Author: Caroline
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes

The Medallion: Part the Seventh
A Round of Strip Poker

Duo had concluded that it had been food poisoning that had brought him down the night of the carnival, rather than the Tilt-A-Whirl/corn dog combination. He was rather put out that Heero hadn't felt any adverse affects to the dubious fair food, until Heero reminded him he couldn't get sick. Duo had tried to pout, but he still felt too ill for a couple of days afterwards to do anything more than sit in bed or on the couch and drink plain broth until his stomach felt like holding in solid food.

Heero hovered over him during those two nights of recovery, almost to the point where Duo was a hair's breadth away from wishing him back in the coin. But he had to admit, despite the incessant hovering, it did feel good to have someone look out for him. He could almost believe Heero really did care for him, and not just because of the curse. He knew he was tempted - very tempted - to care back, and he did, on some level, but he couldn't let himself get in too deep. Unless he could somehow break Heero's curse, he would lose him in a little over two weeks.

On the third night, Duo declared himself well enough for more solid food and strong enough to go out, though not far, to find some food that he didn't have to drink. Heero had protested at first, but Duo was stubborn and determined to get out of the room, at least for a little while.

They found an Italian restaurant two blocks from the hotel. Duo ordered some pasta with a bland cheese sauce, while Heero ordered a large bowl of linguini, a steak and a large salad. Duo's eyes opened wide. "Hungry?" he asked, as the waitress took their menus.

Heero shrugged, then nodded. "Starved, actually."

Duo mentally kicked himself, wondering if Heero had neglected his own needs while he'd been sick. "Didn't you eat while you were taking care of me?"

"I did, but it was mostly afterthought." He looked at Duo across the table. "Please, don't worry about me. I told you, I don't need to eat."

"I know but... do you feel pain when you don't eat? Weak? I just... can't wrap my brain about what life - existence - must be like for you."

Heero reached across the table and took his hand. "I won't lie to you. It's a hellish existence, and one I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Yes, I feel the hunger, and it is painful, but I have become used to it, so it is more like how a dull ache would be to you. It is nothing, and I don't want you to worry about it."

Duo shifted uncomfortably in the booth, looking at their joined hands. "You tell me that, but it's not so easy." He looked up at Heero. "I like you, Heero. A lot. Probably more than I should, but... oh this is so frustrating! I can't bear the thought of you being trapped inside that medallion. There must be a way out! If you'd just tell me, let me help..."

Heero abruptly pulled his hand away, his posture suddenly stiff as he looked away. "No. I told you. There's nothing that can be done."

Duo opened his mouth to protest, but Heero was saved by the waitress bringing them a basket of bread sticks. Heero did not look like he wanted to continue the discussion after she left, so Duo decided to drop it. He quickly changed subjects, hiding his embarrassment and frustration over Heero's refusal to let him help. He picked up a paper napkin and held it in his hands under the table, twisting it until his knuckles turned white. He wanted to shake the man, get in his face and yell at him at how he was being a stubborn ass. Heero had said time and again that he had to obey Duo as Duo was the one who held the medallion, but he refused to talk about the curse, even when Duo asked.

Duo felt incredibly frustrated and helpless. He didn't know what to say to Heero to get him to open up. They only had a little over two weeks left. And Duo was finding it hard to imagine a life without Heero there to look after him, make him laugh, be with him. The napkin in his hands was shredded, and Duo let the bits fall to the floor, sighing. Maybe if he could just get Heero to open up a little more, the man would be willing to trust him with his secrets.

Their food came, and Duo picked at his pasta as he watched Heero eat with gusto. He smiled at Heero's obvious enjoyment of the food, pushing down the almost overwhelming feeling of helplessness at the thought of Heero being trapped once again, at the mercy of someone who didn't truly care about him, only their own selfish needs. Maybe that was why Heero seemed to be eating a lot, lately. Perhaps he was trying to preserve some memory of foods he enjoyed, since he had no way of knowing when he would be released from his metal prison again or if whoever released him would allow him such simple comforts as eating.

Duo had to try hard to not think about that at the moment. His goal was to get Heero to open up to him more, so he pasted a smile on his face and tried to be charming and flirtatious with the man across the table.

It seemed to work. Heero was just as charming in return, and the meal was a pleasant one. Duo managed to eat most of his pasta, and was content to chat and watch Heero eat his own meal.

Afterwards, Duo suggested a walk. He wasn't ready to go back to the room, and the autumn air, while chilly, smelled wonderful to him. In a bold move, he took Heero's arm, breathing in the scent of the crisp fall evening. "I love this time of year," he said, leaning in closer to Heero as they walked to share the man's warmth.

Heero was silent for a moment before he replied, "I always liked the spring myself."

Duo wrinkled his nose. "Really? I'm a big, blobbering mess in the spring. The pollen wreaks havoc on my sinuses."

Heero chuckled. "Yes, I remember..." He looked thoughtful for a moment before continuing. "I think I loved spring best because everything was new. And after winter, it was if the gods were saying, 'This is our gift to you. The past is gone. Be reborn.'" He sighed and looked wistful. Duo's heart ached at the expression. "I remember spring was colorful. But I cannot quite recall the way the flowers looked in the meadows beneath the sunlight."

Duo sighed and leaned his head against Heero's shoulder, biting his lip so he wouldn't bring up the curse again. It wasn't the opportune time, not yet. But he ached to be able to give those springs back to Heero.

A brightly lit marquee caught his eye as they crossed the street. He straightened and pulled at Heero's arm excitedly. "Hey! Let's go see a movie!"

Heero looked up at the sign, frowning.

Duo tugged at his arm again. "Have you ever seen one?"

"I have attended the picture shows twice, I believe," he replied. "It is like television, only larger and in a dark room where you sit in the back and try not to get caught while having sex."

Duo blinked in surprise. "You're kidding, right?"

Heero shook his head. "No. Both times I attended a picture show... let's just say I didn't get to see much of the picture."

"How long ago was this?"

Heero paused to think. "The last one was about a big, killer shark. And the first... well, I don't really remember much about it, but it didn't have color."

"Jesus..." Duo muttered, looking up at the marquee. Right. New mission. "So... pick your poison... action/adventure, chick flick - ugh - scary movie du jour, comedy..."

Heero looked over the posters carefully. "You wish me to choose?" he asked. When Duo nodded, he replied, "I think... I would like to laugh."

"Comedy it is, then! Come on."

Duo pulled him to the ticket counter where a sleepy looking employee sold them two tickets to the late late show of the newest comedy critics were panning. Duo knew from experience that the more the "critics" hated a movie, the more he liked it.

They stopped at the snack counter when Duo caught Heero looking longingly at the popcorn. "I can't believe you're still hungry after that big meal!" he exclaimed as he paid for the snacks.

Heero popped a kernel into his mouth and chewed. "It's good!"

Duo laughed as he carried their sodas toward their theater. "Never had popcorn then?"

"Not like this." Heero dug his hand into the bucket, pulling out a fistful of popcorn. Duo declined the offer to share as they found seats in the mostly empty theater. There were two other couples in the theater besides them, and Duo pulled Heero to the middle, wanting to emphasize that they were there to watch the movie and nothing else. Though he wondered if Heero would mind if he rested his head on his shoulder...

Halfway through the movie, he found out Heero didn't mind a bit.

They stayed up the rest of the night talking, Duo making sure to keep the conversation light. Heero was so inquisitive about the world, and again Duo felt pained at the thought of not being able to show him everything in their short time together.

The next two days were cold and rainy. As Duo slept during the day, he left a note on top of the pile of dirty clothes that the housekeeper took away each morning to be cleaned. Heero didn't have many clothes, but they had bought enough to mix and match. He appeared in Duo's room every night after the sun went down naked, and it had only taken two days for Duo to convince him to put clothes on as soon as he "arrived." When he "left" in the mornings, his clothes remained behind. And while Duo never saw him disappear, he would pick up the pile of clothes left behind and fold them neatly for the housekeeper.

The lady who tidied his room and took his laundry away to be cleaned was very nice, though Duo had never met her, as he was always asleep in the bedroom when she came in the mornings. But she left little things for him - extra towels, homemade cookies, a book. When Duo stumbled out of bed at five the next evening, he smiled at the sight of the deck of playing cards she'd left on top of his and Heero's neatly folded shirts. He was hoping she'd be able to being him a set, as according to the weather forecast, they'd be stuck inside for the next few nights.

Heero appeared an hour later and went to grab the fluffy robe out of the bathroom. On nights they didn't go out, Heero wore just the robe in order to conserve his clothing. Duo sat on the floor in front of the little coffee table. He grinned up at Heero as the man returned from the bathroom.

"Sit down, pardner," he drawled in his best imitation Texan accent.

Heero sat on the opposite side of the table, watching Duo shuffle the cards. "You wish to play a game?"

"A-yup. I'm-a gonna teach y'all how to play poker," Duo replied, dealing out the card.

Heero picked up his hand. "What's the ante?"

Duo's face fell. "You already know how to play, don't you?"

"A-yup," Heero replied, looking over his hand.

"Damn." Duo opened a bag of M&Ms and dumped them onto the table. He divided them equally, sliding one pile over to Heero.

Duo had learned poker from Zechs while at the university. He found it to be a fascinating game, and loved bluffing the pants off people - literally in Zechs' case when they’d played alone in their room. Heero was proving to be a talented player, and Duo found he was going to be hard pressed to keep his candy.

He slapped down the first winning hand. "Ha! Your little pieces of chocolatey goodness are mine, fiend!" he shouted as he scooped up the M&Ms.

Heero stood, unbelted his robe and let it fall to the ground. Duo blanched as he looked up in time to see Heero revealed in all his glory.

He stared. He tried to speak. Words failed him.

Heero sat back down, plucking the cards from Duo's paralyzed hand. "Shall I deal, this round?"

"I... what... why..."

"I lost. Therefore, I lose an article of clothing." He paused and looked at Duo who was staring at his bare chest. "Is this not how the game is played?"

"Urk..."

Heero grunted and dealt the cards. Duo was too distracted to pay attention and lost everything he had won in the previous hand. Heero collected his winnings and the cards, then sat back, looking at Duo expectantly. "Well?"

Duo blushed as he realized what Heero was waiting for. "I... no! This isn't how poker is played!"

"It's not?" Heero looked confused again.

"No! Well... maybe at drunken frat parties or in the privacy of your own... no! You need to put your robe back on!"

Heero leaned back, stretching his legs out underneath the coffee table. "I'm comfortable like this," he said, popping an M&M into his mouth.

"I thought you had to do whatever I said!"

"You said I needed to put my robe on. You didn't order me to."

Duo threw his hands up. "Argh! You are so frustrating! And put something on! I can't think straight when you're like that!"

Heero smirked at him and obeyed, pulling the robe on. "You can't blame me for trying can you?" he asked, giving Duo a look that promised so much.

Duo shivered. "I guess not. And stop smirking. And stop eating my ante!"

+

Two nights later, the rain was gone but the chilly, late autumn weather remained. Duo found himself standing next to the window in the sitting room, staring out at the dark streets below. A movement behind him alerted him to Heero's arrival, and he kept his back to the room to allow the other man his privacy as he slipped into some clothes, though he did take a quick peek in the reflection on the glass.

When Heero was finished, Duo turned to him with a smile on his face. "I've got a plan for tonight."

"I hope it involves pizza," Heero replied as he finished buttoning his shirt.

"Pizza, eh? Well, if you play your cards right, I'll see what I can do." He moved to the coffee table to pick up his room key. "But tonight, we are going on a covert search and rescue mission."

Heero raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yeah. I was watching the weather forecast before you, ah... arrived. Summer has officially been beaten and sent home crying to mommy. We're in for a cold spell and I don't have any warmer clothes with me. So we're going to my apartment to pick some up."

"Are you sure that's wise?" Heero asked.

Duo shrugged. "Probably not. But I don't have anything warmer and I don't want to buy anything new, not when I have perfectly decent clothes at my apartment. Besides, we won't be staying long."

"And you don't think she's having your place watched?"

"Well, it's obvious now that I'm... we're... not coming back. With any luck, and if we wait until after midnight, we can be in and out in five minutes." He shifted on his feet. "But you don't have to come with me if you'd rather stay here."

Heero shook his head. "I go where you go."

Duo gave him a shy smile. "Okay. I'm gonna spring for a cab. In and out. We'll be gone before she knows we were there. And then we'll pick up some pizza at that late night place and come back here and..." He blushed. "M-maybe I'll let you talk me into playing strip poker after all." Heero's face brightened. Duo laughed. "I thought you might like that suggestion."

Heero nodded his head enthusiastically. "Oh, yes. That pizza is very tasty."

Duo threw a pillow at him, still laughing. "Just for that, buddy, I'm putting on every single piece of clothing I own and you're wearing nothing but that robe!"

Heero threw the pillow back. Duo caught it and launched himself at the man, making a mental note to leave an apology for the housekeeper in the morning as feathers went flying.

[part 6] [part 8] [back to Caroline's fic]