Reunion + Chapter 11 (cont)

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TO: <rpeacecraft@ministry.com>
FROM: <shi-chan@xxxx.com>
SENT: AC197 JUL 08 1926hrs
SUBJECT: Hey Gorgeous!
---message begins---

Hey Queenie!

How are you and your Prince UnCharming? *grin* Did you manage to
get a formal proposal from him yet? Just present it as a mission. You
know him, he can't refuse.

I hope you got the postcards. I wasn't sure where to send them, so they
went to your office. Did Heero like his?

I should be coming home soon. Just waiting to hear from Quatre and
make sure his offer of a place to stay is still open. See you soon!

Hugs & Kisses

-D

OH! Tell Heero to send me his new contact details. I have to get a new
e-mail address too; I'll let you know when I do.

---message ends---

----------

"He loved that four-x address," Heero muttered. "It's the name of a beer in Australia, I think..."

"Heero? Do you want to see these? They're getting worse," Relena said grimly.

"No," he said, glancing up briefly at her. "I can hear. Duo sent us postcards, by the way."

Relena winced. "He sent them here?"

Nod.

"All the mail sent to me at the Ministry goes through my secretary," she said tiredly, waving her hands in a throw-away gesture. "I think we can guess what happened to them."

Heero nodded again, clicking on the next mail. "Ah. He sent us an electronic postcard, too; a photo of Uluru. 'Here's a picture of that big red rock in the middle of Australia. I had to test my new e-mail addy anyway, and this is one of the big tourist things Down Under, so... I'm down here toasting the end of xxxx.com with XXXX beer! Mail me, 'kay?'"

Relena smiled sadly, then nodded to Georg. As the next call played, Heero clicked his way through the next few messages -- brief updates on where Duo was and what he was doing -- then stopped as he came to a longer one.

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TO: <rpeacecraft@ministry.com>
FROM: <duomax@webmail.com>
SENT: AC197 AUG 20 1714hrs
SUBJECT: Helloooooooo?
---message begins---

Hi Relena, Heero,

How are you? I haven't heard from you. Is everything OK? I suppose
you're both real busy.

Did Quatre tell you about the close call? Next time, I pilot the
shuttle. If I'd been flying, I'd still have my laptop, instead of a bunch
of pieces. It's a bad day when Shinigami has to use an internet cafe.

Well, gotta go. Do you have room for me to visit?

-Duo

P.S. You REALLY need to get a new secretary, Relena. The one you've
got is very rude.

P.P.S. HEERO! Send me your contact details!

---message ends---

----------

He sounds worried in this one, Heero thought, frowning. Worried, and trying to hide it from us... and what's this about a close call?!

His train of thought abruptly cut off as he heard Marie Reynard's raised voice from Relena's terminal.

<<You might as well give up! I don't care what sort of handout you're after, and I don't care what sob story you've got to tell. Miss Relena doesn't associate with worthless bums like you!>>

"Shit," Relena said conversationally. "That bitch."

When Heero looked up, Relena was looking calmly at the screen; the only outward sign of emotion was a whiteness around her lips as she pressed them tightly together, holding back further comment. Georg, however, was obviously furious.

"That sucks," he burst out angrily. "I'm amazed she passed the security checks. There should have been something in there to tell us she was such a bitch!"

"I don't think being a bitch is normally considered a security risk, Georg," Relena said in a tightly controlled voice. "It's not something the checks look for."

"You know what I mean, ma'am," he grumbled.

Heero opened the last message.

----------

TO: <rpeacecraft@ministry.com>
FROM: <duomax@webmail.com>
SENT: AC197 SEP 15 0342hrs
SUBJECT:
---message begins---

I still haven't heard from any of you. Did I do something wrong? I'd like
to come home, but I'll need a place to stay... just for a little while. Can
you put me up? Just until I find something else?

I'll be at the Blake's Port Motel on L1 for another four days. Please call
me if I can stay with you. Call any time. I don't sleep much.

-Duo Maxwell

---message ends---

----------

Heero stood up, turned around, and slammed his fist through the wall panel behind his chair.

"Heero! What's wrong?"

"Mr Yui, are you--"

"Read it," Heero spat out, pulling his fist back for another punch.

"...Oh. Oh no," Relena moaned, pressing her hand to her mouth as she read and Heero methodically demolished the panel behind her.

"Mr Yui, you're bleeding!" Georg protested.

"I know." *CRASH!*

"All he wanted was to come home. All he wanted was to know if he was welcome... but because I was stupid enough to hire that opinionated, stuck-up bitch, he thought he didn't have a home to come back to..."

Heero curiously examined his torn knuckles, turning his hand and watching as a trickle of blood ran down to his wrist.

"What do we do now?" he asked quietly.

* * * * *

It took hours for Duo to finish his story. He never really stopped crying as he talked; his words were interrupted by sobs, and several times he broke down completely and couldn't continue until Wufei soothed him. Towards the end, his voice was so ravaged by coughing, crying and talking that it was reduced to a raspy whisper, but Wufei never considered telling him to stop. Duo needed to get it all out... and Wufei needed to hear it.

He started at the very beginning, with Solo.

Wufei listened intently as Duo told him everything, including things he'd never told Heero. He went on from Solo's death to the destruction of Maxwell Church, and to all the things that happened to him on the streets before and after those happier times. He talked about what had happened to him during the war; some of it Wufei already knew, but there was more -- things that Duo had hidden so well that even Quatre hadn't realised anything was wrong.

"And then we won," Duo whispered, "and I thought maybe... maybe things would be OK. We'd all made it through the war alive, and it looked like we all had a chance to be happy. Trowa and Quatre had each other. Heero and Relena were working it out. And... I..." He swallowed, turning to press his face into Wufei's chest.

"I screwed up again," Duo continued, voice muffled. "I screwed up, and I thought you hated me, and I ran away like a coward. I just... I was only going to stay away for a little while. I needed to spend some time alone, so I could get things sorted out, and... so the others wouldn't find out. I didn't want them to know. Heero woulda got mad. Quatre and Relena woulda been upset. Trowa... I dunno about Trowa. Something. I didn't want them to fuss, and I didn't want them blaming you for something that was my fault."

"It wasn't your fault," Wufei murmured, blinking back tears of his own and tightening his arms around the boy lying cradled against his chest.

Duo continued as if he hadn't spoken. "And when I got myself to the point where I figured I could come back... I couldn't. Nobody would talk to me. Nobody would return my calls or my e-mails... I couldn't even leave messages for Heero; all his numbers had changed. And then everything started going to shit.

"I was starting to think maybe I should hack into Relena's system, or Quatre's... bypass all the damn secretaries and talk to them direct... and then there was a cargo accident on the shuttle I was on, and I didn't have a laptop any more. I tried anyway, from a public terminal, but without the stuff built into my laptop I couldn't get through. The security was too good. I was so glad I still had my CDs at least, but half of them got smashed when some idiot drove over my bag in a carpark, and then my hotel room was broken into when I was out and they took the player and the rest of my disks. I didn't even get reimbursed for them, 'cause the hotel said I musta left the door unlocked. They threw me out when I argued.

"Then my money started to run out--"

"Why?" Wufei asked, gently stroking Duo's back. He was pretty sure he knew the answer, but wanted to hear it from Duo's mouth. "You got so much money from OZ during the war. What happened to it?"

"I gave it away," Duo said matter-of-factly. "They needed it more than I did."

"'They'?"

"...Kids. Charities. Everyone, really. They deserved it." There was a short pause, then Duo continued. "I started getting sick, and I wasn't sleeping much. The last of my money just kinda disappeared. And then Relena's secretary... I gave up. I thought that was it. I thought there wasn't anything left that could make me feel worse..." He started to sob again. "I s-started hiding. I mean, really hiding, not just messing up my trail for fun or b-because it was a habit. I d-didn't really think anyone would l-look for me, n-not after so long, but... I w-wasn't taking the chance. I didn't w-want to see them any more, except sometimes when I wanted to t-tell them what I thought of them. I n-never wanted it enough to try c-calling again, though. And then... I...

"I finally went back to L2. I d-didn't want to, but it was n-nearly the anniversary, and... I n-needed to pay my respects. And I... I got mugged. They g-got me in an alley, and I tried to fight, really I d-did, b-but I just wasn't strong enough any more... and..."

Duo started to cry in earnest, clutching desperately at Wufei's T-shirt and his own braid.

"They took my cross, 'Fei. The cross Father Maxwell gave me. I thought nothing could hurt worse than what had already happened, and then they t-took my c-cross... Everything goes, 'Fei! Everything I get, I lose again eventually. Everyone I c-care about dies or leaves me. I don't know what I did to deserve it, but I musta done something... otherwise why wouldn't I get to keep just one thing? Just one? And now I'm so scared because I don't know when you'll be taken away from me again..."

"I won't, Duo," Wufei insisted fiercely, tears running down his face as he held Duo even closer. "I won't. I promise. I'll stay with you as long as you want me to."

"But... I can't... I can't even watch you walk out the d-door without panicking!"

"I may leave to go shopping, or to go to work... but I'll always come back. I promise, Duo."

----------

Duo eventually cried himself to sleep, curled up against Wufei's chest and cradled in his arms.

There must be some way to explain what happened so that Duo no longer thinks it was his fault, Wufei thought, slowly stroking the sleeping boy's hair. The first thing to do, obviously, is to find out exactly what did happen. I know what happened to his messages to Relena... but what about the others? Why did Heero change his contact details? I don't remember an explanation; he just e-mailed me one day with his new numbers, from his new e-mail address, and I never asked why. He sighed, carefully shifting around in preparation for standing up. Even then, it won't explain why it took eight months for them to think about looking for Duo. Even if they thought he was keeping in touch with me, why didn't they ask me about him sooner? Why didn't they wonder why I didn't mention him? He carefully stood up with Duo in his arms, wincing as various muscles protested the movement after sitting still for so long. How can I explain this to Duo when I don't understand it myself? And can I really expect him to forgive the others, when I don't want to?

We'll have to work something out, Wufei thought, carrying Duo towards the bedroom. Duo's lost too many families.

He gently settled Duo onto the futon without waking him, then hesitated. Damn... the washing's still in the dryer downstairs. Can I leave him for five minutes to go get it? I really don't want him to wake up and find him alone in the apartment... and he's certain to have nightmares tonight, after dragging up all those bad memories. If one starts while I'm gone--

Duo whimpered softly, pulling himself into a tighter curl, one hand clutching at the neck of his T-shirt. The other hand started patting over the blankets on the empty side of the bed.

Screw the laundry. Wufei pulled the covers back and slid carefully into bed beside Duo, holding him close.

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[1] 'begrepen' = 'acknowledged'

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