Disclaimer: Don't own any part of Gundam Wing or the characters, more's the pity. This is for fun...no profit involved.

Warnings: AU, yaoi, swearing (lots), some OOC (probably), some violence

Pairings: 1X2, 3X4, developing 5X6

A/N: The "some people just shouldn't be in retail" line totally belongs to waterlilylf. She was visiting me some time ago, and I wanted to show her my favorite local antique shop. But we got there just moments before closing time, and the clerk was rude as could be, telling us she'd closed out the register and we couldn't buy anything. She barely even let us look around for a minute. And as I stewed about it later, out waterlily came with the quote I gave Quatre in this chapter.

THE ACADEMY

Chapter Thirteen: R&R

Quatre picked up on the tension between Duo and Heero before they even sat down to breakfast in the commissary the next morning. The two boys were miles apart in the chow line, studiously not looking at one another.

He frowned, the Trowa-induced euphoric high he'd been on slipping quickly away. "What the—?"

Trowa glanced at him quizzically, and then followed his gaze to their friends. "Well that doesn't look good."

"I don't understand," Quatre huffed. "I thought Duo was done being annoyed with Heero. He seemed to have dealt with it when we talked to him last night." He looked searchingly at Trowa. "Didn't he?"

"I thought so," his lover concurred.

"Then what's wrong with them now?" came the rather plaintive query.

Trowa shrugged.

"Maybe we should've kept Duo with us—," Quatre mused, beginning to feel like they'd somehow exacerbated the situation.

"I'm glad we didn't," Trowa replied fervently, recalling how their evening had ended—or actually turned into an all-night. Duo's presence would have prevented that very pleasurable conclusion.

Quatre frowned, looking at Duo, who'd left the food line and found a table at which to sit, and Heero who was still standing indecisively scanning the room for an empty seat in the opposite direction.

"Y'know what?" Trowa asked, standing close enough to rub shoulders with his lover. "Just pretend nothing's wrong and give 'em time to sort it out."

"But we're leaving right after breakfast for our day trip," Quatre pointed out. "Unless they're going to refuse to come—."

"That's not an option," Trowa insisted. "Not after all the planning you've done. Just follow my lead…"

He led the way over to Heero, acting like nothing was wrong, and hoping the Japanese boy would go along with it. "C'mon, Yuy. Your eggs will get cold."

Heero gave him an annoyed look, but trudged over to the table, sitting at the seat farthest away from Duo. Quatre and Trowa took seats in between the other two, still pretending they hadn't noticed the very palpable tension.

"So—right after breakfast, I'll get the convertible and pick you guys up in the lot closest to the dorms, okay?" Quatre asked brightly. "Wear comfy clothes and bring something to change into for the beach, in case we want to go in the water. We can do that before the clothes shopping, to let off some steam and relax a bit."

"Sounds fine," Trowa agreed, his narrow look daring Heero to disagree.

Duo turned away from poking listlessly at his eggs and opened his mouth—but closed it again when he saw the pleading look in Quatre's shimmering eyes.

"Actually—," Heero began, leaning to look around Trowa.

Quatre turned the devastating expression on him. "What, Heero?"

Heero's jaw snapped shut so abruptly it was audible. "Um—nothing," he mumbled.

Quatre beamed, turning back to Duo. "I've been looking forward to this all week," he gushed. "We'll finally get away for a few hours—just the four of us—free of boot camp, and rules and regulations—friends having a wonderful road trip together."

"Wonderful," Duo muttered, picking up his coffee and downing it in a few gulps.

"Wait until you see the restaurant I picked," Quatre chattered on, looking back over at Heero, who was shoveling his breakfast into his mouth with sullen determination. "It's right on the water. I've heard the views are spectacular."

Trowa elbowed him teasingly, playing along with his attempt to lighten the mood. "Not as spectacular as you," he insisted. "Last night was—." He broke off with a smirk.

Heero turned an interesting shade of pink, his attention fixing even more firmly on his disappearing meal.

Duo made a fake gagging sound, drawn out of his sulk by the other boys' efforts. "Don't need that much sugar in the morning, Barton. Wanna tone it down a bit?"

"This from the one who thought Quat was inviting him to a threesome?" Trowa teased.

It was Duo's turn to blush, while Heero raised his eyes from his food to fix a puzzled look on Quatre.

Quatre smiled benevolently. "It was a misunderstanding," he explained politely. "I worded something rather badly, and Duo got the wrong impression."

At the mention of Duo's name, Heero looked away again, shrugging one shoulder in a "who gives a shit" gesture.

Deciding that the sooner they got on the road, the sooner the tension might dissipate, both Quatre and Trowa ate quickly—keeping up the lighthearted banter until it was time to leave.

When breakfast was over, Duo and Heero both left like shots, while the others exchanged a long look.

"It'll be okay," Trowa tried to reassure his lover, as they headed towards his dorm to pick up spare clothing and the keys to the car. "Once we get them out of here, you can do your magic and get them talking. They'll work out whatever their problem is in no time."

"I hope so, or it'll ruin the whole day," sighed the blonde. He looked in the direction the others had gone. "What if they don't even show up?"

"We'll drag them," Trowa promised. "But don't worry; they'll come. You used your secret weapon on them, love. They didn't stand a chance."

Quatre gave a small, smug grin. "So, I've still got it, hm?"

"Always," Trowa assured him, stealing a kiss while they were in between two buildings and out of sight of the rest of the world.

He pulled back and gave a soulful look of his own. "Can I drive again?"


An hour later, the top was down on Quatre's convertible, and the wind was whipping through Trowa's bangs as he drove them up the coast under a sunny sky.

Duo and Heero were in the back seat, pointedly looking anywhere but at each other, and Quatre was sulking in the passenger seat, having had no luck trying to get information out of either of them.

At this rate, it was going to be a long, long day.

Trowa turned up the radio a bit, surfing through stations to find some good, upbeat music, though his occasional glances towards Quatre's somber face showed his concern.

When he couldn't take it any longer, he pulled the car abruptly to the curb, and shut off the engine, leaning an arm across the back of the seat and leveling a glare at both boys.

"Okay. I don't care what the problem is. I don't care who fucked over who this time—or who's right or wrong. I don't care if you fuckin' hate each other! But you will not spoil this day for Quatre! Do you fucking hear me?"

Two sets of eyes stared up at him in awe, and two jaws went a little slack.

"Trowa—," Quatre said softly, putting a hand on his arm. "It's okay. You can't make them get along—."

Green eyes turned a pained look his way. "But you've spent all week scheming and planning and trying to dream up a perfect day for us all," he protested. "You don't deserve to have your fun ruined by these two selfish assholes!"

His stern look turned back to the boys behind him. "If we weren't so far from the Academy, I'd fuckin' throw you both out and tell you to walk back while Quatre and I enjoy ourselves. Hell, the exercise would probably do you some good—and being alone would give you a chance to sort out whatever petty-assed differences you've come up with this time!"

"Trowa!" Quatre scolded. "It's fifteen miles back to the school!"

"I know, or they'd already be walking." Trowa narrowed his eyes viciously. "And actually, the shape you two are in—fifteen miles would be a cakewalk."

Duo's glance darted from Trowa to Quatre, as if asking whether the blonde would let Trowa carry out his threat.

"It's—my fault," Heero said grudgingly. "I ducked out of our date, and then got mad when Duo went off without me to have fun with his friends."

Quatre's aquamarine eyes caught Duo's, and his eyebrows came together in a frown.

The indigo gaze dropped first, and Duo breathed a gusty sigh. "'S not just 'Ro," he admitted. "I did go off with Rev and Cooper out of spite mostly. I wouldn't have gone to a bar on my own." He raised his eyes to Heero's face finally. "But when you thought I'd been drinking—that was way out of line, Yuy."

"I—I know," Heero agreed. "I should've trusted you. I was just so frustrated at the way the whole evening went—having to disappoint you, and then having you get so pissed when you found out it was Darlian I had to tutor. I wanted it to be your fault; not mine. I wanted to think you overreacted and that what you did was just as wrong as I was for breaking our date to begin with."

"Maybe it was," Duo conceded. "I could've gone back to my dorm and studied, or just hung out and read a book or something. I didn't have to go off the campus looking for entertainment. And even if I didn't drink, I was under age for being in a bar. Then when that jerk spilled beer all over me—it was like I was getting what I deserved for being there in the first place. I got mad at you, because if you'd kept our date, I wouldn't even have been there—."

"You're right, which makes it my fault," Heero insisted. "And I should never have accused you of lying about drinking. I know better. I know you don't lie. Unlike the way I lied about tutoring Reggie—."

"You didn't lie. You omitted," Duo pointed out. "And—maybe you were right to. I mean, obviously it would have upset me. Trowa was right; there was just no way you could win, whether you told me everything or not—."

"But I should have. I should have just been honest and up front with you. You're my lover, after all. And I owe you that much—."

"What about what I owe you?" Duo countered. "You've been nothing but supportive from the start since we got to the Academy. I had no reason to jump down your throat just because we had to wait a little longer for our private time—."

"You shouldn't have had to wait. You've already waited so long—."

"For fuck's sake!" Trowa blurted, rolling his eyes. "Would you just fucking kiss and make up already?"

Duo threw himself into Heero's waiting arms, winding his around the Japanese boy's neck and kissing him deeply and thoroughly.

Quatre smiled warmly at Trowa, reaching out to squeeze his hand. "You are—superb," he said in a husky whisper. "I love you Trowa Barton."

Trowa blushed scarlet, ducking his head, only to have his chin caught in a firm grip and his face turned so Quatre could kiss him soundly on the lips.

"Love you, too," he whispered when their lips parted.

"Now—how 'bout we get back to enjoying our perfect day?" Quatre asked, practically beaming with happiness.

Trowa glanced at the back seat again, his eyebrows rising at the sight of the two boys still kissing, with arms and legs entwined and hands beginning to wander under clothing. "Uhm—when I told them to kiss and make up—I wasn't expecting full-on sex in the back seat—."

Quatre looked too, blushing and turning back around to face the front. "Just drive, Trowa," he suggested, and was rewarded by the roar of the engine starting up and the car resuming forward motion. Without looking in the back seat again, he added, "Don't you two even think of making a mess of the upholstery back there!"

He heard a husky chuckle, and then Duo's teasing voice. "I'll be sure to swallow."

"Oh holy shit," he groaned, clapping a hand over his eyes.

Trowa's hearty laugh made him look over to see his lover truly amused, his hair blown back by the wind and an absolutely carefree and joyous look on his face. "Aw, give it up, love," said the auburn-haired boy. "You'll never out-crude Maxwell."

"Allah, I hope not!" came his fervent reply.

And so they made their way up the coast road, once again at peace with one another and the world.


When, nearly an hour later, they pulled into the parking area at the beach, Duo looked up from necking with Heero, and his eyes widened. "Wow! So that's a beach—."

Quatre turned around with a questioning look before realization dawned. "That's right! You've never seen one!"

"Nope. Not a lotta scenery on L2—an' even if there was, it wouldn't have been on my side of the tracks." He let his gaze drift out across the wide expanse of water. "It's pretty."

"Pretty?" Heero asked, sounding a bit amused.

"Yeah."

"Not spectacular?"

Duo smirked at him, eyes twinkling. "Yuy—I save the word 'spectacular' for things like mobile suit piloting, the Perseid showers from close up, the view of the Horsehead Nebula from the shuttle to L2—." He studied the deep blue eyes of his lover. "Or your eyes," he added a little breathlessly.

With a pleased little smirk, Heero swooped in for another kiss, pressing Duo up against the back of the seat and all but crawling into his lap.

"Jeeze—get a room!" Trowa growled, getting out of the car and stretching lazily.

"Mmm…nope…gonna christen Quatre's seats instead," Duo murmured between kisses.

"Duo!" squeaked the blonde, glaring over the back seat. "Don't you dare!"

Heero sat back, chuckling, and Duo straightened his shirt. "Aw chill out, man. They're leather—they'll wash off just fine."

Heero tugged at his hand, ignoring Quatre's sputtering. "Let's go, Maxwell. I'm sure we can find a more private spot somewhere down the beach. Wanna feel sand between your toes?"

"—and other places?" smirked Duo.

"We've only got a couple of hours," Quatre reminded them with a bit of a whine. "How about we all take a walk and maybe play some volleyball or catch?"

"I know what I wanna catch," Duo said in a husky voice, eyes locked on Heero's.

Heero looked back steadily. "Later, love," he said in a warm tone. "We've got all day, and no matter how late we get back to base, we can spend the rest of the night in your bed." He pushed the ruffled bangs back from Duo's face. "If I'm still welcome there?"

"Always," Duo asserted, once again plastering himself against his lover.

Trowa rolled his eyes. "I liked them better when they were fighting," he told Quatre flatly, picking up a volleyball from the gear in the trunk and heading for the sand.

"I think I did too," Quatre sighed, shaking his head and following.

In spite of their teasing and flirting, Heero and Duo did manage to pull themselves apart long enough to play some games with the other two on the beach, and take a walk in the surf.

Duo was like a kid exploring the ocean for the first time, following the waves as they retreated, and then running from them as they rushed in around his ankles. He delighted in the foam and the sparkling water, his cheeks flushed with excitement and his eyes alight.

Quatre joined him for awhile, while Heero and Trowa hung back, watching them frolic.

"Gorgeous, aren't they?" Trowa commented, picking up a piece of driftwood and dragging it along in the sand as they walked.

Heero nodded, unable to stop smiling. "They practically glow."

"What do you suppose they see in us?" Trowa sighed.

While his question was half in jest, Heero's answer wasn't. "I think they see someone who loves them more than anything in the world—someone who'd gladly give anything they asked for, if it lay in his power. Someone who'd die for them, and not regret it."

Trowa stopped, gawking at the sudden poetic turn of phrase. "Shit, Yuy—what've you been reading?" he demanded.

Heero turned to face him, and shook his head. "Not reading. Just listening—to Wufei, actually."

"Chang talks like that?"

"No—but he makes me think about things," Heero admitted with a shrug, resuming his walk so he didn't have to look at Trowa.

"What kind of things?" pressed the other boy, his tone too intense to be ignored.

"The past—the future—how much Duo means to me, and what I'd give up for him." He kept his gaze on the two boys further up the beach, now kicking water at one another as they ran in the waves. "I guess he makes me appreciate how important it is to savor every moment we have together."

They walked on in silence for a bit, and then Trowa spoke again. "I take it things are getting worse on the colonies."

Not wanting to betray a confidence, Heero just gave a noncommittal grunt.

"I listen to the news reports, Yuy."

Heero looked sharply at him. "Since when?"

"Always. Just because I don't talk about it much, doesn't mean I'm unaware of what's happening out there. Broadcasters have been babbling about increases in docking fees and possible boycotts of shuttle flights. There's a lot of shit going on out there—and if your attitude is any indication, Chang's implied that the tension is close to becoming critical."

Heero gave him an almost accusing glare. "I thought you had your head buried in books and the kennels! Or that you were so smitten with Winner that you couldn't see beyond the life you share at the Academy."

"It's because I'm 'smitten with him,' as you put it, that I care what's going on in the solar system," Trowa explained. "Quatre's got a sweet, gentle soul, Heero. And I don't even want to contemplate what a war would do to him. If there were a way to protect him from it, I'd do whatever it took." He gave a small shrug. "Since there's not, all I can do is make the best of our time together and hope we can learn enough to get through whatever comes down the road."

Quatre had paused, turning their way and going rather still. Heero was the first to notice, as he saw Duo tug at the blonde's sleeve.

"Barton—."

"Shit," muttered Trowa. "You think he picked up on that?"

"Even I could feel the tension and worry in you," Heero pointed out. "And I'm not an empath."

Trowa gave a lopsided smirk, and bent down to pick up some soggy sand. "Time to lighten the mood then," he said, lobbing the wet mess at Heero without further warning.

Heero ducked, feeling the unpleasant smack of the sand on the back of one shoulder. He turned a glare on his friend, grabbing for some sand of his own. "You're going down, Barton!" he swore, taking up the chase as the acrobat fled down the beach, laughing aloud.

The resultant chaos effectively ended their somber mood, and when Duo and Quatre joined in the chase, they all ended up wet, laughing, and exhausted by the time they returned to the car.


"So," Duo asked, after they'd finished changing in a public restroom and climbing back into the car. "Where are we off to next?"

"The mall," Quatre told him, directing Trowa back to the highway to head for the next destination.

"A mall?"

"Don't tell me you don't know what one is," Trowa chided.

"Naw, I do. We had 'em on L2. But they usually did their best to keep out the street kids. And if any got in, the security guards pretty much trailed 'em non-stop." Duo frowned a little, looking out at the scenery. "They weren't fun places for kids like me."

"Well this one will be," Quatre promised. "No one will know or care where any of us are from. We're dressed in decent clothes, and we know how to behave in public. We'll blend right in."

Duo glanced at Trowa, waiting for a snide comment, but the auburn-haired boy simply glanced over at him and shrugged. "What? Expecting me to tease you about not knowing how to behave?"

"Well, yeah."

"Sorry," came the unrepentant reply. "I know you can behave, Maxwell. Just because you often don't—."

"Har har."

But a bit later, as they clambered out of Quatre's car in the mall parking lot, Duo looked around with a vague smile and a rather sly gleam in his eyes.

"Wow—what I would've given for a place like this on L2 back in the day," he sighed, noticing the casual way women held their purses, and the telltale bulges of wallets in hip pockets. "Easy pickings."

"Stop drooling!" Heero scolded. "You gave all that up—remember?"

"Yeah, yeah—I know. I just can't help noticing how easy it'd be." He shook his head. "Folks on L2 were a bit more street savvy."

"And law enforcement was a bit more lax," Heero added, nodding towards a mall security officer at the door.

"Hm. He's not even old and fat," Duo commented. "Guess security is better here."

They headed into the mall—just a group of teenagers in jeans and combat boots, casual tee shirts and windbreakers—blending nicely into the general population. It felt good for all of them to just do something so normal for their age.

"Just for the record," Duo told Quatre. "I'm not wearin' any fancy-assed suit tonight. Don't even think of trying to go overboard on outfits."

"No, I wouldn't," Quatre snipped, sounding a bit offended. "We simply need dress slacks and nice shirts and shoes—no ties or suit coats."

"You're sure?" Heero nudged.

"Okay. Now that's just insulting. Would I question your choice of—well—weapons or something?"

"No."

"Then don't question me about dress codes! I've researched the place online, and they dropped the black tie requirement nearly a year ago."

"How reassuring," Trowa drawled sardonically.

Duo cast a suspicious look at his blonde friend. "Quat—just how exclusive is the place?"

"I got reservations," Quatre said a bit defensively.

"By using the name 'Winner,' no doubt."

"Well that is my name."

Duo rolled his eyes. "God, Quatre—it's a good thing we all love ya so much."

"Yes, it is," came Quatre's decisive answer.

They found themselves in a bright, airy mall, with skylights that let brilliant shafts of sunlight into the walkways. There were fountains and potted plants in the center of the sprawling facility, and other displays dotting the aisled between shops.

Pausing outside a very elegant-looking men's clothing shop, Quatre ran a critical eye over the mannequins in the window. "Yes—this place should have what we need," he concluded, stepping onto the plush rug and strolling towards the counter.

Duo hesitated, looking down at his scuffed combat boots. And then he squared his shoulders and followed, lifting his chin a bit defiantly. Heero and Trowa were right on his heels.

The clerk behind the counter looked up as the boys approached, his smile of greeting fading into a rather frosty grimace. "Are you young men lost?" he asked crisply.

"Not at all," Quatre replied. "We're here to purchase some clothing for a dinner engagement this evening."

The clerk raised a haughty eyebrow. "Indeed. Well, perhaps they could help you at The Gap. It's just down the hall—."

"We need formal wear," Quatre interrupted sharply.

"I'm sure you do," the man sneered, eyeing their clothes contemptuously. "However, your definition of 'formal' is almost certainly not what you'll find in this shop. I suggest you amuse yourselves elsewhere—perhaps in a more affordable store."

"Affordable—?" Quatre echoed dangerously. "I assure you; money's no object. And I've already seen samples of your clothing lines in the window. We'd like to do our shopping here."

"And I'd like you to do it elsewhere," shot back the snide clerk.

Quatre drew himself to his full height, such as it was, and stared the clerk in the eye. "I should like very much to speak to your manager, if you please."

"Well, I don't." The haughty clerk's lip curled in a sneer. "Mister Barnes is far too busy for childish nonsense."

"Tell him Quatre Winner would like a moment of his time," came the cool response, as Quatre slipped his driver's license and credit card from his pocket, holding them out for inspection.

"Winner?" The clerk chuckled dryly, and then actually looked at the license, his self-assurance wavering. He darted a long look at Quatre, and then one over the blonde's shoulder at three sets of identical glares.

Just then, a tall, impeccably-dressed man stepped out of the office behind him. "Is there a problem, Jansen?"

"Ah—no sir, Mister Barnes. These young hoodlums were about to leave before I call security."

Quatre turned a chilling look on the store manager, and held out a hand. "Mister Barnes—Quatre Winner."

Mister Barnes had the intelligence and good grace to blanch at the drop of Quatre's name. He reached out and took the boy's hand. "The L4 Winner family?" he asked smoothly.

Quatre nodded once.

"How can I help you, young sir?"

The clerk turned in disbelief. "Mister Barnes—surely you don't believe he's actually from the Winner family—?"

"Don't you?" Mister Barnes asked curtly.

"No! I mean look at how he's dressed—how they're all dressed—and the company he keeps—." He darted a glance at Heero, whose look could have frozen the polar ice caps.

Duo started forward, opening his mouth to launch a barrage of L2 street slang at the snooty clerk, but Quatre's arm went across his chest, holding him back.

"I'll handle this, Duo." Quatre held his identification and credit card out to the manager. "Feel free to run the card and check the limit, Mister Barnes, if you'd like reassurance." He smiled icily. "Of course, if I have to wait long, I may be tempted to take my business—elsewhere."

"I say we do that anyway," Duo growled under his breath.

Mister Barnes shook his head, holding a hand up in denial. "I wouldn't dream of doubting your word, Mister Winner." He glanced at his seething clerk. "Jansen, you're fired."

"But—but—!"

Mister Barnes gestured to a clerk at the back of the store, a smartly-dressed young woman with dark hair pulled back into a bun. "Marissa—come see to these customers!"

Marissa promptly headed their way, smiling warmly, even as Jansen slunk away to make his exit.

Mister Barnes turned to the girl as she reached them. "Marissa, I expect you to do your very best to find these young gentlemen anything they require."

"Certainly sir," she replied promptly.

The manager then gave Quatre a questioning look. "Can I do anything more before leaving you in Marissa's capable hands?"

The blonde boy smiled brightly. "No thank you. I'm sure we'll be well-pleased with the service from now on." He glanced at his friends, all of who looked a bit shell-shocked at the rapid turnabout.

"Whoa—Quat. You are a serious badass sometimes," Duo breathed in awe.

Trowa looked a bit—hot and bothered—as he smiled at his lover. "You're kind of sexy when you get all assertive," he teased.

Quatre blushed, spoiling his whole "badass" image. "I just can't abide rudeness!" he said firmly, glancing at the door Jansen had skulked out of. "Some people just shouldn't be in retail!"

The boys shared a quick chuckle, before Marissa steered them over to an area of plush chairs near the fitting rooms. "If you'd like to get comfortable," she said gesturing them to sit, "you can tell me what sort of clothing you're here to shop for."

Quatre settled into his seat as if taking a throne. "We're going to dinner at de la Lune," he told her. "We'd like suitable attire, minus ties and jackets, which I heard were no longer required."

"You heard right," she assured him. "But you might consider lightweight coats or sweaters, as it can be quite breezy on the shore."

He nodded politely. "Let's start with your recommendations on slacks, shoes and shirts, and then see what accessories seem appropriate."

"Very good, sir." She snapped her fingers and another clerk scurried to help her jot down sizes and measurements, as she questioned each boy about his preferences.

When she whipped out a tape measure, Quatre obligingly stood up, allowing her to demonstrate on him, so the others would know what to expect. It was probably a good thing he did, because when the pretty girl moved on to Duo and slipped her arms around his waist to loop the tape measure, Heero tensed and shot her a glare of warning, but didn't step in to protest the familiar gesture.

Duo noticed the look, and smirked teasingly, tolerating the slide of unfamiliar hands down his arms and across his shoulders only because he could see how much it irritated Heero.

But he got his comeuppance when Heero's turn came, and the clerk commented on the broadness of his shoulders and the musculature, as she ran a hand across them. Despite the cool professionalism of her motion, Duo ended up frowning in disapproval, until Heero gave him a devilish grin and wink.

Within a matter of minutes, all four boys had been measured, Marissa had suggested complimentary colors for each, and the other clerk had dashed off to bring some clothing samples.

"Oh, by the way," Quatre told the dark-haired woman. "We won't have time for alterations on any of our purchases. We need them for dinner this evening. Do you think you'll be able to fit us with clothes off the rack?"

"Considering the shape you all are in, it's very likely," she told him. "But if you find something you like that needs a bit of fixing, it could be done in under an hour, while you either wait here, or browse in the mall."

"Excellent," he said with a pleased smile.

Marissa moved off to help the other clerk gather clothing, and Duo looked over at his blonde buddy, shaking his head. "I swear, you're kinda gettin' off on this, aren't ya?"

Quatre gave a conspiratorial grin. "Maybe a little. It was sort of fun to throw the name at that insufferable Jansen fellow. And being treated like this—with courtesy and deference—is just a bit of compensation for the rude greeting we got."

He looked up as Marissa breezed back over to them, laying a deep indigo shirt over one of Duo's shoulders and comparing it to the color of his eyes. "Oh—with your chestnut hair and those incredible eyes—this would look delicious!" she asserted.

Duo blushed and ducked his head, glaring aside at Quatre, who merely laughed in delight. "It would!" he agreed. "But could you bring something in dark blue—for comparison?"

The rest of their afternoon went a bit like a Cinderella story, according to Duo. He said he felt like the scruffy kid from the ashes getting dolled up for a fancy ball—and being treated like royalty along the way.

While Heero and Trowa modeled the clothes selected for them with stoic indifference, Duo would try on whatever the clerk gave him, and saunter out of the dressing room to strike a pose.

Quatre took great delight in his friend's showmanship, as well as the way Duo would cajole everyone into giving a thumbs up or down on each outfit. He did the same when it was Heero, Trowa, or even Quatre doing the modeling—goading the others, who were "spectating," into offering opinions.

When they finally narrowed it down to their top two or three style and color choices, Marissa took over to make comments on the fit or cut of each.

She didn't like the way one outfit "hung" on Trowa—and with Quatre's agreement suggested the same slacks in a different fabric. While her assistant dashed off to find them, she turned her attention to Duo, who'd just stepped out of the dressing room in a pair of pants he'd been reluctant to try on.

The girl ran a practiced gaze down the form-fitting slacks in a way that made Duo blush self-consciously, despite his earlier parading.

"Aren't these a little too—clingy?" he asked, sure that the snug pants hid nothing.

"Not at all!" Heero said appreciatively.

Duo glared at him, only stopping when Marissa tucked two fingers into his waistband to check its fit.

"Is it comfortable?" she asked. "No binding or pinching?"

"Nope," he said quickly, trying not to pull away as she slid her hand down his hip and gave a quick, business-like tug on his inseam.

"And it doesn't ride up in the—?"

"No!" he yelped hastily.

She looked like she was smirking a little as she finished checking the fit. "They're very flattering," she told him frankly. "With the plum shirt, they'd make you look devastating."

Duo cast a helpless look at Quatre, who gave a small shrug. "She's right," he agreed. "If you don't believe me, just ask Heero."

The hungry look in Heero's eyes was more than enough to answer the question before Duo even asked it, and finally the braided boy nodded. "Yeah, I guess these'll do."

Heero headed into the dressing room to don the outfit Marissa had recommended for him, and Duo sidled over beside Quatre. "She grabs Heero the way she did me, an' she's liable to get her hand boken," he pointed out.

Quatre chuckled. "No—if he tolerated her hand on you, he'll tolerate it on himself."

"Yeah, but will I?"

"It's just business," Quatre pointed out. "She's not feeling him up—just checking the fit."

"I think that girl likes her job just a little too much, if ya know what I mean," Duo joked.

"Wouldn't you?"

Duo pondered for a moment—and then gave the blonde a teasing leer. "Y'mean, if I got to run a hand up your thigh—?"

"Duo!"

They were both snickering behind their hands as Heero emerged from the changing room in a pair of sleek black slacks that accented both his slender waist and the long, lean muscles of his thighs. A deep blue silk shirt was tucked into them, and made the startling blue of his eyes stand out from under his mop of unruly hair.

"Whoa—," Duo breathed.

Marissa breezed past him, apparently unfazed by the handsome Japanese boy. "Almost perfect," she chirped, reaching and unfastening one more button at the top. "But you can be a little more daring. De la Lune is formal—fashionable—but not stuffy. It's okay to show off your good looks a bit."

Heero slapped her hand away before she could grab the next button. "That's as daring as I intend to get," he said flatly.

She laughed, turning back to Duo and winking. "Maybe you can coax him to open one more."

"I'll damn well try," Duo promised, not even caring that the sharp-eyed clerk had caught on to their relationship.

Quatre elbowed the braided boy gently in the ribs. "Just remember—no ripping the clothes off him later," he warned in an undertone. "Do try to be gentle with them, hm? So we can go out again sometime?"

Duo closed his eyes and gave a very quiet groan, picturing himself peeling Heero out of the too-sexy outfit—knowing how much patience it'd take to do it without sending buttons flying. "I'll try," he sighed.

Trowa was the next one in the changing room, donning a pair of soft suede pants a few shades darker than his hair, and a shirt that almost perfectly matched his eyes. When he emerged, Quatre was as spellbound as Duo had been over Heero—aquamarine eyes going wide with appreciation.

"Oh, that's perfect!" he blurted, not even caring what Marissa's opinion might be. He knew exactly what he liked on his lover—aside from himself, anyway.

"Your turn, blondie," Duo urged, holding out the buff-colored slacks and teal shirt that were almost a paler version of Trowa's colors. "You'll look really good on Tro's arm in this outfit."

Quatre raised an eyebrow, considering. "Hm…you might be right." He took the clothes and went to model them just as the others had, reaching pretty much the same conclusion. They were all gonna look incredibly hot tonight.

It wasn't until they'd made their selections that Duo pointed out to Quatre there were no price tags on anything. He did it discreetly, waiting until Marissa was busy helping Trowa match a belt to his shoes.

"Of course not," Quatre said blandly. "We were shopping for the right clothes—not the cheapest ones in the store."

"Maybe that's what you were doing," Duo hissed back in an undertone. "But I was kinda hoping to make sure you didn't go overboard here."

"I didn't," Quatre assured him.

Duo gave him a skeptical look.

"Seriously," Quatre insisted. "Marissa didn't start us with the most expensive clothing lines. She wasn't pushing for a big commission. Your outfit is very much in the middle range for a store like this. In fact, none of us chose anything outrageously pricey. Really."

His earnest tone finally convinced Duo, and though the braided boy knew damned well Quatre was spending more than he'd be totally comfortable with—he also knew how much it meant to him. Besides, he was pretty sure he wouldn't have been comfortable with any amount of money Quatre spent. But having agreed to the blonde's master plan, he was honor-bound to enjoy himself. It was the least he could do to show gratitude to his best buddy.

When all was said and done, the boys spent nearly two hours in the clothing store. Between trying things on, choosing suitable outfits, and then accessorizing with shoes, belts and jackets, they found the time flew by.

In fact, they were so short on time, they decided to wear their new clothes and carry their old ones out in the shopping bags—as they'd be heading straight from the mall to the restaurant.

Mister Barnes himself rang them up at the counter, asking if they'd found all they needed and if Marissa had provided satisfactory guidance and advice.

"I assure you," Quatre said warmly, "she was the soul of professionalism. I couldn't have asked for better service, or more suitable clothing selections."

The store manager looked decidedly relieved, as he printed out the receipt for his esteemed customer. "I hope you'll have occasion to shop here again soon," he said graciously. "We truly appreciate your business." He let his gaze sweep all four smartly-dressed young men. "You're welcome back any time."

"Well now that was nice," Duo commented as they strolled out into the mall again. "That Mister Barnes is one classy guy."

"As he should be," Quatre sniffed elegantly, smoothing the sleeve of his cashmere jacket. "He's in business to win customers—not alienate them—like that vile Jansen fellow."

"They gonna treat us that nice at your fancy restaurant?" Duo asked, unable to keep from mimicking the gesture on his own sleeve. While he might have protested against wearing silk, he couldn't help but love the way it felt. He had a feeling Heero might like the way it felt, too—and of course that led him to imagining how Heero's hands would feel sliding over the fabric on his skin.

"Duo," Quatre said with a grin, hooking an arm around Trowa's in a possessive gesture as a few mall-goers eyed his handsome boyfriend. "They are going to treat us like royalty—just you wait and see."

He smiled smugly, deliriously happy he could treat his friends to some well-deserved pampering. He was incredibly grateful he'd been able to convince them all, and relieved that Duo and Heero's spat of the night before hadn't prevented their day trip. He truly felt like it was their last chance to celebrate, before their studies became too intense, and the threat of war became too real.