| Author: Sunhawk
Warnings : Yaoi, sappy angst, OOC, Duo POV, language, mention of past NCS, Wufei/Duo friendship. This is a direct sequel to the 'Road Trip' series.
Thanks to Christy for the beta job, and to Kracken and Plaiddragon for opinions and poking.
Standard ownership prattle; you know I don't own... I know I don't own.
They say you should be careful what you wish for... you might get it. What did I wish for? Heero to stop treating me like I was made out of egg shells, and would blow away if he took his eyes off me. What did I get? Heero gone for three days for his Preventers' agent requalifications.
It was a mixed bag. On the one hand, I was thrilled at the sign that we might be getting back to something akin to 'normal', but on the other... well; let's face it... even before the storm, Heero and I have never been all that thrilled about being apart.
I do have to wonder though, if he'd have gone if most of his licenses and permits hadn't been on the bleeding edge of expiring. Wufei had gone a month prior, and Heero should have gone with him then, but hadn't been willing yet. I'm not technically sure he was willing now, but he hadn't had a lot of choice if he wanted to stay in a field position.
Or, as much of a field position as he'd been in lately.
I wonder sometimes if maybe Commander Une doesn't have a touch of residual guilt over some of her actions during the war, because I sure as hell couldn't figure out why else she let us get away with the crap we did. I'm pretty sure that 'my life partner has a boo-boo' is not one of the check boxes on the long term disability forms, but somehow Heero and I had both qualified.
And thank the Gods we had, or I imagine Heero would have been putting a call through to Quatre asking for help, because he sure as bloody hell wouldn't have gone back to work during that time.
After our little vacation, things had gone a long way toward shifting back to that coveted 'normal'. Heero had acquiesced, and we'd finally returned to work. It had taken me another month before I could manage more than part time, but just establishing a routine again had felt good. I think getting Heero back into the office had helped more than anything else. He'd taken an interest in their case-load quite despite himself, and it had been a hell of a welcome relief to have him focused on something besides me for a change.
Or maybe it was my getting past those damn muscle spasms, that had finally allowed him to relax a little. Whatever it was, it had felt like a victory to rival winning the war, when he'd admitted that he had to make this trip... hell; that he could make this trip, and I'd be all right.
I will confess to a tiny suspicion that Heero and Wufei not qualifying together might have been planned... I really couldn't tell. But it did seem awfully convenient that when Wufei went, he flew out to the training facility, but Heero chose to drive. Necessitating that I catch rides with Wufei for the few days he was gone.
Coincidence? Well... I'd seen that brand of Yuy-Chang coincidence before, so I wasn't about to bet against it. Wufei... in his slightly less obvious way... is every bit the mother-hen that Heero is. It wasn't beyond either one of them to have cooked up a plan like that. I had wanted to be irritated about it, but it just wasn't worth the effort.
Especially since, not that I'd admit it to either one of the bastards, the company had been nice.
The first night alone had rather taken me by surprise. Despite Heero calling and our talking for almost an hour, I think it was well after two in the morning before I'd managed to fall asleep. The next day had sucked copious amounts, but the second night had been easier simply because I'd been so exhausted. I think I scared Wufei when I almost fell asleep on the drive home. Might have been why he'd accepted so quickly when I'd invited him to stay for dinner, even though I'd planned on just ordering pizza. Or maybe he was under orders to be at my beck and call... who knew with those two? In my more aggrieved moments, I imagined Heero sitting Wufei down and giving him a long list of things to watch for where I was concerned. 'If he shows any signs of wanting company...' this imagined Heero would say, and Wufei would nod seriously, taking his orders.
Sometimes these mental images amused me, and sometimes... they did not.
Although, when I had one of those slightly less amused moments, I now had a remedy in the bit of artwork that occupied the bulletin board beside my desk at work. A four year old's rendition of a medal of honor... complete with little pink hearts and something brown that I had yet to identify.
Heero and Wufei might not think much of my still recovering physical abilities... but I was somebody's hero.
The thing had been hanging there when I'd come back to work from my leave, right above the three plates of cookies, brownies and fudge that the child's mother had made. Have I ever mentioned that my second in command likes to bake?
I still got a grin out of the thing every time it happened to catch my eye.
Not that the server whose guts were currently strewn across the work-bench was making me feel particularly hero-like. It was, actually, making me feel just a bit homicidal. Some days, the tendency bred from my youth to eke every moment of usefulness out of everything, irritates even me.
Misty probably kept me from actually setting aside the screw-driver and picking up the hammer by calling, 'Hey boss-man; your ride's here,' at the exact moment that the notion to beat the thing into scrap crossed my mind.
I glanced up to find Wufei standing in the doorway, smiling bemusedly at me. I couldn't decide if it was from watching me suck on a bloody knuckle, or from listening to me cuss at electronics around said knuckle.
'Perhaps you should leave while you're still one up on the computer, Maxwell,' he grinned.
'Who says he's ahead,' I heard Paul mutter as he shut down his computer and prepared to leave for the evening.
'Hey!' I growled, pulling my abused finger out of my mouth. 'It's best two falls out of three; I'm still good!'
'Looked like a tie to me,' Misty interjected and then ducked quickly around Wufei on her way out before I could retaliate.
'You see what I have to put up with?' I asked Wufei in a theatrically put out tone. 'I don't...'
'Get any respect?' Wufei finished for me as he traded nods with Paul who was following Misty to the elevator. The kid looked faintly flushed to me and it crossed my mind that Wufei seriously intimidated him. Heero did too, now that I thought about it. I wondered if it was agenthood, or ex-Gundam-pilothood.
'No respect,' I grumbled as I pushed away from the work bench. 'No help... no sympathy...'
Wufei just snorted, waiting for me to fetch my coat and do my final shut-down routine. He didn't say anything, but I could feel him watching me. Probably looking for signs that I was sore or stiff. I'd be willing to bet he had a list from Heero about that too... watch for a limp, watch how he straightens, look for signs that he isn't using his left arm, blah, blah, blah.
Though if Chang Wufei offered to give me a massage, we were going to have some serious words; I don't care what the fuck instructions Heero had left.
He stepped out in the hall as I came through the door and waited while I locked up. 'You know,' I ventured, feeling just a touch guilty. 'I really could take the bus home... you don't have to drive me.'
He chuckled and gave me a rueful little smile. 'Heero would...' he began, but I cut him off.
'Yeah, yeah,' I rolled my eyes. 'I know. The Gods forbid Heero Yuy not get his way.'
We walked the short distance to the elevator and he made the effort to look contrite. 'Well, you argue with him... I'm not.'
'It seldom does me any good,' I sighed and punched the call button.
Wufei looked for a moment like he was going to say something, but then somehow seemed to change his mind. 'You're not going to bleed all over my car, are you?'
I held my hand up and gave my knuckles a once-over. 'I don't think I'll be passing out from blood-loss,' I opined and he just shook his head. The elevator came and we stepped in.
'So,' he asked once we were moving. 'How's Heero doing, anyway?'
I flashed a wide grin, remembering the previous night's phone call. 'More than ready to come home; nothing like a little 'top gun' complex to make a guy twitchy.'
Wufei chuckled, but the humor in it held a touch of irony. 'Yes, it's no secret who we are, and there isn't a cadet out there that wouldn't love to be able to best us in some way or other.' He sighed, running a hand over his hair. 'Definitely keeps you on your toes.'
I chuckled darkly. 'He had the obstacle course yesterday.'
Wufei winced, stepping out of the elevator as the doors swept open. 'I think I pulled some muscles on that one,' he admitted.
I matched his chuckle, giving Elliot at the guard station a wave as we went through the lobby. The kid grinned and waved back. 'Heero only said that he hasn't put that much effort into anything since the war.'
Wufei couldn't help himself, and mused, 'I wonder what his time was?' the look on his face told me that he knew how competitive he sounded.
'I have no idea,' I smirked at him. 'You'll have to ask him yourself.'
I think he would have retorted, but we passed a group leaving the payroll department and Shirley engaged me in conversation that I quickly figured out was just her trying to get me to tell her what kind of home computer to buy. We escaped when I promised to work her up a sample configuration.
Wufei gave me a funny look and all I could do was shrug. 'I never have the heart to tell them that any off the shelf brand name computer will do anything they could ever possibly want to do. I think they like to believe that it's harder than it is.'
'Or they just like an excuse to talk to the good-looking IT guy,' Wufei quipped and it made me jerk my head around to look at him.
'Wufei!' I groaned. 'That's just gross! The woman is old enough to be my grandmother!'
He laughed rather unrepentantly, pulling his keys out and pushing the button to unlock his car. I was just getting ready to climb in, when I heard someone call my name and turned to find Sally Po making her way across the garage toward us.
I spared Wufei a glance, but couldn't read the expression I found there. He played his cards rather close to the chest when it came to the woman, but I was pretty sure he was interested with a capital 'I'. The only thing that gave me any reason to doubt, was the fact that I'd been waiting for him to make some kind of move for... a long time.
'Glad I caught you,' Sally said as she came up to us and stopped to pull something out of her bag. 'I've been meaning to give this to you for ages.'
I couldn't help blinking rather blankly at the card she held out to me, wondering what odd holiday I had missed. 'What's this?' I asked with my usual subtlety.
She gave me a lop-sided grin. 'A get-well card,' she informed me, and I couldn't help laughing.
'Isn't it a little late for that?' I grinned at her and she punched my arm.
'It's the thought that counts, asshole,' she grinned back and turned to move off again.
'Hey,' I began, making myself not look at Wufei. 'What's the rush...?'
'Meeting some of the girls down at the Roman House for dinner,' she told me, her grin turning a bit sardonic. 'They tell me I spend too much time in the lab and I need to get out more.'
I caught the almost wistful glance she cast Wufei's way, but knew better than to try and intervene. Wufei would have my head on a pike for attempting to insert myself into his... hypothetical love life.
'Well... thanks,' I said instead, feeling a little bit lame, but she was already headed for her car and just gave us a wave.
We climbed into Wufei's car then, and I found myself turning the card between my fingers. My name was written across an envelope that appeared to be delicately tinted, in a damn impressive calligraphy. I was almost loathe to open it, but found when I turned it again, that it wasn't sealed. I thought about waiting until I got home, but realized that Wufei hadn't started the car yet, and was obviously expecting me to open it right away. Made me wonder about the source of his curiosity, but I hid the grin.
The card proved to be handmade, and I couldn't help but be touched by the obvious work that had gone into it. No five minute trip into the card shop for this. It was painted and decorated with cut-outs and all hand-lettered, and I was feeling a little weird just looking at the outside. But then I opened it and couldn't decide quite where to look after that. In that delicate, ornate script, it simply read, 'In the dictionary next to the word 'spirit' it reads Duo Maxwell.'
While I did my stare at the floor and blush, routine, Wufei reached out and gently took the card from my hands to read. I dared a glance up at him and found him blushing harder than I was. He shot a look at Sally's departing car that I just flat could not work out. It seemed... almost angry. But not. I couldn't figure out why he seemed so embarrassed; I'd expected him to tease the crap out of me over it.
'Is...' I ventured. 'Something wrong?'
He blinked, as though shaking off some thought, and then he gave me a small smile, handing the card back. 'No... nothing's wrong.'
He started the car while I carefully tucked the card back in the envelope and then slipped it in the inside pocket of my jacket. We were quiet while he pulled out of the parking garage and onto the street. I stole a couple of glances his way and wished I had a clue what had so totally changed his mood. I couldn't help worrying that he was getting tired of dragging my sorry ass around.
'I... uh...' I finally tossed out, feeling the pressure of the quiet, 'didn't know that Sally did that sort of thing.'
Wufei glanced at me, his expression clearing a little. 'I believe it's an off-shoot of a scrapbook hobby.'
'Oh,' I said in my witty way, and wondered why we were suddenly so uncomfortable. 'Didn't know she did that either.'
He grinned then, and some of his tension went away. I was left pretty damn confused about what I'd done to create it in the first place. 'The woman saves all manner of odd scraps of paper for the purpose of cutting them into weird little shapes. You should see her office.'
The idea of visiting the offices of the Preventers' resident coroner didn't appeal to me all that much, but I didn't say so. 'She just didn't strike me as the type, I guess.'
He actually laughed out loud. 'Well, I doubt she would ever guess what you do in your spare time either, so you're even.'
I felt myself frowning; my sewing hobby is something I'm just the tiniest bit touchy about. I'm a guy, and apparently guys are not supposed to have creative out-lets or some such bullshit. Or, it has to be creative in a manly way; must involve grease or electronics in some form.
There were only a small handful of people who were even aware that I indulged in the high art of quilting. And of that handful, there was only one person who had ever actually seen me do it. While I enjoy the feeling it gives me of carrying on a tradition that was taught to me as a child... I'm not stupid enough to go around with an 'I *heart* quilting' badge on.
I mean, for the Gods' sake... I'm an ex-Gundam pilot, ex-terrorist, ex-pick pocket, semi-openly gay IT geek... I do not need to give people additional reason to look at me funny.
'Duo?' Wufei's voice broke into my reverie with gentle concern. 'Did I say something wrong?'
'Sorry,' I muttered, shaking the thoughts away, and touched the spot on my jacket over where the card was hidden away. 'I just... guess that kind of sentimental stuff makes me uncomfortable.'
He snorted, and when I glanced at him, he spared me a quick little derisive grin.
'Don't start,' I warned, and made him chuckle. Chang Wufei has been known to find Heero and myself just a bit... sentimental.
'I wouldn't dream of it,' he deadpanned and it was my turn to snort.
'You need to get out more,' I informed him, not for the first time.
'Don't you start,' he grumbled, giving the line that little twist that was supposed to indicate his long-suffering patience with me.
I let it go; point made, and wondered if Sally would keep waiting for the indecisive idiot forever.
We were nearing the apartment and I gestured vaguely toward the curb.
'Why don't you just drop me out front?' I suggested. 'I need to walk over to the market anyway...'
There was a sigh from Wufei and when I looked his way, I got the eye-roll gesture. 'Or why don't I just go on down to the market in the first place?' he countered.
'You don't have to do that,' I replied, feeling uncomfortably like somebody's inconvenient little brother or something.
'It's not a problem, Duo,' he assured me. 'I was planning on stopping on my way home to pick up some bread anyway.'
I eyed him, trying to decide if he was just saying that, and wondered why it mattered. Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm touchy about things because of Heero's over-protective streak on steroids or not. 'Well... I guess if you need something anyway. The bakery here is pretty decent, though you want to stay away from the meat department.'
'Bakery?' Wufei asked, raising an eyebrow, and I realized we'd been talking loaf of Wonder bread. I chuckled.
'Bakery, Chang,' I grinned. 'Live a little... forget the store brands, do yourself a favor and get yourself a loaf out of the bakery. They make it fresh every morning.'
The look of vague interest that crossed his face let me stop feeling like I was going shopping with my body-guard and more like I was going shopping with my friend.
'Come, grass-hopper,' I grinned at him as he parked and shut off the car. 'Let me show you the ropes of fine dining.'
He laughed, shaking his head. 'I'm going to learn something from the man who can't boil water?' he teased, following me inside.
'Not about cooking, asshole,' I returned. 'About how to buy so you don't have to cook.'
He just shook his head again while I pointed him in the direction of the bakery department, muttering something about 'should have known' as we split up. I was on my way to the deli where entire meals can be purchased in nifty little nukeable containers.
I take a lot of grief over my cooking abilities, and not all of that grief is entirely... unjustified. I can fieldstrip any weapon known to man with my eyes closed, weigh necessary C4 amounts within a fraction of an ounce with my bare hands, build an adequate file server out of spare parts and aluminum foil, sew better than ninety percent of the women working at Preventors' headquarters, but cook? No. If left to my own devices, I would not starve to death, but Mrs. Paul, Dinty Moore, the Campbell's guy and I have a long standing relationship. I'm all about pre-packaged and fast. Hard to fuck up a can of condensed soup. Harder still to screw up a meal bought hot out of the deli.
I ordered my chicken dinner from the girl behind the counter and was waiting while she dished it into the handy compartmented tray when I suddenly felt... a presence.
I was aware of someone behind me and I shifted over, thinking that the person wanted to see into the display case I was standing in front of, but they didn't move up when I got out of the way. I glanced back and found a very tall, rather broad gentleman... staring at my ass.
You know... that's a damn uncomfortable thing to discover. Some people claim it's flattering, but there is absolutely nothing about finding somebody looking at you like you're a slab of meat, that has anything of flattery in it.
'Can I help you?' I ground out, and those eyes flicked up to meet mine. I say up... up from my butt, not up as in height, because the guy just freaking towered over me.
'I'll bet you could,' he muttered and there was the ghost of a leer. I'm not sure I was supposed to have heard the comment, but I narrowed my eyes and took a step back, letting him know I had.
He was a bear of a guy, short-cropped hair and a leather jacket that was supposed to make him look cool, and I suppose it did, but once you've tagged a guy as an asshole, cool doesn't enter your mind. 'Not my type, buddy,' I informed him coldly and wondered when I found myself wishing that Wufei would come back. What the hell was the matter with me? I more than knew the truth of 'size isn't everything' when it came to a fight, but there was something about the guy that was kicking in the heavy duty alarm bells. Not just the normal 'Watch out' ones, but the 'Oh shit' ones.
'Aw, come on honey,' he drawled. 'Don't be that way,' and he took a step that bought back the space I'd gained. I felt adrenaline hit my system like a tanker truck and again was surprised... yeah, the guy was being an ass, but he wasn't going to get too out of hand in the middle of a crowded grocery store.
'Back off,' I growled and there was more than a broad hint of menace in it. The guy was pissing me off mega-amounts, and I found my hands balling into fists without me telling them to.
He blinked at me, looking a little surprised and then... a little amused. Like it never entered his mind that I could be a serious threat if the situation escalated into a brawl. He actually chuckled. 'Come on... I'm not that bad, am I?' he grinned and something in my gut just turned to water. I have no idea what happened, I just suddenly needed to be somewhere else. Anywhere else.
'Get the fuck away from me.' I snarled and the guy looked a little taken aback; I don't think he'd been expecting his game to jump to the end-zone so fast. He did take a step back, raising his hands in that universal 'no threat' gesture.
'Jesus,' he exclaimed, looking a little wide-eyed. 'Didn't mean nothin'... calm down, man.'
I was way past calming down, and not really even sure why. There was a strange roaring in my ears and I turned on my heel once he gave me the space to do it and strode off. I think I heard the girl behind the counter call something after me about my order, but I didn't look back.
What the hell, was all I could think. I was well and truly on the verge of panic and not sure why. I would probably have stormed right out of the stinking store and run all the way home if I hadn't plowed smack into Wufei at the end of the aisle.
I damn near knocked him on his ass, and when he threw an arm out to steady us both, it was all I could do not to grab on. 'Maxwell?' he said, voice sounding a little alarmed. 'What's wrong?'
'Did you find the bakery?' I asked, but I knew my voice was so tight it sounded strained. I struggled to bring it under control; last thing I wanted to do was let Chang Wufei know that I'd just let some random asshole spook me so bad I'd almost forgotten that I hadn't come into the store alone.
He frowned at me slightly and glanced pointedly at the package he was carrying, that steadying hand not letting go of my arm. 'Duo,' he said softly. 'What is the matter? You feel... shaky.'
I blew out a breath and tried to stop feeling like a rabbit fleeing the hounds. I really felt stupid, not at all sure what it had been about that guy that had freaked me so much. I just didn't want to get into it and maybe risk Wufei making matters worse by wanting to go straighten the idiot out or some damn macho thing like that, so I... hedged. 'I... guess I overdid it a little today,' I told him, managing not to cringe. 'I'm just a little tired.'
The concern in his eyes cranked up another notch, and the hand on my arm went from steadying to supportive. 'Come on then,' he said gently. 'Let's get you home.'
I thought for a second he was just going to put down the damn bread and take me out of there immediately, and I would have argued the point, but the clerk from the deli department chose that moment to catch up to me.
'Sir,' she said brightly, brandishing a chicken dinner. 'You forgot your order!'
I managed not to flinch away from her sudden appearance at my elbow and even managed a 'Thanks,' as I automatically reached for the container. 'Sorry about that,' I muttered, feeling rather ridiculous, but she only smiled.
'I totally understand,' she said knowingly, and then turned to retreat to her station.
Since we were going to have to go through the check-out for me anyway, Wufei kept his loaf of bread and didn't even argue about my paying for it with my dinner, since it got us out of there faster. Though I didn't even try to carry the sack, Wufei can be worse than Heero when he thinks there's something wrong with one of his friends. I don't think I'll ever forget the time Trowa accidentally broke a finger while the lot of us had been playing a bit of basketball together. It had kinda, sorta been Wufei's fault and I thought the guilt would eat him alive. It had taken us almost six months to get him to come out and play with us again.
By the time we left the store, I was feeling a little less twitchy, and the rush of adrenaline was fading, leaving me just feeling stupid as Wufei hovered over me, opening the car door and obviously watching me like a hawk as I sat down.
'I'm fine,' I grumbled as he got into the car, a frown of worry on his face. I could have kicked myself for not coming up with a better excuse, instead of just falling back on my recent injuries.
'That would explain why your hands are shaking,' Wufei said, raising an eyebrow as he handed the sack across for me to hold.
I took it with a noncommittal sound and let my hands curl around the heat coming from my dinner.
Wufei started the car, backing out of the parking spot and I found a certain relief from just getting away from the store and knowing that my asshole Romeo-wannabe wasn't going to suddenly appear again. 'Duo,' Wufei said, obviously wrestling with his apprehension over my sudden odd behavior. 'You're not... I mean, you didn't set off...'
I snorted and decided I needed to get my head out of my ass and make more of an effort at reassurance or I was going to find myself with Chang Wufei spending the night. 'No,' I soothed. 'Not a spasm. I just... skipped lunch, I guess.'
'You guess?' he chuckled at me. 'You don't remember whether you ate or not?'
I laughed in return, glad to see some of the tension fading from his expression. 'Well, I can get kind of wrapped up in what I'm doing sometimes...' I said, and let him make an assumption that wasn't altogether the case.
He gave me the indulgent sigh and a roll of his eyes. 'You're hopeless,' he informed me.
I tried to look contrite. 'Well,' I justified. 'Not like I haven't skipped meals before. I guess maybe I did a little bit too much lifting today on top of it.' It might have been a bit of unnecessary embellishment, but I didn't want the guy hand feeding me until Heero returned. It got me another sigh.
I had rather assumed that I'd worried him enough that no way would he just drop me off like usual, and so I wasn't surprised when he pulled in and parked in front of the apartment, taking the sack away from me before he even got out of the car. 'Wufei,' I tried again, 'really... I am fine.'
'I can see that,' he smiled. 'But if you do not let me see you upstairs, I will be so distracted with worry that I might have an accident on the way home. You wouldn't want that on your conscience, now would you?'
I had to laugh; there just wasn't any other answer to a melodramatic line like that. 'You're such an asshole,' I grumbled amiably and we headed across the parking lot.
Mrs. Littlejohn was out walking the family dog and she gave me a wave which I returned. 'Heero still out of town?' she called and I managed not to grin too wide.
'He's supposed to be back this weekend,' I yelled in turn and we waved again as Wufei and I headed inside. I couldn't completely hide the smirk and Wufei, predictably, wanted to know what the deal was.
'You gotta promise me you won't tell Heero,' I told him, and a look came across his face that was rather... priceless.
The humor left his voice as he had to ask me, 'It isn't something that he... should know... is it?'
'Gods no!' I laughed and he nodded to let me know he would keep his mouth shut. My grin got wider. 'Mrs. Littlejohn has figured out when Heero takes his morning jog and manages to be outside walking the dog at the same time every day.'
Wufei blinked at me, his confusion plain. 'How are you so sure it has anything to do with Heero? Animals have schedules too...'
[cont] [back to Sunhawk's fic]