Author: pyrzm
see ch. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Broken Warriors + Chapter 85
Twisted Comfort

Trowa had brought clothing and essentials for everyone. Heero and Wufei were both still too out of it to need much, but Duo was glad to be in his own baggy tees and sweats and the blue and red silk "orgy suite" bathrobe Heero had gotten him from Sanque. It was the only one he'd ever owned and he didn't care if it got him curious looks in the hallways as he wandered around looking in on Yuki and his friends, and working the stiffness from his wounds. The sling was in an inconvenience, so he took it off, ignoring the nurses's objections. The regen treatment they'd given him in the recovery room yesterday, along with his own natural stubbornness, was helping him heal.

Zechs was in better shape than any of them. He got dressed in jeans and one of those classy shirts Tro had brought with his luggage. He sat in that glassed in observation room day and night, as if he could will Wufei into pulling through by sheer faithful presence. Oh, he read lots of books and newspapers, but Duo could tell that he was mostly just sitting there, willing his lover better. Duo and Trowa spent some time with him and Zechs was pleasant, but distracted. Under that mask of control, Duo sensed the man's very real desperation.

Heero was a very fast healer and a really bad patient, just like the old days. The doc had removed the regen units that morning and that's when the trouble started. After a few ill-advised efforts to prove that he was well enough to be out of bed-- all of which ended in falls and torn sutures-- the doctor ordered Heero restrained and sedated. As Heero's legally designated next of kin, Duo had to agree to this, and though he felt like a traitor doing it, he signed the form, on the condition that he was Heero's roommate until he was better.

Duo signed the release in part because he knew how stubborn Heero could be, but there was also something in his lover's manner during those escape attempts that had set off alarm bells in the back of Duo's mind. Heero was his usual grim and determined self, but also a little distant, maybe even disoriented. Duo had learned his lesson when it came ignoring signs of flashbacks. Even sedated, Heero dreamed and from the fleeting expressions and frantic mutterings, Duo knew they weren't happy ones.

So first thing their second morning in the hospital Duo called Dr. Batoosingh. The doc was already aware of their situation and offered to come down to Tokyo before Duo even got a chance to ask him. It would take him a couple of days to clear his schedule, he said. In the meantime he would look over the medical reports and blood work. Just hearing that calm voice on the phone made Duo feel better.

+

To Duo's surprise, Trowa hung around, supposedly to help to oversee their care, though as far as Duo could tell, he was mostly just fretting. Quatre kept in touch several times a day by vid phone and seemed perfectly happy to share his husband like this. Duo didn't think he could have been as generous, but then, this was Kat they were talking about.

Tro was steady and helpful as ever, but Duo was picking up on a thinly veiled undercurrent of tension, just like he'd felt when Trowa first showed up. He knew their green-eyed friend was pretty ticked off that he and Heero had taken off on their own, and Duo guessed he was also pretty pissed off that they'd ripped off his stash of illegal arms. That could have gotten them all in some seriously deep shit if Sally and Wufei hadn't somehow covered it up; Duo didn't have the whole story about that, and from the way Sally dodged his questions when she visited, he probably wasn't going to get it, but he suspected that strings had been pulled and favors called in at a very high level. He figured Preventers must still owe Heero Yuy big time.

Duo felt really bad about the whole weapons thing. Hell, they hadn't even used most of it in the end. He tried repeatedly to apologize to both Tro and Kat. Quatre just brushed it off in his usual kind fashion. Trowa, however, didn't say a word and that silence was worse than getting yelled at.

When Quatre called them on the vid that evening, Duo was thrilled to see that he was sitting up. "Hey, no more regen units? Is your back all better?" he exclaimed happily. Quatre was visible from the waist up. His chest was bare, and he seemed to be sitting in a hospital bed with the end cranked up. The intricate tattoos on his shoulders looked stark against the pale skin in that light.

"I still have to lie in one at night, but it's much better. It's so good to be able to get up and around a little!" Quatre said. He was grinning, but he looked seriously wiped out. It was evening here in Japan, which made it mid morning in New Orleans, but it looked like he'd already had a long day. "How's Heero?"

Duo turned the vid camera toward Heero's bed to let him see. "They've still got him knocked out. He really messed up his wrist, but his wounds are healing really well. You know Heero. He'll be back to normal before I am."

"Hmmm." Quatre seemed to be frowning. Duo wondered what he was picking up from Heero. It wasn't the first time he'd envied Kat his connection with Heero.

"How's your back look, meli?" asked Trowa, with eyes only for his husband.

"Pink. Very pink and smooth, like a baby's. It doesn't really hurt, but it's still very sensitive. I can't even wear a shirt yet. I'm leaning back on moisturized gel packs at the moment."

"Guess I'll have to be on the bottom for a while," Trowa murmured, giving him one of those heated looks of his. Nope, nothing wrong with 03's libido, that was for certain, Duo thought, or 04's either, judging by Quatre's cute little answering grin.

"I started physical therapy this morning," Quatre told them.

"How was it, meli?" Trowa asked, concerned.

Quatre just shrugged but Duo guessed that it hadn't been pleasant. Glancing over at Trowa, he thought he caught another flash of that tension. It wasn't hard to see where Tro would rather be right now.

"I'm sending your man back to you, Q," Duo told him. "We're fine here. They've got Heero drugged up and Dr. B's on his way. Wufei is hanging in there."

"How is Zechs doing?" asked Quatre.

"Hard to say. He's the strong, silent type, but I don't think he's slept much since they brought us in. Wu's still in isolation, on account of infection. I think it's probably driving Zechs nuts, not to be able to be closer, but he sits and watches him all day and probably all night, too."

"What about you, Duo?" Quatre asked.

"Huh? What about me?"

"You look tired. Trowa, is he sleeping?"

"Yes, meli, he's sleeping. Eating, too. And taking his mood stabilizers and antibiotics, but not the painkillers."

"You sent him here to baby-sit me?" Duo exclaimed, equally touched and outraged. Leave it to Quatre to go and do something like that when he needed Trowa more than any of them.

"I sent him because I thought you and Heero should have some family with you," Quatre replied with that quiet patience of his. "You guys were there for us. Weren't they, Trowa?"

Was it Duo's imagination or had Kat just given his husband a long-distance "look"?

"Yes, of course," Trowa agreed, giving Duo an apologetic smile. "I'm going to go get something to drink. Don't hang up, love. I'll be right back."

When Trowa was out of the room Duo leaned in closer to the monitor. "What's going on, Quatre? He's acting like he's really pissed at me and trying not to show it."

Quatre sighed. "He is, because you two gave us such a scare. If Wufei hadn't gone after you when he did, you'd probably both be dead right now. You do know that, right? Zechs told me that himself when I spoke to him earlier. Tro and I couldn't have done a thing to help. We both hate that, but he feels it even more deeply than I do. He's been the caretaker for all of us, more than we ever have for him. And-" He broke off, leaving something unsaid.

"What? Come on, Kat, I'm not that fragile. Lean a little."

Quatre sighed. "Well, there are some other things going on, too. There's all the pressure of what to do about the New York opening. With "Passage" and "Meld" on hold for now, some of the backers are worried that the main draw of the show is scuttled. The opening has been pushed back a month, but we've still had to refund a lot of tickets. Trowa's knee is screwed up and I may not be able to perform for months--not the hard stuff, anyway." Quatre paused and took what sounded like a shaky breath. "And there's trouble with my family again."

"What? I thought you were emancipated?"

"So did I, but some of my dear relatives are still trying to get me declared mentally incompetent. A couple of my sisters, the ones who really hate Trowa for 'turning me gay', are teaming up with Uncle Ahmed. They want my marriage annulled so they can lock me up in a mental institution. Under L-4 law, they think they have a case, since I'm still technically underage until I'm twenty-one. In their eyes, I've dishonored the family three times over, by being openly gay, marrying an infidel, and performing in the circus. In the old days back on Earth some male relative would have quietly garroted me by now, you know."

"Damn, Kat! I had no idea!"

"Yeah. And they wonder why I became a Gundam pilot and took all those drugs," Quatre said bitterly. "I think it's really about the money, though. I'm still the only male heir and even though I've resigned all my official titles, I still own a significant share of the corporation."

"Can't you just walk away from all that, now that you and Tro have the show?"

"That's just it," Quatre replied with a hitch in his voice. "I was planning to do that. I want to tell them all to take their money and shove it, every credit. But if the show goes under now, we could lose everything, and I wouldn't have my money for a safety net. That's how we launched it in the first place, you know. I'm the principle backer. We wanted it that way, to have complete creative freedom. We thought after the success of the New Orleans opening that we were free and clear, but if places like New York and Paris decided to drop us, we'll be in serious financial trouble."

Quatre paused, looking dangerously close to tears. "So there's all that, and Tro's knee is still messed up, and you guys are hurt, and Wufei's so bad, and Trowa and I can't even--" Quatre stopped and wiped at his eyes. His voice had gone all quivery.

"Oh, Kat. Baby, don't cry. I'm so sorry! I had no idea it was that bad!" Duo wanted to crawl through the monitor and hold him in his arms.

Quatre took a deep breath. "Anyway, with all that and the house a wreck and all the weird publicity this has generated, with the police reports and the trial coming up? I have to keep the TV off now. I can't stand to hear it over and over again, what those men were doing, and see that horrible footage."

Duo had watched the news for a while that morning, unable to look away from the carefully chosen still shots from the torture vids, the ones in which the faces were obscured but there was no mistaking who the victims were meant to resemble. And all those scenes of pathetic little body bags being carried out by men in hazmat suits.

Duo wasn't allowed to shower yet, but he'd scrubbed himself nearly raw at the sink, trying to get the smell of all those bodies off his skin. His hair was all dry and frizzy from all the hospital shampoo he and Trowa had gone through, getting the blood and other unspeakable muck out of his hair. He wished Trowa had thought to bring him his own shampoo and conditioner. Heero needed Duo's braid as much as he did, and Duo knew the familiar smell of it was an important factor for Heero. As it was, it smelled like hospital soap and Duo thought he could still smell the corpses on it and worried that Heero did, too. Rolling around in rotting bodies wasn't something he ever wanted to do again.

"According to the news, you and Heero were working on special assignment for the Preventers from the start," Quatre noted. "I talked to Sally. She says that came directly from Commander Une, but she thinks Zechs pulled some strings. Apparently he had some leverage with her and Relena."

"After they screwed Wu over, you mean?" Duo snorted. "At least some good came out of that."

"Have you seen some of the websites that have sprung up?"

"No, the cops impounded our laptops. What's going on?"

"Well, good stuff and bad. Thanks to the bombing and now this, there's even more support for us, but there are a lot of weird disturbing sites, too. I hate to say it, but thanks to the news, now just about everyone on Earth and space knows about those damn S.K.U.M. vids." Quatre shook his head, looking even more tired. "It's so--so--"

"Sleazy? Embarrassing? Violating?" Duo supplied helpfully. The little blond "04" character had figured quite prominently in plenty of those vids; Kat's stuck-up, homophobic family must be really thrilled about that. "That bastard Hato was one of the writers for those things. Fuck, I'm so glad Zechs killed him!"

"But what he did to you and Heero, that was something different, wasn't it?" asked Quatre.

"Yeah. He and his rapist buddies were planning to have us guest star in some of their own personal productions. The cops found piles of scripts and all kinds of vid. The bastard was making snuff films, killing those poor kids after--"

Now it was Duo fighting to keep his voice steady. "There was one boy left alive in the cell when Heero and I were captured, a little kid named Yuki. I don't even want to tell you the shape we found him in, Kat. He's up in the pediatric psych unit now. He can't be more than fourteen or so and--" Duo couldn't go on. He'd spoken with the kid's doctor earlier. They'd managed to save the arm he'd been shot in, but shock, abuse, malnutrition, and blood loss had taken a harsh toll. He'd been raped so brutally it had messed up his spine. He'd probably need surgery if he was ever going to walk again, assuming he survived.

"Will he make it, do you think?" Quatre asked, reading him right.

"I don't know. He doesn't seem very tough."

"Like you were?"

"Yeah, like I was. And no one ever hung onto me for days, doing all that shit. Not like they did to him."

"And Heero," Quatre whispered sadly.

Duo shuddered. He couldn't let himself think too much about that, putting Heero in Yuki's place. But Heero had been strong enough to get away, to survive.

//And then try to off himself,// an inner voice warned.

"Duo? Duo, are you all right?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Sorry. Too many bad memories."

"I can feel that," Quatre said softly. "I wish I was there with you."

"Yeah, me too, buddy. I could go for some serious snuggling with you right about now. Anyway, like you said, it's lucky that Wufei and Zechs showed up when they did. It's kind of scary, how much we've lost our edge since the war. We made just about every stupid mistake in the book. Not much of a covert operation."

"Suicide mission, you mean," Quatre said, with some of Trowa's sharpness.

"Think you two can ever forgive us?" Duo asked meekly.

Quatre softened at once. "Oh, it's not like that, Duo, certainly not for me. Trowa? He just processes things differently, that's all. And, well--" He broke off, chewing his lip.

"What, Q?" They were back to Trowa again and Quatre was clearly upset. "C'mon, buddy, I know there's something else on your mind. Spill already."

"It's just that, well, I'm worried about him, too. I guess you already know that sex is about the only therapy Trowa responds to when he's really stressed, and he and I haven't been able to do anything, and I won't be able to for a while, so he's just left hanging and-- It almost makes me wish--" He broke off again, not looking at Duo.

"That we'd all taken the whole group sex thing a little further?" Duo said uneasily.

Quatre shrugged. "It's not like anyone is in very good shape to do anything, anyway, right? He'll live, but do try to be patient with him, OK? He loves you and Heero. He really does. He was really scared for you, and he's worried about Wufei. If he doesn't seem himself, it's just the stress and fear talking. Try not to take it personally."

"I get the impression he'd rather spank me than fuck me, Kat. And if you think that would help, my ass is his. I deserve it."

Quatre actually grinned at that, even though Duo had been serious. "Duo, you have multiple gunshot wounds. Just how much of a masochist are you?"

"None in my ass. And in answer to your question? You'd be surprised." Duo waggled his eyebrows in a naughty leer, trying to make Quatre smile.

It worked. "Hey, who's the one who took you to your first S&M club, Duo Maxwell?"

"You did, you bad, bad boy."

"All right then. Anyway, just give him a little sugar, OK?"

"You got it, Q-man. Uh oh, here he comes. Try to look all innocent again."

Trowa came in with a couple of cold drinks and gave them both a suspicious look. "What's up?"

Duo couldn't help smirking as he checked out the front Tro's tight black jeans. "Nothing at the moment, I guess."

"Duo!" Quatre tried to sound outraged but he was laughing.

"Just saying goodnight to Little Blondie here," Duo told Trowa, giving the surprised young man the promised hug and a warm kiss, with a quick but heartfelt ass fondle for good measure. He made sure Quatre could see what he was doing. "Now I'm gonna go check on Big Blondie and Wu." He gave a Quatre a meaningful wink. "Keep your man company, Kat. I'll be a while and Heero is out like a light. Vid sugar's sweet, too, ya know." He grabbed the drink Trowa had brought him and hobbled out, giving Quatre a last encouraging wink.

"It's not a secure channel, you pervert!" Quatre called after him. "Besides, that wouldn't help!"

+

"What wouldn't help?" Trowa asked, sitting down in front of the monitor in the chair Duo had vacated. The unexpected kiss and grope had caught him off guard.

"Duo says you're being bitchy, love. He thinks you and I should have vid sex to make you feel better. But I know masturbation just leaves you worse off when you're like this."

"Like what?" Trowa snapped, struggling to keep his voice down for Heero's sake. "And since when does Duo-fucking-Maxwell have a say in our sex life?"

"Um, well, since I suggested you needed some relief from someone else while I'm out of commission," Kat replied, trying hard to look helpful and innocent.

Trowa's green eyes widened in shock. "Jesus, Kat!"

"Sorry, baby. But I can see how things are building up on you, and you are being a bear to them, sick as they are. I know what you need--"

"What I need is *your* sweet, hot cock up my ass," Trowa gritted out, keeping his voice low. "Not Duo's or anyone else!"

Quatre raised an eyebrow.

Trowa stole a guilty look at Heero's sleeping form, then exploded. "What the hell's the matter with you?"

To Trowa's horror, Quatre burst into tears. "I'm sorry, Trowa! I--I wasn't thinking and--and-- I'm just *so* worried and *so* tired and everything hurts and things are such a mess and--and-- Oh, I'm no use like this. I'll just hang up now."

"No! No, meli stay!" Trowa begged, grasping the sides of the monitor as if he could hold Quatre that way. The sight of Quatre losing it was torment, just one more item on an ever-lengthening list of things he wanted to fix and couldn't. Trowa could see now that despite the brave front he'd been putting on, Quatre was too exhausted to move. He just lay there, face scrunched up and flushed, covering his eyes with one hand as the tears rolled down his thin, pale cheeks. An IV line dangled from the crook of his elbow. "Oh baby, I'm so sorry! I'm such a bastard. Please, Kat, baby, liebchin, don't hang up. Quatre, I'm coming home. I'm going to call and book a flight right now!"

But Quatre dropped his hand and shook his head fiercely, those blue eyes commanding in spite of the tears. "No! You know why I want you there! Heero still doesn't feel right to me. If anything happens, Duo needs someone there who can go after him. Please, Trowa. I know it's too much for you but who else do they have but us?"

Trowa dropped his face into his hands. "I know. I know. I know."

"Do you love them?"

"You know I do!"

"Then please, Trowa, just a little longer. Just until I feel Heero is safe. None of us can afford to lose him again and I'm so worried what all this has done to his mind."

Trowa ran his hands back through his hair and looked up at his love. "You're right. I'm sorry I'm so edgy."

Quatre pinned him with a very direct look. "I love you, Trowa, and I know how you function. I don't want you falling apart. Promise me you'll-- take care of yourself, too. Do what you need to, to stay sane, understand?"

Trowa let out an exasperated groan. "I'll go buy a vibrator right now; a great big silicone job with balls and everything. Biggest one I can find! Will that make you happy?" He couldn't believe how sharply that all came out. Quatre's face was crumpling again, like Trowa had slapped him. He might just as well have, the way emotions carried to the little empath. "Oh baby, I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"

Too late. Quatre mumbled a tearful, "I love you. Good night!" and broke the connection. Trowa frantically called him back. The first time he got a busy signal. The second time it rang and rang but no one answered. The third time he got a "Calls blocked" message. Quatre did not want to talk to him right now.

"Oh, fuck!" Trowa slumped back in his chair, defeated.

Heero stirred on the bed and turned to glare at him. Just how long had he been awake? Long enough, apparently, because he growled hoarsely, "Send him an apology. Now!"

"I thought you were drugged."

"Do it, 03."

"Of course I'm going to do it!" Trowa snapped. He would have already if Heero hadn't butted in!

Pressing the tips of his fingers to the bridge of his nose, he took several long, deep breaths, reining in his frantic emotions. He understood. Quatre had overloaded; he was exhausted and sick and hurting and worried and trying far too hard, as usual, to take care of everyone but himself. Trowa hoped he'd put up his mental shields, too, to protect himself, but on the off chance he hadn't, Trowa focused his heart and his thoughts on New Orleans and whispered, "I'm sorry, meli. I love you. I love you. I understand. Rest now, and know that I love you. I'm OK. Don't call back. Go to sleep, my sweet dove. Go to sleep, little one. And Heero says hi, too."

+

Six thousand miles away, Quatre caught his breath and stopped crying as he felt the unmistakable warmth of Trowa's strong arms enfold him. With it came a flash of Trowa holding him, whispering gentle words of love and apology. He even caught a few of them and blushed.

"Sweet dove?" he muttered, trying to be outraged, but the truth was he reveled in every silly pet name Trowa had ever called him, even the ones that started with "little", as much as he complained. //I should call him back,// he thought, but before he could find the strength to do so he was already asleep.

+

The drugs didn't knock Heero out nearly as much as he let on. He'd just given up fighting. Dozing or pretending to sleep got people to leave him alone. He just needed time to get his strength back, that was all. They'd taken off the regen units and hour by hour, his genetically enhanced body was putting itself back together. The antibiotics and fluids they were giving him sped up the process, but he'd have healed anyway. He always had.

He'd heard the others whispering just now, heard everything. Everyone was messed up and it was all because of him.

He gave Trowa a moment to send what comfort he could to Quatre, then extended a hand to him. "Come here."

Trowa rose wearily and limped over, leaving his cane behind against the chair by Duo's bed.

"Sit," Heero ordered. The words might be a little slurred by the drugs but he got the tone right. Trowa sat down at once on the edge of Heero's bed. Heero took his hand and massaged Trowa's rough palm with his thumb.

Trowa caught his breath and tried to pull away. "It's OK, Heero. I'm fine."

"No, you're not. I heard Quatre telling Duo about the troubles you're having with the show and his family. You didn't need all this on top of it." He worked his thumb in soothing circles over the fleshy heel of Trowa's palm, then massaged up each long finger, rolling them gently between his own. Trowa's eyes fluttered shut and his breathing deepened.

//How many days since the explosion?// Heero wondered. He was too fuzzy to calculate, but he knew that Trowa Barton had gone far too long without physical contact.

"Lie down with me."

Trowa tried to object again, but it was a half-hearted protest this time. Under Heero's glare, he kicked off his shoes and gingerly stretched out beside Heero, trying not to put pressure on any of the wounds in his chest or belly. Heero guided him in closer, gathering him in with his right arm, then drew Trowa's arm across the least damaged part of his chest. "Just don't squeeze, all right?"

"I won't," Trowa muttered, lying rather stiffly against him with his head on Heero's shoulder. Trowa had on a tight black tee-shirt over his tighter black jeans. Heero stroked the bare forearm on his chest with his left hand, ignoring ache in his damaged wrist or the twinge of the IV in that arm. With his right he rubbed Trowa's shoulder and stroked his short, thick hair. In reality, he was doing it as much for his own comfort as Trowa's. Duo was so worried about him he wouldn't get in bed with him, just sat next to him in a chair and held his hand. It felt good, having someone pressed full length against him, and warm breath against his neck. It reminded him that he was still alive.

Trowa slowly relaxed, then reached up and softly stroked Heero's unshaven cheek. At last he sighed a bit unsteadily and whispered, "I just want us all back in the big bed together, you know?"

"I'm still welcome there?" Heero asked, genuinely doubtful. It had been preying on his mind a lot, all the trouble he'd brought to those he loved.

"God, Heero, of course you are!" Trowa exclaimed. Cupping Heero's cheek, Trowa leaned up and kissed him on the mouth. It started out innocent and friendly, but as it went on Heero felt the light, hesitant brush of a tongue across his lips. He opened his lips and kissed Trowa back deeply, probing the hot mouth pressed to his. As it went on, he wondered drowsily where this might go if he wasn't shot up and doped. It was pleasant, but he was in no shape to feel remotely sexual. The kiss ended and Trowa settled back down on his shoulder with a happy sigh. Heero was starting to drift again, lulled by Trowa's warmth, but he was also aware of Trowa's erection hard against his hip through the blankets. He shifted slightly against him and felt Trowa's needy shiver. Poor guy. Heero sleepily pondered Duo and Quatre's whispered conversation, wondering where the others really stood on the whole sharing of partners issue these days? Quatre seemed to think that someone was going to have to help Trowa soon, and Quatre had a long way to go before he'd be up to the task. Heero flexed his abdomen and winced at the multiple flares of hot pain. No, not up to it.

The drugs were pulling him under again. "Guess I'll have to talk to Duo," he mumbled sleepily against Trowa's hair.

"Talk to him about what?" Trowa murmured back, utterly relaxed now.

"Fucking you," Heero mumbled, hugging him.

"What!?"

Heero groaned in pain and chagrin as Trowa flailed off the bed and landed on the floor with a thud and a muffled curse.

Fully awake again, Heero craned his neck, trying to see if he was hurt. "Tell me you didn't land on your knee!"

Trowa hauled himself up and backed away from the bed, blushing furiously. "Uh no, on my ass. Heero, what the *hell* are you talking about?"

"I don't know. The drugs are making me weird," Heero lied. Well, it wasn't a complete lie. Drugs did do weird things to him. That's why he avoided them.

Trowa grabbed his cane and limped quickly for the door. "You must be hungry. I'll go grab us something to eat." Without inquiring what Heero might want, he disappeared.

Heero fell back against the pillows and stared up at the ceiling, calling himself nine kinds of fool. It seemed he couldn't get anything right these days.

//Maybe I should just leave. They were better off without me.// Tears stung the corners of his eyes as the old dark thoughts crept back again. The worst part was that they felt so true.

+

Duo had paused to chat up the nurses at the station. He was already on a first name basis with most of them, as least the ones who spoke some English. Everyone was pretty star-struck by the Gundam boys and Zechs. It was in a nice way, though. Everyone was very kind, and very polite and helpful. By the time he was done this time, he'd gotten nurse Mariko to promise she'd look for his sandalwood hair products in the shops on her way to work tomorrow.

Mission accomplished, he took the elevator up five floors to Cardiac ICU. He had the staff charmed here, too, but Zechs was by far the favorite, being their resident tragic lover and all. One of them called him "Lord Byron," whoever that was.

As soon as he stepped off the lift, however, he could tell something was wrong. None of the English speakers were on duty, but one of the older women took him by the arm and hurried him along to the glass observation room.

Zechs was right where Duo had left him this morning, but the bed beyond the glass was empty.

Duo stood frozen in the doorway, mouth too dry to speak.

"He's in surgery," Zechs rasped, not looking up. "There was a leak. His chest filled up with fluid and his heart stopped again."

"Oh god! No one told me!"

"It just happened." Zechs wasn't crying or anything, but he looked so lost that Duo went to him and sat down on the arm of his chair. Without giving it much thought, he stroked that long blond hair, not knowing what to say. He was probably the last person, except maybe Heero, who Zechs wanted to see right now, but he couldn't just walk away.

Without a word, Zechs pulled Duo down into his lap and buried his face in his hair, holding him tight. Duo winced in pain, but said nothing, just wrapped his arms around Zechs, and let himself be held, a proxy for Wufei. Zechs still didn't cry, just held him, heart pounding wildly against Duo's side.

They sat like that, not saying a word, until a nervous throat clearing made Duo look up.

Trowa stood there, looking embarassed. "I, uh, I was just going out to get some food and--What's wrong?" Then he saw the empty bed. "Oh, god, no!"

"Wufei's in surgery," Duo told him quickly, climbing out of Zechs's lap and pulling the man up with him. "Food's a good idea. Maybe some udon or something? Bring it back to my room. We'll be there."

"No, I have to stay here," Zechs said, trying to pull free from Duo's grip on his arm.

"I'll let the nurses know where you are. You're no further from the OR there as you are here. Come on, I'm not leaving you alone."

Zechs cast a last sorrowful look at that empty bed, then allowed Duo to lead him away. Duo was prepared to use sign language at the nurse's station, but Zechs said something in Japanese and the nurse bowed and nodded.

Heero was groggy but awake when they arrived. Duo made Zechs push all the visitor's chairs over by his lover's bed and they huddled together there, pretending to watch the news and not talking about how worried they were. Trowa returned with noodles and Duo nagged everyone into eating at least a little. Duo was a bit embarassed at his own appetite, but it was the first time in days that anything had tasted as good as these noodles. He had to keep his strength up, right?

Zechs brooded and fretted. Trowa was silent, hiding behind his bangs. Heero was groggy and irritable, but he let Duo feed him half a bowl of noodles. The night nurse came in, exclaimed happily over Heero's appetite, and removed the IV line.

That cheered Heero up a lot. He insisted that Duo sit with him on the bed and held his hand. Duo felt awkward at first. He was really worried about jostling Heero and hurting him, but the look in his lover's eyes as he gradually relaxed and settled beside him made him relax, too. Heero needed this, wanted this, although for some reason he kept looking over at Trowa with the oddest look on his face. Duo found himself doing the same with Zechs. The man was putting up a good front, but Duo kept feeling those arms around him. He felt rather guilty, leaving him over there all by himself.

"Hey, Zechs, scoot over here, will you?" he said at last.

With a questioning look, Zechs moved his chair closer to the bed. Duo kept a grip on Heero's hand with his left, but took Zechs's hand, too, resting it on Zechs knee to ease the pain this caused in the torn muscles of his chest. "He's going to be OK. You've got to believe that."

"I want to," Zechs rasped, running a thumb over Duo's knuckles.

Odd man out, Trowa slumped in his chair and kept his gaze fixed on an incomprehensible music videos playing on the TV, then muttered something about calling Quatre and left the room.

An hour passed, and Trowa wandered back in with a handful of magazines, which he proceeded to immerse himself in. Another crawled by, and a third. It was nearly midnight when the phone by Duo's bed rang. He'd been dozing against Heero's shoulder, and Zechs beat him to it.

"Yes? Yes, this is Zechs Merquise. It is? He is? Really?" Zechs blue eyes lit up and he gave the others an excited thumbs up. He listened for a moment longer, then hung up with a sigh of relief. "The operation went very well. Apparently the time he's already spent on regen strengthened the arterial tissues more than they'd thought. They had to do another graft, but the area is finally stabilized. The doctor said more, but I--that is--" Zechs was stumbling all over himself, he was so relieved and happy with the news. "The repairs are much better now. He's in recovery now, but they're-- He may even be awake by morning! I should, that is--"

"Go already!" Duo laughed.

Zechs gave him a grateful look and bolted from the room, empty shirtsleeve flapping behind him.

"Well that's a relief," Trowa yawned, stretching in his chair. "If you two don't mind, I think I'll drag myself back to my hotel. I can't take these chairs any longer."

"It's late. You should stay here," said Heero, rubbing sleepily at his eyes. "You have Duo's bed." The arm around Duo's shoulders tightened. "He can stay here with me."

Trowa shook his head. "Thanks, but I'll be more comfortable there, I think. No offense, but a night out of a hospital would be a relief. I'll be back first thing in the morning. Good night."

Heero felt a little sad, letting him go, but there was no stopping him.

"Well, looks like you get your bed to yourself," said Duo, trying to get up.

Heero held him. "I'd really like it if you'd stay here with me, Duo."

Duo looked down at him in surprise, then gave him a sweet, understanding smile. "OK, baby. I'll stay. But promise you'll kick me out if you get uncomfortable, OK? Just let me go get my own pillow."

When Duo had settled back beside him and turned out the light, Heero felt for the braid and ran his hand down its length.

"I washed the hell out of it," Duo murmured, snuggling carefully against him.

"Literally," Heero murmured, glad to have it soft and silky under his fingers again, not crusted with blood and filth.

"How you doing, 'ro?" Duo asked after a while.

"I'm fine."

"Really?"

Heero shrugged. What could he say? He wasn't sure how he felt about anything right now. He needed Duo beside him more than anything else in the world, but the lingering unease and guilt about Trowa and the others hovered close to the surface.

"Man, Tro took off pretty fast, didn't he?"

"Maybe he got that vibrator after all," Heero said, already drifting off to sleep.

Duo's sudden laugh woke him up fully. "What did you just say?"

"Oh, that's right. You were gone. Quatre says Trowa needs sex, but Trowa wouldn't agree to doing anything with us, and got mad, and said he'd buy a big vibrator if it would keep Quatre from nagging him about it." Heero paused, frowning. "He made Quatre cry."

"Yeah? Well, they are pretty ragged," Duo mused. "Kat kind of brought the subject up with me, too. I didn't think he was really serious, though."

"Would you?"

"What? Fuck Trowa?" There was a distinct edge to his voice now, but some sadness, too. "Would you want me to? Anyway, you're the one he was hung up on, not me. I'm strictly bottom in his mind."

"I'm in no shape to do anything."

"Heero, why do I get the impression you've given this serious thought? If you have some sort of "Fuck Trowa" mission plan going, I'm going to be seriously upset with you."

"You don't think we owe them that much?" asked Heero. "I mean, we say we love them, but do we love them that much? Do you?"

Duo was silent and still, then he left Heero's bed and went back to his own. Heero heard the mattress creak and the blankets rustle. Then, a moment later, the muffled sound of Duo weeping into his pillow.

"Duo? Duo, please come back!" Heero called, feeling a little panicky. "Talk to me, Duo, please?"

There was no answer, just more rustling sounds; probably Duo turning his back on him.

"Duo, if you don't come back, I'm coming over there."

"Just go to sleep, Heero!" It was a muffled growl.

Heero sighed and reached for the bedside light. Then he sat up swung his legs off the side of the bed, remembering too late that the catheter hadn't been removed. His foot caught in the line and a sickening shock ran up his penis as the tube they'd inserted there jerked sharply. That, together with the surprising amount of pain moving caused, made him swear and clench his fists against the mattress.

Duo was at his side in an instant, urging him back down and carefully positioning the catheter line again. When Heero got his breath back and opened his eyes, he saw tears on Duo's cheeks.

"Come back to bed with me, please!" he croaked, clutching Duo's wrist. "Please?"

Duo grudgingly complied, and after a moment even managed to relax a little.

"Talk to me, Duo."

"I do love them!" Duo hissed, clutching at the blankets over Heero's chest. "Of course I do! Sometimes I can even sort of imagine doing it with them-Sort of, but--"

"But?"

Duo buried his face in Heero's shoulder. "You know my history. I was used and abused. Then I was a total slut. You're the only person I ever did it with who made me feel clean and wanted and loved and--and-good! Not like trash! You're the only one I ever wanted to--to-- Oh hell, never mind. It's stupid!"

Heero tightened his arm around Duo's shoulders, wondering just how huge an error he'd just committed. "*Nothing* you feel is stupid to me, Duo. Please, just say what's on your mind. Keep talking, little mermaid."

But Duo just shook his head and clung to him. "Not now, Heero. It's OK. Let's just get some sleep, OK? I love you, baby. I'm just--It's been kind of a long week, y'know? Dr. Batoosingh's going to be here tomorrow, and maybe we'll get to see Wufei, right? Things'll look different in the morning. Go to sleep."

Heero had little choice but to leave him alone and after a while it sounded like Duo really had gone to sleep. Heero wasn't fooled, though. He'd hurt him in some deep way, and sooner or later he had to face it, whether Duo wanted to talk about it or not. //At least he came back to bed with me,// thought Heero. But he couldn't sleep. Instead, he lay there staring up into the darkness, taking inventory of all the ways he'd screwed up everything and everyone around him.

+

Three floors up, Zechs sat in the OR waiting room, content for now just to be this close to his little love. Reaching into his pocket, he took out the golden dragon ring Wufei had left with him when he'd headed for Japan. How Zechs looked forward to slipping it back on that slender golden finger where it belonged. Turning it in his fingers, watching the ruby catch the light, he couldn't imagine ever letting Wufei take it off again.

+

Two miles away Trowa sprawled on his cold hotel bed, joylessly trying to pleasure himself with the promised sex toy. It was big, and the vibration features were strong and varied, but it did him no more good than such things ever had. The only way he'd ever achieved any real release was in the hands or mouth or body of another. Or on Quatre's cock. He tried to pretend that this cold, unnatural rod was his lover as he pressed it into his body, but it didn't work. This was simply torture. He came at last, though sheer determination, but felt more empty and frustrated and horney than before. He stuffed the used toy back into its garish box and tossed it into the trashcan. Let the maid make of that what she would. It wasn't like it could hurt his reputation.

He took a shower, washing cold semen from his belly and the nasty smell of silicone from his ass, then wrapped himself shivering in a hotel robe and called Quatre on his laptop's vidphone. To his immense relief, his beloved answered this time. Trowa was so relieved he burst into tears and spent the rest of the night curled up on the bed with the laptop, gazing into his husband's kind, tired, beautiful eyes as they talked about the house repairs and new acts and costumes for the show and anything else that didn't involve death and pain.

+

Six thousand miles away, Quatre gazed into his husband's sorrowful green eyes, giving what comfort he could. Tired as he was, he was glad Trowa had called, given the way they'd last parted. And he was glad of the distraction. Now wasn't the time to tell him about the blue legal document that had been delivered to his hospital room that evening, or how his back felt like it was on fire, or the way his aching leg had trembled and given out during the afternoon walking therapy session. And it could wait until tomorrow to warn him about the black waves of depression he was picking up from Heero, and Duo's strange guilt. Trowa had enough to deal with, just getting through the night. After all, of the five of them, Quatre was the strong one, right?

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