Author: Maldoror
Genre: Romance, Humour, some angst just before the sap at the end.
Pairings: 1x2x5! Or 1x5x2 more precisely.
Rated: PG13 (for now?)
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing belongs to its owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. Not a single peanut.

AN: Huge thanks to Dawna for the beta and for the encouragement without which this chapter would never have gotten written.

A recap of the five rules elaborated during the previous chapter, just as a reminder:
1 - Talk about any problems.
2- No more self-sacrificing, try to make it work for all three
3- Don't worry about weighing out affections mathematically
4- Make sure to get some 1+5, 2+5 time but also 1+2, and 1+2+5 time too!
5- The boys wouldn’t tell me what this rule is but I think it may have something to do about sex...

Beautiful Symmetries + Chapter 7
7 ways to say...

"I...love you."

I winced. This time I hadn't scowled. I'd looked like I'd swallowed a live minnow instead.

"I love you."

No, I hadn't been paying attention. I had just said the words without thinking. Onyx eyes glared at me reprovingly.

"I l-love- dammit!"

My cheeks were dusky with embarrassment. And self-directed contempt.

"I love you." I muttered. In the mirror, lips barely moved and eyes looked sullen. Wonderful.

I could say the words - I could recite the collected works of Li Bai, so saying three little words was hardly a challenge. I could say them just fine until I imagined myself saying them to two sets of blue eyes, similar yet so different, looking at me expectantly. Then I choked. I was practicing in front of a mirror - to my eternal shame but at this point I had several eternities' worth of embarrassment beneath my belt so I'd stopped counting. I'd said I loved them all of two times, and I'd choked and stuttered on each occasion. They knew how I felt, of course. Probably. I just...well I wanted to be sure; in view of the misunderstandings that had started our relationship on an almost desperate footing, and left me cold and bleeding in a police station at three in the morning. Words were obviously important. We had agreed - rule number one! - that we had to communicate. So...

"I-…love..."

I leaned my head against the mirror and sighed. I felt stupid and callow and the words sounded empty and trite. I was a pretty useless boyfriend.

I sighed and glanced at the mirror again. The shower was running in the background to cover the sound of my voice, since Heero and Duo were in the kitchen area, finishing their breakfast. A veil of moisture hid my writhing from my sight. I wiped it from the mirror and looked into two unhappy eyes. My hair was loose and hanging like a damp curtain around my ears and my mouth was downturned in an uncharacteristic expression of pain. Normally I get mad, not sad, but that would be counter productive here.

"Get your head straight, Chang." I ordered the wimp in front of me. "It's not easy but it's a worthy goal, and you dishonour them and yourself by your failures. You owe it to them to be clear and resolute, and it really shouldn't be this difficult. Remember the words of Confucius. 'A heart set on love will do no wrong.'"

"Oh very good." The image in the mirror immediately replied with a well-known look of cold disdain. "If Confucius had had the kind of week I'd had, had wound up with two amazing men as his lovers, but had the disposition of a dragon with its tail in a splint and the tongue to match, he'd have come up with a whole new set of sayings, none of them printable!"

"You're making excuses, Chang." I snapped. "And leave Confucius out of this." I added. "He's not to blame for your inability to express yourself."

"You're the one who brought him up." My reflection pointed out. "Always hiding behind the scholar's intellect or the warrior's anger."

"Maybe I'm not hiding." I muttered, eyes dropping to the sink. "Maybe that's all there is..."

There was no snappy comeback.

"I...love...them..." I whispered. I could feel myself flushing even as I said it and I knew my face was setting in its usual cold mask, a refuge and a rampart and a prison.

When I'd woken up a few days ago, with their warmth and strength pressed against me, I'd made a solemn vow. I would try to be worthy of them, I would give them all that I was, and hope, pray, that that would be enough. And then I let them leave that morning without even once telling them that I loved them. The rest of that episode made me wince with embarrassment - I swear I see that old guy and his dog every time I stick my head out the door; I think he's about ready to set up a booth and sell tickets. But at least I'd said it that day. Since then, though, we'd been busy, and distracted, and I...

I tried to remember the emotions I'd felt in the car that day and found myself smiling despite everything. The warm look in their eyes...well, Duo's eyes, because Heero looked like he expected me to have convulsions at that point. But even Heero had said he loved me, with some hesitation granted but coming from him...Agh. My thoughts spiralled like water down the sink.

"Fei? You okay in there?"

I snapped to attention, face scarlet in the fogged mirror. "Fine! I'm fine! Er, coming." I turned off the shower and finished getting dressed.

I had to tell them. It would be some small and humble thanks for the great gift they had given me. Their love, their companionship...I gave the mirror one last glare - it's a wonder it didn't splinter - and marched out of the bathroom.

"Heero? Duo? I -"

Two pairs of eyes glanced up in my direction. Duo was just moving towards the sink where Heero had started washing the dishes. The colony's artificial light clashed with the neon in the kitchen area but I could swear they were haloed in sunshine. They were in uniform, all firm muscles yet graceful gestures, power and poise, the beauty of warriors. Duo's braid was swinging from the motion of turning around to catch what I had to say, and Heero leaned forward to see around his friend, head tilted and mesmerizing blue eyes serious and attentive.

"I'll help you with that." I said, and Confucius must have forgiven me and given me a hand from beyond the grave because it didn't sound like it was being choked out of me, though it was pitched slightly lower than usual.

I was subjected to two quizzical looks - when your life depends on small details, you tend not to let them pass by unnoticed - but they decided not to ask me why I sounded like I had a sore throat, or why my hair was already half dry if I'd just come out of the shower. Damn but I did love them. I just wish I could say it without making a fool of myself, say it in a way that truly expressed what I meant it.

"So what are we doing today?" I asked, taking the dishcloth from Duo so he could put away the breakfast things.

"We still have some things to work-"

"I meant after that." I interrupted Heero's careful words, trying to avoid another clash.

We'd been working all out for the past two days, from early morning to practically midnight, trying to clear out the gun-runner case. It looked like we'd be working over the weekend as well but Duo had put his foot down yesterday, on Friday morning.

I could see his point of view. We were all tired, tense, and we'd started to sink into the silence that sheltered us and let us garner our reserves for our mission. Heero and I were so used to this we barely noticed. Duo was the one who shook it off and pointed out I had to leave on Monday, and it might be quite awhile before we could be together again. Besides, we needed the break.

Heero had started to argue, and of course I understood his point of view as well. These men we were putting away had threatened the peace we'd worked so hard for. We had, between the three of us, killed a frightening number of people for it. Whatever our justifications, their eyes were on us at all times, demanding we make their sacrifice worthwhile. Heero felt it even more than we did. This was also his life's mission, his reason for being.

I could see the coming chain of events as clearly as if I'd been stuffed into the Zero system; they were both tired, moody from pushing paper and interrogating scum, and though they worked together well, on some points they were very different and equally as stubborn. I could see the argument raising its ugly head even before Heero scowled and Duo opened his mouth again, and I leapt in with diplomacy I hadn't thought I’d possessed.

"We do need to clear up some of the more essential leads before I leave." I said quickly and put my hand on Duo's waist and pinched innocently before he could protest; his quick mouth lost his words in a gasp. "But we can do that Saturday and Sunday mornings. We should take a time out on the afternoons. It would help us maintain our efficiency and focus." I'd hastily added in Heero's direction to forestall the death glare.

Two sets of eyes swung on me. There was a moment of tense silence and I wondered if I'd just buttered myself with mustard and stepped between two tigers. Then they glanced at each other and the atmosphere relaxed.

"That should be acceptable." Heero said. He suddenly sounded subdued and hesitant. I winced as I could almost hear his mental gears grind as they shifted from soldier to lover. Duo took it in stride though, as always.

"Fantastic idea, Fei! That leaves us Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Then you'll be packing to leave early on Monday. So that's perfect! Which do you want, Heero?"

"Want?" Heero started, dragged from his thoughts.

"Yeah, when do you want to go out with Fei? I'm good any of those times."

"Go where?" Heero crossed his arms and stared at Duo.

"Anywhere. On a date, moron. You do remember he's your boyfriend, right?" Duo snickered. "So which do you want? Oh, Sunday we can do something the three of us, just before he leaves, so it's between Saturday afternoon and evening. Let's toss. I gotta coin somewhere-"

"Evening."

Duo glanced up, hand still fishing around his back pocket. "You sure?"

"Yes. Evening. Please."

Duo and I blinked at that. Heero's expression had closed and he was wearing the familiar mask.

I’d wanted to sit down and peel that look off of his face and see what lay beneath it, but we had a full day ahead of us, and Duo, not all that intrigued by what he saw as Heero’s usual single-minded attitude towards work, life and everything, hustled us out the door. He didn’t want Friday’s workload to accidentally extend beyond Saturday morning. He stuffed us into the car and left in a roar of engines, cheerfully waving to the old creep and his dog who’d almost been flattened as he barrelled out of the garage.

We all worked so efficiently that day that Saturday arrived with an almost less-than-manic workload. It allowed my boyfriends to linger over breakfast while I lingered in front of the mirror, trying not to bash my head against it as I decided that, our schedules being less hectic, I needed to attend to this growing relationship, and realized I could still barely acknowledge it out loud.

Saturday morning passed quickly and Duo dragged us away from our desks at one second past noon, insisting we drive home to eat before Une’s dogs could hunt us down and give us more work. After that week’s intense schedule, the sudden freedom before us made us dizzy. We actually stopped and bought some fresh supplies and made lunch. Steaks and salad and a very small kitchen; numerous excuses to 'accidentally' bump into each other or press up and reach around a waist or a shoulder to grab something that would just be a bit too hard to get in any other way...

I’d almost forgotten the afternoon’s activities. I only remembered when Duo grabbed my plate even as I took the last forkful of salad from it, and then went to hover over Heero's shoulder.

"I'll do the dishes, Duo. You two go." Heero said quietly as he finished his lunch.

"Nah buddy, I can-"

"Go."

"Okay!"

Duo gave me a big wide grin and I smiled hesitantly in turn. Right, I had a date. A date with Duo. My first date, too.

I was at a loss what to expect. I wasn't so isolated from modern living that I didn't know what a date normally entailed. Normal as in, between a boy and a girl. What did two men get up to on a date? Duo evaded all my tentative questions with a 'wait-and-see' while we changed into casual dress.

I’d taken time to buy a spare outfit to replace my bloodied one. As I pulled on my pants, tank-top and Chinese tunic - I'd given up the white of mourning for red and black, but I still kept to the style of my clan - I realized I was rather looking forward to this, even though Duo's idea of fun was bound to be loud and frantic. He'd certainly dragged me to some odd things when we'd been undercover at the holiday resort on L4. But even though I'd not admitted it at the time, I had enjoyed being with him, even as a friend. This time we were going as boyfriends, so I was ready to bet the venue would also be rich in opportunity for physical contact. An action movie, maybe, or a concert full of violent music. If Duo took the first step, it would help me express myself, I thought, help me to actually put my feelings into words. At least Duo would take it well - hell he was probably expecting some flirting. It'd be a dry-run for Heero later; it would be harder to be spontaneous and natural with that serious expression and deep blue eyes watching me, and I didn't want to choke up in front of him; he'd think I was suffering from a fever again.

Duo drove the car to the end of the road and braked for the stop sign. I found myself a few feet away from the old man walking his dog again. I resisted the urge to pinch myself ­ he was beginning to feature in my worst recurring nightmare ­ and tried to ignore the poached-egg stares of the two. It took some effort. I shifted in my seat, and realized Duo wasn’t moving forward and his concentration didn't seem to be on the road.

"Duo? What-"

"Just a sec."

"What are we waiting for?"

"Probably nothing but ­ oh. Yep, just as I thought. There goes one sad bastard." Duo sounded a bit subdued though. I followed the direction of his gaze and looked in the rear-view mirror. I could see Heero's distant figure leave the house, turn at the gate and head towards the bus stop at the other end of the road.

"What shall we do, Fei?" Duo looked uncertain as he glanced at me then back at the figure in the mirror. "Shall we grab him and take him with us? I can always get an extra ticket. He may not like it but I'm damned if I'm letting him work himself to death while we-"

"No."

"Hey, I don’t mind. We'll have other occasions to-"

"No. First of all, I mind. This is our time together, and Heero agreed." I spoke quietly and firmly so that he didn't think he could wheedle me out of my decision. "Second...if Heero has decided to go and work, that's what he wants to do and-"

"But Fei we've been working like maniacs all week! Mr Gundanium-between-the-ears needs a life, bad! I-"

"Duo."

"But-"

"No, Duo." I knew it was one of Duo's goals in life to get Heero to have some fun even if he had to stuff it down his throat with a broom handle, but I could predict the knee-jerk reaction this would evoke with Heero.

I put my hand on his when I saw the hurt in his eyes. "You've known him for so long now that you have to realize you can't force him to embrace life like you do. It doesn’t work like that."

"But I got to try." Duo grumbled. "I don't want his only hobby to be finding new and interesting ways of getting himself killed." He tried to look like he was joking but I knew his mask as well as Heero's.

"He's already not like that anymore, Duo. You had a lot to do with that already, as did Relena, and peace, and his job with the Preventers, and that's why, if he wants to work there now -"

"He's a big boy and knows what he wants to do, I get it." A pair of blue eyes caught mine and the smile was small but straightforward. "I'm counting on you to get him to want more in the future. Right? That's your job too now."

"Don't worry." I brushed his bangs from his eyes and let my fingers linger on his cheek for an instant. "If he tries to work this evening, then he and I will definitely have words."

"Good. Well let's motor, don't want to be late. Right, Fei? Erm, why you glaring at that old guy and his pooch?"

"No matter. Just drive."

---

I breathed again and nodded in approval as the man hit the ground with a resounding thump. A ripple of noise ran through the small crowd around the arena as everyone glanced at the referee, and then broke into applause as he declared a winner.

I leaned back in my seat with a smile as the next challengers stood forward and bowed. I glanced at Duo who had put his chin in his hand, eyes fixed on the mat. He'd surprised me yet again. I hadn't known what to expect for a date - and I admit I had been bracing for the worst. I still couldn't quite believe we'd ended up in a stadium hosting the all-colonies martial arts symposium.

Since these weren't the finals yet, the small stadium was half empty. We sat far away from other spectators in the last row of seats, keeping our backs to the wall out of old habit.

Duo clapped and whistled good-humouredly as the last match was decided, then leaned back. There were entertainment and martial arts displays between the division matches, pupils from local schools showing off their skills. As they gathered in the arena, Duo glanced around.

"I thought there'd be more people here. If I'd known it would be this empty I would have taken Heero along after all."

I glanced around too. Heero didn't like big crowds, a leftover from former days. But most of the spectators were groups from other local schools come to watch the show, and friends and family, all seated close to the mats. Our area was quite deserted. He would have been okay.

In fact this was more something I could better imagine doing with Heero than Duo. We were seated chastely and companionably side by side under the harsh fluorescent lights of the gymnasium.

The last match was called and the ranks and the next day's finals announced. Duo and I stayed seated as most of the spectators filed out, avoiding the press of bodies and waiting until we could leave without being surrounded.

Duo leaned back in his chair and stretched. "I'm up for coffee and something disgustingly sweet before we head home! How about you, Fei?"

"Sure. I'm buying. No arguments, Duo, you bought the tickets. When did you get them by the way?"

"Oh, yesterday at lunch time. I saw this was going on this week and thought you'd like it."

I turned towards him fully in the plastic seat. "I did. I really enjoyed myself. Thank you, Duo."

He blinked and smiled, looking quite pleased with himself. "Cool!" He jumped to his feet and took a couple of steps towards the exit. I followed more slowly.

"Did you like it?" I asked, hesitantly.

"Me? Of course! That was awesome! I can't believe that old guy who did the demo during one of the breaks ­ what did they say he was, seventy-nine? He's more limber than I am, for chrissakes! Gotta start doing that Tai Chi. Say, can you teach me?"

"I can show you some forms." I smiled as I followed him. There were only a few groups of people left, mainly students from local dojos, discussing the results or talking to some of the competitors. We made our way down to the ring to head towards the exit. I brought my mind back from thinking about teaching Duo Tai Chi to my original concern.

"I really did like this, Duo." I said to establish that fact without a doubt. "But I hope you didn't...weren't you thinking of something a bit more...well, entertaining for our date?"

Duo stopped walking and turned towards me, uncertain. "Why, did you...want-"

"I enjoyed this." I said firmly, stopping close to him and looking him straight in the eye. "And I could see you did too, and I hope to go to other events like this with you, but I don't expect you to cater to my taste alone. We can also go to the movies or out to eat or-" I took a deep breath then made a show of rolling my eyes "- I'll even concede an amusement arcade or a funfair as a once in a lifetime event." Duo snickered at my theatrical reluctance.

"Well sure, Fei, I guess we can do that next time, if you think you wanna. I assumed it wasn't your sort of thing." He looked a bit puzzled.

"You're my sort of thing, Duo." I said softly. "I always have fun with you, even if it's not something I would ever do on my own."

He smiled and I swear his cheeks grew a little pink. "Why, Mr Chang, that was the nicest thing you've ever said to me!" He was joking but it made me wince inside. He was probably right. I was so caught up with the thought and the little prickles of guilt that I almost missed the abortive poking gesture he gave me to accompany the words; the hand was quickly snatched back.

"Duo, why aren't you touching me?" My surprise and concern at that quick withdrawal prompted me to speak before my reserve could wonder if this was a polite or appropriate question.

"Say what?!" Duo did a double take, almost tripping over the small step up to the arena.

"When we're at home ­ or even when we were undercover and just friends at that L4 resort, you were always touching me. Casually, but...you're always grabbing people. You're a tactile person, I know that. You've not done that once this afternoon."

"I ­ no? Oh, well...didn't think you'd want to." Duo looked completely nonplussed. "In public and all."

"Public?"

"Yeah. Heero explained this to me way back already. When I asked him why he threatened to break my neck whenever I gave him a hug. I gathered a lotta Asian cultures frown on showing affection in public. And I don't want you to be ashamed of being seen with me. I know ­...well, I don't mind, I like you the way you are."

"That's good." I said tightly. "It's true that I'm reserved, easily embarrassed and flustered, and not openly affectionate. But Duo..."

"Yeah?" Wide blue eyes plunged into mine.

I took half a step forward and he started back, his heels bumping against the small step leading to the arena. He glanced around in surprise and I took the opportunity of slipping my arms around his waist and moving right up against him, and pressing our lips together. He made a 'Mf!' noise against my mouth and his hands fisted against my chest in surprise.

I broke the kiss but I kept our faces close together, ignoring anyone who might be around, watching us. "But Duo, I don't want you to stop being yourself either. And as long as I'm with you -" I gave him a quick kiss, short and sweet "- I will never be ashamed of this. Even in public."

His eyes were wide with surprise. Being Duo, he was only speechless for a few seconds.

"Okay, ashamed wasn't the word I meant to use." He whispered, ducking his head a bit and watching me through his lashes.

"Well, make sure that wasn't the word you had in mind either, Maxwell." I murmured back. "In fact I want you to erase that word from your vocabulary. It doesn't belong there." I knew that in the past I'd made a fuss about him being a loud-mouthed idiot with no dignity, so I thought - hoped almost - that this was my fault and my words and actions could now set that right. But...I had a feeling that word might have crept up from someplace deeper from within his soul than simply his fear of embarrassing me. I carefully filed that thought away for future contemplation. I wouldn't be much of a boyfriend - or even a friend - if I didn't try to chase that piece of darkness from those bright blue eyes.

"Well ­ ...to get back to what I actually meant to say, Fei..." His breath was caressing my lower lip and making my heart pulsate. "I don’t want you to ­ I mean, I don't want to make you feel embarrassed either. Though granted, right now you're more forward than I am. But I can't help feeling-" his mouth brushed mine lighter than a feather, and his arms were finally curling around my waist making my whole body quiver in a rather distracting way "- that maybe you're twisting your own arm here."

"Only because the sight of an unusually subdued Duo Maxwell is scaring me badly," I said softly, falling back on our usual banter by habit. "But seriously Duo...if I feel uncomfortable with anything, I will tell you."

"Rule number one, eh?"

"Yes. I ­"

We both tensed unconsciously as we heard the steps come near us and we paused in unspoken accord to let the spectators pass. My back was turned to the rest of the stadium and I was pressing Duo up against the edge of the arena. I saw his eyes twitch from mine and widen in warning, and I managed to twist around in time to dodge the shove. My movements pushed Duo back though, and I heard him let himself fall. This allowed him to roll away and come up in a defensive crouch away from the aggressor, whereas I was now pressed back against the steps and slightly off balance. The position made my reflexes scream and the boy who'd tried to shove me didn't know how lucky he was that I had Duo at my back, giving me enough reassurance that I didn't lash out automatically.

The boy ­ he was probably around my age ­ took half a step back and seemed to expect me to say something. I was too busy weighing the tactical situation; he had five friends with him, in a loose half-circle around us. They all wore the same t-shirt, with the name of a martial arts club on it. The rest of the stadium had emptied and we were apparently alone. I took a blind step back, getting onto the fighting mat and giving myself some room.

The young men seemed surprised by our silence. Then the leader sneered.

"Oh, I'm sorry, it seems I bumped into you. Your boyfriend's not hurt is he?"

Duo could fall from a height of three stories and walk away, so I wasn't too worried about him.

"What do you want, fellas?" Duo's voice was neutral behind me.

The young man dropped the pretence, if that is what it was, that the shove had been accidental. He scowled and glanced around him for support; typical pack mentality I found myself thinking, and planning a strategic strike that would take him down first and demoralize the others. It was an old reflex, and I throttled it quickly.

"What we want?" The others were gathering nearer, slowly. "We think you two queers should show some respect to the arts that were practiced here today. You should have your perverted little fun elsewhere." He spoke in a more cultured tone than I'd expected, these weren't thugs, they ­ what did he say?!

It took me a moment to realize what the problem was, strangely enough. I had been a murderer, a terrorist, I was now a Preventer, and involved in a rather unusual romantic relationship. There were so many better reasons to be the brunt of aggression, that that one had not immediately occurred to me. But it was true that for many people, especially on L2, same-sex couples were enough of a sore point.

I could feel Duo's anger radiating behind me. I was angry too, but it fused with a mess of emotions in me, one of which was embarrassment. Damn, I'd almost instinctively apologized. A part of me did believe I might have gone too far in public. Of course, after that conversation with Duo, I'd have subjected myself to the full OZ treatment including execution rather than say anything about it. Besides, my display of affection wasn't what was bothering these creeps, and I was not going to apologize for loving Duo just because he was a man. Time to get out of here before I did something I'd not regret.

"No disrespect was intended. We'll leave." I said, schooling my voice to Heero-neutral, and I took another step away before turning around, knowing Duo was watching my back. The arena was open, so we could cut across it and leave another way.

There was a rustle of hesitation behind me then the leader said: "Just a minute!" Funny, I'd been ready to bet it wasn't going to be that easy.

Another glance around at his cronies before he stepped onto the mat after me. I despise weakness and cowardice, and a mob embodies both. A couple of them looked hesitant but they followed a few feet behind their leader, reassured by their numbers and their presumed martial skills.

"We think you should apologize. To us and to the tatami you dishonoured with your lewd little show."

"They stood on it without bowing, too. And they're not barefoot." Another of the hyenas pointed out. He didn't even have the guts to address us. I felt soiled just being in their presence. I almost preferred the company of the killers we'd been interrogating this morning, and these were the people we were protecting when we'd done that. Some of the anger that had burned during Mariameia's uprising flickered in me still and I ruthlessly crushed it. I was better than that now.

"I'm sorry for walking on the tatami without removing my shoes." I said with a minimal head movement towards the centre of the mat ­ I felt that I could apologize for that at least, and I caught a similar movement from Duo out of the corner of my eye. Then I turned away again and started walking, measuring the distance to the door with my eyes. Duo took two steps back without turning, keeping a careful eye on the mob.

"Not so fast!"

"Yeah!"

"-make them kneel and bow."

"Yeah good idea!"

"-son of a bitch shouldn't-"

Duo and I exchanged a resigned look.

...

"I'm sorry." Forehead pressed against the tatami, the words came out muffled.

"Duo." I supplied helpfully. "His name is Duo."

"...I'm..."

I gave the arm I was twisting a warning twitch as I felt the head I was pressing down to the mat squirm in protest.

"Sorry Duo." The boy muttered sullenly.

"Apology accepted." Duo grinned and waved his left hand magnanimously. His right hand held the largest attacker in a thumb lock on his knees. Another boy was flat on his back at Duo's feet; unharmed ­ they hadn't been much of a threat ­ but Duo's boot was pressed warningly against his crotch and he was very, very still. The other three, who'd hung back from the start, were several feet away, looking flabbergasted and unsure of how to deal with the situation.

"I would normally have you express your regret for your insult to our respective ancestors as well -"

"In my case that'd be difficult." Duo snorted.

"- but I'll let you off once you've apologized to me and to the tatami you dishonoured with your despicable conduct." I finished smoothly.

"...sorry..."

"Yeah, you're just lucky our pal isn't with us. He gets right uptight about people disturbing the peace." Duo leered, eyes hard. "And he's never learned to pull his punches, even with his mates."

"Now I want you all to disappear." I said softly, eyes spearing them one after the other. "Or I'll contact the master of your club and tell him his pupils are dishonourable dogs."

"Who fight like girls!" Duo added with a snicker, lifting his foot and nudging the boy up. He kept the lock on the other and I didn't release the leader until the others had stumbled half way to the exit and paused. Then we let them run off, ignoring the muttered curses and black looks tempered with fear and humiliation.

We waited a few minutes then headed out the back exit, all senses alert. We were moving like soldiers and I think we both realized it at the same time.

Duo laughed ruefully and scratched his nose. "Man, Fei, I have the worst luck each time I get you to myself! I'm beginning to think cupid has it in for m-hey!"

I didn’t relinquish the hold on his neck even though I continued walking; he stumbled after me, cursing and chuckling.

"Stop moping." I told him sternly, ignoring his muffled protest. "Or I'll communicate your 'fight like girls' jab to Sally and Noin. And Hilde."

"Geez you're not serious are you?!"

"I have nothing to complain about anyway. We had an exciting afternoon, and a little workout-"

"Very little." Duo interrupted, wiggling free. I managed to keep my hold around his shoulders though, and slid my arm so that I clasped him as we were walking side by side.

"Okay, a pitiful workout," I conceded, "but it's given me a bit of appetite. Didn't someone mention coffee and a snack?"

"Well that was the plan..." Finally Duo's arm slipped around my waist and held me closer as we walked.

"Good plan. You're a very good date, Duo."

The arm around me squeezed briefly and his voice was soft in my ear. "Glad you think so, love..."

---

The colony's artificial afternoon was waning as we made our way home. We were walking in our own light though; my reserve had re-established itself fairly quickly, and Duo had felt it and broken our hold without a fuss, but we still managed to touch regularly while having our coffee, and on the way home.

We hesitated on the doorstep. Part of me didn’t want to give up this closeness, this deep intimacy that we were sharing. But I keenly felt how excluded Heero would believe himself to be if we brought this home with us. We paused, suddenly measuring just how difficult the balance was in this relationship. Maybe one day it would come naturally, we could share and belong, all three of us without having to change mental gears, or cut one off to let the other in. But right now it was hard. I reminded myself that Heero didn't deserve to feel the awkwardness that was trying to settle between us, especially as he'd probably take the blame for it on his own shoulders. I shook myself, and caught Duo's smile. Group dynamics were second nature to us, after spending time in combat situations in a small unit. We knew where the dangers were, and we could hopefully avoid them. 'Us' was what mattered, the most important part. I gave Duo a quick, admiring kiss, as I honestly didn't know if I would have the strength of mind and heart to do what he and Heero were doing if I were in their shoes.

"Well that was fun, and I hope we get to ­ Fei?"

"Hmm?" I glanced back at Duo ­ I'd been looking around for the two permanent street fixtures that seemed to always appear whenever I wanted to get intimate with my boyfriends.

"I said, I had a great time and I hope we get to do it again soon! I just hope Heero's back, and ready to take you out."

I snorted. "He better be." Duo grinned delightedly and opened the door.

Heero glanced up from the kitchen area where he was sitting in front of ­ Duo rolled his eyes at me ­ his open laptop.

"Just in time." Heero said in his reserved tones. "The water should be almost ready."

"Water?" Duo asked, then his eyes fell on the table. "Dango!"

"Wait for the tea, Maxwell." Heero said, without looking up. Duo paused with his fingers nearly touching the sticky dumplings. He made a face but obediently sat down and started looking intently at the kettle on the hob as if he could make it boil faster.

I sat down more slowly. "You already ate a huge slice of pie and part of mine as well, Duo."

"Yeah, so?" Duo's eyes stayed fixed on the kettle and brightened visibly when it started to mutter.

I shook my head and smiled at Heero. He graced me with his small smirk in return but I thought it was slightly delayed. He closed his laptop and rose to get the kettle. "Did you have a good time?" He asked over his shoulder.

"Super!" Duo said, and started telling him about our afternoon ­ the part we'd bought tickets for, not the free entertainment at the end ­ while Heero made the tea. He continued to talk while he swallowed half the dango, drank the tea like a shot, and licked his fingers.

"You'd have liked it, 'Ro." He concluded as he looked a bit longingly at the remaining red bean dumplings. Heero pushed the plate firmly away, saving some for later. Duo shrugged then brightened. "Say, tomorrow's the finals. Maybe we could all go together?"

"The finals?" Heero took a sip of tea. "I...guess. Will there be many people?"

Duo and I shared a glance. The crowd was one issue, six particular members of it were another; we debated in silence and our eyes concluded we shouldn't expect any more trouble from those kids, especially if Heero was with us. "Dunno, the gym was mostly empty today but there'll be more for the finals...tell you what, we can go and if yo- we're not comfortable we can go elsewhere."

Heero's gaze dropped to the table. "You two can always-"

"If it's the time for all of us together, then it's all or none of us, Yuy! No one bows out." Duo growled, clonking his teacup down. "That's what, rule number two?"

Heero looked like he was about to argue but nodded instead.

"Good!" Duo stood up with his usual energy. "Now I'll let you two get ready for your time out. I hate to eat and run, but Hilde's expecting me for supper tonight. Apparently someone ­ Quatre probably ­ leaked news of our arrangement out to our immediate circle, and Hilde said I can show up tonight with pizza and some juicy details, or she'll show up tomorrow with a meat-hook and a plan to wring them out of me! Don't worry." He added to my concerned frown and Heero's scowl. "I'll only give her the edited highlights. But they'll find out sooner or later! And as far as Hil is concerned it's sooner or my ass is grass! And we'll be too busy next week to have a pow-wow."

"You're probably right, and that reminds me." I gave them both a serious look. "While I'm packing tomorrow evening, you two should take the time to go out."

"What's that?" Duo glanced back as he washed his hands at the sink.

"Out where?" Heero asked, after taking a sip of tea.

"We said we'd make time for everyone, and you mentioned going out with Heero as well, Duo, when you made the rules."

"Fei, buddy, me 'n Heero live together. And work in the same office, a lot. We see each other all the time." Duo threw over his shoulder. Heero was also looking at me, puzzled.

"I meant, go out on a date."

Duo spun around and Heero stared at me. "A- a date? Me and Heero?"

"Yes." I tried not to flush, pinned by two stares. "Look, we've not talked much about this, after we, well, after we sorted things out that first day but..." I sighed, cast away my reserve, trod on my embarrassment as I stood and put my hands on the counter. "Guys. We're in a threesome. I know you want to share me, but you're going to have to learn to be intimate with each other as well or things will get very embarrassing fast for -...I don't want to spend all our time with me shunting from one to the other, or acting only as friends when the three of us are together."

"But Fei!" Duo looked completely lost. "I can't go 'out' out with Heero, that'd be...weird! He's my- my brother, not my boyfriend."

There was a clunk on the counter that stopped me from arguing. Heero had dropped his cup and was staring at Duo with an unusual expression. I felt chilled, horrified at the sudden vulnerability I read in his face. Duo froze like a rabbit in the oncoming headlights of an eighteen-wheeler.

"Hee-Heero?" He said, looking bewildered and very worried. "What's the matter? I- I thought, that is, we knew, we're not, we- I thought we kinda thought the same way on that-"

"Brother?" Heero said softly. "Is that really how you think of me?" His face closed again as he looked down and noticed his cup and a small pool of spilled tea on the counter.

"I-well- yes! But I-" Duo stuttered and gave me a helpless, beseeching glance that I was unable to respond to, I didn’t know how to handle this either.

Heero carefully moped up the tea with his napkin. "I've never had any family before." He said softly.

Duo and I were silent as we quickly re-evaluated the situation.

"I-..." Heero's words seemed to be drawn out by our silence. "I've never lived with anyone after Odin died, not really and he­ always insisted we were only pretending to be family. When you stopped by to sleep on my couch one day and never left I­...I didn't understand. How we could get along so well but still argue and want to live apart every once and awhile. I am friends with Quatre and Trowa but I've never felt as close to them as I do to you, even when you drive me crazy. Brothers." He seemed to weigh the words as he put the tea cup at the centre of one of the large squares decorating the counter top. "I...think I like that."

Duo stared at him, then moved forward slowly, face dead serious. Heero glanced up and grew a bit defensive at the slow advance. Duo stopped when he was standing just above him.

Even I blinked in shock at Duo's speed as he grabbed Heero by the neck and bent him towards the counter, rifling the rich chocolate hair with his other hand. "Isn't he sweet?!" He shouted over the resulting growl, smiling at me gleefully. "I think he's just adorable. Whaddya say, Fei? Can we keep him?"

"Maxwell!" Heero snarled and tried to bat Duo's hand away, but his heart didn't seem to be quite in it.

I gave a long-suffering sigh and finished my tea, thinking: Brothers, my ass. One of these days, guys, you'll realize that there's another reason for two people to be much closer than friends even if they argue every once in awhile. And I'll be here to tell you 'I told you so'. But I'll take the advice I gave Duo earlier. Some things cannot be forced, they have to come naturally. I'll let them figure it out by themselves, with only the smallest loving push here and there, of course.

Heero managed to fight Duo off, and the latter skipped away avoiding retaliation. His eyes were bright, his cheeks flushed and happy, and Heero got the same warm look I did as he shouted: "Well, gotta go and get that pizza for Hil. You guys be good! Don't get into any fights! Or if you do, win them!" He grabbed his jacket and was out the door before the echoes of his words had faded.

Heero gazed at the door blankly. "Fights?"

"So, where did you want to go tonight?" I said nervously, steering the conversation away from the trouble of this afternoon. I didn't want Heero to start scowling.

I would have liked the scowl better than the mask that came over his face then. It was all the more shocking as he'd been so open just a few minutes before.

"What do you want to do?" His voice was neutral, almost harsh, and sounded indifferent but then again I was rather used to it. I didn't let it faze me, and I also didn't turn the question back on him. I quickly changed mental gears; this was not Duo. Heero would feel better with some framework, with some idea of what I expected. That was just the way he was.

"Let's go for a walk." Chang Wufei, master of the exciting date. But he had caught me a bit short, and anyway, this was Yuy. If I was in Dating 101, he was in kindergarten.

"A walk?" A slight lessening of tension in his shoulders indicated I'd guessed right. He needed some idea of what I expected...and probably felt up to handling a walk.

"Yes. There's a park!" I was really fishing here. "The other night, when I, erm...went to reflect." When I bolted like a tiger with its tail on fire. "I found this little park that looked fairly nice. Well, for L2. They do know how to use concrete, you have to give them that. But there were a few trees. It's off in that direction somewhere." I waved at the umbrella stand.

I turned back to find two wide blue eyes staring at me. "Wufei, that's over two hours walk away!"

"It is? Maybe you're thinking about another park."

"That would be difficult, since they've only got one on this colony, and however upset we made you I think you'd have noticed if you'd gone outside in a pressure suit to-"

"Okay, well, that one then." I said, struggling to maintain the light, easy attitude that came so naturally to my other boyfriend.

"I can't believe you ran that far."

"Well it visibly wasn't far enough." I joked, straight-faced, while nudging his arm, and boy did I wish I hadn't.

The flash of hurt in his eyes was immediately replaced with self-annoyance, as he realized I'd been kidding with him. And that look came back, the one that had gone away when I'd suggested the walk.

He lifted his head as I put my hand on either side of him and leaned against the counter until I was inches from his face.

"Spill, Yuy. What's wrong?"

"Wrong?" He looked both bull-headed and at bay.

"Yes, wrong. Come on, I know I'm not the world's greatest date but you look like you're about to self-destruct."

"No." Heero replied seriously which gave me all the information I needed about his state of mind at present. Back into war-mode. Take everything literally. Mask fully on. But why?

"I just don't know what you want..." It was a whisper, a trickle of breath that had slipped past the mask, while its owner had his eyes fixed firmly on my feet and his jaw as hard as Gundanium.

"Well I wanted to go for a walk but now I'd rather we figure out what's bothering you. Rule number one, right?"

Heero nodded infinitesimally. His eyes were still fixed on my shoes. I wanted to lift his chin, I wanted to get him to talk, I wanted to ask him what the hell was wrong, but I restrained myself, letting him take his time and regroup behind the mask. I didn't move though, still boxing him in against the kitchen counter.

"I just...wanted to be with you. Ever since the war ended and you left." Finally the words started. He didn't lift his eyes; they were frowning inward in concentration. "I don't actually know what I feel ­ I don't have anything to compare it with. But I just couldn't stop thinking about you, and I wanted to be wherever you were. But I never thought...I didn't realize that there was a whole set of behaviour that went with a relationship. Dating...making out. I realized I had no idea what you expected."

I managed to force myself not to say anything ­ despite having a lot to say at this point ­ because I had a feeling he had more to work through.

"I went to the library this afternoon." That threw me. My eyebrows shot up and I had to bite back the words that nearly tumbled from my lips. "I did a bit of research on the net too, when I had some time, but for some reason most of the sites I found on relationships were mainly concerned with sex and though they had a lot about that, quite a lot, they didn't have much about what was expected before and after." The look he gave me was serious and straightforward, and I nodded quickly and encouragingly and threatened my body with a thousand tortures if it squirmed and flushed at that point.

"The library was...informative, I guess. They had a lot of books under the Love And Romance section-"

At this point a whimper tried to escape my throat. I had a visual of Heero curled up in a library armchair, reading a book and taking notes with a serious expression. Please, please, please let him have picked up a good book, a classic literature piece where things were realistic and, well, normal, and not a bodice-ripper because god knows he probably would not have made the distinction and if this was going to be his template of behaviour­

"But it turned out to be only more confusing." I cringed. "All of the dozen of books I read were -"

"Dozen?" I gasped despite my resolution to not interrupt.

"I wanted a good sampling of acceptable behaviour." Heero replied seriously and I remembered he could speed-read. Damn. "But as far as I could see, there doesn't seem to be any common basic rules. Well, there are a few, but I think if I give you flowers you'd probably resort to physical violence so-"

"Good call." I muttered, then ran with the idea. "That's what those books were trying to tell you, Heero. Everyone's different. You have to be yourself. Don't rely on anything you find in books." Please don't rely on anything you find in a book with a strong man holding a fainting woman to his chest in lurid watercolours on the cover and the kind of pink prose that would make a corpse cringe and blush. "Do what your feelings tell you."

"...they're not telling me anything. Except that I want to be with you, and that, sooner or later, probably sooner, I'm going to make a mistake. I don't know how to...I don't know how to make you happy..."

Oh come on what is this?! First Duo and now Heero? I thought I was the one with low self-esteem in this coup- threesome! This was my fault. Me and my bloody restraint, my inability to express my feelings...I almost blurted out those three words I'd been practicing this morning but instinctively I knew that wouldn't be right, or rather, not enough. Heero didn't actually know what those words meant, in a way. He didn't know what they entailed, how he was supposed to behave. For someone who'd been programmed for most of his life, this truly must be terrifying.

"...I just don't know why you'd want to be with -"

"Be with someone who can surpass me in most things? Be with someone who can challenge me, be both my rival and my brother in arms?" I finally grabbed his chin and dragged his eyes up to mine. I wanted to be sure there was no misunderstanding about what I was about to say. "You can't see why I'd want to be with someone who can follow his instincts of right and wrong, whatever the cost to himself? Who is like a beacon when everything else is muddled, ugly and confused? Who can drag me back from the mouth of hell, even at the cost of his own life?"

Blue eyes looked into mine, straightforward, searching.

"Someone who is brave enough to follow his feelings, even when he doesn't know where they lead?" I whispered, knowing my own shame at my shortcomings might be visible in my eyes and not caring. "Someone who can admit to being lost? To being afraid of failure?"

I saw his eyes flinch at the word 'failure'. I wish I could say everything was going to be alright but I'd choke on the triteness and besides he deserved an equal honesty on my part.

"You will probably make mistakes, Yuy. And I'm rather glad of it, because it will mean you'll have finally left those bloody guide rails that were imposed on you, and have limited you from growing as a person. Take it from one who has made a lot of mistakes. Failure is only something to be feared if you do not learn from it. Or if you let it haunt you so much that you dare not take a step. But if you think your mistakes will drive me away...Heero...you could chop me into cat food and I'd still want to be with you."

Blue eyes blinked. I sighed.

"Okay, that could have come out better." I muttered. Apparently when I let my own feelings run my mouth, I tended to blurt out the most inane things­...and people wonder why I'm so rigid and guarded. "But all I said before is true...I want to be with you too, because of who you are, not because you're going to give me flowers ­ and yeah, I will break your arm if you try that ­ or because you know what or what not to do. I'm pretty new at this too anyway, I'm not expecting much. Just...follow your feelings. And don't lock me out. That's all I want from you."

Heero nodded slowly. I couldn't read the thoughts flashing through those eyes as they stayed locked with mine.

"So...was there anything in particular you wanted to do?" I said, trying to get my brain working again, riveted as it was to that patch of night sky in his eyes.

"Yes." It was the voice of Heero Yuy again, firm, measured, some would say cold but that's only because they don't have ears to hear...I must admit I was a bit surprised; I don't believe in miracles, I didn't think he'd actually become a confident boyfriend just because of my little speech. I was expecting him to be a bit lost still, and to need a bit more of a push.

"Oh...well, what was it you wanted to do?" I tried to keep my voice level and assured ­ yes, my pride is one weakness I cling to.

Heero looked thoughtful as if he was consulting a Gundam repair manual. Then he slipped his hands around my face and kissed me.

It was strong and sure, as I had come to expect, but there was a hint of something else now. A flutter of uncertainty and a hint of hope that equated to a drop of...passion. The last thought flickering through my mind was, this was what they meant when they said a kiss was intoxicating.

I kept enough control over myself to keep an eye on what my lips and own hands were doing ­ they were safely anchored around his neck ­ because I was sorely tempted to throw him down on the ground and jump on him in a way that would definitely require a rule number five, and probably a rule number six, seven and eight as well.

"A walk sounds good." Heero said, pulling away again. He smiled ­ well smirked ­ as I tried to remember how to talk, then finally gave up and nodded. I stayed in a daze ­ from the kiss and from the unaccustomed intimacy, the nearness we'd shared through our words that had reached deep into me and scooped out a bit more of that curdled old solitude I used to relish in. I would have trod on the dog if Heero hadn't stopped me.

"Good evening." Heero said politely.

"Hmph." The dog yipped as its master yanked on the lead. I stared after him ­ in the state I was in, still bathed in the warmth and sunshine of my afternoon with Duo, and Heero's strong, firm grasp on my hand ­ I could even find the man and the mutt a wonderful addition to the neighbourhood.

---

Heero and I walked ­ we didn't quite make it to the park but we walked for nearly two hours, either talking about the past and the future, or in peaceful silence. We made it home just as Duo was about to creep in on tiptoe. We had some more work in the morning, we couldn't afford to go to bed late. Duo looked a bit startled when we told him our date had consisted of a walk ­ "A stroll? On L2? Were the garbage cans blooming for you?" ­ but then I caught his thoughtful look at Heero as the latter went to get ready for bed, followed by an enthusiastic thumbs-up in my direction. Apparently I had 'done okay' in the Heero Yuy relaxation duty.

I was tired but something was keeping me from sleeping ­ despite the warmth and comfort of the two forms curled up by my side. I'd forgotten something. I struggled to wake up fully, stared at the darkened ceiling.

Damn it! I hadn't told them! Good grief, if Master Li could see what a spineless idiot he'd left as sole representative of his clan, he'd be livid.

Calm breathing in harmony on either side of me was robbing me of wakefulness, rocking me to sleep. But I had to say something. Heck, this was probably the best time, while they were asleep.

"Heero? Duo?" I whispered, keeping my voice much lower than their gentle breathing. "I wanted to tell you both...I...I really­...I sincerely­...I­ I really need to tell you how much you both ­ oh, Confucius can go to Hell." With that minor blasphemy I closed my eyes and let sleep unravel my thoughts.

Maybe I was dreaming but I thought I head someone mutter: "Stupid, you've been telling us all day. Now let us sleep already."

"Hn."

I was probably dreaming...

Owari

+

A/N: Okay. Sorry for the delay and all that. But inspiration ran out very suddenly on this fic - like, fttt, gone! - and I was left stranded.

This is officially THE END! I know it leaves it open-ended, but this fic is very complicated to write for various reasons. I'm not saying I won't revisit this storyline. Maybe I'll create a part 2 or a second arc or whatever; probably with shifting POV, so we get the other's views, and with the 1x2 bit, and maybe even R or NC17

So hope you enjoyed this little piece. Anybody up for the sequel?

[chap. 6] [back to Maldoror's fic]