Author: June
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 13

13. Wufei

Salt, sweat
Sugar on the asphalt
Our hearts littering the topsoil
Tune in and
We can get the last call
Our lives, our coal
Salt, sweat
Sugar on the asphalt
Our hearts littering the topsoil

- "Bleed American" Jimmy Eat World

He watched the door close behind Heero and Duo as they left the flat. They both wore gym clothes; loose-fitting sweats and t-shirts. Duo had a bag slung across his chest, pointy objects pushing against the thick nylon. Wufei lowered his book. What did they have stashed in there? Weapons? He frowned at the closed door. Books? Kitchen appliances? Right. He snorted and, leapt off the couch towards his room, quickly changing into his trackies. They were going out to spar; he jut knew it. And damned if he was going to let them get in a training session without him. Jogging down the stares, he emerged from their building just in time to see them turning the corner. He thought about catching up then decided he'd rather walk in silences, away from Duo's incessant chatter.

Not that any of it would be directed at him anyway. Duo had barely spoken to him in the weeks following their run-in with Ralph. He stuck to his bedroom mostly; talking only to Heero and Trowa. Wufei could understand his reluctance. That nightmare of an evening would haunt both of them for a long time. But Duo didn't know that Wufei harbored no ill will toward him. 'You are not my enemy,' he thought. 'You are my liberator.'

Wufei watched Duo pull a basketball from the bag and start dribbling as they walked. He figured they were headed for the local playground since, being the weekend, there were likely to be fewer kids around. Up ahead, Duo dribbled the ball between his legs and began dodging in front of and behind his companion. Heero showed no signs of acknowledging his friend's antics, but continued his unhurried, measured steps toward the playground. Wufei could not suppress the slight twinge of envy at their easy friendship. It went unquestioned and deep. Wufei had never known a relationship like theirs, had never had their companionship. Any attempts made by his clan or his wife were automatically rebuffed as unnecessary distractions to his schooling and training. It wasn't until he'd landed in that flat with only a trunk full of clothes he didn't want and his meditation mat that he felt the sharp ache of loneliness.

The two friends had by then reached the small playground, Duo still ducking and weaving around Heero's legs. Wufei could swear he heard Heero growl and then he sprang into action, neatly stealing the ball and laying it up into the hoop. The ragged chain net clinked as the ball fell through and was back in Heero's hands before Duo could yank the strap of his bag over his head.

"Oi!" He shouted. "I wasn't ready."

"Then get ready," Heero grunted, dribbling the ball back to half court. Duo didn't need a second invitation. Wufei watched from across the street, seated on a convenience store's stoop. He'd never had any interest in competitive sports, preferring instead solitary expressions of his athleticism: running, martial arts, violent run-ins with the punching bag. But watching his friends engage in this simple game, limbs flailing, bodies twisting and leaping in controlled chaos, he felt his competitive urges rear up. He wanted to play, play until he won.

It was obvious that neither of them had received any training, nor watched professional basketball. Instead they played with a feral, child-like intensity. The concept of the "foul" had clearly never been broached. Within minutes, both young men had bloody elbows and knees. Wufei could see the bright red splash of color against skin from where he sat. It made his palms itch. For the thousandth time, he ran long fingers through his hair, attempting to pull it back. Silky tufts of it stood up everywhere. Grinning ruefully, he thought what a picture he must be compared to his former self. He no longer looked like a member of the Dragon Clan -- proud, stately and cold. He was a scruffy, wiry hustler, a dragon who carried himself with unflagging pride, but who now belonged to a different clan if only he could work up the nerve to offer a flag of truce.

Having had enough of the cold stoop and his voluntary isolation, Wufei rose and stepped out into the sunshine. He crossed the street just as Duo sank a free throw from the three-point line. The young man let out a wild 'whoop!' of joy and did two neat cartwheels, knobby knees showing through bloody holes in his sweatpants. Heero's teeth flashed white in a quick smile as he grabbed the ball and made a similar shot from another point along the line. Duo frowned.

"Ever the showoff, Yuy," he said loftily.

"Ever the victory dancer, Maxwell," came the automatic retort. "If you spent less time gloating and more time-"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I don't need that lecture again. Why doncha give Wu a shot. Looks like he wants to join in."

Wufei swallowed hard as they turned in unison to see him standing at the edge of the court, arms loose and ready at his sides. Heero tossed him the ball and waited, hands on his hips.

Wufei easily caught the ball and held it against his chest. Letting his fingers grow accustomed to the worn down nubbiness of the rubber, he watched his friends watching him. Duo wore his usual grin, though Wufei could tell it was a bit forced. He ran his sneaker over loose stones on the black-top, shoulders tense. They'd barely looked at each other in two weeks. It'd felt odd and... wrong these past days not having Duo with him. Even though they'd only been together that one night, Wufei felt his absence acutely, like a band aid that had been ripped off too quickly. Looking at him now was a reminder of that sting.

Heero held Wufei's gaze for a moment then redirected his attention to a bit of gravel embedded in his scraped palm. Wufei could see blood in the creases of his fingers.

"I, um, I don't know how to play by your rules," he said finally. The statement hung in the air, more loaded than he'd intended it to be. All three of them knew it wasn't just an admission of ignorance to the logic of their brutal basketball game. Heero shot a glance at Duo, who frowned briefly then shrugged. The grin went back up.

"We'll teach you. Hope you don't mind a couple cuts and bruises. No stitches, though."

Heero nodded, looking up from his bloody hand. "No hospitals."

"That's acceptable," Wufei acknowledged, stepping onto the blacktop and beginning to dribble. Heero gave up on his hand and dropped back by the hoop. Duo was in Wufei's face immediately, wide pale features lit up and flushed with the cold, adrenalin and a challenge. They hadn't been able to communicate over the past weeks, but they could do this. Wufei felt a grin tugging his mouth as he let his body slide into the pace of the game. He spun away from Duo and bounded toward the hoop. But then Heero, who'd been seemingly idle, suddenly hip-checked him into the basket pole and snatched the ball from surprised fingers. Wufei winced as his shoulder connected with solid metal, but threw himself back at Heero who was about to take a shot. Heero's eye's widened when he saw the dragon headed for him, then narrowed to slits and darted to the side a moment before he passed the ball to Duo.

"Two against one?" Wufei snarled. He spun in time to see Duo sink another free throw. Skinny fists beat the air as the young man crowed in triumph.

"You're new," Heero said simply.

Wufei grinned. "That's acceptable."

+

The basketball game was short and brutal for several reasons.

1) While Wufei quickly caught onto the rhythm of play, he could not hope to match his opponents' timing and teamwork. They'd probably been playing this bloody sport since before they could ride a bicycle... if they'd ever had the opportunity to ride one. Wufei's knowledge of their past was spotty, but he knew it involved homelessness, hunger and thievery.

2) Wufei's growing frustration at his inability to best his two friends was growing more obvious in his increased violence.

3) Neither Heero nor Duo particularly wanted to be on the same team anyway, so before too long, all three of them forgot the basketball and drew the afternoon to its logical conclusion: repeated attempts to get each other on the ground.

Anyone watching from the street may have thought they were genuinely trying to hurt each other, and to a limited extent they were, but then Duo would burst out laughing and Wufei would swear elaborately in Mandarin and the tension would evaporate. The young men moved so smoothly and quickly that it was difficult to tell whether their sparring had been rehearsed. They all fought differently: Wufei in his formal style that somehow remained infinitely adaptable, Heero in a tight and deadly manner that was still graceful, and Duo in his characteristically sinuous and nearly feline style that was just as lethal as the others.

Two of them took on the third, forcing him to defend himself from all sides. Because of this Duo endured many a sharp tug on his braid until, snarling, he put it down the back of his shirt. For payback, he kicked Heero's legs out from under him and when Wufei barked a laugh at the young man's surprised expression, Duo neatly grabbed his shirt and jerked it over his head, effectively binding his arms and blinding him. Congratulating himself on his efficient work, he brought the young man to the ground by tangling his fright foot with Wufei's left and giving his chest a hard shove. Two cartwheels later and he was pinned in the grass, his two angry friends holding him down.

And so it went until finally... "Alright, alright, I give up!" Duo shouted, having suffered yet another flattening at the hands of his friends. "My old bones can't take it any more."

"You're 20," Heero grunted, collapsing onto the grass beside his felled companion.

"I'll feel twice that in the morning," the youth muttered, struggling to pull his braid out of a now ripped and muddy shirt.

Wufei sank to his knees and then fell over backwards, intensely grateful that they'd finally stopped fighting, though he'd be the last to say it out loud. He'd known that Heero was good, had sparred with him in the past, but this was different. Adding Duo to the mix increased Heero's ferocity somehow. They were all more aware -- offense, defense, freedom of movement, heightened brain activity -- God, he felt like he needed to breathe more. And not just because he was out of breath, but because the stifling mood of the past weeks had lifted. The silence was not painful or awkward. He looked over at Duo where he lay sprawled in the grass, caught his eye and smirked. Duo looked away quickly, then back again, a tentative smile turning up the corners of his mouth. Even with a bloody lip and mud on his nose and forehead, Duo was... he was striking.

And he was strong. Wufei winced at the new bruises forming on his ribs. Much stronger than he'd originally thought. And fast. That kid could dodge and retreat and attack and slither out of his grasp as fast as Heero and with considerably more finesse. Heero did what he had to do; Duo made it look good.

The events of the last couple hours, their dangerous play, this was all new to Wufei. "Playfully lethal" was not an adjective he would have used to describe either of his two flat mates before today. He grinned to himself. He liked it. "So, what was in the bag, Maxwell?" he finally asked, propping himself on his elbows to eye the nylon pack across the playground. "Why didn't you bring them out when we were sparring?"

Both Duo and Heero shot him strange glances. "Bring them out?" Duo echoed.

"Yes, maybe we could have used them. They're weapons, right?"

Heero snorted and Duo rolled his eyes. "Itchy trigger finger, Wu?"

"Well, aren't they?"

Heero went back to picking gravel out of his palm. "Library books," he said derisively. "We were going to walk by on our way home."

"Oh." Wufei frowned, wondering how he'd never spotted library books in the apartment. "Anything good?"

+

When they returned to the apartment, Duo headed straight for the shower. Wufei glanced down at his own blood and dirt-covered clothes, then over at Heero's. He cleared his throat. "Thank you for including me in your training. It was good to compete...to spar with you again."

Heero nodded. "Likewise. I want us all to be ready for any... any extreme circumstances that might crop up over the next months. You're a good fighter and a good partner. You will protect the others as well as yourself." Wufei didn't really know how to respond to that, so he looked at his feet. Then Heero jumped slightly as blood from a cut over his eye dripped into his eyelashes and Wufei took the opportunity to leave the room in search of his first aid kit and a wet towel.

"I'll help you with that cut, Yuy. I'm the one who gave it to you, I think."

They stood by the kitchen sink in silence as Wufei wiped the blood from Heero's forehead. Wufei kept his eyes on the cut, but he could feel Heero's eyes on his face. When he turned to throw out the paper towel, Heero grabbed his elbow and pulled him back, giving him a thorough once-over. Eyes wide in surprise, Wufei tried not to drop the bloody rag in his hand.

"Are you alright... Chang?"

Dark blue eyes rooted him to the floor and he stiffened, refusing to look away under such intense scrutiny. "Uh... I'm fine. Nothing that won't heal up in a couple days."

Heero nodded sharply and then held still when Wufei swabbed antiseptic over the cut, not flinching as the dragon applied pressure to the band aid adhesive. He threw away the wrapper and then returned his gaze to Heero's. "You're... okay too? Not seriously hurt? It's been awhile since I've had a suitable sparring partner. I may have been a little-"

"You did not hurt me, Chang," he said with a slightly cocky smirk. "That was a game. Duo and I play rough, but not to injure. You played by that rule, too."

Wufei nodded and then hesitated. The words tumbled from his mouth before he could haul them back, the need to speak them taking him by surprise. "Duo... he played by the rules, not today, but... before, with Ralph." Heero stiffened and his eyes narrowed, but he said nothing at the abruptness of the comment. "I've been wanting to tell him that he's done nothing wrong, but... he doesn't come near- he won't talk to me. I thought maybe you could- "

Heero shook his head, no. "You should tell him. Just corner him. He'll talk."

"But-"

"With food... or with a question about shoes. Or ask him to cut your hair. You could use a trim."

"But I don't need any-"

"I think he just turned off the shower." Wufei glanced over his shoulder at the closed bathroom door, then back to Heero. Intense blue eyes again examined his face, inch by inch. "You should definitely talk to him. He blames himself for what happened. It's fucking him up and I don't want either of you taken out by some piece of shit john." He paused. "And if you want help killing said piece of shit and disposing of his remains, just let me know."

Wufei nodded mutely. Just then, the door swung open and a clean, bandaged up Duo emerged, wrapped only in a towel. Out of respect and to hide his flush, Wufei looked away. When he looked back up, both Heero and Duo had disappeared into the bedroom. Wufei hurried into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. Wiping the steam from the mirror, he examined his countenance. Then after he'd assessed his injuries, he turned on the shower and stripped. His wiry body looked like hell, but, for the second time in under a month, he felt alive and fierce and just a little tingly.

+

Wufei stood outside Duo's bedroom, fist raised to knock. Heero had gone out for groceries and their other roommates were working, so if there was any time to do this, it was now. Privacy was hard to come by in the small flat, so important conversations usually had one or two inadvertent eavesdroppers. Now was the time. Now's the time. Now's the time. Now's the-

"Whoever's out there, the door's not locked," Duo's voice rang out from inside and Wufei nearly jumped out of his skin. Scowling at his own cowardice, Wufei ran a hand through his cropped hair, took a deep breath and walked into the bedroom.

Duo lay on his bed, feet propped up against the wall, sketchbook resting on his thighs. Sketchbook? "I didn't know you drew," he blurted. It was all he could manage. Way to go, Chang.

Duo didn't bother to twist his head around to see who was addressing him. "Oh, I'm fine, thanks, and how are you?" Letting his legs flop back onto the bed, Duo rolled over and smirked at him. But Wufei could not take his eyes off a charcoal sketch of... well, it looked suspiciously like him. Duo closed the book and sat up.

"Yes, and I can draw, pretty well, in my humble opinion." He tucked a few stray strands of hair behind his ear. "I imagine there are actually quite a few things we don't know about each other, in reference to your earlier greeting."

Wufei nodded absently, thinking, 'I don't know these people at all. First, Yuy and Maxwell are brats on the basketball court, then they're carrying around a bag full of art and computer books, then Yuy concerns himself with someone else besides himself and Maxwell, and now Maxwell is an artist! A talented one, by the looks of it. "How long have you been drawing?"

Duo shrugged. "Since I could scrounge up something to draw on -- I imagine about as long as you've been doing those slick martial arts moves of yours."

"Um... that's a long time." Stop stalling, coward. Duo shrugged and looked at him, clearly waiting for him to state his reason for being in the sanctuary of his bedroom. "Have you shown any of it?" Stop stalling!

"Nah. They're only sketches. No one wants to see what comes out of a street rat's brain, anyway."

Wufei let his sense of humor out of its cage in hopes of breaking the awkward mood. "I don't know; 'Tortured Artist' is in these days. Or so I hear. Your questionable honor would be seen as romantic and tragic -- very hip." Duo snorted and didn't seem offended by the tentative joke.

"Fuck your honor," he said automatically. Then his eyes widened in horror and he froze. "Oh, Wu, I-"

The dragon cleared his throat and made an attempt at a smile. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about, actually."

Duo looked vaguely ill. "I'm so stupid -- I'm real sorry."

"Don't be. When have you ever known me to be so easily offended by an insult to my honor?"

Duo stared at him without comprehension. "Only every single day and night since I met you. Obviously."

Wufei grimaced. "Oh...Walked right into that one, didn't I."

Duo looked at him like he'd sprouted a second head. "Are you...? Was that a- an attempt at humor?"

Wufei looked up at the ceiling as though for guidance, then back at his friend. "Yes?"

"Who are you and what have you done with the grouchy dragon?"

"Did it not work?" Bad sense of humor, bad!

"On some level. But I'm still stuck on the fact that you're not hating me for insulting you." He paused. "Or... do you hate me? You would be completely justified if you never wanted to see me again. I mean after-"

"Duo-"

"-everything that happened -- what I did to you-"

"You did nothing wrong; I don't regret any of it."

"-I should have just killed that fucker where he sat. It woulda been so easy, but I was scared. And what on earth do you mean you don't regret it?" He looked up at Wufei, a pleading, tortured expression, twisting his features into an unfamiliar shape. "Wu- you cut your hair. You're in mourning. I hurt you, violated your honor and pride and ... trust, worst of all. I made you bleed! How can you not hate me?"

"Because-" Wufei looked around, frustrated. He didn't want to pace. "May I sit down?" Without a word, Duo scooted over so he could sit next to him on the bed. Feeling better talking to him on the same level, he placed his hands on his knees and tried to remember what he'd planned to say. "That night, Ralph humiliated me and you. And he will pay for it. Heero volunteered to help."

Duo raised his hand. "I'm in."

"But that was a client, not you. We were... working. We had no choice then, no rational choice anyway. Duo... what happened that night, when we..." His throat closed. Duo was carefully studying his fingers. "I thought that I would die that night. I thought that would be the end of me."

He started when gentle fingers touched ragged tufts of hair, smoothing them down. "Well, wasn't it?" Duo's voice was soft and low.

"I think so, yes." Those fingers flinched away, and Wufei rushed to complete his thought. "But only part of me, the part that belonged to my clan, the part that was ashamed of what we do. That part died. But... this sounds ridiculous. I, the rest of me, was sort of... freed. And I owe that to you."

Duo finally looked up, an incredulous frown pulling down the side of his mouth. "Wufei, have you lost your mind?"

A shrug. "Quite possibly. I just know that when I stood there in the bathroom with you... it wasn't over. I had survived, the strongest part of me had survived. In retrospect, that's why I cut my hair, to be rid of all the garbage I arrived with. It sounds trite, I know, but Duo, what I really wanted to tell you was, it's not your fault. I don't want you to blame yourself or feel bad about what happened. In all honesty, I should be grateful it was you, someone I trust. That's really the best we can hope for in our line of work... to be with people we trust."

Duo opened his mouth and then shook his head in wonder. "That's just what Heero said -- almost exactly what he said." He paused and scratched his head, pulling the braid into his lap. "Did you talk to him about this?"

Wufei snorted. "God, no." He decided against mentioning their brief conversation while Duo was in the shower. "He's looking out for your interests, not mine. I didn't think he'd particularly care how I felt." Then he paused, remembering the weighing look he'd gotten from Heero and the careful scrutiny for injuries. That look had been new.

Duo pulled off his elastic tie and re-braided the end of the long rope of hair. "You'd be surprised how much he cares, Wu. I'm surprised every day. Especially lately. This thing that he's planning... it's got him worried and as a result, I think he's more tuned in to what we're all thinking and feeling. Bizarre, I know, especially for someone like Heero. But, we're his family. Neither of us ever had one so..."

"Well, I did," Wufei muttered. "And they didn't turn out to be worth much, I'm coming to realize. So, I am thankful for any feeling of protection and belonging I can get."

Duo looked up at him and gave him a measuring look, one that Wufei could not interpret, one that made him nervous. "I like to think that you belong," Duo murmured. "I want us to be friends and I don't want a disaster like Ralph to fuck any of it up."

"It didn't," Wufei confirmed a little too quickly to his own ears.

"And..." an evil gleam came into Duo's luminous eyes. Apparently this kid was made of Teflon: nothing stuck to him for too long. "I'm apparently responsible for your earth-shattering sexual awakening which, granted, is odd, but is also real flattering." Wufei tried to stutter out a retort, to back pedal, to deny something at least, but Duo clamped a hand over his mouth and silenced him. "And you got a new haircut out of the deal. I mean, don't get me wrong, your hair long was great and maybe you can grow it out again sometime -- because that night at the club you looked amazing -- but now, I dig the short due. It suits you. Dark, sinister, mysterious, severe." He paused. "Definitely sexy."

Wufei found that he could barely breath, partly because Duo's hand was suffocating him, but also because his words were making his lungs seize up. Duo had always teased him about his manners, his temper, his height, how obsessively he practiced his forms and how often he went for marathon runs. It was their dynamic, this constant good-natured critiquing. But today, it felt different. This ribbing about them, what they'd done that night; it brought back a host of memories he'd been trying to bury. And it wasn't over.

"Am I embarrassing you yet, Wu? I think the new cut will attract some exciting new clientele for you, maybe a few more ladies...if you're into that kinda thing. But, hell, who am I to judge. Either way you'll be a... Wu?" Duo paused. "You're blushing and pale at the same time. I didn't know that was possible for someone with your enviable complexion."

He removed his hand and Wufei took a grateful breath. "Please don't do that," he murmured.

"Do what?" Duo asked simply.

Wufei struggled. "Don't talk about... me like that, the way I look and... It's not important, and it makes me uncomfortable."

Duo's violet eyes, suddenly sober, looked him over with critical scrutiny. "It shouldn't," he said thoughtfully. "It's just you -- the way you carry yourself, your attitude. Nothing to be uncomfortable about."

Wufei squirmed and cast a sidelong glance at the sketchbook laying innocently on the bedspread. "Why do you bother noticing these things about me, about people? Is it-" He looked again at the sketchbook. "Have you been -- do you -- draw me?"

Now it was Duo's turn to look uncomfortable. He grabbed the book and held it protectively against his chest.

"You don't have to answer that," Wufei said quickly, startled by his friend's sudden and uncharacteristic embarrassment.

Duo shrugged and ventured a smile. It came out more like a twitch. "It's okay, Wu. I don't mind." He tossed the braid back over his shoulder and then, to Wufei's surprise opened the sketchbook. He turned to a rough drawing of Quatre, the boy's fine features rendered in soft yet precise lines. He looked sad, haunted, despairing. Wufei looked up at his friend.

"I've never seen him like this. He's always smiling."

"I've seen this expression, several times. He keeps up that smile for our benefit, whether to keep us thinking he's happy, or so we'll leave him alone, or for Trowa -- I don't know. He hides a lot. And I'm pretty sure he thinks no none sees this side of him." Wufei nodded his understanding, knowing that he rarely looked in Quatre's direction, more concerned with his own awkwardness than to notice anyone else's misery.

Duo turned a few more pages and showed him a much more detailed drawing of a sleeping man. He was naked and, judging by the wrinkles around his eyes, probably in his late 40s. "Who is this man?" he asked.

Duo flashed a gentle grin. "He's one of favorites. Paul. I think he's half in love with me. I see him a couple times a month -- pays the big bucks for a whole day."

A few weeks ago, Wufei would have recoiled at the fact that Duo would harbor any affection for a john. Now, he examined the man's harsh features out of simple curiosity; his deep set eyes, severe nose and thin line of a mouth. His cheek bones stood out in stark contrast to the shadows beneath them. And yet, despite the severity of his countenance, the man was vulnerable, his angles softened in sleep. Wufei could tell that Duo cared for him.

Duo quickly flipped through several sketches of Heero, a blush darkening his pale cheeks. Wufei read 'private' in that expression. He whole-heartedly agreed. He didn't particularly want to see those pictures either, instinctively knowing it would be wrong to gaze upon such a tangible representation of his friends' relationship.

Duo showed him a drawing of Trowa, the man's long frame hunched over... an accordion? "I've never seen or heard him play before," Wufei murmured in wonder.

Duo nodded. "A great many things we don't know about each other. I don't think he knows I was watching. He doesn't even play it for Quatre."

"Then how did you-"

"Stumble upon such a rare and lovely picture? That is the important question." Duo smirked at him. "Always be on your guard, Chang Wufei, for I am a master of stealth, even when in plain sight." And with that, he turned the page to a detailed rendering of the very young man sitting next to him.

Wufei's mouth fell open and his heart stopped. He felt the bed beneath him vanish, felt himself plummeting in freefall into dangerous darkness. He blinked several times, anchoring his hands firmly in the bedspread to be sure that his eyes were open and he was in fact still in Duo's room. They were and he was. And Duo was looking at him with a strange and secret smile.

"Do you like it?" he asked softly.

Wufei felt himself nodding, though he wasn't at all sure he did like the drawing. It was a view from the waist up, Duo's view...of him on a bed, his black hair spread out around his head like some silken halo. God, it was from that night. One arm reached tentatively upward out of the picture. 'Toward Duo,' he thought, brain stumbling and faltering. 'I'm touching him. He drew me touching him.' His other arm lay across his chest, hand balled into a fist. He could see in the shadowing that his back arched slightly. But his expression drew most of his attention. Duo had perfectly captured the emotions and sensations of that night: mouth partially open, lips dark from bruising kisses, cheeks flushed, and eyes... his onyx eyes open wide, gazing upward in fear, apprehension, lust, excitement, and need. It was all there, staring up at him, throwing him back into that night: the smoothness of Duo's skin, the soft blanket underneath him, the sound of their harsh breathing, of Duo's whispered assurances, his gasped-out replies, the smell of skin and sweat, the taste of wine on Duo's lips and tongue. It filled Wufei's mind in a heady rush, drowning him in remembered sensations.

Dragging his eyes away from the drawing, he closed them quickly before seeking out Duo's eyes. Yes, he did like the picture. It left him winded and exposed. Duo had captured him, preserved him on paper; Wufei in the process, in the throws of his rebirth. "Yes, I like it," he whispered.

Duo's wide violet eyes held his in a gaze he could not break away from; then he nodded once. "In answer to your question, I notice you, pay very close attention to your attitude and the way you carry yourself, because I care a lot about them and you. The emotions you express and what you show me make a very deep impression. I owe it to myself and to you to put that down on paper. It's a record of my feelings... and yours. Do you understand?"

Yes, it made too much sense. And because Duo had laid himself bare by showing Wufei the drawings, Wufei felt he owed similar honesty. "This picture of me... that is what really happened that night. It was what I felt. Ralph was not in the picture; he was nowhere in my mind. There was only you and me... and what we did. I don't know how you saw that."

Duo would still not let Wufei lower his eyes. "Master of stealth, remember?"

"So it would seem."

Finally Duo glanced away and back down at the drawing. Wufei let out a small sigh of relief. "This picture of you... it's right before we had sex, right before I hurt you." Wufei moved to protest, but Duo cut him off. "Right before Ralph reasserted his presence as a grade A, 1st class dickhead. Right before he made me hurt you. But those few minutes before then, I wanted to remember... how you looked, and how you looked at me."

Wufei cleared his throat, enchanted by Duo's words, not wanting this moment of honesty to end. "Those were good minutes," he said hoarsely.

Duo looked up, eyes bright. "I enjoyed them," he whispered, voice barely audible.

Wufei leaned in closer, not sure he'd heard right, and in that moment, Duo captured his lips in a chaste and tentative kiss. His lips were dry and firm. His chin was scratchy with stubble. The dragon's eyes had instinctively closed, but now they opened again, heavy-lidded and unreadable. Although he remained by all accounts outwardly calm, the kiss had sent an electric jolt of sensation from his mouth all through his body. He didn't breathe for several seconds, the two young men staring at each other, frozen. Then, his lungs hitching slightly, he leaned in and returned Duo's kiss, taking his lips and tasting them with the tip of his tongue. Today he tasted like orange juice. Duo pulled back a little and laughed nervously before kissing him again. Letting a quiet moan grow in the back of his throat, Wufei buried his fingers in the soft hair at the base of Duo's braid, drawing him closer. The thick tresses were wet at the center of the rope of hair, still not dry from his shower. Duo bit down softly on Wufei's lower lip and made a satisfied purring noise, sounding like a contented feline. The dragon grinned into his friend's mouth and opened his eyes to see violet irises startlingly wide and close to his. They broke the kiss, watching each other warily. Then with typical Maxwell speed and finesse, the hustler was straddling Wufei's thighs, long arms wrapped around his neck. Starting in surprise, the dragon swallowed thickly and lightly rested his hands on Duo's hips, feeling wiry muscle beneath worn out denim.

Duo leaned in and touched his lips to Wufei's racing pulse. "I've been wanting to get you like this ever since I had your body under mine."

Wufei slid his hands under Duo's loose hoodie, running his fingers along a sharp spine and sleek back muscles. "Why didn't you say something?"

Duo's mouth traveled to his earlobe. "I thought you would hate me. I thought it was wrong to want you. Would you have wanted me to say something?" It was the smallest movement, the gentlest shifting of Duo's pelvis, but suddenly Wufei was very aware of how turned on they both were. His arms tightened around Duo's middle and with a quick shove and twist, he'd reversed their positions and pushed them further back on the bed, so that Duo now leaned against the wall and Wufei held himself up on his knees, upper body curled protectively over his friend.

"Yes," he answered belatedly. He leaned both hands against the wall, on either side of Duo's head. "What if it had been like this? What if I had taken you? Would you still want me then?"

Duo looked up through thick bangs, eyes glinting, and smiled. "Yes." Wufei leaned down and they kissed again, this time a bit more aggressively. Lowering himself so that he knelt between Duo's legs, he tugged on the braid, forcing Duo to crane his head backward and open his mouth further, deepening the kiss. He grunted and pulled Wufei down and closer, hooked his fingers under Wufei's thigh and tugged forward until the dragon shifted one leg over Duo's. Suddenly they were chest to chest and Duo was applying an expert amount of pressure with his thigh. Wufei let out a sharp breath and rocked his hips forward.

Duo grinned. "Feel good?" he murmured. Wufei nodded and tugged up one side of Duo's sweatshirt, needing to see and touch his skin again. Duo shuddered under his rough fingers and Wufei felt the corners of his mouth twitch upward. Then he groaned as Duo's thigh pressed a little more insistently against his groin. He mirrored Duo's movements and felt his partner arch off the bed, his eyelids fluttering. Long fingers went around the back of neck and dragged him down for a wet kiss, his partner's lips murmuring against his.

"Do you want to...?"

Wufei palmed Duo's ribs, fingers sliding along the spaces between them. "Where can we go?"

"We're already on my bed."

Yes, on Duo's bed, on a bed with Duo, Duo under him, on Duo's bed in Duo's room. Not just Duo's room. Something was... Wufei pulled back slightly and blinked a few times. Duo looked up at him, heavy-lidded; then he blinked as well. Then he took a deep breath and laughed, his voice uncharacteristically nervous. He touched Wufei's hair and swallowed.

"You should let me cut your hair," he said a bit breathlessly. Long fingers ran through uneven locks. "It could use a trim."

That sounded familiar. Something was... Reality tickled the back of his brain and then came screaming forward when he remembered. Heero. Black eyes shot wide and he backed up quickly, crab-walking away from Duo until he fell off the bed with a bump. On his feet a moment later he stuttered, "Er... I meant to ask you earlier, before..." 'you kissed me' "if you would cut it for me." He straightened his clothes and studiously avoided Duo's confused and surprised expression. "Heero- he said you would... if I asked you."

At that moment, the front door opened. Heero with groceries. The door shut. Silence. Footsteps into the kitchen, followed by the rustle of paper bags. The refrigerator door opened and closed. Wufei knew his eyes held a look of wild fear and guilt. It was partially reflected in the glance Duo shot at his bedroom door. He stood up abruptly.

"Absolutely. Let's do it in the bathroom. I'll get my scissors. I'll just say hi to Heero first." Then he was gone, leaving Wufei to stumble back to his room, knees made of jelly.

[part 12] [part 14] [back to Singles a-k]