( Chapter 18 )
It had started to snow gently as Duo parked the Blazer outside the main entrance to Preventers' HQ. As he jumped down and flicked the door shut, an agent who'd been having a quiet smoke outside quickly tossed his cigarette butt away and came forwards.
"Excuse me... sir?" he said, moving to intercept Duo as he walked towards the door. "You can't park here; it's reserved for emergency vehicles. There's a parking lot around the corner--"
"I know," Duo said coldly, brushing past him.
"Sir, I'm sorry, but you're going to have to move your car!" the agent insisted, grabbing Duo's elbow.
Duo didn't say a word. He didn't have to. He just turned his head and looked at the agent with cold, glittering eyes in a perfectly expressionless face. Slowly, he looked down at the hand on his arm; just as slowly, he looked back at the agent's face.
"...Right. Um. I'll just, ah, stop bothering you," the man said, letting go and backing away. "Okay?"
Once Duo was gone, he scrabbled frantically at his phone, breaking a nail before he managed to get it open and stab at a speed-dial button. "Security?!" he gasped, edging forwards to peer nervously through the glass doors. "That guy who just walked in, you gotta believe me, I swear, he's a killer!"
< < Ma'am? > > a nervous voice came from the intercom on Une's desk. < < Mr. Maxwell is here asking to see you, and... uh... he doesn't look happy. > >
"Oh, shit," Une said. "Let him in!" she added hastily, getting up and hurrying towards the door.
"Maxwell," she said as she came up to the security desk, trying to keep worry and frustration out of her voice, "there really isn't anything you can accomplish here. Where's Chang?" *At least he's wearing a coat and boots this time...*
"Wufei's asleep," Duo said flatly, turning to look at her. "Where are they?"
Une froze, feeling a sudden flash of terror as she saw his face. *Oh god. This isn't Maxwell... this is Shinigami.*
"What... do you want with them?" she asked, surprised that her voice sounded almost normal.
"Not much." Duo's eyes glittered again as he tilted his head, considering; then a small, cold smile quirked the corner of his mouth. "I simply want to let them know how I feel about what they did. I'm not going to kill anybody," he added. "That could get Wufei in trouble."
Une hesitated for a moment. "There... is a precedent in law for allowing people affected by a crime to confront the perpertrators," she said slowly. "In the case of a violent assault, 'people affected' traditionally includes the victim's family and close friends. Normally, this would be after their trial and conviction... but then, some of them have confessed..." Coming to a decision, she nodded. "This way."
As Duo followed her down the corridor towards the elevators, the desk guard lunged for his computer, tapping in an 'all terminals' call code with one hand as he called up a video feed from the security cameras in the cell block.
Back at her desk and trying to get through her paperwork, Leah resisted the urge to bang her head on the keyboard as her terminal beeped for the umpteenth time that afternoon.
*What is it now?* she grumbled to herself, slapping at the keyboard. *I swear, if this is another idiot e-mailing me to ask 'what really happened in the carpark', I'm getting my gun...*
Instead of a normal mail window, however, her screen blacked out; then large block letters appeared.
< < THIS SHOULD BE GOOD! MAXWELL LOOKS READY TO GUT SOMEONE! > >
"What the...?" Leah blinked, torn between confusion and annoyance; then the text message vanished, replaced by a security camera view of the main cell block. A couple of seconds passed before a door opened and Une led Duo in.
"Oooh. Preventers' Nastiest Home Videos. All right, I'm interested," Leah muttered, leaning closer to her screen. "Do we have sound? Yes, good... all that's missing is popcorn."
"Here they are," Une said calmly, stopping in front of two adjoining cells.
"Which is Anders?"
"That one." She pointed. "The one with black hair and the severely bruised face. McKenzie was rather enthusiastic about subduing him."
"I want medical treatment," Anders wheezed, wincing as his bruised throat protested. "It's my right. The painkillers I got aren't doing shit."
"You're giving your prisoners painkillers now?" Duo asked in a detached voice. "That's new."
Une winced slightly and cleared her throat. "Whatever I may have done in the past," she said carefully, "the Preventers do follow international humanitarian guidelines for the treatment of prisoners. Mr. Anders has had his broken nose set, and none of his other injuries require attention."
"Pity," Duo commented. "All right, which of you got into this because you actually believed this moron when he told you Chang Wufei was beating me?"
As two or three of the prisoners glanced at each other and slowly raised their hands, Anders lunged forwards and grabbed at the bars. "I don't have to stand here and take shit from you!" he rasped. "I haven't admitted a thing, and I'm innocent until proven guilty. I--"
Duo's hand shot through the bars and grabbed his collar, yanking him forward against them. Anders abruptly found himself entirely too close to a pair of coldly glittering violet eyes.
"You'll damn well stand there and take whatever I choose to hand out, asshole," an icy cold voice told him, then those eyes were looking past him at the other prisoners. "Well? I'm waiting."
Five hands were raised.
Duo glanced at the other prisoners. "That would make you three the bastards who went after my 'Fei because you were jealous. Like this dickless idiot," he added, tugging at Anders' collar and pulling him harder against the bars.
"We aren't admitting anything," Anders wheezed, starting to panic as he shoved against the bars but couldn't push himself away. *How strong is this guy?!* "It looked like he was abusing you! The evidence was there if you looked for it!"
"And so was all the evidence that he wasn't," Duo said almost gently, letting up the pressure for an instant and then yanking his 'toy' back against the bars; Anders whimpered as the jolt jarred his broken nose. "You don't have to admit anything, stupid. You came right out and said why you were after my 'Fei. You hate him because he's smarter than you, and better than you, and he outranks you, and he's paid more, and even though he doesn't try to make friends people like him more than you... does that about cover it?"
"I never said that!"
"But it's what you meant. 'Mr. Perfect, the Preventers poster boy'," Duo quoted mercilessly. "He's all that and he's only eighteen, I bet that's what really burns you up. I guess it never occurred to you that maybe he worked to get to where he is.
"As for you idiots..." Duo looked scornfully at the five who'd raised their hands earlier. "If you'd bothered to check the facts instead of swallowing this prick's story in one gulp, you would have found out it was a lie pretty quickly. Never mind that Chang Wufei hadn't seen me since the end of the war. Our identities aren't that much of a secret, what with all the ex-OZ people who know about us.
"You've got to admit," he went on, grinning coldly, "it would take a real moron to believe that a Gundam pilot would stick around to be beaten. Even by another Gundam pilot."
"Gundam... pilot...?" somebody whispered.
"Yes!" Nicklaus hissed softly, grinning maniacally as he watched on his terminal. "We thought so. Score one for Assink family intelligence work!"
Leah paused with her mug halfway to her mouth, eyebrows lifting. "Well. There's something to think about..."
"If I had my Deathscythe here," Duo purred into the sudden horrified silence, putting his face right up by Anders', "I would stomp you like the goddamned piece of shit bug you are."
Anders whimpered, pushing desperately at the bars as he closed his eyes, trying to shut out the sight of that coldly furious gaze... but he couldn't shut out the voice.
"The God of Death is in the building, Anders, and he is looking right at you. You're going to get a nice long prison sentence, and when you come out, you are going to find a hole and pull it in after you. Aren't you? Because if I ever see you again, I will not be happy. Nobody touches my 'Fei."
Duo's hand opened, and Anders slid helplessly down the bars, landing with a squelch; he burst into humiliated tears as he realised that he'd wet himself without realising it.
"That goes for you three as well," Duo continued. "I couldn't care less about you five; stupidity at your level tends to weed itself out of the gene pool, anyway."
With one last glance at Anders sniveling on the floor, Duo turned and stalked out.
All over the building, grinning Preventers saved the video file to their private folders.
Duo was barely out the door when he sagged, clutching at the wall for support as he began to tremble.
"Maxwell?!" Une grabbed his arm.
"I'll be okay in a minute," he whispered. "I'll be fine. I just... just need a moment--" His knees gave way as he started coughing, and Une wrapped her arm around his waist to hold him up. About to call for help, she was immensely relieved when she looked up and saw Sally running down the corridor towards them.
"Sally? How'd you know?" Une asked incredulously as Sally skidded to a halt and reached for Duo.
"Thank the busybody who patched the security cameras into the main computer net," Sally muttered as she eased Duo down to sit on the floor. "I knew he couldn't keep that up for long. I don't suppose you brought your inhaler, Duo? No? Here... two puffs, not one..." She picked up his wrist and felt for his pulse, checking his temperature with the back of her other hand as she waited for his breathing to settle.
"Fast pulse, mild fever, shaking..." she muttered. "Duo? How do you feel?"
"Tired," he whispered, leaning his head against the wall and closing his eyes.
"I'm not surprised! You must have been running on adrenalin ever since you found out Wufei was hurt. You have no reserves, Duo, you can't push yourself like this without consequences. You'll trigger another relapse before you're even over the last one!"
"I had to," he insisted, opening his eyes briefly. "They hurt my 'Fei..."
Sally and Une exchanged a significant look over Duo's head, then smirked at each other. "I understand perfectly," Une said, smoothing his bangs back from his forehead.
"I have to go home," he said, sitting up away from the wall. "If he wakes up before I get back, he'll worry."
"Oh no, not just yet," Sally said quickly, gently pushing him back. "Give it a few more minutes; I want your heart rate and breathing a little closer to normal before you get up. And you're not driving yourself home!"
"I'll call Zechs and Noin." Une pulled out her phone, settling against the wall next to Duo. "Zechs can drive you home, and Noin can follow in her car to bring him back here. Is that acceptable?" she asked, glancing from Duo to Sally and back.
"It's fine by me," Sally said, still holding Duo's wrist. "Duo?"
He shrugged. "Whatever. So long as I get home."
* * * * *
As he slept, Wufei slowly slid down against his pillows, gradually putting more pressure on his cracked shoulderblade; finally, a stab of pain made it through the painkillers, waking him up. Wincing, he struggled up into a seated position, then looked blearily around at the empty lounge room.
*I fell asleep? Damn...*
*I guess Duo went to bed. I don't hear him moving around.*
Carefully, Wufei pulled the quilt back and swung his legs off the couch, moving as quietly as possible.
*I hope he's sleeping okay... I'll just go check.*
* * * * *
Sally leaned back in the visitors' chair in Une's office, smirking. "I see you noticed the 'my 'Fei' comment," she said, reaching out to tap the dangling tiki and make it spin.
"It was pretty hard to miss," Une smirked back. "He said it three times while he was terrorising the prisoners, too."
"So he did! I almost forgot... I think I was distracted by wondering exactly how long he could keep up that intensity before he fell over." Sally considered for a moment, then chuckled. "Of course, that means everybody on duty today probably noticed it too."
"I should probably have a word with whoever did that," Une muttered darkly.
"And then there was 'I have to go home'," Sally pointed out happily. "Whether Duo realises it or not, part of him has decided where he belongs."
"Yes... I think--"
Une's vidphone beeped.
"Une speaking-- Chang?"
< < Une, Duo's gone! The keys are gone, the Blazer's gone, he sneaked out while I was asleep -- he shouldn't be out, he's still sick, I don't know where he is-- > >
"Chang, calm down," Une said firmly. "He was here, he terrorised the prisoners, he's on his way home. He's fine. Zechs and Noin are bringing him back."
< < ...he's okay? > >
Sally leaned over until she could see the screen. "He'll be pretty tired when he gets back -- he wore himself out getting here and putting the fear of Shinigami into Anders and his friends -- but he should recover with no problems."
< < Are you sure? > > Wufei looked very young suddenly, wide-eyed and worried, hair coming out of his ponytail.
"Yes. I'm sure."
Une checked her watch. "They should be there any minute now."
< < Thank you! > > *click!*
"Poor Chang," Une said, shaking her head. "He doesn't have a chance."
* * * * *
Wufei was halfway to the window when there was a quiet knock on the door and Noin opened it. "Chang? You awake?" she called softly, looking around.
"Where is he?!"
"...you're awake. Zechs is bringing him up; he fell asleep in the car on the way back."
"He's fine, just tired," Zechs said softly, appearing behind her with Duo in his arms. "He put on quite a show; remind me to e-mail you a copy when you get back to work. Where do you want him?"
Duo drifted slowly awake, vaguely aware that someone was stroking his hair.
"I have to go home," he mumbled. "'Fei's gonna worry..."
"You're home, Duo," Wufei's voice said softly.
"Whu-- 'Fei? I'm sorry!" Duo blurted out, jerking up onto his elbows. *Oh, shit,* he thought, blinking up at the Chinese boy. *I sneaked out -- I took the Blazer -- he's gonna be so mad!*
Duo's eyes widened as Wufei leaned forwards, wrapped his good arm around his shoulders, and pulled him close. "Please don't scare me like that," he whispered, pressing his face into Duo's hair.
*...he's shaking!* Duo thought, winding his arms tentatively around Wufei's waist. "'Fei... I'm sorry, but I had to," he said quietly. "They hurt you."
"You shouldn't endanger yourself for me," Wufei said. "I'm not worth it."
"Don't say that! Don't ever say that," Duo retorted, pulling back slightly to glare up into Wufei's surprised face. "It's not true."
Pulling away, Duo got up and stalked into the kitchen to make dinner.
After dinner, Duo dragged Wufei's futon out of its cupboard and started setting it up on the lounge room floor.
"Duo, I can do that in a minute," Wufei protested. "You should be going to bed, not--"
"I'm not going to bed until I've seen you comfortable," Duo snapped, glaring briefly at him before stalking off to get a pillow. With surprising speed, Wufei was tucked into bed; Duo presented him with a couple of pills and a glass of water, then vanished into the bedroom, turning off the light on the way.
Wufei lay there for quite a while, studying the patterns of light on the ceiling as cars went past outside and going over the day's events in his mind. *I can't go in too early,* he thought eventually, listening for any sound from the bedroom. *Duo's tired, so he might go to sleep quickly... but he's upset, so he might stay awake...*
A soft sound caught his attention, and he started struggling out from under the covers. *He went to sleep right away and I waited too long,* he berated himself as he heard another quiet sob.
Carefully easing himself down beside Duo, Wufei winced as the braided boy clutched at him. *Ow. Bruises!* he thought ruefully, awkwardly reaching around with his free arm to shift one of Duo's hands. *It's a good thing Anders didn't break my left shoulderblade; I'd have to get between Duo and the wall if I wanted to lie on my right side and still hold him, and I don't think I could manage that with one arm tied to my chest...*
Eventually, without meaning to, Wufei fell asleep.
*...huh? How did I get here?*
Standing in a field of flowers, Wufei looked around him. *This is where Meiran died,* he realised. *But... it doesn't exist any more!*
*Oh. Right. I must be dreaming.*
"Chang Wufei, you idiot!"
A small, hard fist connected solidly with Wufei's cheekbone as he turned to look behind him, knocking him down.
"Ow! Meiran!" he complained, pressing one hand to the bruise as he looked up at the irate girl. "Now I know I'm dreaming," he grumbled, sitting up. "Trust my subconscious to manifest as you. I must be feeling masochistic today..."
"What other choices were there?" she snapped, crossing her arms and glaring at him. "Sally Po? You wouldn't listen. Yui? You'd deck him. If I appeared as Duo Maxwell, you'd be concentrating so hard on feeling unworthy that you'd never hear a word. You're stuck with Meiran. Think of it as getting in touch with your feminine side.
"Now then," she continued as he sputtered, tapping her foot, "shall we get back to the point? You're an idiot."
"I heard you the first time. Is that it?"
"Of course not. If it were, I would have appeared as Une. Pay attention! You're so wound up with guilt over hurting Duo that you're about to hurt him again."
"What-- no!" he protested, horrified. "I wouldn't--"
"Then why are you planning to push him away?"
"Maybe not consciously, but that's what would have happened. All those thoughts about looking after Duo until he's better, and then letting him go to 'find someone who deserves him'... wake up and smell the coffee, Chang! What if he doesn't want to be let go?"
"I... I'm not good enough for him," Wufei said quietly, looking away.
"And you were worried about his low self-esteem!" Meiran snorted, rolling her eyes. "You love him. He loves you. You want him. He wants you. Where is the problem here?!"
"I don't know that he still loves me. I realise now that he did, but-- gods, I'm arguing with my own subconscious," Wufei muttered. "This is pointless!"
"No it's not. Your conscious mind is too busy feeling worthless to put two and two together. That's what I'm for. Look at the facts!" she continued, starting to pace. "You're the only person he wasn't angry at when you found him. He talked to you before he would talk to anyone else. He doesn't want to let you out of his sight, but he trusts you to go and come back. He clings to you in his sleep! Your voice and your touch can soothe him out of his worst nightmares almost instantly. Worrying about you made him forget he was angry with the other pilots, even Yui; his first impulse when he found out you'd been attacked was to go punish the people who'd hurt you; and he really got angry when you spoke badly of yourself.
"This is not the picture of someone who feels grateful or guilty, Wufei," she finished seriously. "This is someone who cares. This is someone in love."
There was a long pause before Wufei answered. "Even if he is in love with me... I'm still not good enough for him."
"He might disagree. You're determined to be miserable, aren't you?! Gods! ...All right, look at it this way. You want Duo to be happy, right?"
"Well, what he wants is you. Are you going to give him what he wants, or are you going to let him go and walk away... like you did eight months ago?"
Wufei paused, shocked by the strength of his reaction; then he swallowed hard and continued. "No. I-- I won't do that to him again, but... if he wants to leave... I won't stop him."
Meiran smirked triumphantly. "I don't think that will be a problem."
"Can I wake up now?" he said, plaintively.
"Maybe. I'm finished with you for now... but Sally was right, you know. You've got a lot of sleep to catch up on."
As the dream fragmented around Wufei, flowers floating into the air while the ground broke up and fell away beneath him, he heard Meiran's parting words.
"Remember, Chang... as long as he wants you, don't let go! Sha zi," she said, almost affectionately. "Idiot!"
"I won't," Wufei muttered in his sleep, pulling Duo close. "Duo... wo xi wang ni shi xhu yu wo de..."
Duo was dreaming, too. His dream was much less surreal... and far more unpleasant.
"Shit. All that fuss and he ain't got nothin'!"
"I think the little prick broke my finger. Stupid bastard!" A heavy boot thudded into Duo's ribs as he lay helpless on the ground.
"Why fight so hard if he didn't have nothin' to lose? It don't make sense."
"Hey, I looked in all his pockets!"
"His wallet's empty." There was a slapping sound as it was tossed contemptuously to the ground.
"So he's got something that ain't in his pockets or his wallet."
Rough hands searched quickly, ripping Duo's clothes and probing into his boots. Finally, they tugged at his collar.
"Here's something-- aw, jeez! Don't tell me he was fighting for this. We'll be lucky to get twenty credits for it. Cheap-shit cross..."
There was a sudden yank and a stinging pain as the chain broke.
"You sure that's it?"
"Look for yourself, man. He's got nothing."
"They're right," Heero's voice said coldly from the mouth of the alley. "He hasn't got anything we want."
Everything else fell away into darkness as Duo opened his eyes, straining to see. Heero, Trowa and Quatre were walking away from him across black earth, never looking back.
"No..." Duo whimpered, struggling to rise. "Don't leave me... please... I just want to come home..."
"Shh." Wufei's voice seemed to come from nowhere. "I'm here. It's only a dream..."
*'Fei wouldn't lie to me. It's just a dream.*
Duo woke up nestled against rough bandages, one hand clutching a fold of Wufei's boxers at the hip, feeling a hand rubbing gently at his back. His face was tucked into the hollow between Wufei's neck and shoulder, and somehow he felt as if he was in exactly the right place... as if the exact same thing had happened before, and part of him remembered.
"Shhh," Wufei's voice said drowsily. "It's all right, Duo..." He trailed off into a mumble and fell silent, breathing heavily.
*He's asleep!* Duo realised incredulously. *How often has he done this, if he can talk me out of a nightmare in his sleep?!*
*Has he been sleeping with me every night?*
*...no. He hasn't been sleeping. That's why he's so tired; he's been waiting until I'm asleep, and getting up early, so I won't find out. Why would he do that?! Why is he sneaking around and tiring himself out? Why didn't he just tell me what he was doing?*
*He sneaked out after the party, too,* Duo thought miserably.
Thinking about that, however, brought up other memories, of the only time Wufei had talked about what happened at the party.
*'...I was scared. I was afraid that I'd made you hate me... so I ran away. I should never have left you like that...'*
Duo pulled back slightly to look at Wufei's face as a possible explanation occurred to him.
*Maybe he's still scared?*
Various aches and pains made themselves felt as Wufei woke up.
*Ow. I guess the painkillers wore off,* he thought blearily, not yet opening his eyes. *And I'm stiff... getting up is going to hurt. No wonder I dreamed that Meiran hit me!*
*That was a weird dream. Talking to my subconscious, manifesting as Meiran... she wasn't even in character! It was more like a combination of her and Duo, with a little Sally thrown in.*
Wufei felt Duo shift slightly, pulling away, and grimaced mentally. *Time to leave, before he wakes up. I'll just get stiffer if I wait, anyway...* He opened his eyes and looked straight into Duo's face.
Duo's very awake, aware face.
*Oh, shit,* was all Wufei managed to think before his brain shut down in panic.
Duo examined Wufei's face carefully; then he smiled, very slightly, and tucked his face back into Wufei's neck.
*Yep,* he thought, closing his eyes. *He's still scared.*
* * * * *
Several hours later, there was a knock at the apartment door.
By this time, Wufei was almost certain that he'd never be able to move normally again. He'd been lying awake the whole time, holding Duo close, unwilling to move even though he could feel all his bruised joints and muscles stiffening up. Getting up to take more painkillers had not been an option; if Duo was happy resting against him, Wufei was staying right where he was.
As the knock came again, Wufei groaned, shifting his weight. *I'm going to have to wake Duo up. I can't sneak out like this... and now that he knows I'm here, I'd better not try!*
"Duo? Duo, wake up... I have to get up. There's someone at the door."
"Mmnh?" Duo blinked sleepily at him, watching with a mildly confused expression as he struggled to get up; then there was a third knock, and Duo rolled over onto his hands and knees. "I'll get it," he yawned, crawling towards the end of the bed. "It'll be faster."
"...there is that, yes," Wufei admitted, slumping back onto the futon and wincing. "I'm a little slower than normal right now..."
Duo took a look through the security peephole and frowned. All he could see was a blur of colours with random sparkles. Shrugging, he opened the door and peered out.
"Master Duo!" Rashid exclaimed, arms full of brightly wrapped parcels. "Er... Happy Christmas! May we come in?"
"Abdul, be careful with that," he snapped, looking back over his shoulder as he walked in; then he returned his attention to Duo and beamed as a giant fruit basket on legs wobbled through the door after him.
*Ah. That was what I saw,* Duo thought as the basket went past. *Fruit and cellophane...*
"Master Quatre, Master Trowa, Miss Relena and Master Heero sent these," Rashid continued, carefully unloading his burden onto the coffee table. "This is from we Manguanacs," assisting the fruit basket on its way to the floor, "and these are from Mr. Assink's grandmother."
"Which Assink?" Wufei couldn't resist asking as he limped out of the bedroom. He'd managed to get a pair of sweat pants on over his boxers, and was feeling a little more presentable.
Rashid looked confused. "Ah... I'm not sure I follow you, Master Wufei," he said as Abdul popped up from behind the fruit basket, grinning cheerfully at Duo, and the third Manguanac carefully added two bulky presents to the pile. "I only know one Mr. Assink..."
"I'm sure that will change," Wufei muttered. "Sorry. Can we offer you coffee, or...?"
"Thank you, Master Wufei, but please don't trouble yourself," Rashid said, eyeing the bandages and bruises. "Abdul, make coffee. Jamal, make lunch."
"Er... that's not necessary..."
"Master Duo," Rashid swept on, "please don't disappear like that again! It was bad enough when Master Quatre used to sneak off to go into battle without us. We thought we didn't have to worry any more once the war was over! We--"
Wufei caught Rashid's eye, glaring. *Do. Not. Lecture. Duo.*
"--er... we missed you," he finished lamely, visibly deflating.
After the Manguanacs left, the presents had been moved to under the miniature Christmas tree while Wufei and Duo ate; now, Duo was sitting on the couch looking at them out of the corner of his eye.
"Do you want to open them now?"
"...I didn't get you anything," Duo said softly.
"You don't need to," Wufei said, carefully easing himself down onto the floor next to the pile so he could sort them out. "The only Christmas present I need is you... Here and getting better!" he added quickly, blushing. "Besides, that first Christmas during the war, you got everyone presents. None of the rest of us did..."
"I don't give presents just to get something back," Duo protested.
"Exactly," Wufei said firmly, dropping the first parcel into Duo's lap. "Neither do we. Don't worry about it; just enjoy them."
'Keeping Duo warm' seemed to be a theme for several of his presents: a heavy wool coat from Relena and Heero, a knitted afghan blanket and cookies from Ninke's grandmother Matilde, and gloves, scarf and sweater from Trowa and Quatre. Une had brought him a novelty coffee mug full of chocolates; it had a picture on it of a snowman dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, sitting on a beach, and Wufei was relieved to see that it hadn't even been chipped in the fight with Anders and his friends.
Duo didn't say anything when he opened his present from Wufei -- a portable CD player and a stack of disks -- and Wufei pretended not to notice when Duo wiped at his eyes and sniffed.
Wufei only got two presents -- silk shirts from Relena and Heero, and a leather-bound set of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's mysteries from Trowa and Quatre -- but he certainly didn't care. He spent most of his time watching Duo.
"I think that's it-- no, there's one more little one," he said, handing it to Duo.
"Who's it from?" Duo asked, turning the small brown parcel over in his hands.
"Doesn't it say?"
"No... just a sticker with 'Duo' printed on it," he reported, puzzled.
Wufei shrugged. "I don't know, then. Maybe there's a note inside?"
"Maybe it's from Ninke," Duo said, pulling at the tape. "I mean, there was one from his grandmother--"
The tape pulled off, ripping the paper, and something silver tumbled into Duo's lap with a chain trailing after it.
"...my cross," he whispered, picking it up in shaking hands. "'Fei, it's my cross!"
"Are you sure?" Wufei asked incredulously, leaning in for a closer look. "Maybe someone got you a new one?"
"No, it's mine!" Duo insisted. "Look... I scratched my initials into the back, years ago. The chain's been fixed... who did this?!"
"I honestly have no idea, Duo," Wufei whispered, eyes wide.
"I got it back..." Tears started to trickle down Duo's face and he sobbed, burying his face in Wufei's good shoulder. "I got something back. I get to keep something..."
* * * * *
The afternoon and evening passed very quietly. Duo and Wufei spent most of the time on the sofa under Duo's new afghan; Wufei sat and pretended to read his new books, while Duo leaned against him and fiddled silently with his cross. Christmas dinner was a couple of microwaved TV dinners, since neither of them was willing to trust the other with the stove in their current unsteady conditions.
*I hope Duo's all right,* Wufei thought anxiously, turning a page without having read a word on it. *He's hardly said a word since he stopped crying. I know he was crying over something good, but I wish he'd talk! And he hasn't said anything about waking up with me next to him...*
Wufei jumped. "Yes?"
"Then you should go to bed and go to sleep."
No answer. Duo didn't move.
"I don't want to go alone," Duo said quietly.
Wufei sat frozen for an instant; then he carefully set the book aside and stood up, holding his hand out to Duo.
"All right, then. Let's go to bed."
Duo scooted over to the far side of the futon and lay down, waiting for Wufei. The Chinese boy took his time settling down, mind racing.
*Now what do I do?! Saying 'let's go to bed' was simple enough, but... does he just want me near him? Does he want me to hold him? I've held him every night so far, but he was asleep--*
Duo propped himself up on one elbow, anxious eyes searching Wufei's face; then he reached out and took hold of Wufei's free hand, pulling it forward to lie on the futon between them, palm up.
*...what? What's he doing?*
Then he took the end of his braid and pressed it into Wufei's hand, folding the fingers over it.
Wufei couldn't speak.
*He... he's not just handing me his braid,* he thought, looking back at Duo's serious eyes. *His braid means too much... it's so important to him...*
*Duo's giving me himself.*
*'The only Christmas present I need is you...'*
Apparently satisfied with whatever he saw, Duo relaxed and moved closer, carefully settling down next to Wufei and draping one wrist over Wufei's hip. Tipping his face up for a second, he pressed a gentle kiss to Wufei's cheek, then settled in against his shoulder with a sigh.
"Merry Christmas, 'Fei."
For the first night in a long time, both of them slept peacefully.
end 'Reunion' chapter 18
end of 'Reunion'
 'sha zi' = 'idiot'. Meiran repeated herself multilingually. Talented girl!
 'wo xi wang ni shi xhu yu wo de' = 'I wish you were mine'
This Web Page Created with PageBreeze Free HTML Editor / Web Hosting