Family (cont)

'Duo,' he reproached, voice going all gentle. 'What's the matter? Are you all right?'

'Sure!' I blurted, and suddenly felt like a total idiot instead of just a regular, garden variety idiot. Gods... what had I been thinking? 'I mean... I'm sorry; I didn't realize it was so late. I... uh... should have waited until morning.'

'Duo,' he said again, more sternly. 'What is wrong? You sound... upset.'

'I'm ok,' I lied. 'I'm really sorry. I just wasn't paying attention to the time. I... I should have paid attention. I'm sorry.'

'Maxwell,' he tried, sounding like he was getting irritated with me. 'Why in the hell would you even need your jacket at this time of night? Where...'

I really just couldn't figure out a way to say, 'I just needed to hear a living voice,' that didn't sound pretty damn nuts, so I pulled a strategic retreat. 'You're right... I should have looked at the time... I... I was looking for my card... I'm real sorry if I woke you up. I'll let you go, bye.'

And I hung up. I thought I heard him call my name just before I hit the disconnect button and I cringed, but he didn't call me back immediately. I hoped I hadn't pissed him off so much that he had trouble getting to sleep.

But you know... even that little bit had helped me ground myself back in the present. I had forgotten how badly those damn nightmares pulled me into the past. Pulled me into memory and made it hard for me to remember just where I was supposed to be. Quatre had told me once, years later when we were able to talk about it a little bit, that I fell back into an L2 accent right after. I hadn't known, but I guess it made a certain amount of sense. He'd told me that's how he'd known when I was getting my head back together... when I'd stopped sounding like a street kid and started sounding like a pilot again.

I'd always had to judge by the lack of certain... hallucinations. You know; when I stopped seeing blood?

I was always cold too, and I've wondered about that. Not like it was snowing that night or anything. I suppose it was some flavor of shock, but this time was no different, and Heero's and my quilt wasn't doing much for keeping it at bay. It was what finally prompted me to move after a while. To get my shaky, wobbly, sorry ass up and go get dressed. I was mostly focused on warmth and it was only coincidence that one of Heero's sweatshirts was at the front of the closet and the first warm thing I ran into. Really.

It was one of his academy shirts and I couldn't help wondering if he'd worn one like it out to dinner. It helped to think so, somehow. At least... if I didn't think about it too hard and start feeling pathetic.

Somewhere in there it finally dawned on me to be thankful that the apartment below us was empty. I wasn't at all sure I could have handled a damn visit from the cops had somebody called them about all the screaming. Because I'd been given to understand that I got rather loud.

Getting dressed had helped a little more... just having something to do, so I started setting myself little tasks. Just things to keep me moving. Things to keep me occupied and not thinking so damn much. Not dwelling. Brooding. Remembering.

Warmth was on the agenda, and after clothing had been achieved, tea seemed like a good idea. Not my favorite, but the soda that was my own first choice was not sitting on my stomach well. Heero had several blends that he made for soothing upset stomachs and I could certainly handle heating a pot of water.

I was in the kitchen, mug in hand and water heating when I heard something rattling the door to the apartment.

If I had achieved any kind of calm... any kind of ground or center, it blew out the window in that moment.

Adrenaline hit my system between one heart-beat and the next and sent my pulse rate into over drive. A noise escaped my throat that I would have been humiliated about had I been able to hear it over the sound of the blood pounding in my ears. I was only distantly aware of the mug falling from my hand and smashing on the floor.

I wanted to call for help, but I wasn't sure just who to appeal to. The only thought my brain had was the observation that I was far too big to fit out the little half window over the sink and there were no other escape routes. I very clearly remember thinking that Solo would be furious with me for letting myself get cornered.

And then Wufei's voice called my name, sounding very worried. 'Duo? Where are you?'

'W... Wufei?' I heard somebody say and there he was in the kitchen doorway, looking confused and anxious and just a little bit rumpled.

'Duo?' he asked, seeming a bit relieved to have found me. 'Are you all right? What is going on?'

I managed to shake my head, but I don't think he understood what I was denying. I suddenly felt like all my bones were slowly dissolving into liquid. I would have asked him confused questions if I could have found my voice.

He came straight across the kitchen toward me, and I saw him frown as he looked down at the kitchen floor. I looked too and was a little bit surprised to see the shards of ceramic. But then he reached for my arm, possibly to lead me away from the mess before I cut myself in my stocking feet, and I... reacted.

I think his move had just been too quick. Too sudden, and I flinched away from him with a stumbling backward step that brought my back into sudden contact with the counter hard enough to rattle the dishes in the drainer.

I saw a moment of bewildered almost-pain in his eyes, and then I saw him understand. I don't really know how, but I could tell the moment it all clicked into place in his head. He's always been ungodly quick adding two and two... even when the sum isn't quite numerical. A small part of me wanted to be embarrassed about the realization, but... this was Wufei.

He is one of those people who lived through those dark days with me. A shared thing that at one time I remembered fearing would destroy any respect he might ever have had for me, but had ended up drawing us closer. Had ended up with Wufei as one of my closest friends.

My best friend, I reminded myself, and when he offered his hand again I was able to reach for it. 'It's all right now,' he told me gently and drew me around the mess on the floor until I wasn't in any danger. I nodded absently and remembered not to clutch. He got me to a chair just as I thought my legs would give out and I found myself wondering about the oddness of adrenaline. Why in the world would Mother Nature design something to kick in when the body thinks it's in danger that leaves you feeling so damn wiped out when it stops?

I blinked to find Wufei kneeling beside me and dumbly asked, 'What are you doing here?'

He snorted softly and touched my arm as though assuring himself that I wasn't really hurt. 'Maxwell,' he said ruefully, 'what the hell else was I going to do after you called me at this hour with your voice so unsteady I wasn't sure it was you at first?'

I blushed and looked down. 'M'sorry,' I muttered and he sighed heavily.

'Stop apologizing,' he grumbled. 'I told you to call me and you did. Now, can you tell me...' he trailed off, knowing but not really knowing what was going on. Maybe not sure what he wanted to ask.

I took my turn with the heavy sigh. 'I'm sorry,' I said again, even though he'd told me not too. 'I didn't mean to bother anybody...'

He'd been sitting on his heels and he straightened then, putting an arm around my shoulders. 'Stop that,' he commanded gruffly, drawing me against his shoulder. 'There's no damn reason for you to suffer through something like this alone. I'm glad you called me, Duo.'

I leaned into him, though I knew he was only going to be able to feel how I was still shaking. 'There's nothing you can do, really...' I began, but he cut me off with an almost exasperated sound.

'I can be here,' he told me firmly, and I knew there was no point in denying to him that it would help. We'd been here before.

'I just...' I tried and he sighed again, giving me a tight squeeze.

'Don't,' he warned me, and then looked around. 'You were making tea?'

I nodded, suddenly very tired. 'I... thought it might help warm me up.'

He gave my shoulder another squeeze and went to finish the job, fetching down two mugs from the cabinet. I watched him move efficiently around my kitchen and lost myself for a bit in memories better than the ones that had been plaguing me.

Wufei knew right where everything was and worked as comfortably as though he were in his own home. It dawned on me while he swept up the bits of broken crockery, that I was hard pressed to remember a time when he wasn't in my life either. He felt as much like a brother to me as Solo ever had. Maybe more.

'I'm sorry I bothered you,' I admitted, while his back was to me. 'But... I'm glad you're here.'

He stilled for a moment in his work and then gave me a solemn nod; not turning around. Allowing me that moment of revelation in the dubious privacy in which I'd offered it.

I wondered as he dumped the mess into the trash, just which mug I'd broken and hoped it hadn't been one of Heero's favorites. I suppose I'd figure it out at some point, but paying enough attention to tell from the clues of color and size of the pile of shards seemed too difficult in that moment.

Shards. The word made me realize that I was mindlessly rubbing at my hand and I made myself stop.

When the tea was ready, Wufei turned to me with the mugs in his hands. 'Come on, my friend,' he urged softly and took us into the living room where he settled me on the couch. I didn't object when he gathered the afghan from where it hung across the back, and wrapped it around me. I was surprised when he touched my hands to make me stop that damned rubbing again before giving me my mug of tea. The heat felt good and I found myself almost curling around it, the strong scent of chamomile and something I couldn't identify enveloping me. It reminded me of Heero, and I swear it was that as much as anything that let me start to relax. I bent my concentration on my hands to stop their faint trembling and Wufei settled beside me, turned slightly toward me, his arm resting on the back of the couch.

'Thanks,' I murmured and he gave me that little inclination of his head again, that hinted at a formal bow.

'Better?' he asked, and sipped at his own tea.

'Yeah,' I sighed, looking down into my mug. 'It helps having somebody to... talk to.'

'I know,' he soothed and then looked troubled. 'I did not know you were still plagued with these... dreams,' he said, but it was as much a question as a statement.

I blew gently into the steam of my tea to buy a moment and then admitted. 'I haven't been. Not since... the war.'

He frowned faintly, I could see it out of the corner of my eye, and I could almost feel him thinking. 'Then... something triggered this?'

I sighed and shrugged, not really sure I wanted to admit to something that felt so damn stupid. 'Yeah,' I muttered and sipped at the tea.

His hand twitched as though he would reach out, but he didn't. 'Talk to me, Duo.'

My hand found its way to my face and rubbed over my eyes. 'S'stupid,' I muttered.

My evasiveness made him think something that wasn't so, after a minute, and he looked faintly horrified. 'Duo... I didn't do anything, did I... ?'

I cut him off with a sharp shake of my head. 'Gods no, Fei,' I reassured. 'Nothing you did. There was just this guy at the grocery...' I felt myself squirming under his sharp gaze and raised my mug again, inhaling deeply of that scent that spoke of mornings with Heero.

He was quiet for a moment, his own mug resting against his thigh. 'I thought there was something more you weren't telling me,' he confessed, and though there was a touch of a rebuke in his words, it was mostly just gentle encouragement.

I sipped and sighed and finally said, 'He was just some jerk. Hit on me, is all.' I couldn't look at him and studied the weave of the afghan. 'I didn't even realize until later why it freaked me out so much.'

He watched me for a moment and then finally did reach out to touch my arm, urging me to look at him. It took me a heartbeat, but when I met his gaze, there was nothing there but understanding. 'He reminded you of... of...'

'One of those men?' I finished for him when he couldn't find the words, and shivered quite despite myself. 'Yeah.'

He made a sound that was soft and pained and the light touch of his fingers on my arm became a solid weight on my shoulder. 'You should have told me,' he chided, and I couldn't help the snort.

'Why? So you could have gone and beaten him up?' I shook my head, almost able to smile at the look on his face. 'Wouldn't have helped... I'd still be right where I am now.'

'Still...' he complained, and I wondered at the dark look in his eyes. Until I remembered a certain knife-wielding college punk and a back alley. Remembered the words I'd heard Wufei say. Family.

It was one of those rare moments when feeling that protectiveness felt good.

'Thank you,' I told him, not even sure for which time. Maybe just for the sentiment. He looked startled and then he smiled softly, that almost angry look leaving him. When he didn't speak, I took another swallow of my drink and had to tell him, 'I just wish I knew why I let the asshole freak me out so much. I wasn't even thinking about... it at the time. It wasn't until later that I realized.'

Wufei gave me a final pat before draping his arm over the back of the couch again. 'The sub-conscious mind is a strange thing sometimes.'

I snorted. 'No shit?' and it made him quirk a little grin at me.

He sipped his tea carefully before venturing, 'Some part of you knew, even if your conscious mind couldn't... acknowledge the connection at the time.'

I suspected he had almost said 'handle' instead of acknowledge, but I wasn't going to call him on it. I mulled that over and supposed he was right... supposed I had known that myself, somewhere deep inside. Had known it was something more than a creep staring at my ass that had sent me running for cover. 'It just pisses me off that I backed down from that son of a bitch,' I said, feeling the faint stirrings of that anger skittering around in my gut. 'And I'm sick of him being in my head because of it.'

Wufei gave me the raised eyebrow look, a thing I'd swear he picked up from Heero, and waited for me to elaborate.

I flushed, hating to admit that I'd acted like a wimp that had gotten his ass pinched. 'I... just didn't handle him very well,' I sighed. 'And I can't stop thinking about it.'

'That's only natural,' he told me, smiling gently. 'Nobody likes to think they came out of an... altercation in second place.'

I grinned at him. 'That's a very polite way of saying nobody likes looking like a wuss.'

He chuckled softly, seeming a bit relieved that I'd managed to lighten up a bit. 'Thank you,' he intoned. 'I do try.'

I yawned then, rather suddenly, and wide enough to make my jaw pop. I blinked stupidly at the wall afterward, totally taken by surprise. 'Excuse me,' I muttered automatically and Wufei chuckled at me.

'Stress,' he informed me, 'will do that to you. Might I suggest we consider trying to get some sleep?'

I glanced side-long at him, not sure what to object to first. There was definitely some guilt in there for dragging the man out in the middle of the night to come and make me tea and hold my hand. Then there was the odd disquiet that came from the suggestion that he was planning on staying with me. But mostly there was the rather immediate fear of going back to sleep. I couldn't help being worried about the nightmare coming back. Worried being the mildest word I could think of to describe the feeling running around inside me. I'd determined hours ago that there was no way in hell I'd be sleeping again until Heero got home, but that decision had not taken Chang Wufei into consideration. I had never imagined that he would show up on my doorstep, though I suppose I should have. Having him with me had helped settle my nerves more than I would have managed alone. That touch of relaxation was allowing the fatigue to overtake me, making sleep a slightly more attractive notion. As long as my memories left me alone.

Wufei was looking a little pensive, and I knew there was at least some understanding there, of what I was afraid of. 'Before...' he ventured, choosing his words with care. 'During the war, you never seemed to fear going back to sleep.'

I snorted. 'I think I was just too damn exhausted,' I told him, even as I stopped and wondered about it. 'I... I'm not sure it ever occurred to me.'

That seemed damn weird, when I really thought about it, but I could distinctly recall more than once managing to sleep again. And I couldn't really remember being afraid to do so.

'Something is different,' Wufei guessed, making it a question, trying to make me think about it.

'It really wasn't the same,' I said, almost talking to myself as I worked it out in my head. 'I mean... it was just like I remember it, only some of the details were different. It's never... changed before.'

His hand came back to touch me, settling on my back, his fingers rubbing gently at my neck. 'So it was a dream,' he suggested. 'Not so much the flash-backs you were having before?'

'I... I think so,' I said, surprised when my voice dropped to a whisper and I wondered what I thought I had to hide from.

'And you're afraid you'll dream again?' he asked, and this time it was a question that was more of a statement. I wondered how he could do that.

'Yeah,' I confirmed, not really trusting my voice for more than that. Not really trusting myself to keep from blurting out the part where I wanted Heero. Needed Heero.

'Well,' he mused, ignoring the fact that I wasn't doing much to hold up my end of the conversation, 'if we're dealing with dreams... I should be able to wake you.'

I had to really think about that one. Had to think whether I believed it. Could trust in it. I wasn't so sure... even though most of the phantom pains had faded, I could still feel the bruise on my hip from falling out of bed. It had taken me a while to realize it was real past all the other hurts. But... dream or flashback or whatever the hell you wanted to call it, the thing had done a number on me and it hadn't been pretty.

Those fingers of his massaged relentlessly at the corded muscles in my neck. 'Duo... you're exhausted. Let's at least try. We can... stay here. If you'd like.'

The tone of his voice had changed just slightly and I glanced his way to find something in his expression that hinted at a vague discomfort. I supposed it wasn't all that attractive an idea for him... sharing a bed with me. People really don't give Wufei enough credit in the open-mindedness department sometimes. The poor guy was the only straight one in a group of five, and he took the lot of us in stride without batting an eye. I'd never gotten even the faintest hint from him that he disapproved of any of our relationships. And I don't think his upbringing had been particularly tolerant of homosexuality. Not that I know a hell of a lot about it, but it just didn't strike me as likely. Not in a society as wrapped up in honor and tradition as his had been. But all the same... he couldn't really want to be cuddling up in bed with me.

'You know you don't have to stay,' I blurted on a strange up-welling of guilt and appreciation that was mixing around in my head until I wasn't sure just what I was feeling.

His fingers left my neck, and he quite suddenly smacked me lightly in the back of the head. 'Like I would leave,' he said sternly.

I couldn't help a chuckle, which totally ruined the aggrieved look I tried to give him. 'I'll get some blankets,' I told him, the closest I could come to saying that I wanted him to stay, and he took the tea mugs to rinse out while I went to do so.

I made myself turn some of the lights off as I went through the apartment. It seemed oddly pitiable that they were all on, now that Wufei was there with me. I was glad he hadn't commented on it, leaving me at least that much dignity. But it hadn't escaped him, I realized, when he didn't turn off the kitchen lights until he was sure I had turned off those in the bedroom.

I brought out quilts and the pillows from the bedroom while he toed off his shoes and tucked them under the edge of the coffee table. By mutual consent, we left the light on in the bathroom, the light faint so it shouldn't bother Wufei... but enough that it would allow me to see my surroundings. When you're having trouble convincing yourself of just what decade you're in... being unable to see is not all that helpful.

We had an awkward moment before we both settled on the couch, he with his head toward one end, and me the other. It's a long couch and if we both curled up, we didn't even really touch each other. I wondered if he realized I'd kept Heero's pillow for myself... liking the faint scent that lingered on it.

'All right?' he asked after we'd sorted ourselves out, and while I still wasn't all that sure about things, I nodded, doubting he could see it anyway.

'Yeah, this should work.'

There was a noise that I could only describe as exasperated and he grumbled, 'Please do not be deliberately obtuse. I know the sleeping arrangements will work... are you all right?'

'I'm ok,' I mumbled and thought I just might be. Maybe Wufei had been right about the differences between dreams and flash-backs. While I still felt wrung-out and shaky, I didn't feel like I was going to burst into tears any second, or throw up on the floor. Vast improvements, both, in my humble opinion.

'Then try to get some sleep,' he soothed. 'I'll be right here.'

'You're a good friend, Fei,' I was able to tell him there in the almost dark and there was another of those wordless sounds that I took to mean he was pleased.

We were quiet then, and I did my best to stay still so as not to bother him. He didn't fall asleep immediately, but I was fairly sure he dozed off within the half hour. It eased my guilt some, though I had to wonder just how either of us would fare in the morning after a night curled on the couch. We were neither of us teenagers anymore and not quite so... adaptable.

And while my guilt for dragging him out of his home in the middle of the night eased, it didn't stop me from missing the sound of his voice. Heero's mere presence was usually enough to alleviate whatever anxieties I might be dealing with, but it had been the interaction with Wufei as much as anything. He'd been keeping me distracted... keeping me occupied, and having him asleep was only two steps better than his not being there at all.

So, of course my head went right back to playing the shoulda game and the imp trotted out act two of the now classic rendition of 'The Grocery Store Debacle'.

How stupid had I looked, storming through the store with the clerk yelling after me that I'd forgotten my order? Had to wonder if the jerk had said anything after I'd left. Mocked me, maybe? Accused me of over-reacting? Hell... I wasn't even sure how much of the exchange anybody had heard but the two of us. Maybe I'd looked like the asshole... snapping and snarling while the other guy had just stood there smiling and trying to talk to me. Though... the clerk had said she understood, so maybe she'd heard enough to know what had really transpired. It didn't take the sting out of the fact that I'd given ground to the bastard. I wondered if he actually lived around close; I'd never seen him before, but... did that mean I would never run into him again? The thought made me cringe, unsure if I would freeze up again, or just kick him in the balls before the ass-staring could get started. Neither prospect was all that attractive, really. One more than the other, but I won't say which.

The notion started making me wonder if the freak might actually have moved into the apartment complex somewhere. Heero and I had lived here for quite a while, but people came and went all the time. There were always apartments for rent... what if the son of a bitch lived right here? It creeped me out thinking about the guy actually having a name; it was easier if he was just 'The Jerk' and not somebody named Ed or Leroy or something.

It was probably two in the morning when I lost against the compulsion to ease off the couch and go check to make sure Wufei had locked the front door behind him when he'd come in. Since I was up anyway, I took the time to check all the windows again... ghosting around the apartment like some restless spirit, fingers brushing over latches in the dark.

Wufei was sitting up when I came back from the bedroom. 'I'm sorry,' I sighed, knowing I'd disturbed him for nothing, since I hadn't found a thing unsecured.

'It's all right,' he said and stretched an arm out. 'Come here,' he commanded and I went where I was directed. He lifted the edge of his quilt when I sat down and shared it between us; it felt warm that close to him even without actually touching.

'I didn't mean to wake you,' I apologized again, staring at my feet where they were braced on the edge of the coffee table.

'I wasn't asleep,' he informed me. 'You're radiating too much tension to ignore.'

I opened my mouth on another 'sorry', but he cut me off.

'Stop that,' he chided, and I only sighed, letting it die. He surprised me then by putting an arm around my shoulders and hugging me against him.

I could feel him trying to find a way to say something, and I waited quietly for him to get it worked out. 'You... can't stop thinking about that man, can you?' he finally asked, and I had to resist the urge to go, 'duh!'

'I know... I know,' I grumbled. 'I'm being stupid...'

He sighed and I let it peter out, waiting again for him to get the rest of it worked out in his head. 'I... think I know what is eating at you, but I don't want to plant ideas if I'm wrong.'

I blinked, wondering what in the hell he thought was so complicated about the whole thing. A creepy guy had gotten too aggressive for polite company and reminded me of an incident from my past best forgot. End of story. Not rocket science.

Right?

I felt the rise and fall of his shoulder, where he had my head resting, as he sighed.

'Just spit it out, man,' I muttered and figured he'd probably be pretty far off base all the way around, but when a guy comes out in the middle of the night because you had a bad dream... you indulge his whims.

It still took him a couple of long minutes and I just listened to him breathe, feeling his arm tighten for a minute. 'What happened to you was a long time ago by the reckoning of a child. But, really, Duo... not forever. That man at the grocery made you realize that... that... those men are still out there. Somewhere.'

I think I mentioned before how perceptive Wufei can be? I could damn him for it sometimes. Almost.

I rather felt like somebody kicked me in the stomach. It sucks to have the lid lifted off the pot whose contents you are trying hard not to look at. Wufei's arm tightened more, perhaps afraid that I might push away. I stayed leaning against him, as much to reassure as anything, and sighed, making myself look down into that nasty pot.

Yeah... I suppose the little kid I used to be, liked to pretend that those men had been punished somehow. Had died for what they'd done to me. Obviously done to others. But... there wasn't anything to base that fantasy on. There was nothing to lead me to believe they hadn't come through the war just fine. Finished their tours of duty right there on L2 and gone... any damn where, really.

And yeah... much as I hated to admit it, when Wufei just shined the light of clarity on it like that, it had been eating at me all damn day. The knowledge had been simmering in the back of my head somewhere and I'd just been refusing to think about it.

'I'm sorry, spirit,' he whispered, sounding genuinely pained.

'D... don't be,' I told him, surprised by the odd endearment. 'You're right. It's been right there in front of me all day, but I wouldn't look at it.'

He sighed then, and seemed so damn unhappy. Seemed like he wanted to do more than just put his arm around my shoulders. Wanted to do more to offer comfort. There was a touch on the top of my head that I would have said was a kiss if he'd been Heero. It made me remember a certain other dream I'd had back when I'd first come home from the hospital. A very... drug-induced dream. A somewhat... erotic dream.

I must have tensed, because Wufei was suddenly letting me go and sitting up straight. 'I... I'm sorry, Duo...' he stammered out, and I turned to look at him, my face flaring hotly, caught in remembrance. Thank the Gods it was too dark for him to really see it.

'Stop,' I soothed, reaching to touch his arm, to let him know I wasn't recoiling from him. 'My fault... I... I had some pretty strange dreams when I was on all that medication. I just... remembered something, and it made me feel weird. It wasn't you, I swear.'

He ducked his head in a manner that made me think of abasement and I squirmed, remembering the bit of dream and knowing the sudden discomfort was all coming from me. 'I apologize,' he said and it sounded so formal I cringed. 'I... over stepped what you...'

I smacked him lightly on the side of the head and it made him look up at me in surprise. 'Pay back,' I grinned. 'Now stop that shit. Chang Wufei, we may not be related by blood, but you are as much my brother as anyone ever has been. You can't over-step yourself with me. I told you... I flinched because of a stupid drug-dream... I dreamed about talking vegetables around that time too... it does not mean anything. It was just a stupid dream... I was not reacting to your hugging me.'

He was quiet for several long moments and I had to resist the urge to fill that quiet with more babbling. He sat so stiffly and seemed so tense that I had to wonder... I wouldn't have thought the moment would upset him as much as it seemed to.

Finally he gave me a side-ways look that I could have read better if it hadn't been so dark, and very quietly said, 'You... dreamed about me?'

I snorted; I couldn't help it, and tried to explain again. 'You know what drugs do to me, 'Fei. I dreamed more crap during that time than I like to admit to. I think it was during that time that Heero was hiding from me, and I... it was just a dumb-ass dream. Scared the crap out of me, to tell the truth. I swear to you... I do not feel that way toward you.'

He was very quiet and I started to feel really funny. Really bad. I wasn't explaining myself well at all and I think I was just digging the hole deeper.

'I'm not saying I don't love you... 'cause I do, but just not like that,' I heard myself blurt and thought I was going to swallow my tongue. Now what in the name of the bloody damn Gods had possessed me to pop out with that when I was trying to make the poor guy less uncomfortable? I mentally scrambled frantically for something to make it better, and wasn't coming up with anything better than offering him a drink, when he made a sound that took a second to resolve into a chuckle.

'You're gibbering, Maxwell,' he said, and there was such open affection in it I thought I would melt with relief. I had started to fear that I'd just fucked up one of my oldest friendships.

'It's what I do,' I quipped, and he chuckled a bit more. 'Still friends?'

It took him a second, and it made me wonder, but when he'd straightened up I realized it wasn't hesitation, but the fact that he was totally changing tone. He gave me that weird, almost formal inclination of his head and very seriously said, 'Yes, Duo. We are friends.'

There was something very strange about his voice, but without being able to really see his eyes, I couldn't judge it. I wanted to say there was a touch of melancholy to it, but that might have just been the almost formal quality he was using.

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