When the knock came at the door, Trowa was nearby, and swung the door open to find a pile of suitcases and a set of brown eyes just barely visible.
“Need some help with those?” The tall man smiled, and began hefting suitcases into the beach home’s foyer. “Quatre! Relena! Heero! The luggage is here,” he announced.
Rashid appeared a moment later, and began taking the suitcases, three at a time. Auda and Abdul were right behind him, grabbing several more and following the tall Maguanac up the broad stairs to the bedrooms. Quatre had placed name tags on the doors, but Trowa still wondered if some of the nametags would end up switched around by the end of the vacation. He turned to study the young man, and smiled again.
“That guy is huge,” the young man said, then smiled. “I’m Bart. I work for Dorothy.”
“Preventer?” Trowa raised an eyebrow as he politely shook the young man’s hand.
“Yes, sir,” and Bart’s enthusiastic nodding was clear sign he hadn’t been a Preventer long.
Fresh out of the academy, Trowa figured.
“Not much of a group, if it’s just us and a bunch of suitcases.” Quatre wandered into the foyer, followed by Relena. “Come on in, then. You’ll have to find your room by wandering around and looking for the sign on the door,” the blond told the young Preventer.
Bart followed, a little nervous at the sight of the huge family room, with its arching ceilings and broad windows looking out across the Atlantic. The ocean crashed not far from the house’s expansive porches, and it was a second before he realized Trowa was offering him coffee. He brushed his brown hair out of his eyes and accepted the drink gratefully, noting that he needed a haircut soon.
Quatre had seated himself in one of the overstuffed chairs, and had thrown a leg over the arm. His shorts and t-shirt seemed completely at odds with the distinguished figure the blond usually cut at Preventers’ headquarters. Trowa, meanwhile, had perched himself on the back of Quatre’s chair, and was staring out the window at the ocean. A dark-haired man, whom Bart recognized as Heero Yuy, was seated on one of the sofas, also staring out across the ocean. Relena deposited herself on the sofa, lying out so her feet were in Heero’s lap. Bart blinked at the young princess’ complete nonchalance, and then reminded himself that Preventer legend said there was a history there. The only thing he could tell, though, was that they looked like two good friends.
“So where’s everyone else?” Quatre raised his eyebrows at Bart.
“They should be here soon,” Bart replied. “Mr. Merquise got two minivans, and they decided to put all the suitcases in one. I didn’t see them behind me on the road, so they may have stopped for breakfast.”
“Was it a hard trip?” Trowa didn’t turn his head as he asked the question.
Bart shrugged. “The hotel last night wasn’t bad. And we got a good start this morning, with only a two-hour trip for the last leg.”
“You’re just coming off that Graham case?” Relena turned her head to stare at Bart, her blue eyes nearly the same color as the sky outside. “I heard it was pretty hellacious.”
“It was,” Bart replied. “Mr. Merquise...Zechs, I mean.” He laughed stiffly, and was reassured at Quatre’s chuckle. “Zechs was saying last night that Mr. Maxwell...I mean, Duo...was just phenomenal on this case. And he was.”
Heero looked up, but didn’t say anything. He smiled a little, but hid it behind his cup of coffee.
“What about Chang Wufei?” The princess’ voice was thoughtful.
“I don’t know a Chang Wufei,” Bart replied, confused.
“She means Wufei Chang,” Quatre explained.
“Oh! Mr. Chang,” came the immediate reply. “He was instrumental in the final sting operation. He’s a great guy.”
“Did he kill anyone?” Relena’s voice was casual. Heero must have poked her in the foot, because she squeaked and kicked him lightly in the ribs. “No, I’m serious.” She rolled sideways to stare at Bart. “I told him I’d eat my pearls if he could hit the broad side of a barn with that hole punch gun he likes so much.”
“Relena,” Quatre said, sighing. “You’re already launching into Wufei and he’s not even here.”
“I don’t think he killed anyone,” Bart replied nervously. “But I hear he arrested eight.”
“I don’t think that counts,” she muttered, and rolled over on her back.
Bart blinked, almost positive that Wufei was also a Gundam pilot. Those five were reputed to be the best marksmen, the best hackers, the best infiltrators, the best everything. He dragged his attention back to his coffee cup and studied it intently, completely lost as to a suitable reply.
“Ignore her,” Quatre informed Bart. “She and Wufei have had this...thing...going on for several years now. They meet up, and it’s nothing but a battle of wits from there on out.” The blond man rolled his eyes. “Though I’m hoping for a truce, as long as we’re in the same house.”
“It’s not a battle of wits, Quatre,” Relena admonished. “You’re assuming Wufei has any wits with which to do battle. He got knocked about in that Gundam too many times, and I think his brain leaked out through his ears.” She laughed prettily, and stretched, her arms over her head. Bart was momentarily distracted by the sight of her t-shirt riding up, exposing a bellybutton, pierced with a bright blue stone on the ring. “So now Wufei’s just got two brain cells left,” she said sadly, studying her fingernails. “And if you could hear them speak, you’d hear one crying to the other...” Her voice went up in pitch to a squeaky sound. “Wake up, wake up, I’m tired, it’s yooooooour turn!”
Trowa chuckled and shook his head, while Heero gave her a patiently annoyed look. Relena grinned at the Wing pilot.
“So, who’s he hanging with now?” Relena rolled over again, ignoring Heero’s quiet protests as she stuck a foot in his stomach. “Wufei, I mean,” she added. “Or his two braincells.”
“Duo,” Bart said. “At least, they seemed inseparable when I saw them last night.”
“Poor Duo,” Relena sighed. “There’s no hope for him now, if he’s been stuck with Wufei.”
“What?” The young Preventer glanced at Quatre, who was watching Relena, amused. Heero had leaned his head on the back of the sofa as though trying to sleep, with one arm thrown over his face.
“Wufei’s contagious,” Relena continued smoothly, a smile playing on her face. “Duo catches it, and no amount of penicillin will cure him. Next thing you know, Duo will be hollering ‘woman!’ and going on about injustice.” She sighed and toyed with the edge of the sofa cushion.
“Forgive me if this is presumptuous,” Bart said tentatively. “But I’m getting the feeling he’s not on your top ten list of people.”
“Only if I plan to burn the list in effigy,” she retorted.
“I think I’ll stay friends with you,” the young Preventer announced. “I’m not sure I want to get on your bad side.”
Relena smiled, a lazy dangerous look, and Bart shivered. Then the young woman laughed, and the moment was past.
Rashid stuck his head through the kitchen door at that point. “Master Quatre, another car just pulled up. I think everyone’s here.”
“Great!” Quatre set down his coffee cup and jumped to his feet, barely taking a moment to run a hand through his touseled golden curls. “Come on, everyone.”
Even Heero unfolded himself from the sofa, once Relena crawled off him. Trowa followed along behind, and Bart could see several of the Maguanacs standing in the foyer as well. Curious, he followed them out of the living room, hanging to the back as Quatre threw open the door.
Zechs and Noin were on the step, with others crowded behind. Quatre beckoned them in, accepting a handshake from Zechs and a kiss on the cheek from his wife.
“Coming to meet trouble head-on?” Zechs asked, laughing, as he ushered his wife through the door. “You’re out of luck, because we left trouble with my wife’s parents for the next two weeks.”
“Both troubles?” Quatre pouted, then grinned. “At least we know the glassware is safe, and the curtains, and the remote controls...”
“No, we don’t,” Wufei interrupted. “You invited Duo, remember?”
“Hey!” A tenor voice cried out indignantly from somewhere at the back of the group.
The four hosts were busy hugging and greeting the people as they walked through the door, and Bart watched, seeing how he could recognize. Dorothy, his boss, merely shook hands politely with Quatre, but she hugged Relena and even got a kiss on the cheek from Heero. Zechs and Heero had shaken hands, but Zechs had embraced his younger sister tightly. Bart then noticed Wufei’s group hug to Trowa and Quatre. As the three stepped apart, he could see Heero greeting Duo, but there was no hug, only a quick clasp of hands and a secret smile that appeared on Heero’s face, and was reflected on Duo’s.
Oh, so that’s the way it goes, Bart thought, charmed by the obvious affection.
Zechs was hugging Relena again. “I think you’ve grown another inch in the past year,” he was saying. He patted her on the head, and she swatted at his hand, pretending to be irked.
“Last growth spurt is during the college years,” Quatre said. “Relena, stay in school, you might top five-six eventually.”
“The height difference is a little wacky,” Noin observed dryly, from where she had an arm around Trowa. “Are you sure you’re related?”
“That’s what my parents told me, every time they caught me trying to run over her with my tricycle,” Zechs replied. His voice was grave, but his expression was amused. Relena snorted.
“Probably should’ve backed up and run over her again,” Wufei commented. “Flatten her out at a young age, more hope of some height.” From his own height of five-eleven, the Chinese Preventer stared regally at the young blonde woman.
“Wait, did someone hear something?” Relena held up a hand, looking around, and pointedly ignoring Wufei. “Oh, no, just the wind. Never mind!”
Bart noticed Quatre rolling his eyes, and heard Trowa mutter something to Heero about ‘it’s starting already.’
“Surprised to see none of your guards have strangled you yet, Relena,” Wufei said, politely shaking hands with the princess as he moved along in the impromptu reception line.
“I can’t die,” she retorted cheekily. “Not while I’ve got you as my entertainment.”
“Ah, my goal in life,” he replied, but his eyes flashed even as he smiled. “I’d be happy to be of service, if I actually cared.”
“I agree,” she said, not missing a beat. “I couldn’t give a damn, myself. Having to amuse other people is so tiresome.”
“And the last thing we want is an unhappy princess,” Wufei shot back. “You’d be likely to scratch someone’s eyes out in a temper tantrum.”
“Might improve your looks, actually,” she replied sharply.
“If my bike could hit the speeds of your mouth, I’d win every race.” Wufei held up his hands, motioning to an annoyed Quatre standing in the doorway to the living room. “But please, I think our host is requesting the truce go in effect.” The Chinese Preventer gave the young woman a polite bow, and sauntered off.
Bart, still half-hidden by the doorway, watched as the young princess’ shoulders slumped. There was a pause, and then she lifted her head, turning with a smile on her face to follow Wufei into the living room.
The young Preventer watched them go, and resettled himself on one of the chairs. He’d been working with Dorothy for some time on a major project. Rather than interrupt the vacation, she suggested he join the rest of the group and act as a liaison to keep the rest of the Preventers informed, instead of each person dealing with the office on their own. He guessed it was just a fancy way to have someone young to cart the luggage and clean the kitchen, and he’d have to share a room with Conrad, Dorothy’s second-in-command, but he didn’t mind.
“Une is still spitting nails that we’re staying here for two weeks,” Zechs was telling Trowa. “I think she’s hoping we’ll all suffer withdrawal and come running back to the office.”
“It was good that everyone could make it,” Quatre agreed, and his clear blue eyes fell on Dorothy. “Everyone,” he said, emphasizing the word, “is truly welcome.”
“That’s good to hear,” Dorothy replied solemnly, and smiled. “It’s a long drive home, otherwise.”
“But first, we should show everyone to their rooms. I’m sure you’ll want to freshen up,” Quatre said, and soon the entire group was traipsing off, through the house.
Duo and Wufei were left alone in the living room. Wufei was pouring himself a cup of coffee, and glanced over to see the longhaired man staring out at the ocean, his eyes wide.
“Amazing, isn’t it,” Duo said, as Wufei brought him a cup of coffee. “The sea is exactly the color of Heero’s eyes.”
Wufei raised his eyebrows, stared at the ocean for a second, and then shook his head. “You’ve got it bad.”
“And I’m not fighting it in the least,” came the happy reply. “But...he gets so shy around other people. And we’ve been on this mission for nearly two months.” He sighed, sipping his coffee but his eyes never leaving the ocean. “Do you think it’d be rude to drag him off to a room somewhere for some private time?”
The Chinese Preventer snorted. “How long do you think it’d remain private?”
Duo flushed, slightly. “We’re not that loud,” he mumbled, suddenly fascinated with his coffee cup. Swallowing hard, he turned to Wufei, biting on his lower lip as he stared at his best friend. “Wufei...I...I want to ask Heero to marry me.”
“Marry you?” Wufei started, and barely saved his coffee from spilling. He glared at the coffee, then at Duo. “As in marriage? Are you kidding?”
“No,” Duo replied, a little hurt. “I really want to. I just...can’t figure out a good way to ask.”
“He’s a great guy, and I know you’re crazy about each other,” the Chinese Preventer said quietly. “But marriage...that’s a huge thing. I’ve been there. It’s...huge. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“What are you two doing down here?” Zechs’ baritone echoed through the large room, and the taller man came to stand alongside his younger coworkers. “You’ll have no idea where you’re sleeping if you don’t find your rooms now.”
“I thought there were nametags,” Wufei said, puzzled.
“Yeah, but some of them seem to be getting rearranged,” the blond pilot replied, shrugging. “But tell me, what was so important that you couldn’t join in the rearranging fun?”
“Duo here wants to get married,” the Chinese Preventer informed him. Duo mumbled something and stared harder at his coffee.
Zechs raised his eyebrows, glancing melodramatically back and forth between the two former pilots. “And to think all this time, I thought Heero and Duo were an item. Wufei, you have my congratulations. I promise to put nice flowers on your grave after Heero kills you, but I’m sure you and Duo will be happy in the afterlife.”
The longhaired man scowled. “I’m definitely with Heero. Wufei’s just being an ass.”
“Marriage is a big deal,” Wufei retorted. “First, you have to be in love, and then you have to deal with relatives, and you have to be in love, and there’s the wedding itself, and...it’s really easier to just skip all that. Hell, just skip falling in love, for that matter. Doesn’t improve the marriage, but lacking it can’t hurt.”
Zechs blinked. “Wufei, eventually, someday, you might fall in love, too.”
“I doubt it.” The retort was sharp, and final.
“I disagree,” the taller man said softly, his blue eyes beginning to betray a bit of teasing humor. “When you fall in love, I am going to be there, and I will remind you of this conversation. Look at Duo, so sick with love he’s pale.” Zechs dodged Duo’s half-hearted swat. “That’s going to be you, someday.”
Wufei rolled his eyes. “Only if I’ve come down with malaria...or the whooping cough. Or because I’ve had my throat slit and all the blood has drained from my body,” he added, annoyed. “But it won’t be because I’m sick with love,” giving the last three words a sarcastic emphasis. “I’m not putting up with this from you two...married, and want to be married, men!” He set his coffee cup on a side table and stomped from the room.
Zechs chuckled, and turned to Duo. “So, it’s true? You want to get married to Heero?”
“Yeah,” Duo said softly, his eyes still on the doorway where Wufei had exited. “But maybe Wufei’s right. It’s a big deal, and what if Heero doesn’t feel the same way? We’ve been gone two months. Maybe...”
“Maybe you’re being an idiot,” the blond reproved. “I saw the look Heero gave you when you walked through the door. Just ask him.”
“I can’t...” Duo shook his head. “I start to ask, and then I feel like an idiot, and I...I’m just really scared he’ll say no. Or worse, that he wants to think about it!”
“I’d think that’s better than a flat no,” Zechs replied dryly.
“No, it wouldn’t be,” Duo whispered franticly, as his ears picked up the sounds of feet trooping back down the stairs. “At least if he said no, it’d be settled, and done. I’d know. I don’t think I could handle the iffyness of a non-answer.”
“Well, have someone else ask him on your behalf.” The blond Preventer waved his hands in surrender, fending off Duo’s protest. “I don’t mean propose...just have someone suggest it to him...test him out. See what he thinks.”
“Oh.” The longhaired man’s face turned hopeful, and he smiled at Zechs.
“Wait a minute...” Zechs growled, protesting, but then he grinned. “Fine. I’ll talk to him tonight.”
“Thanks, you’re the greatest. Now, let’s go see if they made sure to put Wufei and Relena on either ends of the house.”
“And on separate floors, too.” Zechs grinned at Duo’s raised eyebrows. “We do not want them sharing a bathroom.”