Author: Mel (She Who Runs Away to Japan) and Christy (She Who Gets Stuck Facing The Wrath Of The Fans)
Category: AU, Drama, Romance
Pairings: 5x2, 1xR, 3x4
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Yaoi, language, angst & FLUFF!
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Don't claim to own them. Don't get any money for this. Sucks to be us!
Feedback: Yes, please.

Key:
minor scene change (from person to person at the same place, etc): ----------
major scene change (at another place, some time later, etc): * * * * *
flashback or dream starting or ending: ~*~*~*~
thoughts (and the occasional sound effect): *Tadah!*
some more sound effects (little ones!): -tadah!-
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): <<Tadah!>>

Rebuilding + Chapter 16

< < What the fuck have you done to your hair? > >

"Ah... Duo did it," Relena said meekly, resisting the urge to lean away from the huge, out-of-focus image of Howard's face on her vidphone screen. "The reasons behind it are, ah, long-standing and complicated."

He snorted and, to her great relief, sat back a bit. < < I shoulda guessed. What did he do, glue the bows in so you can't undo it all without cutting them off? > >

"He wouldn't do that!" Relena protested, then reconsidered. "Well... not unless I really deserved it. Which I don't. I like this hairstyle, so I decided to keep it in for a day, that's all."

< < He's had more of an effect on you than I thought, > > Howard muttered. < < Right; getting back to me being pissed at you. If he's messing with your head, in more ways than one, obviously the kid turned up. Why the hell didn't you call me?! 'Hey, Howard, I just wanted to let you know that you can stop growing that new ulcer of yours', > > he added in a squeaky falsetto. < < 'Duo isn't dead or anything'. Would it have been so damned hard to pick up a fucking phone?! I know you've got my number here in Santa Monica, since I was here when you called me the first time, damn it! But, no! I had to find out through my contacts, six weeks after he turns up, and all I get is 'The kid's back'. No details about where he's been or what he's been doing, just that he's back-- oh, and there's a rumour that he don't look too good and Sally Po is on his case medically, but that can't be right since YOU'D TELL ME SOMETHING THAT IMPORTANT, WOULDN'T YOU?! You wouldn't leave me hanging for six weeks if there was something wrong with my kid! RIGHT?! > >

This time, Relena did scrunch back in her chair, retreating as far as possible from the roaring gargoyle on screen. "Howard-- I didn't mean to-- I-- It's been a tough six weeks, I forgot--"

< < Well. > > Voice suddenly cold and composed, Howard slowly settled back, coming properly into focus for the first time. < < For the sake of my sanity and your continued good health, you are going to tell me all the little details I seem to have missed out on. I want to know where my kid's been, what he's been doing, what happened to him, how he is, and where the hell he is now! > >

* * * * *

Back in his new office after lunch, Duo settled cautiously into his chair, took a deep breath, and lifted the top folder off the stack of files sitting in his intray, checking the cover to make sure it was the one he wanted-- the initial course proposal and lesson plans that had been written up when the Preventers' training system had been set up. He opened it and started to read.

Five minutes and three pages later, he closed it, got up, and walked out.

"Um... it's Amanda, right?"

Lady Une's secretary looked up with a smile. "Yes, that's right, Mr. Maxwell."

"Oh, good. I was a little spacey when we got introduced, sorry. Um... I need a red pen. I've only got blue ones."

"Not a problem, sir," she said cheerfully, opening a desk drawer and handing him one. "Here."

"Thanks." About to turn away, Duo hesitated. "Ah, it is okay for me to scribble notes in those files, isn't it? Or should I make copies?"

"All of those documents are archived in other places, sir," she answered him. "Scribble all you want. We do have some files that weren't duplicated anywhere, but they're all highly classified and clearly marked; if you need to access any of those, I'll make sure you know that's what you've got."

"Good," Duo said. "'Cause I think I'm going to be scribbling a lot."

----------

Wufei had-- barely-- managed to restrain himself from checking on Duo every five minutes. He'd sat at his desk, staring at his computer screen, and told himself over and over that Duo didn't need him interrupting. Duo was perfectly capable of doing that sort of analysis without being checked up on. Duo especially didn't need his fragile self-esteem shattered by Wufei acting as though he couldn't be trusted alone...

It became obvious how much attention Wufei wasn't devoting to his work when his screensaver came on.

This is ridiculous,
he scolded himself, half-standing and peering over the top of one of the bookshelves walling his desk off from the rest of the room, craning his neck to see through the doorway of Duo's office. Duo's closer to me now than when he was staying at home, so logically I should be happier with this arrangement, but I'm still acting like a nervous mother on her child's first day at preschool--

Une walked out of her office, handed Amanda a couple of sheets of paper, and shot an oh-so-casual look towards Duo's open door before turning to go back to her desk.

Ah. This child also has a nervous godparent, I see, Wufei thought, beginning to smile. I'm glad to see that Lady Une isn't quite as blase about this as she was acting earlier.

About to sit down, he glanced up again as another movement caught his eye. Sally came out of the corridor carrying a file, walked over to the file room-- a trip that coincidentally took her past Duo's office, and there wasn't anything odd about her glancing in as she passed, was there?-- went inside and came out a minute later, still carrying a single file. Actually, it looked like the same file.

My mistake, Wufei sighed to himself as he watched her walk back, glancing in at Duo again as she passed. Godparents, plural.

----------

Acting on the principle that it also wouldn't do Duo's self-esteem any good if it looked like Wufei was avoiding him, the Chinese Preventer made sure that they took a coffee break together mid- afternoon.

"It's probably a bit early to tell, I know," he said tentatively, bringing coffee and doughnuts back to their table in the cafeteria, "but how's the analysis going so far?"

Duo shrugged, looking down at his cup with a slight frown. " I think I've got a pretty good idea what the basic problem is, but I want to talk to some of the students... work out all the details before I give Une her report. I know she'd like a simple answer as fast as possible, but telling her 'the teacher isn't' after half a day might be pushing it a bit."

Wufei couldn't help chuckling. "The teacher isn't what?" he asked, propping his chin on one fist and watching as Duo started to eat with some of his old enthusiasm. This is going to be good for him, I think... it seems like he forgets all his insecurities when he's absorbed in a problem.

"He isn't a teacher," Duo explained, swallowing a large bite of jam doughnut and washing it down with coffee. "As far as I can tell, Gilmore's a great solo stealth agent... but his idea of how to teach people is to show them what he does, then expect them to be able to duplicate it. And since what he's doing is way above basic level, his students might learn how to handle the specific problems he uses as examples by copying him, but there's no way they can apply what they've learned to other situations. They might know what to do to disarm a particular trap, but not why, and if you change that trap in any way, they wouldn't know what they had to do differently."

"But because they can eventually do his example problems, they end up with a good mark in class, and it looks like the lessons are working...?" Duo nodded, mouth full again, and Wufei sighed. "So nobody realised it wasn't working until they were sent on missions."

"Which Gilmore planned," Duo told him, eyes glittering dangerously. "I'm going to start going over his mission plans tomorrow; I've got enough lesson plans left to last me the rest of the afternoon. They look just fine until you get past the explanations of what he intends to teach in that lesson, and start reading about how he plans to do it. Even then, if you aren't a 'dirty tricks' specialist, the problems aren't all that obvious."

"Oh?"

"In the plan for the third day of classes," Duo said dryly, pointing a bit of his doughnut at Wufei for emphasis, "he planned to teach bypassing electronic locks. However, past the general overview, he wrote something about teaching 'strategies to defeat Bohrman-code electronic locks, using a Takuma 25-G series 3 as the demonstration model'. 'Fei... if you had to go through a door with that kind of lock, how would you do it?"

"My training with locks concentrated on those most commonly used-- incidentally, also the easiest to rewire," Wufei replied, equally dryly. "Since I don't recognise the name, I assume it isn't one of them... so, if you or Heero weren't around to open it for me, I would either steal a keycard or shoot it. Nice and simple."

"Heero can't open that type of lock," Duo said flatly. "They take me half an hour, minimum. If I have the proper tools. He used one as an demonstration tool for the third day of what's meant to be a basic class."

And you just said Heero's name without stuttering... and without even really realising you said it, too. "Not good," Wufei replied, hiding mixed feelings.

"No," Duo snorted, returning to his doughnut. "Not good at all."

----------

Later that afternoon, at the end of Wufei's shift, they went home. Duo was quieter during the trip home than he had been on and off during the day, but still animated; Wufei did his best to assess his condition, without being obvious about it, but couldn't see any signs that he was overtired or badly stressed.

He is tired, a little, he thought, walking up the stairs to their floor and watching the other teen out of the corner of his eye as Duo stifled a yawn, but that's not surprising; this is his first full day out of the apartment, after all, and I've come home tired often enough to know that sitting in an office, shuffling paper and thinking can be work.

Duo stiffened suddenly, eyes widening, and clutched at Wufei's sleeve. Automatically, the Chinese teen took a half-step sideways, putting himself between Duo and whatever had startled him, head turning to identify the threat as his hand reached for the pistol he wasn't carrying--

"Howard?" Duo whispered.

"Hey, kid," the old man said, pushing away from the wall he'd been leaning on. "Long time no see. Gonna invite me in?"

Duo swallowed, trapped in the old man's gaze, and began to twist the end of his braid in his hands.

"...Good afternoon, Howard," Wufei said after an awkward pause. "Would you care to stay to dinner? It wouldn't be any trouble."

"Thanks, but I just came to see how you were doing," Howard muttered, eyes still fixed on Duo's nervous, downturned face. "Got a few of the kid's books, too; he left almost a ton and a half of stuff in my bases, and I figured he might be wanting these."

"Thank you." Wufei opened the door, keeping an eye on Duo as Howard bent to pick up the box at his feet. "It's good of you to take the trouble."

"No trouble," Howard grunted, following them in.

Once they were inside, Howard set the box on the coffee table, his coat on the back of the couch, then just stood there, wiping his palms nervously up and down his Hawaiian shirt and staring at Duo, who was staring at the floor, twisting his braid and shooting occasional skittish glances at Howard's feet. Standing between them, Wufei opened his mouth to offer Howard a seat, but then changed his mind.

That would just move the nervous glances and fidgets to a sitting position, he decided, looking back and forth between the two silent figures. They need to get to the point of actually talking, and I don't think that's going to happen with me here in the middle. All I can do is get myself out of the way for a moment and hope they take the first step in the right direction before I have to come back...

"I'll go make some coffee," he announced and walked out of the room.

Silence.

"You're looking better than I expected," Howard muttered eventually. "The way I heard it, you were in pretty bad shape... Damn it, kid," he burst out, "if you were in trouble, why didn't you just come home to us?! You're a Sweeper, damn it, you're one of us and always will be and you know we always look after our own!"

Duo looked up at him, wide-eyed, as a tear began to trickle down his cheek, and Howard swore under his breath. "Oh, hell," he sighed, holding out his arms. "C'mere, kid."

In the kitchen, Wufei sighed with relief and switched the coffeemaker on.

----------

[cont]