Relena came out of the bathroom with a towel on her head and Nimitz in the towel. The cream-and-gray ferret was burrowed deep into the soft cloth, holding some treat or other in his paws and nibbling delicately on it as he watched the proceedings from his perch. Wufei's three companions treated it as normal, so Wufei himself merely shook his head and then flushed when Relena caught his eye and winked.
"When I first got him, he'd followed me into the shower and then crawled out," she told him, "and when I went to wrap my hair up, I found him in the towel. It's been his spot ever since."
"Does he bathe with you often?" Wufei cringed a bit as soon as the words left his mouth, but Relena just grinned.
"Oh, yes. Every time. He doesn't always get washed --- too much and his skin gets too oily, you know --- but he loves baths. Now, how about some lunch, boys?"
Wufei fell silent as the other three voiced their enthusiastic agreement, pondering the woman in front of him. She was remarkably different around people she was comfortable with, and it intrigued him. He sat silently at the table as she served them, head lowered slightly as he watched her move. She had an easy, approachable manner, playful and laughing with her friends. It was . . . freer than her public persona, which was what most everyone knew.
"You're awfully quiet," she said suddenly, and Wufei raised his head and eyebrows as he looked at her.
"He's just shy," Duo snickered.
Wufei glowered at him briefly. "There is no shame in being shy," he stated in a low voice.
Relena twinkled. Wufei had read the description, but never actually witnessed it, yet he was fairly sure that Relena was twinkling. It was in the tone of her smile, the way her eyes crinkled up in it, the look on her whole face.
"But what if you want to get laid?"
Duo glanced at Relena quickly, but she was still twinkling at Wufei, who dragged a hand down over his eyes and then rolled them upward, mouthing what was probably a prayer for patience.
"Some girls like quiet men," Relena murmured demurely. Duo gave her a Look and then rolled his eyes and waved his fork dismissively.
"Yeah, sure, whatever."
Wufei may have been a tad uncomfortable with the conversation, but Trowa was turning an interesting shade of red and Wufei arched an eyebrow. He saw Relena's eyes widen out of the corner of his eye and his lips tugged up at one corner.
"How's Catherine?" he asked.
The look Trowa shot him was thankful. "She's fine. Decided that she wants to study anthropology."
Wufei let the conversation roll around him, savouring the meal. Relena was a good cook. Better than good, in fact, and he said so.
He had the pleasure of seeing the blush rise to her cheeks. "Thank you," she said softly, smiling.
"Thank you," he replied. "This is the best meal I've had in ages."
The blush deepened. "Now you're just teasing me," she protested.
"I am not. I can't cook, myself, and generally eat in the mess hall."
"But, Wufei, most everything's better than the mess hall."
"Duo . . ." He hesitated. It was rude, after all, to use strong language in front of a lady.
"Shut the fuck up, Duo," the lady cut in. Wufei blinked and she turned scarlet. "Uhm . . . I'm sorry." It was a whisper and Relena covered her face with both hands. "It just kind of . . . happened."
Duo choked. "Yeah," he coughed, "I hate it when that happens."
"I've had enough of your sexual innuendo, Duo," Heero said sharply. "Cut it out."
Duo sketched a mock salute and peered around, then nodded in satisfaction. "I'm pretty good at this decorating business," he said.
Relena made a face as she tried to suppress her smile. "I refuse to comment."
"Go on, be good to my ego. It needs it."
"It needs to be taken down a few notches," Wufei stated, then pointed with his fork. "You missed a spot."
"What? Oh, fuck."
In the upper corner by the door was a vaguely triangular patch of the same dreary gray that three quarters of Relena's living room still was, glaringly obvious against the pristine white of the dining room walls. Wufei and Relena shared a triumphant smile as Heero berated Duo for his language and Trowa chuckled softly.
"You've got a good eye," she murmured as the others started arguing.
She'd scooted her chair closer to him and Wufei shrugged. "I need one," he replied. "Having a memory palace helps, as well."
Her eyes lit up again. "And you can use anything to start with, correct?"
He nodded. "Any structure you wish, provided you can memorize it completely. I would recommend starting small; you don't need an actual palace right away, because you'll be adding rooms and trinkets."
"That makes sense. So . . . start with a room you know, and memorize it. Then you put something --- say a speech --- next to, oh, this spoon, and pass through the room and pick it up when you need it."
Wufei took a quick drink of milk and dabbed at his lips. "Yes, or it can actually be the object. Personally, I use books." She raised both eyebrows after a brief hesitation, and Wufei hid a smile when he realized that she couldn't raise just one and had tried. "I have a book for everyone I know, or know of, that is . . . customized, you might say, to what I know of them, and I put what I know about them inside. It was what was easiest for me to do when I was younger."
"So . . . an annoying shade of puce for Duo, then?"
They both laughed and ignored the sudden silence from their companions. "Not quite puce, I would say, but certainly his cover is . . . eye-catching. When I learn something new, or have a new observation or whatnot, I just add it in. Some books are thinner than others, naturally." And her was getting bigger all the time, he didn't add. Maybe she already knew it.
Relena was fascinated. All the reading on the subject of memory palaces that she'd done had just confused her; it was much better to talk with someone who had one.
"Could a place be used?" she asked suddenly. "Not a room, is what I mean."
"As in a lake or a forest?" Wufei shrugged. "Whatever you like. I've never tried that . . ." He frowned as he thought about it, then smiled and shook his head. "I'm certain it could work; my knowledge of swimming and such is kept in an ornamental koi pond, so as long as you memorize everything about the place, I'm sure it's possible."
Relena flushed at his approving look. "Let's hear it for innovative thinking."
Wufei chuckled. "Nothing less than what I'd expect from you."
Relena blushed deeper and then cleared her throat suddenly, sitting up straight and turning back to her meal. Wufei decided a kick was too much and so prodded himself for making her uncomfortable. He took to his own meal, glancing up in time to see Duo making a questioning face and gesture at Relena. He didn't see her response, but filed it all away neatly. The day was getting . . . interesting.
Claws dug into his jeans and he jumped, scooting his chair back a bit as Nimitz wormed up into his lap and placed his front paws on the table, leaning forward to sniff at Wufei's spaghetti.
"Nimitz!" The ferret pulled back at Relena's sharp tone, and she sighed. "Look, Stinker, you don't get human food. You know that."
Nimitz endeavored to look as pathetic as possible, rubbing up against Wufei's chest and butting him in the chin with the top of his fuzzy head, making pitiful noises.
"Don't give in," Relena told him. "No matter what sort of tricks he tries. He knows the rules. His food is in the kitchen."
"In the cupboard?" Wufei asked as he gently removed a sulking Nimitz from his lap and set him on the floor.
"Sometimes. That's his nest. He's got a dish by the window." She sighed and bit her lower lip gently, frowning into her food. "I can't stay up late, guys," she said. Somehow, 'guys' didn't sound quite right coming from her upper-class accent. "I've got an extra-early day tomorrow."
"What time should I come over?" Heero asked.
Duo cringed. "Dear God, Relena, two in the morning? We don't get up that early!"
"Well, I've got things to do tomorrow. The Foreign Minister is ill, so I have to take his meetings as well as mine. It's called responsibility, Duo."
Duo just made a face at her and Wufei raised a mental eyebrow at her sudden irritability. Relena was certainly multi-faceted.
She shook herself and stood up. "Well, then, shall we get started? I'm sure we can get the living room done today." It was an almost forced cheerfulness and Wufei frowned, a bit perturbed, but he got up with the rest of them and started gathering dishes.
"I can do that," Relena insisted, laying a hand on his arm.
Wufei tilted his head slightly toward her as he reached for a glass and offered her a smile. "I don't mind; two people are faster than one."
There was a moment of perfect stillness in the room as Relena looked at him flatly, her considerable mind working behind her cornflower-blue eyes, then she took a deep breath and nodded as she let it out slowly, smiling a bit.
"All right," she murmured. "All right. Thank you."
The other men shook off their sudden tenseness and Wufei continued to gather plates and take them into the kitchen, his brain working over-time. He and Relena were silent as they rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher, and when they re-emerged into the living room ten minutes later he still had no idea what was triggering his companions' odd behaviour. They followed Duo's direction and by eight had gotten most of the room done.
"Out, out, out!" Relena shoved playfully at Duo. "I'm sure you'll all be back next Sunday, so go. Two, remember? That means I get up at one."
"Good Lord, go to bed," Duo grumbled.
Relena laughed and threw her arms around his neck to give him a kiss on the cheek, then did the same to Heero and Trowa. She turned to Wufei and flushed a little, just across the bridge of her nose and the tops of her cheeks, and shifted her weight to one side.
"Ah, will you be coming with them next week?" she asked.
Wufei shifted a little, himself, and nodded. "If there's no objection."
"Good. It's a holiday next Monday, so we can all stay up late. I'll rent movies. Does that sound good?" The last was said to all of them, and since the other three agreed and Wufei had no social life to speak of, he didn't see anything wrong with it. "Good. I'll see you all then. Goodnight!"
They said their goodbyes and Wufei followed Duo out to his truck, Heero lagging behind to talk with Relena.
"So . . . not what you'd expected?" Duo asked casually.
Wufei raised an eyebrow as he buckled up, then shrugged with a slight smile. "I'm not sure iwhat/i I'd expected. It was a pleasant experience."
"Yeah, you two seemed to hit it off real well."
"Why don't you just say whatever you're trying to get at?"
Duo pursed his lips and stared at the road. Finally, "Any interest on your part?"
Wufei had been expecting it. Duo was painfully obvious at some things. "Would it clash with an interest on yours? Or anyone else's?"
He got a glower. "That's not what I asked."
"But it's relevant. I don't chase women my friends are interested in."
Duo snorted. "Somehow, you and the phrase 'chasing women' just don't fit." He shrugged. "No, no one else is interested. Are you?"
Wufei stared at Duo, fighting a surge if irritation. "I wouldn't mind getting to know Relena better. She's a very interesting person."
Duo just grunted and concentrated on the road, and Wufei couldn't get a word out of him the entire trip back to his apartment.
Heero watched Duo, Trowa, and Wufei walk down the stairs, then turned to Relena and hugged her tightly. She returned it, smiling when he tilted her chin up to frown down at her.
"What was that about?"
"What was what about?"
He frowned harder. "Wufei." Relena raised both eyebrows. "You got on rather well with him."
"I get on rather well with anybody I choose to," she replied, then sighed at the look on his face. "He's nice, all right? And he's got a memory palace, and he's good to talk to, and he listens. He's not what I'd expected him to be like."
"Do you like him?"
"Good God, Heero, I've only just met him!" She softened her words with a smile and kissed his lips quickly. "I wouldn't mind getting to know him better, but you know I don't need romance right now. Especially right now. Hmm?"
Heero stayed still a moment or two longer, then nodded. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay." She leaned against her doorway as he caught up with Trowa, who had lingered behind. "I love you, Heero," she called softly.
He paused and turned back to her, then smiled. "I love you, too, Relena."