( Chapter 17 )
"Pargan, go straight into the carpark and look for Wufei's four wheel drive," Relena instructed, leaning forwards. "We're running late, so he's probably leaving now; we might just catch him."
"Certainly, Miss Relena," the old man said.
"I'm sorry," Quatre said meekly.
"One of the variants of Murphy's Law states that something always comes up when you want to leave work early," she said calmly, smiling at him and Trowa. "It's not the end of the world if we don't get there in time."
"That's a nice change," Heero muttered.
"Besides, I'm sure these gifts are fine. You said the Manguanacs would be able to deliver them tomorrow, so I take it Rashid's back? You seem healthy..."
"Oh, you heard about that, did you?" Quatre winced.
She giggled. "Your Ninke told my Karl."
Trowa smiled slightly. "I don't think we have to worry about miscommunication between our offices ever again, especially if Karl's as good as Ninke at information gathering."
"I checked up on the family," Heero said, smirking. "You've got Ninke; we've got Karl; the Preventers have Nicklaus and Nils. Their father and the oldest brother, Erik, are ex-Alliance intelligence with spotless records. Erik is now Dean and head of psychology at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Their grandmother Matilde is the president of the university, and their sister Sigrid is an associate professor at Delft University of Technology. Shall I go on? There are more siblings, and I haven't even gotten into the cousins yet..."
"Can we hire the whole family?" Relena asked, semi-seriously. "Quatre, have I thanked you recently for recommending Karl?"
"Fifteen minutes ago," Quatre said dryly, checking his watch. "By the way, getting back to Christmas presents... Ninke brought one in today from Matilde Assink, addressed to 'that nice Maxwell boy'."
"Is there anything that family doesn't know about?" Trowa asked.
"No," Heero said, straight-faced.
"Miss Relena?" Pargan said politely as he turned the wheel to guide the limo into the parking lot. "I see Mr. Chang's vehicle, still here-- ah! Sirs? There's trouble!"
Heero took one glance through the windscreen and snapped out, "Pargan, get us there!"
"Yes, sir!" The limo accelerated, throwing up snow in a brief rooster-tail effect as the wheels spun; Pargan guided it expertly between cars, then made a quick turn and hit the brakes, skidding sideways to an abrupt stop only meters away from the scuffle.
"Relena, stay here--" Heero said quickly as he opened the door, glancing towards her; he blinked as she pushed straight past him and ran for the fight. Trowa and Quatre were already out the other side of the car; he swore and followed. "K'so! Relena, stay back--"
Three men had Wufei down on the ground and were kicking at him; one was holding a tyre iron, and Heero mentally marked him as the primary target. Another man was being dragged away, leaving a trail of blood and yelling incoherently. Several more were standing around or edging towards the building, looking worried.
"Either do the right thing or leave!" Relena yelled at the ditherers, swinging her handbag at the head of the man dragging Ivan away. She followed this totally unscientific attack up with a perfectly executed kick to the back of his knee. "Don't just stand there!"
"Nice kick," Quatre commented, taking the man down with one punch as he yelled in pain and started to turn.
"Heero's been teaching me self-defense, just in case. I pay attention," she said absently, starting towards Wufei's attackers with a determined expression.
"This isn't a self-defense situation!" Quatre pointed out, grabbing her arm. "Besides, I don't think they need our help..."
As Heero charged towards the man with the tyre iron, noting thankfully that Quatre was backing Relena up and could be relied upon to get her out of danger, his target was suddenly tackled from the side by a red-haired woman in Preventers' uniform. Body-slamming Anders into the side of the Blazer, Leah growled and chopped at his wrist, making him yelp and drop his weapon.
"You are such-- a waste-- of space--" she snarled, getting a good-sized handful of his hair and slamming his head into the metal with each emphasised word; then she stepped back, grabbed the wrist in the cast, and used it to throw him over her shoulder and face-down onto the bonnet of the next car in line.
"Did that hurt?" she asked sweetly as he gasped for air. "I hope so!" She casually draped one arm across the back of his neck and leaned, pushing his Adam's apple down onto the corner of the bonnet. He started to make choking noises and kick; she smiled. "If you flap, I'll lean harder," she informed him cheerfully.
Deprived of his initial target, Heero made short work of one of the others as Trowa took care of the last one; then armed Preventers started running around the corner of the building, Une stalking along at the head of the group.
"You thought you were in trouble when I hit you, Anders? Now you're in trouble," Leah said gleefully. Anders choked out a couple of swear words and started struggling again; she sighed, shaking her head, and leaned on him. "I warned you..."
"All right, what's going on here?" Une snapped, hands on hips. "I want an explanation, and-- Chang?!"
Quatre looked up from where he was crouched by Ivan. "Could someone call Sally and ask her to bring some medical staff?" he enquired politely. "I don't know how much Wufei's hurt, and this one's arm is badly broken."
"Is Chang okay?" Ivan asked anxiously, struggling to sit up. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I screwed up... I tried to help, after I worked out what was really going on, but... is he okay?"
"Petrov, isn't it?" Une asked, shooting a glance at him as she moved towards Wufei. "I'll want a statement later."
"Yes, ma'am," he said miserably.
Trowa pushed his prisoner into the arms of one of the security squad and knelt down, running his hands gently over Wufei's head and spine before trying to move him. "There's no obvious vertebrae damage," he reported, "but he's got one hell of a lump coming up on the back of his head. I think I saw the kick that did it, too," he muttered darkly, glaring at Anders.
Leah smiled coldly at Trowa and put on a fraction more pressure.
"McKenzie, do let the prisoner breathe," Une requested. "We might want him alive for questioning."
"Yes... ma'am," Leah sighed, reluctantly backing off and letting the security squad take him.
Wufei moaned slightly as Trowa started easing him out of his tight protective curl, opening his eyes and blinking dazedly. "Nnh... Trowa?"
"Stay still and wait for Sally," Trowa ordered, carefully tipping Wufei's head up and checking his pupils. "Are you cold?"
"No." Wufei winced, licking blood off his top lip and feeling carefully at the back of his head. "Where's my coat?"
"Here, take mine," Heero broke in, starting to pull it off.
"No!" Wufei insisted. "There's something in the pocket... I need my coat!"
"Would this be it, Master Chang?" Pargan asked, stepping carefully over the legs of one of the ambushers (who was currently face-down on the snowy concrete, being cuffed and searched for weapons).
"Thank you," Wufei muttered, struggling to sit up; then he gasped and swayed as he automatically reached for it with his right arm. "Zao gao... bad move," he hissed through clenched teeth, then reached out with his left arm and pulled the coat onto his knees.
"Wufei, please! Stay still until Sally can examine you!" Relena exclaimed, reaching out but unsure where she could touch him without doing damage. He ignored her, rummaging one-handed through the coat pockets.
"Where is it... ah!" He pulled Une's present out, shaking it gently, then looked anxiously up at her. "I don't hear anything rattling, but... is this fragile?"
"Not very," Une said dryly, rolling her eyes as she took it from him. "Now will you lie down and be quiet?"
"No. I'm going home."
"You are not!" Sally snapped, stalking towards him. "Geir, you handle that one," she said, waving one of her assistants towards Ivan. "If it's as bad as it looks, take him to the emergency room. I'll handle Macho Man here. Wufei, you are staying right there until we get you on a stretcher, and then you are going nowhere except into my examining room!"
"I'm going home." Wufei glared at her. "Duo will worry if I'm late."
"This is true," Sally admitted, crouching down and peering intently at his eyes, "but you're still staying here. We'll phone Duo and tell him you've been delayed."
"That won't work," he growled, batting her hand away as she pulled a penlight out of her pocket. "If you tell him the truth," he continued, starting to pull his legs underneath him, "he'll panic, and probably start walking here. If you -- nh! -- lie to him, he'll never trust you again. Trowa, give me a hand here, would you?"
"Trowa, don't you dare. Wufei, every time you move you look grey, and you're starting to sweat--"
"I wouldn't if someone would just help," he muttered.
"--I am going to examine you whether you want it or not!"
"Once you get me home, to Duo, you can examine me all you like. I'll cooperate," he said, leaning heavily on his left arm and closing his eyes briefly. "Otherwise, you'd better have a dart gun handy, because the only way you're getting me inside without a fight is unconscious. Am I making my position clear?"
"Perfectly," Une said, cutting Sally off before she could argue. "Sally, he's coherent, his eyes are tracking and he's arguing logically; I'd say he's fit to go home."
"You're supposed to be on my side," Sally said accusingly.
"I'm on Maxwell's side at the moment," Une replied calmly, picking up Wufei's coat and tucking her present back into a pocket.
"Which arm can I use to help you up by?" Heero asked Wufei.
"All right, we take Chang home and examine him there!" Sally yelled, throwing her hands up. "However! If you are showing any signs of concussion, or I find anything that I can't properly treat at your apartment, we're all coming straight back here, Duo included! This is not negotiable!"
"Your conditions are accepted," Wufei said, carefully inching up onto his feet with Heero and Trowa's help, wincing as he put weight on his right knee.
"If it weren't for Duo's sake, I wouldn't agree," Sally muttered.
"If it weren't for Duo's sake, I wouldn't ask," Wufei replied, just as quietly.
* * * * *
Duo twisted his braid in his hands, eyes wide as he stared out the window.
*He's late. 'Fei's late. He said he'd be back by half past twelve and it's already quarter to one... where is he?! Is he all right?!*
He leaned forward eagerly, one hand pressed to the cold glass, as the Blazer came slowly down the street. *There he is! He's here, he's back, he's okay... huh? What's going on?* A white limousine was following the Blazer, and turned smoothly into the carpark after it.
*That's not 'Fei,* Duo thought suddenly, watching as the Blazer seemed to hesitate in the carpark before moving into an empty space. *'Fei's not driving. He always goes straight into that spot, his spot...* Unconsciously, he twisted another loop of his braid around his hand, pulling until his scalp hurt.
Quatre slid out of the Blazer's passenger seat, hopping carefully down to the ground. "Why Wufei got such a tall car, I don't know," he grumbled. "He's no taller than I am..."
"I don't have a problem," Trowa said innocently, closing the driver's side door.
"I'm not going to dignify that with an answer," Quatre said loftily, automatically scanning the apartment building's windows as he moved towards Relena's limo. "I-- oh..."
"Third floor, fourth window from the left," the blond boy said in a strained voice.
Duo was standing at the window, knuckles white with tension as he clutched his braid. His eyes were wide, darting between the Blazer and the limo; then Heero climbed out from where he'd been sitting next to Pargan, opened the back door and started helping Wufei out, and Duo vanished.
Wufei looked at the windows as he straightened up. "I don't see Duo," he said, sounding worried. "Maybe he's just asleep..."
"He was there."
The door to the apartment building slammed open and Duo ran out, socks slipping in the snow. He skidded to a halt in front of Wufei, hands reaching out and then retreating as he saw the bruises. "'Fei?" he whispered, eyes wide. "Are you okay? What happened?!"
"Duo, you'll freeze! You're not even wearing shoes--"
"Where are you hurt? How bad is it?"
Heero sighed, not sure whether to be relieved or upset that Duo was completely ignoring him even though he was holding Wufei up. Behind him, Sally emerged from the limousine carrying a large medical kit, and yelped as she saw Duo out in the snow in a t-shirt and sweat pants.
"Duo, get back inside!"
He ignored her, too. Trowa snorted softly, taking his coat off as he walked up. "Come on, Duo, let's get Wufei inside, okay?" he said, wrapping the coat around the shivering boy. "He needs to sit down."
"...okay," Duo said, moving towards the door. "Tro? What happened? Was there an accident?"
"Trowa, pick him up!" Quatre burst out. "He shouldn't be walking through snow in his socks!"
"Jeez, QUAT-re! I'm fine!" Duo grumbled, then started coughing.
Trowa picked him up. "Sure you're fine, Duo. Just humour Quatre, okay? He's had a rough morning, and you know how he gets..."
"Hmph. Fussbudget," he muttered absent-mindedly, craning his neck to get a clear view of Wufei over Trowa's shoulder.
"Gods only know what my neighbours will think now," Wufei said, leaning heavily on Heero as he limped inside.
"Duo, where's your puffer?!" Sally yelled irritably as Duo coughed again. "You know better than to go out into sub-freezing temperatures without it..."
"Bitch bitch bitch," Duo whispered; Trowa shot a look back over his shoulder at Quatre, who was standing frozen, wide-eyed.
"He called me a fussbudget!" he whispered happily.
"He called you Quatre," Relena pointed out. "Even if it's because he's distracted by worrying about Wufei, it is a good sign."
"If we could get into the building some time today, people?" Sally called back.
"Bitch bitch bitch..." Duo whispered again.
Wufei's small living room was unusually crowded, since no-one was willing to leave just yet.
Duo was sitting on the left end of the sofa, clutching his puffer in one hand and Wufei's left hand in the other. Wufei was sitting sideways next to him with his shirt off, leaning into the sofa cushions and wincing as Sally examined his back.
"Woman, was that absolutely necessary?" he grumbled after one particularly hard poke, then winced as she did it again.
"Yes, it was," she snapped. "Lift your right arm."
"Wang ba tan," he muttered, wincing as he obeyed.
"I should point out that I do know three dialects of Chinese," she said coldly, fingers pushing gently against the bottom of his shoulderblade as he moved. "Don't swear at the woman who's treating your wounds."
"Duo gets away with it. That hurts, you know!"
"I thought it would... Duo is cuter than you, Chang, and when he swears at me he does it with a sort of cheeky air. You sound like you mean it."
"I do mean it... OW!"
Duo dropped the inhaler and started pulling on his braid; Wufei noticed and tried to produce a convincing smile. "I'm fine, Duo; it's just this woman being vindictive because I wouldn't let her poke at me before."
"Ha!" Sally snorted.
Quatre emerged from the bedroom, brandishing a pair of sweat socks. "Found some!" he announced triumphantly. "Duo, feet!"
Duo automatically stuck his feet out, and Quatre started pulling the wet socks off; Trowa straightened up from where he was leaning on the wall, and walked towards the bedroom. "I'll just go put everything else back."
"I didn't make a mess!" Quatre protested, rubbing one of Duo's cold feet to warm it up before he put the dry socks on.
"Oh, really?" Trowa's voice drifted out of the bedroom, along with the sound of drawers being opened and shut.
"Well... not a bad mess..."
"Not by your standards, no."
"I believe Trowa," Duo muttered. "Wufei, are you sure you're all right?"
"I'll be sore for a while, but there's nothing serious."
"Sally? Is that right?"
"Duo!" Wufei protested.
"I've seen you insist you were just fine after you've been shot, 'Fei. Sally?"
"You've done the same thing!"
"I haven't found anything worse than a cracked bone yet," Sally said. "Of course, that bone is your shoulderblade, Chang; I'm going to immobilise your right arm. Duo, could you do me a favour? If he tries to take the strapping off before I say it's okay, could you look at him?"
"I'll just go make some coffee and tea, shall I?" Relena headed for the kitchen as Wufei groaned and muttered something about 'that's not fair'.
"I'll do it!" Heero yelped, leaping forward and beating her into the kitchen; she almost pouted.
"I can boil water now, you know," she said pointedly. "I may not be able to cook a gourmet meal, but I can boil water!"
"With help," Trowa said under his breath, re-emerging from the bedroom; Quatre snickered softly, sitting on the floor in front of Duo and rubbing his feet.
Fortunately, there was a knock at the door before Relena could respond to that; she merely shot a glare in Trowa's direction and went to answer it. When she returned, Une was with her; Heero emerged from the kitchen and leaned on the wall to listen.
"All right, Chang," Une said, raising an eyebrow at the small crowd in the lounge room, "I need to get your statement to see how it matches up with the ones I got from Petrov and the others. Needless to say, they're all different... Sally, how is he?"
"We knew that already. Can I have a diagnosis of his physical condition?"
"He'll live, but if he hadn't been turning as the blow landed it might have broken his spine," Sally said, not noticing that Duo was slowly tensing up. Still warming Duo's feet in his hands, Quatre noticed the change and looked up.
*Uh-oh... this may not be good!*
"I haven't completed my examination yet," Sally continued, "but I think that's the worst of it. He's got a lot of bruises, of course, and I want a closer look at his right knee, but his thick skull seems to have saved him from concussion."
"Good. Chang, Petrov says Agent Anders had some sort of grudge against you, and convinced several other agents to join him in beating you up by feeding them some ridiculous story about you beating Maxwell up--"
Duo stood up, pushed Quatre out of the way, and headed for the door.
"No!" Wufei yelled, lunging to his feet and nearly falling. "Duo, it's all right, they've been taken care of! Duo!"
Heero stepped out in front of Duo and grabbed him, wrapping his arms around and holding on as Duo struggled. "Duo, no. They've been arrested. You'll just make yourself sick again if you go out after them!"
"Heero," Duo said, voice cold and angry, "Let. Me. Go. Now."
"No," Heero insisted. "Wufei needs you here. You... you're going to have to help look after him, now. Leave Anders and his friends to Une."
Saying that... effectively relinquishing Duo to Wufei for good... hurt.
*He's what Duo needs,* Heero told himself, cautiously relaxing his hold as Duo stopped struggling. *He's what Duo's always wanted. I want Duo to be happy, so I have to accept that... and let him go.*
"Let go, Heero," Duo said quietly, unconsciously echoing his thoughts. Heero dropped his arms and watched as Duo turned around and walked back to the couch to sit by Wufei.
Eventually, everyone left. Une went first, as soon as she had Wufei's official statement on tape; Sally left after strapping up Wufei's right knee and immobilising his shoulder and arm, leaving behind bottles of painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and a parting threat or two.
"I will see both of you on Boxing Day," she said grimly. "Chang, you are not to drive, even if that chocolate-coloured Yuppiemobile of yours is an automatic; I'll send someone to pick you up. And get some sleep! I can tell you haven't been getting enough rest..."
The others left shortly after that. Duo barely seemed to notice; he'd reverted to one-word answers when Wufei, Sally or Une spoke to him, totally ignoring everyone else.
"If there's anything we can do... call us? Please?" Relena said as she left. "If you need anything... shopping, or a lift somewhere..." Wufei agreed tiredly, and then they were gone.
"Sally's right," Duo said quietly. "You look tired. I'll get out your futon..."
"No, that's okay," Wufei insisted, shifting uncomfortably to take a little more pressure off his shoulderblade. "I don't want to sleep right now; I'll be fine just resting here on the couch."
Duo just looked steadily at him for a moment, then turned and went into the bedroom, re-emerging with both of the pillows from the futon, the spare pillow from the cupboard, and two thick quilts. With these (and the other spare pillow that Wufei had been pretending to use at night), he soon had Wufei tucked up in a reasonably comfortable half-sitting position; then he went into the kitchen, bringing out the pill bottles Sally had left and a glass of water.
Wufei grimaced as Duo started opening one of the bottles. "I'd rather not..." he said weakly.
"Your knee's going to blow up like a balloon if you don't."
"Just the anti-inflammatory, then!"
"You wince every time you move. Please?"
"All right! ...They're not the sedative painkillers, are they?"
Duo shook his head, holding out the pills. "Same as mine."
"Which you haven't been taking," Wufei pointed out, swallowing the pills and making a face; Duo shrugged.
"I only wince when I move fast," he replied, then walked back into the kitchen and started running water into the sink.
Wufei settled back, wincing again -- *got to control that or Duo will worry* -- and closed his eyes, listening to the soft sounds Duo made as he moved around.
*He's washing dishes again,* he thought drowsily. *He's a lot steadier on his feet now, though... it should be all right. Maybe I can ask Relena to send someone over to do them tomorrow... don't want Duo to strain himself.*
*Fast painkillers. Only the shoulder's really bothering me now...*
*...good thing they aren't sedative...*
Duo took his time with the dishes, listening intently for any sound from the lounge room. When he'd finished, he slowly dried his hands, then walked quietly out of the kitchen.
Wufei was fast asleep, mouth dropped slightly open as he breathed softly.
"'Fei?" Duo whispered, leaning close. "Wufei...?"
*Maybe they weren't sedatives,* Duo thought, reaching out to trace a gentle fingertip over the dark shadows below Wufei's eyes, *but I thought you'd fall asleep as soon as nothing hurt... Sally was right. You've hardly been sleeping at all, have you?*
His hand dropped lower, brushing across the bruise forming on Wufei's right cheekbone, then lower still, tugging the quilt down and exploring the bandages strapping his right arm to his chest. Slowly, Duo examined everything he could see without moving Wufei, memorising the position and size of every bruise; then he pulled the quilt back into place and stroked the unbruised cheek.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I know you don't want me to do this. But I have to..."
Duo leaned in and kissed Wufei gently; then he pulled back and walked towards the door, eyes cold and hard.
*Nobody hurts my 'Fei."
end 'Reunion' chapter 17
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