By: Sintari
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

A/N: Very important. This chapter takes place about a month before Chapter 1!

Tangled Up in Blue + Part 10
Overture

It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before.
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities



Wufei had had his fingernails buffed. They were ridiculously shiny underneath the colored strobe lights at Tangle and he imagined that they shone with the intensity of a flashlight beam into the eyes of anybody who looked his way. To make matters worse, Hilde remarked, "You sure are dressed up. What's the occasion?" when he sat down across the bar from her.

"No occasion," he muttered, taking a sip of his ubiquitous limewater.

"Want me to put a dash of vodka in that for you?" she teased.

Wufei quickly covered his glass with the flat of his palm and uttered a forceful, "No thank you."

Hilde rolled her eyes exasperatedly and then leaned over the bar. He leaned away, taking his limewater with him. The woman and her blue hair were invading his personal space, thank you very much. "Wufei, why do you come to a bar every night if you don't even drink?"

They both looked over as the frosted glass door swung open and Quatre walked in.

Wufei blinked a few times. What? Was his life a sitcom now?

"The ambiance," he answered Hilde stiffly. "I come here for the ambiance." He did his best to ignore the blue-haired woman's Cheshire Cat grin. "And I don't come here every night," he added pensively, just before Quatre settled in beside him.

"How are things in the medical research business?" Quatre asked brightly.

"Under-funded," Wufei answered glumly. But that got a smile out of Quatre and Wufei soon found himself smiling as well. It almost took his mind off of his bright shiny fingernails. He surreptitiously studied Quatre. The blonde was wearing a light blue t-shirt, a color that, Wufei had often noticed, seemed to make the blue in his eyes appear that much brighter. There was a lot he noticed about Quatre, and over this last month he seemed to notice more and more. Like the fact that he smelled damn good. Or the way his hands curled around his beer bottle. Ahem. Wufei shifted a bit in his seat.

He had also noticed the way Quatre's eyes lit up when Duo entered the room...

"What's shakin', bacon?" Duo called to Quatre.

Yes, you'd have to be a fool not to notice that. As the braided man approached, Wufei watched his chance of asking Quatre out tonight disappear like one of Otto's tequila shooters. Speaking of that raving drunk, Wufei checked the barroom and found no sign of him. Quatre had gone home with Otto one night two weeks ago and, well, to be perfectly candid, Wufei's confidence did not need that kind of blow tonight. At least he could be pretty sure that Duo wouldn't take Quatre home. After all, he hadn't in the four years that Wufei had known the two friends.

Pensively, he sipped his limewater and pretended to scope the dance floor while Duo and Quatre talked about their respective days. Duo listened attentively to Quatre's tale about the autocratic hardware store where he worked and the globe-trotting adventures of a shipment of dishwashers that was supposed come in last week. For some reason Duo's jibes and helpful suggestions only made Wufei angrier. In his opinion, Duo was giving a crumb of bread to a starving man - a man for whom Wufei would gladly bake a fucking cake. A few minutes passed and, when Duo got up to dance, Quatre watched him go. Wufei noted the flicker of hurt in the blonde's eyes and had to restrain himself from yanking the retreating braid as it passed by his nose.

Duo Maxwell was the real fool here.

Quatre caught him looking and shrugged.

When Hilde brought them new drinks, Quatre leaned in and asked teasingly, "Have you ever drunk a drop of alcohol in your entire life?"

Wufei bit his lip a little when he smiled back at Quatre. It was an unconscious gesture, one he had never noticed, but that his friends knew meant he had let his guard down a little. The lip biting was a valuable signal, indeed, when it came to the perpetually uptight Wufei Chang.

"Never a single drop," he replied.

"I bet you have no alcohol tolerance. You'd probably be wild if somebody got you drunk." Out of the corner of his eye, Wufei noticed that the blonde still had his fist curled around the beer bottle, and now he was absently stroking it. Up and down. Up. And down. Oh ancestors.

Wufei shrugged indifferently, but an irksome smile that wouldn't seemed to go away betrayed the gesture.

Grin growing wolfishly wide, Quatre held his beer to Wufei's lips. "You know you want some."

Oh Heaven, I do.

"I..." Wufei was saved by the smell. Inhaling the scent of beer right under his nose he made a disgusted noise. "Ugh. How can you put something that smells that foul into your body?"

Quatre put the bottle to his own lips and took a huge swig. "Hey, buddy, I've let you drag me to the Chinese market. You think this smells foul?!"

Still smiling, Wufei affected an offended huff. "It's all a matter of taste."

Quatre finished his second beer. "One day I'll get you to drink one of these," he said, and then brought the empty bottle to his chest, holding it over his heart solemnly. His blue eyes sparkled and Wufei saw shades of Duo's influence in the mischievous expression. "So! You have to promise me that if you ever do decide to drink, you'll call me. We'll make a night of it!"

Taking another sip of his limewater, Wufei just rolled his eyes. "Whatever you say, Quatre."

Wufei watched as Quatre's eyes scanned the room for Duo. As if on cue, the braided man appeared trailed by a blue-eyed blonde. Just as quickly, they disappeared into one of the secluded booths that no one ever actually dined in. Wufei remembered something Quatre had said one rare night when he had had a little too much to drink and Duo had been dancing with a similar partner.

"There he goes with another blue-eyed blonde that isn't me."

And then, Wufei remembered, Quatre had shrugged and laughed self-deprecatingly. He, Sally and Hilde hadn't seen the humor.

"I need to talk to you." Wufei found that the words flew out of his mouth in that instant right after his id formed them but before his ego could pull them back down in the recesses of his brain where they belonged. Maybe the mere smell of that alcohol had lowered his inhibitions. He contented himself with eyeing the brown bottle suspiciously. It was better than meeting Quatre's concerned eyes.

"Sure, Wu. Do you want to go outside? It's a little loud in here." Two sets of eyes were drawn to Hilde, who hovered nearby.

Wufei nodded and found himself following Quatre's back to the bar's front door. Tangle was adjacent to an alley, but the night was wearing on and, to be quite honest, that particular space was almost assuredly already occupied.

It was chilly out, but not particularly cold, so Quatre and Wufei sat side by side on the narrow ledge framing one of the bar's blacked out windows.

And now Wufei would do the honorable thing. Why was it, he asked himself for the thousandth time as he sat nearly touching Quatre's jacketed arm, did the honorable thing most often compare with taking out a gun and shooting yourself in the foot?

Quatre was looking at him expectantly. Clearing his throat, he imagined himself un-holstering a lethal looking firearm and sighting the smooth black toe of his tennis shoe. "I slept with Duo," he said to the sidewalk in front of him. A flamboyantly dressed drag queen happened to be passing nearby at that moment and for a second she and Quatre stared at him with equally confused expressions.

The drag queen recovered first. "Well, good for you, honey!" she said loudly, then winked at him before continuing on her way.

Quatre took longer to respond. He and Wufei both watched the drag queen until she sashayed into the club next to Tangle.

"Why did you feel the need to tell me this?" That hadn't been the question he was expecting. Quatre's expression was neutral, which told Wufei in no uncertain terms that he was upset. Usually, Quatre's face showed his every emotion.

He decided to answer the questions he had been prepared for. "It was four years ago, right after I moved here. I didn't even know you yet, Quatre. When I met you and realized that you and Duo were..."

From beside him, Quatre laughed that laugh. The one that screamed, "Another blue-eyed blonde that isn't me."

"I don't have any claim on Duo, Wu. You know that." And, Wufei noted, his friend actually had a brave smile on his face.

Wufei tried to meet his friend's eye, but Quatre was intently watching a pair of staggering club-goers belly flop into a taxi.

"I just thought you should know," Wufei added lamely.

Quatre stood up and this time he met Wufei's eye as if they had merely been discussing the weather. "Thanks for telling me, bud," he said in an eerily calm voice. Then he patted Wufei's shoulder in a friendly way before returning to the bar without looking back.

Wufei remained on the window sill, staring at the gaping bullet hole in his foot.

+

Duo checked over his work.

Dear Sir or Madam, This letter is in regard to the Assistant Large Mammal Keeper position... blah blah blah. Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon. Sincerely, Quatre R. Winner.

It looked fine, it looked professional, and it looked like a letter that would get any employer's attention. Quatre's newly refurbished resume was all there, too, in a file attachment. Duo - leaning back as far as his leather executive chair would recline - hit "send," and the electronic message traveled through some complicated mesh of wires and satellites that, truthfully, he could care less about, until it ended up in the inbox of Dr. Claus Johansson, Director of the Solomon City Zoo.

Quatre could thank him later.

Duo stared at the thermostat across from his big cherry desk. It was a little cold in here. If he were so inclined, he might get up and adjust it. Twisting the tail end of his braid around one long finger, he decided that, no, he wasn't inclined. Hmm. Maybe he would make those phone calls. Duo watched the blinking red lights on the phone, proof that the office drones at McNalley Luxury Properties were hard at work. Nah, maybe he wouldn't make those calls just yet. He didn't mind letting a few rich old men sweat over their land investments for a little while longer. He clicked the Tetris icon on his desktop instead, just as his assistant buzzed him. "A Renata Ryder is on Line 3. She says it's a personal call."

Though there was no one in his office to see him, Duo shrugged. "Put her though." True, he had no idea who Renata Ryder was, but on the other hand, talking to her would further delay the other phone calls, not to mention the pile of paperwork that he was supposed to be reviewing. Hell, maybe she was a reporter. Maybe today he would finally get up the nerve to out himself to the press as the Senator from Solomon's flamboyantly gay step-son. Duo speculatively drew a circle on his desktop with the capped end of a pen. Nah, probably not.

"Duo Maxwell."

"D-Duo? This is Nonnie."

The sudden materialization of a tight little ice ball in Duo's chest prompted the worry that he might be having his first heart attack at age twenty-six. Renata. Nonnie. Of course.

"Duo?"

"Nonnie." Mustering the word was quite an achievement, considering that he was dying here.

"Duo, do you remember me?"

Oh yes. "Nonnie... Nonnie... Where have I heard that name? Oh yeah, your dad killed my dad. How the hell are ya?" The words came out more sarcastic than he intended - if that was possible.

There was an inhalation of breath on the other end of the line. "Duo, you're not making this easy."

As much as he wanted to hang up, he couldn't help himself. "Making what easy, exactly?"

"Well, my -- shit, I realize how ridiculous this sounds now that you're on the phone..." After the expletive, the polite, accentless voice on the other end of the line transformed into one he hadn't heard in fourteen years. "... But my therapist told me I should call you. You know, to make peace or something."

Hearing that voice in his ear, only a little deeper than the singsong trill he remembered, affected him like a shotgun blast inches from his head. But he had recovered enough now to hide it. "I wasn't aware that we were at war," he said carefully. He gripped the phone tightly while waiting for her response. Having this conversation was the same as masturbation when he was a kid -- every instinct told him he shouldn't be doing it, but he just couldn't stop himself.

"Aw, you know what I mean. She thought it would do us good to get together and talk sometime."

Duo had to laugh at that. "Talk about what? The good old days?"

"About..."

Duo made a disgusted noise. "God damn, girl, I know what about. I was being sarcastic." His own childhood accent slipped through and for once, he was too preoccupied to catch it and squash it back into submission.

There was silence on the other end of the line.

"Do you still live in Black Cove?" he finally asked.

"No, I'm married now. To Jared Ryder, do you remember him?"

Duo didn't. But for the first time in their conversation Nonnie sounded... happy. A small part of Duo was happy for her. A larger part resented the fact that she could call him up and talk about getting married like she was a normal, undamaged person. Like they were normal people.

"So anyway, his people are from Taylorsburg, so we moved there," she finished.

Taylorsburg. The town lay less than five miles from Black Cove, yet half a world away.

"Mama and Daddy..." She paused at the mention of her father, and then decided to plow on. "... Still live in the Cove though. But they moved to a cedar house over on Pike Road. Somebody bought 'em out. They bought your old house, too. The newspaper said they're gonna open a textile factory there, so that's good news. We sure do need the jobs 'round here."

Duo had to butt in. "A textile factory? You think? Maybe the new owners are just going to let the whole place rot."

"Or they might do that," Nonnie agreed, displaying surprising equanimity. Duo was impressed. He had aimed to hurt.

It was at that moment that he realized there was no way he could possibly hurt her more than he already had fourteen years ago.

"Hey..." he said, and the impatience had flown from his voice. "Next time I'm in Taylorsburg I'll look you up, okay? I won't forget that your last name's Ryder now. Congratulations on getting married, by the way."

"Thanks, Duo." And she sounded like someone who had just let out the breath she had been holding for years. "Duo... At first, if you hadn't said your name, I wouldn't have knowed that was you. You just didn't sound like yourself. I mean, I know your mother married that rich Senator and all, but damn if I didn't think, well... when I was dialing the phone, I thought that when I talked to you you'd still be that same mountain boy from Kentucky."

Duo stared at his appointment calendar until the penciled in "Staff Meeting, 9:30" blurred into a gray mess before his eyes.

"But, now, you do sound like yourself. You are the same after all. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm glad to know it. Well... that's all."

Duo made a noncommittal noise which Nonnie took as her sign to hang up.

"Bye now, Duo."

"Bye... Nonnie." The both held the line a few seconds longer. Nonnie hung up first.

+

Quatre and Wufei had talked easily together over the next few days. It was to the point where Quatre could almost forget what his Chinese friend had confessed to him. Almost.

But now it was Saturday night and his boss at the hardware store had bitched at him for working overtime, Scout was refusing to tell them who the father of her baby was and the women were sniping at each another because Hilde had been rude to some woman Sally had tried to set her up with. Who could blame him for skipping the beer altogether and going straight for the liquor tonight?

All the barstools were full, so Wufei, who had been dancing, leaned close to him in order to request a new limewater from Hilde.

Quatre smiled at him and Wufei smiled back before asking, a bit tentatively, "You want to?" He supplemented the ambiguous question by jerking his thumb over his shoulder to the dance floor.

Quatre shrugged. Why not? Thinking through liquor-fuzziness, he decided to take his glass with him and the first thing he did after he wrapped his arm around Wufei's neck was to spill some of his margarita on Wufei's red silk shirt.

"Sorry! Here, I'll get napkins!"

Wufei reached back and brushed the pooling liquid off of his back. "Don't worry about it. Here..." Wufei pulled the shirt over his head to reveal a white undershirt. "It was an old shirt anyway, don't worry about it." Still, he took Quatre's drink and sat it down on a nearby table, assuring his friend, "I'll buy you another in a minute. Let's just dance."

Quatre successfully wrapped his arms around Wufei's neck this time, and Wufei held the blonde around the waist.

"I understand what he saw in you," Quatre said suddenly. He was studying Wufei's face intently with drink-brightened eyes.

Wufei groaned inwardly. He knew he hadn't heard the end of this. "Let's not talk about that," he attempted.

"No, no. Its ok, I'm fine with it. Really." Quatre smiled lazily at him and Wufei thought he had never seen a more enticing sight in his life.

The song changed to something slow and Wufei dared to pull Quatre closer. "Well, I'm not fine with it. I feel really bad about the whole thing. I wish I could take it back," he risked squeezing his friend a bit. "It wasn't at all worth it."

Quatre pulled away a little and Wufei reluctantly let him. "Yeah, you say that now. Don't worry, Wufei, I know Duo is supposed to be some kind of sex god or something. It's not like you're the first one of my friends he's slept with."

Wufei began to feel decidedly uncomfortable and he realized it was with good reason when Quatre continued, "What is it about him that's supposed to be so wonderful anyway? His technique? His cock? I've seen it, you know. Admittedly, we were a lot younger, but I don't remember it being anything that special."

Quatre still had that strange half-smile on his face. "Maybe it's the expression on his face when he comes? Does he take his hair down? Is he beautiful? Is that it, Wufei?"

Their dancing had become slower and slower until, by the time Quatre said Wufei's name, they were standing perfectly still on the outskirts of the dance floor. By unspoken agreement, they broke apart.

"He didn't have one," Wufei said quietly.

Quatre stared.

"An expression on his face when he came," Wufei elaborated. "He didn't have one." He slipped a piece of loose hair behind his ear before he continued. "Fine, I won't deny that I had a good time. But seriously, it's not an experience I would want to repeat even if I didn't know Duo like I do now."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

Wufei had to close his eyes and tune out for a minute just to regain his equilibrium. "Look, forget about it, Quatre! I'm sorry I told you! I-"

Duo chose that moment to make his appearance. Coming up behind Quatre, he draped an arm around his best friend's neck and pointed out two slender men, a tan blonde and a pale brunette who were dancing together. "You're the tie-breaker, Cat. WWJD? Who would Jesus do?"

"The brunette," Quatre answered Duo distractedly. The laugh he managed was only half-hearted.

Wufei wasn't sure whether to thank Duo for the distraction or run screaming for the door. He decided on a compromise. "I've got to call it a night, guys. See you later." Still clutching his ruined silk shirt, he hurried out to his car as fast as decency allowed. He didn't get away quite fast enough to keep from hearing Duo admonish Quatre: "Wrong! It was a trick question. Jesus would do both!"

Duo was dressed to the nines as usual, and looking utterly fuckable. Quatre wondered if the guy Duo took home tonight would turn out to be another one of his future friends. He was starting to think that he should probably begin a screening process for all of his new acquaintances - if only to preserve his own sanity.

+

When Duo noticed Quatre and Wufei dancing together, he decided to make himself scarce. They looked good together. And god knew Wufei had been making googly eyes at Quatre for long enough. For some reason, though, his eyes kept drifting in their direction. Because of that, he couldn't help but notice that their conversation was getting a little heated. And, being Quatre's best friend, it was his duty to go over and break it up. Right?

As soon as Wufei was out of earshot, Duo's eyes narrowed. "What's he sorry about?"

Quatre shrugged out from under Duo's arm and turned back toward the bar. "Fucking you four years ago."

Duo rolled his eyes and threw his hands up in the air. "Shit! I knew he was going to do something like that!" He followed Quatre to the entrance, where the blonde searched the coat room. Spotting the item first, Duo juxtaposed himself between his best friend and his jacket. "Come on, why are you going? Stay!"

Quatre reached around him and snatched the jacket. "I've got a headache, Duo. I'm going home."

"But you've been drinking, I can tell. Let me drive you."

Quatre eyed him skeptically. "You've been drinking, too."

Duo grabbed his arm. "Then we'll get a taxi."

"But we live in opposite directions."

Duo feigned hurt. "Am I not allowed to come visit you anymore?"

Quatre sighed. "Look Duo, I just don't feel like it tonight, okay?"

Duo followed him outside. "We'll at least share a taxi." Since one happened to be sitting at the curb there was not much Quatre could do to dissuade his friend.

Duo gave the cabbie Quatre's address first and when they arrived, he was less than surprised that Duo exited the cab, too. As the cab sped away, Duo asked rhetorically, "Can I come in?"

Quatre had to smile a little at that. "I should leave you out here in the cold."

Outside the apartment door, Duo stamped his feet a few times to get warm while Quatre fumbled for his keys. The braided man smiled beatifically. "But you wouldn't leave me outside. You love me too much."

Quatre rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. "Way too much."

"You might be right about that," Duo murmured. Then he did the last thing he should do. He came up behind Quatre and looped his arms around his best friend's waist.

The keys finally in the lock, Quatre paused.

"I'm sorry," Duo whispered in his ear. His breath was desert hot in the cold night air.

Quatre closed his eyes for a second then turned the key in the lock. "Nothing to be sorry for. You can't predict the future." He reluctantly extricated himself from Duo's warmth when the door swung open.

Duo followed him in, flipping on a lamp that Quatre had passed. "And thank god for that. The future is the last thing I want to know."

At that statement, Quatre, who was in the kitchenette now, looked over at him, but didn't comment. Duo stood in the middle of his living room. He had taken off his jacket and now his black mesh shirt stuck to him in all the right places. Quatre imagined peeling that shirt off of his chest and taking one of Duo's hard brown nipples into his mouth. Yeah. Like so many before him had done.

"I'm not going to be very good company tonight, Duo. I think I'm going to go to bed. You know where the spare blankets are." Then he made the mistake of glancing at Duo again. The braided man now smiled wolfishly at him from his couch, looking inviting, sexy and dangerous.

"Stay up with me," he murmured. "I'm too wired to go to bed yet." He patted the couch beside him and, when Quatre sat down, Duo scooted back against the couch arm and propped his legs on the blonde's lap. They looked at one another across the length of the dilapidated couch.

Propping his head on his fist, Duo said suddenly, "None of the guys I fuck mean a thing to me. I just like to have fun, you know that."

They had had this conversation. But Quatre asked again. "Doesn't that get old?"

Duo scoffed. "Nah. Waking up next to the same person every morning, having boiled eggs for breakfast and checking both of your stocks in the newspaper - that's what would get old."

Quatre shrugged. "I suppose you're right. But some sad bastards actually want those things, you know?" Even though the tone of his voice was joking, Quatre watched Duo very carefully, gauging his face for any response.

With a smirk, Duo removed his feet from Quatre's lap then scooted closer. "But," he said, inches from Quatre's face now, "we know better, don't we?" Then Duo was kissing him with a mouth that tasted of whiskey and strawberry drink mix. Duo kissed Quatre before his best friend could say something that he did not want to - could not - hear.

All Quatre heard was blood pounding in his ears and maybe a small noise. A small noise that might have been emanating from deep down in his own throat. It might have been a whimper, it might have been a scream but they would never know because Quatre threaded his fingers through the hair at the base of Duo's braid and pulled him deeper into a suffocating kiss where there was no room for small noises.

At the feeling of fingers in his hair, Duo's eyes flew open. He should have pulled away but the kiss continued on for one second, then two, then five, and Quatre was not breaking the contact, laughing a small laugh and then making an excuse to go to bed. Somehow, Duo's hands found their way to Quatre's face, his thumbs under Quatre's chin, his fingers tracing cheeks, and brows and eyelids he knew better than his own. He was like a blind man trying desperately to see.

And then he saw.

Duo pulled away so abruptly that Quatre's fingers, still entwined in the base of his braid, tugged at his hair hard enough to bring white stars into his field of vision. Quatre jerked his hand back, as if he had been caught slapping Duo, and then held his open palm to his chest, perhaps so it could not repeat the same action again. Quatre had perfected the art of holding back.

Duo noticed that Quatre's breath came in ragged pants. And then he noticed that his own did, too. Their gazes met and for one crystalline moment the enormity of Quatre's love shone naked in his eyes. It was a sight beautiful to behold, yet terrible at the same time.

At some point, both had risen to their feet. Duo took an unconscious step backward. He knew he should have said something then. Done something. But he didn't. Like all the times before, he didn't.

And because Quatre loved him that much, his best friend abruptly dropped his hands to his sides, laughed a small laugh and then made an excuse to go to bed.

[part 9] [part 11] [back to Singles l - z]