested they bring Yumi and Kumi, the girls he met on the subway. It was considered as an option. Making plans and basking in the fortune of the comic problem being solved was a good feeling.

From the hallway, Naibun wondered if Quatre was in any trouble. She couldn't make out what they were saying from beyond the door. She saw his fist yesterday, today it was worse, but she was unable to bring herself to ask him about it. In lieu of mentioning anything she cleaned up a storm and tidied the bar again, like yesterday, so she could keep an eye on him.

She even stopped Missy on her way out to ask what happened to him. She said he only punched a locker, not a person. It still wasn't enough to calm her. 'Should I go back in?' she thought, not wanting to intrude on 'guy time'. Checking her watch, she took note that it was the end of her shift and debated if she should leave. The last time she left Quatre with alcohol, he drank himself into the ground.

She heard one thing from the other side of the door. "I kind of want another," Duo's voice said after slurping as much as he could from of the base of the glass.

"I don't know how to mix," Quatre said and followed Duo to the counter.

"I'm heading out in a bit," Heero said.

"You got somewhere to be?" Duo asked as he rounded the corner of the bar, a slight sway in his step.

"I have papers to write," he said. They weren't due for a week but he wanted to work on them each night to lighten his assignment load. It was the only way he could balance work and school.

Duo shooed the idea away with a hand gesture and grabbed the vodka, "They can wait." He proceeded to fill a shot glass. "What was the other thing she ordered, er, added, to this?" His words slipped.

"Check the covers..." It was then that Quatre realized how neurotic he was when it came to upkeep. He looked at the caps of the bottles and saw the one that had a tiny dribble down the side. "This one," a strange name, kahlua, "I can't pronounce it."

"Vodka and ka-loo-ah...a shot of each, fill the rest with the milk. Simple." He didn't fill the shot glass properly. The rule of thumb to pour a shot was to measure 'a pinky fingernail length to the top of the glass'; his tempted surface tension at the rim. After mixing that up, he was feeling adventurous and explored the rest of the bar. Thinking too much about Hilde made him slide into depression, he couldn't afford that. Duo needed a distraction. Then he saw it. Tempting fate, he plugged in the karaoke machine. "You got Queen on this thing?"

"Not happening," Heero denied him, trying to defy it.

"It might not even work properly," Quatre tried to back up the notion, all the while knowing the machine was in fine working order. He prayed Duo didn't find the new single he added the other day titled 'One Week'.

He pressed buttons and fired up the rather large, colorful jukebox style machine. "I saw the sticker on the back, it was made in the nineties, it's gotta' have Queen! Come on, sing Bohemian Rhapsody with me!" He wasn't listening.

"Should we stop him?" Quatre asked, feeling the same level of concern for the amount of 'drink' in his glass.

Heero got an idea, "Alright, I'll do it. Only if you give me that thing you concocted," he attempted to barter.

Duo dropped what he was doing and took Heero's shoulders in his hands. "Are you kidding?" he asked, shaking him gently, "Tell me you aren't."

"I'm not. And so help me, if it leaves this room-"

"-It won't," he was ecstatic. "Why do you want this?" he tried to take a sip but had it snatched away.

"You still have to ride the bus home," Heero pointed out and moved the glass further away from him.

"Stingy. Can't you drive me?" He was sure Heero was only having one drink and that was a while ago.

"Can't," he said and finished Duo's drink, so he couldn't drive. Relena had banned Duo from her car if he was drinking and he didn't have the heart to tell him.

"Fair enough...but," he looked saddened, "Does that mean...you're going to make me ride the bus...alone?" He spoke from behind two clenched, frightened, fists. His eyes had all the charm of a lost puppy.

"It's the last bus for the night. You won't be able to come back for the car," Quatre said to Heero.

He sighed, "I'll ride with him if you can take the car to school tomorrow. Do you mind?" Quatre nodded in agreement. Heero was was sure he already told himself that this wasn't going to become a habit, yet here he was, offering sympathy, yet again. He felt he'd gone soft. With a huff he began to scroll through the menu of the retro looking machine, "Let's get this over with."

"It's happening!" Duo cheered, barely able to contain his enthusiasm. No one felt confident enough to hit the high 'c' in Bohemian Rhapsody, so they went with 'Killer Queen' instead. It suited the mood. They had one more shot before they hit the last few songs of the night. Vodka burned and tasted horrible.

After a few more songs, not all Queen, it was time to go wait for the bus. Heero made the mistake of finishing Duo's drink so he didn't have to drag him home, but now he found it kind of hard to walk. "Shouldn't have had that shot," Heero said.

"You're wasted," Duo said as he steadied his friend on the sidewalk, Heero had begun to meander off of it.

"Shut up, it was your mix that did this," he said and sat with him at the bus station. They still had a few minutes before the last run of the night happened, the trick was, staying awake.

"I was gunna' finish'it," he snickered, "Sounded like I said 's**t'."

"And you know why? Because you're drunk too," he threw it back in his face.

"I am...so, when were you talking to Relena today?" he asked, trying to squeeze information out of Heero while he was still tipsy.

"We talked after'school. She wanted help looking for this person, people, the comic guy, girl, whatever. She let me keep the car as a thank you for running her around." Duo's hand was rotating, hoping to keep him going, "Thaat's it," he nodded, "Nutin' else to tell for now."

"For now? Does that mean you'll tell me later, or that it hasn't happened yet?" he asked.

"...neither of those answers work for me."

"You're saying it happened already, but you don't want to tell me," he laughed.

"You and Trowa...can both piss right off," his words didn't sound angry, they were calm and tired. He also couldn't wipe the smirk off his face; just remembering the night was enough to make him grin.

It was a grin that didn't go unnoticed. "Are you going to ask her to go to the circus with you?" he kept at it, trying to get a rise out of him.

He foiled Duo's plan, "Already done; called'er a couple days ago."

"The hell? It's no fun when you don't fight back," Duo laughed. It was about time Heero had some fun; and drinking on a school night was a sure sign of becoming 'more fun'. He looked at his watch to check the time, but he couldn't make it out. His vision had blurred into double. He covered one eye and read it, still no use.

Their ride finally got there. Even though it was the last run of the evening, the bus was cramped. Only two spots were left to sit in and they were above the heater. The heat made Duo dozy and he kept nodding off on Heero's shoulder, to which he would receive a sharp poke in the head.

When they finally got to Wufei's, Duo immediately collapsed on the couch, taking up the whole thing. Heero tried to move him over some, but couldn't and gave up almost immediately. He backed up and unintentionally went over the arm of a nearby chair. He rolled with it because he landed on a soft seat, however, a comfortable position to lay in was impossible to find. His head was being propped up by an unwilling right wrist and it kept slipping off his fist as he tried to sleep the dirnks off.

Not eating anything, drinking booze and then going to school the next day was hard, and it got worse. Overnight, another comic was released. This time Duo got his wish, he was the star of the new piece. Sadly, he was not paired with a voluptuous young lady, he was paired with Heero, who was playing the role of 'the unwilling, slightly drunk, straight guy'. "I'll tear them a new one!" Duo bellowed in the empty lunch room; it was still morning and they were in there to talk in private.

"Remember, they're female; you said you wouldn't hit a girl," Quatre tried to calm him with rational thought.

His teeth gritted together, "I know what I said, and I don't care! I'm gonna' slap the hell out of that b***h when I find her!" he said and rearranged the ice pack on his head, "As soon as I'm done dealing with this headache." All his yelling hurt.

"Do you know what's worse?" Heero asked, head down on the lunch table, not trying to move it too much. "They were on the bus with us." The setting of the book was at the back of the vehicle they rode home the night before. Whoever they were, they were dedicated, and getting closer.
Starla Q's avatar

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Chapter 15: How I See

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"Quatre, would you like some tea?" Naibun reiterated for her friend. Those were the first words she had gotten to say to Quatre, minus the 'Master' part. She cursed her words. "He must think I'm so common," Naibun said as she tightened her pony tail in the school's mirror.

"He's a rich-b***h, right?" her friend asked.

"Quatre's a gentleman," she defended him.

The other girl shook her head, "I'm exaggerating; I was actually referring to your confidence. Money isn't everything, stop thinking everyone values you only for that." If she actually knew Quatre, she would have pat herself on the back for such a correct statement.

Naibun stared off into space to think, "Your family has money Kinsei, I'm not so lucky."

"Bunni, trust me, if he's worth keeping around he won't care about your money situation." She tossed her bag on the counter and began tying her hair back for practice. Her enlightened notion didn't seem to perk her friend up any, she would have to try again later. "Speaking of money, is the job working out? You're on your feet all day, aren't you exhausted?"

She smiled a little for that, "Nope. I may be on my feet tons, but as soon as I dive in the water, they don't touch solid ground until home time." She lifted the fronts of her bare feet a few times and slapped them on the stone floor.

"You should learn to walk on your hands, then you'll spend even less time on your feet," her friend joked.

Naibun laughed, "I don't think I could do that, my uniform is a skirt."

Kinsei chortled with a toothy grin, "Who knows, maybe people will leave you more tips. Ooh, try picking them up with your toes! You might get the nic-name 'Waitress Tippy Toes'."

"I probably lack the dexterity, I doubt it would go over well," they snickered as they left the locker room. Naibun was forbidden by her family to talk about her real job title to her friends, to the extent she was even forced to lie about where she worked; she said she worked at a little pub her non-existent uncle owned. Extra tips weren't what she was looking for when she turned in the application, she was looking for recognition of another kind, the 'affection' kind.

Quatre performed a piano sonata at the beginning of the year, and that was what got her crush started. It only grew more each day, more so when he played in the gym for everyone to hear. She never saw someone look so peaceful. Naibun never spoke to him though, she couldn't, not at school anyway. She only sat in the rafters to listen to him each time he played, for months. It was by chance that she heard him talking about needing to hire more staff; Naibun hopped the bus and was at the Winner mansion that same day to fill out an application. She wasn't going to pass up the chance to get to know him on a personal level, maybe even get to see him play at home some time.

Her friend jarred her from a daze, "Is that a new bathing suit?" Kinsei asked as she held the door for them. She was trying to keep Naibun out of her own head.

"Kind of; I only wore it a couple times to the beach." When it came to practice, they were allowed to wear their regular bathing suits; only a regional tournament would be cause for something to be issued by the school. So today was casual. "This one gives me more support..." It sounded like there was going to be another part to her sentence but she stopped short.

Kinsei felt Naibun was regressing into her head again. "Support, huh? I'd believe that," she said from behind her then grabbed the shoulder straps of her friends suit, "I'm surprised you don't just float with these," and proceeded to 'jiggle' her.

"Stop it," she squealed and took off at a faster pace, laughing the whole way.

Kinsei snickered, "Don't run, you'll slip!" She tried to keep up and couldn't.

"I've got air bags," Naibun said over her shoulder and stepped up to the diving board. Her nearly new bathing suit was a one piece with, 'booty short' extensions at the legs and quarter sleeves. It was like a fashionable wetsuit, each limb had a small corset that held her skin snug and a larger one one spanned her front and lower back for a similar effect.

She had joined the swim team at the beginning of the year to make her transcript 'sparkle'(as he mother put it) and noticed she had begun to lose weight. Before she knew it, none of her clothes were fitting. They hung from her body in awkward spots like the bum and the belly. She felt as though she robbed an elephant of its baggy hide and was parading around in it. Instead of buying a whole new wardrobe, she altered her clothing.

In a desperate attempt to save her favourite shirt, she sewed a few corset loops to either side and fastened it with a colorful shoelace. Not only did she get complimented on losing weight when she wore it, but on being creative too. It was enough encouragement to do it to more of her outfits. She knew that even if the swim team gave her the boot and she gained some of the weight back, she could just let all her clothing back out again. It was reassuring.

Naibun's nerves froze as she saw the audience. None of them were being loud or disruptive, they were just there, and that was bad enough. She only caught a brief glimpse of them before she hit the water, but Quatre was sitting in the stand with his friend Duo. Neither were staring her down but she couldn't help feel nervous knowing they were looking. She'd have to preform to a tee to impress anyone; a feat that was going to be tricky, the coach showed up in a bad mood.

He made them drill laps until until they dripped with sweat, which was hard to do in the water. Somehow, he managed. This went on for quite a time. Toward the end of the first hour their star swimmer had to call the coach on his style, "I can do it, not everyone else can." The student was right, their team was being pushed to the breaking point for a pointless practice. Before the coach could get up in arms about the backtalk, "Look at Naibun."

"Kinsei, I can't catch my breath," she said, laying at the edge of the pool, her legs still in the water. Her breathing was shallow and her face red. "I can feel my heart beating in my ears," she said as each pulse welled her eyes up with tears.

"You're pushing yourself too much," she said and saw her friend try to undo the knot near her neck and ended up pulling the loops instead, "Wait, you'll knot it."

"Shoot, I-I did," she panicked and gasped for air. Naibun couldn't tilt her head down enough to see the knot she created. Her fingers blindly pulled at the twine too franticly for her friend to get to it in time.

"Hold on," the coach said and came at her quickly with a box cutter. Some of the people in the audience were in shock until they saw him slit the corset strings that bound her ribs. Naibun caught her breath with no trouble and return to a healthy shade of tan in no time. The coach apologized to the team and gave them 'ten' to relax.

The hype faded and the others disbanded. "Don't push yourself too hard," Quatre's voice came from the other side of the rail that separated the audience from the athletes.

The two girls gave each other a look. Kinsei poked Naibun's side from an angle that Quatre couldn't see, alerting her to make a move. She blushed as she approached him, "The first time you come to see me swim and I nearly pass out. Aren't I classy?" she giggled her last words in embarrassment.

"Classy? I'd say 'passionate'," he smiled, negating any worries she may have had.

Kinsei added, "Can you believe it's not the first time we've had to do that?"

"You serious?" Duo asked in disbelief, "How come you put it so tight?"

Naibun blushed because she wasn't used to showing so much of herself at school anymore. At the moment her chest was mostly covered with a towel draped from around the back of her neck, it wasn't too bad. "Hydrodynamics." She didn't bother explaining what the big word meant; figuring since they were all pilots and knew what 'aerodynamics' were, it went without saying. Her job also 'went without being said', Naibun was relieved. If Kinsei or Quatre brought up her shift after school, her cover would be blown.

Naibun was forbidden by her family to talk to her friends about her real job; they forced her to lie about where she worked. Her mother and father said that she would disgrace their name by saying she was a maid.

They spoke for a bit longer and then it was back to practice. Kinsei chuckled when they were finished and drying off in the locker room. "Oh Bunni, if you don't take a bite, I will."

She assumed her friend was referring to Quatre. "He's not a sandwich."

"I-do-not-care," she said in a joking way, "I would devour him. I can see why you're nervous though, he's quite a dish, ohh, a 'Rich Dish'." They laughed; Kinsei enjoyed her punnyness far too much sometimes.

"We went out last week-as friends," she admitted.

Kinsei made herself blush from the thought of Alfredo sauce and noodles for some reason, "Get out. Telll~" she said, egging her on.

Naibun told her all about their legit-innocent-outing on Sunday and how they took all kinds of pictures.

"Go you! I knew you'd have a man before the year was out. Confidence: you got this," she said with a sturdy pat on the back.

She nodded. "I wonder what they have planned for tomorrow. I'll ask Quatre- tomorrow, I think, at school again. I'll search him out even." She was going to ask him after school that day, but she couldn't tell Kinsei that she'd be seeing him again later on.

"It's good to see young men who get a jump on the weekend; normally it's us making the plans," she said and stepped into the changing room.

"Hopefully it won't be a repeat of last weekend. You won't say anything, right?" she asked out loud only because they were the only ones changing at the time.

A shirt got draped over the door Kinsei was behind, "I gain nothing by telling anyone."

Naibun remembered the night well. Quatre and his sister were both there. First it was only him. She had to alter the story some, but it remained untouched in her head. As far as anyone was concerned, it happened at a friend's house, not his; and it also happened the same day as the outing, hence why they were still hanging out.

"I'm getting a shower, would you like to do me a favour?" Was what he asked, intentionally to get a rise out of her.

She turned beet red, "Y-yes, Master Quatre?"

"Could you come in, in a few minutes, and hand me a towel?"

It sounded like he purposefully lengthened his sentences to get her to react, it worked, "No problem," she said breathlessly. Naibun hopped off down the hall to look for the softest towels she could find. In her rush, she didn't see the other person making the turn at the same time as she and they smashed into one another. "I'm so sorry," she said and helped the other girl off the floor.

"So'kay," she said and stood up. The girl looked to be about the same age as her and a slightly more slender, female, palette swap of her brother. Something was off about her, the girl's face was all red. "Whr's Quatre?" she slurred.

"He's taking a shower, I'm grabbing towels. Was there something you needed help with?" she said, doing her best to remain polite.

"The hell he is! Quatre!" she yelled abruptly, "Stop what you're doing and get your a** out here...with pants!" She was sure to add that part at the end.

Putting his shower on hold seemed unavoidable, he came out to see who was calling to him. It was his youngest sister, Shauna, born only weeks after him. "I didn't know you'd be back so soon."

"We got held up and ended up taking an alternate route. It got us here much quicker, I think the weather was on our side. Come have a drink with me," she said and tried to flag him toward her.

Quatre had drank last night, he wasn't looking to do it a second time in a row. "I really don'-" he was cut off.

Shauna took his arm and began pulling him to the bar on the second floor. "I got dumped and I want to b***h to you over a heaping glass of wine."

"You mean, another?" Naibun asked, holding freshly pressed towels in her arms. "Please take care, is all."

Shauna sighed in adoration, "So sweet, j'oo hire'er?" she asked her brother who shook his head, "You're no fun."


Kinsei laughed, "I hope I never get that drunk." She had no idea that Naibun was working there, the ruse was going over well, as was the story.

She then recounted the moment she got the phone call from Duo. "It escalated pretty quick from there."

In the midst of an argument as to who got the bottom of the wine bottle, the phone rang. "Hello?" Naibun answered.

'...Hellooo~,' Duo said with a smile that could be heard over the line. 'Hey sweetie, do you know where Quatre is?'

She watched him roll on the floor with his sister, trying to pull the wine away from her. "He's busy at the moment, is there a message?" she did her best to sound sweet, but was so on edge. Quatre finally managed to pin Shauna down.

'Busy? It's the middle of the night, isn't he asleep?' Duo sounded confused.

"Y-yes, asleep," she said and slapped her forehead, she hadn't thought quickly enough. If only she was expecting a call so late, she'd have rehearsed.

'...who is this?' he asked.

"I'm Naibun, one of his housekeepers. Can I ask who's calling?" she said, trying to get Quatre's attention; the fight had moved into the hall and she couldn't follow it.

'This is Duo, come on, put him on,' he whined.

"Duo?" she said. This made Quatre stick his head in the room, silently he nodded and motioned his hand for her to invite him over. "You're one of his friends, right? Could you just...come over here?" she said suddenly.

'Oh, what's going on?' he sounded more serious, 'Something up?'

"No...not really...is it possible for you to make it over? If not...I'm going to have to call my boss for help," she said with regret, almost on the verge of tears. She didn't want to have to call Iria, Quatre's older sister.

'Naibun, hun, are you safe?' he was good at sweet talking the ladies, it was comforting.

"I am," she said. It was working, his voice alone was calming her down.

'Is Quatre safe?'

"He is," she said with doubt, the cord of the phone only went so far. Shauna went as far as she could to lose her brother too. These questions went on for a few more minutes until they unknowingly agreed to come help Quatre pry his sister off the sauce.

"Get out of my room Shauna," Quatre pounded on the door. He had been locked out.

"I have a key," Naibun said and let them in; how she wished she hadn't.

"I'm so sorry," Shauna said, hand over mouth. "You can use my bed, if you want."

Quatre felt rage, but he contained it; she was drunk and didn't know any better. "It's okay, we'll flip it. Go lay down in the next room," he said and pointed her in the direction of one of the many guest rooms. It wasn't often he spoke sternly, but this was too annoying.

Naibun stripped the bed and sent Quatre off to find his sister in one of the many guest rooms. He located her with the wine bottle and tried to take it from her. "You don't need anymore."

"Don't care," she said and sipped carefully on her half empty cup, holding the bottle away from him.

"Cut this out," he said and tried to reason with her. It wasn't working, she wasn't listening, she couldn't. "My friends are on their way over."

She started listening, "Wait...what?" she said, sounding kind of worried.

"Yes, you scared Bunni into asking for help," he said.

"I'm sorry," Shauna said. "I hope she doesn't quit because of this. I can tell she likes you," she said and propped herself against the head board. "I'd quit if I had to deal with me like this." Shauna only drank on a couple occasions before, but never to such excess; her former boyfriend had meant so much to her, it was such a sudden shock.

"She'll be fine. You get some rest to sleep this off," he said and put a hand around the wine bottle. "Please let me take this."

Shauna nodded and handed it off, "Go ahead. One condition," she pointed a finger at him, "You take the heat for this...pr'tend I'm not even here."

He sighed, not wanting to be embarrassed in front of his friends; if it was going to get her out of the bottle though, he was willing. "Alright, but no more of this. What if sis found out?"

"I'd be shipped back home," she said with no effort.

"That's right. If you like Japan that much, do everything you can to stay here."

"But that's why Omar broke it off...he wanted me to stay home."

"Someone who forces you into making a choice, isn't the kind of person you deserve," he said sincerely.

Shauna started crying, holding her brother's shoulders tight. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she repeated herself a few more times.

When she finally calmed down he laid her back, "You're alright now, don't worry. Get some sleep." He got up with the bottle and cup.

"Kay..." she lay still as he brother left the room, "Bro..." she said.

"Yeah," he asked and leaned back in.

"Bucket?" she said with a finger in the air, vaguely outlined from the light in the hall.

"Hold on," he said and successfully got her a pail, which she successfully missed at first. Quatre's face flared a fiery red, "Let me guess, this one's my fault too?" She nodded from the rim of the bucket she had finally found. She needed a shower and the others would be arriving any moment. "I can't do it," he said to Naibun, not wanting to see his sister 'disrobed', as he put it.

"I'll put her in...but I'll need help getting her out again."

"We can drape a towel on her then."

"Alright."

"You said you'd take the heat, don't go back on it," Shauna held her head up as they wheeled her to the second bathroom down the hall.

Quatre left them at the door, "I'm going to the main bathroom, play it up like it was me the whole time, okay Bunni?"

Naibun gave him reassuring nod. "Do I mention her at all?"

He gave it thought, "Try not to...can we get away with telling one of them. I won't be able to carry you and she can't."

"I can live with one of them knowing," Shauna said and took movement back into her own hands. She reached for the hem of her shirt and pulled it over her head.

Quatre quickly shut the door, "Wait until I'm out first!" He sighed. Grabbing the wine he laid down earlier, he headed to the downstairs bathroom to 'assume the position'. It occurred to him that if they got there and he didn't appear drunk, Shauna's cover would be blown. He fought with the taste of the wine, but it got easier when he remembered his bus ride home. Chugging a few large mouthfuls of wine, he swish the last one in his cheeks. He coughed a bit. "Harsh," he said. After dumping a little in the bowl, to complete the illusion, he proceeded to straddle the fixture and wait for his friends.


"He even had to act really drunk when his friends showed up, it was quite a night. Lucky for us, his acting was good. He mimicked everything Shauna said and how she said it," Naibun said.

She and Kinsei chuckled at everything, even with the censorship still on. Naibun even told her the part when she fell into the tub with Shauna in an attempt to stop the girl from hitting her head. Naibun dove in the way and cracked her elbow on a tap hard, badly bruising it. She saw the mark in the mirror while changing, making her think about it again.

Before work, Naibun and Kinsei met up with their friends at a small fast food restaurant. They usually ate there after school. "I think I know how you lost weight," Kinsei said from behind a double burger.

"We learned how to cook and stopped eating here as much," Naibun said with a smile, making Kinsei smile back. Since she joined the swim team she hadn't been eating take-out as frequently.

"Not all of us know how to cook," one of her 'butt hurt' friends said, "Don't need to rub it in."

"I don't know how to cook that well," she said.

"You always cook. Stop being so modest, it's not becoming," one of the other girl's retorted. She didn't seem to be backed.

"Neither is being a snot. It's not her fault you're lazy and refuse to come to culinary class," Kinsei said and excused the two of them shortly after. Leaving the small group of friends behind, they set out on the sidewalk for the much needed space they required to finish eating. "Why do they always gotta' act like that?" her arms were slung behind her neck, elbows pointed outward after finishing.

"I suppose I do know how to cook, I should have said so," Naibun was beginning to regret her words.

"No you shouldn't have; don't feed that bullshit. We only have to put up with it for one more year, then we're free," she said with annoyance. "We're halfway done with this school, be patient." Kinsei was fed up with the snobby rich girls who gave Naibun a hard time. Most of them were dolls, but the few that snapped had teeth. It would have upset her less if they were doing it for a different reason, but Naibun had no control over her family's finances.

"Kinsei...thank you. You've made this school bearable," she gave her a smile.

"I try," she said and wrapped an arm around her friend's shoulders, "I live by: The people who matter, don't care, and the people who care, don't matter."

"That's smart. Did you come up with it?" she asked.

"Nope; got it from one of my many inspirational books. I'd be a quivering pile of jelly without them," they laughed.

The 'pile of jelly' line reminded her of last Saturday as well. 'Poor Shauna, I wonder if she's feeling better,' Naibun thought. She figured the bulk of her hangover was dealt with already, but the pain of breaking up with her boyfriend may have stuck around; even if she did already find herself a new potential man, three years was a long time to spend with someone.

Speak of the devil and he shall ride, "Hey!" a voice yelled to them. Turning around revealed Shauna coming toward them from across the street.

"What was the chance? I was just thinking about you," Naibun smiled. "How are you?"

"Good." After a brief introduction Shauna bowed down a bit more than casually, "I'm so sorry," she looked up, "This isn't gauche, is it?"

"You're doing fine," Kinsei said, "But looking up while you're talking kinda' is."

She tilted her head back down, "Oops." She fixed it, "I need to apologize," she said and rose to an upright stance.

"I'm glad I helped," Naibun said.

"It's more than that, and I can't help worry a bit...but I also wanted to say thank you." She removed her phone from her purse and showed off a text from Trowa, saying he'd be meeting her shortly. She hugged the girl, "Thank you so much, you're the best housekeeper we ever had. I'm giving you a raise, I don't care what Iria says. See ya'." And she was off.

"Housekeeper?" Kinsei asked.

Naibun blushed, "I'm sorry, please don't be mad. Mother told me say I worked as a maid."

"Why not-oh, wait, don't tell me: She was afraid of what others would think," she raised an unamused eyebrow, only to see a nod. "Thought so. I was wondering who you got that from. Nice to see nerves are hereditary. What exactly happened last weekend?"

"I'll tell you if you promise not to say anything," she said.

"What do I tell you every time you say that?"

"...that...you gain nothing from telling anyone?" They laughed again. "Fine, I'll give you the short version," she said and spun the missing pieces of the story for her and what she knew of what happened between the two of them.

Naibun was only granted permission to tell one of them, and telling a sober head seemed good. "I need help cleaning." Whoever was coherent enough would volunteer.

"Clean? It's the middle of the night," Heero remarked, excluding himself from helping.

"Normally, that's the case," she inhaled as she spoke. She looked up to Trowa, "You seem sober enough," she could tell they had all been 'into it' that night, he would have to do. "Could you help me?"

"Sure, with what?" Trowa asked.

Naibun nodded, "I need to flip the mattresses. Could you two stay here and keep him company?" She looked to Duo and Heero, hoping Trowa would be the only one to follow her.

"You do what you have to," Duo said and maneuvered closer to Quatre to comfort him. It looked like he wouldn't be helping either.

Naibun let out a sigh of relief. "Thank you so much. This way," she said and left with Trowa. When they were far enough away she said, "You need to keep this extra quiet. I can't lift her, she's too heavy for me." Naibun opened the door to the bathroom down the hall and water could be heard running.

"Shauna, I brought help," she said and killed the shower. With a sheet, she wrapped up Quatre's sister and then plucked the toothbrush from her idle hand.

Shauna was sat up. "I thought, brush teeth, a good thing for whoever got to carry you." She was really out of it.

"Can you take Shauna to her bedroom?" she asked Trowa and tossed the pink dental appliance in a cup on the sink.

His face turned pinker than it was before, "Sure." He didn't want to make it sound like he was looking forward to touching the nearly nude girl, though he sort of was, who wouldn't. Her petite frame was bound in a half soaked sheet, it wasn't enough to hide the feeling of her curves. He looped his hand beneath her knees and brushed bare skin, he wasn't too sure where at. "Sorry," he said hastily and readjusted his stance, finally able to lift her. She lay nestled in the crook of his arms.

"I'm going to go flip the mattress, you're alright to carry her?" Naibun held the door and guided them to the safety of the hall.

Trowa raised an eyebrow, "I thought you needed help?" Shauna's head flopped on his chest. Then again, he didn't want to sound like he was complaining either.

"Both of them are light; I only needed help to move her. I have to get Quatre's bed set up, come find me when she's settled." They parted.

He put it together in his head pretty quickly what happened to the beds, "Not feeling well?" He asked politely to ease the awkwardness of carrying the naked girl, he just met, in silence.

"I fine now..." she said quietly. "Tell me, if someone really, really wanted to do something, but they had to move away to do it, would you be mad if they went there?"

"Depends," he was thoughtful, "Would they forget me?"

She smiled, "Nah."

"Then I wouldn't mind. I know many people who left home to follow their aspirations, I don't think I can name one of them who'd go back. Then again, circus folk have a different brand of passion than most." He was jabbering to keep her awake, it was working, she even pointed him to the correct room the first time.

"You work for the circus? I've never been to one. Is it fun?" she asked and was laid back in a familiar bed, her own.

"All kinds, you should come next time." He knelt down and propped himself up with his elbows. "The last show is this Saturday, why not come with me. I'm positive it'll get your mind off of things." He tugged her blanket to her chin.

"How'd you know I had something on my mind?" she giggled sleepily, chestnut eyes slowly closing.

He didn't, "Subtle hints. Goodnight," he said and left to go help Naibun.


Kinsei nodded, taking all the story in. "Nice...couple days away...you nervous?"

"Unbearably!" Naibun declared loudly on the bus, drawing a couple stares. She sunk down into her seat some. They sat in silence, allowing some people on and off the bus they boarded earlier. "Kinsei...remember earlier, when you called Quatre a 'Rich b***h'?"

"You aren't still on that? I was kidding," she said.

"I know...I was curious...what would you have said if I agreed with you?" her question was profound.

So was the answer, "I'd have called you on judging him on his money."
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Chapter 16: Boop

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"You are not backing out now." Duo's headache had passed and he was feeling better by days end. He was now looking forward to sitting in on the swim team's practice, but he wasn't doing it alone. "Pleeeease~?"

"We might throw off her concentration," Quatre said. He was fighting the current with a slowed down walk. He couldn't help it, it was his nerves.

"I'm sure she's used to preforming for a crowd; we ain't gonna' make a dent in her concentration." Duo had been impatiently circling Quatre for several minutes, trying to convince him to not bail on their plans. He laid a hand on the door handle, "For a few minutes? If not for you, do it for me," he said sincerely and held a hand over his own heart.

He sighed, "You're impossible. Let's go," he said and followed along. He knew Duo only wanted to ogle the pretty girls in their swimsuits; there was no harm in doing so, as long as he wasn't going to be creepy about it.

"Wow, looky-looky," he said as he watched the first team finishing up. They weren't the racing team, it was the synchronized swimmers group. "So many legs," he perched himself in a comfy spot on the bleachers. "I mean, I know those legs are always there...I just never get to see them from this angle." The group was holding one of their members up as they finished their routine; they kind of looked like a lotus flower when fully assembled.

"...what?" Quatre was spacing out as he scanned the area for Naibun.

"And here you didn't want to come along," he said with a sly glance.

Quatre then realized the implication of staring too deeply at such a location, it might be interpreted as checking someone out. He corrected himself, "I was seeing if Naibun was here."

"Killing two birds with one stone; I'm cool with that."

"You're assuming too much," he retorted. Unlike Duo, his chick radar wasn't going full tilt all the time.

"Am I? Fine. Do you have any homework?" He flipped his bag open and took out a text book; he was going to have to multitask if he wanted to finish before home time.

"Some," he said and checked the bag at his side. The book he was looking for was there, but one other tome was missing. "Where's my calculus book?" he shuffled the contents of his bag around.

"We didn't have 'cal' today," he said and watched him dig some more.

"Duo, that was the one with the comic in it," he said with a nervous hush.

Eyes widened, "You didn't leave it in a class anywhere, did you? Think..."

Quatre thought deeply. Tuesday was quite a ride, so what he did after school was kind of fuzzy. "I'm pretty sure I left it at home."

He breathed a sigh of relief, "Woo, crisis averted."

"Mostly. I think I left it on the table in the hall." He had taken it out of his bag in the morning, to lighten the load he had to carry throughout the day. "If one of the staff sees it, I'll have a lot of explaining to do," he said with annoyance. He prayed Naibun wasn't the one to find it. "If Shauna finds it I'm done," he said, being fully aware of her aversion to smut.

"Is Naibun Working today?"

"Yeah. We'll have to wrap up here early and head home before she's on the clock," he said and went back to his notes. His concentration only lasted a short while; when the coach came out, he blasted on the whistle and began to bellowed his orders. "Is there something wrong with Mr. Griffith? He seems on edge today."

Duo nodded, "He's probably losing some of his team soon. I'd be bummed too."

"Really? How come?" He hoped Naibun wasn't planning on leaving her team. Every time he heard her talk about swimming, she looked so enthusiastic. Normally the girl was so quiet she didn't even make eye contact, it was good to see her light up from time to time.

"There zoning new areas and developing them. As far as I know, it's a new college and dorm they're putting in for now. A bunch of the students are getting signed to do the construction as job placement. As it lined up, a lot of the students going also happen to belong to teams as well." He knew all this because Heero was trying his damndest to get on that list as well, there was a long wait to get a spot. "I doubt we'll have a very good year, 'spirit' wise, around here."

"Can't the students still go to their team meetings?"

"Nope, construction is too far of a commute. It's on some island."

"Lots of openings for new athletes. Wouldn't those slots be for other people to join teams in their place?"

"It does, but do you really think a newbie could keep up with someone who's been training for, at best, two more years than them?" he said and looked over to the pool. "Yo, speaking of newbies, check out that one." He jerked his head lightly in the direction he wanted Quatre to look.

He looked down to the pool and saw Bunni. Her turquoise wet suit with yellow ties was hard to miss. "That's not standard issue, is it?" Quatre asked.

"I wish. Again, with the corsets," Duo shook his head, "I don't know why it hasn't caught on yet; those things need to 'trend'."

Quatre laughed, "Some days, I wish I could take a look inside your head. I'd like to know what goes on in there."

"Lots of stuff," he said and straightened his posture. "Who's her friend?" He watched her chase Naibun to the diving board.

"Not sure," he looked her over, "I'm sure we've passed her on the way out of calculus many times. I think she's in the class right after us."

"Really? Damn," Duo sighed, "Maybe we'll get a class next term."

"If you want to talk to her, do it while we're here today."

"No...maybe...who knows," he said and began to contend with his homework. Time ticked slowly.

"...Wait," Quatre said, "I thought you were chasing after Missy?"

He shrugged, "I like to keep my options open." After what he and Hilde went through, he wasn't ready to settle on anyone. Again, back to work.

Minutes later, yet again another question. Quatre was apparently a mind reader, not just a 'time reader'. "...What ever happened to Hilde?"

"That's..." he was struck for what to say right off; for once, he was the one who didn't want to talk. Duo was uncertain when he spoke, "She wanted to be serious and I told her I couldn't do it. I have to be a free spirit, able to chase tail, you know?"

Quatre could hear regret in his voice, "If that's what you wanted, go with it," he said. If he knew from the get-go that Duo still had doubts about his choice, he'd have kept quiet about Hilde. It was the perfect catalyst to send him into his own head. A dark place, if he wasn't totally mistaken; now, the trick was to backpedal.

"That's the thing, I'm not sure," he began, "I sorta'...wanted both...but I know that's not fair," he meant seeing Hilde and still flirting on the side. "I had to let her go," he said. In reality, it was the other way around, Hilde only made it feel like it was his choice.

"That's because you're a good person Duo. I'm sure you'll figure it out, there's no rush. We're only in high school, we've still got a long way to go." He gave his friend a reassuring smile.

It was a smile that was returned, "I really needed to hear that. Thanks, man."

"No problem." He was relieved, Duo hadn't turned to the dark side. Minutes of silence again, and then, "You know, maybe we should plan something at my house this Friday." Quatre was hoping that the prospect of a party would cheer him up. And it did.

He perked right up, "C-can we take the karaoke machine again?" he said with a hopeful tone.

"Absolutely."

"Bohemian Rhapsody! Come on, one of us has to be able to hit that high note!"

"I can try. Is that your favourite song, or something?"

"Of course. Think about what the song's talking about, it's me!"

"My English isn't the best; I'm not too sure what the whole song means. Aside from the first few verses." He was fluent in Arabic and Japanese, English was a(difficult) work in process.

"Oh," he hadn't considered a linguistic gap. "I didn't know that. Well, the word 'bohemian' is talking about someone who lives as a nomad; like a gypsy; gypsy's are bohemian. A 'Rhapsody' is a very elaborate, over the top song. So it's an 'epic song for travelers'. And since I don't have much of a home right now, I'd say the title of 'bohemian' fits me well."

"My understanding was: The guy in the song kills someone and has to run and hide."

"From what I read, it's about Freddie Mercury's childhood and his relationships growing up. It's a little convoluted and he refused tto talk about it. Honestly though, it's what you take from a song that really gives it meaning; but either way, both interpretations kind of work for-" He saw Quatre's eyes quickly fix on something and he too turned to see it.

"I hate to cut you off," he said and saw Naibun laying at the edge of the pool, panting. He began to wrap up his books and materials.

"No worries," he closed up his books too, "Come on."

Before they could get to the ground floor, both could see Mr. Griffith running to her side. There was a box cutter in one hand and a clip board hanging out of the other. "What's he doing?" Quatre was about to panic until he saw him cut the string holding her chest fast.

Both of them jumped in shock when the string let loose. Duo grabbed Quatre's elbow to stop him from moving anywhere before he said, "One size up," from the 'comic book Naibun', he meant.

It took a moment for his mind to catch up, for his 'radar' bliped on for a second. He then turned back to Duo, "...can we make sure she's okay frist?"

"Look, she's sitting up, she's fine," he said and diffused the annoyance he saw in Quatre. He got closer so only Quatre could hear, "Ask her to go to the circus with you. Do it."

"...Hmm," he thought.

"Don't get cold feet."

"It's not that...I don't think we've ever spoken at school before. Heh, this'll be the first thing I talk to her about here." It seemed like a nice romantic gesture on his part, he was going to roll with it. Quatre leaned over the railing, "Don't push yourself too hard," his voice traveled across the barrier that was up for the audience.

They could see the two girls give each other a look. Kinsei poked Naibun's side from an angle that Quatre couldn't see, but not Duo, who smirked, "You got this," he said with a pat on the back.

Naibun blushed as she approached them, "The first time you come to see me swim and I nearly pass out. Aren't I classy?" her last words were nervously giggled.

"Classy? I'd say 'passionate'," he smiled, negating any worries she may have had.

They chatted for the full ten minute break. Duo and Quatre decided to let the girls in on their plans for Friday; they needed to run it by the rest of the guys, but there was definitely going to be a gathering happening on that day. Even if all of them couldn't be present, and even if it was only a handful of people, it would be perfect to unwind to.

Toward the end of their conversation Duo asked to be shown something in the coach's office, the request was abrupt and awkwardly out of place. But Kinsei played along nicely and brought him to Mr. Griffith's office; she wanted to give her friend a chance at this, apparently, as much as Duo did for his friend. They shared that fact and fist bumped, for they had succeeded in hooking their friends up.

For Quatre a moment alone with her was intense. He found it funny that when he spoke to her at his house, he wasn't nervous in the least, but at school, he was a bundle of nerves. "If you aren't busy this Saturday, you should come to the circus with me. A few of us are going and I've got an extra ticket." However, he was calming down quickly.

"I'd love to. Thank you," she said, "What time?"

"It's runs pretty late, Trowa expects it to go past midnight. Did you want to spend the night at the mansion? I can have a room prepared for you."

"...I'd...I'd have to ask my parents." Her mother and father knew she had one back shift a week, she wouldn't be able to swing a double sleepover.

"I'll call them for you. I'll tell them someone called off and we need more hands that night." Quatre's ESP was what was apparently going full tilt that day, not his 'chick radar'.

She giggled, "You'd do that?"

"Sure."

"Oh but...won't they notice if they see my paycheque?"

"Well, then, we'll put a little extra on it this week. I know Iria won't mind, considering what it's for."

This was technically her first date, and adding up all the money being spent to get her out there was far too generous. "I don't think I could ask you to do that."

"You aren't asking, I'm offering," he said.

Naibun hesitated, "Mom always told me to refuse money."

He raised an eyebrow, "Why?"

"She said, if you accept charity, it makes people think you're poor."

"That's not true at all. My friend Wufei is putting Duo up for free; none of us think any differently of him because of it."

"Geez, that's so sweet of him...alright, I'm sorry. I accept," she said with a nod and light bow.

"Don't be sorry, it was my pleasure," he said with a hand wave, one that signaled Duo, "If I don't see you in the halls or at home, I'll see you Friday."

"Bye...see you." She waved as they left.

Quatre felt a weight lift as he walked with Duo. "I thought it was going to be harder than that."

"No way, she's into you. Easy peasy," he said, effectively brushing off the lack of confidence Quatre was pretending he had. He then noticed the contemplative look on the blond boy's face, "Stop that. It's going to be fine."

He snapped back to attention, "Oh, I'm not worried...it's just...never mind. It was a weird thought."

"Nah, come on. You said it out loud, that means you want to talk about it," he said with a playful air.

"Okay...Monday after school, I got some photo's developed and I tried to show them to Bunni while she was working. She was clapping some cushions together that made her inhale some dust, which made he start coughing. From watching her, I had a full blown panic attack," he tried to say it the same way it happened, plams up, signaling that he had no idea as to why it happened.

"Muwahh, you were worried about her," he said with exadurated sweetness.

He shook his head, "That's what I thought initially, but I don't know if that's it. Today, when she was at the edge of the pool gasping for air...nothing." He may have been anxious when he saw the blade that burst her bust open, but that bled out when he saw that it helped Bunni.

"Wha-did...then...that is kinda' weird...wait, were you alone when she was coughing?"

Quatre nodded, "Yeah," he said, "Other people were there today, maybe that's why."

"Who knows? But...you did ask her, right?"

"Yes. And because of the timing of things, I even invited her to spend the weekend at my place." This caused Duo to gasp, hand clasped over mouth, it slowly formed into a fist with his thumb sealing his lips. "The party on Friday, remember; I didn't mean it like that. She'll stay in a guest room." Duo snickered and Quatre shook his head, again, he was assuming. They continued walking, in silence. A few seconds later, Quatre snickered too, for his radar bliped again.
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Chapter 17: Moving Ahead

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"Why~?" Quatre asked, resting his head on the steering wheel. The vehicle crept along the road. It looked like everything that day was working against them. First it was road construction blocking the main roads in various places, detours abound. Then when Quatre tried to take the highway to get home quicker, they ended up getting stuck behind slow moving traffic. "She's going to be furious." He was far more afraid of his sister than of Naibun, but either of them stumbling across the 'art' would be yet another damper put on that day. He could feel the road rage building. Leaning out the window he yelled, "Don't you know what 'merge' means?! Come on!" and went back in.

Heero folded his arms, worried about the safety of Relena's car. "Why would you keep it anyw-you know, never mind. I don't want to know why you kept it." He was in the passenger seat of the borrowed car because, apparently, he was going to drive too slow.

Quatre sighed, "I kept it so we could track these guys, if need be." He also wanted to look though it once, if he finally got the nerve. The art was well done for a smut piece and he felt it would be just as bad as peeping on Naibun in the locker room.

"I have to believe that," Duo said from the back seat, "If not, then why'd I keep this?" He held up the book he was in; he didn't look through it either, but for a different reason.

Heero pushed Duo's hand back to the back seat. "Put that away," he said with annoyance. He had been targeted twice now and they still had no leads on who was pulling the strings. It was beginning to get to him. The only thing they had to go on was what the media committee said: Two kids broke in. That's all.

"Maybe the kids are the ones doing it," Duo suggested.

"Doubt it; there's still the matter of the registry," Heero said.

"What about the guy from yesterday? Do you think he's even going to come back to school?" Quatre was referring to the person he punched; how he felt pride and guilt all at once was going to confuse him to no end.

"Eventually; he knows we know his name and address. We'll have to question him when he does come back. There hasn't been any other transfer requests, so that's a relief. At best he's laying low," Heero scoffed, "Or laying in a hospital bed." He recalled the guy's face at the end of the encounter, it looked like he had a broken cheek bone.

"Don't remind me," Quatre said. He was then cut off by another car, making his hand jerk the steering wheel in a painful way. "That's it," he said and revved the engine high. The car picked up speed quickly and they took to the edge of the road. They peeled onto the shoulder and surpassed the large truck in a barrage of dust.

"Quatre?!" Heero yelled in disbelief.

"The hell man?!" Duo was now sitting all the way back and frantically getting his seat-belt on.

Without a sound, other than the squeal of tires, he pulled back on to the road. They were now going twenty clicks faster than their original speed and leaving the truck way behind. "..." Not even a minute down the road and a siren sounded with a few red lights flashing.

Heero looked behind them, "I saw that coming," he said and Quatre began to slow down.

When stopped he turned to Heero and Duo, "Sorry guys." They didn't look angry, they looked scared; he'd have preferred it if they were cross with him instead.

Duo caught his breath, holding a hand over his racing heart, "You aren't allowed to drive when you're in a bad mood," he said, "Ever."

Heero chimed in with, "Did you make that doctor's appointment yet?"

Quatre lowered his vision to the phone now resting in his palm, "Doing it now." He began texting his sister, the one in charge of keeping track of all the numbers they might need.

"This is going to make it worse," Duo said with a thumb hooked behind him, "That truck pulled off right after you did all that."

Quatre looked into the rear view mirror. Not only did he see the truck using the off ramp, he saw the officer pull his notebook out. "Ah...damn," he said and rested his head back, ready to face the music. He figured he'd best get used to it, since he was oprobably going to have to do it again when he got home.

Back at the Winner mansion, Naibun had invited Kinsei over to keep her company as she worked. Since her cover had been blown and because it was a short shift, having her friend sit around to talk with was no problem with the boss lady. "I have to finish the guest rooms if we're having people over," she said and laid her bag down near the coat rack. "Look at that, not even a few feet in the door and it begins," she said with a smile. There was a loose book hanging around on a side table. Naibun quickly scooped it up to bring it back to Master Qautre's room.

"This place is huge," Kinsei said as she admired the interior. "Even with construction going on, it's so pretty." There were tarps down in the corner and cans of unopened paint were laying about.

"Quatre said his sisters use this place as their 'project house'. Whenever one of them gets some spare time, it gets redecorated. It's the best hobby I've ever seen." The Winner family was an interesting and creative mix of vibrant talent; not only were they successful mining contractors, but interior designers, label makers and chef's as well.

"I can't wait until I have a house of my own. I'll sit back one day and go 'Oh...I'm bored of the ceiling. Time for a new one'." She peered down the hallway to see a door that had been left ajar, within, a pool table. "Heh," she snickered as she remembered the work she had completed.

"Well, it's no ceiling, but we got new carpet in my house last week." Her folks were renovating too, they were prepping the house for the winter months. "You haven't seen it yet, have you?"

"No, I haven't been over since I got back."

Naibun walked with her friend to Quatre's room, she needed to put the book away before all else. "I'll have to invite you over soon. I know you've only been back a day, but it's so fluffy, you have to see it before it gets walked all over."

"Don't worry, you won't run me nearly as hard as Mr. Griffith." She heard something hit the floor, "You dropped...something..." It looked familiar, too familiar.

"Hmm?" They looked down. That 'something' had fallen out of the calculus book. Naibun's eyes went wide with horror, "Kinsei...did you bring that?"

"Nope..." Kinsei asked and reached down and picked up the comic. No wonder it looked familiar, she'd seen it before, months ago. "Did you?"

"No..." Naibun shared a look of horror with her friend. "...how did it get here?" She checked the front of the text book, his name written on the inside cover. "It's his book...I thought you only made one copy of this." Naibun said and plucked the familiar material away from her friend's hand. "Is this the 'slanderous art piece' they were talking about?"

"Slanderous? I put my heart into that," Kinsei looked hurt, confused, but still hurt.

"I didn't call it that...I guess you haven't heard, have you?"

Kinsei's expression brightened, "Bunni's going to give me gossip? Where's the calendar?" She comically looked around for a place to mark down such an auspicious occasion.

"I wouldn't go and call it that." Naibun disliked gossip so much that she did her best to tune the rest of the world out, when they weren't talking to her. This was the time she wished she'd have stepped up and listened in. "On Monday, someone put out a comic of his friend Heero."

"Heero Yuy? Yeah, I just finished it. What do you mean 'put out'?" Her worry was peaking.

"That was yours? Kinsei, it got leaked and cycled around the school before first period."

Dread overcame Kinsei, "Bunni, I keep all my work on my thumb drive. A thumb drive that-that I found in Kato's room a couple days ago! He told me he had no idea what it was..." she said, wearing an expression of 'murder'. "...I've always wanted to be an only child." She immediately took out her phone to let her parents know about the breech of security. "He's dead...dead...just..." Her mother replied to the text in a timely fashion; 'Will do' was all it said. "...good."

"I guess this is the second one they were talking about then," she said and looked at the book that held the thinly bound pages. "If I thought I'd actually get a chance with Quatre, I wouldn't have even had this made."

"We need to tell them."

"Why?"

"I need to clear my name!"

"Are you crazy? Heero held the school hostage trying to figure out who did it!"

"Really?"

"Yes. Complete lock down!"

"...He didn't account for me not being there, did he?"

"I don't think so. They think this was done as an attack, a personal one."

"I knew that 'cue stick' thing was a little much," she said with a frustrated finger snap.

"A bit!" Naibun paced the floor, comic in one hand, calculus in the other. "They even went to the other school to see if they could find whoever did this."

"All they're going to find is people who've put in commissions and some inkers; none of which would know anything about me." Kinsei prided herself on remaining anonymous, her web site was her hub for business so no one knew her name or face.

"They still rough housed some of the students. Even Quatre got involved, his hand was all swollen and bruised when he came home yesterday." She cringed at the thought of kind, sweet Quatre lashing out violently; it was a hard thing to imagine.

She remembered seeing a bandage on Quatre's hand when they were speaking after school; she must have been telling the truth. "They only think it's an attack because they don't know the real reason the comics came to be. We'll tell them, it'll be a chuckle, I'm sure they'll find it amusing..." the girls looked at one another in silence. The seconds ticked by. Long. Silent. Seconds. "...when's the next shuttle leave?" Kinsei was ready to give up on all she'd worked for, hop the bus and skip town because of this.

"No...you're right. They were for personal use, not meant to get out or hurt anybody. This was a big mistake and we need to tell them about it."

"Noble," Kinsei said and solemnly nodded, "You're going to tell your squeeze you had a naughty comic made of the two of you? Props. Tell me, did you buy those balls, or did they grow overnight?"

Naibun froze in those words, "..." she looked at her feet, "...I think the next shuttle leaves in a few hours...now my feet are sore," and she'd just begun the four hour shift. "This is going to be a bad day," she said, even though it was still the same day Quatre had asked her out. This could very well ruin any chance she had with him.

"Now, this may make it worse..." Kinsei raised her friend's hand with the closed text book, "But what if he was marking a specific page with it?"

She looked down to see her stupid hand holding the stupid book shut. It was official, Naibun had died; she had to have, because she was in hell. "Kinsei, I think I may have shot myself in the foot."

"Musta' hurt," she chuckled. "If we can take nothing else from this," she took the articles from her friend and combine them once again, "It really shows how much weight you lost." She was right, the book was made before Naibun even joined the swim team.

She wasn't very overweight at the beginning of the year, she called it fluffy, like her new carpet. "That's great! Now I can crawl into an even tinier hole when I curl up to die."

"Don't be so dramatic. I'll take the heat."

"How?"

"I'll say I made it for myself. It'll take the heat off you and-," she snickered, "-put the heat 'between us'. As far as they know, I made it without your knowing."

"Are you sure? Thank you Kinsei," she said and gave her friend a well deserved hug.

"Don't worry about it." Kinsei was so relieved that all was going to be resolved, she decided to pitch in and help with the cleaning effort. The day began to look a little brighter. "Hold the phone," Kinsei had an epiphany, "If he found this yesterday, how come he still has it? Shouldn't he have destroyed it?"

Naibun shrugged, "Maybe they were using it to track down the artist."

"With no names or dates? Nah, that's not the reason the book's still here." She smirked, "Looks like he's as guilty as you are."

Naibun blushed, "Don't say that! He wouldn't-"

"-Do something every guy does?" Kinsei rolled her eyes, "He's a dude, not a saint."

"...this is the whole 'don't judge a book by it's cover' speech again, isn't it?"

"Shortened, but essentially, yeah."

Naibun hesitated, but nodded, "...I think I'll tell him myself. I'll be totally honest about it."

"I'll be here for you...I will probably laugh when you tell him, but I'll be here," she said and took her friend's shoulders, "And that's the important part, right?"

Naibun inhaled slowly, and then looked at her watch, "Two and a half hours for the shuttle...I can make it if I start running now."

"Or we can say I did it. If it'll Keep those nerves of yours from getting any more frayed Bunni, it's cool with me." It was going to be hard, but she would stick by her friend. "You've been there for me, it's the least I can do."

"Don't worry about it; remember, you said it yourself: I've got this." Naibun was determined to tell him. On her own.
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Chapter 18: Full Circle

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They were making good time and nearly to the front door of the mansion. The car was an awkward quiet. Quatre had been permitted to finish the ride home only because he'd been let off with a warning. The cop apparently had watched them try to overtake the larger vehicle on several occasions, only to get cut off every time; and what with Quatre's last name being 'Winner', he wasn't willing to be the guy who wrote the boy's very first ticket. The highway did lead them to the top of the hill where Quatre lived, though they would still be showing up late because of the traffic now.

"...we can't just come out and ask him," Duo broke the silence the tense passengers were holding.

"You're going to have to tell us more than that." Heero was certain there was a lot of background dialogue to Duo's statement, he required the rest of the thought to continue the conversation. This usually happened when Duo spent a lot of time in his own head; he'd have to keep an eye on him, lest he slip to the dark side.

Duo filled them in. "Trowa. We've got to find a way to get him to karaoke with us."

"This again?" Heero rolled his eyes.

"Why not ask him outright?" Quatre wondered, "He performs all the time. I'm sure he'll have no problem with it."

"There's a chance he'll clam up if we just ask." He felt this was evident because of Heero's initial response to being confronted with a request to sing the day before. He tried to back out right away. "We'll have to do it subliminally; kind of steer the conversation so it makes him think about wanting to sing."

"You're crazy," Heero dismissed it.

"See! You're stealing my thunder before the clouds even roll in! Trowa's the only one who I haven't got to sing with me yet."

"You're saying Wufei's has?" Quatre found that hard to believe.

"You bet he has! When we were trapped in the lunar base it was the one of two things we could do for entertainment, schematics or scales. I thought the guards heard us howling away and shut the air off to keep us quiet," he laughed when he remembered how insulted he felt. "We're not bad. I bet the five of us would have a great harmony."

"Tell me, why is this is significant to you," Heero couldn't help but be amused at Duo's passion to get them all together for this.

"Nah, it's not really," he said and flopped back fully in his seat. "I guess it makes me feel nostalgic."

"About what?" Heero asked.

He smirked and said, "I think you know." He sounded catty.

"Afraid I don't."

"Since Quatre's in on this too, I guess there's no harm in telling him." He sat forward, "We were on our way back from some job a couple years ago and this guy buzzes in while I'm singing away to myself."

It clicked with Heero, "I remember that. He wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to sing in return," he shook his head. "And I don't think so...you said it was nostalgic back then too."

Duo hadn't expected that to get thrown back in his face. He narrowed his eyes in an annoyed expression, "How do you remember things like that?"

"It's a talent," he said, "Why's it nostalgic?"

"You seem to have a look of regret," Quatre said as he caught Duo's expression in the rear view mirror. He hoped this didn't have anything to do with Hilde.

"Not so fun having your friends poke into your personal life, is it?" Heero finally cornered him.

Not liking the 'corner' idea so much, "It's not personal," he said, trying to avoid the rest of the conversation.

"Then," he said and leaned back, "What does singing mean to you, Duo?"

"..." Duo folded his arms, "Well...as a kid, we used to sing...at church."

Heero sat back, he could see he was telling the truth, "That's no fun."

"What?" Duo was outraged, "I open up to you guys and you say that?! You suck!"

He laughed, "I didn't say I wasn't interested, I said it wasn't any fun. I thought I'd get some ammunition."

"Oh..." Duo laughed, "How could 'song' become ammo?"

"It could have had something to do with a girl," Heero commented.

"Well, it's got nothing to do with any of them," he sounded smug.

"You say that...but is it true?"

Quatre decided to antagonize as well, "Have you ever sung with a girl?"

"No," he said, getting kind of nervous now. It didn't go unnoticed. "Seriously, it's not a 'thing'. I would if I got the chance." They pulled up to the front door of the mansion. The lights were all out and the gray day gave the large house a spooky countenance.

Inside its walls, only moments earlier, "I take it back! I can't do it!" Naibun said from within a broom closet.

"We have to!" Kinsei was trying to jimmy the door open to get her out before Quatre got home. She halted her attack, "They're going to find out anyway; best they find out by means of you."

There was a pause, "Can't I wait until after the circus?" The lock clicked open. "Let me go out with him once, before I make him think I'm some sort of creepy stalker," she said as she slowly opened the door.

"That's fair...but, isn't that sort of what you've been doing?" She was referring to all the times she sat in the gym listening to Quatre play piano without his knowing.

"I was admiring him from afar!"

"Good ol' rationalization."

"I never followed him anywhere, it wasn't stalking," she wined.

"It wasn't? So, you just got a job working here on coincidence," she teased.

"I heard him talking about the opening as he passed by my classroom. Fate rewarded me with a chance because I didn't ever follow him home! I even cut class to drop off my application that same day-hour," she quickly corrected herself. She knew that traveling there during class time was the only way she could avoid a run in with Quatre. The more she looked back on it, the more she wished she'd have commented on his skills earlier at school. It might have lessened the blow of having to tell him 'this' now.

Kinsei shook her head, "You and your fate," she said as the front door lock began clicking. "Did you put the book back?" Kinsei had to double check.

"Yes. It didn't fall out of the bigger book, I never seen it, I know nothing, neither do you," she quickly went over the key elements of their ruse.

"And if they call us on it?"

"...We come clean."

"No prob," she said and hoped she hadn't dug a grave for her and her friend. They stayed around the corner to let the guys settle in first, Quatre hadn't come home alone that day.

The three guys were all in the house, removing shoes and jackets when Naibun said, "Shhh, be cool," and went about her business, all 'natural-like'.

"That coming from you-?" she said, trying to contain her laughter at her friend's hypocrisy; Naibun sure had her moments of spontaneity. She could hear them talking about security cameras and the like, it struck a nerve in Kinsei, "Bunni...I don't think we're going to be able to hide this at all."

Naibun stopped, only able to hear bits and pieces of what the guys were saying. "How so?"

"They've got a hot trail; they're talking about getting camera footage from outside the school," she said and wrung her hands nervously.

"Kinsei, they're going to see your brothers face and trace it right back to you," Naibun pointed out.

She snapped a finger, "...I know, we'll do what you did last Friday. Only tell 'one' of them. That should lessen the blow."

Naibun thought, "Maybe...but which one? I wish Trowa were here, he was really reliable last time..." And his voice was soothing, like Duo's over the phone that same night; though Duo may not have been in the best of spirits right then, since he was in one of the comics. No soothing voice for Naibun.

"Why not Heero? He seems like the next logical 'go to'. He's even in my law class, he's got to be rational enough to get where I was coming from." If she explained what she did and why, he'd understand, she was sure of it.

"...I'm not going to be able to look Quatre in the eye after this. I hope you know that." She held her arms tightly, squeezing them in anxiety.

"Just remember: I made that book for you as a surprise. You didn't even know it existed until it was made," she said, making the lie more authentic. "Come on, you can commit to this."

With one final draw of breath, Naibun lightly nodded saying, "We've got this."

"Right." As the trio came down the hall, Kinsei stepped out of the guest room, she shut the door and isolated herself from her friend. Naibun was nearly finished cleaning in there and only had a couple more rooms to go. It was the perfect time to get one of them alone to speak with.

"You're the girl from earlier," Duo said as he caught a quick glimpse of the side of her face. He almost didn't recognize her without her swimsuit on.

"Yes, hey, I'm Kinsei," she said and waved a single time, holding the hand up in place.

"Is Naibun here too?" Quatre asked and approached with the others.

Her hand turned to a thumb, "Yeah, she's busy, she's cleaning up for the weekend. You guys excited? Let's keep on walking..." she pointed for them to proceed in the direction they were heading, her quick speech not arousing any interest.

"I can't wait," Duo said and they continued walking to the bar room, the new assumed hang out location. He let them know just how hyped he was for karaoke; to which Kinsei concurred. She agreed to duet with him; effectively sticking it to his two friends.

When there was enough distance between them and Naibun, "Before we sit down, can I talk to you," she said and turned to Heero. "I need to tell you something about those comics."

"Come again?" he asked and turned straight toward her, curious as to why this girl knew anything.

"I know some stuff...can we talk one on one?" she said awkwardly.

Heero held his laptop bag in front of Duo in silence, "I'll be back." His friend took the bag and he began his stride to speak with this girl in private.

She led him to the billiard room, "Heh, I should have picked a better room."

"All of it, right now," he said, "Was it you?" He could see the girl's agitation. Her eyes looked scared as they frantically looked around for 'something' to anchor herself on; maybe that 'something' was going to make her less rigid. "Sit," he instructed.

"Okay," she said and sat across from Heero, on the arm chair that crowded around the low coffee table with the other furniture. "I was the one who made them, but it's not an attack on you. I would never-"

"Then why didn't you come forward on Monday?"

"-I was gone with my team, you can ask coach. Bunni told me about the whole 'hostage' situation. And let me say 'bravo', it's nice to know who's in control of the school when push comes to shove."

"Enough butter," he disregarded the flattery, "Answers."

Kinsei steadied herself in front of her idol. "You see," she began to explain the whole thing to Heero. How this all got started because her younger brother stole something that was supposed to be for personal use, as she called it; they both knew what that meant, the euphemism said it all. "I've done this since middle school to get extra spending money...and...I'm sorry...I don't plan to stop," she said with a wince. Heero remained silent. "...hmm?" She could see he was deep in thought.

"As long as it remains confidential, fine...but then...who requested the first comic?" he asked. Though he was pleased the whole ordeal was taken care of without him even trying any further, he still wanted to know who peeped on him for the material in the first place.

"I can't tell you their name, it would compromise my business. We've got everything under control now, isn't that good enough? This is my only source of income for now." Kinsei pleaded for the safety of her company.

"...there's no harm in it continuing, so long as you keep a better tab on your storage devices. I guess there's no way I can tell you to keep it all on pen and paper, is there?" he asked and sat back.

"If I could do it as quickly as I need to, you know I would."

"Alright."

"And don't worry, my mother and I took care of Kato." Kinsei called her sibling earlier and told him her revenge plan. She intended to generate an emasculating six page comic of the boy chasing and catching butterflies. She swore she'd drop off a copy to the boy's crush at school if he ever tried to pull a stunt like that again. Her message was heard loud and clear: None of her work was to be exploited again. "He won't be touching my material, ever," she said with an evil smirk.

"That's good. Still...who could it have been?" Heero pondered as they walked back to the bar room to let the others know. He knew it had to have been someone who was at the banquette, but who could have gotten close enough to know how their whole pool game went? It was creepy, enough to make him shiver.

Kinsei laughed, "I'll tell you this. Whoever it was: They had so much fun that night, they didn't even remember requesting the comic in the first place."

Heero shrugged it off, "Whatever. I'm glad it's been put to bed." Before Heero laid a hand on the door handle leading to his friends, he froze, "Per request? That means...the second one was a request from-"

"It was all me," she said hastily, "Bunni said she liked him a the beginning of the year and I made it as a gift. For Bunni..." she said and awaited the results of her white lie.

"..." He could tell she was lying just by the way she repeated herself. "You're a good friend." He admired the fact she took the heat for the whole ordeal.

Kinsei could see his eyes narrow and blink slowly at her, he hadn't believed her. "I try," she said regardless.

Little did Heero realize, he was the one who actually requested the comic.

During the night of the banquette, Relena had just finished leading Heero away from their pool game. She saw Quatre and Duo sitting together and she knew she needed to take Duo around to find a date as promised. They were going to be a few minutes. Quatre agreed to the task of babysitting an inebriated Heero until the braided wonder had a woman.

He watched his friend glare uselessly around the room and then mutter something. "What?" Quatre asked, unsure if he had heard anything at all.

"Look," Heero said and laid his chest flat across the table. Sliding forward some, he was now closer to the centerpiece. No. He was the centerpiece. "Shhh, I'm flowers," he said and peered through the bouquet.

Quatre tried to pull him off the table. "Would you stop?"

"Is she out cold?" He was referring to Dorothy as he peaked through the perenials. Without warning, he went over top of the table, perfectly, and sauntered on over to the semi-conscious blond.

"Heero?!" Quatre was left to go around the table and weave through the crowd, like a normal sober person.

He made his way quickly. "How y'doin'?" he slurred and leaned over her.

"Hmm?" Dorothy asked and allowed her head to fall toward the side the noise was coming from. She had downed one too many glasses of brandy and was feeling woozy. "Wha~?"

Heero was there with purpose, he felt he had to do something in such a situation. He sat on the small loveseat with her and scooched in close, "Did ya' drink too much?"

"I believe so," she said and rested an arm across her eyes. Was he here to ridicule her or something? She wasn't up for it.

Quatre managed to catch up with him; for someone who was drunk, he moved like lightening. "What are you doing over here?" he still didn't process what was going on with Dorothy.

Heero slinked an arm behind her saying, "Then you probably don't realize you're doing this," he said and leaned across her body. Effortlessly, he scooped up a leg with his free hand, in the same way he did to Relena earlier. Though he wasn't looking for any affection, it still made Quatre momentarily panic. He slung that leg of hers over the other one, "Don't do that in a dress, everyone had a clear view."

With a larger blush than before, "Thank'y'so much," she said and grabbed him, pulling him into an unexpected hug. Heero toppled all over her softness. "I should give you a treat for being such a gentleman," she said in a sultry(drunk) way.

Heero pulled himself from betwixt her bosom, "I already got treated tonight, thanks though," he laughed as he stood up with Quatre's sturdy arm.

"You did? D-don't go! You have to tell me all about it-all that there is to tell me, tell me now," she asked and sat up. Every fiber of her moral being told her not to miss a word of this.

"We have to go," Quatre said.

Heero waved a dismissive hand at him, "Don't worry," he said and began babbling the whole ordeal in great detail to Dorothy. He was set down again by the antsy Quatre; who couldn't stand still the whole time and did nothing but play 'lookout'.

Dortohy was all over his leg, rubbing it and tapping it when an 'exciting' part happened. When he finished the story, "That sounds magical!" she exclaimed. "I-I need to-I need to send this to a friend. She can make it all into a comic and that'll be'a'way, you can always look back on it and have it-have a memory from-a memory...of it."

"Yes, do it!" he said with enthusiasm.

Dorothy held her cell phone directly above her face, head tilted back, as she texted away. "I'll send her jot notes, she'll get the jist."

"Heero?" Quatre fully came back, "Come on, Relena's getting closer again. I think she found someone for-what are you doing?" he asked as he now saw Dorothy furiously tapping away at her phone with Heero watching along right beside her cheek.

He was instructing Dorothy, "Don't go there...forget about that part and put 'that' in instead..." he said and pointed to one part of the message. He was helping her write up a brief story board that put the original scenario to shame. "Nothing," he said to Quatre and took a hand up, "Let's go."

"That's my line," Quatre said and led them back to the table Relena left them at. He sat the two of them down too quickly for Heero to handle and he slipped out of his seat. Fortunately, he was righted in time and didn't fall. "Don't run off like that, you need to stick around here," he said and used his peripheral vision to see Relena toting Duo around. "She's almost back around again," he said because he could even hear her now.

"Make it quick, he's slipping," Relena said, having seen Quatre catch Heero before he fell. The expression on Quatre's face looked as though he heard something incoherent as he sat him up straight.

Heero said something to him in a hush that made Quatre's brow furrow in confusion. "I'll be sure to keep that to myself," he said with a slight shake of his head. What Heero said was: Don't tell Relena I touched Dorothy's leg.
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Chapter 19 – Our Heero is Only Human: Part 1

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Heero told the others that Kinsei was speaking on the author's behalf, and that she was letting him know about the lost memory stick. It had since been retrieved and things should go back to normal; it was a white lie that totally took the heat off both girls. They were relieved. Quatre was happy with the conclusion, but Duo still fished for more answers. Eventually it was water under the bridge.

The conversation with Kinsei calmed Heero's mind; if only it had been there at the beginning of the day. She was lucky to be a good speaker, he was ready to verbally launch at her if she hadn't said what she did, how she did. Even though it was embarrassing and balancing precariously on the cusp of being creepy, he knew there was nothing he could do to stop her; at least the leak had been patched. He contemplated handing her a cease and desist, but he couldn't bring himself to hinder a small business. One of his friends was going down a similar career route, so he had sympathy for her.

His stress was still amounting. There was this thing on Friday. The thing with Relena on Saturday. The thing with the circus that same Saturday night. Then there were a few things due next week that had barely been started. So many things.

After a short while of making phone calls, the girls left for the day. A few numbers yeilded a lot of success. Kinsei happened to have Dorothy Catalonia on her phone list, so it was a matter of calling her and two others to get a decent guest list.

Heero closed up his work, he couldn't go on. No longer caring about any outward shows of fatigue, he held his forehead, it did feel warmer.

Quatre noted the discomfort right away. "What's wrong?" Heero hadn't looked well at school either(hence the reason he wasn't the one who ended up behind the wheel of Relena's car on the way home that day). Quatre had driven the car to school in the morning too; it was left at the mansion Tuesday night, after Karaoke.

"I'm exhausted." Heero had even fallen asleep in a random location around the school earlier that morning. The nap ended up having no effect for he was prematurely awoken. The one who gave him rise was only asking if he was alright, but Heero chewed him out anyway. He must have been getting sick, it was the only reasonable explaination as to why he was snapping at people so much lately. He felt a little too high strung because of what went on at school that week to boot. 'It's over,' he reminded himself. "It's this headache, I can't seem to shake it."

"Do you think it's because of last night?" Quatre asked.

"Possibly; I've been like this all day. I might be getting a cold." He initially assumed it was a hangover, but it was nearing the end of the day and he still wasn't up to par. The alcohol must have weakened his immune system.

"You aren't bailing on this party, are you?" Duo insisted he not.

"Well I need something to take the edge off then. Quatre, I hate to ask, but do you have any painkillers?" He still had papers to finish writing, he needed his head in the game as soon as possible if he was too keep all his commitments.

"I may have something. Come downstairs with me," he said. They ended up in a kitchen. Shauna was off in the corner entertaining herself with something, they carried on without bothering her. "None of us have been sick for a while, the supply is kind of low." He pulled up a chair and balanced himself on the seat to reach above and beyond one of the many refrigerators in the room. "...this one's an anti-inflammatory...but it's also got a decongestant and an anti-emetic. You do cover all the bases if you're feeling under the weather," he said and handed down the package.

Heero could feel the blood circulating in his temples as he reached his arm up to take the box. "How many do I need to take," he said and read over the package with the blister pack of pills. "It's got a lot of antihistamine, it'll make me too drowsy. Anything else?"

He checked. "You may not want to go for this one, it tastes like eucalyptus," he said and flashed a brown bottle.

"Good call, I'll pass," he cringed, looking a little more green than before.

"...this is..." Quatre read the side of the bottle, "This is penicillin, not taken to the end," he said and looked over to Shauna, gently josteling the pills around in the bottle. She crouched down, hoping to avoid the attention. He put it back. "...Here, this should be alright," he said and grabbed another bottle, "It's cherry, if I remember correctly."

Shauna perked up, "It's also got kick," she said. Hastily finishing up what she was doing, she tucked it away in a small wicker box. What everyone else was into seemed far more interesting.

"Getting rid of the headache is all I'm concerned about."

"This one has a little less anti-emetic in it," Quatre read the medical ingredients.

He took it in hand and skimmed it, "And this is the only alternative?" He saw his friend nod. "..." Heero calculated it silently; a dose and a half would suffice. "Twenty three milliliters of this should be plenty," he said and turned to Duo, who now had his top half bent over in the nearest fridge. "Could you drive me back into town?" There was no getting away from feeling a little drowsy on any of the available medications. He'd have to swing by a drugstore to pick up something simpler, in case this ill feeling presisted into the following day.

"I'm allowed in the car again? Sweet. Sure," he said with a mouthful of chicken and cracking a bottle of preserves. It popped open loudly. "Beets," he said happily.

"Okay, I'll get you a measuring sp-" before Quatre could finish, Heero had a mouthful of the cherry liquid downed. "..."

"That's about a tablespoon and a half," he could tell by the amount of liquid that hit his tongue(kind of). "It's tastes like..." he said and cleared the liquid from his cheeks further, "The bottom of that orange and red drink I had." He was sure to put the safety cap back on, lest it fall into less capable hands. He handed the now half empty medicine bottle back to Quatre(a very blank Quatre).

Shauna giggled, her brother's confused expression was amusing. "I bet that was...a Tequila sunrise. If so, that's grenadine you're talking about. It's got a tart taste like cherries, mmm-mmm." She stepped up next to her brother and back down again to remove the penicillin bottle from the shelf. She checked the date. "I remember these; I was given a different anti-biotic because this one didn't work. I never got around to throwing it out is all. Don't worry, I finished them."

"Good," Quatre said and looked into the large basket. "Most of these are yours, do you think you could go through them? Quite a few are expired." He flipped a couple boxes over to find a couple more that were nearing their prime dates.

She nodded, said, "No problem," and began texting.

"Um...?" Quatre gave her a bewildered look.

"I'm texting Naibun; it'll be done by tomorrow."

"But you're right 'here'."

"And they'll be right 'there' tomorrow," she said and began to leave. "I've got too much on my plate to be compulsing over dates at the moment."

Quatre wasn't looking to argue with her over it. "You don't find this sort of thing too tedious for a housekeeper? You should always handle your own medication." Still, he had to try and gently suggest she do it herself. His sister would pawn menial tasks off on the staff, it was beginning to happen more and more frequently; it bothered him.

"I trust her. Besides, I'll consider this a favor for letting her keep the outfit."

"Wait," he held up a hand to signal he didn't want her to leave just yet, "Outfit?" Quatre asked, eyebrow raised.

She came back a little, "Come on now, don't give me that look. It'll be fine, I kept it nice and tasteful. I even roped her friend into letting me make one for her too." Shauna had caught the two girls on the way out the door that day. She felt she was quite fortunate, this meant she was going to get more chances to work the same outfit into three different styles; the third one being for herself.

"I still don't know what it's for."

"For Friday," she said, finding it odd he needed to keep asking questions. "You're the one holding this thing and you don't even know what's going on," she said with a head shake and clicked her tongue a couple times, "What a host, geez."

"Wait, how did you find out?" He saw her point to Duo. Quatre immediately tried to pinch the guy in between the fridge door and it's contents, "Get out of there, you're cut off."

He manged to squeeze out of there with a plastic jug of milk. "What?! The fridge is empty back home."

"Go to the store." Quatre still seemed confused and now relatively annoyed.

"Buying things, ech," he said with an exaggerated shiver. It made Shauna snicker. Duo smirked. He intentionally turned his attention back to the milk; popping the top he began chugging, pleased he'd drawn a crowd.

"Back to you. Outfits? Come again?" He needed to know what was going on.

"While you were off talking to Naibun earlier, Duo filled me in. I'm making outfits for our servers to wear to this party; the designs will be going in my portfolio."

He sighed in relief. If they were going to be a public piece, it needed to follow some sort of dress code standard. "This party is to stay small; we have other plans the following day. So don't go inviting tons of people." He felt he needed to remind them all of that, since none of them were exercising crowd control initiatives; Heero looked too sickly to put up a fuss, Duo was too gung-ho to karaoke with the girls, while Wufei and Trowa were preoccupied with work. Quatre was in the dark about his own get together and he needed some aspect of control. "I don't know why you're going 'all out' anyway, this wasn't supposed to be a big gathering."

Shauna nodded with her arms triumphantly folded, "But I do over the top so well. Besides, we don't have plans until the evening," she assured him.

"We? Since when were you involved with this?" he tried to crack down on her pushy behavior. Now it was really starting to get to him.

"Since your friend Trowa asked me," she said nonchalantly.

"When was this?!" he exclaimed. Immediately whipping out his phone, he set his sights on badgering his so-called friend for sniping his sister on the rebound. "This is unbelievable...can you guys see yourselves out? I have to deal with things before the weekend," he motioned to his sister with his head.

"And what's that mean?" She went on the offensive.

"Narcissistic...demanding...a pain..." he managed a few words while texting.

She paused, "Are you saying that to me, or texting it to him," she wanted to clarify.

"Right now? Both of you," he said low though his gritted teeth. Why were all the people around him making rash decisions? He needed to get some answers, or a grip, either would do.

Duo began to back away with Heero. "We'll leave you two to that," he said and took leave before things got intense.

After they picked up some real painkillers from the pharmacy, Heero decided to help Duo out while the medicine soaked in. He was feeling much hazier and his thoughts trailed off in a spiral. 'Was I snapping? It wasn't like I imagined the whole situation at school, many people were involved. That's stressful. And it wasn't like I wasn't peaceful about it at first. And that guy who woke me up could see I was fine, he didn't need to bug me. Duo was ready to punch a girl, would he have? No sense chancing it. I definitely didn't snap. Quatre snapped. How involved was that guy he punched? I thought it was a couple kids. He was only trying to help though, I'm sure the other guy will be fine. Quatre did look pretty angry when we left. Should we have left them?' He heard the words 'you with me' echo around in his head; apparently Duo was talking to him, or trying to.

Heero now needed to turn his attention to his right, the driver side. Doing all this was interrupting the disagreement no one was having with him, but he decided to engage his friend anyway. All this was so hard. Was he that groggy from the medicine already? "What?" A hand massaged his forehead. It was his, he checked. Did he snap at Duo just then? It was warm in the car. Not as hot as the day he got it, but no time for that thought now.

"Are you sure you're going to be any help?" Duo said as his vision glazed over his glazed-over passenger.

"I said I would, and I will. If it's as bad as you say it is, you'll need my help." Duo had been lamenting as they got in the car about how dreadful the pad was. Heero had only seen the kitchen and living area, not much else, so it was up to his imagination how the rest of the house looked.

"It's something else, let me tell you..." They pulled into the driveway of the small town house that he'd been staying at the past half week. "I still have to do upkeep, but Wufei said if I can clean the extra room I can have it until I have a 'stable living situation'," he used his friend's words with finger-bunny-ear quotations in the air. "I just need to clear some room in the basement for the office furniture and I'm good."

"Sounds fair."

"Nuh-uh. There ain't nothing fair about what I've dealt with so far. I would expect this level of clutter at a landfill, not someone's home."

"I never took Wufei to be difficult to live with. Is he that disorganized?"

"I could deal with disorganized. I poked a stack of take-out containers in this 'office' I'm getting and a hoard of fruit flies came at me in a cloud." Duo imagined the song 'Ride of the Valkyries' as it went on. "I had to wait till they settled again and threw a bag over the whole stack." As he recounted the horrifying scenario, it sent a chill up his arms and a gag in his throat.

"How exactly am I supposed to help with that?" Heero wasn't feeling the best and tackling fermented fast food run off didn't sound favorable. Or fun.

"I only need help to bag the empties."

"There can't be that many," he said as he got out of the car and entered the house. He was wrong. "Holy..." Heero held his head. The sheer number of bottles and cans made him dizzy. Or were there spores floating around, weakening him further? The display of deposit toting bottles littering the basement was awe inspiring. There were mountains. "There's got to be at least..." he said and saw another pile that had been obscured by a piece of furniture, "...I say we cash these in and get a grocery order with it. I bet we could fill your fridge." Heero briefly imagined a great ram standing atop the pile, it brayed loudly and then bounded out of sight. Back to reality. "W-why are there so many...?"

"Wufei said he started tossing them down here because recycle week was every second week and he kept forgetting. Then he didn't have the right bags and forgot the pick-up day. Basically it was a big string of excuses I got tired of listening to, so I said I'd do it."

"I wonder what he was planning on doing if you hadn't." He waded through some cans, they nearly reached his knees. It was a scary thought to imagine Wufei as a hoarder, but it was a reality that persisted in presenting itself.

"He had the bags to do it, so who knows. It had all the potential to happen."

Heero couldn't help but scratch his head; how had it come to this? "I thought Wufei had his priorities straightened out. What about his courier service?"

"He's got it all in order. The business is managed flawlessly," Duo said and began the bagging process by propping Heero's arms up and getting him to keep them outstretched with an open bag. "His health seems okay, considering-" Duo presented the room, "His motorcycle is fine tuned. His debt is non-existent. No outstanding gambling losses. Marks at school are the top of the class...I don't get it either." All the while he was saying this, cans flew into the opening to fill up the void.

Heero watched them get sucked into the black hole. Were they actually being sucked in? Not possible. It was more like they were attached to a string and were being manipulated into the bag in one large motion. Was someone in the bottom of the bag pulling all the strings? There's always someone pulling the strings. Back again. "That's full," he said and fluffed the cans around.

"Not yet," Duo took the edges of the bag and folded them over one another to contain the contents temporarily and laid some of his weight on top. It crunched down loudly. "A few more." And he went on.

He then tied and tossed along side the only blank wall in the room. The rest had the potential to be blank walls, but like the bags that had the potential to be useful, they fell short. Back again. "You're really good at this."

"It's what I do." He noticed Heero zoning out, other than that, he seemed okay. He'd have to keep an eye on him still.

For Duo, sorting through other peoples junk wasn't just a hobby or even a favor at that point, it was a way of life. It was as if his brain was in 'perma-sort' mode. Eventually the wall was filled with fifteen recycle bags. Duo felt the inside of the box containing the bags he purchased for the occasion. The bag-box was half empty and the room didn't come close to that. "We may need a truck for this."

Heero popped his phone out. "I'll message Relena."

Duo cocked an eyebrow, "No hesitation. I like it."

"Cut that out. I saw a truck in her garage." Heero turned away slightly so he could text in peace.

"When were you in her garage? And since when does Relena have a garage? And a truck?! Of all things for a princess to own..." He was seriously confused enough to almost forget he was grilling his friend. He couldn't picture Relena in a big-ol truck.

"I was in there yesterday. She has a lot of cars; I think she started collecting them when she was twelve." He shrugged, "And I don't know...she likes trucks."

"She collects them, huh...how do you know all this?"

Heero shut his phone, having successfully hooked them up with a Ford F150. "I asked. Funny: People tell you things when you just ask them."

A twinge of anger caused his cheek to twitch. He calemd down right away when he realized that he hadn't tried that approach. Every time he wanted information from Heero, he always tried to get him to disclose information willy-nilly. This was a hint to try a different angle. "...are you two dating?"

"No."

"You're just fooling around then?"

"Seems like that."

"Is it ever going to be anything serious?"

"Don't know."

"How do you not know? Ya' say all I have to do is ask..." he trailed off.

"I'm only telling you what I know."

'Oh,' he thought and gave this game a bit more consideration. "Here's one: Was any of what you did premeditated? I mean, I know you were complaining about Relena at the banquette and all, but were you trying to get with her the whole time?" He now assumed Heero played coy, throwing him off guard long enough to score some alone time with Relena.

"No; everything I've done has been a spur of the moment."

"That's not like you," he said and then thought, 'Or is it? You follow your emotions, right?'. Duo hesitated on his next question, "...that's all. Thanks for sharin'." Duo was at peace knowing he wasn't friends with a robot, even if he did act like one sometimes. Robot or not, he felt the next inquiry would have been taking things too far. Duo noted how annoyed Heero got when people fawned over Relena; he wanted to know if that was because of insecurity, not disgust like he plays it up. A question of that caliber would cause him to clam up again for sure. He could feel it. It was far too assumptive.

"...You're a strange one, I hope you know that."

"Yup." Again: Bag open. Prop friend. Effortlessly fill. Tie. Sixteen now. He couldn't help but notice how ridgid Heero seemed. If it wasn't a cold, maybe he was a robot. 'Oh well. I'm sure he's intricately programed enough to still trade notes with.'

"Duo...I hope it's the medicine talking...but..." He pointed up to the wall they were filling with recyclables. Above the bags were tiny dark spots that moved and twinkled. "Is the wall...alive?"

"Those are the fruit flies. They're everywhere because of the empties," Duo said as he looked into the top of the bottle he held. They had finished with the cans and were going to move on to bottles. "I'm worried about em'," he said quietly.

"Me too...I think I can hear them communicating. They're mounting an attack," he said and leand an ear closer.

"Not them. About Wufei. He just got this place a few months ago...how has it gotten this bad already?"

"I don't know. What I do know, is that I need to lay down. I'm overtired," he said as he held a hand on a non-fly part of the wall to balance; he was hearing and seeing things, that couldn't be a good sign.

"Go for it. The couch is all yours."

"I actually get to sleep on the couch this time," he snarked as he turned toward the stairs.

"Hey man, I offered to get up last night, but you wouldn't move."

"When did you offer? In your dream?"

"When you fell asleep against the door frame."

"I didn't do that."

"You did!" Duo's face lit up with a smirk, "You dozed off and threatened to bust my kneecaps if I woke you."

"I didn't!" A hand now held the top of his head, maybe trying to get a grip on his thought process for the past week.

"You did! Why would I lie?" His hands palms were firmly held upward. "Heero, I don't think you can handle your alcohol," he said with a snicker, "I bet that medicine's even got you tipsy." He didn't mean it when he said it, but his accusation was confirmed.

"I think so too," he said and leaned against the wall, thumb and index finger pinching the bridge of his nose, "I feel drunk."

"No way, seriously?" he said in disbelief and helped his friend up to the living room right away. A quick phone call was made to Quatre to ask about the cherry medicine he ingested. Indeed, there was a bit of alcohol in it. They hung up. "That kind of blows, I wonder what other stuff you don't remember." He felt that lots of things worth remembering had happened too.

"For starters: I don't remember how we ended up at Quatre's. And I only found out why we were there the next morning because I heard you guys talking that morning."

He noted Heero's speech; he had been sliding for the past twenty minutes, that last line sealed the deal. Something wasn't right. "For now, you need sleep and food; we'll worry about it when you're in better spirits." He then went on the hunt for a blanket, the request was silent, Duo could see the goosebumps forming up his friend's arms. If it was some kind of cold, he was going to get worse before he got better. "I'm putting some soup on. You can have some too if you like."

"Bring it on," he said and laid down on his side to wait.
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Chapter 20 - My Locus: Revisited

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Quatre sat at his kitchen table with his cell. Shauna had decided to listen to her brother for a change and was sorting through her meds. Though they were in the same room, at the same table, they were worlds apart. He had gotten to know his sister long ago, as a child, and they lived together for a few years back then. She and he were totally different people now. Not only different from one another, different from nearly a decade ago. He assumed this was the definition of fraternal twins: Only alike in 'some' ways.

She hadn't grown up on the battlefield, not even for a day, so her philosophy differed somewhat. While they both appreciated the arts, his was more for music, hers for color. When they were cooking, he was sweet, she was salty. Outings, he formal-casual, she flashy-scene. He pondered, 'Not hot and cold, that would be too different. Warm, chilly,' he chuckled once to himself silently. The parallels were amusing to compare. They both even seemed to get along well with Trowa too.

The situation with him ended up going over well. Trowa was collected enough to explain what had happened the past weekend fully. He was merely taking her out to get her mind off the situation back home, there was no ill intent behind it whatsoever. He was straight with Shauna too, he let her know that it was to be a friendly outing, nothing more. 'I figured giving her something to look forward to would get her mind of that nasty break-up. I've explained myself clearly over coffee today, she's totally alright with it.'

Quatre felt Trowa was excelent with words, he always was, today was yet another shining example under his belt. He didn't speak very openly, but it sure counted when he did. Relief. The outcome was even better than he'd expected, no voices were raised and no tears were shed. Above all else, no bottles were opened.

His calmed expression darkened to a worried one. Was she planning on drinking again this weekend? After a stint like the last one, 'sauce' should have been off the agenda for at least a month.

"I had a thought..." Shauna said quietly. Her sibling seemed okay, but she was too sensitive to his facial expressions to let 'worry' slip on by. The quiet contempt was starting to get to her too. The silence needed to break.

"Oh?" He calmly looked up from nudging his phone into making pointless circles on the surface between them.

"If your friend is sick...you shouldn't have a rocking party," she pulled her wicker basket toward her and opened it, "You should have a relaxing party."

Quatre thought about it, "I've never thrown an oxymoron before, how does that work?" he smirked. It seemed flashing a little red here and there was how to get her to consider his side. He'd keep the idea of 'asserting himself' on the table, in case she got too out of hand again. He was willing to hear her out, it seemed she was submitting.

"Funny," she said. Shauna doodled a few things down on a scrap paper that had been marked up already. "You see...here, look," she said and handed him the edited scribble. "With a few simple alterations, I can make them bath friendly."

Quatre's eyes brightened, "The bath is done?" The worry he once had instantly started melting.

"I helped Maggie and Erica out," two other sisters, "And we finished it yesterday. We can fill it tomorrow, heat it overnight and come here right after school to relax. That way you can send the bulk of people home earlier and the rest of the evening will be you and your tighter circle of friends."

"That's perfect." Quatre felt things were beginning to look up.

"You had a point; it should be small. I don't need to spread myself thin. There's December and all it's wonderful holidays for that." It was gift giving season and several birthdays piled on top of that, she'd get a to flaunt her good material then.

"That's true. Will you be staying here for the season, or do you plan to travel?" Since her separation from Omar was definite, she didn't really have a reason to go back to their homeland. They did have all kinds of family in Saudi Arabia, it was just easier to hold any gatherings in Japan. Many family members lived overseas in the Americas, so Japan seemed like the most central area for everybody to go.

Their father was also exceptionally fond of Japan in his time; he admired the hard working nation for it's amazing industry. At least that was his excuse, it was the food that drew him the most. Quatre was on the same page as his dad, Japanese cuisine was something to experience.

The phone rang. It was Duo, "Hello?" Quatre said.

'Hey man, got a question for you. Still near that fridge?'

"I can be."

'Can you check and see if there's any alcohol in that medicine Heero guzzled.' The words 'I didn't guzzle it' could be heard in the background.

"Is there alcohol in the medicine?" he clarified the question and went to get up. Before rising completely, he saw Shauna nodding her head deeply. "Yes, there is. Why?"

'Just checking, thanks,' and he hung up.

"That's odd." Duo did use minutes for his phone, he assumed that was the reason for the quick call. Or it was that he didn't want to interrupt the potentially raging argument he was having with his sister.

"Maybe he's worried about drug interactions," Shauna suggested a common concern.

"Maybe...I didn't know they still put alcohol in cold medicine."

"I put alcohol in cold medicine."

"You'd put it on your cereal if you could get away with it," he spoke without thinking.

She laughed, "I did that once. Kahlua-milk over crispy rice. I got drunk and felt like I was five." Apparently calling her out on being a lush had no effect, for she was at peace with her vice.

"Isn't that what happens anyway," he was talking about mentally regressing to a five year old state when intoxicated.

"True, but I felt five 'while' I was getting drunk, that doesn't normally happen. And I don't think I was clear before. I put alcohol inside that medicine bottle."

And there went the happy feeling.

She held a hand over her chest, making sure her heart was in check. "I guess 'kick' doesn't mean the same thing in every language. My Japanese needs a little work." The slang word for 'kick' she was referring to meant 'strong', normally used to talk about booze and other 'fun substances'. Kick in the sense that Heero understood meant it 'tastes aweful'.

"..." Quatre didn't know what to say. He had to have his sister around his friends, there was no way he was going to run the risk of them being upset at her for doing this sort of thing. She should have been straight with them, like Trowa was, and told them exactly what she had done. "What's in it?" he managed to say without biting.

"Bourbon."

"How much?"

"When it was new, I took out an ounce and a half and replaced it with the JD."

"JD?"

"Jack Daniels. You need to come to the skate park with me every now and again, learn to talk like a teenager, geez. So don't worry, it wasn't much."

That good mood of his wasn't coming back, he even forgot how it could possibly be there anymore. There were too many things perpetually going wrong to maintain an upbeat attitude, hell, even a decent mood would have been stretching it. "I've got some projects to work on," he left the table, "I'm going to work on them tonight, please don't disturb me," he left the room, leaving Shauna to wonder 'What was I thinking', he'd hoped.

Why was she so difficult? He'd never met someone so pushy and assumptive in his life. 'And she's judging my behavior? I doubt my head can take much more of this.' Quatre was as easy going as they came, he mostly kept to himself.

How had his sister gone down such a different path? As far as he knew, their upbringing was quite similar. Even the violent torrent of temper tantrums ended around the same time, age nine. 'I suppose that marked the end of her major growth for the time being,' he thought. It was something he'd never say out loud, for it was a thought born purly of frustration. It wouldn't do her any good to hear it, it would have done him less good to say it out loud. He'd mentally end up taking it back anyway, it was low. "Too far," he said and folded his arms. Even the 'cereal' line he cracked was pushing it a bit.

Not being hardened by war left her with some very different ideals than the ones he had. Any words, even if he spoke them in their native tongue, would hold little meaning to her. It would be like describing color to someone who was born blind; it is impossible to imagine something you've never seen. He was holding out for the day something happened in her life that would make her think deeper about her actions and words; he begged Allah be merciful when doing so.

He thought that maybe his faith was the big difference between them. Quatre banked a lot more importance in day to day ritual and it rounded out his routine nicely. Even the move to the dorm didn't throw him off any. Quatre stared blankly ahead as he remembered something. As he made the walk to his room he realized, 'I haven't been back since last week...I'm going to need to clean.' Dusting was part of a weekly ritual. Considering he hadn't been back since all the drama went down at school, there was probably a lot of it.

Pointing out the flaws in his sisters routine only made him think of his own and how to improve them. Quatre said he wanted to live more independently, as his friends did, so he felt hiding at home was a tad hypocritical of him. If he wanted Shauna to be a well rounded individual, he had to maintain his own agenda.

Sunday, he would pick up his things at the house and head back to the drom for Monday. That did mean he'd be able to rejoin Heero and Trowa on their bus ride to school each morning. That was one ritual he really wanted to continue. The school's private transit system differed from public transit in a couple ways. There were bathroom facilities for one, and there were trays on the backs of each seat for another. They could be lowered and used to eat something or finish homework on the way home from school. Of course he mostly saw people finishing homework on the way to school instead.

Finally reaching his room, Quatre locked the door. His lock was the only thing he had control over, turning it felt rewarding. 'It shouldn't,' he reprimanded himself, his mood was steadily becoming sour, he didn't like it. Instead of opening and shutting the lock a few more times for the endorphines, he headed straight for the bed instead. He wasn't tired, the need for something soft and comforting was peaking. The only thing he was going to miss about home was his plush covers, they were far to big for his dorm room bed.

He flopped back. Most of the bed was soft, with the exception of a hard book laid at the end. His eyes shot wide open and he sat straight up. He had forgotten about the comic! It was the whole reason he was in a rush to get home to being with. Not seeing the calculus text right when he got in must have caused a brief memory lapse, the stress of getting pulled over must have rattled him. Naibun probably moved it to that spot right when she signed on to work.

The tiny text was still sealed inside the larger tome, jammed nicely in the crook of the book. Had he really stuffed it in there that hard? It did need to remain hidden, he was living with his sister again. What Shauna lacked in alcohol discretion, she made up for in sexual abstinence. The girl hardly ever showed a neckline or shoulders, swimsuit season or otherwise; seeing physical 'smut' in the house might have been worthy of a stoning in her eyes. Quatre recalled how he discovered this trait about his sister, it was a month ago, right after her separation was finalized by the other family. It took a while, but it finally came up.

She had to fight for her divorce because Omar's family. Apparently they didn't want to cut ties with the Winner family so quickly, so to retaliate, they put up a rather large stink when Shauna dropped the bomb on them. The money took months to sort out.

If she wasn't ready to settle down so soon, she had every right to leave. Quatre didn't hold it against her, especially if the disdain stemmed from an altercation with said ex. It was one of the first things he inquired about when he managed to get her talking about the subject: Had he been violent with her? Considering the swiftness of her move and the substance abuse after she got there, it was only natural that it was one of the key elements that popped into his mind.

With sincere tones and expressions, she honestly assured him that it wasn't the case. Omar wanted children as soon as possible and she wanted to launch a clothing line, evidently, also, as soon as possible. Needless to say, their life plans stopped overlapping when the two of them finished their last year of high school. It went from a posh relationship between two huge names at the top of their respective social ladders, to a one sided arranged marriage with a bitter grudge match between lawyers and in-laws.

It wasn't a traditional arranged marriage to begin with. What made it 'special' was that the other family was offering to pay for everything to do with the wedding and the house they'd be getting afterward. Omar offering to cover everything was what tipped her off into thinking this was a celebrity marriage; she said she'd have nothing else to do with him after that, and even went so far as to call it a 'rush job marriage' and 'gauche'. Why would the Winner family need anyone to pay for anything for them? It was patronizing.

'Pay for it all...' he thought about the weekend and how he offered up a lot of money for Naibun to go out with them. He didn't mean anything by it; he only wanted her to brighten up some and get away from that mother of hers. No offense meant, but that lady was stressing her daughter out by being far too critical. A weekend out was what Naibun needed; in the end, there would be no harm done.

Earlier, while Naibun was still working, he popped in to see how she was. The girl was all jittery, probably for the weekend, and the fact they were alone. He laughed as he remembered the adorable blush she gave him, it was so cute. He asked if she'd told her mother about the 'quote, unquote, overtime' she'd be enduring. Her mom ended up being cool with it; she said she'd be working that night too, anyway. Even if Naibun stayed out late, her mother wouldn't even notice.

It was a quick process, but it seemed he was falling for her in return. He'd never had a crush before, it was an amusing notion. Now he was laughing more, but still managing to keep the sound off. Was it a nervous laughter? He couldn't tell. He didn't care, the 'happy' was back.

Stretching his arms out and laying back caused him to crinkle the comic on the corner beneath his leg. His sister was all for the alcohol and hated sexual deviancy, maybe he was the opposite of that too. "...I'm sure Allah will forgive me," he said and picked up the comic, finally able to enjoy it in peace. His bedroom door lock didn't hold a candle to that kind of endorphin release.

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*high five for classy masturbation references*
Starla Q's avatar

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Chapter 21: Our Heero is Only Human - Part 2

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Duo held a mug of soup in either hand as he made his way back into the living room. "Here we go, I got us some mushroom soup this ti-...what are you doing?" With his head held at an angle, Duo was better able to scope out his half snapped friend.

Heero laid with his back flat to the couch and his head hanging down off the edge slightly. It gave him a different perspective on the room he was in. "When I do this, the room turns inside out."

"Don't you mean 'upside down'," he asked with a snicker.

"No," he motioned his hands as though he were flipping something around, "Inside out. The room inverts." Heero gasped suddenly and sat up.

Eyes wide, "Something wrong?"

"I thought...it...the room turned into a ball for a second, so I thought the floor was gone." He laid back, a forearm bridging both eyes. He knew the floor could have been gone, even for a second, why would he even think that? "Weird..."

"That's one word for it," he said and laid the soup down, only to nonchalantly take out his cell and start dialing.

A phone call later and Trowa was coming over. He was on his way home that evening from his daily chores at the circus when he got the call. It took him no time to get over to Wufei's. "You're going to have to explain this more precisely. What's he doing," he asked as they ventured into the living room where they saw Heero sitting up, attempting to drink his hot soup. All seemed well.

"He's acting strangely-wait and see." Of course, Heero chose the worst possible time to pull it together and sit back down.

Trowa thought out loud, "Hearing things, dizzy, confused...possibly dehydration?" he suggested based on Duo's earlier descriptions.

"I doubt it, he had a bottle of water on the way here and soup not too long ago. That's his second helping," he said and pointed to the large, thick, black mug in Heero's hands.

"Nutrition may still be a factor, we don't know what he ate all day."

"I didn't," Heero said.

"There you go," Trowa shrugged. "What kind of medicine was it?" As he shifted some weight to the opposite foot, it creaked a lousy floor board.

"Don't know. Something Quatre pulled off'top of the fridge."

"Really? Medicine shouldn't be put up there, it gets too warm."

"Ah, damn. Does that mean it spoiled?"

"I doubt that. I think it evaporates the water in the syrup, concentrating it further."

"Really? That makes sens-ah, see!" Duo said and quickly pointed in the direction he wanted Trowa to look. They played voyeur from the doorway.

Heero was checking behind the furniture, and he got down on his knees to do so, if he needed. He touched a palm to an ear, "It sounds like...people cheering...maybe. No...bats...positive, it's bats." Trowa's foot seemed to cause the board he was standing on to resonate a sound throughout the living room that resembled flying rodents. He looked up to his friends giving him the oddest of stares. "What? I don't really think you have bats...it just sounds like it..." He abandoned the noise for the time being. "And I'm only getting it on one side...this is annoying." He went back to the soup and picked it up to take a drink. It was still too hot. He rested the mug back down on the coffee table and himself, once more, on the couch. Heero acted as if his behaviors were commonplace.

"That is pretty peculiar," Trowa said with a few light nods of his head.

Duo had a devious expression momentairly, "Desperate measures," he piped up and took out his phone to dial, "Missy." This seemed like a good enough excuse to call her(he'd been looking for one too).

"Who?"

"She's a bartender."

Heero's arm shot straight up, "No she isn't," and flopped back above his head again.

"...and...there's alcohol involved. She might have seen a reaction like this before and know what's going on with him." He got a hold of the one in question and gave her a brief description of the symptoms Heero was experiencing, plus the lack of food and after all that, he said, "-and Quatre did mention there was alcohol in the medicine."

Now it really concerned her. 'Even with all those things considered, his reaction is still way off. I'm glad you called. Are you able to stay with him for the night?'

Duo raised an eyebrow, "How come-well...I guess if he's hallucinating, he might get spooked easily." And being alone and scared was nowhere to be, Duo knew that all too well.

"I'm not hallucinating," Heero denied it; his protest was ignored.

'Exactly,' Missy said with relief, 'The only thing he can do is sleep it off. Have you got the room to put him up?'

"Tons. We'll toss a thick blanket over all the bags and makeshift a bed for him to sleep it off," he repeated her in such a way that it let his friends know what she was suggesting they do.

'Bags?'

"Yeah, recycle bags; we were cleaning when this all happened."

'Cleaning, huh...did you need any help? I doubt Heero's going to be any good for the rest of the night.'

"It doesn't need to be done any time soon; but hey, if you want to come over tomorrow that'd be great. We still could use your help."

'Ah, I remember my first apartment,' she sounded hopeful, 'Do you need any cleaning supplies?'

"We lack something abrasive; I really want to get into that tub eventually...and I've yet to find the vacuum Wufei mentioned." Duo gave her some simple directions and set up a time during mid-morning for her to head over. He hung up, hoping he could hook up with her for the circus. If not, he had a couple others in mind to ask, but she was going to get the honor of being his first pick that time.

"Where did you meet this one?" Trowa asked, skeptical about the new girl. If Heero wasn't thrilled, it was probably with good reason.

"She was running the bar the night of the supper."

Trowa froze, "There were many bartenders that night."

Duo noticed that reaction. "...why does it matter?"

"I knew one of them is all; we don't get along," he lied.

"Missy's the tall one with the pink in her hair."

It was her. "I'm mistaken, that's someone else," a second lie, "Go on."

"Well, nothing special, we just ran into her again yesterday. She wanted to help out when she caught wind of this 'comic' ordeal from her sister-"

"She doesn't have a sister," Heero interrupted again, this time with a finger pointing in his direction.

"How could you possibly know these things!?" Duo asked, baffled.

"I could tell she was lying; I could also tell she was leading the conversation. I'm pretty sure there's more to Missy than she's letting on."

Trowa took a seat on one of the smaller nearby chairs. He moved a white blanket off the cushion and laid it over the arm to sit, it draped to the floor near his feet. "Aren't bartenders normally good with people to begin with?"

Heero rolled on to his stomach and shifted his head up to see the others through his peripheral vision. "That's true. But why would she need to lead a casual conversation like that? She should have nothing to gain from it; unless she was reporting the information to someone else that is. And as for mixing drinks for minors, it's a sign something isn't right. I'd like to know her angle."

"Why's everyone got to have a motive with you?" Duo was getting annoyed. If Heero didn't trust her, there was no chance he was going to be allowed to take her along on their outing that weekend.

"Because people don't make up behaviors, they act out of necessity based on past experiences and future goals. She's after something, but what?" He paused to think, "...you defended her...if it's because you're interested in pursuing something else: Don't."

He had been called on it. "Why not?"

"She's much older than she appears; the clothes and the hair won't fool me. The texture of her skin and the shape of her hips put her in at least the mid to late twenties." He rolled onto his back again, unable to get comfortable.

"She's not that much-"

"Yes she is-" Heero cut him off, he wasn't allowing this, not for a second. "And we don't know who she's working for."

"If anyone," Duo continued to defy him.

"Tomorrow seems like the perfect time to get a few answers out of her," Trowa suggested.

Duo huffed. "Can she clean before you go all 'special ops' on her? I want a bedroom," he wined.

"Fine," he said and arched his back to look at Trowa again. Before he could get any thought out, a tiger popped up from alongside the chair! It rested gently beneath his friend's hand. Heero bolted upright and leapt backward to the opposite side of the sofa he was on, the one furthest from the beast. It scuffed the whole seat along the floor four inches from the force of his flight. 'Why?! Why did Trowa bring a tiger in with him?! And when did his circus troupe get a white tiger?! Wait.' Reality. Now backed up fully, Heero realized that the ferocious animal in question was nothing more than a blanket who's folds were mockingly mimicking some stripes; it's bulk pretended to coil it's faux-tiger body smugly against the side of his friend's leg.

The other two wore similar expressions. "Something the matter?" Trowa could see it was something around him that caused the reaction, but what? He began checking. What could have made Heero look so terrified?

He relaxed, "No. It was something stupid," but for a brief shining moment, it was a god damn tiger! "I'm seeing things."

"Scary things, apparently," Duo looked worried. The worry had been working it's way out since he wheeled a wobbly Heero upstairs. It was now pitting in his stomach and felt like driven nails beneath his ribs.

"For now, I guess all you can do is stop him from getting hurt. Try putting on some easy listening music, it may distract him from whatever he's experiencing."

Duo nodded, "That could work." He got up and fiddled with the radio until he got a clear signal. "Will we be seeing you tomorrow?" The radio finally tuned to the song 'Candle in the Wind' by Elton John. "Good tune," Duo said to himself with a gentle head bob.

"For cleaning?" Trowa inhaled a slow breath to give the illusion he was considering the notion, "How about, I drop off your homework for you instead."

"Come on, take a sick day and help us out," Duo tried to persuade him.

"I clean up after animals all day, why would I take a day off to do something like that?"

Folds arms, "Cheap."

"I'll disregard the fact you inadvertently called us animals if, after you drop off the homework, you also take the recyclables to the depot," Heero said.

Trowa laughed, even in an altered state he was too quick for his own good. "I can do that. I still have work tomorrow, so make sure they're ready to go right at the end of the day."

"I'll take them out back," Duo said and pointed in the direction of the back of the house, "If you pull the truck around, we'll be able to load them from there."

"I don't own a truck," and he doubted he could get one on such short notice.

"I'm getting you one," Heero said as he sent off a text to Relena, fleshing out the details for her a little better. "You'll be at school all day tomorrow?" he saw Trowa nod, "Good, you'll get the keys before first period." He cemented the plans and Trowa left shortly afterward.

"So..." Duo tried to spark up conversation.

Heero hesitated, "-Yes?" He was going to get grilled on the girl he was going around with again, wasn't he?

"What exactly are you feeling right now?"

"..." Heero sat up and looked at him blankly. "Not quite what I was expecting."

"...what?"

He shook his head, "Why do you want to know?"

"Curious."

"Don't try it."

"I won't! That's why I want to know, that way, I don't have to."

A valid excuse, but one he still wasn't looking forward to entertaining. "If I tell you, and you find it interesting, won't that make you want to try it?"

"I'm not sure...probably not. But I do know that if you don't tell me, I'll be up all night worrying about it." His stress level was beginning to rise, he was showing outward physical symptoms of discomfort. Duo hoped talking about it would calm his mind some.

He sighed at the mere though to having to disclose such information. It wasn't often that Duo looked this worried though, in fact, it was one of the few emotions Duo didn't emote regularly. "Fine. If it'll get you to sleep," Heero said and pretended to be annoyed as he checked the time on his watch. 'Dammit.' It wasn't too late, it was plenty of time for at least one bed time story.

"Before you start, let me pull the couch out."

"This pulls out?!" Heero snapped, "You couldn't have mentioned that last night?"

"I wanted to tell you, but I didn't want to risk my kneecaps," Duo said with a laugh.

"Right, sorry," he said and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was helped over to and sat down on the armchair with the not-a-tiger-for-a-blanket, while Duo unfolded the sofa. The piece of furniture howled as it's rigid gears ground and scrapped against one another within. To Heero, in that moment, it sounded like people screaming and being slammed against a metal surface. It was disturbing. He had to cover his ears until the device was eventually laid flat and a silent sheet was spread over top of it all.

He tossed a couple pillows at the head of the bed. "I bet you want the left side."

"Y-yeah...why would you suggest that?" It was strangely insightful.

"Because you like sleeping on the left side. Ah," Duo recalled, "That happened at Quatre's, I bet you don't remember."

"I guess not. What else have I missed?" These memory lapses were beginning to get annoying.

"Nothing big, you and Quatre had a pointless argument on who got what side of the bed. I got you two to stop by suggesting you sleep head-toe." Duo intentionally neglected to mention the 'tub' incident; now was not the time to be stressing him out anymore.

"That explains why I was at the end of the bed."

"Mmm...do you remember trying to smoke?"

"No," he said and got up to take his spot on the newly opened bed. "I had a cigarette?" He laid down.

"Not quite," Duo said and laid on the opposite side to get comfortable as he flashed back for them.

They sat quietly in the gutter out in front of Wufei's house as they awaited their cab. Duo was locking the house up. Trowa extended his tin of cigarettes to Heero, who took one. "When did you start smoking?" he asked.

"I haven't yet, no light," Heero said and pointed to the unlit cigarette in his mouth.

He chuckled lightly, "Oh, here," he said and handed him the lighter.

Heero brought it up to his face and struck the wheel, igniting the flame. The glow showed him that the cigarette was in his mouth backwards. He took it out and flipped it around. When he did this, the lighter also flipped upside down, making it unstrikable. Heero tried one more time to correct the situation, but ended up taking the cigarette out of his mouth completely and tried replacing it with the lighter instead. "I...I apparently don't want this right now," he said and handed both objects back to Trowa, not wanting to burn himself.

He nodded solemnly, "That seems wise," he said and extended the same cigarette to Duo instead.


"...I...why?" Heero was struck for words. They had all drank the same amount that night, how was his experience so different?

"Don't worry about it for now. We'll talk to Missy tomorrow and see if she knows anything. If not: School nurse," he said, smirking and rubbing his hands together. The nurse was an intern fresh out of college, she was pretty, slender and sometimes wore stilettos to work. He could hear her heels clicking during last period on Mondays; his last class that day was right below her office when she came in.

A few seconds went by, "I still don't trust her."

"Missy or the nurse?" This got him a glare he could feel through the darkness, "I'm kidding! And I know you don't, I didn't expect you to." Convincing Heero of anything wasn't a feat to be tackled right before bed, he'd need all his wits to convince him that this girl was harmless. Thus, he went back to his initial request. "And are you gonna' to tell me what's going on in that head of yours, or not?" He wasn't letting him get off the hook so soon.

And here he was hoping Duo had dropped it all. "Are you sure you want to hear this?" Heero was worried a description of what he was going through was going to be far more unsettling than not knowing anything.

"All of it."

"Okay..." He wondered where he should start and how much he should keep in or to keep out. Finally, he dicided. "At first, I had a hard time organizing my thoughts, my mind wandered into various ideas rapidly. I began making connections that were impossible, like, strings pulling the things that move, rather than them moving on their own, or others moving them. The cans you were throwing into the bag the first time started doing that."

"You were zoning out hard core when you were holding out the bags too."

He nodded, "I'd believe it. Then that's when I noticed audio interference. It was chatter at first, as if I was hearing a conversation happening in an adjoining room. It was kind of muffled."

"And that's when you were lookin' at the fruit flies?"

"Yeah. When I got up here and was laying down, I got the feeling that I was falling. Do you know what I mean when I say that 'fleeting' feeling you get when you first catch yourself from a fall?" Duo nodded so he continued, "Well, that keeps happening on and off, randomly."

"Falling? Isn't it scary?"

"Little bit. It keeps making me jump because it really feels like I'm slipping off of something. From there-" Heero's explanation went on until he stopped hearing responses. For someone who said they were worried, he sure managed to doze off awfully quickly. Checking in briefly, "...still awake...no..." Heero shut his eyes too and rolled off to the edge of the bed, a place he thought he'd find sleep.

It didn't last, Duo moved around a lot. He didn't roll, he just sat up and shuffled about for a few minutes, possibly looking for his phone. He suddenly stopped moving. Heero looked up with a single open eye. He could see his friend sitting with his back toward him, perfectly still, in the middle of the bed, in the middle of the dark room, in the middle of the night. He had to let him know, "Duo...that's kind of creepy," he said with a nervous tone. It would have been less ominous if all the lights weren't off.

After a few more moments of silence, Duo suddenly laid back down, turned, and schooched closer. How he manged to stealthily slink an arm beneath Heero's head was to remain a mystery, it happened far too quickly. He began clinging to his friend's upper half for dear life.

Another burden had taken hold of him, literally! The god of death had one hell of a death grip(hug). "Duo?"

"..." he didn't respond. He only held on, squeezing gently and muttered incomplete words.

"Mind telling me what you're doing." He had his eyes closed for no more than a half hour when the assult began. What could have brought it on? "Come on, Duo...now's not the...wait...you aren't awake, are you?" Heero gave him a couple more nudges in the forehead before he gave up. Since there was no fighting the current, he just jammed a pillow in between his friend's face and the back of his neck and cut his losses; at least this way if Duo drooled in his sleep, he avoided any mess.

He'd heard of 'sleep walking', but never 'sleep strangling'. Each time he squirmed to get away, that grip of Duo's tightened like a vice, holding him fast. If this kept up he wouldn't have to worry about falling asleep, he'd be suffocated and lose consciousness that way. 'A ram...talking insects...bats...a tiger...and now, an octopus.' He laughed as he pictured Duo as a cephalopod; briefly wondering if the braid would be counted as part of the head, or another leg. He snickered quietly, not wanting to wake Duo up. He then couldn't help himself and laughed a bit louder; if holding his nose and yelling didn't wake him, laughter wouldn't. Heero had to remember to doodle the 'Duoctopus' when he got up.

He managed to doze off a few times, but nothing he'd go calling sleep. This went on all night, right until the sun crested the horizon. One more night of unrest couldn't hurt, could it? At least today was a sick day, he could sleep it away.

When Duo finally unclenched, Heero slipped downward and got off the bed. His head was on straight now and apart from being overtired, he was able to navigate the room. Heading to the opposite side of the pull-out sofa, he summarily crashed.

An alarm went off an hour later. Heero once again got the 'I'm slipping' feeling as the obnoxious sound buzzed in his ears. 'That's a much better comparison,' he thought. While it did feel like falling, slipping in and out of a dream was a much closer description of the feeling he was getting the night previous. He'd have to tell Duo later, he'd probably want to know. 'Oh no...it's spreading,' he thought. His friend's nosey, infectious demeanor was beginning to rub off on him.

Duo stretched and sat up. He hadn't slept as well as he'd hoped, and that stomach ache was sticking around; maybe he was starting to get sick too, and the medicine Heero had was just conveniently timed. When his eyes fully opened, he found himself in an odd place. "Mornin'...uh...I thought you were on this side," he said and pointed down at the left side of the bed beneath him.

"I got up to use the bathroom and you moved over," he lied, sparing his friend the embarrassment of knowing what really happened. If the bus incident was any indication, this situation might have made him uncomfotable.

"Sorry about that, I must toss a lot in my sleep. Sometimes I'll wake up at the end of the bed, or with my legs hanging off the side, it's weird." He hoped Heero had a better sleep than he did. "How are you this morning?"

"I don't feel much better, mind if I sleep for a few more hours?"

The medicine must have kept him up, he did say it made him feel 'jumpy'. Duo flashed him a warm sleepy smile, "Go for it. Missy'll be here when you get up...s'that okay?"

"She's still going under the knife, don't think I've changed my mind."

"Never thought that for a second." Admittedly, he was beginning to question Missy's motives, and now he too wanted to know more. He thought that maybe Heero's paranoid train of thought was contagious, or maybe, 'He IS a robot! A brainwashing robot!'

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