by Razorqueen

With Both Hands

"I think," Wufei confessed, "that we're lost."

Despite the heat blowing from the vents in the dashboard, Duo shivered. "How can we be lost if we don't know where we're going?"

Wufei smothered the urge to punch his fellow pilot. "Baka. We have a map." He gripped the steering wheel, concentrating on keeping the car on the slippery road. What was Heero thinking, calling them out into a winter storm like this? "Unfortunately, I can't make out any of the landmarks in this snow."

"I guess we're lost, then, huh?" Duo grinned, and Wufei felt the compulsion to beat on him grow stronger.

"I think we're going to have to wait this out. We need to find some shelter." He dropped the transmission into low gear. "Any suggestions?"

"It figures," Duo moaned. "The one time you ask me for an idea, I'm clueless." He looked out the window at the snowy landscape, gray-blue in the fading late afternoon light. "This is pretty empty territory. That's why Heero thought it would be a good area for a rendezvous."

"I think there's a drive up ahead. It has to lead somewhere." Wufei tried accelerating, but backed off as the rear of the car began to slide.

"The way my luck is running, it's probably an OZ base. And Treize and Zechs will be sitting on the front porch waiting for us." Duo hunched down into the seat, rubbing his arms for warmth.

Wufei spared him a glance. It was unlike the usually irrepressible pilot to sound so morose. "Is this still about Deathscythe? Duo, that was weeks ago, and Quatre's men promised to have the repairs finished by the time we get back."

"What's a Gundam pilot without a Gundam? Pretty damn worthless, if you ask me." He turned his head, staring glumly out the window, his warm breath fogging the glass.

Wufei sensed there was more to Duo's sulking than the fact that his Gundam had been badly damaged in their last battle. Duo had been uncharacteristically quiet on the trip, speaking only if spoken to. Several times during the long drive, Wufei thought he'd fallen asleep but had glanced over to see him gazing out the window, his expression blank and closed.

"K'so!" Wufei swore, as they turned onto the narrow lane, fishtailing. "Can't hold it..."

The car lost traction on the icy drive, sliding sideways into a snow-filled ditch. The two pilots exchanged glances.

"Not only are we lost," Duo said, "we're also screwed."

"Not a very useful observation," Wufei snapped. "We're going to have to walk."

"Walk? Walk where?" Duo's face mirrored his dismay as he watched snow rapidly obscure the windshield.

"Wherever this lane leads." Wufei turned off the engine. "Come on."

Duo drew squiggles on the breath-frosted car window with his forefinger. "Um, Wu?"

Wufei's heart sank at the too-familiar sheepish tone. This meant Duo was about to apologize for doing something--or forgetting to do something--that would undoubtedly prove highly inconvenient to Wufei. He twisted in his seat and gave the braided boy his best imitation of Heero's death stare. "What is it?"

"Hey, cut that out!" Duo smacked his companion on the shoulder. "I don't need two of you lookin' at me like that." He fidgeted in the seat for a moment, then blurted, "I forgot my coat."

"Oh, for..." Wufei snorted in disgust. "Are there any brains back there, or are you just a pretty face?"

Duo bit his lip. Wufei grimaced, sensing that Duo hadn't finished his confession.

"Uh...and my duffel bag."

"Duo!" Wufei swore loudly. "This is not amusing. We are stranded in a snowstorm that is on its way to becoming a blizzard. You have no coat and no supplies."

"Y'think I didn't notice?" Duo slammed his head against the back of his seat in obvious frustration. Then he slumped down again. "You go ahead. I'll try and get by here."

The Chinese pilot frowned. Duo did not normally give up so easily. "No. I'm not going to leave you."

"Don't be stupid, Wu. I won't do anything but slow you down."

"That's for me to decide. The light is going, and we're wasting time. Come on." He grabbed his own duffle from the back seat, opened the car door, and stepped out into the snow.

"For the luvva...." Duo grumbled. "I wish you weren't so goddamn noble sometimes." But he did as Wufei told him.

Wufei plowed through the snow until his feet found the gravel drive. He turned to make sure Duo followed, curbing his fear as he watched the slender figure in black struggling up the slope. The boy's clothes were highly inadequate protection against the snow and bitter wind. Perhaps he should have let him stay behind. No, he assured himself. Even if he'd located shelter and tried to come back for Duo, by then it would be dark and he'd never have found the car again.

They struggled up the lane in silence for a while, the only sounds in the hushed woods the faint brush of snow and their own ragged breathing. Duo lagged further and further behind Wufei. Clearly, he wouldn't be able to go on much longer. Wufei stopped, waiting until his companion caught up. Then he wordlessly began unbuttoning his own coat.

"Wu?" Duo's voice sounded muddled, slurred. "Whatch'a doin'?"

"Here. You wear it for a while." He handed the down-filled garment to Duo, trying not to shiver as the wind cut through his sweatshirt.

Duo's teeth chattered so hard that Wufei could barely understand him. "N-no w-way! Stupid for b-both of us to f-freeze to d-death!"

"Are you going to put it on, or do I have to put it on you?" He took a step toward Duo, who apparently felt threatened enough--or cold enough--not to argue further. "Good. Now give me your hand, and try to keep up."

Icy fingers slipped into his own pocket-warmed hand. Wufei pulled Duo along, resolutely ignoring the cold and his fear that the lane led no where. Even if there were shelter up ahead, if they did not find it soon, they could pass within yards of it and never know in the darkness and snow. Nataku, he thought, casting his thoughts toward Heaven, unless you want our quest for justice to end here and now, guide me.

They struggled up the sloped lane, clinging to one another, trying to keep each other from falling. Just when Wufei was certain his prayer had gone unanswered, he saw a dark shape against the trees.

"Duo! Look! Is that a cabin?"

"Hope so," Duo said, his voice full of misery. Then he brightened. "Yeah. Yeah! I think it is!"

Together, they staggered toward the building with its promise of shelter. Wufei's hands were numb, but Duo managed to open the lock with practiced skill. They found themselves inside a one-room cabin, sparsely furnished but snug.

"You sit down," Duo said, steering Wufei toward the bed. "Let me get a fire going."

"No, Duo," Wufei protested. "You--"

"I'm gettin' warm. Honest. Here, you take the coat."

"No. You feel the cold more than I. You keep it." He fished in his duffle for matches. "How were you planning on starting this fire?"

"I was gonna ask you for matches, of course." Duo grinned, but Wufei saw that his lips were still tinged with blue and he still shivered violently.

"Baka. You are the one who needs to lie down. Whoever used this cabin last left enough firewood for tonight, at least. There's a blanket in my bag, and enough food for several days, if we're careful. The weather report predicted a warming trend within the week. We should be able to get the car out once the snow melts somewhat. Until then, we will have to make do as best we can. "

Duo collapsed on the bed, hanging his head over the edge, his braid brushing the floor. "Great. Cold, wet, and hungry. Three of my favorite things. Not."

Wufei started a small fire, then carefully fed it until it was big enough to accept larger pieces of kindling. "Take off your wet clothes. If we spread them out in front of the fire tonight, they ought to be dry by morning."

"Ah ha!" Duo rolled over, theatrically clutching the coat tightly about him. "This is all an elaborate plot to get me out of my clothes! For shame, sir!" He guffawed, apparently greatly amused by the thought.

Wufei felt himself blush. "Don't be absurd. Because I don't want you to freeze to death, doesn't mean that I want to...to..." He spluttered to a stop.

"To what, Wu?" Duo grinned wickedly and struck a seductive pose. "To fuck me? C'mon," he teased, "you want me. You know you do. Why don't you admit it?"

Before he had time to think about what he was doing, Wufei pulled back his arm and slapped Duo hard across the face. "Heero may find your crude suggestions entertaining, but I do not." He stood with his fists clenched, glaring at the other boy.

Duo's violet eyes grew even wider than usual. He raised his hand to his reddened cheek, looking at Wufei with surprise, then with shame.

Did Duo know he was right? Had he been so obvious? Almost as furious with himself as with Duo, he turned back to the fire without another word. After several long, tense minutes of silence, he heard the bed creak, then the quiet rustle of Duo removing Wufei's coat and carefully placing it on the floor next to him.

"Thanks...thanks for letting me use your coat." He waited a moment, as if half-expecting an answer, but Wufei remained silent. Wufei heard him sigh and move away, followed by another series of rustling noises and the protesting of the bedsprings.

Wufei faced the bed again, discovering that Duo had removed his soaked clothing and was now curled up in the far corner at the foot of the bed, as far from Wufei as he could get. Foolish, he thought, although he wasn't sure if he referred to himself or to Duo. He removed his own sweatshirt and pants and spread them in front of the fire. Pulling a blanket from his duffel, he crawled into bed as well.

"If you sleep down there," Wufei said, "I'll kick you."

"You probably ought to." Duo lifted his head from his arms. "I'm sorry, Wu. I-I didn't mean anything--"

Wufei knew Duo had only been teasing, and that, he admitted to himself, was the source of his anger. "I should not have struck you. But Duo, that's not a subject I take as lightly as you." He sighed, knowing he would probably regret this. "Come up here and sleep under the blanket."

Duo scrambled under the cover, still quaking from cold. "I know I say dumb stuff sometimes. All the time."

"Duo--"

"No, I'm really sorry." He seemed honestly contrite, but Wufei heard another note in his voice, one almost as familiar as remorse--curiosity.

"But...?" Wufei prompted.

The ruddy firelight painted a blush on Duo's cheeks. It had to be the firelight, Wufei assured himself. He'd never seen Duo blush, didn't think he was capable of such a response.

"But...I was wondering...well, how come you take sex so seriously?" He looked cautiously at Wufei. Probably, Wufei thought, to see if he were going to get hit again. Apparently, he felt he was in no immediate danger because he continued. "I mean, you never joke about it, far as I can tell you sure never do it. I don't get it. What's the big deal?"

Duo's cavalier attitude toward intimacy shocked Wufei somewhat, although he supposed it shouldn't have. Duo was as subtle as a tomcat about his sexuality. It wasn't as though he bragged about his activities, he just never thought to be discrete.

So how did one explain the sacredness of union to someone who considered it a pleasant bodily function?

Duo apparently took his reticence for something else. "Look, if you'd try it sometime, you'd see what I'm talking about. It feels good, really good. Sometimes it feels great."

Duo's assumption both amused and irked Wufei. "What makes you think I've never tried it?"

Duo laughed, not contemptuously, but in genuine surprise. "Oh, come on, Wu! I can't believe you're even having this conversation without getting a nosebleed. I've never seen anyone more likely to win the Virgin of the Year award!"

A small smile quirked Wufei's lips in spite of himself. "Duo, you're aware, aren't you, that I am--that I was--married?"

"Married?" Duo sat up in obvious shock. "No way! When...how...You're shittin' me!"

Wufei folded his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. "As the son of an ancient house, marriage was my duty, both to my ancestors and to the generations to come."

"You really mean it, don't you?" Duo rolled over on his belly, propping his chin on his fists. "You're married." He frowned. "Don' think I ever knew anyone who's married. So did you, like, love her or what?"

Wufei suddenly felt years older than the boy lying next to him. "Love. I suppose I married for love--but not love of Meiran." How strange that her name came so easily to him. "Love of duty, perhaps. Possibly love is not the correct word. I married her because it was a sacred obligation to my family, to whom I owe my very existence. Our marriage was to have protected our families, as well as secured our place in the generations." He paused, swallowing against the tightness in his throat. "It didn't work out that way."

Duo opened his mouth as if to ask something, then closed it suddenly. Another frown creased his forehead, as though he tried to decipher some puzzle. "So you're tellin' me you aren't a virgin, then?"

Duo's frank curiosity no longer offended Wufei. He could never manage to remain angry with the braided pilot for long. He also suspected that Duo knew this and used it to his advantage. "Yes, Duo, that is what I'm telling you. I'm also trying to explain that for me, mating is not the careless diversion it is for you."

"Where is she now? Your wife?"

"She's dead." Wufei hoped Duo would be perceptive enough to hear the finality in his voice. He did not mind discussing marriage in a general way, but talking about Meiran was a different matter.

Surprisingly, Duo nodded, as if he understood all that Wufei did not say.

"I know that our backgrounds are quite different, Duo. I apologize for taking offense when none was intended." He leaned up on his elbow, studying the bright-eyed boy beside him, determinedly ignoring his body's response to Duo's nearness. "Turn about is fair play. Why is sex such a casual thing for you?"

"I dunno. It feels good." Wufei saw a shadow darken Duo's blue-violet eyes. "It...it's like eating when you're hungry, or getting warm when you're cold. And I'm good at it, too." This time, Wufei swore that the other boy blushed, if only slightly.

Wufei felt his own face burn as he imagined Duo's skills, not for the first time. Best not think about that, he told himself. "So it's a matter of satisfaction, then?"

"Yeah...yeah, I guess so."

Wufei pressed him. "If that's the case, then why is a partner necessary? Can you not satisfy yourself?"

Duo's eyes widened. "Geez, Wu, never thought I'd hear you talking about this stuff!"

"You haven't answered my question."

Duo's face had a strangely defenseless look, as if he were unused to examining his motives because he feared what he might discover. "I guess sometimes it's just nice to--to be able to touch someone else, have someone there, you know? Makes you feel like you aren't the only person in the universe."

"I understand that. This is a lonely life." Wufei tried to imagine Heero's presence as comforting in any way, but he failed utterly. How many times had he seen Duo offer a spontaneous gesture of affection to Wing's pilot, only to be pushed away, even ridiculed? It angered him that Duo had such a cold companion. He deserved so much more.

"D'you get lonely, too?"

"Of course," Wufei answered, matter-of-fact. "I believe we are right to continue to battle injustice. But it's difficult when even those for whom you fight reject you. Who would not feel alone?"

"I thought I was the only one who did." Duo's mouth twisted into a mocking self-parody of his usual lopsided grin. "Feelings are so inefficient, y'know?"

Wufei recognized Heero's doctrine in the bitterly spoken words. That's what this was about, he thought. Duo's frantic need to escape the house so quickly he left his coat behind--Duo, who complained about the cold from the first hint of autumn chill until Quatre's rose garden was in full bloom. His refusal to ride with Heero, his sullen silence on the long trip. Something had obviously happened between the two pilots.

Wufei hesitated to pursue the subject. Duo might be forthright about his behavior, but he rarely talked about his emotions, shielding himself behind a joke, a smile. On the other hand, he had given Wufei the opening to ask. "I think it would be so..." he paused, searching for the right word, "so empty to sleep with someone if there were no feelings involved." That was true. At least he and Meiran had had duty to bind them.

"Hmmm?" Duo blinked sleepily. "Didja say somethin', Wu? Sorry, must've drift'd off."

Duo burrowed under Wufei's blanket, his eyes closed. He runs, he hides, Wufei thought, smiling wryly. "Coward," he muttered.

Deep violet-blue eyes, clear and alert, opened and stared at him for a moment. Then lids closed heavily, a small sigh escaping his lips. Wufei thought he made out two words, exhaled in the soft breath. It sounded as though Duo whispered, "Strategic retreat."

+

Wufei lay still, listening to the soft hissing of snowflakes as they drifted down the chimney into the fire. The room had warmed considerably, and he felt comfortably drowsy, although his acute awareness of the lithe body next to him kept him from relaxing enough to sleep. In truth, he didn't wish to squander the time. Moments of peace and stillness were too rare and too precious to waste in sleep.

Wufei shifted to look at the other pilot. He seldom had the chance to enjoy more than a glance at the object of his fascination. Not only would it have revealed his growing desire, Heero would not have permitted anyone to ogle the boy he treated with as much possession but less care than Wing.

Duo stirred, tossing and moaning fretfully. He'd slept restlessly all night, and Wufei had found the times a bare arm or leg came in contact with his own exposed skin a guilty pleasure. The Chinese pilot brushed his fingers across Duo's forehead, wondering if perhaps he'd developed a fever after their hike through the snow. As he touched the smooth skin--cool, he noticed thankfully--Duo's eyes flew open. He flinched, flattening himself back against the bed as if to escape the gentle caress.

"Duo?" Wufei withdrew his hand. His forehead creased with concern. "What is it? Are you having a bad dream?"

"Wufei?" Duo closed his eyes again, drawing a deep, shuddering breath. "It's you. Shit, I thought it was..." He stopped, seeming to catch himself.

"Who?" They had all seen enough to give them nightmares, Wufei thought. And he knew that Duo was much more sensitive than his buoyant persona would lead one to think.

"No one. F'rget it." He smiled ruefully. "Sorry t' wake you up."

"I wasn't sleeping." Wufei scowled slightly. Duo was not all right, no matter what he wanted Wufei to believe. "Were you dreaming about OZ?"

Duo propped himself on his elbows, matching Wufei's scowl. "I said forget it, okay? It's no big deal."

Wufei opened his mouth to question Duo further, but something caught his eye, distracting him. The fire had burned low, but still gave off enough light for him to see dark smudges on Duo's arms, just below his shoulders. Two thumbprint bruises marred the ivory skin, one on each arm. Without asking permission, he grasped Duo's wrist, lifting his arm enough to allow him to see the matching bruised fingerprints on the other side.

"Duo--"

Duo jerked his wrist out of Wufei's grasp. "Look, it's nothing."

"It isn't 'nothing.' Who did this? Heero?" Duo wouldn't meet Wufei's eyes. "Why do you let him treat you this way?"

"Hey, if I remember, you slugged me, too." Duo crossed his arms, hiding the bruises with his hands. "I just seem to have that effect on people."

"I told you, Duo, I should never have hit you. And I promise you, it will never happen again." Wufei silently cursed himself and his quick temper, that he should take out his own frustration and loneliness on Duo.

"Yeah?" Duo raised an eyebrow, his voice bitter and cynical. "He said that, too. Especially in the beginning."

In the beginning? How long had this been happening? Wufei felt his muscles stiffen with fury. "Why do you stay with him if he keeps hurting you? Do you love him?"

"I dunno. Guess I keep hoping," he said, looking away. "Someone's better than no one. Anyway, who else'd want me?"

If it were anyone else asking that question, Wufei would have suspected him of fishing for compliments. "You hold yourself far too cheaply," he said, startled by the intensity in his own voice.

"Nah. I might be easy, but I'm not cheap." Duo grinned, but it never touched the hurt in his violet eyes. Under Wufei's steady glare, the smile faltered then disappeared entirely.

"Duo, don't say that. It's not funny."

"Huh." He laughed, but Wufei's sharp ears detected a suspicious catch in the braided pilot's voice. "Just ask Heero if you don't think it's true."

Wufei glowered. He decided that he'd heard just about enough of Heero Yuy. "I don't need to ask Heero. I'm capable of forming my own opinion."

"What do you think he was so pissed at me about?"

"You mean when he did this?" Wufei pulled Duo's hand away from the bruises, brushing the blemish with his thumb.

Duo nodded. "He didn't like the way I looked at...at someone." He lowered his eyes. "S'my fault. If I weren't always screwing up, he wouldn't have to get mad."

A picture of the scene flashed across Wufei's inner vision: Heero, cold and accusing, his fingers digging into Duo's flesh hard enough to bruise; Duo humbly accepting the blame for Heero's jealousy as though he deserved the Japanese pilot's anger. "That's insane! You haven't done anything to warrant being treated this way."

"Hey, Wu-man, don't worry about it, 'kay?" Duo smiled the sweet, crooked grin that always made Wufei's stomach knot. "It's not so bad. We're all under a lot of stress. Once this damn war is over, it'll be all right."

Duo lay down again and pulled the blanket up to his shoulders. Another retreat? Wufei silently asked the other pilot. He lay back, too, wondering which of them Duo had been trying to convince that all was well.

+

"Didn't you say you had some food in here, Wu?" Duo, already dressed again in his familiar black, rummaged through Wufei's duffel like a small burrowing animal.

Wufei sat up, rubbing his eyes, still groggy. He felt as though he'd been unconscious rather than asleep, totally missing the sense of refreshment he usually had on waking. "What are you doing?"

"Lookin' for breakfast." He looked up from his seat on the floor, surrounded by a pile of the Chinese pilot's belongings. "I'm hungry."

With a groan, Wufei hauled himself off the bed and snatched up his own clothing. "You could have waited. You aren't starving."

"Yeah, I know. Believe me, I know."

The manic mask dropped away for a brief moment, allowing Wufei a glimpse of the child Duo must have been once, abandoned, hungry, frightened even as he learned to be self-sufficient. No wonder, he thought in a flash of insight, he can't stand any privation. More than once, Wufei had been annoyed with him for becoming impatient when some need wasn't satisfied immediately. Now he understood the insecurity that underlay so much of what the boy did, yet seemed so out of character on the surface. Duo could never be certain of the things Wufei took for granted, not even essentials like food, warmth, and shelter. He grasped at them, fearing he'd lose his chance if he didn't seize them now.

Wufei knelt, gently removing the duffel from Duo's grip. "I'll fix breakfast. You can clean up this mess."

From the bottom of the bag, he retrieved a package filled with plastic containers, then handed the duffel back to Duo. Sorting through the containers of dehydrated foods, he found a packet of rice cereal. It would be warm and filling, provided he could find something to cook it in. The corner of the cabin held a tiny kitchenette. If some weekend hunter used this place, he reasoned, surely he wouldn't pack all his utensils every time he came here. Opening the rough wooden cupboard doors, Wufei was rewarded by a small collection of battered pots and pans, as well as dishes for eating. The two-burner stove appeared to have its own gas supply; he hoped that he wouldn't blow them up lighting it, but the alternative was to try to cook over the fire. He leaned close to the stove and sniffed, but detected no odors of leaking gas. Holding his breath, he lit one of the burners. A circle of blue flames leaped up, but no explosion rocked the cabin. Relieved, he went about fixing breakfast for himself and his hungry companion.

The two pilots sat at the small table eating in companionable silence. Or at least, Wufei mused, what passed for silence when Duo was the companion. He listened to the other boy's light chatter, paying more attention to the voice itself than what he really said. For a brief time last night, Duo had actually talked about issues of importance, but Wufei didn't expect that openness to continue in the light of day. One did not carry into the courtyard what was said behind the bed curtains. Heaven, he chided himself. Now he was thinking of their conversation as some kind of pillow talk. But the memories of Duo's bare body lying next to his persisted, and he wished he'd had the courage to do more than touch his forehead. Increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of his thoughts, he shifted his awareness to what Duo was saying.

"....and then we all took off our clothes and screwed like rabbits," Duo finished as he calmly took another bite of hot cereal.

"What?" Wufei stared, dumbfounded.

Duo blinked, his violet eyes wide and innocent. He held the pose for a second or two, but then broke into an impish grin. "Didn't think you were listening to me. Got your attention, though, didn't I?"

Wufei sighed, aware he'd been had. Again. "So you did. I apologize. My mind was elsewhere." Although just where it was, he didn't care to discuss. "Would you like some tea?"

"Sure. Unless you have some coffee hidden somewhere?" Duo said, his voice hopeful.

Wufei grimaced. "Absolutely not. How you can drink that stuff escapes me."

"Need my caffeine, man. Gets me going in the morning."

"You seem to be 'going' just fine this morning," Wufei observed, carrying a mug full of tea to Duo. Out of habit, he offered the drink to the other pilot with both hands, bowing slightly as Duo accepted it. Then he fetched his own mug and sat back down.

"What was that?" Duo asked, cautiously sipping the hot liquid.

"What was what?"

"That bow thing. With the tea."

Wufei frowned. "What bow...oh! Just an old habit, I suppose," he said, smiling slightly. "My family is very traditional. It's considered disrespectful to give something with just one hand. If someone's important to you or you care about them, you always use both hands. The bow shows respect, too." He chuckled softly. "My grandmother was always very particular about manners."

Duo's elfin features became thoughtful. "Someone you care about..." he whispered, almost as if he weren't aware he spoke aloud. He remained quiet for a moment, apparently pondering some idea that had intrigued him. Then another thought seemed to occur to him. "You knew your grandmother?"

"Of course! We--my cousins and I--called her Old Dragon. But not where she could hear us."

"What's it like?" Duo asked wistfully. "Having all that family?"

"I never really thought about it. It just was." Wufei picked through his memories to find something to share with Duo. Suddenly, he chuckled. "Once, my cousin Liangmo and I ran off on Pure Brightness Day. We decided to explore the tombs on our own." Wufei launched into an account of their misadventure, then recounted a half-dozen stories of his childhood, mostly in which he and one of his numerous cousins thought they had gotten away with some innocent mischief, only to discover that Grandmother had mysteriously found them out.

Duo laughed at Wufei's tales, and the Chinese pilot discovered that it was pleasurable to be able to amuse him for a change. Everyone always counted on Duo to be the one with the joke, the story, the trick. How often did they ever think of making him laugh instead? They all assumed that he never needed cheering, but Wufei was beginning to realize how wrong they'd all been.

"God, Wu, that's a riot." Duo wiped his eyes, wet from tears of laughter. "I never pictured you as being anything other than serious. But that one about your grandmother's cane and the goldfish pond..." He began to giggle again.

Wufei smiled, more delighted by Duo's response than by his memories. "Yes, it would probably ruin my image if anyone else found out about that. I suppose I ought to kill you now that I've told you," he teased.

"Now you sound like...like..." The mirth died out of Duo's eyes. Quickly, he grabbed the two mugs from the table and carried them to the kitchenette. He stood with his back turned, but Wufei saw his hands shake as he emptied the dregs of the cold tea into the sink.

Wufei's chest felt tight. Acting for once on impulse, he stood and crossed to Duo, laying his hands on the narrow, black-clad shoulders.

"D-don't say anything," Duo said, his voice husky with an emotion Wufei couldn't identify.

"Duo," Wufei began, cautious.

"Don't listen too well, do you?" Duo tried to turn the moment into a joke, but he failed. "Shit!" His anger erupted and he slammed his fist into the cupboard door.

"Stop it!" Wufei grabbed Duo's clenched hand, examining the split and bleeding knuckles. "What's the point in hurting yourself?"

Duo glared at him, his eyes hot and angry. "Damn it, Wufei, I don't want your fucking pity!"

"Pity?" Wufei realized how tightly he held Duo's hand and released him. "Do you think that's what it is?"

"No? Tell me you're not thinking 'poor Duo.'"

"I'm not. I'm thinking that I wish you would make choices that brought you more happiness, that you would stop wounding yourself. But I don't pity you. Pity is what I feel for weaklings, not for someone like you. Not for someone I...I..." Someone that he what? "Someone I respect," he finished truthfully, but not very satisfactorily.

Duo blinked, reminding Wufei of a barn owl, its eyes seeming too big for its face. "Honest?"

"Is what honest?" Wufei asked, confused. Duo's rapid-fire mood shifts were beginning to disorient him.

"You respect me? You don't feel sorry for me?"

"Of course I do--I don't," Wufei said. "What is there to pity? You are brave and intelligent, an outstanding pilot, a loyal friend. You give of yourself, even when you expect nothing in return. I am trying to understand you, why you act as you do, but that is not the same thing as feeling sorry for you." Wufei felt his face grow hot as he realized how much he had said.

"Oh," Duo said, all but silenced by Wufei's reply.

Wufei found himself swimming in Duo's gaze, unable to decipher the emotions swirling in the blue-violet depths but unwilling to pull himself away. He could easily drown here, he realized. But would that be such a bad thing?

The silence grew between the two pilots. Wufei felt as though an invisible cord were tugging him toward the other boy's slender form. He took a tentative step forward, then another, until scant inches separated them. Wufei felt the heat of Duo's body through his own clothing. He took the last step, bridging the gap between them, one arm slipping around Duo's waist, the other sliding up his back. As soon as he understood Wufei's intention, he leaned forward eagerly. Their lips touched, Duo's tongue searching for Wufei's, skimming along his lips and teeth. Wufei answered in kind, his tongue stroking the other boy's. Duo pushed his hips forward, pressing against Wufei's pelvis, grinding their bodies together with practiced thrusts.

Wufei broke away from the kiss, his breath uneven. Duo still squirmed against him, sending cold fire licking along his nerves, but he forced himself to push the other boy away. "No, Duo. Forgive me. We won't do this," he said, his voice sounding much firmer than his resolve.

Rejection welled up in Duo's owl-wide eyes. "But, Wufei...why?"

The vulnerability in his face tore at Wufei's heart. "You know the reason," he said gently.

Duo swallowed as though he had something stuck in his throat. "Because it doesn't mean anything to you," he replied, his voice flat.

"No." Wufei turned his back, took his coat from a nearby wall hook. He wanted desperately to turn and continue the passionate embrace he'd walked away from, to take it to its inevitably precious conclusion. Instead, he pulled on his coat. Without looking at Duo, he crossed the small room and opened the door. His hand on the latch, he glanced back at the boy who still stood by the sink, twisting his braid in his hands. "Because it doesn't mean anything to you."

+

Wufei walked through the snow-covered woods, not even trying to convince himself that he was searching for the car or scouting the area. The cold air cleared his head and calmed his body, but it did nothing to lift the weight on his heart. He had known how deeply he cared for Duo, but he had been able to tell himself it was only an ephemeral lust until these last two days. But sharing a car, a cabin--a bed--with him had destroyed his ability to lie to himself about his feelings.

He didn't doubt that Duo was capable of deep emotion, of lasting attachment. But he also knew his penchant for immediate gratification. Wufei wasn't sure that Duo knew the difference between a passing desire and a yearning for something more. Wufei, on the other hand, knew the difference very well. He didn't want a quick tumble, no matter how wonderful it might feel. He wanted Duo sitting at his table and sleeping in his bed, wanted to make him laugh, to share the small moments of daily living with him. To be Heaven and Earth to each other. He wanted a lifetime.

But what did Duo want? Did he even know?

And what about Heero? Would it matter to Heero what Duo wanted? Wufei found it difficult to believe that it would, considering that the Japanese pilot had hurt Duo simply for looking at someone else. What would he do should Duo actually choose Wufei--or anyone else, for that matter--over him?

Wufei sighed. The shadows in the woods had lengthened while he'd walked, lost in thought. He ought to return to the cabin. Who knew what foolish ideas Duo might get in his absence. He might even try to cook. The thought made him shudder and he turned, following his tracks back to the cabin.

The brief winter afternoon faded into early evening by the time he returned. Denim curtains were drawn over the window, but a thin spill of light seeped out where the two panels met. A curl of blue smoke wafted out of the chimney, disappearing into the deepening sky. Wufei paused, appreciating the picture of serenity the scene made. Illusions, he reminded himself, climbing the steps to the porch, stomping his feet to shake the snow from his boots.

Duo jumped up from the bed as soon Wufei opened the door. "Wufei?"

"I'm back." Wufei grimaced at making such a brainlessly obvious statement, but Duo didn't seem to notice.

"I was getting worried. You were gone so long--thought maybe you'd run off on me or something."

The hitch in Duo's voice made Wufei look closely enough to see his bloodshot, slightly swollen eyes. His first response was pure shock, but shame pushed aside his surprise. He'd made Duo cry. He was no better than Heero. "I wouldn't do that. I just needed to think. I-I'm sorry that I caused you to worry."

"I've been doing some thinking, too." He looked down, as if the scuffed floorboards had suddenly become very interesting. "I think I need to tell you a couple of things."

"Duo, you aren't obligated to tell me anything."

Duo smiled, a feeble version of his usual cheeky grin, but it seemed unforced. "Yeah, I know I don't have to. But I need to, okay?"

Wufei had no idea what Duo had on his mind. He hoped...no. He squelched any anticipation, trying to wait patiently for the braided pilot to have his say. "All right. Tell me what you need to."

"I can wait 'til you take your coat off, Wu." Duo went to the kitchenette. "I heated some water. Do you want tea?"

"Yes, thanks." Heating water was something not even Duo could mess up. Maybe. Wufei hung up his coat and sat at the table.

He looked up as Duo offered him the mug with both hands, as he had done earlier, bowing gracefully in imitation of Wufei's habitual salute. "Duo?"

"Did I do that right?"

"Yes, but...why?"

Duo turned the other chair around, sat straddling it with his arms resting on the back. "You said that was something you do for someone you respect, someone you care about. Right?"

"Yes," Wufei answered, cautious. Despite his determination, hope began to flutter in his chest.

"Well, both those things are true." He took a deep breath, as if he were about to deliver a speech he'd practiced. "I respect you. A lot. You keep fighting because you believe it's the right thing to do, not just because you don't know how to do anything else. You aren't afraid of your feelings." Duo set his chin defiantly, glaring at Wufei as if he were issuing a challenge. "And I-I care about you, too."

Wufei knew he would never have had the courage to say those words aloud, not without having any idea if they'd be returned. But Duo had...or was he once again grasping for something he wanted for the moment? His doubts must have shown in his face, because Duo bit his lip nervously, some of his boldness fading.

He peered at Wufei from within the veil of his bangs, his voice sounding like the abandoned child Wufei had glimpsed that morning. "Did I say something dumb again?"

"No!" Wufei reached across the table to cover Duo's hands with his own, discovering as he did that they gripped the back of the chair with desperate strength. "No. It's only that I wonder ...for how long, Duo?"

"How long?" Duo sounded lost, bewildered.

Wufei stroked the taut hands under his own. "You're wrong about me, Duo. I'm very afraid of my feelings. I'm afraid that I love you, and I wonder if you understand what it means to love, not just for a night, but for a lifetime."

Duo's eyes filled with tears. He pulled one hand away from Wufei to wipe at them impatiently. "I don't know if I do. I never expected to have much of a lifetime. Right now is all I ever counted on. But...but I think...maybe..." His cheeks warmed under a blush that Wufei finally could be sure of.

Wufei lifted a hand to Duo's burning cheek, his fingers toying with a strand of silken brown hair. "You think what?"

Struggling to hold onto his mask, Duo laughed weakly. "Shit, Wu, you aren't making this easy, y'know. You were supposed to say something like 'You care, I care, so let's get naked.'"

Wufei smiled, but his fingers lightly gripped Duo's chin, lifting it slightly so that Duo couldn't look away. "No more retreating. No running and hiding. Tell me what you think."

"I think," Duo began, obviously having to struggle to keep his voice steady, "I could learn to believe in tomorrow--if you'll teach me."

Caution struggled against hope a last time and lost. Wufei thought of a thousand things he wanted to ask, but questions suddenly seemed superfluous. He leaned forward and kissed Duo, affectionately rubbing noses. "I was called a scholar once. I hope my knowledge will be enough."

Duo didn't answer except to stand, taking Wufei's hand and tugging him toward the bed. The two tumbled onto the mattress, silent in their efforts to rid each other of too-restrictive clothing. Even as he submitted to Duo's hands pulling off his shirt and pants, he stripped the other boy. When both were naked, Wufei sat back on his haunches, admiring the pale, supple grace of Duo's body as he lay on the rough wool blanket, half-smiling, legs spread in invitation. Scarcely believing that such magnificence was his to touch, he reverently bent and kissed Duo's flat belly, dipping his tongue into the dimple of his navel. When Duo bucked and groaned under him, Wufei thought surely this was the Heaven the priests spoke of. Lifting his head, he whispered, "You are so beautiful, Duo. I didn't know...I couldn't have stood it if I had known."

"You, too," Duo answered, his hands eagerly caressing Wufei's back and buttocks. "When Heero got mad at me for looking...you were the one I was looking at."

"Truly?"

"I don' lie. Y'oughta know that by now." Duo reached up and pulled Wufei down on top of him, then rolled them both so that Wufei lay under him. "I've been lookin' at you for a long time, Wu. Wishin' I could touch you, like this..."

Wufei arched his back as Duo's hand slid down his belly to grasp his hard sex. He moaned as Duo's smooth, cool palms glided against his hot flesh. He knew his own hands, just now busy pulling free the long chestnut braid, were rough and callused. How was it that Duo's remained soft, despite the long hours he spent controlling his Gundam? He lifted the other boy's free hand to his lips, kissing the delicate flesh, grateful for something that had remained unmarred by the war. Taking the slender, pliant fingers into his mouth, he sucked them, his tongue searching out the sensitive skin between each one in turn.

"Ah...shit," Duo gasped. "How'd ya know I like that?" Duo squirmed over him, rubbing their erections together. He circled his hand around them both as far as his fingers would reach, stroking them in unison.

Wufei felt his control ebbing as Duo's efforts increased. Not so soon, he told himself. He didn't want it to end so quickly. Gently, he pulled Duo's hand away from where he pumped them both.

Immediately, Duo's body tensed. He lifted his head, his violet eyes darkened with a shadow of fear. "Did I do somethin' wrong, Wu? Tell me, and I'll..."

Wufei stopped him with a deep kiss, not releasing the other boy until he felt Duo's body relax and melt against his. Finally, he pulled his mouth away, whispering through the chestnut cascade. "No, my love, everything you do is right. I only want to make this last, that's all."

He felt Duo smile as the boy pressed his lips against Wufei's neck. "Almos' f'rgot what it's like to take it slow," he murmured, his voice slurred from passion.

Wufei slid his arms around Duo's slim body, cuddling him close. Stroking his partner's back in long, soothing caresses, he skimmed his hands over the firm globes of Duo's buttocks. Lying heavily on Wufei's chest, Duo purred in delight.

"Y'didn' tell me you're so good, Wu." The long-haired boy sighed with pleasure, pressing himself against his lover's body. Wufei felt a surge of need as Duo rubbed himself against Wufei's belly, both of them hardening further at the friction.

"I wasn't sure I would be," Wufei answered, reaching down to spread Duo's hard-muscled thighs. He cupped his hand under Duo's buttocks, fingering the soft, tender skin of his scrotum.

Duo bucked against him, whimpering at the maddeningly light touch. "Don' have t'worry 'bout that."

Wufei rolled Duo off him, shifted himself until he rested his cheek against the boy's hip. He ran his fingers through the soft brown curls, as silken as Duo's chestnut mane. With his finger, he circumscribed the red, swollen head of Duo's penis, delicately spreading the wetness that leaked steadily from the tip.

"Ahhh...." Duo let out his breath in a long sigh, writhing beneath his hand. He turned slightly toward Wufei, grasping his hips and pulling.

Wufei understood Duo's desire and once again straddled the other boy, this time so that they curled around each other like the divine yin-yang. Wufei bent his head to his lover's sex, gasping as a warm wetness enveloped him. He took Duo into his mouth, losing himself as he both gave and received exquisite pleasure. Despite his desire to make their lovemaking last, Duo's skills overwhelmed his control. As he felt his own need rising, he circled Duo's sex with his fist, pumping with his mouth and hand in concert. Duo repaid him with expert strokes of his tongue, sucking him with adept precision. As Wufei's orgasm took him, he tasted Duo's seed filling his own mouth, swallowing even as he was dimly aware of Duo devouring his own semen.

Wufei fell back, exhausted, but not too tired to offer his arms to his lover. Duo snuggled against him, laying his head on Wufei's chest so that his hair draped over them both. For a time, neither spoke. Duo lay still, but Wufei couldn't resist the temptation of stroking the boy's long hair, his shoulders, his face, utterly reveling in the joy of the sweet weight in his arms. But even rapture could not keep him awake after his exertions, and he drifted into sleep.

He awakened with no sense of how much time had passed, but Duo still lay snugged against him, his head still pillowed on Wufei's chest. Wufei thought that he must be asleep until he lifted the heavy curtain of hair and saw tears oozing from under tightly closed lids.

"Duo?"

"Hmmm?" Duo's eyes remained closed.

"What's wrong?" Wufei heard the fear in his own voice almost before he realized he felt it. Had he been wrong, had Duo's desire truly burned as quickly as it burned hot?

"You were right, Wu. What you said about it being empty if there's no feeling...."

Wufei's belly tightened as though someone had plunged a knife into it. Duo's hand groped blindly for his. Wufei allowed his own hand to be captured, waiting numbly for the words he knew must follow.

"It's always been empty." At last he lifted his head, and Wufei saw his own joy mirrored in the shining violet eyes. "I just didn' know it 'til now. I didn't know what I was looking for. I just kept looking, and looking, always felt hungry but I didn't know why."

Wufei gathered his courage. "And now?"

Instead of answering, Duo cupped both his hands together and held them out to Wufei like an offering.

Puzzled, Wufei asked, "What is it?"

"This is gonna sound stupid, but...it's my life, Wu. Today, tomorrow, all of it. It's yours if you want it."

Hardly daring to believe, Wufei cupped his own hands around Duo's, kissing the top of the shining head as the boy bowed over their twined fingers. He laid his cheek against the silken hair, whispering, "And I offer my tomorrows to you, too, Duo." He felt Duo's grip tighten convulsively at his words. "I offer them with both my hands."

end

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