Title: Painted Crates

Author: Kiarene
Pairings: 5x13, 1x2, 3x4
Rating: G
Summary: Quatre pays Duo a visit. Set after Autumn Coffee. AU.

Published: 21st November 2004
Disclaimer: You know the drill.

 

 

Painted Crates

 

 

I looked at the unit number again, just to check that yes, this was Duo’s apartment. I pressed the doorbell and it… clanked. Flatly. Like a huge rusty bell that had something broken off.

 

Hm, yes. Definitely Duo’s apartment. He always had a quirky sense of humor.

 

While waiting, I glanced idly around me. L2 was Duo’s sort of place, a dizzying juxtaposition of pre-war buildings and new, chipping concrete and gleaming glass. Air-cars zoomed overhead and the train — the Mass Transport Device, they call it — rumbled past. At first glance, L2 looked dingy and smelled overripe. Electrical wires were exposed and taped to the sides of buildings; machinery was old and occasionally patched together with a shiny new replacement and neon tape; everything looked hacked together.

 

But underneath the pollution-stained façade and graffiti, there was a vibrant heartbeat. The colony throbbed with barely contained energy, like a kid high on sugar before Christmas. Movement, every action, was rapid, frenzied even, and there always seem something going on — people talking, laughing arguing, a clatter of plates from the neighbor unit, a cat yowling. Techno music, if one can call that music, acid, blues, trance; all provided the background cacophony to L2.

 

I’d only been here for an hour and already I feel that my senses have overloaded. After a while, I press the doorbell again. And again. I found the unique doorbell cute.

 

“Hold ya horses…” I heard some grumbling, and then silence. I smiled sweetly into the peephole.

 

There were the sounds of some deadbolts sliding back and then the whine of a field winding down. When the electronic lock beeped, I raised my brows in surprise.

 

“So paranoid?” I teased when the large door finally swung open; I noted that it was solid metal. The kind you would get for a bomb shelter.

 

“Eh, once a Gundam pilot….” Duo gave me a brilliant grin. “And this is L2. ‘nuff said.”

 

“Ah.” I dipped my head in greeting. “Hello, Duo.”

 

“Why so formal, Quat?” I gasped as I was caught up in a crushing hug. For a small-sized guy, he was certainly strong. Smirking, for I was almost a head taller than him, I squeezed him back.

 

“Quat! Ah! I give up… Uncle!!”

 

“No, it’s ….*Who’s your daddy*,” I growled playfully, squeezing harder and bouncing him a bit.

 

“Ooo… never knew oof.. you were into such games….”

 

We finally released each other, laughing helplessly. Duo wiped his eyes. “Gods Quat, it’s good to see you again. You’re looking good.”

 

I studied Duo. “You, too.”

 

A blatant lie, from him and from me. Duo looked thin, weary. There was a fading bruise on one cheek. He hadn’t changed all that much since the war; he wasn’t much taller and he still wore the black priest-like outfit he favored. His long hair was still done up in a fat plait, a gorgeous tumble of gold and cinnamon silk that was distinctively Duo. But old eyes belied that still impish face, and his smile was a little too forced, a little too tight.

 

“No, actually, you don’t look good.” I grinned to show that I meant no offense but somehow, I couldn’t really find the strength to lift my lips beyond a wan smile. At Duo’s startled look, I chuckled weakly. “And I’m no better myself.”

 

Duo smiled again, the emotion more genuine this time. “There was always no fooling you, Quat. Your empathy really gives you an unfair advantage.” He waved me in. “Come in, try to look for a seat somewhere.”

 

I followed him. This, too, hadn’t changed from the war. This careful, tacit acknowledgment and avoidance of… the acceptance. I could find no better term to describe it; it was not about the bruises or abuse. It was about understanding… and forgiving.

 

I’d always given in to Trowa. Why? I guess, simply because I can, and Trowa can’t. In that sense, I am stronger than Trowa.

 

“Oh no, I hardly use my ‘space heart’ these days.” I shook my head. Duo pushed some papers and electronic components from the large oval table that stood centerpiece in his small apartment into an empty crate. Various electronic gadgets lay scattered on the table, their innards exposed; testament that Duo retained the geeky curiosity and genius I remembered from the war.

 

I pulled up a wooden chair. The chairs, I noticed, were all mismatched but they were padded and comfortable. Duo’s apartment was not large, but it was inviting with sturdy furniture and personal touches everywhere, like cheery rugs and painted upturned crates as tables and comics tucked under the cushions of the sofa. The walls were painted a somewhat faded yellow, but the posters pinned up brightened the place. It had Duo’s personality all over it and it occurred to me to wonder if Duo was still with Heero. I can’t see Heero’s belongings anywhere, but then again, he had always been spartan.

 

“Huh?” Duo, with one last kick to the crate so that it slid under the table, looked up, clearly interested at my last comment.

 

“Actually, I trained myself to turn it off during the war. I had to, or I would have gone mad,” I stated simply. “After a while, it became more and more of a habit not to use it. I don’t really like using it; it felt… invasive.” I shrugged.

 

“Huh.” Duo gave a nod. “So, what brings you down here?” He stood up, pushing his chair back. “And, can I get you anything to drink? I’ve beer, juice, soda, tea, coffee…”

 

I gave a laugh. “Oh. Well, coffee please.”

 

Duo shot me a curious look as he crossed the room. The kitchen was simply a small area, delineated by a short L-shaped counter, fridge and sink.

 

“In a way, coffee was what led to this visit.” Despite what I said earlier, I now switched on my ‘space heart’. It still felt like an invasion of privacy, but I thought this was important enough. “I was in Paris a couple of weeks ago, and ran into Wufei.”

 

Duo started visibly and the mug he was holding came down onto the kitchen counter harder than he intended. “…Wufei?” His voice, and feelings, wavered with worry, anger, and most obviously, shame and guilt.

 

“Yes,” I replied softly.

 

For a long while, Duo remained still. But underneath, I could feel that his emotions were all awhirl. Then, he started moving again, grinding the coffee beans and starting the espresso maker. When he spoke, his voice was steady, even though he was anything but. “So, how is he?”

 

“Happy. Very happy,” I smiled. I told him about what Wufei and Trieze were doing, and about our conversation. Duo listened silently, the simple tasks of making the coffee soothing in that it gave him something to *do*. I could tell he was clearly disturbed but he kept quiet until I finished.

 

Walking over, he placed my mug in front of me, and sat down in the chair opposite me. He cradled his mug, looking down into the dark brown liquid. “That’s great.” He nodded, as if to confirm his previous statement. “That’s really great. I’m very happy for Wufei.”

 

I knew he was genuinely happy for Wufei; Duo was not spiteful or petty. Black shame engulfed him, and I ask gently, “But?”

 

Duo looked up at me, eyes anguished. “Quat, do you… I mean, you knew we were wrong back then. I knew what you did for him back then. You never hurt him, never shunned him. But I—“

 

“I did hurt him,” I interrupted sadly. “My inactions were just as damning. I know how you feel; I feel just as ashamed.”

 

“No!” Duo shook his head wildly. “Don’t you see? I was his *best* friend! Some friend! I’m despicable!” He made a sound that was a half-wail, half sob. It was as if the dam of emotions inside him broke and it was now rushing out in a torrent of tumbling words. 

 

“The worst thing was, deep down inside, I *knew* we were wrong. But I was too angry to listen, too stupid to stop. Too scared of Heero. And… oh god… toward the end of the war, after months and Wufei still… still stood by what he said… I just *knew* then but damn… ”

 

“Oh Duo…” My ‘space heart’ was caught up in the maelstrom of Duo’s emotions and my own. I vaguely registered warm tears running down my cheeks though Duo’s remained dry even as he rambled on, a slight hysterical edge to his voice.

 

I let him. There was nothing else I could do, and really, it was for the best. It was cathartic. Duo had obviously not been thinking about Wufei since the war, but once I had opened the floodgates, all the prior shame and guilt rose back up like bile.

 

We talked on, cried and recriminated and confessed. Oddly enough, Duo kept wanting to hear more about Wufei’s and Trieze’s relationship; his eyes lit up in wonder when I mentioned how loving they were and he savored every detail.

 

“It’s like they deserve it, yanno?” Duo explained, embarrassed. “Karma. And it makes me feel better too, like I don’t feel so guilty because I know Wufei’s happy now. That despite what we did… well, you know. Does that make any sense?”

 

I nodded, finishing the coffee. “You’re a generous man, Duo.”

 

Duo shook his head in disbelief, but I didn’t press it. What I did wanted to ask though— “Duo, would you… would you want to meet up with Wufei?”

 

Duo shook his head again. His tone was vehement. “No, I can’t.”

 

“I’m sure Wufei has forgiven you,” I said confidently.

 

“But I’ve not forgiven myself,” he replied sadly, looking away. “He’s happy now; I don’t want to spoil that for him.”

 

“Oh Duo, you won’t. He’ll love to make up with you…”

 

“Quat…” Duo said in a pained voice. “Quat, *please*. I can’t face him. Call it pride or cowardice, but I just can’t.”

 

I huffed and pushed my mug away. “Not now… but one day?”

 

Duo eyed me warily. “Maybe.” His tone was final.

 

“Just… just think about it Duo.” I smiled. “Trust me, it’s easier than you think. I speak from personal experience.”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“You can send him an email or something.”

 

“Quat.”

 

“Ok, ok.” I held my hands up in mock surrender. “I know; I won’t push.”

 

“Thanks.” Duo smiled. He stood up and gathered the cups. “Thank you for coming down too.”

 

“It was my pleasure.” I smiled back warmly. Duo walked towards the kitchen.

 

“How long are you staying?” He called over his shoulder as he rinsed the mugs.

 

I shrugged. “A day, maybe two.”

 

“Good.” Duo put away the mugs and patted his hands dry. He turned around with a broad grin. “Come on, how about I show you around L2?”

 

“Sure.”

 

It occurred to me later that I didn’t talk about the other reason for my visit — the sensitive subject that we never really talk about actually — but no matter. I promised myself, another time. For now, I just wanted to enjoy the company of a dear, old friend.

 

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