When Fallen Angels Fly + Part Two (cont)

Grip tightening around the hilt of his sword, Wufei tried to push the image of fleeting hurt that had crossed Duo's face from his mind. He hadn't meant to cause the other pain. He had only been protecting himself, protecting Duo.. After all, the American pilot hadn't meant it as anything more than a joke, Wufei was sure. The last thing Duo needed to know was that Wufei had, for one mind numbing second, taken that entire statement perfectly seriously.

"We are finished here," he said harshly, sounding like a bastard even to his own ears.

He needed to escape. He needed to flee to his room and his books, where he could remember why it was necessary to remain alone. It was the safer, cowardly route. But it needed to be that way.

Without waiting for an answer, he gathered up his weaponry, minus the sword Duo held, and left the other standing in silence, watching his retreating back with growing hurt and confusion.

"Was what I said so bad?" Duo asked of the air in a whisper that lacked all his usual color.

Letting his chin drop to his chest, he realized that he was still holding Wufei's sword. Absently, he ran his fingers along the blade, noting with an odd sort of detachment that it looked so new, while the handle looked so ancient. Wufei took good care of his swords. Wufei took good care of everything that belonged to him. Cobalt blue eyes widened slightly when that insight produced a wistful tug in him, a strange sort of longing... Since when had he even thought of Wufei in that manner? Heero... Hadn't he meant to think of Heero?

Duo was jerked rather violently from his tangled thoughts when he felt a sharp prick in his finger. Glancing down, he noted that he had reached the end of the sword. True to his penchant for never doing things half-way, Wufei had even sharpened this sword to the point of perfection. Whether it was accidental, or symbolic, this was just what Duo needed to clear his mind.

Slipping his bloodied finger between his lips, he grimaced at the bitter taste of copper as he soothed the sharp ache with his tongue. If only it were that simple to ease the ache created by Wufei's words...

+

Wufei attacked the vegetables on the cutting board with a kitchen knife, wishing the act of violence would soothe the ragged edge of his nerves. Since that incident earlier this morning, Duo and he had been avoiding each other. They were doing remarkably well for it being such a small house. Now that evening had come, however, Wufei knew they both had to sacrifice their discomfort and eat. It would be ridiculous to starve.

He just wished he knew what to say to Duo. Somewhere over the course of the day, he had decided he owed the other pilot an apology. Duo had been innocently joking, and he had taken him far too seriously. He was worried that it would be too revealing. He didn't want Duo thinking that he was attracted to him, when the boy obviously cared for Heero. It would be more than a little mortifying. Never mind the fact that it was the truth.

"The vegetables were innocent. I was the one that made an ass out of myself."

Wufei spun around, knife in hand, adrenaline and instinct carrying him the first few seconds before his brain registered that it was only Duo. He was disgusted with himself for having been so lost in thought that the American boy had gotten past his guard, especially considering it had been him filling his thoughts and then appearing as if having been called. Because of it, he only stared for a few moments, wishing with every fiber of his being that he had not done so when he looked his fill.

Hot weather and Duo didn't seem to get along very well. So it was no surprise to find him taking cold showers during the day in an attempt to cool himself off. Wufei wished that today had not been one of those days. Duo carried with him the scent of vanilla and his hair, damp still, was hanging unbound, so that it fell down his back in a massive curtain of many dark hues.

Wufei couldn't grasp the significance of this. Duo never went around with his hair undone in front of any of them.

When they had first met, Wufei had scoffed at the idea of a pilot, a warrior having so much hair. It had to be a nuisance in battle, and was probably nothing more than a vanity. But as he had gotten to know Duo, he learned by observance that the braid carried some secret importance to him.

They all had their things that gave them ties to something, anchors to reality. Duo just happened to wear his closer to his heart, in the form of his cross necklace and braid. Wufei had his books, Quatre those ridiculously huge goggles Rashid had given him, Trowa the half-mask that Wufei had seen lying on his bed while passing the room he shared with Quatre one day, and Heero, Wufei was certain, actually felt some tie to that laptop of his.

"Hey Wu, you gonna put the knife down?"

Wufei blinked, and slowly lowered the knife he hadn't realized was still raised.

While he was beyond nervous, it didn't show. Duo Maxwell had gotten very good at cultivating a cheerful, unconcerned mask. Inside, however, his stomach was a mess of knots. He still didn't know where he stood with Wufei, and it didn't help that they had been staying out of each other's way all day. That, combined with the fact that he never let anyone see him with his hair down was waging hell on his health. He tried to console himself with the fact that it couldn't be helped, but it wasn't working out too well.

The exercise Wufei had put him through earlier had left him beyond sore, so that even the act of lifting his arms above his head hurt. Now, he knew he had more than the average boy's upper body strength because you had to have some if you were going to be in control of a Gundam, but the kind of fine control that sword fighting demanded, and the power, was more than even he could handle. Especially considering he didn't work out daily the way Wufei did.

What he needed was just a day or so without any strenuous activities for the ache to pass. In the meantime, however, he couldn't even braid his hair properly. He had tried five times already, before the choice words leaving his mouth told him he needed to seek help. The only problem there was, Wufei happened to be the only other person in the house.

Unaware that he was doing it, Duo reached down to twist the fabric of his pants, betraying his inner turmoil. Wufei, whose eyes missed little, caught the telltale action, and found the strength in it to do what he needed to.

"I apologize," he said without preamble, his tone and posture stiff.

Duo blinked. "What?" fell out.

Wufei's jaw flexed. "I don't believe you need me to repeat it."

Duo bit back the urge to smile, knowing it would only succeed in pissing Wufei off. But the tightness in him lessened at Wufei's words, understanding that Wufei only said what he meant, and that apologizing was not something he did often or easily. But that didn't mean he would make it too easy. Wufei had hurt him... and one apology wouldn't erase that.

"For beating up on the vegetables, you mean? I'm sure they appreciate that, but it can't bring them back now."

Dark eyes narrowed slightly.

Duo wasn't disappointed. He had always known Wufei had a sharp mind.

"I had no right to abuse them in such a way. They didn't mean anything by their actions."

"Lying on the cutting board?" Duo couldn't help but interject, his lips twitching.

"Yes."

Was that the beginnings of a smile he saw on the Chinese boy's face?

"I'm sure they forgive you. They tend to do things without thinking."

"That is because they don't have brains," Wufei responded blankly.

Yes, that was the beginnings of a smile all right. The clever boy and his damned dry humor.

Duo moved further into the kitchen. "Can they help it if they were born with all beauty and no brains?"

The Nataku pilot snorted.

"I take it you don't agree?" Duo pursued, effecting a guileless expression.

Wufei stilled then, eyeing the 'vegetables' seriously. After a few short, tense moments, he replied, "No. I agree."

As the Chinese boy swung away, Duo would have choked on something had he had anything to choke on. So he took to trying to fill his starving lungs with as much air as he could while his mind raced, trying to understand what exactly Wufei had just said.

"Hey Wu... did you just say I was beautiful, but stupid?" Duo managed to push past his suddenly dry lips, dropping all pretenses of their wordplay.

Wufei's shoulders raised, and his grip on the knife tightened. What was he doing? Telling Duo the truth. And there was a note in the American boy's voice, a pleading that begged Wufei to be kind.

"No. I said you were beautiful."

He might have been talking about a rock, for all the emotion there was in his voice. But something like hope blossomed inside Duo. He wasn't certain where it was going, but he wanted to find out.

"Thank you."

No answer. More vegetables lost their lives to the cause.

Duo gathered up his courage.

"Wu? Would you do me a favor?"

Wufei half-turned, knife in hand.

"I... I'm ashamed to admit my arms and back hurt like hell from all that exercise. Would you... braid my hair?"

Wufei's expression didn't change, but his heart leapt and twisted inside of him. Duo was offering him a chance to touch his hair, a chance to find out if it was as soft as he had imagined last night while trying vainly to sleep past the unwanted thoughts whirling in his mind.

For the first time since Duo entered the kitchen, Wufei looked directly at him. And was pulled into the endless blue of his eyes.

How weak he was...

"If you need me to."

Relief and excitement. "Thanks. Having all this hair is a bitch when it's not pulled back."

"Then why have it?" It was out before Wufei could stop himself.

Duo's smile suddenly became bittersweet, and instead of answering, he indicated to the knife. "You aren't coming near me until you put that knife down."

Wufei's lips curved slightly, and he set the knife aside, not knowing whether to be relieved that Duo had neatly side-stepped his question, or disappointed.

"Sit in a chair in the dining room."

"Dinner going to be okay?" Duo asked over his shoulder as he led the way.

"It is in the oven," was all the reply he got.

Duo quickly flipped a chair around, straddling it so that he could rest his arms and chin against the back, while giving Wufei easy access to his hair.

Wufei settled into his own chair, sternly telling himself that he was going to be very business-like about this whole thing. There would be no lingering.. Duo would get the wrong impression. But then, wasn't that what he wanted? There was something stirring between them. He could feel it just along the edges. Both of them, it seemed, were too afraid to attack it head on. Which was just as well, he considered, as Heero and the others would be back shortly.

Combing his fingers through Duo's hair, he began separating sections of it, trying not to notice how cool and soft it felt against his skin. Being this close to him left Wufei smelling nothing but the vanilla conditioner the American pilot used. That would haunt him in his dreams tonight, he knew.

Closing his eyes against the pleasant tingles having Wufei's hands in his hair caused, Duo held back a sigh. This was happening too fast. Before he knew it, Wufei was going to be done, and he wasn't going to get to savor the feeling of his touch. For someone who became a fairly frightening opponent when he got inside Nataku's cockpit, Wufei could be incredibly gentle.

"There," Wufei said matter-of-fact, rising to his feet and immediately pulling the chair back to slide it into its place.

He was right. Too fast.

"Hey Wu-man, do I smell something burning?"

"Shit!" And he took for the kitchen at a flat run.

Grinning, Duo reflected on the fact that it would be worth Wufei's ire when he realized there was nothing burning, just to have gotten to hear him curse..

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