Authors: TB and Marsh
see Part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Stay, Stupid + Part 4

In contrast to their walk through the city only the night before, their return to Wufei's flat was quiet as a shrine. The weekend nearly over, the crowds in the Square were sparse, and even fewer walked in the Chinese quarter, where the industrious slept early and the rest were closed up with their families. Wufei, who had none, had often used this time to walk, but he could not free his mind as he customarily did, with Duo walking beside him.

He was plagued with the worry that Duo would disappear. It seemed impossible that Duo had only approached him twenty-four hours earlier. So much had changed. He had changed so much. Was not the purpose of life to live with calm, with passivity, wu wei-- humility before change? And what was Duo if not an agent of change? Be bent, the Dao instructed, and you will remain straight; be vacant, and you will remain full; be worn, and you will remain new. He had sought isolation and been given a companion instead. He had tried to hide, and Duo had him admitting in hours what he had fought within himself all his life. And he had never wanted love, but when he looked at Duo's craggy profile walking next to him, he felt-- he felt suffused with such affection and warmth that he didn't mind at all the pressure of Duo's hand on his. Their steps were never quite in time, but Duo instinctively matched his slower pace.

There was so much to think about. To act on? If it would keep Duo from running away, he would do it. Anything. Follow him, even. Wasn't he already packed? He'd made that decision that very morning and had no idea what it would mean, but he did now. Duo didn't wander so much as run, he thought. Could he keep up? Would Duo let him? Duo had initiated their kiss at the restaurant. Wufei did not take that lightly, nor did he think Duo did, but would it bind them the next time Duo was frightened by the Preventers? He'd been so furious to see them following. Wufei had known that kind of blind hatred. It was cancerous, and it did not die easily.

He didn't blame Duo-- he couldn't. A clean kill in battle against an opponent who willingly supported a tyrannous power had honour in it, honour and the presumption of some equality of-- of equipment or training or-- not that any mobile suit or the averagely talented recruits of Alliance or OZ had stood a chance against a Gundam pilot. But murder? There were ethically grey areas even in wartime, and Wufei knew he had stood on the edge of that when he'd spent a long dark night crawling through ventilation shafts in an OZ cadet barracks to plant explosives. Yet they had been no younger than him, no younger than the wife Wufei had seen fly to her death against overwhelming numbers of the enemy. And they were not innocent civilians, they were soldiers in training, teenagers who knew the risks and yet looked joyfully at the opportunity to fight and kill. The woman Duo had killed--was it enough to say that someone who willingly murdered also willingly opened herself to fatal retaliation? Or did it weigh more that Duo had not been under strict orders, as Wufei had been, had conceived of murder alone and acted alone, intending revenge, not war? And what did it mean that Duo, who was so insightful in his way, had either not asked himself those things, or had not been troubled enough by the answers to stop himself? What had tipped the balance? Wufei had so many questions. He didn't think he could justifiably ask any of them. Duo had confided in him, friend to friend, but he hadn't invited any openness between them. They picked at each other, stabbed quickly when they saw an opening, but they didn't-- see each other. Not yet.

I want you to see the scars, he remembered saying, remembered the dullness settling in his chest, the heaviness of realising Duo didn't, and did not want to.

By the time they reached Wufei's flat, he had lost all of his elation. Duo sneaked him frequent glances full of uncertainty and an increasing wariness, but Wufei couldn't shake his mood. He was physically tired. He struggled to climb the three flights of stairs, even when Duo unobtrusively lent him the support of a hand under his elbow. He could not close his aching hand around his key, and Duo took it from him to open his door. Wufei went through gladly, until he realised Duo hadn't followed him across the jamb.

"If you don't come in," Wufei said sharply, "I will never forgive you."

Duo relaxed into a grin. He took an ostentatious step over the threshold. "Empty your bag," he answered. "I want to make tea."

"You'll be up all night from caffeine." But he obeyed. He set his cups and the canister of leaves on his peeling tabletop.

"I can sleep anywhere, anytime." Duo examined his hotplate, and flicked it on to warm. "I'm going to go fill up the pot. I'll be coming back. I say that so you know you don't go adding ‘runaway' to my list of sins."

"I imagine your list of sins is quite long enough without my additions." He meant it to be flippant, but given his own train of thought he wished he hadn't spoken at all. But Duo laughed easily, and the trail of his footsteps up the corridor to the kitchen was easy, too.

"We can take a pass," Duo said, when he returned.

"Why do you do that?" He took the pot and set it over the hotplate. The wet underside hissed against the heat. He separated a spoonful of loose green shavings between the cups.

"Why'd I do what?"

"Make things so easy," Wufei said. "Make them my choice."

"It is your choice," Duo answered. He inspected Wufei's window, and seemed fascinated by the view of the alley below, the lights strung between buildings, the bright yellow and red signs with the big painted characters advertising dumpling shops and fresh seafood. "It has to be your choice," he added absently.

"Because you're so sure of what you want?" He capped the tea canister and caught himself on the verge of re-packing it in his bag. He didn't know what to do.

"Because." Duo trailed a finger along one thin pane of glass, but all the dust was on the outside. "I'm not Trowa Barton, and this isn't prison."

Wufei did not like that answer, but Duo's back was impervious to his glares. "How am I supposed to respond to that?"

Duo shrugged, and turned finally. "S'il vous plait."

Unrepentant grin. And something about the eyes, too, that was different than that entirely, but Wufei did not know what it meant, or even how to find out.

"You're not normal," he said finally. Duo laughed. So did Wufei, but he found himself mirthless. He eased into a chair at his crooked little table, rubbing at the stiffness in his burned hand. "This…" He couldn't quite open the fingers. It had been a long day. And he'd had too much sun--his hands were noticeably darker, and the skin on the back of his neck tingled and tightened with movement. When he raised his eyes, he noticed the red patch on Duo's nose, too.

"This what?"

"Isn't easy for me."

Duo came a step closer. "I know."

"I had plans," Wufei said. "You know? And an understanding of what was expected of me, and of what I could count on in return. You... you're a wildcard. A seductive--"

"Seductive?" Duo repeated, with a hopeful tug of the lips.

"--chaotic unknown." He stretched his fingers. "And for as long as I've known you it's been that way."

He heard the shift of Duo's worn sandals on the floor. "I don't mean to be." He sounded subdued. Wufei concentrated on rubbing feeling back to his knuckles. "Honestly."

"It's who you are. And it's why I... why I want you. No matter how much it terrifies me."

Duo scuffed a foot along a poorly aligned floorboard. The mattress creaked. He was sitting on the bed when Wufei looked up, sitting on the bed where they'd slept together last night, only now, after their day together, Wufei wondered that it had, honestly, not occurred to him how sexual that might have been.

"I don't mean to disrupt your world," Duo said. "I didn't think I would. You just-- you're in your own little space, no matter where you are. I was just lonely. I didn't mean to mess anything up."

It was not a large apartment. It was even smaller with Duo there, too. There were just four steps between the chair where Wufei sat and his bed, four steps he had taken every night since he'd rented the place.

"Is that what you think I think?"

"I don't know what you think."

"I think sometimes you're more stupid than I am." Four steps. He put his hand under Duo's chin and lifted it. For the second time, he kissed Duo.

It was good. Better, this time, because he wasn't as nervous about it, because he had time to appreciate the feel of it, the consequences, and the urgency of his own fears only heightened his sense of it, rather than overwhelming him. Duo tilted his head back for it until Wufei pulled him to his feet. Hand around his wrist in a limp clasp that tightened slowly, and his head stayed tilted, his spine curved back--Wufei would never have expected such sweetness, such--submissiveness. It opened possibilities that he never would have imagined, like a tea blossom unfurling in boiling water.

"You," he started to say, but without any idea of what should come next. He slipped his arm about Duo's waist, pulled them chest to chest. He kissed Duo again, harder. Harder when Duo bent back with him, crushing Duo's mouth under his as if he were angry. He was angry, a little, but he didn't know why. Duo's hand spasmed on his shoulder, gripped his shirt. Wufei sighed, and let go of all emotion but the positive. Duo was willing, and that was a gift. It was Wufei's responsibility to do it justice. As if he had followed Wufei's thoughts, Duo relaxed even more, supine against Wufei's body. Wufei cupped his cheek, rubbed his jaw with his thumb, and felt Duo's lips move in a smile.

"If we do this," Wufei murmured, "will you ever be able to trust that it was you I wanted and not-- whatever comes next?"

Duo fingered Wufei's hair away from his face. His expression was unusually serious. "I trust you."

"You don't value yourself highly enough."

"I know my worth." He circled Wufei's ear, mapped a trail down his neck.

"I don't think you know what you're worth to me."

"I don't know if you know either." He drew a deep breath through the nose. "If you were Heero I would know. I always knew. If you were Quat. If you were Trowa, we wouldn't be here, I think." He pursed his lips. "Did you love him? You didn't talk like you loved him."

"Yes." His eyes closed in an involuntary blink. "Yes. But it wasn't... I loved him."

Duo's hand stopped on his neck.

"It wasn't hard," Wufei said at last. "I've always believed love should be, just a little. Look at me. You never loved before?"

"Not love with sex."

Wufei didn't know what to make of that. It was Duo, for once, who seemed to struggle with words. His lips flattened, and then he shook his head.

Duo was not a virgin; he couldn't be, could he? But he was, self-confessed, a gay man, a gay man who'd lived with a woman since the war. Until her traumatic death. And he'd been lost and wandering since then. Alone. Lonely. Wufei traced the little scar next to his eye. He said, "Maybe this time we can both see what that feels like."

Duo looked down with a swallow. It wasn't easy, they were standing that close, but it was uncertainty, it was even a healthy dose of fear. Possibility. Possibility meant change. There was reason to fear that.

"I want to try."

"Are you sure?" Duo almost tumbled onto his sentence. "I mean are you really sure? I show up out of the blue yonder and I know what I'm like, I know it's not fair, and I'm sorry, Wufei, it was selfish coming here, making you accept me here, it was selfish. I meant it to be selfish."

"No, I'm not sure. I can't remember the last time I was confident about anything. If I fail, it impacts more than just me." He kissed Duo firmly. A string of saliva hung between them, thin as spiderweb, until Duo licked it away. "We're both selfish beings. It's human. Isn't it?"

Duo's brow went smooth, and then, slowly, his teeth peeked between his lips as his smile grew. "I'm fairly sure it is."

"Yes."

This time, it felt entirely natural--effortless. Duo's lips moved against his. A day. He'd never once kissed Trowa, not in all the years of their agreement in their little cell of clear plastic walls and the viperish audience of their fellow convicts. There had been kisses afterward, involuntarily given, nothing more than sloppy gestures of mutual contempt. He'd never guessed that one day he'd welcome it, be hungry for it.

"Don't run from me," he whispered, and pushed Duo against the wall, held him there with both hands on his jaw, their mouths smashed together. No, this he knew. This he remembered. Duo's legs opened for him when he nudged one foot with his shoe. His heart was pounding horrifically as he pressed to Duo, but so was Duo's, his pulse racing where Wufei sucked on it. Duo was as passionate as he was, though. Whenever there was a pause Duo was there, coming after him, demanding more in a silent shout. He was hard, unbelievably hard. Everything but the smell and the taste of Duo went black at the edge of his eyes. His pain and exhaustion were forgotten. He slid his hands beneath Duo's loose cotton shirt along hot skin. He could feel each of Duo's ribs, but that was nothing to the salt of his collar bones, the little nubs of his nipples, the slip of sweat starting between his pectorals. Duo breathed encouragement as Wufei pulled the buttons through the worn holes by wrenching each half of the shirt in opposite directions. It fluttered to the floor at their feet as Wufei curled his fingers to trail his nails over Duo's chest, leaving tiny raised scratches and a wave of gooseflesh. Duo's mouth hung open, his breath panting in Wufei's ear.

They were on the bed without his being conscious of moving. Duo was all but naked, his trousers hanging open at the waist and slipping further as they frantically pushed them away. Wufei was still fully clothed, but Duo was trying, frantically trying, his hands roaming, never so much as slowing when they left his healthy skin and slid over the rough grafts and scars, but Wufei felt it; it shocked him. He caught Duo by the wrists, and they both froze.

"Like this," Wufei whispered voicelessly. He held Duo's hands, then pressed them flat. Flat down on the biggest graft, the one on his side beneath his armpit down to the bottom edge of his ribcage. "You feel it?"

"Don't do this, Wufei."

"Please." He pushed Duo's unwilling hand down his side, shifted to drag his fingers over the crinkled hard burns over his stomach and down the jagged edge that interrupted the hair at his groin.

Then Duo's fingers ventured further, without Wufei's to guide them. Wufei followed them, and curled them around his sex. For a moment, a moment, he was staring straight into Duo's eyes.

"I don't have any condoms," he said.

Duo's touch on his cock slowed. "I'm clean."

Wufei shook his head. "I mean-- They test everyone, on release. I haven't been with anyone since."

Duo's teeth made indents on his reddened lower lip. "I forgot."

"If you don't want to risk it... I can go find some." His noisy upstairs neighbour had to have whole boxes, from the sounds that came out of there regularly.

"I meant I forgot you were-- Have you ever had sex because you wanted to?"

"I want to now." He let his weight fall between Duo's legs again. "I don't want to stop. Not yet."

"You stop when you want, not when you think I want."

"That's not how it works. This has to be honest. And mutual. Or it'll poison us both."

Time skipped ahead crazily, and he would never have any solid memory of what surely had been pauses and awkward acrobatics and minor embarrassments of inelegant mistakes. What he did remember was Duo's sure grip, and the feel of Duo in his own hand, hot and solid and slippery. He remembered the scrape of hair on Duo's chest and navel and between his legs, the shaky exhale when he ventured a wet finger to mark his path. He remembered the feel of Duo's blunt knees when he hooked them under his elbows to raise Duo's legs, remembered how long Duo's neck looked, tendons straining in the shadows. He remembered Duo giving him consent, remembered the exact word-- yes.

It was like the waves of the ocean, the ocean he had lived barely an hour away from for years and never seen until Duo had brought him there. He rocked against Duo, wave after wave, and then he was drowning, and then he lay on shore again, with Duo breathing against his mouth, bodies locked tightly together.

It was like nothing he'd ever felt before, and somewhere deep inside himself, he marvelled that he'd lived his entire life without knowing that feeling existed.

It took an age for the little discomforts to register. Duo's hand was a fist in his hair, pulling too sharply. He became too aware of his nudity, and Duo's, spread out beneath him. And when awareness returned enough, he was horrified to realise he hadn't thought at all about Duo's comfort. He nearly tumbled them both from the mattress in his haste to pull from Duo's body. Duo's laughter shattered the silence. He locked his legs around Wufei's hips and refused to let him leave the bed.

"What?" he said.

"Making sure," Wufei answered, and rubbed at the heat in his face.

"Making sure what?"

"You don't hate me now."

"Why would I hate you, you moron?"

"I'm-- clumsy at it."

"Shut the hell up."

It sounded all right, then. Wufei allowed himself to relax, even to risk a smile. Duo stretched, joints popping loudly, dropped his head to the pillow, his eyes closed.

"When you told me about Trowa... I kind of thought you were the one on the bottom," Duo murmured. "Sorry."

"I was."

"Oh." Duo blinked his eyes open.

"I never did it like this." He touched Duo's thigh, thinking Duo might let him go now, but Duo barely moved.

"Could have fooled me."

"I have an imagination," he said defencively.

"Obviously."

"You're laughing at me."

"I was thinking about it." Finally the legs around his waist released. "I gotta move."

"Sorry."

"Who's sorry?" Duo pushed him onto his back and settled beside him, his cheek propped on his arm. "So was I better?"

He didn't even have to ask. "Yes," he said. "Was I?"

Duo touched his hair, carefully combed a lock into place behind Wufei's ear. "I wouldn't kick you out of bed for eating biscuits."

"Then you'll have to stay."

There was more than enough light to read the stillness in Duo's face. "I think it's actually getting cold in here," he replied, and bent to wrestle the sheet out from under them. He lay back against Wufei's chest and pulled it over their legs.

Ah.

He could be happy with this, he thought in the silence after that. He could be actually happy with this, if he let himself, if he could just adopt Duo's belief in that magical wishful mindset--want a friend, make a friend of what's available. Want a romance, make a partner of the man who'd already opened his bed. It was something. It was more than he'd had, anyway. If nothing else, Wufei had always known better than to wish for permanence--but he could make something out of this, for as long as it lasted.

"Don't be mad at me," Duo said, a little while later.

"Why would I be?"

"I wish I could say it."

He covered Duo's hand on his breast. "Don't make any promises."

"I don't have any promises left."

"Shh. I don't care." He should have turned off the light before they'd got into bed. He would wait until Duo was asleep, now. Or maybe just cover his eyes. It had to be past midnight now. Dawn would be coming soon.

Duo might be gone by then.

Would Duo even wake him? He could accept that without regret if it happened, knowing his path was already diverted, that he would still be changed even if he never saw Duo again now, but--

But.

"I want to go back to the beach tomorrow," he said. "Come with me. I'll teach you to swim."

Duo was, for the first time, speechless. Wufei turned his head to look. Then Duo smacked him soundly on the chest.

"I told you I'm scaredy."

"You're stronger than that, Duo."

"I'm strong enough to admit my fears," he said indignantly.

"Do you trust me?"

"You had to make it about that."

"I know, it's dirty, but answer the question."

"Arrr." Duo rolled onto his stomach, more than halfway onto Wufei's stomach, and pressed his ear Wufei's heartbeat. Wufei smoothed his wild hair. He would have to remember the comb in the morning, and make a proper job of the braid. He was fairly sure Duo would let him.

"I trust you," Duo said. He muttered something more about the water, but Wufei didn't listen to it. He covered Duo's mouth with his hand, and said over him, "I'll take care of you."

Duo laughed and moved Wufei's hand. "I'm thirty-seven. I'd say I do all right for myself."

"You're care-worn." That silenced Duo again. "I'd like to help with that."

The sharp bite to his nipple made him jump. "I'll drown," Duo said. "I'll drown both of us."

"You're not going to drown."

"You can drown in six inches of water. I read it somewhere."

"Only if you're stupid. Are you stupid?"

"How did you want me to answer that question?"

"Honestly."

"I'm not the brightest crayon in the box." Lips fastened over the nipple, the strangest and most erotic sensation, and warm wet swipes of a laving tongue. "If I do this, I want something from you."

"I haven't denied you anything yet," Wufei said, unable to keep the wry reality from his voice.

"Good." Duo sucked on his flesh, then let him go. "Then I'll do it. I'll let you know when I want it."

"All right. So tomorrow we'll go swimming."

"I'll have nightmares all night."

"If you do, wake me," Wufei suggested daringly. "I'll make love to you until they stop."

Duo laughed brightly against his chest. "Let's hurry up and go to sleep, is what I say."

+

They took the same bus to the beach. They even had the same driver.

It had been hard to wake Duo in the morning. Wufei had expected otherwise, though why, he couldn't have said. There was plenty of time to buy coffee, even if he had to transfer it to his tea pot to keep it warm. Duo slept on, almost unresponsive to the sound of Wufei's voice, his touch. He held Duo's head on his lap for almost an hour, plying his long tangled hair with water and the comb, and to all appearances Duo actually slept through it.

The bus ride was nervous, for one of them at least. Duo tapped his foot the whole way, until Wufei set his shoe over Duo's toes. They didn't go to the front to talk to the driver, this time. They didn't go to the front at all until they reached their stop, and then Wufei nearly had to pull Duo along. It was a bright day, a hot day. Wufei was sweating under his dark cotton, but he tied a kerchief about his neck anyway and made sure Duo did the same. Too much sun would be dangerous, and they'd have enough reflecting from the water.

"Well," Duo said. "There it is. Lovely."

"It is." Their feet had even found the exact spot where they'd stood before, on the empty parking lot overlooking the beach below. It was hard to believe the oceans had once been threatened. It seemed so vast, so shockingly blue. "It's beautiful."

"Shame to spoil it with human intervention."

Wufei found he could smile tolerantly. It wasn't often in life that he'd been able to play the teacher to another's pupil. And he knew Duo wasn't really objecting, just making noise. "We won't touch anything. Come on." He squeezed Duo's hand, and drew him toward the walkway.

"So what do we do here?" Duo said, his leather sandals clattering on the weather-worn boards. A thin breeze waved the tall brown grasses on either side of them, blew salt-smell to their noses. "Is there a process or do we just kind of leap in?"

The sand was burning even through his shoes. Wufei toed them off at the edge of the walkway, stripped his socks off beside them. "Yours, too," he said, and with a sigh Duo shed his sandals. "Come into the water with me."

"So this is an object lesson." Duo's hand was damp, gripping too tightly. "Is there a moral?"

"Take a few breaths. Relax," he advised. They made it to the line of dead sea weeds and broken shells from high tide when Duo began to resist his pull. He was breathing through his nose, hard breaths, uneven breaths. "There's nothing in that water to fear."

"How deep is it?"

"We won't go further than waist deep." He faced backward, faced Duo, to take both his hands. "The drop off is way far out. Much further than we're going. Trust me."

Duo's look was sharp-eyed. "You get two more uses of that, tops."

"I'll try to be conservative then." He tugged Duo back into motion. Finally they stepped on wet sand. The first frothy edge of a wave washed over their toes, and Duo rocked back. Wufei kept him there for three more waves, hoping the distant roar would register as soothing, that the cool water would feel good in the burning heat. There was sweat on Duo's face. His mouth was twisted tightly. When Wufei brushed a kiss to his temple, he whispered, "I don't want to do this."

"Just to the knees then," Wufei agreed. "And we'll stop for the day." He squeezed Duo's fingers. The next step back was steep, just like the day before. A quick downward slope. It brought Wufei knee-deep, Duo up to his calves. One more step back, and Wufei could feel the current of the waves.

"The water feels good," he said. "Cool. Clean."

Duo shuffles from foot to foot. "The sand is moving."

"The water drags it around a little. It won't disappear out from under you." He moved back toward Duo, wrapped his arms about him. He felt the splash of water against his back, the sun beating down on their hats, and dominating all of it, the threat, the promise, that they might float away, if they let go. "You feel it? It's more secure than Space ever was."

"I never believed that." Duo began to shiver. A drip of perspiration fell down his cheek. Wufei thumbed it away.

"We'll just stay like this a while." He made Duo kiss him, though Duo barely responded. He rubbed Duo's warm back and stroked his braid. Minutes passed like that, silent, with only a solitary bird call to break it.

"I drowned her," Duo said suddenly.

"Drowned who?" he asked carefully, quietly.

"The girl. The one who killed Hilde."

Had he really? He must have. There was nothing Wufei wanted to talk about less. "Where?"

"Her bath." Duo's eyes were tightly shut, his eyelashes clumping with moisture. "I hid in her house for hours. She was bathing. I held her down."

"This is nothing like that, Duo."

Duo couldn't wipe his forehead without letting go. Wufei did it for him, and washed his face with the chilly seawater. "It's really not," he said. "It's nothing like that. She's not in the water. She's nowhere near us." He wet his hands again, had to pry them away from Duo's first, but then bathed Duo's fingers in the water. "See? The sea here knows nothing about that day."

Duo swallowed. Wufei could feel it, his palm curved to Duo's neck as he did it. He tried to step further back, but Duo wouldn't be budged.

"They baptise people like this."

"I've seen it once, yes." He tried again to step back, and this time Duo nearly pulled him off balance.

"Good thing God and me already have an understanding."

He'd had a cousin who converted to Christianity, to marry a white woman. Mostly he'd been too young to understand all the disapproval of his elders. They'd worn white, too, though white in Buddhism was for mourning, and he hadn't understood that either. A priest from L3 had come. He'd brought his own holy water, when the elders refused to provide a pool. Buried in the likeness of His death, reborn into new life. He'd found it disturbing.

"Your understanding," he said. "What is it?"

Duo's hands shifted to his shirt. He held tight enough to pull the fabric across Wufei's back. "He leaves me alone and I take what's due when the time comes."

"Interesting arrangement." Crushed so close Duo finally had to move with him. They were thigh-deep. "Are you good with it?"

"It's just occurred to me that we didn't bring towels."

"The sun will dry us."

"Bodies float. I remember that."

"There are scientific reasons for that." He wrapped his arm around Duo's neck and guided his head down to his shoulder. "I'm not going to let you drown," he murmured against Duo's ear. He thought, for a triumphant second, that he'd finally got through--

Until a portentously large wave swamped them. Duo didn't panic, but it was a close thing, frantic panting against Wufei's chest.

"We're soaked now," Wufei said uselessly.

"Yeah." The sand was shifting under their bare feet, settling slowly. "Are we done now?"

"We can be done, yes. If you're ready to go in."

"Please." It was a plea. With a sigh, Wufei surrendered.

"Let's go," he whispered.

They sat on the high dry sand at the bottom of the hill for a long time. Duo wouldn't look at him, though he seemed better once he was out of the water. He wanted to hold Duo's hand, but Duo had his arms wrapped about his knees as he stared over the ocean.

"Do you hate me for that?" he asked at last.

"No. I get why you did it." He still trembled intermittently. "I'm just-- kind of not stable. Ish. You know?"

He shifted close enough to Duo that their shoulders touched. "I think you're fine."

"No. I know I'm not." It was softly spoken. Duo freed a hand and held it out. Wufei took it.

"We can work on that," he offered.

"I'm not entirely sure this is even real."

He pressed Duo's hand, then decided it was not the time for the small, dignified gestures he would want in his own pain. Small and dignified weren't part of Duo's world. He wrapped his arm about Duo's shoulders and pulled him close. "You feel real," he said, "to me."

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