by Bronze Tigress

Strawberry Swirl + Chapter 2

Apr.9, AC197, 2130hrs
PHQ single residency apt. #205
(current home of Chang Wufei)

Braiding Duo's hair doesn't take Wufei very long, and he is soon asking for the elastic to wrap around the end. The skill itself is a familiar one, although when he learned it, he had been expecting to use it on his own queue, and not on a fellow ex-pilot's fingertip-length mane. And 'fellow' is exactly right, Wufei reminds himself. He is suddenly concerned, given Duo's quick request to get his hair finished, that he is being overly personal by resting his hands so. He knows well that the rules on contact differ here from those he grew up with, even given the difference between public and private spaces; he has seen a couple of... vigorous rejections of too-familiar contact in the short time he has been living in Sanq, and does not wish to have to defend himself against one. //Not that I couldn't defend myself! But I do not want to end up hurting Duo more in the process.//

So, Wufei is very careful how he phrases his next words. "There, your hair is all done. Hmm... This bench is too narrow to work on your back properly without a lot of shuffling, and this lovely industrial carpeting is not nearly as comfortable to lie on as a tatami would be; we could use the bed, though..."

Duo nods his thanks, then stands up and peers at the two closed doors. "Sounds like a good idea. I'm guessing that door is the bathroom, right? I think I need to visit there first..."

"Yes, it is; I'll just go... straighten up or something." //That went well... I think...//

Five minutes later, Duo peeks carefully around the corner of the bedroom doorway to see Wufei straightening the already perfectly-flat covers on the bed. Grinning a little to himself, he backs just as silently out of the room before 'making his exit' from the bathroom with a little less stealth. When he pokes his head around the doorframe this time, Wufei is sitting nonchalantly on the bed, apparently just waiting, and rolling a small bottle between his palms to warm it.

"Wufei? Ah, there you are... where do you want me?"

"Just here will be fine. You'll need to take the shirt off, too, so I can see what I'm doing better - and so that I have not been warming this for no purpose," he smiles wryly, holding up the bottle. //Much as I like that lovely tight red shirt on you, I'm sure it will look lovely on my floor as well.//

Duo smiles as well, and moves to undo the zipper at the throat of his red pullover shirt. However, when Duo grasps the shirt hem to pull it off over his head, he gasps suddenly, dropping the shirt and clutching his wrist instead. "Shit! That hurt..." Wufei is already standing beside him, concern written on his face, by the time he opens his eyes from squeezing them shut against the sudden pain of twisting the cracked bones against each other.

"Are you alright?" he asks. Duo nods slightly, so Wufei continues, "do you want to try again, or do you want some help?"

"Uff. I think I can manage, Wufei - just as long as I remember not to twist it again..." he replies wryly, reaching for the shirt again. This time he manages to slip the shirt off over his head with no further problems.

Wufei takes the opportunity, while Duo hangs his shirt carefully on the doorknob and then stretches himself out, catlike, face down on the near side of the bed, to appraise and admire the view. Duo's frame is still as slight as it ever was, although he, like all of the boys, has grown a little taller since the end of the Eve Wars. Nobody really had the time to notice things like that the last time they worked together, but there are now a few variations in height. Duo is nearly as tall as Trowa now, and Quatre is lagging behind the others somewhat. On the other hand, it seems likely that Wufei himself has nearly finished growing. If things keep on at this rate, Duo may well end up the tallest of the lot, Wufei muses. By the time Wufei's thoughts reach him again, Duo is situated and still, and Wufei moves to kneel on the bed beside him, leaning over slightly.

Wufei's hands are warm on Duo's shoulders where they first come to rest, almost impossibly gentle as they move his hair out of the way, brush away a few stray tendrils that didn't quite want to go into the braid, and moves the fine silver chain out of his way. //Lovely...// Pouring a small amount of the warmed massage oil into his palm and recapping the bottle, he starts, first skimming lightly over the upper part of the shoulders, then coming back again, more firmly, questing for the sore points, and finally settling in to work out the knots. The process is repeated on Duo's neck, after a murmured command and the guidance of gentle hands to turn his head straight.

When the muscles in Duo's neck have relaxed somewhat, Wufei enquires after stiffness or headache, and isn't terribly surprised to get affirmative answers to both. He thinks for a moment, thumbs still idly working the long muscles beneath them. //Well, he isn't Yui, after all, so perhaps it would be best... yes, he won't have the opportunity to tense up beforehand that way, but...//

"Do you trust me?" It seems an odd question given their relative positions to Duo, yet it spills from Wufei's lips as if it were the most natural thing in the Earthsphere to ask at this moment. Normally, Duo Maxwell wouldn't - doesn't - trust anyone as far as he could comfortably spit out a live rat. Make friends with, sure. Keep close? You betcha. Watch like a hawk? Abso-fucking-lutely. Trust? Hell, no.

On the other hand, this is Wufei, who has been saving the world alongside him, for the last two years, off and on, and whom he has never known to be less than honourable - although, to be sure, his choice in causes has been rather questionable from time to time. Still, it looks like he has currently chosen to spend his evening looking after one Duo Maxwell - and Wufei is not one to lightly change his mind. And after all, he realizes, he has already turned his back on the man... to say nothing of letting down his hair, or taking half his clothes off. In fact, now that he thinks about it, the question has, really, already been answered. //I wonder just when that happened...// The frozen moment of decision and realization ended, Duo nods, voicing a mumbled agreement as well.



Wufei nods as well, unaware of the full magnitude of the half-voiced confession but still somehow sensing some of its import. "Hmm... roll over, then, and slide down a little; it will make this next part easier..." Wufei stands up, and moves to the head of the bed, directing Duo to move downwards a little bit further. Duo is both confused by and curious about the request, but goes with it, purely on trust, for the moment. "Good, that's fine right there. Now relax, let your head be heavy..." Wufei instructs.

A knee settles beside one of Duo's shoulders, and then another by the other, and one strong hand comes to cradle the back of Duo's skull just at the base, stroking the muscles in his neck gently yet with a firm, sure movement of calloused fingers. Duo's eyes open wide as he stares up into those of the man who is now kneeling over his head.

Wufei looks down with a confident, yet somehow soft expression. With his free hand, he traces a finger down Duo's forehead, then down the bridge of his nose, and he says, softly, in a voice like warm honey, "close your eyes, Duo, and just... let go." Duo's eyelids obediently flutter down, as if dragged by voice and hand alike.

//Waitasec, did he just use my name?//

The finger skips from the tip of Duo's pert nose down to his chin and then a hand cups around his jaw. There is a sudden sharp *twist* and *jerk* and *crackcrackcrackpop* (1) and the hand on his jaw is moving smoothly and gently to trace along his jawbone and brush across the soft skin beneath his ear even as Duo's eyes are flying open and his hands are coming up off his chest to - well, to do something, before his ears register the liquid voice still speaking softly and steadily.

"Relax, Maxwell, I know exactly how hard I have to push before your pretty neck is in any danger, and that wasn't anywhere near hard enough," Wufei chuckles. "Although you nearly tagged me there. It does sound horrible, I know. Now, hush, relax again, let your head fall and we'll do the other side."

//Maybe not... but...//

The hands change position, the other one taking over the tracing of features this time, hesitating slightly at the dip of his chin before the hand settles on his jaw, and the thumb moves almost as if in a caress as it tightens before the *jerk * twist * POP* is repeated in the other direction. Duo tenses and shudders involuntarily at the sensation and most especially the sound, but once again it is done before he can really react.

"All done, Maxwell," comes Wufei's voice again, and Duo lets his eyes and fists unclench, as he takes a deep breath.

//Pretty neck? Did he just say... Oh, man... Please let me be reading him right, please...//

The movement Wufei makes is almost definitely a caress as the hand he has on Duo's chin moves to join the one already under his head, and then hard fingers press into the points where the neck and skull meet, seeming almost to be seeking to separate the two. Again, Duo's eyes fly open, once again meeting Wufei's warm gaze. "Afraid I might take your head off?" Wufei gives another slight chuckle at Duo's somewhat wide-eyed expression. "I promise, I'll put it back on again. I thought I might as well check some of the configuration switches while I had it off, though; has everything been running alright for you?" The barest hint of a smile, and a decided twitch to one eyebrow, pass across Wufei's face, and Duo blinks in shock, then laughs softly in answering humour.

"Leaving aside the fact that I'm not entirely sure I haven't just been called an idiot," he pauses, questions in eyes and voice. //Gentle hands... never guess they belonged a warrior...//

"Never that, Maxwell. You, too, were chosen by the Gundam," Wufei answers him. "I merely thought you might like a check of your volume settings; you have been very quiet this evening, and I was c... surprised."

//I wonder what he was going to say before he caught himself?//"It's been a very long day for me, Wufei - the time difference and all - and it's the busiest I've been in a while. Working in the scrapyard doesn't usually give you quite the same sort of adrenaline rush as saving the world! On the other hand," Duo continues, a light smirk dancing about the corners of his mouth, "maybe I ought to have my head examined; here I am lying half-naked in a strange man's bed, with my head in his lap, and all I can think of is that I wish he'd roll me over and work out some of my kinks..." //And man am I going to need to have it examined if I've read him wrong - right after they scrape me off the walls...//

Wufei's eyes widen almost comically as several possible implications of that particular phrase cross through his mind. //Ancestors, don't tell me he's flirting with me! Then again, maybe that isn't a bad thing...//

"Oh, don't look at me like that," Duo continues, laughing, "you are kinda strange, Chang-san, and I mean that in the nicest way. Nobody else quite like ya." //Still in one piece, that's good...//

"Aah, I suppose there is that." //Then again, if he is flirting with me...// A smirk of his own crosses Wufei's face before he adds, "but, right now, I would like you to roll over, and tell me all about these kinks you want to have me work out."

//Oh, Great Shinigami.// Duo chokes back a surprised snort on hearing these most unlikely words from his normally serious friend, then chuckles and rolls over, fetching up with his face pressed against one hard, well-muscled, uniform-clad thigh. "I can't believe you - you, of all people - just said that... heeheehee... Jeez - that's my line..."

Duo's head rubs lightly against Wufei's leg as his shoulders shake with quiet laughter, and his arms have landed on either side of Wufei's knee, one hand nearly brushing his ankle. Wufei freezes. //Too close, too damned close...// For an instant, he stops breathing altogether, before he grabs for his self-control again. //Ancestors! Does he know how good that feels? Breathe, Chang...// Slowly, too slowly, he calms.

When Duo's laughter subsides somewhat, Wufei lays a hand lightly on his back before moving, easing his knee out of Duo's hands before swinging off the bed. He grabs the bottle of oil again before taking the two steps down and back onto the bed to kneel straddling Duo's hips, knees at his waist, and carefully avoiding making any other contact. //No, that would probably not be a good idea,// he thinks, even as his hands begin their work on his patient's upper back. //I can't read him well enough to guess how he'd react to that... even if he was flirting with me just now. He may not lie, but that doesn't mean he would not imply something that was not, and a flirtation need never be serious...//

From there, things proceed smoothly for a while. Wufei concentrates on the job at hand, and as Duo's muscles relax down as far as the bottom of his ribs, so does some of the peculiar tension that has taken up residence halfway between Wufei's navel and heart. //Enjoy the moment while it is here, Chang; it is never the same river twice.//

As he gets to the small of Duo's back, however, he realizes his self-appointed task extends down past the waistband of Duo's pants. A few tentative passes over the heavy material convince him of the futility of trying to work through them. //Oh, damn it all; these things will have to come off to finish this properly. And I'll be damned if I can figure out whether that's a good thing or a bad one...// "Ah, Maxwell? Would you mind taking these off too?"

//Pants off? oh, shit...// "Um, are you sure you want me to do that, Wufei? I'm kinda not, uh..." //Sure picked a good day to go commando...//

"Ah." Without further words, Wufei opens a nearby drawer and reaching in blindly, grabs a small towel. "Drape that over your hips if it makes you feel better? I'll be right back, I need to get something..."

//Yeah, Chang - try an ice pack. What are you thinking of, or are you? Has it truly been so long since you laid hands on... no, check that, it has been that long... but Duo?// All the possible objections - that he is a foreigner, male, a nameless child of the streets, and quite probably most emphatically not willing or even interested, despite his teasing behaviour - flit through his mind and are dismissed as irrelevant except as they affect the last. Wufei stands in the middle of the kitchen for a good minute, staring unseeingly at the empty teapot on the countertop, before he realizes that the small rustling noises from the bedroom have stopped. //Get it together, Chang.//

Opening the fridge on impulse, he grabs a couple of cans of cold soda instead - something clear and nearly flavourless, but sweet and bubbly. //Good, I've still got these in here. I'm not used to the bubbles yet, and it'll help clear my head. I could use a clear head right about now...//

Heading back towards the bedroom door, he calls ahead, "Duo? Are you all set?"

"Yeah, I'm all ready for ya..."

//Oh, that is so not helping...// Wufei rounds the corner of the doorframe, eyes automatically going to the bed and its occupant. //Well, shit. That's the towel I gave 'Lan, just before we... No, don't go there.// Wufei sets one of the cans down on the bedside table and pops the tab on the other, taking a long slam before sitting down gingerly on the edge of the bed. //Do not go there...//

When Wufei looks up again, Duo is leaning up on his elbows, injured wrist resting on the bed, and taking a considerably more polite swallow from the second can. "Thank you, Wufei," he smiles.

A long silence follows, with no further movement on Wufei's part. "Wufei? You ok?"

"Ah. Yes. I... just realized which towel I grabbed; it brings back... memories."

"I'm sorry; do you want to get a different one?" //What memories?//

"I doubt it would help, Maxwell; it was just the crowning touch. That towel - it was part of the... gift I gave to my Nataku to apologize to her after our first fight - literally. She challenged me, mind you - something ridiculous about showing me her justice. I won the match, and lost the argument, although it took a lecture from Master O before I saw that. My... apology ended with more than just the massage; after that, we got on together a lot better."(3)

//Nataku was a woman? For sure his Gundam never challenged him... More than just... Oh!// "And this was bad, how?" Duo's question seems to startle Wufei.

"Ah..." Wufei begins, then pauses again, entirely at a loss for words.

"Hmm. Lemme guess - it's been way too long since you last saw her, and seeing me here in just this particular towel didn't help." //Skin hunger, for sure, but what else?//(4)

Wufei nods his head at the concise summation of his current difficulty - even if his reasons are not quite what he suspects Duo believes to be the case.

//He isn't afraid to keep going, is he? Of what he might do? Am I?// Duo sips again, then carefully sets the can down on the bedside table before twisting around to look directly at his friend. "Wufei - after all we've been through together, I trust you, even if you don't trust yourself. With my life - literally; I think we just proved that one. I think I can trust you with my body - or I wouldn't be here. Shinigami hasn't been around this long without learning a few things about staying out of trouble. I know you're not the most hands-on kinda guy normally, but..." He trails off somewhat uncertainly.

"But?" Wufei prompts, setting his own drink aside.

//No, he might want to, but... that's just not him.// Duo looks directly into Wufei's face, searching for something there, before he continues speaking. "Look, maybe I'm getting the wrong conclusion here, but just listen, okay? I wouldn't have even come home with you in the first place if I had been the least bit worried that you'd do something dishonourable - whether I had any other options or not. I slept on the streets for most of my life, I can do it again. I'm here, though. With you. I trust you, Wufei."

Wufei bows his head, thoughts whirling, and Duo guesses at his confusion. "Wufei - have you ever had a cat?" A nod. "Where I grew up - the cats, they always knew who they could go up to and who to keep away from. I like to think I learned something from them." Wufei cocks his head in inquiry, and Duo continues, "and I'd be..." then shakes his head to clear the image of waving paws from his thoughts. "No, that's beside the point. Look. I was really enjoying what you were doing. It's okay, you can touch me. Hell, do whatever you want - I know you're not gonna do anything to hurt me. Please - continue?"

"Even knowing that I...?" //that I don't want to let you go, that I ache to hold someone close so that I can pretend for a night that someone cares a little for me, that I want there to be more to this than just the kinship of having a common foe?//

"Wufei!" Duo sounds just a little exasperated by now. "I don't lie, remember? And I trust you. Okay?" //Knowing what? Guessing lots, but...//

"As you wish, then," Wufei replies softly, standing to turn and then climb back onto the bed. This time, he kneels straddling Duo's thighs, so that he can easily reach the muscles of his lower back, and picks up where he left off.

In the end, Duo falls asleep under Wufei's touch. With a sigh of mingled relief and disappointment, Wufei slips into the bathroom to change into pajama pants (feeling the need to actually wear them to sleep in for a change). He takes a moment then to straighten the room up a little, and fetches the spare blanket from its drawer on his way back to the bedroom, where he stands looking down at Duo's sleeping form for a minute.

//He did say he missed sleeping with someone else, and there should be enough room for us both. Che. Never thought I'd actually be glad to be so small.// After a moment's consideration of the rough blanket, he folds the quilt back over top of Duo before spreading the blanket over the whole bed. Then he turns out the lights and pads carefully back to slip under the sheets on his side, turning to face away from Duo, his back just barely making contact with the warm, solid presence there. It isn't long before he, too, is asleep.

++

(1) Do *NOT* try this at home. I cannot stress this enough. Done incorrectly, the technique may cause serious injury, paralysis, or death. Do not attempt it. Yes, I do think Wufei would be familiar with the technique, and even more so with its lethal counterpart.

(2) author's interpolation of events portrayed in Episode Zero, taken with comments from the directors concerning Wufei's ABC experience; it's fairly clear *something* happened to change her attitude towards him, and there can't have been that much time between their fight and the OZ attack...

(3) skin hunger - an intrinsic need for physical contact and comfort

[ch. 1] [ch. 3] [back to Bronze Tigress' fic]