Home + Part 6
The sun had finally warmed the water and Duo was eager to swim at least once before they had to leave the next day. He was dressed in cut off jean shorts, ragged at the hem, and flip flops on his feet. His bare chest was hairless and his tight muscles played under smooth skin as he flexed and turned to look outside. Wu Fei saw knots along his side, the telltale sign that ribs had been broken once or twice, and a long slash under one of Duo's arms that didn't look... survivable.
Wu Fei was dressed in a pair of black swim trunks and hard soled slippers. He wore a tshirt as well, feeling more modest. He had a sinking feeling that this swim was going to be very difficult. If Heero was wearing anything like Duo, if he had to keep his eyes away from two youthful, male, bodies trained to perfection... Wu Fei took a slow, steadying breath. He wasn't an animal that couldn't control itself. He was a man, a scholar, a warrior, a Preventer. He was the heir of the Dragon Clan and he had honor to uphold and friends that he couldn't betray. It had been easier to think of Duo in emotional and sexual terms when he had believed that Heero was abusing his position at Duo's side, but, now that he knew the true facts, and how deep their love ran...
The sudden ache in Wu Fei's chest caught him off guard. He rubbed at it.
"Are you okay, Wu Fei?" Duo wanted to know anxiously, coming back into the room and letting the door close..
"I'm fine, " Wu Fei replied tightly and lowered his hand, feeling foolish and self conscious. Duo cocked his head to one side and regarded him with a serious _expression. "You don't look fine. You look like something hurts."
Wu Fei retorted flippantly, "It's the ulcer you two are giving me." He wanted to distract Duo, knowing that the man, once he zeroed in on something, wouldn't let it go until he was told the truth. He wasn't prepared for Duo to stiffen and for a sharp look of hurt to come into his eyes. His mouth went into a tight, thin, line and he turned away.
"Okay, sorry," Duo growled and then angrily, "Heero, get your butt out here!"
Heero came from the bedroom then, unhurried and wearing shorts and a green shirt. "I was checking in with Une. She's given us the entire week free. She says she's developing a case for us and it won't be ready until then." He looked over at Wu Fei and Wu Fei could tell by the intensity of Heero's eyes what his answer should be even before Heero asked, "If you would like to stay, I can extend our reservations for the cabin."
"I would like to stay," Wu Fei replied without hesitation.
Duo grumbled, "Well, if we're giving you an ulcer..."
Duo's hands were jammed into his pockets. His head was down and his eyes were covered by his bangs.
"It was, perhaps, a poor attempt at a joke," Wu Fei apologized.
Duo looked up, frowning, but then he was suddenly contrite. "I know we didn't let you in on the plan when we came here... so, I guess you should be... pissed about that... I..." He raked a hand through his bangs and sighed. "Maybe we should go home..."
Heero wasn't saying anything, not sure what their argument was about. He settled on what he did know. "Should I extend the reservations?"
"Yes," Wu Fei replied firmly. "When you bother me enough that I wish to go home, Maxwell, I will inform you of it, be sure of that."
Duo suddenly smirked and his eyes sparkled, willing to forget the argument as he said, "Then let's go swimming guys! You can fool with reservations later, Heero."
Heero hesitated. He looked torn. He wasn't a man to play when there was something that needed to be done. Wu Fei admired that quality, but he knew that Duo was about to get angry about it. Duo was expecting an argument , his tense body language said clearly, and he was ready for contention. Wu Fei deftly stepped in to diffuse the situation.
"The office is very close to the swimming dock," Wu Fei told them. "We can stop there and extend our reservations. I noticed that they also sell prepared food in the attached store. We can take a small lunch with us instead of returning to the cabin for our meal."
Duo calmed and grunted. He rubbed the back of his neck. "That sounds like a plan."
Heero relaxed as well. "All right."
Wu Fei felt as if he had distracted angry bulls by waving verbal red flags, giving them both something else to think about besides the fact that they didn't agree. He could see a picture of their relationship very clearly then; a constant butting of heads, Duo the outgoing, spur of the moment, half, and Heero, the methodical, mission first, half. It was a recipe for unhappiness and it was no wonder that they had been making each other miserable.
So many problems... As Wu Fei followed them out of the door and down towards the office and the swimming dock, he wondered if he would be doing them a disservice by trying to keep them together. Surely both Heero and Duo could find other people more compatible? It was logical to think that, but the pain was there again and Wu Fei fisted his hand to keep from rubbing his chest once more. It may have been logical, but it wasn't an outcome he was eager to see.
Wu Fei lagged slightly behind, enjoying the sun, but also watching Heero and Duo as they walked together. There was a bond there, invisible unless you saw the way they moved, the way that they were 'aware' of each other. It spoke of something above petty arguments; something that would forgive and forget as many times as necessary to keep that bond solid.
Duo looked back and called, "Come on, Wu Fei! Keep up!"
Wu Fei felt drawn in suddenly, brought into something electric, something personal. It was like... becoming part of a circuit. Duo held out his hand, motioning him closer. Heero turned as well to look back at Wu Fei, _expression open and friendly. Wu Fei stepped forward to join them and, as they proceeded towards the office together, the pain in his chest went away.
Heero left them to pay for their extension and Wu Fei followed Duo into the store. Duo ordered a large sandwich for himself, at the hole in the wall deli at the back, and a container of hot chicken and rice for Heero. He then went up and down the aisles looking for drinks and snacks, leaving Wu Fei to sigh over the limited menu. The bored girl behind the counter popped and chewed gum, looking as if she were willing to wait forever until Wu Fei made up his mind. Wu Fei, though, was finding it hard to concentrate on menu.
Heero's begging look, when he had informed him of Une's charity concerning their off time, had been impossible to refuse. All of Wu Fei's resolve to leave, to remove himself from that situation, had disappeared from consideration. The fact that he had almost ruined Duo's trust in him with some ill timed words, had cemented his decision to stay as well. Rebuffing Heero's offer would have only confirmed Duo's impression that Wu Fei was rejecting his two friends and their problems.
Heero's suggestive sexual encounter in the kitchen had been a warning, Wu Fei decided, not a sexual advance towards himself. Heero had been showing him his own lack of honor, his own lack of control over himself and his needs. Heero had said... Wu Fei felt himself blushing, remembering Heero's words, remembering the feel of his body. Heero had forgiven him, had given him a chance to correct his mistake. Running away now would only confirm to himself that he was weak and unworthy of that chance..
The girl behind the counter popped a rather large bubble of her gum. Wu Fei brought himself out of his thoughts and said, finally, "The fried fish, I suppose, with rice."
"On a bun?" the girl wondered with a country drawl.
Wu Fei scowled. "No."
"Allrighty then, order will be up in a few. " She took her order sheet and slapped it onto a spike of metal behind her on a low counter. "Dave! Order up!"
She didn't turn to accomplish that feat, instead, she was looking appreciatively at something behind Wu Fei. Duo's bare chest, handsome face, and long braid, Wu Fei decided, and his guess was confirmed as Duo unloaded snacks and drinks onto the checkout counter.
"What's the damage, darling?" Duo wondered with a wink.
The girl smirked and blushed as she began ringing the items into the cash register. Duo talked to her about the lake, the eagles, the island, and about what she thought about swimming in the lake, in a cheerful tone that had her laughing and falling head over heels for his charm. . Wu Fei, who had stepped back to give Duo more room, had a long time to wait. He spent that time trying to find his strength and his resolve. Unfortunately, Duo made that nearly impossible just by being so close. Wu Fei, despite his best efforts, found himself noticing the line of Duo's neck as it flowed into the well rounded curve of his shoulder, the well formed muscles of his forearm, the slide of skin over ribs along his sides, the enticing curve of hipbone just showing, and a light, spicy scent coming from Duo's hair. As the girl was bagging up Duo's purchases and giving him a sack with their prepared food, Wu Fei also had time to notice that Duo was carrying a knife tucked into the back waistband of his swim shorts.
As they walked out of the store, Wu Fei asked, "Is that necessary?"
Duo looked at his bags of snacks, sheepishly. "I'm still growing, you know?"
Wu Fei sighed, "The knife, Duo. I think three ex Gundam pilots can handle themselves without weapons, don't you?"
Duo winced. "Well, I told you I'm not exactly reasonable when it comes to that."
"The extension has been made," Heero announced as he joined them. "They consider us celebrities, so they were eager to accommodate us." Duo rolled his eyes. "We'll be on next week's brochure. Cabins preferred by Gundam pilots. War heros slept here."
Wu Fei didn't join in their laughter. He wasn't considered a war hero. He had been fighting for L5 and L5 was gone, vaporized by their own choice. After that traumatic incident, he had chosen the wrong side of the fight He doubted that anyone had forgotten that fact.
Duo was sensitive. He noticed Wu Fei's sudden, dark, mood and understood the cause. He changed subjects abruptly. "So, how cold do you think the water is? The girl back there seemed to think we were nuts for wanting to swim."
"I think the children are answering that question," Heero replied and pointed towards the swimming dock. The little dog was running up and down it, yapping excitedly at the three children already swimming there. They were splashing and laughing as they paddled around on floats.
Duo stopped walking and his face lost all traces of humor. "I'm not feeling so good," he said and he didn't sound well. "Maybe you two should go ahead without me?"
"No," Heero replied shortly and made a wall of his body, blocking Duo from the path back to the cabin.
"We don't have to swim with them, Duo," Wu Fei told him firmly. "And I'm not a strong swimmer. I don't mind sitting on the dock and watching."
Duo looked both guilty and eager. "You'll watch? That won't be much fun for you, Chang... We could take turns, though."
"Agreed," Heero replied and Wu Fei heard 'mission planning' overtones to his voice, as if they were giving out positions for a military action.
"I don't have any objection," Wu Fei agreed as well.
"Great!" Duo regained his smile and they stepped onto the dock.
The children called happily to Heero and he nodded greeting with a surprisingly warm look in his eyes. The little dog was just as happy to see Duo. Duo bent and rubbed him behind the ears before straightening and giving their surroundings a long, searching look.
Wu Fei sat cross legged on the hard boards of the dock, but it was warm from the sun and it felt good against his bare skin. He composed himself to enjoy his surroundings and watched Duo test the water and then shiver.
"Damned cold," Duo proclaimed and then, with his usually impulsiveness, he dived straight in. He surfaced almost at once, spluttering and exclaiming about the cold. He managed to keep it g rated, though, for the children's sake.
Heero took his time. He slipped out of his shoes, slowly peeled off his shirt over his head, and then dropped his shorts. Wu Fei gaped. Heero was wearing a red speedo and it hugged the curve of a well endowed crotch. Duo wolf whistled and Heero smirked as he ran fingers through his chocolate hair, muscles and scars flexing all over his lean body.
Wu Fei suddenly found the opposite side of the lake interesting, especially when Heero crouched in front of him to secure their food and fold his clothing on top of the towels.
"Come in!" The children called happily. "It's warm!" They lied.
"Warm?" Heero replied with a lifted eyebrow as he turned to face them, faking ignorance. "Are you certain?"
"Yes! Yes!" They all cheered and laughed.
"If you say so..." he replied and then dove into the water as lithe and as sleek as a missile. When he surfaced again, he smiled and lied, "You're right, the water is very warm."
The children were wide eyed and then they laughed and splashed him when they realized that he hadn't been able to keep the shiver out of his voice.
He was so easy with them, Wu Fei realized, as he tried to gather his thoughts back from the scattered places the sight of Heero's body had sent them to. He recalled what Heero had said before, that they didn't expect him to have involved conversations, that they were happy with any notice he gave them. With Duo, it wasn't that simple, unfortunately.
Duo kept his distance, swimming by himself. Heero kept an eye on him, but he seemed content to float near the children as they talked to him in high pitched, laughing voices.
"Here's their ball," their mother said as she bent and handed Wu Fei a plastic ball. She smiled at him in a friendly manner, then walked back to where her husband was sunbathing on a lounger further down the bank.
Wu Fei turned the ball over in his hands thoughtfully and then tossed it to Duo. It bounced off of Duo's head. "Head's up!" Wu Fei announced after the fact.
Duo scowled, but he was smiling too as he swam to the floating ball and retrieved it. "Thanks a lot," he called back sarcastically and then tossed the ball to Heero. Heero caught it deftly and then tossed it over to the children. They squealed in delight and chased after it.
Just as Wu Fei had planned, Duo wasn't allowed to stay out of the game. Since he had started it, the children naturally included him, tossing the ball as far as they could to where he was swimming. Of course they missed and, of course, Duo was forced to swim closer and closer to retrieve the ball so that he could throw it back to them. He couldn't help but join the game and he couldn't help smiling and laughing along with the children.
Pleased, Wu Fei didn't concern himself with whether he was going to be given the chance to swim. It suited him more to enjoy the sun, the light breeze, and the beauty of the lake and the trees all around him. The children's high pitched laughter, and Duo and Heero's deeper voices, faded away as he slipped into a pleasant, meditative, state.
"Eddie!" Duo shouted and there was a splash.
Wu Fei started, mind making the connection between the name and the youngest of the boys, before he was standing defensively and looking around for danger in one smooth motion.
Duo was gone and the young boy was missing as well. Wu Fei reached for a weapon he didn't have as he yelled, "Yuy?!" in confusion.
"The boy went under!" Heero called back as he swam to a bubbling spot of water.
"Eddie!" the mother shrieked as both parents came running onto the dock. The father dived straight in and started to swim to Heero just as Duo surfaced with the boy tucked under one arm. Heero grabbed at his gasping partner and helped him swim back to the dock. The other children scrambled onto the dock ahead of him and the father helped Heero lift Eddie, choking and gasping on water, up to where Wu Fei was waiting to take him.
Wu Fei put the boy on his side and checked him over quickly. He seemed all right; pale and frightened, but breathing easier as he cleared his lungs. Everyone left the water and gathered close as Wu Fei completed his examination. When he announced, "He'll be all right,"the mother of the boy snatched Eddie up and held him close.
"Eddie!" She wailed. "You're such a good swimmer. What happened?"
"Cramp, I think," Heero said. "You should have a doctor check him to be absolutely certain."
The father squeezed Duo on the shoulder. Duo was slumped over, still breathing hard. "Thank you," the father told him. "If you hadn't seen him go under the water, we might... he might..." The father swallowed hard. "Thank you."
The father gathered his family together and they made their subdued way back to their cabin, the mother carrying Eddie. Heero looked after them with an _expression of concern. Duo was looking sick and upset as he grabbed up their towels and chucked the bags of food at Heero.
"I'm done swimming," Duo said. "Let's get out of here."
Wu Fei knew what Duo was thinking, and so did Heero. As Heero struggled for words, Wu Fei already had them ready. "You blame yourself," he said.
Duo went pale. He ducked his head so that his wet bangs hid his _expression. After a moment, he nodded.
Wu Fei sighed. "My friend, you cannot think that being close to you causes bad things to happen to people. You cannot take that kind of responsibility for the chances of life. Consider this, if we had not been here, if you had not been close enough to the boy to see him go under the water, he would most likely be dead now."
Duo went even paler, but he looked up at Wu Fei sharply. It was painful to see how badly he wanted to believe that and how his fear, his guilt, was eating away at his ability to do that.
Wu Fei leaned very close. "You saved his life, Duo." Wu Fei was looking directly into Duo's eyes, seeing the redness, the tension, the pain there. Like a string breaking, Duo's shoulders slumped and he let out a shuddering breath. He smiled weakly and said, "Yeah, guess I did." He added, sounding embarrassed, "I still want to go back to the cabin. I think the fun's over."
Wu Fei straightened and nodded. "I agree."
Heero put his clothes back on, saying,. "It's getting chill again. That probably is a good idea."
They began walking back to the cabin and Duo tried to recover by falling back on humor, "Well, if you didn't insist on walking around in that suit...."
"It's comfortable," Heero replied simply.
"It's pornographic," Duo grumbled back. "And it's red. Why don't you just put up a big sign, 'Look at my crotch.' ?"
Heero grunted. "There isn't anyone around to see, except-"
"Except a lot of traumatized chipmunks," Duo snickered.
And one Heir of the Dragon Clan, Wu Fei caught himself thinking ruefully, but then clamped down on that in disgust at himself.
As Duo and Heero continued their banter, Wu Fei began to pay attention and to wonder at Heero's ability to take cues from Duo. They could snipe at each other, follow each other's lead, joke, and bat insults back and forth with ease. Why was it, then , so hard for them to have a regular conversation? Maybe it went back to the children. When they talked like this, Duo wasn't expecting much from Heero, wasn't needing those deeper, emotional, more complicated responses. Heero was at ease and that might be at the root of their problem as far as communication went. Heero wasn't expecting to make any mistakes, so he wasn't guarding against them.
"We should go out tonight," Duo was saying, the argument at an end. "There has to be a bar or something around here where people hang out and have some fun. We've had enough of quiet, let's get loud."
Wu Fei liked the quiet. Duo's suggestion wasn't appealing to him, "Perhaps you and Heero could..."
"Come on, Fei!" Duo urged. "Let the hair down for one evening. The places around here can't be too wild, maybe just a watering hole where a person can shoot some pool or play some vid games."
Wu Fei made a noncommital answer, deciding that things were too raw for the moment to argue about it. He would decline again later. He wondered, though, why Heero was suddenly looking so worried.
[part 5] [part 7] [back to Kracken's fic]