Reunion + Chapter 15 (cont)

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At precisely 12:14, Wufei pulled into his parking spot and turned off the Blazer's engine. I hope Duo didn't worry too much, he thought, climbing out and slamming the door. I didn't call, in case he was asleep. Maybe I should have...

Automatically glancing up towards his apartment as he turned towards the entrance, Wufei stopped dead in his tracks.

Duo was standing at the window looking down at him, braid clutched in both hands. As Wufei watched, wide-eyed, he lifted one hand in a tiny wave, then moved back into the apartment.

Wufei bolted for the door.

Has he been standing there the whole time I was gone?! he thought incredulously as he took the stairs three at a time. He was in exactly that position when I left! It's been three and a half hours... it's cold and drafty by that window... is he all right? He shouldn't be standing up for that long!

Duo opened the apartment door and peered out into the hallway as Wufei emerged from the stairwell; the Chinese boy relaxed a little as he saw that Duo didn't look any worse than that morning, but wasn't entirely reassured. "Are you all right?" he asked anxiously as he closed the door behind him, reaching out to brush gentle fingertips over Duo's cheek. "Were you standing there all morning?"

"No..." Duo blinked at him, looking a little surprised. "I was in bed. I knew you were due back now, so..." He shrugged.

Wufei sighed in relief, hand cupping Duo's cheek for a moment before slipping away. "Sorry. I saw you at the window, and... never mind. Are you hungry? Did you eat anything?"

Duo shrugged, then shook his head, looking away.

"Okay then; I'll get lunch. Is there anything in particular you want?"

"...um... Pasta?"

After lunch, as he was clearing away the dishes, Wufei looked at Duo and frowned, concerned. "You look tired... would you like a nap?"

"You look pretty tired, too," Duo said quietly. "Maybe you should have a nap."

"I'm fine, really," Wufei said quickly. The last thing I want is for Duo to worry about me! "I just didn't sleep very well last night."

Duo frowned.

"That sofa's not long enough," he said abruptly... almost accusingly.

Oh, hell. I have got to stop blurting out the first thing that comes to mind! He thinks I've been sleeping on the sofa -- he'll blame himself for my not sleeping, because he's using the bed-- "It's fine, really!" Wufei insisted, trying desperately to think of a reason for insomnia that Duo couldn't blame himself for. "I just-- uh--"

"I'll nap on the sofa," Duo said stubbornly, getting up and walking over there. "I fold up better than you do. You go nap on the futon."

"Duo, no! I'll be fine on the sofa-- Duo!"

"I'm asleep," the braided boy announced, curling up on the sofa and pulling the blanket over him. "Go away."

"Duo?!"

One violet eye opened and glared at him, then closed again. "Go to bed, 'Fei."

Wufei slumped, defeated. "All right! I will, just this once. If you need anything, call or come get me, okay?"

"Sure," Duo muttered, eyes still closed. "Go sleep."

Wufei went, but didn't sleep... yet. He took his time over getting changed into a T-shirt and sweat pants, then sat cross-legged on the floor by the bedroom door, listening.

Nothing. He couldn't even hear Duo's breathing over the soft sounds of traffic and birds from outside.

Not yet, he thought, checking the clock and smothering a yawn behind his hand. He won't be asleep yet... or if he is, he'll wake up as soon as he hears me. I need to wait until he should be really asleep...

When Wufei finally crept out of the bedroom to check on Duo, he was asleep, breathing softly and evenly. Wufei stood by the sofa for a long minute, looking down at him.

I could probably pick him up and move him to the bed without waking him, he thought eventually, reaching down to brush his fingers through the messy fringe. When he's deeply asleep, I think I could do almost anything without waking him... He pulled away and turned to go back into the bedroom, sighing. No. I said I'd sleep on the futon this time; if I go back on that, I'll just make him really upset with me.

He's sleeping peacefully. Now I can sleep.

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Half an hour later, Duo's breathing changed as he began to dream. He didn't cry out or even whimper; he just curled into a tighter ball under the blanket and shivered.

~*~*~*~

*cold*

*dark*

*alone*

*...Where'd everybody go?*

"Heero?"

Silence.

"Heero? You there? I can't see..."

A soft sound came from somewhere nearby; a scuff of shoes across rough ground, a rustle as something small was kicked away.

"Heero? That you?"

Duo strained to see something, anything, in the blackness; then a familiar voice spoke coldly, shockingly close.

"He hasn't got anything we want."

A sudden yank at his neck, a stinging pain as the chain broke and pulled away--

~*~*~*~

Duo jerked awake gasping, clutching at his aching ribs. "It was just a dream," he whispered, eyes darting around the room. "Just a dream. It didn't happen like that..."

Where's 'Fei?

Clutching the pillow to his chest, blanket wrapped around him like a cloak, he crept into the bedroom and crouched by the futon, staring at Wufei's sleeping form.

After a long minute, he sighed very quietly and curled up on the floor next to the bed.

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A soft cough nearby brought Wufei sluggishly awake, reaching automatically for Duo. "'s all right," he mumbled, hand patting vaguely over the blankets to his left. "'s okay... jus' breathe..."

The cough came again, from his right, and he blinked his eyes open, frowning blearily up at the ceiling. What's Duo doing over there? ...wait a moment, wasn't he out on the couch?

Struggling up out of the blankets, Wufei looked to his right. Duo was curled up on the floor between the futon and the chest of drawers, huddled under a single blanket and shivering in his sleep; as Wufei reached out to him, he grimaced and coughed again, muttering something incomprehensible before burrowing his face into his pillow.

"Duo? Duo, what are you doing there -- you're freezing!" Wufei exclaimed as he touched the shivering boy. "Are you all right?! Wake up!"

"Mmnh?" Duo pushed himself up onto his elbows, blinking at Wufei.

"You'll make yourself worse! Quick, get into bed where it's warm. What were you doing?" Wufei scrambled off the futon and soon had Duo tucked up in the warm hollow his body had left. "If you wanted something, why didn't you wake me up?"

Duo wouldn't look at him, apparently fascinated by a flaw in the weave of the sheet. "Didn't want anything," he muttered, picking at it with a fingernail.

...so why were you lying on the floor? Wufei thought, confused.

A few more moments of thought gave him a possible answer. If he woke up and wanted reassurance, he wouldn't just climb in with me... he'd be afraid that I'd wake up and be angry. And he wouldn't want to tell me if he thought I'd react badly to the reason... if I thought it was foolish, or weak...

"Did you have a nightmare, Duo?"

Duo flinched, shoulders drawing up defensively. The flaw in the sheet suddenly required an even closer examination.

"It's all right," Wufei said seriously, lifting Duo's chin and making him meet his eyes. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. We all have nightmares sometimes. I still have nightmares, about... the war, and... other things..."

...you...

"I'm not going to tell you to pull yourself together, or anything stupid like that," he continued hastily, sliding his hand up to cup Duo's cheek; he almost lost track of what he was saying, looking into wide violet eyes, but managed to stay focused. "It's not something you can control. But... if you ever want to talk, or just have company... it's okay. You can wake me up, or-- or whatever. All right? I won't mind, I promise. I would rather you woke me up, instead of trying to stick it out on your own."

Duo nodded slightly, then closed his eyes and nestled back into the pillow.

* * * * *

For Wufei, the next couple of days seemed to be repeats of Thursday... except for a few very important differences. He wasn't waylaid at his desk by ex-Gundam pilots demanding situation updates, for example, and he managed to conceal his continuing fatigue. As a result, Duo didn't force him into any more naps on the futon, which meant there was no possibility of finding him shivering on the floor.

Duo kept having nightmares and clinging to Wufei when he tried to sneak out of bed.

Wufei kept sneaking into bed with Duo to soothe his nightmares, getting almost no sleep and having to pry himself loose at six A.M., terrified that Duo would wake up and find out what he was doing.

Leah kept threatening people, with varying results. Wufei was rather impressed by the way she never repeated herself; he was tiredly amused when she discovered a stash of files hidden under an unused desk and reached new heights of inventiveness, adding 'boiling in oil' and 'being nibbled to death by rats' to her repertoire.

And Duo was always waiting at the window when Wufei came home.

Sunday was Wufei's day off; he didn't dare sleep late, in case Duo woke up first, but he dozed for a couple of hours on the sofa before Duo got up. Sally had requested another checkup; when he took Duo in, she wasn't as pleased with his progress as before, but was still cautiously optimistic.

"You will have periods where you don't improve much, or don't improve at all," she explained. "You can expect to have the occasional relapse, too; as long as they're only minor, they shouldn't be anything to worry about. Wufei, I think you can stay on mornings only for the next week; I'd like to see you two again on... let's see... next Tuesday, that's the day after Christmas. Is that all right?"

"Yes, thank you," Wufei nodded; Duo was silent.

In the Blazer, on the way home, he spoke up quietly. "I'm sorry."

Wufei shot him a quick sideways glance, genuinely puzzled. "What for?"

"Not getting well faster. Being a bother..."

"We knew when this started that it would take a while," Wufei pointed out, reaching across to squeeze his hand reassuringly. "I don't mind. And you're not a bother at all."

Duo didn't look convinced; Wufei tried another angle.

"Relena, now... looking after her would be a bother," he said, returning Duo's hand to his knee with a gentle pat. "I'd have aides and security guards and secretaries tromping in and out all day. Politicians. Reporters hiring cherry-pickers and ladder trucks to get up to my window, trying to get a photo of the Queen of the World on her sickbed. I'd hate that.

"Heero would be even worse." Out of the corner of his eye, Wufei saw Duo stiffen, but kept going. You've got to think of him sometime, Duo... "Relena would insist on staying by his side, so I'd get the whole circus that comes with her; the only difference would be that the reporters would be trying for a photo of the Queen of the World's rumoured lover on his sickbed. Relena might also, in a moment of insanity, attempt to cook for him, which would destroy my kitchen. I'm sure Heero would be a terrible patient, as usual, and any virus that would lay him low would probably infect anyone in a ten-mile radius.

"Quatre would be marginally better, I suppose," he continued, pulling out to pass a truck. "Trowa and the Manguanacs would be hovering. At least Quatre's a good patient, and Trowa can cook... It would be worse if Trowa were the ill one. The Manguanacs would still hover, because they go wherever Quatre goes, and Quatre can't cook! Catherine would be sure to turn up, probably bringing half the circus with her, and I draw the line at having a lion or two making sickbed visits.

"I'd simply refuse to look after Sally," Wufei went on, sneaking another sideways glance. Was that a trace of a smile...? "The woman is a doctor, and she's bossy. Everyone knows that doctors make the worst patients. She'd be forever telling me I was doing it all wrong. I'd probably get daily lectures on the proper way to shake down a thermometer... trust me, Duo, you don't even come close to being a bother!"

Yes.

It was a smile.

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At breakfast on Monday, things were looking better.

"Duo, I need to go shopping for a few things. It would be simplest for me to get them on the way back from work... but I don't know how long it will take me, so I can't make any promises about when I'll be home. I don't think it will take any more than an hour, but I can't guarantee it. Is... is that okay?"

Duo looked worried for a moment; then he nodded. "It's all right."

Wufei smiled in relief, stroking a hand down Duo's braid as he passed behind him on his way to the sink. "Thanks." He must be getting more confident that I'll keep coming back... and this means I can get his Christmas present without him finding out! One of those little live potted Christmas trees, too...

At one P.M., however, when Wufei arrived back home, he knew something was wrong as soon as he looked up at the window.

Duo wasn't standing there waiting for him.

It doesn't have to mean anything, he thought as he ran up the stairs, trying to convince himself. He could be asleep. He could be feeling secure enough not to watch. He doesn't have to hover at the window looking for me... He didn't know exactly what time I'd be home today. He could just be in the bathroom, damn it!

Wufei felt a moment's relief as he stepped into the apartment and saw Duo curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket; but it faded quickly as Duo didn't react to his presence.

"Duo?" he asked anxiously, pulling the blanket away from his face.

"'Fei?" Duo said groggily, face flushed. "You home 'lready? I di'n't think you--" He was cut off by a violent coughing fit.

"Hell," Wufei swore fervently, supporting the braided boy as the coughing fit went on and on. He could feel the heat of Duo's fever even through the blanket.

"Oh, hell. Hold on, Duo," he said desperately, rubbing Duo's back and feeling useless. "I'm taking you to Sally..."

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