Author: J. Strahan
Rating: G
Pairings: 1+2, 2+1
Warnings: Fluff, sap, mild shonen ai, OOC?
Disclaimers: Characters not mine. Fic is.

Appreciate Games

"Come on, Heero! It'll be fun!" Duo pleaded to the wall, or at least that's what it seemed like for all the response he'd gotten.

"No. If you want to go so badly, then go, but leave me out of it." Heero's attention returned to the laptop, filing away the information on the screen into his memory for later use.

Duo sighed and tried another approach. "It's no danger to the mission, Heero, I mean, what could be less conspicuous than two teenagers enjoying the county fair?"

Heero studiously ignored the other boy.

"Fine! I'll go by myself, then!" He shouted in exaggerated annoyance. He was, in fact, annoyed with the stoic pilot, but not nearly as much as he was pretending. Still, it was frustrating that Heero was being so stubborn about not going somewhere with him, especially after all the time he'd spent trying to draw the other boy out of his shell. He thought he'd seen a little bit of improvement in the past few weeks they'd spent working together, but now he wasn't so sure.

He sighed again. Maybe dragging Heero to the fair was too big a step... but it still didn't improve his mood. He only wanted to go if he had someone to keep him company, but staying in the apartment with his partner would probably only get them both more upset, and he was certainly not in the mood for an arguement. "Some friends we are," he muttered under his breath as he reached for his jacket.

Heero winced inside as he heard Duo's last sentence; his hearing was too sharp at times, it seemed. Was he really being so callous that it was hurting his friendship with Duo? He was reluctant to go because he didn't want to deal with all the people he knew would be there. Being among a few other people, such as Duo and the other pilots, wasn't a problem, but for some reason crowds made him feel uncomfortable, almost to the point of paranoia. Maybe it was because it reminded him so much of the battlefield; one gundam against dozens of enemies... However, he could handle being a little unconfortable if it prevented the loss of their friendship. "Wait a minute."

"Hmm? What'ja say, Heero?" Duo turned around to cast a glance at the Japanese pilot, stopped halfway out the front door. Heero hastily shut down his computer and joined his companion outside, shutting the door behind them.

Duo practically gaped at him, surprise written clearly across his features. "You're gonna come?"

Heero held back a smirk. For some reason, he got a perverse sense of pleasure every time he did something that caught the American off-guard. "Aa. I'll come. Just don't do anything stupid." He turned away and headed towards the sidewalk, quickly joined by the other boy.

"Stupid as in something really embarassing, or stupid as in blowing up something and getting us both captured and shot?"

"Both."

"Dang."

+

"Why does everything have to be paid in cash, anyway?" Duo wondered aloud as they stood at the money-changing booth.

"It shouldn't bother you; it's not our money, anyway," came the reply as Heero handed the hacked bank card to the teller. They had practically unlimited funds, courtesy of OZ and Heero's hacking skills. Duo rolled his eyes as Heero accepted the cash given to him by the teller and thumbed through it.

"Here. Two-hundred dollars." He pocketed a handful of bills. [1] "Think that's enought to last the day?" Heero inquired as he handed the remaining stack of bills to the long-haired pilot.

Duo accepted the money with a mischievious gleam in his eye. "Enough? You're joking, right?" The two of them made their way through the booths and tables of wares, stopping here and there when Duo saw something that caught his attention, occasionally making corny comments on the quality or making up a story on the origin of one item or another. Heero just followed along calmly, letting the excited youth lead him wherever he was compelled to go, quietly amused by the antics of his companion. The only problem was that he just couldn't forget the nagging discomfort that plagued him as he trailed along.

Duo was certainly enjoying himself, cracking jokes about random things, but mostly just glad that he's gotten Heero out of the apartment. He was also quite pleased to note that the normally intense pilot was loosening up a bit; he wasn't scowling at everything in sight, like he was known to do on occasion. What concerned Duo was that he was looking over his shoulder relatively often, sweeping the area with his gaze constantly. Maybe it was just out of habit, but he had the feeling that Heero wasn't particularly happy to be in the middle of a crowd.

An idea struck him as he caught sight of the rather large gaming area. Maybe he could distract Heero enough to get his mind off of whatever was making him so obviously uncomfortable. He latched onto the dark-haired boy's arm and steered him towards the arcade.

There were far less people in the game area, probably because of some other event happening at the moment, and he felt the nearly imperceptible relaxing of the muscles in Heero's arm as they entered. He smiled to himself. Now to find a suitable game for them to play... he looked around, his eyes falling on one of the two-player arcade games, a set of pink and blue guns attached to the console.

"Hey, Heero, go over to that game over there and make sure no one gets it before I get back." He waved a ten-dollar bill in the air. "I gotta get some quarters."

Heero nodded reluctantly and made his way over to the machine that Duo had pointed to, then leaned against the console, watching Duo dash off to the change machine, his braid bouncing wildly behind him, tied neatly with a violet ribbon. He let a faint smile creep across his face at the knowledge that Duo had opted to wear it, even if it made him seem a bit more feminine.

He remembered when the man in the apartment next door took notice of it. The man knew very well that Duo was male, since Duo made use of the pool in the apartment complex on a near-daily basis, but the morning Duo came outside with the ribbon in his hair, he made several snide comments about how Duo must be a girl, because 'no man would wear his hair in ribbons.' He'd gotten a fist to the gut for the remark, courtesy of Duo, who'd replied that it seemed rather "unmanly" that he couldn't defend himself from a fifteen-year old 'girl.'

Duo returned, his pockets bulging and jingling, heavy with loose change. "Okay, ready to play?" He asked, grinning from ear to ear, amethyst eyes sparkling.

"I don't want to play one of these things, Duo. I have to kill people enough when I'm on a mission. I don't want to do it in my free time, too."

Duo understood, but that didn't stop him from trying again. "Now, now, in this you kill pixels, not people! Consider it a training program."[2]

Heero shrugged, and stood beside Duo as he put a handful of quarters into the coin slots, then pulled the cheap plastic handguns from their cheap plastic holsters, tossing the bright pink one to Heero.

Heero arched an eyebrow. "Pink?"

"Excellent deduction, Watson! It is, indeed, pink! Why, it's a pink gun! By, God, Watson, you're a bloody genius!" Duo quipped cheerfully, imitating a strong Brittish accent.

"Shut up, Duo."

The game commenced, and the two boys shot round after round of non-existant bullets at the screen, mowing down dozens upon dozens of game-soldiers. Every now and then, Duo would observe Heero out of the corner of his eye, noting how quickly he had gotten absorbed into the game, his focus on the screen was so intense, it was unnerving, and by how fast he was clearing the screen of enemies, he was rather glad that he wasn't ever in front of Heero's gun. However, with Heero's attention on the game, it seemed that the nervousness of being surrounded by strangers had left him completely.

After a good hour and a half of 'killing pixels,' he and Heero had managed to actually beat the game, and to even Duo's surprise, Heero's character had only been hit once the entire time. Heero took a deep breath and dropped the farce of a gun into it's holder, then turned to face Duo, feeling more at ease after unleasing his frustratations on the 'pixels.' "Shall we go?"

Duo put his plastic weapon down and nodded. "I'm starving! Let's go find the food court.... You're paying, right?" He winked at the other boy and bounded off out of the arcade, leading Heero to the fast food booths. Unfortunately for Heero, there is never any healthy food served at fast food booths, so he let Duo order for him; they ordered pizza-- a large combination pizza at Heero's insistance. If he couldn't eat nutritious food, he'd make it as close to a balanced meal as he could.

They sat at one of the empty picnic tables, Duo serving up stringy cheesy pizza onto thin paper plates for each of them. For a few minutes they ate in silence listening to the noisy people around them. Even though the awkward feeling of being in public had returned, is wasn't unbearable, only a slight annoyance buzzing in the far corners of his mind, easily ignored.

"So... umm... Heero! How's your day going?" Duo asked, trying to draw the other pilot into conversation.

"Hn."

"Enjoying the fair?"

"The fair has been tolerable. The pizza is decent, though unhealthy." Nothing less than perfectly analytical from Heero.

"And the game? Did it torture your poor brain to frag every character in the game?"

At that Heero smirked slightly."You were right, Duo. Cyberbullets cause no pain."[3]

Duo grinned and took a bite of his pizza, a thread of mozzerella hanging off his chin as he chewed. Heero watched it swing back and forth for a moment, then reached out a gently wiped it off with his thumb.

"You're a messy eater," he stated as he dropped it on Duo's plate.

"Nah, I only do it to get your attention, Hee-chan," Duo grinned at him.

"Hee-chan?"

"What, got a problem with having a nickname?" he shot back.

Heero took another bite of his piece, thinking, then replyed "Not really, just anything with "-chan" on the end."

"Oh?"

"It makes me sound like a girl." Heero took another bite, finishing his second piece.

Duo snickered. "You mean you're not?!"

"Are you?"

Duo put down his slice and folded his arms in a mock-furious pose. "Are you saying that I'm a girly-man!? Is that your implication?!"

"Yes." Heero smirked at his partner and picked up his third slice of pizza.

"I just can't win with you, can I?" Duo picked up the remnant of his slice, tore off a large chunk with his teeth, and flung the pizzabone at Heero's chest.

The dark-haired boy was caught offguard, and didn't quite have time to deflect the flying food, resulting in a few bread crumbs on his tank top and a little bit of tomato sauce on his chest, which he wiped off with a napkin, glaring at the other pilot who had a look of malicious glee on his face.

"Then again, I have my moments, ne, Heero?"

Heero fought the urge to roll his eyes. "Baka."

They finished up their lunch, throwing the remains of it into a dumpster, then fell back into routine: Duo leading them and stopping at various booths, Heero trailing along. This time, though, Heero tried a little bit harder to keep pace with the other, without actually breaking stride, and Duo didn't sprint every step of the way, in attempts to get Heero to chase after him. Instead, he went a little slower, and the two walked side by side every now and then. They stopped at a rather large setup of small cloth dolls. As the braided boy surveyed them his eyes lit up and he nearly crowed in excitement.

Heero blinked. "What?"

The American's face broke into a childlike grin. "Do you know what these are?" He continued before Heero had a chance to answer. "They're UFO Catcher dolls! --Don't ask me why they're called that, I have no idea-- but aren't they cool?!"

Heero didn't bother to reply. Instead, he examined the items in question. They were mostly all people with enormous heads, the heads were in fact larger than the rest of their bodies, not to mention that their eyes took up about half their faces.

"Would you like to buy one?" a short old woman asked from behind the table.

Duo's grin grew even wider, and he swung his braid over his shoulder. "I'd love one! In fact, I'd love to have several!"

The woman smiled at him, her eyes trailing down his braid. "How about I make a special one for each of you?"

"Make one? You mean, right now?" Duo asked, surprised. Heero remained silent and observent.

"You two just sit right up here, and I'll get started, then," she gestured to a pair of wooden stools behind the display table.

Duo hopped over the table and seated himself on one of the stools, grin still plastered across his face. Heero followed suit, but less enthusiastically. The old woman circled around them each once, then pulled out a box of colored felt and a few sewing supplied from God knows where, and set to work.

After about ten minutes or so, the first doll was about halfway done, all that was left to do was the head.

"Do you want me to give it a braid like yours, son? Or should its hair be down?" she asked, her eyes once again on Duo's rope of chestnut hair hanging over his shoulder.

Duo started. "Like mine? You're making a doll of me?"

Heero smirked. His partner could be so dense at times.

"Well, of course, boy! Why else would I have you modelling for me?" she laughed, waving the black-clad doll body at him.

"Umm..." Duo grinned sheepishly. "I'm just so attractive you wanted to admire me for a while?"

The withered old lady smiled and contined working on her craft with nimble fingers. A half hour passed, and soon the aged woman had completed a pair of dolls. She handed one to each of them.

Heero's was a scowling doll with piercing cobalt eyes and coffee-brown felt hair that spiked in every direction, clad in black felt shorts, a dark green felt tank top, and ugly yellow felt shoes. Heero leaned forward slightly to glare at his sneakers in distaste. Duo, however, was thrilled with his own beaming, violet-eyed plushie. His wore felt priest's garb, black felt pants (flared arounded the thigh, of course), and black felt mini-boots, nearly identical to Duo's own outfit, though much smaller. The hair was a long stuffed felt braid, with a tiny strip of violet cloth sewn around the end, just like the violet ribbon tied to the end of his own braid.

The woman watched as the two boys examined their dolls, a knowing smile playing on her lips. "Well, boys, what do you think of them?

"They're great!" Duo exclaimed as he vaulted off the stool.

"You do good work," Heero stated, sending another murderous scowl at his shoes, "possibly too good. How much do we owe you?"

"Nothing at all, boys. Consider them a gift."

Duo looked at her incredulously. "A gift? What are you thinking? We'll pay--"

"They're a gift to the two greatest kids I've ever met; it's not every day I run into gundam pilots, you know." Instantly, Heero's gun was aimed at her forehead, ready to take her out. " Don't worry, boys, your secret is safe with me; I only wish there was something more I could do for you..."

The American pilot stared at her in shock. "How.... how did you know?"

"A little bird named Howard told me, dear. My little brother told me to keep an eye out for you, since you and your friend would be stationed in this area, Duo. I'm glad to have met you." She turned away, putting her sewing supplies back into the box, heedless of the handgun still trained on her. "Now, get out of here, boys; I have dolls to make! Oh, and put that away, dear, before someone notices and thinks you're going to kill a defenseless old woman." For a reason not even he understood, Heero immediately flicked on the safety and replaced his weapon in his waistband. Something in his gut told him that she wasn't a threat, reluctant though he was about letting who knew his identity live.

"Good boy. Now scat, I have work to do, and you two have a fair to enjoy," she called over her shoulder, watching the pair walk off into the crowd, following her advice.

After they were a good distance away from the doll-maker's booth, Heero snagged Duo's shirt sleeve, bringing him to an abrupt halt. "Duo, we're going home."

Duo nodded. "Yeah... I'm all funned out, myself."

They walked back to their apartment in silence, each with a small stuffed toy clutched in hand.

+

That night after they finished eating, Duo sat the two dolls on the table, examining them with his chin resting in his hands. Heero watched the other boy in silence for a few minutes before his curiosity got the better of him. "Why are you staring at those things?" he inquired.

"I was wondering... can we trade? I'd rather have a doll of you than of myself..." he glanced up at his companion hopefully.

Heero studied Duo for a moment, then nodded, reaching to pick up the tiny replica of the braided pilot. "I like this one better, anyway." he said, tucking it under his arm and stalking off to find his laptop.

+

It was closing on midnight when Heero shut down his laptop. As much as he trusted his insticts, his training still insisted that he double-check the old woman's story. Howard had been a little startled when Heero had contacted him instead of Duo, but after reassuring the old man of Duo's safety, he confirmed that the old woman they had met was indeed Howard's sister, and could be trusted. Heero was mildly relieved to know that his instincts were correct, and that he wouldn't have to hunt her down and kill her.

He sat at the desk for a while, staring at "Shinigami-chan," as Duo called it, which was settled up against the desk lamp, as he contemplated the events of the day. He had actually enjoyed their little excursion to the fair far more than he had let on; it had been one of the best days of his life. Maybe he should listen to Duo more often....

He clicked off the lamp and snatched the doll before making his way over to the bed where the American was already fast asleep on his side of the bed. Heero pulled back the blanked and crawled under the sheets, placing Shinigami-chan on his bedside table. As he rolled over to face the other pilot, he noticed that Duo was snuggled against the tiny stuffed replica of himself, a soft smile on his face.

'You know, that's a good idea.' He reached over his shoulder to retrieve his own doll, and clutched it against his chest as he drifted off to sleep.

~Owari~

[1] Pocket?! Where?!?! ...Hmm.... maybe there's one *inside* his Spandex Space!
[2] The line "Kill Pixels, not People" is from Heat.net
[3] This line is also trademark of Heat.net

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