Demon of Justice + Chapter 13 (cont)
Sweet Dreams

* * * * *

It seemed to Duo that he'd been scanned, poked and prodded by every diagnostic machine known to man, and it was only 10 a.m. Now, he was lying on an examination table, wearing only a t-shirt and boxers, freezing his goosebumps off in the airconditioning, while he waited for Sally to come back and tell him his knee would be fine and he could leave.

The room was uncomfortably silent. Duo hadn't spoken unless he had to during all the tests; maybe he did have to have them done, even if it was only to shut Sally and the other pilots up, but he didn't have to like it and he was damn well going to sulk if he wanted to. Heero had been quiet, too, watching him with an odd, questioning expression. Trowa was being Trowa, which meant that since he hadn't had anything important to say, he hadn't said anything. That left Quatre to fill the conversational void with encouraging chatter and comments, and even he had given up.

"Quatre?" Heero said abruptly, standing up and reaching for Duo's long coat. "Could you go and find a blanket or something? Duo's cold." He draped the coat carefully over Duo and rubbed his arms through the fabric, raising a little warmth.

"Thanks," Duo muttered as Quatre ducked out into the hall. "This is one of the reason I hate hospitals. They always have the airconditioning cranked up like it's summer at the Equator outside."

"I think the temperature has something to do with the air purification systems they use," Trowa offered. "Maybe they should reheat it before it gets circulated."

"Shit, yeah..."

Quatre bustled back in with a couple of cotton blankets, followed by Sally Po and a tall, thin, black-haired doctor. "You need blankets?" he asked, blinking dark eyes behind his glasses. "There are supposed to be blankets already on the shelf... oh, I see there are not. Most regrettable. The temperature in here is such that blankets are definitely needed if you are sitting around half naked for any length of time. I see that you avoided that instrument of psychological torture known as the patient gown, however; well done! You must tell me how you managed that, the nurses are really quite insistent..."

"Duo Maxwell, this is Doctor Modi, one of the top orthopaedic surgeons in the Earthsphere," Sally said politely as Duo sat up. "He'll be performing the surgery on your knee."

The bottom seemed to plummet out of Duo's stomach. "Surgery? What surgery? Come on, Sally, I just twisted it!"

"Perhaps that is all you did, Duo-- may I call you Duo?" Dr. Modi said, setting his laptop down on a small wheeled table and moving it over next to his patient. "You managed to twist it in a singularly nasty way, however; not only did you tear your anterior cruciate ligament, you also ripped the meniscus. To do that, you must have popped your patella right around to the other side of your knee for a moment. I understand you fell off a ladder, and then again on some stairs?"

"Yeah, but-- I don't really need surgery, do I? How long will it take to get better if I don't have the surgery?"

"It won't," Modi calmly replied, peering over his glasses. "You really--ah --'did a number on it'. The anterior cruciate ligament, also called the ACL, is quite important; it holds your knee joint in alignment and helps to keep your patella-- the kneecap-- in place. Without it, your knee will be massively weakened, it will have a nasty tendency to bend sideways at inconvenient moments, and your patella will move out of place and wear away at the other bones. If we do the surgery, however, you will be able to return to your normal range of activities within... hmmm... perhaps as little as four months. Wearing a knee brace, of course," he added, "but that, too, will be temporary."

Duo paled slightly, then swallowed. "Well... shit," he muttered.

"What does this surgery entail, exactly?" Heero asked tersely, one hand going out to cover Duo's.

"First, I should like to point out that this is quite a common surgery," Modi said, pecking at his laptop's keyboard and peering at the results onscreen. "Athletes do this sort of thing to themselves all the time and all the-- er-- 'bugs' were worked out of the operation a long time ago. What we do to fix it hasn't changed since Before Colony days, but we've refined the details of how we do it. Ah, here we are," he said happily, turning the laptop around so that the pilots could see.

"This is a three-dimensional image of your right knee that we've produced from the scan data," he continued, pulling a pen from his pocket and waving it at the screen. "The ACL goes from the left side of your tibia, here, and runs up and across to the right side of your femur, about a third of the way up, here. At least, it's supposed to. We'll take a braided carbon fibre replacement and fuse it to the bones in the proper places, like this." A tap on the keys produced a short animated sequence. "We'll clean up the torn meniscus while we're in there, fuse it together... that part will heal in no time. They used to fix this sort of injury by taking a piece from another ligament and screwing it to the bones, a rather alarming idea, but we've gone beyond that now. We'll use a couple of different treatments to stimulate healing, and you'll actually end up growing a new tendon through the carbon fibre matrix. Eventually, your body will absorb the carbon fibre and it'll be all you in there. Any questions?"

Duo swallowed again. "How long am I going to have to be in the hospital?"

"It's really up to you," Modi replied. "If there are no complications-- and they aren't likely-- we'll let you out as soon as you can bend your leg 90 degrees by yourself. Without using your hands, I should point out, since we've had had patients try to cheat... um, that should be less than a week."

"What about after that?" Heero asked, squeezing Duo's hand as the braided teen relaxed slightly.

"Well, after you prove that you can bend your leg, we put you into an immobilising brace so you can't" Modi said sheepishly, still talking to Duo. "Sounds silly, I know, but it's the right thing to do. You go home and clump around on crutches like that for about a week or ten days. Then we unlock the brace and bend your leg again, which is really going to hurt, I'm afraid, and start you in physical therapy. If that goes well, you should be able to switch to a smaller brace after three months or so; another month or two later, and you'll only have to wear the brace if you're going to play sports or spend the day on your feet. At that point, physical therapy stops, and eventually, you'll be able to throw the brace away for good. 'Eventually' usually means 'about a year after you stop therapy', but it depends on a lot of factors. If you get lazy, or push yourself too hard too soon, you'll set yourself back."

"Pay attention, Duo," Sally said dryly. "You can't approach this the way you've handled every other injury in your life. If you try to act like you're not hurt, or speed up your therapy, you won't get better faster. This time, it doesn't work that way."

"I have a reasonably light caseload at the moment," Dr. Modi muttered, tapping at his laptop again. "I can fit you in... um... three days from now. How's that?"

Duo flopped back on the examination table and sighed. "Okay. If I've got to do this, sooner is better."

"It doesn't take very long," Modi said encouragingly, "and it's usually done with just a local anaesthetic--"

"Bad idea--" "No--" "That won't work--" Sally, Heero and Quatre closed their mouths and looked at each other.

"Oh," Modi blinked, confused. "Is there a problem?"

Trowa cleared his throat. "While we're sure Duo would stay still for the operation, he really doesn't like hospitals. He wouldn't enjoy it. Right, Duo?"

"I could handle it," Duo growled.

"Yes, but you don't have to," Sally pointed out. "And you'd be wound tighter than a violin string. I don't think you need the extra stress."

"Whatever," Duo snapped. "Why don't you guys plan my life, make all the arrangements, and just tell me when and where to show up?"

Quatre leaned over and lightly smacked Duo on the top of his head. "Knock it off," he advised, affectionately. "It's your decision. If you want to be awake for it, then you'll be awake, but don't expect us to keep our mouths shut if we think you'd be happier or better off doing something else. You speak up fast enough when you think we're doing the wrong thing."

"Duo, maybe being out would be the best thing," Heero said under his breath. "With your reflexes..."

Duo's eyes widened slightly as he considered what could happen if the local anaesthetic didn't quite work properly. If he felt an unexpected twinge of pain while he was stressed and reacted... "Good point," he muttered. "Sorry, guys."

"I will book you in for general anaesthetic, then, hmm?" Modi said, hitting keys. "If you come in at 7 a.m. we can get you prepped and into surgery by ten-thirty. You know not to eat for twenty-four hours, yes? No drinks after midnight. And no walking on that leg, use crutches if you must get around. As for the paperwork, we can take care of that today."

"Paperwork?" Duo asked.

"Yes, a basic medical history and payment arrangements."

"Oh, that's easy," Quatre said, glad to have something he could do. "I'll pay."

Heero glared. "I'll pay."

Duo sighed. "Gimme the paperwork, okay?" he asked Modi. "This could take a while..."

--------------

Twenty minutes later, Heero and Quatre exchanged one last glare.

"Half each then?"

"Hn." Heero nodded.

"Too late," Trowa said calmly. "We got tired of waiting. Duo's paying."

"Yeah," Duo said sourly, struggling into his jeans. "It's my knee, after all... and neither of you asked if I wanted you to pay. It's not like I'm hard up for money, you know."

"But Duo, it's really no problem... I want to--" Quatre stated.

"I'm sorry."

Dr. Modi kept tapping away at his computer, oblivious, but everyone else turned to stare at Heero.

"...what did you say?" Duo asked, blinking.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have taken it for granted. I'll ask next time," Heero said seriously.

Slowly getting over his shock-- Heero never apologises to anybody -- Duo ducked his head, pretending to concentrate on pulling his jeans over the wrapping on his knee without disarranging it. "Hopefully, there won't be a next time," he muttered. "I'm certainly not planning to pop my ligaments very often, or anything like that."

Heero shrugged, looking away. "The next time something comes up that I should ask you about, then."

Sally was covering an amused, speculative smile with one hand as she looked back and forth between them, obviously forming her own conclusions. Only Quatre's long practice at staying politely unreadable during business negotiations was keeping his jaw from dropping, and Trowa wore a faint smirk as he picked up Duo's coat and held it for him to put on.

* * * * *

Karthan was sitting up at one end of the huge cupboard-bed, clutching at his chest and gasping for air, when Uthmar burst in.

"What is it?! What happened?!"

"They all died," Karthan said dazedly, staring straight ahead at nothing. "All of them, down to the youngest child... and they did it themselves! He's all alone..."

"Karthan? Karthan! Snap out of it!" Uthmar waved a hand in front of the other dwarf's staring eyes, and was vastly relieved when Karthan blinked and shook himself, seeming to come back to his senses.

"What's after being the problem, man?" Cord rumbled, standing next to his improvised pallet on the floor. There was a spare bed, a cot they'd brought in for Wufei to use, but neither Cord nor Naiya came close to fitting in it, so they'd offered it to Uthmar... for whenever he finally got around to going to bed. "I thought you two were fast asleep-- hey, now, will you look at that? He hasn't even twitched; I didn't think the lad was that tired..."

"He was dreaming," Karthan said, scrubbing roughly at his eyes with the back of his hand. "I was in there with him, and I saw--" He squeezed his eyes closed for a moment, concentrating, then shuddered and opened them again. "Wake him up, Cord," he said urgently. "He's still dreaming, and it's getting nastier."

Cord looked dubiously at the small demon, sleeping at the other end of the bed. He was lying limp and still, one hand open next to his head; then, the hand twitched, and he winced slightly, breath stuttering.

"Well, he doesn't look too peaceful," the giant hradani muttered, and reached out a hand towards Wufei's shoulder. "Wufei! Wake up, now, you're worritin' Karthan--"

Wufei gasped and jerked, opening his eyes, but it was obvious that he wasn't really awake; they were glassy and unseeing, looking straight through Cord. He muttered something incomprehensible in his own language, then relaxed, eyes closing as he slipped away again.

"I wonder what he said?" Uthmar whispered, half to himself.

"'They can't be dead'," Karthan translated, rubbing his forehead. "'They wouldn't die without finishing it.'" He sighed, dropping his hand, and smiled wryly at the Champion. "My apologies for the trouble this is probably going to cause, sir. It looks like I spoke too soon when I said the link was gone."

--------------

A little later, the four of them were gathered at the table-- Uthmar, Karthan, Cord and Naiya. The two dwarves looked a little ridiculous, propped up on cushions with their shoulders barely clearing the table top, but they weren't about to let it bother them.

"Are you sure you're up to discussing this now?" Naiya asked worriedly, passing around mugs of herbal tea. "You're looking livelier than you did earlier, but..."

"I'm not tired any more," Karthan assured her, looking faintly surprised. "I mean, I'm tired, but I'm not exhausted."

"That's good, because this explanation can't wait until morning any more," Uthmar growled. "What's going on?"

"I wish I knew," Karthan sighed, glancing back over his shoulder at Wufei's sleeping form. "I can tell you what it seems like to me, but I know I don't really understand it."

"I can't be worse informed than I am right now," the Champion pointed out dryly. "Any information will be an improvement."

"Right. Well... what happened just now... I was sharing Wufei's dream. I honestly thought the link just fell apart once the fight was over. I couldn't feel him and Nataku any more, and we couldn't understand each other, either, but I guess it was just... um... closed, but not cut. And when we both went to sleep, it opened up again. He was dreaming about the people he fought alongside in his homeworld, and their... uh... 'Gun-dams', that was the word. It was weird; I saw the dream from his point of view, and I could feel what he felt about what was happening. I got some of what he knew about the people and things in the dream, too. Nobody said 'Gundam' in his dream, and he didn't even think it, but he knew that was the right word so now I know it, too."

"'Gundams'," Naiya said slowly, as if she was tasting the strange word. "Does that mean demons like Nataku?"

"Yes--"

"Wait here," she said abruptly, getting up and walking into the back storage room. She was back in seconds, clutching a cloth-wrapped bundle that opened to reveal a flat wooden box and a book. "Is this them?" she asked, opening the book and leafing through the pages, then pointing.

"Yes!" Karthan exclaimed, leaning forward. "That's Heero and Wing." Turning over the next few pages, he continued. "Duo and Shinigami... Trowa and Heavyarms... Quatre and Sandrock..." He turned over the next page, and almost choked.

"That's Meiran," he said slowly. "She wasn't in the dream, but... that's Meiran. Chang Meiran. She... she died." He looked up at the others, eyes wide. "She died in a field of flowers, and she was called Nataku first."

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