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 12
Duo woke up.
For the first few moments, as he rubbed sleep out of his eyes and blinked
them into focus, he couldn't work out why he felt headachy and still tired.
His eyes and throat were sore, his nose felt raw... and then he remembered.
Oh, hell,he thought, collapsing back onto the futon.
I did... I told him... oh, hell. Everything. I cried on his shoulder
like a baby. I can't believe I did that! He's gotta think I'm such
a loser. Weak. 'Fei hates weakness...
How am I going to face him?
Wufei almost tiptoed around the apartment as he finished yesterday's dishes
and tidied up; half his attention was turned towards the bedroom, watching
and listening for the first signs of Duo waking up.He didn't have anything
to eat last night, he finally thought, tossing the dishcloth onto
the bench. It's almost ten o'clock; I have to get some sort of breakfast
into him, and he needs to take his medicine. Time to get him up...
"Duo?" he said softly, pulling the door open. "Are you
There was no answer. The covers had been pulled into a heap on top of
the futon, with Duo (presumably) curled up underneath. This was confirmed
when Wufei got a little closer and saw one sock-clad foot poking out from
"Duo? Come on, time to wake up..." Kneeling by the tangle, Wufei
carefully pulled the blankets away. As he'd thought, Duo was curled up
into a tight ball, clutching his braid. From under his fringe of hair,
one slightly bloodshot eye peered up and then blinked shut.
"Time for breakfast," Wufei said, resisting the urge to reach
out and stroke his fingertips gently over the bruise on Duo's jaw, just
now starting to turn green and brown at the edges. "Would you like
it in bed, or out at the table? Your choice."
Duo didn't reply, but his eyes opened and he sat up, disentangling his
legs from the blankets. He kept his head down, watching what he was doing,
carefully not looking at the other boy.
...We're back to not speaking, I see, Wufei thought with a twinge
of regret. I suppose it's only to be expected; I think he bared everything
to me last night, and no-one likes to be left that vulnerable and exposed.
"You don't need to hurry," he said aloud, rising to his feet.
"Breakfast will be ready when you are, not before." And you'll
talk to me again when you're ready, too. I won't push.
Locked in the bathroom, Duo washed his face with the coldest water he
could get out of the tap, rinsing off tearstains and trying to hide the
other signs that he'd been crying.
It won't do any good, though. It's not like he doesn't know already.
He's probably disgusted that I dumped all my problems on him like that.
Too weak to handle my own shit... what if he doesn't want me to stay here
any more? He said... he said he'd stay with me... but... what if he doesn't
want to now?
I guess I'll find out soon enough. He swallowed hard, and reached
for the door.
Once again, Wufei found himself talking a lot to fill up Duo's silence.
Duo was listening -- he shrugged a shoulder or nodded slightly
at appropriate spots in the monologue -- but he kept his eyes firmly
fixed on his bowl of apple-cinnamon oatmeal and didn't open his mouth
except to put his spoon in.
Finally, Wufei stood to put his own bowl and spoon in the sink. "I'll
just go tidy up in the bedroom; then it's up to you whether you want to
go back to bed or settle down on the couch." He paused behind Duo's
chair, one hand reaching out to tentatively stroke down the long braid.
"Or... if you want to take a shower, I could help with your hair
again," he said wistfully.
Blushing, he pulled his hand away and walked into the bedroom without
waiting for an answer. Idiot! Moron! What's he going to think about
Duo's eyes went wide as he felt the gentle touch on his hair; then it
was gone, and so was Wufei.
He... doesn't mind touching me? he thought slowly, still looking
down into his bowl. He wants to help with my hair? And... he didn't
sound angry or upset...
Maybe... maybe he's not disgusted? Maybe I didn't screw
things up again?
A little bit of the pain in Duo's chest eased as he relaxed slightly.
* * * * *
Quatre stalked down a corridor towards the meeting room, clutching a sheaf
of printout so tightly that about a quarter of each page was pleated into
a crushed mass.
Walking beside him, Trowa shot a quick glance sideways at his cold, angry
expression and winced slightly as he looked away. This may not
be the best time to have this meeting. He really didn't take it well this
morning when I finally got that search program to work... finding out
that Duo tried to call us twenty-seven times... Green
eyes narrowed slightly. Still, it's not as if Taarnby doesn't deserve
Quatre's lip curled into a snarl as they turned a corner and he saw Taarnby
and his lawyer walking towards them, but he controlled himself and forced
a bland, calm expression onto his face. He didn't look down at the printed
e-mails and phone messages in his hand, but lines from them flicked through
his mind in quick succession.
*'Call me, okay? My number is...'*
*'...don't know if my e-mails are getting through, so...'*
*'...please ask either Mr Winner or Mr Barton...'*
*'...could you get Heero to call? I'll be at...'*
*'...please call me...'*
*'...please get in touch...'*
*'...please let me know...'*
Taarnby stepped up to him with a broad grin on his face, reaching forwards
to shake hands. "Quatre! I'm Matt Taarnby. Nice to finally meet you!
I don't know why you called this meeting, but--"
Ignoring the outstretched hand, Quatre walked straight past him into the
"--I guess it's pretty... important..." Taarnby trailed
off uncertainly, then recovered slightly. "You'd be Trowa, right?
Trowa Barton? I--"
Trowa shot him an icy glare and followed Quatre, trailed silently by half
a dozen of WEI's best corporate lawyers. One or two nodded politely to
Taarnby's companion, but they all ignored Taarnby as if he wasn't there.
"Jeez," he muttered, "you'd think I had the plague or something--"
"Matt," his lawyer said in a tight voice, "I don't know
what the hell is going on, but it's not good. Shut up and let me
do the talking, okay?"
"All right, all right, no need to snap--"
"What did you do?"
"Nothing!" Taarnby spread his hands in an exaggerated gesture
of innocence. "Come on, Jase, you've known me for years!"
"That's the problem," he said under his breath as he followed
Taarnby into the room. "I've been acquainted with you for years,
but I don't think I know you."
As they all settled into chairs around the long table, one of Quatre's
lawyers handled the introductions. "Mr. Winner and Mr. Barton, of
course. Mr. Taarnby. I believe some of my colleagues already know Mr.
Taarnby's lawyer, Mr. MacAllister--"
As the introductions continued, Jase MacAllister nodded politely to each
person, but most of his attention was on Quatre. Damn. I think he's
furious. What in God's name could Matt have done to affect him
like this?! I've seen him negotiate before... no matter what, he keeps
smiling and he's always polite. I don't know what it would take to make
Winner be rude.
Quatre's lawyer finished and looked expectantly at his boss.
"I called this meeting to inform you that as of now, the contract
between Winner Enterprises Incorporated and Elite Secretarial Services
is severed," Quatre said coldly. "There will be no termination
payment. Some of the staff your company provided to us will be offered
jobs within WEI's structure; the rest needn't bother to come in tomorrow.
"Wha-- but-- hey! You can't do that!" Taarnby
sputtered. "The contract says you can't do that!"
"One moment please," MacAllister said quickly, holding up a
finger; then he turned to his client and lowered his voice. "What
are you talking about? The contract I worked on with your father had no
"I wrote a new one," Taarnby muttered.
"I wrote a new one! It was no big deal--"
"You have no legal training, and-- never mind that
now. Do you have a copy of that contract here so I can at least read
it before I start trying to negotiate about it?"
Taarnby blinked. "I figured you'd bring all the paperwork and stuff."
"I can't bring something if I don't know it exists!"
MacAllister hissed, then turned back towards the other end of the table,
clearing his throat. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Winner, but I seem to
be missing some of the information I need to properly advise my client.
Do you, ah, happen to have a copy of the contract here so I can familiarise
myself with its provisions before we proceed?"
One of Quatre's lawyers passed a disk to him, and MacAllister quickly
slotted it into his laptop and started to read.
Two minutes later, he turned away from the screen and glared at his client.
"Mister Taarnby," he growled slowly, "are you insane?!"
"This piece of shit," he waved contemptuously at the
display, "isn't worth the electricity to put it up on screen. It's
unenforceable. I don't know how you got it signed--"
"Your client," Quatre interrupted, "brought this contract
to my sister Serena three days after my father died. She didn't read it."
As MacAllister choked, he continued. "As you've noticed, it's unenforceable
-- especially as Serena Winner has never held any
position with WEI, much less one with the authority to sign contracts."
"Hey, she's your sister!" Taarnby protested. "She's
a member of the family, that's good enough, right?"
"No. It's not," Quatre snapped. "Furthermore, even if you
had a valid contract with us, the quality of the service your staff provides
has dropped to almost zero in certain areas since you rewrote the
standard operating procedures. There are thousands of messages
that never reached anyone who could decide what to do about them--"
"Well, hey, no harm done, right? We'll just go back to the old SOPs,
go back to the old contract, and everybody's happy, right?" Taarnby
said nervously, glancing sideways at his lawyer. "C'mon, Jase, help
me out here--"
"NO HARM DONE?!" Quatre flung his handful of papers straight
at Taarnby's face. They fluttered down around him as he yelped and jumped,
nearly sending his chair over backwards; MacAllister picked up a couple
that fell into his lap.
"How dare you?!" Quatre hissed, glaring. "You have
the unmitigated gall to sit there, after you took advantage of
my sister's grief, after your idiotic blundering almost killed
one of my friends, and tell me 'no harm done'?!"
"Kill?!" Taarnby squeaked. "Hey, no, wait--"
"Those are all messages from one of our best friends," Trowa
said coldly. "Because the receptionists followed your SOPs,
none of them actually reached us."
"Duo Maxwell almost died because he couldn't contact us."
Quatre sat back in his chair, visibly forcing himself back under control.
Jase MacAllister carefully set the papers down on the table, ejected the
disk, closed his laptop, and stood up to leave.
"Jase -- hey, Jase, where are you going? Come on, talk
to them -- they can't blame me for this, right? Right? Jase!"
"Get yourself a new lawyer, Mr. Taarnby. If you can."
"No! No, wait, Jase -- MacAllister -- come on!
We've got a contract!"
"Not any more, we don't. Your father was my first client, and I'm
genuinely sorry to sever my relationship with the company he built, but
I'll have nothing more to do with you. I'm a lawyer; I'm a corporate
lawyer; I've been called a shark; but I am not a bottom feeder.
Anyone who'd pull something like this--" he brandished
the disk, "--I won't work for."
"I'll sue you!"
MacAllister laughed. "If you've got anything left after Mr. Winner's
through with you, you're welcome to try. I wrote our contract.
If I were you, I'd just be thankful Mr. Winner hasn't yet mentioned charging
you with criminal negligence." He nodded politely towards Quatre
and Trowa. "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen? I seem to have developed
an urgent need to be elsewhere."
Quatre stood up. "We'll see you out, sir; I believe we can leave
this with my staff." Trowa followed him silently.
"You can't blame me for what happened to your friend!"
Taarnby protested desperately. "I mean, come on! I never knew
he existed until you told me!"
"I know, Mr. Taarnby," Quatre said coldly as he headed for the
door. "That's why I'm only going to ruin you."