Guardian Spirits (cont)

‘Quatre,’ I felt suddenly compelled to tell him, this moment taking me back through the years to a dozen other moments very much like it. ‘I’ve never thanked you for…never treating me like… I’m made out of glass.’

Behind me, he snorted derisively. ‘I know better than that. Tempered steel maybe… gundanium… but not glass.’

He caught me by surprise and I chuckled lightly. It felt good.

He leaned around to look me in the face with a bright smile. ‘That’s better.’

He was rinsing my hair when Trowa poked his head back in the bathroom. ‘Wufei says dinner will be ready in twenty minutes if that’s all right?’

Quatre eyed me critically. ‘Tell him to slow it down a little.’

Trowa ducked back out, and Quatre stepped back. ‘Time to lose the shorts Duo.’

I sighed in resignation. ‘There goes the last of my dignity,’ I muttered and he laughed.

‘I’ve washed your bare ass before, Duo Maxwell,’ he smirked at me.

‘Don’t remind me,’ I growled and we unsnapped the sides of the sopping shorts and he took them away.

‘Where the hell did you find shorts like that, anyway?’ I asked, just to change the damned subject, but the question made him snicker.

‘Don’t ask.’ And I suddenly didn’t want to know.

He carefully gathered my hair and twisted it into a rope that he draped over my shoulder out of the way. Then he warily began to wash my back, very aware of the wounds. He got very quiet after a minute and his hands stilled.

‘Duo?’ his voice was strange. ‘How…’ he hesitated, beginning again. ‘Have you been out of bed since you got home?’

It felt like he was asking me to tell the teacher on another kid. I wavered, finally settling on that ages old evasion of answering a question with another question. ‘What’s wrong?’

He took that as an answer in the negative. ‘You have a couple of bed sores starting to form back here.’

All I could do was grunt. I wanted to laugh at that mad God; throw all the straws you want on the back of this little camel; you can’t break what’s already broken.

We didn’t speak much after that.

He let me have the washcloth when it came time to do the front, and I washed everything I could reach. He had to take it back and do my lower leg when I couldn’t bend far enough.

He turned off the water and gave me a towel while he went to get me clean clothes. He made sure I was dry and had shorts on again before he called Trowa back to lift me out. That was one of the best things about being cared for by Quatre, while he was just no-nonsense and straightforward about things when they needed to be done; he remembered to keep your pride in mind. I could always count on coming through one of these awkward encounters with a little bit of self-respect intact.

Trowa would have carried me back to bed if there had been a way to manage it, but it hurt bad enough, just his lifting me over the edge of the tub. They stripped the plastic off my leg and then shored me up as we headed back for the living room. I looked longingly at the bed as we went through the bedroom. I hadn’t meant to, and was left to squirm when Quatre noticed.

‘Duo, would you rather go to bed in here?’ he asked in all innocence.

‘No!’ I blurted, alarmed. The last thing I wanted was to force the issue with Heero by just showing up in his bed. It made me think though, and I pulled them to a stop before we got into the living room.

‘Guys…’ I looked from one of them to the other, not sure where in the hell to start. ‘Something’s wrong with Heero. Seriously wrong.’

They shared a look that was somewhere between amused and pissed, and Quatre all but chuckled at me. ‘We kind of noticed, Duo,’ he said gently.

Trowa didn’t look quite as amused and his arm around my waist tightened slightly. ‘Don’t worry. We’re not going anywhere until this is straightened out.’

That thing about the camel and the straws? I hadn’t counted on the rush of pain when some of the straws were lifted back off.

‘Thank you,’ I managed and had to close my eyes and fight back the tears. I felt like I had been stuck in a foxhole for the last three days, holding off the enemy with the last of my ammunition. Destined to get shot down when my position was overrun… and suddenly hearing the cavalry charging over the hill to my rescue.

‘We’re here now, Duo,’ Quatre was whispering to me. ‘You should have called us. We didn’t know…’

‘Hush,’ Trowa said softly, and I’m not sure if he was talking to Quatre or me. They waited for me and at length I was able to open dry eyes and we resumed the long trek to the living room.

The smells of dinner hit me as we came into the room, and my stomach growled loudly again. I tried to make a joke of it, but Trowa and Quatre just looked pissed.

They got me back into bed, and I realized that the sheets had been changed while I was out of it. I was relieved and gave Trowa a grateful look. I hate that sick-body smell that lingers for weeks after you’ve been put under, while you’re still sweating out the residue of the anesthesia. I knew it would be back soon, it was coming from me after all, but for now, there was just the faint scent of soap and laundry detergent.

I was exhausted from the exertion and just let them tuck me into my clean bed.

Quatre went back to clean up the mess in the bathroom while Trowa went to help Wufei finish bringing dinner in to the coffee table.

My eyes sought Heero, and found him curled into the corner of the couch, staring off into space. He looked worse than I felt. When Quatre came back, I caught him with a worried glance and he came to pat my shoulder.

You are top priority,’ he told me firmly. ‘We’ll deal with him next.’

They fed me; a thick, rich beef stew that Quatre had made and frozen for us. There were biscuits with it and I ate until I thought I would burst, though I could tell Wufei wasn’t happy with the amount I put away. When I was done, I was so blurrily sleepy I could barely keep my eyes open. But Wufei was there with the bottle of pain pills.

‘Maxwell,’ he prodded me. ‘Don’t go to sleep yet. When was the last time you took your medicine?’

‘Not takin’ any more,’ I told him groggily.

‘Yes you are,’ he told me, smiling warmly.

‘Tired of feelin’ depressed…’ I mumbled, things getting said that I truly had not meant to say.

There was a moment’s quiet, during which I drifted a little deeper. I heard Quatre start to say something, but Wufei cut him off. I tried to blink my eyes open to see just what in the hell was going on, but I was clean and warm and full and utterly worn out, and just couldn’t fight it. I let my eyes fall closed; whatever they were talking about couldn’t be all that important.

Just when I thought I would drift away all together, Wufei asked softly, ‘Why did you call me last night?’

‘Just wanted to talk…’ I mumbled. ‘Got so damned lonely. Why’d Heero shut the door, ‘Fei? What have I done wrong?’

I would have reached for my panther, but I was just too far gone.

+

It was like watching a movie in which I wasn’t involved. They moved around me as though I wasn’t there. Trowa and Quatre disappeared into the bathroom with Duo, and Wufei vanished into the kitchen.

I fell back onto the couch and sat for a time with my head in my hands, trying to make my brain function.

I had really screwed up this time. I had thought I had things under control. How could I have slipped up so badly… especially where Duo was concerned? Gods; I had done little more today than leave him lay there like a lump while I just sat and practically drifted in and out of consciousness. Dear Gods; I had not even fed him lunch.

Small wonder Quatre had glared at me hard enough to strip the paint off the wall. I deserved nothing more.

I curled into the corner of the couch and pulled my knees up to my chest. They moved around me and I barely noticed. The light had gone out of my world when they took Duo away. I just didn’t care. Duo was being cared for, and for the first time in my memory, I trusted that they would take better care of him than I was capable of doing.

I felt as though my brain had short-circuited. Nothing was working right. Deep down somewhere, I knew it was prolonged sleep-deprivation. I had not slept more than an hour or two a night in almost two weeks. Every time I tried to go to bed at night, as soon as I drifted deep enough into sleep to begin dreaming, I relived that same gut-wrenching vision of Duo’s body being hauled up out of the wreckage of that house.

I was vaguely aware of Trowa coming back from the bathroom alone and changing the sheets on the hospital bed. I probably should have gotten up and helped him, but I couldn’t seem to make myself budge. He moved in and out of my field of vision, changing the sheets, fetching a fresh pitcher of water, going back to check on Duo and Quatre. I could hear Wufei in the kitchen, but I couldn’t work up to caring about that either.

It seemed a very long time before they brought Duo back. He was struggling so hard to make it back to the bed. It was taking both Trowa and Quatre to keep him upright and moving.

They eased him into the bed and pulled the covers up to keep him from getting chilled with his hair still wet. There were a few moments when the others left on errands, that we were alone in the room together. I could feel him staring at me, worry plain on his face and I struggled to pull myself together, to say something to him, to get up and go to him. But it seemed as though I were sitting outside myself, and my body refused to answer my commands.

I watched them feed him dinner, watched him eat voraciously, saw Wufei frown over how little he actually consumed. I could see him becoming more lethargic with each bite. But watching seemed to be all I could do.

He was drifting away even as Wufei tried to get him to take his pain pills.

‘Maxwell,’ he prodded. ‘Don’t go to sleep yet. When was the last time you took your medicine?’

‘Not takin’ any more,’ I heard him say, and I wasn’t at all surprised. He hates taking medication; I was only amazed it took him this long to get stubborn about it.

‘Yes you are,’ Wufei said firmly.

‘Tired of feelin’ depressed…’ Duo said then, and every back in the room stiffened, even mine. What? What did he mean by that? I felt a flicker of some feeling get passed the wall that seemed to be around my head.

Everyone was still for a moment, as Duo slipped further away. Quatre stepped to Wufei’s side and spoke softly to him.

‘We can’t let him fall asleep on his back; he’s getting bedsores. We have to turn…’ But Wufei cut him off with a gesture and a sharp nod. He seemed to be waiting for Duo to fall further asleep.

Bedsores?

Finally, Wufei leaned down close to Duo and said in a soft, soothing tone, ‘why did you call me last night?’

‘Just wanted to talk…’ he mumbled. ‘Got so damned lonely. Why’d Heero shut the door, ‘Fei? What have I done wrong?’

That flicker of feeling in my head turned into pain and I suddenly felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. What had I done? What in the hell had I done?

Wufei gave up on the pain medicine and gestured Quatre and Trowa to move in and get Duo turned over.

Then he was heading for me.

I half expected him to come around the couch and deck me. I half wanted him to. Instead, he came and sat in front of me, first taking my chin in his hand and looking closely at my eyes, much the way Trowa had. He took my hands and raised them up in front of us, holding them lightly and watching as they trembled uncontrollably. I could see him taking all the clues and piecing things together.

‘You aren’t sleeping,’ he said at long last, and all I could do was shake my head.

‘Why not?’ As always, he cut straight to the heart of the whole damn thing.

I tried my voice and found it as shaky as my hands. Hell; as shaky as my whole body. How had I fallen this far?

‘Can’t,’ I told him bluntly. ‘Damned nightmares.’ He couldn’t know what it had cost me to tell him that. Keeping that to myself, not scaring Duo with my screaming night terrors, had become a self-appointed mission over the last several weeks. Balanced against what Duo had been thinking… suddenly it didn’t seem quite so important to keep that secret. I could suddenly see all the flaws in my carefully thought out logic.

The look on his face softened a little, and he let me have my hands back. I wrapped my arms around my knees and looked at him through eyes that hadn’t been focusing so very well over the last couple of days. I looked into his calm, patient face; not finding the loathing I had expected to see there. ‘Help me,’ I whispered to him. I hadn’t done such a great job on my own.

He smiled at me. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘This is going to be a whole lot easier with your co-operation.’

As if on cue, a knock sounded at the front door. Wufei didn’t take his eyes from mine, but said, ‘Trowa, would you let Sally in?’

I grunted in surprise.

He quirked a half-smile at me, his steady gaze telling me he was gauging my reaction. ‘I called her when I first went into the kitchen.’

Behind me, I could hear Trowa exchanging quiet greetings with Sally Po, Head of forensics for the Preventers. A trained and tried field medic. Wufei was intending on sedating me. My suspicions were confirmed when she came around the couch to perch on the coffee table beside us, her bag in her hand.

She grinned at me openly. ‘Yuy and Maxwell; in over their heads again, I see.’

They were expecting me to fight them. They were expecting an argument.

‘Can you make me sleep without the nightmares?’ I asked her point blank and I saw that I had surprised them both. They didn’t understand the depth of my desperation.

She was pulling one of my eyelids back and looking at my pupils intently, even as her other hand reached to take my pulse. She frowned. ‘How in the hell long has this been going on?’

I was confused for a moment, trying to decide if Wufei had guessed what was happening and told her when he called her, or if Trowa’d had time to say more when he let her in and I just hadn’t heard it.

‘Yuy,’ Wufei prompted and I realized I hadn’t answered her.

‘Since the night I came home,’ I finally managed to supply.

Wufei cursed and gave her a day.

She looked at me a little harder. ‘How much sleep have you been averaging a night?’

I floundered with that one, not able to do the math in my head. Sally looked to Wufei for direction and he reworded it for me.

‘How long can you sleep before the nightmares start?’

‘An hour…’ I told him. ‘Sometimes two.’

They shared a look and she told him, ‘Get him in to bed and I’ll get the sedative ready.’

She looked back at me. ‘Heero, are you taking any other medication?’

I shook my head and Wufei waved Trowa in. They guided me into the bedroom and stripped me down, tucking me into bed like a small child. When I was settled to suit them, Wufei called Sally in and she gave me the injection. I felt it hitting me within a matter of minutes and I looked up at them.

‘No dreams?’ I asked thickly.

‘No dreams at all,’ Sally reassured me and patted my hand gently.

I forced my eyes to stay open a little longer, finding Wufei beside the bed, ‘Chang… Duo…’

He hushed me with the brush of fingers through my hair. ‘I have point,’ he told me and I let go all together allowing the dark to come up and take me away.

+

It was the strange, out of place sound of a woman’s voice that brought me up from the well of sleep. I found, gratefully, that I was on my stomach and all those places that had been burning and stinging all day felt much better. That cloying stench that I had been lying in was gone as well. I wasn’t hungry. All in all, a much better awakening than I’d had in a while.

I might actually live.

I opened my eyes to see the apartment full of people; at least that’s what it seemed like at first. The guys were still there, and the woman’s voice I had heard belonged to Sally Po. They were sitting around my coffee table, sipping drinks and talking in low tones. It was an oddly pleasant change.

I thought back, and had some vague memories of being cleaned and fed and not much more. I must have practically passed out on them. Then I remembered Heero, sitting on the couch staring off at nothing, and I realized he wasn’t in the room.

‘…pig-headed stubborn is what he is,’ Quatre was saying, and I chose to remain still and see what tidbits of information might come my way. I was heartily sick of being left in the dark.

Sally was shaking her head. ‘That kind of sleep-deprivation is an insidious thing,’ she told him. ‘Inside your own head, the things you’re doing make perfect sense.’

Trowa was sitting in the big armchair; his legs stretched out in front of him, propped on the table. ‘I don’t see how neglecting Duo could make sense to him no matter what kind of shape he was in.’

Sally sighed and sipped at her drink, I licked at dry lips and wondered what the odds were of getting a soda out of one of these four. ‘His time sense was probably severely impaired,’ she was telling Trowa. ‘He may not even have realized how much time had gone by. He became focused on one thing…and his brain just couldn’t deal with any more.’

‘One thing?’ Quatre asked.

‘It’s hard to say… multi-tasking is pretty much impossible. The sleep deprived person has a tendency to fixate on one thing…’ She shrugged, telling him she couldn’t even imagine.

‘Protecting Duo from the nightmares,’ Wufei said softly, staring down into his mug.

Sally grunted softly in surprise. ‘Possible,’ she agreed. ‘I… suppose.’

Wufei was rubbing at his eyes. ‘Mission; keep Duo from worrying. The nightmares would have made Duo worry. Therefore Duo must not know about the nightmares.’ He sighed gustily. Sally looked unconvinced, but Trowa and Quatre smiled knowingly and Quatre said, ‘It’s pretty typical of Heero.’

Then he looked troubled. ‘But why didn’t Duo call us?’

‘Isn’t that pretty typical of Maxwell?’ Wufei smiled sadly. ‘Trying to bear up under pressure? Tough it out?’

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