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

Plastic Toothpicks! + Part 2

The rain was still warm, as it never truly did cool down much, particularly in August. There was more of a wind than before, and it started cooling things down by a few degrees, which was more than fine with Duo as he leapt off the top stair of his front porch, sprinted across the wet grass and into the street. There was just something about being able to run in the rain in the middle of the night that always put him at ease when nothing else could and for a long time, he thought there was nothing better. Then, he discovered something wonderful.

After sneaking through the Nelson's yard to the alley, he stooped to pick up a small handful of large pebbles from the gravel area outside a small fenced yard. Taking careful aim, he threw one at the window, bouncing it hard off the screen. The result was a soft, yet audible tap against the glass behind it. He waited a few moments, then repeated the process.

Five rocks later, the window flew open, and Chang WuFei glared down at the back yard, and his friend. "What?"

"C'mon out!" Duo called to him.

"Are you—" the Chinese teen began, then dropped his voice dramatically, refusing to wake his parents and disturb the neighbors, unlike Duo. "Are you insane? It's pouring out there."

Duo grinned and spread his arms wide, tilting his head back and executing a slow twirl in the sodden grass. "I know! Isn't it great?"

"Would you keep it down? There are people trying to sleep," WuFei scowled. Duo still had yet to learn that not everyone stayed up until all hours of the night, and therefore, he wasn't the most considerate of people at times.

Duo's response was a wicked grin. "Then come play with me, Wu!" he demanded playfully.

"Keep it down! I'm serious!"

"Come out with me, then!"

There was an exaspirated sigh from the upstairs window and it shut abruptly. The blue-eyed teen grinned to himself and padded over to the back porch, waiting with an expectant smile. Sure enough, the door was yanked open moment later by a rather unhappy looking WuFei. "And for the last fucking time, Duo, would you quit calling me `Wu'?" he hissed quietly, sitting down on the porch to pull on his shoes.

"I only tease you because I love you," Duo flirted shamelessly. He knew that WuFei didn't take him seriously on the subject, so he couldn't resist using it to his advantage every now and again. "Ne, why are you putting those on?" He reached down and plucked the runners from the other boy's hands and tossed them back into the house, wincing slightly when they thudded heavily against the hallway wall.

"Duo! What the--" WuFei objected as he was pulled to his feet and out into the rain.

"Come on!" the braided teen urged, tugging his friend out into the alley, heedless of the rocks in the small gravel driveway.

"Ouch! Dammit, Maxwell... " WuFei cursed, picking his way over the sharp rocks. The other thing his friend hadn't quite grasped was the fact that most people wore shoes, and consequently didn't have thick callouses on the soles of their feet.

"Don't be a pussy," Duo snickered, half-dragging WuFei behind him onto the side street and up to the next, where there certainly wasn't any traffic, particularly not so late at night.

"What?!" WuFei hated it when Duo read Stephen King; he started using old slang and got wild ideas about following the train tracks that ran parallel to their streets, several blocks up. Thankfully, there was a shortage of dead bodies, or God only knows what the long-haired maniac would come up with. It was bad enough when he spent hours holed up in his upstairs bedroom with Quatre, plotting out wild ideas that would make most grown men whimper in fear.

"You heard me," Duo cackled. "Pussy."

"I'm going to burn that book of yours," WuFei threatened for the umpteenth time.

"Of course you will," the American laughed. That was impossible; WuFei loved books as much as he did. "Now get ready!"

"Huh?"

Duo rolled his eyes. For someone as smart as WuFei was, there were times he could be so incredibly dense. "Race you to school," he quipped with a wink, turned and began running down the warm asphalt in the middle of the street.

"Duo! You little shit!" WuFei yelped, immediately giving chase after the laughing idiot that was already half a block away. He should have known.

The next few minutes were spent with Duo laughing like a kid, splashing in the rain, kicking up gouts of water at his much better dressed friend, and WuFei making grabs at Duo's rope of hair, threatening to strangle the loudmouth with it. There was no real reason to worry about waking anyone on the street; most everyone was used to the roaring thunder that shook entire houses, so not much ever woke them at all. They were neck and neck with each other when they finally hit the grounds of the local high school and with a final burst of energy, WuFei leapt and tackled his friend, both of them landing in the muddy grass with a squish.

Duo landed first with a surprised "oof!", followed by a monosylable grunt as WuFei's weight thudded down on him a moment later. WuFei smirked and planted a kiss on his nose before rolling away and sprinted off to the usual place they hung out under some eves on a large platform of sandstone near one of the wing doors of the building.

In turn, the longhaired boy twitched and watched WuFei run off. For someone who spent the majority of his time being so incredibly serious, there were brief moments when the Chinese teen would display the strangest sense of humor. It was those times when Duo never knew what to think of his friend; no one else had ever seemed to have seen this side of the other boy and the fact both pleased and disturbed him at the same time.

"Well, that was just fucking weird of you," the braided teen remarked, sitting next to his friend with a soggy thud.

"Mm?" WuFei glanced out of the corner of his eye at Duo.

"You kissed me on the nose," he complained, shoving at the stronger boy.

WuFei turned fully, face deadpan, black eyes boring into the widened blue of his friend's. "What, you want me to try again and kiss lower?" he asked.

"I... " Duo stammered, blushing furiously. "That's not funny, dude."

He shrugged. "I just thought you'd want me to, is all," the Chinese boy responded. "If I'm wrong, I appologize."

"Wha... who told you?!" the paler boy demanded.

"Hilde."

"I told her to keep her mouth shut," he swore.

"Well, you know Hilde," WuFei said with another shrug.

Duo nodded miserably. He'd known the dark-haired girl for most of his life and knew that on top of being a romantic, she was also a ruthless matchmaker. He wouldn't have even let her know, but she had known him all-too-well from the years they spent together and she knew just what questions to ask, so as to find out any secret from him. Sometimes he cursed his inablility to lie, since it normally ended in Hilde knowing some pretty interesting things about him.

They sat in companionable silence for a while before WuFei turned and pulled a brick out of the wall behind them, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, lit two and handed one to the brooding boy beside him. "Don't be too pissed at her," he commented, smoke dancing around him in blue-gray wisps before disappearing in the updrafts above them. "She just thought that I had the right to know."

"Well, she shouldn't have said anything!" Duo snapped, taking a long drag off the Kamel. "I told her not to tell you and I thought she'd keep her word on that."

"So you thought I shouldn't have the right to know when my best friend has feelings for me?" the other boy asked in an infuriatingly calm voice that grated on Duo's nerves. "My best male friend, at that?"

"Yeah, so now you're totally grossed out and you're gonna tell me that shit doesn't fly with you so I'd better get out of your sight," he retorted, hurt.

"I didn't say that," WuFei informed him. "You always jump to conclusions."

"And I'm damn near always right," Duo hissed.

"Well this time, all you're doing is getting yourself worked up over words you put in my mouth, and I don't appreciate it," the dark-haired boy stated bluntly.

"No, but I don't appreciate being ignored and avoided for three days, either," he railed, exhaling sharply. "That was when she told you, wasn't it? When we were all hanging out at Trowa's roleplaying."

"Yes," he replied simply. "Duo, you have always been honest with me and I feel it is only fair that I be honest with you."

Duo swallowed hard. He knew that he would be rejected, which is why he had never made any moves on WuFei or indicated in any way that he felt differently for the Chinese boy than any of their other friends. He knew that WuFei would try to be tactful as he could about it, but it was still going to hurt. He nodded and wished that he was at home where he could try and swipe some liquor without his parents noticing. Granted, they probably would, but it would be worth the questioning and possible punishment that followed.

WuFei finished his cigarette, gathering his thoughts. He'd spent the last three days pondering how he was going to deal with the information he'd been given after a marathon session of the game they were testing for Trowa before he attempted to submit it to a few companies. The admission had shocked him and he had felt rather uncomfortable with the knowledge at first. He told Duo that, being careful to monitor his friend's reactions from the corner of his vision.

"It just seemed rather odd to me, since I had never considered the possibility," he clarified, shaking his head. "I wasn't aware anyone would have been interested at any time."

"But you always tell me about girls like Sally that you kinda like... "

"Please don't interupt, Duo." It was hard for him to talk about his feelings, particularly when the subject of the pretty upperclassman was brought up. He'd had a crush on Sally Po for a while, although he knew that she was very much not interested in anyone but her boyfriend of five years, Abdul. "What I am trying to say is that I think perhaps I was more shocked by the knowledge that someone liked *me*, rather than who, although *that* was certainly a kick in the teeth."

Duo fidgeted slightly. It was true that neither of them were very popular at all in school, but certainly he wasn't the only one that had noticed the athletic sloe-eyed boy beside him! There was so much to see there; intelligence, a quick wit and sarcastic sense of humor that boardered on pure cynicism, a talent for music and written word, the ability to listen and understand without explanation. He was a calming effect to Duo's reckless energy and the American admitted many times that it was purely WuFei alone that kept him grounded some days. He was one of the only people that Duo felt completely safe with in silence and conversation both; conversations about things he would never tell another soul, living or dead.

"You never treated me any differently than the others and even when we were alone, you never gave me any indication," WuFei continued. "If I thought about it, I would very probably be angry with you for lying to me that way. You have told me everything else that has crossed your mind since we were ten years old, whether I wanted to hear it or not. Christ, you told me all about your seventh grade physical! In excruciating detail!"

"That nurse's hands were freezing!" Duo defended. After all these years, it still gave him the heebie jeebies to think about people in latex gloves with cold hands feeling around down *there*, inspecting his boys.

"So I began to wonder," WuFei continued, as though he hadn't heard his friend's interuption. "Why you wouldn't tell me something this important. I have never turned you away for any observation in the past and I couldn't understand why you felt you couldn't tell me this little thing. And the only conclusion I can come to bothers me." Here, he turned his head to look Duo in the eyes. "Duo... are you afraid of me?"

He had to stop and think about that. Was he afraid of WuFei? Physically, he knew that the slightly shorter boy could overpower him through sheer muscle and martial arts prowess. And there were things they spoke of together; things that other people wouldn't understand. Thoughts and speculations that stepped over the line of dark into disturbing. Would either of them truly be capable of the things they spoke of in hushed tones? Was he really, honestly afraid of his best friend?

"Wu... WuFei," Duo began, trying to hide the tremor in his voice. "There's not an easy answer to that. Sure, you can kick my ass and all that, but I don't think that's the kind of fear I feel. I don't even think that I would ever have to worry about you purposely hurting me, ever. But what I am afraid of... "

He took a breath. It was now or never. "What I'm scared of, `Fei, is the thought that you won't be my friend anymore. I'm terrified of losing you." He looked down to the platform, evidence of snubbed out tobacco streaking the pockmarked stone beneath them. "I really don't know what I'd do without you. I mean, half the time, I want nothing to change at all... but sometimes, I just want to hold you and not let go." His breath hitched in his chest and he tried to still it. The last thing he needed was to do something stupid like cry.

"I never knew you felt that way," WuFei told him simply. That was something that he was going to need to process. "I don't know how to respond to that at all. I wish I did."

Duo shook his head. "Don't worry about it, man. We can just forget all of it."

"No." WuFei crawled onto his hands and knees, leaning toward his friend. "No, we can't forget all about it. Maybe you can, but *I* can't."

"I can't either and that's the problem!" the blue-eyed teen cried. "I can't just put you out of my mind. I always thought that I liked girls... I'm supposed to like girls and I do... but I like you, too. I want to know what it's like to hold you, to be held, and fall asleep."

"You do know," WuFei pointed out quietly.

Duo blinked and remembered the night when WuFei had been spending the night shortly after they had started spending time together. Mr and Mrs. Chang had been out of town for a conference and the Maxwells had opened their doors to the quiet boy for the weekend. In the middle of the night, Duo had woken to the sound of sobbing and found his friend curled in a corner of the large bed they were sharing, wrapped around a pillow, trying to muffle his sobs. Duo crawled over to ask what was wrong and had found himself clung to by the other boy as the tale of why he left the private school rushed out between uneven gulps of air and tears.

 

>>He had been walking away from Sylvia Noventa after an argument over the project their class was doing for a local art show and from nowhere, an old primer-colored Thunderbird roared around the corner near the school, going far over the twenty-mile an hour speed limit for the area. Windows had been rolled down previously and all he saw was two men in ski masks leaning out above the doors with semiautomatic weapons. They began firing and the strange sounds echoed everywhere. Other children began screaming and some hit the ground immediately. Others ran while teachers tried desperately to control the situation. All he could do was stand there, terrified. He remembered the sharp smell of earth; the smell of fear.

The blond girl fell quickly, as she couldn't do much against the bullets as the ripped her clothing apart, spattering blood everywhere, covering his left side. When she fell to the ground, a few last rounds had been fired and there was a loud ping nearby. The ricochet off the monkey bars should have hit him. It nearly did hit him. But instead, Ron Meiran hit him first, pushing him to the ground. He felt the sharp sting of skin ripping on his palms, gravel embedding itself into his hands and knees, ripping his pants. The shock of hitting the ground on four points alone sent shocks of pain into his arms and legs and he turned to yell at her for pushing him.

She was a bully and had always enjoyed teasing him, but this time, he was angry enough that he really was going to tell her that was enough. But when he turned, she fell on him, her dark eyes wide. He reflexively caught her and lowered her to her knees beside him. Her small hands clutched at the front of his ruined white dress shirt and her mouth worked soundlessly, a strange gurgling sound coming from her throat. She coughed and a bubble of blood exploded on her lips, spraying his face and getting in his eyes. He cried out and pushed her away, trying to blink the foreign substance from his vision and was suddenly moved away from her by the kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Darlian as his own teacher, Mr. Otto tried to help Sylvia.

He watched as the blonde woman attempted to get any response from Meiran, but it was too late. Even CPR was useless to a dead child, no matter how badly he wanted it to be a lie. Kids just didn't die. It wasn't real in his mind at the moment. Not until the ambulance came and the Emergency Medical Technicians tried to move the still body of the pigtailed girl away and they couldn't without cutting away part of his shirt, because they couldn't get Meiran's fist to open.

He asked why... he remembered asking why over and over. When they told him she was dead, he refused to believe it. He just knew it was one of her tricks. She was always playing them and adults always believed her. He pushed at her, then yelled, then actually slapped her to get her to let go, even though he was probably going to get detention for it, or worse, and his parents would certianly have grounded him for hitting a girl. But when his hand laid across her cheek and he realized just how cold her skin was, he looked closer. Her eyes were glassy and hadn't been closed, so they patially stared up at the impossibly blue sky, although they were slightly rolled up into the sockets, giving an eerie appearance that disturbed him. Her lips were a strange shade of purple-blue, particularly at the corners and they hung open, slack and she wasn't moving. She truly wasn't moving. She wasn't breathing. She wasn't blinking, or breaking out into a smile, or responding to his verbal abuse then finally his acquiesence of her self-proclaimed nickname he always told her was so stupid. If calling her Nataku would get her to stop, he would call her that. Anything to make her stop scaring him.

But in the end, he merely sat there, Mrs. Darlian wrapping him in her blazer after his shirt had been left in shreds from being cut apart. He tried calling after her... Nataku ... she had to answer him... but she never did and he finally sank back against the sobbing woman who held him close, stroking his baby fine black hair, rocking him slightly. That was the last thing he remembered before waking in his bed three days later.

And then, months later, he woke again with that strange feeling of loss and fear and helplessness cutting off his breathing in a strange house, his parents miles away. He tried desperately to make his heart stop hammering so loudly, since he just knew it was going to wake up Duo and he didn't want the other boy to tease him for being a crybaby. But apparently he wasn't quiet enough, because he felt the other boy crawl up behind him and ask what was wrong. He couldn't answer; his throat was closed off by tears and snot and all he could do was turn and cling to his friend, trying desperately to hold himself together.

In the end, Duo merely put his own arms around the terrified boy, laying down next to him. WuFei had been absolutely certain that it had been the smaller, skinnier boy that had actually kept him from breaking into a thousand pieces caused by the shrapnel from his own heart and he slowly succumbed to sleep, safe in the arms of someone who didn't laugh. From that moment, he realized that Duo would never laugh. And he never had.<<

 

"That was different," Duo said, shaking his head again. "We were kids and I didn't feel that way about anyone. You were hurting and scared. There was nothing remotely attraction-based there. You needed me and I was there."

"Then that shouldn't change if you did it again now," WuFei told him matter-of-factly. "But this time, you need me and I'll be here." Before Duo could say more, WuFei crawled closer, sat beside his friend and gathered the braided boy into his arms.

Duo struggeld slightly against the stronger teen and pushed against WuFei's chest. "No! You don't understand! This is different! This time, I do feel attracted to you."

"How is it that different? There is comfort to be had and if I can offer it to you, then I will," the Chinese boy argued. "I don't have a problem with you being this close to me; I never have. And if that's what you want, then I can do that for you."

"Could you really?" The American's voice was bitter. "I don't think you could possibly give me what I really want, `Fei and that's the problem. You aren't understanding what I need from you."

WuFei hauled Duo up so they could look one another in the eyes. "Then make me understand. Talk to me and tell me what you want. Tell me what you need." Duo shuddered slightly and he glanced up at the sky. There was no sign of the rain letting up and the wind was picking up more. "Let's go to your house and get you dried off. You can tell me everything there, okay?" He stood and pulled the reluctant boy to his feet.

"Bring the cigarettes with," Duo requested. "I'm almost out and we'll need more."

"What about the carton in your desk?" WuFei asked, carefully wrapping the pack in a sandwich bag and placing in back in the deep hole they'd found by accident one night months before. Technically, there was no tobacco allowed on school grounds, but what wasn't known wouldn't hurt anyone. Not too many people even bothered with the area under the lighted eves. Most weren't small enough and the few that were didn't tend to want to crawl up into a place that was likely near impossible to get to in the first place.

"Forgot about that," the chestnut-haired boy admitted, crouching on his feet, crawling over to the edge and lowering himself off the ledge. "Never mind, then."

WuFei nodded and climbed down after him, and they made their way through the sheets of warm rain, not speaking. The silence was still comfortable and although Duo felt his guts knotting, he knew that all he could do was get home, dried off and then ready to explain everything to the beautiful teen beside him.

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