"Where should I put Mr. Maxwell, sir?"
Nicklaus asked, sidling in the front door of Wufei's apartment with Duo in his
"In bed, thanks," Wufei replied tiredly, limping over to the sofa and easing himself down to sit. Sally's examination had been thorough... and painful. She wasn't a sadist, so he was almost certain she hadn't done it on purpose, but it was hard not to feel resentful when his knee and the back of his head were throbbing in time to his heartbeat, and his shoulderblade was sending stabs of pain through him every time he moved.
"Here," Leah said; he opened his eyes to see her holding out a glass of water and some pills, and grimaced.
"Doctor's orders," she interrupted. "Major Po said, 'Take them or else'."
"Or else what?"
"Or else she will exercise her ingenuity to make sure you regret acting like a masochistic idiot. Apparently she thinks you have a nasty tendency to undermedicate yourself."
"I'm surprised she trusted me to give Duo his pills, then," Wufei snarled.
"She also said that you look after everybody else first and best, and only neglect yourself," Leah replied, unperturbed. "Shut up and take them, Chang. I wouldn't risk annoying her."
"And of course you'll tell her if I don't," he muttered sulkily, fully aware that he sounded childish but unable to stop.
"Make my life easier, okay? Take the pills. That way I don't have to decide whether or not to turn you in."
He sighed. "Fine. Give them here."
As Leah was taking the empty glass back to the kitchen, Nicklaus came out of the bedroom. "He's still fast asleep, sir," he reported, smiling. "I've got that video disk I promised you; where would you like it?"
What-- oh. That. "Just put it next to the computer. I'll get to it later."
"If you need anything, sir, you know you can call me or Ninke or Karl and we'll take care of it."
"I'll keep that in mind, thank you. Ah... do the three of you pool your information and resources?" Wufei asked tentatively.
Nicklaus grinned. "Oh, yes sir. And it's not just the three of us; the whole family work together. Have a nice day!"
"Be seeing you, Chang," Leah said, heading for the door.
"You wouldn't object to a couple of slight detours on the way back to HQ, would you, McKenzie?" Nicklaus asked casually as he buckled his seatbelt.
"That depends," she replied. "Where and why?"
"The Foreign Ministry, and the local branch of Winner Enterprises," he said, pulling another couple of video disks out of his pocket and grinning at her. "Like I told Chang, the Assink family members share all their information."
Wufei levered himself painfully up off the sofa and limped across to sit in front of the vidphone, tapping in a code one-handed.
<<Winner Enterprises, Executive Switchboard-- oh, good afternoon, Mr. Chang!>> The receptionist smiled, then looked down slightly and gasped, one hand going to her mouth. <<Oh dear! Are you all right, sir?>>
"I'll live," he said wryly, glancing down at his empty sleeve and the shirt bulging over his strapped-up arm. "It's not serious, just annoying. Are Quatre and Trowa free?"
<<Mr. Barton is in a meeting with Mr. Assink, sir, but Mr. Winner is in his office,>> she said, glancing to one side, <<and... his line is free. Shall I put you through?>>
<<Get well soon, sir!>> *click*
<<Good afternoon, Wufei,>> Quatre said cheerfully, appearing on screen. <<How are you and Duo? You saw Sally this morning, didn't you?>>
"We're fine," Wufei replied. "Duo's asleep; Sally says he's doing all right."
<<That's good, but what did she say about you?>> the blond boy asked shrewdly. <<I think she was more concerned about you than Duo on Sunday.>>
Wufei suppressed a grimace, remembering some of Sally's caustic comments as she'd looked at his x-rays. "You just love nearly getting crippled, don't you? If he'd hit you a little more to the left, he would have broken your spine, and if you put too much strain on that shoulder you could still do yourself permanent damage. Don't. "The usual. She's just annoyed because I wouldn't let her strap me down and x-ray me then."
Quatre didn't look convinced, but at least he had the good manners not to call Wufei a liar to his face. <<Well, as long as you're both getting better. Is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all?>>
"Actually... yes," the Chinese boy said reluctantly.
* * * * *
As Trowa stepped out of Ninke's office, he was nearly knocked down as Quatre barrelled out of his own room next door.
"Oh! Trowa!" Quatre said happily. "You've finished?"
Trowa nodded, holding up a disk. "We've worked out the last set of proposed changes to the secretarial procedures. Want to see?"
"Um, yes, but not right now. I'm going shopping, want to come?"
"For Wufei and Duo!" Quatre explained, heading for the corridors. "Duo needs underwear and stuff, and they're running out of milk, and Wufei isn't in any shape to go himself even if he doesn't want to admit it, so he called me. Oh, and he also asked if I could send a maid over, to help him tidy up around the apartment and do dishes and laundry and stuff, but I figure I can do that too..." His voice faded as he turned a corner, gaining speed.
Trowa stood frozen for a moment, mind racing as he considered Quatre, and household chores, and tried to make the two pictures overlap; then he shoved the disk in to Ninke's hand and bolted after his lover.
"Quatre, I don't think Duo needs those leather pants."
"But they'd look so good on him!"
"They're hardly convalescent clothes. Besides, he needs to gain a lot of weight. If they fit him now, they won't fit him once he's better; and if they don't fit him now, why buy them?"
"*sigh* Yes, Quatre."
After Quatre had raided a couple more stores with the same efficiency and intensity he'd displayed raiding OZ bases during the war, Trowa was eyeing the growing number of bags with trepidation.
"Exactly what did Wufei ask you to get, Quatre?"
"Socks and underwear," Quatre replied absently, holding up two sweatshirts and comparing the colours. "But Duo needs a lot more than that."
I'm glad this notion didn't hit him when we were looking for Duo's Christmas present, Trowa thought privately. ...Actually, it probably did, but he would have resisted because he wouldn't have wanted to embarrass Wufei and Duo with a huge present. Now he's been asked to shop for Duo, and he's just... expanding on his orders.
Quatre dropped both sweatshirts on the counter, on top of the pile of other sweatshirts, and headed for the T-shirt racks. "Do you think he'd like this one?" he asked, holding up a shirt that read 'Welcome to Hell! Now GO HOME'.
"Quatre," Trowa said cautiously, "I don't think he really needs all--"
"Yes he does," Quatre interrupted, quiet but intense. "He's got nothing, Trowa. I can't make all the bad things in his past go away, and I can't just snap my fingers and have him forgive us, but I can get him this stuff. And maybe he'll get mad at me, but if he does I'll apologise. I'm not going to leave him with nothing to wear except Wufei's workout clothes just because he might yell at me. I'll be glad if he yells at me, actually, it'll be better than being ignored..."
There was a slight pause; then Trowa smiled. "He likes band T-shirts too, you know."
* * * * *
"Ooh! They're new..."
"Over there." The glasses-wearing cashier jerked her chin towards the ranks of shopping trolleys.
"Oh, wow. That blond guy is cute!"
"I like the tall one myself; he looks like the strong, silent type."
"Good! We won't have to fight over them!" They exchanged smirks.
"What food did Wufei say they needed?"
"Milk, bread and eggs, but--"
"--you're sure they need more than that, all right." Trowa rolled his eyes, but pushed the trolley into the first aisle without further protest.
"C'mere, quick, you've got to see this!" Giggling, the shorter cashier led her friend to the end of an aisle and peered down it.
The blond boy was darting ahead of the trolley, grabbing things off the shelves, chattering at top speed as he did so.
"--and I know Duo likes these, remember when he ate a whole packet by himself? Oh, these are good--"
As packets and cans tumbled into the trolley, the taller boy calmly examined them... and put half of them back while his friend's back was turned.
"Juice," he said calmly. "Duo likes orange mango."
"That's right, and apple peach too..."
As they came to the end of the aisle, the two cashiers turned around and tried to look busy. The one with glasses started to straighten the magazines at the end of a checkout aisle, then jumped and emitted a sort of strangled squeak as she caught sight of a face on one of the glossy covers.
"Excuse me," a cheerful voice said behind her. "What aisle is fruit juice in?"
"Ah! I, um, er, I-- aisle six!" she blurted out, spinning around with the magazine clutched behind her back. "Six, yes. Um."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," the blond apologised.
Nooooooooo, really, you can startle me any time, honest... "Um, that's okay. Really. No problem."
"What's got into you?" her friend hissed, popping out of the next aisle as the two boys moved away. "He spoke to you and you totally blew it! You've squashed that magazine, too."
"I don't care, I'm going to buy it anyway," she said, flattening it out hurriedly. "He's Quatre Winner!"
"Look, here, they've got an article on the Solar System's most eligible bachelors, and he's in it! He's on the cover!"
"He's available," her friend pointed out, grabbing the magazine and flipping through it. "Here he is... Quatre Raberba Winner, CEO of Winner Enterprises... yeesh, he's only eighteen!"
"Right age for us," the other girl said happily, reading over her shoulder. "And... oh, bugger!"
"Read that paragraph," she said mournfully, pointing. "Next to the picture of his tall friend."
"Hmmm... 'unfailingly polite', yadda yadda, 'dress sense', yadda... oh. 'Unfortunately, most society maidens have stopped trying to ensnare Mr. Winner, because it seems that his constant companion Trowa Barton is more than just a friend'."
They both sighed.
"First it was cute-and-Chinese, and his friend with the gorgeous hair and eyes," the shorter girl said glumly. "Now these two. All the best guys are gay and taken!"
"Back to watching, I guess," her friend agreed sadly.
* * * * *
"Hey 'Fei," Duo mumbled, wandering into the lounge room trailing a quilt. "What time is it?"
"About three," Wufei said, smiling involuntarily at the fuzzy expression on Duo's face. "Want some coffee?"
"Yeah." Duo plopped down onto the sofa and yawned. "D'we hafta go see Sally soon?"
"We went this morning. Don't you remember?"
"Um." The braided boy frowned. "Not sure."
"I'm not really surprised," Wufei said dryly, levering himself up out of his chair. "You were zombied again; I actually expected you to sleep longer."
"Oh. ...I remember something about a demolitions mission. Guess I was dreaming."
"No, that was how I got you up and moving. I told you that no explosives were involved, but you kept rewriting the mission parameters."
That's an awful lot of words out of Duo at one time, Wufei thought hopefully as he started the coffeemaker. Of course, he is still mostly asleep... but at least he's moving under his own power, and his eyes are open!
Two cups of coffee later, Duo was actually awake and alert, and looked interested when Wufei suggested a late lunch.
"Sandwiches?" he said tentatively. "I can make 'em..."
Wufei grimaced. "We're out of bread; if I'd been thinking, I would have got McKenzie to stop at the shops on the way home. I called Quatre, though, and he said he'd pick some up. He should be here soon."
"...oh." Duo looked down and fiddled with his mug.
He's still not sure whether he wants to encounter Quatre, I guess, Wufei thought, worried. I hope he doesn't vanish into the bedroom when he arrives...
A moment later, there was a knock on the door.
"Hi," Trowa said, pushing through the door with an amazing number of garment bags hanging off his arms as soon as Wufei opened it. "Hi, Duo."
"What the hell is all that?!" Wufei sputtered, eyes wide. "I told Quatre Duo needed underwear and socks, not--"
"Have you ever seen Quatre shop?" Trowa interrupted, heading for the bedroom.
"You've missed an experience. He loses all restraint when he's not shopping for himself."
"In other words, he went nuts," Wufei muttered, leaning out the door and seeing Quatre approaching, loaded down with groceries. "Quatre, you didn't need to get all this!"
"Well, I figured you could use it," Quatre said, a little defensively. "And it's not like I bought anything expensive."
Thinking about the ultra-exclusive logos he'd seen on a couple of the garment bags as Trowa carried them past, Wufei bit his tongue and just stepped aside to let him in.
"I'll just put all this away," Quatre panted, wobbling slightly as bags threatened to burst under the strain, "and then I'll do the dishes or something. Hi, Duo!"
"...hi," Duo said shakily, watching him stagger into the kitchen. A moment later, there was a slithering noise, a yelp of alarm, and then a loud clattering as tins bounced all over the floor.
"Oops! Nothing broke, don't worry..."
"Um... need a hand?" Duo called, almost sounding as if it was dragged out of him.
"No... oof! Really, I'm fine," Quatre replied. "I just have to find where everything goes. That can't be too hard."
Duo leaned forward and covered his face with his hands as another thump came from the kitchen.
"Where do you want all this?" Trowa asked as Wufei came into the bedroom. Strangely, now that the bags were all sitting on the floor, they seemed to have multiplied...
"What did Quatre buy?" Wufei said helplessly.
"Everything he could think of," Trowa said dryly. "Except the leather pants. I managed to get him to put them back."
"Thank you. Ah... I have space in the wardrobe, and spare hangers. There are shelves in the wardrobe too, and I think we can move things around to free up a couple of drawers."
"I will move things. You will sit down and tell me where to put them."
"You've been talking to Sally, haven't you?" Wufei asked sourly.
"No. I just know you."
"Hmph." Wufei sat on the futon and pulled a couple of bags towards him, poking through the contents while Trowa opened drawers and shifted his clothes. "I was going to get Duo some clothes the day after we brought him home," he said absently, "but I got sidetracked by Sally, and somehow never... good grief. Trowa, where did you find these?!"
Glancing at the boxers Wufei was holding up, Trowa smirked. "The Sock Shop. It's a specialty shop that sells socks, ties, underwear, stuff like that. I think Quatre's secretly always wanted to buy half their stock, but never quite got up the nerve... or could never come up with a reason to. You gave him the perfect opportunity; I don't know whether to thank you or kill you."
"I take it he got some for himself?"
Wufei tried to imagine Quatre wearing a pair of virulent red-and-green satin boxer shorts, emblazoned with little Tequila bottles wearing sombreros and the legend 'One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor!' He couldn't. However, he found that he could easily see Duo wearing them. "I take no responsibility, Trowa," he said, putting them to one side and gingerly reaching into the bag again. "I didn't even know the shop existed. 'Cereal Killer'?!"
"That poor, innocent box of cornflakes, shot down in the prime of its life," Trowa muttered. "Wait until you get to the bubble bath one."
"...ye-ess. An interesting use for baked beans, I see. How many did he get?!"
"Every single one that made him giggle."
"I knew I should have asked Relena," Wufei sighed, peeking into another bag.
"So why didn't you?"
"Because I didn't know it until after Quatre assured me he'd do a good job. Well, Duo will certainly like them, and that's what's important... even if I have to get another chest of drawers to store them all!"
"Heh. I'm sure Quatre would be happy to help out..."
"Don't even think about it, Trowa."
Once the clothes and groceries were all put away (and the new hairbrush and ties, and Duo's favourite brand of shampoo and conditioner, and...), Quatre made a beeline for the sink, but Trowa intercepted him before he could pour more than half a cup of dishwashing liquid into the water. "I'll do the dishes," he said. "Why don't you... uh..."
"Er-- I'm not sure if--"
Quatre sniffed haughtily, drawing himself up to his full height. "I'll have you know that I push a mean vacuum, Trowa," he said, stalking out.
As it turned out, Quatre could vacuum without missing spots, knocking things over, or sucking up anything he didn't want to. "Nice job," Wufei commented, relaxing slightly.
"It's just like running a search pattern," he explained cheerfully, switching it off and rolling up the cord. "Duo explained it to me!"
A tiny snigger escaped from behind Duo's hands as Quatre marched into the bedroom; then Trowa came out of the kitchen. "Nothing seems damaged," he muttered, looking around with a dubious expression. "...Wait, where'd he go?"
Quatre popped back out, carrying the overstuffed laundry basket. "The washers are in the basement, right?" he asked, puffing slightly. "Don't worry, I've done this before!"
Wufei and Trowa blinked at each other for a moment as the apartment door swung shut behind him.
"I have no idea," Trowa admitted. "I don't think he took any washing powder with him, though, unless you keep it in your bedroom."
Duo's shoulders started to shake. "Oh, he has," he moaned, giggling. "I had to save the poor washer from blowing up!"
"Washing powder's under the kitchen sink," Wufei told Trowa. "Go rescue the washers."
As the front door slammed again, Wufei sat down on the sofa beside Duo. "When did Quatre get his hands on a washing machine?" he asked, genuinely curious.
"You've never spent two weeks alone in a safehouse with Quatre, without Trowa automatically taking his turn at housework, have you?" Duo wheezed, wiping at his eyes. "I have! He was more than willing to do his share of the chores, but I learned which ones to keep him away from pretty quick. Do not let Quatre do laundry. Do not let Quatre do dishes. Do not let Quatre cook... He's right, though, he pushes a mean vacuum. And he can iron!"
"How did you find out which ones he can handle without dying in a domestic disaster?!"
"Well, if he can relate something to business management or piloting a Gundam, he can do it! He couldn't vacuum properly until I told him it was like running a search pattern." Duo snickered, then gave up the struggle and howled with laughter, collapsing against Wufei's shoulder.
Downstairs, Trowa skidded into the laundry and found it almost empty, except for a pleasant-looking fiftyish woman in a long skirt and blouse, who was watching with interest as Quatre crammed the last of four loads' worth of washing into a single washer.
"Oh, good, Trowa," Quatre said, shutting the lid and peering at the washer's controls. "This isn't quite like the one I used before, and I'm not sure how to make it go."
"Um... I think you need to put coins in," the European boy said, mentally calculating how to get Quatre away from the machine without hurting his feelings.
"Really? How much?"
"Actually, it takes tokens," the woman said helpfully, pointing at a small dispenser mounted on the wall; then she winked at Trowa and stepped forward, offering her hand to Quatre. "I'm Gwennol Ptaschinski, but that's such a mouthful that everyone calls me Gwen or Mrs. P. I don't believe we've met; have you just moved in?"
"Oh no, we're just helping a friend," Quatre replied, automatically stepping away from the washer to shake hands. Behind him, Trowa mouthed 'Thank you' at her, and started pulling sheets and clothes out. "He was injured at work a couple of days ago."
"Oh, was that Mr. Chang, the Preventer? Now that I come to think of it, I saw you helping him in on Christmas Eve. I do hope he's not too badly off, especially now he's got that other lovely young man staying with him."
"He'll be fine," Quatre assured her. "He just can't use his right arm at the moment, so some things are a little awkward for him. I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself! I'm Quatre Winner, and this is my friend Trowa Barton."
"Pleasure," Trowa muttered, quickly separating the washing into whites and colours.
"That's quite all right, I can see you're a little distracted by worrying about your friend," Mrs. P. said comfortably, flicking a glance past Quatre to gauge how much longer he needed to be distracted. "I imagine that being a Preventer must be a dangerous job sometimes. Is the other young man a Preventer too?"
"No, Duo -- Duo Maxwell -- is a friend of ours from before Wufei joined the Preventers. He, uh, got hurt on L2 while he was, um, visiting to pay his respects to some, er, deceased friends."
"I see. Well, I hope he's recovering."
"Yes, and Wufei's taking very good care of him, but it may take a while."
"I certainly wish them both the best," she said, smiling at Trowa as he closed the lid on the last washer and fed tokens in, "but I see that my washing's done, and I don't want to keep you here talking when you've surely got more interesting things to do. Give my regards to Mr. Chang and Mr. Maxwell, won't you? My husband and I are in apartment 31, and we'd be only too glad to lend a hand any time they need it."
"I will, and thank you!" Quatre smiled, and turned to Trowa as Mrs. P. walked out with her basket. "She's so nice, isn't she? It's good to know Duo and Wufei have such helpful people in their building."
"Yes," Trowa agreed. "Very helpful."
"Oh, you're finished! I was going to help..."
Back upstairs, Duo's giggles finally trailed off and he sighed, resting comfortably on Wufei's good shoulder. Without thinking, Wufei tightened his arm around Duo and turned his head, pressing a gentle kiss to Duo's hairline.
Duo froze for an instant, then slowly lifted his head to look at Wufei. Wide violet eyes met black, and they leaned closer...
The apartment door crashed open, and they jerked upright as Quatre bounced in. "We met the nicest lady downstairs," he said happily. "Mrs. P. She said-- Wufei, are you all right? You look a little odd..."
"I'm fine," Wufei gritted through clenched teeth, determined that he was not going to clutch at his abused shoulderblade and fall over screeching in pain, or throw a book at Quatre's head and abuse him for incredibly bad timing.
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