Shinigami's Lover Arc 2

Part 21: Best Laid Plans
by Kracken

Disclaimer:Don't own them, don't make any money off of this.
Warnings: Male/Male sex, graphic, language, violence, NCS Flashbacks

"Are you sure?" Harri wondered with skeptical brows raised.

Duo stood at the open front door as Harri stood half in and half out of it. "You left me clear instructions," Duo replied. "I'll think of it as a mission and I'll be fine."

Harri smiled. "Mission: dinner for three?"

"If you knew the dinner guest, you wouldn't think that was so funny," Duo laughed. "He's very... particular."

Harri nodded understanding. "I made sure that it was all authentic Chinese. There was a VERY nice oriental market just a few miles away. Very fresh veggies and they had all the spices that I needed. Very healthy." Harri gave Duo a flick of his eyes. "You should shop there more often. Those dried rations you had in your pantry, and those unidentifiable things in your refrigerator, won't keep growing young men growing properly, sir."

Duo had never felt young. He had been old when he had been running on the streets of L2. It felt odd to be reminded that he WAS still growing. He knew that his face had become suddenly shadowed by memories. Duo shut them off with an effort and smiled. "I think you're right about that."

Harri hadn't missed Duo's change in expression, but he didn't say anything about it, instead, he asked, "When will you wish me to return? I can come back later and clean up."

"I can do that," Duo assured him. "Heero and me are supposed to be learning how to take care of things ourselves, per Mr. Hulitt's orders."

Harri laughed. "He is an interesting gentleman. I thought for sure that he was your father or grandfather. He was very intense in his interview."

Duo felt a sudden warmth knowing that. The old man was working his way under Duo's defenses and Duo was finding that he liked that. He'd never had anyone look after him for most of his life. His brief stay with Father Maxwell at Maxwell church had given him a desire he hadn't known existed; the desire to have someone care about him and to be the parent figure he had never known.

"I've seen drill sergeants go easier on their recruits," Duo joked and Harri laughed again. "Mr. Hulitt is determined to mold us into model neighbors."

Harri thought about his words for a moment and then said carefully, "I'm glad that you have someone like that watching over you. I often see stories of young soldiers, turned out on their own, who don't have anyone to help them and not a clue how to take care of themselves in a peaceful world."

Duo nodded pensively. Heero was a competent young man and Duo was sure that he would survive and function perfectly in any situation, but his own grasp on normal day to day activities wasn't very firm. Heero's lapses had been because he had devoted all of his time to his job. Duo's lapses had been because of inexperience and a lack of desire to do mundane things. After being a Gundam pilot, fighting and surviving by the seat of his pants, and ending up a war hero, scrubbing a floor and cleaning out a toilet hadn't even been a blip on his radar.

Harri shifted uncomfortably and Duo realized that the man was thinking that he had said something wrong. He seemed about to apologize, but Duo said, "It's all right. I agree with you. Before Mr. Hulitt took an interest, Heero and me were letting things go pretty badly. Now that we are both working, finding the time to do day to day stuff is going to be very hard. We definitely need someone like you, and Mr. Hulitt, to help us out."

"At your service, sir," Harri replied with a little more formality, perhaps afraid that he had been too familiar.

"I will be returning to work tomorrow," Duo told him. "If you could come in the late afternoon, and straighten up while we are home, I would appreciate it."

Harri eyed Duo askance. "Work? Tomorrow, sir?"

"I heal fast," Duo explained in a tone that signaled that he didn't want an argument about that. It was going to be hard enough to convince Heero that he was ready.

"Very good, sir," Harri replied, managing to sound disapproving and obedient at the same time. "I hope that you enjoy your meal."

"I think we will," Duo replied, thinking, as he shut the door, that Heero and Wu Fei would be grateful with anything when they discovered that he, Duo, hadn't cooked with his dubious skill.

Duo paced, took care of the dogs, greeted Mr. Hulitt when the man checked up on him again, sent the man on his way, and then showered and dressed in a pair of clean, black dress pants and a button down white shirt. He braided his hair carefully and checked himself in the mirror several times.

"It's just Wu Fei," he growled at himself at last, "not some damned person that I have to bow to and impress. That lonely guy is probably used to freeze dried dinners and a date with a stack of reports." Still, Duo couldn't help feeling nervous as the time slowly approached when the two men would arrive.

Duo had never made a dinner for anyone, but Heero, and he really didn't know the first thing about entertaining. Duo remembered that Wu Fei had come from a very noble, high ranking Chinese family. What the man was used to while dining alone, and what he might expect when responding to an invitation, might be two different things. Duo began to wonder what would happen if Wu Fei became offended by his, Duo's, lack of skill.

Duo went into the kitchen and took inventory of what Harri had left him. As he looked at each dish, Duo's trepidation rose as he realized that he didn't know the first thing about serving such a meal. The table was set with plates, goblets, and silverware, but nothing hinted at warm up times, proper containers, utensils, or when to serve each dish.

"SHIT!" Duo snarled, at a loss, and Soda, staring up at him, whined in worry.

Duo snatched out his cell phone from his pocket and tried to find Harri's number. The phone rang unexpectedly as he began to dump out a basket of notes onto the kitchen counter and frantically search through them.


"Mr. Maxwell?" It was Harri's comforting voice and Duo sighed in relief.

"Man, am I glad you called!" Duo exclaimed as he grabbed a notepad and a pencil. "Tell me what to do with this stuff, Harri! They'll be here any minute!"

Harri didn't laugh or point out that he had been right and should have stayed to serve the meal. Instead, he said politely, " I called because the sliced ginger desert should be taken out of the refrigerator and allowed to become room temperature before serving."

Duo opened the refrigerator, hunted through wrapped containers, saw the dish, and then pulled it out. He slid it onto the counter and then picked up pad and pencil once again. "Shoot, Harri! Tell me what to do! I don't have much time!"

Harri did chuckle then and he explained, in a very detailed manner, how to serve the dinner. When he was through, Duo sighed and wiped at his sweating forehead. He checked his watch. "So, I have, roughly... ten minutes to do all of this?"

Harri laughed again, "No, no, sir! Entertaining is all about talking and relaxing. Serve drinks or snacks and make your guest comfortable. Your partner can entertain with small talk while you set everything out."

"That sounds good!" Duo replied in relief. "Heero will be my diversion until I'm ready."

"Ah, yes, sir, a diversion, exactly," Harri said, "Just remember that the comfort of your guest is your goal. The rest is incidental."

"K," Duo replied shortly as he began opening containers and pulling down dishes from the cupboard. "Thanks, Harri!"

"My pleasure sir, enjoy and feel free to call me if you need anything at all," Harri told him.

"Will do," Duo mumbled distractedly as he dropped the phone back into his pocket and began going down his list.

Soda's bark, and his dash through the kitchen door, alerted Duo that Heero had arrived. Duo grinned when he heard Wu Fei announce his presence by shouting, "Warn him off, Yuy!"

"He's not trained to listen to me," Heero replied and then called anxiously. "Duo?!"

"Soda! Green!" Duo shouted and Soda came padding back looking pleased with himself. "Relax in the living room, okay?" Duo called. "I'm still work-" Duo turned as he heard footsteps and saw Heero coming into the kitchen. Duo frowned at Heero's anxious expression. "No, I didn't cook this, so relax, and no, nothing happened today, I'm fine," he told the man before Heero could say anything.

Heero stopped and looked relieved. He eyed the food that Duo began to put on the table. "Did you call a restaurant and have the food delivered?"

"No, Harri made it all," Duo told him.

If possible, Heero looked even more nervous. "Duo," he said in disapproval. "We don't really know anything about him."

"I trust him," Duo replied as he continued to set things on the table. "Trust my judgment."

Heero sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair. "How are you feeling?" he asked. "I didn't think this dinner was a good idea knowing how tired you were this morning. Are you still in pain?"

"I'm fine," Duo replied and then made a sharp gesture of dismissal. "Our guest is out there by himself, Heero. You're supposed to make him comfortable. I won't be much longer. Everything will be all right, you'll see.... and Heero?"

Heero paused in mid turn as he headed for the door. His expression was anxious, as if Duo were going to finally admit to a weakness, a need for his help. "What is it?"

Duo frowned. "That phone call earlier... I mean, it's bad enough that you have Mr. Hulitt checking on me, but you need to tone down your nerves a few notches. I took care of myself for a long time before I met you, ya know?"

Heero's face twitched slightly and Duo wasn't sure if it was amusement. "You set off a bomb in close proximity, was sprayed with shrapnel and burned, jumped off of a catwalk, and was nearly burned alive in a fire. I think I'm entitled to worry about you when you then tell me to leave you at home for the day after refusing to let a hospital treat you."

"The medic checked me out and said I was fine," Duo growled.

"You didn't let him use any machines to verify that," Heero reminded him, "So, take down your criticism a few notches as well, all right? You would worry as well if you were me."

Duo blinked, suddenly seeing things from Heero's point of view. "Yeah, I guess... I guess I would worry too." He suddenly smiled at Heero. "Sorry."

Heero smirked back. "I'll leave you to..." he looked at the collection of containers dubiously, " to do what ever this requires while I entertain our guest."

"Do all of that formal stuff, okay?" Duo told him as he turned back to his work. "Wu Fei expects that, I'm sure."

Heero nodded, looking amused, and left Duo to finish. Duo began to tackle the job once more, but Soda interrupted him. The dog whined and went to the back door.

"Need out?" Duo wiped his hands on a wash rag and then went to the door. He opened it a crack and several canine noses immediately jammed themselves into it. "What the hell?!" Duo shoved the noses back and opened the door. All of the puppies were rushing toward him happily. The kennel gate was standing open.

Soda sauntered out and started nosing about for a place to do his business. Duo rubbed a few puppy's behind their ears and then shrugged. "I must not have closed the gate good enough. Guess there's nothing wrong with you running around, though. Maybe you'll wear yourselves out enough to be good when I bring Wu Fei out here."

The oven timer buzzed. Mindful of Harri's warning that his reheating time table had to be closely followed or the food would be inedible, Duo hurriedly closed the door and rush to grab oven mitts.

Not long after, Duo went into the living room and found Wu Fei and Heero seated before a fire in the fireplace and sipping drinks out of small cups. Wu Fei was dressed in a comfortable black top and loose pants. His hair was clipped at the back of his neck so that it looked as if he had cut it short. Dark eyes lifted to Duo as he entered and Wu Fei stood up respectfully.

"I am honored to have been invited into your home," Wu Fei said softly.

Duo missed a beat as he thought of a proper response and adjusted to a casual, relaxed Wu Fei. He wasn't used to that aspect of the man. During the war, the man had always been edgy and ready for action. Duo hadn't seen him any different after the war. "We are honored to have you as our guest," Duo replied at last, hoping it sounded right. Wu Fei looked pleased, letting Duo know that he had made the correct response, and he gave a small bow.

"I have everything ready," Duo announced.

Heero smiled and it was both amused and proud. Duo found himself blushing. He hadn't really done anything, he thought, except reheat. Maybe, he thought, flushing warmly, Heero was just glad that he was making the effort to be friends with Wu Fei and that he was managing something as normal as a dinner party so soon after a strenuous mission. Duo was somewhat proud of himself and he smiled at Heero in return.

Wu Fei settled back onto the couch and sipped at his drink. He motioned for Duo to sit down as well. "It can wait, can't it? I would like to sit and talk, if that's all right?"

"Talk?" Duo almost snarled it, thinking of a dozen things that Wu Fei could be ready to criticize him for. His good mood almost turned ugly and a retort was ready on his lips.

Wu Fei forestalled Duo's defensive come back by saying, "We haven't had a chance to really talk to one another since the war. Heero thought that you needed time to adjust, but I think this is a good time to get to know one another again, don't you?"

Duo's mouth was open. He closed it and then gingerly sat on a chair near Wu Fei. Heero sat on the couch nearest him and leaned towards him a little. Duo looked at him and Heero smirked, knowing how confused he was. "Talk?" Duo repeated. "I guess that's good, isn't it? We've just been snarling at each other before and after work."

Wu Fei looked down into his drink, his expression becoming closed and almost... guilty. "I made some assumptions about you that proved wrong. I apologize. I know that you understand why I had reservations. I had to be certain that you were indeed stable and that the institute had really helped you to deal with your... troubled past."

"I spent a year of intense therapy there, Wu Fei," Duo replied quietly, stinging at the painful memories, "but I won't pretend that I'm completely `cured' and that I won't have to go back from time to time to reinforce what I learned there. I do have an arsenal of strategies that I was taught , to disarm my darker impulses and reactions, but they aren't fool proof. Nothing is."

Wu Fei was quiet and then he said, "I saw you... when you dove off of that catwalk and the bomb went off."

Duo blinked. "You did?"

"We were worried that you hadn't appeared," Wu Fei explained. "I was searching the hanger, looking for alternative routes that you might be using. Both Heero and I were worried that you had been trapped by the fire."

Duo started, understanding, "That's why Grange was up there on the struts? He was climbing up to look for me?"

Heero snorted. "Do you truly believe that I would let someone else rescue you if I thought that you were in danger? No, Grange was climbing up to reach an access panel that we knew was there. The plans said that it could open all the hanger doors and drain the fuel out of the mobile suits. We were very concerned about people getting trapped and the suits blowing."

Duo nodded, frowning. "That guy, their leader, was trying to use that panel to make the suits explode. I stopped him."

"Tell me," Wu Fei asked. "When you threw yourself over that railing... did you know that you would be able to grab a strut and keep yourself from falling to your death?"

Duo grinned, feeling adrenalin surge at the memory of the rush he had felt. "No, I didn't," he confessed, "but I was sure as hell hoping." He shrugged at Wu Fei's shocked look. "Well, what else could I have done? I didn't want all of you agents becoming crispy Preventers."

Heero snorted a laugh and Wu Fei looked at him with confused eyes. "I don't see the humor..," he began in protest.

Heero reached out and took hold of the end of Duo's braid. He rubbed it between his fingers gently as he said, "I'm not laughing at the danger he was in, that part frightens me, but the rest, it's just so typically Duo." He grew serious. "I think we can all understand that kind of sacrifice. I think we could all cheerfully take the plunge doing what we knew was right. We've done it enough times in the past."

Wu Fei looked introspective and then nodded, his mouth twitching in a half smile as he suddenly understood Heero's humor in the situation. "We both would do it in all seriousness, " he said, "thinking of honor and sacrifice, but Duo would do it with a laugh and a joke and as spectacularly as possible."

Duo laughed. "Come on, guys, Trowa's the clown, not me! Let's talk about something else."

They turned to small talk. Duo relaxed, laughing as Wu Fei told about Trowa's notoriety in being the lover of Quatre Winner and how, being the performer that he was, he rather enjoyed the lime light. A few rags circulated rumors, but for the most part, Quatre Winner was not only one of the most respected men on Earth or in Space, but he was also one of the most popular. That he had taken up with a quiet, but rather colorful companion, was indulged instead of derided. The fact that Trowa was also one of the hero Gundam pilots, kept critical tongues from wagging. The only complaint that Wu Fei had heard was women lamenting the fact that Quatre wasn't eligible any longer.

"And where did you hear that?" Duo laughed. "I didn't know that you were interested in gossip columns, Chang."

Wu Fei looked offended, but then he relaxed again and smiled. "The water cooler and snack machines are outside of our office. When we leave the door open for circulation, we can hear them speaking about ... certain subjects."

"Eavesdropper!" Duo accused, laughing harder.

Heero let go of Duo's braid and sat back, laughing as well. "They do get rather explicit in their conversations. It can be... interesting."

"I bet!" Duo smirked. He stood up. "Let's eat before the food turns into paste or something. The housekeeper was kind of stressing that everything get done at certain times."

Wu Fei stood up, but he held back, letting Duo go first. He said, "This was enjoyable, Duo. I'm glad that we could talk."

Duo felt himself blush. "Yeah, it was great. Talking instead of growling and biting each other's heads off is good."

Wu Fei went quiet and Duo realized that he had made a mistake and was close to ruining the new atmosphere they had made.

"It's okay," Duo said. "I'm pretty damned infuriating on a good day."

Wu Fei smiled again and Heero gave Duo a grateful look. He hadn't wanted things to degenerate into a fight either. "Lead on, love, and let's eat."

Soda suddenly came through the door of the kitchen. Duo blinked at the dog as it came to heel. "But... I let you outside," Duo stammered in confusion.

There was suddenly the sound of dishes clattering and breaking.

"Shit!" Duo shouted and ran into the kitchen, knowing already what he was going to find. He wasn't disappointed. The puppies had their noses in all the dishes, large, dirt covered paws on the table and one actually sitting on the table at it's center, devouring a pork and noodle dish with relish.

"You fucking monsters!" Duo shouted, furious, and began dragging the dogs off. They cowered, tails between their legs, not used to seeing Duo's displeasure. When one resisted, he lifted a hand as if to hit it. Heero caught that hand in an iron grip.

"Duo!" Heero said strongly. "It's all right. It was an accident. It's just food."

"When I lived on the streets, we used to kill and eat dog for dinner!" Duo shouted at the puppies.

"Duo!" Heero said again, trying to get Duo to calm down. "I said it's all right!"

"No, it's not!" Duo shouted in his face and jerked away. He stomped through the open door that he hadn't closed tightly enough when he had let Soda out and walked out into the yard with fists clenched and mind seething with disappointment, embarrassment, and a sense of failure. The puppies had the good sense not to follow him, but Soda paced at heel and settled with his head against Duo's knee when Duo sat heavily on the ground, back against a tree trunk. Duo glared at nothing very hard.

Duo expected Heero to follow him, but the man didn't. After a time, Wu Fei came out of the house. Duo looked away as the man sat on the hammock, feet just shy of the ground as he swung slightly and found his balance.

"This is good," Wu Fei said.

Startled, Duo looked at him. The man had a plate of noodles and pork and he was eating it with relish. "My dog had his nose in that," Duo said in disgust.

"Not all of it," Wu Fei replied and continued eating.

Duo sighed. "Once again Maxwell Disaster screws up."

"I thought your nickname was Shinigami?" Wu Fei replied with mock puzzlement.

"You can't tell me that you expected different?" Duo persisted. "That's why you agreed to come, right? To laugh and to confirm what you thought about me?"

Wu Fei turned serious. "I was thinking that it would be an interesting evening. You are unskilled at entertaining and cooking. I was worried that you would over exert yourself and that you would be too stressed to be a pleasant host. The puppies did make the evening interesting, but before that, you were a perfect host, Duo. I had nothing to complain of. I would be honored if you would invite me to come to your home again."

Duo frowned. "Are you just saying all of that because you're afraid I'll go crazy and do something to the puppies? Puppy stew did cross my mind."

Wu Fei chuckled. "I know that you aren't serious, Maxwell."

"I'm not?" Duo growled.

One of the puppies boldly left the house and came ambling up to them. It was one of the white ones; Bob. Duo sighed. "I really thought that you were a smart dog."

"He is," Wu Fei grunted as he watched the puppy nose Duo's hand and lick it. "He came to apologize for his bad behavior."

The puppy wagged his tail and came to Wu Fei. With ears down and tail wagging hopefully, he snuck into the space between Wu Fei's knees and begged to be petted. Wu Fei smiled down at the dog and sank his hands into the soft pile of his fur.

The puppy suddenly nosed at Wu Fei's plate. Wu Fei rescued it and said sternly, "No, down." The puppy came to order at once and looked at Wu Fei with cocked ears as if awaiting a new command eagerly. Wu Fei smiled again. "He is... responsive, isn't he?"

Duo frowned, puzzled. "For you, maybe. I couldn't do anything with him."

Wu Fei looked surprised. "You have Soda so well trained, I thought..."

Duo shrugged. "He was trained for me. I just reinforced that training; customized it a bit." He stared at Wu Fei's rapt attention as he continued to pet the dog. "You like him, don't you?"

Wu Fei started to become gruff. "I think I know where you are heading, Maxwell. I don't have time for a pet."

"Even a pet that you can train to assist you in Preventer business?" Duo argued. "Tracking, search and rescue, protection... they can do a lot, Wu Fei."

Wu Fei gave Duo a suspicious look. "You planned this."

"Well, not the dogs eating our dinner, but..." Duo looked embarrassed, "I was hoping that you could take one of the puppies off my hands. We have too many and... I think you need something in your life, man! Heero isn't there to keep you company anymore and a guy should have more than an empty apartment and a job to go to."

"Guilt?" Wu Fei asked pointedly.

Duo looked away uncomfortably. "Yeah, I guess. You guys were tight before I came back. I can understand if you feel... resentful."

Wu Fei stared down at the dog. "I was used to Heero's company. I have missed it, but it wasn't the cause of my reservations about you."

"It was part of it," Duo retorted and then stood up, shoving his hands into his pockets nervously. "Maybe we can't be close friends, but we should get along and do things together. I'm not such a controlling ass that I won't allow Heero some friends, okay? Maybe, if he has someone else besides me to zero in on all day and all night, he won't be worrying about every hangnail or mood swing I get."

"So," Wu Fei chuckled, "Your asking me to dinner had many goals."

"You make me sound self centered," Duo laughed in return, but then looked serious. "I just need everyone to get along and be happy. It makes me happy and gives me the space to deal with my problems better. I also wanted to... Well, I wasn't looking to play Sally Housewife or anything, but I did want to do things like... well, you know, like everyone else does. People go to work, pay bills, and have friends over once in awhile." He looked dejected. "Too bad I screwed up that last part."

"Did you?" Wu Fei replied softly. "It was good to sit and talk. I haven't done that since... since you came back. I enjoyed myself. I wish to do that again... soon." He looked down at the puppy. "Dinner itself didn't go well, but that is something that happens to everyone. " He rubbed the puppy behind the ears. "As for this puppy.... " he paused and was silent, looking into the dog's eyes deeply. "I will take him and train him." The dog wagged his tail as if he understood.

Duo sighed in relief. "I'll give you any help you want."

"I would appreciate that," Wu Fei replied, but then suggested, "I think, right now, we should go back inside. I'm sure that Heero has things cleaned up by now. You are still recovering. This was supposed to be a quiet evening for you."

"OUT!" Heero suddenly appeared, broom shooing puppies out of the door. The puppies fled and Duo and Wu Fei herded them back into the kennel. Bob remained with Wu Fei, as if he already knew where his place was and that his life was suddenly changing.

Duo blinked and then blushed as Wu Fei said, "He is a very intelligent dog. Very intuitive. I think that he will train easily."

"Uh, Chang," Duo said in embarrassment. "There's something you should know about puppies... uh, they aren't always good at, you know, holding it when they get excited." Wu Fei looked at Duo with raised eyebrows and Duo pointed down at Wu Fei's feet. Wu Fei looked down and then was hopping sideways saying something explosively in Chinese. "Sorry, about that," Duo apologized with a wince.


"I promise, they outgrow that!"

Go to Part 22: In the Shadows

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