Wufei sat in darkness, slumped sideways to ease the pain from his shoulder and ribs, and waited for the OZ soldiers to return.
*If they think I'm helpless, I may be able to take them by surprise... perhaps kill one.* Shifting slightly to gauge the extent of his injuries, he winced. *Hn! I'm tied up, shot, beaten and bruised; I'll be lucky if I can make them kill me!*
There was a 'beep' from the cell door's electronic lock, and it slowly swung open. He tensed, ready for anything.
"Hi honey, I'm home! What... you didn't dress for dinner?"
"D-Duo?" Wufei stuttered, looking up.
The braided pilot knelt in front of him, quick hands gently patting him over. There was a faint hiss of indrawn breath -- his or Duo's, Wufei wasn't sure -- as he found the small hole in Wufei's shirt and felt the stickiness around it.
"Let's blow this pop stand, 'Fei," Duo said cheerfully, cutting the plastic binders around Wufei's wrists. "Can you walk, or do I steal a mail trolley and let you ride in style?"
"I can walk, but not run," he admitted grudgingly.
"Is it the shoulder?"
"That... and the ribs, and the knee."
Duo whistled softly. "Man, they worked you over all right. Must be your charming personality -- I mean, it's not like they have a grudge against us or nothin'."
"Of course not," Wufei responded, gritting his teeth as Duo slid under his good arm and slowly pulled him up. "All the more reason for you not to get caught."
"Why Wufei, I'm hurt! Are you implying that I would be received with less than the polite courtesy due a prisoner of my wit and beauty?"
"Can we leave now?"
"Yeah, it's probably a good idea. You shoulda heard what the guards were saying about your ass when I went past!"
"Ssshhhh," he grinned, finger to his lips.
The alarms didn't go off until Duo was carefully helping Wufei up into the cab of a truck in the motor pool. Lights blazed on the buildings and around the perimeter fence, and a shout of discovery went up from behind them.
"Shit!" Wufei hissed. He was completely exposed, struggling to pull himself up with one working arm. He had a moment to think, *I'm dead, but Duo can still get away -- there's a car just by him, he can take cover--*
--and then a pair of hands hit his butt and catapulted him into the cab. He gasped in pain as he sprawled over the passenger seat, feeling broken ribs stab deeper, and glimpsed Duo silhouetted against the searchlight, braced in the doorway.
*He's shielding me! Gods, no, Duo, save yourself--*
Rifles fired, the window shattered and Duo jerked.
"I'm fine stay down!" Duo gasped, throwing himself into the driver's seat; small crystals of safety glass sprayed across the cab as he somehow managed to slam the door behind him. Moments later, they were careening down the road outside the base, bits of the shattered gate dangling from the remaining rear-view mirror.
"Duo?" Wufei tried to push himself up with his good arm, feeling fresh blood trickle down his shoulder from the gunshot wound. "Are you all right?"
"Stay still, 'Fei, or you'll make it worse. I'll get you back in one piece so long as you don't try anything macho, okay?" Duo's voice was serious, but there was humour bubbling just below the surface.
*He must be all right.* "Okay..."
Wufei let his eyes slide shut, and concentrated on making it the rest of the way 'home' without passing out.
Back at the safehouse, after taking what seemed like every back road possible to throw off the pursuit, Duo pulled the truck up right outside the front door and shut off the engine. Almost immediately, Trowa yanked the driver's door open.
"Get Wufei. He's hurt," Duo said shortly.
"Right." Trowa nodded and vanished; then the door next to Wufei opened as he struggled to rise, and gentle hands pulled him out and carried him into the house.
Quatre ran in with the first-aid kit as Trowa settled Wufei carefully onto the sofa. "Heero's calling Sally," he said breathlessly. "She'll be here soon; now, let me see--" He started cutting away the blood-soaked shirt.
Over his shoulder, Wufei saw Duo slowly follow them in and lean tiredly against the wall by the door; then he almost screamed, wheezing in pain as Quatre's knuckles bumped against his ribs.
"He gonna be all right?" he heard Duo say quietly.
"Sure. The ribs are bad -- sorry, Wufei! -- but they haven't penetrated the lung, and the shoulder's a fairly clean wound."
Something in Duo's voice made Wufei look over at him, blinking away tears of pain. Duo met his eyes and smiled, a sweet, gentle expression... and then his eyes closed, and he slowly slid down the wall, leaving a glistening red smear.
And everything went black.
*That was... almost two years ago?*
Wufei sat in darkness, blind.
*I remember... Heero came out just then, and grabbed Duo...*
It was terribly cold, and he couldn't move.
*...and Sally came... Duo got better, he was fine...*
There was no sound.
*...but I don't think I ever thanked him.*
"Do you love me, 'Fei?"
"I don't want to be alone."
*That's Duo! Where--*
"Do you want me? Do you care? Or do you hate me?"
*NO!* Wufei struggled to speak, but he couldn't make a sound. Duo sobbed, somewhere in the darkness. The sound seemed to be moving away. *No, not again, not again -- Duo--!*
"I need you, 'Fei. Please... say you want me..."
*Duo, please, no!*
"...say you need me..." The voice faded to a whisper. "Say you love me. Say something... anything..."
Wufei jerked upright, gasping, cold sweat prickling all over his body. Shuddering, he looked around at the unfamiliar room, early morning light filtering in between the heavy curtains.
*A guest room... at Quatre's?*
*It was a dream. That first part, it really happened; but the rest... no. No. Duo's fine. He has to be.*
*Oh please gods let Duo be all right.*
* * * * *
"See you around, Barton -- and thanks! Any time you want a berth, you know where to find me, yeah?"
Duo flipped one hand in a sketchy wave as he strolled away, not looking back. As he moved out into the open, he shivered and tugged his coat tighter around him. *Fuck... I leave one city in winter and dive straight back in. Cold weather's a bitch when you aren't having fun.*
Pausing at the top of a ramp, he looked out over the buildings.
*How's it going, 'Fei? Found someone you like yet? You gotta settle down with someone. Being alone sucks.*
* * * * *
Heero kicked the safehouse door open and stalked in, carrying a battered and bloody Duo in his arms. The unconscious boy was dressed in an oversized OZ uniform, dangling limp in Heero's grasp. Trowa and Quatre sprang apart on the couch and looked up, startled; Wufei dropped the book he was reading and leapt up from his armchair (which had been pointedly angled AWAY from the other two pilots).
"Somebody get the aid kit," Heero snapped, marching straight for the hall. "And run a bath."
"Should I call--" Wufei started.
"It's all superficial." The door swung shut behind him.
Gently laying Duo down on his bed, Heero began stripping the too-large uniform off him. He got the jacket and shirt off without any problems, smirking nastily at the short, neat slice and bloodstains on the back; but as he reached for the waistband of the trousers, Duo made a choking sound and lashed out.
Heero ducked the wildly swinging fist. "Duo! It's me."
"h-hee-- *cough* Heero? 'zat you?"
"Yeah, it's you all right." Duo coughed again and started to sit up, but Heero pushed him down.
"Stay put. And don't talk until I've checked your throat." There was a line of purple bruises around Duo's neck. He stayed flat on the bed, but didn't stop talking.
"You got me out?"
Duo's eyes flickered. "Kill anyone?"
"Quite a few; I set off charges in their ammo store to cover our exit."
There was a short pause as Heero finished removing Duo's clothes and covered him with a light blanket. Duo seemed about to speak, but shut his mouth and looked away as there was a tap on the door.
"I've got the first-aid kit," Quatre called. "And Trowa says the bath will be ready in a few minutes."
Heero opened the door, took the aid kit out of Quatre's hands, and shut the door in his face. As he turned back towards the bed, he met Duo's incredulous gaze.
"I don't believe you just did that!"
"Hn." Heero turned back and opened the door, catching Quatre as he began to turn away. "Thank you." Then he closed it again.
Duo was snickering as Heero set the kit down by the bed, but sobered quickly. "Uh, Heero..."
"Uh... there was one particular guy..." Duo looked away. "Really tall. Black buzz cut--"
"A major? About six-four, name of--" Heero squinted at the ID badge still clipped to the jacket on the floor. "--Gwyn?"
Duo looked back at him, eyes wide; he picked up the jacket and silently wiggled two fingers through the slit in the back.
"He was in the cell with you," Heero said quietly. "I got him in the kidney; he came to just as I was carrying you out. I figure he might have managed to drag himself as far as the door when the ammo dump went up... just on the other side of the wall." He gently tucked the blanket around Duo and picked him up.
Duo pressed his face into Heero's shoulder, one tear trickling down his cheek before he scrubbed it away. "...thanks."
"You've done the same for me," Heero said flatly, and carried him to the bath.
Later, Heero sat on the bed watching Duo sleep restlessly; his eyes narrowed as a whimper broke the silence.
"Duo?" He reached out and pushed damp bangs back from Duo's face, leaning closer. "Duo, shhh... it's okay."
The braided boy gasped and flinched away from the touch as he jerked awake, eyes wide and dark; then his face crumpled and he sobbed, tears beginning to fall.
"It's okay," Heero repeated. "You're out. He's dead... shhh, Duo..."
"Heero," Duo sobbed, clutching desperately at him. "Heero... make it better. Help me forget..."
"Duo," Heero moaned, twisting in his sleep; beside him, Relena raised her head, blinking wisps of hair out of her eyes. She propped herself up on her elbows, studying his face concernedly.
*He's dreaming... should I wake him? If it's a nightmare--*
He rolled over and wrapped an arm around her waist, nuzzling at her arm as he pulled her close. "Nmmm... Duo..."
Her eyes widened as he pressed tightly against her and something poked her in the hip. *That's no nightmare!*
Heero moaned again, shifting against Duo, one hand sliding up to close over... a breast?
*What the--?! Duo doesn't have--*
His eyes opened and he looked straight up into Relena's blushing face.
* * * * *
After breakfast, everyone gathered back in the study.
Quatre sat back with a sigh and flipped his pen onto the desk. "Between us, Relena and I have contacted all of Duo's known acquaintances -- including a few we didn't know about until yesterday. None of them have heard from Duo since just after the war... or, if they have, they're not talking about it."
Trowa raised an eyebrow. "Do you have any reason to suspect that's the case?"
"...No. Call it wishful thinking." Quatre waved a hand at the computer terminal and piles of papers strewn over and around his desk. "In any case, I also have completely negative results from my people. None of their usual contacts have knowingly encountered Duo; I have to conclude he was deliberately avoiding them."
"Same here," Relena nodded, "except that I do have two reports from people who believe they travelled on shuttles with Duo. One trip was about six months ago, the other three; both reports state that they didn't approach him, didn't get a good enough look to be sure of his identity, and are only mentioning it because my memo said 'any knowledge, however tentative'. I've sent them over to you to cross-reference with your travel search, Trowa."
"Thank you," Trowa said, nodding. "I have rather more to report, but it's still patchy.
"Duo seems to have been doing an incredible amount of travel, under a wide range of aliases. Most seem to be based on our names -- I've found 'Trowa Yui', 'Heero Dorlian', 'Duo Schbeiker', and so on. The only one he doesn't seem to have used is Wufei's--"
Wufei winced slightly.
"--but that makes sense, as he certainly couldn't pass as a Chinese. He's only used Winner once that I know of, and never Peacecraft, presumably because they're too high profile. As we suspected, his finances are declining; his methods of travel have been getting cheaper and cheaper. The last few trips I've been able to confirm were all on standby economy fares, and there are gaps where he must have travelled -- from L4 to Earth, for example -- but I can't find any records at all that might link up. I think he's been stowing away on cargo shuttles, or working his passage.
"Since Heero can't do any more with Duo's finances, I asked him to help out by setting up searches for possible aliases. Heero?"
Heero was typing away at his laptop, face set.
"Heero?" Quatre asked tentatively.
"HEERO~!" Relena shrieked. Everyone jumped and stared at her; Heero snapped out of his focus and looked around. "Heero Yui, for the last time, I am not upset! But I will be if you don't get your head out of your ass and PAY ATTENTION instead of zoning out into your own little world of angst!" she snapped.
Jaws dropped around the room.
"Um... Trowa?" Quatre whispered. "Did Relena really just say 'ass'?"
Trowa nodded. "Sounded like it."
"That's good. I thought it was a stress-induced hallucination..."
* * * * *
There was a quiet knock on Lady Une's office door. "Come!" she called out, scowling at her computer screen.
Sally Po leaned in. "Sorry to disturb you, Une, but I just wanted to confirm something."
Une didn't even look up. "Yes. Duo Maxwell is missing."
"Ah. Thank you. That's all I wanted to know." She started to close the door.
"Sally? Drinks tonight at King O'Malley's?"
"Oh, yes. Definitely. I think I need a few."
Sally walked back to her own office, shaking her head. "Whatever he's getting into, I hope they don't expect me to patch him up afterwards. Duo is not a model patient..."
Sally paused as she reached for the door to the private room. *Voices? Who's in there? I thought all the staff were avoiding him.*
"--others are still busy," she heard faintly, "but I got finished earlier than expected. Here." A rustle of paper.
"All right, junk food! 'Fei, you're an absolute prince! Thanks, man."
"Hn. I figured if I didn't bring you something, I'd have to listen to you complain about hospital food."
Sally smirked, and pushed the door open.
Inside, her eyes were immediately drawn to the wall opposite the bed. "Duo, what's that? It wasn't there before--" Then she actually realised what she was seeing. Photos of several hospital staff, herself included, had been taped up on the wall... and used for target practice. With scalpels.
*Where the hell did he get the photos? No, scratch that -- how did he get his hands on that many scalpels?!*
*He's a Gundam pilot. Why do I even ask?* She turned towards the bed.
Wufei was standing stiffly by the bedside table, scowling as if he'd rather be anywhere else; Duo was sprawled on top of the rumpled bed, clutching a takeout bag and chewing hungrily on a mouthful of fries. One leg was encased from the toes up to just below the hip in white plaster, with a short 'u'-shape of metal sticking out under the foot.
"Duo," Sally said crisply, "you have a walking cast so that you can take part in gentle, supervised exercise and speed your recovery, not so you can sneak into other patients' rooms and steal their grapes, switch the charts around, harass the nursing staff and drug the goldfish in the waiting room!"
"They were stressed!" Duo protested. "All those kids keep tapping on the glass!"
"They did not need Valium," she said calmly, as Wufei snorted and rolled his eyes.
"But Salllllllllly... I was bored! And I hate hospitals," he whined, flopping back against his pillows. "Can't I go home? Wufei'll take care of me, won't you, man?"
A brief expression of horror crossed Wufei's face.
"I wouldn't wish that fate on my worst enemy," she said seriously. "In any case, all this activity is not good for your leg; the cast is barely dry and you've already put several miles on it. In case you've forgotten, you did break it in three places! At this rate, it'll never heal. As your physician, I prescribe a minimum of twelve hours of uninterrupted rest; sleep would be best." She smiled sweetly, then spoiled the effect by adding, "Besides which, the floor nurses are saying that they'll all quit if you don't give them a break. And since we haven't managed to get a pill down you yet..." She brought out what she'd been hiding behind her back.
"AAAAAAAAAAUGH!" Duo screeched, diving sideways off the bed and taking cover behind the other boy. "Save me from the evil onna, Wufei! It's an injustice, I tell you!" He clung to Wufei with both arms and his good leg, almost climbing him like a tree.
"*ACK!*" Wufei commented intelligently, then pulled one arm away from his throat and took a breath. "Damn it Maxwell, get off me and take your injection like a man!"
"But I'm not a man! I'm a sixteen-year-old boy!" Duo howled, wrapping his arms around Wufei's chest and hanging on. "Fight, kill, blow things up, risk my life, yes! I'll do all that. Face needles?! No fuckin' way!"
"Maxwell," Wufei snapped, prying unsuccessfully at his arms, "language! And get a grip on yourself! You're acting like a woman."
Sally gave him a dirty look. "Ah, the male ego in full flight," she muttered. "Duo," she said reasonably, "if you promise me you'll stay quietly in bed until your leg has had a chance to start healing--"
"It's fine! Really! See?" He swung it around, misjudged and hit the wall, then did a creditable job of turning a yell of pain into a laugh. "AAH-- ha! Ha ha ha! See? Fine!" he grinned, teeth clenched.
His grip on Wufei had loosened; the Asian boy turned around, picked him up bodily and deposited him face-down on the bed. "I'll hold him. You stick him."
"Damnit Wufei, you traitor! See if I ever rescue you again -- I swear, next time I'll leave you in that cell until you grow mould -- OW! Sally, you could at least have done it in the arm!"
"Not with you flapping around like that. I needed a bigger target."
"It's an indignity! I have my pride!"
Wufei snorted, letting go and pulling Duo's boxers back up. "It can't be an indignity unless you've got dignity to wound."
"I'll get you all for this," Duo mumbled fuzzily, sinking into the pillows. "Nobody sticks Shinigami and gets away with it..."
As Wufei moved away from the bed, one hand groped out and caught him by the wrist.
"Don' go... don'wanna be alone in here. Hate hospital..." The hand slowly relaxed and let go.
Wufei hesitated, looking back at him; Sally sighed. "He'll be under until tomorrow morning at least," she said gently. "He won't know it if you go."
"I'll know," he growled, and sat down in the visitor's chair, settling down for a long stay. She smiled.
"Should I send anything in for you?"
"Coffee," he sighed. "Better make it a pot; it's going to be a long night."
Sally shuddered. "I am not going through that again if I can possibly avoid it. I still haven't worked out how he made it into the nurses' station and short-sheeted my cot without anyone seeing him."
She walked into her office and locked the door behind her.
* * * * *
Wufei's cellphone rang; he snatched it up and hit the button. "Chang Wufei here."
< < Uh... Captain Paul May here, from the shuttle 'Jenny'. You the right contact for this missing persons report? > >
"Yes." He tried not to expect too much; there'd been too many crank calls for that, and too many people who said they'd seen Duo 'five or six months ago. He was in Idaho/New Zealand/L1; look there.' "You've seen Duo Maxwell?"
< < If it's him, that's not the name he's using. The guy I'm thinking of looks kinda like the picture, but... well, I wouldn't have bothered you, except the hair's the same, and part of the name too. Called himself Duo Barton. > >
"That's him," Wufei snapped, hopes rising. "How long ago was this?"
< < 'Bout eight hours. > >
Wufei's knuckles whitened as he clenched the phone so tightly the plastic shell creaked; Captain May continued, oblivious.
< < How old's that picture, anyway? > >
There was a short pause as Wufei struggled to remember which photo had been on the APB; then, "Ten months," he choked out. "Why?"
There was a low whistle. < < Well... he's sure changed. > >
end 'Reunion' chapter 3
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