( Chapter 7
Sally took a sip of her fresh drink, settling back with a sigh. "So... what started this whole comedy of errors?"
Une twirled her destroyed straw between her fingers, scowling at it. "Now, that is the one area where I couldn't force details out of them. Apparently, Quatre Winner held a party to celebrate the end of the war. Everyone got drunk, and Chang and Maxwell had some kind of... well, 'misunderstanding' is the word Yui used, and he said it as if it smelled bad."
"I think it stinks," Sally muttered into her glass.
"So do I," Une replied dryly. "Judging by Chang's expression -- and blush -- at that point, and the way Yui danced around the subject, my guess is that it was something sexual."
"Really? That would explain... never mind, go on."
"When they caught up to him, Maxwell apparently said something about 'going away for a month to get his head straight'. That seems to be what he did... and then, when he tried to contact them, he couldn't get through."
"Which went on for long enough that he decided they had all deliberately cut him off. I see," Sally nodded, putting that part together with what Une had told her already.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw him looking like that," Une sighed, dropping the mangled straw into her empty glass and pushing it away.
"Une... why are you so concerned about Duo?" Sally asked curiously. "I mean... during the war, you were enemies; and you haven't seen him since then, so you've hardly had a chance to form a friendship."
The other woman smiled reminiscently. "I've had a soft spot for that boy ever since the incident at Townsville Base, where he sent me roses after he escaped... and kissed me on the way out."
"Oh, yes he did. He also played antique music over the intercom and clogged the gates with pizza delivery trucks. I was furious at the time, of course, but... how can you not like someone who can be that happy, that irreverent, that alive, while fighting a vicious war to the best of his ability? And it was a vicious war. I did everything I could to make it worse... and he still kissed me, and called me Une-chan." She sighed, smiling sadly, then turned anxiously towards Sally. "Do you honestly think he'll recover? Really recover?"
"Physically, yes," she replied without hesitating. "Psychologically... well. That's another matter. I wouldn't give up hope, though; I think his main problems are the feelings of betrayal and abandonment, but he already seems to be relenting towards Relena."
"She fired her secretary in front of him," Une put in.
"That would help, yes. It will take much longer for him to come to terms with the others... except Wufei."
Une raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Whatever the 'misunderstanding' was, it's pretty clear they don't blame each other. I'd say each blames himself. Duo doesn't want Wufei out of his sight, and almost panicked when I suggested admitting him... all right, I did more than suggest, and it was Wufei he turned to. I actually think he was more afraid of being separated from Wufei than of being put in hospital. Wufei was hovering over him and extremely protective the whole time." Sally sighed. "If those two can just make it through the next couple of weeks without another 'misunderstanding', I'd say they have a good chance... and so does Duo."
"I hope so," Une said. "I'd love to see him back to his old self... though it could get a trifle disruptive. Did he ever tell you what he did to Treize-sama?"
"...and we've found evidence that he hacked into, downloaded and then deleted at least fifty files from the system," Une continued as she walked down the corridor one step behind Treize. "He got in and out without setting off any alarms; the first sign of anything wrong was when one of the technicians tried to access a file that he uses every day and found it gone. We don't even know yet which Gundam pilot it was, or when he was here."
"I trust you will keep me informed of developments," he said calmly.
"Of course, sir. In the meantime, your quarters have been prepared for you. There is a bath ready, with the rose scent you prefer, and dinner is waiting; I'm sure that everything will be to your liking despite this delay."
"I have every confidence that--" Treize cut himself off as he opened the door, then continued slowly. "Lady Une... how long ago was this room prepared?"
"Ah... half an hour ago at most, Treize-sama, why?"
"I believe that we can narrow down how long ago the Gundam pilot left the base, then," he said, stepping cautiously into the room.
The small table had been set up with chafing dishes to keep the food hot; all the lids were open and the single place setting had been used. The wine bucket was empty. The bed, one corner turned down ready for Treize, looked slightly rumpled, his sheathed sword was lying across the middle of it, and the computer console on the bedside table had a graphic of a flashing thermal scythe on its screen, with 'CLICK ME' written across the blade.
"Maxwell," Une said decisively.
"Yes, definitely Maxwell," Treize said dryly, picking up his sword. On closer inspection, it wasn't his sword; it was his sheath, but what he drew out of it was a small plastic toy sword with a bright pink feather glued to the end.
"I assume that's a message," Une said, stifling a smile as she gestured towards the computer. "Shall I play it, or would you like me to call security first?"
"Let's not," Treize sighed, sitting down in a convenient chair. "They're already looking for him, and if he had left any booby traps or bombs he wouldn't have left any sign that he was ever here. It's not his style to rub someone's nose in the fact that he got in, and then kill them."
"As you say, Treize-sama," Une agreed, clicking on the scythe and stepping back.
A video file popped up on the screen: Duo Maxwell in OZ uniform, lounging back on Treize's bed with his booted feet up on the covers, a plate of food on his lap, and a fork in his hand.
< < Evening, Treize! > > he said cheerfully, waving the fork. < < Lovely to be here, wish I could stay to greet you in person, but duty calls, yadda yadda. You just arrived at this base today, right? I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself while you're here; the food is great. Give my compliments to the cook! > > He took another mouthful. < < Mmm... and this bed is really comfortable. Don't worry, I'm not leaving crumbs, > > he smirked.
Setting the plate aside, he picked up Treize's sword from beside him, turning it over in his hands and peering critically down the blade. < < I hope you don't mind me taking this; a friend of mine has a birthday coming up, and this will be the perfect present. You've met him -- about my height, Chinese, drills holes through you with his eyes... I'm sure you'd agree that he'll like it. > >
"I'm sure Chang Wufei will appreciate it," Treize mused, propping his chin on his gloved hands. "It's rather a relief, knowing it's gone to someone who will take proper care of it..." He winced as, on the screen, Duo casually spiked the sword into the floor next to the bed. "Not like that."
< < Anyway, I really should be going, > > Duo continued. < < I'm sure you won't grudge me the wine; you probably have plenty more of that year, and I want to share it with the guys. I'm also glad to see you have the same tastes in shampoo and conditioner as me! I can never find a store that stocks that brand, or if I do, I blow something of yours up and have to leave the area without stopping to pick up a supply. So, enjoy your stay -- just one thing, though. You might want to tell the guards at the south gate that when a dignitary is coming in the north gate, they should keep watching their security cameras, not the welcoming ceremony. See you! > > He winked. < < Enjoy your bath! > >
The video cut off; Treize and Une looked at each other, then slowly turned to look at the bathroom door. Now that they were listening, they could hear a faint bubbling sound from behind it... and a suspicious damp stain was slowly spreading out from under the door. Une took a tentative step in that direction, but Treize stood up and waved her back, listening at the door for a moment before he stood well to one side and eased it open.
An overpowering scent of roses rolled out on wave after wave of stiff, frothy bubbles; the bathroom seemed to be packed solid with them, the ceiling light gleaming dimly through glittering white. Very glittering; Treize peered suspiciously at a sparkling mound of foam and swiped one gloved finger through it, then chuckled as the bubbles popped but his finger still glittered.
"Maxwell," he sighed, rolling his eyes upwards and shaking his head.
It was some time before the room was returned to something approximating its original condition; the corporal who had fought his way through the bubbles to turn off the bath's air jets was still slightly damp and covered in multicoloured glitter as Treize refused the base commandant's offer to move him to a different room.
"No, I believe we've found all the surprises," he said calmly. "I will be quite comfortable here, I assure you... yes, goodnight."
Lady Une took the commandant's arm and ushered the faintly protesting officer out, shut the door behind them and bade him a firm 'good night'; then she set off in the direction of her own quarters. *Perhaps Treize-sama will be a little less incredulous the next time I tell him of Maxwell's latest exploits?* she thought, stifling a chuckle as she closed the door behind her and stripped off her gloves.
Halfway through unbuttoning her coat, she was startled when her com buzzed.
"Une here -- Treize-sama! Is anything wrong?"
< < Nothing serious, Lady. > > He was already in his dressing gown, looking faintly irritated. < < Could you please ask the housekeeping staff to send someone up to re-make my bed? > >
Her eyes widened slightly as she looked over his shoulder at the bed, just visible in the corner of the small screen. The covers had been pulled down, and it had quite clearly been short-sheeted.
"Certainly, Treize-sama," she said, the faintest of tremors in her voice.
< < Thank you. > > *click!*
Une gave way to helpless giggles. *Yes, I think Treize-sama will have no reservations about believing me in future...*
"Only Duo would sneak glitter into an OZ base just in case it would come in handy," Sally choked, giggling herself.
"And the sword. We mustn't forget the plastic sword," Une smirked.
"And the feather!"
"God, I hope he recovers."
* * * * *
Wufei jerked awake, nearly falling off the couch as he kicked out reflexively. Clutching at the cushions underneath him, he stared up at the ceiling in the dimness, heart pounding; faint, fading images from confused dreams skittered through his mind.
*Was that me?* he thought hazily.
A whimper came from the bedroom, followed by a string of coughs, and he threw the blanket off and bolted for the door.
Duo was twisted up in the quilts, sprawled on his back, head tossing as he moaned. "No... don' do tha'..." He trailed off into low muttering, then abruptly thrashed, lashing out with one fist. "Bastard!"
"Duo? Wake up, it's just a dream... Duo?" Wufei struggled to keep his voice calm and soothing, but some of his alarm crept into it as Duo's movements became more violent and he coughed again, spasming. "Duo! Wake up!" He reached out, intending to shake Duo's shoulder, but jerked back as the braided boy cried out and writhed away from his touch.
*What do I do now? He won't wake up, he won't calm down... I can't just grab him, I'll hurt him! What did Heero do when he had to deal with this?!*
A half-forgotten conversation surfaced at the back of his mind.
*"...nightmares... only thing that calms him down..."*
*...Right. I can do this.*
*Now I hope he doesn't wake up!*
Wufei waited until Duo rolled away from him; then, swallowing nervously, he slid onto the futon and gathered the thin boy into his arms as he rolled back. Duo jerked and struggled as he felt Wufei's arms close around him, but Wufei held on, one arm pulling Duo close while the other hand stroked over his back and hair.
"Shh... shh, Duo, it's okay. You're safe. I'm here... it's me, Wufei, shh..."
Duo stiffened, hands pushing against his chest, then drew a shuddering breath and collapsed against him. One hand crept up to clutch at the shoulder of Wufei's t-shirt as he tucked his head into the hollow between Wufei's neck and shoulder and relaxed with a hiccupping sigh.
Wufei blinked, surprised. *I didn't think it would work this fast!* He shifted carefully, easing into a reasonably comfortable position, and gave into the temptation to bury his face in Duo's hair, breathing in the scent of his own herbal shampoo.
Duo murmured something incomprehensible, hands clenching, and Wufei quickly soothed him again, patting gently at his back; then inspiration struck and he started humming, pulling snatches of old lullabies out of childhood memories.
*Thank god he responds to me,* Wufei thought. *The way he's reacting to Yui at the moment, I can hardly call him up and ask him to come over... as if I would!*
*I remember the first time I saw him like this...*
Wufei rapped briskly on the door of Heero and Duo's room, opening it without waiting for an answer. "Maxwell, we--" he began, stepping inside.
"Quiet," Heero said in a low growl.
Wufei looked in the direction Heero's voice came from and stumbled to a halt, eyes widening. Heero was lying on top of his bed, propped up against the headboard, with Duo curled up asleep against his chest. One of Heero's arms was wrapped firmly around Duo's waist; the other hand was gently stroking down the length of his braid.
This apparently peaceful scene was not matched by the glare Heero was aiming at Wufei.
"Ah... uh, Maxwell and I have a mission."
Heero glanced down at Duo, frowning. "He's in no shape for it right now. I'll take it. Go find Quatre; tell him he and Trowa will need to stay with Duo while I'm gone."
Wufei hesitated, puzzled, and looked at Duo again. On closer inspection, the braided boy's sleep wasn't so peaceful; his hands were knotted into Heero's shirt and his face was tear-streaked, neither happy nor relaxed.
"He has nightmares sometimes," Heero said impatiently. "This is the only thing that calms him down, all right? He can't be alone. Now go get Quatre!"
Duo stirred and whimpered as Heero raised his voice, and the Japanese boy immediately switched his attention back to him, stroking his hair and murmuring something soothing in the gentlest voice Wufei had ever heard him use.
Wufei backed out, closing the door silently behind him, and went to find Quatre.
*I think that's when I really fell in love with Duo,* Wufei thought, continuing to hum softly. *I could see him as a real person after that... more than just the bouncing braided baka. And that's also when I gave up on him, because he had Heero and I didn't want to interfere.*
Duo rested peacefully that night for the first time in months, nestled into Wufei's reassuring warmth with a soothing hum vibrating through his bones.
* * * * *
As the first light seeped in through the blinds, Wufei carefully extracted himself from Duo's still-sleeping grasp. Stifling a massive yawn behind one hand, he stumbled towards the bathroom, hoping that a shower would wake him up enough to function through the day.
*A cold shower,* he thought, adjusting his boxers. *Definitely a cold shower...*
Leaning against the wall as the water needled into his back, Wufei pressed his forehead against the wet tiles and closed his eyes. *Gods, I hope last night was an isolated occurrence, or I'll be in no shape to properly look after Duo. I didn't get much sleep while we were looking for him; and last night I got, what, two hours? an hour and a half? Then I spent the rest of the night lying awake...*
*...next to Duo...*
Swallowing, he reached out blindly and gave the hot tap a twist, dropping the water temperature even further.
*I will not do anything to take advantage of Duo while he is weak and dependent on me,* he thought fiercely. *I am not going to pressure him in any way, or make advances, or even let him suspect that I want to make advances! After what he's gone through, taking advantage of him like that would be the worst, most dishonourable thing I could ever...*
A quiet, rebellious voice piped up in the back of his mind. *Of course, it would be entirely different if it were Duo who made the first move... wouldn't it?*
He wrenched violently at the hot tap, turning it completely off.
* * * * *
All over Preventers HQ, agents on the early shift looked up in surprise as Lady Une's voice came over the PA system. < < Leah McKenzie to my office, please. Could Leah McKenzie please come to my office? > >
A couple of minutes later, a young woman with red hair braided into a crown around her head knocked on Une's door and leaned into the office. "You called for me, ma'am?"
"Ah, McKenzie. Amanda is away sick, I'm afraid, and I'll need someone to take her place for the next couple of days. Would you be willing?"
"Excellent!" Une pointed to a stack of files on her desk. "Your first task for today is to dispose of those; most need to go to various agents for action, but some need to be filed in the stacks. Then if you go through Amanda's diary, I know she keeps detailed 'to do' lists -- oh, and Chang Wufei won't be in until Thursday at the earliest, so go through his in tray and pull out anything that needs to be dealt with sooner than that. Use your own judgement and hand them out to anyone who doesn't seem to be grossly overworked."
Leah nodded, scooping up the stack and heading out to Amanda's desk to start sorting.
Half an hour later, 'to do' list firmly in hand, Leah made tracks for Wufei's desk, tucked away in a corner and walled off from the rest of the room with bookshelves and a neglected-looking fern. Making a mental note to water the poor thing later, she negotiated the improvised barricades and entered forbidden territory.
"He certainly likes his privacy," she muttered. "I sit three desks away from here, and I don't think I've ever said more than two words to-- ye gods! How much work does Chang do?!" The meticulously squared-off stack of files in the in tray was taller than the computer next to it. "I'm not carrying all that lot back across the room to sort it. I'll do it here, and if Chang has a problem with my butt warming his chair, he can bite me," she grumbled, sitting down. "And it's not even a comfortable chair..."
For the next twenty minutes, Leah's approach was received with cries of despair as she dropped files on any desk that wasn't completely snowed under already. Clutching the last four, she looked around, searching for someone she hadn't yet victimised.
*She's swamped... I already gave him two... I can't give him any, he's going to L4 tomorrow and it looks like he won't finish what he's got, let alone handle any more...*
Her eyes narrowed as she focussed on a desk half-way across the huge room. *What's going on over there? A chat session? Come to think of it, every time I've seen Anders today he's been talking to someone different... well, he can't say he's busy, then, can he?*
She sneered inwardly as the little knot of men broke apart as she approached; some farewelled Anders in theatrically loud voices and walked off. *Interrupting something, am I? If you act that obviously out on a mission and you'll get yourselves killed, boys.* "Don't you have any work to do, gentlemen?"
"I'm on light duties!" Anders protested, holding up his cast.
"'Light duties' means 'do paperwork', Anders, not 'hold gossip sessions with friends and distract others from their work'," she said acidly, slapping two files onto his desk and then pushing one at another agent who was too slow to get away. "Here."
"What's-- hey! This is Chang's work!" he howled as she turned to leave.
"He's not here and it needs to be done. Do your job and deal," Leah snapped; then she looked at the last file in her hand and smirked, tossing it on top of the others. "In fact, you can have this one too. Have fun!" She marched off, pulling Amanda's list out of her pocket and scanning it for the next thing that needed doing.
*Anders is such a waste of space,* she thought disgustedly, *and so are most of his idiot cronies. I can't wait until the Preventers have a bit more of a reputation and we're up to our full projected manpower; all the jerks will have to pick up their acts or get out, then.*
"Roll on the day," she muttered, drawing strange looks from a couple of people. "Roll on!"
* * * * *
The apartment was full of the smell of frying bacon when Wufei finally went to wake Duo.
"Duo?" he said softly, reaching out to touch the sleeping boy's hand. "Breakfast, Duo, time to wake up..."
Duo gasped, eyes flying open as he jerked awake. For a moment he cringed away from Wufei; then his eyes cleared and he relaxed, relief obvious on his face.
"'Fei?" he whispered softly.
"It's past eleven," Wufei said gently. "I would have let you sleep longer, but you need to eat and take your medicine. Breakfast is ready; are you hungry?"
"That's good, because I'm not used to cooking for more than one person and I think I made too much," the Chinese boy lied with only the slightest pang of guilt. "I'll bring in a tray and you can eat in bed. Do you want to wash up first?"
Wufei kept up a stream of light, non-threatening chatter as he helped Duo to the bathroom and back to bed; then he walked out into the kitchen and thumped his forehead gently against the fridge.
"You're babbling like an idiot, Chang," he growled softly. "Get a grip!"
* * * * *
"Miss Relena... do you wish to wait for your fiance, or start without him?"
Relena shook her head. "I don't think Heero will be coming to lunch today, Sarah. Please clear away the extra place."
As the maid bustled off, Relena looked sadly towards the closed study door; then she sighed, and walked away.
Inside the study:
end 'Reunion' chapter 7
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