Sitting at her dressing table
brushing her hair, Relena watched Heero in the mirror.
I've got to get him to talk about this, she thought, worried. He seemed to be opening up again since we found Duo, but the last few days he's been completely shutting himself off... He didn't even take an interest in the meeting today! He's normally so focussed on security, he would have been asking all sorts of questions and demanding proof, but he didn't even pretend to pay attention after Duo wouldn't speak to him.
Heero sat heavily on the end of the bed and slowly pulled his shoes off, tossing them into the corner; then he just sat there, hands dangling limply between his knees, staring at the floor.
"Relena?" he said quietly, voice hoarse.
"Yes?" she replied, quickly, putting the brush down and turning around.
"Do you... I, I haven't been..." He swallowed, still not looking at her. "Do you want to end our engagement?"
WHAT?!"Heero... why would I want to do that?"
"I didn't realise... until all this happened, I didn't know I still loved Duo," he said shakily. "That's not fair to you. I, I do love you, but if I can't devote myself just to you -- "
"But I don't want that!" she exclaimed, getting up and walking over to him. He looked up, startled, as she sat next to him and gently took his hand in hers.
"Do you remember what I acted like, the first couple of months after I met you?" Relena said softly, smiling at him. "I followed you everywhere. I stalked you. Did you like it?"
"...No," he admitted. "Duo was right when he said you were kind of scary."
"I was devoting myself completely to you," she said dryly. "For a while, nothing else really managed to penetrate my shell... at first, because I had a massive crush on you and thought it was Love At First Sight. Later -- after Father was killed -- I suppose I was subconsciously hoping you would get the vengeance for me that I couldn't admit that I wanted. I was so tangled up in the idea of loving you, being your 'only one', that I couldn't see you properly. It wasn't until I backed away and started to pay attention to the rest of my life that I actually started to know you, and really fell in love -- and, I suppose, stopped being so... scary."
"As for still loving Duo," she continued, going on before Heero could answer, "I should hope you still do! After everything you went through together, and everything you were to each other, only an incredibly shallow person could cut all those ties and just stop caring. You are not a shallow person, Heero. If you were, I wouldn't have said yes to the engagement in the first place."
"You... you're sure it's okay?"
"Yes," she said simply. "You love me, too, right?"
"You're in love with me?"
"Yes," he said, puzzled at the question, but certain of his answer.
"Are you in love with Duo?"
"I... I don't know," he said, uncomfortably. "How do I tell?"
You didn't have any trouble working out you were in love with me, love, she thought. That tells me everything I need to know... now, I just have to help you get it clear for yourself. "Well," she said slowly, "what do you want?"
"I want to protect him," he said sadly. "I want to make everything better. I want him happy. It hurts, seeing him like this..."
"Do you want to be lovers again?" Relena asked bluntly.
He opened his mouth to reply, then closed it, blushing at the thought. "I... no. No, I don't. It... it doesn't seem... I still think he's attractive, and I -- um -- I haven't forgotten what it was like," he said, glancing at her a little nervously, "but... no."
"What do you want from Duo, then?"
"I want to be friends again," he said without thinking. "The way we were towards the end of the war..."
"So you love Duo as a friend," she said quietly. "A friend and a brother. Why would I feel threatened by that? As for fixing things and being friends again... you just need to be patient. Duo's hurt and angry and in no shape to face things right now. He still loves you deep down, or he wouldn't be as upset as he is. You know him, Heero. When he's feeling better and more secure, he'll think everything through. You just have to wait, and be there for him when he's ready to talk. He'll come back, to all of us, eventually. We just have to have a little faith."
Heero stared at her for a moment, wide-eyed, as he processed everything they'd said; then a shaky smile appeared on his face as a tear rolled down his cheek.
"Thanks," he said, wiping at his face as he reached out to hug her.
"You're welcome," she said impishly, holding him close so he wouldn't see the tears in her eyes before she got them under control. "My motives were at least partially selfish, though. I didn't want to lose you. Don't forget that!"
"I won't," he said, voice muffled in her shoulder.
"Hmmm... I don't know. The idea might need reinforcement. I know! Shall we go to bed now, so I can ravish you?"
"Relena, you spent far too much time talking to Duo towards the end of the war!"
"Somebody had to give me advice on how to deal with a certain overly-quiet, introverted, mission obsessed, blue-eyed soldier. Who better than him?"
A secretive smile curved her lips as she pulled Heero down to the bed. Thank you, Duo.
* * * * *
The Manguanacs who drove them home insisted on cooking dinner, so Duo and Wufei had something to eat besides microwaved TV dinners again. They also insisted on washing the dishes, and were beginning to hint about the rest of the housework when Wufei finally got them to leave.
"I develop more sympathy for Quatre every time I have to deal with his 'henchmen'," Wufei said dryly, returning to the lounge after locking the front door behind them. Duo didn't answer out loud, but he looked puzzled, so Wufei continued. "When they want to do something for someone, they're an unstoppable force!" he explained. "The first time Quatre mentioned being nagged by them, I thought he was a pushover. That was before they decided that the rest of us needed looking after as well. Now that I know them better, I am amazed by Quatre's patience and forbearance. If they'd been concentrating on Trowa, he would have disappeared. Yui probably would have shot them all, or self-destructed to get away. I don't know what I would have done, but it wouldn't have been pleasant! You... hm! Would you have tried to out-nag them, or played so many practical jokes on them that they had to run away?"
An involuntary giggle escaped Duo. "I tried the practical jokes, but they didn't run," he said quietly, smiling. "I painted Rashid's mobile suit blue with pink polka-dots. He didn't think it was funny." Wufei snorted. "I'm not surprised! I didn't think it was funny when you painted Nataku... though I can see the amusing side now, I admit," he said wryly. "When did you paint Rashid's suit? I never heard about it."
"When I was staying with Quatre after Hee -- the first time."
After Heero self-destructed, Wufei filled in mentally. Duo nearly said it... and it doesn't look like he's done talking. That's good. "I'm sure that wasn't the only thing you did," he said, settling onto the sofa next to the braided teen.
"Of course not," Duo sniffed, smile slowly returning as he automatically snuggled up to Wufei's shoulder. "I water-bombed them a lot. I got to Rashid's hair oil -- did you know he uses hair oil?"
"No," Wufei mused, wrapping his arm around Duo and pulling him closer, "but it makes sense. His hair couldn't possibly stay like that without some help."
"Definitely. Anyway, I put some sickly-sweet floral perfume in it; the other Manguanacs were still sniffing suspiciously at him a week later. And I ran a panty-raid on them."
"You did what?"
"Well, it was a boxer raid, if you want to get technical." Duo snickered softly. "They must get their underwear in bulk. Every single one of them had baggy white boxers, with their names printed in indelible ink on the waistbands. I tie-dyed them... bright colours... then hung them in a tree. It was such a beautiful sight the next morning," he mused. "The entire Manguanac corp, in their robes and pyjamas, standing around the tree admiring my work. Until Rashid bellowed my name, of course, at which point I ran for it. Did you know Quatre's closet is a great place to hide? Very roomy. And there's no dust under his bed, either." Duo looked up innocently at Wufei, and the Chinese pilot had to laugh.
"Yes," he said, still chuckling, "I can see that it would be an advantage if the person whose bed you're hiding under has good servants..."
"It meant I didn't sneeze while they were looking for me. They got me back though. They put a diaper and baby bonnet on 'Scythe a few days later. Never underestimate the deviousness of Rashid..." Abruptly, Duo burrowed his head into Wufei's shoulder and took a deep, shuddering breath, clinging to the other teen's shirt. "Thanks, 'Fei," he said shakily, voice muffled. "I needed that."
"Feel better now?" Wufei said softly, gently stroking his back. Duo nodded without lifting his head. "Yeah," he sighed. "A bit. I... I guess I just needed to think about something else for a while." Something other than the meeting and Heero, Wufei thought. "Are you tired?"
"No... not yet." A yawn escaped Duo, and he blinked. "Oops. Er... not much. I don't want to go to bed yet, though... can we just stay like this for a while?"
"As long as you want," Wufei assured him, hugging him tight and dropping a kiss on top of his head.
* * * * *
Over the next couple of days, Wufei was delighted to note that Duo was coming a little further out of his shell. He talked more, had fewer nightmares and made a few jokes... He even talked about things that had happened during the war, though he still shied away from any mention of Heero's name. Quatre's timing seemed to have improved, too; at least, he hadn't phoned at inopportune moments. That didn't hurt.
Although Duo still didn't want to 'talk' to Quatre and Trowa directly, he e-mailed them to thank them for the clothes and other things they'd bought. Quatre sent back a careful, cheerful reply saying that he'd always wanted to go to some of the shops, himself, and was actually glad to have had an excuse. The e-mail he sent privately to Wufei was much longer and less coherent, babbling hopefully about this sign that Duo was slowly relenting towards him. On Saturday, Wufei saw Sally for another checkup.
"I'm amazed," she said dryly, looking at the new x-rays of his shoulder. "You've actually been resting it; it's healing nicely."
"If I didn't heal well, I wouldn't have done well during the war, would I?" he grunted, struggling back into his shirt and buttoning it up around the sling, one-handed. "Why are you so surprised?"
"Oh, I remember how fast you heal," she assured him, making a note on his medical file. "I also remember numerous occasions where you got injured and then made it worse by overstressing half-healed wounds."
"Always for a good reason," he pointed out. "The war's over. I don't need to do that any more."
"And Duo looked at you, right?"
"Glad to hear it," she muttered. "I knew I could count on him.... You're fit for light duty, starting tomorrow. Short shifts, of course. Will that be a problem?"
"No," he said reluctantly. "Duo already said it was okay with him."
"But you don't want to?" she asked, eyes narrowing slightly. Is he worried about leaving Duo again? Maybe I should have had him come in too --
"Of course I don't want to come back to work," he snorted. "It means being around you more."
Sally rolled her eyes. "Get out of here before I throw something at you and have to patch you up again -- no, wait. Are you and Duo going to Quatre's New Year's Eve party tomorrow night?"
"I haven't asked Duo yet," he replied, pausing at the door, "but I doubt it. He's doing well, but he's not really up to parties yet."
"Good," she said emphatically. "That's what I was going to say. Now shoo. Stop by Une's office on you way out."
"Did she say why?"
"Tell her I said 'I think you forgot again'," Sally smirked.
"Yes?" Une asked distractedly, looking up from her paperwork as Wufei leaned in her door.
"Apparently you do," Wufei said dryly.
"...I beg your pardon?"
"Sally says 'I think you forgot again'. Forgot what?"
"Oh!" Une grimaced in annoyance and yanked a desk drawer open, digging through the folders inside. "Of course... sit down, Chang, this won't take long."
"What won't take long?" Wufei asked, pointedly checking his watch. "Duo's waiting for me to come home."
"Here," she said, flicking a thin folder open and pushing it across the desk. "We've already begun proceedings against Anders through the internal disciplinary channels; I just need you to read these forms and sign them so we can press civil charges for assault and slander as well. Ah... you can manage a signature at the moment, can't you?" she added, uncertainly eyeing the bulge in his shirt where his right arm was strapped to his chest.
Wufei looked at the forms for a moment, expressionless, then closed the folder and pushed it away. "No."
Une frowned. "How long will your arm be tied up like that? If it's longer than a few days, I suppose we'll have to get a Justice of the Peace to witness your 'mark' -- "
"I can manage a signature," he interrupted. "I meant , no, I won't press civil charges."
"You heard me."
"Chang," she said in a pained voice, rubbing at her forehead, "could you please explain to me why you won't press charges against a man who tried to cripple you? He would probably have cheerfully killed you if he thought he could get away with it!"
"The internal charges are enough," the Chinese teen said flatly. "This is a quasi-military organisation and I know there's a provision in the charter for prison terms as punishment for serious offenses. If you're charging him with assault on a superior officer, that's plenty; he'll get just as long a sentence as he would through the civil courts -- "
"Yes, but -- "
" -- and Duo will never have to come into it."
"Oh," Une sat back, looking at him. "I see... but, Chang, Duo wouldn't have to come into a civil case either."
"Wouldn't he?" Wufei laughed humourlessly. "In a trial for assault, only a moronic defense lawyer wouldn't try to make the jury believe Anders had a good reason to attack me. Duo's his excuse. We know it's bullshit, and we could prove it, but in the process they'd drag everything out in court... and it would go straight into the tabloids. Eight months missing, the state he was in when we found him, speculations on how and why he got that way, even the fact that we were Gundam pilots! All it would take would be one ex-OZ soldier seeing our pictures in the papers, and realising what a reporter would pay for the information. Not to mention that you want me to bring charges of slander. I couldn't exactly do that without saying what he was saying about me! It's the sort of stuff that makes wonderful 'human interest' mush, and I will not have Duo exposed to those vultures!
She sighed. "Very well. I suppose you're right that internal charges should be enough.; we are charging him with assault on a superior officer, incitement to assault, conspiracy, dereliction of duty and insubordination, after all."
"You just had to squeeze that last little bit in, didn't you?" he asked, struggling up out of the chair.
"The shoe fits," Une said sourly, dumping the folder of papers into a bin labelled 'TO BE SHREDDED'. "Anders can wear it. Go home."
* * * * *
Wufei stepped out of the building and glanced up at the sky, tugging his coat back onto his shoulder as it slipped off. It looks like it isn't going to snow, so it should be okay... Pulling out his phone, he flipped it open and dialled the apartment a little awkwardly. I've _got_ to program that into speed dial...
< < ...yes? > >
"Duo, it's me."
< < 'Fei! > > Duo's voice brightened slightly. < < What did the evil woman say? > >
He snorted. "I'm going to tell her you said that."
< < If you do, I'll tell her I was just repeating what you say. > > Duo's voice dropped. < < So... is everything all right? > >
"It's healing. She insulted me. The usual... They want me back at work tomorrow."
< < Figured, > > Duo said quietly. < < It's okay. > >
"That's partly why I called," Wufei said. "I don't have that many books and things at home, and I really don't want you to get bored while I'm gone in the mornings." You didn't seem bored before, he added to himself, but you also didn't seem particularly... connected. You're coming out of it now..."I thought we could go shopping together. Have lunch somewhere, visit a few bookshops or something...?"
There was silence on the other end of the line.
< < Umm... that would be cool. > >
"Great!" Wufei suddenly realised he was grinning. "I'll be home in about fifteen minutes. Is that enough time for you to be ready?"
< < Sure. See you, 'Fei > >
"See you soon." Wufei hung up and headed for the Blazer, trying to get his normal calm expression on straight.
Duo was waiting inside the main door of the apartment building when Wufei pulled into the carpark, and was over to the Blazer before Wufei could climb out.
"So, what did Sally say about you driving yourself in? Or was that what she insulted you about?" he asked, smiling a little nervously.
"She didn't tell me not to, this time, and she still doesn't know I did it," Wufei replied, keeping his voice even with an effort. He's got his hair in a ponytail? No plait? And Quatre has an incredibly good eye for colour... the new clothes suit him perfectly. He looks great, even though he's still too thin...
I wonder which boxers he's wearing? He swallowed and his eyes widened a fraction with that thought, but he was fairly sure he hadn't blushed.
"Well, I'll drive now," Duo said firmly. "Move over. How did you drive, anyway? The ignition and shift lever are on the right!"
"It's not easy," Wufei said dryly, sliding over, and it's not comfortable either, he added privately, "but it is possible. I had to learn in a hurry during the war." He thought for a moment, frowning. "Absolutely nothing went smoothly on that mission. I was driving a manual, too..."
"Ow!" Duo shook his head, putting the Blazer into 'drive' and heading for the road. "Left or right? And why didn't you bail and steal a new car?"
"Left. It was a truck and I had Nataku on the back."
"Ah. Good reason."
As Wufei gave directions, his left hand crept out and surreptitiously coiled a strand of Duo's hair around his fingers.
Wufei eyed the contents of Duo's basket with interest as they worked their way through the largest bookshop in the mall. I didn't expect him to go for classics, he mused. Rudyard Kipling... R. L. Stevenson... Agatha Christie? Ellis Peters?
"Something wrong, 'Fei?" Duo looked at him quizzically.
"No, umm..." Now Wufei was blushing. "I, ah, I have to confess that I expected you to head for the manga section," he admitted, running his hand over his hair and tugging at his short ponytail.
"Yeah, well, that stuff's fun, but..." Duo shrugged. "I mostly used to read it because it was cheap and easy to carry around, and if it got trashed or I had to leave it behind it was no big loss. This stuff," he hefted the basket, "is the really good stuff. Father Maxwell used to let us borrow books like these from him..."
"Oh, hey, here's an old friend," Duo said softly, reaching out to trail his fingers down the cover of a book on display at the end of the children's section. "Sister Helen read this to the little kids. I pretended I was so tough, y'know, too old to listen to kids stories... then I hid around the corner and listened anyway. I think she knew, though. 'It's being loved that makes you real'," he quoted in a whisper, pulling his hand away from 'The Velveteen Rabbit'. Wufei lifted the top copy off the stack and dropped it into Duo's basket, then walked off towards the science fiction shelves before the braided teen could say anything.
Being loved, or loving someone, he thought, blinking quickly as his eyes stung. I don't think I was much more than a cardboard cutout after Meiran died... until Duo came back into my life and I admitted what I felt for him.
"Want anything from over here?" he called over his shoulder, surprised that his voice sounded perfectly normal.
I'm getting more practice at acting normally than I did during the war!
Later, over lunch, Wufei brought up the subject of Quatre's party.
"He isn't going to be offended if you don't feel up to it," he assured Duo. "It isn't a private party; he said there'd be a lot of business people and political figures there, people who went along with him and Relena while they were hammering out approval for the Preventers from the various legislative bodies; that sort of thing. But if you want to go -- "
"No," Duo said, looking down at his plate. "...Not yet."
Wufei nodded. I can just imagine Quatre's face when he hears that! 'Not yet' means 'sometime later', after all. "In that case, we could sit up and watch the fireworks over the lake. The balcony faces the right direction, and the buildings and trees aren't tall enough to get in the way."
"I like that idea."
"So do I," Wufei said quietly.
A little later, Duo looked up. "You know... I think New Year's is almost the only major holiday that I never gave Une a present for," he mused. "I sent her something for Aztec New Year, but we were kind of busy at the end of December... and then the war ended. I missed Chinese New Year, too, now that I come to think of it... now there was a good opportunity gone to waste," he sighed.
Wufei raised an eyebrow, then slowly smiled. "We can remedy that. Why end a tradition that started so auspiciously?"
Duo's grin in response to that was almost the old Duo back again.
"It can't be just anything," Duo insisted, walking through the open- air section of the mall at Wufei's side. "It has to be sort of appropriate to the holiday, and cool."
"This is probably the best place to look," Wufei told him, glancing around. "It's full of gift, craft, and specialty shops, as well as little stalls with one of everything. If we don't see anything here, we can -- hey!"
"Sorry," apologised the man who had almost bumped into him, sliding between him and Duo. "Didn't see you."
It wasn't the last time; with a fair crowd of shoppers walking around, looking at the goods on display instead of paying attention to where they were going, Duo and Wufei kept having to sidestep and dodge. Every time someone pushed between them and Duo lost sight of his companion for a second, he tensed up a little more.
Ducking sideways through a chattering group of women, Duo came up beside Wufei again with an inward sigh of relief, and grabbed for his coat sleeve without thinking about it. Startled, Wufei jerked his arm up slightly and looked around to see what had tugged at him, and Duo let go as if the fabric was hot.
"Uh -- sorry," he muttered, blushing. "I didn't mean -- "
Wufei took his hand and continued on without a word, towing the startled teen behind him, and glaring at anyone who came close enough to possibly separate them.
We're in public, Duo thought, wide-eyed. He's holding my hand in public. But -- he doesn't mind? He was always so big on preserving 'face' in front of strangers... but he's holding my hand!
There was a small, happy smile on Duo's face and a sparkle in his eyes as he followed Wufei through the crowd.
It was another sparkle that caught Duo's eye a few minutes later, the thin winter sunlight reflecting off multi-coloured glass. "'Fei?" he said tentatively, tugging the Chinese pilot to a halt. "Over there... that looks good. What do you think?"
"'A Touch of Glass'," Wufei murmured, reading the sign over the window of the shop, shelves filled with stained, etched and painted glass. "Yes, I think that qualifies as 'cool'. Shall we have a closer look?"
One particular piece grabbed Duo's attention immediately, and they agreed it was perfect... until Wufei carefully lifted it off its stand and Duo caught sight of the price tag on the back. "Oh, no, 'Fei, it's way too expensive," he said, face falling. "We'll have to find something else."
"Really?" Wufei raised an eyebrow and juggled the piece around until he could see the back. "Five hundred credits? That seems about right," he said taking a step towards the cash register.
"But it's too much!" Duo hissed. "I -- I can't ask you to spend that much on something that's just a silly joke!"
Surprisingly, Wufei smirked. "Duo," he said, voice dropping to a whisper, "you aren't the only person who can spend OZ's money on a present for Une."
"You and Heero passed a lot of money over to us, remember? And I did a little hacking of my own. I had a fair amount left at the end of the war, and it didn't seem right to spend it, so..." Wufei shrugged, careful of his one-handed grasp on the stained glass. "I put it in a bank account, to wait until I decided what to do with it. It's earning obscene amounts of interest, and this won't even make a dent." He smiled at Duo's hopeful, relieved expression. "Happier about it, now?"
"Yeah. Like you said, we're continuing a beautiful tradition, right?" Duo said, smiling again.
"Right." Wufei carried the piece over to the counter and handed it over to be wrapped. "What's your delivery schedule like?" he asked the cashier, spotting a small sign on the counter saying 'WE DELIVER'.
"It can go tonight or tomorrow, sir," the woman told him, peeling the price tag off.
"Tomorrow," he and Duo chorused, then grinned at each other.
"It's a New Year's present," Wufei explained.
"Well, in that case, we have gift wraps and cards," the saleswoman said, dimpling at them. "No extra charge."
"Oh, yes," Duo muttered, patting his pockets for a pen. "It's got to have a card..."
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