Reunion + Chapter 6 (cont)

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Wufei set Duo back down on the examining table, one hand lingering on Duo's shoulder until he was certain the injured boy was steady; his fingertips stroked briefly down the thin arm as he drew away.

Sally snorted softly under her breath as she watched out of the corner of one eye. Pathetic. He doesn't even realise he's doing it! If he did realise, it would be sweet; as it is, it's just clueless. Turning back to the computer, she checked her mail -- just in case -- and raised one eyebrow. The blood tests are done already? I guess that little 'talk' I had with the technicians last week about 'urgent means URGENT, not when-we-come-back-from-lunch' had an effect after all!

Opening the message, she scanned quickly down the results, pausing several times to frown and make a quick note on her datapad; then she called up the x-ray scans and studied them for a while. Part of her attention was still on the quiet one-sided conversation going on behind her as Wufei hovered by Duo's side.

"Are you all right? What happened?"

"...x-rays."

"Ah." Sally could almost hear the sour, understanding grimace on Wufei's face. "No doctor has ever been able to adequately explain to me why, if they are x-raying damaged ribs, they insist that you twist into the most uncomfortable positions possible."

"Yeah." A pause, then: "Started me coughing."

"Oh. Are you all right now?"

A silence that probably involved a nod or a shrug ended the exchange.

Normally it would be Duo doing all the talking, Sally thought, trying to drag words out of Wufei. It's an interesting role reversal, but I hope it doesn't last!

"Okay, Duo, I've got all the results now," she said, turning her chair to face him but well aware that she was really giving a report to the other five people in the room. They were watching her alertly; Duo didn't lift his gaze from his feet, seeming totally unconcerned.

"You're about thirty pounds underweight and suffering from malnutrition," she said bluntly. "You're anaemic, have major bruising over most of your torso and arms, and have three cracked ribs on the left side. You have a nasty case of bronchitis -- I'm amazed you haven't been coughing more than you have -- which, luckily, has not yet progressed to pneumonia, and to top it all off you seem to be running three minor viral infections at once. The good news is: You will recover fully. The bad news is: Eventually."

Pausing for a moment, Sally covertly surveyed her audience. Duo didn't even twitch; the others reacted with various degrees of pain, guilt and poker face. Wufei swallowed painfully, reaching towards Duo's shoulder and then pulling back. Quatre and Relena looked as if they were going to cry. Trowa seemed to be studying the floor between his boot toes. Heero... just closed his eyes briefly, his expression remaining cold and focussed.

"The first thing I'm going to do," Sally continued, "is give you a couple of injections; just a multivitamin shot and a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Then, I'm going to admit you to the infirmary here. I want to keep you under observation for at least the next few days, until I'm sure that you're well on the road to recovery, and you need total bed rest, so..." She spread her hands and trailed off.

Now Duo reacted.

Wide violet eyes flicked up, staring beseechingly at Wufei, a hint of desperate panic in their depths. A faint whisper escaped him, almost involuntarily.

"'Fei?"

Wufei stared back, stunned. That's the first genuine emotion I've seen in his eyes today... besides hate and anger.

Why me?

I guess I'm the lesser of two evils. Or... maybe...

He tore his eyes away from Duo's and glared at Sally. "No. I told Duo I was taking him home, and I meant it. I'll look after him."

Sally glared back. "I really think it would be better, for Duo's sake, if--"

"No."

"Can I see you outside for a moment?" she said abruptly, standing and moving to the door without waiting for an answer.

"I'll be right back, Duo, and then we'll leave," Wufei growled, stalking after her. Heero was only a step behind him, Quatre and Trowa bringing up the rear, only to be brought up short as Sally closed the door firmly in their faces. Heero scowled and opened it again, but Sally refused to yield. "Not this time, Heero," she said coldly; when he didn't immediately let go, she drew herself up to her full height, eyes flashing dangerously. "Do I have to make that an order, Agent Yui?"

He let go of the doorknob as if he'd been stung.

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Outside in the hall, Sally drew Wufei a couple of steps away from the door and lowered her voice. "Do you realise what's going on? What he's been doing to himself?"

He just looked at her blankly; she sighed, pushing a strand of hair back off her forehead. "Wufei... I don't know what happened to cause this, and I don't think he realises himself what he's been doing... but Duo's essentially been committing slow suicide by self-neglect."

Wufei squeezed his eyes shut, swallowing; then he opened them again, determinedly. "I'll deal with it."

"Can you? Can you watch him every minute? What if he decides to do something that's quicker and more direct?"

"He won't."

She looked at him incredulously; he made an impatient gesture and continued.

"You said it yourself, you don't think he's doing this consciously... and Duo once told me that he could push a self-destruct button in the heat of battle, but any other form of suicide was a coward's way out. Whatever else he is, Duo's never been a coward. Besides, what other option is there? You saw how he reacts when I walk away! I seem to be the only person he trusts right now--" gods only know why "--so do you honestly believe he'll get better alone in hospital?

"...all right. All right!" she burst out, throwing her hands up in surrender as she stepped aside to let an agent with one arm in a cast pass. "If you insist, then all right! I won't admit him."

"I do insist." His voice was cold, but he looked at her gratefully. "I'm taking him home. Just tell me what care he needs, and I'll deal with it."

As he turned a corner down the hall, Ray Anders glanced back, face carefully blank. Hanging around had been worth it; he'd only caught the very end of their conversation, but it was enough.

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Everyone but Duo looked up expectantly at Sally as she marched back into the examination room, going straight to her desk and punching a com code into the computer. Duo glanced sideways at Wufei, still looking a little fearful, as the Chinese boy came to lean against the table.

"It's all right," Wufei said softly to him, eyes on Sally as the call went through.

<<Yes?>> Une asked.

"Wufei will be taking Duo home with him," Sally announced without preliminaries. "He's going to need a few days off, until Duo's over the worst of this."

Une raised an eyebrow. <<I see. Well, then...>> She looked slightly to the side, reading something in another window on her screen. <<Tomorrow is Sunday, which is Chang's rostered day off at the moment... not that he ever treats his days off as anything other than a normal work day... hm. I can give him until Thursday.>>

"That... should be enough to start Duo's recovery, yes," Sally nodded.

"We'll see," Wufei cut in.

<<If it isn't, I may not be able to give you more,>> Une warned. <<We are very short on experienced operatives right now.>>

"I can always resign," he said darkly.

<<Again?>> She snorted. <<You would, too. We'll see.>> *click!*

Twenty minutes later, they were ready to go. Quatre was carrying Duo's battered duffel bag; Relena had a plastic bag holding several pill bottles and a list of what Duo had to take when; Wufei had Duo, dressed once more and bundled up in the blanket.

As they left, Sally held Heero and Trowa back with a hand on each of their arms. "Just out of morbid curiosity, gentlemen," she asked calmly, "if you tried to touch Duo right now... would he react as violently as he did to Quatre while you were in with Une?"

Heero wrenched his arm free and stalked out, face set and cold; Trowa looked down at the floor, swallowing, and followed.

"Silence will be taken as assent," Sally said quietly to the empty room, then left to go talk to Une.

* * * * *

"It's amazing how much he's changed," Une said moodily, stabbing at the ice in her glass with her straw. "The few times I met him face-to-face during the war, he was so alive... I could be holding him at gunpoint and he'd still laugh at me. His eyes laughed. Now... that's all gone."

She and Sally were sitting in King O'Malley's, an Irish-style traditional pub that had become their bar of choice. It seemed to be becoming the semi-official Preventers' bar, too, which made sense; it was comfortable, the prices were reasonable, the food and drink were very good, and it was five minutes from HQ.

"When I think of how I reacted when Wufei asked if he could bring Duo in, I could just cringe," Sally told her. "I mean... I was joking, but..." She sighed, reaching for her own drink. "There's no way he got into that state in just four days."

"Eight. Months," Une snarled softly, stabbing harder.

Sally nearly spat rum and coke all over the table. "W-what?!" she sputtered, grabbing for a napkin.

"You heard me."

"Eight months?!" Sally whispered, shocked. "Duo was missing for that long and they only just started looking for him?!"

"They didn't realise," Une hissed, stabbing so hard at the ice that her straw split and bent.

"They what?!"

One explanation later...

"Well," Sally sighed, sitting back and signalling for a refill, "it all makes a little more sense now. It's stupid, and sad, but it makes sense."

* * * * *

"I'll buy a hairdryer tomorrow, Duo," Wufei said quietly. There was no response; Duo was leaning sideways into the back of the couch, and seemed to be falling asleep.

I'm not surprised, Wufei thought, deciding that Duo's hair was dry enough to be plaited and setting the brush aside. It's late, he's exhausted... he didn't sleep at all on the shuttle, and it hasn't exactly been a peaceful day! He didn't eat much, but I can start working on that tomorrow... just bathing seemed to exhaust him, even with me helping.

Carefully tying off the end of the braid, Wufei gently touched a thin shoulder. "Duo?" Still no response; leaning forward, he saw that Duo's eyes were closed, breath coming in soft puffs from between slack lips. "Come on, Duo," he whispered, gently scooping up the sleeping boy. "Let's get you to bed."

After settling Duo onto his futon and pulling the covers up over him, Wufei hesitated for a moment, one hand reaching out to gently brush the spiky bangs back from his forehead; then he pulled away, moving to the wardrobe to get out a spare pillow and blanket.

Trying to get comfortable on the too-short sofa, Wufei set his jaw determinedly. I'll fix this somehow, Duo, he thought. I'll make it better. And whatever happens, I swear, I'll never hurt you again.

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