Author: girl_starfish
Rating: pg13
Pairings: (4+various--it takes time to find the perfect pilot, you know?) 5+S, past 1+2.
Category: Romance, Drama, AU.
Warnings: Non standard pairings. Asuka should look the other way (that goes for any stringent 'canon' shippers too, okay?) Reference to 'Quatre-music.'
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing not mine.

Over Coffee + Part Six

As the week progressed, I found myself worrying less about Trowa. Although I missed him terribly, I had other things to worry about. Like how the hell I was going to pass the cooking course.

Duo and I stared wordlessly at the blackened mess sitting in the cake dish. It looked more like a disaster area than a dessert--tiny craters, the crust split and twisted, and the entire thing adorned by blackened chunks.

I moaned. "This is too hard! I'm never going to pass this course!"

"Don't give up too easy, Quatre. I actually think this is an improvement--this is nowhere near as bad as the crepes after all--No- one lost their eyebrows--"

Then again, nothing could be as bad as the crepes.

I sighed as Duo started trying to chip the cement-hard mess away from the cake dish. "I guess I'm just not cut out to work in the restaurant business, Duo. I'm sorry--"

"Stop apologising, Quatre. Think of this as a temporary setback. Come on, let's try and review what went wrong here and how it could be avoided." Duo suceeded in shaking the cake tin free. "Man, is that solid! I bet we could use this as a doorstop--"

I sighed again. My only consolation was that at least we weren't at class where I would have had an interested audience. Duo was coaching me in the basics of soufflé making at home.

"I don't understand it," I said. "I followed the instructions."

"We'll try it again and this time I'll watch and make sure you get it right," Duo said.

"Okay," I said. "500g butter--where are the scales?"

"Wait--you have to preheat the over first," Duo said. "What's the temperature?"

"180," I said.

"You know, I think I might have found your problem, Q. This is set at 250."

"Oops," I said.

Duo adjusted the temperature. "Turning up the temperature doesn't necessarily speed up the cooking process, Quatre."

"It just didn't seem to be cooking," I protested.

"Neither is this!" Duo waved the doorstop at me. "If I wanted a block of cement, I could have gone to a construction site!"

In spite of myself I smiled.

"Is it that bad?"

"Let me put it this way," Duo said. "You can only improve, Quatre. What are you doing with that butter?"

"Melting it," I said. The 500g of butter was sitting in nicely chopped up pieces ready to go in the microwave--chopping was one of the few things I could do.

"No you're not! Metal bowls and microwaves do not make for a good combination, Quat. And I believe the recipe said cream butter and sugar--"

"Well how can I do that unless I melt the butter first?" I asked. "Cream means to mix, right?"

"Not exactly. To cream butter and sugar you do this."

Duo showed me how to melt the butter into the sugar by placing the metal bowl within a sink full of hot water. Together we sifted the flour and baking powder and everything into the mix. Just as Duo was lecturing me on the appropriate use of an electric beater ("For God's sake, turn it off before you take it out of the bowl or you can scrub the mess off the ceiling all by yourself") the phone rang.

"I'll get it!" Duo dashed off to the lounge leaving me with the beater. It made a very satisfying roar as I started it up and I enjoyed watching as the various different substances seemed to melt into a smooth creamy mix.

Duo returned holding the phone and looking grave. He flicked the mixer off at the wall. "It's Trowa," he said.

"Oh," I stared at him. It felt like ages since I'd even thought of Trowa--

"Remember, calm and aloof--" Duo whispered as he gave me the phone. I nodded although my heart was dancing around in my chest in a way that made in hard to be anything but flustered.

"H-hello?" I said.

Trowa was as charming as ever. With just a few well put sentences he had me as completely enthralled by him as that first magical night at the club. I chatted happily with him. "Tomorrow night? That does sound like fun--"

Duo coughed.

"--except I've just remembered--I'm rather busy at the moment. I probably shouldn't go."

Trowa made sounds of disappointment while Duo gave me an approving nod.

"Good for him to worry a little," he said once I'd said goodbye. "After all he's had you on tenterhooks for weeks now."

"I guess," I said. "But--"

"Don't start fretting now," Duo said. "Come on, I'll let you make the icing."

That did cheer me up. That and the fact that this tartelette soufflé aux framboises was a marked improvement on the last one. It was actually edible.

"I think you could maybe beat it a little less," Duo said as we ate my creation. "But this is great, Quatre."

I glowed. "Any idea what we'll be doing in class tomorrow?"

"Otto did say something about playing with gelatin. I'd say either cheesecake, or jellies off hand. Of course, there's a lot you can do with gelatin."

"Jelly doesn't sound so hard," I said, hopefully.

"We're not talking packet mixes here, Q, I hope you realise that," Duo said and my delight faded considerably.

"It's easy, I'll show you," Duo looked at the clock on the microwave. "It's still early. Let's try some jellies."

Two hours later Duo and I sat in the kitchen looking at the pile of desserts that surrounded us.

"These look great!" I said, happily.

"They do that. How's your hand?"

"Hardly hurts at all. I don't think I need the ice pack anymore."

"That's good. At least you won't go picking up a container of hot gelatin again-"

"Definitely not," I agreed. "So what are we going to do with all this food? We'll never eat it all."

"This," Duo said, picking up the phone, "is what friends are for."

Hilde was delighted to see us. She was very apologetic to Duo about the whole rose bush incident. Duo was magnaminous, and said it didn't matter. They then started talking about Otto. I endured.

"We'd better get the rest of these delivered," I said, when I'd taken all the speculation I could about how "interested" Otto was. "Before they melt or get soft, or whatever it is that these things do."

Trowa was rather surprised to see us appear laden with cheesecake and jellied pears on his doorstep. "I thought you were busy."

"I am," I said. "I'm learning how to cook."

He was impressed, I glowed. I told him all about Duo's offer of a job and how Duo had thought I should become acquainted with the cooking side of things, and how Duo was not being put off by my minor culinary setbacks and coaching me through the hazards of cooking.

"I made the cheesecake myself!" I said. "Duo says its pretty good and the crumbly base could have happened to anyone."

"Did he really?" Trowa gave me the impression of being somewhat less than thrilled. I couldn't determine why. Duo was at his most amiable, trading favourite recipes with Cathy. She was telling him how they had to invent recipes for certain types of hard-to-feed zoo animals, and at that moment was giving Duo a very entertaining account of a musang that refused to eat anything but the highest quality anchovies.

"We better not keep you any longer," Cathy said eventually. "You have more desserts to drop off after all, I understand."

"She's right, Q. I'll go start the car."

Trowa caught my hand as I turned to leave. "Don't I get to kiss you goodnight?"

I beamed. "Thought you'd never ask!"

Next stop was Wufei's house. He was very glad to see us because he'd just mastered LandSharks 4 and wanted to challenge Duo to a deathmatch on his Playstation. While they annihilated eachother, I chatted with a harried looking Sally who was sitting on a sofa, surrounded by stacks of paper.

"I have a new tutorial group," she explained. "They're even worse than last year's bunch-complete no-hopers the lot of them. I mean look at this one-he's even spelt psychology wrong-"

"How's your thesis?" Duo asked as he casually KOed Wufei.

"Don't ask! Thanks to the ineptitude of the department secretary I'm stuck teaching two classes instead of working on it-she did it purpose too, I swear. Obvious control complex, I suspect the head of the department only keeps her around as a showcase for the pupils."

"Is she that bad?" I asked.

Duo laughed. "She's even worse than your sisters-heck-"

"Got you that time!" Wufei crowed. "Vengeance is mine!"

"We'll just see about that-eat dirt Chang-"

The death match was on again in full force.

Sally rolled her eyes. "I'm glad you don't go in for that sort of thing, Quatre. It's nice to have at least-" she raised her voice "- One civilised male in the room-"

Wufei and Duo ignored her, too busy struggling to inflict grievious bodily harm on each other to hear.

"Honestly," Sally muttered, then turned to me with a bright smile. "So is the boyfriend behaving himself?"

Only to happy to talk about my favourite subject I gave Sally a full update.

She listened to me carefully, tugging thoughtfully at one of her long plaits as she did so. "Duo told me things weren't going well," she said. "I see what he means."

"Trowa was very happy to see me tonight," I said defensively.

"Was he?" Sally murmured. "I have a suspicion that you'll find Trowa is suddenly very interested in spending time with you."

I blinked at her. "Why would that be a bad thing?"

"You'll see," Sally said.

I did not feel happy.

"Who else is on our dessert list?" I asked Duo.

"I thought we could give the rest to the waiters tomorrow," Duo yawned, his character throwing Wufei's across the screen. "I'm about ready to call it a night, you?"

"You can't go now," Wufei said, struggling with the controls. "I'm just about to wipe the floor with you."

"Promises, promises!" Duo taunted.

I snickered in spite of myself.

"Like ten year olds, aren't they?" Sally said, poking Wufei with her foot. "It's past your bedtime, Chang. Let Duo get home, it's a school night."

Wufei grumbled a goodnight, and we left.

"Hope we didn't bore you, Q," Duo said as we headed home. "Mindless violence, you know-I just lost all track of time."

"I didn't mind," I said. "I talked to Sally."

My voice sounded uncertain, even to me.

"What's the matter?"

"Oh-it's nothing," I said. "Something she said... I just can't shake it off." I shook my head. "It's nothing."

"If you're sure," Duo said. "You know, don't you Quatre, that I'm always ready to listen-"

"That's what I'm afraid of," I muttered, sotto voce.

Duo heard. "Why's that?"

"Everytime you give me advice on a relationship it leads to the end of the relationship," I said with a sigh. "Maybe I'm just being paranoid-"

"I'm a catalyst, nothing more than that. None of those relationships would have been good for you anyway-"

"And how would you know?" I snapped. "A psychology degree doesn't give you the right to mess up other people's lives you know!"

I was surprised at myself. I knew Duo was a friend-a very very good friend. But I couldn't fight back the urge to lash out at him.

Duo didn't respond, and we continued the drive home in silence.

+

I stumbled into the kitchen the next morning, yawning and in search of the coffee that had smelled so good. For some reason I was having trouble waking up. I felt like I hadn't slept at all.

Duo was getting something out of the fridge as I entered. I was instantly reminded of why I hadn't slept. Guilt-how could I have taken my unease out on Duo like that? How to apologise?

As Duo leaned forward to pull something from the lower shelves his hair fell forward. I was surprised to see it loose-Duo hadn't worn it down since the night we'd gone clubbing with Wufei. It was damp, obviously he'd just washed it. It curled in little tendrils, not quite curly, but not straight either. I was reminded forcibly of a illustration in a book of fairy tales I'd had as a child.

"Look's like it's jelly for breakfast, Q. Suit you?" Duo asked, tucking his hair back to reveal a pale shoulder.

"Jelly for breakfast?" I said dubiously. "Well-why not?"

Duo laughed. "It won't kill you, you know."

I smiled. "Duo, I'm sorry about last night. I was unfair-"

"It happens, Q. We wouldn't be human if we didn't lose our tempers occasionally. Besides, you probably feel better for having vented a bit."

"Actually I do," I said surprised. At least, I did, now that I knew Duo wasn't mad at me.

"See?" Duo ruffled my hair. "You polite types need to learn it's okay to vent. Gets it out of your system and you can relax."

"If you say so," I shrugged. Impulsively I put a hand out to Duo's hair. "I like your hair like this," I said, softly, admiring the way the strands slipped through my fingers.

Duo went very still. "Really?"

"Yes. You don't have it down very often." From what I'd seen Duo was very private about his hair. The sudden thought that I might be taking too great a liberty occurred to me and I drew back my hair. "I'm sorry, I should have asked first."

"S'okay," Duo said. "I don't mind. I know you'll be gentle with it." He looked at the microwave. "Hell! The time!"

We made a very fast dash for class.

+

Thanks to Duo's coaching I got an A- for my cheescake, and a B+ for my jellies. Otto congratulated me on my hard work.

"You're coming along nicely, Quatre. If you keep this up, the test will be no problem."

"There's a test?" I asked apprehensively.

"It's nothing to worry about," Otto assured me. "Just a few general kitchen procedure questions and a practical demonstration." He moved onto the next table.

"You didn't tell me there was a test!" I wailed, turning to Duo.

"Didn't you know?" Duo was surprised. "That's where our final grade comes from."

"I'm never going to pass! What the hell are general kitchen procedure questions?"

"It's easy, Quatre. Just stuff like what temperature bacteria grows at, hyginene routines, how long you have to cook different things for," Sylvia said reassuringly.

"Most of it you already know from kitchen-handing," Duo said. "I'll help you practice for the practical. Don't worry about this Quatre- we'll manage."

Otto set the date for the test to Friday afternoon. This gave us two nights to prepare. I managed a weak smile.

Duo was determined I would pass. He made it his task to help me revise for the test.

"What's the proper way to prepare merangues?" Duo demanded as we made our way home.

"What part of the egg do you use to make pavlova?" he wanted to know at breakfast.

"If a recipe instructs you to flambe something, what should you do?" he questioned during our break. "What is granite de pamplemousse Rose et Sauternes?"

Friday afternoon, I waited anxiously as Otto walked around the class, handing back our test results. Duo was helping me tidy up.

"I don't see," he was saying, "how one person can make so much mess."

I scrubbed half heartedly at a chocolate smudge on the counter. I felt sick, to tell you the truth. I was dreading getting my results back.

"Here you go, Quatre," Otto said cheerfully. "And Duo, another excellent result. I wonder-"

I stared at my envelope, as Duo and Otto discussed the finer points of french pastry. Eventually I slipped it inside my bag without opening it and kept scrubbing at the bench.

"How did you go?" Duo asked, looking rather flushed as Otto left.

"I haven't looked yet," I said. "You look very happy."

"Otto asked me if I'd like to go out tonight and celebrate a successful course. He's picking me up from the flat at seven," Duo glowed.

"Oh," I said. I wasn't doing a very good job of appearing happy.

"Quatre, I'm sure you did okay. You put a lot of effort into preparing for this-it must have shown."

I wasn't convinced. By the time we'd got the last of the chocolate smudges off all the surfaces the rest of the class had gone.

"Will you open it?" I said, giving the envelope to Duo. "I don't think I can."

[cont]