- 16 -

Maybe we were at a stable point, after all.  It blew over after an hour, though I was sure the incident hadn't been forgotten, just set aside in favor of more important matters.  We paused in our journey only long enough to switch drivers halfway back to Brussels.  Other than that, though it was the middle of the night, we didn't stop our operation.  Some of it would have to wait until we had returned to HQ, such as the reconstruction of the shredded documents that Trowa had snagged, secure in the belief that, if they were missed the next day, they would assume that the cleaning crew had disposed of all of it.  Much of the other work we could do right in the van, such as the correlation of samples to strains.

When the sun dawned the next morning, we didn't see it, but only because we were locked up in our windowless office again, still putting together our case.  Une scheduled a preliminary debriefing at oh-eight-hundred, and after we had presented our initial findings, she assigned what seemed like a platoon of people to assist us, though there were really only half a dozen.  With the case practically guaranteed to come to a satisfactory conclusion in the very near future, we could afford to declassify at least Meridian's role in illegitimate research concerns and unethical business practices.  The additional manpower really helped to speed things along.  They were minds trained and skilled in sniffing out the clues from the paperwork.

By the end of the workday, we were good to go.  A full-scale, Preventers-backed official raiding party had been authorized, with Une at the fore of gathering the troops.  We were each glad not to have to deal with the details of that, and yet I think it sat uneasily with all of us to have been in the middle of the action, only now to take a back seat when things were just reaching their climax.

Still, we would be a part of the party the next day.  For one night, at least, we could stand down and have faith that all would be ready the next morning.  It felt uncannily like letting Howard's repair crews fix our Gundams before our next battle.

Quatre, unfortunately, had other business concerns that he had to attend to while in the city.  Trowa accompanied him to make sure that his brief downtime was not entirely squandered on such things.  I was well on my way to grabbing some quick grub in the commissary when Duo stopped me with a hand on my upper arm and a hard look.   "Where do you think you're going, Yuy?"

I blinked at him, not quite certain what the appropriate response was, and not quite willing to take the chance.

He continued to look steadily at me until he finally gave up and rolled his eyes.  "Hey, Fei.  Why is it that Yuy's been in town all this time, and he still hasn't been invited over to your place?"

That prompted a little more blinking, both from me and Wufei.  Finally, Wufei turned to me and responded to the accusation.  "You will eat with us tonight."

Since there had been no room in that statement for dissent, I agreed.

Wufei's apartment was a cozy little place.  Clean and uncluttered while maintaining a definite statement of taste, about the only thing that seemed out of place was Duo's duffel sitting by the foot of the sofa, and even that didn't look unwelcome.  I probably should have helped them get dinner together more than I did, but they insisted I was a guest, and I was too distracted wondering what I had expected out of Wufei's apartment.

There were two very large bookcases filled with things I was certain Wufei had actually read and digested despite their orderly arrangement.  Other than that, there were a few elegant Chinese ink paintings adorning the walls and a few houseplants.  Most of his furniture was designed with straight, clean lines.  His sofa was not quite.  It was a large, amply cushioned sort of thing that probably didn't give Duo a hard time when he slept in it.  It, too, somehow managed to match the rest of the decor, as if its comfort counterbalanced the severity of the rest of the furniture.

I felt a sudden pang of homesickness, which I might have suffered more severely if I hadn't been simultaneously surprised and delighted that I was finally in a situation to feel such a thing.   Though there had been plenty of times when I would rather have been home instead of somewhere else, I had never felt it so keenly.  I missed my own bookcase, my own houseplants, my own computers, my own bed.

But none of that was really 'my apartment'.  I was fond of those walls, but I think it was the comfort I missed, of being surrounded by the familiar, by something that I had formed of my own tastes and opinions.  Somewhere I was accepted, even if just by my computers and my blankets and my leafy friends.  Even here, among people whom I considered friends, I didn't feel like I could really relax and just be whoever I felt like being.  I was on guard against their judgment.  I'd felt the sting of their condemnation more than I would have liked.

No, there had been a few short moments of freedom in a room wrapped in confidential darkness just two nights ago.  Would there be more?  We would see.  If there were, they would probably be few, complicated as it was by this notion of not knowing where we stood with each other.  Honestly, it wouldn't have bothered me that much if I hadn't known that it weighed on Duo's mind.

A hand on my shoulder startled me.  I think it startled Duo just as much to see that he had made me jump.  "Hey.  Did you want anything to drink?  Asked a couple of times, but you didn't say anything."

Damn.  I got uneasy when I let my mind wander so far that I lost awareness of my surroundings.  "Sorry.  Guess I wasn't paying attention.  No, I'm fine.  Thank you."

He glanced over his shoulder towards where Wufei was shaking the water off the vegetables, which reminded me of how inconsiderate I was being.  I got up before Duo had turned back to me and went to the kitchen.  "Is there anything I can help with?"

Duo caught up with me and tugged me back in protest.  "Hey, you don't have to help out.  You're a guest, remember?"

"So are you," I reminded him quietly, dwelling on the technicality of the label.  Yes, he was a guest, but he was also a good friend, it seemed, so maybe he didn't warrant the formal treatment, whereas I did.  The thought made me perversely want to help even more.

"Yeah, but--"  He stopped in his excuse, probably thinking the same thing that I had thought, but being too polite to say something along those lines aloud.  I saw that understanding hit him, that moment his face fleetingly expressed something soft and pained before everything smoothed out.  "But this is your first time over.   You get to be coddled at least once before you have to pay your dues."

That was diplomatic of him.  Unfortunately, I was unwilling to oblige.  I stepped out of his grasp and surveyed the kitchen.  Wufei was ignoring our exchange in favor of chopping an onion.  I saw that the rest of the preparations were complete, but there was yet one thing to be done and that was the actual cooking.  The wok had already been set to heat over the flame, so I opened the cupboard next to the stovetop to find the oil.

"Okay, now that's really going too far," Duo protested again.  "Like, setting the table, okay, but actual cooking?"

"There's nothing else left to do."  I put my hand in the concave space of the wok and measured the heat against my skin.  It exuded an impressive warmth.  I was of a mixed opinion of the stovetop I had in my own apartment.  Though the electric components made everything easy to clean and take care of, it just wasn't the same as using a gas stove.  With a skilled hand, I poured the oil in a ring around the wok, getting a slightly geeky zip of pride when I ended the action without any oil dribbling down the side of the container.

Duo probably wanted to argue the matter some more, but maybe he had finally learnt the futility of arguing with me.  He spoke instead of other matters.  "You cook."

"I have to eat, don't I?"

"You cook stir-fry."

I shrugged.  "Quick, simple, and easy to do for one person."

"Can you cook other things?"

Why the sudden fascination with my culinary abilities?   "Sure.  Cooking's not all that hard."  I picked up the pan by the handle and rolled the oil around until it coated the cooking surface evenly.  "Do you cook?"

It became a small competition, masculine pride running headlong into womanly pursuits.  "Of course," he sniffed.  "But I bake more than I cook, really.  I think you can do much more interesting things with baking."

Wufei snorted his way into the conversation.  "Duo doesn't seem to have the patience for mere cooking."

Duo huffed in mock indignation.  "I don't know what you're talking about.  Baking takes much longer than cooking."

"But you just stick it in the oven, set a timer, and forget about it."  He turned to me as if seeking a sympathetic ear.   "He's not good at waiting for the wok to heat enough, nor the oil."

I nodded sagely in understanding.

"Hey."  Duo raised his hands in his own defense.  "I don't get how it makes any sense that things will burn less if the pan is hotter."

"I imagine it has something to do with the viscosity of the oil and--"

"Don't finish that thought, Yuy," he cautioned me, wagging a finger in my direction.  I hadn't yet been able to determine whether my habit of answering rhetorical questions truly annoyed him or amused him.

"But you don't--"  He made a disapproving sound at me and gestured emphatically again.  I thought I detected a faint gleam in his eye.  "You don't have to wait--"

He made that noise again and accompanied it with a humorously serious glare.

I batted his hand away and completed my sentence.  "You don't have to wait long if you turn it on ahead of time.  Since we turned on the flame before chopping the onion, it was already heated up by the time the onion was done."

Holding his vegetables in a colander, Wufei was probably waiting for me to get out of the way so he could make use of the oil that was about ready to start smoking, but I surprised him by plucking the spatula from the container beside the cooktop and relieving him of the vegetables.  After flipping on the overhead fan, I dropped them into the wok with a satisfying hiss and crackle and started to stir-fry.

Duo took the emptied colander off my hands with a look I couldn't quite place.  I was getting a lot of those.  While I flipped my veggies, he glanced at Wufei, then back to me again with an amused snort.  "Huh.  You must be doing something right if Wufei isn't bitching about your technique."

"I do not 'bitch', Maxwell."

He took the colander over to the sink and rinsed it out.   "I'm sorry.  Is 'complain' a better word?  'Whine'?   'Pout'?"

"You're the pouter, Maxwell, not me."

That strange homesickness faded a bit.  While I wouldn't necessarily say that I liked cooking, I did get a pleasant sort of sensation from performing a domestic task and deriving a measurably positive result at the end.  I liked putting things together.  The friendly banter of which I was quite nearly a part helped, too.

"I don't pout, do I?"  Duo pouted exaggeratedly at me, and I laughed.  His expression immediately changed, his eyes widening and his lips forming an 'o'.  "You laughed," he accused me.

I laughed again, this time making it a short, dry sound.   The sizzle-hiss of the vegetables chimed in at just the right time to give it a faintly evil overtone.  "I do that on occasion."

"Since when?"

Again with the accusation.  I suppose that meant he thought it was a change for the better.  He was lucky I took his odd logic with a certain sort of humor.  While I could wish he didn't condemn me for having changed for the better, I chose to accept it as a distinctly 'Duo' phenomenon.  I accepted a lot of 'Duo' phenomena.  Things were easier that way.  "Since always."

"Since when?" he demanded again.

I thought back over the times we had spent together, trying to find some occasion when I had laughed in his presence.  "Okay, maybe not so much during the war."

"Ever so much?"

There seemed to be a few words missing from that question.  Perhaps the sounds of the kitchen overshadowed them.  I glanced over to Wufei, leaning calmly against the counter beside the sink watching us with a curiously intent, closed expression.  I turned back to Duo.  "Huh?"

Unfazed, he clarified.  "I meant, that was like a comparison, right?  'Not so much during the war'... then so much more... when?"

The longer I took to answer the question, the more it seemed I could read his expression, and see something a little bit... hurt? beneath it.  Because he had missed it?  Well, that wasn't anyone's fault.  Or perhaps it was that faint betrayal he had expressed at my perceived change, as if I were leaving him behind in this progression towards inner peace.

"Then..."  I shrugged awkwardly, hand still working at flipping the vegetables.  They were nearing completion.  I found the salt canister.  "...Other times."

A single glance at Duo's faint frown prompted me to add something more to my answer, using this as an example of something I had said earlier that he hadn't quite seemed to accept, though leavening it with a bit of dry humor.  "I spent most of the war alone.   It's not generally considered healthy to laugh too much when a person's by himself."

I felt an irrational surge of pride when I squeezed a small laugh from him.  He declined to continue the exchange further, which gave me the opportunity to request a dish from Wufei.  This time, it was Duo that watched the interaction carefully, and that brief feeling of contentment receded.  I still had to guard against their judgment, it seemed.  I accepted them as they were; had I not earned the same respect from them?

A quick rinse of the wok and we were ready to cook the meat.  I did so with a subdued, silent air.  I'd done this enough times that I didn't need to think very hard about it anymore.  The time during which we waited for the oil to heat once more passed in almost silent challenge from Duo, as if he was testing whether or not we really had the patience we claimed we had.  I know I did.   There was no point in putting effort into something if the end result was going to be suboptimal.  Especially if this effort was some sort of test.  Despite the fact that I thought it an unnecessary test.  Even if it was a test I found myself wanting to pass.

The fact that I couldn't quite make up my mind about the 'test' annoyed me, depressed me, amused me... I couldn't even make up my mind about how I felt about that.  I needed more sleep before I could deal with something of this sort of complexity, so I chose to ignore it for the time being.  The situation, though dynamic, had proven to be omnipresent.  I could deal with it some other time.

Dinner was, at least for me, an uneasy affair.  I found myself uncomfortable even with the way they complimented me on my cooking.  I shook it off enough so that they didn't seem to notice anything amiss, but still it rankled that they would constantly question me, or perhaps more accurately, question my ability to be normal.   I had taken a certain amount of pride in being able to show them more than they had seen during the war, but now I had to stop and wonder just what sort of impression they all had of me that I was constantly showing them things they hadn't expected.  Was it all really so difficult to believe?

Perhaps I needed to temper my uncharitable thoughts.  It had, after all, taken me a few years to prove to myself that I could be normal.  I suppose I couldn't hold it against them that they might need a similar amount of time.  The difference, though, was that I hadn't surprised myself.  I knew it was in me.  I had just needed the time to let it assert itself.

Wufei took care of the dishes after dinner, in return for my cooking.  Duo probably would have split the duty with him to make things even, but that would have left me to my own devices again, so he let it go and sat with me on the sofa.

There were a few obligatory quiet moments before any conversation got underway, and then he asked me a question in all seriousness.  "You want a beer or something?"

"No.  Thank you."  It was an automatic response.  I didn't normally drink on general principle, even though I was fairly confident that a beer wouldn't impact my senses enough to be a threat.  I also didn't drink because I had tried a few different things in my time, but had never really found something enough to my liking to make it worth it.

Duo laughed, finding humor where I saw none.  "That's good to hear, since Fei doesn't stock any.  This is a tea-swilling household."

Without having to look over my shoulder, I remembered that I had seen a hot water heater on the kitchen countertop that would certainly confirm Duo's assertion.  In fact, I belatedly remembered seeing Wufei start to brew a pot.  I must have been less alert than I thought.  I favored Duo with an inquisitive look.  Why had he asked, knowing what he did?

"Hey, you can tell a lot about a guy by what he drinks."

Maybe these 'tests' were just his way of trying to discern more about me.  Could I fault him?  Maybe.  I had hoped that, by now, we knew all the important things about each other.  "Can you do the same with tea?"

He shrugged carelessly.  "What kind of tea do you prefer?"

"Green tea.  Jasmine tea."  I tried to figure out what that could possibly say about me, but I couldn't come up with much.

Duo made a show of considering it.  "Hmmmm.  Real tea, then.  Not the cream and sugar kind."

Cream and sugar weren't inherently evil.  Just with most Asian teas.  "I used to know a guy... He considered all teas to be just about equal since he always put so much sugar in them that they all tasted the same: like sugar."  I shook my head in remembrance.

"Heh, didn't like that, did ya?"

I suppose the disapproval had been made evident in my tone.  "It... saddened me, I think."

He chuckled again.  "And you claim you aren't melancholy."

That brought a faint lopsided smile to my lips.  "I claimed I wasn't always melancholy.  That doesn't mean I don't have my moments."

He shifted in his seat beside me, settling down to something a little more relaxed.  "Why does this guy's tea make you sad?"

It sounded silly when it was phrased like that, but after giving some thought to what I had said, was it really any more silly than the reason?  I could have gotten away without answering, but I answered anyway.  "I think because... there are so many different kinds of tea, and each of them different in their own special ways... and yet he chose to ignore all of that.  He just dismissed all of their unique characteristics in favor of... of dosing them all with enough of what he liked that he could swallow it, and all the while claim that yes, he likes to drink tea.  It just seems so... blind and artificial.  Why bother pretend it's tea at that point?  Why not just admit that you don't like tea, and stop trying to find ways to sugarcoat the truth, or change it into something it's not?  Does a person really benefit from that much self-deception?"  I came to a halt with a startled blink, an off-balance silence, and an uneasy shrug.  "But maybe I'm just reading too much into a cup of tea."

I dared a sidelong glance at Duo, turning into something more direct when I saw a strange, introspective understanding in his face.  He, too, paused for a few long moments before quirking a nonchalant grin at me.  "Heh, guess you really can tell a lot about a guy from the tea he drinks, then."

Or maybe you could tell a lot about a guy from the tea that other people drank.  His grin was used and then dismissed, his look returning to something more deep and complex.  I wanted to know what was behind it, but resigned myself to never finding out unless he told me, which was unlikely.

I felt it only fair that I get to find out about him in return.  "So, do you drink?"

It didn't take that long for his mind to switch gears.   "Me?  Kinda.  I mean, I'll drink, but never as something I would look to do on my own."

"Social drinking, then?"  Yes, that did say something about him.

"I guess you could call it that.  It's never been something I wanted to really wander into..."  His expression darkened.   "Too easy not to wander back out."

There were a lot of ways of coping with our histories.   Alcohol could easily have been one of them.  I tried to imagine myself as an alcoholic.  I could, but only if I'd wanted to become one, or hadn't cared if I did.  If I ever got to that point where I was just numbed beyond all good sense, I could see me throwing myself into it with the same zeal I did anything else.  It was a sobering thought.

"There were a lot of paths I could have chosen," I shared with him softly, counting on him being able to follow my progression of thoughts.  "I'm rather fond of the one I did."

His eyes dropped to the pattern of Wufei's couch.  "Lucky you," he murmured.

That saddened me more than any sugar-laden cup of tea ever would.  I put my hand on top of the one that was scratching discontentedly at the upholstery and tried to catch his eye, but the sound of Wufei turning off the water with a finality that indicated completion of his task cautioned me that our moment was over.  I gave his hand a squeeze and withdrew fingers that decided to brush lightly over the back of his hand as they departed.

With the addition of Wufei, the conversation turned to lighter matters.  It was, once again, eerily reminiscent of our group encounters on the Peacemillion.  With the final days of battle staring us in the face, there had been no need to discuss it with words.  Conversations during our downtime, if any, lingered on inconsequentials, solemn or otherwise, while all matters of greater import were easily conveyed in the spaces left unfilled with the weight of words.

There was the feeling of an embrace, of something wrapping itself around me and welcoming me.  It was familiar.  My mind struggled with it for a moment before it interpreted all the data and created a vision to match the sensation.

I sat in a chair, the cushioned seat having long since molded itself to my contours after innumerable hours of training and severe gravitational forces.  I knew I had grown since I had last sat in that chair, but still I fit.  The cockpit welcomed me despite my superficial changes.  The control sticks in my hands were still worn with familiar grooves that matched the calluses that had never quite gone away.  I knew if I shifted my feet just so, I would find the foot pedals controlling my roll, pitch, and yaw.

A pattern of green lights lit the console in front of me, reassuring me that all of my systems were operating within allowable parameters.  It made me stop and realize one of the reasons why I had always found green to be such a comforting color.

My central monitor was what really confirmed it for me.   This wasn't just Wing, but its successor.  Shortly on the heels of that thought came the awareness of the Zero system, its thoughts and calculations lying neatly beside my own.  We had no purpose at the moment, no enemy to battle, no strategies to plot, but I had never had a problem handling Zero under such circumstances.  I may have imagined it, but I thought I almost heard a peaceful purr when I let our thoughts mingle.

It transformed into a thought-voice, pushing curiosity at me in soft pulses that seemed to mimic the rhythm of a heart beat.   Who are you?

Heero Yuy.  It was the name I had made my own.

Who are you?

Pilot of Wing Zero?  I hadn't identified myself as such for a very long time, but it seemed appropriate now.

Who are you?

Me.  I didn't like labels.  I was a soldier, a student, a friend, a pilot... I was each of those, but more than just a sum of my parts.

Images from my life flashed before my mind's eye, everything from Odin telling the port authorities that I was his son, to J giving me my new designation right before I left for Earth.  I relived the first time I had seen Wing and the first time I had seen the ocean.  I saw myself pressing the button to destroy a base with an apartment complex too close by, and I saw myself pointing a gun at a little girl already sporting a bullet hole in her chest.  I saw the back of Relena's head as she stubbornly stood between Duo and me, and I saw her giving me a teddy bear right before I left for parts unknown.  I saw Trix teasing me about that very same teddy bear, and I saw the computer lab at school, all of the resident geeks present and accounted for.

More memories flashed by more quickly than I could recognize, highlights of the path that I had chosen, but it all solidified into one very solid question.

Do you still have it in you?

"Yeah, maybe, I guess."

That hadn't been my voice answering.  And come to think of it, the question itself had a vaguely Wufei-tone to it.  I wriggled my way out of sleep and managed to blink heavy eyes open.  Duo sat beside me on the sofa, body facing me, but with his head directed over his shoulder.

"Duo?" I asked, voice rough with sleep.  I realized I was curled up in a corner of the sofa, having fallen asleep in the middle of our conversation.  That hadn't been a part of my plan.  The lights were all out now.  How much time had passed?  I uncurled stiffly, set on getting up.  "Sorry.  I didn't mean to fall asleep in your bed..."

A hand on my shoulder kept me seated.  "Did you get any sleep last night?"

Behind us, I heard a door shut softly.  Perhaps Wufei really had been here.  I thought about looking towards the short hallway to the rest of his apartment, but I winced at the crick in my neck.  "Not really."  There had been so much to do, and so many Zero-induced feelings ready to pounce on me if I stopped.

His hand migrated to my neck and took over the sorry job I had been doing with my own hand.  I suppressed a hiss as he kneaded at the sore spot, shifting my focus to the rest of my uncooperative joints.  There was a reason I normally slept flat on my back.

"Hey, where do you think you're going?" he chided, once again making sure I didn't get up.  "It's late.  You're staying."

"It's... but... your bed."  That wasn't the most coherent argument I could have made, but it would have to do.  My thoughts were still a bit scrambled.

"Big enough for two."  He tugged my unresisting body towards him, turning us so we sat with our backs to the high arm of Wufei's sofa.  It took me a few moments to recognize that a pillow was there to give us additional support.  Occupied with gratefully stretching my legs out along the length of the sofa, I didn't think too hard about the fact that he held me in a loose embrace.  I did notice that he was wearing a loose pair of sweat pants and a tank top, and that he smelled faintly of soap.

My mind just filed that under 'pleasant' and let it go, choosing instead to go back and pick up on something it had wanted to before, but had missed the opportunity to do.  "Mmmm... what path have you chosen, Duo?" I asked muzzily.  It would have been nice to be able to see some of the highlights of his life.

There was a brief interruption in the pattern of his breathing.  "One that leads into a cul-de-sac," he whispered, the warm darkness around us conspiring once more to bring things out in the open.

Then again, the darkness hardly mattered to me at the moment since my eyes had long since fallen shut again.  "Maybe you should choose another one," I advised, with all the sage wisdom of a person half asleep.

"Screw you, Yuy."

His words lacked heat, but the challenge did stir me to a slightly stronger state of awareness.  "Seriously.  If the horse throws you off, shoot the goddamn thing and get yourself another one."  His startled chuckle made me smile.  "Well, maybe you should try getting back on a few times, just to make sure the first time wasn't a fluke."

"But if it ain't working... maybe it's because I keep doing the same things wrong."


He hummed thoughtfully.  "Don't know too much about horses, I guess."

I obliged him by rephrasing.  "Don't get a Pisces to do a Gundam's work.  It won't work, no matter how hard you try."

"You mean I've been flying a fucking Pisces all this time?  No wonder I can't get shit done."  I felt him laugh again, though I didn't hear it.  I decided that I liked making him laugh.  It ended with a sigh.  "I don't know if I can fly Wing, Heero."

"Why would you want to?  'Scythe'll get the job done just as well."  I had a vague awareness that we were speaking metaphorically of paths and life decisions, but I could -- apparently -- talk mobile suits in my sleep, so I stuck with it and hoped the analogy would hold without my having to devote any sort of deeper thought to the matter.

"But where is 'Scythe now?"

I shrugged, the action sort of blending into a cuddly shift of position.  "He's in you.  Waiting."

"How will I know?"

I made a sleepy, nostalgic sound.  "Remember the first time you laid eyes on him?  Did you think, he was made for me?  Did you think, he's exactly what I need?  Do you remember the first time they let you sit in his cockpit?  The first time they let you work his controls?  The first time you really, really looked forward to reading a user's manual and memorizing specs?  There was a long learning curve, but you enjoyed every second of it."  I exhaled audibly as that old feeling washed over me.  "Mmmmm.   Something like that.  Something like that'll hit you, and you'll know he's the one."

His breathing pattern changed again, but I was too fuzzy to attempt an analysis of it.  I was drifting off again when he finally finished assimilating my words.  "You're half asleep, and I talk to you for a couple of minutes, and you answer questions I've been struggling with for years.  Even Fei's been less than helpful."

I think there was another one of those strange accusations in there, but I like to think it held some measure of fondness as well.  "I struggled with them, too. ...You talked to Wufei?" I squeezed out through a yawn.

"Sometimes.  But not about everything.  Some things..."

Hmm, maybe that would account for the unexpected shifts in mood or mindset I found in him from one meeting to the next.  I should have been curious about what the other guys knew.  Speaking with the others reminded me of something.  "What do you still have in you, Duo?"

I don't know if I was awake or asleep when I heard the answer.  "You."

My world was bathed in a golden glow, but I finally arrived at a state of waking and realized it was the sunlight hitting my eyelids.  I averted my eyes before opening them.  From the strength of light, I figured it was later than I normally woke.   Oh-eight-hundred, perhaps?

I was still reclining against the cushions at one end of the sofa, but Duo wasn't one of my pillows anymore.  The blanket I had seen draped over the back of the sofa was covering me now.  I heard sounds coming from the kitchen, and I sat up, finding it much easier than I had the previous night, now that I had spent my sleep stretched out in comfort.

"Morning, Heero," Duo chirped as I ran a hand through my hair.  "Sleep okay?"

I glanced over to him, then at Wufei behind him, whose eye I caught as he sliced some bread.  He nodded briefly at me in greeting before I returned my gaze to Duo, nursing a cup of orange juice.  I wasn't certain if his question actually demanded an answer, nor was I particularly used to being the last one up in the morning.  Even though I knew I hadn't slept for thirty-six hours before dozing off on the couch, it still displeased me.

Deciding a shrug was a good enough answer for Duo's question, ambiguous enough to mean anything if he hadn't been looking for an answer, I stood, stretched, and turned back to Wufei.  "Mind if I borrow your shower?"

He turned dark brown eyes on me, and recalling bits of my conversation with Duo before I drifted off into sleep again, I wondered what it was his look said he knew.  Did he wake up first, or Duo?  He nodded in response to my question.  "Towels are in the hall closet."

I took a towel as bidden and went to the bathroom.  The mirror captured my attention.  I still looked tired.  Then the shine of my hair reminded me that I hadn't bathed in two days, and I turned to rectify the situation.

I showered efficiently, keeping in mind that we had a raid on Meridian planned for this afternoon.  The only hitch encountered was when I straightened after drying my legs.  A brief head rush hit me, reminding me that I had been remiss in taking my vitamins, too.  They were still in the bathroom in my quarters at HQ.  I made a mental note to be careful around Sally.  She had made it clear that she would happily kick my ass if she found out I wasn't taking proper care of myself.

There were two toothbrushes on the sink counter, a tube of toothpaste, one brush and one comb, and one overnight bag.  It wasn't too difficult to figure out what belonged to whom.  I settled for rigorously toweling my hair dry and finger-combing it.  I had found that my hair didn't need much more than that to settle down into its normal appearance.  Not knowing what I should do with my towel, I hung it neatly on the rack and returned to the others in the kitchen.

"Wow," Duo said by way of greeting, handing me a glass of orange juice.  "It's not floofy.  What did you do, finger-comb that mop?"

I opted to drink my juice rather than answer.  If necessary, I could run a real comb through it when I got back to HQ.  It would be nice to stop by my room and get a fresh set of clothing, brush my teeth, maybe pop a pill.

This piece of fiction is the intellectual property of the little turnip that could. The basis for this fic, i.e. Gundam Wing, Kyuuketsuki Miyu, et al., is the property of someone else. The author can be con tacted at jchew at This has been an entirely automated message.

last modified : 12/30/2005 14:41:38 PST