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 15

"So talk."

Wufei hoped he had successfully concealed the flash of panic he felt at those words. What do I tell them? What don't I tell them?! He cleared his throat. "All right... tell me what you want to know. I may or may not answer."

Heero got in first. "I want to know about the shuttle accident. I want to know what you meant when you said 'Duo had a bad night'. What happened to all his stuff? Why--"

"Heero? One at a time?" Relena said gently.

"...Right. Sorry." Heero sat back, simmering.

Wufei raised an eyebrow at the apology, but didn't say anything out loud. I don't think I've ever heard Yui apologise before, he thought. ...I wonder if Duo has?

"I would like to find out more about the shuttle accident, too," Quatre said. "Duo mentioned it in one of the e-mails we found, but didn't give many details... except that that was when he lost his laptop. Was he actually in danger?"

Wufei's mouth twisted. "Oh, yes. I looked up all the shuttle accidents that happened around the time Duo mentioned, and only one fit his description. Shuttle NJ812 from L3 to Earth, on August the eighteenth."

Relena gasped. "I remember that! But... but his e-mail only mentioned it in passing. The people on that shuttle were nearly killed! They were losing air and had to re-enter the atmosphere faster than was safe, they lost a quarter of their heat shield... half the passengers were hospitalised for anoxia and heat stress!"

Heero swallowed and clenched his fists under the table; Quatre paled. "We... we nearly lost him and never knew it?" he asked, horrified.

Trowa's eyes were wide. "The e-mail he sent us did say the shuttle almost went down... but the way he put it, it sounded like a joke. He went straight on to griping about having to use an internet cafe." He swallowed, then continued, almost in a whisper. "How many times did we almost lose him?"

Wufei shrugged. "He didn't say whether or not he was injured. I looked up the passenger and casualty lists, but that didn't help; whatever alias Duo was using, it wasn't one I recognised. If it's any consolation, I'm not surprised you didn't realise it was that bad... when he told me about it, he just said 'cargo accident'. He didn't care that he'd almost died. The only thing that mattered was that he'd lost his laptop, so he couldn't hack into the systems at the Foreign Ministry and WEI to bypass all the secretaries and contact you directly."

Everyone winced. Quatre groped for Trowa's hand under the table; Relena blinked quickly, trying to clear her vision as tears began to spill down her cheeks.

"As for how many times we nearly lost him, I think he was almost run over once. His bag was run over in a carpark, at least, and I doubt he was far from it at the time. And if we hadn't found him when we did..." Wufei stopped, swallowing and looking away.

Heero pinched the bridge of his nose, blinking fiercely, and cleared his throat. His voice was suspiciously rough when he spoke again. "What... what about the rest of his things? His CDs and player... he had more clothes..."

"He probably lost a lot of stuff along with the laptop," Wufei replied quietly. "Half his CDs were broken when his bag was run over. The rest were stolen from a hotel room, along with his player. All that money he had... he gave it away, to charities and people on the street. He said... when he told me about it... he said 'they deserved it'. That..." His voice broke, and he had to pause.

"That says so much about his state of mind. The money he got from Captain May... He gave his last fifty credits to those kids when he was half starved and ill, because he thought they deserved it more than he did. He thought losing touch with all his friends was somehow his fault. He--" Wufei swallowed hard. "Duo actually thinks he must have done something to deserve every bad thing in his life."

"But... but he didn't even have his cross," Heero choked out desperately. "He wouldn't-- did... did he even give that away?! It-- it can't have gotten so bad that he would even give that away!"

"He was mugged," Wufei said flatly, closing his eyes. "The day before we found him. He didn't have anything else of value, so they took the cross. Damn it, Yui," he burst out angrily, opening his eyes to glare, "of course he wouldn't give it away! Did you think he got three cracked ribs and all those bruises by accident?! Maybe he walked into a door? No! They beat him up because he tried to fight them even though he was that sick and weak!"

Heero was shaking. "Who?" he whispered. "Who did it?"

"Some gang in that area of L2," Wufei snapped. "Forgive me for not getting mug shots and names!" He suddenly shoved angrily at the table wedging his chair against the wall, starting to stand up. "Move this thing, damn it!"

Wufei struggled out from behind the table and began to pace, running shaking hands back over his hair to tug at his short ponytail. Behind his back, Heero and Trowa exchanged a wordless glance. Trowa raised an eyebrow, face set and hard; Heero was white and almost crying, but managed a firm nod back.

"All right, my turn," Wufei said abruptly, still pacing. "I've got a question. Why... why," he demanded, wheeling to point accusingly at Heero, "did you change all your contact details? All of them, all at the same time! You left no way for Duo to contact you except through Relena's office, and we know how successful that was!"

Carried away by emotion, angry on Duo's behalf and exhausted from lack of sleep, Wufei went on without waiting for a reply, saying far more than he'd intended to. "Of all the things that happened to Duo, that hurt the most. I don't think even losing his cross hurt him as badly; by the time that happened, it was just icing on the cake. The one person he needed the most cut him off without a word. The one person he thought wouldn't abandon him, did. Just thinking about you hurts! He got up and walked out of the room when I was talking to you on the phone! He has nightmares every night now, and sometimes he calls out in his sleep, asking why you left him. How could you?! Why?!"

"Duo could always find me," Heero whispered brokenly, closing his eyes as tears rolled down his cheeks. "Always. Even when I was trying not to be found... if he wanted to, he just turned up, or I'd get a call... I never even thought about it. He never had a problem contacting me before. I never considered that that might change..."

"Obviously," Wufei snarled. "He had resources during the war that he doesn't have now, Yui; if you'd thought for a second, you would've realised that!"

"There was a reason behind it, Wufei," Relena broke in defensively. "A reporter bribed someone in my office and got all of Heero's contact information -- all of it, all of his numbers, his e-mail and his home address. He was one of those awful tabloid reporters, the ones even my press liaison dreads because they ask questions that you can't answer neutrally. It's amazing how even the most innocent statement can be twisted into something disgusting... He was calling and e-mailing twenty times a day to demand information on Heero's relationship with me, making the most awful insinuations, turning up on Heero's doorstep with a photographer..." She winced, reaching out to rest a gentle hand on Heero's back. "I asked Heero to try to ignore him. If you give those people anything to work with, they make your life a thousand times worse--"

"I wanted to make him eat his fucking recorder," Heero muttered hoarsely, wiping at his face without much effect.

"--and if you threaten or harm them, they publish it and make it sound like they only asked one polite question and you threatened to burn them alive while drinking babies' blood from a pensioner's skull," she finished tiredly.

"That's... a very vivid image, Relena," Quatre said, looking slightly sick.

"I've had extensive experience with the type," Relena said, making a sour face. "I have many more vivid images that I thought up while smiling sweetly at someone who just grossly insulted me. I don't plan to share any more, don't worry."

"Thank you," Quatre muttered faintly, unconsciously rubbing at his chest. "I know the type, but I don't think my experiences with them have been quite as bad..."

Relena winced again, hand moving in soothing circles over Heero's shoulders. "Some of his... speculations... were extremely embarrassing. So long as he didn't actually publish any of them, it seemed best to try to ignore him; if we'd tried to take legal action against him for harassment, we would have had to explain why it was more than journalistic privilege could cover. Even in closed hearings, something always leaks out about court cases... well." She shook herself, returning to the main thread of her story.

"Anyway, he did eventually give up, but either he held a grudge against Heero for stonewalling him, or he wanted to get something for all his trouble. He sold the contact details to every tabloid reporter, sensationalist news program, and scurrilous freelance reporter he could. Heero was getting hundreds of phone calls and e-mails a day, his neighbours were being harassed for information, his landlord threatened to evict him because there was a permanent group of at least a dozen reporters lying in wait outside his apartment building and pouncing on anyone who looked even remotely like him... so he moved, and got a new e-mail address and unlisted phone numbers." Relena sighed. "I never thought it would cause problems with Duo, either. After all," her voice grew bitter, "there were so many other ways Duo could get in touch... Wufei, I'm surprised you didn't already know about this! We managed to keep it out of the mainstream news programs -- my press liaison called in a lot of favours -- but it was mentioned in the tabloids quite a few times."

Quatre nodded. "We use a media monitor service to find news items about us or people we know; it turned up in the clippings."

"I don't read tabloids," Wufei said coldly, "I don't hire media monitors, and nobody told me this was happening."

"We assumed you knew," Trowa said quietly.

Wufei swore viciously in Chinese. "Ta ma de! Everybody assumes too much! I assumed Duo was in touch with you, you assumed he was in touch with me, everyone assumed he could contact us whenever he wanted! Can we stop now?!" Taking a deep breath, he rubbed at his face and continued in a softer tone. "During the war, we never assumed everyone had all the information they needed to complete their mission. Were our missions really that much more important to us than each other?"

Nobody answered; he sighed, waving one hand vaguely as if to dismiss the question, then let it drop to his side.

"I... can understand why you did what you did," he said slowly, "but... I don't know if Duo will, at least to begin with. He knows about Taarnby and your secretary, but... he's not ready to think about the subject rationally. It's going to take time. He--"

-bebeep!--bebeep!-

Startled, Wufei glanced at his watch. "I've got to go; I told Duo I'd be back at a quarter past twelve, and I am not going to be late!"

He walked out without another word.

There was a long pause as the other four teenagers stared down at their hands or at the ceiling, reluctant to be the first to speak.

Finally, Relena cleared her throat and stood up. "Well," she said awkwardly, "we wanted answers and we got them. I think... all we can do for now is wait."

"Until Duo is better?" Quatre asked.

"Until he's ready to think about what happened, and decide whether or not he can forgive us."

Quatre swallowed hard, blinking. "It's not going to be easy, just sitting back and waiting..."

"There's plenty we can do while we wait," Trowa said abruptly, standing up and holding a hand out to Quatre. "Don't forget Taarnby."

"True," the blond boy agreed, eyes glittering briefly.

"I'm not finished with Marie," Relena said quietly.

"And I'm sure Heero and I can think of something to occupy our time," Trowa finished.

Heero nodded, looking up, cold mask firmly back in place. "I'll book shuttle seats."

"I'll be ready when you are."

Relena looked from one to the other, confused. "But... where are you going?"

Her fiance smirked, getting up. "Guess."

"...oh. Oh, good!"

Trowa flicked his cell phone open and hit a speed-dial button as he moved towards the door. "...Ninke, hello. ...Yes. I want you to get me some information. It doesn't exactly come under the heading of 'WEI business', but I'm sure you'll be able to track it down..."

* * * * *

Huddled under the covers and clutching his braid, Duo almost didn't blink as he watched the small digital clock that sat on the floor next to the futon.

<<12:02>>

...

<<12:03>>

...

<<12:04>>

He said 'about quarter past', Duo thought, glancing towards the bedroom door and shifting slightly. Not long. He looked back at the clock.

<<12:05>>

He could be a little bit late... I shouldn't worry if he is. He said 'about', not 'before'. There might be traffic. If he's a few minutes late, I'm not going to be stupid about it. It'd upset 'Fei if he came home a couple of minutes late and found me panicking...

<<12:06>>

He could be early.

Duo pushed the covers back and stood up.

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[cont]