The shuttle ride back to Earth was fairly uneventful as his drug induced friend slept soundly and unaware the entire time. Trowa shifted the other's body in his seat to a more comfortable reclining position on his side, his head pillowed on Trowa's thigh. With his hand draped on the slender shoulder to lend a sense of security, he tried to sleep as much as possible feeling both emotionally and physically drained from the long trip. But his mind refused to calm completely. It kept going in circles, holding back sleep as he worried about what was ahead of him in caring for Duo. And even as he finally dozed off into an uneasy sleep, his mind and instincts were honed into Duo, acutely aware of any movement the slumberer made that might signal that he was waking.
The transfer at L-3 was carried off easily as he had arranged from the shuttle for a wheelchair to transport the sleeping young man through the busy terminal to the Earthbound shuttle bay. Once on board the new earthbound shuttle, he managed to wake Duo just enough to lead him stumbling towards the restroom to use the facility and take a drink of juice once he was back in his seat. As Duo began to become more lucid and aware of his surroundings, he quickly administered the tranquilizer, knocking him out for another six hours.
After landing on Earth, Trowa watched from his seat as the other passengers slowly disembarked the shuttle and waited for the last one to leave before he removed Duo's seat belt.
"Is there anything I can get for you, Preventer Barton?" The attractive female shuttle attendant asked as she stood in the isle, ready to be of aid to him.
"I need the wheelchair I'd requested to move him to our next flight to Brussels," he told her and checked his watch. "which leaves in forty-five minutes."
"I have the chair just out side the shuttle door. You'll need to carry him to that point." she instructed him with a worried look to the matted haired slumberer.
Standing, he stretched a moment before reaching up to the compartment above and removing the two pieces of luggage he'd carried on board.
"I'll carry those for you." the young, black haired and perky attendant offered with a flirtatious smile. He returned a more neutral smile of gratitude at her gesture of kindness and handed her the two bags, then turned and carefully lifted Duo from his seat. His tranquilized and traumatized-looking friend made not a sound or movement as he pressed him securely against his chest before heading to the shuttle's exit door.
His Preventer's badge sped them through customs and they were the first to be seated on the airliner as it was boarded for Brussels. Two hours later they landed. He mentally willed the other passengers to get off quickly as Duo was just beginning to stir from his drug-induced slumber. He easily carried the small man's diminutive body to the wheelchair, again waiting for them just outside the exit door of the plane.
With his companion still asleep and propped up in a sitting position his wheelchair by Trowa's Preventer's jacket, he quickly pushed the chair towards the terminal gate, hoping their ride had arrived. Exiting the tube into the bustling terminal, he heard his name called and searched through the crowds for the person belonging to it.
"Trowa, over here." He looked to his right to see Wufei sitting in a tram-cart. He smiled in gratitude as he pushed the wheelchair in his direction. With a sharp eye he watched the Chinese man's face for his reaction as they approached and as his dark eyes lowered to take in the person in the wheelchair. His eyes became wide with a mixture of shock and alarm as he recognized it's occupant.
Jumping out of the cart, Wufei rushed to them, stopping directly in front of the chair, haulting their progress. Trowa obligingly stopped and let him study Duo's frail form.
"By Nataku, Trowa." Wufei whispered hoarsely and seemed unable to speak more.
"I ransomed him." He told his Chinese friend, realizing a little late that he stated the obvious. Working together on various cases often during the last two years had helped him to forgive Wufei's coldness towards Duo during the trial. Wufei had always been rather aloof and stand-offish from the other pilots, always preferring to fight alone. He had learned and come to accept that it was just Wufei's way and manner, being a product of a society of patriarchal dominants that trained themselves to school their thoughts and passion. His appearance of coldness and strict adherence to rules and norms of society were definitely a part of the Chinese soldier turned peacekeeper, but he had slowly come to learn it was not necessarily a show of Wufei's true feelings and sensitivities.
His sometimes partner's ebony eyes looked at him now with something akin to admiration and disbelief, but suddenly narrowed as they looked back down to Duo's small form. "What's happened to him? He looks horrible." he took in the thin, frail body, almost lost in the ill fitting clothing and the matted hair.
"I'll tell you on the drive home." Trowa told him, knowing it wouldn't be easy for him to tell the story of Duo's plight, nor pleasant for Wufei to hear it. "I may have to rely on you to keep me from killing Heero and Relena, though."
Wufei raised a crooked eyebrow at the auburn haired man, but contented himself to wait until they were in the car and merely nodded in reply. Unhooking the duffels from off his shoulders, Trowa gave them to Wufei to put in the cart along with his Preventer's jacket. He then moved and lifted Duo out of the wheelchair and carried him secured in his arms to sit beside himself in the small back seat of the passenger transport cart.
As Wufei took his place in the driver's seat, Trowa leaned slightly forward and put his hand on his friend shoulder. "Hurry," he said calmly. "His tranquilizer could wear off at any time."
"And I'm guessing that would be a bad thing?" Wufei asked him with a quick backward glance, even as the cart began to move.
"In a crowded terminal, yeah," he answered. "it could be a very bad thing."
Wufei's knuckles were white as he gripped the steering wheel of his car. His mouth was pressed tightly into a thin line and his jaw was clenched as Trowa began telling him how he had found Duo and the circumstances surrounding it. The Chinese man had asked a few questions, but for the most part, he just listened.
Trowa had keep his voice low and controlled as he held Duo in his arms on the ride home, fearful his traumatized friend would wake up and panic in the unfamiliar surroundings.
The car came to a slow stop in front of the well-kept, suburban home. Wufei turned the engine off, set the parking break, then leaned forward to rest his forehead against the steering wheel. "Never in a thousand years would I have believed Yuy to act so dishonorably against Duo." he said in a strained voice. "Nor Relena in her guise of being a pacifist."
"Who said pacifists can't be cruel?" Trowa hissed angrily. "Just because they won't raise a gun for a cause doesn't' mean they won't manipulate or act out spitefully because of jealousy. Her words in that letter acted like a smoking gun, and it clearly wasn't against her principles to ruin another person's life." he commented bitterly.
"What are we going to do about it?" Wufei asked as he raised his head and turned it to look at his friend, and the word "we" did not escape the auburn haired man.
"First," Trowa answered calmly. "we're going to see that Duo is safe. His body is emaciated, his spirit is broken, and he doesn't talk anymore."
Wufei's eyes opened wide at the words.
"He hasn't spoken in two years." he added.
The dark eyes lowered to gaze at the person in question. "Are you sure we shouldn't take him somewhere to get him professional help." he asked, unsure of anything at this point. "By Nataku, Trowa, he's a physical and emotional mess." He didn't say the words unkindly, but with deep concern lining his worried face.
Trowa's grip tightened on the body in his arms. "No!" he said feeling fiercely protective. "I will never give anyone, professional, friend, or stranger the opportunity to hurt him again. He's suffered enough for several life times."
Wufei watched Trowa distractedly, his mind weighing their options. Then, he nodded, his face solemn. "I'll do whatever I can to help." he told him. "I might have believed him guilty of theft, as the courts had judged him to be, but I never meant to turn my back on him, and he certainly didn't deserve what has happened."
A measure of relief filled Trowa at Wufei's words, knowing he would be act as their ally. "Thank you, Wufei." he said with emotion. " I think Duo and I will need all the friends we can get in the days to come." he told him in all honesty.
Removing the key from the ignition, Wufei turned to his friend again. "Is he angry with all of us?" he asked then shrugged. "Not that he doesn't have a right to be, but I sent him letters and packages that were returned, unopened. I assumed he'd refused them out of anger or spite.
Trowa's eyes began to blaze. "As did mine, Wufei. I worried when I didn't hear from him," he told his frowning friend. "But as I studied the rules and regulations for the penal colony, I learned that prisoners had to earn the right to communicate with the outside. It was considered a privilege and not a right. It seems communication is frowned on with the outside. When I left the penal colony, I asked for Duo's personal belongings." he looked up into the dark eyes. "He had nothing. I inquired about the items I'd sent and was told the Warden's orders were to stop all mail addressed to Duo and to confiscate or return it."
Wufei's eyes widened. "He received no word from anyone that whole time?" he gasped at the realization that Duo had truly been alone for two years.
Trowa nodded his head, unable to trust his voice.
A timid knock on the car window startle them, and they turned to see the concerned face of Mrs. Lunderson peering in at them. Wufei took it as his cue and got out of the car and quickly moved to the passenger side of the car and opened the door.
Reaching in, he pulled Duo from Trowa's arms into his own.
"Damn." he muttered in a shocked tone, and Trowa guess it was from the realization of how little Duo weighed.
"Is this your friend?" the elderly lady inquired softly, her face fraught with concern.
Trowa climbed out of the car and stretched, popping his back that had ached from the long hours of sitting and holding his companion. He looked down into the kind eyes of the woman he'd grown so fond of.
"He was sedated for the trip." he explained his friend's current condition to the elderly woman. "He's been treated horribly, Mrs. Lunderson." he told her, sadness in his face and tone of voice. "And he is greatly traumatized. I..." he paused, wondering again if it was fair to bring Duo in his current state into her home. "I don't know how he's going to react to being here, and I apologize in advance for anything that may happen as he readjusts. But, Mrs. L." he looked at with pleadingly. "Duo needs a home right now. A place to feel safe and protected. A place of peace. Frankly, I couldn't think couldn't think of a better place or person I could trust more to help me with him than you."
Mrs. L's eyes glistened as he spoke, and immediately rushed to embrace him as she was wont to do often during the last two years. "I'm glad you brought him home." she said, still holding him as her eyes turned to look tenderly on the sleeping person in question. "We'll do our best to make him well again."
With gratitude at her supportive words and kindness, Trowa hugged her back.
She let go and turned to Wufei and his armful. "Come on, dear, lets get him inside." she directed as she led the walk up the sidewalk, onto the porch, and through the open door. Trowa realized by the new location and angle of the rocking chair in front of the bay window that she had been sitting and waiting for their arrival. A warmth filled his heart as he realized, once again, his good fortune to have this caring woman in his life and now in Duo's.
"Where should I put him?" Wufei asked as he stood in the entry way.
"On the couch." Trowa directed him to the front room. "He'll wake up soon and I don't want him to be alone in an unfamiliar room when he does."
The familiar floral blue and yellow couch seemed an odd contrast to the ill looking boy laying so still on top of it. The three of them stood silently and looked down at the twenty year old young man still soundly asleep. His pale skin, size and frailness, along with the stillness of his drug induced sleep, lent an appearance of someone much younger in years. Trowa thought it was no wonder that the guards at H-4, 10 had referred affectionately to him as "The Kid". Duo at the moment looked like a young teenager again. Then a shiver went up his spine at the thought of the heinous things that had happened to him in his vulnerable state.
Mrs. L reached down and touched his horribly messy hair. "My, but this is going to take some work to untangle." she said to no one in particular.
"He should be waking up soon." Trowa told her. "And when he does, I think he's going to be very hungry. It's been about fourteen hours since he last ate."
"I've got a pot of goulash all ready on the stove." she looked up at him with a gentle smile. "Let me go heat it up." with a last look of concern at Duo's sleeping face, she left the room to carry out her task.
He next turned to the Chinese man. "Would you get the bags from the car for me, Wufei?" he asked, not wanting to leave Duo's side.
His friend immediately left the house and returned moments later with both bags.
Trowa stood and went immediately to his bag, opened it, and pulled out the confiscated folder. He motioned for Wufei to sit on one of the vacant wingback chairs facing the couch and gave him the folder. He then sat back and silently waited, watching both of his friends as Wufei opened the folder and began to scan it's contents with an eye trained to detail, and to Duo sleeping peacefully. He noted Wufei's usually placid face became tense and clouded with anger as he turned the many pages.
Mrs. L. brought in two steaming bowls of goulash; beef, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes cooking in the same pot with onions and spices. Wufei's sat untouched on the small table next to him as he continued to look over the file. Trowa ate his portion and watched as Mrs L. fussed over Duo, putting a pillow under his head and covering him with a handcrafted, crocheted afghan.
Twenty minutes later, the two bowls sat empty and Wufei ended the silence that had consumed the room by shutting the folder and deeply sighing. "Do you think Rennanda Winner had a hand in framing Duo?" he asked Trowa a deep frown on his face.
"I don't know, but I intend on asking Quatre if he knew about her letter. And so help me if he did...." he let the promise of a threat fade off, hoping with all his heart his love didn't know of it's existence and purpose.
"Relena and Heero also have to answer for their letter and this file, not only for being in their possession, but also being sent to harm Duo." Wufei added looking decidedly upset by what was being revealed to him. "I realized she resented Duo for his relationship with Heero, but she'd almost destroyed him by luring Yuy to her side. You'd think that would have satisfied her." he shook his head in disbelief. "And Heero.....," he shook his head with a snort of disgust. "there's no excuse for him in signing that letter and condemning Duo for the same if not lesser actions then he, or any of us were responsible for during the war."
"I agree." Trowa replied sadly. At one time in his life, during the war, he'd greatly admired Heero. His dedication to duty and his sense of honor and purpose were traits he had tried to emulate. But no longer. His signature on that damning letter effectively put the last nail in the proverbial coffin of friendship.
Wufei leaned forward. "I'd like to have a copy of this file to investigate as to whether the law was bent or broken in the acquisition of Duo's sealed file and Relena's part in sending it to the judge and then the Warden, who were both obviously prejudiced in selecting Duo's placement on P.C. 4. The Warden's actions and inaction, as well as the judge's sentencing, were both prepossessed with the illegally obtained file in their possession while making their decisions regarding Duo is highly unethical and legally questionable."
Trowa looked Wufei in eye and could see a fierceness in their depths that he hadn't seen since the wars. It was clear to him that Wufei now had a new cause to fight for.
"I swear I'll return it to you intact." he responded to Trowa's penetrating gaze.
Trowa nodded his consent. "I might consider perusing legal action for Duo against them for the harm they've done him." he told his colleague. "I would like to see Duo compensated for all the wrongs done to him." he said softly, and his gaze wandered back in time to see the slumberer raise his arm to cover his face. He continued on, sadly. "Though I know with all my being that there's not enough money on the Earth or the colonies that could erase what's happened to him these past two years."
Wufei stood with the folder in his hands, his face set in determination. "I'll go copy these and return this evening." He said, then turned to Mrs. L., who had just come into the room and was standing by the dinning room doorway. "Thank you Mrs. Lunderson for the delicious food." he nodded and slightly bowed respectfully to her. "Is there anything I can bring back for Duo?" he asked Trowa who stood from his chair to see him to the door.
The auburn haired man paused to think for a moment. "I'm going to have to buy him more clothes." he told him. "I bought him the smallest size in young men's clothing, thinking they'd fit, and he's falling out of them."
Wufei nodded. "I'll pick something up for him," he offered as he tucked the file under his arm. "I'll see you tonight."
Mrs. L. saw him to the door and through the front window, Trowa watched him drive away. Some of the weight of responsibility he'd felt regarding Duo seemed to have lessened a bit in just talking to Wufei. It felt good to know he had another person to help shoulder this burden, and Wufei had very strong shoulders. A good friend to have in a tight situation.
Duo turned onto his side, a definite sign he was coming out of his drugged induced sleep, a frown marred his features.
Trowa moved to kneel by his side, aware that Mrs. L was watching him. He placed his hand on Duo's messy hair and pushed it away from his face.
"Hey, Duo. Are you ready to wake up and have something to eat?" he spoke softly to his fragile friend. The cinnamon-colored eyebrows drew together. "Come on, it's time to see your new home."
Suddenly, the blue/violet eyes flew open and he shot up from his position on the couch in alarm and crouched into a ball in the corner. "It's alright, Duo." Trowa quickly moved to calm him. "We're on Earth, in Brussels. Remember I told you about my home?"
Duo's wide, frightened eyes frantically searched the room he'd never seen before. His eyes stopped for a moment on Mrs. Lunderson, then darted back to the person he knew. His mouth silently formed his name an instant before he flung himself into his savior's arms. Trowa caught him, getting use to the idea that Duo needed the physical assurance that his friend was his solid and always present anchor.
Trowa rubbed Duo's boney back and he spoke reassurances to him and motioned for Mrs. L. to come closer. She approached nervously, wringing her hands, not having anticipated Duo's mental fragility.
"Duo," Trowa began. "I want you to meet Mrs. Lunderson, my landlady and friend. This is her home and she says you can stay here with us. Can you say hello to her?"
The only reaction from the formerly rambunctious and loquacious teen was the turn of Duo's head towards the direction of the elderly woman.
For her part, Mrs. L slowly approached the two, then carefully and slowly knelt down next to them.
"Hello, Duo." she smiled in a warm pleasant way that was always reassuring. "I'm so glad to finally meet you." she continued. "Trowa has told me all about you and I'm glad you've come to stay with us."
Trowa couldn't see Duo's face to judge his reaction, but Mrs. L.'s face seemed to crumble and her eyes softened in sympathy.
"Shh." she whispered soothingly as he hand reached out to touch the matted hair. "It's alright." her eyes watered up. "You're safe here with Trowa and I." she told him. "Are you hungry?"
He felt Duo's head nod slightly, and Trowa's watery eyes met Mrs. L's., both grateful and relieved that Duo was responding to her.
"Come on Duo." he moved to pull the both of them to their feet. "I'll show you around." Somehow he managed to stand with Duo still clinging to him. Mrs L. held her aged and wrinkled hand out to him.
"Will you let me show you, too?" she asked and smiled warmly at him as he slowly and with obvious hesitance reached his right hand out to her, even as the other hand tightly clutched the front of Trowa's uniform shirt. The three of them circled the living room as Mrs. L pointed out the television and music system, inviting him to use them anytime. Then they moved into the dining room and the kitchen followed. They stopped there and sat at the family-sized table and a large bowl of goulash along with a fork was placed in front of him. At a nod from Trowa, the messy haired young man ate heartily, in fact, a total of three full bowls quickly disappeared.
As the afternoon waned, Trowa led Duo out into the garden. With the small, thin arms wrapped tightly around his waist, and the frail body clinging to his side, they walked into the blooming haven. Mrs L. loved flowers, so much so that every bush, tree, and plant on the ground bloomed at one time or another during the various seasons. Trowa remembered from the war how enthralled Duo had been with every aspect of nature on Earth. It seemed L-2 was a spiritless and fairly colorless colony, and Earth opened up beauties he'd only heard of from the nun he'd often praised when he recalled her memory to the other pilots.
There was a slight intake of air from Duo, and Trowa looked down to see his eyes were wide with wonderment. He walked them around the garden, showing him the flowers and encouraging him to touch and smell them. A hint of a smile graced the gaunt heart-shaped face. The first sign of one that Trowa had seen since he found Duo living in the alleyway of the prison.
They ended up sitting close together on the wooden swing, the pale blue, stripped cushion Mrs. L. had made for it made the seat more comfortable. The two sat side by side in silence as Trowa's foot caused the swing to rock, listening to the crickets and birds sing with abandon and smelling the fragrance of all the flowers that surrounded them.
"Do you like it here, Duo?" he asked after a time and noted the odd feeling of having to begin a conversation with the former chatter box. His friend's head nodded against his shoulder. Then unexpectedly, the smaller young man turned his head into his protector's shoulder burying his face in the fabric of his shirt, and Trowa felt Duo's body shake. He then heard gentle gasps for air and sniffling, and knew that his friend was crying.
The first time he'd even seen Duo cry was when he and Quatre broke into his apartment on L-2. The one newly vacated by Heero. Heero had called Quatre informing him that he'd left L-2 to take on a job as head of Relena's security. In a strained voice he said he was concerned for Duo as he'd reacted strongly when he'd left. He asked if we would fly to L-2 and see that our friend and former comrade was alright.
With all haste they had taken Quatre's private shuttle straight away, and their concern mounted as Duo's phone and computer messages went unanswered. They arrived late that night, and found a completely dark house and no answer to the repeated knocking or ringing of the doorbell. He'd broken down the front door and Quatre led the way as they rushed through the small house turning on all the lights while looking for their friend with fear rising in their hearts, frantically calling out his name as we went through the rooms.
Quatre found him first, sequestered and unconscious in the back corner of Duo's bedroom closet. Several empty bottles of beer were on the cedar lined floor as well as an empty bottle of sleeping pills that was loosely clutched in his limp left hand.
Quatre immediately called the emergency number for an ambulance, and Trowa had hauled their smaller friend into the bathroom and stuck his finger down Duo's throat. He was somewhat relieved to have about eighteen partially dissolved pills come up. The label on the prescription bottle had stated that twenty-four pills had been purchased six months earlier, so the chances were that some of those had been used previously.
Quatre rode with the paramedics while he had answered questions to police officer who drove him to the hospital a mere six blocks away.
Duo was treated for an overdose and four hours later they were allowed to see him. That was then they both experienced what they never seen through the war, Duo was crying, and continued to cry as they both put supporting arms around him. He never thanked them for saving him, but he did allow his two friends to take him back to L-4 where they cared for him until he had the strength to return to his job and his life. At Duo's request, the apartment he'd shared with Heero was vacated in his absence, and a new one, closer to his job, was found and his things were moved while he was still on L-4 with them.
They stayed in touch daily with him after his return to L-2, making sure Duo knew he wasn't alone, especially three months later when the news-vids announced the marriage of Relena Dorilian Peacecraft, Vice Foreign Minister to the Colonies, to Herro Yuy, former gundam pilot and current body guard. He stayed with them for an entire week that time, a very rough week. He visited them every other weekend until six months later, on that fateful day when the ancient Faberge Egg was taken from the safe at the Winner mansion. Quatre had taken it out the night before to show them the exquisitely delicate artifact that was on it's way to a museum. He told them both it had been appraised at twenty-five million. The three wondered at the ridiculous amount for such a small, though beautifully crafted egg that had been commissioned by the Czar of Russia centuries ago. Duo had commented that if he had that much money, he could feed the poor on L-2 for a long time. That, ostensibly, is what made him suspicious to the police who investigated the theft. That simple, heartfelt, and altruistic statement had helped someone to frame the orphan from L-2.
As he thought back on the first time he'd ever seen Duo cry, he wondered how many tears he'd shed all alone with no one to comfort him during the last two years in the hell he'd been betrayed to and made to suffer through. He knew that, somehow, he would see that the Duo's tears would be made a thing of the past.
Letting go of this thoughts, the former Heavyarm's pilot began concentrating on the trembling body in his arms as Duo silently cried. He stroked the messy head of hair and whispered words of comfort and safety even as he realized that Duo had more reason to cry then almost anyone.
"It's okay, Duo. To cry is a part of healing." He assured his friend as he sniffed back the emotions that had been welling up inside him for days now. "You go ahead and cry, and I'll cry along with you. Maybe then we'll both feel better." he told him, and then, he did. He let go of the heavy weight of emotion that had filled him since he'd learned that no one else would venture to ransom their former comrade. The ache he felt when he'd learned of Duo's placement in the penal colony, the letters of betrayal, and the horror of not only reading about the repeated abuse he'd suffered, but of seeing him pulled out of a cardboard box looking much like a frightened and cowered animal.
The two sat with their arms wrapped tightly around each other, slowly rocking the swing amidst the fragrant smells of roses, jasmine, and honeysuckle as tears of sorrow and regret fell silently. As the light of day faded and the air cooled, their tears subsided. Duo lay heavily against him, is grip on Trowa lessened just slightly, a sign that his trust was growing. In the distance, they heard the sound of a doorbell, followed by a brief exchange of murmured words by two separate and distinct voice, though Trowa couldn't understand what was being said. A moment later, the light in the kitchen came on, and the sound of footsteps on the linoleum floor were heard just before the back screen door creaked open and Wufei was led out of the house by Mrs L., who remained standing at the back door with a worried look on her face as she observed the two still in the swing with red eyes.
Mrs. L. called this time of day the gloaming, a short time of day between sundown and the descending of the dark of night. In that faint, dim light, Wufei stood before the two on the slightly swinging chair, looking down on the boy they use to know, now so changed as he huddled in his friend's arms and held protectively against Trowa's chest.
Trowa watched his Chinese friend, seeing that he wanted to address Duo, but was afraid or hesitant to do so. With a motion of his hand, Trowa indicated that Wufei should crouch down, below Duo's eye level, in a posture of no threat to the traumatized young man.
With extreme caution, moving deliberately slow, Wufei complied and lowered himself down on his knees and waited a moment.
"Duo." Trowa called out his name and stroked the boney back, feeling the ripple of ribs, too lean of body fat. "Wufei is here and wants to welcome you home." he said softly, trying to ease him into the reunion. But the only reaction he sensed from Duo was that of the hand on his shirt front gripping the material more tightly. He tried again. "Wufei picked us up at the airport and drove us home. He's going to help us find out what went so wrong. He'll help us seek justice."
The word justice caused Duo to stiffen slightly. During and after the war, Duo had teased the Chinese pilot endlessly about his rants on justice or the lack thereof. The head of matted hair tuned towards Wufei's direction to see him kneeling on the ground, his eyes just below his own level of sight.
Trowa's eyes also studied Wufei, trying to see what Duo was taking in. Two years had changed their Chinese friend. He had grown taller, now standing at five foot, ten inches. His face had changed from a wiry, angry youth to that of a young man who had found his place in life in being a peacekeeper. He was confident, strong in mind and body and self assured, definitely a man who had put his troubled past behind him. Yet as he watched him react to Duo's stare, he saw Wufei's face soften and his eyes glisten with unshed tears of compassion, so unlike the Wufei of old.
"Hello, Duo." he bowed his head for a moment in a show of respect. He then looked as if he was at a loss for words. "I....I..." he stumbled with his thoughts and words. "I'm sorry, Duo. So sorry." he whispered, his voice filled with emotion. He lowered his head to rest his forehead against Duo's knee and let it rest there. Trowa realized Wufei was probably reacting, just as he had, to the file taken from the penal colony. As he had taken the file to copy, he most likely had to read it in more detail and had time think about it, allowing himself to envision the last two miserable years of Duo's life.
"I swear to you that I wrote you and sent gifts."' he told his silent friend as he raised his head up to look into the haunted blue/violet that gazed at him. "But they all came back unopened. I though you'd severed our friendship." his voice was barely audible, even the crickets chirped louder. "And justifiably so." he added.
"It's true, Duo." Trowa spoke now, hoping to aid Wufei's cause. "I sent you weekly letters and several packages. I found out while I was there that they'd been confiscated, a few returned unopened." he told him in hope of explaining why Duo hadn't heard from them during his time on P.C. 4.
Wufei raised his head, his eyes imploring as he looked into their much abused friend's thin face. "I swear to you, on my honor Duo, I'll never let anyone or anything hurt you again. Please, give me a chance to be your friend again."
It was then that Trowa saw something he'd never expected to see from the Chinese young man. During the war, Duo and Quatre had always been the outgoing, affectionate individuals of the five pilots. An arm slung over someone's shoulder, a spontaneous hug , a welcome or forward embrace were common from those two. The others, including himself were nearly the complete opposites in nature. Not only did they not initiate such a touch from anyone, they barely tolerated it. Quatre and Duo were both rebuffed by each of the three at one time or another because of their affectionate and tactile ways. Yet he supposed, being young, they were still teachable. He'd spent the last day doing not much else but holding Duo and comforting him. And now he watched as Wufei extended his arms up in a rare plea and invitation to Duo to come into his arms.
For a moment he thought Duo might refuse him, as he made no more.
"Please Duo." Wufei implored, his dark eyes never wavering from Duo's face. "Trust me." he entreated.
In the next instant, just as suddenly as he'd thrown himself into his arms at the penal colony, Duo withdrew from his secure embrace and went into Wufei's arms. Trowa looked on with a sad smile on his face as Wufei sat back on the ground with Duo's slight form completely and tightly held in his arms.
"I'm so sorry for what's happened, Duo." Wufei whispered. "But never again. We'll make sure it never happens again."
Wufei then looked up at him, with moisture and emotion filling both their eyes. As onyx eyes met green, a silent pack was made between them to fulfill the words he'd just spoken.
They sat there until true darkness had fallen and Mrs. L. turned on the backyard light and cautiously approached the three. "I've got some bread pudding and ice cream for dessert if you boys are hungry." she offered timidly. Trowa resolved to speak to her as soon as Duo was settled for the night. She was obviously tip-toeing around them and the unknown situation she had suddenly been thrust into. Knowledge of what Duo had ben through and why he and Wufei were acting so out of character would help her to understand and relax.
Wufei moved to stand, and Trowa lent him some support as Duo continued to hold onto him.
"Come on, Duo." Trowa pat him gently on the back as his feet found the ground. "Lets go get some dessert." His messy head nodded against Wufei's shoulder and he slowly let his arms drop away as he allowed Trowa to turn him, taking his right arm, and lead him back into the house.
While dessert was served, Wufei brought into the kitchen several bags of clothing. There was a variety of sweat pants, tee-shirts, and sweatshirts and jackets. The two held the clothing up against their seated friend, and decided the small size would suit him for now.
After the sweet treat was finished, Wufei help Trowa take Duo upstair to his new room and they worked together to get him ready for bed. One of the t-shirts and boxers Trowa had bought previous to his trip to P.C. 4 was substituted for pajamas. Wufei waited inside the room as Trowa led Duo, now noticeably limping while favoring his right leg, to the bathroom. After he'd relieved himself, Trowa gave him a soaped-up wash cloth and told Duo wash his face and hands and brush his teeth. Duo, for his part, willingly complied to his instructions and performed each task by himself, but it seemed to Trowa that the blue/violet eyes constantly turned his way looking for consent or instruction to initiate each task.
As Duo finished rinsing out his mouth, he looked up into the mirror over the sink and stared at his reflection. Trowa followed his line of sight and also viewed his friend through the reflecting glass. The first thing that was noticeable was the gaunt look to the once beautiful face and the pallid tone to his skin. The horribly tangled hair on his head seemed to frame Duo's eyes, still large and beautiful, but with a blank and haunted look to them, so different from the lively, mischievous eyes Trowa remembered from their piloting days. The battered soul's face continued to look fragile and impassive, even as a lone tear spilled over one lower eyelid and trickled slowly down his cheek, showing Duo's silent grief at what he was seeing staring back at him.
Trowa moved to his side and wiped away the tear and any traces of it, then reached up to touch the messy, matted hair. "We'll work on this tomorrow when we're both more rested, alright?" In the mirror's reflection their eyes met and Duo nodded his head, then followed meekly as the other to lead him back to his room.
Working quickly and efficiently, both Preventers made sure their friend was comfortably tucked into his bed before shutting out the light and leaving the door slightly ajar as they moved to descend the stair to the living room.
"I made two copies of the P.C. 4 files." Wufei spoke as they sat down in the living room. He pointed to the entry hall table and Trowa spied the file folder and a stack of papers bound together on top of it.
"Une happened by as I was working on the copy machine," he continued. "And she inquired about the files contents." he looked up at Trowa pointedly. "She knows." he told him.
Trowa nodded in reply. "I requested two weeks vacation off and she guess my intent." he told his friend. "She even gave me a letter of recommendation she'd written for Duo's release."
"Figures." Wufei snorted. "That onna seems to know if we take a piss."
Trowa gave him a wry smile of agreement. "She saw the file?" he asked, and with a deep sigh, Wufei nodded.
"She was shocked, to say the least."
Trowa leaned forward slightly, looking to ascertain Wufei's honesty as he asked the next question. "Do you know who took the sealed file and gave it to Relena?"
He shook his head. "I asked Une and she denied any knowledge of it being taken. I then checked the request and requisition list for anyone even looking at it during the last two years. How ever Relena got her hands on them, it wasn't done through the proper channels. They were obtained illegally."
Silence hung between the two as the next obvious question still had to be voiced, but both seemed hesitant to say it out loud.
Finally, Trowa broke the awkward moment. "Do you think Heero hacked it from the Preventer systems and gave it to her?"
Wufei gave him a fierce look. "I hope for his sake he didn't, because if he did, I will not rest until justice is served on both of their heads for what they've done to Duo." he replied with a tone of firm resolve.
Trowa sat back, resting his head against the top of the floral couch and sighed deeply. He had the feeling they were opening a can of stinking, rotten worms.
"Does Quatre know about Duo being here?" Wufei asked and he turned his head without lifting it to look at him.
"No." he replied and watched Wufei's eyes roll in slight exasperation. Trowa continued then, to vindicate his actions of keeping his lover in the dark. "He knew what the date was, and he did nothing to get Duo out of that hell hole." he spoke in a derisive tone, feeling anger again at the thought.
Dark eyes continued to scrutinize him. "He's been caught in an awkward position, Trowa." Wufei said in a countering, rational tone. "It was his families property that was stolen and his family who was offended that it was reportedly stolen by a guest staying in their home, a perceived betrayal of trust and friendship. He couldn't act against his family on Duo's behalf because of it. The Winner family has a strong moral and ethical code they live by, just as my clan had. Generations of proper decorum and set reactions are taught to them from infancy. Quatre is no different. His inborn sense of loyalty forced him to make a decision, he had to choose who to believe."
"But it was his choice to choose his sisters over Duo." Trowa said belligerently, trying to mask the pain the memory made him feel again.
"Yes," Wufei agreed, "and he paid for it by losing you and Duo on the same day."
"I suffered the same loss, Wufei." he countered lest his friend perceive Quatre was the only one hurt. "And I believed Duo when he said he didn't take the egg."
"You'll have to tell him sooner or later, Trowa." he said as he settled back into his chair. "He'll find out by someone else if you don't, and that would lead to more problems in your relationship."
"Then you tell him." he said in all seriousness to his friend. He was immediately rewarded by a stunned look on Wufei's face as he blinked at the suggestion.
"You're kidding?" he asked in disbelief.
"No. In fact, it's the perfect solution."
"How so?" Wufei looked skeptical.
"After how I've found Duo, I'm in no mood to speak with him. I still blame him for not helping Duo after he was arrested." He held his hands up to stop whatever it was Wufei was about to say. "Even though I can see he was in a precarious position, I don't know if I can hold my anger in check where he and Duo are concerned." he slumped back into the chair. "I know that once he's informed, he'll call or come over here. But I'd just as soon he'd stay away until I have Duo seen by a doctor and get some psychiatrist to help. I'm not sure what we're going to be dealing with in the next few weeks, and having it complicated further with Quatre showing up won't help Duo right now"
"So you don't know if he knows about the letter in the file from his sister?" Wufei asked.
Trowa closed his eyes again, feeling weary . The nearly thirty-six hour trip was catching up to him. "I don't know." he replied sleepily. "He's not said anything about it"
"What about Heero?" Wufei asked again, rather hesitantly.
"Keep him as far away from Duo as you can. I don't even want him to know that Duo is free, and when he does learn of it, and if I have to, I'll go as far as obtaining a restraining order against he and Relena." He felt suddenly very tired and drained. "If I see him in my current mental state, I might do something I'll really regret. You know, shoot first and ask questions later."
"You're judging him without hearing his side of the story." Wufei, ever the pragmatist, stated.
"He never answers any damn questions I've asked before, why would he do it now." Trowa's voice rose in anger. "I asked him why, when he left Duo for Relena" he told the other. "and all I got was a shrug and "It's none of your business." from him. None of my business!" he shouted angrily. "We found Duo unconscious from an overdose of pills and it was none of my business? Cold hearted bastard!" he spat out vehemently.
"Duo attempted suicide?" Wufei was clearly shocked by the news. "Why wasn't I told this?"
Trowa's eye narrowed and his answer came out snidely. "Because you never asked, Wufei. You were too busy accommodating the Perfect Bastard as he settled on Earth with his take-a-picture, I'm perfect girlfriend."
To his credit, Wufei looked like he'd been sucker punched. "Heero told me they had a mutual parting of the ways and that Duo was fine."
"Which goes to show that Duo's positive trait of never lying didn't rub off on him." Trowa inserted. "Heero left him abruptly and called Quatre as he was leaving L-2, to request we check up on his shattered former lover. He knew, dammit!" he growled in disgust. "He knew Duo was devastated and still he walked away and never looked back. Not once did he contact us to see how Duo fared."
Forcibly calming his raging anger that had festered over the years, he looked up to his friend once more. "All his overtures at resuming our friendship has been a sham." he said, truly exhausted now that he'd wrung so much emotion out in the last few hours. "I'll never forget the sight of Duo laying devastated and near death in that closet we found him in. The look of loss and pain never really left his eyes from that day on, though he tried to put up a happy mask when we were around him."
"By the Ancestors." Wufei looked to be in shock as his eyes fixed on a distant, non-visual object. "I...I never knew."
"Duo didn't want you to know." he told him. "He said if you were ignorant of what had happened then you wouldn't treat him any different." He continued to look at his Chinese partner, old hurts surfacing regardless of their renewed friendship. "And you didn't treat him differently, did you? You ignored him completely."
Wufei's eyes shot back to Trowa's, his defenses quickly surfacing. He looked as it he were about to argue with him, when his angry ebony eyes suddenly shifted to a point above and behind him.
Trowa turned to see Duo standing at the top of the stairs, his eyes wide and fearful, the quilt from off his bed was clasped tightly in his hands and pressed up against his chest. They both immediately shot to their feet.
"Duo, are you alright?" Trowa asked as he rushed to the stairs.
Duo's wide eyes shifted nervously shifted from Wufei to himself, then it him, Duo must have awaked by their loud voices, and he was afraid of the loud voices. He'd obviously heard he and Wufei arguing.
"I'm sorry Duo." he began to explain. "Wufei and I are just trying to sort everything out. There's no danger. We're not mad at you and we're not going to hurt you or each other. Duo you understand?"
Searching his face as he mulled over what he'd said, Trowa felt relief when he nodded his head.
Wufei passed him and slowly climbed the stairs to stop two steps below the frightened look boy.
"I'm sorry, Duo. Trowa has been pointing out to me what a poor friend I've been." he said quietly contrite. "And you know, he's right. Until now." He then squared his shoulders, showing his resolution. "I swear by my honor that I'll be here for you. I'll be a better friend than I've ever been before. Even if I have to quit my job and sleep on your front porch, I'll be here when you need me."
Duo brought the quilt up to rest underneath his chin, and after a moment in nodded his head in acceptance of Wufei's vow.
"No need to sleep on the porch, dear." Mrs Lunderson's voice called out from the room below. Three sets of eyes shifted to observe her as she moved towards them from the kitchen.
"This is a five bedroom house, and I have two other rooms to rent. If you feel the need to be closer, you can have one of those." she told Wufei.
Trowa observed his landlady, realizing she'd probably heard much of their conversation and argument and had been piecing together the horrible betrayals Duo had endured.
Wufei looked to Duo first. "Is that alright with you, Duo? Would it be alright if I moved in here for awhile to help out?" he asked. Again Duo slowly nodded, his face blank of emotion.
Turning on the step to look at Trowa, Wufei's gaze lit on the tall auburn hair man. "Trowa?" he asked in way of permission.
"I won't ask it of you Wufei," he replied. "But if you're offering out of friendship, then I would appreciate the help." he added, feeling relief at having someone strong enough to help with the unforseen burdens that would come.
Wufei managed a small smile and turned back to the elderly landlady. "Is tomorrow too soon?" he asked.
"Not at all." she smiled back, looking a bit relieved herself.
"Then I better go." he took the remaining steps up to Duo and leaned forward to kiss his forehead. "I'll be back tomorrow, Duo." he promised. "And I'll bring some popcorn and videos to watch, alright?"
He didn't turn away until Duo nodded, then he all but flew down the stairs and clasped a hand on Trowa's shoulder. "I'll be back by noon." he told him. "And I'll make that call we talked about."
Trowa saw him to the door and watched him leave. He then turned off the porch light and locked the door before turning back.
"You look tired, dear." Mrs. L looked at his with soft concern on her face. "Better turn in."
He nodded and made his way up the stairs. Duo still stood at the top watching his progress. When he reached the top, Duo's free hand came up and grabbed hold of his shirt, locking it in his fist. He now held Trowa and the bed quilt as security blankets.
"Lets go to bed." Trowa told him and moved towards the other's room. Duo only seemed to move by the pull of Trowa's body, and not of his own accord. They entered his room, but Duo made it perfectly clear that he wasn't going to be left alone again. No matter of asking or cajoling would get him to loosen his grip on Trowa's shirt. Finally fatigue won out.
"Do you want to sleep with me tonight?" he asked, already sensing the answer.
They shuffled together off to the other bedroom, and on his own let go of the shirt as Trowa drew back the covers on the right side of the queen-size bed and sat min down. "Just lie down here while I get undressed, okay?"
He let Trowa ease him down and cover him again, which was awkward as he still had his own bed quilt clutched in his hands, apparently he'd become quite attached to it, and refused to let go his tight grasp. Trowa finally settled for arranging it around him, then turned and began to undress.
Dressed in his blue flannel pajama bottom and a plain dark blue t-shirt, he made a quick trip to the bathroom, assuring Duo he'd return momentarily.
He never thought his bed would feel so good until he climbed between the soft cotton sheets, exhausted physically and emotionally. Immediately as he settled, he found Duo pressed up against him, seeming to need contact for warmth and comfort. With a huge yawn, Trowa raised his arms up and pulled the smaller body against his shoulder. Duo's free hand came up to clutch steadfastly to his t-shirt.
It took a good five minutes for the two of them to relax their bodies, then Trowa registered the fact that Duo's breathing had evened out in a pattern indicating sleep. He reflected how similar this position was to how he and Quatre slept together, and he felt a stab of guilt. Quatre was not going to like this arrangement. Even though they'd lived separate lives for the past two years, he had remained faithful to the blonde, never taking on a more convenient lover. The main reason was pure and simple, he loved him. With all his heart he loved the sensitive Arabian, and no other could ever come close to what he felt for him. Yes, he'd been angry at him because of Duo, but he knew in his heart that the anger could never stay long. He could no sooner permanently part from Quatre than he could stop breathing and still live. How this was all going to work out? He hadn't a clue. He decided it would be best to take it a day at a time.
With Duo's warmth pressed against his side and weariness weighing heavily upon him, he fell into a deep sleep, and let his worries have at least a night's rest.
He rose early in the morning and slipped out of Duo's clutches. After a quick visit to the restroom, he joined Mrs. L. in the kitchen where he could here her moving about with the sound of water and pot being set out to prepare breakfast. In a short time, he had filled her in on everything he felt she needed to know about Duo. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears as he told her of Duo's condition in the prison.
"Oh that poor boy." she whispered with sympathetic horror.
"I'm going to call a doctor we knew from the war and see if she can recommend someone to see Duo. He's going to need more help than what we can give him." he told her.
She nodded in agreement as she absently poured more tea into their half filled cups.
Just then, a thump against the ceiling alerted them. Since Duo was the only one upstairs, they assumed he was awake. Trowa stood and quickly moved to leave the room.
"I'll have breakfast ready in ten minutes." she called after him.
"Thank you, Mrs. L." he called back as he bounded up the stairs.
To his surprise, Duo wasn't in the bedroom, nor did he find him in the bathroom or the other upstair's rooms
"Duo!" he called out, feeling a spark of panic rise in his chest.
A slight sound in his room drew Trowa back there, and he began to search the hidden areas. He found Duo pressed face down underneath the bed, the quilt from his bed still pulled against him as his wide frightened eyes peeked over the edge of it.
"Come out, Duo." Trowa gently entreated him. "Mrs. L.'s cooking breakfast. Let's get cleaned up, alright?
It took several minutes of coaxing and reassuring before he inched his way out from under the mattresses. Trowa sat him on the bed, quilt still pressed to his chest, and Duo's eyes went to the bags next to the dresser.
"Those are the new clothes Wufei brought yesterday, remember?" Trowa asked. He moved over to them and brought them to the bed. "You pick out what you want to wear today." he instructed the messy haired person in front of him.
Duo hesitated, his eyes returning to Trowa's constantly for reassurance that it was okay to touch the packages. He eventually pulled out a pair of dark blue, cotton knit sweat pants with white stripes down the outsides of the legs, and a dark green tee-shirt with a dark blue and white picture of a surfer on the back of it.
Trowa helped him dress, seeing it was difficult for Duo with his injured arm pulled up tightly to his left side and the quilt clutched in his right hand up to his chest. After a bit of coaxing they managed quite well. Putting their sleeping garments under their individual pillows, Trowa turned to him. "Hungry?"
"Well, we don't want to be late for breakfast, do we?"
Duo shook his head.
Mrs. L. fed them eggs, bacon, juice and biscuits for breakfast, and he knew if Duo continued to eat as well as he had that morning, they'd have his weight put back on in no time.
After the meal, he prepared a bubble bath for the silent young man, remembering Duo had always preferred them when he had a choice. With a thoughtful smile he remembered the hours the Deathscythe pilot spent locked in the bathroom with the hot water trickling to keep the temperature warm as he read a book in a reclined position.
But now, there was no change in Duo's facial expression as he was stripped of his new clothes and told to get into the bath, but Trowa detected a slight sparkle in his eye he hadn't seen for a long time when Duo sat down amongst the cloud of bubbles that tickled and popped against his skin.
The phone rang downstairs and Trowa could vaguely hear Mrs. L. answer. A moment later, she called up the stairs that it was Wufei calling for him.
He looked down at Duo with his messy, tangled mop of hair, his hand scooping up bubbles and studying them.
"Duo," the violet-tinted eyes looked up at him with anticipation. "I'll be back in a minuet. Will you be okay?" he asked, fully prepared to stay if the answer was no.
After a brief nod, Duo went back to studying his bubbles.
Trowa rushed out the door and down the hall, all but flying down the stairs.
"What?" he said as his greeting.
"Trowa?" Wufei asked slightly puzzled.
"I left him in the bathtub, what do you need." he asked quickly.
"I just wanted to know if I could bring Sally to check Duo over when I bring my belongings over this afternoon.
"You read my mind." he told him, slightly amazed they were on the same wavelength.
"It's okay then?" he reaffirmed what he thought Trowa had said.
"Yeah, bring her over. You might want to prepare her though."
"Alright." Wufei's voice sounded grim. "Anything else?"
He thought for a moment the answered. "Yeah......"
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