see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
Warriors + Chapter 2
"Duo, you know I can't do that," Trowa said for what felt like the millionth time in two days. He was exhausted and sore from living in a hospital chair for hours at a stretch. Quatre spelled him when Duo slept, but Trowa was the only one who could manage him like this.
'Just like last time,' Trowa thought wearily, watching his former teammate struggle. Where the hell did he find the strength? And, with a pang of guilt, how had Duo gotten this bad again without any of them noticing?
It had been over forty-eight hours now since they'd gotten him admitted, and Duo wasn't responding well to treatment. But he hadn't said one word about Heero. No one had, yet. Trowa wondered if Duo even remembered what had happened.
Duo was currently back in what Trowa had come to think of as Stage One. If it wasn't for the wide canvass waist restraint, he'd probably have dislocated a wrist or shoulder by now. The sedatives they'd given him should have kept him comatose for days, but as soon as he got a few hours sleep his body just burned them off like sugar pills and the struggle started all over again. The mood stabilizers were taking longer than usual to kick in, too.
The reporters were still lurking around outside. Wufei was on his way to deal with that, but it had been rough this time, trying to get Duo in quietly. Somehow word had gotten out, along with some of the juicy details, and photographers had been waiting. It was probably all over the news by now. "Former Gundam Boy Maxwell Caught in Rough Sex Scandal" or something along those lines. It was always phrased that way; they probably had a special template: Former Gundam Boy (insert applicable name/names) Caught etc. etc.
Nothing the "Gundam Boys" did went unnoticed. Despite the glowing retrospectives the networks ran every six months or so, they'd long since lost their luster in the public eye. Still traumatized by years of war, people had wanted their five little heroes untarnished, or at least as untarnished as the press had painted them back in the day. Truth was, they'd all been pretty messed up puppies to begin with, but no one wanted to hear that. Fame, political gratitude, and Relena's cachet had protected them for a while, but none of them except Wufei really gave much of a shit anyway. Well, who knew about Heero, but that was a moot point now.
Trowa swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. This wasn't the time. This wasn't the time . . .
The reality behind the headlines was that the Gundam Boys were all walking wounded. Post Traumatic Stress was the least of it. None of them had taken well to peace. Heero and Wufei had joined Une's Preventers and worked security for Relena. Heero stayed all of two months, then quietly resigned and left without a word to anyone, disappearing back into the obscurity from which he'd come, as Duo put it once he'd calmed down.
Wufei had coped by staying in the Preventers and pretending nothing had changed. They didn't see much of him anymore, except the occasional appearance during Duo's periodic meltdowns. He was loyal, of course, but it was clear he was slowly distancing himself from Duo and Quatre. He made the headlines now and then for punching a reporter, but kept his nose clean as far as the public was concerned.
Trowa was still with the circus. He trained big cats and was a trapeze headliner, working nearly naked and without a net. That was almost as good as piloting Heavyarms. Almost. Off the wire, he didn't look much different in the mirror. He still dressed in quiet, dark clothes when he wasn't on the prowl with his friends, still didn't have much to say to strangers, and, with one recent and notable exception, kept to mostly to himself.
Sweet, sensitive little Quatre had never been quite the same after Zero, and he'd had a colorful year and a half since peace broke out. After a very public nervous breakdown, he'd told his family to fuck off, then spent some time and much of his considerable allowance doing things no Nice Muslim Boy was supposed to do-and had the tattoos, piercings, cured STDs, and tabloid clippings to prove it. Some of this experimentation had been done with Trowa, and some of it with the aide and abettance of Duo Maxwell, between depressions and breakdowns of his own. Trowa had stayed close, bided his time, picked up the pieces when Quatre finally got most of it out of his system, and then proposed. Now they had matching nipple rings, shared a bed and not each other, and were still exploring how much fun two world-weary but supple young eighteen-year-olds could have between the sheets. Figuratively speaking, of course. Quatre Winner-Barton would do it anywhere, anytime.
It made the news, of course. They ignored the press as best they could, refusing to comment or rebut except when one of Quatre's more conservative uncles started a smear campaign against Trowa, accusing him of taking advantage of the rich Winner heir. Then the pair had sent out joint press releases to the mainstream journals, inviting them to their civil union ceremony on L-2. Trowa hadn't felt the need of such a formality; he'd loved Quatre since the day they'd met, but it made Quatre happy to have some official ceremony-hence the nipple rings and hyphenated names-- and gave the tabloids great front page shots of them kissing shirtless in front of the JP, with Duo beside them, roses in his hair, wearing a tux jacket over a black leather kilt and nothing else, acting as both best man and maid of honor. It sparked a fashion trend, as well as a sudden rash of L-2 "GB-style" unions that winter. Vanity Fair interviewed them for a cover article. Maxine Liebowitz-Kwan did the photos. Duo made the covers of Vogue and Thrust. Wufei kept his distance, the conservative press shook their collective heads, and a few veterans associations wrote scathing editorials, but Trowa and Quatre didn't' care.
Beyond sex, Quatre was learning the trapeze and discovering a talent for costume design. He wore make-up and leather and enough jewelry to set off metal detectors everywhere they went, streaked his hair in weird colors L-2 style, and had made a hobby of flipping off photographers. In short, he kept his sisters generally scandalized but the allowance kept coming. He also brought Trowa flowers and breakfast in bed and gave a very professional massage, sexy or therapeutic as needed. As far as Trowa Barton-Winner was concerned, apart from the nightmares and occasional flashbacks, things were looking up.
Only Duo had turned out seriously self-destructive. He tried living with Hilde, but that been a disaster and the aftermath of that had kept him out of Preventers. It was too ironic; he'd been the sunniest personality of them all, the best at pulling the rest of them out of depression or hopelessness. Now he couldn't even save himself. Quatre claimed that Duo had simply used himself up. And of course, he missed Heero.
Trowa shifted in his chair, trying to get comfortable as Duo thrashed on through this Stage One. Glancing down at his watch, he decided that if this went on more than another ten minutes, he'd ring for the nurse.
Duo was deathly pale except where the marks of this latest S&M misadventure colored his skin. Trowa winced, mentally cataloguing the bruises, scratches, welts, not to mention the cigarette burns on Duo's chest and inner thighs beneath the green hospital gown. The thick padding of the wrist and ankle cuffs holding him to the bed rails covered the worst of the ligature marks, but the mottled band around his throat was clear enough. Trowa could still make out the shape of the belt buckle that had pressed into the flesh there, and the braided pattern of the leather belt. At least there was no sign of rape. Quatre had been the one to ask this time, sparing Trowa that much, at least. But none of them were strangers to the S&M scene; they all knew what it looked like when things went wrong. This had gone wrong in a big way.
T minus three minutes and Duo went still, panting loudly. The nurses had left his hair braided, but a lot of it had pulled loose in a tangled mess around his face. The eye that wasn't swollen shut was wide with panic, and bright with tears.
'Here we go, Stage Two,' Trowa thought resignedly.
"Please, Tro?" Duo whispered in that scared little boy voice. "Just my legs, OK? Just unbuckle those two straps. You know what it's like. I can't stand it."
More tears. "C'mon, buddy! Ya know I wasn't trying to off myself. You believe that, right?"
"You promised us last time that you'd never do this again."
Duo tossed his head against the mattress, pulling against the cuffs. "I know! I meant it then. I'm sorry. I just-I couldn't stop! Trowa, let my legs loose and I promise I'll talk to Dr. B. Please, Tro. I'll be good. I'll talk to him."
"You'll talk to him anyway."
"Pleeeeeeease? If I could just sit up. My hair's caught under me and it hurts."
Trowa stood and carefully pulled the disheveled braid and loose hair over Duo's left shoulder. It was heavy in his hands, and as silky as he remembered. From last time. This all felt like deja vu. He stroked the ragged bangs back from Duo's damp forehead. "Please calm down and let the medicine work. We've done this before. You know I'll stay with you, every step of the way."
Duo's chin quivered, and his cracked lower lip pulled down in a tragic grimace. "You're my only real friend."
"You know that's not true," Trowa chided gently. Gods, how many times had they reached this point in the cycle in the last twenty-four hours? "Quatre wants to be here but he can't, not when you're firing emotions off in every direction. He got sick last time, remember? You don't want to do that to him, do you?"
"No." A sniffle. A whimper. More tears.
"If you want to see Quatre you have to calm down so you don't hurt him with all these feelings."
"Wufei doesn't care." Duo was veering into sulking self-pity now. It was like watching a storm gather.
"No, Wufei just doesn't like to see you like this. I don't like it, either."
"But you stay."
"That's right. I stay." Because Trowa covered well enough for everyone else to believe that it didn't bother him as much. He sighed inwardly, watching the evil gleam build slowly in that blue eye.
Duo went dead still, gathering strength. And here it was.
Arching against the waist strap, Duo let out a ragged scream. "Goddamn it, how can you do this to me? How can you just sit there? You fuck! You cocksucker! You get off on this, don't you, seeing Shinigami strapped down. You all do, you sick fucks! They're out there in the hall right now, jerking off. The doc, too, right? I'll get you for this. Fuck! Let me go! Let me go! Trowa! Trowaaaaaaaa!" His voice rose from scream to howl.
Trowa sat back and tried to tune it all out. Duo was sick. Duo had worn himself out, waiting for something that simply couldn't happen.
Exhausted, fed up, and depressed, Trowa let a new, darker thought creep in. Heero had held Duo like this for so long. Sending up a little flare just often enough to keep him on the hook.
'Goddamn you, Yuy,' Trowa cursed silently while Duo thrashed and raged, not bothering to fight back his own tears anymore. 'Goddamn you for leaving him like this, leaving all of us. For cutting us out of your life just when we'd all started to think we might understand you. For pushing us away, Duo, Kat---me.'
Trowa did his best to keep certain memories away, shut safely away behind one of the many locked doors in his mind, but he was too tired now. They came boiling out. All those days in the circus caravan, watching over Heero as he somehow managed to pull back from that first leap at death, to knit and heal and open his eyes, against all expectation. Trowa had fully expected to bury him. Instead, Heero stubbornly, grudgingly lived and they spent months together, oddly comfortable with each other's silences. Pity and respect had turned to something more like admiration as he'd followed Heero on his feckless journey of atonement. Maybe he'd even loved him a little, though he knew better by then than to entertain any hope of it being returned, except in Heero's own peculiar terms. Maybe Duo had gotten deeper with him. Trowa wasn't sure, but Quatre claimed to have picked up on something once.
God, it hurt, remembering. Until two days ago, there had been at least the chance that they'd find him, drag him back if necessary, if only for the sake of Duo's sanity.
For Duo. That hurt, too. Trowa had never understood the bond between Heero and this braided head case. Trowa loved them both, had trusted both with his life. He didn't seriously want anything more from Heero. But there was something between the other two that had made him feel shut out sometimes. Jealous, even. That made him feel small, even now, and guilty.
Trowa looked up in surprise. He'd been so lost in his own misery he hadn't noticed when Duo had gone quiet again. Looking up, he found the other boy watching him with something like normal concern. "Tro, you're crying."
Trowa wiped at his cheeks and sure enough, they were wet. He never cried.
"He's really gone, isn't he?"
"Yes," Trowa whispered. His chest hurt. His head hurt. His eyes felt like hot black holes in his head.
"How could he do that? How could he just not come back?" It was barely a whisper. Duo lay limp on the bed now, eyes closed, tears streaming down into his hair. "It hurts so bad, Tro. It--gods, it hurts so bad!"
This wasn't one of the stages. This wasn't drugs. This was the real Duo. Their Duo. He suddenly sounded more like his old self, even this sad, than he had in a year.
Trowa went to the bed and slowly undid the wrist straps, then the waist, then both feet. Long, too-thin arms came up around his neck as he sat down. He gathered Duo against him, clutching him close and burying his face in all that soft hair as he wept. "Damn him! Damn him! I want him back, too."
They cried together. It was a first, but Trowa didn't care. It felt real in a way that nothing had since the war ended. Quatre must have picked up on it, because suddenly he was there with them, arms around them both.
"He did stay close by," Trowa thought in wonder, knowing what it must have cost his slight, sensitive husband. He'd stayed and he'd come to them now with tears of his own.
A moment later Wufei was there too, still in his Preventer uniform, sliding in behind Duo and hiding his face in his hair. Hard to say if he wept. His hands were steady and warm as they covered Trowa's and suddenly it didn't feel like the bottom was dropping out of the world anymore, though the pain was just as bad.
"Fuck! God-fucking-damn it" Duo sobbed, speaking for all of them.
They stayed like that for what felt like a long time, and then as if by some unspoken agreement pulled away and turned to give the others time to wipe faces and noses and put themselves back together.
Quatre sat down by Duo again and put an arm around his shoulders. "You say you didn't want that guy to kill you. But you didn't want to live, either. You're not sure yet if you want to. I can feel that."
"Yeah." Duo wrapped his arms around the smaller boy's waist and rested his cheek against Quatre's blond-and-black streaked hair.
"Stay with us, Duo?" Quatre was pleading now. Out of all of them, he still went most easily with his emotions. "Promise me, Duo. Promise you'll get better and stay with us?"
Duo's arms tightened around him. "Don't ask me that yet, Kat."
"At least say you'll try!" Wufei growled, losing patience again, or perhaps that was just his way of pleading.
"Yeah, I can do that, Wu. I'm just so fucking tired!"
"You can rest." Quatre kicked off his boots, pushed himself back against the headboard, and gently guided Duo's head down on his chest. He was wearing a soft cotton sweater today, with no hardware. Duo buried his face against him and let out a long groan. "I'll stay here on watch while you sleep, buddy. You rest, too, Trowa. Wufei, make him go rest."
Trowa let Wufei guide him out. He dropped into one of the molded blue chairs that lined the corridor and rested his face in his hands, blocking out the harsh overhead light and the curious looks of nurses and visitors walking past He was too tired to deal with that, too tired to even be embarrassed. Pulling his bangs down over his eyes like the camouflage they were, he shut it all out.
Wufei slumped down beside him. "Do you want to go back to his apartment?"
Trowa sighed. "No, I'll just have to drive back when Duo goes off his head again."
Wufei snorted, but Trowa heard the concern behind it. "He seems a little better."
"For now, but I don't trust it. Not yet."
"You're wise not to."
Trowa glanced up to as Dr. Batoosingh sat down next to him, regarding them sadly. He was tall, brown, bespeckled man, with a lilting New Delhi accent. Though rather round-faced, he reminded Trowa of a basset hound. He looked more mournful than ever now.
"You think he'll go off the deep end again, Doctor?"
"I can guarantee some further hysterics." Batoosingh consulted the chart he was holding. "Duo is a relatively mild bipolar, but fast cycling at the best of times and highly unstable now. This sort of shock will not pass easily. I'll keep him here under observation for at least ten days while we work on his dosages, but after that? Well, I'm not at all comfortable letting him live on his own again, at least not for a while. I feel I must apologize to all of you. I honestly thought I saw some improvement. And I never foresaw Captain Yuy contacting him in that manner. To be honest, given the time since his last communication with Duo, I had begun to think perhaps he might have died. Has there been any progress in locating the body, Captain Chang?"
"No one matching his description has come through the Kyoto morgues, but that is not surprising. Yuy is--was the sort to be very private about such things. He might even have gone elsewhere, knowing the holocard would be traced. Then again, he might simply have gone somewhere that he wouldn't be found."
Trowa shuddered. They were all experts in urban stealth. Sewers, steam tubes, abandoned subway tunnels, telecommunication conduits: there were endless places to hide and Heero would stay hidden if that's what he'd wanted. That hurt, too. It was stupid to think that Heero had meant to hurt anyone but himself. He didn't understand what his absence meant to them, especially Duo. He wouldn't have stayed away if he had. It wouldn't occur to him that they might find some comfort in laying him to rest. Death meant nothing to him.
He let out a sharp sigh and stood up. Another minute of such thoughts and he'd be crying again, out here in front of strangers. "I'm going to check on him, then grab a nap." There was always a room open for them during these lapses of Duo's. Quatre's family had built the hospital and he was on the board of directors, at least on paper, along with half a dozen of his sisters.
He went back into Duo's room. There were no windows in this part of the psych ward, but Trowa suddenly felt how late it was. He didn't need to look at his watch to know it was night cycle now, nearly midnight. Outside the sky panels would be switched off, letting in the natural starlight.
Inside, Quatre had turned the lights down and moved into the armchair, but left a nightlight burning for Duo, who hadn't been able to sleep in the dark since they'd come back.
Trowa bent and kissed Quatre, who answered with another kiss and a questioning eyebrow. Trowa motioned for him to relax. The dark hollows under Kat's eyes betrayed the effort it took for him to be stay so close to the maelstrom that was Duo.
Duo lay curled on his side facing the door. He was still awake, but calm for now. Quatre had combed and braided his hair for him and he looked more like himself. The bruises didn't show as much in this light. Trowa sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled the blanket up under Duo's chin. "Need a pill?"
"Ok for now. You should make Quatre go home. He looks like hell."
"Just go to sleep and I'll be happy," Quatre murmured, overhearing.
"You owe him big time, Maxwell."
"Yeah, I owe all of you. I'm sorry."
Trowa found Duo's hand and squeezed the cold fingers. "Just get better, and stop scaring us like this."
"I really wasn't trying to die," Duo whispered.
Trowa knew he should get out of there. He knew he should practice his famous personal code of silence and just get the hell out of there. Instead, he leaned down and looked Duo straight in the eye. After two days of screaming and crying and whining and abuse, something in him just unraveled.
"You keep telling us that, Duo, but I think you're wrong. Quatre and I are the ones who scraped you up off that sidewalk in the middle of the night, after looking for you for hours and expecting to find you dead. Quatre read the police report. Wufei and I interrogated the club owner. I don't know what the hell was in that mind of yours that night, but you, Duo Maxwell, went looking for someone to hurt you bad."
"Trowa, stop it!" Quatre warned, alarmed.
"No, I listened to him for the past two days. He can listen to me now. He's already in the hospital and there are plenty of doctors and drugs on hand. So listen up, Duo. You set yourself a mission and you found someone willing to do it. Then you went with him, left the safety of the club, to carry out that mission in private. That goes beyond stupidity. You know better than that. It wasn't safe play you were after and you know it. Unacceptable, Maxwell. Totally unacceptable. "
Duo curled tighter and closed his eyes. "You're right! I'm sorry! But I didn't ask that guy to kill me, I swear!" He swallowed hard and made a sickly attempt at his old grin. "Death by leather daddy? What kind of end is that for Shinigami, eh? The whole fucking Alliance couldn't take me down. Ya think one ordinary guy could do it? "
"Yeah, I do, if you let him. So what were you doing? Tell me, Duo."
Duo was quiet for a long moment. "I--It sounds stupid. I was just working off a little steam."
"Ok, that's an understatement, but it's the truth, really. I know its just kicks for you and Kat, but that's--that's why I do it. Nothing else works!" Desperation crept in, but there was no hint of hysterics. Duo was telling him the truth, as he understood it. "Seriously guys, nothing works! I've tried. Drugs, therapy, booze, work, not even hanging out with you sometimes. I'm sorry, I know you try, but it's just-- Nothing. I can't make Doc B. believe it, either. I don't know what else to do, y'know? I'm scared and that's all that fixes it."
Trowa stared down at him, mulling this admission. Quatre was just behind him now, and Trowa didn't need his lover's extra senses to know he was worried.
"What?" Duo asked uneasily.
"I want you to make me a promise, Duo Maxwell. I'll trust you because I know you won't make it unless it's the truth."
"Depends on what it is," Duo replied, guarded.
"Quatre, you're our witness. Duo, the next time you get that bad, the next time you need someone to hurt you like that, you come to me and I'll do it."
Duo's good eye widened. "We don't--We've never done each other. Not like that. Quatre? Say something. Tell your husband how crazy that is."
"I think it's a good plan."
Duo groaned. "You don't know what you're letting yourself in for, Barton."
"I have some idea. And I'm not offering sex. I know what you mean and you know what I mean. I can't say I look forward to it, but I'll consider it a favor for a good friend, someone I care about enough to keep him safe. I want you to live, Duo. Heero would have wanted that."
Trowa paused, knowing Batoosingh would not be happy with what he was going to say next, but he was going to say it anyway. One true thing Duo had said, in all his ranting and screaming, was that no one else understood the five of them the way they understood each other.
"The doctor has the card Heero sent you."
Duo seemed to shrink before his eyes, face tightening miserably. "You read it?"
"We all did. I'm glad Heero told you that, even if it was too late. At least now you know for sure how he felt about you. And I believe that it means he knew what you felt for him."
"It wasn't enough, though, was it?" Duo whispered. "It was never enough."
Trowa had no answer for that, and the desolation in Duo's face and voice were more than he had strength left to deal with. Rising wearily, he headed for the door. "Sleep now, Duo. I'll be just down the hall if you need me."
"'K." He had that little boy voice going again. "Hey, Tro?"
Trowa paused and looked back.
"The answer is yes. I promise. Shinigami's honor. Next time, my ass is yours. Thanks, buddy."
"De nada, Duo. De nada. Hush now, and go to sleep now. Things are going to get better. I promise."
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