(Part 1 of the Road Trip Arc)
Re-entry. It’s always the part I hate the most. It’s when you’re the most vulnerable. I hate vulnerable. Everything has to be so damned precise on re-entry, and I’m not really a precise pilot. The battle had been pretty rough, and I won’t say the mission was a failure, but let’s just call it a draw. We weren’t running away…really.
As planned, Heero was long gone, I hoped, already at the rendezvous point. I was running a little behind, but I had decided on the spur of the moment to take the remains of a Mobile Doll with me. It was making the ride in awfully bumpy, but I hoped it would be worth it.
I brought Deathscythe down a good twenty miles or so from the ocean side spot where I was supposed to meet up with Heero and liberally blew the hell out of the Doll, scattering enough debris around that I hoped I would confuse our pursuit. Then I skimmed away, so low and close to the water that I had to navigate by instrumentation.
When I arrived at the rendezvous point, I didn’t see Heero, but I landed Deathscythe anyway, figuring I’d better get my Gundam out of sight as quick as I could. I unbelted what was left of my harness and climbed with difficulty out of the pilots seat and popped the hatch. My knee was jammed up pretty well and was bothering me quite a bit, and my left wrist felt sprained, but worst of all, I think I might have had a couple of cracked ribs. Felt like my guts were going to spill out every time I leaned over. I didn’t get too fancy getting out of Deathscythe, none of my usual grace and charm thank you very much. Just a slow, cautious decent that left me gasping for a minute. I used the remote to seal the hatch on my Suit, and sent it walking into the surf where it would await retrieval sitting, I hoped, next to Wing, Heero’s Gundam.
I just stood in the sand for a minute, watching Deathscythe disappear under the waves. God, I was tired, and ached all over. The mission had turned out to be a trap, the jaws of which we had barely escaped with our little tin behinds intact. It had turned into one hell of a dogfight.
Where was Heero? Wing hadn’t looked too good the last I had seen of them, and I was suddenly stricken with a clinching fear that he hadn’t made it. I pocketed the remote and turned to look up and down the narrow beach I found myself on. Twenty or thirty paces from the waters edge, there was a tangle of rocks and cliff face, sea birds wheeled overhead, answering evenings call to return to roost. The wind from the water behind me blew salty and damp and promised a chilly evening. It toyed with loose strands of my hair and caught at the edges of my clothes. Yeah, it was gonna get cold.
Then I saw Heero, making his way slowly toward me from out of the rocks. He didn’t look much better than I remember his Gundam looking, and I hurried the best I could up the beach.
‘What took so long?’ he growled, as soon as we were close enough to hear each other over the surf and birds. His right arm hung rather limply, and he was clutching it with his left. He limped and wobbled and generally just looked pissed. Heero hates to fail even worse than I do.
‘Glad to see you too!’ I grinned, ‘I took a few minutes to leave a decoy.’
I was rewarded with a surprised little grunt that I took to mean, ‘good thinking’, but I knew better than to wait for any verbal praise.
‘We need to get under cover.’ I realized just how exposed we were and suddenly felt a strong urge to get off the beach.
‘Up here.’ Was all Heero said, turning back the way he had come. He looked like he was going to fall over, and in the fading light, his color didn’t look so good.
‘Heero? Man, you all right?’
He just grunted again, but kind of hesitated. I moved up on his good side and offered my support. I was shocked as hell when he actually put his arm around my shoulders and let me take some of his weight. Now I was really worried, Mr. Perfect was actually letting somebody help him!
He led me back to a spot at the base of the cliffs where there was a recess under the rocks that you could crawl into. It looked like that was where he had been hiding when I arrived. I sat him down on a rock and looked back the way we had come.
‘Shit.’ He followed my gaze and we both stared at the wide trail we had left in the sand. Heero started to struggle up.
‘I’ll get it.’ I gently pushed him back down. ‘Man, you look like serious crap, what’s wrong?’
I didn’t think he’d answer me at first because he just shook his head. ‘Not sure. Something internal. Harness broke. Took a hit to the head too.’
I hissed in sympathy and remembered my own ordeal with only one broken strap. I knelt down as well as I could in front of him. ‘Turn your head toward the light.’
He did as I commanded and I checked his pupils. ‘They look normal.’ I jerked my head toward the crack in the cliff. There wasn’t much I could do for a concussion, anyway. ‘Think you can get yourself back in there?’
He just nodded, so I left him to go try to brush away our back trail. I was finally reduced to getting down on my hands and knees to brush it away as best I could by hand. My knee and wrist and especially my ribs moaned at me piteously, but I didn’t have the time to listen. I got back to our little nest before the sun was completely down and had to look twice to find the opening. Heero had found an excellent hiding spot. I had to lie down and squirm sideways to get in beside Heero, but after the first foot or so, the ceiling rose a little bit and it got easier. I couldn’t have sat up if I had tried, and it was a good thing there weren’t three of us, because it wasn’t deep enough to hold more. There was sand under us though, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
‘Heero? You OK?’ I was laying shoulder to shoulder with him in the dark, but I could imagine the frown. I got another of his non-committal grunts.
‘What’s wrong with your leg?’ Now that took me by surprise. Not that he noticed, nothing escapes our little soldier boy, but that he asked.
‘Ah, just some bumps and bruises.’ I had to put the grin into my voice since he couldn’t see it, ‘What’s with the arm?’
‘Broken.’ He said, matter of factly. Then, ‘Duo? I think I’m going to pass out.’
And he did. I felt him go limp and I suddenly felt as alone as I had in a very long time.
‘Shit!’ I muttered, and reached out to touch his face. He was breathing, but his skin felt cold. He was wearing a pair of jeans, and not, thank God, those stupid shorts, but his shirt was nothing but a tank top. I unbuttoned my black outer shirt and with a great deal of squirming and work, managed to crawl out of it and threw it over him. At least I wasn’t lying on the side with the broken arm, so I wriggled as close as I could get and settled down to wait, wondering how much longer before the search teams swept through.
Despite my worry, I think I dozed a little. Until the tide crept up the beach and suddenly I was lying in a puddle of ice water. I would like to state right now that I’m rather proud of the fact that I didn’t yelp, scream or otherwise give away our position. Once fully awake, I muttered several curses under my breath and quickly realized that I was the dam that was keeping Heero from getting equally soaked. Letting him get doused with icy, salty, ocean water right now didn’t seem to be the wisest thing to do, so I did the only thing I could think of. I wriggled and shifted and worked and managed to roll him over on top of me. I was gasping with the effort once I was done, but I got him pulled onto my stomach, his head tucked under my chin, my arms acting as side rails to keep his arms from flopping off into the water that was lapping all around me now. Damn! But it was cold! I even managed to get his back covered with my shirt again. All this, and not a bit of response from him. I could feel his breathing against my chest though, and somehow that actually made me feel a little better. It put me in mind of running and hiding as an orphan on the streets. I’d spent many a night holed up in some damp cubby, staring into the dark and hoping not to be discovered. The water slowly rose, creeping lazily higher until I had to shift my head to keep the water out of my ears. My muscles were starting to cramp.
Then I heard the voices and the motors and saw the flash of search lights out on the beach. They were finally here. My heart got hit with an adrenaline rush and began to pound so hard it hurt. I closed my eyes and prayed to all the Gods that Heero would stay quiet. And all the while, that damned water was lapping at me, soaking into my clothes and seeping into my bones. I started to shiver.
This had really turned into a crappy day.
Outside I could start to make out bits of conversation yelled back and forth against the wind. They were sweeping the beach.
I bit down on my tongue to keep my teeth from chattering, I would have shoved my knuckles in my mouth if my arms weren’t busy holding Heero out of the water. The chill was making my muscles contract, and that was doing great things for my ribs. That, and Heero’s weight. I looked down at him and found the faint glint of his eyes open and staring at me. He hadn’t so much as twitched, or maybe I had been too preoccupied to notice. We lay in the darkness and stared at each other. I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it was to not be alone any more. My world narrowed down to his eyes, shoring me up and offering me support without a word. Just when I thought I would shiver all my joints loose, I heard a louder voice,
‘Regroup! Regroup! They’ve found the wreckage twenty miles south of here! Move out!’
I wanted to laugh; one of my plans had actually worked! The voices receded, and the lights went away and after a bit so did the sound of motors. I finally let out a long sigh and grinned into the night. ‘It worked!’
Heero was trying to lever himself off me. ‘We have to get you out of here.’
I restrained him with a hand in the small of his back, careful of the right arm. ‘Not yet, I can survive getting wet, I can’t survive getting shot.’
‘Duo…’ He began, but I cut him off.
‘There’s no point in both of us getting soaked. Besides, I think the tide might finally be going back out a little.’
‘Or it’s going to rise and drown us.’ A joke from Heero Yuy!
I laughed, though softly. ‘You scared the hell out of me, man! Are you OK?’
A grunt, and then, ‘Better, I think. Not so shaky.’
Wow, a civil conversation with Mr. Stoic, would wonders never cease? We waited a while longer, to make absolutely sure the area was clear of observers and then began to crawl out of our hole like a couple of crabs. The water did indeed pull back, and though the sand was wet, and there was a Duo sized pool left in the cave after we were gone, I managed to keep Heero from getting thoroughly soaked. But I only thought I was cold before; with the removal of Heero’s body heat and the subsequent entry into the wind I couldn’t even speak for the shivering. There was some muscle fatigue in there too, all that time holding Heero out of the water, and I doubled over with it, dropping down to sit on the rock I had put Heero on earlier.
‘Here.’ he said gruffly, and worked me out of the sopping wet, thin cotton shirt I was in, and then, one handed, began to briskly rub my back and shoulders. The warmth from the friction felt good until he drifted down and ran across the ribs. I flinched and gasped and then had to sit while he poked and prodded at me.
‘Bumps and bruises?’ He quirked an eyebrow at me and I had to grin. He just shook his head and then tossed my miraculously still dry outer shirt to me and I struggled into it gratefully.
‘OK, Heero, my man, we need a ride.’ And I led the way up the beach until we found a place that would allow us both to climb up to the road. This we followed, limping and staggering like a couple of drunks, until we found a bit of civilization and I was able to exhibit one of the many talents developed in my miss-spent youth, and I hot-wired a car. With Heero settled into the passenger seat, and the heater on full blast, I started our trek inland, keeping to back roads. I estimated we had a couple of days ahead of us. Our landing site had been chosen from necessity, not proximity to our final destination.
At first, the heater was a blessed relief and nothing else mattered except we were starting to warm up a little. Then the muscle aches and other pains started to come through and I looked around the car to see what goodies we had inherited. There was some stuff in the back seat, clothes or something, some CDs on the dash, and junk just kind of crammed into all the nooks and crannies. This had to be a guy’s car. I noticed Heero holding his arm again and I cursed myself for being so muddle headed.
‘Hang on, man, let me get another couple of miles behind us and I’ll pull over.’
He kind of frowned without looking at me, ‘I’m fine.’
My turn to grunt. I finally spotted a likely pull off spot, one of those scenic over look things, and began my inspection of the cars contents. The back seat did yield some useful items, and somebody’s old work shirt with the name ‘Gus’ on the pocket, sacrificed itself to become a sling for Heero’s arm. I found a blanket that I tucked around him and then turned my attention to the glove box. It coughed up a couple of things I was very happy to see; some black electrician’s tape and a bottle of aspirin and, miracle of miracles, a map. I immediately swallowed two aspirin and spared Heero an apologetic smile.
‘Sorry, Heero, but…’
‘I know.’ We both knew aspirin was not a good idea if you suspected internal bleeding.
I tossed the bottle back into the glove box and then went around the car to change the license plate with the tape. It wouldn’t pass a close inspection, but would hopefully keep us from getting pulled over. A three became an eight, and an F became an E. It was the best I could do. I went to Heero’s side of the car.
‘I think the seat will recline a little.’ I ventured, not really expecting him to except, but he gave me a grateful look and I made the adjustment, trying to make him as comfortable as possible.
Then it was back on the road, and it didn’t take two more miles before Heero was asleep beside me.
This was scaring the crap out of me. Mr. Perfect should just not be this damned dependent! I’d never seen him out of control before. He was almost being meek! My whole world was off its axis! I wanted to brush that unruly hair out of his eyes and tell him everything would be all right. Somehow, I didn’t think he’d thank me for it. I almost snorted.
Then I settled down to the business of driving that old car through the night. There wasn’t much traffic out here, we passed a few cars, but between the hour and the rural road, I could have driven down the middle most of the time without worrying about it. That was probably what saved my butt some four or five hours later when I fell asleep at the wheel. It was the feel of hitting the gravel on the wrong side of the road that snapped me back awake, and I jerked the wheel and righted us just before we went into the ditch at fifty miles per hour. Beside me, Heero mumbled in his sleep and I whispered,
‘It’s all right, go back to sleep.’ While my internal voice was screaming, ‘Shitshitshitshitshit!’ and my heart was hammering in my ears. Of all the stupid things! That would have been a hell of a way for a pair of Gundam pilots to end up dying!
I turned the heat down with a trembling hand and cracked the window on my side for a little fresh air. It was still a couple of hours until dawn and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. It was too damn quiet. I tried turning on the radio, but there didn’t seem to be a station in this Never-land. I shuffled through the Cds on the dash and about screamed when I realized the guy was into classical music for crying out loud! I might as well have Heero sing me a lullaby.
So, I started singing to myself, anything to keep my mind awake. I sang some stupid piece that was popular right now, duh duhing through the parts I didn’t know the words to, and then other pieces, older stuff, God’s, I don’t know what all. I hoped I wasn’t bothering Heero, but I decided that running us both off a bridge would probably bother him more.
After an hour, my voice was getting a little hoarse, but it was helping, I guess just the act of working to remember the lyrics was helping to keep me awake. I faded into an old song I was rather fond of; I don’t remember where I learned it.
‘Black water be my lover, for lover have I none
Nor ever shall, and empty ache alone.
Black water, be my lover, for all my dreams are done
And you are kinder than what life has shown.
Black water, final rescue; dark water, lasting peace,
Black water, keeping secrets none may know,
Black water, final rescue, bring silence and release
Black water, through the city swift….’
‘Don’t.’ The voice beside me was shocking with its harshness and my mouth snapped shut in mid chorus.
‘Heero, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you, I was just getting so sleepy…’
‘Just stop…I…’ he was looking at me really odd. I was starting to get a little peeved.
‘Look, Heero, I said I was sorry. Damn it, I almost killed us about an hour ago. I can’t stay awake. Come on, my voice isn’t that bad!’
He just looked even more confused and upset if that’s possible, ‘No..no…it was nice…just… not that song. OK?’
I swear, I had to stop and think about it, I’d been just driving and singing for so long, I didn’t even know what song he was talking about. Then it sort of replayed in my head.
‘Shit. I’m sorry man, I wasn’t even paying any attention.’
‘You…just sounded so…so much… yearning in your voice.’
I glanced at him just to make sure it really was Heero Yuy still sitting next to me.
‘I swear, I’m not planning on drowning myself any time soon, OK?’ I had a sudden thought and reached out to touch his forehead. ‘Heero, I think you’re running a temperature.’
He was done with conversation again, and was back to grunting.
Could an infection develop this fast? I really wished I dared drive faster.
By dawn, I needed to find a filling station; we were running on fumes and luck. Heero seemed to be awake, but had lapsed back into silence and I was afraid to go back to singing. I just jabbered for awhile about the landscape and the car and whatever else I could think of. If I was getting on his nerves, he didn’t show it. Just when I was starting to panic, we came across a wide space in the road with two houses and a filling station. I tucked the blanket around Heero to hide the sling and pulled in.
It was self-serve, and I pumped the gas first before sauntering boldly into the station, I didn’t have a credit to my name. I tucked my shirt in, tried to smooth my hair and hoped I didn’t look too God-awful. I plastered my best, patented Duo Maxwell grin on my face and made my entrance. The clerk was an older guy, obviously bored out of his skull sitting in an old office chair and reading some magazine that he stuffed under the counter when I walked in. I looked around and grinned wider.
‘Caffeine! Great! Hey do you have a bathroom?’ I did my little, I gotta PEE dance for him and managed to get a corner of his mouth to quirk up. He jerked a thumb around to the side of the building and I danced off to do my business.
I came back and fished two cans of soda and a couple of bottles of water out of the cooler and deposited them on the counter in front of the man. Then I dithered over the display of chocolate bars, yeah, sugar and caffeine, that’s what I needed! I slung one-liners around until I finally drug a laugh out of the guy and once we bonded, it was a fairly simple thing to lift the money I used to pay the man out of his own register.
Back on the road, I popped the top on the first can of soda and chugged it down. The noise roused Heero again and he looked at me, incredulous, as I tossed the empty can into the back seat and pulled out a chocolate bar and the second can of soda.
‘What are you doing?’ he muttered at me.
‘Trying to stay awake.’ I grinned back. I leaned over him and fished the aspirin bottle out of the glove box again and washed a couple more down with some soda. Of course my screwed up knee had to be my right one and all this driving was killing me.
I pulled a water bottle out and twisted off the cap and handed it over to him. ‘Here, drink some of that, and I got you the closest thing to real food I could find.’
When he had finished about half the bottle, I took it from him, unwrapped, and handed him a sandwich.
‘It’s just cheese,’ I grinned over at him as he looked it over, ‘I figured it was safer than any of the ones with meat coming from a place like that.’
He actually snorted. But he ate it.
I ate another candy bar and finished the second can of soda and was starting to feel like I wouldn’t sleep again this whole bloody year. Yeah, I could do this. We should get to the pick up point some time around three or four tomorrow morning. I could do this. It was starting to become a mantra.
‘You’re going to make yourself sick.’ He muttered darkly, frowning over at me.
I laughed, ‘Oh yeah! I am going to crash so hard it’s gonna hurt!’ I sobered a little, ‘But hopefully, not until it’s all over.’
The day warmed up and Heero pulled off the blanket and about mid-day we discovered that the car didn’t have an air conditioner.
‘Man,’ I muttered, ‘Last night, I thought I’d never be warm again. This has just not been our day.’
You couldn’t say traffic ever picked up, not so you would notice unless you actually counted the cars, but there were a few more than the night before. I had been weaving my way from back road to back road, avoiding the highways as much as possible, without deviating too much from my direction.
Another stop for gas in another almost-there small ‘town’, another risk of getting caught with my hand in the till. A lot more miles. Around mid-afternoon I finally had to break down and take a small highway that ran east, we were out in the middle of nowhere and the back roads just weren’t there anymore. I was starting to suspect that Heero was not so much sleeping as he was fading in and out of consciousness. He was scaring me to death. I had no idea what to do for him. I wanted him in a hospital very badly.
Evening was approaching again and I was starting to come down from my caffeine induced high, and coming down hard. I was shaking like a leaf and my head was pounding. I wondered how in the world I was going to make it through another night.
‘Duo?’ Came a small voice, ‘I have to pee.’
‘It’s about time.’ I tried to keep my voice light, but I really was relieved, I didn’t think no urine output was a good thing.
‘Look, Heero!’ I suddenly crowed, spotting a veritable oasis in front of us, ‘An honest to God rest-stop!’
‘Yeah, I noticed the sign.’ He shifted restlessly.
I felt a twinge of guilt; he’d probably had to go for ages but just didn’t want to bother me. I should have asked.
I pulled in; it was deserted, of course, out in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t help but wonder why they bothered to put one here, but it had everything from rest rooms to vending machines. I pulled as close as I could get to the shelter.
‘Heero, I’d rather not try to get you out of the car if we can help it.’ I fished the empty water bottle out of the back seat and waved it at him. ‘Think you can manage?’
He looked dubious at the small bottle, but looked kind of relieved at the same time. He just nodded.
I got out of the car to give him a little privacy, I had to shimmy out sideways and use my left leg to lever myself up and then cling to the side of the car while I literally drug my right leg out behind me. I got the door shut and then just leaned up against the bumper and tried to look nonchalant while I forced my knee to straighten back out. Gods, but I felt woozy. I just stayed, watching the sun go down until I heard a small noise from Heero indicating he was done, and then limped around to take the bottle from him to dispose of. It was full to the top and I held it up and grinned, getting ready to make some crack, when I froze. The dark yellow liquid inside was tinged pink.
‘Heero.’ I breathed, ‘You’re pissing blood!’
I locked eyes with him, and he just sat and stared back at me, like he just didn’t have the energy to care. I was passed scared now, working on terrified. A jolt of adrenaline shot into my system and I started to shake again. I had to get him to help, and I had to do it fast.
I dumped the bottle out in the bushes and rinsed it out at the water fountain. He might need it again. I splashed some water in my face while I was there, and then made my way to the bank of vending machines, practically dragging my right leg behind me. More soda, more chocolate; I had to keep going. Gods, I wish I’d slept better the night before the mission. I used up all the money I had gotten as change from the guy at the gas station. I bought Heero more water and started chugging the first can of pop before I got back to the car. I almost threw it back up. I slowed down to gulps after that.
I tossed my meager bounty into the back seat and proceeded to drag my sorry butt back into the car. Heero was still awake beside me, and the worry was plain on his face.
I grinned at him as best I could, ‘Don’t worry; I’ll get you out of this. Promise.’
He frowned, ‘Worried about you. You can’t keep doing this to yourself. You need some rest.’
‘I’m fine.’ I tried for more, I really did, but my mind just couldn’t process anything else and I just kept repeating ‘I’m fine.’ While I wrapped my hands around my leg and forced my knee to bend again.
I thought about the aspirin, but decided the pain would help keep me awake. I got us going again and stopped worrying about speed limits and back roads. The second empty can went into the back seat and think I may have giggled a little, wondering what ‘Gus’ was going to think when he finally got his car back.
‘Duo….’ I heard a trace of the normal Heero in the warning tone.
‘Buckle up.’ Was all I said, and I followed my own advice before popping the third can. I can do this.
My head started to buzz unpleasantly, and I quit drinking. I think I read somewhere that it was possible to kill yourself with enough caffeine. My heart thumped uncomfortably hard in my chest, and my stomach churned. Yeah, that would do for now.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Heero reaching for one of the water bottles and I snagged it for him. I had to wedge it between my knees and take my good hand off the wheel to open it for him. I braced the wheel with my left wrist, my left hand long passed being able to grip anything. I handed the bottle over and was favored with a grunt.
‘What’s the matter with your hand?’ he ventured.
‘Just sprained.’ It was bizarre; it was like we had traded places. He was the one getting all talkative, and I was the one resorting to grunts and one-word sentences.
He seemed to doze off again and for a change, I was just as glad. I couldn’t take his eyes looking at me like I’d done something wrong.
My brain was starting to make these crazy leaps, putting things together and watching to see what kind of mutant thought would come out of the union. When Heero had reacted so strangely about my singing, was it because he thought I was suicidal, or he was? I suddenly remembered where I had learned that stupid song. A childhood friend, another street rat orphan, older than me and wiser. My very own Artful Dodger, he used to sing us little ones to sleep with it. He was dead now. Funny, I’d never felt what the song meant before. Intellectually, I guess I knew, but I’d never felt it in my heart. I didn’t want to think about him any more.
My mind jumped off on another tangent, I thought about Deathscythe sitting on the bottom of the ocean and wondered how long it was going to be before I could get back to him. Yes, I thought of my Gundam as a person, OK? Happy to hear me admit it? Did I mention that I’m just a little bit crazy? I think you have to be to do what we do.
The miles stretched out in front of me like some unending Mobieus strip. I glanced down and realized I was doing eighty. I slowed a little, but not much. It was night again, and I supposed it wouldn’t help our situation any to hit some nocturnal animal at this speed. But Heero hadn’t stirred in the last hour or more and I couldn’t help the hurry hurry hurry that coursed through my veins. Or maybe it was the caffeine.
I wondered what was going on inside his body, how bad was it? Could I keep my promise to get him out of this? Doubt. Doubt. Doubt. It ate at me. I looked over at him and I swear, I couldn’t see him breathing. I let the car slow while I looked again, my heart thudding in my ears. Without thinking, I reached out and pressed my fingers gently against the side of his throat, feeling for a pulse. Then my head was nailed to the back of the seat and my air was gone.
Instinct made me slam on the brakes and I struggled briefly, but even backhanded, his grip was unbreakable. I rolled my eyes toward him, my vision getting spotty and I could see his eyes wide open and staring at me, but Heero wasn’t behind them.
I somehow managed to keep control of the car even as I fought for, and failed to gain any air. My sight was fading to black at the edges. Struggling was pointless, I couldn’t speak, and wildly, I figured I had less than a minute left and running on instinct, I reached my hand up and gently brushed my fingers across his cheek. My vision was reduced now to a pinpoint of light that I fought with all my will to not let go out. Then I heard a distant moan and someone crying my name. The air came back in a rush. I sucked at it with all my strength, throat feeling crushed; there didn’t seem to be enough room to get the air in fast enough. I slumped forward, the seat beat holding me up, my hand falling away from Heero’s face and landing on his leg. I sobbed air back into my chest, struggling to expand that pinpoint of light into something I could see out of again.
‘Duo! Duo! Oh Gods…Oh Gods…’ I could just hear him over the roaring in my ears, but I couldn’t even begin to think about speaking.
He started struggling under my hand. I knew what this meant; this was the ‘I hate myself’ part. This was the ‘I’m running away’ part. I wasn’t having any damn part of that. I groped out blindly and caught the front of his shirt in a death grip. No way in hell was I running around in the dark the way I felt, chasing him down.
My chest was on fire. My throat was burning. My head was pounding. I was really starting to get pissed at the whole bloody damn world. I held him pinned until my breathing slowed enough that I thought I could use some air to get words out.
‘S’ok.’ I croaked, the ragged sound of my own voice shocking even me.
Beside me, Heero broke. Just freaking shattered, right before my blurry eyes. He started to shake and then he started to cry. That tore at me like nothing else had on this road trip to Hell. In all the time I had known Heero Yuy, I had never seen him cry.
I let go of his shirt and had the presence of mind to shove the car into park and flip on the emergency blinkers. Then I unbuckled and shifted over to where I could put an arm around his neck. He sobbed hot tears on my shoulder.
‘I almost killed you.’ He just kept repeating it, his own twisted little mantra.
I hugged him awkwardly, one handed, and tried my voice again. ‘My fault.’ He stiffened under my arm and I knew I was going to have to manage better than that. So despite the pain in my throat I went on.
‘Never touch a sleeping soldier. How basic is that lesson? I was stupid; I forgot.’
He pulled away, wiping at his eyes, ‘Doesn’t matter. I should have know it was you.’
‘For Gods sake, Heero! You’re sitting here with internal injuries, a broken frigging arm, a stinking fever, pissing blood! Cut yourself a little slack!’ My voice cracked on that line and I had to stop. I slid back into the drivers seat and started to put it back in drive when I finally noticed the car that had pulled in behind us, blue lights flashing.
Shit. Our day had just gotten immeasurably worse.
The officer was just getting out of his car. I tried to straighten things around; I flipped the blanket back across Heero and covered his arm. I ran a hand through my hair and tried extremely hard to put the Duo Maxwell wide-eyed, charming, ‘laugh at me; I’m harmless’, mask back on my face, but for the first time in memory, I was having trouble pulling it into place. Maybe I knew there really wasn’t much point. Did I have time to get the knife out of my boot? Didn’t think so.
The man was beside the car and leaning down into the window while I was still debating running him down.
‘There a problem here, boys?’ he drawled, his goggles hiding his eyes. Goggles?
He put a hand on his hip, too close to his holstered weapon. Was that a freaking laser sight?
‘No Officer,’ I forged ahead bravely, not really able to pull off my usual charismatic act with hardly any voice left. ‘My friend here just got a little car sick.’
‘You don’t sound too good, yourself, son.’ He quirked a little half grin. I had to wonder why he didn’t have my butt out of the car doing the spread-eagle thing. Then it dawned on my poor, sleep-deprived brain. He was stalling. He knew exactly what he had sitting in front of him and must know that back up was on the way. He was hoping not to have to take us on all by his lonesome. If he had only known. I started thinking about the knife in my boot again, hidden under my pants leg.
Then a gun went off three inches in front of my face and the big man disappeared from the car window. Through the ringing in my ears, I heard Heero yell, ‘Go!’ But I had other ideas. I threw the door open and practically fell out of the car across the legs of the dead man sprawled in the road. I could hear Heero yelling at me, but I had seen what he had not from the passenger seat. When I hoisted myself back into the car, I tossed the laser-sighted gun into the back seat, and a hand-held radio into Heero’s lap.
I jammed the car in gear and sped off as fast as I could manage. It took me longer than it had Heero to figure it out, but getting a good long look at the radio confirmed what I suspected and Heero had known. That had not been a real Highway Patrolman; he was Oz.
We were still hours from the pick up point.
‘We gotta ditch this car.’ I growled, watching the blue lights shrink and then fade in the rear view mirror.
Heero grunted, the radio braced between his knees, fiddling with it one handed.
I grinned; so we were back to that. The road was pretty straight and flat, and I pushed it up to ninety; little fuzzy animals beware. Where the heck had Heero had that gun hidden?
The radio squawked to life and I jumped like a scared rabbit. Mr. Dead-in-the-road’s buddies were looking for him.
‘Delta Bravo five niner, report.’ It crackled at us.
Heero chewed his lip for a second and then replied, ‘This is Delta Bravo five niner, false alarm.’
There was a long pause. We couldn’t be that lucky, could we?
‘Confirm.’ They wanted some code word. Damn.
‘Nice try.’ I said, ‘How about seeing if you can get that thing tuned in to our emergency frequency?’
He had to crack the case; with my help. Between us, we had one good set of hands. I left him to it then, and concentrated on looking for another vehicle. I got off the road we had been on as quick as I could, running with the lights out for a little while. I began heading toward higher traffic areas, and finally come upon a small town. This one might even have qualified for an actual population count. It was after midnight. I parked the car on a side street and sat for a minute observing the area.
‘I’ll be back in ten minutes one way or the other.’ I told Heero, not looking at him, ‘Think you can drive if you have too?’
There was a tight silence and then a calm, ‘No.’
I wasn’t sure if it meant no he couldn’t drive, or no he wasn’t leaving without me. Either way.
‘Guess I’d better not screw up, then, huh?’ I reached up and flipped the interior lights off so they wouldn’t come on when I opened the door. I wish I could say I slipped into the night and disappeared like a shadow. Possibly on a good day. Tonight, I kind of staggered. Maybe if anyone saw me, they’d take me for a drunk. I leaned back in the window,
‘Make that fifteen.’
Everything was completely quiet. The kind of place where nothing happens after about ten o’clock at night. I crossed a couple of yards, avoiding places with dogs, and went hunting for a likely source of transportation. My first choice didn’t even have a quarter of a tank of gas, and I rejected it. Second target had a flat and looked like it had been sitting for a while, probably wouldn’t even start. Then I spotted a nice little number parked out behind a house. That was what first drew my attention; it was off the street and kind of out of sight. It was a smaller car than the one we had been driving, and looked faster. That was a plus. When I pulled the wires and supplied a little power, the gas gage rose to full. It was an automatic transmission too, and with only one good hand, that made it perfect. I looked it over inside, didn’t want any surprises, and finally slipped inside and started it up. Quiet engine; good, with any luck, it would be morning before the owner missed it. I pulled slowly out, careful not to pass near the house, and made my way back to Heero. In the end, it was closer to twenty minutes.
I pulled up beside ‘our’ car and about peed myself. I didn’t see Heero. I threw myself out of the new car and limped over as fast as I could, my heart in my throat, and jerked the door open, only to be greeted with a gun barrel in the face. He was lying across the front seat, out of sight. Brain engaged and calmly said, ‘of course’.
‘I thought you said fifteen minutes?’ he sounded almost amused.
I just grunted at him and began to gather up the useful stuff we had accumulated in our travels in an effort to cover up the fear I had felt when I thought he wasn’t there. Blanket, guns, radio, aspirin, the last of the bottled water; it all went into the new car and then I went back for Heero. This would be the first time I had tried to move him out of the car in a good day or more. We did it slow, and he let me help him and clung to me without a word, even though he was killing my ribs and my leg and he knew it. Which told me just how much he couldn’t help it.
The new car had bucket seats instead of the bench seat the old one had. I settled him in and buckled him up, it was a warm night, and we were both sweating and panting. I eased his door shut and did my little hop thing back around the car. Then we were on the road again, and I sure hoped the lost half hour was worth it.
He let me drive in peace for a while; he seemed wide-awake now, fiddling with the radio again.
‘What the hell scared you back there?’ he asked innocently, after a few miles.
‘What do you think?’ I growled, knowing where this was leading and not really feeling up to the argument.
‘You should have known that’s what I would do. An empty parked car is a lot less conspicuous than a guy sitting in one.’
I concentrated on keeping the car on my side of the road, and said flatly, ‘I was preoccupied.’
‘Doesn’t that tell you how tired you are?’
‘No, the grit in my eyes and the ringing in my ears is telling me how freaking tired I am.’ That came out harsher than I intended, but I wasn’t just tired any more, I felt like I was holding on by a thin, raveling thread. But what the hell could I do. If I could abandon the car, I could lose myself and they’d never find me, but Heero could barely walk, and needed medical attention. I had no choice but to get him back to Quatre and the others as fast as possible.
‘What would you have me do, Heero?’ I finally asked, and when he didn’t have an answer, that pretty much ended that conversation.
Then the radio flared to life under his hands and as though my thinking of him had summoned his voice, I heard Quatre, ‘…Lost Boys, Lost Boys, come in Lost Boys, do you read?’ I almost ran off the road.
His voice sounded tired and droned as though he had been at this for days. I laughed out loud, a sound my throat turned into a strangled cry. I snatched the radio from Heero’s hand and keyed the mike.
‘Hawk’s Nest, this is Lost Boys, can you hear me?’
His voice came back in a burst of incoherent joy and then I heard Wufei take over.
‘Mr. Black?’ he queried cautiously, and I realized they probably didn’t recognize my voice.
‘Mr. Dragon, we are on our way in, I need immediate pick up at point Delta Sly Honey.’ That would tell him it was me.
‘Immediate?’ he questioned me, worry coming through even across the radio.
‘Two hours. We are extremely hot and in need of medical transport.’
‘Understood, Mr. Black.’ And I knew he had it all and they would be there. The sound of their voices was like a salve, even across the miles I had yet to go.
‘We’ll be there.’ I heard Quatre break in and I grinned.
‘Thank you, Mr. Hawk.’ I sent all I could with those spare words, ‘Signing off.’
I was grinning from ear to ear when I handed the radio back. Heero was frowning at me.
‘Was that wise?’ Meaning the part about admitting we were injured.
‘We’re close. Shouldn’t make that much difference now. Even if we were over heard.’
He still didn’t look happy. I worked my way out of town and back to the highway where I proceeded to find out just how much faster the little car would go. It was a sweet little thing, and I felt kind of bad about stealing it. Somebody was going to be really pissed in the morning, and I had a funny feeling there wouldn’t be much left to tow home when I was done with it.
We were still something like a hundred miles out, and I had some serious time to make.
I have to give him credit, Heero didn’t utter a word until I hit a hundred and twenty, and then it was just a quiet, ‘Duo.’ I sighed and dropped back to one ten. I said a silent thanks for the flat, straight, relatively deserted highways in this part of the country. And a little prayer that they were still looking for Gus’s car.
Heero had gotten quiet, and I spared a quick glance to see if he had fallen asleep again. I caught him staring at my throat. It was probably starting to show bruising, and even if it wasn’t, I’m sure his imagination was painting it in.
He winced at the sound of my voice, but returned his eyes to the radio he was fiddling with again. Having completed contacting Quatre and the others, he was flipping through the channels trying to pick up something from our pursuit. They knew we had the radio, and would switch away from the channel they had been on, but would have to use something to stay in contact. They would keep it to a bare minimum though, so all we could do was run up and down the range.
We were getting closer to the city, and traffic was starting to pick up. I had to drop it below a hundred and weave my way carefully in and out of traffic. I didn’t need some irate motorist calling in a traffic report. I think I had made up enough time to get us there close to the appointed hour. But the slow down was turning out to have a bad effect on me; I was getting sleepy again. Apparently, driving like a maniac had been generating enough of an adrenaline rush to keep we awake. City driving was dull. This car, at least, had air, and I switched it on and flipped it to high. Heero looked at me quizzically, but it was a warm night and he didn’t seem to really question it. I think he was starting to drift off again, himself.
Another couple of miles and it wasn’t really working. I reached without thinking for that last can of unfinished soda before I remembered it had gotten left in the other car. I couldn’t do this. I was going to fall asleep at the wheel, kill us both, and it would all be over. How long had I been driving? How long had I been awake? Two days? Three? I didn’t even know.
I almost rear-ended a truck that had slowed down to take an exit. I was starting to panic, but even that wasn’t helping. Do you have a limited supply of adrenaline? I think I had run out.
In my head, I heard the voice of my child-hood protector, Solo. The one who had taught me how to survive on the streets. ‘When everything else is gone, you hold on to your pain and your rage, and that will get you through.’
I gripped the wheel tight in my good right hand, waited for a break in the traffic, so I wouldn’t veer and hit something, and then took my already aching left hand and smashed it into the dash.
I heard Heero shout, ‘Duo! What the hell are you doing?’
Pain flared up my arm, tiny lights flashed before my eyes, and some blessed, something flooded through my system, and I was in control again.
‘Stayin’ awake.’ I growled through a feral grin.
He just stared at me for a minute, then I could see, out of the corner of my eye, all the signs of Heero getting really mad.
The radio, forgotten in his lap, chose that moment to flare to life.
‘Base, this is Pronto Charlie seven seven, we have found the target vehicle.’
I crowed with delight, ‘Gotcha!’
Then what they were saying sunk in.
We were still twenty or thirty minutes out. There was some confirmation, the information was relayed that the car was abandoned. They announced a sweep of the area.
We drove in silence, ears tuned to the static of the radio, waiting to hear the dreaded news that they knew what we were driving. The minutes ticked on, while I was slowed by the increasing traffic. It took them just over ten minutes, and we heard the description go out. Shit, once again.
It was well after one in the morning, and I could not believe the traffic. Everything seemed to be conspiring to get in my way. I was getting back into familiar territory though, and abruptly, after getting slowed down to sixty for the third time, I made the decision to leave the highway. I took an exit I knew came out in the Barrio district. A place you didn’t want to break down, but also, a place that did not get a lot of attention from the law.
The last thing I wanted was to get pulled over by a legitimate cop just trying to do his job.
The pick up point was out on the east edge of the city, behind a park, a little patch of ground that had gone back to scrub growth. It offered high ground with good cover.
I wove through the now well-known streets, going slow, trying not to attract attention. I had made good time on the highway, if I continued, we would be early to the drop.
The radio reported a sighting on the highway. A passing motorist who apparently had objected to being passed at ninety-five had called us in. They had us narrowed down to the city, which was still a very large place.
This time Heero said it, ‘Shit.’
I cruised slowly through the streets, getting ever closer to the park. My arms were goose flesh from the air conditioner running full blast, but I didn’t dare lose the cold. My left hand was limp and throbbing in my lap, and I clung to that pain. We were so close. I had a new mantra; pain and rage, pain and rage.
The radio crackled again and damned if somebody hadn’t found our exit. Some report of a sighting, I don’t know how.
The park was right ahead of us; I followed the road around as close as I could get to our destination. The park was closed for the night, of course, gates shut to keep cars out. I didn’t have the time to try them, we would have to hike in, it wouldn’t be far, but I doubted our ability to make it.
I pulled over as far as possible and killed the engine. I got out, trying to hurry around the car to Heero’s side, feeling like the hounds of hell themselves were baying at my heels. I guess I tried to go a little too fast, and wound up on my face in the gravel, not really sure how I had gotten there. My right leg was not much more than a dead weight. I starting trying to lever myself up, shaking in every limb. I heard Heero call my name. Damn it, he was counting on me, I couldn’t quit now.
Pain and rage, pain and rage. Down the hand went on the pavement, this time bringing a strangled cry along with the shock of the pain and the spark of lights. But it drove me up and I staggered the last few feet to the passenger side of the car. The door was already open and Heero was trying to haul himself out.
I reached passed him and grabbed the radio, clipping it to the waist of my pants, then I started trying to drag him out. His gun must have already been stowed back where it came from, because I didn’t see it. In the near distance, I heard sirens, and I had no doubt they were connected with the search for two wayward Gundam pilots.
There was a bit of a hill to get up, and after all we had been through, I thought the damn thing would defeat us. I had my bad arm tight around Heero’s waist, not able to grip him with that hand and holding him up by clamping him to my side. My ribs were hurting so bad it felt like I couldn’t breath. We made several attempts at it, it was more of a fucking incline than a hill, but I just couldn’t make it.
There was a small noise from Heero, and I looked at him. He had been talking to me since the car. I couldn’t have told you what he’d said, but he had stopped a bit ago, after maybe the second assault on the hill. This tiny sound drew my attention back and I kind of focused on him for the first time in a bit. He was ghost pale, his skin looking waxy. I was suddenly aware of how hot he was pressed against me. His eyes didn’t really seem to see me. We were so close, so damn close. I heard the sirens growing nearer, or maybe there were just more of them. Something inside me just snapped. You ever hear those stories about mothers picking cars up off their kids? I guess they must be true. I turned and just sort of scooped Heero up in my arms, turned back up that hill and just climbed it. The leg that had been folding under me every time I tried to walk for the past day somehow bore both our weight. I’m pretty sure Heero out weighs me. I have no idea how I did it and I don’t really remember getting through the scrub and under cover. I kind of came to myself again with both of us sprawled in the dirt and leaves in the under brush. Heero was staring at me, wide eyed, and I’m afraid I probably hurt him getting him up there.
There was nobody to meet us. We were early by almost a half an hour.
I straightened Heero’s sling as best I could and muttered apologies for the hurts I knew I was causing, but he wouldn’t admit to with so much as a whimper.
‘You got your gun?’ I asked and he nodded as I unclipped the radio and pressed it into his hands.
I don’t think my intentions were clear in my own head until the moment he asked me, with fear in his voice,
‘Duo, what are you doing?’
I was really rather calm as I told him, ‘The guys aren’t going to be here for twenty minutes or more.’ One of those circling sirens wailed closer, as if to add impact to what I was saying. ‘We’re going to be found before then. I’m going to take the car and lead them away.’
‘No.’ his voice was cold and flat, trying to bully me like he did so often.
‘It is completely illogical for both of us to sit here and get caught.’ I tried swaying him with some of his own rather calculated thinking. But he wasn’t having it.
Then he hit me where I didn’t expect it from Heero.
‘Duo, please, don’t leave me…’
I resisted the urge to reach out to him; I wasn’t stupid enough to get within arms reach.
‘Heero, I’ll be fine, I know the city. I’ll ditch the car. I’ll meet up with you at the safe house.’ My voice was going again, it was hard to talk so long at a stretch, and the aching ribs were making it difficult to get the air needed anyway. I started to move off, ears tuned to the sounds of our pursuers circling like sharks in the night.
‘Swear!’ he suddenly hissed at me, grim and hurting, ‘Swear you’ll come back!’
I hesitated, the sound of sirens nipping at me heals, ‘I swear.’ I said solemnly, and then added at the bubble of a memory, ‘No ‘black water’ Heero. I swear.’
All that extra strength I had found getting up the hill was long gone, and I stumbled and fell all over myself getting back down. I pulled myself into the car and fired the engine to life. I was out to attract attention now, not avoid it, and I roared off, seeing just how many seconds it took for that little car to go zero to sixty.
They had been closing fast. I passed the first of them not four blocks from the park. He was going the wrong way and lost time stopping and turning around. I saw his blue lights in the mirror and grinned. I wished I still had the radio so I could listen to them yell back and forth at each other. But Heero needed it in case something went wrong and he needed to contact Quatre. Of course, I realized all of a sudden, he was just using it to follow my progress. I imagined him lying there in the dark listening to the men who were trying to kill me. I shrugged it off and grinned as I made a turn the police car behind me couldn’t. That was going to cost him some time. I quickly made several turns and looped back to streak by behind him as he disentangled himself from the curb and a trash can.
I heard the sound of my own voice laughing.
Finally, I could feel battle mode coming over me. My sight was narrowing to black and white. All my pains seemed to fade. I couldn’t do this with Heero sitting there beside me. Couldn’t let the mask down. Couldn’t give myself over to the Duo who lived inside and only came out to play as Shingami, the God of Death.
Shingami knew no fear and took the risks that paid off in the end. That was the only way to fight. You couldn’t care if you lived or died, you had to be ready to take it to the limit. All the way. Pain and rage.
Shingami would get me through, but Shingami was horrifying and evil and cold and ruthless. He was me.
I drove through somebody’s yard and come out on Ellis street, a really nice scenic drive once you got out of the area I was in. But down here, in the Barrio, it was straight and ran right out of town on the east side. I took it, heading for the coast. I laughed again, thinking that the coast was where this had all started. The road trip to Hell.
There was space enough to run it up to a hundred again. The car I had been toying with was dropping back a bit, hard pressed to maintain the speed I set.
I was tired of the silence and hit the radio, keying in my favorite station now that I was back in town. The sound of hammering drums and a bass guitar filled the car and I grinned, turning up the volume.
I could see a second car coming up behind the first. This guy was a little more adventurous, because he was gaining on my little cat and mouse buddy. I punched down on the accelerator, and pushed it up to one ten. I had about another twenty miles before the road turned out towards the coast and got curvy. I meant to make the best of it. I glanced at the clock in the dash and decided that Heero might have been picked up by now. That helped. He’s safe, I kept telling myself. The guys have him. He’s safe.
My friend in the rear view was doing an admirable job of keeping up, so I pushed it a little harder. Come on boys; let’s play. Follow the leader.
In no time at all, I was running out of straight road and having to brake like hell to make the first curve. Tires screamed and gravel went everywhere as I skidded onto the shoulder. I noted with satisfaction that my friends backed off as they slowed down a whole lot more than I had. The coastline here curved around to the east, and I could actually see part of the road where I would soon be, in front of me. There were blue lights up there.
I guess the part of me that was Shingami had known when I turned onto this road just what I had planned, but that part hadn’t told the rest of me and I felt a flash of fear even through the battle haze.
I was going to run the car off the cliff. It made absolute, perfect sense. Lead them all out into the middle of no-where, as far away from Heero as I could manage and then make them think they witnessed our fiery deaths. Simple.
Except for the part where little Duo survives. I’m not one hundred percent that was part of the original plan. I think I was supposed to go over the cliff with the car and maybe wash away all my sins in the ultimate sacrifice.
Not really sure. And this part is going to sound really hackneyed, and I’m sorry, but it’s the stinking, stupid truth. I had promised Heero ‘no black water’. No suicide. I swore I would come back. And now I had to freaking manage it somehow.
I fought the car around another curve, swearing the right rear tire was over air for a second. Might have been my imagination. Then the road curved in for a small piece, and I was out of the line of sight of all the circling sharks. I braked like hell and managed to get my speed down to fifty. It was now or never. I bailed. Arms tucked up around my head, legs pulled up tight, trying to roll. Kids, don’t try this at home. Or away from home. Or in your wildest dreams. Forget the movies, OK? They make that maneuver look so easy; they roll for a couple of feet, and jump up in time to watch the car hit the bottom. Forget about it. I didn’t roll so much as I bounced. My face hit the pavement despite my best efforts on about the third bounce. I guess I did kind of roll, because I lost a large portion of the skin off my back too. When I finally stopped, I was so disoriented, all I could do was lie in the road and mutter my new mantra, ‘Shit! Shit! Shit!’
My vision cleared a little and I clung to the sure knowledge that I only had a few minutes, no matter how much my hunters slowed down on the curves. I started trying to get up and had to settle for crawling toward the edge of the road. Somewhere in there, I heard the horrendous noise of the car hitting the rocks below with a satisfying explosion. Thank all the Gods for that, without it, they would have figured out a whole lot sooner that there were no bodies in it.
I made the cover of the scrub growth on the side of the road bare minutes before the cars converged on the site. I lay still as death and listened to them argue about the best way to get down to the crash sight. Nobody even considered searching the area. I guess they couldn’t imagine anybody stupid enough to jump out of a car going that fast. They finally settled on going back down the way I had come up, to a water front road. I don’t think I breathed until they were gone.
Then began the slow trek inland. It took me two days. I was pretty much over battle mode now, cold and in pain and tired to my soul. I thought the act of breathing was going to kill me and I developed a cough that last day. I’ll spare you most of the gory details. I holed up a couple of times in sewer drainpipes and managed to doze for an hour or so. I ate a little out of a dumpster behind a fast food restaurant. Just flashed right back to my roots. Felt right at home. Duo the street rat. I did the stuff I had to; the kind of things I couldn’t have done in front of Heero.
It was after dark that second night, when I finally arrived on the doorstep of the safe house. The way I looked, I could only move after dark. I was filthy and bloody and I’m sure I stunk to hell and back. Between the damage to my throat and the cough, I didn’t have much voice left. What was I running on? I couldn’t even name it any more. It was just a hard lump of something sitting in my gut that made me keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep going. I opened the front door and stepped inside without fanfare, quietly shutting it behind me.
Yeah, there was a small feeling of having reached sanctuary, but the lump in my gut wouldn’t let go. It drove me to drag myself up the stairs to seek out the source of the voices I heard faintly above me.
‘Come in Lost Boy. This is Hawk’s Nest. Do you read?’
I had to smile, just a tiny bit, as much as the scabs on my face would let me. Never tiring Quatre; I swear, he’d call me back from hell one day.
I coughed then, and they came rushing out of the study, Quatre in the lead, yelling ‘Duo!’ at the top of his lungs, though how in the hell he recognized me from a cough I could not tell you. I guess I knew what I looked like, not that I really cared, but it was weird to see it mirrored in their eyes. The left side of my face had to be making a great effort at imitating hamburger, there wasn’t much left of my shirt, hanging in road-abraded shreds. My left hand was swollen and blackened. I’m sure my throat was a real treat where Heero had tried to strangle me. I was hunched into the pain, not really upright, listing like a sinking ship. And filthy.
Wufei looked mad, stone cold and murderous and muttered something in Chinese that I suppose had to be a curse word. Trowa just looked sad, kinda like Trowa always looks, I guess. Quatre looked like he just might cry, but only stopped rushing at me when greeted with my warning growl.
How do you know when not to touch a soldier? Ask another soldier.
‘Heero?’ I croaked out, first time I’d used my voice in days. It was pretty rusty.
Quatre winced at the sound, but Wufei, picked up on it at once. The soldier wanted to know if he had completed his mission. His self-appointed mission to save Heero Yuy’s stubborn hide.
‘He’s at the hospital, Duo. He’s fine. Had to have surgery, but he’s OK.’
I stared at him and waited for that knot in my stomach to let go, to let me fall over. I felt it ease a bit, but it wouldn’t go away and leave me alone. Instead it turned my steps toward my room.
‘Shower.’ I informed them, knowing how asinine that sounded, ‘Then take me there.’ Bare words were all I could manage.
I guess I had to see for myself before that damn lump would release me and let me quit. Behind me, Quatre started to object and Trowa shushed him,
‘Leave be, Quatre. Just leave it be.’
Yeah, just leave it be. Let it go.
I limped to my room and didn’t even bother with the lights. I’d been in the dark so long I didn’t really want them. I stood in the bedroom and pulled off what was left of the shirt, some of it stuck to my back. The pants defeated me, and I finally managed to get my knife out of my boot and cut them off. My knee was swollen like a melon. It took some work to get the boots off and I was panting and dizzy by the time I managed it. Finally, finally, I wobbled into the bathroom and stepped into the shower, I turned the water on slow at first, and just let it run over me, not moving. Let it run through my filthy hair. It felt so go where it wasn’t stinging. I let some run down my throat, swallowing thirstily and instantly regretted it, throwing it right back up. There wasn’t anything else in my stomach to come up; just the water and it all went down the drain. I thought at that point my ribs had self-destructed and I just stood under the spray with my head hanging, braced one handed against the wall.
‘Duo.’ It was Wufei, calm and cool. I hadn’t heard the door open, but then, I’m not sure I closed it.
I grunted and then almost giggled, lost in memory.
‘He was in pretty bad shape when we got to him. He might have died if you hadn’t gotten him to us. You did a good job. You saved him.’
I gasped as the knot began to unravel in my belly. He just kept talking to me, like he was gentling an animal, and maybe he was.
‘I spent the day sitting with him; he sleeps a lot with the medication they have him on. But when he’s awake, he talks about you. You know he thinks you died in the car wreck? Why don’t you let us take you there?’
He sounded like somebody trying to talk a jumper off a ledge, and I guess I needed to be talked down, just from a different kind of height. I closed my eyes and let his voice soothe away the chunk of whatever it was, and slowly, slowly, it unwound. And left me cold and full of nothing but pain. With a sigh, I let it all go, and they tell me I tried to drown myself in the bathtub. I don’t remember.
It all got very jumbled after that. For a while all I remember are voices, distant and disjointed, and odd sounds.
‘Damn it! He’s coming out from under again!’
Searing pain in my hand.
Panicked voices, somehow related to something I had done.
Wufei, yelling something. A stranger’s voice, yelling back.
There was nothing but a strange beeping for a while, punctuated with bizarre, Darth Vader breathing.
Horrid, horrid pain in my chest. Something covering my face.
All very incoherent, with big gaps of nothing in between.
My next clear memory was waking up and not knowing where I was. My whole body convulsed. Damn! I was falling asleep at the wheel again! But Trowa’s voice came soft and calm.
‘You’re in the hospital. I’m here, go back to sleep.’
And I did.
Another memory of opening my eyes in the night and seeing Quatre asleep in the chair beside the bed, curled into an uncomfortable position like a cat. I tried to tell him to go home, but my voice didn’t work. Then I was gone again.
The feel of something cold touching my lips, the taste of applesauce.
‘Come on Duo. Just a little bit.’ Wufei this time. I tried to swallow, to make him happy. I sank away again before I was sure I had.
Another awakening with my body spasming in fear, struggling against the depths of sleep. Have to stay awake! Have to stay awake!
A voice beside me told me everything was all right.
It was late and the lights were dim and someone was holding my hand. I rolled my head slowly that way and found Heero sitting beside the bed in a wheel chair.
‘Hey.’ He said softly when he saw my eyes were open.
There was a lurch in my chest, and I realized that somewhere, deep inside, I had been afraid the guys were lying to me, that Heero had died and they were trying to spare me the news.
I tried my voice, and had to settle for a grunt. He smiled at me.
‘Want something to drink?’ I nodded, and he let go of my hand to lift a glass of water and hold the straw to my lips. The moisture helped.
His left arm was in a full cast, and I couldn’t really see anything else, but I remembered something about surgery.
I frowned, trying to remember. I think I was missing whole days. Nothing really hurt all that much, which was surprising. Not that much time could have gone by, could it? What the hell was wrong with me? I couldn’t focus on anything. I felt a tiny edge of panic trying to force it’s way past the fog I was in.
‘Heero?’ I couldn’t really muster up to full panic, but there must have been a touch of fear in my voice.
‘It’s all right. Shhh. It’s all right. It’s the drugs. You’re OK.’ He stopped holding my hand and started gently stroking my hair.
I really hate drugs, I rolled my head, looking around and saw the IV, and next to it, a box I recognized. It was automatically pumping painkillers into my system. It was stealing my focus and my control. It was muting the pain, taking away the thing I had been using to keep my center for so long.
I snarled. It had to go. I reached for the tubes, and almost had them before Heero realized what I was doing and stopped me. He might be in a wheel chair, and obviously still recovering himself, but he was still stronger than I was.
‘Stop it.’ He was really pretty calm, for Heero, I thought he’d yell. ‘Duo, listen to me. Leave it alone. You need to get some rest.’
‘Been resting.’ I grumbled, getting a little irritated. After all, it was my pain and if I wanted to feel it, I should be able to feel it. Feel something anyway.
He smiled kind of sad, ‘No you haven’t. You keep waking up, screaming.’
I remembered Trowa’s voice, soothing away a nightmare. ‘I have?’ I asked dumbly.
‘Yes. Just ask the poor nurse who happened to be on duty the first night.’
I glanced at him, and he was still smiling gently at me. ‘I didn’t hurt anybody, did I?’
‘No. Not really. Scared her to death, maybe. They’ve had one of us with you since.’ He gently wiped something off my cheeks, they felt damp, but I couldn’t figure out why.
I frowned harder, trying to digest it all. ‘You shouldn’t be here. You should be in bed yourself.’ I had to struggle to keep my eyes open.
He was quiet for a bit and then said, ‘I insisted.’
I tried to ask him why, but my voice cracked again, and there was a minute of silence while he raised the water to my lips. He looked upset.
I guess he figured what I had meant to ask, ‘I owe you my life. You got me through, and I repaid you by trying to kill you.’
He looked away, not meeting my eyes. I reached for his hand, ‘You know I don’t blame you.’
‘I blame me.’
‘Well stop it.’
‘Maybe….if you leave the morphine alone and sleep for more than two hours at a time.’
I had to laugh. I was really sorry after; even the morphine haze couldn’t keep my ribs from exploding.
We just sat in silence for a while, and I started to doze. I fell asleep with the distant sound of Heero whispering to me.
‘You can rest now. It’s all over. Everything’s OK. Sleep, Duo, just sleep…’
It finally must have soaked down to that part of me that was trapped in the endless loop of highway and I slept without waking again until morning.
Heero was gone, and Quatre was back, and when my eyes finally opened and focused, he was beaming at my like a sunrise. I was sorry Heero wasn’t there, I guess I just wanted the confirmation that it hadn’t been a dream, but glad to know that he was probably back in bed where he belonged.
Besides, Quatre was going to be a whole lot easier to bully than Heero would have been.
‘Duo!’ he greeted me, almost bubbling with his happiness. ‘You slept all night!’
I gave him a smile and let him feed me ice chips until I could speak.
‘Feeling better.’ And it wasn’t a lie.
You do seem better. You haven’t been sleeping well.’ His smile faded a little, ‘Not since the surgery.’
‘Surgery?’ for what?
Quatre’s smile faded all together, ‘Your hand.’ He looked away, embarrassed. ‘You almost lost it.’
I looked down at my left hand, remembering a terrible pain…and something else.
Quatre wasn’t meeting my eyes at all, and I realized that Heero must have mentioned how it got so screwed up. I struggled to remember the rest.
He looked back at me, seeming a little awed, ‘You kept coming out from under the anesthetic.’ That explained the odd memory of medical personnel in a panic. I couldn’t help but grin.
Quatre’s smile blazed back to life. ‘Do you think you could eat something?’
‘No, I do not.’ He froze, like I had suddenly turned into a two-headed monster in front of him.
‘And I do not intend to until you get this damned morphine drip stopped.’
He blinked at me uncertainly, probably not sure if I was fading into incoherence again.
‘Duo, I can’t do that.’ He looked upset, and I felt a little guilty, but I knew I wasn’t likely to bully any of the rest of the guys like this. Bless little Quatre’s sweet nature.
‘Quatre. It upsets me. It’s making me feel ill. I want it stopped. I can take some other pain medication.’
The argument went on for a little while, but I had the high ground and eventually I won. Quatre had to go find the Doctor, and get some kind of authorization, and then an irritated looking nurse came in and took the damn box away and I rewarded Quatre with a full power Duo Maxwell grin, and ate a bowl of sloppy, green jello for him. Then I decided I’d better sleep as much as I could before the morphine completely left my system. I drifted off feeling a little bad about the fact that Heero was probably going to kill Quatre.
At the changing of the guard, I woke to the sound of Trowa and Quatre arguing in low tones. It was somewhere around noon, judging from the light and the smells. I couldn’t tell you if I felt better or worse. The pain was definitely coming back, and I could feel the tightness in my knee, the throbbing in my hand and the other things I hadn’t noticed before. Like the catheter. Damn, how could you not notice something like that?
But my head was feeling clearer, and that was such an immense relief, I didn’t care about the rest.
I opened my eyes to see Quatre standing with his head butted against Trowa’s chest, and Trowa kneading his shoulders. Those two are so sweet together. I liked the rare moments when I caught glimpses of them when they didn’t know I was looking. They made me feel happy and made me ache all at the same time.
‘I didn’t know what else to do, Trowa, he refused to eat until I made them disconnect it.’
‘It’s all right,’ Trowa murmured, kissing the top of his head, ‘I’m sorry I yelled at you. It’ll be all right.’
‘It was such a close thing, for both of them…’ he trailed off and Trowa enveloped him in a hug, gently swaying back and forth.
‘I know. I know.’
I realized Quatre was crying. Without the damn drug haze, things were starting to work in my brain, and I realized just how tired Quatre looked.
‘Quatre.’ I called softly, and they started, moving away from each other. ‘Come here, Quatre.’ I held out my arm for him and he came to me with care. I pulled him down into a one armed hug and rubbed my cheek against his hair.
‘I’m sorry, it was a mean thing to do to you.’ Trowa was frowning at me, coming, I think, to that same conclusion. ‘But, thank you, oh Gods, thank you. I can’t tell you how much better I feel. I’m in control again.’
He sat up and wiped at his eyes, ‘You do seem like yourself again. Before, it was like we were wrestling with a stranger.’
I smiled sadly at him, and wanted to tell him that he had been; he’d wrestled with Shingami and that was why the drugs had to go. I didn’t want them to meet Shingami face to face and realize what they were seeing.
‘Trowa, get him home to bed.’
Trowa just grunted. Damn! It was contagious! And steered Quatre out of the room.
I took an inventory in the time I had to myself, now that I had my brain back. I tried to move my left hand, and realized it was restrained. What the hell? Experimentally, I tried to shift my right leg, and found it stiff and still swollen and extremely sore. I discovered that my ribs were taped; I had figured that ‘roll’ out of the car had changed their status from fractured to broken. I was sure I had felt it at the time. This pretty much confirmed it. I had an IV, of course, and there were several bags hanging from the hook above me. Some of them looked like more than just fluids. I was on oxygen and I was amazed I hadn’t felt the stupid tube across my face before now, it was damned irritating. I probed gently at the scabs on my cheek and forehead and came away a little confused.
Trowa came back about then, and I pinned him with a frown, ‘Ok, just how the hell long have I been…out of it?’
He heaved a heavy sigh, pulled the straight-back chair over next to the bed and straddled it, his arms across the back.
‘Tonight will make five full days.’
I felt like I’d been punched. Five days?
He sighed again; I think maybe he had been hoping somebody else would have to do this part.
‘Duo, you were in pretty rough shape by the time you got back. That night, you passed out in the shower, we brought you here. Your hand was a mess.’ He glanced down, just the way Quatre had, to avoid my eyes. ‘It was close to going gangrenous, and they operated immediately. But you developed pneumonia after the surgery. They think you were on the verge anyway. You were on a respirator for while. You’re still on antibiotics.’ He nodded toward the IV that I had noted earlier.
He shut up and let me digest all that.
‘Trowa,’ I asked carefully, ‘why is my hand strapped down?’
He put his forehead down on his crossed arms and totally refused to look at me.
‘You kept trying to smash it on things.’ I barely made out the muffled words, but they were what I was half expecting to hear anyway.
I tried to think of a way to explain it so they’d stop looking at me like I was made out of glued together eggshells. I guess they must have gotten a glimpse of that other-me after all. And I scared them. Great, I was too bloody strange even for a group of stone cold killers. Great.
‘How’s Heero doing?’ I gave up and just changed the subject. ‘Really doing?’
‘Much better. He’ll probably be released this afternoon or tomorrow.’
I didn’t know how to ask what I wanted to know, so I just gave it up.
‘Trowa, I don’t really need a baby-sitter any more. Why don’t you go home to Quatre?’
That brought his head back up and he looked at me, unsure of trusting me, I think.
‘I swear I’ll be good.’ I worked up enough energy for a quirk of a grin, ‘cross my heart.’
I could tell he was tempted. He looked as tired as Quatre had.
‘Please? Go home and give Quatre a hug and tell him I am so sorry for all the trouble I caused, OK?’
He blushed furiously and he held my eyes for a bit. Something he saw there must have finally convinced him that Duo Maxwell was indeed back in the building, and he rose and started for the door, then stopped and looked back at me.
‘When we thought you were dead…’ He paused, working at something, and I realized that maybe I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know how to get things across, ‘It hit everybody hard, but…’ He came back a step or two, as though imparting something he shouldn’t be sharing.
‘We almost lost Heero. Quatre thinks it was as much because of you as from the bleeding and the infection. He…just kind of gave up.’ And then he was gone.
Well; there was my warm fuzzy for the day. They may think I’m crazy, but they still cared.
I’m really not going to go into how I felt, happy and sick all at the same time. I will tell you I lay there all alone and grinned at the ceiling and let the tears stream down the side of my face for most of the next hour. That is bloody damn well all you need to know.
I dozed after that, off and on. The pain had come home to roost, and I really wasn’t happy about it, but I was afraid if I complained, they’d drag that damn morphine back and there was no way I was making the trip back to la-la land.
A nurse checked on me around dinnertime and looked really unhappy to find me all alone.
‘Where’s your friend?’ she said warily and I wondered if she was the one I ‘scared’ my first night here.
I tried to smile gently and look non-threatening, ‘I sent him home. I’m all better without the morphine.’
She really frowned then, ‘Have you had any pain meds this afternoon?’
‘No ma’am.’ I confessed, hoping she might remedy that situation. ‘Not since they disconnected the drip this morning.’
She actually hissed in annoyance, but bustled out of the room and returned with one of those little paper cups with the pills in them and a fresh glass of water.
I took them and then looked at her with just a hint of threat in my eyes, ‘These will not, in any way, shape, or form, make me groggy, will they?’
Her hand froze in the middle of handing me the water and she shook her head in the negative. I was pretty sure this must be the lady I traumatized earlier in the week.
I grinned and took the water, ‘Good, then we don’t have a problem.’
‘Maxwell, you always have a problem.’ Wufei leaned in the doorway, wearing one of his tight little smiles. The ones that are almost not there.
My nurse seemed happy to see him, and proceeded with the job of checking all my vitals and then she bustled out.
Wufei came on into the room and took the chair lately vacated by Trowa, turning it around first. He stretched out in it, rocking back on two legs, arms behind his head.
‘You are much improved from the last time I saw you.’
‘I finally convinced somebody to get rid of that damned morphine.’
One corner of his mouth quirked up, ‘Convinced? I thought the term was intimidated.’
I refrained from answering, since he had obviously already heard all about the incident.
‘Where’s Trowa?’ he asked, oh so casually.
‘I sent him home. And as happy as I am to see you, I’m going to send you home too.’
He quirked an eyebrow at me as if to say, you and what army. But only smiled.
My dinner arrived, delivered by a lively, matronly woman who obviously knew Wufei.
‘I see he’s awake,’ she grinned at him, ‘See you do a better job of feeding him tonight.’
She was off down the hall, letting the door shut behind her.
‘Why do they keep my door shut?’ I wondered out loud, former experience told me the doors in hospitals were usually open.
‘You’re noisy.’ Wufei grunted and took the lid off my dinner.
‘Noisy?’ I couldn’t let it drop. It is an extremely uncanny feeling to find out that you have been saying and doing things and have no memory of any of it. I was thirsty to have somebody fill in the blanks. But nobody seemed to want to.
He relented, a little, as he unwrapped my utensils. ‘You yelled a lot. You fought against…everything. You threw things.’
Gods. ‘I remember you yelling.’ I tried to dredge the memory back up.
Wufei got very busy opening a container of what turned out to be broth. ‘I did have an altercation with your Doctor.’
‘Altercation?’ I prompted.
‘He is a very good surgeon, but does not understand the peculiar…psychology of soldiers.’ He moved around to the head of the bed, ‘Nor did he have the proper appreciation for the strength of a Gundam pilot.’
He started to raise the head of the bed, and I gasped as things…adjusted against the inside of my ribs. This was apparently, the first time I had not been flat on my back for some time.
Wufei reappeared in my line of sight, looking concerned. ‘Duo?’
‘Oh….my…’ I managed and had to wave him to a stop as he started to put the bed back down. ‘It’s OK, I think. Let’s just do this in stages, all right?’
He came and sat back down, watching me closely. I don’t think my head was a foot higher than it had been, but I was very dizzy. I chuckled and grinned sheepishly.
I reached shakily for the food tray, and Wufei just smiled. ‘Here, let me; it is my job, after all.’
I didn’t fight, just dutifully swallowed as he carefully spooned broth into my mouth. I couldn’t manage even half the bowl, but Wufei seemed pleased anyway and didn’t push me.
The matronly dinner lady swept back through a bit later, gathering up trays as she went. She inspected mine and gave me the flash of a bright smile. ‘Much better, sweetie.’
Apparently I hadn’t been eating at all up till now. My regular nurse came back after a while and changed the bottle my catheter was draining into, checked my IV and went away again. I noticed Wufei checking his watch and I felt bad.
‘You should go home and get some sleep.’ I ventured, not really wanting him to go yet. I had so many more questions.
‘I can’t leave now,’ he grinned, ‘ I want to see how your therapist deals with the real you.’
‘Breathing treatments. You don’t remember?’
I just had time to shake my head, when the door opened and a little oriental woman with a look of firm resolve came in pushing a large contraption, followed by two orderlies.
She seemed a little relieved to see Wufei, but then kind of confused when she saw me sitting up gawking at her. I suspect I looked very like a deer in headlights.
‘I don’t think you’ll be needing all the… reinforcements, today Miss Sorbye.’ His voice fairly sparkled with amusement.
She seemed dubious and looked at me again. I was starting to feel like a fungus culture under a microscope. She reserved judgment with a long suffering, ‘We’ll see.’
She handed me a pillow I didn’t know what to do with, and I finally muttered, ‘Have we met?’
Miss Sorbye exchanged a look with Wufei, who supplied helpfully. ‘He has no memory of his earlier sessions.’
She arched a delicate eyebrow and launched into a long explanation about pneumonia and it’s causes and treatments. All I really got out of it was, it was gonna hurt.
And it did. She put a mask over my face and had me breathe some sort of medicated mist. This caused me to start coughing until I thought I would die of a brain aneurysm. The pillow, by the way, was for me to clutch to my chest to keep my lungs from exploding out of their cavity. The purpose of this whole exercise seemed to be to get me to spit up some vile fluid that made Lady Torture-person happy enough that she finally went away.
I couldn’t even speak; I just lay in a pool of sweat and panted with the pillow still clutched to my chest. Try panting and not breathing deep at the same time. Wufei finally relented and but the head of the bed back down. Flat was good.
‘How often does that happen?’ I finally gasped out.
‘Every day at the same time, right after dinner.’
‘Oh joy.’ I muttered, and Wufei laughed out loud. I tried to look indignant and failed miserably. He pulled the chair back over next to the bed, sat down and very gently leaned over and touched his forehead to mine.
‘Duo Maxwell, it is so good to have you back again.’ He said softly.
‘You have no idea how good it is to be back.’ I murmured.
What do you know; two warm fuzzys in one day.
He sat up, ‘Now, do you have any idea what comes next?’
I winced, ‘Oh God; no more.’
He grinned at me, obviously enjoying himself, ‘Bath time. The question is, do you still want me to do it, or, now that you’re awake, would you prefer a nurse?’
I squawked, OK? Like some kind of bizarre bird. I gaped and all that shit. Chang Wufei had been bathing me!?
‘I think,’ I finally grated, ‘that a nurse will be fine.’
I swear to God, this was all some kind of hideous revenge for whatever the hell I had been doing on my trip through la-la land. They were all conspiring against me.
He grinned at me and rose to go, ‘I’ll tell the nurse on my way out.’
‘Wufei? When does…I mean, will…’ This was going to come out sounding really needy, and I decided to just forget it.
‘When will Heero be in?’ He grinned at me as I flushed and nodded.
He did that same weird thing that Trowa had done; he stepped back towards the bed, as though we were co-conspirators.
‘Not until after midnight. The third shift nurse is the only one he can intimidate into letting him out of his room.’ I just stared at him as he walked out.
Heero had been sneaking into my room at night? How bizarre was that?
The nurse did indeed show up a bit later, with, thank God, more pain meds and a basin of water. I didn’t have the nerve to ask if Wufei really had been doing this chore, but the hesitant way she went about it at first, left me with very few doubts. She expertly washed me down and changed my hospital gown and somehow managed to get the dirty sheet out from under me and a clean sheet on the bed with me still in it. I even convinced her to remove the strap from my left hand. I vowed tomorrow to get rid of the damned catheter.
I meant to stay awake until Heero came, but I felt so much better after the bath and the pills, that I dozed off despite myself.
I woke in the wee hours of the night and found him sitting in the chair beside the bed. He had opened the blinds on the window and I found we had a grand view of the night sky with the moon pouring a ghostly light across the two of us. It was surreal; it cast a pallor on his skin that reminded me of the night I left him in the park. He was staring out at the moon and his face was set in hard lines that told me he was very angry.
I lay still for a bit, just looking at him, I didn’t want to break the silence, because I knew what was coming and I didn’t want to lay here and justify what I had done. Besides, I was a little angry myself, I had been looking forward to his visit all afternoon, he had been so tender the night before, and now he was going to change the rules again.
I guess he was doing much better himself; his instincts were back, anyway, because he felt me watching him and turned that dark glare on me.
I cringed; this wasn’t what I had waited for all day. I had wanted the easy companionship that had grown between us. The gentle words and the openness. I didn’t want the masks to have to go back on yet.
But he continued to stare at me, and his mask was already firmly back in place. No warm fuzzy’s here. I broke first.
‘What?’ I snapped, get it over with; I wanted to shout at him.
‘Why?’ was all he said.
‘So I could fucking well think, that’s why!’
‘You promised me.’
‘And I kept my promise. I slept all night last night.’
‘You promised you’d leave the morphine alone.’ The pupils of his eyes were huge in the dim light, he was scaring me a little, he looked like he had the night he almost strangled me.
‘I have other medicine now.’ I was getting over the anger and was fading quickly into hurt, and that threw up all the automatic defenses and my mask started to fall back into place.
‘Why wasn’t Wufei here? He’s supposed to stay until I get here.’
‘I’m a big boy now, Heero; he changed my diaper and ran along home.’ It came out in my best smart-ass tone; the one that gets me beat up nine times out of ten. I couldn’t say what I wanted, with him yelling at me. I was mad and I was hurt and nothing was coming out the way it was supposed to.
‘Then, I suppose.’ He said icily, ‘I should run along home too.’
He stood up and started for the door and without thinking; I made to go after him. Not really all that bright, I guess, in retrospect. They say hindsight is twenty-twenty. It went kinda like this; IV lines went tight and stuff rattled metallically over my head, the room whirled around, my sight went to black, and my ribs screamed. I personally might have made a small noise. I’m not saying I moaned or anything so crass, just a small noise. Let’s leave it at that, OK?
He was there, that fast, shoring me up and keeping me from falling out of the bed. One handed, he wrestled me back into position and eased me back down flat. For my part, I got a good hold of the front of his shirt with a grip that I don’t think would come loose if I freaking died, and rode out the near faint.
‘Duo? Duo?’ his voice sounded worried. Let him worry, damn it, I hadn’t done anything that stinking wrong.
When my sight came back, and the room stopped tilting under the bed, I pressed my small advantage and whispered hoarsely into his ear, ‘Don’t you do this to me. I kept every promise I made to you. I kept you safe and I got you home. I came back when it wasn’t part of the damn game plan. I slept clear through last night, just like you wanted. But the damned drugs were making me crazy. I did things I can’t remember doing, and nobody will fucking tell me what!’ I let go of his shirt, mostly because my hand was getting tired.
He straightened up, worry and anger warring across his face, and I played my trump card.
‘Please, don’t leave me.’ Almost the last thing he said to me that night in the park. Right before he made me swear to come back.
He stiffened like he had been stung, and for a second, I thought I might have pushed it too far, but then he just sort of deflated, like I let the air out of him, and he sat down with a defeated sigh in the chair by the bed.
‘Why are you so mad at me?’ I asked after a long silence, I really didn’t know, when I tried to analyze it. He seemed to be way over reacting.
He scrubbed at his face with his one good hand and just sat staring at the floor.
‘You and I went through something together, Heero. I thought we got past the need for the masks we wear. At least with each other. I didn’t think I had to be the Court Jester for you, and you certainly don’t have to be the Stone Man for me.’
He looked up at me then, searching my face intently. Then he stood up and walked around the bed to stand looking out the window. The pale moonlight tracing his profile in silver.
‘The night they brought you in, the emergency room Doctor took you right into surgery to try to repair the…damage to your hand. You fought out from under the anesthetic in the middle of the operation and took a nurse hostage. They had to call Wufei in to try to talk to you. Apparently, he convinced you to let the nurse go, but then the Doctor had three orderlies try to subdue you.’
I remembered Wufei yelling and a lot of people cursing and screaming, but I couldn’t dredge the memory up. ‘Gods.’ I muttered.
‘They managed to complete the surgery, but because of the broken ribs, you hadn’t been breathing right and were in the process of coming down with pneumonia. The anesthetic complicated things and it got rather nasty for a couple of days. But through it all, we couldn’t get you to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time. You keep having nightmares. Until last night. They finally put you on the morphine drip.’
I had to smile. ‘Heero, I didn’t stop having nightmares because of the drugs, I stopped having nightmares because of you.’
He turned away from the window, but that put his face in shadow, and I couldn’t read what was there.
‘Come here.’ I said, and waited while he returned to the chair.
‘The only nightmare I was having, was falling asleep at the wheel of that damn car.’ I could see his face again, but I still couldn’t read the expression, ‘I was running on…autopilot, I guess, and the mission wasn’t over until I was convinced that you were safe and my job was done.’
‘But I was here every night after they let me know you were alive!’ his voice was anguished.
‘But I wasn’t here to know that. Until last night, when you finally got through to me.’
The silence became companionable again, and I smiled happily at the ceiling.
‘Why did you keep hurting yourself on purpose?’
‘Heero, What do you run on?’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘What do you use to keep yourself going when your body says it can’t go any further?’
‘I don’t…really know.’
‘I run on pain…and anger. And the pain makes me mad.’
‘It’s a leftover from the streets. Sometimes that’s all you had, and you learned to turn it into a hard ball in your gut and suck on it for strength.’
It was quiet again for a bit.
‘I didn’t know I was going to run the car off the cliff. I really didn’t. I would have warned you.’
‘Can we call the nurse? I think I screwed the IV up, there’s blood in the tubes.’
I started to laugh and it hurt like a son of a bitch, but Heero was laughing with me, and that made all the pain worthwhile.
Go to Chapter Two:Broken Rules