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!>>

Reunion + 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?

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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 awake?"

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 the pile.

"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.

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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.

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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 that?!

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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 this.

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...'*

*'...please...'*

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 meeting room.

"--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. We--"

"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 such clause."

"I wrote a new one," Taarnby muttered.

"You what?"

"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?!"

"Hey!"

"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."

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[cont]