Sunday morning- New Year's
Eve- Duo watched from the window as Wufei left for work, then turned back into
the apartment with a determined expression.
"Right," he muttered, heading for the kitchen. "What are we going to need?"
A quick search of the fridge and cupboards produced a good selection of finger foods, but also revealed that they were running out of several things; Duo sighed, and made a list.
They were also running out of clean towels and sheets, as Duo discovered when he hauled the spare futon, pillows and quilts out of the closet.
Well, I was already planning to do some housework, he thought, eyeing the laundry hamper. I know the laundry room is in the basement, so it shouldn't be hard to find, and I know where 'Fei keeps the laundry money. He did say it was too steamy, though...
I haven't coughed for days, I'll be fine. I'll even take the stupid puffer so if Sally finds out she can't lecture me too much. She probably will find out, too.
First, though, Duo sat down in front of the vidphone and keyed in Wufei's work number.
< < Chang here-- Duo? Is everything all right? > >
"Everything's fine," Duo said quickly. "I just wanted to ask you to buy some things on the way home."
< < Oh... okay, that's not a problem, > > Wufei said, looking immensely relieved. < < What do we need? > >
"Um, well, I thought we might want some champagne for midnight... you know, for the toast and everything. The non-alcoholic sort, so it doesn't screw with our medication."
Wufei smiled. < < Good idea; I wish I'd thought of it myself. What else? > >
"We're out of hot chocolate," Duo told him, pausing for the Chinese Preventer to awkwardly scrawl a note left-handed. "A loaf of French or Italian bread... and could you get some bay leaves?"
< < Bay leaves? > >
"I found your crockpot and figured I could make a stew for dinner. We've got all the other ingredients, I just need bay leaves."
< < I have a crockpot? > > Wufei blinked. < < Oh. That. Sally gave it to me as an apartment-warming gift; I've never used it. I suppose it works... > >
"It's still in the box, 'Fei. It had better work."
< < I'll buy bay leaves, then. Anything else? > >
"Ummm... no, that's plenty for one trip, considering. How's your shoulder?"
Wufei grimaced. < < It aches a bit, but nothing serious. If it gets worse I'll take a pain pill, I promise. > >
< < By the way, I checked in the paper; there's quite a carnival down at the lake today, leading up to the fireworks tonight. Would you like to go down for a couple of hours after I get home? > >
"Uh, sure... if you're feeling up to it."
< < I think I will be. Shall we call it a date? > >
"Um. Yeah. A date," Duo stuttered, blushing slightly and looking down. Idiot! he told himself. It's just an appointment type of date, not a date date... isn't it?
Half an hour later, Duo was leaning on the wall outside the laundry room, coughing so hard that he was seeing stars and wondering if his ribs would stand the strain.
Damn it, if I pass out down here, Wufei's gonna freak! he thought desperately, clutching his puffer in one shaking hand. I already took one dose and it's not working. Maybe I should take another... shit, if I could stop coughing long enough to do that, I wouldn't need another dose!
There was a surprised exclamation from down the hall, and quick footsteps coming towards him; then someone was helping him straighten up and supporting him for a few steps, until he could sink into a chair.
"There now, you just sit and concentrate on getting your breath back," a warm female voice said. "Lean forward and put your head down... that's right... did you manage to take your medication?"
Eyes closed, still coughing and gasping, Duo managed to nod and wave the puffer.
"That's all right, then." A gentle hand started rubbing Duo's back, and the lilting voice chuckled softly. "There's always that nasty pause before it starts working, when you're sure it's taking too long, isn't there? My Casimir is always positive that this time, it's not going to work.. then it does, and he does his best to pretend he wasn't worried. I'm glad he only gets asthma in spring!"
She waited a little while, then patted his shoulder. "Getting better?"
"Yeah," Duo wheezed, opening his eyes and trying to breath deep and slowly. "Thanks. I thought I was going to pass out."
"It's no problem. Were you doing your laundry?"
He nodded, slowly easing himself upright and leaning back in the chair. "I was handling it okay until the dryers really got going. The extra steam was the last straw."
The woman nodded, silver hairs at her temple catching the light. "The residents have been complaining about the lack of ventilation in there since this building was first occupied, but somehow nothing ever gets done. It's a little odd, because anything else we complain about gets fixed right away. You're Mr. Maxwell, aren't you? Staying with Mr. Chang, the Preventer?"
"Uh... yeah," he said, automatically taking the hand she held out to him. "I'm Duo. Uh, have we met?"
"No," she said, smiling, "but I ran into a couple of friends of yours on Boxing Day. I'm Gwennol Ptaschinski."
"Oh! Mrs. P!" the braided teen exclaimed, then had to cough again. "Ow... Whenever we encounter you, it's something to do with laundry, isn't it?"
"I suppose our paths are fated to cross over detergent and dryer sheets," she chuckled, getting up and recovering her basket from where she'd dropped it. "If you'll just wait here, I'll check on your washing, and fetch it out if it's finished. No point in giving yourself another attack, is there?"
When Wufei let himself into the apartment, he blinked in surprise at the collection of items arranged by the glass door to the balcony. The spare futon and quilts were neatly folded and stacked, with pillows sitting on top of the pile; next to them, the coffee maker was sitting on the floor, charged up and ready to go, plugged into an extension cord long enough to stretch outside. A little tray next to the coffee maker held teabags, sugar, a bag of marshmallows, coffee mugs... and two wine glasses.
"'Fei!" Duo said happily, walking over for a welcome-back hug. "How was your morning?"
"Reasonable," Wufei sighed, pulling Duo closer and pressing a kiss to his temple. "It seems to be improving now, though..." The shopping bag dangling from his hand bumped Duo's leg as he moved to kiss him again, and he disentangled himself with hasty apologies.
"Oh, good," Duo said, taking the bag and turning away to hide his blush. "I've got the stew all ready to go; I just have to add a bay leaf and switch the crockpot on. It does work, by the way, I checked." He quickly put everything away, ducking over to the glass door to add the hot chocolate mix to the tray.
"Duo... what's all this?" Wufei asked.
"For watching the fireworks," the braided teen said, a little sheepishly. "The futon and stuff is so we don't freeze, and I figured we'd want hot drinks as well as champagne. I sorted out some snacks, too, they're in the fridge. Um... do you want to have a rest before we go down to the lake?"
"Not unless you want one. I thought we could have lunch there, unless you already had something in mind?"
A slow grin spread over Duo's face. "Hot dogs with chili and sauerkraut?"
Ruthlessly suppressing his first reaction, Wufei grinned back. "I'm sure we can find you one, but I think I'll stick to something a little tamer." And if he ends up needing something for heartburn, i know where there's an open chemist's shop. It should be okay... Duo's been eating properly for a while now...*
...but I'm still going to make sure Sally never hears of this!
* * * * *
"Sally," Une's wary voice said, "were you expecting a parcel?"
"No," Sally replied, closing the car door and hurrying up the path. Une was standing a few feet from the door, eyeing a large flat box that was propped up against it as if it might jump out and bite her.
"We haven't had any bomb threats lately," Une muttered, peering carefully at the label without touching it, "and they usually try to bomb HQ, not private residences, but... oh. It's all right," she said, picking it up, "that's Maxwell's handwriting. I'd recognise it anywhere."
"I should hope so, by now," Sally said cheerfully, unlocking the door and switching off the security system. "He sent you enough samples of it during the war! I take it the tradition is starting again?"
"Looks like it. I'm almost afraid to look." Une set the box on the hall table and started peeling off the tape.
Inside the box, protected by a lot of fluffy packing material, was a rather smaller flat parcel, wrapped in sparkly metallic paper. A small envelope tucked under the ribbon had 'READ THIS FIRST!' written on it in big red letters.
"It was addressed to both of us," Une said dryly, plucking the envelope out and handing it to Sally with a flourish. "Will you do the honours?"
"You just don't want to be caught in the effects if this turns out to be booby-trapped," Sally grumbled, holding it well away from her as she eased up the flap and tugged out a folded sheet of paper. When nothing happened-- no flour, glitter or stink bombs-- she unfolded the paper and brought it closer to her face to read.
"'Dear Une and Sally'," she read aloud. "'Do not open this until New Year's Day! We mean it!' It's signed 'Duo and Wufei', and that was Duo's handwriting again. There's a PS in the scrawl Wufei's using at the moment. 'That means you, Sally. I know what you're like.' Right," Sally said decisively, folding up the note. "Let's open it!"
"Oh no you don't," Une laughed, snatching it away. "We are going to follow the instructions, and open it on New Year's Day!"
"I bet you didn't follow the instructions during the war," Sally argued, edging closer.
"Once or twice I did," Une told her, thinking of 'CLICK ME' on a computer screen. "Most of the time, he didn't leave instructions. It'll be well past midnight when we get back from Quatre's party; we can open it then."
"Oh, all right," Sally mock-pouted. "That'll have to do."
* * * * *
When they got close enough to the carnival to be encountering crowds of people, Duo unconsciously drew closer to Wufei; the Chinese teen glanced at him, noted the slightly nervous way Duo was looking around, and reached over to hold his hand. Rewarded with a blush and a delighted smile, Wufei smiled back and kept walking, rubbing his thumb over the soft skin on the back of Duo's hand.
He's still nervous about getting separated, he thought, spotting a hot dog stand and tugging Duo towards it. Hopefully he'll relax a little once he gets used to the crowd. In the meantime, it's certainly no problem for me to keep hold of his hand... especially when something so simple can produce such a beautiful result!
They had to let go of each other to eat, but Wufei found a quiet corner where they could watch the rides and stalls without worrying about people pushing between them. At least, Duo watched the rides and stalls; Wufei watched Duo, and was relieved to see no ill effects after the braided ex-pilot downed one and a half jumbo hot dogs, smothered in chili, cheese and sauerkraut.
"You want a taste, 'Fei?" Duo asked, offering the last half of his second hot dog. "It tastes better than it looks, I swear."
"It would have to," Wufei muttered, taking the drippy object gingerly.
Duo snorted. "It even counts as sort of healthy, since it has something from all four food groups!"
"Which four?" Wufei asked, eyeing him with a faint smirk. "The standard four, or your four?"
"'Fat, salt, sugar and chocolate'," Wufei quoted. "I don't see any chocolate in this..."
"If you're not going to taste it, give it back."
Cautiously, Wufei took a bite and chewed.
"Well?" Duo asked, watching his face anxiously.
Wufei swallowed and handed the rest back. "It's not bad, Duo, but it's not really to my taste, either," he said apologetically. "You're right though; it definitely doesn't taste as bad as it looks!"
"I wouldn't have offered it if I'd thought you'd hate it..."
"I know," Wufei said, smiling slightly. "That's the only reason I was willing to try it."
"So!" Duo exclaimed, dropping the empty wrapper into the trash bin and dusting off his hands. "Where do we go next?"
"Well, traditionally-- since we're making a point of continuing good traditions-- there are certain things that should be done during a date at a carnival," Wufei said, elaborately casual as he glanced around at the stalls. "I haven't exactly made a study of the subject, but I believe I'm supposed to win you something. Shall we find a suitable game booth?" he asked, holding out his hand for Duo to take.
Duo stared at him, wide-eyed. "Then... um... you did mean that this was a date date... not just an appointment-to-go-somewhere type of date?"
"I did mean 'date date'," Wufei said quietly. "What do you want me to win for you?"
Swallowing, Duo slowly reached out to take the offered hand. "I think stuffed toys are the usual sort of thing," he whispered, a little shakily. "Really big ones."
"Really big stuffed toys it is," the Chinese teen said, carefully tucking their linked hands into his coat pocket to keep warm. "This way, I think..."
They soon found 'Shooting Alley', where most of the gun- and throwing- based games were concentrated, and Wufei shocked one booth operator by hitting every target, handling the small pellet rifle one-handed. When they left, Duo's free arm was wrapped around a large red and green plushie dragon.
A minute later, Duo tugged Wufei to a halt. "Oh, wow," he said, a slow grin spreading over his face as he stared at another booth. "Will you look at that, 'Fei? I think it's my turn to win something. Which one do you want?"
"As if you even have to ask," Wufei breathed.
At first glance, it was just a 'Whack-A-Mole' game, identical to games that had been traveling around with carnivals and circuses for centuries; but the signboard proudly proclaimed 'Whack-A-Leo', and the fuzzy objects popping up and down in the holes were small mobile suit plushies.
"Five credits a game, gentlemen, care to try your luck? the booth operator called, waving them over. "Hit a Leo and it's five points; hit Tallgeese and it's fifty!"
"Tallgeese?!" Duo yelped.
"I have got to tell Zechs about this," Wufei purred, grinning evilly.
"We've got a whole range of prizes, from Leos to Gundams," the operator continued cheerfully, holding out a padded mallet. "Give it a go, gents, take something cute home to your lady loves... oooops, or to each other," he corrected himself, eyeing their linked hands. "That'll teach me to look first and spiel later! No offense meant, honest."
"None taken," Wufei assured him, handing over ten credits. "Two games, please. Think you can win us one each?" he asked Duo.
"No problem," Duo chuckled, passing him the plushie dragon and taking a firm grip on the mallet. "Stand back 'Fei, I'm a professional... though, this would be more fun if I could use a scythe. I don't suppose you offer alternate weapons?" he asked hopefully.
The booth operator just looked at him, one eyebrow raised.
"Didn't think so. All right, let 'er rip!"
One mad flurry of thumps, whacks and yells of 'Ha! Take that!' and 'Tallgeese! Gotcha!' later, Duo had scored enough points to get a plushie Gundam.
"Congratulations!" the operator said, reaching up to the shelf. "After that scythe comment, I suppose you want one of these?" he asked, pulling down a Deathscythe.
"Yeah, for me, but first I want a Shenlong for 'Fei--"
"Actually, I'd like a Deathscythe," Wufei interrupted quickly. Duo tried to cover his reaction with a wide grin. "Why, 'Fei, at last you're opting for a real Gundam?" he crowed. For a moment, as Wufei drew himself up to his full height and glared haughtily down his nose, he thought he'd made a horrible mistake; then:
"Just because your Deathscythe has the full cloaking capacity and the fancy thermal scythe that works underwater, is no reason to make fun of my Nataku," Wufei said coolly, mouth twitching as he suppressed a grin. "My Gundam has the flamethrower."
"I'm going to assume that you gentlemen are just big fans of the Gundams," the operator said, setting the plushie on the counter, "because the only other explanation for that conversation that occurs to me-- that I have two Gundam pilots standing at my booth-- is too... disconcerting, Are you going to play your second game, or should I just pull down another Deathscythe for you?"
"Hey, if 'Fei wants Deathscythe, I'll have Shenlong," Duo said happily, taking a firm grip on the mallet again. "Start it up!"
Strolling down the midway with Duo's right hand tucked into his pocket again, Wufei glanced sideways, checking for any sign that Duo was getting tired or cold. The American ex-pilot had the dragon and Nataku plushies in the crook of his left arm, with the Deathscythe dangling from his fist by one leg. The same hand held a medium sized cone of cotton candy, which he was happily reducing in size.
He seems all right, Wufei thought, absent-mindedly licking at the sugar left on his lips from when Duo had offered him a taste, but if he's going to be staying up past midnight to watch the fireworks, I should get him home to rest... "Duo," he said tentatively, "if there aren't any rides you really want to go on, maybe--"
"'Fei," Duo muttered behind his candy, staring straight ahead, "what was that you were saying earlier, about Zechs...?"
"I want to tell him about that game," Wufei replied, confused by the sudden change of subject until he looked ahead and saw what Duo was staring at. "Ahhh, yes," he said, grinning again. "Showing is so much better than telling!"
Further down the midway, Noin glanced around and did a double take, then tapped Zechs's shoulder to get him to turn around.
"Good afternoon, Zechs, Noin," Wufei said calmly as they came up to the two Preventers. "On duty?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at their uniforms. Duo just nodded to them, having conveniently taken a huge mouthful of candy.
"It's called 'supporting the local law enforcement presence at a possible terrorist target'," Noin said, a little sourly. "Afternoon, Maxwell."
"It's not considered a high probability target, or we'd be in our suits," Zechs explained, nodding back at Duo. "In fact, the probability of any attack is so low that we wouldn't be here at all if the police hadn't requested some sort of Preventers presence." "The mayor's twitchy," Noin sighed. "Since we're here on duty, we can't even play for plushies... though I see being in uniform hasn't stopped you, Chang. Nice haul!"
"I may still be in uniform, but I'm definitely off duty. Actually," Wufei said casually, mouth starting to twitch upwards, "Duo and I saw something back this way we think you'd be interested in..."
"'Whack-A-Leo'?" Zechs asked, bemused.
"Back to clean me out, are you?" the booth operator asked, grinning. "Did you decide to go for a full set?"
"No," Duo told him, unceremoniously unloading his plushies into Zechs's arms. "I thought I'd win Noin one of those white Tauruses, since she's not allowed to play right now."
"They have white ones?" Noin exclaimed, stepping forward for a closer look. "They do! And all the Gundams... Look Zechs, there's Tallgeese!"
Duo snickered, passing his cotton candy to Wufei. "Oh, there's Tallgeese, all right. How many points do I need to get the Taurus?"
The operator told him, and he smirked, adjusting his grip on the mallet. "Easy; that's just two whacks at Tallgeese and half a dozen Leos. Batter up!"
"Two whacks at Tallgeese? What-- hey!" Zechs yelped as the first Tallgeese plushie popped up among the Leos and Duo slapped it back down with excessive force.
"Bonus points," Wufei explained, absent-mindedly taking a bite of Duo's candy as he watched the braided teen slaughter the mobile suit plushies.
"Maxwell," Zechs said in a pained voice as Duo passed the mallet back and Noin collected her plushie, "you seemed to be having far too much fun whacking my Tallgeese."
"Well, I never got to in real life," Duo muttered, taking his plushies back. "You always went after Wing. I felt slightly insulted."
"Officially, I didn't hear any of that," the booth operator muttered under his breath as he watched them walk away. "Un officially, however... it's not every day I get to meet three Gundam pilots."
* * * * *
"Hang on, 'Fei, I need to sweep the snow off of the balcony first," Duo protested as Wufei bent to tug at the futon.
"Oh, of course," Wufei said, looking up as Duo hurried by with the broom. "You've already done a lot, Duo, I can... er... stand back and applaud while you do that," he trailed off sheepishly, looking down at his strapped up arm.
"You're going to applaud?" Duo asked, pausing at the door. "I always wondered... what is the sound of one hand clapping?"
"Swish, swish," Wufei replied, deadpan.
About to step onto the balcony, Duo faltered and glanced back, wide- eyed with surprise for a moment; then a slow smile spread across his face, and he went out to sweep.
Wufei watched him quietly. It's amazing what little things will do. A date at the carnival, holding hands, and sitting up to watch fireworks makes him so happy! It's good to see him smiling...
This may not last. He's slid back before... but it's a good sign, and I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts.
Duo bounced back in, red-cheeked from the cold. "Done!" he said cheerfully, propping the broom against the wall and reaching for one end of the futon. Between them, they manhandled it outside and arranged it like a very low sofa, one end propped against the wall to protect their backs from the cold bricks. Pillows, quilts and finger food followed, and the balcony started to look quite cozy.
"You know, we could just about live out here," Duo puffed, carrying out the coffee maker. "All the comforts of home."
"No bathroom," Wufei pointed out, bringing out the bottle of champagne, "and the weather forecast predicts more snow tomorrow."
"Walls and a bathroom are luxuries, 'Fei. We've got all the essentials here. Food--" he patted the bowls of cheese, fruit and biscuits, "--shelter--" bouncing onto the futon, he tugged the quilts over his legs, "--and caffeine." One decisive poke turned the coffeemaker on, and he smiled sideways at Wufei. "What more do we need?"
Wufei chuckled, settling onto the other side of the futon. "A loaf of bread, a jug of coffee, and thou," he (mis)quoted. "You're right; I could live like this."
As the first fireworks burst over the lake, they settled back against each other and pulled the quilts up, both blushing faintly and determinedly pretending that they weren't doing any such thing. Some time passed in silence before either spoke again.
"They're putting on a good display," Duo said softly as a particularly colourful grouping flared and died. "Better than I managed when I shot up Une's base last year."
"Well, you did have to keep most of your shells concentrated on bang not flash," Wufei reminded him. "Even you can only modify explosives so far before they lose their effectiveness." He watched for a while longer, then sighed, unconsciously pulling Duo closer. "The big display is a sign of hope, I think," he whispered. "The first New Year's celebration since the war ended... people are hoping it'll be a year of peace."
"I hope so, too," Duo sighed, wriggling around a little to slide his arm behind Wufei's back. "There were fireworks celebrating the end of the war the night of Quatre's party, too... remember?"
Wufei grimaced. "Some of that night may have been blotted out of my memory by alcohol, but I still remember most of it. Including all of the things I did wrong."
The braided teen shrugged, hugging him gently. "It started out just fine..."
"Well," Wufei said, a little nervously, "we have fireworks again. We have a balcony. And Quatre is miles away, and won't come staggering out to startle me into doubting the wisdom of my actions. So... shall we begin again?"
Without giving himself time for second thoughts, he leaned down to Duo's upturned face and kissed him.
Three balconies away, Casimir Ptaschinski stretched and craned his neck sideways, working out the kinks caused by staring attentively in one direction for so long. Something over to his right caught his eye, and he leaned out for a better look.
"Well," he said happily, grinning and nudging his wife, "looks like that young Preventer's finally found himself a girlfriend."
"Really?" Gwennol leaned around him, then sat back in her chair, chuckling. "Dear, that's no girlfriend. That's Mister Maxwell."
"With hair like that?!" Casimir patted at his wool cap, thinking of the bald spot underneath it. "I think I'm jealous. ...Nice young man?"
"More power to them, then. They've definitely got the right idea about what to do on a romantic night like this!"
Grinning, he edged his chair closer to hers and leaned over for a kiss.
Duo's hands slid up underneath Wufei's sweater and t-shirt, stroking gently at the bare skin below his bandages. They twitched and clenched when Wufei nuzzled in under his chin, mouthing the soft skin on his neck, and he shivered.
"Cold?" Wufei whispered, sliding up to kiss under Duo's ear.
"No..." Anything else Duo might have been going to say was lost as he turned his head and caught Wufei's mouth with his own; a tentative flicker of tongue eliciting a soft groan. Wufei pressed closer, hand sliding along the upper curve of Duo's flank then cupping firmly to pull him forward.
Midnight struck and a massive series of fireworks began exploding over the lake, joined by car horns, sirens, yells and cheers.
"HAPPY NEW YEAR!"
In the distance, somebody began singing 'Auld Lang Syne', sounding thoroughly and happily drunk.
"Happy New Year, 'Fei," Duo said breathlessly, pulling back slowly.
"Happy New Year, Duo," Wufei whispered, hand sliding reluctantly back up to the braided teen's waist. Well, that definitely broke the mood, he thought ruefully as Duo turned to grab the champagne and glasses. Perhaps it's just as well... I don't know if we would have stopped. I certainly didn't want to! And I think it's still too soon for us to take things that far. I'm sure this is what I want... but I have to be certain that it's what Duo really wants, too.
With a loud 'POP', the champagne cork went flying over the balcony railing.
"Here," Duo said, passing Wufei a glass. "Here's to... what? To a peaceful year?"
"To a peaceful year," Wufei agreed, clinking glasses. Together.
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