by: Sunhawk

Confrontations (cont)

"I'm not saying that there is," I replied, a little exasperated that he couldn't understand what I was trying to get across. "I'm just saying it makes me curious about who he was... about what happened to him."

"Who he was, was a murderer," Wufei interjected, and there was a little hint of anger in his tone, tightly controlled, but there. I wasn't sure I understood where it was coming from.

I waved my fork in his direction for emphasis. "That's my point! He wasn't a murderer three days ago! What drove him to it? What was the straw that broke the camel's back?"

"I don't care," Heero suddenly blurted. "He tried to hurt you... he can rot in Hell."

I glanced his way and found a smoldering anger in his eyes that explained to me the look on Wufei's face. I flushed darkly, understanding suddenly the source of this... defensiveness they both seemed to be exuding.

Trowa chuckled darkly and smirked in Heero's general direction. "The guy killed two people... but he goes to Hell for taking pot-shots at Duo?"

Quatre joined him in laughter but Heero just glared back at the both of them. "Damn straight," he growled and busied himself with refilling his glass from the pitcher on the table.

"He killed two people," Wufei stated, his voice clipped. "And attempted to kill a score of others. It does not matter what pushed him over the edge... he would have gone there sooner or later anyway."

"You don't know that," I couldn't help exclaiming. "Maybe if his wife hadn't left him... maybe if he hadn't lost visitation rights to his kids... maybe if his damn dog hadn't gotten hit by a car that day, it might have all come out different!"

There was a strange little silence that Trowa finally broke. "You got all that out of 'marital problems'?" he snickered.

I rolled my eyes. "It's called conjecture. I'm just saying that nobody will ever really understand what drove the guy to it."

Quatre shivered theatrically. "I don't know that I want to understand a person like that."

I bent back to my pizza with a sigh, and was surprised to find a full, unmutilated slice on my plate. I glanced at Heero and he gave me a little mock glare. "It was gross," he muttered under his breath, and I snickered at him.

"I don't think anyone ever can understand a person like that," Wufei opined. "He's insane."

"Not now, you can't," I told him earnestly. "But he wasn't nuts last week. Maybe he was understandable before... what ever it was that broke him, happened."

"Duo," Trowa chided with a funny little look on his face. "People don't just wake up crazy... the guy had issues before he ever picked up that gun."

I sighed gustily, trying to get my thoughts straight in my head. "No... but he was a functioning human being before. Something triggered it... something happened." I realized I was probably not going to be able to get my ideas across to them and decided to just give the argument the hell up. "Never mind... I guess I just have more of an understanding of that 'there but for the grace of God, go I' feeling," I shrugged and went back to my lunch.

It took a bite before the dead, thundering silence told me I'd said something wrong. I looked up again and found them all staring at me with these varying expressions of... sadness? Disquiet? Concern? All of the above?

Well shit. That had probably not sounded... very good.

"Maxwell," Wufei said, obviously choosing his words very carefully. "There was something wrong with that man. Some underlying problem that... stress only uncovered."

"Duo..." Quatre ventured. I sighed heavily, and he hesitated.

"Look, guys," I told them, looking around at the lot of them. "I'm not saying I'm on the verge of taking a rifle to the top of the Empire State building. But I have a very personal understanding of the fact that you do not know how you are going to handle something until it happens to you. You may think you do... but you don't."

Well that rather served to shut them up. It might have come out a little more... emphatically than I had intended. Glasses were raised and a couple of bites of pizza consumed.

"So, Wufei," I ventured, very quietly, when no one else seemed bold enough to brave the silence. "How's Sally?"

Trowa laughed out right, almost spitting his drink all over himself. "Well that was subtle," he murmured when he was able.

"Thank you," I grinned at him. "I do try. I can be more blunt if you'd like; we are done talking about my crappy day now, and we are going to move the spotlight on to someone else for a while. How's that?"

"Very blunt," Quatre chuckled. "And perfectly understood."

"Good," I smirked across the table at the three of them. "That puts the verbal ball in your court, Wufei my good man." I intoned in my best English accent and finally managed to pry a tiny smile out of Heero's partner.

The conversation finally turned away from me as Wufei relented and told us about all the fish in Sally's aquarium going belly up and how she sold the whole setup in a fit of disgust. Only to break down and buy another cat less than a week later.

"I take it," Heero snickered, "this cat isn't... any more satisfactory than the last one?"

Wufei couldn't keep the tiny bit of smugness out of his voice. "It's only a kitten and has already done more damage to her apartment than Beowulf ever thought of doing. The woman was just not meant to have pets... but she won't give it up." The fondness in his voice was unmistakable and I shared a private grin with Quatre. We had theorized once, lying in the dark in a two-man pup tent on a lonely mountainside, that Wufei needed to be twisted around some woman's finger. Needed someone strong enough and confident enough to set him straight about a few things. Sally seemed like just the sort who could handle the job. Come to think of it, I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard the phrase 'damn onna' come out of Wufei's mouth. I flashed on a sudden memory of Sally Po with a rifle in her hands and a snarl on her face, laying down cover fire while her troops retreated before hideously bad odds. Yeah... just the type of woman to teach Wufei a thing or two.

It eased the strain of the lunch, everybody falling back and talking about those kinds of little, inconsequential things. I actually started to relax a little bit. If my back hadn't felt so sore, I might well have been able to put all of it out of my mind for the second half of that meal. Until the conversation took a turn I wouldn't have seen coming in a million years. I saw Wufei give Heero what I would generally term as a 'significant look'. I heard Heero sigh softly and he looked away from the dark-eyed gaze that was currently boring holes through him. Wufei wouldn't relent and growled softly, "Yuy," in a warning tone. Heero glared at him.

"Mind sharing the deep, dark secret here?" I asked after watching them battle for supremacy for a moment. They both flushed and I almost laughed; did they think nobody else at the table was noticing their little by-play? Long time partners can do that weird 'couple's thing' every bit as much as lovers can. They were doing it all over the place, communicating something back and forth across the table, and nobody within a mile was going to miss that fact.

I was rather enjoying watching them, trying to decide which one of the two of them was the more uncomfortable, waiting for them to get around to sharing whatever it was. So I was more than a little surprised when Heero turned to me with a wary look on his face and said, "Duo... we need to talk about something."

I had to repress the flinch I felt somewhere in the region of my gut, at those words. I had a hamster for that now, by the way, only has the one banner that says Repress! in big bold letters. I see quite a bit of him. His name's Francis and he and George are pretty tight. God, I wish I could teach Heero to stop opening conversations with lines like that.

"About what?" I asked and was really damn proud of how casual my tone was.

Across the table, Wufei rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed, "Good God, Yuy!" I felt a little better at the evidence that I wasn't the only one that felt Heero could benefit from one of Chezarina's social lessons.

Heero glared across at Wufei. "Well... I wasn't planning on having this conversation right now!" he snapped rather defensively.

"Well, we're all here together," Wufei informed him calmly. "It just makes sense."

Quatre and Trowa looked as confused as I felt, which made me feel a little less... left out. But I was starting to get irritated. There was obviously something going on that Heero was afraid was going to upset me, and I wished he would just fucking spit it out.

There was suddenly a dead silence and I found all eyes on me again. I realized with a start that that last line had actually gotten delivered out loud. Ooops.

Heero flushed when I turned my eyes his way, and looked down at his hands where they rested on the table. "Wufei and I have to go out of town for a couple of days next week," he said softly and hesitated.

I blinked at him, confused as hell. "So?" I ventured when it didn't seem like he was going to say more. It didn't happen very often, seldom enough that it hadn't come up since I'd been with Heero, but I still couldn't see what the big deal was. He was a Preventors agent... they supposedly traveled all the time. I had a sneaking suspicion that Heero hadn't been recently, only because of me.

"I wanted to talk to you about..." he dared a glance up at me, out of the corner of his eye. "About staying with Quatre and Trowa while I'm gone."

Francis, little banner waving madly, saved his ass from the first half dozen things that popped into my head.

My moment of silence allowed Quatre to leap bravely into the breach. "We'd love to have you, you know that..." he rather petered out in the middle of the offer and I glanced his way to see Trowa with a hand on his mate's shoulder. There was understanding on Trowa's face, at least, of what a seriously fucked up thing that had been for Heero and Wufei to pull on me.

It took another minute of Francis throwing his poor little hamster body on the grenades that were my thoughts, before I managed a very quiet, "I don't think that will be necessary."

"It's only for a few days," Heero said, voice gentle and concerned. "We just thought it would be best..."

He shut up of a sudden, seeing from my _expression, I think, just how pissed off I was getting.

Well. Three strikes? That 'we' rather seriously hit all my buttons, implying, as it did that he and Wufei had sat around and discussed this between the two of them. Discussed me. The 'would be best' didn't exactly win them any brownie points either. Deciding, again, what would be best for me. Making my decisions for me. I really, really hated that. And bringing it up here, in front of God and the whole damn world; could he have found a better way to embarrass me? Though... I suppose Wufei had to take it on the chin for that one. Heero had obviously been going to wait until later. It didn't soothe my irritation much. I had to wonder how long they'd know about this trip. Had to wonder just when Heero had planned on bringing it up? After he packed my damned bags? Maybe not quite three strikes... but at least a full count. I was really fucking... annoyed.

"Maxwell..." Wufei interjected, trying to sound reasonable, trying to sound soothing and I turned my narrow-eyed gaze in his direction. I did not need to be gentled like some damn wild animal. He shut up too.

"The two of you can take what you thought, and shove it sideways," I said, as sweetly as I could manage. "Or I can shove it for you. This topic of conversation is closed."

I swear to God, Trowa snickered. Quatre elbowed him in the ribs.

"I just don't want..." Heero began again, but I cut him off.

"Closed," I told him emphatically.

Wufei shifted uncomfortably and leaned forward, trying to catch my eye. I met his gaze head on, and the look he found there made him hesitate for a moment. But only for a moment. "There isn't anything to be embarrassed over," he informed me placatingly, but shut up when I growled.

Strike three.

"For a couple of guys who ought to be damned used to following orders," I grated in my very cold, very angry voice, "neither of you can seem to understand simple commands. We are not discussing this. The answer is no. Drop. It."

There was something in the air that told me neither of them was quite done yet, so I just said the hell with it. Picking up the bill from under that weird little pile of mints they always leave in places like this, I rose and walked away. Yep. Real original, I know, but it's rather effective. And I was kind of afraid of what was going to come out of my mouth next if I hung around, because I was to that stage of damned angry that causes the edges of my sight to blur and everything in the world to narrow down to 'target' vision. I wasn't spitting and growling yet... but I was pretty darn close to it. I don't deal with utter humiliation well. Never have.

There was a flurry of verbal hissing behind me, but I just aimed myself at the cashier's station and tried to ignore it.

"...Hell was the big idea..."

"...And just when were you going to..."

"...Both a couple of assholes..."

That last was Trowa's voice and I had to grin. I was already in the process of being rung up while they were still untangling themselves from napkins and chairs.

I'm not really sure why I was so angry. Just the idea that they had sat around and talked this all out behind my back, I think. That they had gotten their heads together and decided that poor little damaged-goods Duo needed a keeper for the week. Or maybe it was just the way they had brought it up, out in public for God's sake, with all of them staring at me. I hadn't had a nightmare in months. I was doing just fine... why couldn't they let it go? Why couldn't they just fucking let it the hell go?

I felt the tingle on the back of my neck that told me someone was staring at me and I turned as the cashier was counting my change into my hand, to find a short, stocky little man standing just off to my left, his arms crossed over his chest and a... sickly little smirk on his face. I met his appraising stare with a raised eyebrow.

"Fag," he muttered, his smirk taking on more than just a hint of contempt.

"Really?" I said in mock disbelief, looking him up and down. "I never would have guessed. You hide it well."

The guy's smirk vanished, his face flaming and contorting into a snarl. But I turned away before he could say more, reminded again of why public displays were always a mistake.

The guys weren't a dozen paces behind me when I hit the street.

"Duo," Heero called after me and it was the almost palpable pain in his voice that made me slow my stride. "Wait up... please?"

"Only if the conversational subject matter has been changed," I said without looking back. "Otherwise you can save yourself the breath and the trouble."

I let them catch up and we continued walking, headed back toward the apartment. Heero and Wufei flanked me, Trowa and Quatre dropping behind us, as the sidewalk wasn't wide enough for the five of us to walk abreast. Heero looked like he was chewing on something that was threatening to stick in his throat.

"Spit it out, Yuy," I grumbled. "And it had better be good."

"I'm sorry," he answered contritely, hesitating and then opened his mouth as if to say something more.

"Quit while you're ahead," I warned, and was gratified to watch his mouth snap shut.

I cast a glance at Wufei; just to make sure the warning glares were getting to him too, only to find him with that look on his face that told me he was formulating something in his head. "You want a piece of this too, Chang?" I snapped and he just shut the hell up.

Behind us, Trowa and Quatre were falling all over themselves, trying not to laugh out right. I cast a glance over my shoulder. "You find this amusing?"

"I find this fucking hysterical," Trowa informed me and finally got a grin out of me.

"We are, after all," Quatre snickered, "only uninvolved, innocent bystanders."

I snorted and turned back around, catching the strangest look on Heero's face before he covered it up.

They did not, thank God, come back up to the apartment with us. As much as I liked them... I'd had about enough for one day.

There was a not altogether comfortable silence as we climbed the stairs to the apartment. I caught Heero with that strange... almost smug look on his face more than once as we trudged up the stairwell. But it flitted away each time I glanced at him and I wasn't sure just what I was reading there.

Once we were in the apartment with the door safely shut, and we were alone for the first time that day, I turned on him. "Don't you do shit like that to me," I glared at him. "That was humiliating. I am not a damn little child."

"I know," he agreed, managing not to look remorseful at all.

"You have concerns with my behavior... you come to me with them," I snapped. "You don't fucking discuss my problems with the guys like I was some... some damn soap opera!"

A tiny little smile danced across his lips before he managed to push it away. He was looking at me with a great deal of... intensity. "I said I was sorry," he assured me. "And I meant it."

I glared at him for a long quiet moment, watching something really damn strange play around in the backs of those eyes of his, and finally blurted, "What the hell are you so damned... happy about?"

The weird-ass, wicked, smug, pleased look finally came clear and suddenly he was kissing the hell out of me. Teeth and tongue and tonsils. Hands buried in my hair, pressed against me from kneecaps all the way up to my damn neck. What the hell?

When he broke for air he was just fucking grinning, and I halfway wanted to deck him to wipe that self-satisfied look off his face. "What?" I exclaimed in irritation.

"That's the first time you've really gotten mad at me," he fairly whispered, smug grin fading to something that was closer to tenderness. "The first time you've stood up to me and really told me to shut up."

"And this makes you happy?" I murmured, cocking my head to look at him, feeling my anger bleeding away despite myself.

"Yeah," he informed me. "It makes me very happy."

"Yuy," I muttered with a rueful shake of my head. "You are seriously deranged."

He grinned. "You've made me that way," he informed me loftily. "I'm just so glad to see you... assert yourself."

I blinked at him and couldn't help a small smirk. "You're glad to see me lose my temper?"

"I'm relieved to hear you tell me what you want," he said and his voice had lost all the teasing tone, had become... almost husky. "The only time you've stood up to me about anything was when it involved someone else. When you were doing something for your friends. You've never really gotten angry enough with me to stand up for yourself."

It kind of... surprised me. I had to think about it for a minute before grudgingly admitting to myself that he was probably right. But then... I wasn't sure what to think. How I should feel. I was hit with a sudden overwhelming urge to back-pedal and apologize. If I let myself think about it too hard, guilt might very well have self-destructed in the middle of the living room. But... it had kind of felt good. And Heero was... happy about it. Damned pleased, if I was any judge of his mood. This was just confusing.

"Don't," he whispered, cupping my face in his hands and staring into my eyes as though he could read something there. "Don't doubt yourself. You had every right to be irritated with me. I shouldn't have brought it up in a public place, in front of everybody. It was a private thing that we should have talked about alone."

"Well," I had to admit, "it was Wufei who kind of pushed the point."

He sighed. "Only because I kept putting it off. He was right about that much."

I frowned, thinking about that part again. "Just when were you planning on telling me?" I grumbled.

He let go of my face and ducked his head, looking sheepish. "I... I'm not sure," he admitted. "Sometime this afternoon, I guess. I just didn't want you distracted until we'd found your car. I can't tell you how much better I feel, knowing that you're going to have a way to get around while I'm gone."

Ah. That certainly explained his mad rush to get something purchased on the very first morning we went looking. He'd wanted a car in my possession before the weekend was over, before he had to leave on his trip.

"Do I get the where, when and why, now?" I growled and managed to draw a small chuckle from him. He turned with a sigh and led me over to the couch where we sat down.

"We leave tomorrow night," he told me. "We'll be gone for two or three days. I... can't tell you a lot about the case, it's classified, but it's not really dangerous."

I sighed, disgruntled, not for the first time with that whole stupid Preventor secrecy crap. "Not really dangerous by my standards or yours?" I prodded, hoping for a little more information than he wanted to give.

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