Reunion + Chapter 12 (cont)

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Half an hour later, when Quatre and Trowa got home, the butler was waiting for them.

"--would have invited him for afternoon tea or something," Quatre was saying as he stepped out of the limo, "but I doubt I'd be a good host today."

"Maybe some other time," Trowa said, eyeing the front door of the mansion. "Quatre, is it a bad sign when Arif gets the door open before you even start up the steps?"

"Um... it could be..."

"Let's find out, then." Trowa stalked up the stairs.

"Master Quatre, Master Trowa, welcome home." Arif bowed. "You have a visitor. He was most insistent, and holds a Winner Enterprises identity card, so I allowed him to await your return in the west study. His name is Ninke Assink."

"Thank you Arif!" Quatre blurted out as he and Trowa almost ran inside.

Ninke was pacing along one wall of the study, gazing intently down at something in his hands, when Quatre opened the door; he looked up and stepped forwards, uncharacteristically hesitant. "Mr. Winner, Mr. Barton, good afternoon! I-- ah-- please excuse the intrusion, but--"

"That's quite all right, Ninke, really," Quatre interrupted. "Please, sit down. You have something for us?"

"Ah, yes, sir. Thank you." He didn't sit down, however; well over six feet tall and lanky, he towered over both of the ex-Gundam pilots. Long-fingered hands almost hid a small bundle from view as he held it out to Quatre. "We think we've found everything Duo Maxwell sent, sir. Six postcards and a package."

Quatre spun his desk chair around and sat down, handing the package to Trowa and picking up the first postcard. He blinked momentarily at the picture on the front -- a cartoon of an extremely fat man wearing a singlet, shorts and a hat with corks hanging from the rim, clutching a can of beer and frying a giant shrimp on a barbecue -- then turned it over and snorted softly. "Trust Duo to find a multiple-choice postcard," he muttered. "Trowa, listen to this. 'Good: morning / afternoon / evening / what time is it?' He's ticked the last one. 'I am: having a good time / being exposed to strange native customs / drunk.' It goes downhill from there."

"I rather liked that one," Ninke offered, then winced. "Er-- that is-- that's the first one he sent, sir, and it seems to be the happiest-- um--"

"Ninke," Trowa said calmly, "you regularly intercept memos that aren't being sent to offices on this planet, let alone your department, and you always know everything that's going on. We didn't expect you to pass up the chance to read the postcards." He pulled a sheet of paper and two small tissue-paper parcels out of the padded envelope.

"Er... yes, sir."

"You said 'happiest'...? Quatre asked quietly, looking at the other five postcards in his hand.

"Yes, Mr. Winner. The others... well, you'll see. Some of them just sound a bit strained, but the last one... it's pretty bad if you know what was going on." Ninke rubbed one hand through his short hair, looking upset.

"And you know, of course," Trowa said under his breath, holding up two thin silver bookmarks. One had a camel on top; the other had paired masks, Comedy and Tragedy. "'Hey guys'," he read from the note. "'I saw these and thought of you, no surprise there. Tro, if you don't wanna use yours for its intended purpose, you can always sharpen the end and throw it at people'..." He smirked slightly, looking at the envelope. "It's postmarked mid-June."

"So's the multiple-choice card," Quatre said quietly, not looking up. "These are sorted into chronological order, then?"

"Yes, sir."

Quatre slid the bottom card out from under the stack and looked at it; then he lunged up out of his chair and headed for the vidphone.

"Quatre, what does it say?!"

Stabbing fiercely at the keyboard, Quatre didn't seem to hear the question.

"Quatre?" Trowa repeated.

"It says 'Wish I was there'," Ninke said sadly.

* * * * *

Wufei knocked on the bathroom door after hearing the water shut off. "Duo?" he called, trying not to sound harassed. "I left the laundry in the basement last night; I can't put clean sheets on the futon unless I go and get them. I'll only be a minute." And of course I didn't remember until I went to put the dirty sheets in the hamper and it wasn't there, he grumbled to himself.

"...okay," came quietly from the other side of the door.

Spirits absurdly raised -- He's talking again! And he doesn't sound upset that I'm leaving for a moment!-- Wufei found himself grinning broadly. "I'll be right back!" he said hastily, making for the door.

As he stepped out into the corridor, his shin collided with something and tipped it over. Scrambling for footing as the 'something' flipped under his sneakers, Wufei wound up against the opposite wall with a loud thump and a strangled yelp.

"'Fei? You okay?" Duo appeared in the doorway, wearing an oversized t-shirt and clutching a towel around his waist, eyes wide with worry.

"I'm fine, I just tripped over--" Wufei got his first look at what he'd stumbled over, and blinked. "--our laundry?"

As Wufei set the hamper back upright and started picking up the scattered towels, a piece of paper fluttered out; Duo picked it up, read it, and then wordlessly held it out.

Mr. Chang, You left in a bit of a hurry, and I noticed you never came back for your washing; so, here it is! - Mrs. P.

"Mrs. P?" Wufei raised an eyebrow. "I don't know a Mrs. P... 'P'-what?"

Duo shrugged. "I guess Mrs. P knows you," he said quietly, and went back inside.

When Wufei emerged from the bedroom after putting away the last of the washing, Duo was sitting on the couch with the wet mass of his hair pulled forwards over one shoulder, beginning to work at the ends with his brush. The towel was lying on the couch beside him, having been replaced by a pair of sweat pants.

"Do you want me to help?" Wufei asked hopefully. When Duo looked up at him, 'do you mean it?' clear on his face, Wufei smiled slightly and held out his hand for the brush. "I'd like to," he said gently.

After a long moment, a small answering smile appeared on Duo's face, and he handed over the brush.

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Long after Duo's hair was dry, Wufei continued to brush it; eventually, without quite noticing what he was doing, he put the brush down and just ran his fingers through the silky mass over and over. Part of his mind was very busy trying to point out that this was definitely showing something more than supportive friendship, and wasn't Wufei meant to be avoiding that? The rest of his mind, however, was completely entranced in the moment.

I've wanted to do this for such a long time!

Have you got a hair fetish?! the conscientious part of his mind screeched, figuratively jumping up and down.

Duo, meanwhile, was leaning sideways against the back of the sofa, swaying gently with each stroke through his hair. A bubble of happiness seemed to be forming within his mind.

'Fei likes my hair...!

He wouldn't be doing this if he was mad at me. He might brush my hair 'cause I needed the help, but he wouldn't keep doing it like this. He'd do it as quickly as possible, then plait it and stop.

I haven't upset him. I haven't screwed up.

'Fei likes my hair!

Closing his eyes and snuggling his cheek against the sofa cushions, Duo almost purred, quite content to stay exactlywhere he was for as long as Wufei was willing to keep going. The longer, the better.

Several minutes later, a quiet -bebebebebeep!- noise came from Wufei's desk. Jerked abruptly out of his blissful daze, Duo blinked and glanced in that direction. What's that? It didn't sound like his computer... a pager?

-bebebebebeep!-

Wufei growled something uncomplimentary under his breath as he reluctantly let go of Duo's hair and stood up. "If Une thinks I'm going back to work one minute before my shift starts on Thursday -- if then -- she's got one hell of surprise coming..."

-*bebebe*- The noise cut off as Wufei snatched the pager up and hit a button, glancing impatiently at the text display.

<<ANSWER YOUR DAMN PHONE! -Q>>

"Is it Une?" Duo asked timidly.

"No... it's Quatre," Wufei said in a puzzled voice, turning to look at his vidphone. Sure enough, the little red 'incoming call' light was flashing; the ringer was still turned off. "I'd better see what he wants; he said 'damn', so it's probably important.

Hitting a key to accept the call, Wufei raised an eyebrow as the screen cleared to show a crystal-clear view of... a wall. The absence of any visible caller was quickly explained as Quatre suddenly appeared at one side of the screen, stalked across at high speed, and vanished again. A couple of seconds later, he reappeared, repeating the manoeuvre in the opposite direction.

"...Quatre?"

Appear. Stalk. Disappear.

"Quatre?" Wufei repeated, slightly louder this time.

Appear. Stalk. Disappear.

"Quatre, stop that! I feel like I'm at a tennis match!"

The blonde boy jerked to a halt, spinning to face the screen. <<Wufei! Finally!>>

"What's the prob--"

<<Is Duo asleep? Good,>> Quatre blurted out, steaming ahead without waiting for a reply. <<Sally said he needs it. Can you believe that jerk Taarnby? 'No harm done', my ass! He even feels slimy, he was so sure he could slide out of taking responsibility. If I'd had a gun I would've shot him instead of just throwing papers. Duo sent us bookmarks, and we never got them! Twenty-seven phone calls stuck in a bloody low priority file! They put all Duo's messages in low priority files! They put Duo in a low priority file! DUO MAXWELL IS NOT FUCKING LOW PRIORITY, DAMN IT!>>

Wufei's eyes widened as Quatre's voice slowly scaled up the octaves and he started to shake. Grabbing at a thick sheaf of papers on the desk beside him, Quatre brandished them at the screen.

<<Look at this! His SOPs! Everything's fucking low priority to him!>> He tossed them over his shoulder, grabbing at another set of papers as white sheets fluttered down behind him. <<Duo's e-mails! Low priority!>> They went over his shoulder too, adding to the blizzard of paperwork. <<Duo's phone messages! Low priority!>> Toss. <<Duo's postcards!>> He waved them in one hand, then slammed them back down on the desk. <<Thousands of messages from little old ladies and school kids and-- and-- everybody! Sitting in a fucking low priority electronic trash bin for eighteen months! Allah only knows what's in there, and then there's the physical files-->>

<<One of those little old ladies sent you a package of homemade cookies, sir,>> an unfamiliar voice said. <<Six months ago, unfortunately. They were pretty green when we found them.>>

<<See? Everything's in there!>> Quatre yelled, pointing off towards whoever-that-was as if he'd proven some obscure point.

"Quatre... slow down," Wufei pleaded, shooting a quick glance sideways to where Duo was sitting on the sofa with his eyes the size of saucers. "Start again, and tell me things in sequence this time! You lost me somewhere around 'No harm done'."

As Wufei spoke, a tall lanky man with almost-white hair quietly walked into view behind Quatre, nodded politely, then bent down and started picking up the scattered papers.

<<That moron-->> Quatre started, then squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath. <<Right. In sequence. I-- oh, this is Ninke Assink, by the way. My new special assistant. He found the postcards and bookmarks for us.>>

Ninke straightened up with a jerk, pale blue-grey eyes wide. <<Mr. Winner, I-- what-->>

<<Ha,>> came Trowa's voice, sounding immensely satisfied. <<I told you, you needed one.>>

<<We'll discuss the details later,>> Quatre said, waving one hand vaguely in Ninke's direction as he turned back to the screen. <<Consider yourself promoted. I'll write up the usual paperwork as soon as I've finished explaining to Wufei.>>

This time, he started at the beginning.

As the story unfolded, Wufei found himself wanting to pace and rant, too. It's people like that who make me wish 'criminal greed and stupidity' was a capital crime, he thought, clenching his jaw angrily as he shot another quick sideways glance towards Duo. I'm sure it would improve the gene pool. Taking advantage of a grieving woman's lack of business sense--!

<<--and it felt so good when his lawyer left, and he finally realised he was in serious trouble,>> Quatre finished. <<I can't put all the blame on Taarnby, though. I'm just as much at fault.>>

<<Quatre-->>

<<Trowa, no matter how busy I was I still should have realised how long it had been with no word from Duo! Whenever I thought about him, I just assumed he was having fun, and he'd call us if anything went wrong. He never had any trouble contacting us during the war, but I should have thought about what it meant when he couldn't just call me on Sandrock's com any more! I don't blame him for hating me! I'd hate me too, if our positions were reversed!>>

<<If anyone should have realised something was wrong, I-->>

<<No, you were busy with-->>

<<Damn it, Quatre, I'm not going to let you take all the blame for this!>> Trowa almost yelled.

Quatre 'hmph'ed. <<I'm not trying to take all the blame. I'm perfectly willing to share it with Taarnby!>>

<<But not me.>>

<<Damn right, not you.>>

<<Um, Mr. Winner? Mr. Barton? This probably isn't the best time to discuss that...>> Ninke interrupted nervously.

Quatre sighed, turning back to the screen. <<Anyway, Wufei, I just wanted to let you know what was going on over here. After meeting that shithead, and then finally getting the postcards -- especially that last one, Allah save us -- I needed to get all this off my chest. Keep us informed on how Duo's doing, all right?>>

"Ah... sure, Quatre," Wufei agreed, shooting another quick glance towards the boy in question.

*click*

Wufei stared at the blank screen for a moment before turning to look properly at Duo. How is he taking that? Does he even believe it? It would be so easy for him to just reject it...

Duo was sitting on the edge of the sofa, staring blankly at the opposite wall, with a single tear slowly making its way down his cheek.

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