The pocket plan evidently wasn’t actually to be implemented until they reached the place, so Duo got to sit in the passenger seat of Heero’s rusty old car again. He would rather have been on the dashboard so he could see out the windows, but little purchase was available there for someone that couldn’t really hold on, so instead he satisfied himself with looking at Heero. And as they progressed through town toward Heero’s parents’ house, it was as if they were also traveling back in time to the first day they’d met, back to that unresponsive, mistrustful Heero that didn’t smile.

Duo watched him with what would have been undisguised curiosity and concern if his current predicament didn’t so effectively disguise anything he didn’t choose to verbalize, wondering, through the cool silence that had muffled the car’s interior, what in the world was going on between Heero and his parents that could cause this kind of reaction. Heero usually seemed so intensely effective, as if there was nothing he couldn’t do and no situation he couldn’t handle… even a magical talking doll hadn’t fazed him for long… What was it about his family that he seemed to feel he had to put up a barrier against? Duo had to remind himself that people were sometimes really strange about their parents, which was one of several reasons he was rather glad he’d never met his.

He’d been hoping to see some of the Asian district, where Heero had informed him his parents lived, or at least to catch a glimpse of the house that was their destination, but Heero put him into his cargo pocket before leaving the car. He did have to bend him over to get him in, which Duo was definitely going to bring up again later when he got the chance, and, not at all to the doll’s surprise, he was still apologizing as he snapped the pocket shut and trapped Duo in darkness.

Honestly, after the various toyboxes and backpacks Duo had occupied over the years, a pocket was nothing particularly onerous. It was better, as a matter of fact, in that he could still hear what was going on around them fairly well and reflect complacently upon the warmth of Heero’s thigh all along his body. He couldn’t actually feel the warmth of Heero’s thigh, but the awareness that it must be there was comforting, and he could probably work it into a suggestive remark later. For the moment he just listened hard.

Heero seemed to have arrived before his sister, which meant he was alone with his parents in the house for a few minutes, and Duo was hopeful of hearing something informative during this time. At first he was disappointed when they greeted each other and went on in Japanese, but it didn’t take long, even through the unfamiliar language, for him to pick up on the stiffness in their statements. After a brief, cool exchange, the mother left the room, and Heero had only his father to talk to. The latter had a quiet voice much like his son’s, and didn’t seem to have a lot to say — but was this because he was naturally taciturn, or because whatever was going on was making all family conversation awkward?

When the sister, Relena, arrived, bringing with her a guest by the name of Colin, the atmosphere warmed up quite a bit, and Heero dropped out of the conversation almost entirely. Fortunately, Colin didn’t seem to speak Japanese, so things at least became intelligible, even if there was still an entire aspect to the interactions that Duo was missing.

“Hello, Colin,” was the first thing anyone said in English (it was the father). “Very good to see you.”

“We’re always so glad to have you over,” agreed Heero’s mother, who’d come back in to greet the newcomers in a much more welcoming tone than she had used on her son. “Would you like some coffee or tea before dinner?”

“No, thanks, Mrs. Yuy.” Colin had a friendly, polite voice that sounded faintly British. “I think Le wanted to show me something.”

“Yeah, we’re going to look at some of the photo albums. He won’t believe I bleach my hair until he sees photographic evidence.” Relena, like her brother, did not seem to have their parents’ slight accent, and it occurred to Duo to wonder when the family had immigrated.

“All right,” said the mother. “Ten minutes, OK?” She managed to sound both fond and authoritative at the same time.

“Come with us, Heero,” Relena commanded in much the same tone as her mother’s. “It’s no fun to laugh at old pictures of you if you’re not there.”

Heero evidently had nothing to say in response to this, but the alacrity with which he obeyed indicated that he would definitely rather be with Relena having old pictures of himself laughed at than with his parents trying to think of something to say next. And it was also clear, within two minutes of his leaving his father and mother behind, that the problem lay with them, as Duo had guessed, and not with his sister and her friend.

Duo would have given quite a lot (not that he really had anything to give) to see the photos the latter were exclaiming over, which seemed to be twenty years’ worth of Yuy family memories. The question of Relena’s natural hair color was settled almost immediately, but still Colin kept bringing it up. Duo, practiced flirt that he was, could easily tell that this was purely for the sake of complimenting her on the effect she achieved and teasing her about her supposed vanity, and the relationship between the two became a little more clear.

“And here’s another one of us playing in that refrigerator box,” Relena laughed. “I swear we got half a year out of that thing before it fell apart.”

“How many costumes did you two have?” wondered Colin in amusement.

“You could always tell it was us, though,” remarked Relena slyly. “Because I always wore that stupid princess hat with the streamer, and Heero always had that look of heroic determination.”

Now Duo was absolutely dying to see these pictures. This was so unfair.

“And never smiled, apparently,” Colin added. His tone suggested he wasn’t entirely sure whether or not he was allowed to tease Heero yet.

Heero made a noise that might have been a snort and might have been a faint laugh, and there was the slapping sound of more album pages being turned.

Wow, Le, you were a pretty kid.”

“There’s no need to sound so surprised about it,” said Relena in mock indignation.

Colin laughed, and, from the sound of it, kissed her. “But seriously, look at these… you were even the prettiest baby I’ve ever seen!”

“I think that one’s Heero, actually.”

“Oh. Hey, Heero. You were the prettiest baby I’ve ever seen.”

Heero made the same noise as before; Duo was fairly sure now that it was a sort of quiet snort of vaguely amused acknowledgment. He hadn’t said a word since he came in here, and still the conversation seemed less awkward than the one he’d previously been having with his father.

Relena and Colin continued to discuss the pictures in a manner calculated to allow for as much flirtation between them as possible, Heero remained wordless, and, in the darkness of Heero’s pocket, Duo was kicking himself mentally all of a sudden.

How was it that he had never mentioned to Heero that he could choose who heard him when he spoke? He could make all the comments he was dying to make about Heero’s family and the sister’s boyfriend, and nobody but Heero would hear him… except that doing so might startle Heero into a demonstration of surprise that would be noticed by the others and necessitate some kind of possibly embarrassing explanation, and Heero would not thank him for that. But, dammit, if only Duo had remembered to tell him beforehand…

Eventually — actually, Duo thought it had been very precisely the promised ten minutes — the mother called them to come have dinner. Duo was pleased; if he wasn’t to be allowed to see the photos, at least he could hope for some kind of elucidation on the family issues through the next overheard conversation.

This next conversation turned out to be simply a continuation of the current one. “Mama, whatever happened to those old costumes we always used to wear when we were kids?” Relena was asking as (to the best of Duo’s knowledge) they were all sitting down around the dinner table.

“They are in a box in one of the bedrooms,” the mother answered with surprising immediacy. She didn’t even seem to have to think about it. Duo remembered, back when he’d owned things, sometimes being unable to locate the ones he used every day; something in a box from however many years back would undoubtedly have been lost to him forever (or at least until he came across it by accident while looking for something entirely different).

“Let’s see,” said Colin. “In the pictures I saw a ballerina, a musketeer, a princess–”

“Several princesses,” Relena corrected him. “Different dress, different princess.”

“Several princesses,” Colin conceded in amusement. “And a… was it a fox?”

“And then I’d combine them. Fox-princess Vixine of the Forest Kingdom had a long run, and so did Jzi-Jzi the fencing ballerina — who, actually, I think was also secretly a princess.” This was met with general laughter, and Relena went on enthusiastically, “Heero did that too: I think Princess Jzi-Jzi employed musketeers in addition to being one herself, or they were part of the ballet? Or something… but Heero couldn’t tell anyone that he was a musketeer serving a secret princess, because…” She trailed off, laughing, as she tried to remember.

“Because the coach of my football team had a rule against being part of any other organization,” Heero supplied at a deadpan.

“Yeah, he was a bit of a jerk,” Relena agreed. “But wasn’t that the game where you died in my service and became a zombie? And you were so strong and fast then that you were the star of the team and the coach stopped caring what you did as long as you were there to win the games for them?”

“Because everyone knows how fast zombies are,” put in Colin, breathless with laughter.

“That’s right,” said Heero.

It was a good thing Duo had gotten so much practice keeping silent in the face of extreme provocation, because otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to prevent himself from laughing aloud with the rest of them. This was definitely something he was going to have to bring up with Heero later. He wished he knew how old they’d been… it had probably been obvious from the pictures, but of course he hadn’t seen them.

One thing that made it easier to stay calm and not give himself away was the interesting fact that the laughter of Heero’s parents had ceased rather abruptly the very moment Relena had mentioned his name. Relena and Colin were laughing enough to cover up the lapse, but Duo hadn’t failed to notice. Why was Princess Vixine of the Animal Kingdom amusing when zombie musketeer football player Heero wasn’t? Moreover, why did the mother suddenly change the subject at this point by asking Colin some stupid polite question? What was going on here?

Previous (Part 37) | Chapter Index | Next (Part 39)