Rebuilding + Chapter 6 (cont)

----------

"Yes?" Une asked distractedly, looking up from her paperwork as Wufei leaned in her door.

"Apparently you do," Wufei said dryly.

"...I beg your pardon?"

"Sally says 'I think you forgot again'. Forgot what?"

"Oh!" Une grimaced in annoyance and yanked a desk drawer open, digging through the folders inside. "Of course... sit down, Chang, this won't take long."

"What won't take long?" Wufei asked, pointedly checking his watch. "Duo's waiting for me to come home."

"Here," she said, flicking a thin folder open and pushing it across the desk. "We've already begun proceedings against Anders through the internal disciplinary channels; I just need you to read these forms and sign them so we can press civil charges for assault and slander as well. Ah... you can manage a signature at the moment, can't you?" she added, uncertainly eyeing the bulge in his shirt where his right arm was strapped to his chest.

Wufei looked at the forms for a moment, expressionless, then closed the folder and pushed it away. "No."

Une frowned. "How long will your arm be tied up like that? If it's longer than a few days, I suppose we'll have to get a Justice of the Peace to witness your 'mark' -- "

"I can manage a signature," he interrupted. "I meant , no, I won't press civil charges."

"...You what?"

"You heard me."

"Chang," she said in a pained voice, rubbing at her forehead, "could you please explain to me why you won't press charges against a man who tried to cripple you? He would probably have cheerfully killed you if he thought he could get away with it!"

"The internal charges are enough," the Chinese teen said flatly. "This is a quasi-military organisation and I know there's a provision in the charter for prison terms as punishment for serious offenses. If you're charging him with assault on a superior officer, that's plenty; he'll get just as long a sentence as he would through the civil courts -- "

"Yes, but -- "

" -- and Duo will never have to come into it."

"Oh," Une sat back, looking at him. "I see... but, Chang, Duo wouldn't have to come into a civil case either."

"Wouldn't he?" Wufei laughed humourlessly. "In a trial for assault, only a moronic defense lawyer wouldn't try to make the jury believe Anders had a good reason to attack me. Duo's his excuse. We know it's bullshit, and we could prove it, but in the process they'd drag everything out in court... and it would go straight into the tabloids. Eight months missing, the state he was in when we found him, speculations on how and why he got that way, even the fact that we were Gundam pilots! All it would take would be one ex-OZ soldier seeing our pictures in the papers, and realising what a reporter would pay for the information. Not to mention that you want me to bring charges of slander. I couldn't exactly do that without saying what he was saying about me! It's the sort of stuff that makes wonderful 'human interest' mush, and I will not have Duo exposed to those vultures!

She sighed. "Very well. I suppose you're right that internal charges should be enough.; we are charging him with assault on a superior officer, incitement to assault, conspiracy, dereliction of duty and insubordination, after all."

"You just had to squeeze that last little bit in, didn't you?" he asked, struggling up out of the chair.

"The shoe fits," Une said sourly, dumping the folder of papers into a bin labelled 'TO BE SHREDDED'. "Anders can wear it. Go home."

* * * * *

Wufei stepped out of the building and glanced up at the sky, tugging his coat back onto his shoulder as it slipped off. It looks like it isn't going to snow, so it should be okay... Pulling out his phone, he flipped it open and dialled the apartment a little awkwardly. I've _got_ to program that into speed dial...

< < ...yes? > >

"Duo, it's me."

< < 'Fei! > > Duo's voice brightened slightly. < < What did the evil woman say? > >

He snorted. "I'm going to tell her you said that."

< < If you do, I'll tell her I was just repeating what you say. > >
Duo's voice dropped. < < So... is everything all right? > >

"It's healing. She insulted me. The usual... They want me back at work tomorrow."

< < Figured, > > Duo said quietly. < < It's okay. > >

"That's partly why I called," Wufei said. "I don't have that many books and things at home, and I really don't want you to get bored while I'm gone in the mornings." You didn't seem bored before, he added to himself, but you also didn't seem particularly... connected. You're coming out of it now..."I thought we could go shopping together. Have lunch somewhere, visit a few bookshops or something...?"

There was silence on the other end of the line.

"Duo?"

< < Umm... that would be cool. > >

"Great!" Wufei suddenly realised he was grinning. "I'll be home in about fifteen minutes. Is that enough time for you to be ready?"

< < Sure. See you, 'Fei > >

"See you soon." Wufei hung up and headed for the Blazer, trying to get his normal calm expression on straight.

----------

Duo was waiting inside the main door of the apartment building when Wufei pulled into the carpark, and was over to the Blazer before Wufei could climb out.

"So, what did Sally say about you driving yourself in? Or was that what she insulted you about?" he asked, smiling a little nervously.

"She didn't tell me not to, this time, and she still doesn't know I did it," Wufei replied, keeping his voice even with an effort. He's got his hair in a ponytail? No plait? And Quatre has an incredibly good eye for colour... the new clothes suit him perfectly. He looks great, even though he's still too thin...

I wonder which boxers he's wearing? He swallowed and his eyes widened a fraction with that thought, but he was fairly sure he hadn't blushed.

"Well, I'll drive now," Duo said firmly. "Move over. How did you drive, anyway? The ignition and shift lever are on the right!"

"It's not easy," Wufei said dryly, sliding over, and it's not comfortable either, he added privately, "but it is possible. I had to learn in a hurry during the war." He thought for a moment, frowning. "Absolutely nothing went smoothly on that mission. I was driving a manual, too..."

"Ow!" Duo shook his head, putting the Blazer into 'drive' and heading for the road. "Left or right? And why didn't you bail and steal a new car?"

"Left. It was a truck and I had Nataku on the back."

"Ah. Good reason."

As Wufei gave directions, his left hand crept out and surreptitiously coiled a strand of Duo's hair around his fingers.

----------

Wufei eyed the contents of Duo's basket with interest as they worked their way through the largest bookshop in the mall. I didn't expect him to go for classics, he mused. Rudyard Kipling... R. L. Stevenson... Agatha Christie? Ellis Peters?

"Something wrong, 'Fei?" Duo looked at him quizzically.

"No, umm..." Now Wufei was blushing. "I, ah, I have to confess that I expected you to head for the manga section," he admitted, running his hand over his hair and tugging at his short ponytail.

"Yeah, well, that stuff's fun, but..." Duo shrugged. "I mostly used to read it because it was cheap and easy to carry around, and if it got trashed or I had to leave it behind it was no big loss. This stuff," he hefted the basket, "is the really good stuff. Father Maxwell used to let us borrow books like these from him..."

"Ah."

"Oh, hey, here's an old friend," Duo said softly, reaching out to trail his fingers down the cover of a book on display at the end of the children's section. "Sister Helen read this to the little kids. I pretended I was so tough, y'know, too old to listen to kids stories... then I hid around the corner and listened anyway. I think she knew, though. 'It's being loved that makes you real'," he quoted in a whisper, pulling his hand away from 'The Velveteen Rabbit'. Wufei lifted the top copy off the stack and dropped it into Duo's basket, then walked off towards the science fiction shelves before the braided teen could say anything.

Being loved, or loving someone, he thought, blinking quickly as his eyes stung. I don't think I was much more than a cardboard cutout after Meiran died... until Duo came back into my life and I admitted what I felt for him.

"Want anything from over here?" he called over his shoulder, surprised that his voice sounded perfectly normal.

I'm getting more practice at acting normally than I did during the war!

----------

Later, over lunch, Wufei brought up the subject of Quatre's party.

"He isn't going to be offended if you don't feel up to it," he assured Duo. "It isn't a private party; he said there'd be a lot of business people and political figures there, people who went along with him and Relena while they were hammering out approval for the Preventers from the various legislative bodies; that sort of thing. But if you want to go -- "

"No," Duo said, looking down at his plate. "...Not yet."

Wufei nodded. I can just imagine Quatre's face when he hears that! 'Not yet' means 'sometime later', after all. "In that case, we could sit up and watch the fireworks over the lake. The balcony faces the right direction, and the buildings and trees aren't tall enough to get in the way."

"I like that idea."

"So do I," Wufei said quietly.

A little later, Duo looked up. "You know... I think New Year's is almost the only major holiday that I never gave Une a present for," he mused. "I sent her something for Aztec New Year, but we were kind of busy at the end of December... and then the war ended. I missed Chinese New Year, too, now that I come to think of it... now there was a good opportunity gone to waste," he sighed.

Wufei raised an eyebrow, then slowly smiled. "We can remedy that. Why end a tradition that started so auspiciously?"

Duo's grin in response to that was almost the old Duo back again.

----------

"It can't be just anything," Duo insisted, walking through the open- air section of the mall at Wufei's side. "It has to be sort of appropriate to the holiday, and cool."

"This is probably the best place to look," Wufei told him, glancing around. "It's full of gift, craft, and specialty shops, as well as little stalls with one of everything. If we don't see anything here, we can -- hey!"

"Sorry," apologised the man who had almost bumped into him, sliding between him and Duo. "Didn't see you."

It wasn't the last time; with a fair crowd of shoppers walking around, looking at the goods on display instead of paying attention to where they were going, Duo and Wufei kept having to sidestep and dodge. Every time someone pushed between them and Duo lost sight of his companion for a second, he tensed up a little more.

Ducking sideways through a chattering group of women, Duo came up beside Wufei again with an inward sigh of relief, and grabbed for his coat sleeve without thinking about it. Startled, Wufei jerked his arm up slightly and looked around to see what had tugged at him, and Duo let go as if the fabric was hot.

"Uh -- sorry," he muttered, blushing. "I didn't mean -- "

Wufei took his hand and continued on without a word, towing the startled teen behind him, and glaring at anyone who came close enough to possibly separate them.

We're in public, Duo thought, wide-eyed. He's holding my hand in public. But -- he doesn't mind? He was always so big on preserving 'face' in front of strangers... but he's holding my hand!

In public!

There was a small, happy smile on Duo's face and a sparkle in his eyes as he followed Wufei through the crowd.

It was another sparkle that caught Duo's eye a few minutes later, the thin winter sunlight reflecting off multi-coloured glass. "'Fei?" he said tentatively, tugging the Chinese pilot to a halt. "Over there... that looks good. What do you think?"

"'A Touch of Glass'," Wufei murmured, reading the sign over the window of the shop, shelves filled with stained, etched and painted glass. "Yes, I think that qualifies as 'cool'. Shall we have a closer look?"

One particular piece grabbed Duo's attention immediately, and they agreed it was perfect... until Wufei carefully lifted it off its stand and Duo caught sight of the price tag on the back. "Oh, no, 'Fei, it's way too expensive," he said, face falling. "We'll have to find something else."

"Really?" Wufei raised an eyebrow and juggled the piece around until he could see the back. "Five hundred credits? That seems about right," he said taking a step towards the cash register.

"But it's too much!" Duo hissed. "I -- I can't ask you to spend that much on something that's just a silly joke!"

Surprisingly, Wufei smirked. "Duo," he said, voice dropping to a whisper, "you aren't the only person who can spend OZ's money on a present for Une."

"OZ's money...?"

"You and Heero passed a lot of money over to us, remember? And I did a little hacking of my own. I had a fair amount left at the end of the war, and it didn't seem right to spend it, so..." Wufei shrugged, careful of his one-handed grasp on the stained glass. "I put it in a bank account, to wait until I decided what to do with it. It's earning obscene amounts of interest, and this won't even make a dent." He smiled at Duo's hopeful, relieved expression. "Happier about it, now?"

"Yeah. Like you said, we're continuing a beautiful tradition, right?" Duo said, smiling again.

"Right." Wufei carried the piece over to the counter and handed it over to be wrapped. "What's your delivery schedule like?" he asked the cashier, spotting a small sign on the counter saying 'WE DELIVER'.

"It can go tonight or tomorrow, sir," the woman told him, peeling the price tag off.

"Tomorrow," he and Duo chorused, then grinned at each other.

"It's a New Year's present," Wufei explained.

"Well, in that case, we have gift wraps and cards," the saleswoman said, dimpling at them. "No extra charge."

"Oh, yes," Duo muttered, patting his pockets for a pen. "It's got to have a card..."

[chap 5 ] [back] [chap 7] [back to Mel and Christy's fic]