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

Stay, Stupid + Part 7

"I was making bets with myself which of you would show up first."

Duo froze in the slim shadow that framed the battered stairwell. It was a good instinct, and almost quick enough. The afternoon sun didn't penetrate the windowless corridors in Wufei's complex, and steps that had creaked even under Trowa's careful feet made no noise at all for Duo's. But Trowa had been waiting, and ready for him.

Trowa crossed his arms over his chest. "Hello to you too," he added. "He's not here. You might as well come out."

He came easing out of the stairwell as if he might go plummeting back down it at the slightest provocation. His eyes skipped blankly over Trowa to the door, then returned, snapping, right to the Preventers patch on his jacket.

"He probably didn't expect you to come back," Trowa observed.  "What are you holding?"

Silence greeted his question. Duo slid down the hall toward him-- no, toward Wufei's flat, more accurately. The only sound that distinguished him from a ghost was the slight crinkle of celophane as he bent. He left a little bag propped against the door. Candied almonds. The cheerful little ribbon was a pathetic sort of effort, contrasted to the bitten nails and dirty coat that had produced it.

The sudden scratchy voice made Trowa jump. There was something hypnotic about the coiled tautness of Duo's movements. Like watching a wild animal creeping warily toward the edge of civilisation.

"He know you're here yet?"

"Haven't seen him, no." Trowa slouched with exaggerated casualness. Duo was still staring at him. "Wherever he is, he's gone all day. I keep missing him."

"Why come back now?  It's been years since he got out.  The last time."

"He's been through the wringer, the past couple months.  I'm checking on him." Eyes back up to his face, unblinking behind the ragged hair that trailed from his hood. It was snowing outside. There were flakes slowly melting all over Duo's clothes, making dirty puddles where his boots had stepped. "Why'd you? Come back.  You took off the second things got ugly."

"Ugly," Duo repeated softly.  "Yeah.  Hey.  I owed you something."

There was one second between figuring out what the fist was doing coming toward his face and the instinct, still every bit as fast as Duo's, that ducked him backward. Knuckles grazed his cheekbone and left an impact of pain and numbness, and then Duo stumbled backward with the force of Trowa's shove.

"Calm the hell down," he hissed.  "Someone will call the cops."

"Worried about that, are you?"  Duo was panting, though it hadn't been that much exertion. Plenty of expression on him now-- blind fury. "Leave him alone.  He doesn't deserve to have to live through you again."

"It doesn't have a damn thing to do with you." They were going to fight. Trowa could feel it, a frisson building strength like a beam canon powering up. It was crazy. But then, so was Duo, by all accounts. He hadn't believed it before.

Duo's hands clenched. Released. Made fists again. "You don't get to have him.  You don't get him, he doesn't want you anymore.  You had a chance to be there when he got out of prison.  He didn't mean enough to you then to be there.  You're probably only here because-- because Quatre called you, didn't he?"

"He was mine first."  It was a petty little blow. Beneath him, but Duo always had brought out the worst in him.

Not that there was an always, with Duo. Duo the teenager had actually testified for him at his trial, once upon a time. Duo the adult had come with Quatre and Catherine when Trowa had been released from jail. That had been only a year after his girlfriend had been killed. He'd already been vague, back then. As mental breaks went, he'd at least done it quietly.

Well, not that quietly. There was the matter of the dead woman.

Trowa had been prepared to be sympathetic. Quatre had asked him to be. Wufei would probably want him to be, if they really were together now. And Trowa wholly agreed that Wufei deserved to have his desires met. It was just that meeting them meant meeting Duo, and Duo just-- met him like nails on a chalkboard, and wouldn't let up.

Like right now. Staring at the badge on his chest. Trowa said, "It's not an actual betrayal, you know."

"Yes," Duo said. "It really is."

"So you can forgive Wufei, but not me? What about Heero? They just made him Section Commander for all the colonies. Quite the little ceremony. The brass think he's the best thing since sliced bread." He reached down for the little almond bag, tossed it in his palm. "Tea one day, drawing paper another.  Now almonds.  You hit all the right notes." He pulled the ribbon loose and shook a few of the nuts into his hand. He tilted his head back to pop them in his mouth.

Duo slammed him to the wall, before he could so much as chew. Trowa strained his neck back away from the edge of a knife pressed to his carotid.

No. No, once the pounding of his own blood retreated a little, he knew it by the feel. Not the sharpened side of the blade. The blunted. Duo wasn't that far gone.

Just nearly. Trowa kept his hands out wide at his sides, the almonds still clutched in his left. "What's stopping you from really using that thing, Killer?" he said softly.  "You know you want to.  You kill anyone who touches what's yours."

Close enough to smell coffee on Duo's breath. "Still drugging yourself to sleep at night?" Trowa taunted. He kept his voice low, confusing the signals, riding some probably unhealthy urge to see how far he could push before Duo really did lose control. "Flogging yourself along with caffeine during the daylight. You didn't think it would be that hard, did you? You didn't think you'd dream about killing her every time you closed your eyes. It's a lot different, isn't it, being a murderer, and not a soldier?"

"Shut up." Duo pressed him even harder to the wall. The knife stayed exactly where it was, though, not a millimetre closer.

"Where will he be when they lock you up?  Do you think he could live with it?"

"Shut up, Barton."

"Do you really even want him? This isn't how men fight for what they want, Duo."

Duo physically muzzled him but pushing his jaws shut and holding them with a hand over his face. He could still breathe, and that was all that kept him from fighting back. It wasn't time yet.

Duo was struggling. It was hard to hate a man for something he couldn't control. He didn't hate Duo, not really, and if Duo made Wufei happy then fine-- but Trowa had his own kind of honour, Preventer and spy and mercenary though he had been. He could wait it out. Give Duo time to figure himself out.

Assuming they had that kind of time, before Wufei came back and saw them trying to kill each other in his building hallway.

Maybe they did. Apparently Duo did still know the difference between a threat and an annoyance. He loosened his grip just enough for Trowa to slide free.

So he did. He put a good five feet of space between them, and held out the almonds.

"I could arrest you for assault." He waited for Duo to take the little bag, but Duo wasn't moving, wasn't even looking away from the wall. He tied the little ribbon and tossed the whole of it back toward Wufei's door. It landed almost where he'd picked it up. "I won't. But you'll meet a Preventer one day who'll be fast enough."

Duo finally stirred. The knife disappeared out of his hand as if it had never been there. Slick trick. A little too much practise. He answered, "Quatre's sick."

For a shot in the dark, that was excellent aim. Trowa kept his face stony out of sheer habit. "Losing time, Maxwell? That was years ago."

"He relapsed."

Past a certain point-- past a certain point, and it wasn't a game. Not a game, those two words. Information. Information passed between two men fighting on different sides of the war.

Information. Nothing more than information.

"Say whatever you have to say to Wufei," Duo said. "But don't you dare stand there and pretend you're doing this as a friend. That's the first word they tell you to forget, in Preventers."

Trowa wet his lips just enough that they could part. "I'll tell him you stopped by."

+

"Duo!"

It was hard to say what made him certain. The man was just another face on the street, anonymous as all men were in the snow and the gathering dusk. If there was a braid he couldn't see it; but somehow he knew with unshakable certainty.

He called again, with all his considerable lungpower. More than one head turned to him, but he was blind to all but the one that mattered.

The man slowed. He turned.

"Duo," he said a third time. "Duo, wait. Damn it, stay."

"I can't."

He did not acknowledge those words. He moved as fast as he could up the street, pushing past the children loitering outside the dice bar and the old woman who blindly blocked the pavement with her kiosk of squawking chickens and ducks. He slipped in the slush on the gutter and was caught by Tony Wong, who seemed to follow him in hero-worship since the Preventers had let him go. He shook Tony off and pelted into the middle of the street toward Duo. If Duo ran from him, there was no way he could catch up, still so out of shape from so long in prison. But Duo didn't run.

"You came back," he wheezed. Duo's hand slipped under his elbow, instinctive support, but he grabbed at Duo's shoulder to hold him there. "I knew you would. Come home with me, now. Please."

"There's a little problem with that." But Duo was already reaching for Wufei's face, as if he couldn't stop. Just touching. Eyebrow, cheekbone. Lips.

Wufei returned it all, cupping Duo's stubbled cheek. His eyes stung, with cold or with hot tears, he didn't know, but all awareness of his own weakness vanished in the shuddering of his frantic heart. "Just come home," he said thickly.  "It will all be fine again."

"There's something you have to do there first.  Alone."  He leaned his forehead to Wufei's, then kissed him, right there in the middle of the street, a deep bruising kiss that was love and-- regret.

"Don't go," Wufei begged him. Dignity be damned. He refused to let go of Duo's coat, made Duo peel his fingers off. "Damn it-- Duo-- don't go, please--"

"I'm sorry."  Duo separated at last. "I'll come back.  I promise.  I swear.  I'll come back, even if it's just so you can tell me to go.  I swear."

"Wait. Duo, please..."

"I'm sorry," Duo repeated, and was gone.

That had taken care of Tony, anyway. No-one would look at him, at the unseemly display he'd made. They almost never looked at him anyway, though, and he could do nothing more than note it before the shame faded into the dull ache. He stared after Duo until he disappeared around a corner.

The lobby lock was broken again. Someone had put a chair against it from the inside, and the legs scraped loudly over the old linoleum when he pushed open the door. He replaced the chair. The overhead light flickered, but stayed on. He began the long trudge up the stairs to his flat.

I can survive this, he told himself, one word for every stair. I. Will. Live. With. This.

He had to stop, between the second and third floor. He didn't allow himself more than a few moments. It was only unbearable for a few moments. When he could swallow, when he could breathe, he kept climbing, and refused to let himself think about it again.

Self-composure was a joke. When he saw Trowa Barton standing in his hallway, he was so numb he couldn't even react.

Trowa was obviously waiting for him. He straightened, hands coming out of his pockets. "Hello," he said.

"Hello." Oh, it was laughable. Except the tickle in his gut didn't outlast the strange kind of fatalism that came over him. Trowa was in uniform.

"Can I come in?" Trowa asked.

He remembered he had hands, and that one of them held his keys. He had to put his back to Trowa, to open his door. It stirred something ugly and angry in him. Rage-- rage he knew. Rage he knew how to deal with. It was even a kind of strength, and he needed that, for this.

He was in complete command of himself when he stepped across his threshold. He kept his back to Trowa, deliberately, to show what contempt he held for the idea of facing another Preventer as if they were his equal. He strode to his cabinet for the water bottle, head held high. "Are you thirsty?" he said over his shoulder. "I don't have anything other than this. Your fellow officers cleared out my stores."

Trowa shut the door. "Water's fine." Wufei heard his footsteps coming near, and obstinately kept his gaze on the glasses he was pouring. He did look up when Trowa put something on the counter next to him; only because it was such a surprising thing.

"Almonds?"

"It's not from me," Trowa said.

Suspicion became a kind of saddened warmth. From Duo. He touched the little ribbon. Red silk.

"Holding up?"

"What else would I do?" He sipped from his glass. If he was going to be taken again, he wanted to be hydrated, at least. He thought perhaps it would be wise to take two aspirin tabs, as well. Prepare for the discomforts, this time, while he could.

There was puzzlement growing in Trowa's face. Familiar, that face. But familiar only-- sideways. If he had ever really sat and just looked at Trowa head-on, he couldn't remember it. Certainly not during the war, when their interaction had been either at a time of Wufei's shame or of Trowa's lost memory. Not in prison, not from the moment he'd waked in the hospital ward to the last night in their shared cell, when they had stayed in their separate cots and stared at the ceiling in the silence of their own thoughts. There had been no good-byes.

Odd, to look at him now. He was a man, well-grown. Tall and strong. He had a firm jaw, a proud straight nose. Hazel eyes more green than brown. He was a handsome man. Maybe one of the handsomest men he'd ever seen, and that included Treize Khushrenada.

Not a thing like Duo, at all.

"Arrest me," Wufei said finally. "It's what you came for. Just let me change my clothes before you drag me back outside."

"Arrest you?" Trowa's expression cleared. He even smiled slightly in amusement. "I'm not here to take you away."

He didn't quite believe it, though he didn't think Trowa would lie-- about that. "Then what are you here for?" he probed cautiously. "Information? I already told the others all I knew about Mariemaia--"

"Fuck Mariemaia." Trowa opened his coat and took out a brown folder. He set it on the counter by the almonds. "I came to bring you that. Well, to bring it for Duo. He was here, by the way. Left before I... had a chance to bring it up."

He put down his glass before he squeezed it hard enough to break it. "What is it?"

"Proof in paperwork. It's a conclusive forensics report that clears Duo of any and all responsibility for murder."

He was too surprised by that to remember his fears. "Conclusive?"

"It took us three years to push it through. You know the higher-ups. They hate to let go of a bad idea." Trowa leaned forward, ignoring his instinctive flinch, and kissed his cheek. "You look good, considering. I'm glad." His finger brushed Wufei's nape, and then was gone. "I like the hair."

"Trowa..."

"I just came to check on you. It was time. Nothing else." Trowa stepped back. It put spiritual space between them, as well as physical. Wufei could feel him drawing away almost like the ocean flowing back after a wave. "Duo's spooked now, but ride it out.  He'll come around.  He's made up his mind that he's yours.  And you're his, whether you're ready or not."

Wufei let go of his own breath, slowly, cleanly. "Where will you go now?"

"Back to work." An undercurrent of some kind of strange uncertainty made Trowa hesitate. "Or maybe I'll head for the colonies. It's been a long time since I've seen..."

"Seen who?"

Trowa shook his head. Ah. There, then, was the Trowa he knew, the one who showed the world nothing but illusion. If there were greater truths to Trowa, they weren't for Wufei to know. Wufei had almost always been part of the world.

But Trowa was no longer his to worry about.

"Look," Trowa said. "My number is in there, all right? Call if you ever need a word from up the food chain."

"Yes." He touched the envelope. A pardon, that's what it was; a pass. A possibility. Then, he said, "No. About the number. It's time to stand on my own."

"You always did. I was just there to make sure no-one got in your way while you were doing it." Trowa kissed his cheek again. "Keep the number. Nothing says you have to use it."

+

The knock two mornings later shot him from his seat at his table to the door. He wrenched it open, careless of the noisy creaking, with Duo's name on his lips.

It died to silence unspoken. The man in his corridor was Devinder Chadhur.

And then as quickly as he'd been disappointed he was seized with a new worry. "What?" he demanded. "What's happened?"

Chadhur raised both hands, palms out, in a peaceful gesture. "No emergencies.  Just a visit."

He opened his door wider and stepped away from it, since he doubted he had much choice about it. He was starting to get used to Preventers invading his apartment. "Come in then."

But Chadhur unexpectedly declined. "No, your private home should be exactly that.  Perhaps you'd take a walk with me?  I hear you like to walk."

"Are you going to arrest me once we're outside?"

"No."  Chadhur gave him a small smile, slightly apologetic.  "I'm here as a-- well, I suppose I can't say friend.  But my intentions are entirely friendly."

No, he couldn't say friend. Wufei didn't feel much warmth for the young man, or trust, despite Chadhur's eventual recommendation that he was innocent. But it still came down to not having any choice but to hear whatever the agent had come to say. He locked his door, and followed Chadhur outside.

It was only seven in the morning. Some of the stores were open, and some were just setting up; tourists who came into Chinatown didn't penetrate this far, even when it wasn't the middle of winter, so the markets were small and catered only to the needs of people who wouldn't venture out into greater Melbourne. The old woman with her chickens was there again; Wufei had never yet beat her out to the street. She had her daughter with her today, and the daughter had her daughter too, an infant wrapped in a sling around her slim chest. The girl ducked Wufei's gaze and let her dark thick hair fall over her face. For a moment, Wufei felt in perfect harmony with that sentiment.

As if there hadn't been several minutes of silence on the stairs, Chadhur said, "Or I could treat you.  There's a tea house, I think, just up there."

"A walk," Wufei said, "is all I agreed to."

The younger man answered with a peaceable nod. The pace he struck was easy, almost ambling. The direction he chose would take them to the end of the road, if they followed it long enough; it would take them past the unadorned brownstone Temple of Buddha, or the day care. If either was Chadhur's destination, Wufei couldn't decipher why.

"How are you, Mr Chang?"

"As you see.  Well enough." The rest of the street was all apartments like Wufei's. The men were on their way out to work. Their families were on their way out, too, women taking their children to the elders to be watched, older boys and girls carefully groomed for school headed for the subways and the buses. It was all the normal traffic of every day since he'd first come here.  "What's this about, Agent?"

"Agent no longer."  Chadhur offered another of those small smiles. "I've taken a teaching job at the Uni.  Slower pace, and all."

"Congratulations, then." It was difficult even to look at the man. He'd had only two short weeks to-- adjust, as if he could be expected to do that. It felt as if he'd been picked up out of one world and dropped back into another only half-remembered. It was as well he was not required to work. He had no concentration worth anything. And now it was more precarious than even when Trowa had come to see him. He was off balance, very off his balance, and he feared he hid it badly. All he could see behind his eyes was how he'd thrown those lotus buns in fury. It replayed over and over in his head, the sound of the plate rattling on the floor, the smell of them. The sick pounding of his pulse. How sick he had felt, and how ashamed.

"Thank you," Chadhur answered.  "Well, I'll come to the point, sir.  I'm here as an ambassador of sorts."

"I don't understand."

"You're being asked to serve your nation, Mr Chang." Chadhur halted, and faced him.  "The Preventers would like you to join them."

It was so ridiculous that he laughed, almost too hard. "You're not serious.  You can't be."

Chadhur grinned. "I told them you'd laugh."

It was inconceivable. "Who sent you?"

"My-- former-- superiors were impressed with how you handled yourself.  Is what I'm supposed to say, I think, or something flattering.  The truth is that they want to turn you against Mariemaia Barton.  You may not be a traitor to us, but they're happy to have you be a traitor to her."

A cold prickle of dread crawled down his back.  "Are they giving me a choice? The lot of you never stop, do you?"

"Them, Mr Chang."  Chadhur turned quite serious then. He gazed off up the street, and when Wufei, swimming out of his own morass of thoughts, finally followed his glance, it was to the odd-looking pair of people who loitered by the Temple. His plainclothes Preventers guard. It was Sandoval, and the woman Duo had threatened with her own gun, six months earlier. Watching them talk.

Chadhur said, "Preventers have changed.  I didn't realise how much until you, sir."

"If you're so disturbed by them, why are you working as their ambassador?  None of you can imagine that I'd actually trust you."

"I find that the higher the rank, the further the mind from reality."  He turned back to Wufei.  "I volunteered for precisely that reason, not that I imagine there's much incentive that could tempt you to agree anyway.  Leave Australia.  The failure will be mine, and that's as it should be.  Find yourself a new place and stay low for a while.  This crackpot idea will pass.  Cooler heads will speak up-- I'll petition the President if I have to."

"Why would you do that?  You've already resigned." That unexpected response did nothing to allay his agitation.  "I am not-- none of this is any of your concern now." He didn't want to be a fugitive--

And then a darker apprehension took him. If he ran, they could and would run him down again. They'd have their reason to arrest him again. They would get what they wanted from him either way.

Perhaps he wasn't justified in his bitterness. He had, once upon a time, done just what Preventers now accused him of. He had been a traitor, to the state that he had helped to make. But he hadn't believed in that state, that nation of Earthers and the finicky colonists who had ceased to be his countrymen in his heart. Peace had been a by-product of a war that had gotten so blurred and so distorted that-- yes, damn it, he had rebelled just to hear his own voice above the din. And because he had known it was his choice, he had served his sentence with the sense that it was just.

But this wasn't. It just wasn't.

So maybe it wasn't Chadhur's fault, maybe it was important to have someone in the world doing the job Chadhur had done on him, but, damn, he was angry. He was angry, a thoroughly foolish and pointless and helpless kind of angry that started right there with Chadhur and went, damn it, right on to Trowa who had joined the oppressors and Duo who would rather spend his life running than breathe the same air as a Preventer, and it came right back around to himself, because he had thought he was content with his lot, until this.

He looked at that smiling friendly face on a very pleasant young man who really did have his heart in the right place after all, and he felt more totally isolated than he had the first week after prison.

Chadhur said, as if, perhaps, he might understand a little after all, "I know, sir. But if you stay here, they will bring you in." Wufei heard a solid little exhale before Chadhur spoke again, somewhere in the amorphous dark to his left. "They told me, before I took your assignment, that you Gundam Pilots have a way of creating strange crises of conscience. You're not the first, and I doubt I will be the last. Ask Maxwell what to do. He's got eight years accumulated experience in staying free of Preventers hospitality. I wouldn't wait too long to ask him how he does it."

He couldn't even stir himself to pretend Duo hadn't been hanging around. Chadhur knew. That pair of watch dogs up the street knew. He would have to wait, though. He would wait for Duo for as long as he could.

Chadhur inclined himself in a bow. "I won't trouble you further," he said. "I wish you well and long life, Mr Chang."

+

Melbourne really was a marvellous city. The people were equally serious about ballet and football. They wore high fashion to fast-food restaurants. They held wine tastings to entice passengers stuck in the ungodly rush-hour traffic on the Calder. Not even foot traffic could make it over Westgate Bridge at four on a Friday. The International Flower Show was cancelled for weather almost every year, but they still scheduled it in the storm season, stubborn as pigs. Eastern suburb news was always the same; ‘missing dog found' or ‘fire in Camberwell put out, no injuries'. Of course, the news in the Western suburbs was always the same, too--‘woman found murdered and dumped in Footscray'. ‘Gang fight in Sunshine racially motivated.' The Super Tram stop at Flinders routinely closed for repair. Massive queues of the inconvenienced jostled for seats on the heated stairs at Flinders Station, grumbling until a joke passed through the crowds, and smiles began to replace the frowns.

He'd missed Christmas, his six months in prison. Missed the rest of summer, those bright hot days they'd had together. It was dead of winter now. He had to unpack his coat.

He bought Canto fried noodles from a take-away at the edge of the Chinese neighbourhood and carried it to sit in Yarra Bend Park. The next night he took prawn rice there, and then char shui the night after that. It was almost empty, especially when a week of snow came with early May. He sat ignored by the few passerby, the way he liked it, tucked onto a bench by the walking trail. Only a few boats passed on the water, now, with sparse crowds of tourists and vacationers. Homeless old men huddled on the wooden benches, hunched into their ragged coats, mumbling to themselves. At first, he searched each of their faces for Duo, who had claimed, he dimly remembered, to sleep in parks. It was never him.

Preventers were there, of course. He spotted his pair, Sandoval and the girl. He did not acknowledge them. They watched him, for a while. They left, when he would not be moved. They didn't follow him there again.

He waited. Duo had promised.

Every day that passed, though--he half expected every slight noise in the hall to be Preventers. He did not give up--but it became more difficult, every day, to remember what he was waiting for.

He packed. Everything, this time, not just what little could be stuffed hurriedly into his backpack. For a few days, he reined in his exercise, to stay closer to his apartment. He slept more lightly than ever, alert to even the smallest changes around him.

If Duo was out there, he didn't come forward.

He didn't know how long he would, could, wait. He felt the pressure like the ache in his burns. Every time he set a countdown, though, he let the date pass. Another day. Another after that.

Another.

+

He never did ask why it took so long. The time never felt right. Then he wasn't sure he wanted, or needed, to know the details. Eventually, he forgot.

One night he walked through Melbourne alone.

The next, Duo fell into step with him.

For a long minute, Wufei did not breathe. It was not a dream. He was not asleep. He felt the ground beneath his feet, the blast of the frozen wind, the sting of the snow.

He had slowed. Duo slowed with him. Eyes on his face, wary, searching for signs.

Wufei reached for the fingers dangling at Duo's hip. They were chilly, even in his own cold hand. He squeezed them tight to warm them.

"Where's your hat?" he asked.

Duo's lips turned up in his lined face. "I figure why a hat when you've got a lot of hair?" His free hand rose to tug at his braid. It was ragged, straw-like. Streaked with blond. He'd been somewhere with sun.

"It's cold here," Wufei said.

"Don't scold me.  About that."

"I'm finished." He laced his fingers through Duo's. Duo's smile lingered. He felt one of his own growing, and covered his mouth. He hadn't known he remembered how to do that anymore.

They reached the kerb. The light was red, but there were no cars waiting. They could have crossed safely, if Duo hadn't stopped. Wufei halted next to him.

Duo said, "I missed you."

It was possible to breathe, if he didn't look at Duo. There was a car, after all, speeding too quickly through the light. The driver, a woman, argued with a child in the backseat.

"I'm glad you're here." He wet his lips. "Come home with me?"

"I thought... Yeah. I will."

"I missed hearing what you thought." Green. Duo didn't move, so he didn't move, even though Duo was facing him now, looking at him. He couldn't look back. "Some nights I'd try to imagine it."

"Did you get the accent right?"

"Almost." He kept his eyes on the pavement as he turned quickly. He had a crazy whirling impression of the tatty wool of Duo's coat, the dingy yarn of a scarf. He leaned too close and bashed his nose on Duo's shoulder, as Duo mistook him and leaned forward simultaneously, but then arms were around him and clutching him so hard it winded him. He crammed his eyes shut against the dizziness.

"The smell of your hair..."

"My hair?"

"I remembered that perfectly.  It was torture."

Hands pulled him up by the chin. Duo's mouth crushed to his. And even though they were in the middle of the street and probably the Preventers were just up the road watching through binoculars, everything--earthly--just fell away. He'd been waiting for so long he'd actually believed it was impossible for it to be as good as it had seemed in his imagination.

It was, though.

But the little physical discomforts became bigger, and he finally had to break Duo's hold, though it almost broke his will. "It's all right," he promised. He soothed the crinkle of worry in Duo's forehead. "I just like breathing."  He couldn't stop himself pressing a quick kiss to Duo's neck, but forced himself back a step, then. Duo wouldn't let him any further, his hand tight on Wufei's. It was something terrifically sweet, to touch Duo's skin again.

"You remember once what I asked you? That when I thought of what I wanted, I would ask?"

It was forever ago. The night he had bargained with Duo about learning to swim; the first night they'd been together as lovers. It was only four days ago. "Yes," Wufei agreed softly. "I do remember."

"I have a shuttle," Duo said. "An honest-to-god shuttle. Pick a horizon. It'll be ours."

He laughed. He laughed, relieved. Faint. Excited. He felt--

Completed.

"As far as the fuel tank will take us," he managed, past the thickness in his throat.

"Further." Duo kissed him again. It was gentle at first, tender. They had much to relearn about each other. He was shocked to rediscover that he was the taller, for one. That Duo fit in his arms, when he'd become so large in his thoughts. Then what started almost chastely grew more intimate. Duo's lips pulled at his, but he was the one who teased Duo's apart and searched between them.

Then it wasn't intimacy, it was passion. Heat, and Duo's rage; and some of his own, too. At the Preventers for ripping them apart when they had just realised they had something. At fate, which seemed determined to punish every adult choice he'd ever made. Mariemaia Barton, who probably was guilty of everything Preventers thought she was. At Duo, for running; at Trowa, for coming back.

"Stop thinking," Duo whispered against his throat. "Just for five minutes."

"Five?" He managed to detach his hands from clutching the waistband of Duo's trousers. They ached, but in a good way.

"Five, tops. Been a little hard up, you know."

They stood leaning on each other, warm enough where their bodies met, his heartbeat strong and quick. Duo sensed the quieting of his mood, and complied without comment. His forehead rested against Wufei's, then settled against his neck.

"By the way," he added then. "Your friend Chadhur is awfully insistent."

Chadhur. He almost laughed again. He did, inside, eyes closed against Duo's hair. "Yes, he is." He must be, to make Duo even speak to him. To make Duo use that word about him-- friend.

"It's a good thing he's not a Preventer anymore. He's actually good."

Friend.  In a bizarre way, perhaps Chadhur actually had become one, if he had made this possible, made their escape possible.  Compassion and loyalty, actual loyalty, from a wholly unexpected source. It had been easy to judge, easy to forget that there were still friends for him out there.  It had begun with Duo's sudden presence in his barren life. Seeing Quatre again reminded him as well.  Seeing Trowa, uniform and all; and knowing he probably had a hand in this, too, and if he did then perhaps even Heero, too, was not so far distant as he had thought. It-- brought balance back to the universe.

"Yes," he answered. "Some of them are."

+

"Damn it," Sandoval repeated. "The Chief'll have my balls for this. Kazza, anything in the kitchen?"

His partner came back to the open flat door. "Nothing. Neighbours haven't seen him since two nights back."

"How the fuck did they get past us? God damn it." He knocked the hot plate to the floor. The metal made a satisfying dent in the wood flooring. "This is it," he said gloomily. "This is the end of my career."

If he'd been looking up, he would have seen Kazza trying to hide her smirk. "Well," she said. "You win some, you lose some."

(end)

[part 6] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]