Disclaimer:I don't own this and I don't make any money off of it
Warning:Male/male sex, graphic, language, violence, physical trauma, duosufferitus
"Slowly," Wu Fei warned softly as he set up Duo's wheelchair and helped him from the SUV into it. It was difficult and Duo was trying not to pant in pain by the end of it. Wu Fei was strong, but he was smaller than Duo and lighter. There wasn't any 'lifting' or 'carrying'. It was more of a carefully managed slide, from one level to a lower one, that had Wu Fei almost falling trying to cushion Duo on the last half foot.
Duo eyed the high seat of the SUV once he was settled. "My arms are stronger than my legs," he said. "Getting in was a lot easier, because I could pull myself in. Heero may be pissed when we get home, but he needs to help me get out again."
"Agreed," Wu Fei replied worriedly. "Are you well?"
The truth was hard, but Duo had promised, on his honor, to reveal it. He gritted his teeth and then said honestly, "Hurts, but I can manage it."
Wu Fei studied him for a moment, as if gaging the matter for himself, but then nodded and strapped Duo into the cushioned chair. "Remind me again," he growled, "why you no longer have the motorized one?"
"Can't get my muscle back by being a pansy ass in one of those," Duo growled back. "Deal."
Wu Fei frowned, but he didn't take revenge by suggesting that Duo use his muscle now to take him where he wanted to go. Instead, he checked Duo's oxygen, checked to make sure that nothing was catching on Duo's braces or putting pressure where it shouldn't, and then said softly, "You are in transition. Outer appearances don't matter. Insults or pity are only valid if you accept them. Your wounds are testament to your bravery. Anyone who can't honor that, is beneath notice."
Duo snorted, but he couldn't help a nagging worry, a fear that his ex fellow agents would either be disgusted or show contempt for what he had lost. Pity, would kill him. He couldn't stand the thought that they might feel sorry for the cripple and talk about how awful his situation was once he left.
Wu Fei wasn't fool enough to take Duo into the enclosed range. The air would have made him choke. Instead, he wheeled Duo into the open one; a long line of lanes, targets, and men firing weapons repeatedly under the hot sun. It was bustling with activity, every lane filled with people that Duo knew, talking, laughing, and sharing that closeness that agents, used to dealing with danger together, formed. He had once been apart of that, one of them, and well respected despite his unorthodox, and sometimes, prankish behavior.
"Fei," Duo breathed and the man stopped and waited for Duo to say more.
The sound of gunfire made adrenaline sing through Duo. His eyes noted new arms and appreciated old ones. He wanted to be in there, firing himself, talking and sharing something with people besides the small circle that had formed around him like a wall between him and the rest of the world.
"I... understand," Duo said at last, and he did, knowing what Wu Fei had realized and wanted him to know.
"Good, my friend," Wu Fei replied, "Then you know that we must go forward. It's time to live again. There may be pain, but that's part of it."
"Yes," Duo agreed. "Let's go."
Wu Fei pushed him into the wide aisle behind the lanes, full of people supervising and waiting their turn. Eyes swivelled their way and talk began to cease like the ripples on a lake. At last, someone stepped forward. Trowa Barton. His dark shirt accented his muscular, lean body, and his shoulder holstered gun.
"At last," Trowa greeted them with a smile. "I wondered when the pull would grow too strong for you to ignore, Duo."
Duo managed a grin. "Well, you know me, Barton, guns are my candy."
Trowa's eyes swept behind him. "Heero didn't come as well?"
Duo frowned, his pride stung. "I left my nanny today. This one's taking his place." He hooked a crooked thumb at Wu Fei.
Trowa heard the warning and wisely turned the subject. "Kirkland is here. So is Jenks."
They were two men that Duo had often taken on missions and to local bars. Their exploits were honored and notorious. If there was anyone who Duo wanted respect from, it was those two. Fear knotted his gut again as Trowa turned and called out for them. They appeared from an end lane, curious as to why most of the shooting had stopped. When they saw Duo, they rushed forward.
The two men couldn't keep the shock off of their face, or the flashes of 'poor bastard' in their eyes, but they recovered well and came down to Duo's level to grin and look him over.
"Look at him, Jenks," Kirkland, a tall blonde, said drolley as he fingered Duo's cushions. "Living the life of Reilly."
Jenks, a short, muscular Italian, grunted and looked serious as he replied, "Remember that time, he faked having Taos fever? Had nurses hanging on his every whim, for two weeks, and was paid for it too."
Duo glared. "I did have it and they weren't male nurses, so I didn't have much of a good time."
"Not what I heard," Jenks replied archly and then grinned. "So, master of 'playing hooky', did you come to watch us poor slobs work, or are you interested in keeping that range record of yours?"
Duo's twisted fingers knotted in his lap painfully and he couldn't help tense. "Maybe," he tried to get out without having his voice shake, "I can give you both pointers?"
Kirkland glanced behind Duo reflexively, as if Wu Fei had made some silent gesture, but then his eyes were on Duo again, expression firm and not to be denied. "If I didn't know you better, Maxwell, I'd say you were chicken."
Duo scowled, the heat rising to his face, "The hell..."
"You're in for it now," Jenks warned. "Maxwell's going to eat your liver for dinner Kirky."
"He can try," Kirkland sniffed, and motioned Duo forward towards a back lane. "Come on. Let's go where we won't be disturbed."
Duo was at least grateful for that. People made way for him, Jenks and Kirkland throwing challenges and insults back and forth. Like old times, Duo thought, only it wasn't.
"I'll lend you Priscilla," Kirkland offered as they entered a lane and the man unholstered a snub nosed 38.
"Prissy?" Duo couldn't help taunting. "I thought she was only for shooting gnats?"
"And smart mouthed ass holes who insult her," Kirkland snapped back, but he rolled an eye down at Duo appraisingly, now that they were alone in their lane. "You can handle her, I think?"
Duo took the gun and tried to work out a grip that didn't hurt and allowed his good fingers to find the trigger.
"It's all in the skill and the eye," Wu Fei at last decided to say.
Duo nodded, but knew that holding the gun steady was required as well.
Wu Fei wheeled Duo forward to the line and then they waited, all jokes ceasing.
Duo eyed the target. It wasn't far. He tested his fingers a few more times. It was going to be an unconventional shot, but that was his trademark, after all. Duo suddenly lifted the gun, imagining a bad guy, and then fired, the gun resting on an arm brace and one of his finger braces tripping the trigger.
"Shit!" Jenks exclaimed, maybe thinking of a wild shot and disaster, but then swallowed back anything else when they all saw the shot hit the target in the heart.
"Well..." Kirkland managed. "That was... interesting."
Duo grinned. "Well, I do need a few more weeks to get my fingers back, but I can still beat you, even if I have to use my left tit."
Kirkland laughed, and even Wu Fei chuckled.
"My turn," Jenks insisted and stood on the line.
They passed an hour that way, taking turns and Duo almost managing to save his reputation. He shrugged in unconcern, though, when he missed two shots, and refused to think that he'd lost anything. The day in itself was a triumph.
The heat of the day, and a wind kicking up dust, ended things. Duo coughed and Wu Fei grew concerned. "Okay," Duo admitted. "Time to get back."
"You gotta get back here, again, though," Jenks insisted. "We miss you, man!"
Kirkland looked embarrassed at that outburst and said, instead, "Rawlings is taking on airs, Maxwell. He needs to be the butt of a few, good practical jokes."
The man in question was an insufferable, by the book, agent. He had fallen prey to Duo's pranks more than once. "I'll make it my mission," Duo promised and then realized that he had made a promise of sorts, one that he didn't know that he could keep.
"There's people who've written you off," Kirkland said seriously. "We haven't. No matter what, you've got a place here and things you can do. You know that, right?"
Duo nodded and then sighed. "Yeah," which was heavy enough to reveal his doubts, but still better than a flat denial of his future.
It was hard to say goodbye; harder to pass through a throng of well wishers and familiar faces to reach the SUV. Hands helped Wu Fei get Duo into his seat, and Duo tried not to look at their faces, not wanting to see that dreaded pity. When he was secure, and Wu Fei driving away, he breathed a sigh of relief as he reached for his pain pills.
"Oxygen," Wu Fei prompted. "You're wheezing when you breathe."
Duo took his pills and put on his mask. He leaned back into his seat and closed his eyes. "Thank you," he said at last. "I'll leave flowers on your grave after Heero kills you."
"I'm honored," Wu Fei replied, but Duo could feel the smile in it.
Heero's hands were gripping the door of the SUV so hard that metal was bending under his fingers.
"Yuy," Wu Fei warned. "I am still making payments on this vehicle. Please... calm down. Duo is unharmed."
"I finished early," Heero was almost panting with emotion. "You were both gone." He threw a note into Duo's lap. "Did you think this was enough to explain?"
Duo stared down at the note as he slipped off his air mask. 'Gone shooting,' the message said in a hasty scrawl. 'Be back soon.' Duo rubbed the back of his neck. "I guess I was excited and not thinking it through." His eyes locked with Heero's. "I'm sorry. You were probably pretty... worried."
"I called your cell," Heero said angrily.
Duo and Wu Fei both pulled out their cell phones, saw the missed calls, and then pocketed them again.
Duo looked down at his knotting hands in his lap. "It was noisy. I guess... we didn't hear them." Then he frowned and said more strongly, "I'm sorry I made you worry, Heero, but... I needed this."
It was Heero's turn to look down, jaw working as he seemed to use the SUV door for support. "I know," Heero replied, barely a whisper, "but I would have liked to have come."
"It wasn't planned," Wu Fei admitted, "but you are right, we were... irresponsible. I felt that, once engaged, Duo might change his mind if given time. I thought that this was important and we were both very careful."
Heero was quiet and then he said, "More careful than I've been."
They knew what he was speaking of. While with Duo, Duo had been molested by people on the street and re-injured during his rescue attempt of yet another child. Guilt oozed from every pore.
"Stop it!" Duo barked and Heero looked up, startled. "You have been a saint! Don't do this, Heero, don't beat yourself up over what's out of your hands. I made my own decisions about everything and I decided on this, too. I needed it," he repeated it, stressing each word. "I'm going to do more of it, too, so you better get your head out of your ass and get ready to tag along next time."
Heero smiled, but it was faint and still full of worry. "You know that I will always be there for you, Duo, but don't go faster than I can follow, please?"
Duo reached out and roughly caressed Heero's cheek "I am so sorry, Heero."
Heero nodded, swallowed hard, and then unbuckled Duo from his seat belt. Wu Fei slid across the seat to help brace Duo as Heero gently lifted him down into his wheelchair. Heero's strength made it ridiculously easy. When Duo was settled safely, Wu Fei slid back into the driver's side of the SUV. He knew that Heero's mood was chancy, at that moment, and he had decided not to risk any prolonged stay.
"Chang," Heero said suddenly and Wu Fei looked sideways at him, hands on the steering wheel. Heero took a moment and then said, as if it were hard, "Thank you."
Wu Fei nodded, relieved, and then pulled out of the drive.
Heero wheeled Duo into their apartment, checked his braces and breathing, and then maneuvered him onto the bed. Duo lay down, exhausted, but eyes on Heero. When Heero settled on the bed beside him, laying down as well, Duo knew how much he had worried.
Duo rolled against him, ignoring pain and uncomfortable pressure on his braces, and said, "Love you."
Heero smiled as if savoring it.
Duo kissed him along the jaw, one hand sliding down to Heero's belt buckle. "Really love you," Duo continued.
Heero placed a hand over Duo's, stilling him. He turned to Duo, nose to nose. "I don't need you to 'make it up to me'," he said.
Duo sighed and rested against Heero. "I didn't want to end the day feeling like an asshole."
"Then don't," Heero replied. "Tell me about your day."
Duo smiled against Heero's skin. "I ran into Jenks and Kirkland."
Heero relaxed and smiled. "They didn't talk you into going to the dance bars, did they?"
Duo smirked. "No, but they did let me shoot."
"You went to the shooting range?" Heero wondered, eyebrows going up.
"Yeah, and it was great!" Duo told him. "Kirk let me use Prissy. I even made a few shots."
Heero's smile grew. "Tell me about it..."
On to Chapter eight
Back to chapter six