An hour after the start of Duo's bath, Trowa and Duo, with the quilt that the taller of the two was beginning to mentally refer to as "that damn quilt", entered the kitchen where Mrs. L. had a brush, comb, scissors and hair products sitting on the table with one of the kitchen chairs set aside from the table in anticipation of attacking the tangled mass of hair on Duo's head. Trowa guided him to sit. Over the top of the wet, mangled mess, Mrs. L. and he exchanged a wary but determined look shared by comrades in arms. They were about to enter enemy territory.
Wufei arrived around one o'clock, just after they'd finished lunch. Trowa brought Duo out from the kitchen to greet both Wufei and Sally who both looked at the former Deathscythe pilot bearing opposite reactions on their faces; Sally looked at him with undisguised alarm at his appearance and Wufei smiled at it, acknowledging the now straight, shoulder length and untangled head of chestnut hair. He approached Duo with the smile still on his face.
"That looks so much better." he reached up to touch the silky-looking mass only to have Duo flinch at the movement. He quickly withdrew his hand, looking apologetic.
"I'm sorry, Duo. I should have asked first." he said quickly.
Duo looked embarrassed, his cheeks slightly flushed.
"It's a lot longer than I thought it was." The Chinese man commented, hoping to smooth over the awkward moment.
"It took two hours." Mrs. L. told him looking at the now smooth hair in wonder of their accomplishment.
"You'll be able to pull it back soon." Wufei smiled at him, and got a small nod in response. He relaxed, feeling Duo was more at ease now. Wufei observed that his smaller friend looked much less traumatized with his hair in order than he had previously. His eyes looked down, taking in the large quilt clasped in Duo's right hand and held against his chest. He looked up to Trowa questioningly.
/For security./ The auburn haired man replied silently with his lips from behind the person in question.
Wufei's mouth formed an "O" and he turned to allow Sally to come closer. As she did, some of the shock of Duo's obvious condition having worn off, her eyes took in every detail of his physical condition as she could. Her smile was genuine as she spoke to him. "Hello, Duo. It's been a long time. How are you?"
Duo looked nervously at Trowa, then turned his eyes to Mrs. L., and then to Wufei.
"He can answer if you ask questions where the answer is a simple a yes or a no" Trowa told her.
Sally nodded. "It's good to see you, Duo." she began again. "Are you well?"
He hesitated, then gave a non-committal shrug. He then leaned to the side to peer past her to the black round-topped case that sat on the floor by the front door as well as the two suitcases, and a shopping bag.
Wufei answered the unasked question. "Trowa asked me to pick up a couple of things for you.
There was a look of hesitation on Duo's face. The Duo of old would have bounded over to the bag with joy and enthusiasm at the idea of a surprise, but now he looked almost fearful of moving in that direction.
"Want to see what's in it?" Wufei gently teased knowing he did, and was rewarded with a nod and a hint of a faint sparkle in those large, magnificent orbs. Duo moved back, turning slightly to grab hold of Trowa's shirt and waited for him to pull him in the direction of the purchases.
Once they stood over them, they looked together at the contents of the large plastic bags below them. Trowa smiled appreciatively, Wufei had gotten all that he'd asked for and more. Out of the largest bag came three good-sized squirt guns, three packages of water balloons, six cans of silly string and a Nerf football.
Duo's eyes went wider as each item was pulled out of the seemingly endless bag of fun-filled treasures.
"Looks like we're going to have some fun." Trowa smiled warmly at his friend.
Duo nodded enthusiastically, but Trowa was disappointed in not seeing him smile. He pointed to the squirt guns as he spoke. "You can have your pick, and we'll have a battle." he told him. "But first, Sally is going to check you over and make sure you're alright."
A look of unease flashed across his face instantly. He clutched Trowa's shirt again as well as the long, dragging quilt. "You know she won't hurt you." Trowa spoke calmly, trying to reassure him. "She always helped us during the war, remember? We can trust her."
His eyes nervously shifted to the doctor they'd relied on for years. Duo pulled closer to his protector, his eyes imploring.
"Do you want me to stay while she examines you?" Trowa asked, not willing to let his friend's pitiful, silent appeals get him out of the necessary medical exam.
A vigorous nod was Duo's reply.
"Alright." Trowa smiled and patted the smaller man's shoulder gently in approval. "We'll go to my room and Wufei can start loading the water rifles."
He motioned Sally to follow them up the stairs, and with Duo holding steadfastly to his shirt and the quilt, dragging dangerously around their feet as it trailed behind him. Trowa made a mental note to himself to do something about that much abused piece of material before it was ruined or Duo was hurt from tripping on it.
Mrs. L turned to Wufei as he watched their progress up the stairs with a concerned look on his face. "Have you had lunch yet, dear?" she asked him.
"Yes," he replied. "Sally and I stopped for lunch after I picked her up." he replied without taking his eyes off the disappearing feet.
Mrs. L. approached him and laid her soft wrinkled hand on his arm. "I'm sure he's going to be alright. It's going to take time and patience," she smiled gently. "But with two friends at his side, such as you and Trowa, how can he fail but to get better?"
Wufei gave a small, genuine smile to the kind woman who had so much confidence in them. "It just seems so......wrong to see Duo like this." he said sadly. "He was always such a force of energy and enthusiasm." A wistful look crossed his face as he continued. "I don't think I ever appreciated it though, not until I saw how he'd changed. I never realized how much I missed him these last few years."
The elderly lady nodded in understanding. "Trowa has often spoken of the four of you with fondness." she told him. "His description of Duo seems so different from the boy upstairs."
"Has he told you what's happened to cause him to be this way?" he asked, studying her face.
She nodded sadly. "Yes, Trowa told me." her eyes began to water. "That poor boy. He's going to need all the love and comfort we can give him."
Wufei looked thoughtfully up the now empty stairs towards the upper landing. "Those feelings are quite foreign to me, Mrs. L." he replied. "I hope I don't do more harm than good to him."
"Trowa is an excellent example of those traits and more." she smiled warmly at his worry. "Let him be your guide."
The former gundam pilot nodded, and took in a deep cleansing breath, and in with the new breath of air came a sense of determination to not fail either of his friends.
"Why don't you take your bags to your room." she suggested, bringing him out of his inward thoughts. "First door on the right is the bathroom, and the door next to it will be your room." she instructed. "Come down after you finish and I'll have some tea prepared for you."
Picking up his two suitcases, he climbed the stairs and made his way to the room the elderly woman had described. He opened the door to the designated room and noticed immediately the feminine touches, so unfamiliar to him. The double bed was covered with a multi-colored quilt, done in repeating geometric patterns in various shades of blue, yellow, green. There was a bedside table that was draped with an eggshell colored, tatted lace tablecloth, and topped by an etched glass lamp with an off-white fringe on the edge of the shade.
The quilt topping the bed had obviously been crafted by hand by an expert seamstress, done in varying shades of blue with a yellow accent. A picture on the wall looked like an impressionist's seascape, giving the room an acceptable feel of masculinity with a trace of the touch of a woman's hand. He was pleased with his room, and set his bags down next to the dresser. Within five minutes he was unpacked and headed down the stairs to the kitchen.
Two cups of steeping tea were already sitting on the table. He sat and smiled his thanks to the elderly lady just as the phone rang. She eased herself up and scurried into the living room.
"Hello?" Wufei could her aged voice speak into the receiver.
"Yes, Mr. Quatre. Yes, he's here, but I'm afraid he can't come to the phone right now. *pause* Yes, he's here, too. *pause* No, I don't think that would be a good idea right now. Things are a bit unsettled here. *pause* He's doing fairly well under the circumstances. *pause* No, he hasn't mentioned you in any way. *pause* Alright, I'll tell him you called. Goodbye."
Wufei hear the phone receiver replaced, and a moment later Mrs. L. returned to the table and her tea."
"What did Quatre want?" he asked her as she took a slow sip of the slightly sweetened tea.
"He wants to come for a visit." she answered looking at the young man seated across from her.
Wufei sat back in his seat. "I called him this morning to tell him Trowa paroled Duo and wanted him to stay away for the time being." he informed her.
"It would seem he doesn't believe Trowa is serious." she said as she set her cup down into the matching saucer.
Silence filled the kitchen as they both sat in contemplation.
"Quatre is a good person." Wufei said thoughtfully. "He and Duo were very close once, but I don't know. Something must have come between them for Quatre not to have fought to defend Duo, even against his family's wishes."
"Do you think he'd be traumatized further if Mr. Quatre came here?" she asked.
Wufei blew air out through his lips as he shook his head. "I don't know." he answered. "But in his precarious emotional state, I don't think we should risk it."
They finished their tea and Wufei went to the bags containing the squirt guns and took them out of their packages. He went out the front door and used the hose at the side of the house to fill all three, then sat them, ready for play, on the front porch.
A half hour from when they went up the stairs, the three emerged from Trowa's room and came down to the living room. Duo looked a bit worse for wear as his eyes were red rimmed and his quilt was held to his chest with both hands. Trowa gripped his elbow and led him towards the couch.
"Bring him to the clinic Sunday morning at ten-thirty for the x-rays." Sally was telling Trowa. "No one will be there but myself and an x-ray technician. You and Wufei have keys to the building so entry shouldn't be a problem. I'll call tomorrow with the lab results."
When they finally sat on the couch, Trowa placed himself in the corner and drew the shaken young man into his arms in a sheltering embrace.
Sally, Wufei and Mrs. L. looked on with concern. "I know that was stressful for you, Duo." Sally spoke to him in a soft, compassionate tone. "But you did very well. We'll have you feeling better in no time at all." she smiled at him. Duo didn't move as Trowa held him firmly, letting him know he was being guarded.
Sally moved forward and very slowly leaned over and kissed the top of Duo's head. "I'm glad you're back." she said as she straightened. "I missed you." She placed her hand on the place she just kissed and felt the softness of his hair.
She then looked to Wufei. "I'm going to take this to the lab now and get it processed as soon as possible."
"Would you please put it under a fictitious name?" Trowa asked.
"Is that really necessary?" she asked with a frown.
"There are people who might wish to know about Duo's return." he replied while his hand stroked the shoulder of the body pressed against him. "And I'd just as soon make it harder for them to gain any information from Preventer files."
"But the files on you five are sealed." she replied with a confidence that spoke of her belief in the system.
"Someone got a hold of those files and sent them to the judge on L-4 and warden of P.C. 4." he told her. "That breach of security is what caused Duo to suffer more then he should have."
Sally's eyes widened in disbelief at the news, and she looked to Wufei for confirmation.
"It's true." he replied, trusting her completely. "Relena sent it with a cover letter signed by herself and Heero asking for no mercy for Duo."
The doctor now looked horrified by the added information of betrayal.
"Wufei!" Trowa's voice barked in a tone of a rebuke. Wufei turned from Sally to see what the matter was when he saw that Duo's body was trembling in Trowa's embrace, his face now buried against his chest, the quilt held up to hid his face.
Realizing his mistake, the Chinese man quickly moved to his friend's side and sat on the couch next to him. "Oh Duo, I'm so sorry." he said with anguish on his face and in his voice at his mistake. "I thought he knew." he said as he looked into Trowa's scowling face.
"Just because he's silent doesn't mean he's deaf." Trowa's voice was sharp and clipped.
"I'm sorry." Wufei repeated, feeling horrible at his mistake. Then, not knowing what else to do, he reached out to his friend and slowly brought his body closer, placing his chest against Duo's back and wrapping his arm around him and gave him a firm hug, pressing his lips up to the back of Duo's head.
"It doesn't matter what happened, Duo." he whispered against the brown burnished hair. "I'm here and Trowa's here. Feel the warmth of our bodies, the strength of our arms around you. We won't let anyone ever hurt you again. I swear this to you."
Then after a moment, he slowly disengaged himself and stood, and continued to look down on the long-haired boy. Slowly the blanket lowered and Duo turned his head to let his pained looking and red eyes search out his Chinese friend. Wufei gave him a reassuring smile, even though the sad, wounded eyes peering over the blanket nearly broke his heart.
"I'm going to call a taxi." Sally announced softly. She held her hand up to Wufei as he turned to protest. "I've got a feeling you are needed here." she told him. "I don't mind, really." she smiled to prove her words.
"Thank you, Sally." Wufei tried smiling back.
Ten minutes later he was waving farewell to her from the sidewalk as the taxi drove away. Turning back to the house, he let his eyes roam over its surface and contemplated the complicated situation inside. With a resolute step, he entered the house that was to be his home for a while, and accepted whatever challenges lay ahead.
Duo remained silent and skittish for the next couple of days as the four people living in the house adjusted to a new routine.
Sunday morning found the three former Gundam pilots in the nearly deserted parking garage adjacent to the Preventer's Headquarters.
Duo sat in the back seat of the small car next to Wufei. His arms and legs touched the Chinese boy's body for reassurance, his new, smaller quilt that Mr. L. had given him in order to save the large bed quilt from being ruined by being dragged around, was clutched firmly in one hand, while the other clutched the front of Wufei's jacket.
Trowa turned off the engine and turned around to smile at the nervous looking young man.
"Alright Duo, we're here. And just like we explained, we're going to go through those doors," he pointed to the two side doors of the large building. "and take the elevator to the third floor clinic. Sally is going to take x-rays of your arms and legs to see if they healed correctly. Do you understand?"
The brunet nodded, his eyes wide with trepidation.
"I'll be with you." he reassured him.
Duo tugged on Wufei's jacket. "I'm coming too, Duo. But I need to go to my desk for a few minutes to let Une know I'm taking some time off."
Trowa opened his door and got out, then opened the back door. "Come on, Duo." he said with a smile. "Let's get this over with, then we can stop somewhere for hamburgers and shakes."
Sunday was the slowest day of the week for the Administrative Offices of the Preventers. They met only two people performing janitorial services as they climbed the stairs to the third floor. A knock on the clinic door was answered shortly after by Sally. Her smile was warm and welcoming as she let them in and led them to the back of the clinic and into a cold room with a large apparatus that stood next to an exam table covered with paper. A young woman in her late twenties stood by the machine with a smile on her face.
"Fellas," Sally spoke to them. "this is Janine, she's the X-ray technician."
Trowa and Wufei nodded to the woman as their form of greeting.
Janine smiled warmly. "Let's get the patient on the table and we'll take some pictures." she instructed them in a gentle voice, then stood back and waited to them to move.
Wufei stepped towards the table, Duo still clinging to his jacket. Trowa followed closely, and as they stood in front of the table, he helped to pry Duo's hand from off Wufei's jacket.
The Chinese Preventer looked at Duo as he spoke. "I'll be back in ten minutes." he told him. "Don't leave without me, okay?" he teased, then quickly turned away from his friend's pleading eyes that urged him not to leave.
With a nod to Trowa, he quickly left the clinic and took the stairs up to the fifth floor and moved to the office he shared with another investigative Preventer, Jared Morrison, a nice enough guy who, fortunately, had most of his assignments in the field.
Powering up his computer, he sat at his desk and began to compose his letter to Une. She wouldn't be happy about him taking a leave of absence, but after only a couple of days with Trowa and Duo, it was clear that the former Deathscythe pilot could not be left alone and that Trowa would need all the help he could get. He also decided that he owed this time to Duo for his earlier neglect.
He typed up his request and printed out two copies before saving it and e-mailing it to Lady Une. Quickly filing his copy in his personal file drawer, he closed down his computer and turned it off. His in-box had several papers in it, and out of habit, he went through it. Many of the items were office memos of little importance to him. Locking his office, he turned to head towards Une's office, the second copy of his letter in hand, but stopped short as he passed Trowa's office.
He could hear sounds coming from within. He moved closer to the door and identified the sound as the keys on a computer being rapidly struck. Trowa had a smaller office and he didn't share with anyone, so Wufei's suspicious mind was greatly aroused. Through the frosted glass on the door, he could see a figure sitting at Trowa's desk. The intruder was wearing a white shirt and had dark hair. He reached for the door knob and slowly turned it to find it unlocked. With that determined, he quickly opened it.
Two sets of dark colored eyes met each other, both surprised by the other's presence
"What the hell are you doing here Heero?"
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