Disclaimers:  I do not own Gundam Wing or any of its characters.

Notes:  Catherine leaves.  Wufei does his job.  And Duo wakes up to trouble.



Strays and Misfits



Part Twenty-Two


Trowa stood back and watched as Catherine stroked Quatre’s hair and said goodbye to them all.  She was almost out the door,
getting ready to leave for her business trip.  Her bags were packed and waiting in the car and Hilde was ready to drive her to the
airport.  She still had a little time left, but had to leave soon.

“Now, Trowa knows what to do if anything goes wrong, but I want you to know that if anything happens, Trowa’s doctor is
number two on the speed dial.  Sally is now programmed on three and Heero is on four.  My cell is programmed at one.”  She
sighed and looked around.  “Did I forget anything?”

Trowa sighed a little, shaking his head.  He was used to Catherine preparing for every worst-case scenario, but Quatre looked
positively terrified.

Luckily, Hilde came into the room at that moment.  “Oh, Catherine, cut it out already.  You’re scaring the poor feline.  Do you
want to give him nightmares?”  She chuckled and gently rubbed one of Quatre’s ears, pulling a timid little purr from the pale
blonde.  “Don’t you worry, Quatre.  Catherine always gets this way before heading out on a trip.  I’ll be by every couple of days
to check up on you two, and Trowa’s tutor is here every school day, so there’s nothing to really worry about.”

Quatre’s ears perked up slightly.  “Really?” he asked meekly, nudging his head against Hilde’s hand in a silent plea for more
attention.  Hilde didn’t hesitate to give him what he needed, stroking her fingers through his hair and softly petting him.

Trowa took that moment to speak up.  “Yeah.  Catherine worries, like all sisters do.  She cares about you, so you got the little
‘don’t hesitate to call me’ speech now that it doesn’t really work on me anymore.”

Quatre looked over at Catherine with an expression so full of joy that it nearly broke Trowa’s heart.  “No one has cared about
me since . . .”  He hugged his rabbit close, allowing his words to trail away.

Catherine bit back a cry and moved forward to hug Quatre.  “Of course I care about you, sweetie!  When I get back, I’ll make
sure you feel cared for every day!”

Trowa smiled and sat down on the other side of the bed, across from the two girls.  “And while she’s gone we might have
enough time for me to read the rest of ‘The Last Unicorn’ to you.  If I do finish that, we can start on another book if you’d
like.”  He reached out and awkwardly set his hand on top of Quatre’s wrist, worried that he would only cause the blonde pain.  
“I know how scary it can be.  But you won’t be alone here.  I’ll be here the whole time, and there are people who come here
regularly.  You know Heero.  And my tutor is just as nice.  I’m sure Catherine called Heero to make sure he’d pop over now and
again to check up on me.”

Quatre perked up a little more.  “Do you think Heero will bring Duo with him?”

Trowa shrugged.  “I don’t see why not.”

“It’s okay with you if he does?”  Quatre honestly looked worried.  It made Trowa glad to know the slight blonde cared about his
feelings on the matter.

Trowa held his breath for a moment, then let it out.  “Well, I can’t honestly say that I’ll be calm.  But Duo’s your friend, so I
think I can tolerate his presence here for a few hours.  Maybe.”  He bit his lip.  He wasn’t all that sure at all.  Even a maybe was
pushing it.  After all, it had taken him so long to get used to Heero enough to stand being in the same room as him without
running off to hide.

Catherine broke the silence that had fallen by gasping as she looked at her watch.  “Oh dear!  I really had better get going if I
don’t want to miss my flight.”  She leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on the top of Quatre’s head.  “You take it easy.  I’ll
bring gifts back for both of you.”  Catherine always brought home cool gifts from all the places she visited.  It was one of the
things that Trowa liked about her leaving, the goody bags she brought back with her.  Of course, just the fact that she came
back was enough to make him happy.

With one last caress to Quatre’s face, she stood and headed out the door, stopping only to hug Trowa close.  “You take care of
yourself, too, Trowa.”

Trowa nodded and hugged back.  “I will.  Have a safe trip.”

Catherine nodded and kissed Trowa’s cheek before walking out the door.  She didn’t look back as she left.  She never did.  She
said once that if she looked back on her way out of the house, she’d never be able to leave.

“See you,” Hilde grinned, then chased after her friend.  She was Catherine’s ride to the airport.

Trowa pulled back the curtains enough so that Quatre could see out the window without having to get up.  Luckily, Quatre’s
bed was at a good angle to see the front walkway.  The both of them waved as Catherine got in the car.  She glanced back only
when she was settled in her seat.  They kept waving until the car was out of sight.

Quatre’s ears twitched a little.  “Would you read to me some?  I don’t want to be alone right now.”

Trowa nodded.  “All right, but only a chapter.  And then I’m going to see about lunch, okay?”

“Okay,” Quatre replied, a frail smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.

Trowa sat, feeling pleased with himself.  Usually by now he would be worrying over things.  It always happened when
Catherine left and he was left alone in the house.  As much as he feared the outside world and everyone in it, he feared being
alone even more.  That was one of the reasons Catherine had looked into finding someone to visit him while she went away on
her business trips.  He smiled to himself as he looked at Quatre, feeling a warmth in his chest at the knowledge that he wasn’t
alone here now.  Even though Catherine was gone, Quatre was here.  With Quatre here, Trowa wouldn’t be alone anymore.  It
made him happy to know that and for the first time since the death of his parents he felt a small sense of security begin to grow
within him.

“Umm, Trowa?”

Trowa blinked, shaking himself from his thoughts.  “Sorry, I guess I got a bit distracted.”  He picked up the book from the
bedside table.  Opening it, he took out the bookmark and proceeded to read from where he had left off.


*****


Wufei gave his charge a stern look.  “This is no time to be stubborn.”

Zechs growled a little, crossing his arms over his chest.  The effect would have been more severe had he not been sitting in a
wheelchair, but he still bordered on intimidating even in his weakened state.  “I hate taking that crap!  It makes me drowsy and
then I can’t think clearly for hours.”  He shook his head.  “I am not a child and I resent having to take a nap as if I were one.  
Isn’t it enough that I’ve already taken one this morning?”

Wufei sighed.  Treize had pulled him aside shortly after they had returned home from lunch, and had warned him of the
hardheaded stubbornness Zechs often showed.  Treize had given him free reign to do whatever he had to do - within reason - to
see to it that Zechs made a full and speedy recovery.  That included making sure the blonde took his antibiotics and pain relievers.

He shook his head.  “If you do not wish to be treated as a child, then stop acting like one.  Be a man and take your medication.”  
He held his hand out.  “It’s necessary for your recovery.”

Zechs shook his head.  “I still hate taking it!”

Wufei narrowed his eyes at the sharp tone.  “Have you been following your doctor’s orders?  Have you been following the
instructions given to you by your physical therapist?”  When all he got in answer was a stretch of silence, he nodded.  “I see.  
You do realize that being so reckless may slow your recovery, do you not?  It may even make matters worse.”  At the confusion
in Zechs’ eyes, Wufei pulled up one bottle at a time.  “This is a painkiller.  It’s supposed to make you more comfortable so you
don’t shift around in pain as much as I've seen you do.  This one is an antibiotic, to prevent infections and such from setting in.  
This is a calcium supplement to help strengthen your healing bones.”  Wufei went on through the list, just as he was sure that
Zechs’ doctor had when he had prescribed them.  When he finished, he folded his arms across his chest.  “Failure to take your
recommended medications at their proper times may cause serious complications.  You seem like a kindhearted man, so I can’t
see why you would be so selfish in this and cause your . . . partner . . . such grief.  And there is young Mariemaia to consider . .
. and the female.”

“What?” Zechs gasped, his arms uncrossing.  He settled his hands on the wheels of his chair, pushing himself slightly closer to
Wufei.  In reaction, Wufei edged back.  He still did not like that contraption.

“What I do with my own body is my choice!” Zechs seethed.  “I don’t see how not taking my medicine like a good little boy
will affect Treize, Une or Mariemaia in any way.”

Wufei rolled his eyes.  “How would you feel if it were Treize who was injured and he didn’t do everything in his power to get
better?  That his refusal to do as he was told ran the risk of him getting sick?  How do you think Mariemaia feels watching you,
watching her father and Miss Une worry over your health?”  He held his hand out again, a couple of the pills rolling slightly over
his palm.  “Take your medication.  Not like a good little boy, but as an intelligent man.”

Zechs glared at Wufei for a moment before huffing and leaning back with a grimace.  “Fine!  Give me the damned pills.”

Wufei handed the pills over and watched carefully as Zechs swallowed them, one at a time, taking small sips from a glass of
water that Wufei had readied earlier.  Only after Zechs was apparently done, and had set the glass aside, did Wufei speak again.  
“Okay, now open your mouth.”

Zechs’ eyes widened.  “You don’t believe that I swallowed them, do you?”

Wufei shrugged.  “With the stubbornness you were displaying, I wouldn’t put it past you.  Treize has entrusted me with your
care, and I will do nothing to betray that trust.”

The blonde scowled distastefully and then swallowed again before opening his mouth and showing all sides of his tongue to the
Asian feline.  Then he sighed.  “How did you know?”

Wufei smirked a little, a faint warming sensation in his cheeks.  “I’ve attempted that trick myself.  It never worked for me,
either.”  He hesitantly stepped closer to Zechs, wishing he could avoid getting so close to that chair.  “You should get into bed
and rest.”

Zechs groaned, a deep frown set on his features.  “I’m tired of resting all the time.”  Even as he said it, he was rubbing his eyes
tiredly.

“It’s for your own good,” Wufei replied, pushing Zechs’ chair closer to the bed, then locking the wheels.  Being a Feline
Companion, Wufei had more physical strength than normal humans, so it didn’t take much difficulty to get Zechs transferred
into bed.  Though if Zechs had protested or struggled in the slightest, Wufei wouldn’t have been able to do it.  It was awkward
given Zechs height, but Wufei managed well enough.

“Perhaps you would be interested in a game of chess later tonight?  Or some other form of entertainment?”  He leaned over to
retrieve the blankets and settled them over Zechs’ slender body.  Too slender, Wufei noticed.  Zechs needed to eat better.  Poor
nutrition would not help his condition any.

The blonde nodded, yawning widely.  “I’m afraid I wouldn’t be much competition.  Treize is a much better chess player than I
am.  Poker on the other hand . . .”

“Then we shall play poker.”  Wufei nodded.  “I tried to learn as many things as I could to help pass the time with potential
owners.”

Zechs reached up suddenly, grasping Wufei’s wrist as the feline was stepping back away from the bed.  “Just why weren’t you
snatched up by someone else?  You seem like a skilled companion.  You’re well-educated, good mannered, intelligent and
strong.  You’ve worked hard to learn everything you could.”

Wufei ducked his head.  He’d had reasons for not being taken from the school.  Reasons he did not want to announce to
someone who was little more than a stranger to him.  Still, he didn’t think it right to not answer at all.  “I was waiting for
someone,” he whispered in reply.

“What?”  Zechs’ hand faltered, his fingers loosening their grip on Wufei’s arm.

Wufei looked at the blonde man, forcing a smile onto his face.  “I was promised something a very long time ago . . . when I was
first taken to the school.  She said that she would come for me.”  He slid his arm free, taking a step back away from the bed.  “I
suppose after ten years, one does lose hope.  It’s only right that I’ve given up on her arrival.”

He turned and walked to the door, stopping only when Zechs called his name.

“Who was she?” Zechs asked softly.

Wufei’s hand was on the doorknob.  He took a breath, closing his eyes.  He didn’t turn around, couldn’t find the will to.  “My
dearest elder sister,” he uttered, then fled the room.  He didn’t think he could answer any more questions.  There was a twinge
in his chest as he thought of her.  She had been his entire world when they had lived in the camp, the only family he had ever
known.  They had been separated when he was young.  He had been sent to the school.  She had not.  For years he had waited
for her, refusing to be given to any owner that would come.  He had been content in the idea of staying at the school, had looked
into ways of how he could remain there until the day his sister came for him.  When the Headmaster had offered a chance at a
teaching position, Wufei had leapt at it.  But then Treize had come and Wufei had turned his back on everything he had thought
he wanted.  He didn’t even understand why he had done it.

He wiped the back of his hand across his eyes, fighting off the urge to cry.  He wouldn’t give in to such a weakness.  However,
it was difficult for him to keep his resolve when he didn’t even know if his sister was alive or not.  He hoped one day to find
that answer.

Feeling somewhat composed, Wufei stepped away from the door he had been resting against.  It wouldn’t be right for him to
remain idle.  Surely, Treize would have some other task for him to complete.

He started walking, only to pause when he came to a door that was unfamiliar to him.  After they had returned from lunch,
Treize had shown him around the house.  Every other room had been shown to him, including Une’s and young Mariemaia’s
bedrooms.  But not this room.  It struck Wufei’s curiosity.  He wondered why it had been left out of the tour.  Was Treize
hiding some secret behind that door?  Or was it simply another closet or a bathroom?

He looked up and down the hallway, wary of getting noticed.  It wouldn’t cause any harm to just take a quick peek.  Treize had
said he was welcome to go wherever he wished, that this was now his home as well.  With that thought firmly set in mind,
Wufei reached out and turned the handle, giving the door a slight push to open it.

He found himself blinking in confusion.  It was just a bedroom.  He absently flicked on the light switch, taking a cautious step
across the threshold.  Clearly, it had been fashioned for a young man.  But it was also obvious that this room had not been
occupied in some time.  The scents in this room were very muted.  It had been years since anyone had set foot in here.  But the
occupant smelled similar to Treize, perhaps a family member.

“That’s my Uncle Heero’s room,” Mariemaia’s soft voice called, startling Wufei.

He jumped, and turned, feeling a sense of worry that she’d tell on him to her father.  He did not want to get into any trouble.  “I
apologize for snooping where I do not belong,” he said, bowing to the child.

Mariemaia giggled, shaking her head.  “Daddy won’t mind if you just look.  He just doesn’t want anything touched until Uncle
Heero comes back.  It’s just how he left it when he went away.”

“Oh,” was all Wufei could think to say.

Mariemaia approached, looking up at Wufei with a smile on her face.  “My Uncle Heero is a genius,” she said proudly.  Then her
smile seemed to fade away.  “At least, that’s what my Daddy says.  I don’t remember my Uncle all that well.  He left a couple
years ago.”  She ducked her head, scuffing her shoe on the rug.  “I have a picture of him.  You wanna see?”

Wufei smiled.  He nodded briefly, reaching out to turn off the light before he closed the door.  “I would be honored to.”

Mariemaia’s smile was bright once again as she raised her gaze.  She grabbed his hand and practically skipped to her room,
dragging a cooperative feline companion along with her.  She pulled him into her room, then dropped his hand as she ran over to
her bed.  On the small table beside her bed was a picture in a colorful frame.  She picked it up and held it out to Wufei, her small
hands gripping the outer edges as she showed Wufei her family.

“It was taken at my fifth birthday party.  There’s my Daddy and Miss Une . . . and Zechs and Uncle Heero.  My Daddy and
Zechs were just friends then.  That’s when Daddy and Miss Une were still seeing each other.”

Wufei looked at the picture, listening on as the girl chattered away.  He looked at the face of the young man, seeing traces of
Asian ancestry in his features.  He was a handsome young man with messy dark hair.  However, he looked skeletal in this
photograph.  And there was a distinct and harsh-looking bruise darkening one cheek, one of his eyes blackened.  He looked
sickly and thin.  Wufei had to wonder what was ailing him, and just who had harmed him.

Mariemaia sounded sad when she next spoke.  “I don’t know what happened, but someone hurt Uncle Heero.  It must have been
bad if he felt he had to leave.”  She sniffled.  “I miss him.  I don’t remember him much, but I have a really vague memory of
him smiling while spinning me around.  I must have been really small at the time though.”  She sighed.  “Daddy really misses
him too.  I know he goes to Uncle Heero’s room every night after he tucks me in.  I hope he’ll come back soon.”

Wufei gently took the picture from the child’s hands and set it back in its rightful place.  “I feel your sorrow.  It is painful to
miss a beloved family member.”  He was curious as to why Treize hadn’t mentioned this younger sibling, but he wasn’t about to
ask.  If Treize wanted to tell him, then he would do so.

Mariemaia sighed again, but then brightened a little.  “Do you know any stories?  Une is resting right now . . . she gets tired a
lot.  And Uncle Zechs probably has to take a nap because of his medicine.  I’m supposed to be napping too, but it’s hard for me
since I keep wondering about my mommy.”  She picked up another picture from her bedside table and held it up to Wufei.  
“This is my mommy.  I don’t remember her at all.”

“She was quite beautiful.  Obviously where you have gotten your lovely features.”

Mariemaia blushed, then went into a fit of giggles.  When she had composed herself, she put the picture of her mother down
again.

“I think you should get to sleep if you’re supposed to be napping.  If you don’t rest now, you’ll only be more tired later and will
have to go to bed early,” Wufei said.

Mariemaia pouted, but looked up at Wufei with a hopeful smile.  “Will you tell me a story?”

Wufei nodded.  “If you do not mind an old folk tale from China . . . I do not know many stories, only those I was told as a
child.”

“I love folk tales!”  Mariemaia exclaimed, then practically bounced onto her bed.  She kicked off her shoes, then settled back
and waited.

Wufei smiled at the child’s exuberance.  He sat on the edge of her bed, then searched his memory for the words to a story his
sister had once told him.  He found it easy to remember her words.  “Long ago, in the hills of North China, there lived a man
named Chang Fu-Yen.  Like most Chinese of the time, he was very, very poor.  His living came from what little food he could
grow in his one small field.”

As he spoke, he reached to the end of the bed and pulled a light blanket up over the child.  “One year Chang planted garlic in his
tiny field.  He had no other land, so each plant was cared for separately.  Not a weed grew in Chang’s garlic patch.  When the
ground was dry, he carried water from a stream over a mile away.  All summer long he watched the garlic grow.  He knew that
good garlic would bring a high price.”

The story continued and Wufei told of the farmer’s poor luck, that a thief had come and stolen the garlic.  He spoke of the
efforts made by the man and the judge who promised him justice, and the strange ways in which this judge found the thief and
returned his garlic to him.  Before Wufei had gotten to the end of the tale, Mariemaia was fast asleep.

Wufei eased himself off the girl’s bed, then leaned over and tucked the blanket around her.  He quietly left the room, silently
closing the door behind himself.

“Thank you,” Treize said, startling Wufei.

Wufei turned, finding the tall man to be leaning against the wall beside the door to Mariemaia’s room.  “It was no trouble,”
Wufei replied, feeling nervous in the presence of this man.  Treize had a strength that couldn’t be denied.  Somehow, whenever
he was around, Wufei felt self-conscious, as if his every move and word were being examined carefully.

Treize cleared his throat, watching Wufei intensely.  “I didn’t know you had a sister.”

Wufei shrugged.  “I didn’t know you had a brother,” he retorted.

“I suppose we all have our secrets.”  Treize stepped away from the wall, letting out a deep breath before he spoke again.  
“Zechs was worried.  He thought he’d said something wrong and upset you, so he asked me to make sure you were all right.”

“Thank him for his concern.  But I am well,” Wufei said, shrugging off the man’s worry.  He turned and started to walk away,
only to stop when Treize grabbed his shoulder.

“Wait.  If you want to talk about your sister, or anything for that matter, you can talk to me.  I’m willing to listen if you feel
troubled.”

Wufei glanced over his shoulder, feeling a twinge in his chest.  He ached to confess everything, but it would be completely
inappropriate.  Treize was his employer, not his friend.  “It would not be proper,” Wufei said softly.  “For me to divulge my
thoughts to you . . . I have known you less than a day.”

“I see.”  Treize let his hand fall away from the feline’s shoulder.  “Then how about an equal exchange.  If you’ll talk about your
sister with me, I’ll tell you about my brother.  I’m certain Mariemaia’s already told you all she knows and you probably have
questions because of it.”

Wufei thought about it.  Hesitantly, he nodded.  “I will consider your offer.  But I am most uncomfortable with the idea right
now.”

“I understand.  When you’re ready, we’ll talk.”  He smiled at Wufei.  “I’ll leave you to yourself.  I hope you enjoy your
afternoon.”

“You have no other tasks for me?”

Treize shook his head.  “Nothing at all.  I’ll be sitting with Zechs while he’s napping.  Mariemaia and Une are asleep and there
are no chores in the house that need finishing.  You’re free to do whatever you like until dinner.”

Wufei nodded.  Having nothing better to do, he returned to his own bedroom and picked up a favorite book of his.  Sliding on
his reading glasses, he settled himself comfortably in bed and began to read, content to spend the rest of his afternoon just like
this.


*****


Duo’s eyes fluttered open.  He blinked, pressing closer to the warmth beside him as consciousness slowly came to him.  He
purred, nuzzling his cheek against the firm muscles of the body sharing his bed, memories creeping up to remind him that he had
fallen asleep embracing Heero.  He smiled then as he lifted his head to look down at the young man.  Heero was still asleep, his
features soft and relaxed as he rested quietly.  Duo was happy to see that Heero’s sleep was peaceful.  The human needed the
rest.

He broke away his attention to Heero briefly, to look at the clock.  It was just starting to get dark out and it was relatively early
in the evening.  That meant they had only been asleep for a few hours at most.  Heero had come home quite early in the
afternoon so they’d had dinner very early.

His ears twitched as a soft knocking drew his attention away from the slumbering youth.  It was coming from the front room,
someone at the door.  That must have been what had woken him.  Moving carefully, so as not to disturb Heero, Duo eased
himself out of bed.  Instinct took over as he was looking down on Heero and he reached out to smooth out the blankets,
adjusting them so that they were tucked in around Heero’s slim body snugly.  Heero moaned lightly, his eyebrows furrowing for
a moment before he relaxed once more.  Only when he was sure that Heero was deeply asleep, did Duo leave the room,
grabbing his robe from the back of the door before he left.

He quietly shut the door and shrugged on the robe.  He heard the door again, the incessant knocking.  Duo was grateful that it
wasn’t a loud banging.  Any louder and it might have been enough to wake Heero.

When he opened the front door, he was surprised to find Howard standing there.  The man was disheveled and obviously upset
about something.  “Hey, Howard?  What’s up?” he asked, worried even as he tied the sash of the robe shut.  He stepped back
and allowed the man to enter, wondering what had happened to get Howard to come here.

“Sorry about showing up here so suddenly, kid.  Heero gave me the address along with his phone number.  Tried ringing you a
couple times, but I didn’t get an answer,” Howard said in a rush as he stepped inside the apartment.

Duo closed the door, gesturing for Howard to have a seat.  “Yeah, well, that’s kinda my fault.  I put Heero to bed early.  He’s
not feeling too good.”  He shook his head, sitting in an armchair while Howard took a seat on the edge of the sofa.  “But enough
of the idle chitchat.  What’s got you looking so flustered?”

Howard sighed, reaching up and slipping off his sunglasses.  There was a definite twinge of worry in his eyes.  “Mueller’s gone.”

“What?”  Duo was out of his seat in an instant and moved over to stand in front of Howard.  “What do you mean?  Gone?  
Gone where?”

“I wish I knew, kid.”  Howard clasped his hands together.  “I had to leave the store on an errand and when I got back he was
just gone.  I talked to his supervisor.  The guy said he sent Mueller to take out some trash and Mueller just never came back.  It’
s not like him, Duo.  He wouldn’t just run off like this.”

“You’re right,” Duo whispered.  “He wouldn’t do this.  He’s so grateful to you for your help, and so happy that he’s finally
gotten a chance to learn to read.  He never said it, but I know he was.”

“I was hoping he had come here, or called you.  I guess he didn’t.”

Duo shook his head.  “No, I haven’t heard a word from him.  Do you have any idea where he might have gone?  Or, God
forbid, who might have taken him?”

“If I knew that, do you think I’d be here?” Howard snapped.

Duo held up his hands, feeling a flash of concern.  “Woah, no need to bite my head off.  I was just trying to help.”

“Sorry, kid.  I’m just . . . worried.  You weren’t there when I first found him, Duo.  You didn’t see all the blood.  The condition
he was in . . . he almost died, Duo.”

Duo ducked his head, feeling guilty.  After all, he had left that place, the group he had been staying with.  He should have stayed
in the alley, should have kept a watch over Mueller and the others.  But he just hadn’t felt right taking Howard’s charity, living
off of the scraps the kindly shop owner deigned to give them.  He’d wanted something more than to just slowly die in that alley.  
He chuckled inwardly, realizing he’d gotten just what he’d wanted.  He had a home now, a real home and someone precious to
him to take care of.  But was it really worth the sacrifice?

“The only reason he let me own him is because he was dying.  I couldn’t convince him to go to a hospital.  He would have been
handed over to the FCPS once he was patched up enough.  He was scared of ending up with some stranger that would treat him
like shit.”  Howard let out a small laugh bereft of any humor.  “He asked to stay with me, said I was better than dying, better
than any stranger would be to him.  So I took him to the FCPS and I told them I wanted to take him in.  There was a big
investigation over his injuries, but at least I got to keep him.  He’d seemed so happy.  I thought he was happy.”

“He was happy, Howard,” Duo said, laying a hand on the man’s shoulder.  “Do you know anyone he might have gone to?  Some
place that held some meaning to him?”

Howard shook his head.  “He hasn’t left the house much since I took him in.  Just to go to work and come home.  Everyone he
knows, all his friends, they’re all at work.  Except . . .”

“Except?”  Duo sat beside his friend.  He had an ominous feeling about this.

When Howard spoke, his words were barely a whisper, murmured against his hands as he held them clasped together in front of
his face, almost as if in prayer.  “Alex,” was the single slight word he whispered, yet it was enough to cut a slice of dread
through Duo’s body.

“Alex?  You let him hang around with Alex?”

“Let him?  It wasn’t my life, Duo.  Who am I to tell him who he can and can’t hang around with?”  He pushed himself from his
seat and began to pace.  “It didn’t seem like it would be such a bad thing, the two of them becoming friends.  Alex was actually
starting to calm down around felines, at least I thought so.  Every now and then he’d have a temper tantrum, or get a little too
pushy with the feline customers.  But until you walked in, I coulda sworn he was getting better about it.”

“He and I have a history together,” Duo said.  “I’m the one that gave him those scars on his face.”

“Ah, guess that explains that.”

“He was really friends with Mueller?”  Duo asked, just finding it hard to believe that Alex could be friends with anyone, feline or
human.

Howard nodded.  “They were never open about it.  But I caught them laughing together once or twice in the break room when
there was no one else around.  The way he acted around Mueller, it was almost like he was a completely different person.  I don’
t understand what happened.”

“Do you think he’d go to Alex if he were in some kind of trouble?”

Howard stopped his pacing.  “He might.”  He turned to head to the door.

“Wait, I’ll go with you,” Duo pushed himself from his seat, reaching out to the other man.

“Duo, you’ve got your hands full as it is.  You don’t need to be taking on my burdens,” Howard argued.

A sleepy voice from behind him, stopped Duo from disagreeing.  “Duo?  What’s going on?”

Duo spun, only to watch as Heero staggered into the front room, running the back of his hand over his eyes.  A yawn escaped
him and he faltered in his step, nearly falling over before he righted himself.  Duo was at his side in an instant, pulling Heero over
to the sofa and getting him to sit.

“What are you doing up?  You should still be asleep,” Duo spoke, fussing over the weary young human.

“I heard voices,” Heero said quietly, blinking his eyes open.  “You weren’t there anymore.”  He was still only half awake,
swaying where he sat.  “What’s going on?”  He yawned, leaning to the side and resting his shoulder and head against the arm of
the sofa.

Duo chuckled, sliding a finger along Heero’s cheek.  “It’s okay, Heero.  Don’t worry about anything but yourself.”

Heero shook his head.  “No, I want to know what’s going on.  It’s got to be important.”

“You’re right, it is,” Howard agreed.  “It’s Mueller.  He’s missing.  I came to ask Duo if he knew any place he might be.  And I’
m going to check on one of the places that came up in our discussion just as soon as I leave here.”

“And I’m going with him,” Duo added.  “Just as soon as I get you tucked back into bed.”  He reached forward, meaning to help
Heero up, only to have his hands weakly pushed away.

“If you’re going, I’m going.”

Duo did not like the idea of Heero going anywhere but to bed.  Heero was too drained from his emotional breakdown.  He
needed to rest now.  “No way, Heero.  You’re far too out of it.”

Heero grabbed Duo’s hand, holding it and pulling the young man down.  He leaned forward a bit, pausing only when his lips
were close to Duo’s ear.  “Please, Duo.  I know you mean well . . . but I don’t want to be alone.  Please.”  He fell back to the
sofa, closing his glistening eyes.

Duo awkwardly patted Heero’s shoulder, shaken by the Asian youth’s admission.  “Sure, okay, Heero.”  He turned to look over
his shoulder at Howard.  “Looks like you’re going to have company, buddy.  Heero and me are going with you.”

“But, Duo . . .”

“Don’t argue with me, Howard,” Duo said, narrowing his eyes.  “I’m coming with you.  Heero’s coming with me.  He’ll
probably sleep the entire way, but he’s coming with us.  Now you just wait here while I get some clothes on and we’ll all be on
our merry way.”  He let out a warning growl, allowing his ears to flatten a bit.  “Don’t you dare try to leave without us.  Don’t
leave Heero alone.”

Howard nodded numbly, apparently dumbstruck by the shift in Duo’s normally cheerful personality.  Duo meant business
though.  He was going and if Heero wanted so badly to go too, then he’d go with them.  There was no way he’d leave Heero
alone in this apartment when he was so terrified of it.  He didn’t want Heero suffering because of him.

With a sigh, Duo pushed himself up and hurried back to his bedroom, throwing on whatever he grabbed first.  He got a pair of
shoes and socks for Heero, moving just as quickly to get him ready to go.  Howard waited almost patiently by the door, holding
onto their jackets.  He was kind enough to help Heero sluggishly slip into his, while Duo got his own jacket on.  Then the three
of them left, hopefully on their way to find their missing friend.



To Be Continued . . .



Notes:  The story that Wufei told to Mariemaia was found in an old book I own, entitled “Myths and Folk Tales Around the
World,” written by Robert R. Potter.  The story itself is called, “Chang Fu-Yen and the Wise Judge.”