Duo was bent over the hood of his car when they entered the garage, elbows-deep in its entrails. He was so intensely concentrated on whatever it was he was doing that he didn't turn until Kuro padded to him, whuffing quietly.
"Are you going to be busy much longer?" Heero asked.
Duo blinked at him quizzically as he wiped his hands clean on a rag. Well, clean was a relative term, Relena supposed. It was hard to understand what kind of interest anyone could have in such a dirtying occupation. She made a note to ask him later.
"Why d'you ask?"
"We're about to head into town. Wondered if you wanted to come."
"We are?" Relena replied, arching an eyebrow. When Heero had led her out of the house in search for his lover, he hadn't bothered explaining why.
Duo snickered briefly at her expression of mild, polite surprise. "Heh. Mission again?"
Heero nodded. "Relena needs a cat. Are you coming or not?"
She should have guessed, really. She rolled her eyes at Heero. "Right now? You know it can wait..."
"Why wait? We don't have anything special to do. And if you're anything like Duo, you'll just find reasons to put it off just a few days longer and in the end you won't get one at all."
"Wait a second. She needs a cat?" Duo was blinking, as if he had missed an episode of a particularly complicated soap opera.
"Yes, she does."
"She happens to be right here, thank you very much," Relena replied, snorting in an unladylike way. "Heero got it into his head that if I had a pet, I would take more time for myself to take care of it."
"Well, the theory is sound, at least," Duo commented as he washed his hands at the faucet in the corner. "I assume you do want a pet?"
She fidgeted, embarrassed. "Well... yes. I mean, I wouldn't mind..."
Duo straightened up and nodded. "Okay, I'm coming."
Relena caught herself pouting. They were so annoying, deciding things for her like that... but Heero was right, if they didn't go now she would probably always tell herself to go later and end up not going at all.
"I'll call Pargan," she said with a sigh, conceding.
"No offence, princess, but I am NOT riding in that pink monstrosity."
She had not planned on taking the limo, really; Pargan was getting too old to drive safely and she wasn't good with big cars. But it was always interesting to argue with Duo. Not in the same way that it was interesting to argue with Dorothy at all, but... funnier. Sharpening her wits in a different manner.
"And why don't you want to ride in my limousine?" she asked, her tone overly patient. Most of the old diplomats she met never caught the subtle mockery in the overly sugary tones, but Duo did, because he huffed as if she had mortally offended him.
"And what is the matter with that? It's only the color of the coat of paint, Duo. It doesn't make the motor break down more often or the tires go flat at random intervals. Just because it happens to be pink doesn't make it a bad car. So long as the car works, does it matter what color it is?" she asked reasonably.
She gave Heero a look, hoping for his support, but he was grimacing too. "Logically speaking, Relena is right, Duo..."
"You wanna drive a pink car?"
"... I didn't say that."
Duo looked at her, crossing his arms over his chest decisively. "There."
She sighed, then laughed, because their obvious reaction to the color of her car was refreshingly childish and illogical. She was glad that Duo had taught Heero that sometimes it was okay to go with their feelings and moods and not the most practical solution. Maybe if they hung around long enough, she would gain back that ability.
They parked the nondescript little car they had ended up using and walked to the pet shop Heero had located a few days ago. Relena had considered asking him why he had bothered to notice one pet shop, but had then realized during his skillful navigation of the car through the numerous one-way streets that he had practically the whole town memorized in his almost eidetic memory. Then she had been reminded of all the times he walked in a room and immediately knew where everything was supposed to be.
For a moment she wondered how it was to be able to recall so well every little detail you came across --it must be greatly useful to have such a special ability -- but then she winced; Heero had lived through some pretty awful things. It must have been harder for him than for most people to let time dull the memories to the point they no longer actively bothered him. She wondered if the ability was natural or if it had been trained into him. Maybe eventually she would get an occasion to ask.
As they arrived to the door, Heero called Kuro to him to leash and muzzle him. The black dog looked at him reproachfully, but obediently stayed at heel. Duo pushed the door open and was immediately greeted by a smiling young woman who -- if Relena's instincts were right-- was checking him out. Hm. Maybe they should have given him some time to get into something other than baggy pants that threatened to fall off his hips and a red tanktop that had been at the right size when he'd been fifteen. She wondered if Heero had noticed the clerk's reaction and if he ever felt jealous, and glanced back at him to check.
As usual, his expression was unreadable, but she detected vague amusement. It changed into annoyance when the clerk hurried to slip out from behind the cash desk.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you can't bring your dog inside."
Duo and Heero exchanged a look and Duo moved to intercept her, braid swaying behind him. "Actually... We were hoping we would be able to choose a pet that would get along with him. Kuro's a sweet dog, really, but very shy. We thought it would be good to find a pet that wouldn't traumatize him."
The woman's resolve wavered a little, faced with Duo's honest, hopeful smile; Kuro cooperated by hiding behind Heero's legs cutely even as he stretched his neck to sniff at what was inside the pet shop.
"Well... It's against regulations..."
"He's muzzled, and I can keep him on a short leash," Heero commented neutrally. "But if that's too much of a bother, I can wait outside."
Duo sighed and rolled his eyes discretely at Heero, as if berating him for conceding so quickly. "Relena, you could start looking at the kittens," he commented, probably to get her out of the way while he charmed the woman into obedience.
She nodded and stepped away, smiling politely at the clerk. The woman looked at her, then gaped in surprise, having apparently recognized her. Well, maybe that would make things easier, Relena thought, smothering her guilty conscience at using her influence to get around rules.
"Oh-- uhm. That is... If you make sure he's held tight at all times, then I guess... Just this once..."
Yep, it did. Relena gave her a grateful smile.
"Thank you," Heero commented, still as neutral, and walked in slowly. Kuro sniffed around cautiously, but didn't even try to step away from Heero, obviously uneasy in such an environment. A lone puppy woke up and yipped at Kuro excitedly. Kuro waved his tail shyly in response, and followed Heero toward where Relena and Duo were leaning over the kittens' pens.
"Oh, how could I ever choose?" she complained halfheartedly. They were all so cute. Some were common cats, being of all the possible colors and then some, but some were obviously from more expensive breeds.
"This one looks dignified. Bet she'd look right proper on your lap as you give an interview, princess," Duo teased as he pointed at a Persian kitten.
Relena made a face. The little animal reminded her of a senator she knew, with a face perpetually like he'd smelled something unpleasant, and long, graying hair on the sides of the head... which always made his baldness at the top more apparent. "No offense to the kitten, but no thanks."
"Aww, but she looks so ... noble..."
"I think the word you want is snob," Heero commented quietly as he leaned between them to glance at the squirming mass of kittens. "Getting her fur to stay clean and untangled will probably take hours every day anyway."
Relena nodded, grateful for the escape Heero had provided her. She was mostly sure that Duo had been teasing her, but she still didn't want to offend.
Duo pointed to a sleeping black kitten, but she shook her head before he could say anything.
"Mother is a bit superstitious like that," she apologized before he could tease her about not liking his favorite color. "She wouldn't say anything, but she would be a bit uneasy."
The clerk was hovering behind them, but she didn't interrupt them, for which Relena was grateful. There were so many cats in here, she couldn't choose.
"Okay, so no black cat, no Persian cat..."
"You can't take one too young either," Heero mused. "It wouldn't be properly socialized."
Duo let his fingers trail in the middle of a pile of cream-colored kittens, tickling an ear here and there. His hand was immediately pounced on and then enthusiastically chewed up. Relena laughed.
"Hey! So it makes you laugh?" Duo mock-growled, pulling one kitten out of the heap and dumping it in her arms. "Here, let's see how you like being attacked by that hellbeast in training."
Of course, cats were annoying creatures and the kitten was perfectly happy with batting at her hair and butting its head against her chin. She started to pet it, amused. It was purring like a motor already.
"This one looks friendly. What do you think, Heero?" she commented as he leaned over her shoulder to get a closer look.
The kitten shot out of her arms to attack Heero's bangs. Sadly, they were, like always, in front of Heero's nose, so naturally when he felt tiny claws on his face, the Japanese man stepped back.
With the kitten still trying to chomp on his bangs.
Five seconds later, Relena and Heero had managed to thoroughly get in each other's way trying to grab the kitten before it fell. Meanwhile, the kitten was hanging on Kuro's back by the tip of its tiny claws. Duo was guffawing loudly.
Kuro gave the creamy kitten fighting to climb on his back a thoroughly bewildered look, but was apparently too stunned to move, which allowed the clerk to pick the kitten up. Giving the woman an apologetic look, Relena reached out to hold it again, properly this time.
"I'm sorry, I didn't expect it to do that."
"It's okay, Minist-- uhm, miss."
Relena grinned at her, grateful for her tact. "Thank you --" quick glance at her tag-- "Sandra. Is there a better way to hold a kitten?"
She let the nervous woman show her how to place her arms, how best to hold the little beast. It purred again, already forgetting its acrobatic adventures.
"This is a Siamese cat," the clerk commented.
"I thought they had boots and a mask," Duo replied, puzzled, as he played with a small creamy paw.
"Oh-- they get it later, as they grow up. The color of their fur is actually heat-sensitive, so the colder parts of their bodies, that is their paws, tail and face, darken faster. It's quite fascinating," she added with a nervous -- and mildly flirtatious -- smile at Duo.
"Quite," he agreed, smiling back and pretending not to feel the prickle of the kitten's claws on his fingers. Behind him, Heero rolled his eyes. Relena looked down at the animal, trying not to laugh.
If Heero didn't look that annoyed that his lover was an incorrigible flirt, then she didn't need to get annoyed on his behalf. It was good. Duo was actually pretty amusing when he tried to be smooth, and so far his behavior had been entirely harmless.
"These have no pedigree, so you won't be able to breed them or enter them into most contest..."
Relena shook her head. "That's not important. I wasn't planning to."
The clerk blinked at her, as if she had trouble comprehending that someone of such high standing could not prefer something that came with a little "authenticity guaranteed" tag. Luckily another customer came in and the clerk moved away to greet him. Relena turned back to Heero and Duo.
"What do you think?"
"I hear they're clingy as far as cats go," Duo commented, suckling a drop of blood off the tip of his clawed finger.
"Friendlier than most cats. That's good," Heero replied, shooting him a dirty look.
"And I bet she'll look so pretty with her little boots," Relena concluded, nuzzling the purring beast. "Now the Kuro test."
She dumped the kitten in Heero's arms; he managed to hold it, but looked mightily uncomfortable, as if scared of breaking the tiny animal. Awkwardly, the man knelt, letting his dog sniff his burden. The kitten meowed a little and pawed at Kuro's nose, but didn't scratch. Kuro gave it a shy lick, as if he wasn't sure if he was supposed to welcome the thing or eat it.
"That's as good a greeting as we're going to get," Heero commented as he got up to give the little animal to Relena again. She tried not to appear to notice how very relieved he seemed to be to get rid of the small, frail creature. It was so adorable, and a little sad too.
"Then I guess we're taking this one home. Do you want to come home, babycat?" she whispered to the kitten. It looked up at her, meowing, and she decided that it had to mean yes.
"Let's go find the clerk," Duo commented with a chuckle.
Relena was aware that Heero was watching her rubbing her cheek against the kitten's back, but it was just too soft and fluffy to stop cuddling. She wondered if he found her silly for going gaga over an animal, then decided that even if he did, she didn't care.
Heero reached out, freeing one of her locks from the cat's teeth, and tucked it back behind her ear gently.
"Let's get its gear," he commented softly. "It's going to need a name. Do you have ideas?"
Heart still jumping in her chest from his unexpected gesture, she followed him to the cash desk.
[chapter 2] [chapter 4]