Reunion + Part 5 (cont)

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Duo leaned against the wall and stared at his feet as Wufei called the Preventers' L2 branch office and called for a van to pick them up.

He'd never make it back to the shuttleport if he had to walk, he thought, hanging up. Gods know how he made it to Maxwell Church and back! He's so thin... and I don't like that cough... What else is he hiding under that coat?

Damn it, Duo, what have you done to yourself? What have we done to you? You were always so strong... nothing made you lose your smile. Was it all a mask?

It must have been, or we couldn't have broken you like this. And I remember... you had nightmares. You hid them from everyone except Heero, but...

The door opened beside them and the others emerged, Heero carrying the scuffed duffel bag.

"There's a van coming to take us to the shuttleport," Wufei announced, stuffing the phone back into his pocket. "Is that everything?"

The others nodded, looking everywhere but at him and Duo; he eyed them suspiciously, but let it pass. "Let's go then; it's time we got out of here and got Duo home."

Wufei completely missed the look Quatre shot at him, as he was concentrating on Duo, one hand barely touching his elbow as he started shakily down the stairs. When a piece of trash shifted under Duo's foot, making him stumble, Wufei caught and steadied him; then Duo coughed, struggling to suppress it, and Wufei set his jaw and picked him up. He's not even going to make it down the stairs, damn it!

Trowa turned back, looking up at them. "Do you want me to take him?"

Quatre's eyes widened and he nearly tripped as he felt a burst of fear; Wufei blinked and glanced down at Duo as he felt a thin hand clutch at his jacket.

"No..." he said slowly; "...I've got him. He hardly weighs a thing..."

Quatre swallowed and relaxed as he felt the fear subside; there was a faint feeling of relief, then nothing. Glancing back, he saw that Duo had closed his eyes.

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Wufei spread a blanket over Duo, who had been settled into one of the shuttle's reclining seats, and sat down beside him. The seats were more like luxurious armchairs than airplane seating, arranged as if the cabin was an informal lounge instead of in rows; they could be pushed down and rearranged into narrow beds, and in fact they'd slept on board instead of going to a hotel, so he knew Duo was comfortable. Still, he was concerned; Duo looked a little cold...

He stood and took a step towards the front of the cabin, only to be brought up short by a light tug on his jacket. Looking down, he saw Duo's hand clinging to the hem -- then Duo let go, swallowing convulsively, and huddled under the blankets, looking away.

Wufei sat down again.

I don't understand this. I don't understand this at all, he thought confusedly. I hurt him. I caused all this. I deserve nothing better from him than contempt -- and yet... he doesn't want me out of his sight?

Leaning sideways, he caught Trowa's eye and beckoned. "Could you get us a couple of cups of tea?" he asked softly, flicking his eyes sideways at Duo. "It was cold out there; I'd like something hot to drink."

Trowa nodded, understanding who really needed the warmth; when he came back, Wufei's cup was black and sugarless with a slice of lemon floating in it, and Duo's was practically solid with milk and sugar.

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Trowa settled back in his seat, towards the front of the cabin, and closed his eyes.

He's just shut down. Not a word since 'Whatever'. It's worse than when he was snarling at us in that hoarse voice.

I've seen him silent before, but that was different...

~*~*~*~

Sitting comfortably on the balcony, book lying forgotten on his knees, Trowa was watching the sunset. Brilliant reds and golds were splashed across the western sky; the slow shifts in colour were mesmerising.

Hearing soft footsteps behind him, he carefully didn't wince or sigh. Heero, Quatre and Wufei were all on missions, so there was only one person it could be; and while he didn't dislike Duo, exactly, his never-ending chatter could be a bit hard to take. Especially since he wasn't truly satisfied unless the person he was talking to talked back.

To Trowa's surprise, though, Duo didn't launch straight into a monologue; instead, he walked quietly across to the railing and leaned on it, staring out at the sunset. He was silent for several minutes, then sighed.

"That's beautiful. You don't get anything like that on a colony..." He sighed again, and turned around. "Mind if I sit here?"

Trowa shook his head, and Duo settled down in the chair next to him, one leg tucked up and his chin resting on his knee. They stayed there for over half an hour, watching in comfortable silence until the last smudge of colour faded from the sky; then Duo stood and stretched, yawning.

"Uff... off to bed for me, I think. Wanna do this again some time?"

Trowa smiled slightly. "Sure."

~*~*~*~

And we ended up friends, instead of me just tolerating him. Now...

"Excuse me... Trowa, are you asleep?"

He opened his eyes and looked up to see Relena leaning over him. "No."

"Oh, good. I didn't want to wake you if you were, but... I really need to make a vidphone call."

He raised an eyebrow, but stood up and politely gestured for her to take his seat; she turned it towards the vidphone and sat down, quickly tapping in a com code from memory. As she drummed her fingers, waiting for the connection to go through, he sat down nearby and watched with growing interest.

Relena, fidgeting? She's normally far more controlled than that. It's certainly been a stressful week, but still... who's she calling?

The call went through and was answered by a slim, impeccably groomed woman. She smiled as soon as she recognised Relena, a practiced, false expression that didn't reach her eyes.

<<Miss Relena! It's good to see you again. I'm afraid it's getting harder and harder to put off your appointments; there are several very important people who have been quite insistent, wanting to know when your 'personal business' would be taken care of. Will you be back in the office soon?>>

"Yes, Marie, I think so... but that's not why I'm calling," Relena said crisply. She leaned forwards slightly, fidgets gone. "I'm sure you remember the general memo I issued four days ago?"

<<Why... of course, Miss Relena.>> The smile was a little strained now, Trowa noted; out of the corner of his eye he saw Duo shift, looking towards them from the back of the cabin.

"And I believe you said you hadn't encountered Duo Maxwell?"

<<The name isn't familiar, no.>>

"That's odd," Rrelena said coldly, "because I know you have an excellent memory... and Duo tells me he tried to call me several times."

Marie stiffened. <<If it's a case of my word against his-->>

"It's even more odd," Relena cut her off, "now that I come to think of it, because I know that Duo's name is second on the list of people who should be put through to me at any time of the day or night, no matter who I am with or what is going on. You have assured me on more than one occasion, Marie, that you have that list off by heart... yet his name 'isn't familiar'? You have no trouble remembering Heero Yui, Quatre Winner, Lady Une or the others. Why this mental block when it comes to Duo?"

Marie burst out angrily, <<He's nobody! A bum! He was probably after a handout! You have better things to do than waste your time on trash like-->>

"Duo Maxwell is not a bum, or a nobody, or trash!" Relena snarled. "He is a friend! And I will decide who I associate with, Marie, not my secretary!"

<<Miss... Miss Relena, I only-->>

"You're fired."

<<Miss Relena, no! I-->> Marie was cut off as Relena's fingers stabbed at buttons, transferring the call elsewhere; there was a moment of static, then a man in dark blue uniform glanced up out of the screen.

<<Can I help-- Your Majesty!>> He saluted, sitting up straight.

"Georg, I want you to go to my office and inform Marie Reynard that she has ten minutes to pack her personal belongings, then escort her out of the building. She is not to be allowed back in; I want all her security clearances revoked and her pass confiscated. She is to have two weeks' pay in lieu of notice. I will not be giving her a reference."

<<Uh-- yes, ma'am!>> Georg stiffened, saluting again. <<Ah... do you wish me to pass on any information to the press liaison?>>

"Yes, I'd better, hadn't I? Hm... tell Ryan not to issue a statement unless there are enquiries. If any reporters do get wind of it, he is to say only that Ms. Reynard was fired for a 'breach of trust'."

<<Got it, ma'am.>>

"Thank you, Georg." *click!*

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Wufei listened to the conversation with narrowed eyes, glaring across the cabin at the image in the screen; when the secretary nearly spat out the word 'bum', he glanced involuntarily to the side and saw Duo flinch and shrink back.

If I had that onna in front of me, and a sword in my hand--! His eyes widened as he heard Relena's response and the end of the call, and he had to restrain himself from sighing in relief as he saw amazement and faint hope flicker over Duo's face.

It's definitely a start, he thought. Duo can begin mending his relationship with at least one of his friends...

Wufei let the silence stretch out for a couple of minutes, giving Duo time to let this development sink in; then he leaned over and carefully phrased a request he'd been thinking about ever since he realised just how thin Duo had become.

"Duo, I know you hate hospitals... but if we take you to Preventers headquarters, to Sally Po, will you let her take a look at you?"

There was an uncomfortably long pause; then Duo shrugged one shoulder.

"Thank you." Wufei flipped open his phone.

* * * * *

"Sally Po here."

<<Chang Wufei.>>

Sally frowned briefly at her vidphone as the screen stayed dark. "Good to hear from you, Wufei, though I should warn you that Une's been muttering about 'four days and no reports'. Did you find Duo?"

<<Yes. If I bring him into the infirmary, could you take a look at him?>>

"Oh, no..." Sally groaned. "What's he done to himself now?"

Silence.

"Wufei?"

<<Yes?>>

She scowled at the blank screen again, then light dawned. "Ah... you're on your cell phone?"

<<Yes.>>

"Can you speak freely?"

<<No.>>

"Sitting right next to Duo, huh?"

<<Yes.>>

"I get you. Is he in bad shape?"

<<Yes.>>

"Damn. All right, bring him in."

<<Thank you. We'll be there in six hours.>> *click!*

"Oh, God," Sally moaned, flopping back in her chair and letting her head and arms dangle. "The human superball is bouncing his way back into my clinic. Why, o Lord, are you punishing me so?" she demanded melodramatically.

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Six hours later -- six hours that Sally spent Duo-proofing the infirmary -- Heero opened the door and Wufei walked in carrying a blanket-wrapped bundle. Sally turned around from her computer and sighed, jaw set determinedly.

"All right, Duo, I want you to sit down and be--"

Her eyes widened and she broke off, then continued in a hushed voice.

"Duo?!"

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