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

A/N: This is the baby setup for the next sort of mini-arc entitled "Ralph".

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 8

8. Duo

This time it's on my own
Minutes from somewhere else

- "Lucky Denver Mint" Jimmy Eat World

The call came late at night. Duo sat on the couch, sketchbook on his lap, when the phone rang. He answered before the first ring ended, not wanting to wake the others. His face hardened when he realized the call was a last-minute job. He hated those. They were usually the biggest pains in the ass. He frowned when the anonymous voice told him it was his job. But then he shrugged. Well, at least Heero would be spared. His frown deepened when the voice told him that his best friend was not to go along. That would not go over well. He almost dropped the phone when he learned that Wufei would go in his stead... as his participating partner.

"Fuck," he said absently, barely registering that he'd hung up the phone. He stood up slowly, pulling the throw blanket tighter around his shoulders. This couldn't be right. Heero went on jobs with him. That was part of the deal. Heero. Not Wufei. The boss allowed the two of them to work together. It was all but in the contract. It was a scrap of dignity he had afforded them a year ago. Two scared kids, horrified at the job they were being offered. They would do it if they could go together. This was the first breach of that rule. It'd be the first time he'd go on a job without Heero. Not that he didn't trust Wufei -- he did. They were good friends. But... "You're not Heero," he whispered. He stood outside the bedroom he shared with his best friend, then carefully pushed it open. The dim light from the living room slid inside, falling across the foot of Heero's bed. Duo could hear his quiet breathing, knew he was deeply asleep. He leaned his head against the doorframe and kept his eyes trained on that reassuring lump under the covers.

'It's okay, Maxwell,' he thought. 'It'll be fine. You and Wu are tight. You'll just go, do your thing, keep your eyes shut. Then get out. Don't make a big deal out of it. Just business. Sure, you've always had Heero with you, but you're a big boy. You can handle this.' He pulled the door shut and turned toward Wufei's room. Better to tell him now. The dragon did not like surprises in the morning. He turned the knob and entered, clearing his throat and shuffling his feet across the floor, trying to make as much noise as possible so as not to surprise him.

"Wu," he called softly.

Instantly, his friend came awake, automatically reaching for the knife he kept under his pillow. "Who's- whatsit-"

Duo kept his hands in the air and smiled. Wufei remained high strung no matter the time of day. Even groggy he was not to be trifled with. "Hey- it's just me. No blades required."

"That remains to be seen," the dragon mumbled grumpily. "Whaddya want." It wasn't actually a question. It was a command to speak and explain the cause of a rude awakening.

Duo sat down on the end of the bed. It was the only seating in the room, aside from a meditation mat. Wufei drew his legs up to his chest, giving Duo as much room as possible. "Wu, we've got a bit of a situation." The dragon waited expectantly. "It seems the boss got a request for two of us at once... together."

Wufei snorted and ran his fingers through silky black hair. "I was wondering when you and Heero would have to do that. I'm amazed you haven't had to so far. You go together everywhere. It only makes sense." He paused. "But why come to me about it? You think Heero won't do it?"

Duo rubbed the back of his head and took a deep breath. "It's not me and Heero; it's me and you."

Wufei stared at him blankly for a few seconds. Then he started shaking his head, eyes narrowing. Duo nodded in answer.

"No, that's not right."

"I'm sorry, Wu."

"That can't be right. That's not right!" The dragon lunged at Duo so quickly that he nearly toppled over again, tangled in his blankets. Elaborate Mandarin curses flew from his mouth, and Duo spent the next several minutes trying to catch hold of his arms, hands and fists, fists intended for him. He wrestled him back to the bed, succeedin in dodging the blows aimed at... he didn't know where. He could see that the dragon was in a panic. If Wufei had really wanted to hit him, Duo would already be unconscious.

"Wu- Wufei, please. Please just calm down. We need to talk this out first. Flying off the handle and punching my lights out isn't gonna help the situation."

"It would help mine." His voice almost broke.

"No it wouldn't. Wu, look at me." Black eyes swung up to meet violet. "We need a plan. We can't change it now. The job's tomorrow. And we can't walk in there blind. It's with one guy... so it'll be okay. We just need... a plan."

Wufei turned on his bedside light and took a few deep breaths. "Duo. We can't work together," he said firmly.

"We have to."

"But we can't. I've only been working for half a year. I can barely keep it together for the cheap shit jobs I'm given. Those johns don't want more than a quick... fuck against a dumpster. How am I supposed to... perform for-"

"More than ten minutes?" It was a cheap shot and Duo knew it, but he smirked anyway.

Wufei frowned. "I object to what you're insinuating, but yes. I'm not like you."

Duo flinched and tried to cover it up with an offended _expression. "Now I object to-" But he could see Wufei backpedaling as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

"I mean I can't make it look like I'm enjoying it. I'm not as good an actor as you." They watched each other warily for another second before Duo shrugged and smiled.

"Few can. It's a gift." He took a breath then waved his hand dismissively, trying for a casual air he really didn't feel. "Look, Wu. Leave the acting to me. Chances are, this guy saw us at that expensive club a few weeks ago and liked the way we looked together. So he probably knows that I'm the smooth sexy one and you're the hesitant-but- hot one." Wufei scowled at the description even as Duo patted himself on the back for its accuracy. "So he's probly gonna
want us to keep up that lovely image for him. It'll be no big."

Wufei crossed his arms over his chest. He looked somewhat placated. "I highly doubt that."

Duo stood up and headed for the door, eager to be away, eager to be in his bed and unconscious and away from what he knew would happen in the next 24 hours. But he paused in the doorway and turned a reassuring smile on his friend, still tense, still thrown, sitting in bed with the covers clenched in his fists. "You need to stop frowning so much, Wu. You'll get scowl lines before the age of 25. And I do like to see you smile." He grabbed the door knob and began to pull it shut behind him.

"Wait." Duo turned and found himself pinned by obsidian eyes, clear and deadly serious. "You need to tell Heero -- tonight. He won't take it well."

Duo took a few steps back into the room, absently rubbing his upper arms and nodding. "You're right." He turned toward the wall that connected their two bedrooms as if he could see through it to Heero's bed. "I'm not looking forward to that conversation. "

"Why?" Duo whipped around to see Heero standing in the doorway, sleepily rubbing his eyes. "What's going on? I heard Wufei shouting."

Duo looked at Wufei, who still had his bedspread twisted in his fists. The dragon gave him an encouraging nod. He turned back to his friend and cleared his throat. "Well, um, Wufei and I, we- that is... there's a bit of a situation."

[part 7] [part 9] [back to Singles a-k]