More sap alert!
by: Caroline

Houseboat Haven + Part 3

Duo awoke to the sound of dishes clattering beyond the closed bedroom door. He blinked sleepily and turned his eyes to the window. The early morning sun was peaking in through the partially open blinds. He yawned and stretched languidly in the bed, feeling much better than he had the day before. The anti-nausea pills Wufei had found seemed to be working wonderfully. As a testimony to their effectiveness, Duo's stomach gave a loud rumble, reminding him that he'd only had one small cup of soup in four days. Carefully he sat up, mindful of the low ceiling that had clobbered him the day before. He stood up and walked over to the door. Opening it, he was immediately assaulted with the most delicious smells wafting through the air. His nose twitched eagerly as he followed the aroma down the short hallway and into the kitchenette. The sight that met him made him freeze.

Wufei was standing over the little stove, pan in one hand, spatula in the other. The Chinese pilot was concentrating hard on his task of flipping eggs without breaking the yolk. His brow was creased as he frowned down at the pan. He was wearing an apron that said "Bob's Apron" in big, bold letters. Duo couldn't help but laugh at the image of domesticated bliss Wufei was presenting.

At the sound of Duo's voice, Wufei turned his head. "Good morning, Duo."

"Morning, Bob," the braided boy replied, smirking at the apron.

Wufei glared at him. "Don't laugh. It was the only one on board and I didn't want to get bacon grease on my clothes."

"There's bacon?" Duo asked hopefully.

"Yes. The eggs are almost ready. Sit down and I'll bring you your breakfast when it's done."

"Thanks, 'Fei," Duo replied, sitting down at the table. Wufei had already poured him some orange juice and laid out two more nausea pills. Duo swallowed them quickly, chasing them down with the tart juice. By the time Duo had got them down, Wufei was placing his breakfast in front of him.

"Wow, 'Fei. This looks delicious," the American commented as he dove right in.

"Good. Because you're not leaving this table until you eat every bite. You'll need energy for what I have planned today."

"Did we get another mission?" Duo asked, mouth full of food.

"No." The Chinese pilot nodded to where his laptop was set up in the living area. "Master O said to stay where we are for the time being. He'll contact us should something come up."

"Then what are we going to do today?" Duo asked as he inhaled his eggs. He turned hopeful eyes to Wufei. "Are we getting off this boat?"

Wufei eyed Duo's rapidly emptying plate. "In a manner of speaking." He waited until Duo had eaten a few more bites before he continued. "I'm going to teach you how to swim."

Unfortunately Duo had chosen that moment to take a sip of his orange juice. He choked on the liquid, spitting it back out into his glass. He stared at Wufei incredulously, violet eyes open wide with panic. "'F...Fei? What did you just say?" he asked softly.

"I'm going to teach you how to swim, Duo."

Duo looked at him for a long moment before grinning. "Ha ha. Very funny, 'Fei."

"I'm not joking. The best way to get over your fear is to jump in feet first... so to speak."

"No! There is no way in hell you are going to get me anywhere near the water!" Duo cried out, his face twisted in fury. He started to shimmy out of the bench seat, but Wufei grabbed his arm and held him in place.

"Duo, please. Let me help you with this," he pleaded, looking deeply into Duo's violet eyes. "You can't let your fears control you. I want to help. And I promise I'll be there every step of the way. I won't let anything happen to you."

When Duo didn't answer and looked away, Wufei continued.

"Duo... you don't know how scared I was when you didn't wake up that first day. I made a promise to myself that if you woke up and were all right, I'd help you through whatever it was that had caused you to collapse in the first place. You're my friend, Duo. I... I may not have always shown it, but I respect you. I admire you for surviving your childhood and still being able to face the world with a smile. I only wish I could do the same. Please, let me help you if not conquer your fear, then control it."

Duo looked at him for a long moment. He couldn't believe Wufei had said those things - that the Shenlong pilot actually thought of him as a friend. He'd always thought that the Chinese teen was too aloof and had considered him as little more than an annoyance. But to know the boy actually cared... it warmed his heart. He swallowed hard and looked into Wufei's eyes.

"I'll make you a deal, 'Fei. I...I'll let you try and teach me how to s...swim, if you'll let me teach you how to smile."

Wufei blinked, and Duo could see the Chinese pilot was a little taken aback at the request. Finally, he bowed his head. "Very well. We shall learn from each other. Now finish your breakfast. We'll begin our first lesson in an hour."

+

Duo stood frozen in the doorway that led from the cabin to the sundeck of the houseboat. He stared straight ahead at the little beach of one of the larger islands where Wufei had grounded the boat. He kept his eyes glued to one of the trees on the island, refusing to look to either the right or left at the water.

"Duo? Did those swimming trunks fit?" Wufei called out from shore where he was tying the boat to a tree.

Duo nodded, refusing to shift his eyes to the other pilot. Wufei quickly finished his task then reboarded the boat. He crossed the deck to stand in front of the terrified braided pilot.

"It's time, Duo."

The American clutched at the doorframe, unwilling to let go. He whimpered softly as Wufei pried his fingers loose and guided him to the edge of the boat. He shut his eyes as Wufei let go of his hands to open the little gate on the side. He could hear Wufei climbing down the small ladder and step into the water below. Just imagining Wufei in the water was enough to make him tremble.

"Duo, open your eyes."

Duo shook his head vehemently.

"Duo, this won't work unless you open your eyes. Be brave. Look at your fear."

"Wh...what if I fall?" he asked timidly.

"Then I'll be here to catch you."

Duo knew the Chinese pilot spoke the truth. Wufei wouldn't let anything happen to him. The dark-haired boy was asking for Duo's trust. Wufei had never asked him for anything before. The least Duo could do was give him that much.

He opened his eyes and looked down. Immediately a wave of vertigo washed over him as he stared down at the water. He swayed on his feet, reaching out blindly for something to steady himself. It was happening again - he was going to fall, going to go under.

Then suddenly, strong arms were around him, giving him balance, keeping him from falling. He clutched tightly at the warm body holding his own. Slowly the world righted itself, and Duo opened his eyes to find Wufei's dark chocolate orbs looking down at him in concern.

"You're safe, Duo. I've got you," the Chinese pilot whispered, rubbing soothing circles along Duo's bare back.

The American took several deep breaths. "S...sorry, 'Fei. I..."

"You don't have to explain. I understand." He withdrew from their embrace. Duo felt sad at the loss.

"Now... are you ready to try again?"

Duo took one last deep breath and nodded. He allowed Wufei to maneuver him backward to the ladder. The Shenlong pilot went down first. Duo clutched tightly to the side of the boat, standing on the top rung. Slowly he looked down, telling himself it was okay, that Wufei was there to catch him should he fall.

"That's it, Duo. Now take another step down," Wufei coaxed gently.

Duo obeyed, stepping down one more rung. 'I can do this. The water's only up to Wufei's ankles. That's not so bad.'

He stepped down another rung, then another. Finally he was just inches above the water. Only one more step to take. His heart pounded in his chest. He wasn't sure he could do it. Then he felt Wufei's hands on his sides.

"One more step, Duo," he said. "I know you can do this."

"I don't know if I can," Duo mewled pitifully.

"Please... for me?"

Duo hesitated for only a short moment before moving his leg and taking the final step. His heart jumped as he felt the cool water surround his foot. His body was trembling slightly as his left foot joined his right in the lake. He reached blindly for Wufei's hand, grasping it tightly before releasing his hold on the boat. Wufei's eyes lit up. "You did it. You're standing in the water!"

Duo smiled back. "I am, aren't I?"

The dark-haired teen squeezed his hands. "Now, we're going to walk out further into water. I want you to trust me. We won't be going out over our heads. Your feet will always be able to touch bottom."

"O...okay."

Wufei moved backwards, drawing Duo with him. Step by step, they walked into deeper waters, gradually moving away from the boat. Duo tried to keep his breathing under control as they walked. He closed his eyes, trusting Wufei to take care of him. He could feel the cool liquid moving over his body. The sensation of the water against his skin was actually quite soothing. He could understand why so many people enjoyed swimming.

When the water was up to his waist, Wufei let go of his hands. Duo's eyes flew open as the Chinese boy moved away from him into deeper water.

"All right, Duo. Now, I want you to come to me. Take one step at a time, and be careful. The bottom here is slippery."

Duo nodded, wrapping his arms around his body. He could do this. He'd grown up on the streets of L2, survived a plague, lived through the deaths of everyone he'd ever loved, and flown a Gundam against OZ. Surely he could take a few steps towards his friend.

He moved slowly, making a face at the way the mud on the bottom squished between his toes. The water rose higher over his chest. Duo let out a scared whimper from the back of his throat. He could fell another panic attack coming on and Wufei was still several steps away.

"'Fei!"

"Just a little further, Duo."

Duo's breathing sped up, his eyes wide with panic and fear. The water was so high. His chest felt tight. There was too much... too much...

He moved forward in a rush, wanting to reach Wufei as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, Wufei had been right, the bottom was slippery. Just before he reached the Chinese teen, his foot slipped in the mud. He lost his balance and fell backwards. He flailed in the water, his head going under. He opened his mouth to scream for help only to end up with a mouth full of water. He twisted his body, trying to find the bottom with his feet, but the world had shifted. His lungs burned and his vision started to go black.

Then suddenly, his head broke the surface. Wufei cradled him in his arms once again, patting him hard on the back. Duo coughed, spitting out what water he hadn't swallowed. He gasped for air and clung to his friend, trying his best to stop trembling. He blinked tears out of his eyes, determined not to cry and show Wufei how weak he was. But the tears couldn't be held back. He wrapped his arms around Wufei's neck and buried his face in the crook of his shoulder.

Wufei held him gently, allowing him time to calm down. He whispered comforting words into Duo's ear.

"I'm sorry, 'Fei," the braided boy said, his voice trembling as hard as his body. "I'm so sorry."

"Don't be. Shhhh. It's okay. I'm the one who should be sorry. I told you you'd be safe and I let you go under."

"It's not your fault," Duo sniffed.

"And it's not yours either. This is why I want to teach you how to swim. I may not always be there to pull you out."

Duo moved his head back to look into Wufei's eyes. "You really do care, don't you?"

"More than you know," the dark-eyed pilot replied almost too softly for Duo to hear.

The braided boy sucked in his breath, a warm blush spreading across his face. Wufei's cheeks, too, glowed with a hint of red at the sudden admission. Their eyes met and held. Their faces were only inches apart. Duo could feel the heat rising from the other teen's caramel skin. He gravitated to that warmth, propelled by the cool lake waters. A slight breeze rustled his hair like a lover, raising goose bumps on his arms, as their lips brushed together.

The first touch was fleeting, the merest butterfly whisper of lips against lips. The second touch was more tactile. The kiss was chaste but transmitted such heat that Duo gasped aloud, opening his mouth slightly. Wufei seized the opportunity to deepen the kiss. He slid his tongue inside Duo's mouth, going in for only the briefest of tastes. Duo made a little mewling sound in the back of his throat, disappointed that the touch hadn't lasted longer. Wufei moved his lips over Duo's one last time before pulling back and looking questioningly into Duo's eyes.

"Maxwell, I... I'm sorry, I... don't know what came over me," the Chinese pilot stammered.

Duo's heart plummeted at those words. His face fell as he looked away. The dark-eyed pilot had reverted to calling him Maxwell again. So Wufei hadn't meant to kiss him after all? It had just been a momentary lapse of reason? He could feel his stomach sinking.

Wufei must have deduced Duo's train of thought from the crestfallen expression on his face because the Chinese teen wrapped his arms more firmly around the slender American, holding him close.

"Duo, I... must admit, I've wanted to do that... for sometime now," he said slowly. Duo's eyes grew as big as saucers.

"R...really?" he asked hesitantly.

"Aa. However, it was dishonorable for me to take advantage of your fears. I can only humble myself to you and beg your forgiveness."

Duo smiled. "There's nothing to forgive, 'Fei. I've... wanted to do that for a while too."

Wufei looked down at the boy still in his arms. "Why did you not say anything?"

Duo shrugged. "Another fear I suppose. Fear of rejection." He looked away again. "I have so many fears. You must think I'm so weak."

"No." Wufei clasped Duo's chin with one hand and lifted his face. "No. Only fools have no fears. You have them and are learning to face them. There is no dishonor in being afraid. I get afraid every time I go into battle. It's a natural instinct. Learning how to live with one's fears - that takes bravery. And you, Duo Maxwell, are one of the bravest people I know."

Duo felt himself blush deeply, his heart warming to Wufei's words. "Thank you, 'Fei. No one has ever said anything like that to me before."

"I meant every word." He shifted Duo in his arms. "As much as I'd love to stand here and look into your beautiful eyes all day, it's going to get really hot soon. Are you ready to continue your lessons?"

Duo felt a momentary surge of fear, but knowing that Wufei would be there every step of the way pushed his panic aside. He nodded and allowed the Chinese pilot to show him how to position his arms and legs. All the while, his heart soared in remembrance of their first, beautiful kiss they'd shared only moments before.

[part 2] [part 4] [back to Caroline's fic]