Author: pyrzm

Lost Souls + Chapter 17
Walking Wounded

Trowa kept his word to Duo. He spoke with Une personally the following morning, and received her assurance that the other boys would not be abused again.

"This might surprise you, Officer Barton, but I have the highest regard for those young Gundam pilots, as does Mr. Treize. He speaks of them often, and considers them pure, true warriors. He dueled with one of them, you know. Wufei Chang." She paused, and Trowa knew she was watching him for a reaction.

"Chang, Commander? He told me his name was Long."

Une smiled slightly. "Of course. Mr. Treize won the duel, of course, but he said young 05 was remarkably brave, and a most honorable opponent. He would not have dreamed of taking his life."

This was a side of the story Trowa hadn't heard before. He'd accompanied Wufei on his attempt to assassinate Treize, and seen how despondent the Chinese pilot been when Treize had first disarmed him, then refused to press his advantage and kill him. Wufei had always struck Trowa as rather brittle, almost fragile at times, for a soldier. His code of honor was unforgiving, especially toward himself. In Trowa's experience, any fight you walked away from was a win.

+

No test flights were scheduled for the following day. Trowa was in his room, reading on his bed, when a page came in over the intercom. "Officer Barton, please report to the prison block at once."

Trowa's heart was pounding before he even got off the bed. Barefoot, in his tee shirt and uniform trousers, he ran for the block.

A guard met him outside the cell door, which stood wide open.

"Shit, what now?" Trowa demanded, fearing the worst.

"The prisoners are demanding to see you, sir," the guard told him. "Come this way, please?"

He led Trowa down the corridor to the cellblock shower room. Trowa could already hear raised voices.

"No fucking way, you perverts!" That was Duo, and he sounded furious, and perhaps scared, too.

Inside, Heero, Duo and Wufei were standing shoulder to shoulder, facing down half a dozen armed men. Their manacles had been removed.

"What's going on here?" Trowa demanded.

"These perverts want us to strip!" Duo shouted, and Trowa heard the edge of panic clearly under the anger.

"We are being forced to wash before an audience, under duress," Wufei told him, looking equally unsettled.

Heero said nothing, but he looked ready to take on the whole unit to defend the others.

"What am I supposed to do?" Trowa asked, feigning disinterest.

"You said you'd keep them from messing with us again," Duo growled. "So tell 'em to take me back to the cell!"

"Officer Barton, they're filthy. They stink!" the sergeant in charge said. "It's nothing personal, and there's nothing untoward going on here, I assure you! But under the standard military penal regulations, prisoners must be assured of proper hygiene. It's a health matter, sir. Nothing else."

"You heard the man," Trowa told the others. "I'll stay, if that's what you want."

"I don't need a shower!" Duo exclaimed, hugging himself, almost cowering.

"Neither do I," Wufei growled. "The conditions are unacceptable.

Trowa looked around. The shower room was open, well lit, and clean. The tile gleamed. There were plenty of towels and soap dispensers. The place was usually used by soldiers.

But Wufei still stared imploringly at him, face still mottled with the bruises Trowa had given him, and his dark eyes seeming to hold a plea. "I'll stay and watch out for you, if that's what you want," Trowa told him again, still not understanding what the problem was.

"Come on, boys. Strip off or we'll have to help you," the sergeant said.

There was nothing Trowa could do, even if he'd understood the problem. "I'll stay," he said again, drawing his sidearm and slipping the safety. "Sergeant, you and your men stand outside the door. I'll cover them."

"As you wish, sir, so long as you take responsibility. Just toss their clothes out. We have to run them through the cleaning unit out here." The sergeant saluted, giving Trowa an odd look as he and his men went out.

"Come on. Let's get it over with," Heero growled, pulling off his sneakers, socks, tank top and peeling off his shorts. Duo and Wufei both reddened and looked hastily away. Unconcerned, Heero tossed his clothes to Trowa, then stepped under one of the shower heads and turned it on.

Wufei went redder still as he slowly removed his own clothing. He turned his back as he took off his pants and underwear, and kept his face turned away and one hand over his genitals has he threw his clothes in Trowa's general direction. He chose a showerhead that kept his back turned to the others.

Trowa tried not to stare, but he was caught both by how slender the boy was, with his smooth, golden, hairless skin, and the sizable bruise on the left side of his chest. Trowa had probably left that there too, during the interrogation. "I'm sorry about that," he murmured. Wufei ignored him, concentrating on washing as quickly as possible. A stranger to modesty himself, it took Trowa a moment to realize what was upsetting Wufei so badly. He couldn't stand being naked in front of others, not even his fellow pilots. He supposed it made sense, given some of the things he'd heard about L-5 society.

Duo wasn't from L-5, but he seemed to be having an even harder time of it than Chang. He was the last to undress. He waited until the others were soaping their hair, then quickly stripped off and chose a showerhead furthest from them. Trowa realized now why he'd been putting up such a fight.

The marks from the whipping Duo had received at the hands of Jones and his cronies were still livid on the pale skin of his buttocks and thighs. His ass was crosshatched with mottled red bands, and there were long thin lines of crusted blood where the edge of the belt had cut his skin. Duo kept his back to Trowa and away from the others, clearly not wanting them to see what Trowa already knew. A few of the cuts looked like they might be infected.

"Take a picture. It'll last longer," Duo snarled under his breath, glaring at Trowa over his shoulder.

"You need to get some medicine on that," Trowa replied softly. "I'll get you something."

"I'm fine," Duo shot back. Loosening his braid under the spray, he collected a handful of shampoo from the wall dispenser and worked it through with furious strokes, trying to make a fast job of it before the others finished and turned around.

They saw, of course, but a warning look from Trowa kept them both silent. Trowa caught another flash of rage in Heero's eyes as he caught sight of Duo's ass. Trowa wondered again why Heero never said much about Duo, even when they were in Europe; clearly he cared a great deal for the longhaired boy. Trowa wondered suddenly if there was more than friendship there, and was surprised by his own pang of jealousy.

+

The humiliation of the shower was nothing compared to the deeper shame Wufei was suffering, and the guilt.

He'd dismissed Duo Maxwell from the start. He was a splendid pilot and fighter, it was true, but as a companion he left much to be desired. He was coarse and vulgar and loud. He talked too much. He liked to tease. He grated on Wufei's nerves. He was certain Maxwell knew it and did it on purpose. Wufei's annoyance and arrogance had completely blinded him to the kind of strength that lay under that crude facade until last night.

Wufei's own fear had shamed him. War had shown him what a sheltered upbringing he'd had, and what a sheltered, civilized place L-5 was, compared to the wider world. But he was no fool, either. He'd recognized the intent in the eyes of those drunken, dangerous men as they manhandled Maxwell out of the cell. He'd guessed what they'd meant when one of them had looked back at him and snarled, "You're next!"

He wasn't certain just how long Maxwell was gone, but it seemed like an eternity. Wufei had never been so frightened in his life. Nothing had ever turned his stomach to acid and his bowels to water like the prospect of being raped. It had shamed him, this fear. It had taken all his will to remain calm while Yuy had paced and raged and swore muttered vengeance on those men for what they were doing to his friend.

Wufei had not even known if the two knew each other before Duo was dragged into the cell earlier that day, and had had no idea that there was anything like real friendship between them until he watched Yuy's odd, stunted attempts at comforting Maxwell when Barton brought him back. The concern in Yuy's usually unreadable eyes, and even in Barton's, for that matter, had amazed Wufei. There truly was a bond there, one he didn't understand but admired as the night had dragged on. Yuy had put all the blankets around Maxwell to fend off shock. Wufei had not begrudged him that, but his own fear had left him sick and cold.

Later, listening to Maxwell's muffled weeping, and seeing the pain in Yuy's face as he sat helplessly by his friend --it had made Wufei feel terribly lonely. He found himself imagining what it would be like to join them, to be close to another person. But of course, he didn't.

Today he truly began to admire Maxwell. Maxwell wouldn't say what those men had done to him, but he moved with pain and grimaced every time he sat down. Wufei had recognized the shame and humiliation in Maxwell's eyes when the soldiers made him strip and reveal those terrible wounds. He saw that Maxwell didn't care about being naked, as he did; no, he couldn't stand for them to see the evidence that he'd lost the fight against men like that.

Yet his real strength showed in the way he recovered so quickly once he was dressed. Suddenly he was laughing and joking and teasing again, no different than before. It had nothing to do with the medications Barton had insisted he take. No, it was pure Maxwell. He might be crude and vulgar, but he had a toughness that surpassed anything Wufei could find in himself.

It began to matter less, how Maxwell spoke or smelled, or how he delighted in butchering Wufei's name. Wufei began to see beyond all that, to the boy who was strong enough to put on such a brave act to cover his own pain and fear. The way he whimpered in his sleep, and the terrible marks on his body -- all this only made Wufei respect more the bravado he projected.

+

That didn't make Maxwell any less annoying as a cellmate at times, however. In the weeks that followed, Yuy was often gone, off on test runs with Barton. That left Maxwell with nothing to entertain himself with except Wufei. They were able to talk about battle and Gundams, but that didn't take them far. Maxwell was likely to burst into off key song, or some sort of physical activity, like dancing even though there was no music. It was sometimes rather lewd, the way he moved. It amused him no end when Wufei blushed and Yuy growled at him. At last Wufei offered instruction in the basics of Wu-Yi, or at least the ones that didn't require hands. Maxwell was a willing and able pupil. That thin body was strong and agile, his mind razor sharp. However, he wanted nothing to do with the principals and philosophy. He reminded Wufei a bit of Meirin, that way. A few weeks after the assault Maxwell seemed particularly restless. Yuy had been gone more than usual and he seemed to miss him, even though Yuy showed him no special attention when he was there.

They'd gone through their exercises and had just finished the midday meal. Duo sat clutching his metal cup, drumming his fingers on the side and jiggling one foot in time to some music in his head. As usual, it quickly made Wufei edgy. It was impossible to concentrate on meditating with that going on.

Wufei sighed, and then made a halfhearted attempt to interest him in poetry, but Maxwell didn't get it. Yuy had at least tried, but Maxwell had no patience for it.

"Sorry, the only kind of poetry I ever learned starts out like, 'There once was a guy from Nantucket.'"

"I'm not familiar with that form. Is it some kind of haiku?" Wufei asked, grasping at straws to keep him from singing again.

Maxwell raised an eyebrow in surprise. "You mean you've never heard that old chestnut? I thought you said you knew all about poetry? Wanna hear the rest of it?"

Wufei shrugged. At least it would pass the time. "Yes, go on."

Maxwell sprawled on his blankets, picking at the end of his braid. He did that a lot, Wufei had noted. He picked at it with his fingers and even nibbled at it. It was getting quite frayed. That foot was still jiggling, too.

"OK, here goes," Duo said. "'There once was a guy from Nantucket, whose prick was so long he could suck it. He said with a grin, as it tickled his chin, 'If my ear was a cunt I could fuck it!'"

Wufei stared at him in stunned silence.

Maxwell glanced over at him and those eyebrows shot up under his shaggy bangs. "Jesus, Wu, are you all right?"

"You--you call that poetry?"

"Where I'm from? Yeah. Hey, you're embarassed!" He burst out laughing. "You? The guy who was married?" He rolled from side to side, far more amused than the situation warranted.

If Wufei could have stormed from the room he would have. Instead, he turned his back in outraged silence.

Maxwell wouldn't take the hint. "Hey, I'm not laughing at you, buddy, really! I just never saw a guy turn that shade of red!" He crawled over and bumped Wufei on the back with his shoulder. "Come on! Loosen up, will ya? We're just guys. Wanna hear another one?"

"No!"

"No, really, you'll love this one. It's hilarious! 'There once was a girl named Alice, who used a dynamite stick for a phallus. They found her vagina in Old Carolina . . ."

"Maxwell, please!" Wufei snapped, glaring at him over his shoulder. If his hands hadn't been shackled, he might have swung at him.

Maxwell slumped back against the wall and pouted at him. Pouted! "Fuck, you're no fun!"

"I see nothing 'fun' about spouting that kind of filth!"

"Quatre thought they were funny as hell. He practically pissed himself, he laughed so hard. And he's all educated and proper like you." Maxwell actually sounded aggrieved now, as if Wufei had somehow insulted him!

"Obviously, I'm not Quatre."

"That's for sure," Maxwell grumbled. He sulked a little longer, then inexplicably wiggled over and crowded in next to Wufei, settling his head on his shoulder. It was the same maneuver Wufei had employed to get close to Yuy the day he'd been captured, but that had been for a strategic purpose. There was no reason he could see for Maxwell to be doing this now.

"Get off me, Maxwell!" He tried to shrug him off, but Maxwell just pressed closer.

"I'm just hanging out," Maxwell insisted. "Come on. I'm bored, I'm cold, there's nothing to do, I got no weed, and I'm fucking sick of being cooped up in this fucking boring cell! Heero's off having all the fun blasting the shit out of stuff with the one-eyed wonder. Uh, that's Trowa I'm talking about, by the way not Heero's . . ."

Wufei shoved him away more forcefully. "I'm not comfortable like this!"

"Quatre lets me cuddle."

Wufei gave him another incredulous look. "And why am I suddenly being compared to 04? What possible difference could it--"

"He's nice!" Maxwell's tone was accusing now, and that foot was positively vibrating.

"Well--I'm not! And I most certainly have no intention of--of--cuddling! Why don't you ask Yuy, when he gets back?"

Maxwell just snorted at that idea, then, to Wufei's horror, retaliated by flopping over so his head was in Wufei's lap. There was a distinctly manic gleam in those big, oddly colored eyes now as he gazed up and whined, "Jeeeeeeeze, Wuffie, just let me be comfortable for a little while, will ya? Sit still!" He wiggled back more, settling his head and shoulders more securely in Wufei's lap. "It's warmer like this, see? You can play with my braid if you wanna. I don't mind."

Wufei shoved him off and scrambled to his feet. "I most certainly do not want to play with anything of yours! What the hell is wrong with you?"

Lying on his back where Wufei had been sitting, Maxwell pouted up at him some more, then kicked his feet back over his head and executed a very impressive back flip up onto his feet. The manic gleam was turning a little dangerous now as he stalked over to Wufei. "I told you. I'm bored! When I get bored I start to notice things, like the fact that I can't get these off!" He wrenched at the manacles so hard Wufei feared for his wrists. "Or the fact that I can't pick, fight, or blast my way out of this fucking cell!"

Maxwell stomped over to the cell door and started kicking it. "I don't like being locked in, you fuckheads! It really, really pisses Shinigami off! I really, really, fucking REALLY need to get the fuck OUT OF HERE!"

A guard appeared in the view port. "Keep it down in there!"

"Fuck you!" Maxwell yelled, smashing his manacled hands against the port. "Give us something to do, god damn it! Toss me in a book, or some paper. Crayons. Some porn, crossword puzzles, something! Or how 'bout you let me out for a walk?" He gave the door a few more vicious kicks. "Let. Me. OUT!"

The guard replied by shutting off the lights and slamming the view port cover closed. The cell was plunged into total darkness.

Wufei sighed, preparing for a renewed tantrum. Instead, there was a long, ominous moment of absolute silence, then he heard a very faint, shaky "Oh shit!"

"Maxwell?"

"Oh shit!" Maxwell's voice was thin with real panic now, and hardly more than a whisper. In the darkness he sounded much younger, and very scared.

"02, talk to me. What's wrong?"

"Didn't see that one coming! No, sure didn't," Maxwell whispered. Wufei could hear his panicked breathing now. "Don't like the dark much!" he whispered. "Don't do so good in the dark. O fuck! O fuck!"

He was having a panic attack, that much was clear. "Don't move, 02. I'm going to come over there. Do you understand? I'm coming over." Wufei edged along the wall as fast as he could. He tripped over a blanket on the way and brought it with him.

"I'm here, Duo." Wufei found the other boy's shoulder in the dark. Maxwell was huddled on the floor by the door. Wufei sat down close beside him and put the blanket over him. Maxwell was shaking badly. For reasons Wufei could not begin to comprehend, he'd gone from giddy teasing to an emotion wreck in seconds flat. He was in worse shape now than he'd been the night those men had assaulted him.

"I'm not crying, you know!" Maxwell gritted out, leaning into Wufei's side. This time Wufei allowed it.

"I didn't think you were. Can you tell me what's wrong?"

"It's fucking dark! Bad things happen in the dark. You don't see it coming, and then they've got you. Don't like the dark. Don't like being shut up. Don't like being--"

Wufei felt him struggle frantically with the manacles again. Perhaps it was the panic he still heard, or the cover of darkness making him bold, but he found Maxwell's hands and clasped them between his own. "Stop it! You're going to hurt yourself."

"Get off me!"

Wufei held on, half expecting Maxwell to attack him next. "You're having a panic attack. You may be claustrophobic. I think I can help you, if you'll let me."

"Oh? You got a key you haven't been telling us about? Gonna blow the guards for me?"

Wufei bit back an angry retort. "Breath, Maxwell. Just breath. Concentrate on the breath going in and out of your lungs."

"What the fuck?"

"It will calm you down. Trust me."

He heard another snort, then a long trembling intake of breath and a ragged exhalation.

"Good, keep doing that."

Maxwell did, but it was rapidly turning into hyperventilation instead.

"No, that's too fast."

"Don't feel so good," Maxwell panted.

Wufei took a deep breath of his own. "Lie down, Maxwell. Put your head in my lap, like you did before."

"Yeah, right!"

"Really, it's--all right. I think you need to lie down. Come on now."

He felt Maxwell shift, then there was warmth and pressure across his lap. He reached down gingerly and found that Maxwell was lying on his side, facing away from him. His fingers brushed across soft, thick hair and a smooth cheek. He flinched back, then rested his manacled hands stiffly on Maxwell's upper arm, wishing he knew what the hell he was doing. The other boy's heart was beating so hard he could feel it shaking his body. "Does this help?"

"A little. You're not real good at this, are you?"

"No I'm not. It would probably be better if 04 were here right now, but you're going to have to make do with me. Now breath like I told you, only slower. As slow as you can."

Maxwell tried and for a few minutes it seemed he was calming down, but then his respiration began to climb again. "Uh, could you, like, talk or something? I feel really weird right now. It would help if I could hear you."

"About what?"

"I don't fucking care! Anything. Spout some more of that poetry or something."

"You hated that."

"It's better than nothing. C'mon, Wuffie. Make with the Shakespeare."

"Actually, I have studied Shakespeare."

Maxwell groaned. "Shoulda known."

Wufei wracked his brains, trying to summon something that might help. At last he called one he'd used to tease Meirin.

"'My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare."

Maxwell's breathing had evened out a little. "I only got about half of that, Wu, but it sounds to me like the guy was calling his girlfriend ugly. And she had bad breath! Is that really a real one?"

Maxwell had missed the point, of course, but Wufei had managed to distract him. "Yes, it's quite famous."

"Huh. Do another one." He settled more firmly into Wufei's lap with his hands under his chin. Perhaps this was cuddling? Wufei could feel long fingers twitching nervously against his thigh. That was starting to make him edgy. He found Maxwell's braid and pressed it into his hands. To his relief Maxwell gripped it and stopped worrying at his leg.

Wufei thought hard. There was really only one other sonnet he could recall at the moment, and this one he remembered because for some reason, he'd really liked it but his literature instructor had not, and had made him remove it from his notebook.

"'Being your slave, what should I do but tend

Upon the hours and times of your desire?

I have no precious time at all to spend,

Nor services to do, till you require.

Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour

Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,

Nor think the bitterness of absence sour

When you have bid your servant once adieu;

Nor dare I question with my jealous thought

Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,

But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought

Save, where you are how happy you make those.

So true a fool is love that in your will,

Though you do any thing, he thinks no ill.'" Maxwell snickered. "Sounds kinda kinky."

Wufei had no idea what that meant in Maxwell's street parlance, but it didn't sound good. "Well, why don't you tell me another of yours?"

"Yeah, right! I just got comfortable."

"No, really. Go ahead. I'll listen."

"OK, you asked for it. 'There once was a hermit named Dave

Who kept a dead whore in his cave

He said, "I'll admit I'm a bit of a shit,

But look at the money I've saved!'""

Wufei sighed. "That really is horrible, you know."

"Hey, it rhymes!"

"I suppose so."

"Wanna hear another?"

"All right." Wufei braced for the next ribald onslaught.

Maxwell paused, and Wufei could feel him picking away at the braid. He wondered if it was going to be shorter before they got out of this situation. "I think you'll like this one better. It's been a while--I forget the first part. Something about sheep. But the part I remember goes, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and staff comfort me. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You annoy my head with oil. My cup tips over. Goodness and mercy will follow me-follow me--' Oh hell, that's all I remember. I guess it doesn't rhyme, though. It's from the Bible."

"It's from the Book of Psalms," Wufei murmured, surprised. This was a side of the boy he'd never guessed at. "That shirt you wear; were you training to be a priest?"

"Me, a priest? Shit no! But a priest and a nun took care of me for a little while, right before--before all this. Sister Helen, and Father Maxwell." Wufei could hear the catch in his voice.

"He had same name as you."

"I didn't have a name. I took his after-- after the massacre."

Wufei caught his breath. The Maxwell Church Massacre on L-2 had been all over the news less than a year before. "You were there? But I thought--that is, I heard there were no survivors."

"There was one."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, me too. So, I guess we both got personal reasons to kick OZ ass, huh?"

"Yes."

Maxwell was fidgeting again. Wufei realized he should try to keep talking, but wasn't sure what to say.

As usual, Maxwell was not at a loss for words. "Hey, Wu?"

"Yes, Maxwell?"

"Tell me a story or something?"

"I don't know any."

"What about Kushreneda? What happened with that?"

Wufei stiffened in the darkness. "We fought. I lost."

"Yeah, but he didn't kill you! C'mon, give. What happened? What was he like? Are those weird ass eyebrows real or what?" Maxwell shifted, settling his head and shoulders more comfortably in Wufei's lap. Wufei wondered if this constituted cuddling? At least Duo sounded calmer now. And he knew what Maxwell was doing. He needed Wufei to talk. He just wished he'd fixated on some other subject.

"I attacked his yacht after the New Edwards raid, as you know. I challenged him, man to man."

"Yeah, I don't get that. Why the hell didn't you just blast his ass?"

"He was on a yacht. I was in Shenlong. It was not an honorable fight, not against a warrior of his stature."

"So you just hopped out and challenged him to a duel?"

"Of course."

Maxwell let out another of those expressive little snorts of his. "I would have blasted him. So, what happened then?"

"He had a saber. I had my sword. We fought. He won. He spared my life and sent me away." Wufei's face burned at the memory.

"You say that like it's a bad thing." Maxwell was quick to read him, even panicked in the dark. And he sounded honestly perplexed.

"It was--I was shamed."

"I don't get it."

"Then I cannot explain it. He is a brilliant warrior and he bested me. If I had won, it might have decided the war. But I was too weak and I failed. It would have been better if he'd killed me, so that I would not live with this shame. But he did not think I was worthy of his blade."

Maxwell fidgeted quietly for a moment. "I don't get you. You lived! You can fight him again, right? And maybe he let you go because he thought you were brave, jumping him like that?"

Wufei shook his head and sighed. "You don't understand." Barton had. He hadn't said a word, just waited quietly for him and taken him back to the circus where he'd been hiding out to rest. He and his friend Catherine had both been kind and asked no questions.

"Fine. I don't understand," Maxwell said. "I still think the guy did you a favor, though. And it sounds like you, I dunno, like you liked him or something?"

It was Wufei's turn to snort. "I admire him. What warrior wouldn't?"

"Uh huh." Maxwell sounded less than convinced.

They were both quiet for a while. Wufei focused on his breath, trying to calm the storm this conversation had reawakened in his heart. If Kushreneda had killed him, he would have died with honor. Instead, he'd recognized his weakness, and treated him like a child. Wufei had hardly been able to look his father and Master Lon in the eye, the next time he'd seen them. He'd had to confess the matter, of course. Their silence had been punishment enough. That, and the endless dreams in which Kushreneda vanquished him again and again. They were vivid, these dreams; Wufei on his knees, the keen edge of that blade pressed to his throat. And then the man had smiled at him. That tall, powerful, handsome bastard had looked down at him and smiled! It had sent a sick thrill though Wufei. He did not understand it, but he could not escape the memory. God, the man had looked twenty feet tall, standing over him like that! Wufei still remembered the smell of his polished leather boots.

No, if he could not explain any of that to himself, then how could he expect someone like Maxwell to understand?

At least Maxwell seemed calmer now. "Are you all right?" Wufei asked softly, pushing the confusing memories away again and returning to the problem at hand. Maxwell had had a panic attack and for no apparent reason. "What happened?"

He felt Maxwell's shrug. "I dunno. Sometimes I just kinda go off. Usually I can find a fight, or smoke up, or some trouble to get into. Or someone to mess around with. Work off a little steam, you know? Being locked up like this makes me crazy."

Wufei knew there was more to it than that. He suspected it had something to do with what had happened with the soldiers. Then again, the way he talked, he'd had these emotional spells before. Hadn't he said he liked to 'cuddle' with 04? It was very puzzling. Physical displays of affection were so unseemly.

All the same, he had to admit it was not completely unpleasant, having someone close to him in the dark like this, perhaps because Maxwell was so at ease with it. He was certainly unlike anyone Wufei had ever met. The warmth he was giving off wasn't unwelcome, either. Wufei found the edge of the blanket and pulled up it around Maxwell's shoulders and over his own legs. His fingers brushed war, cheek and silky hair in the darkness. It startled him and he felt himself blush, as if he'd taken liberties on purpose.

"Mind if I just stay here for a little longer?" Maxwell asked, as if he'd read Wufei's thoughts.

"Fine. Until you feel better."

"Guess you think I'm a real pussy, huh?" Maxwell sighed, and cuddled closer. His braid shifted, falling across the back of Wufei's manacled hands where they rested just behind his shoulder.

"No. I--that is, I suppose it's not an uncommon reaction, after what happened with those guards."

Maxwell tensed. "Nothing happened."

"But I saw--"

"Nothing, Wufei. OK? Just--nothing. Drop it."

"Very well." Wufei settled more comfortably against the wall. Maxwell had gone very still and seemed to be relaxed. At least he wasn't fidgeting any more.

Later the lights came on and Yuy came in, escorted by Barton. They both stopped and stared down at Wufei sitting there with Maxwell asleep in his lap. Not knowing what else to do or say, he raised his finger to his lips. His legs had gone to sleep; he couldn't have gotten up if he'd had to.

Barton nodded and went out. Maxwell slept on. Yuy sat down across the room and proceeded to glare a hole in the floor, with occasional sidelong glares at Wufei. Wufei tried to ignore him, more baffled than ever.

When Maxwell woke up a few hours later he was his usual grinning, joking self again. Nothing was said about what had happened between them and Wufei let it go, but he now recognized the tension behind Maxwell's bouts of restlessness and in the days that followed he saw that Maxwell's braid was getting more and more ragged. His singing was getting worse, too.

++

For more of Duo's "poetry" see: http://www.squaddiesongs.com/songs/anotherone.html

Shakespeare sonnets are numbers 53 and 57

The butchering of the 23rd Psalm was intentional.

[ch. 16] [ch. 18] [back to Pyrzm's fic]