authors: Mel &
minor scene change (from person to person at the same place, someone waking
up from a dream, etc): ----------
major scene change (at another place, some time later, etc): * * * * *
flashback starting or ending: ~*~*~*~
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): <<Tadah!>>
+ Chapter 5
As soon as they walked in the
door, Wufei felt Duo flinch as he saw Heero. I knew this was a bad
idea, he thought despairingly, keeping his face blank with an effort
as he nodded 'hello' to the various people in the room. Duo's not
ready to see him. I couldn't leave him behind, though, and if I'd stayed
home with him he'd know why, and... Gods, he's going to go silent again,
I know it.
Duo sat down in the first seat he came to, at the very end of one side
of the table; Wufei took the next seat along, placing himself between
Duo and the rest of the room. Maybe if people have enough sense to
realise they shouldn't push him, this won't be too bad...
"Wufei, Duo, it's good to see you again," Relena said softly,
aiming her words equally at both of them, so Wufei could handle the conversation
if Duo chose not to respond. "How are you both feeling? You look
better than the last time I saw you."
"We're fine," Duo muttered, looking down at his lap. One hand
pulled his braid forward over his shoulder and started to pick at the
"Considering that Major Po was hammering on my shoulderblade the
last time you saw me, 'you look better' is very faint praise,"
Wufei said dryly, flicking her a grateful look.
She chuckled. "It's better than 'my god, you look dissipated', or
'you've been partying hard, I see'. Both of which I've heard at diplomatic
"Don't you mean 'undiplomatic functions'?" Sally asked,
reaching over the table to check Duo's temperature. "Hm. Not bad."
"You'd blend into the crowd, woman," Wufei said crossly, picking
her hand off Duo's forehead and shoving it back at her. "Save the
invasion of personal space for when you have us trapped in your office.
We're both fine."
"Yeah," Duo muttered, leaning closer to Wufei.
Quatre got a similar one-word response when he offered tea or coffee.
Wufei was relieved to see that Duo's shoulders were slowly relaxing from
their tense, hunched posture; then they tightened again, and he looked
up to see Heero standing on the other side of the table.
"Damn it, I know Heero doesn't have the sense God gave a gerbil
at times, but does he have to demonstrate that fact now?!"
Sally hissed under her breath.
Standing next to her, Une nearly choked on her first careful sip of hot
coffee. "What -- ?! Oh," she muttered, voice dropping as she
saw where Sally was looking. "No, don't go over there!"
she hissed, putting her free hand on Sally's elbow and holding her back.
"It won't do any good, you'll just embarrass them all worse."
Duo tensed, hands clenching on the end of his braid and twisting viciously.
He'd glanced up just far enough to see who was standing there, then dropped
his gaze to his lap and kept it there.
Go away. Go away. Go away. Go away. Go away!
Heero cleared his throat. "Hello, Duo," he said hesitantly.
Duo jerked, fingernails digging into his palms as he ducked his head lower.
GO AWAY, he thought desperately, starting to panic. GO AWAY!
A warm, golden-bronze hand curled gently around his own. "Hello,
Yui," Wufei said, voice low and even.
"...Wufei," Heero replied stiffly, after an awkward pause. "You're
looking better." Then he turned and walked away.
Carefully, Wufei disentangled Duo's right hand from the tight knot of
fingers and hair in his lap, and clasped it. He could feel Duo trembling.
Heero's mask cracked, for just a second there, he thought grimly,
stroking his thumb gently over the back of Duo's hand. He might even
be hurting as badly as Duo is.
I would like to find some sort of satisfaction in that, dishonourable
or not... but somehow I can't. It's not as if his pain can somehow lighten
Perhaps I shouldn't have glared at him.
"I told you so," Une whispered behind her cup, flicking a sideways
glance at Sally. "Yui would be mortified if any of us had been right
there watching when Chang used his Death Glare on him."
"You think he isn't mortified now?"
"Of course not. He's miserable."
They pricked up their ears as, a few feet away, Trowa placed a steadying
hand on Quatre's elbow. "You okay?" he murmured.
The blond nodded, rubbing at his chest and swallowing. "I am now.
For a few seconds, I thought Duo was going to run for it. He's still feeling
I want to go home. I don't want to be here. They don't need me here,
they only need Wufei... But I don't want to go without him! Duo swallowed
hard, unconsciously tightening his grip on the Chinese teen's hand. I
wanted to run away but I don't want to leave Wufei. Why run? Heero wouldn't
hurt me... but he did, he cut me off and I couldn't... I shouldn't be
afraid of him. I'm not, really, I just really don't want to talk to him!
I want to go home...
Thoughts chased each other around Duo's head, never getting anywhere.
"Oh, here they are," Karl said, breaking into the quiet conversations
going on behind him. "There's Janne and Joost... and Erik... and
-- " He 'eep'ed, eyes going wide, and ducked behind his taller brothers.
"Oh, boy. Oma's here!"
"So she is," Nicklaus said, sounding faintly surprised. He turned
to Wufei. "Sir? If you remember, I said I was sure you'd get to meet
my Grandmother Matilde some day? Well, today seems to be the day."
"I take it that it's an important event?" Wufei asked, raising
"Very much so," Ninke said fervently, looking rather nervous.
Karl took one more quick glance out the window, then sidled around so
that his brothers were between him and the door.
Trowa watched his manoeuver with interest. "Is your grandmother that
"Oh, no," Karl assured him. "We love our grandmother."
"Deeply," Nicklaus added. "But she's going to be very disappointed
"Hopefully, only Ninke," Karl muttered. "She might
take the view that we should have restrained him."
"Thank you so much, Nicklaus, Karl," Ninke grumbled.
"I'll remember this..."
There was a polite knock at the door, and Arif opened it. "Master
Quatre, your other visitors have arrived," he announced, stepping
to one side and bowing them in. "Madame Assink, Mister Assink, Mister
Assink and Mister Assink."
Matilde Assink was a tall silver-haired woman, dressed elegantly and walking
with an elaborately carved cane that she didn't seem to need; everyone
hastily revised their previous estimates of her age down to about fifty,
then back up again. After all, Quatre thought, standing to greet
her, I know Ninke is thirty-four, and he isn't her oldest grandson...
Two more Assink grandsons followed her in, cast in the same tall, slender,
white-blond mould as the others, one with ice-blue eyes, and the other
with hazel. The third was a definite surprise; he was Assink-tall, but
otherwise didn't resemble his brothers in any way. He had red-brown hair
and a short, bristling beard, dark brown eyes and a nose that had been
broken at least once in the past, and his shoulders were so broad that
he automatically turned a little sideways as he walked through the doorway,
though it was wide enough that he didn't need to.
Glancing up from his lap, Duo blinked and made a tiny surprised noise
as he saw the third man; the dark Assink looked around to see who'd made
the squeak, spotted the braided boy, grinned and winked.
"Madame Assink, welcome to my house," Quatre said, coming around
the table to shake her hand.
"Matilde, please," she replied in a rich, melodic voice. "You
have no need to introduce your friends and companions. I know them all,
even though we have never met -- No, no, there is no need to get up!"
she added, waving Wufei back into his seat as he started to rise. Seeing
Ninke, she sighed slightly. "Ninke, such awful timing you have! This
could easily have waited until both Mr. Chang and Mr. Maxwell were fully
"Bejammeren, Oma," he muttered, looking embarrassed.
"It's not me you should apologise to," Matilde said reproachfully,
tapping her cane on the floor for emphasis. "Your timing was excellent
during the war. Enemies are supposed to be taken by surprise. Friends
and allies, however, deserve a little more consideration, especially in
"I could like this woman," Sally whispered to Une as they stood
up. "Perhaps she'll be a good influence on certain other people...?"
Une smothered a chuckle and stepped forward, hand outstretched. "Madam
Assink, a pleasure to meet you, I'm sure." Even if I don't yet
know what this meeting's about! In the last ten minutes, Quatre Winner
has managed to dance around the subject without ever coming out and saying
anything definite."And there's at least one of your grandsons
I don't need an introduction to," she added, releasing Matilde's
hand and nodding towards the man with the ice-blue eyes. "Captain
Assink, good to see you again."
Eric Assink had the good grace to blush as he shook hands. "I hope
you still think so after this meeting, ma'am... Lady Une, I'd like to
introduce my brothers, Janne," the hazel-eyed blond nodded, "and
The huge Viking throwback grinned, carefully taking her hand in one of
his own huge paws as if he was afraid he might accidentally crush it.
"I served with OZ, too, ma'am," he rumbled in an astonishingly
deep voice, "Though not under the name Joost Assink."
Her eyebrows shot up towards her hairline, and she paused for a moment
before withdrawing her hand. "Ah," she said slowly, obviously
putting that together with what his brother had just said, and adding
a meeting with the ex-Gundam pilots to the mix... "I think I'm beginning
to get the idea."
"Yes, I imagine you are," Matilde said approvingly. "Such
a bright woman, it was a pleasure working against you. You kept us on
our toes. I believe Mr. Maxwell might remember my Joost, as Lieutenant
"It's good to see you again, Maxwell," Joost rumbled, walking
up to Duo and holding out his hand, smiling. "You look much better
than the last time I saw you. At least you're fully conscious and not
covered in blood!"