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fic - x'mas AC198 part 9 [haven] - the turnip patch
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fic - x'mas AC198 part 9 [haven]
Title:  X'mas AC198
Series:  Moments of Haven
Part:  9



X'mas AC198 Part IX
A Moment of Haven


Duo whistled enthusiastically.  "Hey, he's taking his shirt off!  Better watch out -- he's getting serious."

Heero bundled his shirt up carefully and threw it at Duo's head.  He caught it deftly and pushed it aside to mock his partner with a smirk and another howl of appreciation.  "Take it all off, baby!"

"You wish," Heero answered dryly, getting down on his hands and knees.  It wasn't as if he hadn't been wearing a t-shirt underneath.  This was nowhere near a striptease.

Not that that would stop Duo.  He stood suggestively in front Heero and wiggled his hips just a little, just enough for Heero to notice.  Heero just shook his head with a resigned fondness as he stretched his legs out behind him and started doing his assigned push-ups.  "Don't you have a game to get back to?"

Duo sat down relaxedly on the floor in front of him, counting the reps.  "You're not going to get more than a buck or two stuffed down your pants, if you keep up that attitude."

Heero snorted and kept going.

"We're taking a break.  And someone's gotta make sure you guys don't wimp out on your payment."  He glanced over to the others.  Trowa was keeping an eye on Quatre's progress.  Wufei had elected to use the bathroom, with a side trip to the kitchen to restock on their drinks.

"Hey," Quatre protested.  "I've never broken a contract before."

"First time for everything," Duo called back cheerfully before turning his attention back to Heero.  "You and me, baby, we've gotta play us some strip poker some time.  None of this push-up nonsense."

"We've always played for push-ups."

"Yeah, back in school.  That was *years* ago.  We're all grown-up now."

"Some of us more than others," Trowa murmured.

Duo shot him an irritated glance out of the corner of his eye before perking back up again.  "And we've got other things to wager these days."

"No fun with just two people."

"The most fun with just us two people," Duo corrected him with a soft grin.

Heero shook his head again and kept pushing on.  Sixty-two, sixty-three, sixty-four...

When he reached the requisite one hundred, he rolled over, staring at the ceiling while his muscles got used to not moving again.  Duo's face soon intruded on the view.  "I only counted ninety-nine."

"No, you didn't."

"Yes, I did."

"Must have blinked, then."

"Nah, I think you should start all over.  Just to make sure you get it right this time.  Starting from you taking off your shirt."

Heero batted at Duo's knee and sat up.  He may have been wearing a t-shirt underneath his button-up, but there wasn't another shirt hiding underneath that one.

Quatre was just finishing up his set, and he heaved himself upright with a dissatisfied frown.  "I've got to find more time to work out."

"Game too rich for your blood, Q?" Duo drawled.  "That's what you get for going all in on a bluff."

"Trowa was bluffing, too."

"Yeah, but his bluff was less crappy than your bluff."

"Don't worry," Heero put in placatingly.  "My bluff was even worse than yours."

Duo snorted.  "I think all your draws were crappy tonight.  You should have just bluffed your way through every deal instead of folding so often.  Probably have come out ahead."

"Bluffing should be a strategy, not a lifestyle choice."



"This is boring."

"You bore easily, Quatre."  Especially considering the fact that they had decided to wander off on their own to find their own amusement because Quatre had thought watching the others play poker had been boring.

"Well, it'd be a lot more interesting if you'd just lose."

"I don't like losing."  He moved his rook and flipped the one-minute hourglass they had found as an accessory to one of the other board games.

Quatre reached out to his knight, put him on defense, and turned the hourglass again.  "You lost at poker easily enough."

"Duo's still in."  Their lots were now tied together.  If one won, they both won, so really, it hadn't been quite fair that they had been playing together.  It gave them twice the odds of winning.

Quatre answered with a snort.  "Well, I don't like stalemates."

"It's not my fault we're well-matched."  Heero shifted a pawn, and again the hourglass was turned.  It wasn't really certain why they bothered with the hourglass, but it seemed to make their self-imposed time limit a little more official.

"None of the other games are really good with just two people."  His eyes wandered the room restlessly, looking for something to capture his interest.  "Not unless we play cribbage or something, and could we get any more old-man than that?"

"This is a large vacation house.  It makes sense that they would stock entertainment for parties larger than two."

"We're not coming back here again next year."

"Your time's almost up, Quatre."

His attention snapped back to the board.  Two seconds later, his knight captured Heero's pawn, and the hourglass was turned almost as an afterthought.

Heero burned some of his allotted time studying his opponent.  "Quatre.  You seem..."

"I know!"  The blond stood abruptly and headed toward another of the wall cabinets.  "This should make the game more interesting."

One of Heero's eyebrows rose.  He knew what was in that cabinet.  "Quatre, are you sure you want to do that?"

"What, you aren't game?"

Heero turned his analytical skills on the problem, and decided that he could come out ahead in this venture.  "I'm game.  Bring it on."

Oh, the things one did for one's friends.



"This is the third time in a row you've had aces high, man.  You sure you aren't cheating?"

"My sleeves are rolled up, and Chang is dealing."

"You sure you aren't on his side, Chang?"

"I have an interest in this game as well, Maxwell.  Lady Luck comes and goes as she pleases."

"Ooh.  I'm gonna settle down now just 'cuz that sounded kinda cool."



"See," Quatre said, downing what drink there was in the bottom of his glass.  "This is much more interesting."

Interesting.  Yes, Heero would be forced to agree.  He nodded and continued to puzzle out his next move, still trying to decide on a strategy.  He could ultimately gain more by losing, and yet he felt that winning would be the responsible thing to do.

"This...," Quatre continued.  "Now *this* is a man's game.  A grown-up's game.  Push-ups?  Ha.  Now who's idea was it to play for push-ups?"

"You wouldn't have had to do the push-ups if you'd won.  You shouldn't have gone all-in so early in the game.  And on such weak cards, too."  Though he supposed that Quatre at least had gone out with a bang.  Heero had lost the slow and painful way, by bleeding his chips out with every ante.

"Bah.  I felt like it.  It's just money, after all.  Not even money, really.  How often do I get to say that in real life?  Nope, everything's always so damn important.  Bottom line this and bottom line that."  He twiddled two captured pawns in his hand.  "No room for exploration, experimentation, creativity."

Heero slid his castle forward two spaces.  "You sure you're not working too hard, Quatre?"

"Like I have a choice."  Quatre thumped an elbow onto the table, resting his chin in that hand while continuing to fiddle with the pawns in his other.

"You do have a choice."

"No, I don't.  It's not like I can just walk away from this.  This is my job.  This is more than my job.  This is... I just can't, okay?"



"Flip 'em."

"Three sixes."

"Ha, three sevens.  Who's laughing now, clown?"



"Social life?  Bah.  Not all of us can be as lucky as you and just date the guy we live with.  Some of us don't even live with any guys."

"We make our own luck sometimes," Heero answered sagely, rotating his empty glass on the surface of the table.  "We certainly didn't have to start 'dating' each other, but we did.  We thought it would work out well, and it did."

"It's worked out weird, I tell you."

"Is that so?"

Quatre moved one of his pieces before wagging his finger between the two of them.  "People like you and me, Heero.  We're not supposed to have boyfriends.  Or girlfriends, for that matter.  Hell, I've barely even got time for any friends at all.  How the hell did you manage to snag yourself a boyfriend?"

"I happen to live and work with him."  If he'd actually had to leave his house to find a mate, he probably wouldn't have.

"It's not fair, I tell you."

Well, that changed.  "You want one, too?"

"Damn straight, I want one," Quatre pouted.  "Boyfriend, girlfriend.  Something.  A relationship with anyone would be nice.  I mean, yeah, I'm sure I could have one, but it wouldn't be a good one."

"You're rich and eligible."  Heero chose his next move and executed it.

"And I get offers because of that, yeah, but if I wanted something that shallow, I could fuck my own damn hand and not have to worry about all the strings.  Oh, don't look at me like that."

Heero blinked innocently at him.  "I wasn't looking at you like anything."

Quatre moved his knight with an irritated frown.  "Yes, you were.  You were thinking that cute little Quatre isn't allowed to swear.  Or jerk himself off.  Or something."

"I was actually thinking that I don't want to know if cute little Quatre is jerking himself off."  The words 'cute' and 'little' didn't seem like they belonged in that sentence.

"Why are you two so happy?"  He pointed to one of Heero's pawns.  "Move that."

"What?"

"Move it," he repeated firmly, employing the voice he used to get things done.  When Heero obediently did as instructed, he captured it with his knight.  "Come on, tell me it's shallow or something.  Just to make me feel better?"

And here Heero had thought that obeying Quatre's commands was supposed to do that.  "Can't you feel better, just knowing it's possible?"



"Come on, Chang, don't mess this up!"

"Do you mind, Maxwell?"

"It could change the whole balance of the game, man!"

"I realize that.  Could you please back off?"

"Well, I know whom you're rooting for."

"Hey, you know me, Barton.  I just like shaking things up."

"You folded, Maxwell.  This is between him and me.  You won't be shaking anything up this round."

"Yeah, I'll be back next round, just you wait and see."



"So then the two of them start shouting at each other like little babies.  I tell ya, it was a little mortifying just being in the same room as them."

"So you *do* get around a little," Heero responded, snapping his fingers in triumph at catching Quatre out in a fib that was really just an exaggeration.  At least, he tried to snap.  It didn't work the first time, but it did the second.

Quatre laughed.  It sounded vaguely like a cross between a giggle and a cackle.  "So we fired the both of them.  Yeah, it wasn't her fault that the venture tanked, but we didn't want anyone that would act like that in a professional setting."  He chortled again, but this time, it ended with a whimper and a thump as he set his head down on his arm to the side of the board.  "Dammit, Yuy, why do I have to work with such idiots?  It's like they're there just to make my job harder."

Heero patted the back of his hand consolingly.  "It's your move, Quatre."

He looked up, eyes wide.  "Is it?  Is it really?"

Heero nodded solemnly.

Quatre perked up and studied the board.  "Hey!  You've already checkmated my king."

"Oh?"  Heero blinked at the board, tilting his head sideways like that would help clear things up.  He grinned.  "I guess I did."



"Sorry, my bet's on Heero, man.  Loyalty and all that jazz."

"That's fine with me.  I get better odds, then."

"What do you think, Wufei?"

"I'm not betting on the outcome of their game."  He had played against each of them before.  They had different strategies, but they were both effective.

Duo sighed with an exaggerated huff of impatience.  "Fine, you don't have to put money on it.  Just tell us what you think: who do you think will win more games?"

Deciding that it would be simpler to just answer the question, Wufei spent a few seconds of his life thinking about it.  "...Quatre."

"Hmpf, traitors, the lot of you."

"If it weren't for 'loyalty and all that jazz'," Trowa started, making the air quotes with his fingers.  "Would you be putting your money on Quatre, too?"

Stupid logic.  Duo thought for a few seconds about how to get out of that one.  "No, I'd put my money on Heero, just to be contrary.  Besides, the guy pulls off some bizarro, unexpected things sometimes."

"So you agree that you'd expect Quatre to win, then."

"Well, 'expect' in that boring, average sort of way."  Hmm, they were closing in on the location of the others, but it seemed sort of off.  He wasn't certain why.  It wasn't like chess was a very loud game or something.  Rapping on the door once, he opened it while continuing the conversation.  "Like you said, it's the odds, man.  Maybe I like playing the odds...."  He trailed off as his eyes took in the room.  "What the -fuck- are you guys doing?"

Quatre beamed proudly at him.  "Playing chess."

Duo made a choking sound while the others filed in behind him.  "Shit, there's like half a dozen open bottles here!"

Heero poked experimentally at one of the bottles in question.  "It's not like they're all empty."

Quatre nodded brightly.  "You're supposed to have different kinds for the different pieces, or else different amounts.  We made do with what we had."

"Different...?  Supposed to?"  This wasn't like any game of chess that he had ever played.

"Take a piece, take a shot," Quatre explained cheerfully, waving his glass at them.  There was still a little dark liquid at the bottom.  His brow furrowed when he noticed it, and he drank it down before finishing.  "Winner takes all."  Except for this last game.  Heero had generously allowed him to assist in clearing the board.

"Shots?" Duo choked out, surveying the field.  His visual focus slid over to the open liquor cabinet.  It looked like most of its contents had been brought out to the table.  "How many games have you guys played?"

"Oh..."  He gestured nonsensically in the air, trying to recall.

"A few," Heero filled in for him.  He couldn't quite remember either.

Duo twitched.

"It's really -quite- a good theory," Heero said, looking irrelevantly over the pieces of their struggle.  He'd been a little skeptical at first, but the rules of the game had proven themselves in the end.  The better you were, the worse you got.  "It's a good equalizer."

Safe in his position to the rear, Trowa nudged Wufei in the side.  "So who do you think won?"

Wufei scratched at his chin.  "Hm, well, this changes things..."

Oh yeah, it definitely changed things for Duo.  He got closer to the battlefield, to the man he had just supported, and his nose crinkled in horror.  "You reek of booze, Heero!"

"It's mostly just wine."  He nodded knowingly.  "The alcoholic content of wine isn't anything near some of this other stuff.  A shot's really not that much."  The nod blended into some horizontal shaking.

Duo's hands spasmed as he took a closer look at the bottles.  Two of them were definitely not wine.  He was resisting the urge to do something.  Wrap his fingers around Yuy's neck, perhaps?  "But you've been drinking that other stuff, too!  For I don't even know how many games!"

Heero put his hand heavily on Duo's arm in reassurance.  "No, we saved that stuff for the checkmates."

"Cheap stuff, anyway," Quatre declared, picking up a bottle of whiskey.  Duo frantically searched his memory for recollection of the bottle when they had first arrived.  Much to his mixed relief, he thought there hadn't been much there to begin with.  He hoped, anyway.  "At least, I think.  It's the cheap stuff that burns, isn't it?"

"I wouldn't know," Heero answered, leaning back comfortably in his chair.  "They wouldn't give the good stuff away for free anyway, would they?"

Quatre frowned.  "Well, not in this crappy place, they wouldn't."

"I hope that stuff is free."  It was just there.  Surely there would have been some sort of notice if it weren't.

"I hope we don't have to restock it before we leave."  He laughed loudly.  "None of us is old enough to!"

Duo shut his eyes for a few seconds, opened them again, and dammit all those open bottles were still there.  "Are you guys done here?"

Heero glanced over to Quatre for a moment before turning to the others.  "Well, unless you guys want to play a few games...?"

"I don't think so," Duo answered quickly, grabbing a hold of Heero's arm.  "Come on."

Quatre snickered.  "You are so whipped!"

Heero shrugged as he allowed himself to be pulled out of his seat.  "You gotta give some to get some."

"Hm, maybe I don't want one after all," Quatre mused aloud, tilting the bottle of whiskey to the light to inspect the pretty color.

"We should get them drunk more often," Trowa observed to nobody in particular.

"We're not drunk," Quatre defended himself.  "Just..."

"Inebriated," Heero completed, enunciating the word carefully.

"Yeah.  Ineee... that.  See, drunk people don't use words like... 'inebriated'."  This time, he finished the word, using just as much care as Heero had.

"You do if you're Yuy," Wufei muttered.

"I'm just fine, Duo," Heero was saying, batting Duo's hands away from him.  "I can walk by myself."

Duo glared at him.  "Really."

"Really."  He pushed Duo's hands off of him and tottered to a cautiously steady stance.  "See?  Just fine."  He swayed once, but caught himself.

"Maybe you'd like to walk all by yourself back to your cold and lonely bed, then."  Duo crossed his arms over his chest in a disapproving manner.

Quatre roared with laughter again.  "So whipped!"

"Aw, come on, Duo," Heero cajoled, prying at Duo's arms even as he leaned close.  "Don't be mad.  We were just..."  Duo pulled away irritably from him, and he stared blankly for a moment before his overly enthusiastic smile began to fade.  At length, his head hung low in contrition.  "Sorry."

The frown lingered on Duo's lips for a few seconds before it disappeared with a heavy sigh.  "Come on.  Let's get you sobered up."  He put an arm around Heero's waist again, and this time he met no resistance.  "This one's my responsibility," he told the others.  "You guys can have that one."

They looked at each other, then to Quatre, still bubbling with humor.  "Do we have to?" Trowa murmured dubiously.

Quatre's cheer immediately fled.  "I don't need your help!"

Seeing that the other drunken fool was already stumbling away, Wufei sighed and resigned himself to being a good person.  "Heero has accepted Duo's help."

"Yeah, well... well..."  Quatre pushed himself out of his seat, overcompensated a little for his shift in balance, and caught himself on the back of his chair.  "Okay, maybe just a little.  Just get me pointed in the right direction..."



"There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this."

"Sure there is, buddy."

Heero leaned closely against Duo's side, though it wasn't really for the support.  "Are you mad?"

Duo passed a few seconds just making sure his partner finished getting to the top of the stairs without killing himself.  "I suppose that will depend on how perfectly reasonable your explanation is."

"It's reasonable.  It's--"  He was now on level ground, but his feet decided to bump into each other anyway.  "Oops.  Sorry."

Another sigh was suppressed.  "It can wait until after you've cleaned up."

"You make it sound like I've vomited all over myself."

Well, there was that, at least.  No one had vomited yet, and it didn't seem like anyone would soon.  Gundam pilots didn't have weak stomachs, after all, nor did they have poor concentration or bad coordination.  Only their unusual volume and strangely high cheer had belied their complete coherence.  And maybe an extravagant gesture or two.  In the morning, however, perhaps things would be different.  "It can at least wait until you've brushed your teeth or something."

Heero waited as Duo opened the door to their room, eyes darting down the hall.  It sounded like Quatre was attempting the stairs now.  "Sorry," he muttered.

Duo just shook his head as he stood to the side to let Heero through.  "You probably aren't even real clear right now on what you're apologizing for."

Once he had made his way over to the bed, he sat down and tapped the side of his head with one finger.  "I'm sure it's in here somewhere."

Duo fought a reluctant smile, but in the end decided it just wasn't worth the effort.  He hid it from view by turning to the pick up the water bottle from the bed's side table.  "Here."

Heero took it, but didn't open it.  "Haven't I done enough drinking for one night?"

"Drink," Duo ordered, and he didn't let up on his commanding glare until Heero had chugged a good deal of it.  "Okay, now go shower or something."

"Yessir."  He considered opposing the command on principle, but decided that he could really use it.  He could smell the alcohol, too, and besides, he really needed to use the toilet all of a sudden.

Duo watched him carefully as he shuffled off, only mostly certain that Heero wouldn't stumble into anything on the way there.  Once the bathroom door was safely shut, he collapsed on the bed with a deep sigh.  Who'd have thought it?  Of the five of them, he'd have pegged Heero and Quatre probably the least likely to get drunk.  Well, at least less likely to decide that taking a piece meant taking a shot.  He knew Heero wouldn't have come up with something like that on his own, so... Quatre?  Wow, had he ever missed something.

Fifteen minutes later, Heero trudged back to the room with a repentant air around him.  He stowed his dirty laundry with deliberate care before standing with his head bowed in front of Duo.  "Now will you kiss me?"

"I dunno.  Can you touch your nose with your finger?"

Heero promptly demonstrated his ability to do so, and with both hands for good measure.

Duo chuckled.  "Then I guess so.  Come here."  He tugged on Heero's pajamas and pulled him down to the bed for a peck on the lips.  Heero's skin smelled shower-fresh, and his breath was minty-fresh, but he could still detect an undertone of alcohol coming from somewhere.

Content that all was more or less right with his world again, Heero snuggled up against Duo's side.  "There really was a good reason for that."

"Do tell."  Duo was trying to play the tough guy, but it was only in his tone of voice.  His hand wandered lazily up and down Heero's arm.

"It was Quatre's idea."

"You'll have to do better than that."

"He was bored."

"Still waiting."

Heero's fingers started playing with the hem of Duo's shirt.  "I think he needed a little alcohol in him or something before he could start talking."

"Talking?"

"Yeah.  You've seen it yourself, right?  He's been a little weird lately."

"Uh, yeah, I'd agree with that."  More than a little.

Heero sorted through the evening and assembled the contents into a big picture.  "He's tired.  Burnt out.  Work's got him down.  Only it isn't just work.  It's life.  He doesn't like where he's at right now.  But he isn't sure how to change things."

"Wow.  I had no idea alcohol was such an effective interrogation tool."

It had probably been more effective than Heero could recall at the moment.  He waited patiently for his mind to provide him with some more conclusions.  "And he's jealous.  No, that's not right.  Envious.  Of us.  He wants that, too."

"Is that why he keeps digging at us?  I thought his curiosity was a tad bit unnatural."  To say the least.

"Does he?"  Heero's mind belatedly supplied him with the out-of-line questions Duo had relayed to him.  "Oh.  Yeah, probably."

"You sure that wasn't just the alcohol talking?"

"He wasn't making all of that up."  Alcohol probably had stranger conversations, anyway.  "I think he's just had a lot of stuff bottled up inside of him for a while."

"And it took the bottle to get it back out?"

He shrugged, with the result being he cuddled more comfortably against Duo.  "Hey, whatever works.  I think he's been trying to get it out all week long."

"So you agreed to go drinking with him for his sake?"

His emphatic nod confirmed it, though honestly, he hadn't given much thought to how far that would really go.

Helpless laughter attempted to overtake Duo, but he shoved it down in favor of a more contemplative sound.  He didn't want to undercut his authority.  "Hmm... better that he gets it out here among friends, I guess..."

Heero nodded again.  "So do you forgive me?"

"I don't know...."  He drew it out, unwilling to make it that easy.

A wrinkle formed on Heero's forehead.  That wasn't what was supposed to happen.  Was he missing something?  "Oh yeah.  And I'm sorry I didn't realize that..."  The comprehension was right there, sitting on the edge of his mind and the tip of his tongue.  He glared at it until it poked its head out of its hole and allowed him a partial glimpse.  "That you probably wouldn't like me reeking of alcohol."

Duo glanced away uncomfortably.  He hadn't really wanted to flinch away when Heero had approached him earlier, but some reflex had just kicked in and made him pull back.  "Well... don't make a habit of it."

"That's right."  Heero rubbed Duo's belly comfortingly, satisfied now that he had caught another brief look at the answer to his issue.  "I remember you don't like people that make a habit of it."

"That's right," he echoed softly.  He'd never been morally opposed to a drink.  He figured he'd probably run into one at some point, and he wouldn't have a problem downing it, but he didn't have good associations with excessive indulgence in the stuff.  "I thought I'd never have to worry about that, hooking up with you."

Something about that made Heero sit up a bit to catch his eye earnestly.  "You don't.  I swear it."

"I know," Duo answered, soothing him back down into a comfortable position.  "I can't imagine you doing this daily.  And I can't imagine Quatre needing to vent on a daily basis, either, though next time that happens, maybe you can find some other way to help him out, yeah?"

"Mmmm, it was his idea."  Heero let his eyes fall shut now that it seemed like most of the major business had been taken care of.

"So who do you think won?" Duo asked after a short period of relaxed silence.

"Hm?"  He'd felt alert and energetic before, but now some lethargy was kicking in.

"Who won more games?"

Why was this important?  Why was this even a topic of idle conversation?  But Duo had asked, and Heero was willing to be pliant to make sure he stayed on Duo's good side, so he racked his brains for a count.  "...Quatre, I think.  Yeah, he had more to drink than I did.  I think he got even better at it, the more he had to drink."

Duo chuckled.  "Damn.  Figures.  Think he'll remember?"

"Think he'll remember the drinking part," he muttered dryly.

"Good."

"Hm?"

"I bet Trowa that you'd come out on top."

"Oh.  Thank you for your confidence."

"...Thank you for not betraying mine."

A light snore responded.





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