authors: Mel &
minor scene change (from person to person at the same place, someone waking
up from a dream, etc): ----------
major scene change (at another place, some time later, etc): * * * * *
flashback starting or ending: ~*~*~*~
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): <<Tadah!>>
+ Chapter 9
Duo sat on the bench by the
customer service desk, huddled into Wufei's long winter coat, eyes fixed
on the end of Aisle 8. His eyes widened and he leaned forward unconsciously
as Wufei came into view, pushing a shopping cart; then he settled back
again, a disappointed breath puffing from his lips, as the object of his
attention vanished into Aisle 9.
He was so engrossed in watching for Wufei, eyes flicking from 9 to 10
and back again, that he never knew Sally was there until she spoke, reaching
out towards him. "Duo, what in God's name are you doing here?!
You should be in bed!"
Duo jerked and gasped in shock, yanking away from her hand, then made
a pained noise and hunched over, hand pressed to his cracked ribs. Sally
swore under her breath and sat next to him, mentally berating herself
for startling him.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have surprised you like that. Are you okay?"
Reaching out to press the back of her hand lightly against his forehead,
she frowned. "You're still feverish. Why are you here?"
Slowly straightening up, he flicked a quick, unreadable glance at her,
then looked back towards the shelves. "Shopping," he said softly.
"Oh, for... where's Wufei?"
Sally blinked, then followed Duo's gaze to the end of the aisle in question.
There was no sign, however, of a teenage Chinese Preventer; she opened
her mouth to ask another question, then paused as Duo leaned forward slightly,
suddenly intent. A moment later, Wufei swung out into view, then vanished
back into the depths of Aisle 11.
Sally raised an eyebrow, settling back and watching Duo silently. He seemed
to have almost forgotten she was there, totally focussed on the last place
he'd seen Wufei.
No, she decided, looking at his posture, he's leaning slightly
away from me... and he's shifted around so he's subtly turned his back
on me. He knows very well that I'm sitting next to him, and he doesn't
want me here. At least he isn't swearing at me; I guess I'm semi-accepted.
Perhaps because Wufei asked him to cooperate with me?
As she watched, Duo's gaze switched to the next aisle along.
Has he got Wufei timed? she wondered. Or is he just guessing
when Wufei is likely to finish an aisle? Timing him wouldn't work very
well; depending on what each aisle holds, he'd take more or less time
Duo leaned forwards, intent, an instant before Wufei came into view again.
However he's doing it, he's frighteningly accurate! Sally thought incredulously.
Wufei pushed his cart into Aisle 13 and let it coast to a halt, looking
around apprehensively. In the other aisles, he'd had a general idea where
everything was, even if he wasn't exactly shopping for his usual groceries.
This aisle, however, was one he'd never had reason to enter, and
he was out of his depth.
He had entered... the Cookie Zone.
Normally, there's no way I'd buy Duo anything that had sugar
as a main ingredient, he thought. But things aren't normal,
and... ye gods! How many varieties of these things can there be?
I've never even heard of half of these. I'll just look for things
I remember Duo eating... um... lots of types of chocolate chip cookies,
I think, and Oreos. Definitely Oreos...
*"Wu-man, you have got to try these! They're the best!"*
*"I don't think so, Maxwell."*
*"Ah, come on, man! Live a little! Here I am, offering to broaden
your horizons by sharing some of my precious stash with you. This is a
sacrifice! The least you could do is take one and make a
polite comment, even if you do loathe 'empty calories'. Dunk it
in milk, that's the best way."*
*"I've told you before, Maxwell, I--"*
*"Hn. Not bad."*
*"Heero, you jerk! I wasn't offering-- hey!
Give that back!"*
Wufei shook himself clear of the memory, a faint smile on his face. Yes...
definitely Oreos. And milk.
Cruising slowly along the aisle, scanning the shelves, he grew increasingly
frustrated. I'm glad I have something specific to look for. There's
so many different varieties, I'd be in serious trouble if I actually had
to make a choice-- ah! There!
With a relieved grin on his face, he reached towards the stack of blue
packages, then froze, a look of horror slowly overtaking his features,
as he saw what was sitting next to them.
Regular... Double Stuffed... and Christmas Oreos?!
As the minutes ticked by with no sign of Wufei, Sally watched Duo begin
to fidget nervously, twisting the end of his braid through his fingers.
He's never taken his eyes off the end of Aisle 13, she mused. However
Duo's keeping track of Wufei's movements, he obviously believes that's
where he's stopped... well, I want to have a talk to that boy anyway.
I can prod him back into motion while I'm at it, and save poor Duo from
getting an ulcer!
Getting up from the hard bench, she dusted off the back of her skirt,
eyeing Duo concernedly. "Duo, I'm going to go talk to Wufei. Will
you be all right on your own?"
He gave her a Look up from under his bangs. It was a very expressive Look;
it managed to fit 'Of course I'll be all right. I was perfectly
fine before you got here. Now go away,' into the half-second before
he turned away again.
"Ah. Yes. Silly me," she said, and walked off.
As Sally walked along past the checkout lines, she glanced over towards
Duo, still gazing steadily in the same direction. Well, since Duo thinks
he's here, here is where I'll look first,she thought, approaching
the aisle in question. I wonder what could be keeping him...? Oh, I
see. Cookie Country. As far as Wufei is concerned, this is uncharted territory.
Here There Be Ding Dongs.
Snickering slightly, she turned the corner.
Wufei was standing transfixed in front of a display half-way down the
aisle, a look of anguished indecision on his face. A lock of hair had
escaped from his hair tie and fallen into his face; as Sally approached,
he reached up impatiently and shoved it back, muttering to himself.
"--can't believe I'm obsessing over cookies,"
she heard as she came quietly up behind him. "I could always just
get a pack of each... no. No, that's a really bad idea. It's already
going to take me an hour just to put all this away! So... aagh! I'm babbling
again! To hell with it. Duo always says 'more is better', so double stuffed
it is." He grabbed a packet and almost threw it into the trolley,
then looked up directly into Sally's stern face.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
A strangled yelp escaped Wufei as he froze in shock, eyes wide; then he
straightened up, trying to regain his composure. "Shopping,"
he said, voice half an octave higher than usual.
"So I see," Sally said dryly, eyeing the contents of the shopping
cart. "Interesting selection you've got here. Frozen pizza... pasta
salad... dairy desserts... creamed rice... three flavours of ice cream...
"Duo likes them," he said defensively.
"I'm glad to see you also have some more conventional
foods to accompany the ice cream... and Pixie Stix. And while we're on
the topic of Duo, exactly why did you drag him out here when he
should be in bed?!"
"I didn't drag him!" Wufei protested. "He wouldn't take
no for an answer! When I came out of the bedroom after getting changed,
he was over by the door with his coat and boots on. I was scared he'd
follow me on foot if I left him behind! Damn it, Sally, he looked
Suddenly struck with the memory of the vicious glare Duo had favoured
her with the day before, not to mention the eloquent Look she'd received
five minutes earlier, Sally lost a lot of her righteous indignation. "Well...
you may have a point. His eyes are incredibly expressive, aren't
"Yes," he emphatically agreed, sweeping the loose hair
back from his face again. "Sally, how long will it take for him to
get to the point where he can eat more than a few bites without exhausting
himself? I mean, I can make him a lot of small meals, that's not a problem,
but he's also sleeping a lot and I don't want to keep waking him up to
"At this point, so long as you're getting some food into him,
sleep is more important," she said slowly. "The amount he needs
should decrease soon, though it will remain significant. From Tuesday,
I think you could start waking him for meals; if he needs to, he can just
go back to sleep after he's eaten. As to the size of the meals, all I
can advise is 'don't rush him'."
"I'm not. I won't," Wufei said seriously. "I figured if
I got stuff he likes, stuff that I can give him in small servings, that
will make it easier. I mean, I know some of this stuff is total
"I think only the Pixie Stix really fall into that category,"
Sally said, poking through the contents of the cart. "After all,
you can always give him a glass of milk with the Oreos. They're better
dunked, anyway... I think you have enough for now, unless you have something
specific in mind."
"Uh... milk, and some clothes for Duo. He can't keep wearing my workout
pants and t-shirts forever."
"Good point. Now get a move on. Duo's been keeping track of where
you are, and if he doesn't see you soon he's going to twist the end of
his braid right off."
Wufei snorted, starting to move away. "And you still asked why I
brought him with me?"
* * * * *
Nearing the end of her shift, Leah was developing a much greater appreciation
for Amanda's skill and stamina.
How she manages to handle all this work and still keep a smile on her
face all day, Leah thought, is totally beyond me. Okay, maybe she
doesn't hate filing the way I do, but still... the woman never
slows down! I swear, I'd bet anyone a week's pay that she could take the
assault course or do a cross-country run and leave half the field agents
in her dust. Dumping her armload of files on one of the tables in
the file room, she scowled at the scattered folders on other tables, left
there by agents who couldn't be bothered putting them back themselves.
Not to mention that it's got to take serious willpower for her
to come in here every day and see that, and still be polite when
she reminds everyone to put the files back where they came from. I mean,
she knows who's working on which cases; it doesn't take much thought
to work out which agents never learned to pick up after themselves. I'd
start planting car bombs after a week.
Picking up one file that was teetering on the edge of the table, she raised
an eyebrow and smirked sourly. Look at this, for example. I gave this
one to that jerk Anders this morning. I don't see any of the others I
gave him, though... don't tell me this is all he's done today!
By the time everything had been put away (though Leah was tempted
to leave everyone else's files out and just drop nasty notes on the desks
of the people responsible), it was well past time to go. About to drop
a half-empty bottle of water in her drawer to wait until Monday, Leah
remembered Chang Wufei's neglected fern, still unwatered nine hours after
she'd noticed it; the water went into the plant pot and the bottle hit
the inside of Chang's trash bin in a perfect three-pointer.
Dusting off her hands with a triumphant smile on her face, she turned
back towards her own desk, only to do a double-take at something halfway
across the room.
What the...? I would have expected Anders to bolt out of here one second
before shift change. What's he still doing here-- she checked
her watch --nearly an hour after? And his jerk friends,
too. What's so fascinating that they're staying late to discuss it?
Watching the huddled group of men around Anders's desk, intent on their
low-voiced conversation, Leah felt a chill run down her spine.
I'm starting to get a really bad feeling about this.
* * * * *
Once Duo was comfortably settled on the sofa, wrapped up in a blanket
with a snack pack of chocolate pudding and the TV remote, Wufei started
unpacking the rest of the groceries. Picking up one particular blue packet,
he scowled at the Oreos before shoving them into a cupboard.
I cannot believe that retail consumerism has gone so far that there
are Christmas editions of cookies, he thought, then paused
with a bag of grapes dangling from his hand. Christmas. I have to get
Duo a Christmas present... I'll think about it later. It'll be easier
to shop after I go back to work, anyway...
Shit. Work. If Duo reacts like that when I'm just going shopping,
what's going to happen when I go back to work?!
I can't take him with me. I may have to blackmail Lady Une into
giving me more time off... well, that was always an option and she knows
it. Like I told her, I can always resign. Not that I really want
to, but if Duo needs me...
I'll see what happens. There's three days to go before I have to make
a decision. If he settles down and doesn't react so badly when I need
to go places... if he starts eating more... if he gains a little weight...
If he starts talking...
I think that's the worst part, really. Duo wasn't designed to
Thirty seconds of silence later, Wufei blinked and looked at the bag of
grapes he was still holding. Babbling and daydreaming now. I'm
* * * * *