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

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 9
Ralph

9. Wufei

The hazy fog over the bull ring,
The lazy ways the birds sing
A new baby's born every day
Few men may be spoilt today
But look at things the other way
Cos it may well be your final day

-- "Turn the Page" The Streets

Their departure had not been an easy one -- not that he'd expected it to be. He watched Duo glance over his shoulder again and again, eyes seeking their sixth floor apartment, looking for a pacing silhouette in the windows. Wufei even looked back once, just to see if Heero was still there. And he was, back and forth, pacing around the bedroom, stopping every few rounds to press a hand against the glass. Wufei shook his head and shoved his hands into his pockets. 'Such drama,' he thought. He tried to put the image of Heero and Duo's parting out of his mind, embarrassed that he had stumbled upon it in the first place.

Duo's normally loud voice had turned quiet and reassuring. "Ro, it's only for one night. Not even. We'll be home by morning. And then it'll all be over. And I'm not goin' alone. Wu's gonna be with me the whole time."

Somehow Wufei didn't think that Heero found that particularly reassuring. And they hadn't made it two steps out of the apartment before they heard his voice through the door, calling after them.

"Duo!" The braided man was back inside in under a second, wide violet eyes darting around the room looking for the emergency. Wufei stayed in the hallway, but he saw everything. Heero grabbed Duo's shoulder and looked him over once more, taking in every detail. It looked to Wufei like he thought he'd never seen his partner again. Finally, he took hold of Duo's braid and, with great care, wrapped it around his fist. He looked down at the thick rope of hair for a moment, then gave it a gentle tug. Their eyes met briefly, then Heero release the braid and walked straight to the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

And now Duo wasn't saying anything. Such drama. And so unnecessary. They really just need to go at it like rabbits and get it over with. The whole flat will be a happier place for it. Wufei's thoughts continued on this bent until they were seated on the train, side-by-side, speeding toward their destination. Then he could not keep the voices silent any longer. He felt surrounded, the entire counsel of elders walling him in, buzzing in his brain like a swarm of angry hornets.

'How will you do this, Chang? How will you work with Duo Maxwell? Go ahead and say it. Not just work with him. 'Work' is a cowardly word. You have to touch him, let him touch you. What if he has to fuck you? You're a solitary dragon. Can you surrender, give your body to someone else? Will this be the time you get one of their diseases? What will you do if you can't wear protection? What will you tell Duo? Be honest with yourself, Chang -- you want to touch him. Have you been waiting for this day? We know your weaknesses, Chang. You may have escaped with your life, but we will always be with you. We'll always know what you do. Your wife will always-'

Duo looked at him sharply, eyebrows raised. Belatedly, he realized that he'd kicked and dented the pole in the middle of the train car, and while it had shut up the voice of his clan, it had also scared away the other passengers. Well, good. Now they had room to breathe.

"You okay, Chang?" He knew Duo was worried when he called him by his family name.

"I'm okay. I just... have a few concerns." He avoided Duo's eyes, not wanting his brain to flash forward to what they'd be doing in a few short hours. He couldn't bare it.

"I have concerns, too," Duo muttered, voice barely audible over the noise of the train.

"What?"

"Wu-" He raised his voice a bit, over the roar. "I don't want to do this any more than you do. It feels wrong." Then he quieted a bit, and Wufei leaned closer to hear him, keeping his eyes on Duo's hands where they rested in his lap. "Up til now, I've been doing a job that I thought... was my lot in life. I played the cards I was dealt, you know? Wufei, look at me, please." Reluctant onyx eyes rose to meet violet. "This feels wrong to me. Working with you, forced to ...do things to you that I only ever... I'd rather you were a stranger. Hell, that fuckhead from a few weeks ago would be better."

Wufei frowned. "You'd rather be with someone who would purposely hurt and humiliate you than someone you know and trust?" He didn't want to admit it, but that hurt quite a bit.

"Yes, because I can hate him and make jokes about what a dick he was. I live with you. We have to go home from this guy's place. Home -- the same home! We'll know things about each other. We'll have seen parts of each other that... are better kept secret."

"What do you suggest we do?" Wufei asked stiffly.

"Beats me," Duo said with a shrug. "Things'll probly get messy tonight, go south real quick. This'll screw with both of us, but, Wu, we're friends and it should take more than a job to fuck that up." Their gazes met again and Wufei saw fear but also determination in his friend's eyes. Duo shook his head and frowned. "Maybe that was a mistake, becoming friends with coworkers. Maybe we're to blame for this mess, but I don't think so. I think Boss Man is trying to scare us, to screw up our balance. But we can't let'im, Wu. We've just gotta prove to ourselves that we're not intimidated or scared. The Boss can think whatever he wants about us. I want to know if you and I will still be able to... to look at each other after this."

Wufei considered his friend carefully, marveling at this moment of honesty between them. This was new and intense, and Wufei liked it. He nodded and reached over to wipe away a smudge of kohl from Duo's eye. "Don't get too worked up, Maxwell. Your eyeliner will smear."

And that was the end of the conversation. They got off at the next stop and walked two blocks to the loft. Standing outside the posh apartment building, Wufei straightened his slate gray dress shirt and saw Duo do the same with his dark blue button-down. "You look nice," he murmured and was rewarded with one of Duo's genuine smiles, though it was a little nervous. The braided man reached over and pulled a few strands of black hair out of its ponytail.

"So do you." He rang the buzzer. "Here we go."

+

Wufei didn't know why he'd hoped that the john would be a nice normal guy. So rarely did it work out like that. Did it ever? But, maybe just for tonight, their client would be a clever, sophisticated, amusing, intelligent... Hell, boring would have been acceptable too. He would have taken boring. Just not...

Ralph. He was a good looking guy. Wufei could admit that. He was on the small side, about their size actually -- under 170 centimeters. He had attractive silver hair and was dressed well in a slimming black suit. This was about all Wufei could report on his appearance. He tried not to get a good look at his face. He wanted to remember as little of the night as possible.

It was Ralph's manner that made Wufei uneasy. He didn't say much. He just...watched. And he smiled a lot. He sat back in his chair and watched them eat. The food was excellent. Stir-fried vegetables with marinated tofu for him and a plate of spaghetti and salad for Duo. The fact that Ralph knew what kind of foods they liked did not make them particularly nervous. Of course he would have inquired after their preferences. That was a given. But an elaborate dinner usually meant elaborate after-dinner activities. And this was all Wufei could really think about. So, he had absolutely no appetite and watching Duo tuck in all that pasta made him a little green. He knew Duo's philosophy on food: "Better to have a full stomach. A) You can hold your liquor better. B) You never know when it'll be the last mean you ever eat." He understood why Duo held this philosophy, given his upbringing. Wufei had quite a different relationship with food in circumstances like these, with men like Ralph sitting across from him. "The less in your stomach, the less you'll have to throw up later." Wufei thought he'd get a good chuckle out of the double meaning in their client's name after this was all over. Maybe he'd bring it up to Duo on the train home.

Thankfully, Duo carried on most of the conversation -- about the food, the wine, the furniture, the wallpaper, the dishes, Ralph's clothes. It was nonstop. Wufei hardly had to say two words, until they retired to the living room with the wine. Duo started in on another round of compliments. "Your place is just great and I'm havin' a real great time, Ralph. This couch is so comfy! Don't you think so, Chang?" The slim body next to his bounced up and down a few times on the soft leather, jostling him out of his reverie. He looked up and found both men looking expectantly at him. He cleared his throat.

"Yes. This is very pleasant. The food was very good. And... the flat is tastefully decorated. Thank you for your hospitality...Ralph."

Their host began to chuckle and Wufei flushed. "So polite, so reserved," he murmured. "It's a pleasure to have you in my home. You're welcome any time, though next time perhaps you'll do me the honor of actually eating the food I provide."

Wufei stiffened and looked down at his hands, concentrating on not balling them into fists. This man was... off. Duo laughed easily enough, throwing a companionable arm across his shoulders. "Oh, he's just tryin' to keep his boyish figure. Plus we're not used to this fine treatment. This is a real treat for us. He's just shy is all."

Wufei nodded and attempted a smile. "Oh, I know," Ralph said quietly. "That's why I like him." Even though he refused to look up, Wufei could feel Ralph's eyes going over his body. He held up the wine and offered them more. Duo accepted, taking a large swallow of the dark red liquid.

"I need to use the restroom," Wufei said abruptly, standing up quickly and ignoring the proffered wine glass.

"Ah, of course," Ralph murmured. "Down the hall and to the left. Don't be long. I've got a lot planned for he evening." He glanced significantly at Duo, the young hustler flashing his most seductive grin. But Wufei could see how tightly he gripped the arm of the couch and violet eyes locked with his in a plea for him to hurry.

"No..." he muttered. "I won't be a minute." He fled to the bathroom, locking the door behind him. He leaned back against it, eyes closed, breathing slowed. Then he faced his reflection in the mirror. He looked pale. Placing his palms flat on the countertop, he tried to find his center. "You are Chang Wufei of the Dragon Clan," he murmured. "Your true self can never be breached. Your soul can not be compromised. Your body is temporary. Your pride is just vanity. Duo Maxwell is your friend, and you will stand by him. You will live through this and the next obstacle and the next. And if you do not, your soul will still exist, will move on to the next life. Your soul can not be compromised." He took a few deep breaths and turned to go, not wanting to leave Duo alone with Ralph. Then he remember why he'd come to the bathroom in the first place. Dropping to his knees over the toilet, he threw up everything he'd just eaten and drank. Even though it had only been a little bit, he didn't want that man's food tainting his body. Plus he had a clearer head on an empty stomach. He got to his feet and pushed a steady hand through his hair. Much better.

+

Ralph had mirrors on his ceiling, big ones, right over the bed. Wufei groaned upon seeing them. He'd never been one for porno, and he still knew this went beyond cliché. But Duo was grinning. "Nice touch, Ralph. Like to see from all angles?"

Wufei didn't want to see or hear Ralph's response. He wished he could plug his ears. "I'm an observer by nature."

"Clearly," Duo teased.

Ralph motioned them toward the bed, a giant four-poster affair with a thick dark corduroy cover. Wufei eyed it nervously, picturing himself on it, Duo with him. His heart nearly leapt out of his chest when Duo was very suddenly behind him, long arms sliding around his waist and spinning him around to face the rest of the room. They stood nose-to-nose for a moment before he realized that they were alone.

"Where's Ralph?" he whispered, glancing quickly around the room.

Duo shrugged. "In the can or something. Didn't you hear him say, 'Excuse me gentlemen, but I must freshen up.'" His imitation was quite good.

"No, I didn't," Wufei said faintly. "I was..." he turned to look back at the gigantic bed.

"Yeah, I was checkin' that monster out myself. If you roll over to the other side, I'll have to send a search party." Wufei thought the cocky smile looked a little forced. The arms around his waist dropped.

"Duo..."

"Look, Wu," his friend interrupted. "While you were in the bathroom, Ralph explained a few things to me. I think this'll all work out pretty easy. The guy's a voyeur; he's totally hands-off. It's just you and me, okay?"

"He's going to watch us?"

"Yup."

"I don't have to touch him?"

"Nope."

Wufei felt his knees wobble with relief, then he went rigid as their host returned. He'd removed his jacket and now took a seat in an armchair about five paces from the bed. He rolled up his sleeves and turned a small smile on his guests. "You may have guessed that I was there with you that night a few weeks ago. I watched you dance the whole night and I enjoyed the two of you so much that I thought I'd invite you to my home for an encore performance. I found you both so strikingly different and so beautiful that I wanted to see you again, and I want you to be just as you were then. I want you to writhe and bend and throb like you did then. I want you to dance for me."

Wufei tried not to grimace. 'Oh, gross,' he grumbled internally.

Knowing he was blushing, Wufei turned his attention back to Duo, who still stood so close that he could hear his soft breathing. He wondered if his partner could hear the way his heart drummed frantically against his ribs. "He means on the bed, Wu," Duo said quietly, gentle hands taking him firmly by the waist and pushing him until the backs of his thighs pressed against the mattress.

Wufei knew he was getting redder by the second. Ralph chuckled at his embarrassment. "Perfect," he murmured. "You're both perfect."

Duo leaned in close and whispered, "Just follow my lead." Then he began to undo the buttons of Wufei's shirt, violet eyes lowered, a seductive smirk firmly in place. This was Duo At Work, someone Wufei had never encountered. This Duo made him uneasy. But, not one to be left behind, Wufei hurriedly reached up to do the same. They worked around each others arms until all the buttons were open. Then Duo gently pushed the shirt back and down over Wufei's shoulders. His eyes roamed over the dragon's chest and torso and when he looked up, they held a certain amount of admiration. Wufei swallowed thickly and refused to look away. Duo leaned in close and brushed a feather-light kiss against the racing pulse at his throat.

"Trust me, Wufei," he whispered.

"I do."

"Good," Ralph purred from the armchair. "Trust him. Let him lead you."

Duo subtly rolled his eyes and ran his hands over Wufei's chest, finally sliding one arm around his waist and the other around his neck. Duo pulled them together for another kiss, this one right on the mouth. For the first time, Wufei tasted his best friend. His tongue touched teeth and firm lips and then retreated. Duo tasted like wine and salt. He began to return the kiss and he felt Duo smile into his mouth.

Then everything was moving faster than he could fully comprehend. They were pulling off clothes, kissing, biting, and gasping, grabbing, pushing and twisting, all the while whispering questions and commands.

"What should I-" "Lie down." "No, I-" "Does this feel good?" "Yes. Should you-" "Take them off." "Are you ok?" "Yes." "Are you?" "Yes."

It happened in a blur of soft cloth and skin, and suddenly Duo had him pinned on the gigantic bed, whip-thin body poised over him, rope of hair resting on his chest. Wufei felt as though his breath had been stolen. Violet eyes bored into him, paralyzing him.

Duo was naked. This was it; the first time he'd seen his good friend exposed like this. And he was beautiful. In surprised awe, Wufei ran his hands over the long, lean muscles of his arms and shoulders. His creamy white skin felt like silk stretched tight over sinew and bone. But the muscle felt strong, like corded steel. He traced the lines of spidery scar tissue that threaded along his abdomen. Where had these come from? They looked old.

"Duo..." he breathed.

"Shh." They kissed again, mouths pressed hard together, tongues tentatively touching lips and teeth. Wufei rolled them over, so he could get a better look at his friend. The braid snaked across the cover, a glistening chestnut rope against black. Wufei tried his best to forget the john over in his chair, watching their every move. If he could just focus on Duo, this surprising man beneath him... Duo's eyes met his and Wufei was startled to see unclouded affection and trust and want staring up at him. Somehow even the At Work Duo had been stripped away.

Wufei did not do blow jobs. It was all but in the contract. He didn't want the male organ anywhere near his mouth. This was his policy. But now... Duo intrigued him. Hard and soft. Graceful and sad. Beautiful and unsure. He trailed kisses down a tight stomach and Duo arched into him, moaning softly. "Duo," he said again, kissing his thigh. He moved his mouth closer. Maybe just a taste. He imagined heat and salt.

"No, Wufei. Submit to Duo's great expertise. Let him lead you."

They both flinched but obeyed, a small voice in Wufei's mind whispering, 'But... he's perfect.'

"Take off his underwear," Ralph ordered, and Duo immediately grabbed the elastic waistband of Wufei's boxers. He tugged them down, sparkling eyes never leaving his.

"Just relax," he murmured.

Wufei didn't know what was lust and what was just part of the job, what was real and what was acting. He found he didn't need to act much at all. His underwear now nowhere to be seen, Wufei felt Duo's hands on him. This was generally against the rules. If he had his way, he'd do it all. But tonight was different; Duo was different. He could make an exception. This was a meeting of equals. And that hand was very talented. He closed his eyes and let a moan escape, telling himself it was for Ralph's benefit. Right. Try to forget Ralph. Ralph isn't here.

"Ah! Duo!" he started, propping himself up on his elbows. The hustler had his mouth dangerously close to where his hand had just been. "You shouldn't... you don't have to do that." But Duo just gave him a small, mischievous smile and ignored him. Wufei had only received oral sex once, and it was bad. Sure, he'd had an orgasm, but he'd also seriously bruised the john's jaw. And he'd felt... violated for a week. He got himself off. He took his own pleasure. He gave it to others but they were not free to give back. He refused to be manipulated. At least that was the original policy. But like he said before: this was different. And once he climaxed maybe they could go home. He wasn't the fuck-all-night-long type. Once was enough. More than. God, this job was getting to him.

And now Duo was getting to him. Shit, he had him. Duo was doing the impossible -- he was turning Wufei, warrior and scholar of the Dragon Clan into a whimpering, writhing mush of muscle, bone and compromised integrity. Oh, god, just a little longer. Wet, warm and slippery. He could feel it, coiling up inside him, the buildup of pressure. He was almost-

"Duo, stop."

'No, please...' Wufei groaned his frustration, pushing his hips upward toward Duo's retreating mouth. Duo looked up in confusion, wiping his lips with the back of his hand.

"What's wrong?" he asked, voice tinged with irritation.

Ralph smiled and Wufei felt his arousal evaporate. Oh right. There was fucking Ralph in his fucking armchair. "Duo, you have to teach him. He's new at this -- clean -- not like you."

If it weren't for the weight of Duo's body keeping him on the bed, Wufei would have been in front of that armchair and making so many threats to Ralph's body parts, the fucker's ears would be smoking. But as it was, they both raged internally at the blatant insult. Duo swallowed convulsively; Wufei pictured himself carrying out his planned threats.

"What do you want us to do?" Duo asked sweetly enough.

"I want you to take him."

Bells, whistles, sirens, alarms, red flags and road signs reading 'Wrong Way!' blared in Wufei's brain and they both exchanged a horrified glance before Duo cleared his throat and tried to mediate. "See, Ralph, sir, my buddy Chang, here, doesn't take kindly to that sort of thing. He's just not the type." Wufei could only scowl and focus on not crushing Ralph's windpipe. "So," Duo continued as casually as if they were talking about window replacements, "We could go the other way round. He'd be happy to-"

"No," Ralph interrupted. "I discussed this with your superior and he said that my preference was perfectly acceptable. I quote. 'It'd take him down a few notches.'"

Wufei felt his insides turn to ash. The Boss had finally decided he'd had enough of Wufei's strict preferences. His grace period was over.

"However," Ralph continued, "I prefer not to think of this as bringing you down, but rather raising you up to be a better and more perfect whore. And Duo will teach you." Duo made a small choking noise in the back of his throat and abruptly sat back on his heals.

'That was the wrong thing to say,' Wufei thought darkly, knowing that any second, Duo would fly off the bed, Lola gleaming in the reflected light of the mirrors, an angel of vengeance, poised to remove Ralph's poisonous vocal chords. Instead, the young man took hold of his braid and clutched it like a security blanket. His eyes closed and he rocked himself back and forth, as though a phantom mother were comforting him. When he next looked at Wufei, his eyes were flat with resigned determination.

"I'm sorry, Chang. We can't fight Gael, not here."

"But-" The dragon back-pedaled until he was pressed against the headboard.

"Yes," Ralph purred. "Learning is a struggle; it is painful."

Duo crawled toward him. "Please, Chang. I just want to go home."

Wufei shook his head quickly. "No." This he could not do. It would be the end of him. Chang Wufei would die and in his place would grow a filthy, foul insect with no soul, no sense of right or wrong. In the time it took Duo to reach him, he'd gone over all his options.

1) He could run out of the room and the loft, hopefully with clothes, and never go back to the place he shared with the others. He could leave town. But that would endanger his friends. They might be punished for letting him escape. And, if he was honest with himself -- and this moment required brutal honesty -- the Family would find him. Even if he left the country, they would find him. And he couldn't go back to his clan. They would kill him.
2) He could try to talk Duo out of it, and they could try to talk Ralph out of it. But any problems with their job would be reported directly to the Boss. He would know they'd left a customer unsatisfied. And they would be punished.
3) They could kill Ralph. This was Wufei's favorite option so far. But again, serious repercussions if they were tied to the murder. Would the boss give them an alibi if they were questioned? Had anyone seen them come in? Most importantly, would the boss care if one of his clients was found dead in his armchair?
4) Go through with it and kill himself after it was over.
5) Go through with it and try to survive the ordeal, try to put himself back together again.

He knew he wasn't alone anymore, knew he had friends. His best friend was now kneeling in front of him, braid clutched in white-knuckled fingers. He said it again, "I just want to go home, Chang." Wufei turned to Ralph where he sat smiling in his armchair. He would not beg for mercy. No, Wufei was memorizing the man's face so that he could kill him on sight the next time they crossed paths. Until this moment, he'd been avoiding even looking the john in the eye, hoping that if he never got a really good look, he could somehow forget that this whole thing ever happened. Now Ralph was marked.

He turned back to Duo and nodded once, sliding back down along the bedspread until he lay with his legs spread, Duo kneeling between them. 'Option 05 it is, then.'

[part 8] [part 10] [back to Singles a-k]