The Beginning's End + Part 16 (cont)

I move steadily down the hall, skirt my way past the nurses’ station, and go directly to Trowa’s door. I ignore the presence of Wufei and Quatre behind me, just as I ignore the loud demands of the nurses. I need to see Trowa.

I push the door open…and noone’s there. It’s darkened, the monitors are blank and the bed is empty. Trowa’s gone.

I close my eyes briefly, feel my fists clench. They must have moved him. He can’t be…he can’t be…

"Sir! What are you doing? Can I help you?"

I turn in response to the demanding voice. One of the nurses, her lips pursed disapprovingly, is standing there, her brows raised imperiously.

"Where is he?" I demand hoarsely. I need to know.

"Who? Sir, you can’t just barge around here opening doors. There are sick people here, and…"

"Where is he?" I shout, interrupting her tirade. I feel the panic mounting, and, as unnerving as it is I almost welcome it. At least it’s something.

"All right, nurse," says a calm voice. I turn my head, and recognize the doctor that took care of Trowa. "I’ll talk to these gentlemen. You may return to your work."

The nurse purses her lips even more tightly, but doesn’t continue her lecture in front of the doctor.

He watches her go, and shakes his head slightly before turning to us. "Welcome back," he says quietly.

"Where is he?" I demand again. I sound like a broken record.

"We’ve moved him to the very end of the wing," he informs me with a smile. "His condition has been substantially downgraded, and he doesn’t need to be so close to the nurse’s station anymore. Besides," he adds, his smile growing wider, "He was driving them crazy. He needed a bigger room and a little more privacy."

"His condition was downgraded?" I repeat rather stupidly. I hear the sounds of relief from Wufei and Quatre, but it hasn’t entirely sunk in with me yet.

The doctor nods. "His injuries are all healing," he says. "His fever broke over a week ago, and he’s been awake for five days."

Five days. I close my eyes, pain and relief warring within me.

"You said his injuries are healing?" Quatre asks softly.

"Yes," Dr. Rushton affirms. "His fractures are mending, and most of the secondary lacerations and abrasions he suffered are healing, if slowly. His back is still worrying me, but all signs of infection are gone." He stops and smiles. "If I weren’t trained to be cautious, I would say that I’m optimistic about his condition."

Trowa’s all right. He’s really all right. I try to force the understanding through me.

I was convinced he would be dead too. That Barton would have taken them both.

But he’s all right. He’s healing.

"What has he been told about the battle?" Wufei asks.

Rushton frowns a little. "The same thing we all have," he says slowly. "XV7870 was destroyed and the rebel leader killed. Our casualties were minimal. XV7889 didn’t see any action." He pauses, and smiles wryly. "That was the big news around here," he admits. "The refugees were relieved."

The big news. The refugees were relieved that their precious colony hadn’t been touched, and didn’t even care about the ‘minimal’ casualties.

Bastards.

I feel a flare of anger. These are the people we risk our lives to protect, and they don’t even care. They don’t care that people died, so long as their houses and stereos and collectible knickknacks are all safe.

They don’t care that Duo’s dead.

My anger fades away, yielding place to the despair that has become almost familiar.

After the colony exploded, I spent well over thirty hours straight searching the rubble caused by the explosion, only returning to the transport two or three times to refuel. I was desperate to find him. If he had made it to the Gundam, had gotten far enough out, it’s possible that he might have survived the explosion. I had to find him, to save him.

After the first day, the focus of my search shifted. I was looking for his body.

The third time I returned for fuel, Wufei dragged me forcibly away from the suit and wouldn’t let me go back out. I slept for a few hours, then went again.

This time I was looking for the wreckage of the Gundam, for anything that would tell me what had happened to Duo.

But I found nothing.

Three days after the battle, I had to give up. I wasn’t going to find anything.

I’ve hardly spoken to Wufei or Quatre. Quatre blames himself, and he thinks that I blame him too.

I don’t, not really. What good would blaming anyone do? It won’t bring Duo back. I just…have nothing to say.

When I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to find Duo, my focus immediately shifted to Trowa.

I had to get back, to see that he was all right.

I have to tell him. He deserves to hear it from me.

I’m shaken out of my reverie by Dr. Rushton. "Forgive my asking, Mr. Yuy, but where is Duo? Trowa’s been…" he pauses, and chuckles. "Well, he’s asked after all of you, but he’s been demanding to see you and Duo in particular."

My heart contracts. I can’t say it. I open my mouth, but no words come out…

I realize suddenly, that I haven’t said it. I’ve thought it, my mind has screamed it, but I’ve never admitted aloud that Duo is dead.

Dr. Rushton’s smile fades away as none of us reply to his question. "Oh, no," he says reflexively. "Don’t tell me that…"

"Duo was killed in the battle," Wufei says quietly.

"Oh, no," he repeats. Suddenly, he looks very tired, and much older. "I’m…I’m sorry," he says quietly. "Are you…"

"We need to tell Trowa," I interrupt.

He nods slowly. "He’s down this hall, last door on the left," he says, gesturing down one of the corridors. "I’ll…I’ll see that you’re not disturbed," he promises quietly.

I nod my thanks, and turn to move determinedly down the corridor the doctor indicated. I feel my heart beat increase as the door nears.

I finally reach it, and pause for a moment outside. I reach out, put my hand on the door handle. Again, I pause.

I feel a light touch on my shoulder and turn my head.

"Heero, can you do this?" Wufei asks quietly. I read the concern in his dark eyes. "I will tell him, if you wish."

For an instant, I consider the offer. But, no. It has to be me. I have to tell him.

I take a deep breath, and push the door open.

This room is much bigger than the last one Trowa occupied. It’s brighter too, but I barely notice these details. My gaze is riveted immediately to Trowa. I notice with some surprise that he’s not in the bed, but is seated instead in a chair in the far corner of the room, facing the door. He’s also dressed, sort of, wearing a robe over one of those hospital gown things. That must be seriously irritating Nurse Ratchet down the hallway.

He looks up sharply as we enter, and I see immediately how much better he looks. He’s still much too thin, his skin still so pale as to be almost translucent…but his eyes are clear and aware. He’s alert. He’s Trowa again.

"You’re back," he says quietly, his eyes raking over me. I see a spark of relief in his eyes. I move farther into the room, allowing Quatre and Wufei to enter behind me.

Trowa’s gaze moves carefully, almost clinically over each of us. I can tell he’s taking stock, searching for injuries, assuring himself that we’ve made it through the battle unscathed.

He examines all three of us the same way, then frowns. He looks at me. "Where’s Duo?" he demands.

I look down. I can’t say it.

The silence lengthens. Quatre and Wufei are respecting my wishes. But this isn’t right. I’m not telling him - the silence is.

I force myself to look up. Trowa has, if possible, gone even paler.

"Heero," he manages, and his voice is suddenly raspy, "Where’s Duo?"

I stare at him from across the room. I should move closer, we all should. We should stand beside him, touch him, comfort him while we give this news. But I can’t.

"He was on XV7870 when it exploded," I burst out suddenly. "I…We…found no sign of him after the explosion."

Nice job, Heero. Nothing like breaking it to him smoothly.

Trowa grips the arms of the chair he’s sitting in. His mouth opens, his lips moving soundlessly. "He…What do you mean you found no sign of him?" he half-shouts, his pale cheeks flushing slightly in anger.

"He…he was killed in the explosion." I feel my eyes burn as I finally manage the words.

Trowa shakes his head vehemently. "No. That’s not possible!" he insists, his voice rising. "It’s not possible! What the hell was he doing on the colony?"

I’m silent. This part isn’t mine.

"I shot Barton down during the battle, and he fell back onto the colony," Quatre supplies, his voice shaking. "We…Duo and I…went down onto the colony. We…wanted to make sure he was dead."

"You did what?" Trowa demands. He’s begun to tremble, very slightly. He grips the handles of the chair harder to disguise it, but I still notice.

"We went down into the colony," Quatre repeats. I hear the trepidation in his voice.

"Didn’t I tell you to stay away from him?" Trowa shouts angrily. "Why did you go down there, Quatre?"

I glance over at the Arabian pilot. He too is very pale, and his guilt and anguish are written all over his drawn features. But he gazes steadily at Trowa, not flinching as he tells his part of the story. "We had to be sure, Trowa," he says softly. "This time, we had to be sure Barton was dead."

"What happened?" Trowa demands.

Wufei tenses, and I think for a moment he is going to intervene. I understand his conflict - he wants to help Quatre, to defend him. But I know that Quatre needs to do this, needs to explain what happened in order to deal with his own guilt. Wufei knows it too, so he does nothing.

"We…while we were on the colony, it began to…shake. Things were vibrating, exploding," Quatre begins haltingly. "Barton told us that he had rigged it to explode - that he hadn’t planned to return regardless of the outcome of the battle. Duo told me to get off, that he would finish and…"

"Wait a minute," Trowa interrupts harshly. His green eyes are riveted on Quatre, but I can read the disbelieving horror within them. "What do you mean, Barton told you? What do you mean, ‘finish him’? I thought you went down there to kill him. What the hell was going on?"

Quatre closes his eyes, obviously unable to bear the expression in Trowa’s gaze.

"We…I…and Duo…wanted him to…to suffer. For what he did to you, Trowa." He looks up again, and his aqua eyes are imploring, begging for understanding, for forgiveness. "We…he didn’t deserve a quick, painless death, Trowa. He needed to atone."

"To atone?" Trowa’s voice is incredulous. "What the hell did you do?"

"We…we…" Quatre closes his eyes again, and a tear trickles from beneath the tightly closed lid. "We hurt him, Trowa. Like he hurt you. We made him see what…"

"Jesus Christ." Trowa pushes himself painfully into a standing position. I see beads of sweat break out on his forehead, and realize this movement must be very painful. "Jesus fucking Christ, Quatre, is that supposed to make me feel better?" he shouts at the now openly weeping Arabian.

"Trowa," Wufei interrupts firmly. "This will not help."

"God, Wufei, I told you - shit, I begged all of you to stay the hell away from him!" Trowa shouts, swaying dangerously. "And what do you do? Go down and…and…"

"Trowa," I interrupt, taking a few steps toward him. I have to calm him down. He’s going to fall, or…"

"And you," he spits out, staring at me angrily. I stop, confused as I feel myself become the target of his rage.

"I trusted you," he sneers, his green eyes suddenly full of rage and disgust. "I believed you would take care of him. But you didn’t. You let him go down there. You let him die."

I know - know - in the most logical way that he doesn’t mean it. That he’s devastated by this loss, that he’s lashing out at anyone available in order to try to deal with the enormity of his grief. But as he gives word to my most buried guilt, I feel a responding flame of anger begin to burn within me. Anger I know. Anger is active. I understand it. So even as my logical self screams at me to not be an ass, I allow the anger to overwhelm me.

"I let him die? What the fuck are you talking about?" I demand.

"You knew what they were going to do, didn’t you?" he accuses me. "So is that how we fight now, Heero? We’ve become torturers and inquisitors? An eye for an eye?"

"You jerk," I choke. "You self-centered…"

"Oh, you’re one to talk!" he shouts back. "Heero Yuy, world savior, sending his troops in to torture his defeated enemies, but all the while keeping his own lily white hands clean…"

"You fucking asshole," I marvel. "They only did it for you."

"Yeah, and a big help that…"

"They did it for you!" I interrupt again. "Duo did it for you!"

"Bullshit!" he snaps. "Don’t…"

"He did it to apologize to you!" I continue railing, ignoring his objections. "Because you wouldn’t speak to him and ignored him and spurned him and …"

"Shut up, Heero!" he grinds out, fists clenching at his side.

"Then you left without telling him good-bye, just to hurt him. He thought you were dead, and he mourned you, and then when you got back you yelled at him and wouldn’t talk to him and made him believe you hated him…"

"Shut up!" he shouts louder, trembling with the force of his rage.

"NO!" I shout back. "He did it to atone, Trowa. He did it because he thought it was his fault you got hurt, his fault you suffered, and he wanted to make sure that whoever hurt you was punished. So that YOU would be all right and maybe you would forgive him."

"SHUT UP!" he bellows, shaking his head furiously from side to side in denial of my words.

"He went down there and did that for you, Trowa," I grate out harshly. "He died for you!" I shout.

"SHUT UP!" he screams, launching himself across the room at me. His fist swings in a wide arc toward my face and I instinctively jump back, avoiding the blow. He swings again, and I grab his wrist, forestalling the blow. He swings with his free hand, and this time connects with my jaw. I reel backward, pulling him with me, and his knees buckle, causing him to stumble against me. Thrown off balance I fall heavily to my knees, Trowa falling with me. I grab his other wrist as he lands on his knees, expecting him to resume his struggles, but his head falls forward, stopping against my chest, and he is suddenly immobile. I hold his wrists tightly, but he doesn’t try to break my hold. Suddenly, his shoulders begin to shake, and a keening noise rises from his throat. Trowa is…Trowa, who never cries, is crying.

My rage is gone so suddenly it leaves me feeling light-headed. I stare stupidly at my hands, still enclosing Trowa’s wrists. I bring his hands carefully to my shoulders, trying, somehow, to give him something to hold on to.

I look up, and see Wufei, his arms around a silently weeping Quatre, staring steadily at me. I nod slowly, and he turns and silently guides his lover out of the room.

Trowa is still crying, harsh, painful sobs. It’s obvious that he begrudges every one, and is just as obvious that he can neither stop or control them. Carefully, trying to avoid touching his back, I put one hand on his shoulder, and rest the other on the back of his head, gently pulling him closer to me, silently offering whatever comfort I can. I lower my head, resting my chin on the top of his head, feeling the softness of his hair against my skin. I can do nothing else. I can only kneel here on the hard ground, feeling my shirt front grow wet with hot tears, listening to the sound of Trowa’s agony, fighting a losing battle against my own grief and tears.

TBC

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