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

Broken Warriors + Chapter 86
New Day

Zechs must have dozed off, because he woke with a start to find Dr. Minako standing before him in the OR waiting room. The clock on the wall read 4:11 am. The doctor wasn't in bloodied scrubs this time, but an impeccable suit.

"Is Wufei all right?"

"Yes, he's been moved from recovery back to Cardiac ICU. He's doing very well. Would you like to see him?"

"Of course!"

Minako smiled. "The nurses are waiting for you. They'll help you change."

"Change?" Zechs blinked stupidly at him, still half asleep. "You mean I can actually be with him?"

"Yes, if you take proper precautions."

At the ICU unit a nurse showed him to a small changing room, where he stripped off his own clothes, showered with a special soap, and put on faded green scrubs, stretchy slippers, and surgical mask. His long hair was swept up under a sort of paper shower cap. Latex gloves gave the outfit its finishing touch.

"It's only for a few days," a similarly attired nurse told him she led him down a glassed in corridor to a room similar to the one Wufei had been in before. There was an observation room beyond a glass panel; he was very happy to be on this side of the glass now.

Wufei looked much the same has he had before, lying very still under the regen unit, tubes and monitors. But the life support machine was gone. He was breathing on his own now. His long, dark hair hadn't been washed in days, but some kind nurse had plaited it into a neat braid over one shoulder. Zechs grinned as he sat down by the bed; the braid was tied off with a strip of white medical gauze, tied in a bow. He looked so young and tender and innocent like this, not like a trained killer.

Assuming the gloves meant it was acceptable to touch Wufei, Zechs bent and kissed his lover's forehead through his mask, then took one limp, calloused hand in his own and held it gently, as if Wufei might break with rough handling. Wufei's skin was cool. His face was very pale and there were dark, sunken circles under his closed eyes. He looked much thinner, too, but none of that mattered. Wufei had never looked lovelier to him than he did right now.

"My love," Zechs whispered, fighting the lump in his throat. "Mei, I'm sorry I wasn't with you before, but I'm here now. I'll stay with you as long as you need me. Are you awake yet? No? That's all right. I'll talk to you anyway. It's been days since I could, little love. I've missed you so much! You gave us all such a scare. The other boys are here too, except Quatre, and Duo says he calls so often it's like he's actually here."

He babbled on like that, stroking and kissing Wufei's hand and gazing at that wan, peaceful face. He couldn't see the rise and fall of Wufei's chest under the unit, but there were monitors enough to tell him that Wufei's vitals were strong and steady now.

+

Wufei was so tired! He felt himself rise to the edge of consciousness many times, but he could not break through. He was trapped in cold dark water, under ice. It was cold and lonely. He didn't want to be here! But again and again he just sank back into darkness.

Then, as if from a distance, he heard Zechs's deep, raspy voice. He couldn't make out the words at first, but knew he was calling to him. He seemed to remember hearing him before, and he'd sounded sad then, but now it was the deep, rumbling love voice Wufei heard. It drew him up from the darkness until he felt light on his eyelids. They felt so heavy, it was hard to open them, but he clung to the sound of that voice as long as he could. Zechs was calling him "little love" and "mei" and all sorts of other tender endearments that touched Wufei like caresses. Consciousness came and went, but that voice was always there for him when he tried to surface. Words of love and poetry wove a lifeline for him to cling to. More than anything he wanted to open his eyes and embrace his lover, but he was still so tired, so heavy!

+

Dawn was breaking outside the window when Zechs saw Wufei stir slightly against the pillow. His eyes were moving rapidly behind the closed lids and the fingers in Zechs's hand began to twitch.

Thrilled, Zechs leaned closer. "Are you awake now, my love? Can you open your eyes?"

Soft dark lashes fluttered and Wufei's liquid black eyes slowly opened to regard him drowsily. His dry lips moved, silently shaping Zechs's name.

"I'm here, mei," Zechs's whispered, wishing he could gather him up in his arms.

"Mmmmm," Wufei whispered, barely audible. "Zechs." Those sleepy eyes found him again, focused briefly, and the most beautiful smile came over his face. "Too early. Come back to bed. I'm cold."

"Poor baby. I wish I could," Zechs told him, kissing his fingers through the mask but Wufei had already dozed off again. Zechs released him just long enough to hit the call button. A nurse responded over the small speaker set in the wall above the bed. "He just woke up for a moment. He says he's cold."

"That's good news, Peacecraft-sama! It is quite natural, after surgery. I will bring some blankets."

She appeared a moment later with several flannel blankets that had been warmed. Zechs helped her lay them over Wufei, and then took his place by the bed again, reclaiming that hand.

The nurse's dark eyes were smiling above her mask as she went out. "You are very good medicine for him, sir. He'll probably drift in and out for a little longer, but he should wake up soon. Keep talking to him. That should help."

Zechs would gladly talk until his voice failed, if that's what it took, but he was running out of things to say. Chiding Wufei about the flak vest was not appropriate to the situation. Instead, he fell back on poetry, reciting all of Wufei's favorites and his own. Byron, Keats, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and the Chinese and Japanese poets Wufei had introduced him to, anything that came to mind. He avoided T.S. Eliot, though; that had been their poet of sorrow, before they'd filled each other's empty hearts.

He'd tried to commit some of Wufei's Chinese verses to memory, but his recollection was imperfect. He closed his eyes, trying to summon the beautiful friendship oath Wufei had gifted him with the first time they'd made love. The lines came slowly, and he allowed himself to embellish a little.

"'If you were riding in a coach,
And I were wearing a peasant's coat,
And one day we met in the road,
You would get down and bow.
If you were carrying a peddler's umbrella,' my darling Chang Wufei,
'And I were riding on a horse,
And one day we met in the road
I would get down for you.

"'I want to be your lover
Forever and ever without break or decay.
When the hills are all flat
And the rivers are all dry---'"

Damn, what was the next line? He looked up to find Wufei awake again, and gazing at him.

"When it lightens and thunders in winter," he whispered, closing his fingers weakly around Zechs's. "When it rains and snows in summer, when Heaven and Earth mingle. Not even then will I part from you."

Zechs blinked back tears and kissed those fingers again, silently cursing the mask and gloves.

"That outfit isn't very flattering, though it does emphasize your beautiful eyes," Wufei rasped, still groggy. "What happened? Why am I in the hospital?"

"You were with Sally, looking for Heero and Duo in Japan. Do you remember?"

Wufei's eyes lost focus for a moment. "Oh. Oh yes--Hato. And your lover, Nakamura was helping me."

Zechs blushed in spite of himself. That was a conversation for another time. "Yes. You found them. You saved their lives, Wufei."

Wufei squeezed his eyes shut as he swallowed painfully and frowned. "Missed one of the bastards-- Forgot my vest. So stupid!"

"Don't, love."

Wufei's eyes snapped open, and now he was glaring at Zechs. "You were there! What the hell were you doing there? You were supposed to stay in New Orleans!"

"We can fight about that later."

"I--oh god!" He grimaced and lifted his head, getting a better look at Zechs. "Your arm! What happened?"

"It stopped a few more bullets meant for you. Don't worry, it can be replaced. You can't."

Wufei fell back with a sigh. His braid bounced a little. He noticed the bow and glared at it. "Don't tell me. Maxwell has been in here."

"No, but I'm sure he'll want to see you soon," Zechs chuckled. He pulled the bow out and secured it in a more manly fashion. "Everyone has been so worried about you. We almost lost you several times, my love."

"Really?" Wufei's glare was replaced with a softer, rather lost look as he touched the regen unit still strapped across his chest. "Where was I hit?"

"It grazed your heart." It was enough information for now. According to the surgeon, the bullet had narrowly missed the vena cava and spine before it lodged under Wufei's left shoulder blade, sparing him a messy exit wound. A few inches difference and he'd certainly have bled out at the scene.

Wufei shifted uncomfortably, and Zechs noticed the sheen of sweat on his forehead and upper lip. "My chest hurts. And my thighs."

Zechs called the nurse again, requesting pain relief. "You've had several operations. They took arterial grafts from both femoral arteries. They're going to put regen units on them, too, to get rid of the scars."

"Hn. Good."

Was Wufei blushing, concerned over unsightly marks marring those creamy inner thighs? Zechs smiled behind his mask and kissed his lover's palm.

The nurse came in and injected something into Wufei's IV line. Wufei went back to sleep almost instantly. "He'll sleep for a few hours now," she told Zechs. "You should go get something to eat."

Zechs stood reluctantly and stretched. He could use a bathroom break, he supposed, and this was as good a time as any. "I'll be back soon. Take good care of him."

Outside in the corridor he pulled off the hair cap, mask and gloves and tossed them in a waste can. He used the rest room, then headed out to the main waiting area beyond in search of a soda machine. He was parched and had the beginning of a headache.

As he entered the waiting room he was surprised to see a tall, familiar form at the receptionist's window.

"Masa!"

Masa turned and broke into a huge grin, then hurried over to embrace him. "Zechs! I was hoping I'd see you. How is Chang?"

"Much better. He was awake just now." Masa was a bit taller than Zechs. He'd forgotten that detail until now. As he stepped back with Masa's hands still around his waist, he remembered leaning into the man, resting his head on that broad shoulder as they'd danced in shadowy clubs, hiding out from the Academy censors.

Masa's dark eyes smoldered just the way he remembered and he took another step back, not wanting to court any misunderstandings. Masa and Keno might have an open relationship, but Zechs did not. He realized he'd better keep his old lover clear on that point if they were going to stay friends.

Masa took the hint, though, and led him over to sit in the hard plastic chairs against the wall. All the same, his eyes seemed to be devouring Zechs, even after his hands retreated. "Damn Zechs! You look good for a dead man."

"Six months in a regen and a coma did wonders," Zechs replied. "You've filled out a bit. You look good, too."

"Guess marriage agrees with me," he replied with a grin. "That Keno, he's still a handful. Keeps me on my toes."

"He's not with you?"

"Home asleep. And I think he's a little jealous of you."

"I think Wufei feels the same way about you. Tell me, what did you think of him?"

"He's a hothead, and a bit of a stiff, if you want my honest opinion. Good fighter, though; more guts than brains. I can see the attraction, though I'd never have pegged him as your type. Struck me as a real ice princess."

Zechs laughed outright at that, remembering his own first impressions of Wufei, compared to the reality he'd discovered. "There are sides of him only I get to see."

Masa laughed, too. "Yeah, I figured that was probably the case."

"Thank you for helping him, and all of them. Maxwell and Yuy are recovering, too."

"All guts, no brains there, too, huh?"

"Not entirely. But close, in this instance. I think if you met them, your opinion might improve."

Masa shook his head. "No, I just came by to see you. Too bad about the arm. Will they have to replace the locking mechanism?"

"Yes. Can't say I'm looking forward to going through the whole process again. I'm going to lose some more of the arm, but it was worth it."

"I bet he is," Masa replied, clapping Zechs on his good shoulder. "Well, that's all I had to say. Look me up someday. You know how to find me."

"I will."

Zechs chuckled over Masa's assessment of Wufei as he resumed his hunt for the soda machine, noticing only after he found it that he'd left all his money with his clothes when he'd changed into the scrubs. Wufei had been an "ice princess", as he'd put it. Who would have guessed that was exactly Zechs's type?

+

Duo woke up disoriented with a crick in his neck. He was still in Heero's bed. Heero was asleep, but he was frowning and looked tired and drawn. Duo reached up and gently smoothed the tousled dark hair from his brow. Heero's beard was heavier these days. His cheeks were covered in thick stubble, which accentuated how sunken they'd become. In the early morning light, he looked a lot like he had when they'd found him in that Madrid hospital. Except that he'd looked happier back then than he did right now.

Duo wasn't feeling too happy himself. The previous evening's argument had ended inconclusively and left him unsettled. What the hell had gotten into Heero and Quatre? It wasn't like Trowa would spontaneously combust if he didn't get laid, right? And he wouldn't want Duo like that, anyway, right? It wasn't like Duo was getting any come on signals from him. So why had it hit Duo so hard, when Heero, who was obviously not himself again, started talking about sharing him like some---

//Some piece of meat street whore.//

//Like it didn't matter.//


But that was just stupid! He knew none of his friends, and certainly not Heero, thought of him like that. But the old feelings, the bad old demons that had driven him after the war, they were back, digging into his hard won trust and self esteem.

Duo untangled himself from Heero as gently as he could and hurried into the bathroom where his pills were. He took the required morning doses. Except for the few days while they were on their "mission" he'd kept up with his meds very carefully. Looking into his own haunted eyes in the mirror, he suspected that the anxious sadness making a hard knot around his heart right now had nothing to do with missed meds.

Suddenly he heard a crash and a loud groan from the other room. Dashing out, he found Heero in a heap on the floor, clutching at his crotch through the hospital gown. The torn out catheter line hung over the side of the bed and there were little patches of blood seeping through the back of Heero's hospital gown.

"Heero, what the hell?" Duo gasped, trying to gather him up in his arms.

"You were gone!" Heero whispered, and Duo realized he was crying. "I woke up and you were gone. I dreamed you didn't want me anymore because I hurt you and when I woke up, you were gone!"

"Oh baby, no!" Duo soothed, his own pain momentarily forgotten as he knelt there, rocking Heero's shaking body in his arms. "Don't be silly. I'm not going anywhere."

After a few moments Heero wiped his eyes, trying to get himself under control. "I hurt your feelings last night. I didn't mean to."

"I know you didn't," Duo told him, running his fingers through Heero's shaggy hair. It really was getting long. In the back it was almost down to his shoulders. Four months. It had been four months since they'd found each other again, but suddenly it felt like they were back at square one in Madrid.

//But I'm stronger now,// he told himself. //He's just had to live all his shit over again. He's right back in hell, probably, but I'm strong now. I can help him.//

All the same, he'd be really glad when Dr. B. got here.

A gray haired nurse came in just then and found them on the floor. She didn't speak any English, this one. She bent over them, scolding them in Japanese. Heero said something that calmed her down. Well, he growled it, but it had a calming effect all the same. He let her help him back into bed and glared up at the ceiling, suffering the indignity of her lifting his gown to check where the tape holding the catheter in had torn loose. She handled his limp, shrunken penis with brisk authority, then pulled the gown down and tugged the covers back over him. Heero gripped them with his right hand, as if expecting someone else to come in and embarrass him. She checked the cast on his left wrist, flexed the fingers, lectured him a little more, and then tried to steer Duo back to his own bed.

"That's ok," he told her, stubbornly hunkering down in the chair by Heero's bed. "I'm fine right here."

She gave them both a last exasperated look and started to leave.

"Ask her about Wufei," Duo told Heero.

Heero rattled off something else in Japanese and she gave him a short reply, then bustled out.

"She's going to call Cardiac ICU and check," Heero told him.

Nurse Mariko came in a few moments later and put a small shopping bag in Duo's lap. He looked inside and grinned. She'd found his sandalwood shampoo and conditioner, and even bought him a new comb--blue this time-- and some hair ties. They had colorful beads and little kitties attached, but he could live with that for now. "Thanks! Leave me the receipt and I'll pay you back."

"No need, Duo-san," she told him, blushing a little and giving him a star-struck smile. "A gift from the nurses to you. Head Nurse says that you two should have breakfast, and then orderlies will take you up to see your friend. Chang-sama is awake now. Head Nurse also says Yuy-sama can do without catheter, if he promises to call for help with a urinal and stay in bed."

Heero gave her a curt nod. "Hai."

That news drove Duo's blues away for a little while. Trowa wandered in as they were eating the bland hospital breakfast. He looked like he hadn't slept well, either, but he'd showered and had on a clean Circus della Notte tee shirt under his leather jacket. Better still, he'd brought them hot coffee and pastries for breakfast. He already knew about Wufei, too. Quatre had called the hospital.

"Kat says good morning. We should call him after we see 'fei," Trowa told them, picking half-heartedly at his cinnamon roll.

Duo studied him over the rim of his paper coffee cup, trying to decide if Tro was depressed or just tired. It looked like both. They never had been able to convince him to go in for therapy. Duo wondered if it was time to try again. If anyone was in a situation that needed some professional support, it was Tro.

When they were done an orderly came in. Duo helped Heero into his brown silk robe and some hospital slippers, then let Trowa and the orderly get him into a wheel chair. Heero glared and grumbled a little, but didn't have much choice in the matter. Duo could tell he was still weaker than he liked to admit. Trowa took over, pushing the chair to the elevator while Duo trailed along behind.

Wufei was still in isolation, so they had to stay on their side of the glass in the observation room, but Zechs was in there with him, bundled up in scrubs and holding his hand. There was a speakerphone for communication.

Wu still looked like hell and the white regen unit was still in place, but at least he was awake and breathing on his own. Duo pressed his face to the glass and blew his cheeks out, crossing his eyes. Wufei grinned and weakly flipped him off.

"How are you?" Heero asked.

"I've been better," Wufei replied, his voice shockingly weak and soft. "How are you?"

"Fine," Heero told him. "Thank you for helping us, Wufei. Duo and I are in your debt."

"Just don't do anything so stupid again and we're even," Wufei shot back, stabbing a finger at him. "Trowa, what are you doing here? How is Quatre?"

Trowa shrugged. "He's much better, thank you. He--we thought I should come over for a bit, make sure you're all getting the right care."

"Ridiculous!" Wufei scoffed. "Go home to your husband. You should be with him."

Trowa just shrugged again and jammed his hands deeper into the front pockets of his jeans.

"Yuy, tell him to go home!" Wufei insisted.

"I will." Heero was grinning. "You must be feeling better. You're getting bossy again."

"Definitely a good sign," Zechs agreed, and Duo could tell by the way those blue eyes slanted up at the corners that he was grinning like crazy. Wufei was sounding a lot more like his old self.

No one was really up to talking about what had put them all there. They made cheerful small talk until a nurse came and shooed them away so Wu could rest.

"He does look better, doesn't he?" said Trowa, wheeling Heero back to the elevator.

Heero had fallen into a funk again, though, and just nodded. Duo knew how he felt. They'd landed Wu in that hospital bed. There was no getting around that.

+

Seeing Wufei had left Heero with mixed feelings, but depression was winning out. The short trip to ICU had tired him more than he liked to admit, too, and breakfast hadn't settled very well. Back in their room again, he let Trowa help him back into bed and dozed off while the others played cards.

+

Trowa had gone out in search of lunch and Duo was stretched out on his own bed, leafing listlessly through one of the circus arts magazines he'd left behind. A sound at the door made him look up and there was Dr. Batoosingh, smiling at him from the doorway with an overcoat over one arm and a briefcase in hand.

Duo pointed to Heero, still sleeping peacefully in the other bed, then got up and went into the corridor to talk.

"Hey, good to see you, doc! I'm really glad you could come down in person."

"You boys are becoming a full time occupation," Batoosingh replied, though he was still smiling. "You and Heero have gotten into some trouble since we last spoke. How are you?"

Duo shrugged, trying not to wince at how it pulled at the stitches in his chest. "Better than Heero. I'm worried about him, Doc. He's really low. Kat can feel it all the way over in New Orleans."

"I'm not surprised. But let's talk about you, shall we? The staff here has given me an office. Can you talk now?"

Duo hesitated, thinking of Heero's earlier panic attack when he'd woken up without him. Just then, however, he saw Trowa getting off the elevator. "Tro, if Heero wakes up, tell him I'm with the doc, OK?"

Trowa nodded, then gave Batoosingh a silent nod of acknowledgment before going in to watch Heero. Batoosingh watched him for a moment, a thoughtful expression on his face, then led Duo around a corner to a small consultation office. They sat facing each other in matching armchairs and for a moment Batoosingh looked him over with the same air of scrutiny.

"That's a very nice robe you have on," he said, taking a notebook from his case.

"Heero got it for me," Duo told him, knowing the man was just warming up to grill him. "So, you gonna yell at me, too?"


"Of course not, Duo. I'm here to help you and Heero process what you've been through. That's all. Do you think I should chastise you?"

//Here we go!// thought Duo. "Yes. I think I was really stupid not to stop him from going. I got caught up in his view of things and it all just spun out of control."

Batoosingh nodded, not writing anything down yet. "That's understandable, given your shared history, and your feelings for him. You wanted to help and protect him, didn't you?"

"Yeah. That's all I could think of."

"Why don't you tell me everything that happened, starting with your decision to go to Japan."

Duo sighed and shifted in his chair to get comfortable. Thinking of it as a mission debriefing, he sketched out the circumstances, starting with their meeting with Meir in Berlin and the information he'd given them. It took a while, but he tried to be as detailed and honest as he could. When he reached the part where he'd woken up stretched naked over that table, though, he began to lose it a little. His hands and voice were both shaking, but he made himself go on.

"You called for help," Batoosingh noted, interrupting for the first time after Duo had explained how he'd yelled for Heero, hoping to snap him out of his dazed state.

Duo sighed. "Yeah, and it worked. I mean, I wasn't sure Heero was close enough to hear, but I couldn't figure out anything else to do."

"You've told me in past sessions that you prided yourself on never asking for help in such situations. What changed your mind this time?"

Duo frowned, fidgeting with the sash of his robe. "Like I said, I thought I could snap Heero out of it. And let's face it, I was out of options."

"Were you frightened?"

Duo snorted, suppressing a shudder. "Scared shitless!"

"And it was a good plan, as it turned out. Still, it was quite an emotional risk for you, wasn't it? On some level, you must have had a great deal of faith in Heero's abilities, even though he was sick."

Duo considered this. "Yeah, I did. I mean, it's Heero, right? And man, did he come through! Tore his wrist all to hell getting loose, but he came through that door like a tornado and took on those guys with his bare hands."

"But he did not try to break free before that? What you've described sounds like a retreat to a fugue state. At the very least, he was experiencing debilitating flashbacks."

"That's right."

"But having you call for help 'snapped him out of it' and motivated him to fight as only he could."

"Yeah." Duo wondered why he was restating the obvious. He was scribbling things down on that pad of his, too.

At last Batoosingh looked up again over the tops of his glasses. "Very good. And after Heero got you free, what happened then?"

Duo went on, right up to when they got cornered in that awful hallway with all those bodies, and how Heero had gone down in a blaze of gunfire, and how he'd been hit, right before Wufei and Zechs and everyone showed up to kick ass.

"Did you see Agent Chang get shot?"

"Not really. I thought Heero was dead and so I was kinda focused on him. But I looked up when Hato shot him, and saw Zechs trying to protect Wu." He paused with a grim grin. "I was watching when Zechs shot the fucker between the eyes. I'm glad I didn't miss that."

"Understandable. Well, anything else you'd like to tell me?"

"That's pretty much what happened. I don't remember much after that, except being really scared for Heero in the ambulance. Then they took me up to surgery and when I woke up, I was here."

"And since then, how has your mood been?"

"What are you, a mind reader?" Duo shook his head. Of course he was. Batoosingh knew him inside and out. "I've been kinda up and down. I feel really bad about the trouble we caused for Wufei, getting him shot and all. Heero is really down on himself about everything. He figures it's all his fault: Wufei, Tro and Kat getting blown up, me getting shot. He's--" Duo broke off, rubbing at his eyes, which were stinging all of a sudden. "He said something like maybe he shouldn't have come back. He feels like he's brought trouble on all of us."

"Are you afraid he might leave again, like he did before?"

"Yeah, I am. And he's being kinda weird about us, too."

"Oh? How so?"

Duo sighed and rubbed his eyes again. "Well, last night he more or less suggested that I fu--that I have sex with Trowa. It wasn't just him, either. Kat was hinting around, too."

"Indeed? Why would they do that?"

Duo took another deep breath and tried to explain how things were between the four of them, and how Trowa worked. Dr. B nodded and took notes the whole time.

"A complex relationship. Yet from what you've described, Trowa himself has not approached you or anyone else for sexual release?"

"No, but like I said, Trowa doesn't think of me that way. If he needed topping, it would be Heero he'd go to, not me."

"And how would you feel about that, if Heero did?"

"I'd kick his ass, for starters!" Duo blurted out, then clapped a hand over his mouth, amazed at his own vehemence.

"Heero's ass, or Trowa's?" Batoosingh asked, unphased by the outburst.

Duo blinked at him. "Both, I guess."

"Well, I don't blame you."

"So you don't think I'm being selfish?"

It was rare for the doc to look surprised, but he did. "Of course not, Duo. What you share with each of your friends is very special and unique. You clearly love them all very deeply. But what you have with Heero? That's quite a different relationship. You love him, but you also look to him to make you feel safe and special, right? You love them all, but it's only Heero with whom you are in love."

Duo felt himself blushing. "Yeah," he mumbled, still finding his robe's sash of great interest.

"Did you feel betrayed, when Heero suggested he wouldn't mind if you had sex with your friend?"

"Yes."

"Are you angry with him about that?"

Duo squirmed in his chair, then sighed again. "Yeah, I guess I am."

"You should talk to him about that. From what you've told me, as good and strengthening as the relationship with all your friends is, you may have a different sense of personal boundaries than they do. You've said yourself that Heero is--what was that term you used? 'Socially retarded'? I would venture that your other friends are operating from a different emotional template than you are, as well. But that doesn't make you selfish or wrong. If anything, yours is the more normal reaction for someone in a committed relationship."

"You're saying I'm the normal one, for once?" Duo scoffed.

Batoosingh chuckled. "Yes. Imagine that, eh? I'm not condemning the morals of your friends, Duo. Polyamory can work, and apparently did work in Trowa's past, although I wouldn't mind exploring that with him at some point." He paused, tapping his lips with his pen. "I've only met him a few times, but I think deep down, Trowa is a very unhappy person."

"Kat calls him 'complex'."

"That's one way of looking at it. As I've said in the past, I think all of you have done remarkably well overcoming your backgrounds, but that doesn't mean there aren't scars, or work left to be done. But we've strayed off topic, haven't we? This is your session. I'd like to give you a brief physical exam. Will you allow me to approach you?"

"Sure, whatever, doc."

The doctor looked in his eyes, checked his pulse, and then took a close look at his hands and braid. He sat down again, jotted a few notes, and looked up with a smile. "You're taking your medications faithfully now, aren't you?"

"Yeah. I missed a couple of days when we came here, but I'm back on them now."

"Very good. I'd like to point out a few things, if I may. Despite the ordeal you have been though, you fought your way through it, and were, in fact, the strong one for Heero. It was your quick thinking that saved the two of you long enough for help to arrive. Even though you were put in a position that could potentially stir up your very worst memories and fears, you remained in control and took action, rather than collapsing."

"Yeah, I guess I did."

"It also appears that you haven't been chewing your nails or your hair recently. Both are neatly trimmed. You didn't cry once during this session, or lose control, or throw anything. You have hardly fidgeted at all, you aren't curled up in a ball in your chair, and you haven't gotten up to pace once."

Duo blinked again. "So?"

"So, you are doing exceptionally well for someone who's been through such a traumatic experience. I must say, Duo, this is the first time since I've known you that I can see the boy who piloted a Gundam and survived a war. I've always considered you remarkable. At the moment, I'm very impressed. You took good care of your friend, even if you went about it the wrong way. And let's not forget, your 'mission' was, in the final analysis, a success. A sadistic serial killer was stopped, and you two saved one of his intended victims. " He looked down and consulted some notes. "Yuki, isn't it?"

"Yeah, but I'm not sure how good a job we did. Have you seen him?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. You and Heero are in no way responsible for what happened to that boy, Duo. But you are completely responsible for the fact that he is still alive now. Don't forget that, and make sure Heero doesn't. I also heard on the news this morning that Raphael Conte is under investigation. It seems the Tokyo police and Preventers are very eager to find some reason to shut down his operation. Relena Peacecraft has also issued a formal statement, condemning the contents of those films and the hate it represents. I believe there is a thinly veiled version of her brother in them, as well?"

Duo grimaced. "Yeah. Alex Lightning. As in Lightning Count Zechs Merquise? Clever, right?"

"Not particularly. And the rumor is that some of the scenarios Conte's films portray in those vids were based on fact. That could get him a great deal of trouble if you and your friends are willing to testify against him."

"I don't know about that," Duo muttered, as his belly knotted. Going after Conte meant publicly admitting that those fucked up vids existed, and that some of what they showed was true. "Hato's dead. That's all I care about."

"That's up to you, of course."

Duo sat back in his chair, staring at the doctor in amazement as the import of his earlier words finally sank in. "You're saying that I did OK, aren't you? That because I held it together for Heero, I'm not crazy anymore."

"I never considered you insane, Duo. Troubled, certainly, with serious emotional difficulties. But never crazy. I've seen an improvement in your condition ever since Heero returned to you, and I must say, you came through this latest trauma with flying colors. You should be proud of yourself, Duo. You really are much stronger than you've been giving yourself credit for."

"No shit?"

"No shit. You were a Gundam pilot, after all."

"Huh!" He didn't know what else to say. "So, what do I do about Heero?"

"Keep on loving and supporting him, as you have been. But be honest with him about your feelings surrounding your relationship to your other friends. However, I'd prefer it if you'd wait until I've had a chance to speak with him. From what you've described, he's fallen back into a serious depression. You shouldn't hold him responsible for any of the decisions he's made in recent weeks. As strong as he is, everyone has their limits. And if you are correct about him remembering things from the time he was in the fugue state, then he may be more fragile and unbalanced that it appears. Don't worry too much, though. For now, he's in a safe environment, with excellent care. I'll stay on a few days and do a thorough evaluation. Some interesting things have turned up in his blood work, but I want to speak with him before I draw any final conclusions. Can you be patient, Duo?"

"I'll do anything for him, doc. Anything!"

"Good. So don't worry too much, and don't take anything he says too seriously. Well, that's it for now, unless there's anything else you'd like to say?"

"I'm talked out!" Duo laughed, feeling remarkably better than he had. "And really, I'm awful glad you're here. For Heero, I mean. Ad me, too, of course, but mostly so I don't mess Heero up with my own shit, er-- stuff."

Batoosingh noted the catch and chuckled. "You're cursing less, I notice."

Duo blushed. "Yeah? Well, I figure Heero deserves someone a little classier. Just 'cause I was a street rat doesn't mean I have to come off like one the rest of my life, right?"

"That's your choice to make, Duo." He checked his watch. "I'd like to see Heero at five, if he's feeling up to it. I can come to his room."

Duo nodded and walked out feeling a lot happier than when he'd come in.

+

Wufei woke up again in the late afternoon, feeling disoriented. He was seldom ill and this enforced bed rest was already wearing on him. Zechs was still there at his side and took his hand as soon as he saw that Wufei was awake.

"How are you feeling now, little love?" he asked. Wufei could see nothing of his lover's face except for his eyes, but those were expressive enough.

"Better," Wufei whispered. "Thirsty."

Zechs fed him a few spoonfuls of ice chips and then applied something oily and soothing to his cracked lips. "You've been on an IV for days. I'm afraid they won't remove it until the regen is complete and you can get up. The units are on your legs now, too. Can you feel them?"

"Are those restraints?" Wufei asked, trying to shift his legs and meeting with resistance.

"Standard procedure, so you don't disturb the units. It's only for a few days." Zechs kissed his forehead and stroked Wufei's hair.

The latex caught on stray strands and pulled a little, but Wufei didn't care. It felt good to be touched, even through masks and gloves. Not sensual, but comforting. Having Zechs here with him made anything bearable.

"Apart from the vest thing, I understand you did a very good job," Zechs said. "I spoke with Masa earlier. He was impressed with your performance and he's a good judge of men."

"He was very capable and helpful, too," Wufei replied. "So, were you and he--?"

"I think you know the answer to that already, my love, but it was a long time ago, in another life, one that's long in the past. But he is still my friend. You met Keno, too, I assume?"

"Yes. I wasn't sure what to make of him. Was he a good soldier?"

"I only knew him as a cadet at the Academy. He was outstanding."

For some reason the way Zechs lingered over that last word rather annoyed Wufei. "He struck me as rather--I don't know. A follower? He certainly jumps when Nakamura says to. And--well, he was wearing a collar. Like a dog. Even I know what that means, after being around Duo and Quatre."

Zechs raised one pale eyebrow. "Does he? Well, well. But Masa was his training officer, and later his commander. You were never a line soldier, so you didn't have that sort of training. But he didn't have your training, either." Zechs paused and stroked the back of his fingers down Wufei's cheek. "You would have made a fascinating cadet. I've often thought so."

"I still would never wear a dog collar!" Wufei grumbled.

"Well, certainly not in public," Zechs murmured, and gave him an amused wink.

"Oh please," Wufei rasped, though he colored a bit at the memory of wearing something quite a lot more shocking than a collar for Zechs not so long ago. "I'm in no condition to be teased!"

Zechs kissed Wufei's fingers contritely. "Of course not, mei. Forgive me." He was quiet for a moment, and his eyes grew serious. "My love?" He paused again.

"What?"

Zechs shook his head. "Nothing. Would you like me to read to you to pass the time?"

"No. You have something on your mind. I can tell. Please, Zechs, what is it?"

Zechs looked down at him for a long moment, and Wufei could not quite read the expression in his eyes.

At last Zechs said, "I fear I may have lied to you, love, though I didn't mean to at the time."

Wufei's heart skipped a beat. His first thought was that Zechs had decided to go back to Masa. Part of him realized how irrational and disloyal that was, but he was weak and sick and he'd been jealous of the tall, handsome stranger from the moment he'd laid eyes on him.

"The day we became lovers, I told you that I would never stand in your way, that I wanted you to do whatever you needed to do, knowing that I would always be there for you. Do you remember?"

"Yes, I remember." Wufei's heart sank lower. This might be worse than he thought.

"I meant it at the time," Zechs continued slowly, "but-- after all this?" He gestured around at the room, the regen unit, the monitors. "Wufei, it tore my heart out to see you go off in that uniform again. It wasn't just jealousy that you can still carry a gun and I can't legally, although I admit that was part of it. No, it was fear, and that fear is so much worse now that I've had to watch you die again and again. I was there every time your heart stopped beating, not knowing if they could bring you back again."

Wufei watched in growing dismay as tears gathered in Zechs's eyes above the mask.

"Every time I was certain I'd lost you!" Zechs continued softly. "I love you, Wufei, more than I've ever loved anyone in the world. But I don't know if I can stand to watch you walk away into danger without me again. I don't mean to give you an ultimatum. I'm only telling you the truth. I don't want to live in a world that doesn't have you in it. Masa told me how good you were in the field, and he wouldn't say that lightly, believe me. And just seeing you with Sally that day you left New Orleans--it was a side of you I don't know, a side Treize saw, perhaps, but I'd only imagined. You are warrior, Wufei, and if being in the Preventers is what you love, then I won't stand in your way, but I don't know--I don't know how I can bear it when you're gone, not knowing what's happening or if you're safe!"

"Oh Zechs, is that it?" Wufei reached for his hand and clasped it. "I'm--well, to be honest I'm relieved! I was afraid you'd think less of me if I told you--"

"Told me what, love?"

Wufei sighed. "You still don't know that much about my background, Zechs, not the details. I chose to be a scholar. I accepted becoming a Gundam pilot because it was necessary, and I did have the skills, and because I wanted revenge for the death of my wife. But it was never what I would have chosen for myself. As for Preventers? I was so broken and lost after the war, it was the only thing I thought I was suited for. I saw it as a useful occupation, nothing more. You have no idea how miserable I was before I met you. I didn't come alive until you reached out to me, and I haven't been this happy in years as I am with you. No, that's not right. I've never been happier than I have been, these past few months. To have someone as educated and cultured as you love me? I don't love you only with my body, Zechs, but with my mind and soul. I fully alive again for the first time since before the war and I love it, that I can share that with you. You told me once that poetry is your first love, even before warfare. It's the same with me. I put that Preventer uniform back on for my friends, because I saw it as the best way to help them. But it was never for any reason more than that."

He paused, sure he was just rambling now. It was exhausting, pouring out his feelings like this, but he forced himself on, knowing he had Zechs's full attention. "That mission is over. All I want now is to go back to how things were between us, and to find some useful occupation that springs from that, not from fighting and violence. Remember the catalogue of universities you gave me for my birthday? That made me think that you understood. I think--I think I might like to get a degree, perhaps teach or write. Would you mind it very much, Zechs, if I didn't want to be a warrior anymore?"

Zechs stared at him, then slowly shook his head. "Oh, mei, I would love that! But you're not just saying all this to please me, are you? I would never want you to force yourself to become anything but what you wish to be."

Wufei smiled up at him. "I swear to you, on the names of my ancestors, Zechs Merquise, that there are only two things I wish to be, above all others: a peaceful man, and your lover."

+

Zechs could hardly catch his breath as Wufei spoke. The naked honesty in that wan face, the way Wufei's hand trembled in his, and the way his voice shook with emotion made him tremble himself. The urge to take the boy in his arms was painfully strong, but Zechs had to settle for kissing Wufei's brow and lips through the damned mask as he fought to get control of his own overwhelming emotions.

"Wufei, my love!" he rasped, holding that hand to his cheek now as he gazed into those dark eyes. "There is only one thing that could make me any happier than I am at this moment, something I wanted to ask you before you left New Orleans. This isn't quite the setting I'd imagined, but I can't wait any longer."

He paused, kissing each finger and the palm of Wufei's hand. "A week ago I would have said that I couldn't imagine life without you. These past few days, I have had too many moments of knowing exactly that. Life without you would be no life at all, my love. Chang Wufei, will you do me the honor of marrying me?"

He held his breath, watching Wufei's reaction carefully, and was shocked to see tears welling up in those black eyes before Wufei turned his face away. At the same time, however, Wufei's fingers tightened painfully around his.

"My love, what's wrong?" Zechs asked anxiously. "Damn, I've chosen a terrible time to spring this on you, haven't I? I'm so-"

"No, no that's not it," Wufei whispered, closing his eyes as if he was in pain. "I--nothing would make me happier, but--"

"But what? Can't you tell me, mei?"

Wufei opened his eyes again and looked up at him, as tears broke free of his thick lashes and rolled down his cheeks. "Duty! Damnable duty! I was raised to it and I realize now it's not so easily outrun."

"I don't understand."

Wufei squeezed his hand again. "I am the last of my clan, one of the last of my people, since the destruction of L-5. All the time I was growing up, I was told that if I did not have children, my great line would end with me. Ever since I realized what my true nature is, ever since I fell in love with you, I have been trying to tell myself that it doesn't matter. But I cannot escape my heritage, Zechs. I could not live with the guilt of it. How can you want me, knowing that I must procreate with another, make a family with-with some--" He broke off as more tears fell. "And it's the same with you, isn't it? You're the last male heir of a royal line. Could you face your ancestors if you let that line die out?"

Zechs blinked as the basis of Wufei's fears sank in. He blinked again, then let out a husky laugh of relief. "Is that all?"

"Is that all?" Wufei echoed, shocked.

"Well, I admit, you're looking farther ahead than I have been, but you're quite right. We should have children some day, and we can. Together."

"H--how? What are you talking about?" Wufei demanded, still miserable.

"Haven't you heard of homogametic embryogenesis?" He let go of Wufei's hand long enough to dry the boy's tears and wipe his nose with a corner of the sheet.

"Nuh-no! What's that?" Wufei asked, unconsciously turning his face to press into Zechs's touch.

Zechs recaptured his hand. "It's all very technical, but as I understand it, the genetic material is removed from a donor egg, and replaced with the nucleus of a man's sperm cell which has been screened to guarantee it contains the X chromosome. After that, the process is the same as any external gestation process, which are so common in the colonies. The egg is fertilized in vitro with the sperm of another man, and the resulting embryo is placed in a gestation chamber. Nine months later, our very own biological child is born. They've been doing it on L-2 and L-3, and in some of the Scandinavian countries here on Earth for several years now."

Wufei's eyes were wide with amazement now. "They can really do that? You and I? We could really have children of our own?"

Zechs smiled down at him, relieved at his reaction. He'd worried that Wufei's upbringing might not allow him to consider the possibility, but instead he looked thrilled at the prospect. "Imagine it, Wufei. The mingling of the Dragon clan with the Peacecraft line. I think our children will be very beautiful and intelligent, don't you? How could they not be?"

Wufei looked positively dazed now as he tried to imagine it.

"Of course, I think we are both rather young to be parents just yet," Zechs added gently. "You have your education and a career to think of first, and I'd like time for us to just be a couple. But yes, someday when we're both ready, I would love to have children with you. As many as you like!"

Wufei was crying again, but this time joy shone in his eyes. "Then my answer is yes, Zechs. Nothing would make me happier than to marry you!"

"It's settled, then," Zechs said, his heart bursting with happiness. "You concentrate on getting better now, and we'll talk about details when you're feeling better. You've made me very happy, mei."

Wufei pulled Zech's hand to his cheek and sighed contentedly. "I never would have imagined it, that first day we met."

"I doubt my dear sister did, either, when she requested you for that security detail," Zechs agreed with a dry laugh. "Would you like to be with me when I tell her? It should be-interesting."

"Would you think me a terrible coward if I said no?" Wufei mumbled. He looked exhausted again.

Zechs stroked his forehead gently and watched those dark eyes flutter shut again. "No my love," he chuckled softly. "I'd think you very wise."

++

>OK Wuffie fans; happy now? ;-)

>As far as I know the fertilization process I described is not being done, but it's conceivable (I made a pun!) given recent developments in genetic technology. For those of you who haven't had just enough bio background to be dangerous, as I have, the female egg cell contains only the X sex chromosome. A male sperm cell can have an X or a Y. When fertilization occurs, XX = girl baby; XY = boy. I don't believe a YY fertilizations would result in a viable embryo, so the male "egg substitute" would have to be an X carrier. I for one would love to see the children that Wu and Zechs would make, and I think this issue would be an important one for someone like Wufei, but I don't do male pregnancy stories, so here's my solution. *grin*

3/23: Thanks to Maxwell's Demon for professional advice in the male fertilization technique. She wrote: "Nice hypothesis on the "dual zygotic cytogenesis". "Homo(meaning "same")-gametic embryogenesis" would work as well. "Dual zygotic cytogenesis" sounds a little repeatitive. A zygote, which is a diploid cell, is formed after the fusion of two haploid cells (sperm and egg, which are called gametes). The zygote becomes a viable embryo after going through many stages of division and implantation in the uterus. But I'm just a picky microbiologist! ^_^ Its always nice to see that someone who understands the basic laws of genetics can be creative. If parthenogenesis is possible and it is, then maybe male-male fertilization can be possible at some point as well."

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