by Bronze Tigress

Strawberry Swirl + Chapter 3

Apr. 10, AC197; early morning
PHQ single residency apt. #205
and Preventers Headquarters cafe


When Duo wakes the next morning, he is blissfully relaxed. A warm lethargy seems to have been wrapped around him like stained-glass sunbeams on polished wood; the only sour note is the slow throb beginning to make itself felt in his wrist, but even that isn't enough to drag him out of his comfortable spot. He is surprised to note that it is already beginning to be light out. That means, he realizes, that he slept without nightmares last night, even after having been in action again the day before. And, he realizes, he's pleasantly warm, too, for a change - all wrapped up and cuddled up close... He stiffens suddenly. //Wait a minute... cuddled? What happened last night, again? Conversation... hair... massage... and then... No, that's the end of it. Either those meds were something else... but that makes no sense; Wufei wouldn't have lied about what they were.//

As Duo is mulling over these thoughts, an arm flops over his midsection, and pulls him snugly up against the solid body curled up around and behind him. //Hmmmm... feels nice.// Curious, Duo looks down. //That's definitely Wufei's arm... Is he still asleep? Well, I did tell him to do whatever he wanted, so I guess...// He squirms a bit, then slips his hand down to check out just what happened to his... well, his towel, he supposes, since he does remember stripping down during the massage. //Well, that's still there, and... Yeah, I'm all wrapped up in the quilt. Looks like he just bundled me up in it before crashing himself.//

Duo pulls his hand back up and runs his fingers through his bangs, then untangles the chain from around his neck and idly rubs his fingers over his cross, thinking. //Well, let's see. Butt naked except for a towel and wrapped in blankets. Separately wrapped, though. Not sore anywhere. I doubt I could have slept through that, anyway - these meds aren't that good. So nothing else happened. I guess he must get lonely for someone to cuddle with at night too.// He squirms a little, worming himself into the embrace just that much closer, enjoying the feeling. //Heh; points for the intuition; knew I was right about him.// He smiles to himself, the barest upturn of lips and a warm shine in half-opened eyes. //God, I missed this feeling; safe, warm, close... Wonder how he's gonna react to waking up wrapped around me like this, though...//

He doesn't have to wonder long. There's a sleepy murmur behind him that sounds like "Lan..." and the arm around his waist tightens slightly - then freezes.

Wufei's thoughts, on finding that the warm body in his arms is not, in fact, yet another dream of times past, are considerably more jumbled. //No, it can't be her, she's long dead - even before the others were. Then... who? that scent... the colour of those shoulders, that scar... Duo? Yes, it must be; nobody else has hair like that, but... why is he in my bed with me...?//

As he becomes more awake, scenes from the night before flicker through Wufei's memory. //Oh... right. Is he awake yet? It's already light out, so it's probably time to get up anyway...//Wufei shifts then, propping himself up to half sit while leaning on his elbow, then pulls back the arm he has wrapped around Duo, carefully but not skittishly. //I wonder... Damn, I hope I didn't screw up some weird cultural thing...// A quick glance past the form of his (hopefully!) still sleeping bedmate at the clock confirms that it is, indeed, probably about time to get up, especially considering that they will have to share the bathroom. He rests a hand on Duo's shoulder, gripping gently and rocking back and forth lightly. "Maxwell? You awake? Come on, sleepy, time to get up..."

Duo shifts then, sounding far too awake to have been just woken as he replies, "I would, Wufei, but I wasn't sure you wanted me walking around in just this towel, and I don't see my pants out there..." He squirms over onto his back and then sits up, the quilt and blanket puddling around his hips as he does so. He absently reaches up with his bad wrist to tug his cross back to the front and hisses sharply before trying again with the other hand.

//Well, I guess that answers that; he doesn't seem upset to have woken up here.// "Ah, I folded them on the chair out there," Wufei explains, as he folds back his own sheets. //And he was awake before me...// He gets up to fetch Duo's pants, deciding that there's no point in being bashful now. He's three steps away from the bed before the swish of fabric around his ankles reminds him that he is wearing something after all. //And he didn't move away, either. Knowing Duo, if he had minded, he would have moved, pants or not. Speaking of which,// Wufei thinks as he takes a good look at the state of Duo's pants. They definitely show signs of having been worn, slept in, and then dragged through the mud, now that the light is better. He picks them up and walks back to the bedroom. "Considering what you put these through yesterday, do you want to borrow something of mine for now? We can wash your things after breakfast; I need to run some laundry anyway..."

"Hmmm, thank you, I'd appreciate that," Duo says. Wufei drops the pants into a hamper in the corner, then takes Duo's shirt off the doorknob and tosses it in as well. "Sally didn't give me much time to pack, and I figured tools were gonna be more important... Um... You wouldn't happen to have coffee, would you? And maybe a shower once my clothes are clean...?" Duo sounds distinctly hopeful.

"Yes, actually, to both, but no milk, if you take that." Wufei smiles as he bends down to open one of the dresser drawers, rummaging through it to find a pair of pants that might fit the now slightly taller //very attractive// young man who is sitting //naked// in his bed. //Focus, Chang.//

"Oh," Duo comments. "Tea would be fine then I guess; I can't seem to get used to drinking my coffee black," he says.

"Here, try these," Wufei says, handing Duo a pair of loose sweat pants which he seldom wears because they tend to drag and bunch at his ankles. "The bathroom is yours; I need to get my things together, and then take my shower once you have done." //Probably a cold one.// He watches as Duo swivels his feet out of bed, then prudently turns back to the dresser, looking through one of the upper drawers this time. "We can go down to the on-duty cafe for breakfast rather than stay here, so you can have your coffee how you like it; I do not believe I am in the mood for cold rice anyway..."

"Eeeww!" Duo's face, as he finishes pulling the loose grey sweatpants on, is twisted in a comical grimace. "Cold rice for breakfast? That's worse than black coffee, Wufei... Yeesh, you been taking cooking lessons from Heero or something?"

"No, actually. I've been giving cooking lessons to Yui, but that is rather beside the point, is it not?" Wufei nearly laughs at the startled look on Duo's face as this bit of information is revealed. "Go on, and don't take too long in there; you sounded like you need to take some more of those meds."

When Duo gets back out of the bathroom a few minutes later, Wufei is waiting for him with a glass of water and more of the pain medicine and one of the antibiotic pills as well. "Here, take this now too." He watches while Duo takes his medicine, holding the pills on one outstretched palm, then turns to pick up a small stack of clean clothing from the countertop. "There are shirts in the third drawer; feel free to pick one you like. I should be out shortly, and then we can go find you some coffee, hmm?"

20 minutes later, Wufei is looking and feeling relatively professional again, although his neatly tied back hair is still quite damp. Duo has found, after some very careful rummaging, a plain emerald green T-shirt that isn't decorated with kanji. //With my luck, I'd be sure to get the one that Wufei only wears when he wants to flip off the world. Or the one that reads 'Property of Nataku'. Better not to tempt fate...// Wufei nods approvingly at him as he slips his own shoes on, and somewhere, a small, vain voice in Duo's head bounces excitedly.

The pair don't run into anyone on the way to breakfast, which makes Wufei much easier over the subject. He does have a reputation to uphold, after all! Having had overnight company would be bad enough. Having his overnight company recognized as being dressed in his clothes would only raise speculations he isn't quite sure he's yet prepared to deal with. He's really not certain that the fact that his overnight company happens to be male improves that situation, either.

It would not have raised too many eyebrows back on A0206 (in fact, Wufei well remembers his youngest uncle's _qidi_(1), who used to read him the best stories when he was a tiny child), so long as his filial duties were fulfilled. And, as he reminds himself, he no longer has those - not that they would necessarily have interfered with his taking a lover in any case. //And let us not get ahead of ourselves, Chang... You still don't know for certain if he is even interested... Although he does seem to be available... and not completely opposed to the idea...//

However, there seem to be very few male couples here in the Sanq area, and Wufei is rather leery of causing any further rumours about himself to be spread. Already he is suspected of being an ex-terrorist (true though that is!) and of having applied for his position via Sally's bed (most emphatically not true!). He doesn't see any need to add to the list. So Wufei offers a silent thanks to his ancestors as they arrive without undue notice at the cafe, and join the line for service.

The two make their way through the line and are soon sitting at a quiet table far enough from anyone to prevent casual eavesdropping, but not so far hidden away as to arouse suspicion that their conversation might be interesting enough to warrant the attempt. Once they are seated, Duo asks the question that has been plaguing him for the past half hour, "so, who's Lan?"

"My wife, Meilan.(2) I must apologize for this morning, I suppose."

"No, Wufei, it's okay, I lik... I mean, I wasn't planning to crash in your bed like that..." he says, and takes a large swig of coffee. //Shinigami, why can't I stop blurting things out around him?// When he puts the cup down, he is already steering the conversation back to a safer topic. "I didn't know you were married, Wufei. Why isn't she here with you?" //...and if he is, then what the fuck...?//

"She died, in an OZ attack on my colony, about six months before we came to Earth. You could not have known; I didn't exactly tell any of you much about my past. Now, what was that about liking waking up that way?"

"I," Duo stutters, surprised at having been caught out and questioned. //Shit. He did catch it.// "Well," he begins again, "at the orphanage all us little ones, we'd get packed in four to a bed going the wrong way. I guess it was cheaper than separate cots for everyone, and it was warmer in the winter. It was nice, kinda like being home again. I didn't have the nightmares last night, either, which is really strange considering we were fighting yesterday, even if it did turn out okay. Damn, if I'd known in advance what I know about that now, I would've dropped it quicker, y'know? My wrist still hurts this morning..." //...a widower at 14? Dear Shinigami...//

"Ah, but if you had known in advance, would you have come? No, never mind." Wufei fiddles with his breakfast for a moment before apparently changing the subject, asking, "what will you do next?"

"Huh? Oh, well... I have that appointment this morning to talk to Une, but after that, I need to go back to L2 for a while. I have some business with Hilde to take care of. I was thinking last night - when you were about down to my shoulder blades - that I couldn't just keep avoiding the issue with her. I may not be telling her I've got the same happy-little-family dreams she does, but I haven't discouraged her any, either, and it's time I stopped letting her lie to herself. I've got too much to deal with from the war, still, to be worrying about settling down with her and having kids, and, well... She deserves the chance to go look for someone who can give her what she wants, you know?"

Wufei nods. "Yes, that would probably be kindest to her."

Duo gazes at his coffee cup for a moment before looking up again. //Fuck it. All he can do is reject me; if he was gonna kill me he'd've done it last night.// "Last night is the first time I haven't dreamed that Deathscythe was about to push the button on me since we said goodbye to them last month, y'know? And before that, it was the soldiers I killed, or the other kids from the orphanage or the gangs, or..." He shudders with the memories. "Anyway... d'you mind if I stay with you for the rest of the time I'm here? It won't be for more than a couple of days, but unless I get a lift the commercial shuttles don't run straight to L2 so often, and I hate having to stop over at the Moon Base, after all the trouble we've had there."

Wufei chuckles slightly at the reference. "I do not mind. You know, if you do take the position, it will be easier to arrange transport. I take it you are interested in Une's offer, then?"

"Uh, huh. I just need to wrap things up with Hilde and her yard, first, before I can start, provided I like the terms. I might need to stay with you for a couple of days while I found my own place, then, too..."

//I wonder...// "Maxwell..." Wufei sounds oddly tentative, and Duo finds it rather unsettling to hear his normally self-confident friend so unsure of himself. "If you do come to work here... Would you consider a longer-term arrangement?"

"Huh?" Duo is startled enough to be rendered speechless.

"They have some larger apartments over on the other side of the courtyard. They are two-bedroom units, and they are mostly empty so far; I shouldn't have any trouble getting one, but they are on leases, not available on a short-term basis like the singles."

"Um, Wufei?" Duo is plainly surprised by the implications of that information, taken with the previous question. "Are you asking me to move in with you? Maybe I need to check your head this morning..."

"I think my head is probably fine - perhaps more so than you have been privy to previously, in fact - but thank you for offering," Wufei smiles. "Think about it, though. They are not quite as big as two of the singles put together, but with only the one kitchen and bath, there is more living space; the rent works out to less when split two ways as well."

"So, it's just a better deal? Why not pick someone else, then, who won't be in your face all the time? Heero, Quatre, and Hilde can all tell you I'm not a quiet person to live with."

Wufei smiles. "A number of reasons, in truth. We work well together in the field, for one. And you do know how - and when -to be quiet. Also, I was thinking about what you said last night... About having someone around who understands the nightmares without having them explained, and what losing your family and being helpless to save them feels like. And something else. Do you know, you had that damned loud ever-competent ever-confident grinning mask off the whole time last night? Even after the narcotic wore off."

Duo blinks as he realizes that it's quite true. "Yeah, I did, didn't I? Didn't need it, I guess..."

Wufei nods. "I thought as much. And you have mentioned feeling at home again, several times now. I don't know. We could try it, though; if it does not work, we would just find separate places after the lease expires." Wufei is, by this time, toying with his fork rather than making any pretence whatsoever at eating.

"It means a lot to you that I agree, doesn't it, Wufei? Why?"

//Here goes..// "Because of the nightmare I did not have last night, either." Wufei glances up at Duo's face, barely catching the fleeting expression of shock. "Yes, my dreams are still... less than pleasant. How could they be otherwise, after what we have done, what we have seen?" Wufei pauses for a sip of his tea. "I am becoming wary of making assumptions about how people will react to things here, where the oddest things are the opposite of what I expect. But you have as much as told me that it did not bother you to wake up as we did. It also occurred to me that what is good enough for an Emperor is surely good enough for me, especially now that I am the one who must choose for myself. I have already fulfilled my family duty of marriage, and I have been freed of it."

"Family duty? That seems like an awfully strange way to think about someone you love..."

"Love?" Wufei makes a rude snorting noise. "No, not among my people. Love might come, but it was never the point, nor ever required. No. Marriage was never about love on my Colony, only the family line."(3)

"Even my marriage, much as I came to wish otherwise," Wufei comments with a somewhat bitter laugh. "Oh, she hated that I even walked the colony, much less that I was deemed necessary to continue her family's line. Not even my family's line, but hers. And here I talk of honour! Laoshi O tried to send me back to my studies, when she died, but instead I chose to take up her cause, to fight for justice.(4) Stupid, no? I didn't believe in her Justice, and I certainly didn't understand it. It was all I could think of to do, however.

"After the Eve War," Wufei continues, "I spent a full year trying to learn what justice is, since I never did find it in avenging her death. Khushrenada - I did not kill him, in the end; rather, he threw himself onto my trident. Vulcanus, the affair with Sogran, even that foolish scheme of Quatre's - none of them helped.(5) Mariemeia provided the key, in the end; without her, Yui would never have been forced to remind me of who I began fighting for. I finally remembered what I knew all along - justice is not an absolute, and trying to make it one only causes more senseless deaths - like hers was. But now, Nataku is gone, in both her incarnations, and I am done with mourning her."

"Well, that explains a lot, but could you go over the bit about Emperors for me again?"

"Ah. Any number of Emperors, according to the histories, saw fit to take another man into their households - and presumably from the literature, their hearts and beds. Of course, it was hardly unknown among the common people either, but their stories did not tend to get recorded in the same scrolls - then, or on the Colony. How common this occurrence was varied by Dynasty, and after the Western influx that fact was... suppressed for a long time, but I was a scholar after all, to begin with."(6)

"Oh. And you're telling me this now because...?" //Into their hearts? Does he mean..?//

"Because now... Hah! This is where I should borrow a trick from your book and evade the question, I suppose. But after this morning, I think I do not wish to hide. Because... I liked waking up like that, as well, and I would very much like to understand... what this is that I feel for you." Wufei's voice has grown quiet, and it is edged with all sorts of emotions that Duo has to struggle to guess at.

//Oh... my... God...// Duo finishes his breakfast in silence after this, broken only by his asking Wufei if he would like a refill when he goes to fetch a second cup of coffee for himself, and if he wanted sugar.

++

Long notes for this part, but Broze spent a lot of time compiling this information:

(1) _qidi_ - technically, "adopted younger brother". However, the term was used specifically to refer to the younger of a pair of bonded male lovers. A ceremony similar to that for swearing blood brotherhood, but containing the same promises to fulfil obligations as a marriage, was commonly used to celebrate the union. The _qixiong_ (the elder of the pair) would be responsible for his _qidi_ in much the same manner as he would be for a wife, and the _qidi_ would be treated as a son-in-law by the _qixiong_'s parents. Wufei's uncle and uncle-in-law are my creations.

(2) While the katakana is indeterminate on the subject of R's and L's, the kanji used here is listed in my reference source as being pronounced 'Lan', so I'm using this version of her name.

(3) Wufei is quite correct. In a society where the bride and bridegroom never saw each other before the wedding, it is ludicrous to think that love played any part in the selection process. Instead, it was a duty to one's family to marry the selected person and produce children - preferably male - in order to continue the family line.

(4) According to my research, since Meilan is identified as Long Shirin's heir, Wufei, in contradiction to usual practice (whereby Meilan would become a member of the Chang family/clan), was being "adopted" via the marriage into the Long clan as their son. His children, if not he himself (which would have been a great dishonour to his own family), would have been required to take her family name, in order to continue the Long family line. In other words, Meilan remained Long Meilan, not becoming Chang Meilan at any point; if any changing of names took place, then Chang Wufei became Long Wufei for the time that he was married.

The term for Wufei's position in Meilan's family translates roughly as "superfluous husband" or "unnecessary son-in-law" - no wonder he speaks of having to prove himself worthy of being her husband! However, with Meilan's death, any of his children would not be Longs by blood anyway, hence he was 'set free' - and Master O tells him so at the end of his Ep0. What he wants at the time is to avenge his wife and carry out her justice, but it doesn't negate the fact that as her "widow" (because the role of a widower was quite different) he was essentially being dismissed from the Long clan.

(5) Wufei refers to the events shown in Battlefield of Pacifists, Blind Target, and Ground Zero, respectively.

(6) The existence of male Consorts is recorded in the official documents of the relevant Dynasties, while the associated love stories are recorded in the literature of these eras (and regarded among the classics). In the 1800's, however, European visitors began importing Christian views of morality, as well as Western definitions of homosexuality. As a consequence, today it is difficult to find information on the subject. Just how 'traditional' the society on A0206 was, of course, is up to an individual author to decide...

(More) Author notes: yes, I am aware that there is a fan site which states that Wufei's culture is matriarchal, and that Long Shirin is Meilan's grandmother; and, that this "fact" has been widely copied. This is, from my research, quite incorrect. I believe I have also found the source of this bit of misinformation, where the description given contradicts the word used. Reference links available on request.

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