'Here,' Wufei said. 'I can hold that end.'
'Thanks, yeah.' Duo pressed his lips between his teeth as he wrenched at screwdriver, finally budging it a precious millimetre. 'Guess you heard me trying to blister the air, a minute ago.'
'You're certainly creative.' Wufei wiped his hands on his trousers, and renewed his grip on the wooden leg. 'Why are you trying to rebuild a chair out of splinters?'
'It's Howard's favourite. Favourite piece of crap.' The screwdriver slipped, and Duo cursed roundly as he sucked on an injured fingertip. 'Senile old man has a fondness for things that're ancient as he is.'
He did recognise it, then. The captain's chair, from the bridge of Peacemillion. It was a miracle any of it had survived the crash against the Libra. Or exposure to the vacuum. 'Did you use your Gundam to extract this?'
'We were done hunting survivors!'
'I didn't mean--' Wufei grunted as Duo rammed the crossbar into place between the two left legs. 'I just meant, it must have been difficult.'
'Mm.' Duo glanced up at him from behind the double shield of long eyelashes and longer fringe. 'Hand me that little hex key? There's beer behind you, if you drink.'
'I'm too young,' he said automatically. Duo smirked at him, and Wufei rubbed his hot cheek against his shoulder. He passed the key without comment, and a can to replace the one that had tipped over, empty. It hissed when Duo popped it, as he swallowed deeply three times, set it safely aside from the bits of wrecked chair spread out on the tarp.
'Haven't seen you a while.' Duo's murmur fell into the little sounds of screws and washers clinking on walnut.
'We-- were looking for Zechs Merquise.' Sally was convinced he was dead. Even the largest chunks of Libra that hadn't burnt up in atmospheric re-entry were unrecognisable, twisted bits of metal peppered with unidentifiable human remains. 'There was a swath across nineteen miles of northern Russia that looked promising, but it will take them weeks to finish DNA testing.'
'In comic books, there's always at least one baddie who survives.' Duo's grease-blacked fingers twisted the thick screwheads, at ease now with mindless activity. 'Since he's the one we're not sure about, I'd lay bets.'
Sure about. Yes. That was fairly straightforward. Wufei was very sure about Khushrenada.
'Here.' Duo nudged him. A can. 'It's not good or anything, but if age is the only thing stopping you, I'd say you're grown up enough.'
He surprised himself with a sigh from deep in the gut. 'You like to work with your hands?'
'Yeah, guess so.' This time, the look he got from under the hair was placid, absent the wary edge from before. 'Kind of like play time. No real purpose except it's nice. Process. Not saving the world, not hurting anyone. Just me and a freaking inadequate allen wrench.'
'You're a tinker.'
'What?' He got the full impact of Duo's eyes, open to their widest, like porcelain saucers.
'Tinker,' he repeated. 'You tinker with things.'
'Ohh. Man. I coulda sworn you were making a gay joke.' Duo laughed brightly. He laughed harder when Wufei blushed again. 'Never mind.'
'It's the accent,' he said, embarrassed. 'I don't-- I know it-- context.'
'Don't worry about it. Seriously. Drink your beer.'
He bent the aluminium tab, cautiously cracking the lid. The escaping carbon whispered at him as he raised it to his lips. Duo had told the truth-- it was not good, but it was cold, and in the heat of the hangar, surrounded by half an army of suits and engines, that was enough. He took his own daring swallow, three of them, to match his companion. He rolled the cool can between his palms, pressed it lightly to his sweating neck. Duo was making good progress on the chair, for all his complaints. The leather cushion bore new thread binding the big tears, a neat line of small stitches. Duo's pile of screws had obviously been scavenged from multiple sources, but the wood glue was applied stingily, to preserve the frame. The arched back was visibly dented and there were whole chunks missing from the wicker, but it was a good job, overall. It would be usable, if Howard ever got another spaceship.
'I like to tinker,' he confessed. He set the beer carefully to the concrete at his knee. 'It's tradition. My ancestors helped build the railroads in America.'
'Really?' Duo peeked at him again, attention caught away, the key hovering above a crooked screw. 'Like really? Laying track and all that?'
'And blowing up mountains so the trains could come through. But engineering, too.' He really did have Duo's interest, eyes wide again, riveted to him. 'Chang Chonglin. He was a mathematician. He became a gang foreman, and then a project leader, and then an office manager. But he wanted more. He went west, joined the Gold Rush.'
'Seriously?' Duo pursed his lips in a silent whistle. 'Seriously, you're not pulling my leg? Did he find any? Gold?'
'Oh, yes. Three veins, all as thick as his arm. Enough for a lifetime. Enough for many lifetimes.'
'What'd he do with it?' Duo actually hunched toward him. Not a tinker, Wufei thought, amused by that. A storyteller. And an eager listener.
'Went back to China,' he said. 'He went home in grand style, carried on a litter by a dozen servants. He bought a grand house and lived very well. And he married a princess.'
'A real princess? An honest-to-God princess, like Relena Peacecraft?'
'Honest to God,' he repeated dutifully. 'But not like Relena Peacecraft. For one thing, the princess was ugly.'
'No,' Duo said, scandalised. 'Princesses aren't ugly. You are having me on.'
'I'm not, I swear. She had buggly eyes, and her teeth--' He bit over his lower lip in a rabbit imitation, and Duo laughed abruptly. 'Of course, Chonglin was no prize. He lost his hair and his ears in a nitrous explosion.'
'Ha.' Duo nodded to himself, grinned down at his chair. 'That's a good story. I like it.'
'What about your ancestors?'
'Dunno. Far as I know, I'm as far back as it goes.' Duo rediscovered his key, and put a final twist to his screw. 'Guess you don't miss what you never have. I'd trade it for a story like that, though. Lost his ears.'
They were quiet again then, as Duo tried to decide what to do with a broken-off arm rest. Wufei touched his beer, but it was going warm. Sally would meet him in the mess, if he were hungry. He didn't think he was, or not enough to warrant the trip. Or the company. He did like her-- most of the time-- he was fairly sure-- but he was also fairly sure that he was not ready for the things she was thinking. And he was just-- not ready, for other things. Too many things to think about, and he was not ready yet to face it all. Sally said there would be time, but the urgency would not leave him. Even now, in the quiet with someone who wanted nothing from him, he felt it pressing on him. Things undone. Actions needing hands to make them real. His hands.
'I'm done,' Duo said, finally. 'I can't finish it tonight. Done caring about this thing.'
'Howard won't mind. It's enough you cared at all to find it.'
'He's kinda down, because his old bird, you know. Figured he could take a piece of it with him...' Duo pulled his mouth to the side, then shrugged. 'Tomorrow, maybe.' There was a challenge back in his gaze when he turned it on Wufei. 'You got more stories, you're welcome to join me.'
'I'm not sure when we're headed out again.'
'Sure. But if you're here.' Duo bared his own teeth, but it was only a smile, a nice sort of smile. 'You know, I didn't know you could be a real person. Funny how it comes out in the little moments. I take back the times I said you had less personality than Trowa.'
His cheeks were hot again, but it was temper this time. 'Maxwell.'
Duo winked at him as he stood. 'See you tomorrow, then.'