PART II: RHYTHM EMOTION
"Perhaps you were raised in the jungle with boars and maggots, Yuy," Wufei drawled, "but where I'm from, a man does not give a gift to a woman unless he is courting her." He was half serious; he still thought the whole trip was a joke. But he said it mainly in a brave attempt to lighten the atmosphere.
This was all Trowa's fault.
The dog had tricked them both the only way he knew how. "Wufei, meet me at 1400 hours in the Central Plaza of L1. It's an emergency." And probably a similar cryptic message for Heero. Wufei had showed up in the middle of the crowded marketplace ready for a fight, furious at the thought of some idiot making trouble so soon after their final victory, only to run into Heero Yuy, looking equally as dangerous.
Trowa had appeared moments later, looking quite calm and extending peace offerings of cold drinks.
Wufei had seriously considered skinning him for the trick.
Still, it was a bold move-- one neither of the other two pilots would have dared try. So Wufei had to give him grudging credit. Evidently while Heero had been recovering from his wounds and Wufei had been searching for survivors of his clan, looking over his shoulder for someone to shout "Hah! Just kidding-- we're still at war", Trowa had decided to take things into his own hands concerning the three of them.
So now here he was, feeling awkward and out of place, helping Heero find-- of all things --a birthday gift for none other than that annoying twit of a female, Relena Peacecraft.
Or Piece of Crap, as Duo had once called her. Wufei secretly thought it suited her a bit better, but then, he had at least one personal reason to resent her. She was, after all, Heero's personal stalker.
Heero scowled at him at his blithe comment about his heritage and stubbornly seized the first thing to hand, holding it up for inspection. Despite his determined look, the two pilots who knew him so well could see the hesitant, confused look in his eyes. He was as out of his element as they were.
"This," he decided firmly.
Trowa arched a brow and bravely kept a straight face.
Wufei put his hands on his hips and offered the blue-eyed boy a look of disbelief. "Yuy, how hard did you hit your head last month?" he demanded. "Last time I checked, this was a sixteen year old girl. Sixteen, Yuy, not six!"
Heero glared at him defensively, but there was still that sense of uncomfortableness to him-- the closest to embarrassment Wufei had ever seen him in. The realization caused him to smirk.
Trowa and Wufei weren't the only ones trying to lighten the mood, as awkward as it was for them to do so.
Heero raised the stuffed bear half-heartedly, as if to knock Wufei upside the head with it, still scowling. "Shut up. What would you know about women, Chang? You think they're target practice," he shot back a little defensively.
Behind him, Trowa gave a small, soft smile at the hint of a playful mood to the usually gruff pilot. Wufei was suitably if secretly impressed. That month with Maxwell and Winner healing his wounds had probably been the best thing that could have happened to someone as emotionally disabled as Heero. Even if these rare moments of playfulness or humor were usually an act, the fact that he bothered to try meant something.
"Hit me with that and I'll make you eat it," Wufei warned.
Trowa chuckled quietly and gently tugged the toy from Heero's grasp. "She's a girl," he pointed out. "From what I understand, girls like things like this, no matter what age they are."
Wufei could think of a few choice opinions about women to go with that observation, but decided at the last minute to keep them to himself. The group of chatty young girls nearby made the decision for him more than anything else.
"We'll take this," Trowa said to the vendor. Heero handed over a few wadded credits, stuffed the ugly purchase in a paper bag, and continued through the crowd with his two companions.
Was this it, then? Wufei wondered nervously. Was this Trowa's real plan-- to get them to relax? To finally broach that touchy subject? He'd just started to succeed in destroying his memories of the two boys-- or rather, the touch and taste of them --during his travels. He'd been secretly relieved that the whole thing seemed to be in the past. But Heero had said one day they would talk about it. And now it seemed Trowa was taking him at his word.
It wasn't right, and Wufei knew it. He spared his partners a quick sideways glance as they walked. If either of them was still interested in pursuing..whatever had happened during the war... then it was clear who the obvious choice should be.
He and Heero may have a spark, but it was Trowa that Heero really wanted. And to be honest, he himself hadn't had that much time to really get to know Trowa. A small spark, but not enough. Nothing that had been set so solid as that day in the hangar underneath the watchful eyes of Shenlong and Wing. And, he recalled with a wince, a security camera.
No, if anything was to come out of this whole mess, it should be a chance for the other two. Wufei was just fine by himself; he'd meant what he'd said to Heero. Or at least he was fairly positive. But these two... maybe now that the war was over, they yearned to try to lead a normal life. Have a relationship, settle down, for all he knew. That wasn't for Wufei. He'd not been willing to settle down at 13 with his betrothed, and he sure as hell wasn't ready now, at nearly 16. He was too young, too independent... not to mention stubborn, proud, and secretly scared shitless at the very idea of a real relationship.
Yes-- definitely not for him. He would let those two have the relationship thing, and he would be off in his search for family once more.
Maybe he would even start going to school again. Or maybe...
A sharp tug on his ponytail made him lurch back in a frantic attempt to stop the stinging pain at the base of his skull.
Heero, who'd stopped behind him and calmly seized the offending hair to get his attention, met his deadly glare with a scowl. He let go of the ponytail before Wufei could take his hand off, and said bluntly, "You aren't listening."
"I was," he said immediately.
Trowa arched a brow at him, but declined to comment. Wufei glanced around quickly, soothing his ruffled pride. Yuy would definitely pay for that. Heathen.
They'd stopped at another vendor, this one selling some kind of spicy-smelling food. At the rich smell of it, Wufei realized belatedly just how hungry he was.
"Your stomach has been growling for awhile now," Trowa pointed out dryly, paying the vendor and waiting for his food. He pointed at a few benches set a little farther from the crush of the afternoon shoppers. "We can sit there and eat.."
Something seized Wufei's leg.
He had not brought his sword with him, mindful of the crowd that would be in such a place. But he still had his body to react with. He jerked the leg away, at the same time twisting to see his attacker, elbow jerking downwards in a deadly blow.
Heero's hand had darted for a gun that was no longer there at Wufei's first sudden move, but he took in the situation a split second quicker than his companion. He shot out an arm, blocking the blow, and hissed a command to stop. At the same time Trowa slid a leg in between Wufei's and trapped them efficiently to prevent a sudden kick.
It was all a flurry of movement, most of it incomprehensible to any onlookers-- the gaping vendor, for instance --until they'd all frozen a second later, locked together.
Heart thundering with adrenaline, muscles straining against his partners' hold, Wufei stared down in dawning shock and disbelief at his "attacker".
A little boy, no older than four or five, stared up at him with wide, confused eyes. For several long moments, none of them moved. The three pilots stared dumbly down at the little boy, and he in turn ogled them in innocent curiosity. Then he seemed to realize belatedly that the leg he'd latched onto had not, in fact, been his mother's. He turned this way and that, a little unsteadily, before spotting a familiar calf and stumbling after it.
Wufei let out a slow breath and let his tensed muscles relax. Trowa's leg slipped free, and Heero lowered his arm. They didn't speak. Nothing was said about the incident because it was not unexpected. It could have happened to any of them. A month after the war, and they were still twitching trigger fingers at every stray shadow, lying awake long into the night, and taking alternate routes to avoid anyone they imagined might be following them.
Maybe in a year they would start to relax. Maybe in a year, or two years. But one month was far too soon for the ex-soldiers to battle back instincts and loosen their guard. Heero and Trowa didn't blame Wufei for his dangerous reaction to what had turned out to be an innocent civilian.
They all knew there was still the possibility that the next time, it might not be such an innocent face looking up at them.
They turned back to the vendor-- who was still staring at them --and waited for him to shut his mouth and give them their food.
When they had received their food-- some kind of juicy meat about the size of a fist on a stick --they wandered over to the benches. Trowa seated himself properly, while Wufei leaned against one of the rare trees and Heero kind of perched on the edge of the bench, unable to pay much attention to the food due to the constant suspicious glances he favored everyone with who passed too close.
This was a conversation none of them were too keen to bring up-- not even Trowa, who had tricked them into this meeting. So they ate slowly and without speaking, prolonging the inevitable.
Heero finished first, of course, since he would rather get a 'mission' out of the way. Trowa finished a little while after, but Wufei continued to nibble at his nervously while pretending he wasn't nervous at all. He finally gave it up when both pilots turned to look at him with arched brows, and finished up the rest of the snack with two bites. Scowling weakly, he began to fiddle with the stick absently as he looked around at the market-goers, unable as yet to meet his partners' eyes. His wandering gaze landed on the rumpled paper sack, and he seized on the inane topic.
"Is Relena still badgering you?" he grunted.
Heero snorted, picking at a chip in the stone bench with his pointed stick-- unconscious proof that he was just as unsure how to go about the real subject as they were. "About the bodyguard position? Yes."
"She's trying to wear you down," Wufei pointed out dryly, rolling his eyes. "Maxwell was right. She's your stalker."
Heero scowled darkly at him.
Trowa tossed his stick into a wastebin and crossed his arms over his chest, staring straight ahead. He was not to be deterred by his companions' attempts at stalling. "It was you who dragged this.. situation-" Wufei wondered if he'd meant 'problem'- "into the open and shook it in our faces like a shotgun, Heero," he said quietly. "And I'm afraid you've been more honest about it than either of us." Wufei flinched a little at that. "Am I to assume you had an idea of what's to be done about this?"
Heero looked at him, blank-faced. "I meant what I said," he insisted bluntly. "I had no plan. It just happened."
Trowa closed his eyes for patience, or maybe guidance. Wufei felt as if he could use a little guidance himself right then. He sent out a quick prayer to his ancestors to send along a rogue group of mobile dolls. That would certainly take their attention off this uncomfortable subject.
The fake overhead sky remained clear, however, and Wufei took it as a damnable sign to put in his two cents. "You said you wouldn't choose," he muttered, not quite able to meet those penetrating blue eyes. "I see only two options left from that, both of them unthinkable. One, we choose for you." He arched a brow at them both. "Two.." he bit back a wince at the sheer stupidity of the idea, "you're suggesting something highly unorthodox."
Heero didn't seem to understand his wording right away, but Trowa looked up at him with no surprise, only the faintest hint of trepidation in his eyes, despite his calm face. "You mean the three of us," he translated softly. "..Together."
Wufei frowned and focused his attention on the plastic grass at his feet.
Heero cocked his head as if-- curse the insufferable idiot! --the idea had never occured to him. Which perhaps it hadn't. The slightly pensive frown on his face made Wufei want to groan.
"Don't even think about it," Wufei snapped, glaring at him warningly. "Sorry to put such a stupid idea in your head. Such a thing is ridiculous, dangerous, and.. and.." he tried to grasp the right word to pound in the sense of its ludicrousy, "unheard of," he finally finished huffily.
Heero cocked a brow at him. "That's your argument?" he demanded dryly. "Because it's dangerous or different?"
"It's just not done," Wufei said shortly.
"Wufei," Trowa murmured, looking vaguely amused. "'Not done'? I'm beginning to grow curious of your upbringings."
Wufei bristled, and turned his glare on the helpless wastebin.
"Maybe that's what you were taught," Heero started to say.
But Wufei interrupted him irritably. "What difference does it make how I was brought up or what I was taught? It's something any fool knows. Just as we knew there was no room for any relationship of any sort during the war. No time for women, civilians, wives-" here he shot Trowa a Look, "or otherwise."
"Does sex count?" Heero asked so blandly Wufei couldn't tell if he was being serious or sarcasatic.
Wufei fought not to blush as he glared daggers at the wiry boy. "Sex happens. It isn't planned. It's not unusual for such things to happen in war when every day could be your last. But Heero, what you're suggesting--"
"I didn't suggest anything," Heero countered. "You did."
"I did nothing of the sort!" Wufei practically shouted, cheeks flushing. "Stop putting words in my mouth!"
"You listed two possibilties. One, for you two to choose, Two--"
"Yuy! Are you a voice recorder?? Shut up!"
"All right," Trowa interrupted sharply. "Snapping at each other is only going to make this worse."
"You've hung around Winner too much," Wufei growled.
Trowa shot him a quick sideways glare. The hint of annoyance was so rare that Wufei shut his mouth with a click of teeth.
"You're both jumping too far ahead," Trowa continued more calmly, gazing at the milling people with shielded eyes. "We need more time to think this through. To figure out what we really want." He paused, thinking. "A man I knew used to say 'Distance makes the heart grow fonder'. I don't think I believe that." He hesitated for a longer instant this time, obviously unsure if he should even continue. His eyes dropped to the stick in his hand as he picked off a bit of meat from the wood. "Why don't we try this instead..."
He'd seen her coming from far down the street. But he didn't want to spoil her surprise, so when she twitched the paper out of his hand and grinned down at him, he adopted a startled look before flashing his biggest grin at her.
"Hilde!" he greeted with honest affection. "Hey, chica, what's up? Didn't think I'd see you again."
The young girl seated herself across from him at the small outdoor table, glancing around at the passing people on the sidewalk and the tiny restaurant they were seated outside of. "Yeah, I asked around, heard a suggestion that you might be here... I was hoping to see you before you disappeared on me again." She smiled at him.
Duo snorted, reaching for his soda. "Took you long enough," he teased. Then his face settled into more solemn lines as he lowered his head just enough to peer at her over the rims of his sunglasses. "You doing all right?" he asked quietly.
Her smile hesitated, and there it was-- that flash of deep pain and weariness Duo saw himself in the mirror every day. Then she'd glanced away and her smile was back. "I'm OK," she said. "It's just... strange, you know? Hard to believe it's really over. I keep waiting for-"
"The other shoe to drop, right?" Duo finished with an unamused smirk. "Yeah. Know how you feel." He poked his plate towards her with the bottom of his glass. "Here, try the fish. Not bad."
She declined with a shake of her head. "So what have you been up to, Duo? I didn't think it was.. well, safe for you guys. Miss Peacecraft may have put out a pardon for the five of you after you saved earth like that, but there are still veterans who would love to see you dead."
"Yeah, no kidding." Duo turned his head so she could see. "That's why I'm incognito, honey."
Hilde gasped, her eyes widening in horror. "Oh, Duo, no," she wailed. "Not your braid..."
Duo smirked, reaching over to tweak her nose. "You look like a frog. Quit with that face. And you can stop the waterworks. You think I'd chop off the most beautiful hair in the colonies just because a bunch of pucker-ass motherfuckers want my head on a spike? Chill, I just hide it under the jacket."
She breathed out a sigh of relief, relaxing back in her seat. "Thank goodness. I thought you'd lost your mind..." She trailed off, confused at the sudden flash of pain in the other boy's amethyst eyes. "Duo? What's wrong?"
"Don't 'huh' me, you sneaky little thief. Tell me what's wrong. And don't try to weasel your way out of it, I know you don't lie." She crossed her arms over her stomach and gave him a haughty look.
Duo made a face at her, then shrugged one shoulder. He dropped his eyes to his plate and picked half-heartedly at his fish. "Some people do, you know," he said so quietly she had to strain to hear him. "...Lose their minds, I mean. Doctors call it 'post traumatic stress syndrom' or 'having a nervous breakdown'. Fancy names for 'gone completely round the bend'."
Hilde didn't know how to answer that. She searched her friend's face anxiously, but he'd hidden his eyes under the shadow of his ragged bangs, and his mouth was a straight line. Still, the bitterness in his voice worried her. She started to push him further, then changed her mind and tactfully changed the subject. "So what do you plan to do now? I mean, you're not a Gun-- er, soldier anymore. Plan on settling down with anyone?" She fluttered her lashes teasingly.
Duo glanced up at her with a small smile. "You could say that," he said mysteriously. But that pain in his eyes would not go away.
He rose to his feet abruptly, as if knowing what she was going to ask. "Not sure what I'll do, yet. Maybe start some kinda mechanic shop, who knows? I could make a killing on some of the more run-down shitholes..." He looked around fondly. "Like this old bird." He knocked his heel against the ground, the faint metallic sound betraying the colony's makeup. "Don't think I'll stick around in one place too long, though. Not for awhile yet, anyway. I'd feel better if I wasn't so easy to find."
"But I found you," Hilde pointed out, also getting to her feet.
"True," Duo agreed with a twinkle in his eye. "Strange, that." He gave her a mock salute. "Well, nice chatting with you, Hil. Maybe I'll see you around again soon. But I've got a shuttle to catch."
Hilde wished she could talk more with her mysterious friend, but knew better than to try to hold him back from something. She smiled warmly at him. "You watch your back, Duo Maxwell," she whispered.
"Always do," he assured her. Thrusting his hands in his pockets, he turned and started to walk away.
Hilde blinked, and looked quickly from the table to his retreating back. "Ah- Duo, your food. You forgot to pay for it.."
He glanced back at her and gave her a wicked grin. "That's cuz I didn't order it, chica. See ya!"
"But... Ohhh you-!" She turned back around quickly, afraid suddenly to find an angry customer or waiter coming down on her. No one was coming, however, so his thievery had not yet been noticed. By the time she turned again, Duo had disappeared.
"Be careful, you blockhead," she murmured to the uncaring walls of the colony. "Please be careful..."
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