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


Note: Takes place about two years after the final chapter.


Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Epilogue, Part 1

Epilogue 1. Duo

You're my favorite thing
You're my favorite thing
You're my you're my favorite thing
Bar nothing
I think big once in a while

- "Favorite Thing" The Replacements

Duo bullied his way through the door, juggling keys, sacks of groceries and his school bag, which insisted on sliding off his shoulder. Finally through and into the hallway, he kicked the door shut behind him and shuffled toward the kitchen, all the while cursing Ottawa's infrequent but brutal heat waves, humidity, the month of June, finals, living on the third floor, frantic preparations before a trip, having to buy groceries on the way home from school, forgetting his phone, forgetting that Heero had the car, his braid which was stuck to the back of his neck, clothes in general because they stuck to his skin, and finally, the size of their kitchen. It had next to no counter space. He left the food in a pile on the floor and on the small bit of counter by the toaster oven and immediately peeled off his sweaty tank top. He took a quick sniff under his arms and made a face. He should probably shower before they left. Then he shrugged and kicked off his flip-flops. Their car didn't have AC anyway. He'd be sweaty almost instantly and it wasn't like he had anyone to impress where they were going.

He strolled toward the bedroom, pulling his braid up into a knot as he went. He stopped in the doorway when he caught a glimpse of the view inside. Leaning against the door frame, he smiled. Wufei must have been tired to have slept through his loud entrance to the apartment. The dragon lay sprawled on the bed, his head pillowed on one arm, their fan going full blast aimed at his bare back. Duo openly admired the smooth expanse of dark skin. His lover's job as a bicycle courier, coupled with the warmer sun, had turned his shoulders to burnished gold over the last month. His eyes followed the indentation of his spine and the lines of the new tattoo that curved along his shoulder blade. It bore a close resemblance to the one that Heero and he both had, but unlike theirs, it didn't run along his back bone, instead curling along the inside and bottom of his shoulder blade. Wufei referred to it as proof of his status as the third wheel, both because it was vaguely circular and because it was different from his lovers'.

Duo thought that the dragon was a bit self-conscious of such an obvious sign of his connection to the two of them, and honestly, he thought that was kind of cute. He knew that Wufei lost any feeling of discomfort when either Heero or himself had him pinned face-down on the bed, rough fingers or a tongue tracing the lines of ink. His back muscles would flex and bunch as he made a token effort to escape, without really having any intention of-

Duo shivered and came the rest of the way into the room, carefully approaching the bed. Even though they'd been in Ottawa for a little over two years - safe, healthy, comfortable - they were all still light sleepers.

He let his braid fall back against his spine and then knelt by the bed, hands flat on the blankets. His lover's face was turned toward him, gold-tinged skin flushed and shiny with the heat. The fan filled the room with white noise and Duo felt his eyelids drooping. Maybe he could nap with Wufei for just a few minutes, before Heero got home from work and rounded them and their luggage into their beat up Subaru. He probably had half an hour yet. First though... He reached careful fingers toward Wufei's back, touching his skin with only the very tips. He ran them along the knobs of his spine, then traced the lines of the tattoo along his shoulder blade. He brushed stray hairs away from the dragon's neck, the strands damp with sweat.

Wufei's hair was getting shaggy and long, though not quite long enough to pull back. It looked good, Duo thought, though he had a strong suspicion that the dragon would ask Trowa to chop it all off once they arrived. That's what he'd done last year. Duo liked it longer, but having it short meant he could rub his palm over his lover's scalp and he liked to do that. His fingers traced lazy patterns along ridges of bone and firm muscle. In the valleys where muscles dipped lower, their skin stuck together. He took his hand away and tasted salt on his fingers.

Just then, Wufei stirred, back muscles stretching under smooth skin. Duo returned his palm to Wufei's back, pressing firmly, letting him know who was there with him.

"I know what your doing, Maxwell..." His voice was heavy with sleep and his eyes didn't open, but Duo was smiling anyway. "...And I like it," he grumbled. Duo resumed tracing ribs, vertebrae, and shoulder blades, the dragon arching under his touch. Finally dark eyes opened, blinking tiredly at Duo. "You're sticking to me," he muttered. He started to sit up, peeling his arm away from where it stuck to his cheek. "I'm sticking to me."

Duo's grin got a bit wider as he touched the bright red mark on Wufei's cheek. "You must have been exhausted, Wu."

He nodded, yawning on cue. "Still am. That last paper was a bear."

Duo rose to his feet and climbed onto the bed beside him. "Did you turn it in yet?"

Wufei gave him a look and sniffed. "Do you think I'd be able to sleep without first turning in my assignments?"

Duo rubbed the ridge of scar tissue on Wufei's arm, and even in the heat, he shivered. "Yeah, dumb question, I guess."

He slid his arm around Wufei's middle and flung him down onto the mattress, laughing at his indignant squawk of protest. "Lay down with me for a few minutes, lover. I need to rest up before I can face Heero's trip-planning, car-packing skills."

Wufei rolled over within the circle of his arms. "But you're sticking to me," he complained.

"Deal with it. Be happy it's not snowing like last month."

Wufei's mouth stretched into a lazy grin and he subsided. He had no sharp retort to Duo's statement, which led him to believe that the dragon was even more tired than he let on. Duo ran his fingers through fine black hair.

"You shouldn't worry so much about those papers, Wu. You're older than most of the kids in your classes and the professors already love your work. Cut yourself a break."

Wufei closed his eyes and shoved his right leg between Duo's so that they lay closer together, limbs tangled, bare bellies just touching. "I refuse to heed any advice from you Maxwell, seeing's how it generally encourages me to be a lazy slug."

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," Duo said with a satisfied smirk.

"Not really, since I noticed that you turned in all of your final projects right on time - and some of them were quite good."

Duo's brow twitched just slightly. "You liked some of it, didya?"

Wufei nodded and stared off into middle distance. "Your portraits are just as disturbing to me now as they were then."

Duo could make a pretty good guess at what 'then' Wufei was referring to. "I've had a lot of inspiration these last couple years," Duo murmured.

How long had it been exactly? He rested his head on Wufei's pillow and watched him phase out, doing a little recollecting of his own.

Quatre had moved into their old flat three years ago at the end of this summer. That's when it had all started, when Trowa had become a real person, with real interests (mainly Quatre). And Heero decided he either needed to move up in the family or get out. It was shortly after that when Wufei and Duo had encountered Ralph (fucker) and then... each other on a more intimate level. That was when Duo had first shown Wufei his portraits. That had been early fall, and things didn't really get going between them until maybe a month after that.

Heero and Trowa's (ballsy/hair-brained) escape plan took up most of the fall and winter and then everything had gone to shit all at once when Heero and Wufei took part in a job that ended up a massacre (they had all the fun). And that was, what, February? Everything had fallen out from under them in one night and within the week, they were homeless and jobless. By the end of the week, Gael was dead, they were all free, and all in the hospital... and under police surveillance. Their blades had all been taken as evidence and the four of them together (Trowa wasn't involved, having been shot before all the carnage) were suspected of involvement in the deaths of twelve people, including Gael and Cecile. When they'd sat together in Trowa's hospital room, they'd figured out the numbers. Heero had three; Wufei had four counting Gael; Duo had two; and Quatre had four, also counting Gael, since he and Wufei agreed that the blame for that one fell on them both. It was likely that they'd come out of it okay. Only Gael's death had been pre-meditated, and so far, only the five of them knew that. Self-defense was a reasonable plea for all of them, especially Duo. And with the Winner lawyers working for them... But neither Duo nor Heero wanted anyone else knowing anything about what they'd done - what they'd had to do in order to have any chance at lives of their own choosing. Wufei had agreed, and within three days, Duo had (found/stolen/whatever) a car and had a destination in mind. Quatre had assured them that he and Trowa would be fine remaining in the city. Really, they didn't have much choice, because Trowa was even less mobile than Heero at the time.

By the end of March - after holing up in different towns for a week here and there, allowing Heero to heal - they were on a plane out of Brussels, headed for the Americas, specifically Toronto. They found a place to stay and a restaurant that needed the help, but Wufei was accepted to the University of Ottawa shortly thereafter, so they picked up and went there. Heero flexed his computer network security muscles and found an employer willing to pay for night classes in math and science within two weeks of their arrival in the capitol. Duo found work at an arts and crafts store (to Wufei's endless amusement), and on slow shifts, he worked towards his GED. By the time that had all been figured out, they were well into the summer.

Quatre and Trowa showed up in Toronto at the end of the summer and stayed put while Quatre continued the treatment he'd started back home before they left. Trowa's physical therapy was reported successful; he had a clean bill of health and full range of movement in his back and legs by the time they arrived. Communication during that time had been sporadic and brief. Most of it came from Trowa who said that Quatre was taking the drugs well, though he was sleeping a lot and wasn't much fun to be around. The Winners were paying for the treatment, but the two of them were on their own in terms of living arrangements. Trowa had said that he was picking up odd jobs to pay the rent while Quatre was unable to work. No one asked him what those were, and he didn't offer. Duo could make an educated guess, because when his lovers weren't looking and when money was tight, he'd fallen back on older talents as well. Ottawa was a different sort of city, but some things remained the same - dark, secret, and quick. Duo still spoke that language fluently, if not naturally.

Quatre's treatment had lasted nearly six months, and when it was over, he and Trowa had moved about two hundred kilometers closer to Ottawa, working full-time for a family who owned a bunch of cottages as well as a farm. In the letters they wrote, both expressed how different it was to work for a family that was literally an elderly man, his son and the son's wife.

All five former hustlers had lived there that summer, and they would again this year.

Duo counted all the chunks of time on his fingers until he got to the present. "Fuckin-a, man. Three years."

Wufei blinked and inhaled sharply. "What? What'sit?" He rubbed his eyes and turned to Duo. He'd obviously fallen asleep again.

"It's been almost three years since we first met Quatre. That means you and I have been together for two and a half, and the three of us for two." Duo looked at him very seriously. "That's insane."

Wufei nodded, rolling onto his back and stretching his arms up to the headboard. "It doesn't feel that long, most of the time," he said thoughtfully. "Other times I feel like I've known you my whole life."

"Times like when?" Duo asked, curious.

"Usually the ones when you're a pain in the ass and I feel like I've been dealing with your shit for years. Like when you eat peanut butter directly out of the jar, or when you leave hair in the drain, or when you turn a relaxing jog at the end of the day into a competition." Duo rolled his eyes. "But when I see your artwork or watch you sleep, it's like back when we were first with each other. It's like you're new and dangerous."

He grinned because he couldn't help it. He cast his eyes over the smooth muscle of Wufei's chest, the lines of his hips where they disappeared into dark gray shorts, and the soft dark hair that curled under his arms where they reached over his head. He breathed in and smelled sweat as well as his soap and deodorant. And in that moment, Wufei was so obviously the man he'd been living with, the man he was in love with - he was so obviously real - that Duo had to laugh and look away.

"See something you like?" Wufei murmured, eyebrow raised.

Duo looked up. "Haven't heard you say that in a long time."

"Haven't needed to say it in long time."

It was such a blatant reminder of their past occupation that they both fell silent for a moment, smiles fading, eyes growing distant. But Duo didn't want to delve back into that time again, so he grabbed the mood by the balls and slid on top of his lover, one leg pressed between his thighs, elbows on either side of his chest, under his raised arms.

Wufei looked up at him, lowering one arm to gently rest his hand along his ribs. He spread his legs a little wider. Duo asked the question with a tilt of his eyebrow and Wufei answered with a twitch of lips. Verbal communication between them had not been necessary for at least a year when it came to their bodies. Their kisses were lazy and slow, hands roaming languidly over skin and through hair. Duo pressed his thigh upward in a steady, unhurried rhythm and grinned into his lover's mouth when he felt an answering push into him. He anchored his fingers in Wufei's hair, drawing his lover's head back, letting the kiss deepen. He kissed his way down the dark column of his neck and gently bit the ridge of his collar bone.

Their bellies stuck together when Duo pulled back to take a breath, and Wufei grimaced. "You're sweating on me," he said fuzzily.

"It's only gonna get worse, Wu," he murmured with a wicked smile.

+

Duo rolled onto his back when he heard the front door shut and familiar footfalls head into the living room. He drew the sheet further up on his hips and covered Wufei as well. The dragon was fast asleep again, one arm above his head, the other curled across his abdomen. Duo shoved his bangs out of his eyes, yawned and propped himself up into a semi-sitting position. He glanced sleepily around the room at the complete lack of packing he'd done. By the time Heero stepped through the doorway, he'd decided not to worry about it and had fallen back down onto the bed, curling up against Wufei's side. He feigned sleep but knew that Heero wouldn't buy it for a second.

He cracked an eye when he didn't hear any of Heero's customary greetings and found his lover silently removing his work shirt and tie, returning the tie to the closet and the shirt to the hamper. His undershirt clung to his skin, damp with sweat. He took that off too and then turned when he felt Duo's eye on him. Duo smirked at his appraisal, watching Heero take in his and Wufei's state of undress.

"You missed the party, Ro," Duo said quietly.

Heero raised an eyebrow. "You mean the packing up and leaving the apartment for the summer party? Clearly I haven't." He cast his gaze around the room, noticing all the clothes, books, and toiletries that were conspicuously not in suitcases and bags. Duo shrugged with a sheepish grin.

"It's not like we were gonna be able to make it for dinner anyway. And... I got groceries! Did you see all the food I got for the trip?"

"I did see. It was all over the counter and the floor."

Duo huffed a laugh and reared up onto his knees, reaching across the small room to grab Heero by the belt and drag him down onto the bed. "Lose the work, persona, man. We're on vacation! These awful pleated pants must be what's causing your foul mood. Why don't you wear the ones without the pleats? Pleats give you hips, Heero - fake hips. I like you because you don't have hips."

Heero tried to fend off Duo's skilled fingers for all of five seconds before he let himself be stripped of the offending pleated garment. Wufei awoke briefly, saw that Heero was now in bed with him and scooted over to make room, then rolled onto his side and fell back to sleep. Heero, now naked as they day he was born, slid under the sheet with Duo. "You must have really worn him out," he murmured, eying Wufei's bare shoulder.

Duo chuckled. "Nah. I found him like that. He hasn't slept much over the last few days. If he did, it was on the couch in the office." It was a courtesy they all gave each other that, when one of them had a project or assignment due, they slept in the office so as not to wake up the other two with a late bedtime. For the past three nights, Duo had missed Wufei in their room.

He watched Heero stare up at the ceiling and frowned. "Is something wrong?" Heero turned to look him in the eye and smiled. Even though Duo'd known him for over fifteen years, he still felt his heart slip down between his lungs to land on his stomach every time he saw that smile. There'd been quite a stretch of time - years - when he thought he'd never see it again. The past year-and-a-half, almost two years, had been good for him.

Heero shook his head slightly and lifted a hand to run it along Duo's bare chest and abdomen. He traced the lines of old scars. Duo, in turn traced a few of Heero's. He had many more. The scar from Cecile's knife, from that last night, was still a hard ridge of numb tissue, even though Duo had bought him vitamin E to put on it. The railroad tracks were still there from the many stitches he'd needed to hold his insides in.

"I'm fine," he murmured eventually. "I'm just ready to leave town for awhile. I'd like to see the others."

Duo nodded. It'd been since Christmas that they'd seen Trowa and Quatre. They were all looking forward to it. He yawned one more time and then rolled on top of his lover, kissing him soundly on the mouth. Then he rolled off his other side and right onto Wufei. "Wake up, biker boy, we're hittin' the road!" Wufei groaned and tried to shove Duo off. He succeeded but Duo didn't let go, so they both ended up on the floor.

Two hours later, they were in the car - Duo in the driver's seat, Heero next to him with the map (even though Duo knew the way, he insisted), Wufei in the back already inquiring about when they could stop for food and a bathroom. As Heero and Duo had learned over the course of their flight from Europe and their subsequent travels back and forth across Ontario, Wufei was a poor traveler. He had a large stomach and a very small bladder. Occasionally, Duo reminded himself that, in the grand scheme of their lives thus far, a small bladder really wasn't that big of a deal.

+

[part 33] [epilogue 2 ] [back to Singles a-k]