Because both Relena and Quatre were
people of above-average intelligence, they had enough sense to stay out of Duo's
way when the vidphone rang. The afghan went flying as he bolted up off the couch
to answer it, and Quatre was left frowning in mild annoyance at the spreading
tea stain on the knee of his slacks.
"'Fei?!" Duo gasped, skidding to a halt and hitting the 'accept' button simultaneously.
< < What would you have done if it had been someone else? > > Wufei asked, not quite managing to keep his voice cool and amused as he saw Duo.
"Given them the finger and hung up," Duo replied without thinking, eyes darting back and forth as he made a quick visual check of the bits of Wufei that he could see on the screen. "Everything go okay?"
< < Yes... no serious injuries on our side, no civilians hurt, and none of the smugglers got away. I'm sorry I couldn't call you before now-- > >
"Ah, it's okay," Duo shrugged, starting to calm down and feeling a bit embarrassed about the way he'd answered the call. "I understand. At least you got a good connection this time!"
< < Yes, well, most of this station's equipment problems have miraculously vanished now that the smugglers have been taken out of the picture, > > Wufei said dryly, glancing sideways and smirking at somebody off screen. < < It's amazing, really. > >
< < Hallelujah, praise the Lord! > > a laughing voice replied offscreen. < < I call upon the miraculous powers of Je-sus to heal this approach radar... would you look at that? It worked! A-MEN! > > Wufei snorted, suppressing a grin as he looked back at Duo. < < I think the current feeling of revolutionary fervor has gone to a few people's heads, but at least it's an improvement on their previous state of morale. > >
"Er... right," Duo said uncertainly, slightly confused and trying not to show it. "Um... so... is there much left to take care of?" When are you coming back?!
< < Lord, drive out the demons of interference that have taken up residence in this transmitter-- > >
< < Sheesh, Brian, just retune it already! > >
< < Another couple of days' worth, I think, > > Wufei sighed, smile vanishing. < < It's more important than ever to establish a permanent Preventers office here; there are at least two more ships in the smuggling ring, and we have to prevent any sort of reprisals against the station. > >
"Fair enough." Duo managed a smile, hoping his disappointment didn't show on his face. "It wouldn't exactly be a good idea to save them from part of the problem, then leave them wide open for the rest of it."
< < Exactly. Noin should be arriving with a half-squad of space Tauruses within the next few hours-- they couldn't come earlier, since it's rather hard to disguise a regular mobile suit transport-- and they'll be providing an area defense until the level of the threat goes down a lot. We might see if we can negotiate for a permanent suit presence here, too, as well as the office, > > Wufei mused, suddenly looking thoughtful. < < It would certainly cut our response time to problems in other high-orbit stations... but I can leave that to whoever is put in charge of the new office, > > he said decisively. < < I'll write Lady Une a memo on the subject after I get home! > >
< < Agent Chang, should we-- oh, sorry, sir, I didn't see that you were busy, > > a man's voice said off-screen.
< < I'll be with you in a minute, > > Wufei said quickly, glancing up, then he looked back at Duo. < < Duty calls, > > he said dryly, < < but now that the comms here work properly, I can call you whenever I get a break. I'll stay in touch, okay? > >
"Sure. Let me know when you'll be coming back," Duo said softly, lifting one hand to brush his fingertips lightly across the screen. "And look after yourself."
< < You, too. I'll talk to you tomorrow. > >
Duo sat back and sighed, looking sadly at the blank screen; then he abruptly jerked upright, his expression changing to horrified. "Oh, jeez, I'm sorry!" he blurted out, twisting around to look at Quatre and Relena. "I should've asked 'Fei about Trowa and H-Heero, maybe call them to the vidphone so you guys could talk to them," he said miserably, the slight stutter over Heero's name going almost unnoticed. "I'm sure he'd have thought of it himself, if he'd known you were here!"
"They'll call us themselves when they get a moment," Quatre said reasonably, sitting back down with a fresh cup of tea. "I'm sure Wufei would have let you know if anything serious had happened to either of them, so I'm not worried. Besides, that was your call."
"Yes, so don't brood over it," Relena agreed, smiling. "Now that you know the plan worked, are you hungry again?"
"Er... kind of," Duo admitted.
"Good! In that case, I'll--" Her mobile phone rang, and she snatched it up and quickly checked the screen. "Er, I'll take my call in the other room, and let Quatre get your plate out of the kitchen!"
* * * * *
< < Heero? > >
A faint smile curved Heero's mouth as Relena answered, but he kept his voice as flat and expressionless as possible. "It would have been more efficient to let Chang pass on the message that I'm fine, but I didn't think you would appreciate it."
< < I most certainly would not! > > Unable to hold her offended tone, Relena giggled. < < And you'd probably say you were fine after something grisly happened to you-- in fact, I know you would. Are you 'fine' by my standards or yours? > >
"Hn. Two stitches at most, no bruises."
< < Really? I'm disappointed... I thought I'd learned my lessons better than that. > >
"Ah. Well. My mistake. The eye is nicely black, but I don't have any new bruises. How's yours?"
< < Starting to turn interesting colours around the edges, > > Relena reported, giggling again. < < We're taking daily photos for posterity. Quatre was horrified, at first, until I convinced him I thought it was funny. It's going to take some serious makeup to hide this when I go back to work! > >
"I want to see those pictures, you know. I'm missing an historic event." Heero paused for a moment, clearing his throat. "How... how's Duo?"
< < He's doing fine, > > Relena told him, voice warm and reassuring. < < He was fairly stressed when he knew Wufei was in danger and he couldn't do anything to help, but now that they've been able to talk, he'll be just fine. > >
"Good." He swallowed, closing his eyes for a second, and then took a deep, steadying breath. "Tell Quatre he'll be getting his call sometime in the next hour; Trowa's on the comm to Lady Une making our preliminary report, so he's been slightly delayed. I cunningly assigned myself to the squad in charge of clean up, so I have nothing to do until we make rendezvous with the smugglers' ship and go aboard to arrest them."
< < And of course the fact the clean up squad is the most likely one to encounter resistance had nothing to do with your decision, > > she said dryly.
< < Ah, well. I knew you had these macho chivalrous tendencies well before I manoeuvered you into sort of proposing, and I still went through with it. Try not to get shot again, all right? > >
< < Remember what Dr. Po said she'd do the next time you got shot? > >
"What-- oh. Yes. She threatened to use me as a teaching dummy for the clumsiest students she could find," he snorted.
< < The clumsiest female students, > > Relena reminded him gently. < < Plus she'd insist on you wearing a patient gown, and she'd hide all of the ones that weren't three sizes too small. And if that didn't make you squirm, she'd tell them you were a bonafide hero and encourage them to develop crushes on you. > >
"...True," Heero said slowly, sounding a little more concerned. "I'll be careful."
< < Good, because I wouldn't rescue you from their clutches. Do your best to come back to me in one piece, all right? > > she said, voice softening. < < I love you. > >
"I love you too," he said softly, watching out the viewport as the Preventer's shuttle eased closer to the smugglers' ship. "I'll call you again tomorrow."
He pushed a button to end the call, then hit another key, taking his communicator out of satellite phone mode and connecting it back to the local tactical network. "Communications check," he said brusquely, leaving his helmet open for the moment, but starting the last systems check on his armoured spacesuit. "Everyone reading me?"
The rest of the squad nodded or raised their hands, and he smiled thinly. "Good. Everybody make sure that your inertial trackers are switched on, too. Do not get lost, do not get cut off from your teammates, and watch your backs! If I'm not allowed to get shot, nobody else is either."
* * * * *
< < ...so most of them seemed too stunned to put up any sort of effective resistance, > > Heero said, coming to the end of his report. < < The few that weren't had had enough time to realise that they didn't have a chance, and surrendered immediately. They seemed to think it would increase their chances of getting lenient sentences, > > he added sarcastically. < < I don't think so. > >
"Not after the sort of threats they were using to keep the station personnel in line," Wufei agreed grimly.
< < Has Trowa talked to you yet? > >
"About what?" Wufei frowned, startled by the abrupt change of subject. "I haven't spoken to him since before you went out to arrest the ship's crew."
< < He commed me about fifteen minutes ago, after he finished talking to Lady Une, > > Heero said evasively. < < I'd advise you to start packing. > > He cut the connection before Wufei could ask any more questions.
Wufei took the comm away from his ear and stared at it as if he could somehow decipher the reason why Heero was acting strangely by looking at its keypad or speaker. "Why would I need to pack now?" he muttered, puzzled. "We're not going to be finished here until the first agents arrive for their tour of duty..."
"There you are," Trowa said, leaning in the door. "How much stuff do you need to pack?"
"What are you and Yui going on about?" the Chinese Preventer asked, exasperated. "We're going to be here for at least a couple of days yet!"
"We are. You aren't," Trowa explained succinctly. "Lady Une's orders were very explicit. The Manguanacs are leaving now, and she wants you on that shuttle with them. Go directly home, do not pass Preventers' HQ, do not collect any files to work on during the two days she is ordering you to take off. She wants your report on her desk at 9 AM Thursday, and specifically told me to tell you that she doesn't want to set eyes on you before then."
"But-- the negotiations for the office--" Wufei sputtered.
"Are over. They've signed the agreement. Heero and I can handle any details that need adjustment, and we can comm Une if we have to. Pack."
"I'm already packed," Wufei said numbly, giving in to the inevitable and waving vaguely towards the suitcase propped against the wall behind him. "It was part of the cover story, for the smugglers' benefit, and I haven't had time to unpack again... but I told Duo I wouldn't be home for two days!" he added, turning towards the vidphone.
"Then he'll get a pleasant surprise when you arrive," Trowa said cheerfully, scooping up the suitcase with one hand and grabbing Wufei's good arm with the other. "The Manguanacs have already delayed their departure to let you get aboard; they'll miss their re-entry window if you make them wait much longer. You don't have time to make a call."
"But I had time to pack?" Wufei asked wryly as he was towed out the door. "Goodbye, Ms. Anderson."
"Goodbye-- and thank you!" she called after them.
"If it was going to take more than five minutes for you to pack, I was going to shove you onto the shuttle without your luggage and post it to you later," Trowa informed him. "My instructions are to get you home to Duo. Everything else is secondary."
* * * * *
"Duo?" Quatre tapped on the bathroom door and opened it slightly, poking his head into the steamy interior. "I have to leave. Ninke just called to let me know a couple of things have come up at WEI that need my attention."
"Now?" Duo peered around the edge of the shower curtain, squinting one eye open and wiping suds away from his face.
"Unfortunately, yes," Quatre sighed. "Normally, my people try to wait until morning before dumping problems in my lap, but it is morning where the office that is having problems is located, and the regional manager is apparently panicking. Ninke can't get him calmed down enough to get a clear idea of what's going on, but apparently the words 'warrant', 'summons', and 'Environmental Protection Agency' were mentioned."
"Oh. Okay," Duo said quietly, disappearing behind the curtain again. "Call me if you need anything at all, okay?" Quatre said earnestly, then suddenly smiled. "At least this didn't happen yesterday, or a few hours ago! One worry at a time is more than enough..." ...and I wouldn't have felt right leaving you while we were still worried about Wufei. At least now you know he's coming back safely, even if it will take a couple more days.
"Yeah. Hope it goes okay," Duo said, voice half drowned out by the splashing water.
Quatre made his goodbyes to Relena, packed up the few clothes he'd brought with him, and left, mind already turning over possible reasons for his manager's panic attack. Halfway to his office, his car phone rang.
< < Ringing your usual mobile got me your voicemail, so I thought I'd try this number next, > > Trowa said without preamble. < < Looks like it was a good guess. Going somewhere? > >
"Trowa!" he said, delighted. "I'm on my way to the office; one of my European managers apparently has a capital-P Problem. I thought you were Ninke calling in with an update."
< < Update, yes; Ninke, no, > > Trowa chuckled. < < I guess you already know that we won and we're all fine-- sorry I took so long to call you-- > >
"I do understand the concept of priorities," Quatre cut in dryly. "Somehow I don't think Une would trust you so much if you were the sort of person who would delay his after-action report to call his lover and make kissy noises down the phone."
Trowa half-choked on a laugh, then cleared his throat and continued. < < I don't think she'd trust me if I were the sort to make kissy noises over the phone at all. I can just imagine her muttering something about maudlin sentimentality... however, I didn't exactly call to discuss Lady Une's prejudices with you. Wufei didn't have time to let Duo know about the change in our plans before I threw him onto the Manguanacs' shuttle and locked the hatch behind him. He's due home tonight, not in a couple of days. > >
"Really? That's wonderful!" the blond exclaimed. "I can call Duo and tell... um... no."
< < Quatre? > >
"If Wufei just left," Quatre said slowly, thinking out loud, "even if he goes straight home from the shuttleport-- is that the plan?"
< < Yes. > >
"Even then, he can't possibly make it back before two or three in the morning. If we tell Duo he's on his way, Duo will wait up for him, but I'm fairly sure he hasn't slept since he found out that Wufei's simple little diplomatic mission had turned dangerous. Now that he knows Wufei is fine, though, he may actually get some rest tonight, and he needs it."
< < How is he? > >
"Before he stopped sleeping, his nightmares were bad enough that he gave Relena a black eye," Quatre said bluntly. "When he found out what was going on on that satellite, he was ready to walk out the door with no preparation, weapons, or backup, get up there to Wufei-- by sheer force of will, if no shuttles were available-- and go Shinigami on anyone who even looked at Wufei cross-eyed. I barely managed to talk him out of it by emphasising the fact that in his present state he'd be a hindrance rather than a help, and I was very reluctant to do that, given how low his sense of self-worth is already. Physically, he's much better than he was. Mentally... if anything happened to Wufei, I honestly think it would kill him."
< < ...That's not good. > >
"No. It's not."
< < I think we should talk to Lady Une, > > Trowa said quietly. < < For at least the next few months, or however long it takes until Duo is back on his feet, I think Heero and I should take over any out-of- town missions Wufei would otherwise be assigned to. > >
* * * * *
I hope nothing else comes up in the next few months, Wufei thought tiredly, pushing the front door shut behind him with one foot as he simultaneously stripped off his tie and began to shrug out of his coat. Or at least, nothing that can't be handled by someone else! I still think it was necessary for Duo's recovery for me to prove that I won't leave him for good if I have to go away for a few days, but that doesn't mean I want to do it again any time soon. Besides, I'm exhausted! I'm sure short missions never left me feeling this way during the war...
I can't possibly be getting too old for this, damn it! I'm only eighteen!
Leaving his bag where he'd dropped it, he walked slowly towards the bedroom, draping his coat, uniform jacket and tie over a chair on the way. I'll tidy up in the morning, he told himself, yawning. Right now, all I want to do is climb in with Duo and go to sleep-- Carefully easing the door open, he looked towards the futon and blinked as the faint moonlight filtering through the gap in the curtains revealed not one, but two heads on the pillows. Who-- Relena?! Nobody said anything about Relena being here...
He must have made some sort of noise, because one of the spooned figures shifted and yawned. Raking loose hair back out of her face, Relena looked up and saw him, expression shifting quickly from sleepy alarm to surprised recognition to delight. Quickly gesturing for him to stay quiet, she eased out of bed, patting Duo's shoulder reassuringly as the sleeping teen shifted uneasily.
"Let's talk in the lounge," she whispered, padding quietly past Wufei, an interesting sight in fuzzy flannel pyjamas and bedsocks. He almost blurted out a surprised question as he saw the impressive black eye, but got himself under control and eased the door closed, following her out.
"What happened?" he asked anxiously, keeping his voice down as he gestured at her bruised cheek. He had an uncomfortable suspicion that he could name the cause, considering how he'd nearly been similarly damaged the first time he'd experienced one of Duo's nightmares.
"Duo had a nightmare, and Heero didn't warn me to duck," Relena said wryly, one hand going up to the multi-coloured swelling, "which is why he now has a matching shiner. I'm rather proud of it, actually."
"Heero has a-- you gave Heero a black eye?!" Wufei sputtered incredulously. Relena just smiled demurely and nodded, and a slow grin spread over his face. "Oh, I wish I'd seen that," he murmured.
"Unfortunately, the punch wasn't recorded," she sighed, eyes twinkling, "but I'm sure I can arrange for a few photos to be delivered to you if you don't see Heero in person before it fades. More importantly, Wufei, what are you doing back already? I thought you were going to be gone for another couple of days!"
"So did I, and I wasn't given a chance to call again before I was packed off down here," he snorted. "The surprise is mutual, by the way; nobody told me you were here."
"Well, that's silly," she muttered, shaking her head. "I can understand Duo being too distracted to tell you when you called, but Trowa and Heero don't have that excuse. I suppose they thought it wasn't important. Men!" she added acidly, then suddenly looked embarrassed. "Er-- present company excepted, of course..."
"I'm not sure I want to be excepted from the general category 'men', but I think I'll take that as a weird sort of compliment. Since you aren't a man, and you are therefore, by definition, capable of passing on non-mission-critical data, would you mind telling me why you're here?"
"The day after you left, Duo stopped answering the phone," she told him, sobering. "He was fine-- he was just screening his calls, so the number wouldn't be engaged if you tried to reach him-- but it made various people panic, myself not entirely excluded. Sally was being paranoid, Quatre was pushing for Duo to go stay with him and Trowa, and Duo was absolutely determined to stay right here until you returned, so in the end I declared that I was going to stay here too. I didn't think he needed a keeper; I did it so everyone would stop arguing and leave Duo alone."
"I take it he did need you, though?" Wufei asked quietly, glancing towards the bedroom. "At least at night?"
"He hasn't had a bad nightmare since that first night," Relena said quickly, hand going up to touch the bruise again. "And he's been fine during the day-- well, he wasn't happy when he found out about the smugglers, but that's only to be expected... He hasn't coughed much and he's been eating well. He's still quiet, but he hasn't ignored me."
"Well, that's... better than I feared, at least," Wufei sighed, rubbing wearily at his forehead. He was opening his mouth to say something else when a faint, distressed noise from the bedroom had him moving in that direction without even thinking about it.
Duo had twisted around onto his back, whimpering quietly, hands pawing at the blankets tangled around his waist. "Shh, Duo," Wufei murmured, going to his knees by the futon and reaching out to gently stroke the sleeping teen's cheek. "Shh, it's all right. I'm heeeep!"
The end of the sentence was cut off by an undignified squeak as Duo lunged up off the bed, latching onto Wufei with desperate strength and dragging him down. After a quick flurry of movement, during which Wufei instinctively tried to control the fall and not land on top of Duo or elbow him in the head, he found himself flat on his back, half on the futon, with Duo's still-sleeping form curled onto his chest, both arms wrapped around his waist and holding on like grim death.
"He did that in his sleep?" Relena whispered, tiptoeing a couple of steps into the room.
"...It certainly looks like it," Wufei whispered back, wide-eyed and rather shaken. "I, er, I don't think I'm going to be getting out of this any time soon."
"I don't think you should try," she admitted, eyeing Duo. "That looks like 'You can take my Wufei when you pry him out of my cold dead fingers' to me; you might just manage to shift his grip into a headlock."
"I'm not going to disagree with that evaluation," Wufei muttered, cautiously shifting his hips further onto the bed. Thank all the gods for bathrooms on shuttles!"Can you get the spare futon out by yourself?"
"It won't be a problem. First, though, I think you'll sleep better without these," she said, kneeling by his feet to undo his shoelaces and pull off his shoes. Then she reached for his belt buckle as well, and Duo's weight was the only thing that prevented him from levitating off the futon with a strangled yelp.
"Woman!" he hissed, keeping his voice down with an effort. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"I'm just taking your belt off, not your pants!" she hissed back. "Do you want Duo to wake up with the buckle permanently embedded somewhere? Besides, even if I did take your pants off, I'd be very surprised if you weren't wearing anything underneath. And even if you weren't, it's not as if I haven't seen it before! I mean--" she cleared her throat, suddenly embarrassed. "I mean, it's not as if I haven't seen that sort of thing before, even if I've never seen your... specific... I'm just digging myself deeper, aren't I?"
"If you stop now, I think we can pretend this conversation never happened," Wufei said grimly, aware that he was blushing as he worked his belt free one-handed and passed it to her. "Good night, Relena."
"*ahem* Good night," she whispered, quickly untangling the blankets and pulling them up.
"You can't have him," Duo muttered, arms tightening for a moment. "'M not letting go." Sighing, he relaxed again, mumbling something incomprehensible as his voice trailed off.
"...Still asleep?" Relena whispered after a short pause while they waited for any further proclamations.
"Still asleep," Wufei confirmed, stroking Duo's hair gently.
"Looks like I was right," she chuckled quietly, getting up and walking towards the door. "You're going to have to be pried loose."
"Even that wouldn't be enough," Wufei whispered, half to himself. "Duo wouldn't be the only one hanging on."
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