Duo stayed in the bathroom for a very long time, and at first
I thought maybe he was just avoiding me. But on a second thought…
and a second look around, I started wondering if he was just enjoying the
hot bath. Or… the lukewarm bath. Things just didn’t look like
he spent a lot of time on his own comfort. There was evidence that he worked…
and worked damn hard, but not really on himself. So I doubted that he took
the time to haul and heat the water.
It bothered me, thinking about him living that way. It wasn’t
living, so much as… existing. And it made me want to give him back
all that he had lost.
Watching him with that ax, going after that fallen log like
it had caused both wars and global warming besides… had been a little
scary. I had thought he would fall over from exhaustion hours before he
quit, and I’m still not sure if he stopped because he’d worked
through the anger… or just lost the light.
I hadn’t needed to watch him long before I’d realized
he was going to be hurting when he was done, and that was what made me decide
to haul the water.
After that, I just wanted a way to feed him something besides
more of that damn soup. I’d gone through the cupboard while the water
had been heating and found a decided lack of variety. It made me wonder
if he’d actually mastered that ‘trick’ to cooking over
a wood burning stove that he’d mentioned.
I’d asked him about the pizza delivery only half seriously,
mostly just wanting to break into his thoughts and bring him back into the
house before the water cooled. But… Duo loves pizza. Always has. For
him to have been living there for eight months without even knowing if he
could have any delivered just… really kind of made me mad at Quatre
all over again.
So while he soaked, I set out to see if I could find pizza.
I had my cell phone, though it wasn’t going to last
much longer, and I decided it was worth squandering the last of the battery
on my current mission.
I called Wufei.
His voice was almost eager when he answered, and I felt guilty,
wishing I had something more to tell him.
‘Heero?’ he asked. ‘Everything all right?’
‘Well enough, I suppose,’ I sighed. ‘I finally
ran into Duo today…’
‘How is he?’ he was quick to ask, and the eagerness
was tinged with the shadow of his own guilt.
‘I’m… not sure yet,’ I had to confess.
‘Hurt? Angry? Maybe… depressed? It’s not… all together
‘What…?’ he began, but I cut him off.
‘Look, Wufei, I didn’t bring my charger with me
and Duo has no phone. Can you do me a kind of… odd favor before my
battery runs dead?’
‘Of course,’ he told me, sounding determined,
and it made me want to laugh. He probably wasn’t expecting a pizza
I need you to get on the net and find me a damn pizza place
that will deliver to Duo’s.’
I thought he might choke trying not to laugh at me. ‘You’re
kidding me, right?’
I sighed, because there was a part of me that wasn’t
seeing the humor in it. ‘No, I wish I was. There’s… not
a lot of food here, and I really want to be able to treat Duo to something
tonight. He… needs something,’ I finished and cringed because
I knew how lame it sounded.
‘Give me the address and I’ll see what I can do,’
he said and I gave him the number that had been on the mail box at the end
of the lane and the road name, and hoped that would be enough.
‘Thanks… I owe you,’ I told him and he chuckled.
I could imagine him sitting there shaking his head.
‘No problem,’ he assured me. ‘Just…
tell Maxwell… Well, never mind. I suppose some things should come
‘Yeah,’ I confirmed, and we hung up.
Fifteen minutes later I got a text message that simply read,
‘You do owe me. The delivery charge was more than the pizza. Enjoy.’
Duo came out of the bathroom while I was still smiling bemusedly
at my phone.
‘What?’ he asked and I couldn’t help a grin
that I wasn’t even sure he could see in the near dark of the house.
‘I totally trump you in networking skills,’ I
quipped without thinking. ‘I got us pizza.’
‘No way!’ he blurted, the towel he’d been
rubbing through his hair pausing while he tried to stare at me. ‘Out
here? In the middle of Nowhereville? How?’ and it was a moment like
old times. It was a peek at the old Duo.
I stood and slipped my phone back in my pocket. ‘I called
Wufei and made him look it up on the internet,’ I informed him and
was left blinking when the comment seemed to break that moment. I wondered
what I’d said, but realized Duo wasn’t going to speak and bulled
forward. ‘Don’t suppose you have some form of light, so we can
actually see to eat this pizza when it gets here?’
He snorted softly and tossed the towel over his shoulder while
he made his way into the kitchen area. ‘Hey… we’re civilized
here,’ he said, and while the line was teasing, there was a hint of
defensiveness in it and I couldn’t help wondering what I’d said
He pulled down a pair of what turned out to be coal oil lamps
and set one up on the kitchen table and the other on the coffee table in
the living area. It gave the whole house a glow. I couldn’t decide
if it was warm or just creepy.
We settled in the living room to wait, me in the chair and
Duo on the couch, using the time to work a comb through his hair. The skittish
cat had jumped up on the table to sit and stare, seemingly mesmerized by
the flame of the lamp. The other one was trying to worm its way into Duo’s
lap, but wasn’t happy with all the wet hair. I couldn’t help
but chuckle at it… until it decided to give up on Duo, and try me.
‘Duncan…’ Duo began in a warning tone, but
I waved him off.
‘It’s all right,’ I assured him, not that
the cat acted like he cared what Duo thought anyway. He’d already
lain down and was taking a bath sprawled across my knees. Duo looked at
us oddly for a minute and then went back to working the tangles out of his
He made a damn enticing image, sitting cross-legged, with
his hair unbound and looking a bit rumpled, focused on the task at hand.
It was an old, familiar ache, but a little harder to ignore in the flickering
glow of the lamp light. Harder to ignore on top of the new feelings of…
protectiveness his current situation were awakening in me. While I’d
wanted to take Duo Maxwell into my arms for a long damn time… those
desires had usually lead to thoughts of clothes being removed, and bodies
What I wanted in that moment though, was just to hold him
next to me. To let him warm himself against me, and just make him feel safe
again. Let him feel wanted. Feel… loved.
I think, despite some part of me realizing what bad timing
it would have been, I’d been perilously close to saying something
that would have been a bad idea at that stage of the game. But my cell phone
chose that moment to interrupt my wandering thoughts anyway.
I pulled it out to see Wufei’s number listed and flipped
it open. ‘Hello?’ I said, and was rather surprised when the
voice on the other end was not the one I was expecting.
‘Yuy?’ Quatre was practically speaking before
I had a chance to answer the stupid phone. ‘You found Duo? Where are…?’
I wanted to growl at him, he so caught me off guard. ‘How
in the hell…?’ I began, cutting him off, but he cut me off in
‘I was at Wufei’s; I heard the call, now where
in the hell…’ his voice was rising and I saw an odd look cross
‘Quatre,’ I snapped, shutting him up. ‘I’m
not about to tell you shit until…’
Duo ended our little game of interrupting each other when
he snatched the phone from my hand. ‘Winner?’ he snarled kind
of at the phone as much as into it. ‘You fucking asshole! How dare
you? After everything I did to make sure you two worked it the fuck out?
I gave up my whole God damn life for you two, you bastard! You damn well
better not be telling me some lame ass thing like you two aren’t together!’
I think he worked himself up at that point to where he just
totally lost coherence, because the next thing out of his mouth was not
much more than an inarticulate howl, and he snapped the phone shut, cocking
his arm back like he was going to hurl it against the nearest wall.
I grabbed his wrist and he didn’t really resist, and
the next thing I knew I’d grabbed more than that, and when my arms
closed around him… he just sort of fell into me. And there we were.
I don’t know why he let me do it, don’t know why he didn’t
shove me off, or punch me in lieu of being able to punch Quatre.
And frankly… I didn’t care. I probably should
have, but I just couldn’t. Years of wanting… eight months of
fear… and he was finally where I’d always wanted him. It was
a blessing that he didn’t try to pull away, because I don’t
think I could have let go.
I can not tell you, however, if it was a blessing or a curse
when my cell phone started to ring again. Because I think I came very close
to trying to kiss him, and while I’m pretty sure it would have been
a very bad idea… I can’t say I wouldn’t have done it anyway.
The phone was still in Duo’s hand and he jerked when
it rang like a kid caught with his fingers in the cookie jar. We both glanced
at it, though I hardly needed to look to know it was Quatre calling back.
Sure enough, the name ‘Chang’ appeared on the display and it
somehow seemed to upset Duo even more. He shook himself and pulled completely
away from me.
‘God,’ he muttered. ‘Wufei. What am I doing?’
I was almost as angry with Quatre in that moment, as I’d
been after we’d realized Duo had vanished. I flipped the phone open
and ruthlessly thumbed the power button, ignoring the sound of Quatre’s
voice calling for attention, until the phone beeped and went dead. Shoving
it back in my pocket, I turned toward Duo, but he was already… evading.
He’d gone into the bedroom and I heard a closet open and close and
when he came back out he was fussing with a blanket and pillow, making up
the couch for the night. I sighed, though I hadn’t really meant to,
and tried to think of some way to make the mood come back. To turn things
back just five damn minutes.
My hands still felt damp from his hair.
I must have opened my mouth and closed it a half a dozen times,
struggling with what to say, while he gave his undivided attention to fluffing
the pillow. I had just settled on the fall back, ‘Duo…?’
when outside, the dogs began to bark fit to wake the dead.
‘Pizza’s here,’ Duo quipped and strode over
to shush his menagerie before they scared off the delivery person.
Standing in the doorway, watching Duo quiet the dogs, and
suddenly looking at the situation through the eyes of a stranger, I really
had to give the driver points for even showing up. I couldn’t blame
the guy either, when he wouldn’t get out of the car, but made Duo
come over to fetch the order through the car window.
Duo wasn’t even back in the house before the guy was
pulling out. The dogs couldn’t seem to decide if they wanted to run
after the car, or follow after the enticing smell of the pizza boxes.
Boxes… as in plural. I wondered if Wufei’d had
to order that much to get them to bring it so far. There were three boxes
and a sack, and when we got it to the table we found we had two kinds of
pizza, enough bread sticks for an army, some kind of appetizer sampler and
two sodas. There was an awkward moment while we both just sort of stared
at the sudden bounty before Duo cleared his throat and muttered, ‘Damn,
but he spoils you rotten.’
I snorted, knowing damn well the guilt that had delivered
this much food to Duo’s front door and told him, ‘This isn’t
for me… you can count this as part of an apology from Wufei to you.’
He looked at me sharply, the flickering lamp light doing odd things to his
eyes, but he didn’t seem to know what to say, so I didn’t wait
for him to come up with anything. ‘Let’s just eat it before
it gets cold.’
He was oddly hesitant at first, nibbling at a bread stick,
but once I flipped open the first box and helped myself, he couldn’t
resist. He picked up a slice, took a bite and chewed slowly. I repressed
a sigh at his unconscious stretching of what didn’t need to be stretched.
‘There’s plenty,’ I told him gently, and
he ducked his head, probably trying to hide a blush I couldn’t make
out in the weird lamplight anyway.
‘He shouldn’t have ordered so much,’ he
said softly, sounding a bit defensive.
‘Just his way of telling you that he was worried,’
I dared, his subdued mood making me a bit bolder. ‘You know Chang…
not like me; he can’t just come right out and say that you scared
the hell out of him.’
It made him snort, the blush managing to escalate enough that
I could see a hint of it even in the lamplight. He just shook his head and
took a peek into the second pizza box, coming out with some sort of all
meat variety. ‘We’re not going to be able to save this…
you know that, right?’
‘I suppose we could feed what’s left to the dogs,’
I ventured, knowing how he hated waste.
That bought me a wry little laugh and I smiled to hear it.
‘Not unless you have a yen to clean up after a couple of sick dogs.
Nash could probably handle it, but Reason doesn’t take to table scraps
and Bo would just eat until he exploded.’
‘I suppose as cool as it is, it would keep at least
overnight,’ I suggested and his smile got a little wistful.
‘Been a while since I had pizza for breakfast,’
he said, almost sounding like he was talking to himself.
‘It’s been a while since I had pizza at all,’
I replied without really thinking about it. ‘Not since…’
I cut myself off but not in time.
‘Not since when, Heero?’ he asked, sounding a
bit troubled ‘What are you saying?’
I sighed, not sure if we were to a place where he could hear some of the
less than pleasant realities. I thought about the rage that had sent him
storming out of the house, and hesitated. He seemed to follow my thoughts
and ducked his head again.
‘I promise not to take an ax to anything,’ he
mumbled and I didn’t know whether to smile or not.
‘We just don’t seem to get together as often,’
I told him, trying to keep my voice matter-of-fact. ‘Things are awkward
between Trowa and Quatre, Wufei is spending more time with Sally, and without
you there… it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.’
He was blinking at me, his expression very damn hard to catalog.
‘What?’ he blurted, looking at me intently. ‘You and Wufei
aren’t…? I mean…’
He trailed off and it was my turn to sit and blink, trying
to fathom what he was thinking. He looked… shell-shocked. ‘Aren’t
what, Duo?’ I prodded gently.
His pizza suddenly became fascinating and he studied it closely,
giving me a shrug that was meant to be casual but was pretty far from it.
I frowned, trying to guess what was going on in his head.
‘We’re still partners,’ I told him. ‘I’m
not saying that everything completely fell apart when you left, we just
don’t get together the way we used to. I still see all the guys fairly
regularly… Trowa and I do lunch every couple of weeks… Wufei
and Sally have me over for cards sometimes… it’s just not like
He didn’t speak for a long damn time, just lifting his
head to stare at me with the most horrendously lost look on his face, that
I didn’t know how to remedy. It was stirring that urge in me again,
waking up the need to reach out to him. I wrestled it down to a light touch
to the back of his hand. ‘Come on… eat some dinner, please?’
He nodded and we bent back to the pizza; whatever was on his
mind… he’d obviously decided to keep to himself.
Go to Chapter nine:
back to chapter seven
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