authors: Mel & Christy

Key:
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: ~*~*~*~
thoughts: *Tadah!*
electronics (phone, TV, intercom etc): <<Tadah!>>

Rebuilding + 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 tufted end.

"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 functions."

"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 Duo's.

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 panicked..."

----------

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 an eyebrow.

"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 bad?"

"Oh, no," Karl assured him. "We love our grandmother."

"Deeply," Nicklaus added. "But she's going to be very disappointed in Ninke."

"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 recovered."

"Bejammeren[1], 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 peacetime!"

"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 Joost."

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 Huginn."

"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!"

~*~*~*~

[cont]