Home + Part 3
Duo frowned, but then he did laugh. "I wish it was, it'd be a good one."
Wu Fei collected his thoughts and then he asked, "Heero... he doesn't have any problems?"
Duo looked rueful, "Well aside from some wicked reflexes and a compulsion to make everything... efficient, orderly, and in working order... no, not really. That makes my problem even worse, though. He spent a life working one big 'mission'. He never got to have a lover, family, hugging, holding hands, kissing, sex... all of that. He wants it now. He wants to make up for lost time. I just find it hard..." Duo stared off across the water. A bird flew low and skimmed the water for small fish. "...relaxing; letting people be close to me, especially when I'm outside."
"And you think I can help?" Wu Fei wondered.
Duo looked at him then, frowning. "Yeah, I do think you can, if you want to. Quatre, he's so open, he's a walking hug orgy. Trowa, he's standoffish and quiet, but Quatre tells me he can be friendly and close when he wants to. You... you're cool and together. You might have a bad temper and like to be alone, but... I can tell you've figured a lot of things out about life... You were a scholar too... I'm just saying, I think I have more of a chance of you figuring me out than some psychiatrist who's never seen either end of a gun."
"Ah..." Wu Fei though for several very long minutes and then he nodded. "I won't promise anything, of course, but I will try to divine your problem." He added dutifully, 'I don't have many things pertaining to life 'figured out', Duo, but, just as you said, two people, with like experiences, might understand where someone else wouldn't."
Duo looked relieved. "Good.... uh, what do you want to know?"
"I want clarification," Wu Fei replied. "But we came here to enjoy the lake, as well as talk about your difficulties, correct?"
"Yeah, sorry... I guess I'm spoiling things," Duo apologized.
"We can do both," Wu Fei told assured. "I don't intend to make any early guesses without asking you questions. We can explore the lake while I do that."
Duo grinned. "Great! Should I go once around the lake first?"
Wu Fei nodded. "And then I would like to explore the island."
"Okay with me. Let's go!" Duo agreed with enthusiasm and then started the engine and steered the boat to follow the shore.
They couldn't talk over the engine without difficulty, so they spent a long while in their own thoughts, Duo probably wondering what Wu Fei was thinking and Wu Fei not certain what to think. It was still hard to grasp that friendly, outgoing, Duo Maxwell was having trust issues. But, having thought that, he wondered if that were really the root of the problem. He knew Duo's basic history, knew some of the missions he had run, and knew, first hand, what he had experienced the few times that they had been captured together by Oz. He had even almost died with him once, by slow suffocation in a holding cell. There was certainly more than enough fodder to create issues in anyone. Because of that, it would have been easy to dismiss Duo's problem as post war syndrome. Wu Fei had seen enough men and women, who still couldn't put their back to a door or hear a loud noise, without expecting an attack. Duo had seemed more resilient than that, though, he had never seemed so much a soldier as a young boy caught up in events. He'd never had a soldier's discipline, so it was difficult to imagine him having issues that related to it. The gun he was hiding under his windbreaker, though, that was contradictory and problematic.
Wu Fei realized that his thoughts were going nowhere and he put a stop to it. He needed to ask Duo questions. Since he couldn't until they stopped the boat, there wasn't a better time to put it aside and simply enjoy himself.
The shore was rocky and dotted with evergreens. The contrast was soothing, so was the black, glass like, surface of the lake. As the sun rose higher, they marveled at the more expensive homes on the lake, passed a dock with a general store and a pump for boat fuel, and saw some ramshackle cottages with tin roofs where children, chickens, and dogs played on areas too uphill and rough for developers. Then they were entering a section of the lake where the land bordering it was a preserve. Civilization was left behind and nature settled around them, quiet, tranquil, and-
"Look! Look!" Duo shouted and cut the motor. His slim arm stuck itself past Wu Fei's nose to draw his attention to the sky up ahead. Wu Fei blinked. Two eagles were... dancing... That was the only to describe it. Wu Fei smiled in astonishment as the birds dove and braked, darted upwards, and then clutched at each other with their claws. They spun around each other, broke apart, and began the teasing dance again, all the while calling to each other. A digital camera clicked and whirled. Duo was frantically taking pictures. Wu Fei reached back after the tenth one and pulled the camera down.
"You're missing it," Wu Fei told him. "Use your eyes, not your camera."
Duo looked torn and then he smiled and nodded, eyes never leaving the birds. The dance ended when their boat drifted too close to the bird's nest, a great pile of sticks high on top of a broken tree. The male chittered a warning and swooped so close over their heads that Wu Fei swore that he could have reached up and touched it's underside.
"Damn!" Duo said distinctly as he ducked. "Guess the show's over."
Duo started the engine once more and, as he turned the boat towards the island, Wu Fei looked back and caught his serious _expression. Both of them, he knew, were thinking that their time to relax was over.
There was a small boat dock surrounded by cattails and lilies. The boat nosed through them and Wu Fei was ready to catch at a wooden post and hold them in place while Duo cut the engine. He tied off the boat and then held the boat steady while Wu Fei climbed out.
The island was covered in forest and a man made path ran in several directions with clear, carved, wooden signs giving them directions and likely sights.
"Hard or easy?" Duo asked as he pointed to the sign that listed the distance and difficulty level of each path. Then he smiled and looked like an imp. "Or we could just strike out on our own, off the beaten path?
Wu Fei smiled back and shook his head. "Didn't we have enough of that already?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Duo pointed to the medium path. "Hard, but not too hard?"
"Yes, that would be good," Wu Fei replied.
Duo took the lead and Wu Fi noticed, as he followed him down the path, that Duo's eyes were roving the trees all around them in a pattern he was very familiar with.
"Stand down, we're in safe territory," Wu Fei told them.
Duo looked back at him, embarrassed, and Wu Fei saw his shoulders relax, but only marginally. "Guess there isn't much chance of enemies ambushing us in a park, right?"
"I would say that we have a better chance of being struck by lightning, Maxwell," Wu Fei snorted lightly.
Duo said dejectedly, as he began walking again, "See... this is part of my problem. War's over. Everyone's peaceful. I can't... let it go, not any of it."
Wu Fei sprang on that last part of Duo's sentence. "Any of it?"
Duo was quiet. Wu Fei gave him time, admiring the old trees, the flowering vines, and ferns growing all around them. At last, Duo said haltingly, "Well, you know I lived on the street?"
"Yes, I do," Wu Fei replied, and then added reassuringly, in case Duo thought that he was judging him, "It isn't shameful, Duo."
Duo made a noise, of relief? It was hard to determine with Duo's back to him. Wu Fei considered catching up, but then discarded the idea.
"Being abandoned, being poor, being the victim of unfortunate circumstances, is not shameful," Wu Fei continued. "It does make your 'problem' more understandable, though. When, in your life, have you not had to be 'on guard?', Duo?"
Duo snorted, but it was dark humor. "Never." He made a sound of exasperation. "Everyone thinks I'm hyperactive, that I can't stand still for two seconds. You probably think so too." Wu Fei considered that charge and then nodded. It was true."I just need to be clear," Duo continued, "ready for anything. When I know I'm safe, I can move in and be a buddy, be friendly, you know? I can't keep it up for long though... I have to check my area again, keep myself clear."
"Are there places where you feel safe?" Wu Fei asked thoughtfully as he stopped and admired the way dew drops were sparkling on the fronds of a large fern.
Duo stood beside him, rubbing at the back of his neck, staring at the fern as well, but not really seeing anything but his inner thoughts. "Cars, planes, shuttles, Gundams, ...bedrooms if I make sure the door is locked and the windows are bolted."
"Any place where no one can reach you and attack you?" Wu Fei surmised.
"Yeah," Duo replied simply. He reached out, gabbed the fern, and pulled it through his hand so that the leaves stripped off and dropped to the ground, totally unaware that Wu Fei had been admiring its beauty.
"You know the problem," Wu Fei said to him. "Do you also know the solution?"
Duo rolled eyes at him and rubbed his hand against his pants. "Trying to stop being an idiot and a wuss, didn't help. I'm up for any suggestions."
"Wuss?" Wu Fei sighed at the mangled fern and began walking again. Duo followed him now.
"Scared little shit," Duo clarified. "If I wasn't, I would be like everyone else, walking around without a care, not wondering if someone is out there putting a laser sight on my forehead."
Wu Fei put a stop to that nonsense. "You were a Gundam pilot." That simple sentence said a great deal. A man, even a young man, had to have a disregard for his life to become a Gundam pilot and a terrorist, especially when he was one of only five against an entire military complex.
"Then what is it?" Duo wondered acidly. "Heero doesn't know."
Wu Fei replied guardedly, "I told you earlier that I wouldn't make any quick diagnosis, if any. Even if I do discover what your trouble is, I doubt that I have the expertise to offer any cure. My hope is to simply give you some groundwork, so that you can approach a psychiatrist with a better idea of what may be wrong."
"No quick band-Aids?" Duo asked, sounding unhappy.
Wu Fei stopped and looked back at him. Duo had his hands in the pockets of his windbreaker, head bowed, and bangs hiding his eyes. Standing still for once, quiet, but inwardly struggling with his problems, Wu Fei compared Duo to the fern covered in dew drops. Duo had a natural, masculine beauty. Unfortunately, like the fern, he could be destroyed and brought low just as easily.
"No band-Aids," Wu Fei affirmed. "Heero will have to be more patient."
Duo looked up, startled. "How did you-?"
"We rarely see our own faults," Wu Fei replied.
"I remind him of the war," Duo admitted quietly. "Over and over again, when he just wants to start over again and have the life everyone was keeping him from living. He wouldn't be so damned mission minded it I didn't make him that way."
It was a painful admission. "That's enough for now," Wu Fei told him gently. "Let's enjoy the walk."
Duo's unusual eyes regarded him as if he wanted to argue, but then he nodded. "Okay. Guess you need to think about stuff now..."
"Yes," Wu Fei replied. He needed to think about Duo's life on the streets of L2, his life during the war, and his life in the Preventers. Duo was handing him an answer, but he still felt that Duo was holding some of it back. He suspected that the entire answer lay with a child that had survived abandonment on streets that had taken stronger men down.
They walked the trail. Not in silence, Duo had a comment about everything they saw, but in a serenity that was usually only achieved surrounded by nature. In a womb of trees, ferns, and small wildlife, and far from all the stresses of 'civilization', Wu Fei felt his mind becoming calm and open. It was almost a state of blissful meditation. He tuned Duo out, let the young man's words flow over him as he reached for and achieved peace.
There was a small, narrow bridge over a small inlet of water from the lake. Duo hung over the wooden railing, long braid trailing down as he excitedly pointed at a large turtle swimming lazily underneath.
Wu Fei leaned to look as well and felt... older than Duo. He enjoyed things quietly, with studious attention, but Duo was all arms and legs, sparkling eyes, and smiling wonderment. He seemed like a boy with the body of a man, but Wu Fei wasn't fooled by that. Though Duo could put aside the burden of his past ,and the blood they had both spilled, it was still there, still shadowing the corners of his eyes. It wasn't Duo's youthful enthusiasm that was making him feel older, though, Wu Fei realized, but a sense of expectation coming from Duo. Duo assumed that Wu Fei was so much wiser than he was. Duo was expecting Wu Fei to be his councilor. The automatically put Wu Fei in the position of master or teacher, a role that carried with it a weight of responsibility. That responsibility inferred maturity and Wu Fei found himself, unconsciously, taking up that mantle.
Duo scattered small pebbles in the water, raining them down on top of the tail end of the turtle. It scooted underwater hurriedly, trailing bubbles. Duo laughed. As Wu Fei followed him off of the bridge, and continued down the trail, the fundamental difference between himself and Duo was clear. Wu Fei liked to watch, experiencing life around him, visually and mentally. Duo liked to test the limits and experiment, never happy with leaving things as they were.
The serene scene of a turtle, green moss growing on its back, easing through lilies, wasn't the pleasing image to Duo that it was for Wu Fei., it was an opportunity to stir things up, to experiment and effect his world. It told Wu Fei a great deal about how Duo thought of himself. A man who had grown up with confidence, with security, and with control over his environment, didn't have to challenge the world around him. Someone buffeted by the mean side of life, who had been helpless to effect anything, harbored anger, fear, and a need to fight back and define himself by his actions, did. Those feeling, and those needs, could manifest themselves in many ways, such as throwing pebbles at the beauty and power of nature, piloting a Gundam and cutting his enemies into pieces, or trying to control everything, including supposed enemies, in his personal space.
Duo found a bench and sat down, blowing air through his bangs. He patted the seat beside him. "Take a rest?"
Wu Fei nodded and sat down. A light wind was going through the upper branches of the trees. He found himself looking upward and admiring the thick canopy and the light that filtered through it.
"You know you can tell me to shut up any time?" Duo said with a false laugh.
Wu Fei studied Duo's face, seeing the uncertainty there in his eyes. He found himself smiling and he was sure it was the same warm smile that he had seen Heero give Duo. There was something about Duo that stirred the heart, a neediness that was so very endearing. "Yes, I do know," Wu Fei replied simply and then continued his observation of the tree tops.
Duo was flustered. Wu Fei knew that he had wanted Wu Fei to declare his thoughts, but Duo hadn't expected Wu Fei to continue to be tolerant.
"Heero tells you to shut up." Wu Fei said and it wasn't a question. He had heard Heero say it many times.
"Yeah, but who can blame him?" Duo chuckled. "I bug the hell out of myself sometimes." Duo grimaced. "I don't want to set rules or anything, but try not to psychoanalyze Heero, okay? He's not the problem."
"Are you sure?" Wu Fei asked skeptically.
"Meaning?" Duo was looking irritated now and the shadows of blood and war in his eyes grew. Wu Fei knew that if he said anything else, he would be talking to that war, not to Duo Maxwell. He backed off.
"All right," Wu Fei agreed, but he must not have sounded sincere enough. Duo felt the need to explain further.
"Heero's only problem, was thinking that his life was expendable to achieve everyone else's happiness," Duo told Wu Fei and Wu Fei could hear in Duo's voice his hatred for the people who had made him think that."Now he understands that he's worth more as a Preventer agent, than as a corpse, and that he's allowed to clock out at the end of the day and enjoy his own life. Aside from some left over anal retentive compulsions, and me, he's a new man with a new life."
Wu Fei doubted that, but he didn't say so. "Sometimes, people feed each other's problems and make them grow."
"I make HIS grow." Duo agreed with that much and then stood up and started walking again, as if he wanted to leave that place and that conversation behind.
Wu Fei followed, feeling that he had found a rotten spot in the shiny apple Duo was presenting him. Duo was covering up and trying to hold back from including Heero in solving his problem.
"You can't," Wu Fei told him and Duo looked back at him, confused."I have to know everything, Duo, or this won't work. You can't spare Heero's feelings and you can't spare yourself embarrassment when it may cause my efforts to fail."
Duo bowed his head and Wu Fei was afraid that he had overstepped some invisible 'line'. When Duo looked up again, he smiled. Wu Fei was unprepared for Duo to lean forward and hug him. Wu Fei froze as Duo's slim arms wrapped around him and his hard body pressed tight to Wu Fei's own. He smelled Duo's sweat, a clean, outdoor scent that was a mixture of lake, green things, and Duo's own scent, and a hint of... minty shaving cream, after shave? And then Duo was pulling back and looking uncertain again.
"Sorry about that... I...," Duo rubbed the back of his neck, and then he smiled apologetically. "I just...You're right. I guess I'm protective when it comes to Heero. He's had enough shi- uh, stuff happen to him. I'm just... really happy that you didn't fall for my bullsh- my, uh, my temper."
"We all have defenses, but that's part of the problem where you're concerned," Wu Fei told him seriously. "Heero is your partner and your closest friend. He's had more chance than anyone else to observe you, to see what might be wrong. To exclude him from my questioning is a recipe for failure."
"Okay," Duo sighed and began walking again, shaking his head, "but you're going to find out that Heero knows more about the tensile strength of his Gundam's left tit than anything about my problems."
Wu Fei felt a blush as he followed and tried to hide it with a calm, "He's a very observant man, Duo. I'm sure we'll find that isn't so."
Duo made a noncommittal grunt and didn't reply. Wu Fei let the discussion go and sighed as nature settled its beauty and serenity over them again. Wu Fei wasn't looking at the stately trees though, or the red cardinals courting each other on a low branch, he was watching Duo's braid swing back and forth along the curve of his ass, and trying to capture, in memory, the exact scent of the man that his senses had been so briefly granted.
[part 2] [part 4] [back to Kracken's fic]