"Hey, watch where you're going!"
I fought inertia to bring the cart I was pushing to a halt and prepared to flash a sheepish, apologetic grin to whomever I'd just about rammed into while clearing the last corner on my ponderous way back to the yard. It hadn't been the first close call on my trip from the auction house.
Then, the familiar voice registered with me - and sure enough, when I peered down along the side of the big crate on my pallet truck, there was Wufei, his scowl not fading too much upon recognizing me.
"Maxwell? What the hell are you up to?"
I chuckled. "I could ask you the same thing - didn't know you were in the neighborhood. Wasn't Hee-" I barely caught myself in time. "Hilde at home? She left the auction early."
Obviously bothered by the question, Wufei took an interest in the pavement. "I didn't stop by," he muttered, glancing at the huge box. "And just what the is this?"
"Mystery crate. At forced sales, the auction house is fond of tossing everything they can't get much for as single pieces or sets into big boxes. Makes it more of a gamble."
"Of course it is, that's the point. Not that many care to bid, since it's usually just junk. Besides, everything else I was interested in, went for too steep a price. This," I tapped the crate, "remained within my budget."
"What's in it?"
I shrugged the question off. "Don't know yet. Want to keep the hope I finally hit the jackpot alive at least until I reach the yard."
He gave me a look of scrutiny. "And Hilde approves?"
I winced. "Well... I'll break it to her gently," I started, before adding, grinning, "Or she'll bust something of mine."
He snorted, smiled faintly.
I kicked the pallet truck lightly. "They even gave me this rusty, old thing so I could lug it back home. The box has got to weigh at least a hundred pounds."
"Heavy doesn't mean expensive."
"Well, I can wish..." I paused for a moment, the eagerness to tell of my - hopefully - big bargain fading. "So... why are you here, Wufei?"
Again, he looked away and shifted his footing, trying to act casual as he leaned up against the crate. "Preventer business. Followed a possible lead here. Ended up being a wild goose chase."
I nodded, even though I knew he was lying. Wufei has never been a good liar. I guess that's why I like the guy. "You chickened out from knocking the door, didn't you?"
He frowned directly at me, letting me know I got it in one.
"I wondered when Sally was gonna spill it..."
"She didn't," he said, adjusting his sleeves. "But last time I suggested stopping by to visit, she told me we should give you and Hilde some privacy. At first, I thought..." He shook his head, smirked. "But then I reasoned there isn't a woman on or off the planet who could stand living with you forever after. Hilde simply has tremendous endurance - or endless pity."
My turn to snort dismissively.
Wufei pushed away from the crate. "It wasn't all that difficult putting two and two together - but I got her message, and I've respected it up until now. How's Yuy doing?"
I gently bit my lower lip, slipping it back out from between my teeth. "Better than he was," I said. It was true enough. Even if Wufei knew Heero stayed with us, I doubted very much he knew the rest of the circumstances. Those were for Heero to tell, not me, if I could help it. Still... "Why don't you help me haul this thing back to the yard and say hi to the guy yourself?"
His left brow had raised a notch at my first answer, but my question lead to a full frown, just as suddenly dispelled. "Is that such a good idea? He obviously asked you guys to cover for him. I don't know why he has wanted to be off the radar for so damn long, but I figure Yuy has his reasons. That's why I haven't come by lately."
I made to punch his shoulder, but he dodged the mock blow perfectly. "Oh, come on, 'fei. It'd only be a friend visiting, and you could always say you came to see us, not him." I grinned. "And then you could ask him his reasons in person."
I saw him think it over. As for Heero, I was through covering up. They were friends, and Heero really had to learn how to cope with them. Wufei, Quatre, Trowa - they already knew where he was, and it was only a matter of time before they'd come to figure out why he was being evasive.
If I waited to ask Heero, he'd just stonewall against it, wanting to cover it up a while longer. Heero needed a kick in the right direction.
I thought back to the hallway incident, frowned at myself.
A kick, anyway.
And it wasn't as if he was down anymore, either. He sure hadn't been in the hallway.
Wufei started a slow nod. "Fine, on one condition."
His voice was so deadpan and his face so stern - despite the subtle, quirky smirk - that I knew he was being deadly serious. "Don't ever call me 'fei' again."
Wisely, I refrained from snickering - and hid my smile until I was safely behind the crate again.