Beneath Heaven

They sat around in a circle, facing each other. Dark looks, silent movements, long, long familiarity communicated what words did not.

Unless that word was "call". Everything else managed to communicate itself just fine. Dropping three cards on the table meant that player wants three more. Tossing a red chip into the center meant 'raise you five'. Hitting the player who'd folded first with the empty beer cans meant 'go get us more'.

Silent rituals were often the best. They also usually only lasted half an hour.

Duo belched. Four pair of eyes stared at him, and he opened his mouth - then stopped, glared at them all, and snapped his jaw shut. He glowered at the cards in his hand and sent dark looks to each of his companions in turn.

His four companions returned their attention to their own cards, amused glances and two smirks following Duo's silence.

The game was not just played for chips, and the game was not just poker. Tonight, the added element was silence - chosen by the winner of last week's game, Quatre had chosen. The first to speak a word - other than 'call', which they'd been unable to come up with a good non-verbal substitute for - sacrificed ten blue chips, and paid for the beer next week.

The game - including the element of silence - was the repetition of the previous year. They'd tried other things, other games and other activities, and nothing had held their interest long enough to survive the night. Only poker, and the side bets, had kept them awake and at each other's throats long enough to enjoy themselves.

Trowa glanced around the table, and laid a card on the table. There followed a flurry of cards and chips, and the betting went round again until it landed on Duo. He tossed a last chip into the pile. "Ca-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-llllllll," he said, elongating and varying each instance of the vowel.

His four companions all glared at him. He smiled back, expression of pure innocence on his face. Trowa raised a finger, and Duo blinked, raising a hand and laying it on his chest, innocence widening across his features. he slowly shook his head, and Trowa opened his mouth. "Che--!" He stopped, but it was too late.

The room exploded into conversation.

"Thank god," Heero observed.

"I was beginning to think we'd break our last record of fifty-two minutes," Quatre said, apparently trying to hold back a smile as Trowa glowered at him, grumpily.

"And it wasn't me! I told you. Did I tell you?" Duo grinned at Heero, then gave Quatre a raspberry. "So there."

Trowa threw a pretzel at Duo, who caught it and tossed it into his mouth.

"Get good beer," Wu Fei said. "Not this cheap shit." He shook his can of beer lightly.

"You've had three," Heero told him.

"If it were good beer, I'd be drunk. I'm not. It isn't."

"Wu Fei, an old man like you doesn't need to be getting drunk." Duo tapped his fingers on the table, attention on Trowa, who had yet to put down his cards.

Trowa scowled, and set his cards on the table. Quatre leaned forward, his thin, dusty grey bangs falling into his face. Then he grinned and slapped his cards down. "Got you beat!"

"I told you, you need to get new glasses," Trowa told him, sounding unperturbed by having his hand beat.

Wu Fei just sighed, and shook his head, laying his cards down. He reached into the bowl of snacks at his left, then stopped, glanced at it, then sighed again and looked around the table.

"What's wrong, Wu Fei?" Duo asked. "Problem with the pretzels?"

"I need something softer," he said quietly, frowning as he continued to search the table.

"Denture problems?" Trowa asking, in a sympathetic tone.

"You should go to Dr. Hasjabe," Quatre told him. "That's who finally got Trowa's dentures to fit right. I'll send you his number."

Wu Fei just nodded, then gave Heero a smile as the latter handed over a bowl of thin potato chips.

Duo snickered. "Yeah, get those away from Heero. He certainly doesn't need them!" He grinned as Heero glared - Heero absently scratching his belly, which extended several inches over the waistband of his trousers. Wu Fei said nothing, but glanced down at his own belly, and pushed the chips away.

"Don't tell me we need to start buying nutritional snacks?" Duo asked, sounding caught between disappointment and amusement. "Or should we just have those shakes? All your nutrients in one glass." He ducked, then, as four empty cans of beer flew towards him.

"Just because 'some' of us still have all our original teeth," Heero said in a warning tone.

"And our figure," Wu Fei added, adding his own glare to Heero's.

"And our hair," Trowa said, his own bald head only slightly showing a scattering of stubble.

"And our eyesight," Quatre finished, "Doesn't mean you can tease the rest of us!"

"Can I help it if I'm beautiful?" Duo asked, then ducked under the table as cans, pretzels, and potato chips flew.