Author: Sunhawk

Directions (cont.)

'But how much would you actually need me?' I asked, cutting back to the point. 'How much chair spinning can a guy do all day? Surely you can't have eight hours worth of sketching to do every day?'

I suppose I should have watched my wording, because I'd put an unholy light of weird hopefulness in his eyes that was just scary. 'There's more to it than just the witnesses, though Preventers has more than their fair share; violent crime is kinda what they do. But we can contract out to the local law enforcement offices too. I spend probably two days a week with the city police.'

'I'm hardly qualified...' I hedged, but that just sort of got him excited and he didn't even let me finish the sentence.

'That's the great thing! It's not what you'd call an exact science!' He was waving his hands around as he spoke, and Morgan was starting to look a bit apprehensive the more Jones warmed to his topic. 'There's no degree program or anything like that; psychology is a plus, but dude... you seem to have that part down. It's something you're either good at, or you're not, and you've totally got the talent!'

Damn guy was infectious. I could... kind of envision it. It wasn't all pretty; I'd bet money they'd just cram us both into a shared office or something. But I was starting to imagine it... which made me kind of nervous. 'But you still wouldn't need me all the time,' I pushed, and he deflated just a bit.

'Yeah, that's part of why I haven't come down to the garage to hound you before now,' he sighed, his hands dropping back into his lap. 'I can't get Une convinced to bring you in full time.'

It was kind of creepy to think of him and the good Commander sitting around discussing my future without me being involved in it, but I suppose they'd each punted their respective balls into my court and I'd been the one to let them drop. Jones had leaned back in his seat again, looking a bit morose.

'Well, why the hell can't I just stay where I am?' I heard myself ask. 'And just come in like... what'd Wufei call it? As a consultant or something?'

I could see him mulling it over and wasn't at all sure I liked the look in his eyes. I was opening my mouth to tell him that I refused to be addressed as 'minion', when Morgan kind of snickered.

'You know... most job interviews are more private than this.'

'No shit,' the driver muttered, but I don't think he realized anybody else heard him.

'That could work,' Jones mused and I was pretty sure I heard gears meshing in his head. I decided to just drop the topic before he had me convinced to be his indentured servant, and turned back around, finding that the scenery had not changed much while we'd been talking.

'Where in the fuck are we anyway?' I asked nobody in particular, but the driver took it as a personal address.

'About an hour north of the city, sir,' he said, and it made me glance over at him.

'You really do not need to 'sir' me... I'm just a mechanic.'

'Sorry sir,' he replied and I gave it up for a lost cause.

I turned to watch out the window some more; it was a beautiful day out, which was somehow just surreal as all hell. It should have been... cold. Or something. Raining, at least. Something that somehow reflected the utter trauma of the past... God; days. The past few days. I was still trying to get my mind wrapped around that aspect. I leaned my head against the window and the glass was merely cool... it looked like a perfect day for yard work, but I suspected I wouldn't be getting anywhere near my pruning shears for quite some time.

I swear I just blinked my eyes shut for a moment, but the next thing I knew somebody was calling my name and when I opened my eyes again, the trees were gone and there we were in an emergency bay and there were people swarming just everywhere.

'Maxwell, wake the hell up so they can open your door without dumping you out,' Jones was telling me, and I straightened self-consciously, realizing there was some white-coated person staring at me through the car window.

The next part doesn't really rate repeating; the usual hospital stuff. Done enough of it over the years that it's pretty old hat, though I'd never descended on an emergency room en masse before... it was kind of cool watching the organized chaos going on around me like it was choreographed. That is, until I was drawn into the dance and then... not so much.

Jones managed to bow completely out at that point, as he'd pretty much escaped the whole ordeal without a scratch, and he gave me a jaunty little wave before, presumably, heading back to headquarters to turn in his flak jacket and radio.

Or barter with Commander Une for possession of my soul.

I'd have fought the whole thing harder, but one of the forensics guys suddenly decided they needed my clothes for evidence and once I was in the little hospital gown, I just went with it. Kind of didn't want to risk distracting anybody anyway; there were enough other people who needed the attention way worse than I needed to throw my weight around and make demands.

Popular opinion seemed to be that I was somewhat dehydrated and recovering from a brush with mild hypothermia anyway, and I suppose when enough people tell you the same thing, you finally stop arguing about it. I was just getting down to the part where I was kind of ready to go the hell home and... maybe crawl into the back of my closet and hide. For about a week.

What I really wanted, was to find out what the hell was going on with Heero. Ensconced in one of those emergency room cubicle things that was really nothing more than a bed with a curtain around it, I was pretty well able to hear what was going on in most of the identical cubicles for a twenty foot radius. Or... as much as I could make out with dozens of people talking in dozens of different conversations at once. While I was catching bits about the explosion, the obvious medical stuff, something that involved Aunt Betty and her cat Pretty-Boy... I was not hearing any gossip about assassinations or kidnappings or anything else involving the summit meetings. And while that was a very good sign, it wasn't helping my curiosity much.

They'd given me a heated blanket despite the fact that I'd been out of the basement and in a heated car for the past hour or so. It felt really nice, but it was kind of relaxing muscles, which was tending to make me sleepy, so I was playing with the buttons on the bed and reading the labels on the IV bags to keep myself awake. Which seemed really stupid considering I'd mostly been asleep for the last... who the hell knew? There was a missing twenty-four hours in there somewhere at the very least.

I had noticed that the voices around me were... thinning? And the conversations were ebbing away from the shrapnel/trauma/stat stuff, and switching over to the more mundane TV update/what's for lunch kinds of topics. It was making me feel vaguely forgotten in a way that couldn't decide if it was relieved or irritated. Not that I felt there was really anything wrong with me; nothing I couldn't fix on my own with a bottle of soda, about four ration bars and my own damn bed, anyway. I was just starting to debate calling out to see if anybody would come and let me go, when the curtain went shushing aside and there was Sally Po staring at me all wide-eyed and I thought for sure she'd come to wreck vengeance on my ass.

If I could have decided between 'Don't kill me!' and 'It was an accident, I swear!', I would have been babbling at her the moment she appeared, but since my tongue was trying to tie itself around my own teeth, she moved first.

'Duo! Are you all right?'

'Uh... I... I guess,' I said smoothly, and she came on in to my little area and sat down on the side of the bed to envelope me in a hug.

'You had everybody scared to death!' she scolded and I couldn't help pulling away to look at her.

'It wasn't exactly my idea,' I pointed out and must have sounded miffed.

'I know that, dumb-ass,' I was informed. 'But what happened?'

I sighed, and flopped back against my pillows. 'I was a dumb-ass,' I confessed. 'They caught me completely off guard and drugged me. Hauled me clear out of town, from what they tell me. I've been tied up in the basement of some abandoned house out in the middle of nowhere for... since Monday. I guess. I don't really remember much.'

She got that weirdly maternal look that all women can manage and stroked a hand over my cheek, getting ready to say something... reassuring, I'm sure, so I cut her off with the thing her presence brought back to the front of my mind.

'How's Wufei?'

The maternal look only intensified, the hand on my cheek stilling, 'He's going to be fine, Duo,' she said, her voice going all firm, and I knew she knew how Wufei had ended up in his own emergency room bed.

'I'm really sorry I trashed your boyfriend,' I said, aiming for teasing and only managing to sound like a little kid confessing to breaking Mommy's favorite mug.

It made the maternal look go all misty-eyed and she leaned back down to hug me again, just hiding the look, I think. Or maybe she just needed a hug of her own, so we just did that for a minute or two before there was suddenly some very loud throat clearing going on and we both turned to find a woman in a white coat with all the accessories that say 'doctor', grinning at us widely.

'Damn, Po,' the woman drawled. 'Every time I find a good looking man in a bed today, there you are wrapped all over them!'

I felt myself blushing hotly and expected the same from Sally, but she just grinned cockily and patted my cheek. 'You just wish you had your own harem, Devant.'

'If you weren't so stingy, you'd share,' the good doctor muttered, looking down at the paperwork in her hands.

Sally let out with an unladylike snort. 'This one you'd have to share with Yuy, and I really want to hear your sales pitch if you try it.'

Dr. Devant just sighed somewhat theatrically and got down to business. 'Mr. Maxwell, we've got the preliminary test results back from your blood-work...'

There was a pause that was meant to allow for privacy if I wanted it, so I prompted with a 'And?' because I could have cared less if Sally heard or not.

'It's good news,' she reassured. 'We found traces of temazepar-K7 but nothing else. It's a drug that metabolizes fairly easily and from the counts, is already leaving your system.' She had come around the bed while she talked and poked at the IV bags. 'Regulating your fluids will help flush your system,' she continued, making a note on the chart. 'And there really aren't any long term side-affects.'

It had been a concern that I'd set on the back-burner of things to worry about, but it was still a damn relief to hear it. I must have made some sound, because Sally squeezed my hand reassuringly.

'So I can leave now?' I asked hopefully and Dr. Devant laughed, looking across me at Sally.

'Why is it none of these guys want to spend any time with me, Po?' she asked genially.

'Your sadistic reputation precedes you?' Sally suggested helpfully, but Dr. Devant only chuckled, leaning down to do the stethoscope thing.

'I'd like to get another round of fluids, if you think you can stand to suffer my company for a while longer,' she said when she was done, and I sighed, because how do you say no to that? Which, I suppose, was probably the point.

She made some more notes and then she was gone, moving off to poke the next poor sap. Sally had stood up to be out of the way, and she perched on the side of the bed again once the doc was gone, just as though she were going to be there a while.

'Can I get you anything, Duo?' she asked.

'Two double-cheese burgers with fries, a liter bottle of anything liquid and a pair of pants?' I tried, and it rather left her blinking at me.

'I'm so sorry,' she blurted. 'I didn't even think! I'll see what I can come up with.'

She was gone before I could apologize for making her feel bad, but since my stomach was whimpering pathetically at just the mention of food... I didn't exactly try to stop her. Though the woman's acquisition skills need major work because all she managed to come up with was an apple, two packages of saltines, a Hershey bar and a bottle of orange juice.

She settled back on the end of my bed and watched me inhale her provisions and it made me wonder. 'Where's Wufei?' I asked between bites, and surprised a funny little look into her eyes that I took for concern.

'He's getting some tests run,' she admitted guardedly and I felt my blood run cold.

'Oh my God,' I breathed, staring at her, my lunch forgotten. 'What the fuck did I do to him?'

She got that... firm look again, giving my knee a squeeze since she couldn't reach my face from where she was sitting. 'He is going to be fine. They're just taking some x-rays as a precaution.'

In my mind x-rays did not equate to 'tests' and I said so. It made her sigh and give me a look that suggested I was supposed to be not noticing these things.

'They're scoping his throat,' she finally confessed. 'But it doesn't mean anything. It's just procedure... considering.'

My chocolate got forgotten in my lap and I dry washed my face with my hands. 'Considering I tried to rip...' I couldn't finish it and I heard Sally sigh rather loudly.

'Duo, stop beating yourself up. You thought you were...' she began, but stopped when I snorted.

'I thought I was taking one of the bastards with me, is what I thought,' I told her bluntly. 'I was still trapped... I was just aiming to make sure I didn't die alone.'

I dropped my hands away from my eyes not sure what kind of look I was going to find on her face. I was expecting at least something akin to disturbed... not a wide grin. 'Yeah, Wufei already bragged about that part.'

It finally won a dark chuckle from me and I dropped my head back against my pillow. 'We're a cheery damn bunch, aren't we?'

'Comes with the history,' she quipped and took up the last bite of Hershey bar to pop in her mouth.

I watched her chew for a minute, then just shook my head. 'Why aren't you hovering over your boyfriend instead of your boyfriend's partner's boyfriend?'

'Are you trying to get rid of me, Duo Maxwell?' she teased, but I kind of thought I detected some strain there.

'Don't be an overly sensitive girly-girl,' I groused. 'I'm being nice and telling you to go where we both know you want to be. I'm fine and will probably just nap now that my stomach is semi, sort of full.'

My relationship with Sally Po is... odd. We really don't know each other all that freaking well, when you get right down to it. I have no idea what her history is outside of where it interconnects with Wufei, and thus with me. She has two tones that she tends to use with me... teasing or motherly.

Both of them seemed to fail her.

'Wufei...' she began, but then hesitated before giving it another shot. 'I'm supposed...' but that didn't work out for her either and she just kind of stopped, biting her lip and looking at me.

I realized what the deal was with the 'supposed' and tried not to cross my eyes in frustration. 'He set you on baby-sitting duty,' I accused, and she wasn't able to meet my eyes for that telling moment. I gusted out with a frustrated sigh and she just stopped pretending, falling back on the teasing tone.

'I'm not diapering you,' she told me and it was just so lame an attempt that I took pity on her, wadding up the chocolate bar wrapper and winging it at her forehead. She snatched it out of the air but then sat fiddling with it, not able to take the teasing any farther.

'I'm fine,' I told her. 'You heard the doc. I'm not in any danger and am going to be out of here in a few hours.'

She frowned at me, squeezing the paper into a tighter ball. 'Duo, you've just been through a terribly traumatic...'

I couldn't help snorting. 'I slept through most of it.'

She snorted right back at me, but there seemed a touch of something more than simple annoyance in it. 'Maxwell...' she began and I cut her off.

'M'lady... I'm ok. Tired maybe, and a little pissed off, but really... none the worse for wear.'

She gave me the strangest look, searching my eyes for something... God knows what, and it reminded me a little of the look Wufei had given me right before he'd been stuffed in the ambulance. Then that weird little mothering look was back. 'Guess you are, M'lord,' she said, and there was something almost wistful about it.

'Go on,' I urged, giving her a wide smile. 'You know how grumpy Wufei gets when he's being poked and prodded.'

She grinned back, trying to hide the relief. 'Yeah... almost as grumpy as you.'

She kissed my cheek before she left, though I made her take my trash.

I lasted almost another hour before the button pushing was just not any damn fun any more, and the next time a nurse bustled in to check on me, I informed her that she needed to find me some pants or I was prepared to scandalize the entire floor by walking out with my totally inadequate hospital gown flapping in the breeze. She went right off and fetched me... Dr. Devant.

'Leaving us so soon, Mr. Maxwell?' she asked, chart in one hand and digital thermometer in the other, with no sign at all of any pants.

'Not like you weren't expecting it,' I had to point out as the thought suddenly occurred to me. 'Otherwise, I'd be in a room by now instead of still hanging out down here.'

She brandished the thermometer and I tilted my head obligingly so she could stick the thing in my ear. 'Bright boy,' she commented absently, noting the reading and then stopping to meet my eyes. 'One more thing and then I think we can stand to lose your company.'

'One more thing?' I asked, but she didn't even bother to answer when the nurse showed up at that moment happily waving a bottle that I was more than familiar with.

'I get the use of a restroom, at least?' I sighed, and the woman actually laughed.

It was not hard at all to fulfill, pardon the pun, the request, and they seemed happy with... whatever they were looking for. I got to trade in my bottle for a set of surgical scrubs and a pair of paper slippers. The nurse removed my IV, I signed some papers, received the standard blah-blah lecture, and was free to go.

Too bad I had no idea where.

I thought about hunting Sally up and seeing Wufei, but realized that the idiot would just insist that Sally... take me home or something. Woman didn't need to be dealing with that crap; Wufei needed her and I didn't, but I knew Wufei wouldn't see it that way.

Then I thought about just going the hell in to work. It was damn tempting; Griff had his eye on everything that had anything to do with Preventers and he might actually have a clue what was going on, but the very idea of showing up in the garage in my spiffy aqua scrubs and paper slippers was... daunting.

The outfit kind of clinched it for me; no matter what else I decided to do, the first order of business was clothes. Nobody anywhere was going to take me seriously wearing a set of pastel pajamas... I looked like an escapee from the local psych ward.

Home was what I opted for, the lure of a shower and clean clothes and just the damn feeling of sanctuary were too much. I was just preparing to ask the discharge nurse to call a taxi when I realized... I had no way of getting in my own house. I had no money, I had no keys, I had... a whole lot of nothin'.

I could just imagine telling some cab driver that not only didn't I have the money to pay him actually on me... but he'd have to wait for his cash while I broke into the place I had him take me to. There would be cops called and questions asked and... I felt weary just thinking about it.

So in the end, I shuffled down to the lobby in my stupid little slippers and did the only thing that came to mind; used a pay phone and called for help.

It occurred to me after the phone started ringing, that Trowa might very well have his hands as full as everybody else; Quatre was as prominent a figure, and therefore just as much a person to be protected as Relena. But I just didn't know who else to appeal to. I knew Heero was hip-deep, or he'd have already found a way to contact me. I wasn't about to risk trying to call him when I didn't know what he was in the middle of. I knew he'd be kept apprised of the situation, and would know our status. Breaking his concentration for no other reason than to whine about how much longer he was going to be saving the day... was not going to happen.

It took Trowa so long to pick up, that I was starting to fear he wasn't going to. His voice when he finally came on the line was rather... terse. 'Barton!' he snapped, and it was a tone I hadn't heard him use in a long time.

'Uh... bad time?' I had to ask, and heard the breath go out of him in a whoosh.

'Duo? Jesus! Duo, is that you?'

'Yeah, it's me,' I told him, not quite sure how to handle the sudden change in his demeanor. 'So... how's your day going?'

There was the strangest choking noise and I wasn't quite sure if he was trying not to laugh, trying not to scream, or trying not to crawl through the... whatever the hell they are; airwaves? to come and strangle me.

'Where...?' he began, after he got that noise throttled down, but I could suddenly hear Quatre in the background and for a minute all I could do was stand and listen to them.

'Duo? That's Duo?' I heard Quatre asking, and his tone was even scarier than Trowa's had been. Trowa made a sound in the affirmative, and Quatre's voice rose in volume as he got closer. 'What's his status? Is he secure? Is Chang with him still? Go and get him; I want him under our protection until...'

'Hold it!' Trowa cut him off. 'I'm not leaving you alone until...'

'I'm hardly alone!' Quatre snapped back, that command voice making me twinge. I could hear Trowa inhale sharply in preparation to doing his own snapping and I leaped into the tiny pause.

'Guys!' I yelled into the phone, making everybody in the lobby turn to look at me. 'Knock it off!' It bought me a hesitation, and I lowered my voice and continued on, my face flaming. 'Listen... I'm fine. Wufei is fine. We're at that...' I glanced at the information desk. 'St. Eligius hospital. I've been released but... I sort of don't have any money. Or house keys. Or... ' I glanced down at myself, 'much of anything else, really. I thought maybe you could spare Abdul or Rashid long enough to give me a ride home?'

'Don't be an ass, Maxwell,' Quatre ground out, and I could tell he was in possession of the phone. 'Your house is compromised until we can have it swept and the access changed.'

I blinked at the phone in front of me for a moment while my head translated 'swept' to 'checked for creepy bad guys', and 'access changed' to 'change the locks'. Oh yeah... guess there wasn't any guarantee the bastards had just tossed my keys in the trash.

I didn't admit the part where that hadn't really occurred to me yet, but it wasn't like Quatre really stopped long enough for me to reply anyway. 'You stay where you are and we'll have you extracted as soon as possible. Is Chang secure?'

'Uh... they're doing some x-rays,' I told him, wondering why I kept wanting to add 'sir' to the end of all the lines I delivered to him. 'Sally is with him.'

'Good,' he told me and suddenly seemed to have handed the phone off, because I could still hear him talking, but his voice was fading away, and I didn't think he was addressing me any more.

'Duo?' Trowa was back on the line, and he seemed somewhat... less tense. Or maybe he just seemed less tense compared with Quatre. 'Are you really ok?'

'Fine,' I told him. 'Tired, I guess. And feeling pretty stupid standing here in the middle of the lobby in my paper shoes, but... all things considered, not all that bad. Just feeling really out of the loop. Do you know what's going on with Heero?'

'Not really,' he confessed. 'He had somebody from the office call Quatre to let us know they'd found you and to tell us to lock down, just in case. We're getting regular reports on the situation, but nothing much about Heero specifically.'

'Relena?' I had to ask, even knowing that he'd have mentioned it by now if she'd been harmed.

'Spirited into hiding is all we know,' he said, but then sort of interrupted himself. 'We'll talk about it once I get there...'

'You don't need to come,' I told him, remembering his argument with Quatre just moments ago. 'Just send somebody. Hell... I can take a cab if you guys can just loan me the money to pay for it once I get there.'

He snorted sharply and I could almost see the roll of his eyes. 'Don't go there, dumb-ass. Quatre is right... it would take a mobile suit attack to get in this place right now; I'll be there in fifteen minutes.' And just to avoid any further argument, he hung up on me.

Kind of aggravated me, to be honest. If he'd given me a minute, I'd have told him to look for me... somewhere way less public than the front lobby. But as it was, he left me little choice but to find a seat and wait.

People might have mistaken me for a hospital employee if it weren't for the fact that I had to have looked like something the dog not only dragged in, but dug up first. I just pasted on a vaguely vacant smile, but people weren't looking at me directly anyway, though there was a lot of staring out of the corners of eyes going on.

I'm surprised Trowa didn't get a speeding ticket getting there.

I'd have been more shocked by the whole sweeping in and grabbing me in a hug right in front of God and a dozen witnesses thing, if I hadn't been so shocked over that hug very quickly revealing that he was packing. I couldn't freaking remember the last time I'd seen Trowa carrying a damn gun.

Before I had time to do more than grunt at him, he was ushering me the hell out of that place and toward his double-parked car.

'Wait a minute!' I protested even as we were going through the front doors. 'What about Wufei? I thought we could check in with Sally before we...'

He didn't even slow down, leading me to the car even while I could tell he was scanning the area and it made me feel twitchy at the same time it made me feel just... stupid. I was pretty sure my part in the whole bloody thing was well and truly over, and I was having a bit of trouble with the James Bond routine. 'Quatre contacted Une directly. Wufei is going to be fine and he's being transferred to the Preventers infirmary as soon as possible.'

He handed me in to the car and I grabbed the seat belt just to make sure he didn't try to buckle me in, but he seemed more concerned with getting the door shut. I took a deep breath while he made his way around the car to get in the driver's side, and just focused on getting the vague stirrings of temper under control. I had a feeling, as up-tight as he seemed to be, that if I started humming the Mission Impossible theme, he'd just freaking back-hand me.

As soon as he pulled out of the parking lot, he had his cell phone in his hand and a terse little, 'I have him, we're in-route,' was said to... Quatre, I assumed. He acknowledged something and hung up.

I stared at him for almost a whole block before he noticed.

'What?' he finally snapped, hands tight on the wheel, and jaw set like his teeth were clenched.

'You guys are just being really scary in a weird sort of way that makes me want to point and laugh, ok?' I confessed, and thought he was going to rear-end somebody when he had to take a second to turn and glare at me.

'For God's sake, Duo!' he growled, exasperation plain, 'You've been missing for two days!'

'That's what they keep telling me,' I grumbled. 'Though I think I slept through the first one, but the point is kinda the part where I'm not missing any more. We're to the 'relax' part.'

'And what about the part where those bastards are still out there?' he wanted to know, making more of an effort to keep his eyes on the road.

'Well since I wasn't anything but a distraction to start with,' I explained. 'And they probably think I was blown to smithereens at about eight o'clock this morning when the house went up, I doubt anybody is after me anymore anyway. So can we calm the hell down and drive through Mr. Bucket or something?'

'What? No!' he blurted, then did this funny little double-take at me. 'Smithereens? What fucking smithereens!'

I sighed and slumped down in my seat, resigned to dealing with Quatre's scary cook if I wanted to get something to eat. 'Apparently there was a bomb under the damn bed and the time ran out.'

There was a bit of a lag before he responded and I'm pretty sure he was counting to ten. 'Ok. A bomb. A bed? Maybe you should just start this from the beginning?'

'What? Your intelligence network falling down on the job? I thought you guys had it all figured out?' I sniped and winced at just how... weirdly petulant it came out.

Things went dead quiet for a couple of blocks until we got stopped at a light and he was able to spare the time to really look over at me. I was cranky and refused to meet his eyes. 'I'm sorry,' he said quietly. 'You just... we were all pretty damn scared, ok?'

I snorted, picking at the hem of my spiffy scrubs. They were actually kind of comfortable in a totally un-fashionable sort of way. Reminded me of the vacuum suit undies I used to wear all the time. Well, expect for the pastel green thing. 'You have no idea,' I informed him, not completely able to squelch the testy tone of voice.

'Well you're acting more like a guy who needed a ride after locking his keys in his car, instead of a guy who needed a ride because he got abducted and... apparently... damn near died,' he said, and there was a hint of a smile in his voice, so I glanced across at him.

'Well the panicking and the freaking out part were hours ago,' I mumbled. 'And I don't much see the point in revisiting it now that it's all over.'

He reached across and gave my arm a squeeze. 'Duo... are you all right?' he asked, but the light changed and the guy behind us got pissed and laid on the horn. Trowa flinched and turned his attention back to his driving, pulling out and leaving me to do the flipping off of Mr. Impatient.

'Seem to be,' I told him after a minute. 'Not exactly how I thought I'd be starting this week out, but I'm not dead, or still trapped, or... smithereened, so ya gotta count it as a plus.'

'What in the hell happened?' he finally asked and it made me sigh, thinking about the telling of the whole damn thing.

'Since we're almost at your place,' I said. 'How about I just wait and tell it once?'

He snorted, but acquiesced since, as I'd pointed out, we weren't a mile from Winner mansion.

When we pulled up out front, the gates were closed... something I'd never seen before. There were Maganacs manning the gate and big scary dogs roaming the grounds. The Maganacs waved at me cheerfully, while the dogs eyed me warily. I stayed close to Trowa on the walk up the front steps, Rashid himself opening the front door for us. He was packing too.

Is it pathetic that the whole thing just made me really self-conscious about the pajamas and paper slippers?

'It is good to see you safe,' Rashid greeted me and directed us to Quatre's personal study. I nodded my thanks and followed Trowa down the hall.

It was kind of weird to remember the last time I'd made the same walk with Trowa. It was a much more... somber trek.

I liked to think that Quatre was ensconced where he was because it was just his favorite place, and not because it was a room without any windows.

He proved that he had every movement on the entire estate being reported directly to him, by meeting us practically in the doorway of the study and I wasn't at all surprised to end up with an armful of Quatre.

'Oh thank Allah,' he breathed in my ear, hugging me tight enough to bruise. 'We... feared the worst.'

'About a dozen near misses,' I assured him. 'But I seem to have managed to avoid the 'worst' part.'

He drew back to give me one of those searching looks that make me squirm, running his hand over my... what must have been damn frazzled hair. 'Near misses?' he had to ask and I sighed, knowing we were getting down to the part that was going to involve lots of talking and even more questions.

'Yeah,' I told him. 'I managed to not kill Wufei, get blown up, or pee my pants, but I also didn't get any Mr. Bucket, so I'm not sure how the balance stands.'

It was kind of funny watching him try to decide just which question he should ask first. Or maybe he was trying to decide if he ought to be having me readmitted. Somewhere off to the side, Trowa made a dry little sound of amusement and we both looked his way to see him pouring himself a glass of something that was a lovely shade of amber and looked... kind of attractive. 'He's busy being the tough guy, Quatre. Don't mind him.'

I hadn't even known that Trowa drank, but he dropped his lanky ass into a leather chair and took a swallow without so much as a grimace, stretching his legs out and letting his head drop back against the chair back. I reflected that he looked kind of tired.

Quatre still had me by the shoulders and he steered me over toward the couch and I accepted the unspoken command to tell the whole sordid story.

It turned out to be more of a two way street than I had anticipated, so it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. I confessed to the dumb-ass part of the abduction and they confirmed Wufei's abbreviated little story about the deli clerk. When I explained about pretty much missing the rest of Monday and a bunch of random chunks of Tuesday, they told me how my cell phone and wallet had been strategically dumped in different parts of the city, creating the intended wild goose chases. I tried to skim over the cold, dark, trapped aspects and I think it went over Quatre's head, but that part made Trowa leave off staring at the ceiling and really look at me, so I skimmed right on into the trying to get loose part. That made Quatre fuss over my wrists and hands, so if Trowa had intended to address phobias, he had time to think better of it.

I skipped the warrior hamsters and ghosts, taking it straight into the 'almost killed Wufei' portion of my tale and from that point on, I completely had the floor. Quatre sitting cross-legged on the couch beside me, listening as intently as a little kid listening to a bedtime story. I hoped I didn't give him bad dreams.

When I wrapped it up with the hospital parts, finishing with the 'And then you showed up,' flourish, Trowa looked up from the depths of his half empty glass and gave me a funny little half grin.

'You know,' he opined. 'You might very well have saved Chang's life when you insisted that he get transported back with you.'

I blinked at him for a second and couldn't help see his logic. I guess it would depend on where he'd been when the 'fire in the hole' part had happened. It gave me chills at the same time that I wondered if it didn't maybe balance out the part where I'd tried to kill him. Maybe a little?

Not that it mattered in the end, I suppose. He didn't seem to be holding it against me.

It was probably a good thing that Ahmad chose that moment to interrupt, clearing his throat in a quiet sort of way from the doorway, because Quatre was starting to get a look that was a hinting at 'pissed off'. Guy can get pretty frustrated when shit is hitting the fan, and he can't join in the... hitting. I wondered how long he'd been entrenched in that room, not able to do much more than chew on his desk and attempt to gather information.

Ahmad gave me a nod, but Quatre left my side to go grill the man about... whatever. The condition of the topiary or some damn thing. Not like there had been an attack on the grounds and we'd missed it. It had me off the hot seat though, so I took the opportunity to turn my attention Trowa's way and did my best to employ my sad and pathetic look.

'Who do I have to beat up to get some damn food around here?' I asked, and it made him smile.

'You shouldn't mix kicked puppy with bully,' he told me, but I could see him gathering himself to rise from the depths of the leather chair. Made me wonder if his drink had kicked in, because he seemed much more relaxed.

Miming something to Quatre that must have indicated food, he steered me out of the room and toward the kitchen. There was a trash can beside Quatre's desk and I took a moment to peel off the stupid paper slippers... they hadn't held up to walking around outside anyway... and just tossed them.

Trowa started to lead me down the hall toward the back of the house, but we passed one of those decorative mirror things and I stopped dead in my tracks, staring at myself and replaying the last couple of hours adding in the bed-hair look.

'You know,' I grumbled. 'Would have been nice if somebody would have told me I looked like I got dragged backward through a barbed wire fence.'

Trowa had stopped a few feet on down the hall when it had become apparent I wasn't following, and he cocked his head to look at me. 'Would you believe me if I told you we were just so damn glad to see you alive, that I never noticed?'

'Nice sentiment, but... no,' I told him, and he just grinned.

'Why don't you go on up to your room and shower. I'll go find some food and meet you up there in...?' he drew it out into a question, waiting for me to fill in the blank.

'Twenty minutes should do it,' I told him and we parted ways.

I was half way up the stairs before I thought to question the whole 'my room' thing. I assumed the one that I'd used when I'd stayed with them back during my 'can't sleep' days and was not nearly as surprised as I should have been to find the attached bathroom there stocked with my normal brand of shampoo and all manner of combs and brushes. I wasted no time stripping and taking my hair the rest of the way down.

I think it ended up being longer than twenty minutes, but once I was in that decadent damn shower, I found the flood of fresh water made me feel the... crawliness I hadn't been letting myself dwell on.

I was almost sorry that I hadn't opted for a bath... I kind of wanted to see the ring afterward.

I washed and rinsed and washed again, taking advantage of the expensive looking conditioner I found. Then... I just scrubbed. The water took the bandages off my wrists, and made my cuts sting, but I just didn't care.

The conditioner was some damn nice stuff, making much less of a nightmare out of the comb-out than I'd been expecting. I made a note of the name, though I doubted I'd be able to afford it.

When I was done, I slipped the scrubs back on for the lack of other clothes, and went out to find Trowa patiently waiting for me with a lunch and a med-kit.

He gave me a quiet little smile and gestured toward the weird table and chairs set up in the corner of the room. Who puts kitchen furniture in a bedroom? 'I figured as long as you were in there that the dressing didn't survive.'

I reached for the kit, but he just rolled his eyes at me, pulling the second chair around so that we were sitting knee to knee. 'You don't have to do that,' I told him. 'I can get it after I eat.'

'Not like I haven't bandaged you before,' he said, his attention more on seeing the damage I'd done to myself for the first time, and it took a second before his own words caught up to him. It made a funny little melancholy look steal across his face, but I don't think he realized I noticed. I just sighed and stuck out the right hand, which was in the worse shape, and used the left to pick up the sandwich he'd brought me. It was a nice simple ham and cheese on that nifty bread he and Quatre had introduced me to. 'Not Mr. Bucket,' he smirked, 'but I hope it meets with approval?'

I had to finish chewing and swallowing the first bite before I could tell him it was fine. Though the ice cold bottle of Mt. Dew sitting next to the plate was giving me some severe twitches. I somehow doubted I'd be able to handle one of those for awhile.

It got kind of weirdly quiet after that while he worked and I ate, doing my best not to wolf the sandwich as fast as I had my apple and candy bar. There was something odd in the air that I couldn't quite figure out, but it was making Trowa work with a gentleness that was somewhat uncalled for. You'd have thought he was wrapping the hands of a newborn.

'Are you... ok?' I finally asked him, finding my voice wanting to drop down to match that mood.

He didn't even look up at me and it took him a moment and an audible breath to reply. 'Yeah,' he finally allowed, but he didn't sound very sure of himself.

'Tro?' I had to question, pushing at that hesitation just a bit. He put a last piece of tape in place, stopping to rub a hand over his eyes.

'Just been a long couple of days,' he said and after a moment held his hand out for my other wrist, making me switch my sandwich to the freshly bandaged hand.

'Uh... I'm sorry?' I offered, and he couldn't quite stop a burst of a laugh that staggered brokenly, before he got it shut down. He bent rather studiously back to work, leaving me staring at the top of his head.

Other people had trouble with that hysterical thing? Who knew?

'Hey...' I began, not even sure what I was going to say, but the worried tone made him sigh.

'We thought we'd lost you, little brother,' he told me quietly, hands not stopping in their wrapping, though they didn't seem entirely steady.

'Not lost,' I tried, probably a bit too desperate to keep things from getting too intense. 'just...'

'Just fearsome confused,' he finished the quote, but it just fell kind of flat and he offered up a chagrined little smile.

'I really am ok,' I assured him since he was actually meeting my eyes.

His smile grew a little and he sighed again. 'I know,' he finally admitted. 'It was just damn hard not being able to do anything.' The smile flared into something a little more real then. 'Helpless waiting has never been my strong point.'

That won him a bark of laughter from me and I had to deliver the 'Tell me about it!' line. His smile turned wry and he bent back to finish with my wrist.

I had just begun to wonder if he was going to say anything else at all when he slipped out a cautious, 'That had to have been... rough.'

It was simply stated, and obvious what he was referring to, but he managed to make it into a question all the same.

'Yeah,' I agreed, not sure I wanted to get into it, but I suppose I'd known since the telling in Quatre's office that he was going to get around to it sooner or later. 'I had a... moment.'

He paused what he was doing again, looking up to meet my eyes in one of those hard stares that makes me want to confess to eating the last Oreo. 'A moment?' he pressed.

I sighed, letting my own gaze drop down to look at where my arm rested in his hands, some of the damage still visible and I had to repress a shiver. 'I'm sure you can imagine,' I tried, but he just kept looking at me, not letting me get away with the evasion. 'I was pretty disoriented... at first,' I confessed. 'That temazepar stuff really messed with me for a long time. I've still not got the days all pieced back together.'

'TK7?' he asked, and I seemed to recall that number and nodded. 'It's a type of date-rape drug,' he explained. 'No damn wonder it hit you so fast; stuff is nasty and utterly tasteless.' He hadn't gone back to his bandaging, still looking at me intently and I was starting to feel squirmy. 'Disoriented?' he finally prompted and I had to bite back on a really heavy sigh of frustration. Between the two of us, all the sighing was getting to be ridiculous.

'Come on, man... it was fairly predictable. I pretty much had a full blown panic attack,' I could feel my face heating up and just bulled through it. 'When I first woke up, I was freaked out, but things didn't sound right and I... figured it out.'

He started to say something, but then didn't, taking pity on me and turning back to wrapping gauze. 'Figured it out?' he asked after a minute, and somehow managed to imply a whole lot of understanding in that question.

I snorted softly. 'Yeah... I remembered your damn breathing lessons.'

He glanced back up at me and we shared a look that didn't want to speak of a whole lot of crap on both sides. 'Glad I was some sort of damn help somewhere,' he finally chuckled, letting it go just as he put the last piece of tape in place.

'Didn't have your hands full enough around here?' I quipped, but it only made him deliver a derisive little snort.

'Hardly,' he said, sitting back now that he was done, the tape container still in his hands, and he began to turn it between his fingers.

'This place is locked down like Fort Knox,' I had to point out. 'Seems to me like there was plenty...' I petered out under his suddenly somewhat scornful look.

'Did you miss the forty man personal army?' he drawled, raising an eyebrow. 'Quatre hardly needs me to protect him.'

I couldn't help a grin and reached out with a bare foot to nudge him in the shin. 'Quatre Winner hardly needs that army to protect him either, if you'll remember.'

He grinned sheepishly and ducked his head. 'Yeah... I know. I'm sorry; just tired, I guess. It gets hard sometimes not being in a position to do anything.'

He stopped talking, that roll of tape turning around and around in his hands, a physical echo of the thoughts I could tell were going around and around in his head.

I stayed quiet and let him work it out.

'I wanted to be out helping find you,' he said at length, not looking at me. 'But I felt like my place was here. But...' and there he hesitated.

'But?' I prompted, knocking my knee against his and finally got him to look up at me again.

'I'm just so damn superfluous,' he blurted, and I swear a faint blush rose to his cheeks, and he snorted at his own melodrama, his gaze dropping back to the tape in his hands.

'Come on,' I chided. 'You're not here because of your awesome ninja skills, man... you're here because Quatre loves you.'

He got an affectionate little look then, but it was wistful all the same. 'I know. Sometimes it would just be nice to feel like... I had a use, you know?'

'Trowa?' I asked, rather shocked at him, and he just shook his head.

'I'm sorry,' he said again. 'I don't know what's got in to me today. Two days without sleep maybe. Just...'

But that was where we heard a pained little sound from across the room, and I never did get to find out 'just' what.

We both looked up, probably pretty damn guiltily, and there was Quatre in the doorway looking at Trowa like he'd just confessed to keeping a harem in the basement.

Oooops? It had never occurred to me that he would leave his... command central, to come and hunt for us.

Almost, I leaped into the middle of it, excuses rising to my lips, explanations... duck and cover. Back up a friend.

But then I really thought about it and decided that just maybe it was a thing that needed to come out between them. It was something Trowa had hinted at before, feelings of being over-whelmed, of losing himself in the Winner life-style. They'd made the commitment to make their relationship into something permanent, and maybe it was time for Trowa to come clean. I glanced back at him when the tape hit the floor and rolled away, finding a look that was mostly apprehensive.

'Quatre?' he ventured, but Quatre was already gone. 'Shit,' was the next thing out of his mouth and I thought he was going to knock the chair over getting up. I reached out and grabbed his sleeve and he froze, though I'd half expected him to just jerk free. Having just changed my bandages, maybe he was just leery of hurting me.

'You know he's not leaving the house,' I told him. 'Count to ten, then go find him. Just... talk to him instead of making excuses.'

There was a look in his eyes that was a mix of fear and resignation, but I think there might have been some relief there too. I let go of his arm and stood up, reaching out to snag the chain around his neck, pulling the wedding ring out of his shirt and leaving it hanging in plain sight. He smiled at me and some of the fear went out of his expression.

'Yeah,' was all he said, his fingers reaching to touch the ring almost reverently.

'Go on,' I told him. 'I've got to braid my hair and crap anyway.'

He took a breath that seemed to be of the girding variety but took a moment to hook me into a hug. 'I'm glad to have you back, just... don't do anything like that again, ok?'

'I'll do my best,' I returned, letting him cloak the depth of his emotion in the teasing. He gave me a last squeeze and then he was gone.

It sort of left me in the lurch though; unless I decided to go patrol the grounds with the Maganacs, because I sure as hell wanted to stay as far away from that conversation as I could get. I did end up braiding my hair after I finished up my lunch, opting for a glass of water from the bathroom rather than touching the soda though. Then I paced for awhile. Then I watched the dogs from the bedroom window for awhile. And in the end, I just threw myself down on the bed, only expecting to wait until one of them came to tell me it was safe to come out... and somehow managed to fall asleep again.

When I woke, it was obviously hours later, which somehow surprised me... and somehow didn't. It was noticeably later in the day, but not dark yet, and the moment my senses swam back to the surface, I was aware of a presence. I lifted my head to find it, expecting to see Quatre sitting at the table, or Trowa finally bringing me real clothes, or maybe dinner, as late as it seemed to be. I was not expecting to see my lover standing just inside the door, his back pressed to the wall, and his arms wrapped around his own middle, staring at me like... like he'd almost lost me.

'Heero?' I said, sitting up, a little surprised that he didn't immediately move.

I heard him take a breath, almost like he'd been... holding it. And his voice, when he finally spoke, was... tight.

'Is there... time for me now?' he whispered and I was a little surprised at the spark of bitterness that wanted to flare into something more in my gut. I ignored it, recognizing the source, and set aside all the jokes and quips that wanted to rise to my lips, just climbing out of bed and opening my arms.

He came across the room in a rush then, like some hold on him had been released, snatching me up close, and it made me wonder how long he'd been standing there watching me sleep.

In his arms, things inside me that I hadn't even known had teeth in me... just let go.

'I didn't want to leave you,' he told me, all strangle voiced.

'I know,' I soothed. 'I know. It's all right. We were fine. Everything is fine now.' And it was, now that he was with me. They were just words, I suppose, but in that moment, I said them because they were true all the way down to my soul. The house could have caught fire, or been swallowed by a sink hole, and I wouldn't have cared.

'I left you...' he said, his voice breaking completely. 'Dear God... I left you lying on top of... of...'

'Hush,' I chided. 'You didn't know. Hell, I didn't know. It doesn't matter... we were well away. We weren't even hurt. Doesn't matter...'

He just held me then, not arguing, not agreeing, just... holding on. He hid himself in me; it's how he grieves. It had taken me a long time to figure it out, but somewhere inside, Heero has his own inner child, and deep down where he lives... he was weeping brokenly.

'I'm ok,' I crooned to that child. 'I'm fine, they didn't really hurt me. Wufei helped me get loose and we completely left the house. He's fine too, Sally is with him. It's all right baby, I'm here now...'

He just soaked it in for awhile before managing, 'It killed me to leave you like that.'

'I know,' I told him. 'But we did what we had to.' He finally drew back to look at me and I smiled gently for him. 'Hell... you look worse than I do.'

He couldn't manage the laugh, just looking at me like he was trying to memorize my face. I stroked his hair from his eyes with a knuckle and wondered if he'd slept at all since the morning I'd disappeared. I pulled him down to sit on the side of the bed, turning sideways to keep him wrapped up in my arms. He rested his head in the crook of my neck and sighed heavily.

'Is Relena ok?' I had to ask; not at all sure he'd have told me if something had gone wrong.

He nodded and I wasn't sure at first that he was going to elaborate, but he confirmed the gesture with a, 'Yeah. I got through when I got down out of the hills. We relocated both Relena and Zechs immediately.'

'Zechs?' I parroted, staring at the wall over his head. 'Damn, I didn't even think of him; in my head he's Merquise!' It gave me a cold chill realizing that I'd not even told Heero exactly what I'd over-heard, but had only given him my own interpretation. I almost asked him what had made him make that judgment, but hell... it's the man's job, I shouldn't be surprised he's good at it. So instead I asked the next logical question. 'Did you catch them?'

'We don't have the whole faction yet, but we have the man on the surveillance tape from the deli and the one you sketched. It's only a matter of time.'

Speaking of the case, his voice had steadied, but I still found myself stroking my hand through his hair wanting to sooth and comfort. 'I saw at least one other, just not well enough to identify.'

'I know,' he said, voice weirdly thick. 'I had them read me your report over the phone as soon as it was in.'

I couldn't help a snort of a laugh. 'Isn't that against protocol?'

'Dunno,' he muttered. 'Nobody was going to tell me no.'

I realized I was starting to bear a bit more of his weight than I had been, and when I shifted back, pulling me with him... he came without protest. When I had us laid down with him tucked in against my side, I kissed the top of his head and told him, 'I am so very sorry I let that happen; I won't be that careless again.'

His arm tightened around my chest and he sighed, trying to tell me something that ended up being just too complex for his brain to process. All I got was something about soldiers and his fault. I would have argued, but he'd already crashed.

It occurred to me only vaguely, that maybe I should be worried about what he was supposed to be doing as far as his job was concerned. But I knew Heero well enough to know that, exhausted or not, he would not be where he was if there was something waiting for his attention. There was a tiny voice inside that wanted to be petulant about my coming dead last on the list of things that needed to be done, but my logic over-ruled it quite handily; sometimes shit just happens. I wasn't last by his choice; I was last by necessity. I could see in the haggard look in his eyes, where his heart had been while the rest of him had been doing his duty. It was enough to know that.

I lay awake for hours, stroking his hair and making sure he stayed on the narrow bed with me. I'd been napping half the afternoon, and was far from sleepy, but as early evening wore into evening, then into night, I eventually began to doze myself. In the end, I must have fallen completely asleep, because morning found our positions reversed and I woke with my head pillowed on his chest, and his fingers trying to tame the flyaway hairs at my temple.

I lifted my head and met his eyes and knew that my Heero was back in charge. His inner child is a tougher little shit than my own.

'Morning,' I smiled and instead of answering, he cupped my cheek and brought me up for a kiss that was hungry and needy in a way that somehow wasn't at all physical. Hell, tossing a leg over him to gain enough leverage to rise up and meet that need, proved he wasn't even aroused.

I drew away to study his face, brushing the hair from his eyes with the back of my hand. 'You look better,' I told him.

'I feel better,' he replied, the hand drawing little circles in the small of my back telling me that was as much because of me, as him getting a decent night's sleep. Leaning down, I kissed him again, and he sighed into it. 'I am so sorry, love.'

'What the hell for?' I had to ask; I'd thought we'd gotten past his leaving us behind, the night before.

'Getting you into this?' he replied, lifting a hand to trace his finger tips over my cheek, stroking a wisp of hair behind my ear. 'They targeted you because of me. Because of who I am.'

'Technically,' I grinned. 'It was because of Relena... or Zechs, I suppose, depending on how that all works out. But you sure as hell don't need to apologize to me because of what some psychos decided to do.'

'But if...' he began, and I cut him off with another kiss.

'Not your fault.'

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