minor scene change (from person to person at the same place, someone waking up from a dream, etc): ----------
major scene change (at another place, some time later, etc): * * * * *
flashback starting or ending: ~*~*~*~
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): <<Tadah!>>
The phone's insistent buzzing
dragged Wufei out of a sound sleep, and he swore under his breath. "Zao
gao(1)... why the hell did I switch the ringer back on?" he
grumbled. "Ah, yes. I thought nobody was going to call. Stupid me."
As he began to consider the best way to pry himself out of Duo's grasp, the buzzing stopped.
That's better, he thought, awkwardly settling down again. If it's important, they'll leave a message.
Duo shifted slightly against him, muttering something incoherent as his grip tightened, and Wufei looked down at him in mingled disbelief and delight.
He wants to stay with me. Last night... he gave me his braid. He gave me himself. After everything that's happened, after everything he's gone through, he still doesn't hate me.
I'm not going to screw up this time. I'm not going to push him away. Whatever Duo wants, I'll give him.
As long as Duo wants me to stay with him, I will.
Wufei's right shoulder blade was reminding him -- painfully -- that it was less than 48 hours since it had been cracked, and the rest of his bruises were making themselves felt as well. But, so far as he was concerned, the fact that his last dose of painkillers had obviously worn off wasn't enough of a reason to make him get up. Getting up might disturb Duo, after all. Instead, he nuzzled gently into the soft hair on top of Duo's head and closed his eyes.
About half an hour later, Wufei's semi-doze was interrupted by a loud banging on the front door.
"Nnngh... Duo? Come on, Duo, let go... I have to get up." Wufei patted gently at Duo's shoulder with his left hand, mentally planning exactly what to say if the person at the door turned out to be a salesman or evangelist. On Boxing Day, too! Not that I celebrate Christmas, of course, but they don't know that...
Duo burrowed further under Wufei's chin and got a firm grip on the bandages strapping Wufei's right arm to his chest; he bit back a yelp of pain as whoever-it-was pounded on the door again. It took a few minutes and some painful contortions before Wufei managed to get his free arm into a position from which he could reach Duo's hands and disentangle himself. By that time, the knocking had stopped.
I'll check the door anyway, he thought grumpily, wobbling to his feet and making his way out into the lounge room. If I don't, Murphy's law dictates that they'll come back as soon as I get settled down again. I'll get the painkillers, too, while I'm up.
A faint scratching noise came from the door as Wufei approached, and he stopped short, listening intently. The scratching noise repeated itself, and then a man spoke.
"I thought you said you were good at this?"
"Oh, shut up," a woman snapped back. "This is Chang's apartment, so of course it's not a normal lock. Just give me a minute."
"I could just kick it in."
"I'm sure he'd thank you for that. Be quiet and let me concentrate."
I recognise those voices, Wufei thought, and he yanked the door open.
Leah McKenzie yelped and fell forward onto her hands and knees; she'd evidently been crouched in front of the door, leaning on it as she tried to pick the lock. Beside her, Nicklaus Assink looked into Wufei's scowling face and smiled cheerfully.
"Good morning, sir. We're your lift."
"'Morning, Chang," Leah said sourly, getting to her feet.
Wufei looked at the lock pick still sticking out of the keyhole, then reached out and flipped up the cover of the small alarm box that was fixed to the wall next to the door. "...Ah. I forgot to set the alarm. That explains it," he muttered. He turned back to Nicklaus and Leah. "Now, why are you here?"
Leah yanked her pick out of the keyhole and put it away with the rest. "Major Po wants to, and I quote, 'make sure Chang hasn't tried to cripple himself by ignoring his injuries, the way he usually does,' unquote. She also wants to give Maxwell a checkup. Since Agents Zechs and Noin both have today off, we got sent to pick you up."
"That explains why you're here. It does not explain why you were trying to break in."
"Major Po tried to call you three times this morning to set up a time for your checkups." Nicklaus explained politely. "She got a trifle concerned when you didn't answer."
"I was asleep." Wufei glared.
"That's a very good effort at intimidation, sir, but I've been intimidated by the best. You'd understand what I mean if you'd ever met my grandmother. I'm sure you will, someday. May we come in?"
"If you must," Wufei growled, turning away.
"Well, we could stay out here," Leah said sarcastically as she followed him inside, eyeing his nothing-but-boxers-and-bandages attire, "but in case you haven't noticed, it's cold. We'll just wait in here while you two get ready."
"I'll make coffee," Nicklaus offered, ducking into the kitchen.
As Wufei vanished into the bedroom, Leah automatically started checking out the apartment. Old habits die hard, she thought with a trace of humour, looking into the bathroom and then making a quick circuit of the lounge. Put me in a new environment and I've got to explore... hmmm! Very bare. No personal touches. Almost... sterile? Chang's always very private and closed off at work, of course, but it looks like he hasn't even tried to make his apartment look like a home! The afghan on the sofa is the only thing that doesn't look like it was bought as part of a batch lot from a furniture warehouse.
Her eyes fell on the single picture hanging on the wall, and she blinked in surprise as she realised what it showed. And then there's this. The sole indication that he has a life outside of work... or at least that he had one.
In the bedroom, Wufei was trying to wake Duo up. It wasn't working.
"Come on, Duo... open your eyes. Wake up," he said softly, stroking Duo's messy bangs back from his forehead. "Sally wants to see us."
The magic words failed to produce a reaction.
"Hm." Wufei considered his options. Slapping wasn't one of them. Shaking was out; Duo still had too many bruises that hadn't healed, and it could set off a nightmare. The Sleeping Beauty technique came to mind, but Wufei decided against it; he'd promised himself that he wouldn't make advances. Besides, if he bent down far enough to kiss Duo, he'd never be able to straighten up again. There was really only one choice.
"Duo. We have a mission."
"Mmmm... Whassa target?" Duo mumbled without opening his eyes.
"Sally's office," Wufei said, smiling despite himself.
"We get ta blow it up? Cool."
"We get to have a checkup. No explosives involved... I hope. Come on, Duo, up. I'll be out of the bathroom in a minute, then it's all yours."
Once the braided boy was actually sitting up, Wufei headed for the bathroom, hoping that Duo wouldn't relapse into unconsciousness before he got back. The scent of coffee was beginning to waft out of the kitchen, indicating that Nicklaus had conquered the coffee maker, and maybe it would reach Duo in time to do some good.
Five minutes later, Wufei returned from the bathroom to find that Duo had moved about a foot and then settled. Eyes still closed, he was sitting on the edge of the futon with his legs stretched out across the floor.
Wufei sighed and reached down to tug gently at Duo's shoulder. "Up. Get dressed. Sally's waiting for us."
"Uh-huh," Duo muttered, and shifted onto his hands and knees, crawling towards the chest of drawers. Wufei decided to regard that as progress, picked up a shirt and a pair of slacks and went out, heading to the kitchen.
Asking for help at the outset is vastly preferable to getting stuck halfway through and having to be rescued from my own shirt,he told himself. ...That doesn't mean I have to like it, though. "Agent Assink? Could you... lend a hand? I seem to be one short."
Hiding a smirk at the unintentional double meaning, (Nicklaus Assink: 6'6" :: Chang Wufei: 5'5") Leah walked towards the bedroom. "I'll see if Maxwell needs any help," she called back over her shoulder.
Duo was on his feet in front of the open drawers, swaying as he blearily tried to tug his borrowed sweat pants down off his hips. Leah walked in on him just as he managed it...
"Mr. Maxwell? Can I give you any--"
...revealing that he wasn't wearing anything underneath.
"--WHOA! Assink, this is your job," Leah yelped, making a smart about face. "I mean, I appreciate the male form as much as the next person, but..." She hesitated, then grinned. "And I do mean 'butt'. You go help Maxwell with his pants, and I'll get Chang into that shirt."
Wufei sighed and made a mental note to get Duo more underwear.
Even after drinking a large mug of coffee, Duo was definitely operating in zombie mode. He made it out to the car all right, but once he was settled into the back seat, he yawned hugely and slowly slumped sideways onto Wufei's lap.
"Is he always this hard to wake up, sir?" Nicklaus asked, peering back over his shoulder with a half amused, half worried expression on his face.
"Well, he's never been a morning person," Wufei replied without thinking, looking down in alarm at the tousled head, "but this is definitely not normal. He is very tired, though, and a couple of times during the war, we were sure he sleep-piloted his gundam." There was a moment's pause as he processed what he'd just said. Oh, shit...
Apparently reading his mind-- or the suddenly horrified expression on his face-- Leah snorted. "Don't worry about it, Chang. We already know."
"You-- what-- who told-- How do you know?!" Wufei sputtered.
Nicklaus grinned, facing forwards again as Leah started the car. "Remind me to give you a vid-disk before we leave HQ, sir. Trust me, it'll explain everything."
"... All right," Wufei muttered grudgingly. "I'll wait. And stop calling me 'sir'!" I'm starting to twitch every time I hear it.
Leaning back, Wufei ran his fingers slowly through Duo's fringe, feeling less worried now that he'd remembered the 'sleep-piloting' incidents. I suppose the stress of the last couple of days is catching up to him. His consciousness has just shut down. It happened that way some times, after a mission... he'd hold out until it was over, then, as soon as he could relax, he'd almost collapse.
"Where's Duo?" Quatre asked, looking around the kitchen. "Hasn't he come in yet?"
Wufei looked up from the noodles he was cooking for lunch. "Maxwell's on a mission. Surveillance."
"No, he's back," the blond boy insisted, beginning to look concerned. "He called me just over half an hour ago and said he'd be bringing Deathscythe into the hanger in about five minutes. Normally, he'd be in here by now, raiding the fridge."
"I'll check," Heero said, getting up from the table and stalking out.
Wufei shrugged and turned back to the stove, acting unconcerned. Possible explanations for the delay, however, were popping into his head. Damage to Deathscythe... injuries... mission gone bad...
Five minutes later, Heero walked back through the kitchen with Duo dangling limp over his shoulder.
"Duo! Heero, is he alright?" Quatre exclaimed, jumping to his feet.
Oddly enough, there was the faintest trace of a smile on Heero's face as he replied. "He's fine."
"I read his mission log; he's had maybe three hours of rest a night for the last week," Heero said, pushing through the door that led towards the bedrooms, Quatre close behind. "There's no injuries; he's just asleep."
Wufei stood looking after them for some time, until his pot boiled over and he realised that he'd severely overcooked the noodles.
At dinner time, Quatre insisted that Duo had to be fed; Heero argued for letting him sleep, but Quatre pointed out that he could always go back to sleep after they got some food into him. "You read his mission log, and you know what he's like," the Arabian said determinedly. "He hasn't been sleeping. Has he been eating properly?"
"... No," Heero admitted. "But I don't think--"
"He's having dinner."
Wufei was positive that Duo's eyes were closed when Heero brought him to the table, steering him with a hand on his elbow. They were certainly closed once he was sitting down. He answered Quatre's question about how much food he wanted with a mumbled "Whatever," and then seemed to go to sleep sitting up. Plates were set on the table, everyone sat down; Trowa jostled Duo's chair slightly as he pulled his in and Duo slowly toppled forwards.
Heero lunged and caught him before he could end up face down in his mashed potatoes. "Move the plate," he said calmly. Trowa slid it to one side and Heero let Duo's head settle onto the placemat. "Told you it wouldn't work," he muttered, glancing at Quatre, then picked up his own fork and started to eat.
"Uh-- but-- you're not just going to leave him there!" Quatre yelped.
"Why not? He's comfortable." A faint buzzing snore came from Duo, as if to confirm this statement. "I'll take him back to bed once I've eaten."
A faint, sad smile softened Wufei's face as he looked down at Duo, still stroking his hair. I can see the funny side of it now, but at the time I nearly panicked, wondering if he was ill. And then, of course, I nearly panicked again, wondering if I'd given myself away... I wish I had! If I hadn't been so damn controlled, the last eight months would have been completely different.
Eight months, hell. I might have been with Duo for the last two years.
... Never mind that. Agonising over what-ifs won't make Duo happy now.
"We're here, Chang," Leah's voice cut into his thoughts.
"How are we going to get Mr. Maxwell out of the car, sir?" Nicklaus asked, eyeing Duo's boneless sprawl with some trepidation. "I don't mind admitting that I'd welcome any suggestions you might have."
"I can get him awake enough, and sitting up," Wufei assured him. I think. "Can you get him out of the car and standing up if I do that?"
"That would make it possible, yes, sir," Nicklaus said, relieved.
"Duo. We've reached the target."
"Cool," Duo yawned, pushing himself upright. "Lemme know when to push the detonator."
"I told you, no explosives."
"Boooor-innnng," Duo complained, leaning agreeably into Nicklaus's grasp as the tall agent helped him out of the car. "This mission sucks, 'Fei."
"My heart bleeds for you, Duo," Wufei muttered as he struggled out on the other side of the car. "Should I buy you a packet of balloons to pop or something? I-- mmph!" He stopped short, snorting with suppressed laughter as he turned around and saw Nicklaus's expression.
Agent Assink was looking down at Duo with a strange mix of amusement and bewilderment on his face. The braided boy was on his feet, alright, but he was also leaning comfortably on the nearest solid object and drifting off to sleep. The nearest solid object, however, just happened to be Nicklaus's chest, but that didn't bother Duo in the least. It was comfortable and it was warm, that was all that mattered.
* * * * *
"Une? What are you laughing at?"
"Look out the window. Your-- heh!-- patients are here."
"That's good, but I don't see what's so... oh. Oh dear. Doesn't he just look so sweet?"
"It's the look on Chang's face that's truly priceless!" Une collapsed once more in helpless giggles. Sally couldn't help smiling in return, but there was a worried crease between her brows as she looked out the window again.
"He shouldn't be that tired," she muttered. "Not even after Sunday."
Une paused in the act of wiping away tears of laughter. "Do you think there's something wrong?"
"It could just be that he has no reserves," Sally mused. "It was very stressful... I'll let you know, alright?"
* * * * *
When Sally walked into the examining room, Duo was curled up on the padded table, blissfully asleep once more. She raised an eyebrow at him, then nodded to Leah and Nicklaus. "Agent McKenzie, Agent Assink, thanks for your help. This shouldn't take any longer than an hour; I'll call you when they're ready to go back home."
Out in the hall, with the door closed behind them, Nicklaus glanced sideways at Leah. "... McKenzie? When you went to see if Maxwell needed a hand getting changed... did you see any of those bruises? They're almost faded, but... there's a lot of them."
She nodded. "He looked a lot worse ten days ago. I think he's gained a little weight, too. Wherever he was, and whatever he was doing, he definitely wasn't on a pleasure trip."
One corner of Nicklaus's mouth curled up in a rather nasty smirk. "I think I know where he was. At the very least, I know where a couple of his friends went when they were looking for people to beat up on his behalf."
"Oh? Do tell, Assink."
"Certainly, McKenzie. If you'll just accompany me to my desk, I can copy that video disk for Chang, and tell you a story. I call it 'What Barton and Yui Did On Their Vacation'."
"Sleepwalking again, hm?"
Wufei blinked, mildly surprised. "You know about it?"
"I've seen him in this state before, yes," Sally said dryly, checking Duo's pulse. "I knew Sunday's little excursion tired him out, but I would have thought he'd have slept it off by now."
"Yesterday was tiring for him, too," Wufei said without thinking.
Sally turned and looked at him speculatively, one eyebrow lifting. He blushed bright red. "No! Not like that! I wouldn't-- Woman, you have a dirty mind!"
"I didn't say a word, Chang."
"You were thinking it. I could tell," he said sourly.
"So what did make yesterday tiring for Duo?"
Well, first he woke up to find me in bed with him..."He got an unexpected Christmas present. Somebody got his cross back for him. He was happy, of course, but it was... emotionally exhausting." Wufei scowled. "I wish I knew who it was."
"I, ah, think I can clear that up for you," Sally said slowly, putting Duo's arm down and absent-mindedly stroking his hair. "Heero and Trowa came back from a little trip to L2 last week, slightly battered and bearing a gift." She smiled at the dumbfounded expression on Wufei's face. "Let's just say that particular gang won't be mugging anyone for quite a while."
Wufei's mouth snapped shut and he seemed to struggle with his expression for a moment, finally settling on grudging respect. "Well," he muttered under his breath, "I suppose I have to give Yui credit for that, at least..."
Sally pretended not to hear him. "Well, in view of Duo's current somnolent state, I'm not going to try and weigh him. It looks like he's gained a few more pounds, at least, and his breathing is much clearer. As usual, he's not progressing as fast as I'd like, but he is progressing as fast as can be expected under the circumstances. Now, if you could just persuade him to stay put and rest for a few days, instead of charging off to put the fear of him into everyone who looks at you funny..."
"That's hardly an accurate description of the situation," Wufei gritted out between clenched teeth.
"I know. That form of exaggeration is called 'hyperbole' and I was using it to make a point. We doctors take classes in that kind of thing. At least try to keep him indoors and under observation, Chang."
"You don't need to tell me."
"Good! Now then, since you refused to let me examine you properly the other day, I'm going to do it now."
"That's not necessary. I'm fine."
"I think it's necessary, and I outrank you, so I will. We'll start with a few x-rays." She flashed him an obviously fake smile. "I've already booked a time slot on the machine, and this time Une is on my side."
"Well..." Wufei cast desperately around for a way out. "I am not going to drag Duo all over this building just so you can satisfy your medical curiosity! And we can't just leave him here; what if he wakes up and I'm-- uh, nobody's here?"
"That won't be a problem," she assured him, tapping a code into the vid-phone's keypad.
< < Yes? > >
"Une, could you do me a favour? I'd like you to come down to exam room 2, if you don't mind, and pilot-sit Duo. Just in case he wakes up while I'm inflicting x-rays on his overly macho boyfriend."
"SALLY! I am NOT--"
< < Far be it from me to interfere with your fun, Sally, > > Une said dryly. < < I'll be down in a couple of minutes. Do try not to get killed by Chang in the meantime, please? > >
"Thank you," Sally chirped, and cut the connection. "Don't yell, Wufei, you'll wake Duo up."
As Sally pushed Wufei out into the corridor and started to follow him, Une held her back for a moment. "What are you up to, Sally?" she murmured, after checking to make sure Wufei was far enough away to be out of earshot. "You've always had a wicked sense of humour, but teasing Chang about his relationship with Duo is closer to outright cruelty... not to mention dangerous."
"They have to work out exactly what their relationship is," Sally pointed out quietly. "Duo's obviously made up his mind, but I think Wufei's still unsure. He may have a good idea how Duo feels, and he may even have some faint inkling of what's going on inside his own head, but I don't think he's decided what to do about it. So, I'm forcing him to think about it." She smirked. "Besides, it's fun."
Une rolled her eyes. "Shoo. Go. Irradiate your victim."
Letting the door close behind her, she eyed Duo's sleeping form curled up on his side and facing away from her. After a moment's consideration, Une pulled the chair out from behind the desk and pushed it around to the other side of the examination table, placing it so that she would be in Duo's line of sight if he opened his eyes. "Can't have him waking up and thinking he's alone," she muttered, sitting down and smoothing her skirt. "That's the whole point of my being here... instead of up in my office, getting some of the damn paperwork done," she finished sourly. "I should have brought a couple of files down with me."
Glancing at the sleeping pilot's face, she blinked in surprise.
Oh my. He looks very different when he's asleep...
Duo was sleeping with the bruised side of his face snuggled into the thin pillow, hiding the fading yellow-green smudges. The rest of his skin was still pale, but no longer had that unhealthy gray tint that had worried her so much. His expression was relaxed and peaceful, not strained and unhappy...
And certainly not the wild grin I used to see, Une thought, smiling faintly. He looks beautiful... and fragile... not like one of the most dangerous men in existence.
One of the bravest, too. With the worst sense of humour.
After all, he used to make fun of me, at incredibly unwise moments!
"The prisoner is in here?"
"Yes, ma'am! Under heavy guard, as you ordered," the base commander said, preening slightly.
"That will be all," Colonel Une snapped, pushing through the door.
"--are you sure you don't have bolts in your neck? Because you sure look-- AAAGH!" Duo shrieked, leaping out of the chair to clutch at one of the guards. He got a good grip on the man's shirt, despite the heavy manacles; Une made a mental note to order his hands cuffed behind his back later.
"It's the psycho bitch from hell! Save me good sir!" he yelled melodramatically, batting his eyelashes. "Protect me from-- OOF!" Duo was punched back into the chair, and sat blinking for a second before starting again.
"Une! Baby! Good to see ya! You're a nice lady, you'll protect me from these goons, right?"
Une narrowed her eyes, one hand on her hip. "That's odd. I thought I was 'the psycho bitch from hell," she quoted sarcastically.
"You've got a split personality, right?" he replied, mock impatiently, flapping his hands at her and grinning. "Come on, switch!"
She backhanded him off the chair.
Une snapped out of her reverie as Duo stirred, opening his eyes. He blinked blearily at her for a moment, then pushed himself up onto his elbows, looking around the room with a frown. "Where--?" he mumbled.
No prizes for guessing who he's looking for, Une thought wryly. "He's down the hall with Sally, getting x-rayed."
Duo blinked at her again, then seemed to reach a decision. "Oh. Okay," he said sleepily, putting his head back down and closing his eyes.
Une was left staring incredulously at him as he began to snore faintly. What the-- when did he start trusting me??
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