Small Words


Crunchy-sweet disclaimer goodness: Gundam Wing does not belong to me—it belongs to whomever it belongs to. The Death and the Dragon arc does not belong to me—it belongs to Mel and Christy. Maureen Cole and Erica Dane DO belong to me. (Not that I wouldn’t rather have Duo. Sigh.) None of the above is being used for any gain whatsoever, barring my own artistic satisfaction (and hopefully the readers’). This story takes place sometime between Rebuilding and the marriage of Duo and Wufei.

Warnings: Well, it’s mostly PG-rated, mainly for language, with a very slight twist of lime in the last couple of pages. Nothing to worry about.


italics: thoughts

-dashes-: emphasis

---: minor scene change

***: major scene change

###: flashback


Ugh! Maureen wrinkled her nose, and managed to swallow the sip of sludge she’d just taken…and looked around for somewhere more appropriate than her digestive tract to dispose of the rest of it. A sink, or a water fountain. Or a biohazardous waste receptacle—that’d be good. This is supposed to be coffee?

Seeing nowhere convenient, she headed resignedly back to her desk. At least it smells halfway normal. Maybe the fumes will help wake me up. She set the Styrofoam cup on her desk—carefully; no need to risk spilling it and spoiling first impressions—and looked around the office.

Nice and quiet this early. I guess the chaos starts when the –normal- shifts start. It’s a lot bigger than my old office…so much for hoping for a decent caffeine supply, though. She rolled her eyes. Whiner. C’mon, you’re a real Preventer now, so start Preventing. Their coffee’s bad, so start bringing your own again, like you did at the old place.

She nodded to herself and stepped around her desk again, and bumped right into someone coming the other way.

"Oh—sorry, sorry!" she said hastily, backing up a step.

"Excuse me," he said at the same time. They stood close to the same height, so it was hard for her to avoid meeting his eyes. She looked into his face.

He was Chinese, wearing a Preventer uniform, and looked about her age—but the rank indicated by the small insignia at his collar made her eyes widen. "Sorry, -sir-," she amended. Smooth. Talk about your bad first impressions, girl. Spilling the coffee would’ve been better.

But he smiled. "No, that’s all right." He gave her an instant’s keen scrutiny. "You’re a transfer, aren’t you? From…"

"Lauderdale office. Maureen Cole." She extended her hand, and he took it firmly and gave it a single shake.

"Wufei Chang. Nice to meet you, Cole." His eyes lit briefly on the cup on her desk as he let go of her hand. "I’d advise not bothering with the coffee, unless you’re as bad an addict as -I- am."

I guess I’m doing okay after all. Maureen relaxed, and mustered a smile. "I discovered that myself. I think I’ll go back to bringing my own," she ventured, and was rewarded with another wry smile as he continued on his way to his own desk.

"That doesn’t sound like a bad idea," he commented. "Maybe I ought to try that. Have a good first day, Cole."

Her mouth opened to thank him, and then froze open as he turned and she saw his back and his black hair slicked into a short ponytail. Hey—I -know- this guy—


Wufei frowned as he sat down at his desk. I remember seeing her picture when I looked at her file Friday night, but it seems to me like I’ve seen her somewhere else. He tapped at his terminal and brought up her records, glancing over the accusing stack of paper files on his desk as the computer worked for a few seconds. I can spare a minute to check. Otherwise it’ll bug me all day.

The file came up, and he scanned it. Work records at her last office. Glowing recommendation from her supervisor. Photograph. He studied it for a moment. Green eyes looking a little warily at the camera; dark blonde hair in a simple ponytail trailing over her shoulder. Today she was wearing it in a bun.

…no, this isn’t what I’m remembering. I didn’t recognize her picture on Friday, either. Maybe it’s her voice I recognize. He searched his memory briefly, to no avail, and returned his attention to her file.

"…St. Thomas’s boarding school, Lauderdale, FL, AC192-196…"

St. Thomas’s…I was there for a couple of weeks with Duo once as cover for a mission. I bet that’s it. I must’ve met her there, though I can’t say I remember it. Must’ve been in class with her. He closed the file and shook his head dismissively, turning back to his work. She didn’t seem to recognize -me-, so I’m not going to worry about it.


"Hey, Cole! You planning on staying here all night?"

Maureen looked up muzzily from the file in front of her, her vision a bit blurry from staring so closely at the print. Wuh? Yuck. Maybe I should see the doctor about glasses.

One of her new co-workers—a cheerful, sly brunette named Erica Dane, whom she’d liked immediately—was leaning over her. "It’s almost six."

Maureen jerked up. "You’re joking!"

"God’s honest truth." Erica lifted her right hand with a smirk and gestured at the clock on the wall. "Hope you didn’t have any engagements to get to."

Maureen stood up and stretched, and began tidying up her desk. "No, not really. Just unpacking."

"Ohhh, yeah; you’ve got that new apartment to stock."

Maureen nodded. "Better than the cracker box where I lived in Lauderdale, but where I’m going to put everything, I have no idea. Quit babbling, stupid.

Erica chuckled. "You ought to see -my- place. Hello, flea market central. Listen, do you think we could do each other a favor? My car’s in the shop—that’s the only reason I waited around so late tonight, I was waiting for them to call and let me know it was done—and I was going to take the bus out there, but if you don’t mind getting me over there to pick it up, we could go from there to grab something to eat, and then maybe I could come back with you and help you unpack?"

Maureen brightened. This is -me-? I’ve made a friend already? Somebody pinch me. "Really? Thanks, if you don’t mind."

"Would I have asked if I did?" Erica grinned and straightened up as Maureen turned off her desk light. The main office was rather dim now, but one light was still burning off in the corner, from a desk amid a cavern of file cabinets. Maureen looked over in that direction.

"Oh—that’s Chang. Hey, Chang!" Erica hollered, laughing, before Maureen could speak. "Quitting time! Chop-chop! Get off your ass and go home to your boyfriend!" Maureen went pink, then red as Chang stood up to see who was shouting at him.

"What are you, Dane, the town crier? I know what time it is. What are -you- still doing here?"

Erica pouted. "-I- had to wait around for my baby to get done at the shop."

"Your baby?"

"My Stratus!"

"Piece of crap."


Chang vanished back into his "cave", and Erica grinned from ear to ear. Maureen was still blushing. "I’m gonna go get my purse and visit the little Preventerettes’ room, okay?"

"Be my guest."

As Erica walked away, Maureen looked over at Chang’s desk again. She’d been so busy all day that she hadn’t even had time to think about him after that shock of recognition this morning. When they say they’re shorthanded around here, they mean they’re missing an arm.

Wonder if there’s time to go talk to him before she gets back. Her mouth twisted. I don’t know if it’s even worth it. He probably doesn’t remember me at all. She sighed and stepped around the desk, absently reaching up to take her hair out of the uncomfortable bun. It was giving her a headache. Well, I wanted to tell him for years and couldn’t; here’s my chance, and I might as well get it over with.


Wufei stifled a yawn and turned his computer off with a twinge of guilt. Stop that. There was no way of getting out of working late this week. But Dane’s right—it’s high time I got the hell out of here.

He went about tidying up his desk, and was just reaching for his desk light when he heard a soft tap-tap-tap on one of the filing cabinets nearby. He looked up, and saw Maureen standing there, her hair loose around her shoulders, and blinked as a hitherto missing piece snapped right into place in his mind. -Now- I remember—


Wufei slapped his chemistry textbook shut. Then he shoved the textbook aside and stood up, grabbing his jacket from the back of his desk chair.

"Aw, ‘Fei, where you going?" Duo was draped over the end of his bed, his braid trailing on the floor; his bookbag was still lying pristinely on -his- desk, unopened.

"Since you won’t let me get any work done in here, I am going for a walk."

"Oh, c’mon, ‘Fei! It’s Saturday night, everybody with a pulse is out somewhere, and I can’t join ‘em! I just wanted somebody to -talk- to, that’s all!"

Wufei stalked toward the door.

"…can I come?"


Wufei had to restrain himself from slamming the door. He headed down the hall toward one of the side doors of the dormitory. Honestly, he seethed. Doesn’t he ever shut up? We do have to maintain -some- semblance of normalcy while we’re undercover—how is

-he- going to manage that if he never does his homework? I’m certainly not going to risk attracting attention by not turning mine in—or by strangling my roommate, for that matter. That might be just a -little- indiscreet.

He entered the stairwell, and paused, his skin crawling with the sensation that he wasn’t alone. A second later, a soft sound from below confirmed his hunch. Tensing, he held the door to keep it from closing, reached for the solid reassurance of the small knife that was sheathed at the back of his neck, hidden by his jacket collar, and waited.

The sound was repeated, and Wufei peered cautiously down into the stairwell. Two floors down, on the third floor landing, a girl was leaning against the railing—well, not leaning so much as sagging.

It was not a coed dormitory, but it wasn’t unheard of for a girl to be snuck in on a weekend night. Wufei overheard enough of his classmates’ jabber to know that. But for her to be here, right out in the open for any of the floor monitors who happened to walk into the stairwell to see—she was asking for suspension, if the administrators were feeling particularly generous.

She had dark blond hair, a little past shoulder length, and it hung in ratty tangles around her face. All he could see of her clothes from this angle was a brown suede jacket and a pair of white tennis shoes. She hadn’t even looked up when he’d opened the stairwell door.

He released his grip on his knife and closed the stairwell door. She didn’t move. But when he started down the stairs, she straightened slowly—then hissed in pain and slumped into the dubious support of the railing again.

Wufei stopped halfway down the stairs to the landing she was standing on. "Are you hurt?"

Her head snapped around and a pair of glittering green eyes bored right into his face, but he stared back impassively. He’d been glared at by professionals, after all.

Her face was shadowed under the eyes, and he could see dark streaks down her cheeks where makeup had been smeared by tears. Her nose was red, and her eyes were bloodshot.

Gods, it’s not bad enough that I had to deal with Maxwell tonight; now I have an onna with an attitude on my hands. But he kept that thought in, locked behind a blank mask. This isn’t the battlefield, he reminded himself. Weak or not, she’s not a soldier; she’s a civilian. Save your contempt for your -real- enemies.

When he didn’t speak or react to her glare, she lowered her face again—and he caught a glimpse of a different expression just before her hair slid down to screen it. It was an expression he knew well.

Whatever’s happened to her tonight, she blames herself for it.

Well, I hate to say it to you, onna, but you’re probably right.

"You need help," he stated flatly.

"I’m fine." Her voice cracked.

"No, you aren’t."

She turned away from him and started down the steps, shoulders badly hunched, with another little gasp of pain.

Can’t tell exactly what’s wrong, he thought clinically. Torso somewhere, maybe ribs, maybe her back—she’s not limping, so it doesn’t look like—uh-oh.

He lunged down the steps in time to keep her from doing a somersault down the stairs, but he had to catch her around the chest, just below her breasts, and she screamed. Well—sort of screamed. Her mouth didn’t open, and it was more like a very sharp groan. Yes, definitely ribs.

Sweat broke out on her suddenly white face, and her eyes were starting to leak tears as Wufei ducked his head under her arm and shifted to hold her around the waist instead. "Take it slow," was all he said as he started to walk her down the stairs.

She offered no further resistance—just leaned on him in defeated silence as they made their way down. It made it easier. Good thing she’s close to my height, too. Otherwise I might have had to carry her.

They weren’t discovered. Good thing this place is a graveyard on weekends, he thought as he pushed the side door open with his foot and helped her out. Then… ye Gods. Did I just use one of -Duo’s- expressions?

It was early spring; the days had been quite warm, but the nights still got a bit chilly. It was cool outside, but still slightly humid. Don’t think I have to worry about her getting cold, with that jacket.

He sat her down on the step outside. She folded her arms on her knees and let her shoulders sag; her breaths were still short and quick, as they had been since he’d grabbed her. He hoped she wasn’t going to hyperventilate.

"Did someone hit you?"

Without looking at him, she nodded.

He reached into the pocket of his jacket and removed his cell phone. Her head jerked up when she heard him start to dial. "What are you doing?"

"Calling you an ambulance."

She looked stunned.

He completed the call, giving the dispatcher directions to the dormitory and which entrance they were near, and then put the phone away. Then he leaned against the side of the building to wait, and looked at her.

She was still pale under the illumination of the streetlight, and her breaths were starting to come quicker. "I know it hurts, but take deeper breaths. You’ll hyperventilate."

He expected another retort; instead, he heard her breathing slow down and grow shaky as she tried to stop gasping. Huh. Well, I’m not going to complain about a girl who does what she’s told. His mind wandered back. Come to think of it, she’s been sensible the whole time. Except for snapping at me, trying to walk downstairs, and coming in here in the first place.

She was able to get into the ambulance with the help of the paramedics when they arrived, and he’d declined to go along with her to the hospital. He’d then taken his walk and returned to the room without Duo ever knowing what had happened.

The next day, the waiting stage of their mission had ended, and two days later, they were out of St. Thomas’s and on to their next safehouse; the incident in the stairwell, while not forgotten, was filed at the back of Wufei’s mind.


Shit, I think he -does- remember me now—

The expression on his face, which she couldn’t quite read, smoothed into a polite one of inquiry. "Did you need something, Cole?"

She wrung her hands until she realized she was doing it, and dropped them to her sides. "You went to St. Thomas’s in Lauderdale for a while, didn’t you? About three or four years ago?"

He nodded.

"And…do you remember me?"

He nodded slightly. "The girl in the stairwell. I never did get your name then."

Come on, buck up, girl. Stop cringing. "I never saw you after that, so I didn’t get to thank you. I didn’t think I’d get the chance." She managed a smile. No crying, either. You’re a big girl. "Nobody knew I’d been in the boys’ dorm—no one that wanted to risk their own butts getting anything done about it, anyway—so I didn’t get kicked out of school."

"What were you doing there in the first place?" He tipped his head sideways.

She forced herself to meet his eyes, fought a blush, and lost. "Being stupid. I met this guy at a party—I wasn’t drinking," she added quickly. "I knew what I was doing, and he wasn’t drunk either, so I guess I thought it’d be okay. He and his friends sneaked me in just as a joke. But once we got up to his room…"

Her voice cracked. Dammit. Well, I can’t help it. I’d never been so fucking scared in my whole life. "I got lucky. They were just fooling around, and I don’t think they would’ve done anything, but I panicked, and when I tried to leave they wouldn’t let me. They didn’t know I’d had six years of Tai Chi, though." Both of his eyebrows went straight up at that. "Still, five against one wasn’t very good odds. One of them got me in the chest before I could block it."

"I see. How much damage did he do to you?"

"Just bruised ribs. Nothing broken. Still hurt like hell, though." She managed a weak smile.

"I’ve had my share of battered ribs—I can share the sentiment," he said dryly.

She heard the bathroom door open. Oops. Time to wrap this up. "Anyway, I just wanted to thank you. Not just for keeping me out of trouble, but for the way you talked to me. I already knew I’d done something dumb. I knew you knew it, too—I could tell from the way you looked at me—but you just told me I needed help and gave it to me, no questions asked. I really appreciated that. So…thank you."

Chang smiled again. "You’re welcome."

"Mauree-eeen! Didn’t change your mind, did you—Oh, there you are." Erica’s face appeared over Maureen’s shoulder and beamed cheekily at Wufei. "Is she keeping you even later, Chang? Shame on her! I’m gonna have to make her pay for dinner."

Chang glared at Erica, but Maureen saw a glint of amusement in the depths of his eyes. "Good idea, Dane. That’ll make up for the money you waste for the repairs on that crappy car of yours."

Erica sniffed and turned away in an exaggerated huff. "I have nothing but disdain for those who scorn my baby. C’mon, Maureen—let’s leave this heartless man to his pathetic taste in vehicles." She vanished from sight, headed for the door. "I’m coming to get you, my poor baby, hold on!" her melodramatic cry floated back.

Chang just shook his head, and Maureen grinned at him and shrugged. "She’s fun, even if she is certifiable."


At home that evening, Wufei related the story to Duo over dinner. "Whoa," Duo garbled through a mouthful of fettuccine. He gulped it down. "Damn! -You- rescued a damsel in distress and you never even told me? ‘Fei!!"

Wufei shrugged. "I didn’t rescue her. I just helped her out of the castle after she’d already taken out the dragon herself."

"You got her past the moat monsters, too," Duo pointed out, grinning. "C’mon, why didn’t you tell me? It’d have put a -little- excitement into that evening, even if it was a vicarious thrill."

"I’m telling you now, aren’t I?"

Duo rolled his eyes, waving a dinner roll. "You’re no FUN, ‘Fei!"

"Oh, really?" Wufei’s tone and the sudden wicked sparkle in his eyes silenced Duo, who stared at him round-eyed. He leaned across the table to gently wipe a smear of alfredo sauce from Duo’s chin.

"I guess I’m just going to have to make it up to you after the fact," he said quietly, but his eyes still glinted. "I’m sure I can provide a few not-so-vicarious thrills if I try…think that’ll make it even?"

Duo’s answering grin was enough reply for him.


Funny, Wufei thought some time later, curled up next to Duo in the quiet darkness of the bedroom and stroking his hair, listening to him breathe. I don’t really even remember that well what I said to her at the time. Mostly I remember what I was thinking. Apparently I said -something- right. Which is a surprise, I suppose. We may joke about Heero having no people skills, but -I- certainly wasn’t at the top of the list.

Funny what gets through to people sometimes without our even realizing it.


"Well, I’m done in." Erica glanced at the clock as she collapsed on the sofa. "Wow, only nine-thirty?"

"Really?" Maureen was genuinely surprised. "I thought this’d take half the night!"

"You don’t have nearly as much stuff as I was expecting, Maureen. When you said you didn’t know where you’d put it all, I was picturing something like the nightly stock of a Super Shop-Mart!" Maureen chuckled.

"Well, the night is young, but unfortunately I’m not in any shape to stay up and play with it." Erica stood up, stretching. "I’m going to get home and soak out my muscles before they turn into concrete."

"Sounds good to me." Maureen winced, testing a back muscle that hadn’t liked her attempt at lifting the box of kitchen cutlery. "I’d walk you to the door, but it’s only a couple of steps anyway."

Erica grinned, relaxing out of her stretch. "Let’s do this again sometime—only without the menial labor."

"Count on it. Thanks again for the help, Erica!"

"Oh, come on, I owe -you- for helping me rescue my baby. Sweet dreams now! Ciao!"


After a warm bath and a -very- careful stretch, Maureen crawled into bed and double-checked her alarm, then turned out the light. Well, this was a grab-bag sort of day, she mused, rolling carefully onto her back. She smiled, calling up Chang’s face in her mind. He looked sort of surprised when I thanked him. I know he remembered me, but I’ll bet he didn’t even remember a word he said to me.

She stretched. Well, I heard it, that’s all that matters.



Gundam Wing



















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