+Two Knights+

Chapter 2

The meal was kept simple. Relena's mother was visiting a friend and so, it was just the three of them. The conversation was fairly quiet and rather sporadic, seeing as they had walked a lot this morning, and the sea wind had a way of making you hungry. It was so restful, so very different from the hurried lunch-conferences she took with her board of advisors and secretaries or the sandwiches she grabbed here and there in the evening before going to bed at an ungodly hour of the night. She couldn't say she minded.

Maybe they had been right to force her to rest, even though when they had irrupted in her office to drag her off she had done everything except thank them.

She put her fork down, let her hands rest on her lap, demurely, and opened her mouth to thank them.

"Not hungry anymore, Relena?" Heero asked in his quiet voice. She looked up and met his eyes; he looked faintly worried.

"Young ladies don't wolf down as much food as guys like me, Heero," Duo laughed. "Oh well. Only means there's more for me." And he reached out to grab her plate.

"Hey!" she protested, slapping his hand away. "I didn't say that I wasn't hungry anymore!"

Duo stared at her, cradling his hand, and she froze, realizing what she had done.

"... oh... I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"

"It's about the only way to keep him away from your food, Relena," Heero reassured her, smirking just a tiny bit.

"My, the missus has TEETH."

Suddenly, she was not feeling like being meek and polite, and she bared them for him, mock-threatening. Heero's eyes widened in surprise and for a second she was afraid that she'd broken his image of her. But then she decided that if he saw her as nothing else than nice, prim and proper, then he needed a reality check and fast. Perhaps she loved him, but she wouldn't hide who she was from him just to make sure that he'd like her better.

Despite her brave thoughts, she was still extremely relieved when his eyes lightened with amusement and he arched a mocking eyebrow.

"I don't want your food," he assured her coolly, still smirking just a tiny bit.

"Good because I'll defend it... HEY!!!"

Duo had used the moment during which they stared at each other to poke his fork at the content of her plate. The young woman grabbed his hand and bit his fingers.

"Fork off! Hands off! My food." And on those words, she speared a bite from her plate and chewed on it viciously. She didn't know why, but she felt good, energized. Aggressive, actually. It surprised her that feeling aggressive could be a good feeling; she had always associated it with battles and wars and blood, maybe some political meetings, and all sorts of unpleasant stuff.

Duo's hearty guffaws were expected, but not Heero's quiet snickers. She felt an irrepressible smile rise to her lips. Yes, she was definitely glad for the vacation, finally.

+ + + + +

She had never known that there was a hammock in her gardens.

It was swaying gently in the breeze, between two trees, the white net of ropes covered in part with a sea green cloth that was freckled with patches of sun and the shadows of leaves. It looked inviting, restful.


... and occupied.

Heero rolled his eyes. "Relena is the one supposed to get rest, you lazy ass."

"I'm just testing it for her. We wouldn't want to discover that it was badly tied when the knots give, right?" Duo answered, batting his eyelashes innocently as he made himself comfortable. "See, if it resists to my weight for a few hours, then it means that she'll be safe."

"If it doesn't resist your weight, the only thing it will mean is that you should seriously try eating less," Relena commented casually, giving him a dazzling smile. There were so many sailor knots on the ropes that she doubted anything short of a beam weapon could get it untied.

"Someone is still sulking about being helped with her diet..."

"Diet? Are you implying that I am fat, Duo Maxwell?" she shot back, hands on her hips.

He gave her a lazy smile and pushed his sunglasses down to give her a once-over.

"Don't worry, babe. You're only fat in the right places."

Somehow, Heero's glass of water slid a little out of his hand, and in the process of catching it again, it just happened that most of the water spilled out.

"... thank you, love, I was getting too warm," Duo commented, wiping water off his sunglasses calmly.

"My pleasure," he replied stiffly, even though his eyes were gleaming. "I wouldn't want you to overheat your brain."

Relena laughed, unable to help it. Duo looked like he was keeping from pouting by sheer force of will, and Heero had a smug look on his face she had rarely gotten to see before.

"Okay, okay. I will leave to Mr. Iceman the pleasure of warming himself up with thoughts of our princess' womanly curves."

Relena would have given him an offended tongue-lashing if the blush on Heero's cheeks hadn't sidetracked her. And then she was blushing too, and it was too late for the "DUO!!" she'd had in mind.

Heero looked up at her from behind his bangs, cautiously. He froze when he saw her watching him, and they both blushed more and looked away. Relena's stomach was doing flip-flops.

On the slowly swinging hammock, Duo was humming a little song, eyes closed, a satisfied look on his face.

She sat down on the garden chair, mind reeling. Why was Heero so embarrassed? She knew he didn't let most dirty jokes get to him, especially not when they were from Duo. Was it because he really liked her, as Duo had told her, or just because he liked her except not that way and was afraid that she would misinterpret Duo's unsubtle hints?

And why was Duo teasing them so much, dammit?

Heero sat down at the garden table, his fingers following the forged iron patterns at the center. His dog padded to him, sitting down at his side quietly, and the man started to rub his ears gently, whispering to him in Japanese. Relena had a feeling he was paying him so much attention so as not to have to look up. The way he patted his head was cautious, though, as if a too hard touch could hurt him, and the dog only barely wagged his tail, as if shy. She felt her chest tighten.

"... So... Where did you find that dog anyway?" she asked, desperate for a subject of conversation. The dog definitely had Doberman in him, maybe some Labrador for the fur. He was too old to have been a puppy the last time she'd seen Heero, and the young man didn't have any dog then.

"In our backyard."

"... In your backyard."

She waited for more of the story patiently, reaching toward the dog and letting him smell her hand. Though he politely sniffed her palm, he looked dubious, so she didn't insist and let her hand drop at her side. She wondered if he had been beaten; he was so painfully wary.

Finally Heero looked up briefly and shared another tidbit of information. "He was regularly knocking over our garbage can."

"And so you adopted him," she continued, amused. Heero looked faintly embarrassed, so she generously decided to switch the line of questioning. "Where did you find his name? Kuro, was it?"

Duo chuckled from the hammock and straightened up, squirming in the net to get into a more comfortable position.

"It was what Heero called him all the time, in between two fits of grumbling. 'Kono kuro inu'," the American man explained in a rough approximation of Heero's annoyed growling. "And then he'd get out to chase him off, and come back all proud of his brave deed, but somehow before lights out, our leftovers would end up in the backyard. I have no clue how," he added, giving his lover an amused look.

Heero was giving his whole attention to a bit of rust into the iron patterns of the table.

"...Finally he stopped pretending to think it a nuisance and decided to tame it... though to me, it looks more like they tamed each other," Duo finished, his tone a mix of amusement and fondness.

Relena chuckled. She could imagine it. "But what does kono... well, his name mean?"

"That black dog," Heero said, deadpan.

"... you called your dog 'that black dog'?" she asked, incredulous.

"Yep," Duo quipped. "Original, ne?"

She couldn't help it and began to laugh. It was such a Heero thing to do.

"Don't laugh," Heero growled at them both. Relena bit her lip and tried to formulate an apology, but Heero was ignoring her and glaring at Duo, visibly miffed. "Weren't you supposed to be asleep?"

Duo rolled his eyes, smiling. "... Yes, yes, I'm asleep. I'm just talking in my sleep. You know it happens at any other time. I just can't stop talking, when I read, when I watch the TV, when I eat..."

"... Duoooo..."

"I'm asleep. See?"

Heero sighed, and then smiled--just a bit. He didn't look angry any longer. Relena released a breath she wasn't aware she'd been holding back.

"I'm sorry," she offered quietly anyway.

He shrugged. The matter was closed.


A bird trilled under the trees, and awakened her from her daydreaming. She wondered how long it had been since Duo had excused himself to work on his car, and glanced sideways at Heero. He was dozing off, Kuro asleep at his feet. Relena watched him for a few seconds, and then sighed, staring out at the gardens, and impulsively decided that she would take a walk in the shade. To her surprise, when she got up Heero followed, Kuro immediately at his heel.

The stone-paved path between the flower bushes was cool, relaxing. The quiet company more so.

"... I had a pet bunny when I was younger," she mused softly, not inviting an answer, just sharing. "He was so cute, white with black spots, and pretty smart for a bunny. He didn't scare easily, and he could demand cuddles rather forcefully. If Mother had let me, I would have brought him everywhere, but I doubt the people inviting us would have enjoyed having him pee on their China rugs and munch on their Louis XVI furniture."

She chuckled quietly, and managed not to beam when she caught a glimpse of an answering smile on Heero's lips. She would have scared it back into hiding.

"I would have liked a cat better, but Father was allergic."

"Why don't you get one now?" he asked softly, stopping to watch her.

She sighed with regret, her hand caressing the soft petals of an iris absently. "... I wouldn't have the time for a cat. I already have to babysit so many people at work. And I'm already gone most of the day, it wouldn't be my cat if it was just living in my house and Pargan had to feed it for me. If I can't care for it myself, then I shouldn't have one."

Heero patted the flank of his dog gently, giving it implicit permission to explore, then looked up at Relena. "No one should be too busy for a pet. Or to see their friends," he berated her, in a tone that was still as mild as it had been around Duo.

She gave him a properly chastised look. Ideally, all jobs should leave people with at least some time to build a life around them, but hers was devouring everything else.

"No one should, but..."

"Your friends can understand that you're busy, but a pet couldn't," Heero continued, interrupting her. His voice was still soft enough not to disturb the quiet of the garden, but a lot more serious. "If you had a cat, you would TAKE that time."

"Maybe," she admitted slowly as she picked a flower to go with the iris. "But..."

Heero met her eyes frankly. She almost shivered as she caught a glimpse of his steel will, and then she felt warm, moved. He was determined to give her that little bit of happiness, and probably to provide her with a good reason to put some limit on the time she spent working too. He wanted to care for her, when she wouldn't.

"Oh, fine," she gave in with a teasing smile. "But you and Kuro have to come and help me to choose, because I don't want a cat that won't get along with him." Or you, she added silently. Then they could share her cat-time.

He blinked at her, visibly surprised, and then turned away, hiding his response to the tacit promise. Had she gone too far? Maybe he was fine with caring for her from afar, and a standing invitation to join her every evening was a lot more invasive than what he wanted...

A jonquil was waving under her nose. She blinked, looked up the hand holding it.

Heero was watching her, still as serious as ever.

"For your bouquet," he said.

Invitation accepted.


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