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 6

Sally's eyes widened in disbelief as she saw the frail figure bundled up in Wufei's arms, eyes closed, one thin hand clutching at the lapel of Wufei's coat.

"Duo?!" Oh my god... what's happened to him?! I was expecting him to be his normal, hyper, argumentative self no matter how injured he was -- what did he go through to end up like this?! "Okay, Wufei, sit him on the table--" damn, I hope he can sit up! "--and get that blanket off."

Watching as Wufei carefully disentangled Duo from the blanket, Sally was relieved to see that he could sit up without support -- but that was the only good point in her quick assessment.

He's lethargic, nonresponsive -- migod, he's silent -- severely underweight, probably slightly dehydrated... that's a bad bruise on his jaw, he may have other injuries. And his breathing sounds laboured... "Duo, have you been coughing?" she asked, frowning in concern as she laid the back of one hand on his forehead and felt the slightly fevered, dry skin. I don't like his colour, either... "Duo?"

There was no response; Wufei answered for him. "Yes, he has."

Sally shot him a sharp glance, but didn't comment... yet. "Okay, Duo, I need to get you out of some of these clothes and take a proper look at you. Everyone else, out."

Duo's hand shot out and grabbed Wufei's sleeve.

"Oooookay... maybe not," Sally conceded. "You can stay, so long as you don't get in the way." She turned around to pick up her datapad and found the other four teenagers sitting down or settling against the wall. "No, I meant just -- oh, never mind!"

Duo slowly released Wufei's sleeve and hesitated; then he sighed slightly. They're on a guilt trip, 'poor little Duo'... get an eyeful of this, then! he thought as he shakily fumbled at the buttons on his coat; he wasn't getting very far, though, and Sally was about to help when Wufei stepped forwards, gently moved Duo's hands away, and did it himself. A darned sweater and ripped T-shirt followed the coat onto a nearby chair, and Sally heard Relena gasp as Duo's torso was bared.

Black and purple bruises were mottled down the left side of his ribcage and across his back, contrasting with older greenish-yellow smudges. More bruises striped his forearms, and his skin had an unhealthy grayish tint where it wasn't bruised, drawn tight over bones that were far too visible. Ribs and collarbones poked out sharply, and his arms were so thin that his wrist and elbow joints looked swollen.

Sally swallowed, but managed to keep her face reasonably under control; Wufei wasn't so successful, horror and guilt clearly visible before he brought up a hand and rubbed roughly at his face, forcing it back into a less revealing expression. A soft, muttered oath came from behind Sally, and she was sure that if she turned around, she'd see similar expressions to Wufei's on the faces of the other pilots.

Guilt, is it? she thought, reaching forwards and picking up Duo's wrist to check his pulse. How did Duo get into this state? This certainly didn't happen overnight, or since you reported him missing!

Duo just sat there, slumped, eyes fixed on the floor.

"All right then," Sally said, letting go of Duo's wrist and making a note on the datapad. "Duo, I'm sorry, but I need a blood sample. I know how you feel about needles, but--"

Without looking up, without saying a word, he lifted his left arm and held it out to her.

Who are you and what have you done with Duo Maxwell?! Sally thought incredulously, almost blurting it out loud. Good God, the last time I tried sticking a needle into him, he acted like I wanted to saw his leg off without anaesthetic!

There was a brisk knock at the door as Sally finished labelling the blood sample. "Who is it?" she called, fitting the vial into a sample rack and setting it in the small dumbwaiter that would take it to the lab for analysis; a list of the required tests was clipped to the rack and labelled 'URGENT!'

"Une," came through the door. "May I come in?"

"Hold on a second," Sally replied, then turned to Duo. "Do you mind?"

One shoulder lifted in a brief shrug.

"Come in!"

The door opened slightly and Une leaned in. "Rumour, running at its usual speed, tells me Chang is back, and-- Maxwell?!" She stared in shock at the thin figure on the examining table as Duo raised his head and looked at her, an expression of mild surprise flickering briefly over his face and then fading.

"Well," Une said, and cleared her throat. "It's good to see you again, Maxwell, though I could wish for different circumstances... Chang, Yui, Barton, can I see you in my office for a moment? If you please," she added, the tone of her voice clearly indicating that they had damn well better please.

Duo's hand jerked up towards Wufei as the Chinese boy turned towards the door; Wufei hesitated, then turned back. "I won't be long, Duo, I promise. And--" he lowered his voice "--please, talk to Sally, all right? She's going to need to ask you more questions, and I won't be able to answer most of them. Okay?"

Duo nodded very slightly, dropping his gaze back to the floor, and Wufei followed Une with a worried backwards glance.

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"What the hell is going on here? How did Maxwell get into that state? When you told me he was missing, Chang, I imagined him gleefully skipping from colony to colony with mayhem on his mind, not--" Words failed her for a second, and she settled for glaring at them, then took a deep breath and started again. "Exactly how long has he been--"

The door slammed open and Noin and Zechs burst in, both talking at once. "We heard that Maxwell's back!" "What's he been up to?" "What's he up to now?!" "Can I lock the hangar?"

"Duo Maxwell is in the infirmary, looking like a recently exhumed corpse!" Une snapped, silencing them. "I sincerely doubt that you two have anything to worry about from him. I, however, am another matter! Get out of my office, close the door quietly behind you, and the next time you want to come in, KNOCK!"

"Ah-- uh-- s-sorry, ma'am!" *click!*

"I should think so," she muttered, glaring venomously at the door; then she transferred the look to the three ex-Gundam pilots standing in front of her desk. "Since you all seem to have forgotten the entire concept of regular progress reports, I want a full verbal report. Now." Heero stiffened angrily, glaring back at her and opening his mouth to retort; she lifted a hand and cut him off. "Whatever you're about to say, Yui, you may wish to reconsider it. I am fully aware that you and Barton are special agents, working only in emergencies; 'foul-weather Preventers', I think, is the current term among the regular staff. My authority over you is necessarily limited. However. You have been assisting in a Preventers operation -- without notifying or asking me, I might add -- and are both in Preventers uniforms, which means that right now, I hold your leash." Leaning stiffly over the desk, she matched Heero stare for stare. "Nobody leaves this office until I am satisfied, gentlemen, so start talking."

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Duo mechanically responded to Sally's questions and requests, shifting or turning or giving one-word answers as required. That part of him was running on autopilot; his mind was occupied elsewhere.

Okay, so Relena... Relena didn't mean to cut me off, he thought slowly. She really did seem angry at that bitch. I guess she honestly didn't know... and she said I was second on the list... He slid his gaze up surreptitiously, peering at Quatre's feet from under his lashes. So if it was Relena's secretary, not Relena, maybe Quatre and Trowa too...? His gaze dropped again and his mouth tightened. It would have to be a lot of secretaries, though. And... eight months? They didn't notice I wasn't calling for eight fuckin' months?

He didn't think about Heero. He was working very hard not to think about Heero.

Sally's voice broke into his thoughts. "I want to get x-rays of those ribs, Duo. The machine's just a little way down the corridor; are you okay to walk there?"

Duo nodded and slipped forwards off the examination table, but his knees buckled and he slid downwards, clinging dizzily to the edge of the table for support. Cool hands clutched at his elbow, lifting him, and worried voices buzzed distantly in his ear; then his vision cleared and it was Quatre's face bending close to him, Quatre's hands on his arm--

An angry snarl twisted Duo's face and he wrenched his arm free, shoving the other boy violently away from him. "Fuck OFF, Winner!" he yelled, hoarse voice cracking on the last word, then winced and tried to smother a cough.

"I--I'm sorry, Duo," Quatre whispered. "I only wanted to help..."

"I don't need your fucking help," Duo growled, getting his feet under him and shakily pushing upright again. "I don't need your fucking pity. I told you, I don't want you to touch me!"

Sally nearly choked, eyes wide in shock. What the hell happened?! What could Quatre have done to make Duo this angry? She sighed. Much as I want to know, now is not the time to ask. I'm sure Une is getting the whole story; I'll pry it out of her later. "Okay, that idea's not going to work," she said in a soothing voice, reaching out to steady him. "You just sit down and I'll go get a wheelchair--"

Duo swivelled his head around and gave Sally a flat, vicious stare; then he turned back towards the door and took a wobbly, determined step forwards.

"Duo... may I help?" Relena asked timidly. He shot a sideways glance at her, then shrugged slightly; she carefully ducked under his right arm, away from the worst bruises, and they slowly shuffled out together. Sally shot an unreadable glance at Quatre and followed; he stood alone in the examination room for a long moment, then drew a shuddering breath and went to join them.

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Wufei walked behind Heero and Trowa, eyes fixed firmly on the floor. The three boys were all silent, feeling mentally battered and bruised; after dragging the entire story out of them, Lady Une had spent some time dissecting their character flaws and personal failings, individually and as a group. It had been a... painful experience. She had been especially scathing about Heero having changed all his contact details without leaving Duo any way to get in touch, but had neglected none of them.

She still could have been much harder on me than she was, Wufei thought morosely. I deserve it.

Absorbed in self-flagellation, he nearly walked into Heero's back as the Japanese boy stopped abruptly. Forced to come to a sudden halt himself, Wufei looked up angrily. "Yui, what--" Then he saw what Heero was looking at and choked the question off, pushing roughly past and nearly running down the corridor.

Duo was making his way slowly and painfully back down the hall from the x-ray room, supported on one side by Relena and on the other by Sally. His face was flushed and sheened with sweat, eyes nearly closed and mouth open slightly as he gasped for breath. Quatre was walking behind him, hands hovering just centimetres away from Duo's back as he held himself ready to catch if the braided boy fell.

"Duo!" Wufei exclaimed as he reached the little group, reaching for Duo without even thinking about it; Relena ducked out from under his arm and moved away just in time as Wufei took her place. "Damn it, onna, why isn't he in a wheelchair?" he demanded accusingly.

"I tried," Sally snapped. "He refused. Argue with him, if you think it'll work!"

Wufei hesitated, looking down at the top of Duo's head as the braided boy sagged against him, legs trembling but stubbornly remaining upright; then he sighed, defeated. "All right, no wheelchair," he said, bending to gather Duo up into his arms again, taking infinite care to avoid the bruises. "But you aren't walking, either!"

Duo didn't answer; he just sighed and relaxed completely, resting his head on Wufei's chest and closing his eyes.

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Ray Anders sat in the small treatment room and waited for the resin cast on his arm to set, scowling as a number of bruises, scrapes and muscle strains made themselves felt.

It was supposed to be Chang's mission, he thought resentfully. He did the investigation. He did the planning. Then he took off after this Maxwell person, leaving all his work for someone else to finish, and I got to be the poor schmuck who was fed into the grinder. The little prick probably would've sailed through it without a scratch, he's such a Mr Perfect.

The male nurse checked the cast and nodded, satisfied; Ray growled out a grudging 'thank-you' and limped towards the door.

What was up with that, anyway? he thought, reaching for the knob. He put in the missing persons report himself, and then got assigned to the case? That's not normal procedure! And what made it a Preventers job in the first place?

Anders opened the door, stepped into the corridor, and was nearly run down by the object of his thoughts, carrying a limp, battered body in his arms.

Whoa! Looks like he found him... waitaminnit. That kid's been beaten -- and there's no way all those bruises are less than four days old. He watched through narrow eyes as Wufei carried his burden into an examination room, followed by some other people that he didn't really pay attention to; then he smirked nastily.

Well. Looks like Mr Perfect has a skeleton or two in his closet after all. Now... what should I do about this?

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[cont]