It had been three days since Duo's abrupt departure. Since then, the remaining pilots had remained in limbo, unsure of how to proceed with bringing him back. After Heero's initial shock, he had recovered his disbelief and immediately went to his laptop to begin running searches for anyone spotting the black Gundam. A futile gesture, since Deathscythe's cloaking abilities were far beyond any of the other Gundams in terms of stealth and invisibility - but it made him feel as though he were doing something useful.
Quatre, meanwhile, tore through the safehouse cleaning madly. Trowa decided that a more poetic person would say he was trying to subconsciously wash the guilt away from him in trying to scrub the top layer off every piece of furniture. Quatre would have agreed.
" Why didn't he say anything Trowa?" he asked over and over again. " Why didn't he tell us how he felt?"
Trowa knew that nothing he said would help alleviate the blond's guilt - that task would have to be done by a certain braided American. Who was missing. Hence, Quatre kept cleaning. Trowa rubbed his eyes wearily, his own guilt nagging at him.
Did he really walk away from Duo that often? Honestly, he couldn't even remember; his attention tended to drift towards the Arabian currently wielding a dustpan. He knew that Duo tended to come on strong in the friendship department, and that frightened him somewhat - despite being partners with this group for several years now, it still amazed him to know that people wanted to be his friend, wanted his company, not for his tactical or battle skills, but because of HIM. Maybe that disbelief made him turn away from Duo, not wanting too much of a good thing for fear it may disappear.
Too late, Trowa decided. It did.
He'd never bothered to look beyond the surface smile and see what his abrupt departures or steadfast ignoring did - and it wasn't as though Duo was trying to be rude, or intimidating. He was trying to be friendly.
'And I pushed him away. One too many times.'
Wufei was in the hangar, scrubbing his Nataku furiously. It was simple: the more he focused on getting his Gundam to a pristine condition, the harder it was for his conscious to scream at him.
' All you ever did was insult him, yell at him,' he thought angrily. Then he swore and resumed his frantic scrubbing of Nataku, trying to lose himself in the familiar motions.
The more he worked on Nataku, the more he realized he couldn't escape his thoughts, or his guilt. Standing up, he threw the large sponge back into the bucket of dirty water and headed back to the house determinedly.
Quatre was polishing every shiny surface in the house. Again. Wufei's appearance startled him.
" Get Trowa," was all he said as he disappeared upstairs, presumably to get Heero. Quatre was a little concerned by the solemn and determined expression on the Chinese pilot's face, and he dropped his rag, spun on his heel, and ran to Trowa's room to retrieve the taciturn pilot.
Wufei paused in the doorway of Heero and Duo's room, watching the Japanese pilot's fingers fly across the keyboard as though they had a life of their own. Heero's face was lit up by the greenish glow emanating from the laptop screen, illuminating the shadows under his eyes and making Heero's face appear somewhat corpse-like.
" Heero?" he asked softly, not wanting to startle him. It didn't work.
Heero's head snapped up and he stared at Wufei so intensely Wufei wouldn't have been surprised if twin lasers had shot from those eyes, frying him where he stood.
" What?!" he barked roughly. Wufei shook his head and motioned downstairs.
" Come down for a minute, Yuy. We need to discuss this if we are ever going to get Maxwell back."
" You know where he is?" Heero half-stood in his eagerness. Wufei marveled at that slight action - if he had ever wondered at the depths of Heero's feelings for the American, those doubts had just been laid to rest. He didn't think that panicked, yet hopeful look was even capable of appearing on Heero's normally stoic face.
" No," Wufei finally said, noting the slump of the Japanese pilot's shoulders. " But it doesn't really matter right now."
Heero's head snapped up again, and Wufei winced, wondering why he didn't hear a snap.
" What do you mean?" Heero growled. Wufei sighed.
" Even if we knew Maxwe--Duo's, exact location, he wouldn't come home," Wufei said, deciding that the use of Duo's first name once in a while, might help in telling Duo that Wufei sincerely wanted to make up with him. But he need the practice first. " We have to discuss what happened and find out WHEN we started treating him as less then an equal member of this team. THEN we have to convince Duo that he is truly wanted back - because right now, he doesn't believe we are his friends." His fist tightened around a piece of white paper. " And I don't particularly blame him either."
Heero looked at his own piece of paper, in plain sight in front of the laptop and he picked it up carefully.
" You are right," he said at last and he stood up. Wufei nodded and led the way downstairs where Trowa and Quatre were waiting.
It was a beautiful day, Howard decided as he planted his hands on his hips, staring out across the Pacific Ocean. The sun was shining, the birds were out, flying across the yard, his shuttle was in the finest condition it had ever been in since the departure of his finest mechanic over two years ago, and life was good.
" Building the new place on the waterfront was the best move I ever made," he said, raising his beer to the sun and toasting it, before taking a long gulp.
Then he spit it out. Peering out across the horizon, Howard lowered his shades and watched as a black spec in the distance, slowly grew in size. Howard would have recognized that silhouette anywhere.
" What the hell did he get himself into this time?" he wondered, but his heart wasn't in it. he was too fond of the boy. The black machine drew closer until Howard could see the sun sparking off the metal casing and he braced himself as the Gundam landed in the yard with a thump. Several of Howard's workers came running to see what was up but Howard waved them away, and strode up to the foot of Deathscythe.
" Welcome home boy!" he shouted. " C'mon out and be sociable!" He didn't know what would prompt Duo to just appear unannounced, but well, that's what asking was for, wasn't it?
The hatch opened, and he watched as the familiar outline of a slim figure stepped out and then dropped to the ground. Howard started forward eagerly and then pulled up as Duo raised his head.
" Hell boy, you look like shit," was his eloquent comment. Duo's face was white and pinched, shadows both under and in those normally expressive eyes. Howard felt a surge of anger for whoever was responsible for putting that bleak expression on Duo's face. His tone became gentler though. " Kid, you okay?"
Duo looked at him, exhaustion marring his features. " I'm... not sure."