see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
Lost Souls + Chapter 37
Sanque Palace, Queen Relena's Private Quarters
March 17, 196
Wufei stood at stiff attention in the pink sitting room, trying to keep his expression respectful. Precious time was slipping away. "I don't understand, your Majesty. He's in the hospital. He nearly died. He's my comrade."
"Was your comrade," Relena amended. "You are a representative of the Royal Family now, a high ranking member of my staff and it is my wish that you distance yourself from this--situation for my sake."
Wufei clenched his hands together behind his back. "I meant to go on my own time, Majesty. It would not interfere with my duties, and I would not be going in any official capacity, or even in uniform."
Relena's blue eyes were frosty as she replied evenly, "And I believe I have made it quite clear why I do not want the 'former Gundam boy' closest to me connected in the press to such a sordid situation."
Wufei took a slow breath, drawing on the inward calm of his training. "But, your Majesty. Duo Maxwell saved your life! You thanked him in person at the peace reception. You thanked all of us. What will the public think if you don't show some concern for him at a time like this?"
That struck home, as he'd hoped and he could tell she was weighing the various ramifications. But he was still stunned by her initial reaction. How could she just turn her back like that?
"I suppose you're right," she said at last. "Thank you for casting it in a different light for me. It was the shock. I'm sure I can trust in your discretion regarding this conversation?"
"Of course, Majesty," Wufei replied with is slight bow. He was mortally offended that she would even have to ask, but was careful not to show it. Is this what Yuy had to put up with on a daily basis? No wonder he'd left!
"I'll make arrangements for flowers to be sent to the hospital," Relena was saying. "And I'll have a statement prepared for you to deliver to the press. I assume you want to leave immediately, so I'll have it emailed to you en route. You may go."
Men twice his age hurried to get out of his way as Wufei strode back to his office. Damnable, ungrateful woman! He was as shocked as she was, no doubt, to learn of Maxwell's homosexuality, but that was no excuse to abandon him!
Several of his people were there, gathered around the television. The evening new caster was relating the story in all its sordid detail and more seemed to be emerging all the time. It was a lead story here in Sanque, where the so-called 'Gundam Boys'--he shuddered at the term--had had such an impact.
The blond news woman was currently rehashing what he already knew. "Former Gundam Boy Duo Maxwell, age 16, of Dravittown, L-2, was rushed to Winner Memorial Hospital this morning after apparently attempting suicide in his home after being 'outed' by a local paper. According to reports, he had been frequenting gay dance clubs and having an affair with Michael O'Rourke, age 16, of Opal Station, L-2."
Images scrolled across the screen: Duo dancing lewdly with the other young man in question in some dive, the two of them on a motorcycle, shots of a seedy looking motel, and a motel room with an unmade bed. Then it cut to footage of Duo being taken out of a rundown trailer on a gurney. He was covered in a blanket to the chin and there was an oxygen mask over his face, but the long braid swinging over the side of the gurney was unmistakable. This was followed by something new: footage of a cramped, dingy little bathroom and a bathtub. Blood streaked its sides and had pooled on the floor beside it.
She was talking over the images again. "According to emergency room doctors who admitted Maxwell, he had lost a near fatal amount of blood before being discovered by the owner of the home, Hilde Schbeiker, aged 17, with whom Maxwell is said to have been cohabitating." There was a brief shot of Hilde in tears, furiously fending off the press and threatening them with the police.
"Ironically, doctors say the blood loss may have saved him from dying of an overdose of the illegal street drug, THC-38. Drug possession charges may be filed against Maxwell."
"Damn, guess he really meant it," said Sergeant Adolphus, shaking his head sadly.
"My boy's that same age," said Regus.
"The poor kid," said Alice Stuvent, the sole woman on the shift. "Drug charges? Why can't they just cut him some slack after all he's been through?"
The reporter touched a finger to her earpiece. "And this just in: Maxwell's alleged sexual partner, Michael O'Rouke has just been admitted to Winner Memorial, apparently the victim of a savage beating. Details are being withheld pending investigation. There is no word yet as to whether Duo Maxwell was involved in the attack."
Trembling with outrage, Wufei left them and went downstairs to pack.
Winner Memorial Hospital ICU
March 18, 196
Outside the hospital window the skylights that governed night and day on a colony began to glow in simulated dawn. It had been a long night, but a quiet one. Quatre and his bodyguards had arrived around midnight. Rashid and his men weren't there for Quatre; they were holding off the press. Dressed in an impeccable silk suit, Quatre had held Duo's hand for hours, watching the news on the room's television with the sound turned down low. He needed the distraction; he had to be very careful to shut out other people's emotions in a place like this--hospitals could be overwhelming. Between that and the all-night flight and vigil, he was exhausted.
Duo was in five point restraints, and hooked to a ventilator and an IV drip. Both wrists were wrapped in thick white bandages. He'd had two plasma transfusions so far, but his blood pressure was still dangerously low, due to the overdose. THC-38, the doctor had said. Quatre had had no idea Duo did anything harder than weed and alcohol. When had that started? There was no color in his face, and his eyes had a sunken look. His poor braid was half undone and stiff in places with dried blood. He'd lost even more weight, too, since Quatre had last seen him.
"Mr.Winner?" The hospital administrator came in with a clipboard of paperwork. "If I could just get your signatures, sir?"
Quatre quickly signed the forms declaring Duo as his next of kin, and adding him to his own comprehensive health insurance plan. It was irregular, to be sure; sometimes it was very nice to have your family's name featured prominently on the outside of the building.
"How is Michael O'Rourke?" he asked as the woman turned to leave.
She shook her head. "Broken arm, fractured ribs, facial bones, and skull, and a ruptured spleen. Possible brain damage, but they won't know that until he wakes up. His father and brother used a length of rebar on him and kicked him repeatedly when he was on the ground."
"Are they in custody?"
"Yes, there were plenty of witnesses."
"Is there a mother?"
"No. No other family."
"Draw up the paper work. I'll cover all of his expenses. And I don't want him ending up on the street or in some shelter."
"You're a very kind young man." She took the papers and went out, closing the door softly behind her.
It wasn't just kindness; for all he knew, this Michael was someone very important to Duo. Quatre settled back in his chair and covered Duo's hand where it hung from the padded cuff fastened to the bedrail. His other wrist and both ankles were also cuffed, and a wide canvas belt was strapped across his midriff.
"Oh, Duo! Wake up, please?"
There was no sign of response. Brain damage was a possibility for Duo, too.
He was dozing a few hours later when the door opened and Wufei slipped in, dressed in his Preventer uniform, "I'm not supposed to be in here," he whispered, approaching the bed. "Oh my god!"
"He's going to live," Quatre assured him as Wufei sank into the chair beside him.
"How did this happen, Winner? How did it get this bad?"
"I knew something was wrong He admitted to having some pretty serious mood swings, but you know Duo. He kept telling me things were fine."
"And you didn't--sense anything?"
Quatre sighed. "No. I've talked with him on the phone quite a bit but only seen him in person twice. He was in good spirits. Poor Hilde! What a shock!"
"Did you know about his--proclivities?" Wufei looked profoundly uncomfortable, asking.
"That he's gay? Yes, I've always known."
"I see." Wufei was quiet for a moment, then said, "I don't mean to be indelicate, but I called Barton to apprise him of the situation. His circus is in Japan at the moment."
"Oh." The familiar pain closed like a fist around Quatre's heart.
"He's on his way."
Quatre shrugged, but the pain in his heart increased. "Duo will be glad."
Duo's vitals slowly improved, but he remained unconscious. Quatre and Wufei remained at his side, reading what magazines they could find in the ICU lounge and watching TV. The chairs pulled out into makeshift cots. That night the nurses fetched them blankets and pillows and they settled in for the night.
A blood curdling scream startled Wufei awake sometime latter. The room was pitch black except for the slight glow of the monitor beside Duo's bed. As the screaming continued, growing more frantic by the second, he could just make out Duo frantically trying to pull free from the restraints. He fought like a trapped animal. Monitor alarms were going off.
Wufei's mind flashed back to that night in the cell when Duo had had his severe anxiety attack. He'd fought against the wrist restraints then, and reacted badly when the guards shut out the lights. Groping for the wall switch, Wufei got the lights on just as a nurse came running in.
The light wasn't helping. Duo was still fighting the restraints, completely out of control.
"Mr. Winner!" the nurse exclaimed. "What happened to him?"
Only then did Wufei notice Winner collapsed beside the narrow bed, blood running from his nose to stain the front of his expensive shirt. "Get him out of here, and fetch a doctor!" Wufei shouted at her. The woman ran for help.
"Maxwell!" Wufei stood over him, trying to get his attention. "Duo, it's all right. Stop that now!"
But Duo only arched against the canvas belt holding him down, muscles in his arms, legs and neck corded as he struggled and shrieked. He'd bitten his own lip and blood was running down his chin. Wufei was vaguely aware of people carrying Winner from the room. He was about to slap Duo to try and bring him around when suddenly he was pushed out of the way and a tall man in a long black overcoat bent over Duo, holding him by the shoulder with one hand and stroking his forehead with the other as he spoke softly to him.
It was Barton.
As Wufei and several equally amazed orderlies looked on, Duo went limp under Barton's touch and his screams turned to loud crying.
"Let me go!" he sobbed, pulling weakly at his bonds now. "Please, Trowa, take 'em off. Can't stand it! Please!"
"Where the hell is the doctor!" Wufei growled at the useless orderlies. "Go fetch someone. He needs a sedative!"
"Please, please, PLEASE!" Duo begged. "Don't let them take me! Please don't let them! Trowa!"
"I won't, I promise," Trowa told him, his voice low and comforting as he continued to stroke Duo's brow. "It's OK, Duo. I won't let them touch you. Remember? I keep you safe."
Wufei had no idea what they were talking about, but it was having the desired effect. Duo had gone still, though he was still crying and pleading softly, the words jumble and confused.
A nurse arrived with a syringe and reached for the IV line.
"There's no need for that," Trowa told her. "See, he's much calmer. Aren't you, Duo. You know you're safe now, don't you?"
Duo looked up at him with pleading eyes. "Y-yes, but--"
"And there's no need for these." Trowa began undoing the restraint straps, starting with Duo's feet.
"Sir, you can't do that!" the nurse snapped. "Mr. Maxwell is on suicide watch!"
"And he'll need to be if you keep him tied down like this," Trowa told her, never raising his voice or taking his eyes from Duo. "He's had some very bad experiences, being restrained. All you're doing is giving him flashbacks."
He undid the canvas belt last and gathered the weeping boy in his arms. Sitting down on the bed, he held Duo close, rocking him gently as if he were comforting a child. He had on jeans under the coat, and a green sweater. Duo buried his face against Trowa's chest, shuddering.
Wufei couldn't help admiring Barton's quiet strength. He'd been the same during the war.
"Look, Wufei is here, too," Barton murmured against Maxwell's disheveled hair. "Wufei, come over here so Duo can see you."
Wufei moved into Maxwell's line of vision.
"Wu man!" Duo gasped out. "Gonna tell me some more poems, buddy?"
"I'm not sure I can remember one right now," Wufei admitted.
"Got your gun?"
"Yes." As a Preventer, he was allowed to carry his side arm at all times, even here. He turned so Duo could see it.
"That's good." Those weary violet eyes fluttered shut. "You take first watch."
The doctor finally arrived to find Trowa holding Duo across his lap, and Wufei standing over them with his hand on the grip of his Sig. "What is going on here?"
"Just helping a friend," Trowa said softly, stroking Duo's hair. "As I was explaining to the nurse, Duo has a phobia about being tied or held down. You'll only make things worse, doing that to him."
"He tried to kill himself, and very nearly succeeded."
"I'm not saying he doesn't need help, Doctor. But it has to be the right kind of help. Do you have any experience with war veterans?"
"Then I suggest you go get someone who does, and quickly." Again, Barton never raised his voice, or sounded angry at all, just calm, reasonable, and determined.
The doctor nodded. "I know a good man. I'll see if he's on call. Nurse Elicot, you stay with them and call me if anything changes. And you, young man." He pointed at Barton. "You keep right on with whatever it is you're doing for him."
Barton looked up at Wufei. "Perhaps you should go see if Quatre is all right. I caught a glimpse of him in a room down the hall. I can imagine what Duo's melt down did to him."
"Of course." Leaving Maxwell in Barton's capable hands, Wufei hurried down the hall to find Quatre stretched out on a hospital bed in a darkened room with a wet towel over his eyes. A nurse was just coming out with a small tray and an empty pill cup.
"How is he?" asked Wufei.
"It appears to be a very severe migraine attack," she told him. "I just gave him something for the pain. Not a very good day for you boys, is it?"
Wufei sat down in the chair beside Winner's bed.
"At least she didn't call us 'you Gundam boys'," Quatre whispered. In this low light his face looked as white as the pillowcase under his head. "How did they get Duo calmed down?"
"Barton arrived and took control. He's very good with Maxwell. No drugs were needed, and Maxwell is out of restraints."
Wufei was no empath, but he could tell by the sudden downturn at the corners of Winner's mouth that he was about to cry, or trying not to. Barton had said he and Winner had had a 'falling out'. From the way Winner's breath was hitching in his throat now, it must have been a very serious one. It was hard not to be somewhat curious. Not knowing what else to do, he hesitantly reached out and took Winner's hand.
Rather than pulling away, Winner held it tightly. "Thank you, Wufei. You're a good friend."
"As are you," Wufei replied. The nurse had filled him in on how Winner was taking financial responsibility for Maxwell. And it was good to be called 'friend'. Barton had called him that, and Maxwell's usual 'buddy' qualified as the same. Once again, it struck him how little effort he had made to maintain ties with them. He silently vowed to do better in the future, especially with Maxwell, who so clearly needed all the friends he could get.
Winner's breathing gradually evened out and his grip on Wufei's hand relaxed. Wufei waited until he was certain he was asleep, then went back to Maxwell's room.
Maxwell was lying in bed again, curled up on his side holding Trowa's hand through the railing of the bed. His eyes were closed and his long hair had been freed from the messy braid and lay across the pillow behind him as if someone had arranged it that way. Barton, no doubt.
Barton sat hunched forward on the edge of the sleeping cot Wufei had abandoned. His hair was pushed back from his face just now, and Wufei was surprised to see how very sad he looked. It was usually difficult to tell what was going on behind those guarded green eyes but right now he looked utterly miserable. As miserable as Winner, perhaps. The moment Barton realized Wufei was there, however, the guarded look was back, his expression became calm again, almost detached.
"How's Kat?" Duo asked without opening his eyes, voice raspy from all that screaming.
"He's asleep now."
"I hurt him. He felt me freakin' out."
"It wasn't your fault," Wufei told him. "He knows that."
Duo let out an inelegant snort. "Fucking other people's lives up. That's about all I'm good for, these days." His eyelids quivered as tears began to well out through his thick lashes. "Poor Hilde! She didn't deserve this."
"Do you want to talk about it?" asked Trowa.
Duo shook his head and pulled the blanket over his face. They could hear him crying softly now.
Trowa exchanged a sad look with Wufei and shook his head. Whatever was wrong with Maxwell, it was probably beyond either of them to fix it, no matter how much they might want to.
A dark-skinned older man dressed in a suit and white lab coat paused in the open doorway, holding a file folder. "Ah, this must be the right room. Mr. Barton, Captain Chang, it's a pleasure to meet you." He shook hands with both of them. "I'm Dr. Batoosingh. I'm a psychiatrist. Duo's attending physician has asked me to perform an initial evaluation. Is he awake?"
"No!" Duo moaned from underneath the blanket.
Trowa stood and bent over him. "Wufei and I are going to step out so you can talk to the doc, but we'll be right outside, OK? OK, Duo?"
Duo threw back the blanket and wiped his face with his arm. "Yeah. OK."
"Good." Barton stroked Duo's hair and patted his shoulder. "Like I said. Right outside, buddy."
Batoosingh closed the door after them and Barton and Wufei sat down on a bench across the hall. Slumping forward, Barton rested his face in both hands.
"Are you all right?" asked Wufei.
"Haven't slept in about forty eight hours, that's all."
Ten minutes turned to twenty and twenty to an hour. Barton had fallen asleep sitting up with his head resting on the wall behind him but woke instantly when Dr. Batoosingh emerged.
"Well?" asked Wufei.
"You're not family, are you?" asked Batoosingh.
"We're the closest thing he has to it," Barton told him.
Batoosingh consulted his file folder. "No, I see that Quatre Winner is listed as the only next of kin. I'm afraid I can only discuss the matter with him."
"I see. May I go sit with Duo again? Wufei, why don't you and the doctor go see if Quatre is awake yet."
'In other words, gather intelligence any way you can,' thought Wufei. "Certainly. Come this way, Doctor. I'm sure Winner is most anxious to hear more about Maxwell's condition."
As they walked down the corridor together Batoosingh asked, "Do you always refer to your friends by their surnames?"
"My people are of Chinese descent," Wufei told him. "It's customary."
Quatre was sitting on the edge of the bed drinking a glass of water under the watchful eye of Nurse Elicot.
Batoosingh introduced himself and took a seat. "There's only so much I can tell you, since Duo Maxwell is technically an emancipated minor and you are not his parent, but given his unusual situation, I think it's important for someone to be involved in his recovery." He paused and glanced up at Wufei.
Wufei bowed and went out. Barring listening through the door, this intelligence gathering mission was a wash.
"How is he, Doctor?" asked Quatre. The last vestiges of the horrible headache were still lurking behind his eyes, but he was thinking clearly again.
"Your friend Duo is suffering, at the very least, from moderate to severe post traumatic stress symptoms, with an underlying bipolar disorder of some degree that probably predates the war. He told me a little about his past, living on the streets as a child, the Maxwell Church massacre and so forth. I'd say he'd experienced significant traumas long before he became a soldier. I would need to see him on a regular basis for some time to make a comprehensive diagnosis, of course, and that is my recommendation. He's certainly free to shop around for another doctor, but I do specialize in veterans' issues, and I'd consider it an honor to help him in any way I can. In the meantime I'm prescribing a combination of antidepressants and mood stabilizers that should help in the interim."
"I'll talk to him about it," Quatre replied, but he already liked this man. He had a calm, gentle air about him, and Quatre sensed deep compassion.
He waited until Batoosingh was gone, then stepped out and found Wufei waiting for him in the hallway.
"Well?" Wufei asked as they walked back to Duo's room.
"He's putting Duo on meds."
"How long can you stay? I've had Rashid get a suite at the Marquis Hotel across the street. If Duo is going to be in here for--" He froze in the doorway. He'd forgotten about Trowa and here he was, sitting by the bed holding Duo's hand, every bit as kind and calm and gentle as Quatre remembered. It was too much, after everything else that had happened in the past twenty four hours.
He turned just as Trowa looked up and made a hasty retreat as pain blossomed around his heart like shrapnel, making it hard to breath.
Caught between the two ex-friends, Wufei saw both their stunned expressions before Winner bolted, and caught a fleeting glimpse of terrible pain in Barton's eyes before he turned his attention back to Duo.
They all called him friend, but Wufei didn't have the slightest idea what to do for any of them.
"I have to get back to the show," Barton said at last, and for the first time his voice sounded strained. "Tell Quatre I'll be leaving in the morning. I can keep in touch with Duo by vidphone."
Wufei saw the way Barton was stroking Maxwell's hand, so gentle and caring. "Is that what you really want to do?"
"No," Barton replied softly, and the depth of loneliness in his friend's voice made Wufei want to go after Winner, drag him back, and make these two resolve whatever it was that was tearing them each apart like this.
"Do you want me to go get Winner?" he asked, inwardly amazed at his own audacity.
But Barton just shook his head, and Wufei had no choice but to respect his wishes.
[ch. 36] [ch. 38] [back to Pyrzm's fic]