Disclaimer: I don't own or profit from my stories about the universe of Gundam Wing.

Warnings: Nothing I can think of, only that this still isn't the last chapter, just a tie in to the next one.

Duo's Friendship Arc 26
by Dyna Dee

With his eyes closed against the grey winter day and the life of the busy city below, Wufei breathed in the fresh January air, clearly detecting the moisture in it and the smell of rain or maybe snow. He ignored the cold weather, the hard, crusty snow on the edge of his balcony and railing, as well as the sounds of the city far below the hotel balcony, concentrating instead on the struggle he was going through in striving to achieve an inner balance. His mind and heart were in turmoil.

He'd accepted and committed himself to Sally's invitation, taking a job with the Preventers, a newly formed peace-keeping organization. The soldier in him felt the need, an strong inward yearning, to keep fighting for a just cause. But was he correct in his decision? It was that very pull, a soldier's need to fight for a cause, that brought him to join the failed Barton regime in the first place. At least this way, in joining the Preventers, he'd be assured to have chosen the right side because the peace-keeping organization had the law on its side. He wouldn't be fighting just to be in motion, drowning out the visions of his colony being blown up before his eyes or of Treize Kushrenada's death at his hands, not to mention the many deaths at his hands and the many battles he'd won and lost. No, with the Preventers he'd be fighting for peace in a more positive way, one that wouldn't hurt any innocents or his friends.

A deep, near constant ache in his heart came from the memory that he'd almost destroyed Heero during their last battle. How could he have been so blinded by the idea that war was necessary for the soldier to exist? He'd been examined by a doctor and psychiatrist, a prerequisite of the Preventers in order for him to be considered mentally stable for the job as an agent for that organization. Sally told him that she had no doubt about his qualifications as a fighter, but that his mental state had come into question after his affiliation with Barton. Both tests from the two doctors' independent examinations concluded that he exhibited signs of having been chemically brainwashed.

His inward peace eluded him yet again as his dark eyebrows drew together. Wouldn't he have remembered if he'd been brainwashed? He remembered being taken by force, but there were large gaps in his memory during the last half of the year that he'd been separated from his friends, but he would have remembered the trauma of having his mind raped, wouldn't he?

He shook those thoughts from his head, letting all negativism out through a series of long, deep controlled breaths. In through the nose and out through the mouth. He pictured the color blue, always a calming color for him, and his mind pulled out a vision of the blue sky. After a few moments, that vision added a few white clouds floating gently across the azure background. Then in his mind, the calm was shattered by the sight of Wing Zero, its wings extended and approaching him. His mind went over the heated argument he'd had with Heero, trying to win him over to his point of view regarding the need for battle and war. They fought for dominance of the sky, friend against friend, with Heero answering his questions with questions of his own. Then as he struck an angry blow, he watched helplessly as Heero fell inside Wing Zero down to the watery surface below them. His heart had caught in his chest, suddenly fearing for his comrade when only moments before he'd been trying to kill him. What was the matter with him? 'Pull up, Heero,' his mind screamed. 'Pull up, dammit!'

The vision left him, and Wufei found himself breaking out in a sweat and breathing heavily. That vision had been the continuing waking and sleeping nightmare that had haunted him for the past week, and its impact on him didn't lessen with each repetition.

His body began to shake from the increased cold caused by the new moisture on his skin and he knew inner peace would not be attained today, just as it hadn't yesterday or the days before that. Rising stiffly, he wondered how long he'd been sitting on the icy concrete balcony in order for his limbs to freeze up. He re-entered his room and firmly shut the glass door behind him at the same time that a knock sounded on the door to his room. He checked the clock on the hotel room dresser to note that it was too early for Sally to come and get him for dinner, a task she'd taken on each night since they arrived in Sanq three days ago. He bristled inwardly at the thought of her mothering him. He was a man, not a child. But he had to grudgingly admit that her attention and company had helped to dispel the loneliness he'd been feeling.

Crossing the room, he opened the door a crack to peer out into the brightly lit hallway. "Duo!" he said in surprise at seeing his former comrade in arms standing in the hotel's hallway. The former Deathscythe Hell pilot stood all by himself, dressed in what looked like new blue jeans and a deep red shirt as evidenced from a peek of the material at the top of his heavy jean's jacket. Even though he had a multi-colored knit scarf wrapped around his neck, Wufei noticed the pale face of his friend bore bright pink spots on his cheeks and nose as a result of the cold outside. His eyes scanned down to see that Duo didn't have any gloves on, but a large, plastic shopping bag dangling from his right hand.

"Hey Wufei, care to invite me in?"

The Chinese pilot had not conversed with any of his former associates, with the exception of Heero in battle, since he left Earth in search of the source of the rumors of unrest in space. He intentionally had gone into space to see if the rumors he had heard in China were true and what was at the center of it, or who. The peace they had fought so hard to earn, that his colony and clan had died for, was rumored to have been in danger, and he had gone in search of the truth in order identify the persons responsible and to put a stop to their plans. He found exactly what he'd been searching for, Deikum Barton and a small but formidable army behind him along with the original plans for Operation Meter being put into motion.

Feeling a bit timid at seeing his friend so unexpectedly, he hesitantly stepped back and opened the door enough for the other slender teen to enter his warmer room.

"Man, it's colder than a witch's tit," Duo exclaimed as he rubbed his bare and red hands together.

Wufei snorted at the expression. "Where did you pick up that expression?" he asked.

Duo smiled at him. "Read it in a book somewhere and I've never had the chance to use it before. Thought I'd sneak it in. Impressed?" He waggled his eyebrows in a humorous fashion.

Wufei chuckled, shaking his head at his friend's strange humor and in spite of his inward feelings of unease at facing his former comrade. The two teens then paused to really study each other and a moment of awkwardness fell between them. Duo looked unsure and Wufei felt uncertain as to why his friend, if he could he still call him that, had come to see him.

"So, how are you, Wufei?" Duo asked, breaking the unsettling moment and looking up through his long bangs at his friend with a small, questioning smile on his handsome face.

"I'm... okay," he replied honestly, quickly looking away from his friend, suddenly ashamed of the things he'd done in the last six months since the five pilots had parted company.

Then impulsively, taking him by surprise, the braided teen quickly moved forward and embraced him, his hand gently patting his rigid back as Wufei stood stiffly in his arms. "It doesn't matter what happened or what you did, Wufei, you're still our friend," the long haired teen said as he continued to hold his friend.

Shame and gratitude both warred within his chest as the Chinese boy tried to come to terms yet again with his past decisions and how they had affected those he cared about most. Yet amazingly, Duo seemed ready to forgive him, and he hadn't even had a chance to formally beg for forgiveness.

With eyes filling with irritating moisture, Wufei pulled out of his friend's arms and stepped back to look him in the eye. "I'm sorry Duo. I know my choices in the past half year have put you and the others in danger. I risked your happiness for my own selfishness and I ask you now for forgiveness." He bowed slightly at the waist and kept his eyes to the floor, as he had been taught as a child in his home when asking for forgiveness for having committed a wrong to someone else.

"Wufei." Duo's voice called out to him softly, sounding uncertain. "You don't need to ask for forgiveness from me. But I can sense you kind of need it, so you have it. Could you just tell me what happened to you?"

Relief filled Wufei, Duo had forgiven him and a portion of the heavy weight that had weighed him down seemed to have lessened. "Thank you, Duo." He bowed again, then straightened and looked into the other boy's eyes, grateful to feel more comfortable in doing so now that his friend had forgiven him. With a motion of his hand, he directed Duo to sit on one of the two chairs that sat at the small table next to the glass door to his balcony. He followed Duo and sat across from him. It was then that Duo put the plastic bag he'd carried in with him on the table.

"What's that?" Wufei asked. "I hope it's not your laundry," he said with a slight grin.

"Nope," Duo replied with a smile of his own. "It's your Christmas present from Heero and I. We went shopping together and bought you something, hoping we'd see you at Quatre's on Christmas Day." Wufei watched as Duo's smile faded a bit. "Well, things never go quite as planned, do they?" He shoved the bag across the table. "Go on, open it." The braided teen urged.

With a nod, Wufei peeled back the plastic bag to reveal a brightly and beautifully wrapped box with a large bow on the top. He slowly unwrapped the gift, treasuring the novelty of getting a Christmas gift. With trembling hands he opened the box to see the inside of it was filled with clumps of white tissue paper. He wondered for a moment if this was one of Duo's practical jokes and he was falling right into it.

As if sensing his hesitation, Duo reached in the box and picked up a handful of paper and handed it to him. "Open it up," he said excitedly.

Carefully unwrapping the object hidden within layers of the tissue paper, Wufei finally unrolled an intricately carved wooden figurine. It was a horse with a man in battle uniform on top, definitely Chinese in style and about six inches in height, but the significance of the piece of art was lost to him. "It's beautiful, Duo. But what is it?"

"It's a piece of a chess set, the knight." Duo answered, then rushed to explain. "You seemed to like the game when we played on Peacemillion, so Heero and I thought we'd buy you a really nice set so that when we come to visit we can play again."

Wufei looked down once again at the piece in his hand and realized that such a finely crafted chess set would have cost his friends a small fortune. His eyes became blurred with moisture as he now clearly understood his friends' thoughtfulness. "I don't know what to say," he began in a quiet, awed voice. "Thank you, Duo, and Heero, too. I don't know that I've ever received such a thoughtful gift before." He looked up to let Duo see the emotions roiling in his eyes, that he was touched by their gift.

"You really like it?" Duo asked, looking hopeful.

"I will always treasure it," Wufei replied, looking up in time to see a smile of pure happiness on his friend's face. After examining each piece, Wufei carefully re-packed the chess set and placed it on the floor, knowing the time for answers had come. Duo waited patiently until he was ready.

"I wrote to you regarding my leaving Earth and the reasons behind it," he began and watched as Duo acknowledged his statement with a nod of his head. "I went to L-1 first, believing that I might be able to find some of Dr. J's contacts and find out if the rumors of a group of mercenaries planning a coup on the new Earth's Sphere Government were true. I was there for several weeks following one small lead to another, discreetly questioning people I came in contact with. My queries must have brought undue attention to me as I was accosted one night outside my hotel room as I returned to it. I was taken down by the hit of several stun guns and was only dimly aware of the men moving my unresponsive body from the street and quickly put me into a car where I was blindfolded and tied up as they drove through the colony streets."

He looked up at Duo, hoping for some understanding. "I don't know how long I was in the car, but it seemed like forever. When it finally stopped, I was pulled up from my position on the floor and carried into a food distribution center. I was taken into a side office and tied down into a chair and, after I recovered a bit, I was introduced to Deikum Barton." He leaned forward in his chair and with a fierce frown on his face he said, "He knew who I was, Duo. Somehow, he knew I had been a gundam pilot."

He paused to swallow hard. "I remember him talking to me, trying to convince me to join up with him, to be his "champion". I do recall seething in silence as I listened to him rant on and on. Even though some of what he said seemed insane, something inside of me thought that a good part of what he said made a strange sort of sense. He stated correctly that the history of man was replete with wars, that it was the nature of man to war and that war in itself was an example of survival of the fittest, an aspect of nature that has always ruled mankind and the animal world. He talked of my colony, of their glorious and supreme sacrifice, and asked if I was as dedicated to peace as my people and clan had been. He appealed to the soldier side of me and I think he could see that part of me agreed with some of the things he had said. However," Wufei's eyes narrowed, "I knew Operation Meteor was not the way to solve anything. To destroy a good part of life on the planet by dropping a colony on it in order to gain political control over what was left was nothing but maniacal, egotistic insanity."

Wufei sighed and his dark eyes glazed over as he continued. "I vaguely remember him arguing with me and that he would have me as his warrior whether I chose freely or not." His eyes narrowed as if he struggled to remember the moments that were still hazy in his mind. "I don't remember much after that. Just flashes of shots being administered, I think there was some sleep depravation." He shook his head. "I only remember waking up one day and everything seemed so clear to me. I knew without a doubt that my path was with Barton and that I was his warrior against the gundams, should they interfere in the coup Barton had planned."

Pained eyes rose up to meet Duo's. "I'm sorry," Wufei whispered, his voice trembling slightly. "I was the reason you, Trowa and Quatre were kidnaped and I almost caused Heero's death."

With Duo watching him, his face expressing an emotion akin to sympathy, Wufei brought both of his hands up and covered his face in an attempt to hide his remorse and shame.

"Wufei." Duo stood from his chair and knelt next to his friend and spoke his name softly, putting a comforting hand on the trembling shoulder. "I already forgave you, it's alright between us, isn't it?"

Wufei shook his head, his face still buried within his hands. "I am ashamed," he said, his words came out muffled as he spoke. "How can I ever make amends for what I have done to my friends?"

"I think, if it bothers you so much, that you should come to the hospital with me to see Heero. Quatre and Trowa will be there in about an hour to visit him, so you could see them, too. If you want to apologize to them, like you have to me, you can walk away from there with a free conscience."

Lifting his face from his hands, Wufei's eyes still bore the look on inner torment. "And if they don't forgive me?"

"They will, Wufei," Duo assured him, confident of his friends' reaction. "They're your friends as much as I'm your friend. We're all worried about you."

"Even Heero, who almost died because of me?" Wufei answered with a trace of disgust aimed at himself.

"Wufei," Duo said with a roll of his eyes. "He ordered me to get out of his room, find you, and bring you to the hospital."

Wufei looked surprised. "Does he have his gun with him?" he asked in all seriousness.

Duo smiled, dispelling any doubt Wufei had that Heero wanted to see him only to kill him for being a traitor. "Nah, they have him in one of those flimsy hospital gowns. There's no where to hide a gun under those things. Besides," he gave the Chinese boy a mischievous wink, "the nurse who gives him his daily sponge bath would have confiscated it several days ago if he still had it with him."

Despite the seriousness of their conversation, the corners of the Chinese teen's mouth twitched at the mental image of Heero submitting to a nurse bathing him. He couldn't picture the fierce warrior from L-1 being docile enough or patient enough to undergo such treatment. He looked to see that Duo also thought it was funny by the stupid grin on his face.

"He's not the perfect patient, is he?" Wufei asked Heero's best friend.

"Hell no!" Duo laughed as his memory went over the last few days at the hospital. Heero had been miserable being confined to a bed with women in the guise of nurses seeing to his every need and pestering him frequently with thermometers, taking his blood pressure and asking him to pee in a little plastic cup. It had taken he, Trowa and Quatre to keep the recovering pilot from making a mad dash for the front door.

Wufei's slight smile of amusement faded. "How is he, and how are the others?" A twinge of guilt showed in his eyes.

"Well," Duo stood and moved back to his chair, unconsciously rubbing the sore spot in the middle of his ribs. He sat and pulled his braid over his shoulder and with one hand stroked the silky-looking braid. "Heero had some internal injuries from the explosion of Wing Zero. He was insulated from the explosion within the cockpit, but he hit the ground hard. He aggravated his injuries when he rushed into the underground complex to confront Barton and collapsed there. He didn't regain consciousness until after his surgery to repair the damage to his body. He's going to be stuck in the hospital for a couple of weeks, pity the staff." Duo said with a crooked smile. "I'll bet you a dinner out on the town that he'll make a run for it before he's released."

"I'd be a fool to make the wager when I know he will probably do it also," Wufei replied, his face lightening a bit from his earlier gloom. "And the others?" He prompted Duo to finish.

"Quatre and Trowa are fine. We all got a bit bruised in the battle and we were all dead tired for about twenty-four hours after the battle ended."

"And you Duo? How are you?" Wufei leaned forward to carefully examine his friend.

"I'm fine, Wufei. Other than some bruised ribs when Heero sucker punched me on colony." A frown came to the boy's face and he continued. "He left me unconscious in Trowa's care and the enemy's hands so that I wouldn't follow him." There was a tinge of bitterness to the braided teens words that concerned the Chinese teen.

"I'm sure he only did that for a good reason. You're his best friend, Duo. He was probably only trying to protect you."

A look of disgust crossed Duo's fair features. "Who am I to be protected, Wufei? I'm not some innocent, ignorant civilian. Heero had me pilot him into that doomed colony and we both fought you and Trowa in those borrowed suits. What makes any of you think I can't pull my own weight? I got out of that prison cell on my own without anyone's help. In fact," his voice rose noticeably, "Trowa was just going to follow Heero's lead and leave me there while they went on to the fight on Earth. If I hadn't had my lock picks with me, he might have."

Wufei blinked at the anger now clearly displayed in Duo's voice. He found it hard to reconcile the fact that Duo wasn't mad at him for his part in the attempted coup, but he was obviously still very angry with two of his other friends for their actions during that time. And if what Duo was saying to him was true, he couldn't blame him for his anger towards either Heero nor Trowa. Duo was a gundam pilot, a warrior just like the rest of them. Maybe the others thought him more vulnerable because of his health problems during the last year, but that didn't make him less of a survivor or fighter. They all knew for a fact that Duo was like the fabled phoenix, as he rose out of any number of ashes to persevere and tenaciously go on.

Then suddenly Duo's mood changed again. He waved his arm in dismissal of his anger and complaint. "Ah, forget it Wufei. Sorry to dump on you like that." Duo leaned back against the chair and slumped his body down until his head rested on the top back edge of the chair, his eyes, no longer blazing with justified anger, now lazily turned back to him. "So, you gonna come to the hospital with me peaceably or do I have to knock you out and carry you over my shoulder?"

"Maybe, after we talk for a while." The Chinese teen answered, hoping to stall the inevitable, uncomfortable reunion. "Tell me about yourself and the others and what your life has been like while I've been...gone."

Duo turned sideways on the chair, just enough to drape a lean leg over the armrest. "Well, I've been staying with Quatre, as you know, and have been teaching him life Duo-style. We've been taking college courses over the Internet and he runs off the office every afternoon like the perfect business man that he hopes to be one day." Duo's smile lessened just slightly, taking on a more serious manner. "He's been good to me, Wufei. I don't know what I would have done without his friendship. You know the mess I was at the beginning of the year, after the war, well, I'm past that now, thanks mostly to Quatre."

Wufei nodded and sighed deeply. "I'm sorry I couldn't be the one to be your friend, Duo. I'm glad Quatre was there for you in the absence of myself and the others."

Duo waved the other teen's guilt off with a flick of his hand. "You did what you had to do Wufei. No regrets, okay?"

"It's not that easy." Wufei said sharply, his frown returning. "I...I joined a military faction determined to destroy a good part of the Earth. I almost killed Heero, in fact, I remember that being my goal: to stop Heero from advancing to Earth no matter what the cost. I argued my philosophy of war with him during our battle and watched him as he let me defeat him in order to make his point. You have no idea how that moment, watching him fall and plunge into the ocean, haunts me."

"Wufei," Duo spoke softly, his face full of concern. "We all watched Heero self destruct Wing during the war to make a point. We need to work with him to make sure he knows that's not a viable solution to difficult situations or in making a statement."

There came from Wufei an involuntary derisive snort and a nod of his head followed by several moments of strained silence as his mind ran over the things Duo had said and as he battled with his own memories.

"Let's talk about Trowa," Duo changed the subject and took on a lighter tone to his voice, "He's been with the circus the whole time. You won't believe how much muscle that guy has developed from setting up tents and hauling around animal cages. He seems happy and tries to keep in touch with us by e-mail."

"Heero?" Wufei ventured, wondering how the former Wing Pilot had been doing since he last saw him.

"He's been doing exactly as he had planned when we all separated, going to college and guarding Relena. I think things are picking up in the romance department between them, but you know Heero, he's as tight lipped as ever. You'd think his love life was a top military secret."

"He's been happy?" Wufei asked.

Duo looked curiously at his friend. "I think so. It's kind of hard to tell with Heero. He writes letters like mission reports, objectively and with no emotion." There was a tone of bitterness in Duo's voice that Wufei picked up on immediately.

"Is everything between you and Heero alright?" He asked the braided teen. Heero had been an anchor to all of them at times and a person to look up to. He had also been a comfort to Duo during the war. They helped each other chase away the darkness that fighting a war often brought to the warrior. As with the rest of them, their relationship with each other had grown to almost a point of dependence, and Wufei wondered if that dependence now left a deep void in the lives of the two friends who were slowly growing apart.

Duo shrugged. "He's busy with his life and it was foolish of me to think we'd stay as close after we were separated by a lot of space. Quatre has stepped in and filled in a lot of the loneliness." His smile brightened slightly. "We've actually had a lot of fun together."

Wufei nodded, only half believing Duo's light dismissal of the loss of Heero's close friendship, as if it didn't mean much to him. He knew it had meant everything to the orphaned boy from L-2 during the war, but decided not to press him, thinking it might bring more pain to Duo.

"Will you go back to L-4 with Quatre then?" He asked, and was immediately surprised to feel a bit of jealousy at the thought of the two friends sharing their lives together. He felt a pang of self-pity accompany it, knowing he really had no where else to go other than with Sally and her offer to be a Preventer. He no longer had any family or a clan to return to. His colony was gone, he had no home to return to, nothing familiar. That was why he had gone searching after the war, to see if he could find any remnant of his clan to claim as family. His family had gone in its entirety to the newly established colonies. L-5 had been his clan's home for over fifty years, helping to make that colony successful and affluent. Now there was no one left but himself and it was a horribly lonely feeling.

He studied Duo again from a new perspective. The boy from L-2 was an orphan with no family ties either. He had his colony to go back to, but he knew that place had no warm memories to fall back on for the boy from that colony's poverty ridden streets. In many respects, the teenager sitting across from him was his brother in many ways and his heart softened even more towards his friend.

Duo gave him a slight grin and answered his question. "As a matter of fact, I'll only go back to pack. Ya see, I went to L-2 just before Christmas with Heero and found a job," he announced proudly with a large grin. "Hilde's uncle is the man who hired me, and he has this classy, second-hand, high tech parts business. They buy the interesting and useful components from different derelict military and commercial ships and mobile suits and recycle them, so to speak, reselling them to other people who need a specific part. I understand it's a profitable and growing business. I'll work for him and continue to take classes over the Internet."

"You're going to live on L-2 again?" Wufei couldn't believe that Duo would willingly to go back to the colony that had given him so many bad memories.

"I need to start making a living for myself, Wufei," Duo answered more soberly. "I don't feel right living off Quatre or taking advantage of his generous nature. There's a part of me that wants and needs to be independent and make my way in the world."

Wufei nodded, he could understand such a position, he was an independent person himself. "I wish you all the luck in the world, Duo," he said with all sincerity.

That simple statement earned him a true and beaming smile from his braided friend. "And you're going to join the Preventers and fight the bad guys, right?" Duo said with some pride regarding his friend.

"I'll give it a try, anyway," Wufei answered. "I seem to have a need to continue fighting. This way I can fight for a just cause, continued peace. I wouldn't doubt if Une or Sally will come and try and recruit the rest of you."

Duo gave him a sheepish grin. "They already have, at least Quatre, Trowa and I. We asked them not to speak to Heero until he was out of the hospital."

Wufei was only mildly surprised at the quickness of the Preventer's organizers in trying to recruit the former gundam pilots. "And your answers?" he asked, curious and feeling hopeful that maybe at least one of his former friends would join him in this new life venture.

"So far they've struck out with the rest of us. Quatre has college and his family business to deal with, not to mention all those females in his family. Talk about daily mood swing." Duo rolled his eyes dramatically. "You guys thought I was bad while the doctors tried to get my medication right. I don't hold a candle compared to twenty-nine sisters. Quatre might have all the money in the world and colonies, but I wouldn't trade places with him for anything."

Wufei nodded in agreement and felt true sympathy for their blond friend. His own family had been wealthy, and he learned soon enough that having great wealth didn't necessarily mean happiness, good health, security or continued prosperity. But thank the colonies his parents had some control over having children. Twenty-nine sisters was nothing short of insane. A smirk and snort came from him at that thought.

"You're a wise man, Wufei. I see you agree with me," Duo chuckled, then continued. "Trowa isn't interested at this point either. He's a major player in the circus, the main act really." Duo's eyes lit up and he sat up. "You should see him Wufei, he's really amazing. Trowa can do almost anything."

"I would like to see him perform," the Chinese teen replied. "Maybe one day we could see it together. Maybe get all of us together again. That would be nice."

Duo looked surprised, but then very much pleased. "That's a great idea. I'll get Quatre to put something together. I think I'm going to be too busy with a new home and job to do anything social for a while, but I'd like to get together, all of us, and not in a hospital. Speaking of which," he stood and looked at his watch. "We better go if we want to catch the others. Quatre and I head back to L-2 late tonight and Trowa leaves tomorrow."

Wufei stood and went to the closet to get his coat and shoes out, then sat on the bed to put them on.

"Since you'll be headquartered in Sanq, can I count on you to keep an eye out for Heero while he's recovering?" Duo asked, looking concerned. "I really hate to leave while he's in the hospital, but I promised my new boss I'd move to L-2 as soon as the holidays were over."

Wufei stood, slipping his arms into his jacket. His eyes met Duo's hopeful gaze. "I'll visit him and make sure he's alright," he said, earning a look of gratitude from the other boy.

"Just one more thing before we go Wufei." Duo said, then stepped forward and embraced his friend again. "I've missed you. Promise to keep in touch, at least once every couple of weeks?"

With his head pressed against the other boy's, Wufei answered with a nod and a return of the embrace. He was feeling more and more of the weight of guilt he had been carrying lessen with each moment he spent in the other boy's presence. "You're a good friend, Duo. Thank you."

Wrapping the scarf that had been hanging loosely around his neck, Duo's eyes sparkled happily as he led Wufei to the door and they left the hotel together and made their way to the hospital, several long blocks away.

As they walked in companionable silence, Wufei was keenly aware of the cold air against his cheeks and the burning cold on his nose and ears. He noticed the snow shoveled to the side of the sidewalk and the sounds of life that came from the city at surrounded him. Horns honked, people yelled, the smell of food cooking filtered out from restaurants while cars, trucks and buses rumbled by on their way to various destinations. But of all the sights, sounds and smells that defined the surrounding environment, the ones he'd tried to ignore as he sought inner peace earlier, Wufei was acutely aware of the friend who had come to him unbidden, had forgiven him without hesitation, and offered a promise of hope that his other friends might also forgive him for his mistakes. A gentle smile began to form on his face. He hadn't been able to achieve inner peace for a long time now in his meditations, but in walking with Duo to the hospital, he felt himself closer to it than he had in ages.


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