Time
by Kuwabara no Miko

He looked so fragile, lying there; like a broken porcelain doll. The thick brown braid tumbling over the edge of the mattress was the strongest thing about him, the only remaining sign of the Duo that Wufei had always known. And even the braid was tattered and fraying, darkened with soot and blood, the end singed slightly.

The Chinese boy sighed as he gathered up bloodied rags and snips of bandages, tossing them in the paper bag acting as a wastebasket. There weren't many amenities in this tiny cabin -- hell, they were lucky there was running water in the bathroom, lucky there *was* a bathroom.

It was worth it, though, if they could remain undisturbed until Duo had had time to heal.

Of course, first he had to regain consciousness.

"Baka," Wufei uttered softly, his mouth twisting as he glanced over at the still figure on the bed tucked into the corner of the small room.

Wufei scowled, leaning against the wall and tugging at his lower lip as he scrutinized the American's lax, pale face. There had been no need....

The mission had been a trap, yes. They had been in trouble, true. But they'd been through worse and come out kicking. There had been absolutely no need for Duo to self destruct.

Well, *attempt* to self destruct. Wufei was beginning to suspect Dr. G had been too fond of his creation, his Shinigami. Once could have been a fluke, but twice.... He was pretty sure Dr. S had been responsible for Quatre's survival of Sandrock's self destruction. For which he couldn't blame the man. No one in their right mind would want to see Quatre die, if it could possibly be helped.

Wufei doubted Duo himself had inspired such compassion in Dr. G -- if the man even knew what that emotion was -- but the Gundam....

The machine was the masterwork; its pilot was inconsequential.

Wufei ground his teeth and shoved off from the wall. That was all wrong!

Duo Maxwell was not a Gundam pilot, unimportant and replaceable. Duo Maxwell was a pair of wide indigo-blue eyes, a long brown braid, a quick and intelligent mind. Duo Maxwell was a boy who enjoyed playing basketball and teasing his friends. Duo Maxwell was a person, with a past, a present, and -- one would hope -- a future beyond being a Gundam pilot!

If he didn't throw that future away....

"Baka. What the hell was that?" Wufei asked the unconscious boy in the bed, as he moved to stand over him, swiping at a sharp strand of blood-matted hair that had fallen in the quiet face.

Quiet.

Duo had been unusually, abnormally quiet for the past several days, even before trying to kill himself. There was something seriously wrong. Even Trowa had been visibly concerned. Quatre had commented on it anxiously to the other boys, especially after all his attempts to draw Duo into a real conversation had come to nothing. Heero had....

Heero had been unchanged. As grim and cold as ever.

Wufei scowled some more, going to the kitchen, to clean out the water bowl he had used while tending Duo's wounds and washing his body. He had to do something for that long chestnut hair. He'd never seen Duo without the braid in pristine condition, and its ragged, dirty state now was almost more disturbing than the deep bruises and many cuts adorning the American's slender limbs and torso.

Duo had failed in what had been nothing more nor less than a straight-out suicide attempt, and both he and Shinigami had been captured. Again. Only this time, it was Wufei who had volunteered to go in after the incarcerated pilot. He didn't trust Heero. The Japanese pilot had spared Duo's life once -- he wasn't likely to do so again. Especially not with that cold, distant look in his face that Wufei was learning to hate.

Heero had objected, of course. Insisted *he* do it. But Trowa had backed Wufei up, demanding Heero go with him after Shinigami. Whether they meant to retrieve the Gundam or destroy it, Wufei didn't care. Just so long as he was allowed to go after Duo.

He'd carefully avoided declaring openly whether he was going to kill Duo or rescue him. Had merely said he would "deliver Duo to justice". That had made Heero snort. Trowa had examined him closely, then a hint of warmth had touched those green eyes as he quietly wished Wufei luck. Quatre had been frightened and nervous, worried about Duo, worried about Shinigami, worried about Trowa, worried about Wufei.... His wide eyes had begged silently for Wufei to get Duo out alive, as he'd been dragged away to his Gundam by Trowa.

Wufei had tried to look impassive, but hadn't been able to keep from giving the young blonde a quick wink when he knew Heero and Trowa weren't looking. It had been worth it, to see that soft face light up in relief. Quatre cared too much, but caring too much was often better than caring too little.

Wufei returned to the tiny bedroom with the bowl of steaming water and placed it on the tiny shelf beside the bed. It almost felt like sacrilege to unravel Duo's braid....

Wufei had never seen Duo's hair loose, though obviously it had to happen sometimes. It must be an intensely private thing, though. He wondered if Heero had ever tugged away the band, as Wufei was doing now -- the charred elastic crumbling in his hand -- if he had ever run his fingers through the long locks; encrusted with blood and soot at the moment, but normally smooth and glowing with health and vitality.

He doubted it. He didn't think Heero had a romantic bone in his body. Was the Japanese pilot even able to appreciate true beauty? He'd used Duo, but had he ever really understood what he had held in his arms?

Wufei chewed on his lower lip as he struggled with the knots of dried blood in Duo's hair, trying not to tug too hard, even though the other boy was deeply unconscious, careful not to pull loose any more strands than he absolutely had to.

What Heero and Duo did in their spare time was not his business.

That Duo was starving for the affection Heero so obviously could not give... was none of his concern!

So why did his stomach ache every time he saw the hurt in those deep indigo-blue eyes? Why did the thought of Heero's hands on Duo's body make him feel.... Jealous?

He figured that must be what this stinging bitterness was. He'd never felt jealousy before, always having been the best, the strongest, the most intelligent. He'd felt shame, when Treize had defeated him. Had felt a sharp sort of sorrow, when he first saw the beauty of the relationship between Trowa and Quatre. But he didn't think he'd ever been jealous of Treize's prowess, or the other pilots' love. Treize was someone he could beat, once he'd trained more. Trowa and Quatre... were enjoying the chance he and Nataku had been denied. He was happy for them, even while it made his heart ache to see them together.

But the bile he felt when he saw Duo fawning on Heero, and Heero turning coldly away....

That had to be jealousy.

Wufei was too intelligent to lie to himself. He was jealous, and it angered him to see Duo treated so. He respected Heero as a soldier -- the perfect soldier -- and as a Gundam pilot... but that didn't mean he had to *like* him.

Quatre was innocence and optimism, and Trowa appreciated that, it was clear. He handled Quatre carefully; not like a fragile ornament that might break -- which would be doing the boy a disservice -- but like Wufei might handle a fine sword. A blade that must be taken care of, with a beauty that must be noticed, but which also must be used to the best of its abilities.

Duo had the same open heart and trusting nature that Quatre had, only without the innocence.

Wufei smirked as he grabbed the soap out of the large duffel bag he'd brought, and attacked Duo's damp mass of tangles. Innocent was something Duo most definitely was *not*.

But he was ever-cheerful, always ready to help his friends, whether it was with a physical difficulty, or working through the bouts of gloom that struck everyone at times -- even Quatre. When the killing got too much, when the running and hiding and being hated began to wear on them, there was Duo with a jibe and a crooked grin, the humor in his bright eyes driving the worst of the pain away. He was so often the brunt of anger, but he accepted it, and continued to offer happiness in return for hurt. Never did he reveal any doubts he might feel behind his jester's mask. Duo was Duo, and could be counted on to be the same no matter the situation.

No one else seemed to realize how very much he was doing for them. Even Wufei had not seen it himself until recently. But when the unnatural silence had struck, a week ago, the mask shattered, *then* the others had noticed.

Well, Trowa and Quatre. Heero was oblivious, and was probably, Wufei thought bitterly, the *cause* of Duo's silence. Not that he had any proof of that, but Duo had never made any secret of his feelings for the pilot of Wing Gundam, and what else could have wounded him so deeply, so completely that he would try to take his own life?

"Baka," Wufei grunted, draping Duo's soapy hair over a towel and taking the bowl to the kitchen to refresh the water. The floor beside the bed was by now awash with blood- stained suds, but it had looked pretty bad to begin with. Wufei refilled the bowl and returned to the bedroom, moving to carefully rinse Duo's hair.

Idiot. Heero wasn't worth dying for. Love wasn't worth killing oneself over.

But that was Duo. He *felt* everything. He didn't just live life; he experienced it.

Wufei shook his head.

"Baka."

It took three bowls of water before Duo's hair was clean, and then Wufei spent over an hour combing out the tangles. But he didn't have anything better to do while he waited for Duo to regain consciousness. Nataku was hidden safely a few miles away, and the other pilots had no way of finding them. Wufei didn't want anyone disturbing Duo until he was recovered, and he wouldn't put it past Heero to try to finish the job OZ had begun. Quatre, he trusted. Trowa, he was pretty sure he trusted. But Heero....

No, best to hide out here. This was going to require more than a healing of Duo's battered body -- Wufei was going to have to see what he could do about his friend's broken spirit.

Finally finished with Duo's long hair, Wufei braided it once more. It still felt wrong to be handling it, especially without Duo's permission, but what choice did he have?

Casting about for a band, he cursed. He'd packed some clothing, a large first aid kit, and the soap and towels in the duffel bag, but he hadn't thought to bring anything so cosmetic as hairbands.

Well, simply solved. He tugged the band from his own straight hair and tied off the end of Duo's braid. There! Not as good a job as Duo did himself, but it would hold.

Now Duo was clean and patched up, his braid gleaming healthily once more, but Wufei was soaked with blood-tinged water, his white pants stained pink in several places, and the bruises he'd picked up while rescuing the pilot of Shinigami were beginning to make their presence known.

"Itai!" He stood and stretched, then blew irritably at the strands of fine hair that fell in his face, causing his nose to tickle. Now he remembered why he wore it in a ponytail!

Too late now, though. It was time to grab a change of clothes and the bar of soap, and go see if the wimpy generator powering this cabin would give him enough hot water to fill the rust-stained tub in the bathroom.

"Don't go anywhere," he cautioned Duo, then couldn't help but laugh a little at his lame attempt at a joke.

How long had it been since he'd last slept?

"Gods, I must be nuts."


Wufei jerked awake instantly as his patient stirred. He hadn't realized he'd fallen asleep. He was slumped in the one chair the cabin boasted, since the bed was too small to hold two comfortably. Especially when one was badly injured.

The Chinese boy sat up straight, then groaned as his back protested the movement. He was *sore*! That would teach him to drift off while sitting on hard wooden chairs.

Dragging his loose hair out of his face, he watched Duo's thick lashes twitch, his face contorting with pain, as he slowly struggled into wakefulness. The air was chill, and the only light was the faded red of late sunset that crept in through the window, casting an eerie tint across Duo's pale cheeks, like a thin wash of blood.

Wufei shivered and stood, fumbling with the lamp sitting on the tiny table, then pulling the shutters to over the window. Now it was enclosed and stuffy, but it was more comfortable. The lamp cast golden light through the room and the dark, unfriendly night was shut outside, where it belonged.

Wufei sat once more, wishing he had his jacket. But Duo had bled over the white cloth so badly that he'd had to discard it. He was lucky he'd thought to pack a change of clothes, actually.

A deep frown line creased between Duo's brows, and with an ultimate struggle, he managed to crack his eyes open, the pupils so dilated that they almost appeared as black as Wufei's own eyes. He moaned in pain and tried to throw an arm over his face, then yelped as he discovered that hurt even worse.

"Baka!" Wufei snapped in exasperation, hating to see Duo hurting without being able to do anything about it. "Lie still!"

Duo did so, but more because he was too weak to move than that he had actually heard Wufei's words or had any tendency to obey. He lay, slowly blinking up at the shadowed ceiling, giving his eyes time to adjust to the light, giving his battered body a chance to settle into the pain.

"I'm alive," he finally croaked, still staring blankly upwards.

Wufei scowled. He hadn't thought he'd earn himself Duo's gratitude with his rescue, but was the idiot still so set on killing himself? "Hai."

"I'm alive." The dark eyes slanted over to glare at Wufei accusingly, the pale face pulling tight.

Wufei stared back silently, then cursed and shoved away a thick sweep of black hair that fell to obscure his sight. "You're not dead!" he snapped, beginning to lose his patience. Not that he'd ever had much to start with.

Duo's face twisted bitterly. "I'm already dead."

Before he could think, Wufei was beside the bed, his palm stinging from the sharp slap he'd just administered to Duo's face. "You think like that and I'll kill you myself!" he snarled gutturally.

Duo slowly moved his head from where the force of the blow had turned it on the pillow to gaze up at Wufei, his cheek a glaring red, but his eyes quiet and sad. "You promise?"

"Baka yarou! You're hopeless!" Wufei was furious. But it wasn't Duo he was angry at. Not entirely, at any rate. If he had his sword and Heero here right now, he'd be knee-deep in blood, he was certain of it.

"Hope is for the living."

Wufei raised his hand again, and noted with relief that this time Duo flinched a little. He lowered his fist slowly. This wasn't a time for violence. The easiest course was not always the best.

"Think what you will. I'm going to get us something to eat." He turned away. "And don't even think of getting up, or I'll beat you so badly you'll really wish you *were* dead!"

Duo snorted at that, a slight hint of humor in the sound. Wufei glanced back through his unbound hair. Duo was smiling at him, a strange look on his face.

"Nani?" he inquired.

"Nothing." Duo closed his eyes, but he was still smiling, and it was a real, genuine smile. "Nothing at all."

Wufei rolled his eyes, then proceeded to the tiny kitchen.

There wasn't much by way of cooking equipment, but he'd found a small gas range in the cupboard, and it was enough to heat the cans of soup he'd brought along. He'd have to go to the nearest town for supplies tomorrow, but this was enough to get them through the night.

As for something to drink.... He didn't think alcohol was good for wounds, but he thought Duo might appreciate the Scotch he'd brought along. And there was plenty of water in the sinks.

Grabbing the bottle and leaving the soup to simmer, he returned to the bedroom.

"Whatthefuckareyoudoing?!?" he demanded, dropping the Scotch and jumping across the small room as Duo staggered beside the bed, nearly falling. He grabbed the other boy, and winced as Duo gave a muffled cry of pain. "You've got a broken leg, you idiot! You are *not* Heero Yuy, the perfect soldier! What the hell are you trying to do to yourself?!"

"Gomen," Duo gritted out from between clenched teeth. "But I had to...." He suddenly blushed. "I gotta use the bathroom."

"Oh." Wufei calmed down. "Why didn't you say so before?"

"Didn't notice," Duo grunted, as Wufei helped him limp slowly, ever so slowly across the room. "'Sides, you didn't give me much chance to say anything."

Wufei snorted. "You were wallowing in self-pity. I'm not going to put up with that shit."

"Oh."

Once bodily functioned had been taken care of, Duo had been safely ensconced back in bed, and the soup saved from scorching, Wufei grabbed a couple of mugs, then went about getting himself and Duo fed.

"Where are the others?" Duo asked, leaning painfully against the pillows and holding his mug in hands that shook wildly.

Wufei shrugged. "I don't know."

Duo raised a brow, then winced as he discovered that hurt. "What are we doing here?"

"Hiding out until you're healed."

Duo blinked, sipping carefully at his soup. "Uh...."

Wufei fidgeted on the hard chair. "Look, I'm sure the others are fine. I just don't think it's a good idea to contact them right now. There's nothing you can do until you're stronger, and you'll need someone to look out for you until then. We'd just get in their way."

"Have you contacted them?" Duo's voice was soft, barely audible.

Wufei grimaced, but couldn't lie. "No...."

"Quatre must be worried," Duo mused.

Wufei glared at him, but the American boy was staring into his soup. It seemed he was truly concerned, not just trying to make Wufei feel guilty.

"As long as they know nothing has happened to Nataku, they'll know we're okay."

"Mm." Duo blinked, then looked up, frowning. "Wufei, what about Shinigami?"

Wufei stared back blankly. "I am *not* contacting them, and that's final."

Uncharacteristically, Duo accepted that silently and lapsed into something too somber to be called a sulking fit.

Wufei grimaced and retrieved Duo's mug. The boy hadn't finished even half of it, but he was obviously too far gone now to eat any more. Besides, they only had one set of sheets; Wufei didn't want to risk Duo spilling the soup on himself.

He dumped the mugs carelessly in the sink and made sure the gas was off, then returned to the bedroom. Duo was curled up, already asleep again, his braid clutched tightly in one hand.

Wufei picked up the Scotch from where he'd dropped it, and tucked it back into the duffel bag. If Duo's pain got too bad it was there, but otherwise it'd probably be best not to break it open. Wufei wasn't sure what effect alcohol would have on his body, as he'd never tried drinking any, and he wasn't in any hurry to find out.

He sighed, glancing at the bed mournfully. There would be room there for two if they were cozy, but he and Duo were *not* cozy. And he wouldn't want to risk aggravating Duo's wounds anyway, even if they had been.

Dragging an extra blanket -- thin, but better than nothing -- out of the bag, he grumbled his way into a little ball on the floor. He'd had worse berths, but not by much.

"Soon's you're well enough, we're taking turns in the bed," he growled at the limp white hand hanging over the edge of the mattress above him.

Duo answered him with a quiet snore.

"Baka."


Wufei woke up with a dreadful crick in his neck. "Itai." He'd have to steal a futon or something -- at *least* a pillow -- when he went to town today!

He sat up, shivering fiercely at the cold air and the colder floor. He was *freezing*! He rummaged desperately through the bag he'd brought, but he'd exhausted it of its few useful contents the night before. When he'd packed for this mission he'd had to pack light, to avoid suspicion from his fellow pilots, and had concentrated mostly on the first aid kit and... well, that was it. The two sets of extra clothing, the towel and soap, a comb, the soup, the Scotch, the two blankets.... Those had been afterthoughts, had barely fit.

Well, he had a little money, and whatever he couldn't buy, he could steal. Stealing wasn't very honorable, but neither was starving to death in a remote cabin.

He wrapped the blanket tightly about him. Not that it did much good -- Duo had the thick one. Of course, he needed it more. Wufei was a real man, he could take the cold! That didn't mean he liked it, but he could take it. Duo was badly wounded, and needed....

Ah, hell.

Wufei sighed and struggled to his feet, then draped the extra blanket over Duo, who was sleeping fitfully, his brow creased in pain. Duo needed the blanket a lot more than he did.

Wufei took a moment to watch Duo sleep, knowing it was weakness, but unable to help himself. He so seldom got a chance to look at Duo -- really *look* -- without fearing being caught by the others. And Duo was so seldom unguarded. Even in his lightest moments he kept his mask firmly in place; always cheerful, always happy, always... Duo.

But Wufei wasn't fooled. He wore his own mask, after all. So did Trowa. Even Heero did. Quatre was the only truly open one of the five boys, although Duo was closer than the other three.

Duo frowned more deeply, shifting slightly, then flinching as the move jarred his broken leg.

Before he thought, Wufei reached down and lightly brushed Duo's bangs back from his pale, sweat-dampened forehead. Duo's face relaxed a little, and a soft sigh escaped his parted lips.

Wufei couldn't help himself. He lightly traced the delicate curve of Duo's upper lip, then trailed across the full lower lip, watching his own sturdy, bronze finger moving over the pale, pink-tinged flesh with a strange fascination. Duo was so beautiful, and he wasn't even aware of this fact, which made his perfection even more alluring.

"Heero..." Duo murmured, his tongue flickering out to touch Wufei's fingertip.

The Chinese boy drew his hand back as though burned, his stomach lurching. Well, what else ought he to have expected? Duo was in love with Heero, and even if Heero could not love him in return, they had been lovers. He knew there was no way in hell Duo would ever think of *Wufei* in those terms, and he'd thought he was resigned to that fact.

So why the sudden, undeniable urge to gut the pilot of Wing Gundam?

Wufei scowled, roundly chastising himself for his weakness, for caring too much. To see the true Duo, to appreciate his contributions to the group, to worry over his health.... There was nothing wrong with any of that.

But to even consider--

"Wufei?"

"Eh?" He blinked, focusing on Duo's confused, sleepy face. He flushed a little, realizing he'd been staring, even if his thoughts had been elsewhere. Then he cursed and shoved handfuls of fine black hair back from his face. "That's it, I'm stealing some rubber bands!"

Duo laughed; actually laughed. Then grabbed at his ribs in pain. But his dark eyes were still sparkling with humor. "What happened to yours?"

"Baka. I used it for your braid!" Wufei snapped, still embarrassed to have been caught mooning over Duo.

"Mn?" Duo hefted his braid and stared at the unfamiliar band. "Ne, Wufei. You washed my hair?"

Wufei flushed more deeply. "Well, I--"

"Arigatou." Duo smiled sweetly up at him, then yawned widely. "I'da thought y'da c't it off," he murmured sleepily, his eyes sliding closed once more.

"NANI?!" Wufei was aghast. "To consciously destroy a thing of beauty?! Is it not enough that we must kill time and again in this gods-forsaken war, but to--"

"Oi! Wu-chan! Shut up!"

Wufei blinked at Duo. Oops. It was so easy to fall into rant-mode when he was embarrassed. Duo was grinning widely now, almost looking his old self.

"Uh...."

"You really think my hair's beautiful?" Duo asked curiously, swinging the thick strands one way then the other, watching them tumble over his knuckles.

"Wh-what did you call me?" Wufei sputtered.

Duo smirked up at him. "Ne, what's wrong with 'Wu-chan'? I think it's cute."

"You would!" Wufei turned on his heel and strode from the room, trying to quell the small part of himself that wished more than anything that Duo's teasing was serious.

He ought to be glad Duo was in a good enough mood to tease. He *was* glad.

And yet.... And yet....

He got the gas burning again, setting the rest of the soup to heat. And he'd remembered to pack a small coffee machine, for a wonder, with some grounds. Thank the gods!

"Oi, Wu-chan!"

He growled and stormed to the bedroom, but his intended scolding died unspoken as he saw Duo sitting on the edge of the bed, in obvious pain.

"What are you--?"

Duo grimaced, trying to smile, though his brow was beaded with sweat. "Well, 'less you're planning to bring the toilet out here...."

"K'so...." Wufei strode over.

"Well, I can't help it!" Duo protested. "It's morning, after all!"

"I know," Wufei replied, more gently than he'd meant to, as he helped Duo to stand. Any touch hurt; Duo had cuts and bruises all over his torso and running over both arms. But this was the only way he was going to be able to make the trip to the bathroom, and he hadn't complained yet, beyond many muffled yelps and gasps of agony. Wufei hated having to hurt Duo, but they had no choice, either of them.

"Ne, Wu-chan," Duo said, once they'd gotten him resettled on the bed, eyeing the loose top and really loose breeches he was clad in. "What the hell am I wearing?"

Wufei scowled. "You didn't expect me to go rummaging through your stuff, did you? I wasn't even supposed to--" He caught himself, maybe in time. He hoped....

Duo looked up, his eyes dark. "Why didn't you leave me to die, Wufei? You'da been doing me a favor, and no one else wants--"

"Urusai!" Wufei scowled. "Don't think that way! Quatre was near frantic over you and Trowa was worried too...."

Duo's face darkened, and Wufei belatedly realized who that left.

"No one wanted you dead but you, Duo," Wufei said vehemently. Even if he wasn't completely sure of Heero's feelings on the matter... the "perfect soldier" couldn't be completely unfeeling! He couldn't possible *wish* Duo dead! Perhaps he wouldn't care as much as he should if Duo died, but not even he would desire this bright light to be extinguished!

Wufei suddenly realized his thoughts had a tendency to become disgustingly poetic where Duo was concerned. Gods, he had it bad! It wasn't supposed to be anything but comradeship... at the most, friendship! So when had he gone and done the stupidest thing in the world and fallen in love with the boy?

He had absolutely no idea.

"Wufei?" Duo queried wearily.

"Nani?" Wufei blinked, startled from his moment of introspection.

"Do I smell coffee?"

Wufei knew Duo was trying to change the subject, but he was right.

"Just a second."

It took more than a second, though, to wash the crusted soup out of the mugs. Wufei sighed. He ought to have cleaned the things out the night before.

Finally he got two mugs of strong black coffee poured. The soup would have to wait - there had been only the two mugs in the cabin.

Duo was lying on the bed when Wufei returned, eyes closed, braid clutched tightly in his hand, obviously in a lot of pain. Wufei grimaced. He'd have to remember to pick up some painkillers while he was in town. There ought to have been some aspirin in the first aid kit, but he'd checked. Someone must have taken the bottle out earlier and not replaced it.

"Duo?"

Duo opened dark, pain-fogged eyes. "Eh?"

"Are you up to drinking your coffee?"

"Ah." Duo sat up, scrubbing at one eye with a hand, then wincing as his knuckles grazed a fresh bruise. He accepted his mug, clutching it to him as though it was something precious.

Wufei finished his own coffee in record time, burning his tongue, but not caring. "Duo, if I go to town, can I trust you not to hurt yourself while I'm gone?" he asked soberly.

Duo blinked at him innocently, then his face twisted. "Hai. It's one thing to hit the self destruct button in the heat of battle. But I don't think I'd have the guts to kill myself with a knife or gun or anything."

Wufei nodded, understanding. "I'm glad to hear it. We need more food, clothes, blankets, pain killers, fuel for the Jeep...."

Duo was nodding absently, obviously not listening. Wufei sighed, and took his mug back to the kitchen, filling it with soup.

"Here." He set it on the shelf next to the bed, where Duo could reach it without too much pain. "Be sure to eat it before it gets cold. I'll try to be back within four hours. But I may be longer."

Duo nodded, resting his head weakly against the pillow. "I'll be a good boy, papa."

Wufei cast him a disgruntled look, then unexpectedly grinned. "Glad to hear it."


It was past noon when Wufei returned, but he'd managed to get everything they needed. For about a week, at least. He wasn't sure how long they were going to be there, but he had a feeling it would be a while.

This was both a good thing, and a bad thing.

On the one hand, he'd be alone with Duo the whole time. On the other hand... he'd be alone with Duo the whole time. Talk about your mixed blessings....

He carted some of the groceries inside, then crossed to the bedroom, after dumping them on the kitchen counter, suddenly anxious about his patient. One of Duo's proudest claims was that he never lied, but Wufei wouldn't put anything past him in his unbalanced, irrational state. And, as proved when he'd tried to self destruct, one moment of madness was all it took.

Duo was stretched out on the bed, lightly sleeping. A dark eye cracked open when Wufei peered through the doorway, and his lips curved sleepily. "Home?"

Wufei smiled in return, feeling relief wash over him. "Home." He also felt foolishly delighted that Duo was pleased to see him, and tried to squelch that inappropriate reaction; with a decided lack of results.

Duo scrunched his face up, and rubbed an eye. "D'dja bring any aspirin?"

Wufei nodded. "Hang on." Ducking into the kitchen he grabbed the bottle of pain pills - stronger stuff than aspirin -- and broke open the box of bottled water he'd... "acquired".

"D'dja contact th' others?" Duo queried, still half asleep, as Wufei shook out a couple of pills and opened the water for him.

"No. I told you, not until you're stronger."

"But...."

"No 'but's. Here, take these." Duo accepted the pills gratefully, washing them down with a grimace. "I told you, we're hiding out here until you're healed up."

"B't... what 'f the others need ya?" Duo queried, blinking sleepily at Wufei, his brow creasing. "Wh't 'f they need Shenlong?"

Wufei shook his head, then scowled as his hair fell in his face, and he realized he'd forgotten to get anything to tie it back with. "You need me more," he stated absently, wondering if he'd gotten any twine or *anything*. Or maybe he just ought to cut it all off.... No.

"Huh?"

He looked sharply at Duo, who was staring at him in confusion. Whoops. Had he said that out loud? Well, there were worse things he could have let slip, and Duo was already fading out under the influence of the drugs.

"Just get some sleep while I bring the rest of the stuff in," he commanded, rising to his feet.

"Un." Duo turned his head on the pillow and quietly fell asleep.

Wufei stood and watched him sleep a while, watched the slim chest rise and fall under his dark tank top, watched the thick lashes fluttering on the pale cheeks.

Then, cursing himself for a fool, he left the room to go finish unloading the Jeep.


"Duo, wake up."

"Nm...."

Wufei debated with himself, then decided against trying to shake Duo awake. There didn't seem to be any area of the American boy's arms, shoulders, or chest he could grasp hard enough to make a difference that wasn't too near a cut or contusion.

OZ's soldiers hadn't been very kind. Wufei scowled. True, much of the damage had come from the hopeless battle they been caught up in, but there were several bruises and scrapes that were clearly the result of blows from fists or thick army boots, not from being slammed around inside Shinigami's cockpit.

"Duo...."

"Hmm...." Duo shifted, then slowly awakened. "Itai! Wu-ch'n, w'd y' wake m' up f'r?" he slurred, scowling. "H'rts t' be 'wake."

"Sorry," Wufei apologized. "But it's time to eat."

Duo made a face. "M're soup?"

Wufei grinned, and gave in to the urge to brush back Duo's tangled bangs gently. The boy was too out of it to really notice... or so Wufei sincerely hoped. "Hai. Tonight. We'll try something else for breakfast, all right?"

Duo grunted some sort of answer and his eyes slid closed again. But he seemed to be struggling to stay awake, so Wufei went to the kitchen for the soup.

He'd gotten some deep bowls and some spoons, so at least they could pretend to be civilized tonight. And there was bread. He made three trips, placing everything on the tiny table. Soup, bread, cheese, and some decent tea in the mugs.

Duo had managed to lever himself into a sitting position, though it had obviously hurt him a lot. He smiled wanly at Wufei, sweat beading his pale brow. "Got any more of those pills, Wu-chan?"

"I wish you wouldn't call me that," Wufei said, folding his arms and glaring, taking refuge behind indignation with the ease of long practice, when all he wanted to do was go over there and wrap his arms around Duo and make the pain go away.

But the one wasn't any more possible than the other.... "I'll get you some aspirin, then, once we're done eating, I'll give you something to knock you out tonight," he relented, as Duo winced when he accidentally moved his broken leg.

"Arigatou, Wu-chan."

He glared silently.


"Wh're you g'nna sleep, Wu-ch'n?" Duo slurred, pain, a full stomach, and the stronger medication all conspiring to fog his senses and send him swiftly toward slumber.

"I got some more blankets while I was in town today," Wufei replied, fussing with Duo's pillows. "I'll be all right."

"S're y' don' wanna sleep w' me?"

Wufei almost jerked the pillow out from under Duo's head. "Um... no. I might accidentally aggravate your wounds," he managed to choke out.

*And I don't want to wake up to find your arms around me while you whisper someone else's name in my ear....*

"Oh.... 'kay...." Duo was rapidly succumbing to the pills.

Wufei sighed and brushed Duo's bangs back, wincing at the knot he discovered on the boy's skull beneath the thick hair. Duo blinked sleepily at him, eyes heavy-lidded, and smiled sweetly, not really aware of anything, then slowly allowed himself to relax into senselessness.

Wufei stared down at the soft face, tracing a finger over one bruise-darkened cheekbone, then bending to press a light kiss to the pale brow.

"Sleep well," he whispered, his voice strangely husky. He cleared his throat and blinked rapidly a few times, then pulled himself away from the bed and went to get the extra blankets he'd be using for his cold, lonely, *hard* bed tonight.

"Should've stolen a futon...."


"Ne, Wu-chan!"

Wufei cracked open one eye, irritably. Duo sounded his normal, cheerful self this morning. That was an improvement, to be sure, but Wufei was *not* in the mood.

"Mrrgrf..." he grumbled incoherently into his blanket.

"Wuuuu~uu-chan!"

"What?" he snapped, sitting up, then sputtering as a sea of black fell in his eyes, tangled strands of hair tickling his nose and getting in his mouth. "Gah!" He sneezed violently, then wrenched his hair out of his face and glared at Duo, who was rolling around on the bed, laughing like an idiot, even though it obviously hurt him like hell.

"It's not funny!"

"Itai!" Duo tried to get his gasping breath under control, holding his sides in acute pain. "Oh... oh... that was priceless!" He went off on another gale of mirth, despite the agony it caused him.

Wufei scowled and staggered to his feet. "What did you want, Duo?" he asked, trying not to sound as pissed off as he felt. He failed.

"Whoo.... Whoo...." Duo got himself back in hand. "Don't do that to me, Wufei, man!"

Wufei gave him a disdainful look, to hide the part of him that was admiring the warm flush laughter had brought to Duo's full cheeks, and the bright sparkle that had been returned to his wide eyes. "Hmph! This is your fault, you know!"

"Mine?" Duo clutched at his chest in horrified indignation, even though he was still grinning like an idiot. "How so?"

Wufei sighed and shook his head. "Never mind. It's my fault for forgetting to get rubber bands while I was in town."

"Oh." Duo blinked at him, then released a long sigh and scrubbed his eyes. "Ohayo, Wufei."

Wufei stretched, trying to ease the catch in his back. "Ohayo. You ready for breakfast?"

"Mmmm...."


"Ne, Wufei...."

"Hai?" Wufei looked up from polishing his sword. Duo looked extremely sober. Not a good sign.

"Are you really serious about everything? You know, staying here and me healing and shit?"

"Since when do I say anything I don't mean?" Wufei grunted, turning his attention back to his blade. Or, at least, appearing to.

Duo was silent. After he nearly took a finger off for the third time, Wufei finally risked a glance. Duo seemed to be lost deeply in thought, his face blank. Wufei grimaced and put the sword away, then moved to sit on the edge of the bed, facing the silent American boy. He considered what to say, but Duo spoke before he could make up his mind.

"Why?"

He blinked at Duo. "N-nani?"

Duo stared over Wufei's left shoulder, his indigo-blue eyes wide and empty. "Why do you care? I'm useless without Shinigami. Useless with this broken leg. Useless without any will left to fight or even survive. What do you care whether I live or die?"

"I care," Wufei whispered, mostly to himself. He restrained himself from reaching forward to clutch at the hand lying limp on the blanket over Duo's good knee. Duo didn't need anything like that from him.

"Why?" Duo asked again, but he didn't sound as though he wanted an answer.

"Because you're my friend."

Duo's eyes flickered over to Wufei's face, a small frown creasing his brow. "Honto ni? Didn't think I had any of those...."

"What's Quatre then?" demanded Wufei, stung. That hurt, and he wanted to hurt Duo in return, wrong as that was.

"Quatre's... like everyone's little brother. He'd be friends with Treize. He doesn't count."

Wufei felt like hitting Duo. Instead he stood abruptly, and crossed to stare out the window. It was a perfect, early autumn afternoon, the air crisp but not cold, filled with golden sunlight, the trees green, red, orange.... It was beautiful outside, but Wufei couldn't appreciate the view. His stomach was clenched in knots.

"I may not be your friend, Duo Maxwell, but I consider you one of mine," he gritted, wrapping his arms around his aching chest and scowling. It had only been an implied rejection, and had mostly been Duo feeling sorry for himself, but it had *hurt*, far worse than it should have. He was shaking, and he couldn't figure out if it was anger or pain. He hadn't thought Duo had so much power over him, didn't think anyone in the world could affect him so strongly.

Shit....

"You do?" Duo sounded like a lost little boy, but Wufei couldn't turn around. Not and risk letting Duo see the raw emotion on his face. He leaned his head against the side of the window sill.

"Yes."

Duo was silent for long moments, and Wufei was beginning to get himself back under control. He'd overreacted and he knew it, but he just couldn't help it.

"Wufei?"

"Ne?"

"You're my friend too."

Wufei closed his eyes, resolutely telling his heart to stop that idiotic pounding. But that meant so much, little as it was. "Arigatou, Duo."

After a few more minutes of silence, Wufei was finally able to trust his face. He might not have the cool expression he usually wore, but at least his emotions weren't blazing from his eyes anymore. He turned and looked cautiously across the room.

Duo was lying back against his pillows, staring up at the ceiling, unmoving, barely even breathing, only blinking occasionally.

"Duo...."

"Ne, Wufei. You ever... you ever get tired of being who you are?" Duo asked hoarsely.

Wufei grimaced. "Hai."

Duo jerked, as though he hadn't been expecting an answer. His eyes darted over to Wufei's face and he looked confused. "You do?"

Wufei nodded somberly, moving back across the room to sit next to Duo again. "Hai. I think everyone does. Well, except maybe Quatre." He smiled slightly at the thought of the boy, then sobered in remembrance. "But maybe even he does, occasionally."

Duo turned partly onto his side, though he couldn't roll over all the way with his broken leg. "You're the only one who hasn't tried to self destruct, Wufei," he pointed out. "I thought...."

Wufei cocked a brow. "Getting tired of one's self-imposed mask does not always result in suicide, Duo," he said wryly.

Duo blinked at him, then frowned. "Mask?"

Wufei's mouth twisted. "You don't think you know the real me, do you?"

"Nani?"

"Not any more than I know the real you."

Duo was quiet. "Most of the time..." he finally said softly. "Most of the time that's the real me. But sometimes I get fed up too. Sometimes I want to hurt people I care about for no reason. Sometimes I get tired of giving and giving and never getting anything in return...."

Wufei growled under his breath. Here it was. He'd known there was one cause and one cause only to Duo's sudden desire for death.

Heero....

He realized he'd said the name aloud when Duo started, all color draining from his face. The American boy's mouth opened and closed a few times, but he couldn't seem to force any sound out.

"K'so! Gomen, Duo! Gomen nasai!" Wufei felt like shit now, worse than he'd felt yet. "I didn't.... I didn't mean to...."

"S'okay," Duo managed to choke. "S'not like it was any big secret, ne?" He tried to smile, but it was a pretty sickly attempt.

Wufei felt like crying. "I'm sorry, Duo. I didn't mean to--"

"Forget it." Duo rolled over onto his back, staring up at the ceiling again. "I'm quite the idiot, aren't I?" He laughed mirthlessly, mockingly.

"What... what happened?" Wufei dared to ask, his curiosity winning out over his common sense. Well, maybe it would help Duo to talk about it....

Yeah, right.

Duo was still so long Wufei thought he wasn't going to answer. Not that he would blame him if--

"I did something stupid." Duo laughed again, the bitter sound tearing at Wufei's heart. "So what else is new, you ask. But this was so incredibly stupid...."

He trailed off into silence, and Wufei could almost hear Duo's sanity shattering. Or was that just the jester's mask?

"So stupid.... I told him I loved him."

Though he'd been expecting something of that nature, Wufei still felt his chest clench with an almost physical agony at those words. He could have lived the rest of his life without hearing it spoken aloud. It was one thing to know it, but another entirely to get it from Duo's own mouth.

But his pain was still so much less than Duo's....

"That's not the worst part though." Duo sounded calm. Too calm. Wufei wished now he *hadn't* asked, but it was far too late. "The really stupid thing was when I asked him if he loved me."

Wufei winced. Oh, yes. That was beyond stupidity. But he couldn't blame Duo. Sometimes it was impossible not to do something, no matter how insane.

"I knew.... I knew what the answer would be, but I still asked anyway." Duo closed his eyes, his face dead of all emotion, though his pain throbbed through each word he spoke. "It was as though I couldn't stop myself. I know I have a tendency to run off at the mouth, but not usually that bad. I wasn't even drunk." Tears were streaming down his face, tiny hitching sobs shaking his chest now.

"Duo...."

"Do you know.... Do you know what it's like... to have someone you love with all your heart stare at you with flat eyes and tell you they never have and never will love you? I mean, I knew he didn't, but it was so easy to pretend to myself...." He laughed bitterly, though it sounded more like a sob. "So all we ever had was sex."

Wufei grabbed Duo's hand and squeezed, hard. Duo yelped in pain and jerked out of himself, blinking in shock at Wufei, who was glaring at him fiercely.

"If you cared, it wasn't just sex," Wufei growled. There was so much he wanted to say; he wanted to reassure Duo, to help him; but he couldn't put any of it into words. He tried to say it with his intense gaze, but he wasn't sure Duo would understand. "If... if *you* loved, then it wasn't just--" He blushed furiously, suddenly realizing what they were talking about.

Gods, this was embarrassing.

Duo's black expression eased a little, and he blushed as well, as he took in what he had been talking about, and who he was talking to.

"Gomen, Wufei." He smiled, a genuine smile, his cheeks still pink, but his expression lightening. "I didn't mean to dump on you."

"That's what I'm here for," Wufei said simply, still holding Duo's hand, but more gently now.

Duo blinked, startled. "You are?"

Wufei smiled a little sadly. "It may be presumptuous of me, but I'm here as your friend, Duo. I want to.... I'm not just here to make sure you eat and to be your crutch when you have to get out of bed. I'm here because I want to help you, to help you realize life is still worth living, and that there *are* people who care about you, who love you."

Duo seemed a little stunned by this speech, and lay a moment, just staring at Wufei in confusion. "Ah...."

It was one of the hardest things he'd ever done, but Wufei managed to make himself release Duo's hand. He stood, then paused.

"Duo."

"Ne?"

"I know... what it's like... to love someone who I know will never love me."

"You do?" Duo blinked up at him, but Wufei's face was hidden behind his loose hair as he stood, turned partly away from the bed.

"Yes, I do."

Before either boy had realized what had happened, Wufei had bent and pressed his lips to Duo's in an awkward but firm kiss.

"Wu--"

"I-- I must go worship Nataku!"

Wufei bolted before Duo could say another word.

Duo stared after him in shock, fingers brushing over his tingling lips.

"What the hell was that...?"


"Ne, Wufei?"

"Mm?" Wufei looked up from where he was stitching up a tear in a pair of pants, a needle and a few black threads clamped between his lips, his hair falling in his face.

Duo was sitting on the bed, struggling with his wet, unbound hair, hampered by a stiff arm and several cracked ribs. Wufei was seated cross-legged on the floor, in the sort of nest he'd made for himself out of blankets.

It had been almost a week since he'd kissed Duo, and by unspoken consensus, neither boy had spoken of it since. They had mostly reverted back to their former way of treating one another, except that Duo no longer called Wufei, "Wu-chan".

Duo gave up with a sound of disgust. He'd finally been able to take an unaided bath, and now had to contend with his unruly hair. He was healing rapidly, but it still hurt him to lift his arms over his shoulders for more than a moment.

He gave Wufei a mournful look through his wet bangs. "Would you.... Do you think.... Would you mind...?" He gestured helplessly with the brush, obviously expecting Wufei to say no.

Wufei's heart leapt in his chest. A chance to touch Duo's hair with his permission? He carefully removed the needle from his mouth and set the mending aside.

Duo was once again cursing as he struggled with tangles that he was doing more to cause than eradicate. Wufei clambered carefully up onto the bed, not wanting to jar Duo's leg, and still utterly embarrassed that he had given in to weakness and kissed Duo. He was still afraid of Duo's reaction. It was all very good to pretend it hadn't happened, but it had, and Duo hadn't been hopped up on pain killers, had been wide awake and lucid. Wufei still feared rejection, even while he knew he could expect nothing less.

"You'll help?" Duo asked, sounding surprised and immensely pleased.

"Of course." Wufei took the brush from Duo and settled down at his back. He paused a moment, hand poised over the long chestnut locks. "As long as it's all right with you...."

"I wouldn'ta asked you if it wasn't," Duo laughed. "Baka."

"Oi," Wufei protested, though he was smiling as he took over the task Duo had been botching.

Stuck out here, in the middle of nowhere, with no radio, no Gundams, no other pilots, and -- most importantly - no Heero, Duo was beginning to revive. He was still far too quiet far too often, but Wufei was fairly certain he wasn't suicidal anymore. More and more often he came close to being the old Duo, the boy he had been when they had first met.

They sat in silence for well over half an hour, as Wufei carefully, gently worked all the tangles out of Duo's long, silken hair. Then, once that was done, he took some time to just brush it, even though it was all falling in a smooth sweep down Duo's back, tumbling over Wufei's legs and into his lap. It was a soothing experience for both of them, and one Wufei wished to make last as long as possible. The Chinese boy could almost swear Duo was purring. He was certainly radiating an aura of contentment, and leaning into each stroke of the brush.

"No one's done that since--" Duo broke off, and Wufei blinked, called back into reality. "Since I was a kid," Duo finished, some old pain in his voice. "Ne, Wufei, why are you bothering?"

Wufei decided, regretfully that it was time to braid Duo's hair. He'd already prolonged this encounter past what was practical. "Why not?" he asked simply, nimble fingers dividing the long strands into three equal portions, then deftly weaving them into the familiar pattern.

"Nn. I asked Heero to do it, a few times. But he just said it was a waste of time. Said that long hair was a liability, as a soldier."

Wufei scowled. It was as he'd thought. "You are more than a soldier. And your hair is beautiful. There are too few beautiful things in this war-torn world."

"Wufei?"

Oh no! Had he said that out loud? Wufei grimaced and tied off Duo's braid with the band Duo had prudently wrapped around the end of the brush.

"Ne?"

Both boys sat quietly, Duo's back to Wufei, Wufei holding the end of Duo's braid lightly, twining his fingers through the loose hairs.

"Why did.... Why did you... kiss me?" Duo almost whispered that last.

Wufei winced and licked his lips nervously. He'd had plenty of time to consider his answer, and he thought he had the right one.

"Because... because... sometimes I do stupid things too."

Duo was silent for long moments, and Wufei could almost hear his mind working. He hoped Duo would remember their conversation and take the words for what they *meant*, not at their face value. And that he would choose to ignore both the action and the emotions behind them.

"Wufei?"

He stiffened. "Ne?"

"It wasn't... that... stupid."

Wufei's knuckles clenched around the end of Duo's braid as he caught his breath. Then he resolutely told himself not to hope. It was enough that Duo accepted him without rejecting him. It was enough that they could continue to be friends.

Wasn't it?

"Ne, Duo, you hungry?" he asked cheerfully, releasing Duo's braid and scooting off the bed. "I'll go get us some dinner. I'm going have to make another trip to town tomorrow, we're getting pretty low...." He kept up a running monologue all the way to the bedroom door.

"Wufei--"

"I--" He cast a look at Duo, who was sitting on the bed, eyes wide and confused. His heart clenched. "I'll get dinner ready."

He escaped into the kitchen.

So now *he* was the one wearing the jester's mask?

"Baka...."


"Didja contact them yet?"

Wufei glanced over at where Duo was wavering in the bedroom doorway, as he dumped an armful of laden bags on the counter. "You're not supposed to be on your feet!"

Duo pulled a face. "Tough beans."

"What... what does that mean?" Wufei asked, blinking in confusion.

Duo grinned widely, his mouth curling in real amusement. "Never mind. Did you contact the others while you were in town?"

"No...."

"It's been a week, Wufei, man!"

"So?" Wufei shrugged.

Duo watched him unload the bags in silence.

"Was there any news while you were in town?"

Wufei shook his head. "Apparently the others have been laying low too. After all, the Gundams were pretty badly damaged in our last fight. I know they managed to liberate Shinigami, though."

Duo lurched across the small room and clutched at Wufei's arm. "Liberate? Shit, man, you mean that? You mean they didn't just destroy Shinigami in the OZ bunker?"

Wufei braced Duo, who was faltering on his good leg, then, with a growled curse and a concerted effort, hefted the other boy into his arms. Duo yelped, in surprise and pain.

"Yes, they got Shinigami out. But don't get your hopes up too much." He carried Duo back into the bedroom and plunked him on the bed.

"Itai!" Duo cried.

"Well, stay in bed, then!"

Duo grinned up at Wufei, who was glaring at him. He seemed to be in an unquenchably good mood, now that he knew his beloved Gundam hadn't been destroyed by the others. "Shinigami lives!" he crowed, throwing his arms around Wufei's waist in a spontaneous hug.

"You don't *know* that!" Wufei protested, standing stiff, resisting the urge to embrace Duo in return, but too weak to push himself away.

"Ya can't kill Death, man!"

Wufei rolled his eyes, though he was smiling broadly himself, affected by Duo's good cheer. "Whatever. Now let me go finish unpacking. The ice cream's going to melt."

"Ice cream? You got ice cream? Shit! Could this day get any better?" Duo released Wufei and fell backwards on the bed, his arms and legs - and braid -- sprawled across the tangled blankets, his eyes shining.

Wufei laughed at the blissful expression on Duo's face. "Baka," he said fondly and returned to the kitchen and the languishing groceries.


"Oi, Wu-- uh, Wufei, man!" Duo caught himself, barely in time.

"Ne?" Wufei looked up from the sink, where he was washing the dinner dishes. He sighed in exasperation. "You're out of bed again?!"

Duo grimaced. "Well, it's not so bad now, ne?"

Wufei had picked up supplies while in town, and while neither boy was an expert, between the two of them, they'd managed to manufacture a makeshift cast for Duo's broken leg.

"Is it even dry?"

"Mostly...." Duo hedged.

Wufei stared at him silently.

"Anyway, that's not important!"

Wufei cocked a brow. "Oh?"

"Yeah! Wufei, man, how long you been hiding this?!" Duo waved the bottle of Scotch in one hand, glaring accusingly.

Wufei grinned. "Not long enough, evidently. What were you doing snooping in my bag?"

Duo flushed. "Well, it's not like there was anything personal in there.... 'Sides, I was bored outta my mind! We need a tee vee or something!"

Wufei snorted and set the last bowl to dry, then turned, wiping his hands on a dishtowel. "Television--"

"Rots the brain, I know. Come on, Wu-- Wufei! Let's get smashing drunk!"

"And the reason for that?"

"To celebrate... um.... To celebrate.... 'Cause I'm bored outta my mind!"

Wufei laughed. He couldn't help it. Then he crossed and inserted himself as a crutch, to aid Duo in hobbling back to the bedroom. "You're insane."

"Of course," Duo replied smugly. "That's what you love about me!"

"One of the things."

"Uh...." Duo stumbled, and Wufei bit his tongue. Idiot! When was he going to stop blurting things like that out? He was getting as bad as Duo!

Suddenly, getting drunk seemed like a very good idea.

"Let me get some glasses...."


"Why did I think this was a good idea...?" Wufei groaned. He clutched the blankets, where he was sitting on his "bed" on the floor. He was certain the entire cabin was rocking with Duo's motions as he bounced cheerfully in a seated position on the real bed.

"I think it was a great idea!" Duo replied, his face split in a huge grin. "Hell, I can't even feel my leg anymore!"

"Uh, Duo, I don't thing... um, *think* that that's a good... uh... good *thing*...." Wufei listed, then righted himself. Why was it so hard to keep his balance? If he allowed himself to falter for even a moment, he found himself sprawled on the floor, with Duo laughing like a maniac. That couldn't be natural, could it?

"How much have we drunk?" he asked, trying to keep from slurring his speech too badly. Actually, it felt kind of nice, as though he was floating in a warm fuzzy haze, and the world was a nice, friendly place, but he wasn't used to being so out of control, and it was more than a little frightening at the same time.

"Yes, I'd say we're definitely drunk," Duo giggled, rolling over on his back.

"That wasn't what I said!" Wufei frowned in concentration. "Was it?"

"Who cares!"

Wufei blinked blearily up at Duo, who stared back, his head hanging over the edge of the bed, his braid puddled on the floor.

"Ne, Wu-chan. How d'ya... hang upsi'-down like that?" Duo queried, his brow creasing. Then he dissolved into giggles once more.

Wufei sniffed, not dignifying that with a reply. He reached for the bottle, which sat in the floor beside him. Fumbling, he knocked it over, but it was already empty. Uh-oh. Had they really finished it off? It seemed like it had been an awfully *big* bottle....

"Ne, Duo?"

"Mmmm...?" Duo gazed at him from under heavy lids, then slithered over the edge of the bed, falling almost on top of Wufei. "ITAI!" He clutched his broken leg, tears starting into his eyes. "That hurt..." he whimpered.

"Daijoubu desu ka?" Wufei queried anxiously, reaching for Duo before he thought.

"Mm, Wu-chan, yer sooooo nice." Duo crawled awkwardly into the flustered Chinese boy's lap, wincing as he jarred his broken leg. He wrapped his arms around Wufei's neck, hot, alcohol-laden breath blowing against Wufei's skin. "Hee-- hic! Heero was never so nice t' me..." he mumbled, snuggling closer.

Wufei was frozen. "Uh, Duo...."

"Nm...." Duo nuzzled up underneath Wufei's ear, his lips soft and moist. Wufei gasped, his eyes widening to what must surely be saucer size. Fire raced through his body from that point of contact, sensations he had never felt before. It was more frightening than he wanted to admit to himself.

"Duo... don't...." He couldn't... he didn't want to be a substitute for Heero, didn't want Duo hating him when he woke up sober, didn't want to hate himself. Besides, he had no idea how to go about... anything of an intimate nature. Even the word "sex" threatened to bring on a nosebleed. "Duo...." He shoved at Duo's shoulder, knowing it was a pitiful showing of resistance, but unable to bring himself to be more forceful.

"Why? Don' you like me?" Duo asked mournfully, sitting up and giving Wufei a dewy- eyed stare. Wufei sighed, but that made his decision easier. It was definitely the alcohol. Duo didn't have any feelings for him beyond friendship, and he wasn't going to blow the little he had on one night of--

He blushed.

"Ne, Wu-chan, kawaii!" Duo poked at his hot cheek.

"Knock it off," he snapped, batting Duo's hand away. "Duo, you--"

The rest of whatever he'd meant to say was muffled as Duo plastered him with an enthusiastic kiss. He stiffened, not unwilling, but unable to return the kiss. He just... didn't know how.

"Uf." Duo pulled back after a moment, giving him a glare that looked completely comedic on his alcohol-flushed face. "That's e'n worse'n kissin' Heero!"

Wufei gave him a hard shove, knocking him onto the floor on his rump and elbows.

"Awaauu... what'd ya do that for, Wu-chan?" Duo wailed.

Wufei tried to get his ragged breathing under control. "Gomen, Duo," he managed to grate out. He staggered into a mostly upright position on his knees. "Come on. Let's get you to bed. You need some sleep."

"No, I don'! I need a good--"

Wufei clapped a hand over Duo's mouth. He did *not* want to know what Duo had been about to say! "Yes, you do, Duo." He tugged at one of Duo's arms, trying to drag the supine boy up, then lost his alcohol-muddled balance and tumbled over on top of him.

"Ooh, h'llo, Wu-chan," Duo crooned, wrapping his arms around Wufei's neck and latching onto one earlobe.

"Ack!" Wufei jerked away, but Duo's arms were still in a stranglehold around his neck. He tried to brace himself on arms that were wobbly to begin with, then Duo exerted pressure, pulling him firmly downward. "Duo, stop it!"

"No...."

"Why did I think this was a good idea?" Wufei wondered aloud again as his elbows gave out and he collapsed on top of Duo yet once more. Duo burrowed his face into the area between Wufei's shirt collar and his jaw, flicking his tongue out to dart over the curve of bone, dancing over the soft, sweat-damp flesh. "Duo, don't...."

Duo mumbled something incoherent, and Wufei tried to get his head to stop spinning, tried to focus long enough to pull himself away from....

Wait... why was he trying to get away?

Oh, yeah, because he knew Duo didn't mean it. Couldn't possibly mean it. Not with him, at any rate. Because Duo meant too much to him, to blow their friendship for one night of--

Okay, *don't* go there!

Suddenly he realized Duo's arms had gone lax.

"Nani?"

He pulled away and sat up. Duo was fast asleep.

Well, that was one problem solved. So why did he feel so disappointed...?

It almost took more effort than he was capable of -- the Scotch seemed to have robbed his rebellious limbs of all their strength -- but he finally managed to haul Duo into the bed. Duo half woke and helped a little, but it still exhausted the last of Wufei's energy.

"K'so!" He collapsed next to Duo, waiting for the blackness that had overtaken his sight to recede, for the world to stop churning around him. He hoped he wasn't going to throw up.... But then, maybe that would be a good idea....

"Mm... Wu...fei...." Duo rolled over and wrapped his arms around Wufei's neck again. Wufei groaned. Any more of this and he'd lose his last bit of resistance. And that would be disastrous.

"Duo, knock it off," he grunted, too tired and drunk to drag himself off the bed.

"Wh'tchy' g'n do, Wu-ch'n?" Duo queried, nuzzling Wufei's flushed cheek through his tangled black hair. "G'n run off 'n w'rship Nataku 'gain?"

Wufei was silent.

Duo pulled back and gazed at Wufei earnestly, his fingers twining in the Chinese boy's loose hair, his eyes suddenly a lot more sober, filled with curiosity. "Ne, Wufei, why ya call yer Gundam 'Nataku', 'stead of 'Shenlong'? Wh't's so special 'bout it?"

"Her," Wufei corrected automatically. At least Duo wasn't trying to seduce him anymore.

"Her?" Duo blinked and sighed. "I don' get it, Wufei."

Wufei closed his eyes against a sudden rush of pain. He'd thought he'd put all that behind him. But the guilt and grief surged up, choking him, making his throat hurt. "Meiran...."

He started and opened his eyes as he felt Duo's fingers brush over his cheek.

"Wufei... yer crying...." Duo stared at him, eyes wide and frightened.

"Men don't cry." Wufei touched his face. Odd. It was wet. He'd never... never cried for... her. Had never allowed himself to cry. Tears were useless. Actions were a much more fitting legacy, especially for....

"Nataku was my wife."

Duo blinked. "Wife?! Shit, Wufei, you're only my age! When the hell did you get married?!"

"About a year and a half ago. It was an arranged marriage. We didn't much like each other."

"No shit...." Duo mulled that one over. "Wufei, that's pretty weird."

Wufei closed his eyes.

"Ne, Wufei, where is she now?"

"Dead."

He tried to ignore Duo's sharp intake of breath. It shouldn't hurt. Even though it did....

"Wufei...."

"She died fighting for justice. So now I fight for justice in her name. She died protecting her people, our colony, the Gundam.... So she lives on in Nataku. As long as Nataku fights for justice, my wife lives on."

"My God.... Wufei, man.... Shit, I'm sorry.... I'm sorry for all the times I made fun of you and... and Nataku...."

Wufei grimaced at the raw emotion in Duo's voice. He didn't need Duo's sympathy. He was fine. He was perfectly all right....

Even though he couldn't seem to catch his breath, little gulping sounds escaping his throat, and his cheeks were still wet, getting wetter, hot tears falling like a rain....

He wasn't crying, though. He never cried.

He barely noticed when Duo wrapped his arms around him, pulling him close. He buried his face against Duo's shoulder and wept desolately, sobs wracking his entire body.

And Duo held him, warm and alive and there....

Held him as he mourned.


Wufei woke to a steady, throbbing pain, as though someone was driving a poker through his head. His mouth tasted like Duo's cooking, and his stomach felt like it might crawl up his throat if he so much as twitched a hair.

He managed to crack open one bleary eye.

Duo lay next to him on the bed, sound asleep, one arm flung over his eyes, the other draped loosely over Wufei's shoulders. His lips were parted, a loud snore issuing forth.

Wufei groaned as quietly as possible, reaching up to scrub at his eyes.

That did it!

At least he managed the dash to the bathroom before spending far too long heaving up his guts. Finally finished, he splashed some cold water on his face, then guzzled down about three glasses of the liquid. It didn't sit very easily on his stomach, but he was so thirsty.... And at least he wasn't throwing it back up.

He staggered back into the bedroom, and flopped back down on the bed. No way in hell was he trying to sleep on the floor as sore and sick as he was now.

What had happened last night, anyway? He tried to piece together snatches of memories.

Duo had....

He blushed brightly in embarrassment. Great gods!

And then he had.... Had....

He flushed more deeply, out of humiliation this time. How could he have been so weak? Showed such base emotion. Allowed himself to crumble like that?

"I am never drinking again," he moaned into his pillow.

Beside him, Duo snickered. "I say th' same thing ev'ry time," the American boy slurred, then rolled over without really waking.


The next time Wufei awoke, he felt a little better. Not much, but anything was an improvement.

He slitted his eyes open and found himself swimming in a sea of indigo-blue.

Duo's eyes.

So beautiful. So expressive. But right now he was lost, couldn't place the emotion held within those liquid depths.

Unable to bear the intensity for long, he sat up, his stomach protesting the motion, and scrubbed his face roughly. After all that drinking, crying, and oversleeping, he felt pretty awful. He started as he felt Duo shift on the mattress beside him, and glanced down in confusion.

Duo was resting his head against Wufei's hip, wide eyes closed now, a peaceful smile on his face.

"Ne, Duo?"

"Mm?"

Wufei shook his head, trying to make sense of things. He asked the first question that came to his thoughts. "What time is it?"

Duo chuckled. "About noon, near's I can figure. You're lucky; you slept through the worst of your hangover."

Wufei grimaced, recalling the half hour he'd spent in the bathroom that morning. "I wouldn't go that far."

Duo smirked and then flung an arm across Wufei's lap.

"Uh, Duo...."

"Ne, Wufei. You're a real person, aren't you?"

Wufei sputtered. "Wh-what's that supposed to mean?!"

"'Means I think I caught a glimpse behind the mask. And I think I like the guy I saw."

Wufei blinked and blushed, but he couldn't very well protest when Duo was throwing his own words back at him.

"Ne, Wufei?"

"Nani?"

"Last night.... Why didn't you.... I mean, I thought.... Don't... don't you want me...?"

Wufei felt as though his eyes were about to start out his head. A muffled choking sound escaped him, his mind racing.

That Duo might feel rejected had never crossed his mind. He hadn't considered that the other boy would be anything but relieved in the morning, that Wufei hadn't given in to the momentary madness that had overtaken Duo.

"I-- You-- Duo, you didn't really... didn't really want...."

Duo sat up suddenly, hair a rats-nest, eyes heavy-lidded. His face was uncomfortably close to Wufei's as he pierced those black eyes with his own deep blue gaze. He grasped Wufei's upper arms -- not painfully, but tightly enough that the Chinese boy would have to struggle to break free.

"What do you know what I want?!" he queried fiercely, a moment before he closed the distance between them and planted a firm, very friendly kiss to Wufei's slack mouth.

Wufei could only blink in shock.

After a moment, Duo pulled back, frowning. "So you *don't* want me." He turned away, shoulders hunched.

"I-- no!" Panic gripped Wufei's heart. "No, Duo! I just...." He flushed miserably. "I just don't know how... how to...."

Duo looked at him, perplexed. "Eh? Didn't you and your wife... you know?"

Wufei turned an even darker shade of red. "I... I told you, we didn't much like each other at first. And... we were just children. I... I suppose eventually we would have.... But...." He hung his head, blushing furiously. "We never even kissed...." His voice trailed away.

Duo scooted closer, tentatively wrapping his arms around Wufei's chest, ducking down to peer into the other boy's lowered face. "Ne, Wufei, when you kissed me last week.... You mean, that was your first kiss?"

Wufei didn't think he could get more embarrassed. He muttered a vaguely affirmative sound, turning his head aside, so that he didn't have to see the amusement he was sure was in Duo's face.

"Ne, Wufei," Duo whispered in his ear.

"Ah?" He looked back before he thought. Duo's eyes were shining brightly, but it wasn't humor. He couldn't place the emotion lighting Duo's handsome face, but it wasn't amusement.

With great deliberation, but also infinite gentleness, Duo kissed him. Softly, sweetly, almost delicately. Then he drew back and laughed at the stunned look on Wufei's face. But it wasn't mocking laughter. It was a happy, healing sound.

"Come on, let's go get some lunch!" Duo pushing himself past Wufei and to the edge of the bed. He stood, then promptly collapsed. "Itai! Awuaa! Wufei, my leg huuuurts!"

Wufei leaned over, and once he saw that there was no permanent damage, he bonked Duo lightly on the head.

"Baka."


"Ne, Wufei!"

"What now?" Wufei asked, trying to sound irritated, as he ran the brush through Duo's long hair while the other boy sat on the bed in front of him.

"My leg really hurts."

"I know. You were too rough on it while you were drunk. You're lucky we don't need a real doctor. As it is, we may be here longer than I'd planned."

Duo collapsed backwards, sprawling across Wufei's lap and giving the disgruntled boy a cheeky upside-down grin. "Aaaww.... I bet you're so disappointed!"

Wufei blushed. Duo seemed to take an unholy pleasure in teasing him, but as it came from affection, he didn't mind. He just wished he was able to tease back....

It had been a full twenty-four hours before he had finally felt as though his body was purged of the last of the alcohol's lingering poisons. Duo laughed at him every time he said he would never drink again, but he was *never* going to drink again!

The two boys had been a lot easier with each other since their drinking binge, however. Though Wufei was still uncertain as to how Duo viewed him. They had shared the bed the past two nights, sleeping with Duo curled against Wufei's chest, and Duo had tried to kiss him a few times, but he still stiffened up so badly.... Not from inclination, but he was still completely lost, and rather uncomfortable.

At least Duo had stopped interpreting this as rejection, and had, seemingly, taken Wufei on as a challenge. Wufei just wished he knew, exactly, what he might be to Duo beyond that.

He ought to be glad to get anything from Duo, oughtn't he? And, against his better judgment, he was. It was all verygood to tell himself he didn't want to be a substitute for Heero, didn't want less than the best, but when Duo smiled at him and meant it.... It didn't seem to matter if Duo could never love him in return. As long as he was here and now and willing....

Willing he certainly was, but Wufei was still so uncomfortable....

"Ne, Wufei, whatcha thinking?" Duo queried, gazing up at him with wide eyes.

"That you're getting your hair all tangled, squirming around like that. Sit up."

"Aw, you're no fun," Duo pouted. He tangled a hand in the hair at the nape of Wufei's neck and tugged him down for a quick peck on the nose, which made the Chinese boy sputter with surprise and indignation, before sitting up once more. "Anyway, that just gives you an excuse to spend more time brushing it!" he commented cheerfully.

Wufei tried to stifle his furious blushing, and attacked Duo's long, chestnut mane once more. Well, Duo was right....

"Wufei...?" Duo sounded almost hesitant, unusual for him.

"Nani?"

"Do you... do you really like my hair?"

Instead of answering verbally, Wufei leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Duo's shoulders from behind, burying his face in the soft curtain in question. That was the one area where he had Duo off-balance. Duo was so certain no one could find his hair anything but an annoyance.... Wufei mentally cursed Heero for being an unfeeling bastard.

Duo sighed in contentment and leaned back, pressing into Wufei's embrace. "I'll take that as a yes," he murmured, grasping the wrist of Wufei's hand that was not still holding the brush, and pulling it up to whisper a light kiss over the palm.

Wufei caught a sharp breath, feeling his skin tighten and his stomach clench. But it wasn't a bad feeling. Just... unnerving.

"Gomen," Duo apologized, twining his fingers through Wufei's, and tugging his arms more tightly about him, nestling his head back against the other boy's shoulder. "I never know when to leave well enough alone, do I?"

Wufei was relieved beyond all proportion to hear only rueful amusement in Duo's voice, not the biting self-hate he had come to associate with the American pilot's musings over his slip in asking Heero if he loved him. It made him feel so good that he dared to turn his head slightly and brush a kiss over the nearest temple, though the smooth locks of hair.

"Iie. It's my fault. I--"

"Nothing's your fault, Wufei," Duo interrupted, glancing up at him angrily. "There's nothing wrong with being... um... inexperienced. I was worse'n you when I... er... started."

Wufei was blushing brightly, and even Duo's cheeks were pinked a little.

"Uh, gomen," Duo apologized again.

Wufei smiled and hid his burning face against Duo's hair again. Even if he was the 'inexperienced' one, Duo was just too damn cute for his own good.

"Ne, Wufei?"

"Mm?"

"Do you smell something burning?"

"Oh, SHIT!" Wufei leapt off the bed and dashed into the kitchen to try and save their dinner.


"You know, Duo, I was thinking...."

"You were? Did you hurt yourself? Strain anything? Would you like to lie down?"

Wufei glared down at Duo, who was resting comfortably with his head in Wufei's lap, smirking up at him. "Baka. Thinking isn't a struggle for *all* of us."

"Owch! Stung!" Duo clutched at his chest, giggling wildly. "Ne, Wufei, that's what I like about the guy behind the mask -- he knows how to take a joke!"

Wufei blushed. Again. It seemed he didn't do anything else anymore. It was all Duo's fault.... And he didn't ever want it to end. But....

"I was thinking of contacting the others."

Duo's cheerful expression was instantly wiped away and he blinked up at Wufei blankly. "Why?" he asked flatly.

Wufei sighed and tentatively brushed Duo's thick bangs back, still marveling over the fact that not only could he touch Duo, but Duo actively encouraged this. "Because, as you've pointed out so many times, they might need me." Duo pulled a bitter face at having his own words tossed back in his face. "And I thought you'd want to see if they've managed to reconstruct Shinigami...."

Duo sighed and grasped Wufei's hand, dragging it down to plant a firm kiss to the wrist. "That was before. I'm not so sure, now.... Dammit, Wufei, I *like* it here, with just the two of us! I like getting to know the 'real you', lettingyou see the person I really am! And I... I don't think I'm ready to face...." He faltered and fell silent. But his tight, almost desperate grip on Wufei's hand spoke more than any words could have.

"I only said I was thinking of contacting them. And I didn't say we'd go anywhere...."

Duo looked up, eyes dark and vulnerable. "But they might need you...."

"You need me more."

Duo suddenly surged up and wrapped his arms tightly around Wufei's neck, his lips working wildly over the other boy's. Wufei closed his eyes and tried to relax into the kiss, tried so hard to give Duo what he needed, what they both needed....

But he couldn't help stiffening as Duo's tongue slid wetly over his parted lips. Duo pulled back a little, then pressed his forehead to Wufei's, their harsh breathing pouring hot over one another's faces as they sat, frozen.

"Gomen, Wufei," Duo whispered. "I didn't... didn't mean to push you too far... again."

Wufei felt tears spring hot into his eyes and he gulped back a tiny sob. "Iie. *I'm* sorry, Duo. I'm so... so.... I can't... can't even...."

"Baka." Duo pressed a light kiss to Wufei's lips, then kissed the tip of his nose, making him squeak in protest. "It's not like in the movies, Wufei. You can't just dive in and expect everything to fall together. I'm willing to be patient. I'm just scared that I won't have the chance to... to finish what we've started."

Wufei pulled back a little and blinked at Duo in confusion, wondering exactly what he meant with those words.

Duo smiled back, a bit facetiously. Then leaned forward to nip at Wufei's lips a little more.

"Well.... We won't be needing groceries for another three days at the earliest," Wufei conceded, his voice husky.

"Good."


"So, what did they say?" Duo asked, appearing in the kitchen doorway, looking sleepy and disheveled, but also aware and more than a little apprehensive.

Wufei turned from unpacking a bag. "Huh?"

Duo eyeballed the Chinese boy. "The other guys. You *did* contact them, didn't you?"

"Whoops...." Wufei's expression of embarrassed chagrin was too sincere to be faked.

Duo's jaw dropped. "'Whoops'?! 'Whoops', he says!" He threw up his hands. "So, what in the hell did you spend six hours *doing*?!?!"

Wufei silently handed the American pilot a large, bulky, paper-wrapped package.

"Ooh, a present? For me?" Duo gushed, taking it in both hands and limping over to the counter.

Wufei snorted and resumed shoving cans into the cupboard as Duo ripped the paper apart impatiently.

"Holy shit! Wufei...."

"I hope they fit," Wufei said anxiously, giving up his air of indifference and turning to lean against the counter beside Duo. "The white shirt was easy, but I had to contact the area priest for the overshirt, or jacket, or whatever you call that thing, and then get a seamstress to modify it.... You don't even want to know what I had to go through to get the pants!"

Duo looked up, his eyes flooded with tears, but gleaming brightly anyway. "Wufei...."

"Well, the original outfit you were wearing was ruined by OZ, and I figured you had to be getting sick of wearing my sweats and tee--" The rest of his sentence was muffled as Duo flung himself against Wufei, wrapping both arms around his neck and kissing him thoroughly, the familiar preacher's outfit trapped between their chests.

To his surprise, Wufei found he was able to kiss Duo back without even thinking about it. Actually, it helped not to think about it; to just feel it.

Duo pulled away too soon, but the ecstatic smile lighting his entire face was more than enough compensation. "Shit, Wufei! No one's ever done anything this nice for me before! No one's ever done... anything *close* to this!"

Wufei blushed a little, pleased he'd been able to make Duo so happy. "Well...."

Duo closed his eyes and rubbed his nose against Wufei's, then kissed him again, lightly. Then he grabbed the outfit and, clutching it to his chest, limped into the bedroom. "I'll try it on!" he called over his shoulder.

"Hai." Wufei returned to the groceries, well aware that he was wearing a smug, self- satisfied smirk, but not caring. All the trouble he'd been through had been worth it -- not that he'd doubted for a moment it would be. Duo was worth any effort. He was just glad he'd been able to make that happy light shine in those eyes once more.

He really ought to have remembered to contact the others though. That was a regrettable lapse. But he'd been so focused on that one objective -- replacing Duo's destroyed clothing -- that he was lucky he'd remembered to get the food. And he'd forgotten hair bands yet again....

"Wahahahaha! Shinigami lives!!"

He turned from closing the cupboard door and admired the figure Duo cut, posing in the kitchen doorway, his body language an unconscious mixture of seduction and belligerence. "So, it fits."

"Is that all you can say?" Duo protested, though his eyes were gleaming with amusement - or something else -- as he watched the way Wufei's gaze was running lingeringly over every inch of his body. "How about, 'you look great, Duo'? Or, 'ooh, you're so handsome'? Or, 'you're so sexy I just wanna drag you into the bedroom and tear that thing off you and make hot, steamy love to you'--" He broke off as Wufei moved to stand directly before him, black gaze fixed on his own indigo-blue.

"Duo?"

He blinked, wide eyes a bit startled. "Ne?"

"Shut up." Wufei cupped his face between his hands and kissed him gently.

Duo melted into the embrace.

"I'm glad you like it," Wufei said, once they'd come up for air.

Duo nuzzled his neck, his arms wrapped firmly around Wufei's waist. "Wufei... arigatou...."

Wufei smiled, reaching up and running his fingers softly over Duo's braid. He could feel hot tears falling against his neck and shoulder, but affected to ignore them. "Nan demo nai."

They stood that way for long moments, just holding each other, Duo's head tucked against Wufei's shoulder.

"I know!"

Wufei started as Duo popped up off his chest, cheeks tear-stained, but grinning broadly. "What?" he asked, a little suspiciously.

"I know how to thank you!"

"Uh, Duo...."

"I'll make dinner!"

Wufei blinked, stifling the feeling of acute alarm that sprang up in him at those words. "Duo, are you sure...." He looked into Duo's wide, sparkling eyes and couldn't help but relent. He could put up with a little indigestion. "Allright."

"Yatta!" Duo smooched him firmly and then pulled away, limping past him, into the kitchen.

"But you'll let me help, won't you?" Wufei asked anxiously. He didn't want Duo burning the cabin down, after all.

"Of course!"

"Thank the gods," Wufei muttered.

"What was that?" Duo asked, peering over his shoulder.

"Nan demo...."


"Duo! You're supposed to wash the vegetables before you cut them!"

The long-haired American peered at the cutting board, where he'd been wielding a huge knife with as much enthusiasm as Shinigami's scythe. "Why?"

Wufei clutched at his loose hair. "Forget it. Just... continue...."

"Hai!" Duo said cheerfully, and resumed whacking away at the unfortunate pepper he was currently mutilating.

Wufei sighed and turned his attention back to the chicken meat he was slicing for their proposed stir fry. He didn't trust Duo around raw meat. Actually, he didn't trust Duo anywhere near the kitchen in general, but it was a little too late, as he'd already agreed to go along with this....

Finished with the meat, he crossed to the stove -- which he'd managed to fix about a week ago -- and lifted the lid off the pot, which was boiling over.

"DUO!"

"Eh?" Duo turned at Wufei's howl, eyes wide, braid twitching.

Wufei sputtered and fumed "You can't cook the noodles and the rice in the same pot!"

"Why not? It saves time!" Duo declared cheerfully.

Wufei groaned and sank his head into his hands.


"That wasn't so bad, was it?" Duo asked, cuddling next to Wufei on their bed, clad for sleep in a baggy tee- shirt and a pair of boxers.

"Nm... no. Pretty good, actually." Actually, it had been. Wufei was glad Duo had allowed him to 'help' with dinner. Otherwise it could have been a complete disaster.

"Maybe I ought to cook for us more often!"

Wufei choked. "Uh, Duo...."

"As long as I have you to 'help' me...."

Wufei looked down at the gleam of lazy amusement in Duo's hooded eyes, and couldn't help smiling in reply. "Sure, why not?"

Duo wormed a hand up underneath Wufei's tank top, running his fingers over the slim chest, his cheek resting comfortably against Wufei's shoulder. "I liked it," he murmured, cuddling closer. "Cooking with you, I mean. It felt like... like we're home here."

"Mm...." Wufei yawned.

"But I still can't believe you forgot to contact the others!"

"Duo!" Wufei blushed hotly and glared down at Duo, who was grinning.

"Well, I'm glad you forgot...." He leaned up for a lingering kiss. "Although...." He sighed heavily, nestling his head under Wufei's chin. "I guess we'd better get back soon. I wish.... I wish we could just forget about Gundams and this damn war and just...."

"Just be normal boys?"

Duo giggled unexpectedly, his dark mood lightening. "I hardly think either of us counts as 'normal', Wu-chan!"

"Oi," Wufei protested mildly, though he had to agree with Duo.

Duo suddenly removed his hand from Wufei's shirt and rolled over, so that he was sitting, straddling Wufei's hips.

"Duo, what--?"

Duo cut him off with a kiss, wrapping his arms firmly around Wufei's neck. His mouth worked slowly, sweetly against Wufei's, not demanding, but definitely very thorough. Wufei leaned into the kiss, returning each taste and caress. And when Duo's tongue flickered out to play with his upper lip, he tentatively returned the gesture, sliding his own along Duo's lower lip. Their tongues met and twined, softly playing against one another.

Finally Duo drew back, cheeks flushed, eyes shining. "See, Wu-chan? You're getting better," he murmured, nuzzling his nose against Wufei's.

Wufei managed not to blush, trying to control his harsh breathing, the pounding of his heart. "Not that I'm complaining, Duo, but what was that for?"

Duo kissed the tip of his nose lightly. "To thank you."

"I thought that's what dinner was for."

"Yeah, but you helped with that."

"I like to think I helped with this too," Wufei commented dryly.

Duo stared at the Chinese boy for a moment, then rolled off of him, howling with laughter. Then he yelped as he rolled right off the small bed and landed with a thump on the floor.

Wufei leaned over to give Duo his hand. Duo was still giggling as Wufei hauled him up, though he winced a little as he forgot and tried to put weight on his broken leg.

"Ooh, Wufei, man! That was classic!" He snuggled close once more, arms wrapped tightly around Wufei's chest. "That was just... classic!"

"Hn." Wufei buried his face in Duo's soft hair. He didn't ever want to lose this; Duo warm in his arms, heavy against his chest, cheerful and open, affectionate... to say the least; but he was so afraid of what would happen once they rejoined the others.

"I still can't believe you did that, though," Duo said against the flesh of Wufei's collarbone.

"What, kissed you back?"

Duo giggled. "Baka. No, I meant going to all that trouble to get my outfit. You didn't have to bother."

"I know. But I wanted to."

"Why?"

Wufei closed his eyes. *Because I love you.* The words were so easy to say in his head, but he didn't dare speak them aloud. So far he'd never come straight out and told Duo. He was frightened of what might happen if he said it. He was pretty sure Duo understood how he felt, but knowing it for certain was another thing entirely. If it was verbalized, it might prove too much for the other boy, might drive him away. And Wufei had already decided crumbs from Duo would be better than a banquet with someone else.

So he answered Duo with a question of his own.

"Why do you wear that stuff anyway, Duo? I mean, if there's anyone I know who's less... um...." He tried to think of a word he could use that wasn't too insulting. And failed. "Er...."

Duo was silent for a time, twining his fingers in Wufei's hair. "It's sort of a legacy. Sorta like your 'justice'. Not as important, but... it helps me remember...."

"Mm?" Wufei tried to encourage without pushing.

"You don't wanna hear my tale of woes," Duo said, laughing mirthlessly.

Wufei tightened his arms. "Of course I do. It's a part of what makes you who you are, Duo. Besides, you listened to me... about Nataku." He grimaced, still humiliated that he had allowed himself to weaken enough to shed tears. Not that Nataku wasn't worth tears, but....

"Are you serious?" Duo asked, levering up and staring Wufei in the eyes.

"Duo. You know me," Wufei said simply. That was answer enough.

Duo blinked, then smiled slightly and kissed him, before lowering himself to lay against Wufei's chest again. "Well, you're loosening up a little," he commented. "But you're still pretty serious most of the time, aren't you?"

Wufei waited patiently.

Duo sighed. "It's not that big a thing. Just.... Dressing like this reminds me of two of the only people in my life who cared about me. You know?"

"Who were they?"

"Father Maxwell... and Sister Helen." Duo moved more closely against Wufei, seeking comfort. "I was a war orphan. Migrated to Colony V08744 when I was seven. I.... There was Solo. He was the first person to ever care about me, even a little. You know? But he died."

"Is that where you got your given name?" Wufei asked, suddenly seeing a connection.

"Yup." He could feel Duo smile against his chest. "It was the least I could do, since I wasn't able to save him in time...." Duo's voice faltered and he was silent, as he roamed the past in his mind for a while. "Then the Maxwell Church took me in."

"Ah." Wufei could see, now, where Duo's name came from. And why.

"I was only there for a short time, but I was happy...."

"What happened?"

"War," Duo spat. "Isn't that always it? Everyone was killed while I was off stealing a mobile suit. War takes all that's good and destroys it, for no reason. No one gains and everyone loses!"

Wufei winced, but he certainly couldn't disagree. "That's why you fight in Shinigami?"

"Yeah." Duo buried his face in Wufei's shirt, fighting tears. "Just wanna end all the hurting. That's all."

Wufei held him silently. After all, what could he say? He had the same feelings, the same cause. He had lost his family, his people, his home, his wife.... They were no different at the heart of the matter. They had different reasons, perhaps, but they were fellow warriors now, with the same objectives, the same orders, the same willingness to give their lives for a better future....

"Gomen. Sorry for dumping on you, Wufei."

He clenched his arms around Duo, tightly enough to make the other boy squeak in startlement. "Iie. Don't apologize. I wanted to know. I asked. And I'm glad you told me. I'm just sorry to make you relive the pain...."

"Baka." Duo sat up and kissed him again. His cheeks were damp, but his face was peaceful.

"Duo... do you think this war will ever end?" Wufei asked, suddenly melancholy. He would love more than anything to see Duo have a chance to live as a regular person... grow up to be an adult... without having to worry about Leos or self destruct buttons....

"Once I get back in Shinigami, it'll be over in a flash!" Duo replied cheerfully, yawning. Wufei gave him a bemused look and he grinned. "Relax, Wu-chan." He cuddled close once more. "We'll take care of things."

Wufei shook his head affectionately, and tugged the blankets up over them. It was close to midnight; way past time for them to get to sleep. He reached over Duo and flicked the lamp off.

"Wufei?"

"Mm?"

Duo lifted his head and kissed Wufei fiercely, almost bruisingly. "Nothing." He lay back down against Wufei's chest, arms clasped close around the other boy.

Wufei lay awake, wondering what that had signified. His mouth was still tingling as Duo's breathing slowed and became regular with sleep. Had Duo been trying to say something with that kiss? Or was Wufei so desperate he was reading things into a simple gesture of affection?

Finally he gave up speculation and held Duo close, allowing slumber to claim him as well.

What he had now was enough... whatever it was.


Wufei slipped quietly into the tiny bedroom. It was almost a shock. Duo had done a thorough cleaning job while he had been gone -- it even looked as though the floor had been scrubbed -- and the window was open, allowing fresh, green-smelling air to waft in.

It was nice, though....

Duo himself lay sprawled on his back on the bed, sleeping quietly. He was wearing some of the clothing Wufei had gotten him the very first time he'd gone to town, a large tank top and a pair of black sweatpants. Wufei had seen most of the rest of the clothing belonging to the two boys hanging on the make-shift clothesline he'd set up to the side of the cabin, as he pulled up in the Jeep. Duo's unbound hair was still a bit damp, and his face was as clean as the cabin.

Duo must have been burning off a lot of nervous energy, Wufei surmised, as he moved softly across the clean floor. Even the extra blankets had been folded.

He just hoped Duo hadn't been too hard on his weakened leg. It had been close to a month since it had been broken, but Duo hadn't exactly been treating it gently all that time.

Standing beside the bed, he took advantage of the opportunity to watch Duo sleep. They went to bed in the dark and Duo usually woke at the same time he did in the morning, so chances like this weren't as frequent as Wufei liked.

He looked so innocent, like a fallen angel, especially with his unbraided hair spilling about his face and shoulders, rich chestnut waves shot through with honey-gold highlights. Dark lashes swept above his smooth, slumber-flushed cheeks. In sleep, Duo's face was utterly open and free of the jester's mask he still wore much of the time. Wufei reached down and lightly traced his fingertips along the soft line of Duo's temple, cheekbone, jaw.... Then bent to whisper feather-soft kisses over Duo's brow, nose, chin, and, finally, brushed gently over his lips.

"Hm.... Wufei...." Duo murmured, still mostly asleep. Wufei felt his heart leap in his chest at the sound of his name riding Duo's breath. *His* name, in Duo's unaware state; not... anyone else's!

He tangled his hand in the hair at the back of Duo's head and kissed him more firmly, as Duo's arm came up to curl around his neck, tugging gently but insistently. He answered this unspoken demand by sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning lower over Duo, his mouth working Duo's, their tongues twining, playing tag. Duo's fingers tangled almost painfully in Wufei's loose hair, the other hand resting against his chest, then running up over his shoulder, under his jacket. Wufei cradled the back of Duo's head with the hand still threaded through that long, glorious hair, tugging the American boy up toward his hungry mouth. He used his other hand to brace himself over Duo, careful not to tug at any loose strands of Duo's hair.

Eventually, of course, they both had to breathe. Wufei pulled back, pressing a light kiss to each of Duo's eyelids, then kissing his nose, making Duo sputter, his eyes popping open. He grinned down at Duo, black eyes gleaming.

Duo smirked, his own indigo-blue eyes heavy-lidded and dark. "Saaa, Wufei... you sure know how to wake a guy up," he commented, his voice husky, as Wufei pulled free of his embrace and sat up. Duo stretched languidly, his lips still curved, his gaze fixed on Wufei, who was admiring the lean young body on the bed beside him.

"Duo...."

Suddenly Duo blinked and his soft, sleepy expression firmed. "Ne, Wufei! What did they say?"

Wufei grimaced and shrugged out of his jacket. "Not much. I got a hold of Quatre, and he was excited and happy." He smiled at the memory, and Duo grinned in sympathy. "He said he misses you, Duo." Duo flushed and sat up, pushing his hair back from his face, then wrapping his arms around Wufei's chest.

"What then?"

"Then? Oh! Then Trowa took over, since Quatre wasn't getting much of anything coherent said. The Gundams are all in good shape, the pilots are alive.... There haven't been any new missions while we've been here, so essentially they've just been hiding out, too."

"What about Shinigami?" Duo prompted, squeezing Wufei.

"Uh...."

"Baka!" Duo cried. "Don't tell me you forgot to ask!"

Wufei grinned. "Of course not. Shinigami's fine; ready and waiting. Quatre's men fixed it up for you, with a little help from Howard."

Duo's eyes shone with happiness, and he leaned up to kiss Wufei swiftly. "Arigatou!"

"I didn't do anything," Wufei protested.

"You saved my life."

Wufei blushed. "Well, there is that.... But Trowa was the one who rescued Shinigami."

"I'll have to thank him too," Duo grinned.

"Duo...." Wufei didn't trust that wicked gleam in the wide blue eyes.

Duo laughed then stretched to kiss Wufei's chin. "Baka. Not like that! You think I want Rashid and the rest of Quatre's goons coming after my blood? Nuh-uh. I'll leave Trowa to Quatre!"

"Hm...."

Duo tucked his head under Wufei's chin. "B'sides, I have you."

Wufei's eyes widened, and he tightened his arms around Duo, his heart aching. But it was such a sweet pain....

After a few moments of silence, Duo squirmed. "So, did Trowa say when they wanted us back?"

Wufei sighed. "Not really. Quatre's eager to see both of us again, but Trowa was more realistic. He said to be sure you were strong enough before we rejoined them."

"Strong enough for what?" Duo inquired, his hand creeping up Wufei's thigh.

"Um...."

"So, we're okay here for a while?"

"As far as I know."

"Good!" Duo was very vehement in that. And his fingers were still moving, sliding slowly upwards....

"Duo." Wufei stood abruptly.

"Araa? Sa~aa.... Gomen, Wufei," Duo grimaced, his eyes wide and vulnerable. "I know... I know you're not--"

"Iie. It's not that."

"Then what?"

Wufei turned away from the confusion and almost-pain in Duo's face, and crossed to look out the window, his arms defensively folded. He'd thought he could just take things as they were, but talking to Trowa had changed his mind. It was one thing, while they were alone here in the small cabin, but the situation was going to be vastly different, once they were with the other pilots.

"What is it, Wufei?" Duo asked, sounding worried.

"Duo, what...." It was impossible to call any words to his mind. There was so much he had to say, so much they had to discuss, and he didn't know where to start.

"Ne?"

He decided to dive right in. He was the only pilot who hadn't tried to self destruct his Gundam.... But here he was, about to blow the most important relationship in his life, destroy the comfortable illusion he'd built for himself, that there could ever be anything for him with Duo.

Wufei drew in a deep breath. "Duo, what are we? To each other, I mean."

Duo was silent long moments, each second digging deeper into Wufei's soul, the agony becoming nearly unbearable. Finally he spoke.

"I'm not sure."

Wufei closed his eyes. At least it wasn't a flat-out rejection. "Sou ka...."

"Wufei?"

"Nani?"

Suddenly Duo was behind him, close enough to touch, but not touching, his body heat washing over Wufei like a never-ending wave. Wufei was hyper-aware of each small breath Duo took, of the rustle of his hair, even of the shifting of the bone against bone in his joints.

"What am I to you?" Duo asked, his voice deep with intensity.

So, now it came out. He was glad, in a way. It was cowardly to resist saying it, after all. But it was still one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do.

At least he didn't have to look at Duo as he said it.

"I love you, Duo," he whispered.

There was a sharp, indrawn breath, then strong arms wrapped around his waist, and Duo buried his face in Wufei's loose black hair. Wufei felt relief rush through him, hot and hard and painful. He wasn't going to hope.... But it was so good to know that saying it, admitting it, wasn't going to drive Duo away from him. That had been his greatest fear....

"Wufei...."

"Duo, I don't want.... You don't have to...."

"Wufei." Duo's arms vanished, then hard hands were on his shoulders, turning him. He gazed into Duo's eyes, falling forever. The expression on Duo's face was impossible to interpret.

"Ne?"

"I...." Duo licked his lips. "I'm not sure.... I don't think I can say it, like you can. I'm not as brave as you. But I'm.... I feel...."

Wufei dared to lean forward and kiss Duo lightly. "Duo, as long as you're my friend, as long as knowing doesn't drive you away from me--"

"Iie. Wufei. Iie. You shouldn't... shouldn't have to settle for less than...."

"Duo." Wufei smiled softly, hands cupping Duo's face, one thumb tracing over his lower lip. "Everything about you is everything I need. I decided long ago that even a single smile from you means more than my own life."

Duo flushed brightly. "Wufei...."

Wufei kissed him softly again.

"Wufei, I...." Duo drew in a deep breath. "I thought.... I mean, I never...."

An impish grin quirked Wufei's lips. "The great Duo Maxwell at a loss for words?"

Duo blushed and smacked Wufei's head lightly. "Baka." Then he wrapped his arms tightly around Wufei's neck, grinding their lips together in a kiss that was more passion than pleasure, was almost hard enough to draw blood.

"Wufei, you really do...?"

Wufei had to close his eyes at the aching vulnerability filling Duo's sweet face. "I love you," he whispered again, brushing his nose against Duo's. There was a strange sort of freedom in speaking the words aloud.

"Wu...."

"Nm?"

Duo pulled away, cheeks flushed, eyes shining. "Will you braid my hair?"

Wufei nodded, smiling. This was best for Duo, that they break the tension. Before Duo said something he regretted, or didn't mean. "Hai."

They settled on the bed, Wufei wielding the brush with expert hands.

"Wufei?"

"Ne?"

Duo squirmed a little on the mattress before him. "I'm.... I...."

Wufei stroked the brush through Duo's long locks slowly, soothingly. "Duo, don't say anything because you feel you have to. I told you, it's all right."

"Yeah, but...."

"Duo." Wufei lifted the mass of thick hair and pressed a firm kiss to the back of Duo's neck. "Shut up."

"Ah."


Wufei yawned as he stepped out of the bathroom, shoving wet black hair out of his face. He'd had to wait a while for the cabin's small water heater to recover from Duo's cleaning spree, but it had been worth it. Today had been a long day, with the trip to town, and a tense one, what with contacting the rest of the pilots, then confessing his feelings for Duo aloud. A hot soak had been just the thing. He'd gotten some take-out in town, which he and Duo had already eaten, so there was nothing left to do now but sleep.

Duo, seated on the bed in a pair of shorts and a tank top, was still folding articles of clothing as he reentered the bedroom. Not that the two boys had all that many clothes, but Duo had forgotten to bring what there was in from drying until he had realized he had nothing to wear to bed, and Wufei had nothing to put on once he was finished bathing. After fielding the barrage of ecchi suggestions that brought to the American's mind, Wufei had gone out to fetch the wash. Duo had offered to do it, but Wufei didn't like the way he was favoring his bad leg, and didn't want him on his feet any more than necessary.

"Here, let me help you with that," Wufei said, moving to stand beside the bed where Duo was sitting. He grabbed a shirt, missing the way Duo's eyes flickered hungrily over his bare chest and shoulders -- he was clad only in a pair of black sweatpants -- as he finished the rest of the clothing with a few fast, efficient motions.

"There. We--" Wufei was cut off suddenly as Duo reached up, grabbed him firmly, and pulled him down onto the bed, rolling him over the newly folded clothes, sending shirts and pants tumbling to the floor. "Ack! Duo!"

The Chinese boy's sputtered protests were cut off as Duo claimed his mouth, kissing him deeply and almost violently. Duo flung his good leg over Wufei's body, squirming on top of the stunned boy. Between the shock of this unexpected move, Duo's weight on his chest, and the force of his wild kiss, Wufei was definitely having trouble catching his breath. He grasped Duo's bare shoulders, but didn't have the strength, or the will, to push him away. Dark motes were dancing before his eyes when Duo finally released his mouth, and it wasn't completely due to passion.

"Duo--"

Without missing a beat, Duo's kiss moved to Wufei's neck, his lips hot and wet, suckling, his tongue swirling over the soft, water-heated flesh in skilled patterns. Wufei shuddered, wave after wave of pleasure breaking through his body from the contact. Duo's hands were hot and hard on his chest, and then Duo rocked his hips against him and Wufei gasped, his body jerking on the mattress, pushing back without his willing it, into the flare of furious fire that suddenly burst into existence between their bodies.

"Duo!" he tried again, his voice strangled.

Instead of replying, Duo moved back to his mouth, his lips working over Wufei's, his tongue darting and lapping, as he braced himself over the other boy, his hips still moving in shallow, rhythmic thrusts.

Wufei gave utterance to a throttled moan, his whole body arching under Duo's. This was too much too fast, and now Duo was moving down his torso, his lips on the flesh of Wufei's chest, capturing and teasing the small brown nipples as his stomach pressed tightly between Wufei's thighs, where a hot hard ache was begin to burn its way into the forefront of his attention.

"Duo," he practically sobbed, as the American boy's fingers curled under the waistband of his sweatpants, tugging with determination while Duo's tongue played about his taut stomach muscles and the dimple of his navel. Duo stripped him swiftly of the pants, then wriggled back up, lying beside Wufei, kissing him again as his hand closed gently but firmly over the upthrust of his arousal.

Wufei let out a small cry against Duo's mouth, his hips surging without his conscious control, then Duo was back between his legs, only lower this time, kneeling on the floor, and a wet tongue flicked out to taste his burning flesh. Wufei writhed against the bed, clutching handfuls of the sheets, tight moans jerked out of his throat as Duo grasped his hips and engulfed the head of his throbbing member in the hot, wet well of his mouth.

His world narrowed to a single focus, but it was more than the deep rhythmic suction Duo was currently applying to his erection. It was the fact that is *was* Duo, that Duo was touching him, tormenting him, that Duo was willing to do this for him -- or *to* him; he couldn't decide. The intensity of emotion combined with the new sensations, never before even guessed at, threatened to overwhelm him, and he was in danger of losing his sense of self.

Then his body clenched, and something inside him that had been growing steadily tighter suddenly released, his world exploding into a rush of pure pleasure, white lights dancing through his mind, as he gave up all that he was and embraced this utter purification of his soul.

"Duo..." he breathed, as the other boy moved once more to lie beside him, tugging Wufei's lax form up against his own body.

"Wufei... gomen...." Duo kissed him softly. Wufei wrinkled his nose at the bitter, salty taste of Duo's lips, then his cheeks heated even more than the flush already warming them when he realized what that was. He blinked his eyes open, looking hesitantly at Duo.

Duo's face was flushed as well, bangs clinging to his sweat-damp flesh. His eyes were heavy-lidded, filled with a strange sort of sorrow.

"Gomen..." he said again, shame in his voice.

"Why are you apologizing?" Wufei asked in confusion, curling closer to Duo, and reaching up to stroke away some of the bangs falling in Duo's face.

"B-because... you weren't ready. Not really, I mean. Slow would have been better." Duo sighed unhappily and pressed his face into Wufei's shoulder. Wufei could feel a few hot tears leak out against his skin, but he didn't comment, just held Duo more tightly. "I mean...."

"Daijoubu," Wufei said, stroking Duo's hair with a gentle hand. Then a thought struck him. "Duo, do you need....Are you still...." He blushed furiously.

"Iie. I... er... took care of that while... um...."Duo sounded embarrassed as well.

Wufei blushed more deeply. In a way he was disappointed, but mostly he was relieved. He didn't think he felt up to returning the gift Duo had given him. Not yet, at any rate.

Wait. The gift Duo had...?

v "Duo?"

"Ah?"

How could he say this without presuming too much? "You.... You...."

"I messed up," Duo sighed, sitting up.

"No, you didn't," Wufei said firmly, pulled Duo back down with a startled squeak. "But, Duo... tell me why you did that." He wanted to know, but mostly he wanted to help Duo work it out for himself, so that he could stop feeling guilty.

"I...."

Wufei wrapped both arms tightly about Duo, holding him close. "You...?"

"I... I guess...." He could feel Duo frowning against his shoulder, in thought. It felt so good to hold Duo close, to be able to hold him close. He closed his eyes, reveling in the sensation, then opened them again as his drained body threatened to shut down. He was hovering on the verge of falling asleep, and only the urgency he felt toward Duo's emotional well-being was keeping him awake.

"I...." Duo shifted uncomfortably. "I guess it was 'cause... 'cause I wanted to show you how I felt, since I couldn't say it."

Wufei's heart jolted. "Honto ni?"

"Ah." Duo nodded. "I... I can't...."

Wufei placed a gentle hand over Duo's mouth, stilling anything further he might have said. That was enough for him. It was so much more than he'd ever expected, more than he'd ever dared dream. He felt as though his soul would die from the happiness he was feeling. Even if Duo didn't love him, he felt something very strong. And maybe someday....

No, best not to think so far ahead. Right now....

He sat up, pulling Duo with him. "Let's get to bed."

"Un." Duo stretched and yawned widely as Wufei retrieved his pants from the floor and blushingly pulled them on.

"Well, there went all your work," he commented, still blushing, but amused, as he started tugging the scattered clothing the two of them had been rolling around on off the bed, plucking shirts and pants from the tangles sheets.

"K'so!" Duo scowled, then suddenly broke into giggles. "And you wasted your bath!"

Wufei grinned sheepishly. "Oh well."

They snuggled into bed together, arms wrapped tightly, legs twined. Wufei tumbled swiftly into slumber, exhausted by Duo's earlier ministrations.

He drifted weightlessly in a sweet dream, where Duo's lips brushed his gently, and Duo's voice whispered in his ear, "I love you...."


Wufei woke to the smell of coffee. He rolled over and reached... but there was no Duo in the bed. Well, of course not; if there was coffee being brewed, that meant Duo was already up.

The sunlight on the greenery outside the window was rich and golden. It was late morning already. He must have slept in.

Wufei stretched and yawned widely. Why did he feel so--

Suddenly memories of the night before struck, and Wufei turned a bright shade of red. Then he cursed and jumped out of bed quickly, worried about Duo. Hopefully the other boy had gotten over the utterly misplaced guilt he had been feeling last night....

Duo was at the kitchen counter, singing a popular song as he wielded a knife cheerfully. Wufei winced, but as he drew closer, he could see Duo was only making sandwiches. Not even Duo could screw up sandwiches... could he?

"Ohayo, Duo," he said softly, wrapping an arm around Duo's waist. Duo was wearing jeans and a teeshirt, and looked too delicious for words this morning. He just hoped the American boy wouldn't feel too uncomfortable with him now.

Duo started in surprise, dropping his knife. Wufei grimaced.

"Oi! Wufei! You just about gave me a heart attack!" Duo protested, as he turned within Wufei's loose half-embrace and wound his arms around the other boy's neck.

"Gomen," Wufei managed to say, a moment before Duo's lips closed on his. At least Duo wasn't rejecting his touch. But there was desperation in Duo's kiss he didn't like, and the gleam in Duo's eyes when he finally pulled away wasa little too bright.

"Ne, Wufei, go take a quick bath! We're going on a pick nick!"

"A what?" Wufei felt his heart sinking. The jester's mask was back in place. Shit. He'd have to see if there wasanything he could do about that.

Maybe it was his own fault, for telling Duo he loved him. Duo obviously wasn't sure of his own feelings, probably still hurting from Heero's rejection, and yet he felt bad for not being able to return Wufei's feelings, no matter how many times Wufei told him it didn't matter.

No. No, he wasn't going to regret telling Duo. He would just have to help Duo work through his true feelings, no matter what they were, even if it came out that Duo would never be able to love him, and then they'd see what could be salvaged. Wufei had been a coward too often in his life -- he wasn't going to back away from this.

"A pick nick, baka!" Duo was caroling, shoving Wufei firmly toward the bedroom. "Go get some clothes and get washed up and I'll finish making our lunch, and then we'll take a hike into the hills!"

Wufei paused just inside the bedroom door and turned. Duo's eyes widened, and he looked at Wufei a bit apprehensively. Wufei wanted to tell this achingly beautiful boy that he loved him, again, but that might do more harm now than good. He reached up and traced the side of Duo's face, then leaned forward and kissed him gently.

"Make sure you don't cut yourself."

"Aa-Ah!" Duo fled back into the kitchen.

Wufei sighed. This wasn't going to be easy. Grabbing some clothes off the chair, he moved to the bathroom.


"Aaaah! Smell that air, Wufei!"

Wufei found, instead, he was admiring the snug way Duo's jeans slid over his tight rear, that tantalizing braid twitching back and forth across this view, as Duo stretched, inhaling deeply. Of course, the fact that Wufei was sitting on the grassy hillside directly behind Duo might have had something to do with that.

Then again, maybe not.

"That's because you've been shut up in that cabin too long. Sit down and get off your leg, Duo." Even though it was a shame to lose that view....

"Aw, my leg's feeling a lot better." Duo nonetheless threw himself down on the blanket next to Wufei, unzipping the duffel bag he'd packed the lunch in, as they were lacking anything so picturesque as a basket. "I got all the way up here with no problems, didn't I?"

"Mm." Wufei raised a brow as Duo moved a bit uncomfortably, surreptitiously shifting his bad leg. But he had to admit Duo had made the long trip, uphill all the way, to this mountainside clearing pretty easily, only limping a little and hardly whining at all.

They really were going to have to rejoin the others soon. It was past due time for them to be ordered on another mission, and justice was not going to happen by itself while he selfishly enjoyed spending time alone with Duo. The war had to be fought, and if possible, ended.

But he wasn't going anywhere until he had cleared up with Duo exactly what their relationship was. Even if doing so left them with no relationship. He could live the rest of his life with Duo not loving him in return, as long as they were together... but Duo couldn't. It wouldn't be fair to ask him to. So Wufei had to risk breaking his own heart, because Duo's happiness was infinitely more important to him than his own.

But he had to do it now, or he'd lose his courage completely.

Duo was unpacking the bag, chattering inanely away, perhaps sensing something of what Wufei intended, or maybe just still discomfited by the night before. Wufei listened with half an ear, but Duo was hiding behind his familiar old mask and was carefully not saying anything of any consequence. It hurt Wufei to see him like this, so he thought carefully, trying to figure out the best way to draw the real Duo out.

Shit.

He knew the best way. It wasn't anything he wanted to do, or say. But it was really the only way he was going to be able to get Duo to confront his feelings. Whatever those feelings were.

"Duo?"

Duo looked up, eyes wide and almost frightened. Wufei winced, hating himself for the fact that it was he who had made Duo look like that. The sooner he got this over with, no matter how much it was going to hurt, the better.

For Duo, if not for himself.

"N-nani?"

He drew a deep breath. He was about to utter a name that had been resolutely avoided by both of them since the first day they had arrived in the cabin. He didn't want to, but he had to.

"Do you still love Heero?"

Duo's eyes, if anything, grew huger, and all color drained from his face. Wufei *hurt*, seeing that stricken, betrayed expression, but he resolutely ignored the agony ripping through his heart. He was doing this for Duo, and no matter how much it pained both of them right now, it was for the better in the long run.

Knowing this did not help much however.

"I... I...."

He held Duo's eyes captive, afraid he'd lose the other boy utterly if he looked away. Duo stared back, eyes round, dark with anguish, almost pleading.

"I...." Duo's gaze suddenly turned inward, and he seemed to be giving the question some deep, serious thought.

Wufei waited patiently, his heart pounding, a small trickle of sweat running down his temple. This was the crux, the most vital moment in the strange coupling he and Duo had somehow built for themselves. It wasn't so much how Duo felt about Heero -- though that was part of it -- but it was that he was forcing Duo to examine how he had felt about the cold pilot of Wing Gundam, and how that compared to how he felt about Wufei.

What that comparison would result in was something both Duo and Wufei would have to live with. And Wufei was suddenly scared to death.

"Wufei?"

He started and blinked at Duo. "Ah?"

Duo had a peculiar, unreadable expression on his face. "Why do you love me?"

Wufei stared. He hadn't expected Duo to answer with another question. "Duo...."

Duo shook his head sharply. "I'm not avoiding the question, Wufei. I just.... I'm just wondering.... I'm not sure, anymore, what love is. Why people love. I.... I need to know why you.... How can you...?"

Wufei chewed on his lower lip, thinking. Duo might be stalling or he might not, but he *did* have a legitimate point. Still that was a hard question to answer, hard to pin down.

"Because you're you."

Duo blushed. "Wufei...."

"Because you're beautiful, inside and out. Because you keep giving to your friends, to the colonies, to the world, even when it hurts. Because you're open and warm and intelligent and--"

Duo leaned forward and clapped a hand over Wufei's mouth, his cheeks burning. "All right, all right. That's enough."

"I was only starting," Wufei said softly as Duo removed his hand, reaching forward to tangle his fingers in the hair at the base of Duo's braid.

Duo flushed further. "Wufei...."

"Duo, do you--"

"I'm not sure." Duo grimaced. "I... I thought I loved Heero, but now I'm not sure what love is. Maybe. Maybe I love him. But I love you more."

Wufei felt his jaw drop. Literally. He was so stunned by that one small sentence that he couldn't react. His brain was frozen. Duo looked equally surprised.

"I love you..." he mused, lifting his hands to gently close Wufei's mouth for him, then to stroke back the loose black hair from his face. "I really do. It's... it's real, isn't it?" There was a look of enchanted wonder on his face. "But how could I not? You care. You're brave. You're strong. You're definitely good looking...."

"Duo!" Wufei sputtered instinctively in protest.

Duo laughed lightly, and Wufei's heart lifted at the carefree sound. He finally allowed the reality to begin to penetrate his mind. Duo... loved him?

"Duo...."

Duo leaned forward and kissed him soundly. Wufei pulled back after a blissful moment. He had one last question before he gave himself over to utter joy, one nagging question.

"Duo, what if.... What if we join the others, and Heero tells you he made a horrible mistake, or was lying? What.... What would you...?"

The indigo-blue eyes flashed. "Did Heero come rescue me from OZ? Did he patch me up and put up with my shit and make me feel like living again? Did he spend six hours replacing my ruined clothes? Did he ever brush my hair, much less enjoy it? Did he--"

Utterly embarrassed, Wufei silenced Duo again, only with his mouth this time. It worked pretty well, and he got toenjoy the benefits in addition.

Duo wrapped his arms around Wufei, kissing him back eagerly, and they tumbled over onto the blanket, their lunch forgotten.

He loved Duo, and Duo loved him....

Duo loved him!


"Is that everything?" Duo stood back, his hands on his hips, and glared at the three stuffed duffel bags sitting on the bed.

"Hm." Wufei looked around the tiny bedroom, which was looking very bare and forlorn. Everything they weren't taking with them had been burned or buried, so as to leave no evidence of their presence. It was disturbing, in a way, to see a place where they had spent over a month, nearly every day of that time, look so empty and impersonal. Not that he hadn't gone through this cleansing many times before as a Gundam pilot, but.... But this was his and Duo's... home. It *had* been a home, for most of their time here had felt like "home".

It was pretty depressing.

"I think so." He didn't see anything under the small bed or on the tiny table. Nothing stuffed in the corners. He'd already checked the kitchen and the bathroom several times. There was nothing remaining of he or Duo aside from the bags on the bed, and themselves, standing in the barren bedroom.

"I don't wanna go!"

"Eh?" Wufei started in surprise at Duo's outburst.

Duo spun and took the two steps to bring him into Wufei's arms, which he gladly wrapped about the other boy. Duo's own arms encircled his waist, squeezing, and Duo kissed him fiercely.

"Can't we just stay?" Duo asked, his eyes gleaming suspiciously. "We were happy here!"

Wufei grimaced. Duo was being overly-emotional, which wasn't helping his own mood any. "We'll be happy somewhere else, Duo."

"Hmph!" Duo buried his face against Wufei's neck, lips moving hungrily over the flesh they encountered, teeth nipping lightly. Wufei shivered, then slid his hands down Duo's back, to caress the black material of his pants, over his taut buttocks. Duo responded by pushing his hips forward, into Wufei's, his arms tightening, his mouth growing more urgent against Wufei's neck.

"Duo!" Wufei gasped. "We're going to be late!"

"So?" Duo suddenly pulled away from Wufei and dragged the bags off the bed, letting them land on the floor with loud thuds.

Wufei felt his lips quirk in an amused smile as Duo turned and gave him a challenging look.

"So, we're going to be late," he said, crossing the room and allowing Duo to drag him down onto the bare bed.

This was as good a way to say good-bye as any.


"Duo! Wufei!"

Wufei felt his heart jump nervously at the sound of Quatre's familiar alto voice. Well, the Arabian pilot seemed happy to see them, at least.

"Oi! Quatre!" Duo replied, his lips curving in a genuine smile as he waved wildly.

The young blonde dashed toward them over the wide green lawn and he gave Duo a quick hug, before standing back and examining him carefully. "You look okay to me!" was his verdict. He smiling brightly, his pretty face glowing.

"Ah. Well, Wufei took good care of me." Duo smirked in Wufei's direction, squeezing the hand he held surreptitiously. Wufei blushed and glared.

"Ne, Wufei, what happened to your hair?" Quatre queried innocently.

"Eh?" Wufei blinked. "Nothing...." He'd almost forgotten he used to wear it in a tail.

"Well, come on inside!" Quatre urged, grabbing one of their duffel bags and starting toward the large Winner mansion the pilots were currently holed up in. "You must be tired after your long trip!"

"But Nataku--" Wufei protested automatically.

"Rashid will take care of her. Come on!"

"You can't fight Quatre, Wu-chan," Duo murmured, tugging lightly on Wufei hand.

Wufei grinned unexpectedly. "I know."

They hefted the remaining two bags and followed the easily chattering Quatre, listening in bemusement as he detailed the battle to free Shinigami, and Howard's misadventures working with the Maganac fighters.

"So what have you two been up to?" he asked, turning to smile cheerfully at them over his shoulder.

"Uh...." Amazingly Duo blushed.

"Oh, look! The others are on the patio!" Quatre waved and veered, headed around the side of the mansion, in that direction.

The taller of the two figures lifted a hand in return, but the dark one was unmoving.

Wufei glanced over, watching Duo pale, and grimaced. He was startled when he felt Duo's fingers begin to slide from his own. He wasn't sure if it was because of Heero, or if it was because Duo didn't think he, Wufei, would want the others to see them holding hands, but either way he wasn't about to let go. Not now or ever!

"No you don't," he growled, jerking Duo's hand back into his own, twining their finger, and holding on so tightly that Duo squeaked in protest.

"Daijoubu desu ka?" Quatre turned, eyes wide. "Duo, are you all right?"

"H-hai!" Duo nodded emphatically, though he was still looking a little green. Quatre gave him a sharp look, then plowed resolutely on.

"Wufei..." Duo whispered. "Are you sure.... I mean, do you want the others to know...?"

"Duo Maxwell, if you think I care one whit about what anyone 'knows', you can think again!" To prove his point, Wufei lifted Duo's entrapped hand and pressed his lips to the white knuckles.

He was rewarded by seeing Duo's entire face light up, and breathed a silent sigh of relief that he had made the right decision. Sure now that Duo wouldn't try to squirm free, he loosened his punishing hold, though he still kept a firm grip, to try to give Duo the courage he was going to need when facing Heero.

As Quatre led them up onto the patio, Wufei noted with a bit of amusement that Trowa's one visible green eye was rounded with shock, and his normal blank expression was now colored with more than a little astonishment. Heero's face was as cold and shuttered as usual.

"Heya, Trowa!" Duo greeted merrily. "Heero...." He gulped, paling further as his eyes flickered over Heero's stiff features. Wufei squeezed his hand gently, stroking his thumb across Duo's wrist, and made sure he was standing between the two former lovers. Between Heero and *his* lover!

"Welcome back," Trowa said mildly, slowly regaining his composure.

"Would you like some tea?" Quatre asked, placing the duffel bag he had been carrying carefully on an unoccupied bench. "Or would you rather go rest?"

"Did you say you had Shinigami here?" Duo queried eagerly as he dumped his own bag, his eyes roaming everywhere except where Heero sat, stonily silent.

Quatre laughed lightly. "Hai! Would you like to go see--"

"YES!"

Wufei rolled his eyes up, grinning, and allowed Duo to drag him after Quatre as the smaller boy darted away toward the huge barn set into the trees behind the mansion. Trowa followed quietly behind. Heero remained on the patio.

Once Duo had ascertained that his beloved Gundam was in perfect shape, he allowed Quatre and Wufei to compel him back to the mansion. He was yawning widely and Wufei felt his own eyes growing a bit heavy. It *had* been a long trip....

There was no sign of Heero as they paused on the patio to retrieve their three bags, but a broken teacup lay in shards on the table where the boy had been sitting. Wufei grimaced, hoping Duo hadn't noticed that.

Quatre took one bag, Wufei one, and Trowa claimed the last, as Duo was beginning to limp pretty badly. Duo protested, but not very vehemently. He leaned heavily on Wufei as they entered the mansion and traveled a seemingly endless hallway.

Quatre paused uncertainly before a door that looked exactly the same as all the other doors lining the hall to Wufei's eyes. "Uh.... I had two rooms prepared, but I guess you'll only be needing one...?"

"Damn straight!" Duo replied before Wufei could open his mouth. Wufei looked pained at his lack of tact, while Trowa tried unsuccessfully to smother a grin.

Quatre's pale-gold cheeks pinked a little, but he was smiling brilliantly as he opened the door for them. "Ah! Sou ka!" He waved them inside, and he and Trowa set their bags down as Wufei allowed Duo to collapse unceremoniously on the bed.

"There's a bath there," Quatre waved a hand vaguely toward one side of the room, where there was indeed another door. "Do you want to be called for dinner, or shall I have something brought here?" he asked anxiously.

"We're not that tired," Wufei said, as Duo yawned hugely behind him. "We'll come to dinner."

"Ah!" Quatre nodded, beaming happily. He clasped his hands over his slim chest, his wide eyes shining fervently. "It's so great to have you guys back!"

"I'll bet," Duo said, sprawling loosely across the rich comforter covering the wide bed. "Between Trowa and He-Heero, you must be dying for some company that actually speaks!"

"Duo," Wufei glared, as Trowa smiled quietly and Quatre sputtered, ready to defend the pilot of the Heavyarms.

"Though I'm sure Trowa has his other good... shall we say... points...?" Duo leered suggestively, and looked quite ridiculous so doing.

Quatre turned a brilliant shade of red. Trowa was silent but seemed amused.

"Duo!" Wufei snapped.

"Nani?" Duo queried, his wide eyes gleaming as he smirked at Wufei.

"Shut up!"

Duo stuck out his tongue. "Make me!"

"I think this is where we excuse ourselves," Trowa said, now grinning broadly, as he placed a hand on Quatre's shoulder and steered him toward the door.

"Duo...." Wufei started toward the bed as Trowa firmly closed the door behind himself and the furiously blushing Quatre.

Duo 'eep'ed and scooted backwards. "Now, Wu-chan, no need to be so--"

Wufei pounced and both boys rolled across the rapidly tangling bedspread, limbs locked, lips fused to one another. Wufei was well aware that they were both overreacting to the stress of facing the others, and more specifically Heero, but there wasn't any way he was going to stop it. He couldn't even if he wanted to.

Which he most definitely didn't.

"Wu... don'tcha think you should lock the door?" Duo queried breathlessly, as Wufei pulled the American's shirt over his head.

Wufei considered. Duo was right. Especially with... someone... around.

Duo quickly stripped out of the rest of his clothes as Wufei rolled off the bed and crossed the room to secure the door. The Chinese boy, in addition, shoved a chair up underneath the handle, just to be sure.

"Wow!" Duo bounced on the mattress, grinning madly and watching with gleaming eyes as Wufei pulled off his own tanktop on the way back over to him. "This is a lot softer than the bed we've been using!" He rolled over onto his stomach. "Bigger too! There's actually room to move around!"

"That's a good thing, right?" Wufei asked, clambering back onto the bed and tugging the band off of Duo's thick braid. He ran his hands through the long hair, unraveling the work he'd done that morning, sending silken strands spilling across his wrists, his legs, Duo's bare back....

"A very good thing." Duo squirmed up into his lap and pressed him back into the piled pillows as he claimed his lips once more, his tongue thrusting deeply into Wufei's mouth. Wufei sent his own tongue driving back. He wrapped his arms around Duo, tightly clasping his bare buttocks through the loose curtain of his hair as Duo settled firmly between his thighs. Duo moaned into his mouth and rubbed against him, inflaming them both more violently.

"You're mine, Duo," Wufei gritted, releasing Duo's mouth and rolling them both over, so that he was now lying atop the other boy, the long chestnut hair tangled around and between their close pressed bodies. He sucked hard on the soft flesh of Duo's neck, digging his teeth in almost harshly enough to draw blood. "Mine!"

Duo sobbed for breath, his hands wildly roaming the tense muscles of Wufei's back, his head tossed back. "I love you, Wufei," he gasped out, wrapping his legs about Wufei's, pulling the other boy as tightly to him as possible. "I do! I... I got to see Heero and now I *know* it! I *love* you!!"

Wufei felt as though his heart might burst, as it swelled too large for his chest to contain it, tears of wonderful pain springing unbidden to his eyes. He collapsed against Duo, nuzzling the other boy's smooth cheek, allowing the hot tears to fall like rain. "I love you, Duo," he whispered in Duo's ear, following the softly spoken, sincere words with his tongue, causing the other boy to yelp and squirm erotically beneath him.

"Wu!" Duo gasped, driving his hips upwards into Wufei's. Wufei reached down and grasped a soft hip, pulling himself away from Duo, who tried to cling tightly. Not yet. Not that quickly. He was going to take his time. Now that he was actually sure enough of himself, he was going to do it right.

"Wufei!" Duo protested, his arms wrapped around Wufei's neck, his breath blowing hot over the other boy's flushed cheek, wafting the loose black hair. "Wu...!"

"Let me love you, Duo," Wufei requested, stroking Duo's sweat-damp hair back from his face with gentle hands. "Please."

Duo fell back into the blankets, his face startled and completely open, his eyes dark with emotion and desire. "Wufei...."

Wufei bent and kissed him lightly, gently, opening Duo's lips with his own, slipping his tongue slowly in to play about the curves and contours of Duo's mouth. Duo's breath sobbed in his throat, and his arms trembled around Wufei's shoulders. He tentatively curled his own tongue up, asking, wanting, and Wufei encouraged him, allowing Duo's tongue to dance in his own mouth for a time.

Finally he pulled away, pressing light kisses along Duo's arched neck, avoiding the area he had wounded earlier, trailing his way down to the taut collarbones. He traced his tongue over the delicate curve of bone under thin flesh, nuzzling the hollow at their center, feeling Duo's mad pulse beating against his lips.

"Wufei..." Duo whimpered, tossing his head against the pillows as Wufei moved down to the smooth flesh of his chest, hands caressing, lips working. He cried out and arched upwards as Wufei took one small pink nipple in his mouth, rolling his tongue around the puckered flesh, suckling gently. "Ah!" He grasped at Wufei's head, his fingers twining through the long black hair, shaking as they cupped the curve of Wufei's skull. "Wufei!"

Wufei smiled against Duo's chest, gratified beyond anything he'd ever felt that he could have this effect on Duo. He hadn't just been enjoying Duo's own ministrations in their earlier bouts into love-making; he'd also been learning. And now it was time to apply everything Duo had unknowingly taught him.

He stroked a hand lightly over Duo's upper stomach, feeling the tight muscles clench and twitch beneath his hand, as he moved his mouth over to the opposite side of Duo's chest, paying thorough attention to the other nipple. Duo moaned and writhed beneath him, seemingly more affected by the fact that it was Wufei doing this to him than by the pleasurable sensations themselves.

He choked out Wufei's name again and again as Wufei kissed and licked his way down the sweat-slicked muscles of his stomach, his back arching, his hands frantic on Wufei's shoulders. His whole body shuddered as Wufei paused to press a wet kiss to his navel, his tongue flickering briefly inside. Then he sobbed and strained as Wufei's hungry mouth moved lower still, playing over the taut abdomen and sharp hip bones.

"Ah, shit, Wufei!" he panted, his arms braced over his head, clutching at the pillow, his back arching convulsively off the bed as Wufei ran tender hands over his tight thighs, moving further and further upwards, while his mouth moved ever lower. "Ah!"

Then Duo's head lashed back, his neck a taut cord, no sound emerging from his open mouth, his entire body locked, as Wufei finally moved his hot, eager mouth to engulf the stiff, upright proof of Duo's passion. Wufei took in as much of Duo as he could, not wanting to torture his lover too much.

Duo cried out incoherently, his hips thrusting, his eyes tightly closed, sweat streaming down his flushed face. Wufei's name escaped his lips as a strangled sound and he writhed beneath the other boy.

"Wait! Wu-Wufei, wait!" Duo finally managed to choke out.

Wufei lifted his head, with one last flicker of his tongue across the tip of Duo's member, savoring the taste of Duo's seed. "Nn?"

Duo gazed down at him, gasping for breath, his chest heaving, his face flushed, his eyes heavy-lidded and nearly black. "I want.... I want you inside me, Wufei...."

Wufei was having trouble controlling his own ragged breathing, and his erection was a hot, hard ache against the tangled bedclothes. "Ah...." He nodded, moving back up to kiss Duo deeply, allowing Duo's tongue to play across the roof of his mouth.

He pulled away and looked deeply into Duo's eyes, suddenly uncertain. "Duo, I'm not sure...."

Duo kissed him briefly. "Just let me handle it."

He watched with a curious gaze, pushing sweat-soaked hair from his face, as Duo leaned over the edge of the bed and grabbed his pants, groping in the pocket. "Duo, what are you- -"

"Ah-hah!" Duo tugged out a small container. Wufei raised a brow.

"And when did you acquire that?"

Duo didn't answer, just plastered him with a wet kiss, pushing at one shoulder. "On your back, Wufei. Please?"

Wufei obliged, watching in fascination as Duo unscrewed the lid of the small bottle and a sweet-sharp smell, some sort of musky spice, filled the room, mingling with the powerful scent of their arousal and the biting odor of fresh sweat. Duo scooped a dollop up in his fingers and bent to kiss the muscles of Wufei's stomach as he smoothed the cream carefully over the other boy's erection, rolling the hard, hot flesh softly between his palms.

Wufei bit his lip sharply to keep back a cry, his entire body arching into that teasing touch.

"Duo!"

Duo hushed him as he straddled Wufei's hips, slowly lowering himself over his lover, guiding Wufei's member into the tight, enclosed space of his own body, settling himself firmly downward.

Wufei groaned, his back arching, using every ounce of willpower he possessed not to grab Duo and thrust fully into that sweet warmth. But he didn't want to risk hurting Duo.

Finally Duo was seated all the way, and he leaned forward, wrapping his arms around Wufei's neck, his own heated erection pressed between their sweat-slick stomachs, his breath rasping harshly in Wufei's ear.

"I love you," Duo breathed, beginning to move over Wufei, driving the other boy's hardness deeper into his body. "I love you...."

Wufei held Duo close, thrusting his hips, unable to do anything but experience the exquisite feeling of being with Duo, being inside Duo.... Conscious thought was forsaken as the two boys began grinding more fiercely together. Duo's breath was hot and wet against Wufei's neck, his cheek pressed tightly against Wufei's. Wufei closed his arms around Duo's waist, his fingers digging deeply into Duo's soft flesh, his body moving rhythmically toward release.

With a keening cry, Duo flung his head back, his hair tumbling about his shoulders, pooling over Wufei's chest, as his orgasm struck, spilling his hot seed between their tightly clasped bodies. His body clenched convulsively about Wufei's, and Wufei also reached his pinnacle, driving his hips sharply upwards one last time, his breath a hoarse shout in his taut throat.

Then Duo fell atop Wufei, clasping his flushed face between shaking hands, dropping soft kisses over Wufei's cheeks, lips, nose, brow, interspersed with the whispered words, "I love you.... I love you...."

Wufei held Duo close, tears streaming free as he opened his eyes. Duo gazed down tenderly, then kissed him sweetly.

"I love you, Duo," he replied, rolling them carefully over and snagging the bunched up bedspread, tugging it over their lax bodies. He tightened his arms, his lips tracing wonderingly over Duo's closed lids, tasting Duo's own tears salty on his lips. "I love you...."

The two boys fell asleep, wrapped tightly around one another, bodies and souls.


Wufei awoke, groggy and disoriented, to a steady, annoying knocking on the door. After taking about half a minute to remember where they were, and why someone would be at the door, he managed to roll over and call out grumpily;

"Nanda?"

Duo murmured a protest and buried his face against Wufei's shoulder.

"Anou.... Sumimasen. But Quatre-sama said you asked to be called for dinner?" an anonymous servant's voice came through the thick wood.

"K'so!"

"Quatre-sama instructed me to call you half an hour before mealtime...."

"All right, all right. Ninmu ryoukai."

"Excuse me?"

Wufei growled and sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. "We're awake. Go away," he clarified.

Behind him Duo giggled, stirring. "You're such a bear when you wake up, Wu-chan," he said affectionately, stretching luxuriantly.

Wufei yawned. "Yeah, well...."

Duo embraced him from behind, resting his cheek against Wufei's shoulderblade. "I guess we ought to bathe," he sighed.

Wufei couldn't help smiling. "It would only be polite. For Quatre's sake. He *is* our host, after all...."

"Ha."

Wufei stood and helped Duo up.

"I'm starving!" Duo exclaimed suddenly, clutching at his stomach.

"Well, the sooner we wash, the sooner we can go to dinner."

Duo dragged Wufei to the bathroom. His wide eyes lit up as he flung open the door and strode in. "Whoa! Wild!"

"Not bad," Wufei grudged, eyeing the lavish decor with an approving eye.

"That shower looks like it's just about big enough for two..." Duo commented, a wicked smirk curving his lips.

"Duo, I thought you were starving," Wufei protested as Duo tugged him across the bathroom with determination.

"Oh, I am," Duo drawled, his eyes gleaming.

"Duo...."


"Sorry we're late," Duo apologized, sliding into his chair at the long oak table.

Wufei growled something that might have been interpreted as an apology... maybe... as he sat next to Duo. "It's your fault," he muttered at Duo, who just grinned cheerfully.

Quatre was openly staring at both the boys, his jaw slack.

Duo was still damp and flushed from the shower, his open face shining. He was wearing a black turtleneck and tight black pants with a short scarlet vest, and his hair was unbraided still, flowing loose down his back. There hadn't been any time for he or Wufei to do anything with it.

Wufei was equally damp and flushed, his hair falling wet and unbound in his face. He was clad in a loose white shirt, the collar and sleeves casually unbuttoned, and a pair of faded blue jeans.

"Anou...." Quatre faltered. He wasn't used to seeing his fellow Gundam pilots in anything other than their regular outfits. "Dai-daijoubu!"

Trowa hid a slight smile behind a long, slender hand, his slanted green eyes gleaming. "The food is still warm, so you're not all that late."

"Yosh'!!" Duo grabbed his plate and dove in, helping himself generously.

Wufei eyed the enthusiastic American pilot, and decided prudently to wait his turn. "Where's Heero?" he asked Trowa.

The spoon Duo was wielding clashed against the side of the bowl, but then he recovered quickly, plopping down his heavy plate and grabbing Wufei's. He began piling the food on that one as well, causing Quatre to blink.

"He already ate," Trowa said softly. "He didn't see any need to wait for you."

Wufei snorted, more glad than anything. Duo placed his plate carefully before him, and then sat. He was a little pale, but seemed determined not to let the direction of this conversation affect him. Still, Wufei's hand sought out his under the table, and the Chinese boy pressed his fingers comfortingly. Duo squeezed back, then released Wufei's hands and grabbed his utensils.

"Arigatou, Quatre!" Duo said cheerfully, his grin wide and sincere as he recovered his good mood. "You're one kick-ass guy, you know that? I sure hope someone appreciates you for all that you are!" He shot a glance at Trowa that was about as subtle as a load of bricks dropped from a second story window. Wufei casually smacked him upside the head as Quatre blushed and Trowa simply eyed Duo in amusement.

"Itai!" Duo glared. "Wu-chan!"

"Eat your food!"

Duo wrinkled his nose, but then heeded Wufei's order, digging in with gusto.

"So, what has been going on the past month?" Wufei asked Trowa as the other three boys began their meal. The two pilots spent the rest of dinner getting Wufei caught up on the current situations on the Earth and in space, and discussing possible future missions. Quatre occasionally added to their conversation, but Duo spent the whole time eating and sneaking peeks at Wufei when he thought no one would notice. Of course everyone did notice. Wufei took it stoically, Trowa calmly, and Quatre seemed to find it romantic, judging from the way his already gentle eyes softened and his pink lips curved sweetly.

The sun was setting in a brilliant blaze when they finished eating, and so the four boys returned to the patio to enjoy this natural beauty with the eyes of those who are too often aware that they might never see another sunset. They were young in body, but they were old in spirit, watching the world through warrior's eyes, not the eyes of the children they should have been.

Duo snuggled close to Wufei, seeming more enchanted by the fact that Wufei openly wrapped a tight arm about his waist that he was by the view before them. Wufei affected not to notice when Quatre hesitantly groped a hand toward Trowa, and Trowa's lean fingers curled protectively around the smaller boy's.

As the horizon before them faded to dim violet-pink and the indigo-black sky above the mansion filled with sparkling stars, Duo leaned more and more heavily against Wufei, yawning fiercely.

"Come on, Duo. Let's get you to bed," Wufei said, amused affection rich in his voice. Trowa and Quatre silently wandered down to the lawn, for some star gazing, or other activities, as Wufei turned a sleepily protesting Duo and guided him inside.

As they reached their door in the long hall, Duo's heavy-lidded eyes gleamed, more awake than previously, and he pressed Wufei up against the wood, before the Chinese boy could turn the knob. Duo's warm, eager hands squirmed up under the loose white shirt, his face nuzzled against Wufei's bared chest. "Did I tell you how sexy you look dressed like this, Wu-chan?" he murmured, his lips brushing softly over the bronze silk of Wufei's neck.

Wufei tangled his fingers in Duo's loose hair and pulled his face up for a long, deep kiss. Duo's hands slid around underneath the shirt, caressing his sides, then curving down to cup his buttocks through the faded jeans, pulling Wufei's hips tightly against his own. Wufei bit at Duo's lower lip, nibbling, then tugging gently, dragging a low moan out of the other boy's throat.

Finally, drawing back, he smiled, his black eyes gleaming. "Are you ready for bed yet?" he asked, kissing Duo's nose lightly.

Duo gazed at him silently, his face glowing with happiness. "I love you, Wufei," he said, pressing Wufei closer against the door with a determined twist of his hips. He moved his mouth to Wufei's neck, hot, wet suction sending waves of pure pleasure flaring from Wufei's groin to his chest and knees, heat rushing through his body. He hadn't thought he could feel like this again so soon after their afternoon exertions.

"I love you too," he replied huskily, burying his face in Duo's loose hair, which smelled faintly of citrus-scented shampoo, sweat, and that unique, indefinable essence of Duo, that no one else possessed. He ran his fingers through the thick strands flowing down Duo back, to press his palms against the boy's tight pants, stroking his fingers softly over the smooth material covering Duo's rear. Duo shivered against him, his hips thrusting more urgently against Wufei's.

Wufei loosened a hand to reach back, and twisted the knob, spilling them both into the privacy of their dark bedroom without breaking their clinch.

And as he lifted his face from Duo's hair in the moment before closing the door behind them, he stared straight into a pair of blazing cobalt blue eyes.

K'so! How long had Heero been standing in the doorway across the hall?!

"Wu...?"

He blinked, then carefully locked the door and replaced the chair before he finally joined Duo on the bed.

"You know," Duo said, his eyes dark, his voice deep as he reached forward. "As sexy as you look in this shirt, you look even more sexy out of it."

Wufei resolutely put Heero out of his mind as he helped Duo fumble with his buttons. That was something for tomorrow. Tonight was theirs.


"Duo?"

"Mm? Ne, Wufei?" Duo blinked sleepily at Wufei from where he was lounging on the bed, as the Chinese boy turned from where he'd been standing, arms folded, staring out the window. "Uh-oh. You've got that look, Wu-chan."

Wufei raised a brow. "What look?"

Duo pulled a face. "The 'I'm going to say something I don't like, that Duo won't like, but it's got to be said for his own good' look."

Wufei blinked, startled. Duo knew him that well?

"So what is it, Wu, man? Spit it out and get it over with."

Wufei grimaced. "You won't like it."

Duo rolled his eyes and sat up. "I know *that* already, or you wouldn't look so grim!"

"I think you should talk to Heero."

"Wauk!" Duo fell over, clutching his chest. Then he rolled onto his belly, his braid hanging over the edge of the bed, and glared at Wufei through tumbled bangs. "That's not funny, Wufei!"

"I didn't say it was."

"He broke up with me!"

"Oh?" Wufei raised the other brow. "From what I recall, you asked him if he loved you, and he said no. Unless there's more to the story, that doesn't sound like a break-up to me."

"Aaawww!" Duo whined, his face drawn in a pained expression. "I don't wanna talk to him! Wu-chan, I can't believe you want me to talk to him!"

"I *don't* want you to," Wufei said, surprising Duo with his vehemence as he crossed and knelt beside the bed, grabbing Duo's face and kissing him roughly, possessively. "I can't think of much of anything I want less!"

Duo blinked into Wufei's fiery black eyes, a confused little frown creasing between his brows. "Th-then... why do you...?"

"Because as Gundam pilots we have to be united. Whatever conflicts there between us have to be resolved. And because I think you need the closure."

Duo gazed long into Wufei's earnest face, then moved forward to run his lips briefly over Wufei's. "Will you come with me?"

Wufei pulled away, then sat on the edge of the bed, tugging on Duo's braid as the other boy curled in his lap. "Sort of. I can't be right there while you guys talk because it's too personal, but I'm not *about* to let you out of my sight. We'll work something out."

"You don't trust him, do you?" Duo looked up at him with wide indigo-blue eyes.

Wufei glared. "He hurt you." That was answer enough for him.

With a happy sigh, Duo surged up and draped himself over Wufei, knocking both of them over the edge of the bed and onto the floor, in a tangle of bedsheets, lean limbs, and one thick brown braid.

"Itai! Duo!" Wufei protested as Duo landed heavily on top of him.

Duo answered with a deep, passionate kiss, and a suggestive squirm of his body over Wufei's. Wufei surrendered to the inevitable. Besides, both he and Duo needed the reassurance.


"It's almost noon," Trowa commented quietly as Duo and Wufei finally made their way into what had apparently once been a small parlor, but which had now filled with computers, maps, print-outs, and various other items OZ would be very, very interested in.

Wufei shrugged while Duo blushed a little. "Did we miss anything?"

"Not really." Trowa returned to where he was leaning over the back of Quatre's chair, as the small blonde's fingers flew over the keyboard. "It looks as though we may be moving out in a few days, though."

Duo grimaced and tightened his grip on Wufei's hand. Wufei squeezed back.

"As long as we're together," Duo whispered in his ear. Wufei nodded, pulling Duo over with him to watch the data flicker on Quatre's screen for a moment.

"Where's Heero?" he asked Trowa, then grunted as Duo elbowed him sharply.

"At the shooting range I think."

"Arigatou."

Wufei turned to leave, but Duo set in his heels, shaking his head, his braid snapping. "No way, Wu, man! I'm not going near that guy when he has a gun! No way!"

Wufei hauled on Duo's hand with determination, and Duo's weak leg betrayed him, buckling and sending him stumbling after his lover. "Noooo!" Duo wailed as he was dragged from the room. He clutched at Trowa's sleeve, but missed.

"Wufeeeee~eiiiiiiii!!"

Quatre turned in his chair, staring after them with huge blue eyes. "Do you think they'll be all right?" he asked anxiously, gazing up at Trowa.

Trowa looked back impassively. "It's their business, not ours." Then his face softened almost imperceptibly. "Don't worry. Wufei can take care of things."

"Ah...." Quatre didn't sound entirely certain, but he turned back to the computer. "Ganbatte, Duo," he whispered softly, then smiled as he felt Trowa's fingers tangle gently in his hair.

"They'll be all right."

"Ah."


"Nonononononononono...."

"Duo." Wufei stopped abruptly and Duo slammed into his hard shoulder.

"Uf! Itai!" He rubbed his chest, grimacing. "Nanda, Wufei?"

Wufei turned, his black eyes flashing. "If you don't want to do this... really don't want to do this... then don't."

Duo blinked, his expression startled. "Na-nani?"

Wufei shook his head, reaching up his free hand to softly stroke one of Duo's cheeks. "I can't force you. I *won't* force you. I just...." He swallowed thickly and shook his head again. "If you don't want to...."

Duo frowned. "I don't want to. But I will. I'll do it... for you, Wufei."

"Iie. You have to do this for yoursel--"

"I can't!" Duo interrupted. His face twisted and he pulled the hand still twined in his up to clasp it against his chest in both his own. "I'm not as brave as you, Wufei. I can babble forever, but I can never say anything really important! Well, almost never," he added, evidently thinking of the times he'd told Wufei he loved him. He shook his head. "I'm enough of a coward that I could never talk to Heero for my own sake. But if I'm doing it for you... maybe I can capture a little of your courage. If I do it for you...."

Wufei wrapped his free arm around Duo's neck and tugged him in for a long, sweet kiss. They were standing in the middle of the lawn, in plain sight of anyone who might happen to glance their way, but he didn't care. When it concerned Duo, he wanted the whole world to know how he felt.

Duo stiffened a moment, instinctively, but then he melted into the embrace, taking in not only the action, but the intent behind it.

"Wufei..." he murmured against the other boy's lips, then they gave themselves over to tactile enjoyment for a long moment.

"That's cute," a slightly nasal, sinkingly familiar voice suddenly spoke, breaking into their interlude.

They pulled apart and looked over at Heero, who was siting down a rifle barrel at them.

"If I were OZ, you'd be dead," he said in a flat monotone, as Duo squeaked in fear and ducked behind Wufei.

Wufei snorted and folded his arms, gazing down his nose at the other boy, ignoring the blue-steel death staring him in the face. "If you were OZ, you'd be dead already."

Heero sneered and lowered the gun.

Duo edged slowly around Wufei, clinging to his arm, his eyes flickering back and forth between the firearm in Heero's hands and the Gundam pilot's frozen face. "Um, Hee--" his voice broke and he gulped as Heero's burning gaze fixed on him. "Heero, we need to talk."

Heero's face grew, if anything, colder. "No. We don't."

"Heero!" Duo lurched forward as Heero turned to walk away, grabbing at the other pilot. Heero wrenched his arm away violently, and Duo faltered, his bad leg giving out, tumbling him backwards into the grass just as Heero raised the butt of the gun.

Wufei's hand struck swifter than thought, catching the rifle in an iron grip. "You're lucky he fell," the Chinese boy said evenly, his face a rigid mask. Even Heero took a step back at the ice-cold fury in those slanted black eyes. "Give. Me. The. Gun."

Duo scrambled awkwardly to his feet. "Don't kill him, Wufei!" he begged, looking fearfully at the two pilots stuck in a frozen tableau. "Wufei! Heero! Oh, shit, you guys! Don't--"

Heero released the gun, allowing Wufei to claim it. Duo gulped, wringing his braid nervously in both hands.

Wufei tucked the rifle under his arm, his face still utterly expressionless. "You and Duo are going to go over to the patio, and sit and talk. I will remain here. If you so much as touch a hair on his head, you are dead. Do you understand me?"

Duo's eyes widened. Heero didn't take orders well; not from anyone other than Dr. J at any rate. There was no way he was going to--

"Ninmu ryoukai."

Duo gaped. Wufei nodded shortly, his fierce gaze softening slightly. Heero turned and moved stiffly toward the patio.

"Wu...?"

"Go with him, Duo." Wufei grabbed the nape of Duo's neck and pressed a hard, quick kiss to his mouth, before shoving him gently after Heero. "Go talk."

"A... ah!" Duo blinked over his shoulder at Wufei, then his face firmed. "M-matte, Heero! Matte!"

Wufei felt his heart clench as Duo limped as quickly as he could after the other pilot.

He hoped he was doing the right thing....


About five minutes later, under Wufei's eagle eye, Heero rose and stalked into the mansion, leaving Duo sitting at the table, staring down at his clasped hands, his head bowed, his shoulders slumped.

Wufei wasn't sure whether he ought to go to Duo, or leave him alone. His only other relationship had been built on resentment and mutual dislike, and he'd only realized he'd had true feelings for Nataku after her death. So he wasn't sure....

Well, the best thing would be to go to Duo. If Duo needed him, he had to be there. If Duo rebuffed him... it would hurt, but he could take it.

It was, after all, *his* fault this confrontation had been forced. It would be completely wrong for him to bow out now; worse than cowardly, it would be unforgivable.

He strode swiftly across the lawn to the patio. Placing the rifle on the bench to the opposite side of the table from Duo -- just to be safe -- he moved to stand beside the silent boy. His hand hovered over Duo's shoulder, but he wasn't sure yet....

"Duo?"

Duo raised his head, tears tracking down his cheeks, but a strangely tranquil look on his face. "Daijoubu, Wufei," he said softly, standing and pressing against Wufei's chest, his arms circling about the slim waist. "It's... it's all right... I think."

Wufei clasped his arms tightly about Duo in relief, causing the boy to squeak in discomfort. He buried his face in Duo's thick hair. "Honto ni...?"

"Ah. Daijoubu."

"And Heero...?"

Duo shook his head. "I'll... I'll talk about it later, Wufei.... Later. Right now, I... I just *can't*--"

"Wakatta." Wufei squeezed Duo, then pulled back to kiss his forehead. "Are you angry with me?" he asked anxiously, gazing into Duo's pale face.

Duo's teary eyes widened in shock. "Why would I be angry, Wufei?" he demanded, his arms tightening. Wufei felt his heart lift, both at the words and at the true surprise he could hear behind their tone. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me!" Duo added seriously, his gaze fixed on Wufei's.

Wufei's breath caught in his throat and he just had to kiss Duo, before he did something stupid, like bursting into tears.

"Duo! Wufei! Lunch is-- Eep!"

They both looked over to the patio doorway, where Quatre was slowly turning red, his hands clapped over his mouth.

Wufei rolled up his eyes as Duo laughed ruefully. "This happens far too often!"

"Wouldn't happen if we waited until we were in our bedroom," Wufei admitted sheepishly.

"Ne, Wu-chan, I'm hungry!" Duo protested. "I wanna eat lunch first!"

Wufei blinked incredulously as poor Quatre scuttled quickly inside. "Duo! You hentai! I wasn't suggesting anything!"

"You weren't?" Duo pouted. "Now I'm disappointed!"

"Duo...!"

Wufei chased Duo into the mansion, as the American boy laughed madly.


"Kuso...."

Wufei frowned at the computer screen. This was a legitimate problem Trowa had asked his help with, and yet he couldn't shake the nagging feeling that the taller boy was... stalling... somehow, for some reason.

Well, Duo was with Quatre, so Wufei didn't have to worry too much about him. Not that he didn't still worry anyway, but he could trust Quatre to take care of Duo. The gods knew Duo wasn't often capable of taking care of himself. Not when it really mattered, anyway.

"There." He sat back and rubbed his eyes wearily. It was past ten, and he was feeling cross-eyed from staring at the computer screen so long. "I hope that was handled to your satisfaction."

Trowa picked up the print-out and scanned it quickly as Wufei stood and stretched, listening to his back cracking. "Perfect," Trowa finally murmured, his voice so emotionless that the word didn't even sound like a compliment.

Wufei shook his head, then pushed black hair out of his face. "Is that everything?"

"Hai." Trowa sat down at the computer and began typing rapidly, completely dismissing Wufei's presence.

Well used to this treatment from the quiet boy and beyond ready for bed, Wufei crossed to the door. It opened before he reached it, and Quatre slipped in. Wufei stiffened.

"Where's--"

"He's waiting in your room," Quatre hastened to assure him, a sweet smile lighting his soft face. "Daijoubu."

Wufei smiled back, noting with amusement Quatre's surprise at this sincere expression. He hadn't been able to replace his old masks since rejoining the others, nor did he wish to. They would just have to learn to deal with the real Wufei.

"See if you can get that baka off the machine," he instructed, cocking a thumb over his shoulder at Trowa. Quatre colored slightly and Wufei grinned. "Sleep well, Quatre."

"You too, Wufei," Quatre replied, a little too quickly, a strange gleam in his wide eyes. Wufei gave him an odd look as Quatre brushed past him, headed toward the sudden silence that had overtaken the clacking of a keyboard being used. Then he shook his head and sighed, leaving the other two pilots to... whatever they had with each other. He wasn't sure, but, then, it wasn't really any of his business.

He yawned as he walked down the hall. Gods, he was tired. But it was a good tired. Not the sick weariness he was all too used to; the bone-deep fatigue that not even a full night's sleep could touch. This was a healthy sort of tired. Duo had far too much energy, and -- he blushed -- a raging libido. He was going to have his hands full in the future....

Pun most definitely intended.

Yawning so widely he thought his jaw would crack, he finally reached the hall in the guest wing where his room was... where Duo waited.

He stopped dead in his tracks, however, when another door opened; the one across from his and Duo's room.

Heero was wearing his uniform tanktop and spandex shorts, and there was very little chance of concealing a weapon in that outfit, but Wufei tensed immediately. After all, when the boy's hands could bend steel he didn't *need* a weapon!

Brilliant blue eyes blazing into Wufei's, Heero strode forward, his steps certain, unhurried. Wufei scowled, standing stiff, ready to defend himself, but trying not to look as though he welcomed a fight. He didn't relish being beat up by Heero, but neither was he going to turn tail and flee like a coward. He hoped it wouldn't come down to violence, but if it did....

Heero came to a stop directly before him, so close he could feel the other boy's body heat, and one hand snapped forward, grasping his upper arm painfully. Wufei didn't flinch, just continued to glare at Heero, trying to read that blank face, those burning eyes.

Heero's hand tightened, and Wufei could feel the bones of his arm grating against one another.

"Take good care of him," Heero gritted out, the words seeming to force themselves through a constricted throat.

Wufei's brows rose. But he really ought not to be surprised, he told himself.

"I fully intend to."

Heero gave a sharp nod, then released his arm and continued down the hall. Wufei looked after him, taking in the taut back and stiff shoulders. He couldn't help but feel for the other pilot. Losing Duo....

Then he winced and rubbed his arm. There was going to be a massive bruise there tomorrow!

"Kisama...."

Sighing deeply, he strode to his own door and grasped the knob. He hoped Duo was already in bed. It was late, and the American pilot was still recovering from the wounds he'd received a month or so ago.

He slipped quietly inside, not wishing to disturb Duo if he was indeed asleep, and silently closed the door behind him before turning.

The first thing that captured his notice was a soft, sweet fragrance. After a moment, he placed it as the scent of roses. The room was dark but filled with a soft golden glow that flickered strangely.

After giving his eyes a moment to adjust, Wufei looked around. There were a dozen small candles set on the table in gleaming holders. More candles ranged along the mantel of a fireplace he hadn't even noticed previously, wherein a small fire crackled quietly. Vases filled with roses were set everywhere about the room, the blooms so close to black in the dim light that they must in actuality be a deep crimson shade. There were gauzy white swathes of linen draped artistically over the window, over the furniture, hiding the end of the bed....

And in the midst of all this amatory splendor sat the most beautiful ornamentation the room could boast.

Crosslegged on the floor before the bed was Duo. He was wearing a pair of dark pants, and a thin white silk shirt was literally hanging off his shoulders. Loose hair cascaded about his face and over his bare chest, the smooth dark streams shot through with gleaming threads of pure gold. His pale skin was brushed to a warm glow by the candlelight, his heavy-lidded eyes deep and smoldering.

The entire effect was slightly marred by the wide grin curving his lips, but as far as Wufei was concerned, that was the most sensual thing about him.

"Duo, what...?" he began, taking a step into the room, unable to take his gaze off of the glorious young boy before him.

Duo's smirk broadened and he leapt to his feet, bounding across the room, and into Wufei's ready embrace. "D'ya like it?" he asked cheerfully, wrapping his arms around Wufei's neck and pressing him unsubtly back against the door.

"A-ah!" Wufei blinked. "But why did you--"

Duo cut him off with a long, deep kiss, and he gladly gave over his curiosity to be replaced by the sensation of Duo's lips warm and firm on his own, Duo's tongue a demanding squirm in his mouth.

Finally Duo pulled away, giving them both a chance to catch their breath. The room smelled like roses, but Duo himself carried the warm scent of musk and arousal. "Duo...."

"I wanted to do something for you," Duo said softly, nuzzling Wufei's nose with his own, his soft hair brushing the other boy's cheek, spilling to surround their close-pressed bodies in a thin curtain. "Because you've done so much for me."

"So, this is what you and Quatre were up to?" Wufei queried, leaning forward to kiss Duo's lips lightly, his fingers playing over the smooth planes of Duo's back through the silk shirt, causing Duo to shiver and push against him.

"Ah. We got Trowa to distract you, and... and...." And Duo himself seemed to be becoming quite distracted, his lids fluttering over glazed eyes, his lips parting to sigh softly, as Wufei's hands roamed skillfully over his body. "Aa.... Wufei...."

"Duo...." Wufei claimed Duo's mouth again, tugging Duo more tightly against him.

After a long moment of eternity, Duo drew away, cheeks flushed, lips full and glistening, his breath gusting hot and wet over Wufei's face. "Hang on a sec, Wu," he said huskily, reluctantly freeing himself from Wufei's arms.

Wufei frowned, then watched avidly as Duo's lithe form darted about the room, blowing out candles, his hair wafting behind him like a soft shadow. Soon the only illumination came from the fire dying on the hearth, and a thin shaft of pale moonlight that managed to slice its way in through the window, dancing along the smooth line of Duo's cheek as he turned to Wufei.

Wordlessly, Duo raised a hand, beckoning. Wufei reached forward and clasped his fingers, warm and strong, solid in the darkness, then allowed Duo to drag him over to the bed, somehow shedding most of his clothing along the way.

"This is beautiful, Duo. Arigatou," Wufei murmured as Duo pulled him down onto the soft, fresh-smelling sheets. He traced a wet kiss along the line of Duo's jaw and up under his ear, his lips playing over the rapid pulse he found there.

Duo gasped and tightened his arms around Wufei's shoulders. "I wanted to... I wanted to show you... how much I love you..." he managed to gasp out.

"Show me, Duo," Wufei whispered, his words washing heated breath over Duo's ear, causing the other boy to shudder beneath him.

"I love you," Duo moaned, hands clenching on Wufei's back. "I love you, Wufei."

Wufei pulled back, gazing down into that sweet face, suddenly completely serious. He stroked silken hair back from Duo's eyes and kissed his brow gently. "I love you, Duo. Always and forever."

Duo gazed up at him, tears trickling down his cheeks, his mouth curving in a tender, vulnerable smile.

"Always and forever...."

"Forever...."

end


Find more of Kuwabara no Miko at BUNNY DOLL.