Heero came down the stairs of their latest temporary refuge, laptop tucked under one arm, carrying a small box. At the bottom of the stairs, he took a sharp turn right and headed for the living room. The couch group table before the television set was somewhat cluttered up already; boxes of rags and cans of various polishing substances were spread out across it. With barely more than a grunt, Heero put the laptop and box down on the couch while he cleared the table, putting the boxes and cans aside to one end of it, meticulously sorted by size. He proceeded to place his archaic portable computer on the table, put the little box next to it and pulled a cable from the mysterious black box to the laptop. He went over to the TV set and searched out a similar box hidden behind it, brought it over to the table and hooked it up along with the other.
The machine booted up, registered the attachments, and soon enough began processing the data the recording devices had gathered up during the night. Satisfied that the computer was set to work, Heero got up again, walked back out in the hallway the stairs led down to, and across it into the kitchen. Even before he entered, he could hear Quatre humming on a cheerful tune. Heero dimly remembered having heard the blond play the same melody on his violin a few days previous. Quatre was walking to and fro, apparently well underway preparing breakfast for the entire group - it was his turn to make the meals, though it didn't really matter which of the five got the job. None of them had so far developed cooking skills beyond making something edible, much less something appetizing. Fifteen-year-old boys in general aren't known for their culinary talents - much less fifteen-year-old boys who happen to be soldiers slash terrorists controlling gigantic combat machines, with a knack for blowing things to smithereens - including meals. The microwave oven was as much a loathed enemy as the next OZ operative. They had once jested with the thought of finding a 'Made by Romefeller' stamp on the machine.
A later search had revealed nothing.
Regardless, it didn't deter Quatre from fussing with the stove, hovering over pans, kettles and chopping boards, merrily performing his chore for the day. Heero gave a curt nod to Trowa, who sat bent slightly in over the kitchen table, elbows at table, chin in hands, looking dead across the polished wooden surface at the bright yellow wall at the other side of the kitchen, occasionally sneaking a glance at the blond busybody. Trowa returned the nod, barely registering Heero, before returning to his study of the wall. Thinking it over for a few seconds, Heero realized what was wrong. "No newspaper today?"
"Hm? Oh, uhm... no."
With a satisfied nod upon having found the reason for Trowa's apparent boredom, Heero walked across the kitchen, bent down by the corner counter next to the stove, opened the cabinet there and reached inside. Quatre finally noticed his arrival, and together with Trowa, he shot Heero a quizzical look.
After a bit of groping around, Heero pulled out another tiny black box, and turned to face the curious expressions of the other two.
Quatre wiped his hands on his oversized green apron, smudged the red heart on the chest pocket a little in the process, and turned the stove off. "Well, breakfast is almost ready - we just have to wait for Duo, and we should be ready to eat."
Heero accepted the information with a nod, and moved towards the hallway.
"Uhm - Heero? Just what is that thing?"
Without stopping, Heero stated "It's an audio recorder," and walked out of the kitchen, back to the living room, completely missing the faintly panicky looks the other two briefly exchanged behind his back. He sat down by the laptop, verified that the data from the other unit had been processed and stored, disconnected it and hooked up the audio recorder from the kitchen in its place. He switched the speakers of the laptop on, and was busy adjusting the volume when he noticed Quatre had followed him, apron discarded, and was now hurriedly walking over to sit down in the couch next to him.
"Heero, what do you mean, audio recorder? What-"
"I'm testing some surveillance equipment we might have use for in upcoming missions. I need to determine how effective they are, as well as calibrate them properly. I scattered a few sensors around the house yesterday, and set them to start recording this morning. You and Trowa have been in the kitchen since you got downstairs, right?"
Quatre smiled nervously. "Yes, but-"
Heero fiddled with the black box, removed a side panel to reveal a small number of switches and knobs. "Good. Then this device should have recorded any conversations you had, and any sounds you made."
If he hadn't been so busy adjusting some of the controls, Heero would have seen Quatre swallow, and the smile waver even more. "Why didn't you tell us you were-"
Shrug. "I didn't think it mattered. I'm just recording some sample data to work with, not state secrets." He flipped another switch, and the laptop speakers let go a beep, affirming the connection between the devices was operational. "Besides, there was the slight risk you wouldn't speak in a normal tone of voice if you knew you were being recorded. I didn't feel like taking that chance."
"Uhm, Heero... Do you really have to-"
Heero pressed a few keys, and the recorder began divulging its secrets. At first, there was only distant background noises. Heero brought up an oscilloscope, and instructed the machine to fast-forward until a stronger discrepancy showed up. After a few seconds, the line of the oscilloscope started dancing, and the laptop began playing the recording normal-speed again. They heard the shuffle of feet - barely audible, but greater than the background noises. "I assume that's Trowa - he treads more lightly than you."
Quatre didn't argue; it was true enough. Trowa did indeed possess the gift of stealth in that respect; always quiet in all things he did - well, almost all things - which brought the blond to his current problem. "Heero, are you sure the sensors need to be calibrated? If you can pick up and interpret Trowa's steps that easily, surely-"
"Hush." Quatre obeyed the order. They heard wood screech on linoleum; one of the chairs being pulled out. The crumpling of paper followed, intermittently paused between page turns. "Okay, that's Trowa reading the paper... Wait, didn't Trowa say there was no paper this morning?"
Shaky smile. "Uhm - well, there was - but I accidentally spilled something on it, so we had to throw it away."
Accepting the explanation with barely a blink, Heero adjusted some of the knobs, using the data his laptop gave to adjust the audio recorder to optimal clarity. Through the pair of speakers, another pair of feet could be heard, this time someone fleet-of-foot, and evidently in a hurry.
"I'm going out - I have some unfinished business to attend to," Wufei's shrilled voice said through the speakers. Heero quickly began tweaking another knob, unhappy with how garbled the voice print had been. As a somewhat distant sound, they heard the main entrance door open and slam shut.
Heero nodded towards the polishing equipment stacked at one side of the table. "I'm assuming Wufei left early this morning, then?"
Quatre nodded back, though rapidly losing his calm, knowing what was coming up. "Yes, he did. Uhm, Heero? Are you done adjusting the sensor now? If you are, you don't have to listen to it anymore, do you?"
Heero gave him a cool glare. "Didn't you hear how distorted Wufei's voice was? I need to tweak it more towards voices. You came down to the kitchen soon after Wufei left, right?"
Hesitantly, Quatre nodded again.
"Good - If you two talked a bit, I should be able to finish calibrating this audio device. You did talk, didn't you?"
"Well, yes, but-" Again, Quatre swallowed, and with the hand he was hiding behind his back, he crossed his fingers.
The speakers announced another person arriving at the kitchen. However, there was something unusual in the sound of the footsteps; a faint sticky sound reminiscent to that of a post-it note being removed from a surface. Heero frowned, shot a glance at Quatre's feet, both clothed in socks. "You didn't wear those this morning, I presume?"
Quatre shook his head, dim blush forming on his cheeks.
"You walked barefoot?"
The blond suddenly had an urgent need to scratch a spot at the back of his neck - an urge he complied with. "Yeah... I wanted to preheat the oven and take a few things out of the freezer in advance - I went back to the bathroom and got some socks afterwards." That was true enough - though socks wasn't all he had had to search out.
"The downstairs bathroom?"
Newspaper crumpling again, then Quatre's dim giggles through the speakers. The laptop gave Trowa's voice next, and Heero again began fiddling with the black box, adjusting it so the voice came through much clearer. "You have a pink apron?"
Heero shot Quatre a glance, almost smirking. Quatre smiled in return, shrugged, tried hard not to blush. His black-box twin almost whispered "Yeah...", sparing him the need to answer.
The newspaper was folded away. "Can I borrow it for a little while...?"
Again, Heero paused from adjusting the signal to shoot Quatre a curious glare, unsure of what to make of the absurd, little discussion. "Why did Trowa want your pink apron?"
Quatre's nervous smile returned, his teeth nearly gritting. "Uhm... I don't really know - we were just talking, and - do you really need more? Don't you think you've adjusted the recorder to perfection yet?"
The laptop let Quatre's recorded gentle laughter through. "You'll have to come and get it, if you want it..." Heero flipped a switch. "Almost have it."
Over the speakers, they heard Quatre giggling, the rattling of paper, the chair being pushed back, and what sounded like a brief chase over the linoleum floor of the kitchen, Quatre presumed captured when his laughter intensified.
Under Heero's quizzical gaze, Quatre blushed and grinned before shrugging it off. "He tickled me, okay?"
There was some other noises, cloth dragged across cloth; a knot untied. "Thank you...", near-growled the tape-Trowa.
Heero rolled his eyes. "Just what is it about this pink apron?" He looked at Quatre. "Hey, wait a minute - your apron was green, not-"
Hasty interjection. "Trowa took my pink one, remember? Anyway, it got really dirty, so I threw it in the laundry hamper." Diversion. "It's Duo's turn to do the laundry, isn't it?"
Heero gave a curt nod, still trying to figure out why the heck Trowa would want a pink apron for. From the recording, there was more shuffling of feet, muffled sounds Heero couldn't quite determine what was, more raffling of paper. Quatre had buried his face in his hands, knowing all too well what they were listening to, and what sounds would come next. He'd made roughly half of them, after all. He felt close to dying of embarrassment - and then, as if a miracle, Heero flipped another switch, halting the recording just in time to spare them of further fabric noises, and a variety of sloppy sounds, heated whispers and barely contained moans that would follow soon after. "Done," Heero announced.
Quatre mumbled a silent prayer. "Uhm, you're going to delete the recording, right?"
Heero shrugged. "The sensor has been calibrated, I have no use for the data now, it'll only take up space. Why? Anything you want to keep on there?"
Flash-blush. "Oh, no - not at all."
Disconnecting the audio recorder, Heero reached for the other black boxes, reconnected them, and brought back the data he had processed earlier. He shot a glance at the assortment of rags and polish. "Wufei sat here this morning, didn't he?"
Quatre nodded, at last regaining his normal facial complexion. "Trowa told me he sat here brandishing his katana this morning, and then ran out for some errand or another - with the katana."
On the laptop screen, Heero brought up a blueprint of the first floor of the safehouse, typed a few commands and waited for the data to play.
"Perfect?" Quatre pointed at the box. "Is that another listening device?"
Heero shook his head. "No, that's an infrared sensor."
"A heat detector?"
Affirmative nod. "Not just on/off, either. 3-D." The data started playing, and a few spots showed up, ranging from deep red for the warmest areas, moving off to cool blues and purples at the other end of the scale. Heero began typing again, matched the data with the blueprint in the background, and tilted the entire setup a little. The end result was an isometric perspective of the first floor of their little refuge, the heat shapes showing Trowa in the kitchen, Wufei in the living room, and a few lamps and other heat sources dotting the remaining landscape. Furniture, fixtures and other cooler objects showed their outlines in various blue and violet hues.
Heero huffed. "The downstairs sensor appears to work just fine... Calibrating the data with the upstairs sensor - if they match up, I can overlay them to get a heat print for the entire building."
Quatre made an observation. "The sensors work out along the sides, and not in a sphere?"
Nod. "Yes - they were designed for outreach - and most times, you want to cover an area such as a building floor, not a sphere. Floor and ceiling layers will probably disrupt or distort the signal, anyway."
The Reddish-yellow shape they knew had to be Wufei shifted, and another yellow line stretched out before him; his katana. Quatre chuckled. "Look at that - Wufei rubbed his blade so much, it warmed up to nearly half his body temperature."
Heero frowned, and began checking if this was a sensor malfunction. At the very least, he would need to calibrate the sensitivity of the recorder. He switched the view to upstairs, data timed to match the downstairs play. The blueprint showed the main upstairs corridor crossing the T of the staircase, five separate rooms on the opposing end, a bathroom off to the right side, a small study to the left. In the far right bedroom, one shape could be seen moving around, doing quick stretch exercises.
"That's you, isn't it?"
Heero nodded, tapped the room next to his on the screen. "And that shape resting comfortably in bed is Duo." Short snort. "As if there was any doubt." He moved his finger down to the bathroom. "And that's you."
Quatre smiled, pointed at a few other, dimmer, heat sources from two of the other bedrooms. "What are those?"
"Residual heat from our beds. That one at the end there is Wufei's, then there's-" Heero stopped, noting there wasn't a heat trace in Trowa's bed. He quickly tried to adjust the sensors. "That's strange..."
"There aren't any fresh traces of heat in Trowa's bed. It's almost as if he didn't sleep there tonight."
Quatre choked ever so slightly, knowing all too well where the other boy had spent the night, as if a prelude to their little play in the kitchen this morning.
"Was he out working on Heavyarms all night, or something? He looked fatigued earlier..."
The blond blushed, but managed to get it under control in a hurry, bringing forth the most disarming smile in his arsenal. "Yeah, that's probably it."
Heero shrugged it off with that, and returned to the screen. The next room was Quatre's. He frowned. "There's an anomaly in your room too - your heat print is too big - or too warm."
The smile faltered a bit. "It is?"
"Yes - the fact it hasn't cooled down much - compare it to my heat print." Heero tapped the bedroom all the way to the right, in which his heat shape could be seen picking out clothes from a cabinet. His bed also had traces of warmth, but its colors were already cooler than those of Quatre's bed. The size of the print was also smaller, nearly two thirds that of Quatre's.
"Oh! Maybe that's because of my thermoblanket."
Heero lifted a brow. "Thermoblanket?"
Soft smile, shrug. "I'm used to a warmer climate - It tends to get a bit chilly for me at night, so I use a thermoblanket for comfort."
Grunt. "What warmer climate? Didn't you grow up on a colony?"
Gritted teeth once more. "Yeah... Well, my father had the temperature of the entire colony lifted a little above colony standard - he said it was a part of our heritage. He forgot about cold desert nights, thankfully."
Heero almost rolled his eyes, but settled for a quick skywards glance and momentarily closed eyelids. "Well, that would explain it, I guess."
At the screen, Heero's shape left his room, tapped on Duo's door, once, twice, thrice... In the end, the shape opened the door, and judging by the way Duo's heat shape got moving with a startled jolt, the braided lad had finally been roused from slumber forcefully.
Heero smirked. "I shouted him awake."
Dim chuckle, smile. "Yeah, I heard you from the bathroom."
"He had it coming. He neglected his alarm clock, and didn't respond to my knocks. Plus, even when I wake him up like that, he still falls back to sleep half the time. He needs to be more efficient. Otherwise, he'll miss breakfast - and I for one don't want to hear the hell he'd raise if that happens."
On the screen, Quatre's shape exited the bathroom, snuck past Heero's, and headed downstairs, heat trace fading as he went further downstairs. Heero quickly tapped a few keys, calibrating the data from the two heat sensors to act as one, and give an accurate heat shape of Quatre as he moved down the stairs, the view moving down level with him. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, so did the screen image, back to the perspective of the first floor, none of the heat sources from the second floor showing. "Looks like the tracking software works. The transition was fairly smooth, too."
The screen-Quatre quickly side-stepped through the door on the immediate left side of the staircase - the downstairs bathroom. Heero frowned slightly, wondering why the blond went from one bathroom to another, and was about to ask when another movement caught his eye. In the living room, Wufei's shape stood up and inspected the katana, turning the blade over and back again repeatedly, testing its balance, blade still warmer than expected. Heero didn't know whether to admire his fellow soldier's meticulousness, or consider it an obsession. He preferred not to, given that he had similar compulsions from time to time. Screen-Wufei left the living room, ran into the kitchen, lingered a moment to deliver the message to Trowa they had heard earlier on the audio recording. Trowa's shape was seated by the table, arms spread holding up a newspaper that left nearly no trace on the screen, being a cold object. Then, Screen-Wufei left in a hurry.
"Did Wufei say anything about where he was going?"
Quatre shook his head. "Not to me, and not to Trowa either, as far as I know. I think it was important to him, though. You heard the eagerness in his voice, and add to that the katana..." He shrugged. "He'll be back. His Gundam is still here."
On the screen, Quatre's heat shape tentatively opened the door, barely its head sticking out for a quick look-see. After a slight hesitation, the shape left the bathroom, and walked into the kitchen. Heero mentally added the soundtrack from earlier to the image, saw Trowa follow Quatre's movements, getting up, the little chase he'd imagined earlier, the capture and tickling Quatre had mentioned...
Quatre's nervousness returned, and he was barely able to mask his voice from it. The image was thankfully not sharp enough for the unsuspecting eye to see his screen-self was wearing the famed pink apron - and only that. At least, he hoped it was that blurred. "Uhm, think we could look at the upstairs data again? I think I saw something there."
Heero quickly swapped the displays. If the blond had spotted an anomaly in the sensor display, he definitely wanted to see it, and compensate for it. "Where?"
Quatre pretended to study the screen, and took his time. He was determined to keep the view on the upstairs blueprint for a while; some sights would leave no doubt, blurred or not. Several minutes passed.
"Uhm... I'm not sure - I was sure I saw something..."
Heero shrugged. "Maybe it was a glitch."
Quatre pointed at Duo's heat shape, sitting upright in the bed, stretching both arms. "Looks like Duo got up after all. Did you tell him he'd miss breakfast if he didn't get up?"
Grunt. "No - but I'll have to remember that threat for later occasions. With him, that's probably the most effective wake-up call."
Quatre looked a bit lower on the screen, to the bathroom, where Heero's shape was standing inside an alcove, outline disturbed. "What's with your image? Is-" It dawned on him just where Heero was standing. "Oh..."
Heero smirked. "Yes, I'm in the shower. The warm water distorts the heat signature. Not much I can do to clear that up."
Duo's shape began moving with quite a bit of speed, rapidly searching through his cabinet and drawers for clean clothes before halfway running, halfway stumbling out in the hallway and across to the upstairs bathroom. Closing the door - and locking it, by the looks of it, before the shape suddenly froze in place as the fuzziness around Heero's shape stopped. Screen-Heero walked out of the shower. Screen-Duo's arms opened somewhat, and blurry lines of light blue fell to his feet.
"That's where he dropped the clothes he was carrying."
Quatre's jaw dropped, not quite sure what to say. Screen-Duo's shape suddenly moved again, spinning around, hands covering face for good measure. Quatre worked his mouth a few times, almost reminiscent of a guppy fish, searching for words. "He walked in on you?"
Heero shrugged. Screen-Heero went over to the towel rack, put one around his waist. "It's no big deal. He was too groggy to realize I was occupying the bathroom, and I didn't lock the door."
Quatre knew better. Soldier-boy might be completely oblivious to the world around him outside of military matters, but Quatre was not. Nor was Duo - which was probably why they had dug out confessions of each other. Quatre had a fair idea of the mixed feelings that had gone through Duo at just that moment.
Screen-Heero grabbed another towel for his hair, took his few belongings and left the bathroom for his bedroom. Screen-Duo remained frozen for a little while longer, before the shape finally started to move again, picked up the dropped articles, and stood before the big bathroom mirror, evidently staring at the reflection, bending in over the sink with apparent resignation.
Heero took a deep, calming breath. "Well, it looks like these sensors work just fine. I can't get a live feed from them, though. The data always has to be processed - at least when linking several sensors like this."
Quatre nodded. "What's Duo doing now?"
Screen-Duo's arms moved at odd angles. Heero squinted at the screen, thought it over. "I think he's combing his hair." He snapped his fingers. "Damn, that's right - I forgot that recorder." Heero quickly shut the program off, and disconnected the heat detectors from his laptop. He folded the screen over the keys.
"I had a camera in the upstairs bathroom."
"Oh..." Running the sentence through his brain one more time, Quatre's eyes flew open, and he stood up, startled. "You put a surveillance camera in our bathroom?!"
Heero remained as stonefaced as ever. "Yes."
Startled frown. "Don't you see anything wrong with that?"
Heero shrugged. "Not really."
Quatre was at a loss. He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to understand why Heero apparently still hadn't caught on to the term body-shyness. By the time he opened his eyes again to attempt to explain why that particular room placement could be considered especially invasive, Heero was already gone. Quatre spun around, just in time to see Heero take a brisk pace up the stairs. Quatre went into pursuit, but ran into Duo mid-stairs.
Duo still had a big towel wrapped around his mass of hair. "Whoa, what's so important upstairs that everyone's running up there? We evacuating, or something?"
Quatre looked at him, shot a glance up the stairs, then looked Duo deep in the eyes, grabbed his arm, dragged him along down the stairs, and into the first floor bathroom, closing the door behind them.
"Geez, what's your problem, Quatre?"
Quatre's mouth worked with air a few times, before a sentence finally came out. "Heero set up surveillance equipment all over the place!"
Duo shrugged. "So? He's a little paranoid, he likes to make sure the place is secure - putting the 'safe' in 'safehouse', you know."
"No, no, no - not like that - he's testing sensors we might have use for during covert missions. He put up heat sensors on both floors and an audio recorder in the kitchen, and-"
Mild disbelief. "What? Why didn't he let us know-"
"He didn't think we'd react 'properly' for his little field test." Quatre shook his head, blushed again. "I don't think - I hope he didn't realize it, but - he got Trowa and me on tape, and if I hadn't diverted his attention, I'm sure he'd have gotten quite the view too - even if it was only a blurred thermal image. I got him to stop listening to the audio track just as things got... unmistakable."
Duo grinned. "Hold on a sec - what exactly did you and Trowa do?"
Quatre blushed even more, and nearly glared a hole in the bathroom tiles. "Do I have to spell it out for you?"
"I can always imagine, but my thoughts might be even dirtier than your reality." Snicker. "Okay, so you and lover-boy got it on in the kitchen?"
Deep crimson now, hesitant nod.
More snickers, but abruptly cut off. "Hey, wait a minute - if you were doing the nasty in the kitchen - just where in the kitchen?"
"The... table..." Quatre whispered, bracing for the outburst he knew would come.
"You had sex on the kitchen table?! The place where we eat?!"
Quatre used both open palms in an attempt to calm the agitated Deathscythe pilot down, both in temper and volume. "Not so loud, Duo!"
Duo lowered his voice, but not by much, and the deep frown on his face remained. "Quatre - you think I don't have a right to be upset about this? Trowa might be happy to munch off of your sweaty butt-print, but I for one don't-"
"Look, we used the newspaper - and I made sure to clean up with a powerful disinfectant afterwards, just in case."
Duo's frown remained, but he calmed down a little. "Okay... I might be able to live with that..."
Quatre sighed, smiled, shook his head. "Thanks, Duo."
Grin returning. "Don't mention it. Us conspirators have to stick together, right?"
"We're not conspirators, Duo."
"Well, what do you call it, then? We're neglecting to tell two of our friends certain details of our lives - which in your case is becoming seriously hard to cover up. Do you and Trowa really want to continue beating around the bush like this? Couldn't you just tell them?"
Quatre sighed again. "No, we can't - it's not as easy as that, Duo. What if either of them disapprove?"
Shrug. "Then they disapprove, and we all learn to live with it. Easy as that. Not our fault Wufei and Heero walk around with blinkers."
"Maybe - but you're not exactly forthcoming on your little crush, either."
Duo's time to gain color. "Hey, look - I'll tell him, eventually. Just need to find the right moment - preferably one where I don't think he'll kill me as soon as I finish confessing?"
Warm smile. "You got a good glimpse this morning, didn't you?"
Frown with a deep pink shade. "How did you- Oh, the heat detection systems... Well, that's none of your business!"
Chuckle. "Yeah..." Sudden change in expression, mild shock of forgetfulness. "Damn, I forgot - the important bit. Heero also hid a camera somewhere in the upstairs bathroom!"
Jaw drop. "He did what?!"
"You heard me."
Duo's hands curled into fists. "Geez, won't that guy ever learn what the word 'privacy' means? First he steals parts of my Gundam, then he-"
Concern. "Uhm, Duo...? When I think back, I did see one other heat source in the bathroom from the thermal sensor images - a tube-shape, aimed from on top of the mirror walls of the cabinet towards the shower stall... Did you take a shower this morning?"
Duo pointed to the bundle of a towel on his head. "Wait - you're saying the camera was aimed at the shower?"
Quatre nodded. "If that heat source was what I think it was - Yeah."
The braided boy spun around, put both palms across his face. "Oh, damn... Damn it all to hell..." he muttered between his fingers.
Tentatively, Quatre placed a hand on Duo's shoulder. "Duo?"
Duo turned around again and forcefully grabbed Quatre's shoulders. "Are you sure about this, Quatre? Are you sure he had a video camera up there?"
"Yes, I'm sure." Quatre felt his friend's distress, but couldn't quite place it. "Are you worried about him seeing you naked on that tape, Duo?"
Shaky smile. "No, not really - it's just that... Well, after stumbling in on Heero this morning, he left me with a problem."
Hands right in front, he pointed down with both, slightly open 'v' shape. "Yeah, a 'problem'?"
Quatre made a perfect guppy impression again. "Oh... You're saying you got in the shower, and-"
Duo grew agitated again. "Hey, it's not like I could help it! Wet, naked Heero?! Hello?! How was I supposed to ignore that image, once it was burned in on my retina?"
"Hey, don't laugh! This is serious!" He folded his arms. "And damn embarrassing..."
There was three gentle knocks at the door, momentarily startling the both of them, until Trowa's monotone, calm voice sounded through. "Are you two done arguing? I'm getting an urgent call from Mother Nature, and she refuses to be put on hold any longer."
Quatre rushed over to unlock the door before the sentence was even completed. Duo followed him out, passing Trowa in the doorway, shutting the door behind him to give the boy some privacy for his 'phone call'.
From their new position in the hallway, they could both see that Heero had returned to his laptop in the living room, a tube-shaped black artifact already hooked up to the ancient hardware. Duo near-growled, and went over to interfere, and hopefully save himself from some major embarrassments. Quatre was slightly at a loss, but decided to let the braided boy fight his own battles, and returned to the kitchen, hoping any arguments about to be had could be reconciled over a good breakfast - if only he knew how to make one.
Heero was intently watching the screen, occasionally typing in commands or tampering with the camera. He barely looked away as Duo approached with angry steps, the frown and balled fists clearly signs of trouble brewing. A mild dismissive snort later, Heero was ignoring him - which only fueled Duo's fury.
Duo stopped by the end of the table, just far enough to Heero's side to catch a glimpse of the screen. The patterned, darkened shower cabinet was closed, but the mildly transparent material showed off a human shape moving inside. Duo growled again. "You're sick, you know that?!"
Heero gave him a quick look, sighed. "What is it this time?"
Pointing a highly accusatory finger at laptop screen, Duo sat down in the couch, and argued onwards. "That, damn it! Heero, I don't care how lacking your training was when it comes to ethics, morals or decent behavior - you do not install cameras in bathrooms, and definitely not aimed at showers. Have you got any idea how perverted that is? Don't you get-" The next few seconds of film cut his argument short. The cabinet opened, and the same sight he'd seen earlier that morning appeared, though from another, even more revealing angle. Duo gaped, struggling hard to get his jaw back up. As the naked screen-Heero went out of view stage right, his brain started the recovery work.
Of course, by that time, Heero had noticed the absence of rant. The message he hadn't paid much heed to. He shot a glance at Duo just as the jaw went back up, slowly. With nary a grunt in acknowledgement of the silence, Heero returned to the task at hand, spinning a tiny wheel at the camera's side two notches clockwise.
Duo recovered. "Uh... well, as I was saying-"
And nude Heero returned, briskly walking across the screen to fetch the cream-yellow towel Duo remembered seeing wrapped around Heero's waist following the morning encounter. He fell silent again, mouth half open.
Heero raised a brow, shot him a glance. "Am I malformed in some way? You keep going silent at seeing me naked..."
The blush hit him like a broad barrage from a Leo platoon, and it was just as easy to escape untouched - meaning, impossible. At least he could do damage control with imagined ice buckets and the like. "Uhm... no - no, you're just perfect." Quick realization. "Err, I mean, you look fine. Uhm, I mean... healthy. Yeah, that's it. You look healthy." He bit his lip. Best not say a damn word, he decided, if he was only going to stumble over them.
Another glance, but with a dim sparkle buried in the blue this time. Duo could have sworn he saw Heero's lip curl a little upwards too. Distracted, he didn't notice Heero pushing the fast forward button for a few seconds.
On the screen, Duo appeared, back to the camera, braid undone, boxers on - and then not. Still, the hair covered him pretty well, from that angle. In the sofa, Duo finally noticed, and once more began his bid for privacy. He was on a very truncated timetable, if he recalled his movements and actions correctly. The shower curtain was pulled close. He didn't get further than to open his mouth before Heero cut him off, though.
"You've got a firm ass."
Jaw drop. "Wha- Huh?"
Heero briefly looked away from the screen to reiterate the statement. "You have a firm ass." Eyes on screen. They both were silent for a while. Again, Heero shot him a glance. "Look, isn't that what people do? You gave me a compliment, I gave you one back."
Duo chewed air for a while, not quite sure what to make of that. Heero couldn't be that dim, could he?
Behind the nearly transparent curtain, screen-Duo began working his hair. "That long hair of yours looks really good on you, too - how the heck did you grow it that long? And why?"
The conversation was starting to creep Duo out - and not in a good way. Not entirely. "Uh, thanks - and that's another personal thing, Heero. See, I don't like to talk about-"
His screen-self was well underway wetting the hair down, and reached for a shampoo bottle. Duo remembered his lack of time.
"Heero, done yet? I feel really uncomfortable with you watching me naked like that, and-"
Annoyed, quiet sigh. "You don't have any body parts I haven't seen before, Duo. I just need a few more minutes to calibrate the image, and then-"
Shampoo in hair. "Look, I'm serious - I'll pull the plug if-"
Death glare. Duo shirked back a little. He bit his lip, reminding himself not to threaten Heero's hardware. He was a bit too touchy about that. Try to kill him, oh, that was okay - but to even think about touching his tech toys without signed permission, in triplicate? No way. Heero sighed, washed the glare away in favor of a monotone stare at the screen. He pressed a few more keys, camera angle narrowing in on the shower, slowly cutting away the rest of the room. "I've only got to test the zoom, and-"
He fell suddenly silent, fingers paused, camera angle frozen. Duo cringed, hid his face in his hands, cheeks flushed. On screen, shower-Duo had turned around, sporting a very visible hard-on, even through the obscuring shower curtain.
Duo didn't know whether to laugh or cry at Heero's reaction - or lack of it. In the end, he did neither, merely awaited what came next. On the screen, a hand slick with shampoo trekked south, purpose almost painfully clear. And then blatantly so, as it began moving about downstairs.
"Uhm..." Heero repeated. "Duo... That - This is why you didn't want me to see?"
From behind the safety of his hands, Duo peeked out just enough to send a 'Hell yes!' glare at Heero.
Duo fought the urge to attempt to throttle his fellow pilot when he saw the beginnings of a smirk forming. "Why are you embarrassed over something like that? It's only natural - it's not like I don't do it, too..."
Duo came out from the shelter of his palms, and growled. On-screen Duo evidently moaned, but of course the camera had not had an audio receptor, and thus no way of repeating the sound. "Look, I-"
"If it bothers you that much, I'll give you a trade. I watch you now, so I can get the damn camera adjusted properly, and you can watch me later. Then we'd be equally embarrassed. Deal?"
And away went the winds in Duo's sails again, leaving him adrift in a sea of new thoughts. Oh, he could see the possibilities - if only the bastard sitting besides him wasn't merely pulling his chain, rather than actually proposing to pull his own, literally, for a one-man audience.
Duo's jaw worked. Not that the thought wasn't intriguing, but it certainly wasn't what he wanted, and to have Heero watch him-
"Look, Duo - I only have to finish testing the zoom, and then I'll stop." He typed in another set of quick commands, and the angle started narrowing in again.
The wind was back, and Duo frowned deeply, throbbing vein back on his forehead. "You sick bastard - you're not planning to zoom in on my-" The camera steadied, closing in on screen-Duo's face and shoulders, neck arched back, mouth slightly open, water pouring into and across his hair. "...oh."
The smirk grew. "Whatever you think of me, I'm not a complete pervert, Duo. Give me some credit, would you?" Heero studied the image before him, flipped some switches to enhance contrast and sharpness, even came close to compensating for the obscuring transparent shower curtain. He knew screen-Duo's left hand was busy in front, but from the position of his shoulders, the right arm appeared to be... "Duo? Did you have to scratch your back, or something?"
Duo's shade of red flared a bit again. "Just stop, okay? I don't think I can take much more of-"
Heero squinted at the screen. Shower-Duo appeared to whisper something - mouth an actual word, not mere guttural sounds. He read the lips.
Duo suddenly noticed, and slammed the laptop screen down across Heero's fingers - but too late.
Heero had read his own name on those trembling, rosy lips.
Knowing he was already in a heap of trouble for possibly damaging Heero's laptop, Duo decided he might as well compound the damage, as the punishment would be no more severe. He ripped the camera out of its socket, and would have smashed it against the table, if Heero hadn't caught his wrist in a grip of steel.
Duo cringed, turned his face away, awaiting the blow, but none came. He dared slit an eye open for a peek. The grip around his wrist loosened, Heero's thumb softly sliding back and forth across the root of his palm. The deep blue eyes were locked on him. "I... Duo, I'm sorry."
Barely without being aware of it, Duo clenched his teeth, all too certain of incoming rejection. No violent outburst, maybe, but a soft let-down instead. It wouldn't hurt any less. He turned away, not wanting to see it coming.
To his surprise, he felt gentle fingers touch his jaw, and coax him back to face the blues. "I'm sorry I didn't realize sooner."
Duo's brows raised in surprise, not sure what to say, especially when a soft smile shaped across Heero's lips. He lauded himself for restraining himself, and not immediately try to kiss them, tempting as the forbidden fruit was.
"Duo, I'm - I'm..." Uncertain, he stopped, smile wider, quick chuckle. "Well, surprised, I guess. Surprised you'd think of me - fantasize about me like that, but..." Barely perceptible sigh. "I feel a little honored."
The blush was long since beyond control, but it was only now Duo realized how ablaze his cheeks surely looked. "I didn't want you to find out - not this way."
"So, it's real, then? You have... feelings for me?"
Hesitant nod, averted eyes.
Soft snort, finger smoothing slowly down Duo's cheek. "Duo... Still want to see me...?"
Duo looked at him again, surprise and shock mixing on his face, with a dash of exhilaration. "You serious?"
Snicker, smirk. "Well, I did make a promise, didn't I?" Heero let the finger trail off Duo's chin, leant back on the couch. "My body is at your disposal, Duo - if you want, that is..."
From his new position, it became obvious Heero had been hiding something while crouched in over the laptop screen. Duo gulped at seeing the blatant bulge in Heero's jeans, growing more uncertain than ever. Sure, he'd had fantasies, little daydreams of various levels of moisture, but he had never thought he'd be exposed to them in quite this manner. Part of him was convinced he was about to wake up and find himself in need of fresh sheets and some tissues. Another part wanted to seize the chance, do whatever he could get away with before Heero had regrets. The larger part of him hesitated, though, and his jaw chewed air as his brain tried to reach a consensus with itself. Slight panic set in when Heero grew visibly impatient for a reply.
He sighed, got up, put his hand on Duo's shoulder. "I'm going up to my room - I have a-" Smirk. "-situation to deal with, thanks to you."
Duo looked up at him, meekly nodded, looked away.
Heero walked towards the stairs, but stopped halfway toward the hallway. "Sure you're not coming? The offer still stands."
Duo cast a glance in his direction. Yep, it stood out alright. "Heero, I-" He bit his lip. "This isn't just to make good on a promise, is it? I mean-"
Heero gave the slyest of smiles, placed an index finger at the corner of his mouth and drew a zipper across, before resuming his walk upstairs.
At the creaking sound of the loose third board from the bottom of the stairwell, Duo's mind was made up, 'to heck with it' being the general consensus of his mind. He raced after Heero, only to find the other speeding up once he realized he was being pursued. Duo started taking two steps at a time, following the inviting, teasing laughter ahead of him. "Wait, what about your hardware?" he shouted at his prey.
"Who cares? We'll deal with that later." Duo grinned, not wanting to disagree. He was developing more issues to work out himself, for each step he took. Luckily, it didn't look like he was going to deal with them alone; helping hands might be available. His mind raced on what other parts might come to his aid, as he followed Heero into his room, closing and locking the door behind them.
After a few minutes of deceptive silence, Quatre and Trowa dared emerge from the kitchen, peering out the open doorway, glancing up the stairs and into the vacated living room. They had overheard most of the conversation, and pieced together the rest with imagination. Neither thought they had to get vivid to get the truth. They walked over to the living room, and Quatre slumped down in the couch with a sigh, Trowa soon at his side, strong arm reaching across his shoulders. Quatre shot him a smile, glanced at the abandoned computer, then at the ceiling. "Trowa... Do you think they're..." He blushed. "You know..."
Vague smile, nod. "Probably."
Quatre snaked his arms around Trowa's waist, leant in against his shoulder and chest, sigh of relief. "I'm happy for them. I really am." As if it was even possible, he tried to nuzzle closer. "Maybe we won't have to be so secretive anymore now."
Trowa tousled the blond curls. "Well... it still leaves Wufei."
Another sigh, closed eyes. "I know... I guess it's time to tell him, then, and deal with however he feels about it." Chuckle. "I suppose Heero won't have a problem with it."
Soft, smiling kiss to blond hair, chin resting against the same soon after. "I suppose not."
They fell silent, as did the entire house. The quiet got to them both soon enough. Quatre gave a low growl, annoyed. "I wish I knew what was happening up there. This silence is killing me."
Trowa perked up a little, sat back enough to make eye contact, grin growing. "You want to?"
Quatre flagged a brow in slight disbelief as it dawned on him what Trowa was implying. "You didn't..."
The emerald eye sparkled mischievously at him, and the brow above it wiggled suggestively.
Slight smile. Quatre sat up straight, abandoning his chest-pillow. "You didn't..."
Trowa nodded, and reached for the laptop. He took a small object out of his pocket, pulled a thin wire out of it and connected it to the laptop, hurriedly typing in commands. "Heero isn't the only one here who can rig up surveillance equipment, you know."
Overly curious, Quatre scooted in close next to him, eyes at the screen. Trowa's digits danced across the keys, at last bringing up a display. "Uhm... Just what did you-"
Smirk, quick sideways glance. "I set up a spare thermal imaging sensor in your room while you, Duo and Heero were in the bathrooms. Rigged it up so it would transmit a live signal to this receiver here." He quickly tapped the widget he'd fished out of his pocket. "I had a feeling something like this would come in handy, after overhearing the discussion you had with Heero."
Quatre was about to comment when the signal started arriving, display coming to life with heat outlines. The bodies in the room next to the sensor were quite visible, albeit the image was fuzzier than the one Quatre had seen earlier; outlines of warmth blurred. Thinking about it, it was only natural. This signal was live-feed, transmitted through air, walls and a floor. Without pre-processing, the image quality was degraded - but it was more than enough to see the two pilots sitting at opposite ends of Duo's bed, the one by the pillows pulling up a knee to support his chin, the other lifting his arms, supposedly removing his shirt - or rather, overly used green tank top.
Quatre swallowed, jaw trembling. "Uhm... You think we should do this? If they found out we watched, I think I'd die of embarrassment. I don't want to-"
Trowa chuckled. "Do you really think Heero didn't understand what he recorded of us this morning?"
Blush deepening, Quatre looked away. "I suppose..."
"And why do you think he left his precious laptop - with all the necessary software to do this - here for us to take advantage of it?"
Mild shock. "You don't think he - he wanted us to-" He shook his head. "No, that can't be right."
With a shrug, Trowa took to tweaking the image, reducing some of the fuzziness. "It could be his form of penance. He monitored us, we get to monitor him back." Quick sideways glance, wink. "I doubt we'll ever get a second chance, Quatre."
He knew Trowa was probably right; if it was a slip-up, it was unlikely to ever happen again. If it was calculated, it was even less likely to reoccur. Though feeling a little naughty and quite a bit embarrassed at spying in this fashion - however invited, at least from one of the actors - Quatre nodded in acceptance, slightly perverse curiosity getting the best of him. As Trowa had pointed out, it was only payback, in a way. Trowa embraced his shoulders again, pulled him closer for their peculiar home cinema showing.
On the screen, the boy at the lower end of the bed - presumably Heero - was already in the buff, hands clearly busy, blurred lines of motion showing in shades of yellow and red. Trowa tilted the angle of the view just a tad, and the outlines of Heero's groin became visible. Cheeks on fire, Quatre glanced away, then snuck a peek up at his partner. He tugged on a smile when he saw Trowa wasn't completely unaffected either, slight color forming under the emerald eye.
Quatre looked at the screen again, this time at Duo's heat print, presumably still clothed. It was possible to see Duo's jaw was drooping, if nothing else. The supporting knee was all that prevented it from falling to the mattress.
Wave of a hand on the screen, obvious offer made. They saw Duo stall for a few seconds, before the knee fell away, and he crawled closer to Heero's hazy heat outline. Heero arched back, placed his hands behind his head as Duo reached out to touch, quickly transgressing from caress to all-out embrace. Judging from the way Heero tensed, he was enjoying Duo's grip.
Trying to control his gaping, and the drying sensation in his mouth, Quatre momentarily closed his eyes and nuzzled against Trowa's shoulder again, before sneaking further glances both at the screen and his own lover. Though still embarrassed for being such a peeping tom, not being alone kind of made it easier. Seeing Trowa's half-open, softly smiling mouth, and the shimmering green eye locked on the scene on the screen, amused him. He sensed they'd stop watching soon, if these feelings kept building. If Heero and Duo kept this up, maybe even this couch was a safe place to... work things out.
Things grew heated both onscreen and off, though the thermal sensor barely registered it. Heero's hands were busy once more, but no longer caressing his own body; far more intent at unbuttoning Duo's shirt, fingers sliding within, pulling Duo closer, all the while enjoying the tingles from wherever Duo's own roaming digits grazed skin. Closer. Heero swiftly made sure the final distance between them was crossed, their lips meeting.
Oddly enough, this became the high-point of Quatre's blush of embarrassment. The relatively innocent kiss - regardless of how it endured and grew even more passionate - was something he felt far more private than anything else witnessed so far. Yet, he was enthralled with the sight, and he could barely spare a glance to Trowa to check if he felt the same way.
And he did. Trowa's chin was hanging loose, despite repeated attempts to elevate it back to where it belonged. Words were mouthed, but no sounds were made. On the screen, the two thermal signatures blurred into one another, Duo being divested of clothes by eager hands.
"Uh... Trowa, maybe we should..." Quatre began, not sure he wanted to watch any more. He wasn't sure where this was going now, but it felt ever more wrong to watch. Plus, he wanted more to act than sit there and react, and with the others busy upstairs... He tugged at the hem of Trowa's shirt, slid a finger over exposed hip. Trowa noticed, smiled down at him, kissed his head, before shifting, straightening Quatre up for a proper kiss, no less intense than what they had been demonstrated.
The door slammed. Startled, the boys separated, Trowa hastily tucking his shirt back in place, Quatre disconnecting the receiver from the laptop, and closing the screen. He thought he heard Trowa growl. His lover wasn't happy at the interruption, though clearly as gay as Quatre was in other areas, both left with a problem best solved with each other - but preferably in a privacy they evidently no longer had. Images of ice buckets and cold showers came in handy, both trying to cool down before the maker of sound arrived.
Wufei stood in the living room doorway, leaning in against the frame, oblivious to what he might or might not have missed, lost in his own thoughts. There was a mild frown on his face, his shoulders were hunched, clothes ruffled, katana not held high and proud, but tip nearly dragging along the floor.
Quatre became worried. "Is... is everything okay, Wufei?"
"Huh?" Wufei blinked, slowly aware of his surroundings. "Oh..." He walked over, sat down in a chair, carefully placed his katana next to the polishing supplies on the table, still somewhat distant mentally. "I... I suppose."
"You sure, Wufei?" Trowa leant in closer. "You don't look so good." He reached out, put his hand on Wufei's forehead, quickly checking his temperature. "I don't think you have a fever, but-"
Wufei leant back in resignation, shook his head. "No - no, it's nothing like that. I - I just lost a duel and the wager attached to it, that's all."
Wufei's frown intensified, and it was clear he wouldn't answer Trowa's question.
The emerald eye caught sight of something else, though - a slight mark of- "Is that lip gloss on your cheek?"
Wufei glared at him, rosy gloss now lost in natural color. He hastily looked away, still intent not to answer. The embarrassment attached was simply too great. He stood up again, wanting to leave, needing to work things out on his own. "I - I think I'll go get some rest. I got up too early this morning..." He shuffled towards the stairs. At the creak of the faulty third step from the first floor, Quatre turned to Trowa.
"Don't you think we should tell him? About us, if not about-"
Trowa smirked. "I thing he'll figure out these things on his own soon enough." Chuckle, nod towards laptop. "And if he doesn't, we can always show him."
Quatre's jaw fell for a moment, before being lifted up by soft fingers, making their lips meet again. Trowa's visible brow wiggled suggestively, and Quatre couldn't help but smile, and then laugh.
They never heard Wufei's soft groan of realization from upstairs, nor the gentle closing of the door to the far left bedroom where the weary pilot went to meditate, more than enough issues to work out. What they did hear of other sounds from upstairs, they soon blocked out, far more concerned with their shared happiness than mere glimpses of the exaltation of others.