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

Broken Warriors + Chapter 9
The Real Deal

It had been strange, and rather disturbing, how nervous Heero suddenly felt when Sister Agnes told him his friends had arrived, that they would be in to see him shortly.

He'd never been scared of them, never had any reason to be. They were his teammates, and they had made themselves his friends, even against his own wishes. That made him smile a little, even as he fidgeted with the sheet across his lap. Friendship wasn't something J had prepared him for, except how to feign it in order to get what he wanted. And he'd never gotten very good at that. It had always been wiser to just avoid contact.

Then he'd met Relena. And she'd refused to react as he expected. Not only could she not be intimidated, she followed him, sought him out. He wasn't sure if he'd exactly liked her, but being around her made him feel-differently. Whatever it was, he'd broken training and let her live. Of course, in the long run, it had made sense and worked out the best for the larger mission. He liked to think he'd somehow known that instinctively. Then he'd still be himself.

And then he met Duo. He hadn't just not been intimidated by Heero, he'd laughed at him, joked with him, pushed him in ways that Heero could have killed him for, risked his life foolishly to help him when it went against the mission and all logic. It was Duo, really, who'd changed something in Heero, something important that had let him see the other three as fellow soldiers, rather than strangers on different missions.

But Duo remained in a class of his own.

Sitting in bed, staring out that the Spanish lake and the swans, Heero realized that he was worried-worried that Duo would be different when he walked in, that the others would be too, but mostly Duo.

The doctors here had given him lots of fluids and some new medications this morning. He was feeling much more clear-headed. He was remembering more.

During his lucid phases, he'd watched anxiously for his friends on the news, until whatever had happened six blank months ago. They'd done some shocking things, things Heero never would have imagined. It didn't make him think any less of them, but he was confused. At times it made him feel very lonely, especially when the footage showed Duo, Trowa and Quatre hugging each other and laughing together, wearing odd clothes that showed so much of their bodies. They were having sex, the news claimed, perhaps even with each other. He had a difficult time believing that, until he saw the coverage of Trowa and Quatre uniting on L-2. Then he supposed it must be true. Looking at Duo in those pictures, smiling-Heero didn't need his computer files or scrapbooks to remember, he only had to close his eyes; Duo, his tough, funny, irreverent friend, who'd screamed of death like a mad man during battle and called himself Shinigami-their Shinigami Fly Boy bare chested, wearing a black skirt of some sort under a man's jacket, with pink roses woven into his hair--and somehow managing to not look silly or effeminate at all.

Heero rubbed his eyes and shifted on the bed. Sometimes pictures like that had made him very uncomfortable. He couldn't say why, except that it had nothing do to with Duo wearing a skirt or Quatre with eye shadow and pink and purple hair, or even Trowa--calm, quiet Trowa--kissing Quatre on the mouth while they both held up their middle fingers at the camera. No, that had just been weird and a bit surreal, but that's not what made him feel that unnamable emotion that was like being angry and sick to his stomach at the same time. It was the way they looked happy. When he looked in their eyes in those pictures, they looked happy. It felt very bad not to be there with them. He'd even not emailed Duo for extra days or weeks, sometimes, because he was afraid he wouldn't be able to keep it to those two safe sentences.

It had been worse in a different way when he saw the reports of them unhappy. Quatre, once so proper and polite, delirious and spewing profanity at his family, or Duo hunched small with hands held in front of his face between two police officers. Or being carried into a moon-side hospital on a stretcher, his face white and slack. That had been very bad. Heero had come very close to booking passage to the colony that time.

But he didn't. He'd gotten most of the reservation typed into his computer before his hands were shaking too badly to continue and the images blinded him--not just Luxembourg or Zero or dead puppies and little girls lying in the rubble, but that last night at Relena's, when he came to himself in her dark bedroom, hearing himself whisper those words. The knife he held was poised to thrust, aimed with his usual deadly precision at her heart. He'd known for certain then that he wasn't safe anywhere near those he cared for.

Since then he'd come out of too many black outs in strange places to trust himself. Sometimes he was hurt. Sometimes he was covered in some else's blood. He wasn't safe.

He was a killing machine J had forgotten to turn off.

He looked down at his hands. The nails were a bit cleaner now, and trimmed. There was no blood. They hardly shook at all. He didn't feel violent. Just very, very nervous.

The feeling got worse when he heard voices and footsteps approaching, and still worse when he saw Duo frozen there in the doorway behind Dr. Santos. He did look different now, more so than when Heero had last seen him on the news. He was thinner and paler. The Preventers uniform hung on him. And his hair, that long, Shinigami braid--it was gone! Heero hardly had time to register the pang of loss that caused before a worse one followed as he realized that Duo looked more scared than Heero felt, and wary. He knew that look well enough.

He'd forced himself to speak, wanting to say so much, to change that expression, but all he'd come out with was a pathetic, "Hello, Duo."

But somehow it was enough. Relief and great happiness were clear in those huge blue eyes as Duo shouldered past the doctor and literally climbed into Heero's arms. It knocked the wind out of him and hurt a little, but he didn't care. Nothing else had mattered but the fact that Duo was real, alive, and here, and that Heero was, for once, certain beyond any doubt that it wasn't a just another longing dream or hallucination.

Then the others were with him, all four of them, and there was enough laughing and crying and hugging to make up for all those times he'd watched from a distance on the news. Quatre, looking rather more normal than Heero had expected, had even kissed him and Heero had been amazed to find himself returning the greeting. He didn't kiss anyone--

//except . . . .//

He pushed that away and concentrated on the sound of his friends' happy voices, and the feeling of Duo's hand clutching his. Looking down, he saw with embarrassment that he was gripping the end of Duo's long braid. It struck him as silly, but he didn't let go until Duo moved to make room for the others to greet him.

Being happy was very tiring. He talked with them all as long as he could--he couldn't even remember what they'd said now--and then he was trying hard not to fall asleep. He heard Dr. Santos advising them to leave so he could rest and roused enough to catch Duo by the hand. Duo nodded to the others and stayed.

And Heero found he still didn't want to let go of his hand. There was no chair in the room. It only made sense to tug Duo back onto the bed, to shift over and make room for him to stretch out. He'd already taken off his coat and hat. He kicked off his boots and lay down on top of the blankets, letting Heero rest his head on his shoulder. He wasn't wearing any socks.

This felt oddly familiar, thought Heero, fighting to keep his eyes open. He blinked down at Duo's bare feet, then jerked his head up in alarm. /Please, please don't let me slip back into hallucinations already!/ "Duo? Your toenails--"

Duo laughed, sounding much realer than even Heero's best hallucinations. "Cayman Green. Ya like? Blame Quatre. He's gotten me used to it. And poor Trowa doesn't have a chance against him. Wu Fu's the only hold out so far."

Heero tried to picture the taciturn Chinese pilot sitting still to have his toenails varnished. A strange, hoarse sound bubbled up out of his chest, scraping a little as it escaped.

Duo pulled back to stare at him, and then hugged him close and laughed into his hair. "Well, whadya know! The perfect soldier can laugh."

Is that what that was? Heero thought as sleep claimed him. It sounded a lot better when Duo did it.

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