The following day, Relena woke up groggy and confused. There was a lot of light in her room, and when she checked the alarm clock, she discovered that it wasn't working. She panicked, trying to remember which meetings she had missed and how to make it up, and then remembered that she was on vacation. She fell back on the bed, sighing in relief, her heart slowly calming down. And then she frowned and pushed herself up.
Somehow the plug had been pulled from the socket. And there was a tray on her bedside table. She felt torn between embarrassed gratefulness and annoyance. That thief had probably managed to sneak into her room...
... But when she reached for the folded piece of paper on the tray, it was Heero's angular writing.
You needed the sleep.
She had a feeling that was all the apologies she would get, but somehow, it still made her smile.
I should have worn my sexy negligee, she thought, to give them at least some sort of reward and maybe get one of them to trip, and then she started to laugh as she picked up the tray.
When she finally emerged from her long, bubbly, almost boiling hot bath, it was nearly noon. She found a simple, soft-green and peach-pink summer dress and twisted her hair into a loose bun, going in search of her friends. The dinner table wasn't ready and Pargan, a purring kitten on his shoulder, informed her with a kind smile that her guests had requested her presence on the terrace by the pool.
They had, as she noticed, decided to have a barbecue. Heero was turning his back to her as he almost frantically tried to keep the fire from going out, throwing words in Japanese that sounded awfully like curses, and Duo was hunched over a plastic bag on the table, giving a dark glare at a chair in a shadowed corner. After observation, she realized that Kuro was curled up comfortably under said chair and peacefully munching on a raw sausage.
Heero's white shirt was half unbuttoned, floating out of his tight, faded jeans. He often needed to bend over to pick up more coal. She politely wrenched her eyes away from the seat of his pants, only to notice that Duo was getting distracted from the dog by Heero's jeans-clad ass too. His red tanktop hung low off his shoulders. She could see a pink nipple, behind the wisps of hair falling over his collarbones. For a second she wondered, quite inappropriately, what they looked like naked.
Or naked and together in bed.
She decided to serve herself a big glass of ice-cold water.
"Oh, Relly. Hey."
She gave Duo a smile and a nod as she went to the table... freezing for a second as she noticed that Heero was half-turned toward her, and in the process of relaxing. She'd startled him. He was still holding the fire poker defensively, as if ready to lift it and brain the intruder. She bit her lip and gave him an apologetic look, but he was already turning away, apparently embarrassed by his lapse into soldier mindset.
"So. Slept well?"
"Very well, thank you. The next time one of you unplugs my alarm clock, I will be forced to retaliate."
Duo threw her a lazy smirk, but it was Heero's innocent look that made her laugh. It didn't suit him at all.
"What's so funny?" he asked, frowning faintly, his lips pursed into a not-quite-a-pout expression. She labeled the expression "sulky" and put it away in the mental folder reserved for them. Heero's expressions were always so subtle that most people were led to believe that he only had three: none, contemptuous and angry. When he smiled, it was either with his eyes only, or it was a smirk. Whenever she caught him making any other face, she was quick to commit it to memory.
"You are. Innocence looks as realistic on you as it does on Duo. You should try for puzzled annoyance next time," she advised with a smile as she went to the barbecue to check how close the meat was to being ready.
"Is that your professional advice, Vice-Minister?" Heero asked. His voice was dry, annoyed. His eyes were laughing. She had wanted to kiss him that badly before, but not since her adolescent hormones had calmed down. She gave him an innocent look, as much to show him how it was done than to hide the way her heart had jumped.
Duo burst out laughing. "I think we're outclassed here."
The sausages were half-burned and yet she had never tasted better before. It was the company, of course. Heero's thoughtful conversation and Duo's relevant anecdotes, Duo's irreverent jokes and Heero's quietly sarcastic comments, and the way they could have monopolized the conversation -- leaving her to listen in and admire the way they shared and debated ideas, the way they mocked each other's little faults and opinions gently -- and yet included her in effortlessly. She should have felt like a third wheel -- her opinions on life were wildly different from theirs, and her sense of humor was certainly not as daring as Duo's or as dry as Heero's -- but she didn't.
She didn't feel excluded -- heck, sometimes she forgot that they were a couple and she was ... outside the couple. They were just three friends, having a rather rudimentary but very entertaining meal together, and she regretted that she had never gotten to know Duo that well before. Sure, if there hadn't been Heero to bring her closer to the energetic, disrespectful, decidedly not well-bred young man, she wouldn't have even tried, but she would have missed something. He was bright, had strong, well thought-out opinions, and yet tempered it all with a compassion she wouldn't have expected from someone with his history.
Of course, he could also be a rude brat.
"Eat more sausage, Relly-baby!" he was now saying, waving one under her nose. "We've got tons left," he added, pointing at the plate full of half-burned meat.
"I'm stuffed, Duo," she replied for the third time, trying to avoid the waving piece of sausage he was aiming at her mouth.
"You've barely eaten. Don't tell me you're on a diet, we've already talked about that."
Sighing and embarrassed, she accepted to be fed, opening her lips... only to blink as she saw Heero start to blush.
Duo blinked at her surprise, looked at Heero -- who scowled, blushing even more hotly-- and burst out laughing, so hard he had to lean back in his chair not to knock things over on the table. He managed to stop snickering for a few seconds, leered at Heero -- "Mmm, open your mouth for my sausage, baby..." -- and started laughing again.
Relena was mortified. How could she have not seen how suggestive it was to let a boy feed her such a phallic-looking food? She clenched her hands on her napkin, looking down. She regretted having pulled her hair back or she would have hidden behind it. If she hadn't been used to hurtful personal attacks from work, she would have gotten up and fled for her room, her embarrassment was that intense.
Duo was trying to control his snickers, but wasn't having much luck. He kept trying to comment, but luckily he was laughing so hard it wasn't intelligible.
Heero jumped on his feet suddenly, startling them both. He was still red and he looked annoyed, and that prompted Duo's guffaws to calm down a little.
"haha... What's-- HEY!!"
Relena blinked. Heero had just pulled Duo up and thrown him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.
"HEY!! What the hell are you doing?! Heero!"
Duo was struggling, hitting Heero's back and even his butt with his fists, but the Japanese man didn't even seem to notice. He stalked away, his back stiff with determination, his boyfriend slung over his shoulder like particularly squirmy baggage. Relena pushed herself up slowly, staring at them.
"Heero, it's not funny, what the hell-- NOO!!!"
Swimming pool, meet Duo Maxwell, she thought, caught between bewilderment and hysterical laughter. Duo resurfaced, coughing and spluttering.
Heero came back to the table. She noticed with surprise that his cheeks were still red and that he wasn't looking at her.
"You didn't need to throw him in the pool," she ventured, glancing at him shyly.
"Yes I did," Heero grumped, still not looking up. "He was too busy laughing at me to notice it embarrassed you."
Relena blinked. Duo had been laughing at Heero, not at her? But why--oh. OH.
She thought she'd been blushing before, but that was nothing compared to the state of her cheeks now.
Heero was attacking his own sausages with vigor, cutting them up into tiny pieces before spearing them fiercely with his fork and chewing them as though they were leather. Relena looked down at her own plate and poked at a forgotten tomato slice.
They were so busy not looking up that neither of them noticed the mer-Duo monster before he wound his wet arms around Heero's neck and pulled him back. The chair toppled over and Duo dragged his struggling and kicking boyfriend to the pool, where he tried to throw him but, due to the wide puddle he'd left when he crawled out and dumped his shoes, ended up slipping and falling with him.
Relena choked on an incredulous laughter. They were wrestling underwater. She didn't know if that was play or not; she'd never seen them fight for real but then, she'd never seen then having an argument either. Vaguely worried, she stepped closer to the pool.
Duo burst out of the pool, climbing on the deck, his hair and tanktop dripping enough water to drown someone. Relena's shoes were splashed, but she didn't think of stepping back.
He looked up at her, wet bangs stuck to his cheekbones and eyelashes thickened with water, and for a second looked like a stranger. A mysterious stranger, born from the sea -- and then Heero got a hold of his ankle and started to drag him back in, and Duo flopped on his back as he struggled and -- and his thighs were around Heero's waist as Heero's hands caught the waistband of Duo's jeans to force him in the water and Heero's white, wet shirt had been pulled half-open and one of his shoulders was bare and they were wet, so wet -- and Heero was laughing, as was Duo, and she wondered once again if that was what they looked like in bed.
"Rel!! Help!!" Duo called again, still laughing, as he playfully tried to squirm out of Heero's hold and cling to the deck. She hesitated a second, feeling dizzy and out of place. She had never participated in that sort of roughhousing ; her usual friends would never have been caught misbehaving so. She didn't know what she was supposed to do.
"Help how?" she asked cautiously, stepping closer to the edge but keeping a careful eye on them to stay away from their splashes.
They disappeared underwater again, and she stepped closer again -- she knew it was a bad idea, but she couldn't help it. She needed to see what was going on.
Of course, she wasn't expecting an empty pair of jeans to jump out of the water and almost smack her in the face. She gave a little yelp of surprise and indignation -- it was drenched with water and merrily dripping on her summer dress -- and, still holding it, glared at the boys still mock-fighting loudly in the water.
It appeared that Heero favored white boxers.
It also appeared that, when wet, boxers had a tendency to cling to the skin. And turn sort of transparent.
"Nice view, eh princess!!" Duo called merrily as he dived, swimming away from Heero. The Japanese boy growled and looked ready to follow, but then he froze and turned around. Their eyes met and their cheeks caught fire at the same time from realizing she had been watching his butt.
"Uhm-- your jeans," she muttered, reaching out to give them to him.
He accepted them, blushing, looking away. She felt a funny tingle when his wet fingers brushed against her wrist.
They were, once again, so busy not-looking at each other that neither noticed Duo had left the pool until two wet arms encircled her waist. She yelped as a trail of cold water made its way along her neck and down her neckline. The back of her summer dress was sticking to her and Duo's skin and she shivered, struggling weakly.
"Duo, what are you doing?!" she demanded, trying to squirm out of his hold without unbalancing them both, not wanting to fall on Heero.
He laughed, low and rough and vaguely threatening just beside her ear. "Guess." And with that, he lifted her up, moving her as if going to throw her in the pool. She shrieked, reaching out for Heero with one hand as she clung to Duo's arm with the other. The Japanese man hurried to climb out, but Duo just took off running around the pool with her under his arm like a package. She kept on shrieking, caught between laughing helplessly and protesting that treatment.
Finally, Heero had Duo cornered between the edge of the pool, a deckchair and the diving board. The American brought Relena up against his chest like a shield, his arms still tight around her waist, and she kicked and called for Heero between two fits of laughter. Heero and Duo were glaring at each other like two cowboys about to duel. Heero kept advancing slowly, Duo kept stepping back just as slowly.
"Duo, put me down now. You're dripping all over my dress," she commented as calmly as she could. The only reply she got was Duo stepping on the springboard. She was getting a bad feeling about the way the situation would end.
"Put her down, Maxwell," Heero threatened, fighting to keep the corner of his mouth from tilting up. "You've got nowhere to go."
"Lemme think about it-- nope."
And suddenly they were falling back, Duo laughing maniacally, and she had the time for a good, loud scream before they hit the water.
She could hear/feel the surface break once again as Heero dived after them, and she struggled to escape, remorselessly stepping on Duo to push herself toward the air. Heero caught her arm, helping her to keep her head over the water as she coughed and -- very unattractively -- blew chlorinated water out of her nose.
"Duo!! You little--" she growled, looking around for the traitor. Her so carefully washed and combed hair was a tangled mess, her nose burned, and her pretty summer dress-- ack!! She struggled to make Heero let go, to free at least a hand, and tugged desperately on her sleeve, caught under Heero's fingers. The large neckline was now going from the left of her neck to her right elbow, baring her right breast almost entirely. And her plain white bra was just as see-through as Heero's boxers.
"Stop that!!" he ordered, scowling -- but then he looked down to see what she was doing and she saw him stare and start blinking quickly at the plunging view he had of her breasts. Mortified, she pushed away from him and started to swim toward the edge of the pool.
She knew how to swim, but she'd never tried with shoes on, and the large folds of her dress were getting tangled around her legs. It was the only reason she accepted the hand Duo was holding out.
She sat up on the ledge at his side, wringing her hair and wiping her face, and then she gave him her best smile and pushed him headfirst in with both hands. When she left the pool's immediate vicinity for the gravel path back to the house, Heero was still laughing.
"See, he wants you to eat his love sausage," he told her later in the afternoon as they were resting on the side of the pool, her sunbathing in a deckchair, him having just come to rest his upper body on the tiled edge.
She turned her head toward him and glared, trying to ignore the way her cheeks burned. What was it with Duo and his obnoxious comments? He could smile as charmingly as he wanted, he was not off the hook yet and wouldn't be for a while if he kept on being so childishly annoying.
Heero was swimming laps, his previous ball game with his longhaired lover abandoned for a moment. Relena noticed that he was out of hearing. Of course, Duo was many things but not careless.
"Seriously, he was so thinking dirty thoughts 'bout you. Don't tell me you didn't notice."
"Maybe he was just embarrassed because your innuendos are about as subtle as a kick to the head?"
The American man snorted. "You can keep telling yourself he's not interested, Relly-baby. I'll just have to find other ways to convince you."
"Why don't you go swim laps too?" she asked in a tone that was appropriate if you knew that 'go swim laps' was Relena-code for 'go to hell'.
Chuckling, he obeyed.
She closed her eyes to let the sun warm her, but couldn't help hoping that Duo's next plan to prove to her that Heero was truly interested in her as a woman wouldn't leave them locked in a room together and naked.
She had to admit it; he had -- well, he HAD looked down her dress a second too long. And blushed a lot, which she wasn't aware Heero usually did. And watched her as she left, chin held high... just to realize as she neared the house that the flimsy material would only have been more see-through if it had been white. As it was, pale green and soft pink cotton didn't hide very much wet.
But maybe-- maybe that was just casual. He could find her cute or physically attractive without actually wanting to do anything about it. It didn't mean he thought her anything more than a friend.
But -- but. Duo said Heero loved her. And she had accepted that; she just hadn't
accepted that he loved her in a more than platonic way. Except he did watch
when he could... but then men were like that. Maybe, she thought, just maybe
she would have to check out how personal the physical attraction was, too.
[chapter 4] [TBC...]