Ch 5: "Introspect"

"Whatcha doin'~?"
Wufei looked up from where he was digging through the toolbox in the shed and wiped sweat from his brow. There were smudges of oil on his face and arms. "Working on the bike," he grunted. "There's mud in the engine."
"Oh, yeah." Duo cracked a grin, leaning one elbow on the shelf as he looked down at the crouching Shenlong pilot. "Hey, it was my fault, I can do it. I'm a mechanic, remember?"
Wufei shrugged, returning his attention to the toolbox. "I need something to do with my hands.."
"So to speak," Duo cut in, smirking.
Wufei offered a withering look. "I need something to do with my hands," he repeated slowly, "while I'm thinking."
"Whatcha thinkin' about?" Duo inquired, crouching before the other boy.
Wufei drew out a wrench and reached for an oily rag. Duo handed it to him helpfully. "The mission," he lied.
"Doesn't sound too hard," Duo scoffed with a one-shoulder shrug. "Make an OZ base go boom. Watch the little people run around like dogs with rabies. Sounds kinda fun, actually." He grinned maniacally.
Wufei couldn't resist rolling his eyes as he rose to his feet and walked over to the dirtbike. "Your idea of 'fun' is something to worry about, Maxwell."
"How sweet. So you do worry about me," Duo teased, following him. He gazed at the other pilot, suddenly serious. "As always."
Wufei flicked him a sharp glance out of the corner of his eye, but remained silent. He got down on his knees and began to tinker with the engine. Duo watched him work for a few minutes before wandering off. Wufei continued to work determindly on the engine, a little grateful for the other's absence. Duo's comment had thrown him off for a moment, making him suspicious. Though it was only to be expected, he thought to himself. Duo was not as stupid as he often acted. After his furious defense of the braided pilot, Duo just had to put two and two together and swallow his stubborn pride to suspect that the dragon warrior had been worrying after his safety and wellbeing for quite some time, now.
He could even pinpoint the exact time his frustration with Duo had started turning undeniably towards genuine worry for him.
He and Duo had still been lightly bickering every now and then, back before their little arguments had begun to wheel out of control to outright rude comments and shouting. Duo was like no one he had ever met before: loud, happy-go-lucky, brash, a firey bundle of energy and wits that seemed unceasing. He had, like most people who met the American, been fooled into thinking Duo really was as silly as he acted sometimes, and hadn't taken him seriously as a soldier after one look at that cocky grin and damned braid.
But Duo was just as good a soldier as any of the other four Gundam pilots, with an iron rod of stubborness and determination running straight through him. He was stronger, quicker, and a hell of a lot smarter than he looked, and Wufei had grown to grudgingly respect the other boy after the first two missions in which he'd seen the other boy fight. It was watching the other boy throw himself into danger time and time again that began to slowly eat at him as he tentatively accepted Duo as an almost-friend, something he had been sorely missing from his life for years. He had told the other boy not to be so reckless, to look before he leaped, and Duo had just laughed him off, had said he could handle it. But it was not in Wufei's nature to act concerned about another, and so he always came across as nagging, and by the time he realized he was taking the wrong approach, it was too late. Duo began to grow irritated with him and before long they were snapping at each other every other chance they got. It hurt Wufei a little, in some deep, hidden part of himself, but he had become so blinded by his aggravation with the other boy that he rarely stopped to admit the pain their animosity towards each other caused him.
Until that day.
He, Heero, and Duo had been captured by OZ, thrown into a cell after the American had suffered several bad-tempered blows and beatings as a result of his smart mouth. Duo had seemed to take it all in stride, settling down quickly afterwards for a quick "nap", no doubt a way of escaping the pain. And something in Wufei had throbbed with frustrated sympathy for the other boy, and rage towards their captors. It had almost scared him, these unasked for feelings. He had looked towards Heero, sitting calmly against the wall as he waited for Trowa to appear with information- of course Wufei hadn't known he was waiting until later. By then he had begun to suspect that Duo was crushing on the dark-haired soldier, but from what he could tell, Heero was either blind (and stupid not to jump at the chance), or didn't return the American's secret feelings. He had seemed unaffected by Duo's maltreatment, watching the guards strike his mouthy partner with cool indifference, not even speaking to him when later the braided baka was thrown into the cell to join them.
Wufei had felt sudden anger towards the perfect soldier, along with a rush of something dangerously close to jealousy. Here was Duo, offering his heart on a platter at every turn, and Heero coldly turned away from the silent invitation every time, never seeing the hurt, the rejection, that shone in Duo's eyes briefly afterwards. But Wufei saw. He always saw.
He saw the determination that flared in those violet orbs moments later, the will to continue trying to win the other pilot only growing with each rebuttal. Wufei had to admire Duo for that- to keep trying, for love's sake, even though it looked like he had a snowball's chance in hell at getting any sign of affection from the infamous Heero Yuy.
It was the bruises he couldn't stand to look at.
Heero did not beat Duo on a daily basis by any means. But he did tend to crack a fist across Duo's jaw or belt him one in the belly when Duo was being foolish-- a stupid, instinctive method to silence him that made Wufei's blood boil. What was even worse than that was that Duo put up with it. He had looked so shocked, so betrayed, the first time Heero had hit him- but soon it had only served to spark his temper, causing him to snap at the prussian-eyed pilot, looking almost ready to retaliate. But he almost always stopped himself. He had had it out with Heero once; Heero had struck him, Duo had lashed out furiously, and the two had rolled on the ground in a fierce fistfight brought on by their pent-up frustrations before a tense mission. Heero had won, of course. Duo had fought with a will, and Heero had sported a black eye and a cracked lip for awhile afterwards, but he was just too strong, too well-trained for Duo to compete with his street-style fighting, and he had emerged the victor. After that Duo didn't retaliate with his fists, using his mouth to offer curses or waspish comments after being struck. And Wufei always stepped in, bearing the brunt of Duo's temper to prevent the other pilot from doing something stupid. It helped the other boy blow off steam, even if it meant sacrificing any tentative friendship Wufei had been trying to build between them.
It had taken Wufei a long time to stop denying his budding feelings for the other boy, but by the time he had come to a full realization it, it was too late. Duo was too infatuated with Heero to give him a second thought. In his rejection and frustration, his comments and nagging had turned more condenscending, and their relationship had plummeted, seemingly never to be repaired.
But after yesterday...
Wufei leaned back on his heels, wiping sweat from his upper lip.
Duo wasn't stupid. He was beginning to suspect at least part of the reason behind Wufei's bitching and cool attitude towards Yuy. Maybe now they could restart their friendship.. and, maybe... maybe some day it would become something else.
'Keep dreaming, Wufei,' he thought to himself bitterly, and reached for the oily rag to wipe off the engine.
"Feel like a break?"
Wufei looked up, startled by Duo's sudden entrance.
The braided teen grinned down at him, holding two tall glasses of iced lemonade. He jerked his head towards the shed door. "C'mon, take a breather, man."
Wufei hesitated, looking from the finished engine to the grinning boy, before pushing himself to his feet and following him outside. Duo continued to walk once they got into the sunlight, and Wufei followed him, puzzled. Where was Duo taking him?
They climbed the hill Wufei travelled to go to his exercise place in the woods- the hill Duo had stumbled up last night after his heartbreak on finding Heero in Trowa's arms.
Duo stopped at the top of the hill and settled into a cross-legged sitting position, facing the woods. Wufei sat beside him on the warm grass and gratefully excepted the chilled lemonade Duo offered, grunting his thanks.
"Finished with the engine, yet?" Duo asked, playing his long fingers around his cup's rim, looking at Wufei with those intriguing violet eyes.
Wufei took a sip from his own glass to avoid the almost unnerving, straightforward gaze. "Aa."
"Cool." Duo took a sip of his drink before setting it beside him, leaning back on his hands and lifting his head to inhale the fresh air. "Ahh," he breathed, looking content. "It's nice outside today. We don't get much time to just sit and enjoy the scenery."
"Aa," Wufei agreed quietly, looking at him out of the corner of his eye wonderingly. Duo bounced back from things so quickly. He looked as if he didn't have a care in the world; as if there wasn't a war going on, as if he wasn't dancing an inticrite dance with death every time he fought... as if his heart hadn't just been broken the night before. But had he really recovered so quickly, or was it another of his cheerful acts? Sometimes it was hard to tell with Duo unless looking him right in the eye. Duo's eyes were a window to his soul, his emotions shining through them even when his tone and expression said something different. Perhaps that was why Duo kept his bangs so ragged- to hide his true feelings when it was just too much to take. And that damned black hat he sometimes wore; he always tugged it down over his eyes when he was thinking about something. "..Duo," he started, knowing the subject would have to be brought up eventually.
Duo turned to him quickly, grinning wildly. "Hey! Wanna hear a joke?"
Wufei blinked at the abrupt question. "Eh?"
"It's funny, I swear," Duo chortled. "I tried to tell it to Hee.. Anyway, wanna hear it?"
That did it. If Heero had refused to listen to it, then he was going to listen, dammit. No matter how corny it was. At least it might make Duo laugh.
"Ok... these two old friends are fishing one day at a pond. Bob turns to Jack and gestures towards the boats pulled close to shore. 'You see those boats?' he asks. 'I built those. I built them with my own two hands. I build impressive boats that will be the envy of every other town, and people come to me and say Bob, please build me a boat. But do they call me Bob the Great Boat Builder?' He shook his head sorrowfully. 'No.'"
Wufei stared at Duo, having a feeling this was going to be a dirty joke, coming from Duo, but he managed to hold his tongue.
Duo continued cheerfully, "Then Bob points at the houses of the town. 'You see those houses over there? I built those houses. I built them with my own two hands. I build strong houses that will last for years. People come to me and say Bob, please build me a house. But do they call me Bob the Great House Builder?' Bob shook his head sorrowfully. 'No.'" Duo was grinning as he lifted a finger. "'But you fuck ONE goat...'"
Wufei stared at his companion in horror.
Duo collapsed on his back laughing hysterically. "AHAHAHAHAHA!! You should see your face! Hoohoohahahaha!! Isn't that a great joke??"
Wufei sweatdropped, but felt a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth despite himself- more as a reaction to Duo's mirth than the joke itself. "Duo... you're sick."
"Heyyyyy!" Duo exclaimed, sitting up so fast Wufei jumped. Duo beamed at him. "I just realized- you don't call me Maxwell anymore!" He looked pleased as he pat the other boy on the shoulder, hard. "Good Wuffie! You're finally not acting like such a stiff!"
Wufei gave him a deadpan look. "I thought that was your role, SHINIGAMI."
"Wufei! You made a joke!!" Duo squawked. "Holy shit! Alert the media! It was a lame joke, yeah, but..."
Wufei snorted, pushing him so that he fell on his back again. "Baka. Your joke was worse."
"Was not! I love that joke! Wanna hear another?"
Wufei shook his head quickly. "Er, no. One's enough. More than enough."
Duo pouted up at him, still sprawled on his back. "You're no fun."
Wufei rolled his eyes.
"You're so cute when you blush," Duo snickered.
"Wh-what??" Wufei exclaimed, feeling his cheeks heat up. "I didn't blush!"
"Yes you did!" Duo shot back gleefully. "At the punchline. You're doing it again!"
"I am not!" Wufei nearly shouted, getting redder. "And I'm not 'cute', Maxwell! You twit!"
Duo sat up and scrunched up his eyes, sticking out his tongue like a little kid. "Nyaa!"
Wufei snorted with amusement to cover his laugh. "Must you act so childish?" he asked as calmly as he could.
"It makes life more fun," Duo said airly, flapping a hand dismissively. "Must you act like such a prude?"
"Prude?" Wufei repeated as if it were a bad word, giving Duo an incredulous look.
"Yeah, you heard me," Duo taunted, his eyes flickering with humor. "You're a prude. Whatcha gonna do about it?"
Wufei grabbed for him, but it was like trying to capture greased lightening. Duo wriggled out of his grip and shot to his feet, racing towards the woods with a whoop. Wufei jumped to his own feet and gave chase.
Duo was fast from his years as a street rat, and he would have gotten away if it hadn't been that Wufei knew the woods better than he. Wufei was a fast runner as well, and caught up quickly, reaching out to snag the braid dancing just ahead of him.
"OWWW!!" Duo howled as he was tugged back sharply by the offending hair. "Leggo!"
"Oof!" Wufei grunted in surprise as the other pilot drove an elbow into his stomach. He wrapped an arm quickly around Duo's torso from behind, pinning his arms, and pulled on the braid so that Duo's head was tilted back. "Baka," he growled in Duo's ear. He smirked. "Game over, Maxwell."
Duo blinked up at him, face tilted back so that he was staring directly into Wufei's face.
...Which was only inches away.
Suddenly Wufei seemed to realize the position they were in and released him hastily, as if he was hot to the touch. He retreated a step to regain his personal space, and Duo turned to face him, massaging the base of his skull with a little wince. "Itaiii," he complained. "That hurt. No going for the braid, mister," he said sternly. "Or I'll whoop your ass."
"Hn," Wufei snorted, crossing his arms over his chest, trying to hide how flustered he was after the close confrontation. "Try it."
Duo made a face at him. "NOW who's acting childish?" he demanded. Then his face softened into more serious planes, his eyes cloudy with an unreadable emotion or thought. "I brought you out here to thank you," he said quietly. "For last night, I mean. And... I guess for always being there for me. Even if I didn't notice or appreciate it."
Wufei was a little embarrassed by the unexpected show of gratitude. He glanced away with a weak scowl.
"And don't try to argue with me or deny it, either, Wufei," Duo said as Wufei opened his mouth. He frowned. "I'm not stupid, you know."
Wufei looked at him steadily. "No, you're not," he said at last, quietly.
Something like surprise flickered across Duo's features, and his eyes softened a little. He walked past Wufei, his voice cheerful. "C'mon, Wu-man, might as well eat something before we go on the mission later."
"Don't call me that," Wufei said automatically, even as he fell in step beside the other pilot.
"What?" Duo asked innocently. "Wu-man?"
"Duo.." Wufei growled.
"Wu-man, he-man, always a prude-man," Duo sang.
Wufei ended up chasing the braided baka back to the house, Duo's laughter ringing on the morning air.


"Hello again."
Duo settled himself on the floor, giving his reflection a solemn look. "OK, wiseass," he said quietly, propping his elbows on his knees. "So you were right." He took a shaky breath. "Heero does... care for another." He glanced away, waiting for the dull ache in his chest to go away before he continued. "And in hindsight, he's been a prick to me a lot. He never looked at me the way I saw him, did he?" He shook his head slowly, watching his other self do the same, staring into violet pools of sorrow and regret. "But that's ok," he said with quiet but mock cheerfulness. "Him and Trowa are good for each other, I guess. I guess Heero didn't tell me about them because he didn't think I was worth it..."
'Heero didn't tell me about them because he didn't want to hurt me.'
Duo stopped and stared at his reflection for a long moment, his eyes smarting. "That's good to know, at least," he whispered, blinking hard. "Heero is a jerk, but he isn't as cold-hearted as he seems, ne?" He sighed gustily, leaning forward a little. "Wufei is..." He stopped, trying to figure out how to summarize all the thoughts and unknown feelings he had had whirling in him ever since their trip to the gas station. "Wufei isn't a bad guy. We were actually friends for a little while- back before I started really falling for Heero and began to blow him off. I wonder if it hurt him when I started taking offense to all his teasing." He shook his head. "I'm an idiot. Wufei was there all along, trying to be my friend, and..." He stopped and blinked. "What?" He leaned even closer. "Wufei was there all along," he repeated slowly, "trying to be my friend."
'Wufei was there all along, trying to love me.'
"..Despite all the things I said to him," Duo instinctively finished in a murmur, his heart skipping a beat. He leaned back quickly, taking in a quick breath. It suddenly felt warm in the dark room. "" he repeated, voice almost inaudible. His reflection gazed back at him with an identical expression of surprise and trepidation. "Wufei... does he...?"
"Duo, are you down there?"
Duo turned quickly as there were footsteps on the stairs. "Er- yeah! Down here!"
Quatre stepped into the room, glancing around curiously. "Uh, Wufei said you might be down here," he explained. "He says it's almost time to go. It's a quarter to one."
"All right. I'll be up in a minute," Duo said quickly.
Quatre gave him a funny look and turned to go.
"Quatre," Duo said suddenly, on impulse. The blond Arabian turned questioningly.
Duo hesitated, nibbling on his bottom lip. "You're nice to all of us," he said. "So you know us all pretty well, I guess. Do you... think Wufei's capable of love?"
Quatre blinked, surprised by the question. "Why wouldn't he be?"
"I just... I dunno. He acts so stiff all the time. Well- some of the time," he corrected himself, remembering their race down the hill earlier that morning with a faint smile. "Why do you think he's like that?"
Quatre gave him a gentle smile. "Why don't you ask him?" he said quietly before turning and disappearing up the stairs once more.
Duo watched him go before turning back to the mirror.
Then the mirror did something he had never seen it do before.
The other Duo stared solemnly back at him, his lips forming silent words.
'Ask him about Meilan.'
A chill went up Duo's spine, and he scrambled to his feet, staring wildly at his reflection. "What?" He demanded. "What are you talking about? Who's Meilan?"
But his reflection just mimicked his moves and didn't do anything else unusual.
Still feeling uneasy, Duo turned and ran up the stairs.

Wufei looked up as Duo walked out into the afternoon sunlight. He sheathed his saber. "Ready to go?"
"Yeah, in a minute," Duo edged, nibbling on the end of his braid and giving Wufei a look that was almost wary. "Hey, 'Fei, got a minute?"
Wufei frowned in puzzlement and nodded.
Duo opened his mouth and then closed it again. How to say this without giving away the secret of the mirror? He couldn't lie and say he'd heard the other boy say it in his sleep. Duo Maxwell never lied if he could help it. Even to satisfy his curiosity. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
Wufei stared hard at him for a long moment, silently debating. "If you'll return the favor," he said at last.
Duo hesitated, knowing what that would cost him. If he asked Wufei about his past, Wufei would have the right to turn around and ask him about his. And that would mean telling him about the Maxwell Church.
He had never told anybody that before.
It was painful to think about, much less talk about. But it was only fair; and for Wufei to set these terms, he had a feeling the Chinese boy's history was not very pretty, either. "Deal," he said finally, his voice shaking just a little.
Wufei crossed his arms over his chest, a defensive posture, and his face turned expressionless. "What did you want to ask me?"
Duo took a deep breath and looked the other pilot in the eye. "Why do you fight for justice?"

Author's Notes: Geh... ^^;; Sorry this chap took so long to get out compared to the others. After Wufei's big thoughts at the beginning of the chapter I was kinda wufei and duo'd out, so I put the fic aside to let my thoughts straighten before continuing, since this fic's almost wrapped up. I'm thinking one more chapter, but you never know.. my evil muses might throw me a twist and give me two. I plan basics of a story, or big events, but 95% of the stories I write are spur of the moment and just develop as I write them. Which is why this fic is going to be longer than the intended 5 chapters. -_-; It could have been longer, but I didn't want to start another little saga; so unfortunately things seem pretty rushed.

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Ch. 2
Ch. 3
Ch. 4
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Ch. 7