“And how is your work, Colin?” asked Heero’s mother in her formal way.

Colin, the type of casual yuppie you would expect to have a pastel cardigan tied by the arms around his neck, was adjusting admirably to Mrs. Yuy, despite not having spent a huge amount of time with the future in-laws yet. “Very good, thanks,” he replied in equally polite tones. “In my current position, I really enjoy my work, which I think a lot of people can’t say that.”

“And we hear you’re very good at what you do,” Heero’s father commented.

“I like to think so,” Colin smiled. “Of course, it helps that I’m best friends with the manager… but still I think I do pretty good work even without the favoritism.”

Relena laughed. “That sounds just like Heero.” She grinned cheekily at him. “How’s Quatre doing, Heero?”

“Fine,” he replied levelly. “Busy, as always.” He gave one corner of a smile to acknowledge the fact that she was teasing him, but couldn’t complete the expression: once again their parents had gone abruptly, stiffly silent as Relena had sought to include her brother in the conversation.

Relena’s face took on a thoughtful expression. “Do you guys still hang out with those dentists?”

“Yes,” Heero replied. God, they did, didn’t they? In fact, they were all going to be playing tennis on Saturday, weren’t they? And Heero was going to be carrying a doll to that, wasn’t he?

Well, he’d told Duo he meant to keep him out in the open as much as possible, and he didn’t plan on making a lie of that. He would just have to think up an excuse for Duo’s presence before Saturday. He would probably have plenty of opportunity to do so during the coming work-week…

“Are they any good? I need to go see a dentist.”

Here their mother broke in somewhat sharply. “Why do you need a dentist?”

“Oh, this crown in back is bothering me again.”

“But didn’t Lindsay refer you to her dentist?”

“Yes, but I didn’t like it there.” Relena looked like she was going to continue, probably to reiterate her question to Heero, but their mother jumped on her pause. This was no surprise; she was obviously in take-control-of-the-conversation mode.

“Colin, you’ve met Lindsay, haven’t you?” She’d turned to Relena’s fiance again with her polite smile, and when Colin, taken by surprise, nodded rather than answer with his mouth full, she went on immediately. “Lindsay is so nice, isn’t she?”

“I was lucky to find a roommate on such short notice,” Relena said, agreeing only obliquely. “I hope I’ve given her enough notice so she can find someone to take my room in July.”

“Not just that you found a roommate,” their mother said, forcing the issue, “but you found someone so nice.” She looked around pointedly.

“She is nice,” Colin agreed earnestly, as was expected of him.

“She may want to buy my car,” Relena put in somewhat hastily. “That’ll make things easier, since I won’t have to list it anywhere.”

“That would be convenient,” Mrs. Yuy nodded. “What a good friend she is to you. Anyone would be lucky to have someone like her around, I think.” She didn’t have to look over at Heero; she had a way of not looking at someone that produced essentially the same result as if she had. “Didn’t you say she isn’t dating anyone, though?”

Relena shared her mother’s talent for pointedly not looking. Now she, too, didn’t look at Heero as she answered calmly, “That’s right.”

“How strange!”

Frustrated, Heero rose somewhat abruptly. “Excuse me,” he said, and left the dining room. He moved briskly down the hall with its noren-hung cream walls, entered the green bathroom, locked the door behind him, and turned on the fan for cover. Then he extracted Duo from his pocket.

“Hi,” said Duo.

“Hi,” replied Heero darkly. He stared at the doll silently for a long moment before asking, “How are you doing in there?”

“Just enjoying the drama,” Duo said in his ‘grin’ tone. “But your sister seems pretty nice.”

“She is.” Heero gave a somewhat curt nod, then felt his lips pressing together as if he never wanted to speak again. Which was pretty much the case.

Duo seemed to pick up on this, for all he said was, “Well, hang in there.”

Heero nodded again, then returned Duo to his pocket. He didn’t want to discuss ‘the drama,’ it was true, but he wouldn’t have minded being able to express to Duo how unexpectedly bolstering it was to be able to exchange even these few, meaningless words with him in the middle of it. Perhaps sometime he would, if he could figure out a way to do it without confessing exactly how he felt about Duo at the same time.

Back in the dining room, the conversation had taken a turn for the slightly less annoying, and Relena smiled apologetically at Heero as he resumed his seat. After that, he was more than happy to be awkwardly ignored for a while. But before it was even time for dessert, it started again.

They’d returned to the briefly-touched-upon topic of Relena’s car, and were discussing how much she was likely to get for it and what sort of vehicle she and Colin were looking to purchase together. Heero knew what was coming; he hadn’t really expected to get through the night without it.

“You should buy Relena’s car, Heero,” said their mother at about the moment he’d know she would. “That would work out nice for everybody.”

“I don’t need Relena’s car, mama,” Heero replied flatly.

“Yes, you do,” she said. “You can’t keep driving that thing you have.”

“There is nothing wrong with my car.”

“It’s disgusting,” she said. And she really sounded disgusted.

“It doesn’t matter what it looks like.” And it didn’t really matter what he said; they never listened. “It gets me places.”

“It’s a disgrace.” And she really sounded disgraced.

“Your mother’s right,” his father put in. “Someone who makes as much money as you do should be ashamed to be driving a car like that.” Because shame always had to come into it somehow.

“Relena’s car would be much more appropriate for you, don’t you think?” said his mother in a tone that mixed wheedling and authoritativeness.

“I don’t think it’s ‘appropriate,'” responded Heero tightly, “to be looking for a different car when mine runs just fine.”

“But, Heero, it isn’t right…” The mixture of exasperation and despair in his mother’s voice was harsher than the discussion really warranted… but, then, the car discussion was never really about the car anymore, so that was no surprise.

“What, that ancient BMW out there?” Colin wondered, seeming a little nonplussed by the fairly rapid-fire and inexplicably intense exchange. “What’s wrong with it? I mean, other than that it’s obviously twenty-five years old…”

“Do you remember,” said Relena suddenly, with the air of one that has just had an idea so striking she can’t help but mention it despite its only tangential relevance to the current conversation, “how when I was younger I was determined that my first car was going to be a pink limo?”

Colin turned to her immediately, obviously captivated by this revelation. “Were you?”

Relena nodded with a somewhat sheepish grin. “Pink used to be my favorite color, like probably every other little girl at some point or other, and I loved limos. I had my heart set on having one for the longest time, even when I should have known better. It was a serious part of my financial planning for the future until I was, I think, seventeen? I had a brand picked out and I was actually looking into dealerships by the time I lost interest.”

Heero’s parents had subsided by the time his sister was done with this explanation; the next time he caught Relena’s eye, he made sure to give her a grateful smile.

“Well, maybe we’ll get you one someday.” Colin was beaming at his fiance; evidently he thought the entire thing was some sort of adorable. Heero, who knew Relena and her determination a little better than did Colin, thought his future brother-in-law would do better to be relieved that Relena had actually given up that particular fixation.

This led to a discussion of the couple’s investment plans — which Heero was convinced would not have been in such an advanced stage at this point if it hadn’t been for the pressure from his parents — and allowed Heero to drop out of the conversation again. Soon it was time for dessert, and Heero began silently counting down to the moment he could leave.

Ice cream in the living room seemed like it was going to turn into a family game of some sort, and it came as no surprise to Heero that no one specifically urged him to join or sought his opinion on what they should play. Therefore it couldn’t have come as a surprise to any of them when he finished eating in fairly hasty silence and stood up to leave.

“Are you going, Heero?” Relena also stood, and went to hug him. It was a very purposeful gesture, but seemed to have been wasted on their parents. Colin, however, shook hands with him and said, in that way of his that would have been smarmy if he weren’t so perfectly honest and straightforward, that it had been good to see him again.

“Goodbye,” was all his parents said, and this when Heero had already turned his back and taken a few steps toward the hall. And it wasn’t particularly cold or unfriendly, just… stiff, as if they couldn’t think of anything more to say, or were unwilling to say what they could think of.

“Bye,” Heero replied in almost exactly the same tone. Then he had to restrain himself from moving with undue speed toward the front door and his car on the driveway and escape.

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