( Chapter 14 )
Home once more, Wufei settled Duo back onto the couch. "Do you want a nap?" he asked, pushing Duo's bangs out of his eyes with one finger.
"I'm not that tired. Can I have some juice?"
"Not a problem." *Another step forward; he's asking for things!*
As he brought the glass back, Wufei hesitated for a moment, then spoke. "Duo... may I call the others and tell them how you are? They're worried about you."
It was Duo's turn to hesitate, swallowing and looking away. Wufei watched as different expressions flickered across his face: hurt, doubt, a flash of anger... Finally, he nodded very slightly.
Wufei punched Quatre's home code into the vidphone first. As he waited for the call to be answered, he kept half an eye on Duo. *I'll try not to say anything too... um... personal? specific? in case it upsets him. I definitely won't tell them about the nightmares!*
Quatre's butler appeared on the screen. < < Winner residence -- ah, Master Wufei, good afternoon! I'm afraid Master Quatre and Master Trowa are at Winner Enterprises today. Shall I transfer your call? > >
"Yes, thank you, Arif." *Huh... if Quatre had just thought to give Duo some of his unlisted home numbers when he left, instead of assuming he already knew them, a lot of trouble and pain would have been avoided. I don't think Arif's failed to pass on a message in his life!*
< < Winner Enterprises, Executive Switchboard, how may I help you? > > a pretty young woman asked sweetly.
"May I speak to either Quatre Winner or Trowa Barton?"
< < I'm afraid they're in a meeting right now, sir-- > >
"Ninke Assink, then."
< < He's in the same meeting. > > The receptionist dimpled at Wufei. < < May I take a message? > >
Duo winced slightly; Wufei raised an eyebrow. *Well. Time to test the new systems.* "Could you please ask them to call Chang Wufei? They know my--"
< < Oh, Mr. Chang! You're on the new list; I can put you right through if you'd rather speak to them now. > >
< < Yes, sir. There's a new short list of people who are to be put through to Mr. Winner or Mr. Barton at any time, no matter what. If we don't pass your call through, we get fired. Isn't it great? I can actually do my job properly now that I'm working for WEI instead of Elite! > >
Wufei grinned. "I'm glad you approve. May I ask who's on the list?"
The smiling girl looked to one side of her screen. < < In order, it's: Duo Maxwell, Chang Wufei, Relena Peacecraft, Heero Yui, Lady Une and Sally Po. Congratulations, sir, you're second! Shall I put you through now? > >
"Yes, thank you." *I'm happier about who's first...*
Wufei looked sideways at Duo as the screen blinked to 'hold'. "Well, she's enthusiastic about the new setup..."
Duo was blinking dazedly down at his glass of juice, held tightly in shaking hands. "I think she took one of my calls..." he said slowly. "She was on the main switchboard then. I remember her voice. She... sounded upset when she asked me to leave a message..."
"If her job depended on following Taarnby's instructions, and she was smart enough to see how stupid they were," Wufei said dryly, "I'm not surprised. It's good to see she's been promoted."
The screen cleared and Quatre looked out. < < Wufei! > > he exclaimed. < < Is anything wrong? Is Duo okay? > >
"Don't panic, Quatre, I'm calling to give you an update. We just got back from Duo's checkup with Sally. I like your new switchboard procedures, by the way."
Quatre grinned. < < So do I; we're in the middle of writing some more. How's Duo? > > Trowa and Ninke appeared behind him; Trowa raised an eyebrow at Ninke, who shrugged sheepishly at him, then both looked back at the screen expectantly.
Wufei snorted, almost laughing out loud. *Even I understood that. 'What are you doing here?' 'Um... I worry, too. Besides, I'm curious. Is that OK?' Then 'Go on, tell us!' Quatre seems to attract people who are good at non-verbal communication...*
After Wufei finished his update, Quatre sighed happily. < < Oh, good... I'm so glad Duo's getting better. Rashid and the Manguanacs were worried, too, they'll-- they-- > > A look of horror slowly spread over his face. < < Oh, no! Oh, Rashid's going to kill me... > >
< < Quatre? > >
Quatre buried his face in his hands. < < I was so upset when we found Duo, and he was so ill and angry with us... I forgot to tell the Manguanacs we'd found him! They're still out there looking! > >
Wufei burst out laughing.
< < It's not funny! They'll kill me! > >
"Quatre," Wufei choked out, "when did they start looking?"
< < Eight days ago, > > Quatre said miserably. < < I called Rashid after we spoke to you, while you were on the plane. I told them to start on L4 and work their way down. They're probably disassembling L3 right now... they were swearing all sorts of oaths to find Duo no matter how long it took. And then we found him, and I didn't tell them... they'll kill me! > >
"Quatre, I don't think Trowa will let them..."
< < They'll kill him too! First! We are so dead, Trowa... > >
Trowa smirked. < < I'm safe. I didn't know you'd sent them out. > >
< < Trowa!! > >
Ninke interrupted hastily. < < Uh, Mr. Winner, perhaps if you tell them that Mr. Maxwell has been found... and then either you don't tell them when he was found, or else tell them while they're distracted by finding out how he is and celebrating his return? > >
< < It'll never work, > > Trowa muttered.
< < Shut up, Trowa, it's worth a try -- especially if you aren't going to protect me! > >
Wufei grinned. "Just tell them about Taarnby. They'll be so busy going after him, they won't have time to tell you off."
< < Now that will work, >>; Trowa nodded, one visible eye glittering. < < I like the idea of Taarnby being hunted down, too. > >
< < Isn't that a bit... unethical? > > Ninke asked. < < If not illegal? > >
< < Only if they get carried away. > >
"I'll talk to you later, all right?" Wufei interrupted. "I need to call Relena now. I'm going back to part-time work tomorrow, but Duo says he'll be fine."
< < Okay. Er... > > Quatre hesitated. < < If you think it's a good idea... tell Duo I hope he gets better soon. I'm sorry, and I miss him. > >
Trowa nodded. < < Same here. > >
< < Tell him he can call us if he needs anything; he will get through this time! > >
"All right. See you." *click*
Duo was looking away when Wufei glanced in his direction, refusing to meet his eyes; Wufei sighed, punching in Relena's code.
< < Foreign Minister Peacecraft's office -- oh, hey, hi Mr. Chang. > >
"Georg?" Wufei blinked at the screen, surprised. "Why are you answering Relena's phone?"
< < Somebody has to. > > Georg said glumly.
"But... you're second in command of security!"
< < She won't trust anyone else. Until we find someone with really good secretarial and office management skills, who also meets Miss Relena's new standards for trustworthiness and lack of snobbery, I'm stuck here -- and the way she's feeling right now, we may never find her a new secretary! Please, Mr. Chang, talk to her? I'm no good at this! > >
"I'll see what I can do. Is she free?"
< < Uh, sure. I'll put you through, just give me a second...>> Georg picked up a scrap of paper and peered at it, then poked carefully at the keypad, muttering to himself. <<First hit 'hold', then-- > > *click*
The screen flicked to 'hold'.
"Poor Georg," Duo muttered.
Wufei smirked. "I hope he checked the right piece of paper; there were a lot of little notes on-- good afternoon, Relena, I see Georg managed to transfer the call."
< < Good afternoon, Wufei! > > Relena smiled. < < Yes, he's learning quite fast. > >
< < How's Duo? > > Heero asked brusquely, coming into view at the edge of the screen.
With an effort, Wufei managed not to scowl at him. "He's fine, but Georg will be going on stress leave soon if you don't get a new secretary and let him go back to Security."
< < He had a checkup with Sally today. What did she say? > > Heero continued, completely ignoring the rest of Wufei's sentence.
Wufei sighed and gave in to the inevitable. "He's gained a little weight. The ribs are healing. The cough is improving. It's going to take a while, but he's getting better." He glanced sideways; Duo was sitting stiffly, face blank.
*Physically, he's getting better,* Wufei thought, looking back at the screen. *Emotionally... he really doesn't want to think about you, Yui. Losing touch with you hurt most of all.*
"I just wanted to let you know he's doing all right, and--" Wufei cut himself off, peering at the screen. "What did you do to your hand, Yui?"
Heero flushed, shifting so that his bandaged hand was behind Relena's chair. < < I hit something. > >
"Something or someone?" Wufei prodded.
< < Thing. > >
< < We found Duo's e-mails and phone calls, > > Relena explained. < < They were... upsetting. Heero took it out on the wall. He won, but the wall put up a good fight, > > she added wryly.
Duo got up and walked into the bedroom.
"I see," Wufei said in a neutral voice. *Now you realise the part you played in all this, right, Yui? It's about time...* "I'm going back to work tomorrow. Part-time to start with, then short shifts. I--"
< < You can't just leave Duo alone! > > Heero said angrily.
"He says he'll be fine."
< < But--! > >
"Back off, Yui," Wufei snapped, glaring. "Duo says it's okay, and that's all I care about. If it doesn't work out, I'll take more time off. I don't care whether or not you're happy with the arrangements!" Abruptly ignoring Heero, he switched his gaze to Relena. "Maybe you could talk to Quatre about getting a new secretary; he just hired a special assistant, and he's replacing most of the clerical staff at WEI. He probably has some ideas you could use."
< < Thank you, Wufei. I will ask him. Please... keep us informed? > >
Wufei nodded sharply, and disconnected. *Don't tell me how to look after Duo, Yui,* he thought coldly, getting up and hurrying towards the bedroom. *You didn't do a very good job...*
Duo was sitting huddled in the middle of the futon, trying to undo his braid with shaking hands, brush lying next to him. Wufei knelt down beside him and reached out to touch his cheek, gently urging him to look up.
"Want some help?"
Duo nodded silently, and Wufei settled down behind him. *This is becoming a regular event,* he thought, picking up the brush. *Well, it makes him feel better... and I certainly don't mind.*
* * * * *
The next morning, Duo clung to Wufei in his sleep when the Chinese boy tried to sneak out of bed. It took over ten minutes of carefully disentangling Duo's fingers and inching out from under Duo's leg, freezing every time he seemed to be drifting closer to wakefulness, before Wufei finally made it off the futon. At one point, he seriously considered trying to wriggle out of his T-shirt and leave it behind; only the thought that it would be really hard to explain stopped him.
*I guess that was because part of him remembers that I'm going to work today,* he thought, slipping carefully out of the room and heading for the bathroom. *Even in his sleep... I really hope that doesn't happen every morning from now on! The only consolation is that he didn't wake up, and it didn't set off another nightmare.*
Wufei had had a sleepless night; every time he started to doze off, Duo started dreaming. Bad dreams, even for him. Wufei had managed to soothe him back into peaceful sleep every time, but he was exhausted. A cold shower wasn't going to be enough to wake him up this time.
*Coffee with breakfast. Strong coffee,* he thought, shivering under the water with his forehead leaning against the chilly tile wall. *And more once I get to HQ... assuming I manage to stay conscious on the drive in.* He snorted softly, straightening up and reaching for the soap. *Dying on the way to work is not an option. Duo will be waiting for me to come back!*
Slowly coming into consciousness, Duo whimpered softly, patting at the empty spot next to him. Something was wrong. Something was missing and he had to get it back--
He jerked awake, heart pounding, and stared around frantically. He had to find it, it was important... and then he came fully awake, the feeling of panic and loss faded, and he collapsed back onto the pillow.
*What was I looking for?* he thought confusedly, blinking up at the ceiling. *I can't remember... did I even know what it was in the first place, or was it just one of those panic dreams that don't make sense?*
*...Wufei's going to work today. Did he leave already?!*
Duo sat up quickly, wincing as the sudden movement jarred his ribs again, and listened. The soft sound of running water was coming from nearby; he frowned, concentrating, and then sighed in relief. *That's from inside the apartment, not next door. He's still here.*
Glimpsing the shadows under his eyes in the mirror, Wufei shuddered. *Ugh. I hope Sally doesn't see me today; she'll put me on medical leave! Hopefully a good strong caffiene hit will-- damn! I set the machine up last night, but I forgot to start it before I got in the shower. You know you really need coffee when you forget to make it,* he grumbled, pulling on a clean pair of boxers and stalking out.
Quietly opening the bedroom door to get his uniform, Wufei stopped short as he saw the empty futon. *Where'd Duo go?! He was asleep-- wait, if I didn't start the coffee maker, how come I can smell it?*
Duo was sitting at the kitchen table, watching the coffeemaker burble; he had two mugs already set up in front of him. "It's almost finished," he said without looking around. "You still take your coffee black with half a sugar?"
"Ah... yeah," Wufei finally got out. "I'll... go get dressed, then make breakfast... okay?"
"Okay." The coffeemaker sucked up the last of the water with a dying gurgle, and Duo got up to pour.
Wufei padded back to the bedroom in a daze. *I was worried that I'd have to wake him up out of a sound sleep to feed him pills and breakfast before I left. He's more awake than I am!*
"There's a list of all the phone numbers you might need beside the vidphone," Wufei said, hurriedly pulling his hair back into its usual tail and snapping a rubber band around it. "I switched the ringer back on, in case I need to call you."
"There's lots of those dairy dessert things in the fridge if you get hungry, and microwave meals in the freezer if you want something hot."
"Turn the thermostat up if you feel cold, or grab one of my warmup tops. I'll be back around a quarter past twelve; is there anything you want me to get on the way home?"
"Duo... are you sure this is okay?" Worry showing clearly on his face, Wufei looked at Duo sitting on the couch. "If you're not happy, I won't go."
"I'll be fine," Duo said quietly, looking away. "Go on."
Wufei sighed, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair back into Duo's braid. "All right. I'll see you at lunchtime..."
As the door closed behind Wufei, Duo slumped slightly, hands rising to clutch at his braid and twist through the tuft on the end. *He said he's coming back,* he thought, almost fiercely. *He said he's coming back! He'll be back in a few hours. It's not that long!*
He stood up and walked to the window, looking past the apartment's small balcony down into the carpark. After a moment, Wufei's uniformed figure strode across to his Blazer, glanced uncertainly back at the building... then got in and drove away.
When Duo could no longer fool himself that the Blazer was still visible in the distance, he turned slowly away from the window and walked towards the bedroom.
*He said he's coming back.*
*He said he's coming back.*
*He'll come back.*
*He has to...*
* * * * *
"Oh, I'm really doing well today," Wufei muttered under his breath as he made his way across the room, clutching two files in one hand and a mug in the other. "I haven't been here for two hours and I'm already getting my third cup of coffee... and is it helping? Not that you'd notice. I've got to get some rest this afternoon when Duo has a nap..."
"Sorry? Were you talking to me?"
"No! No, sorry, just thinking out loud," Wufei said hastily. He breathed a sigh of relief when the agent nodded and moved away. "I've also got to stop talking to myself," he murmured, making a beeline for the coffee machine.
"ALL RIGHT, people, did I not threaten you ENOUGH yesterday?!" an angry female voice yelled from nearby. "MUST I resort to CAR BOMBS and SNIPER ATTACKS to get my point across?! Torg, Francis, Paterson, get your lazy butts in here and DO YOUR OWN FILING!"
Wufei blinked, looking across at the red-haired figure. *That's... McKenzie? But she's always so... er... no, she's not quiet, now that I think about it. But she doesn't usually shout at the whole room!*
"AND YOU! ANDERS!" Leah continued, marching towrads a group of men clustered around a desk with a determined tread and an armful of files. "If you spent less time having TEA PARTIES with your useless friends, you MIGHT have time to actually FINISH YOUR PAPERWORK! Or did you think that I wouldn't know who dumped these files if you didn't sign them off?! I GAVE them to you to DO, you MORON!"
Wufei winced, turning away as the cluster of men melted to either side, leaving one man who seemed to be trying to slide under his desk as the Filing Valkyrie approached. *I'm glad I put my files away,* he thought, stepping up to the coffee machine. *I don't think I could handle a woman on a mission right now...*
In Lady Une's office, Sally leaned back in the visitor's chair and shot a glance towards the open door. "Car bombs? Sniper attacks? Were you aware we had a potential terrorist on staff, Une?"
Une snorted. "We already have a couple of ex-terrorists, Sally; what else would you call Chang, Barton and Yui? One more won't make much difference. Besides, I sympathise. Amanda will probably help, if McKenzie just holds off until she's well." She pressed a clear suction cup firmly onto the window pane, hooked a thin chain onto it, and stepped back to view the effect. "What do you think?"
Sally winced, looking away from the dangling tiki. "It's still hideous."
Back at his desk with a full mug of espresso and half a dozen more case files, Wufei jumped as a voice abruptly spoke from behind the bookshelves that walled him off from the rest of the room.
"Hey, Chang! Are you actually going to start looking after this poor plant, or should I just adopt it and take it back to my desk?" Leah leaned into his makeshift cubicle past the fern, scowling.
"I-- uh-- it looks fine to me--"
"That's because I've been watering it, Chang." The scowl deepened. "It was almost dead when you left a week ago. Plants can't talk, you know; just because it isn't complaining doesn't mean you can ignore it."
"I'll water it!"
Leah 'hmph'ed. "I'll keep an eye on it anyway," she grumbled, stalking off.
He sighed, then reached for his coffee mug and took a gulp, grimacing slightly as he swallowed. *Duo's coffee this morning was much better.*
*He remembered. It's eight months since the last time he made me a cup of coffee, and he still remembered how I take it. But then... he made me a lot of drinks, of one kind or another. And other things...*
"Welcome back, 'Fei. How'd it go?" Duo leaned against the wall next to the kitchen doorway, covering an immense yawn with one hand.
"Maxwell? What are you doing?"
"Waiting for you, Wu-man, what's it look like?"
Wufei snorted, folding his arms arrogantly. "Idiot. There was no need." He was uncomfortably aware that in his present state -- dirty, bruised, and tired -- his best 'I Need Nobody' stance wasn't up to its usual standard. Certainly Duo didn't seem affected.
"So what? I felt like it. Now get in here before your tea goes cold, okay?"
*...Tea?* Slowly, Wufei walked into the kitchen.
"Here. Eat." Duo casually dropped a plate and cup onto the table. "I didn't make that green tea shit because you won't put sugar in it, and I figure you could use some; it's Quatre's chamomile tea instead. You like that, right?"
Wufei didn't answer, eyeing the huge sandwich suspiciously. Amazingly enough, it wasn't one of Duo's usual monstrous creations (they tended to involve peanut butter, mashed banana and enough honey to ooze out the sides); it had at least two types of meat and a lot of fresh salad vegetables visible at the edges. His favourite type of sandwich, in other words.
"Maxwell, why..." He stopped himself and changed questions. "How did you know when I would be back?" *This is freshly made, and the tea is at just the right temperature...* "Did you bug Nataku again?!"
"No! I didn't need to," Duo protested. "I knew you were due back sometime this week, so I just put an alarm on the hangar. Heero set it off twice... anyway, enjoy. I fixed the hot water, too, if you want to wash up before you go to bed." He smothered another huge yawn as he turned to leave. "Night, 'Fei."
*In fact, he knew all my preferences,* Wufei mused, scowling down into his mug. *He tried to get me to eat s'mores or drink that syrup he calls hot chocolate often enough, but when I really needed something... there it was, just the way I liked it. Most of the time he pretended he was getting it for himself, and he'd just made too much; he joked about his eyes being 'way too big for my stomach.' Damn, I was an idiot. How could I have been so blind?*
*I was trying so hard to hide my feelings for him, I never noticed what he felt for me...*
"What?!" he yelped, jerked abruptly out of his reverie to discover four people standing in front of his desk.
Quatre blinked down at him, looking worried. "Wufei, are you all right? You're awfully jumpy..."
"I'm fine," he growled, trying to convince his heart to slow down. "Why are you here?"
"To talk about Duo," Trowa said bluntly.
Wufei sat bolt upright, outraged. "I have no intention of talking about Duo behind his back!"
Heero scowled; Trowa raised an eyebrow, folding his arms across his chest. "He wasn't present yesterday when you talked to us on the vidphone."
"Oh, yes he was. I asked his permission to call you, and he was sitting on the sofa just out of view." Wufei suppressed the urge to grin as Trowa, Quatre and Heero all stiffened in alarm, obviously trying to remember exactly what they'd said.
Relena had other concerns. "Wufei, are you sure you're all right? You look like you haven't slept in a week. Are you coming down with something?"
"Are you certain?" she persisted, leaning closer and peering into his eyes. "You look--"
"I'm fine!" he snapped, looking away. "I just didn't get much sleep, Duo had a bad night--"
There was an audible *click* as his jaw snapped shut. *Shit. That was the wrong thing to say...* Slowly shifting his gaze back to look at his 'visitors', Wufei flinched as four very intense stares bored into him.
The other four teenagers looked at each other; then Heero and Trowa stepped back, politely making 'after you' gestures. Relena and Quatre advanced around the desk, steely glints in their eyes, and both took a firm grip on one of Wufei's elbows.
"You are going to talk to us," Quatre said sweetly, lifting Wufei out of his chair without visible effort.
"After that comment, you don't have a choice," Relena agreed, surprisingly strong fingers imprisoning his right elbow. "We won't ask you to tell us everything..."
"...because that would be unreasonable, and a betrayal of Duo's trust in you," Quatre chimed in again, steering Wufei out into the room. "We don't want that."
"What we do want is enough information to stop us all getting ulcers from worry," Relena finished.
"The only reason I haven't thrown you both across the room is because it would be undignified," Wufei grumbled, giving in. "And one of you is a woman. And I'm too tired."
"That's nice, Wufei," Quatre said soothingly as they pulled him past Une's office, Trowa and Heero calmly trailing along behind. "Lady Une, can we borrow the small conference room? Thank you, so kind..."
Once they had Wufei 'settled' in the conference room -- sitting in a chair wedged between the table and a wall, with Quatre and Relena blocking his escape routes on either side -- they all leaned expectantly towards him.
"All right, Wufei, we've made our position clear," Relena said in a syrupy-sweet voice. Her eyes narrowed. "So talk."
end 'Reunion' chapter 14
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