Guardian Spirits (cont)

+

It was Heero’s voice that got me through that nightmare ride. I hope I’m around to tell him that someday. It didn’t matter what he was saying, most of it washed right over me without leaving much of an impression. It was just his tone. I could hear his love and his fear. I could feel his frustration and guilt. When I thought I could not hang on even one more minute, his voice would come and wrap around me again, holding me up and keeping me anchored.

We’d promised, in that other lifetime, that neither of us would ever ask the other to go on alone. I came as close as I ever have to breaking that promise that night. I was as sure as the sun was going to come up in the morning that I was going to die. But there was Heero, holding my hand and stroking my cheek and begging me to hold on just a little longer. My word bound me not to ask him to live on without me. My heart could not face the possibility of his death, even if I wouldn’t be around for it. So I held on. Just one more mile, just one more minute, and finally… just one more excruciating breath. In the end, all I had was the rasp of my own breathing… and Heero’s voice.

+

By the time we got to the hospital, he wasn’t answering me any more. His eyes were just open and staring straight ahead, but he had stopped responding. So I just talked, not knowing what the hell else to do. He was still with me, I could feel it in the clutch of his fingers, but it was as though all his strength had been reserved for forcing his body to inhale and exhale, one ragged breath at a time.

‘…you remember that mission with the flea infested safe house? That medic said you were made out of gundanium, remember? Accused me of dragging you back to the base behind the damn truck. I’ll never understand why they always thought your getting hurt was my damn fault somehow. This can’t be any worse than the time you jumped out of that Gods damned car at fifty miles an hour, can it? Just hang on a little longer, love. We’ve got to be getting close…just a little longer. Do it for me, my little one? Please don’t die on me…’

+

Pain. Fear. Heero’s sweet voice behind it all. Inhale. Exhale. Pain…Gods the pain. Inhale. Exhale. Heero needs me. Can’t let Heero down. Inhale. Exhale. I can’t do it. Heero’s calling me… I have to do it. In…inhale. Exhale. For Heero. For Heero. Just one more time. Inhale. Exhale. Heero’s voice, like an anchor, holding me fast. Inhale… Heero? Where…?

+

I knew they were going to separate us at the hospital, but it didn’t make it any easier to let go of his hand when the time came. I just stood where they left me in the middle of the damned hall, watching them wheel him away and feeling like my entire world had just splintered into a million shards. They had called ahead, and the surgery bay had already been set up, they didn’t even pause in the emergency room, just rushed him straight through the huge double doors that I was not allowed to pass.

I’m sure I only stood there for a matter of a few minutes before my friends were surrounding me, but it seemed like an eternity. Quatre and Trowa came in on either side of me and led me into the waiting room, finding a place with enough chairs to accommodate all of us, and settled me into a corner seat where they could buffer me from the world. Misty and Justin were there, off in the depths of the emergency room, getting Carrie checked out. Wufei came and squatted in front of me, forcing me to make eye contact.

‘Yuy?’ he said softly. ‘How was he doing?’

I blinked at him, raising a hand to rub across my face, and found myself shaking like a leaf. ‘I don’t… not good,’ I told him, sounding a little hoarse from all that talking. ‘I’m not sure…’ My voice caught and I stopped.

Wufei laid his hand on the back of my neck and pulled my head down to rest on his shoulder, whispering harsh next to my ear, ‘He’s going to make it. He’s going to be all right.’

Trowa was rubbing a hand up and down my back, and Quatre had hold of my shoulder. They waited until I had pushed the hysteria down and I sat back up. I cleared my throat and tried again.

‘He was talking to me a bit when we first left the… house, but by the time we got here, he wasn’t responding to me at all.’

‘Why the hell did they come all the way to St. Michaels?’ Trowa wanted to know.

‘County was so swamped they shut down their emergency room,’ I told him with a sigh, fighting off a shiver. ‘I thought… I thought we’d never get here.’

I was vaguely aware of Trowa stirring on my left side, sitting up and shifting, and then a jacket was being slipped around my shoulders. I opened my mouth to object, but he just smiled at me.

‘Put it on Heero, I’m fine.’

I didn’t fight it anymore; it felt good and helped ease the shivering. I murmured a thank you, letting them help me into it.

The doors where Duo had disappeared suddenly swung outward, disgorging Roger and his men. Wufei rose from in front of me to intercept them, but as soon as they saw us, Roger came our way.

‘He’s in surgery already,’ he told us without preamble. ‘They were ready for him. Called Doc McKay in; he’s in the best hands he could be in.’

Wufei took charge for me, thanking them and shaking hands, trying to safeguard me from having to interact with the outside world. Roger, however, had other ideas, and came around him as though he weren’t even there.

He reached out and thumped me gently on the shoulder. ‘Damn fine job, back there,’ he told me. ‘You handled it just right. Not sure we’d have gotten him here without you.’

I grunted; as comforting words… they weren’t very.

Then they were gone, striding off to go back out and try to save somebody else. I had the presence of mind at the last moment, to glance at their insignia and get the number of their engine company; fifty-one. Duo would want to thank them.

A nurse came then and found us, leading us through a maze of corridors to a waiting room separate from the emergency room, for families of surgery patients. It was blessedly empty. After seeing the way there, Quatre went back to tell Misty and Justin where it was so they could come down when the doctors were done with Carrie.

I found myself wishing they wouldn’t come. I didn’t want the eyes of outsiders on me right now. I felt a certain pressure to maintain a level of control I didn’t feel up to. I just wanted them to go away, and I felt guilty for wishing it.

When Quatre came back, he settled himself beside Trowa, receiving a soft kiss and a reassuring hug. I felt a pang, watching them. They had become, in the years since the war, rather comfortable with their relationship. They could walk down the sidewalk together hand in hand and never think a thing about it. It still disturbed me; I didn’t like the feel of eyes on me. Didn’t like the attention it always drew for two men to show affection in public. Duo and I had never really talked about it, we didn’t go out of our way to hide our relationship, but we didn’t advertise it either. I found myself worrying that maybe it bothered Duo that I couldn’t take his hand in the mall or put my arm around him when we walked down the street.

My fingers, of their own accord, found the small gold cross around my neck and gently caressed it. I wished I were the type of person who could pray.

Wufei was sitting down beside me, and I realized that he had been gone for some minutes. He gently but firmly pressed a Styrofoam cup of something hot into my hands.

‘Drink,’ he commanded gruffly. ‘You’re still chilled.’

I took it and sipped automatically, it was hot chocolate and I grimaced.

‘It was either that or coffee,’ he smiled faintly; I hate coffee.

I wasn’t crazy about hot chocolate either, but it felt soothing going down, warming me from the inside out. Duo loved hot chocolate. He melted marshmallows in it, ate buttered toast with it and turned its consumption into an art form.

I had to close my eyes for a moment, and I felt Wufei’s hand come to rest on my back. I felt vaguely guilty how much I wanted that touch. I wanted to throw myself into his arms and sob my heart out. I wanted to scream Duo’s name. I wanted someone to rock me and tell me everything was going to be fine. Instead, I sipped at my cup of hot chocolate.

Misty and Justin came in not long after, Carrie running ahead of them, her exuberance testimony that she was fine. She was dragging that stupid bear still, the one that Duo had given her… Gods; just last night. The one that he said she had named Dirt. I’m sure there was never a Steiff bear in the world that had been dragged around the way this one had been. It was already looking a little bedraggled, but like Carrie and Bernie, had come through the collapse of a house relatively untouched. I was oddly pleased that Duo’s gift to her had survived the disaster. Then I noticed the quilt folded and hanging over Misty’s arm and I could have cried. I had watched Duo create that quilt over a period of months. Had watched him struggle with the design and concept, had spent sweet, peaceful evenings reading to him while he sewed. I was more than oddly pleased that it had survived. More than pleased that Carrie had thought enough of it to take it with her to the sanctuary of the basement. I had another moment of needing to close my eyes.

Wufei’s hand made those calming circles on my back.

‘Let’s see your bear, Carrie,’ I heard Quatre say and I opened my eyes to see her hand it over to him. His eyes widened when he got a closer look at it and he glanced at me. If anyone in this room would know what that bear was, Quatre would. He grinned at her. ‘Let me guess, honey; Uncle Duo gave this to you?’

‘Uh-huh,’ she confirmed with a happy smile. ‘His names Dirt.’ Quatre had to stifle a laugh.

‘Well, he’s a darn pretty bear,’ Quatre smiled at her and I realized that he had made it his business, on Duo’s behalf, to keep this little girl from being frightened by what was going on around her.

‘He’s like on my blanky too,’ she told him, taking the bear back and tucking it under her arm. ‘Cept his eyes aren’t green.’

‘Well, he’s got brown eyes like yours,’ Quatre reassured her, sharing a knowing glance with Trowa. ‘So I’m sure that’s ok.’

‘Unca Duo gots me a big black kitty at the… ’seum, so I...’ Her face clouded over suddenly as she remembered that the ‘big black kitty’ was long gone. She made a tiny little ‘oh’ sound, and her lip began to tremble.

I knew that look would have melted Duo into a puddle on the spot, and I found myself saying, ‘That’s all right… munchkin; Uncle Duo and I will buy you another one.’

Her smile blazed back to life and she jumped up and down. ‘Oh boy! He’s like on my blanky too! Now I needs the birdie, the puppy, and the d’agon!’ She smiled happily, pronouncing the next part very carefully, as though repeating something important, ‘Then the five Guardian Spirits will come and make everything better!’

The looks we gave her must have been rather blank, because she rolled her eyes in four year old exasperation, ran over to where her parents were sitting, a little apart from us, and came running back with her quilt. She spent some time trying to spread it out on the floor, and Quatre got down and helped her. Seeing the thing again, made my heart ache in my chest. Wufei’s hand slid up my back and settled on my shoulder with a firm grip.

After the quilt was spread out, she straightened the arms and legs of Dirt and laid him down next to the appliquéd picture of the bear. ‘See?’ she pointed, as though we were blind or stupid. ‘And the black kitty…’

‘Panther,’ Quatre corrected, his voice strained.

‘Yeah!’ Carrie beamed at him. ‘That’s it! I needs to get the birdie…’ She pointed at the next fanciful creature wrought by Duo’s hand.

‘Hawk,’ whispered Quatre.

‘Yeah! And the…’ This time she just looked up at Quatre and waited for him to supply the word.

‘Wolf.’

‘And the D’agon!’ Her bright voice seemed so out of place here. ‘Unca Duo said that…’ She furrowed her brow in childish thought and then quoted, ‘Nothing is stronger than the five Spirits together and their love shines like the sun…’ She faltered. ‘But Unca Duo couldn’t finish the story ‘cause he got a bad cough.’

She looked so tiny and innocent to have delivered that blow. Wufei lunged from his place beside me and strode completely out of the room, Carrie looking after him quizzically. Quatre leaned back against Trowa’s legs and reached blindly out for the hand that was seeking his.

And I… I just felt abandoned and alone. Cold down to my soul where the warmth of jackets and hot chocolate would never reach. I felt a taste of what life would be like without my heart, and I knew the decision of whether or not to go on without him wasn’t even in my hands. There was no life without Duo. Without my Duo… there was just nothing.

Her mother called her away then, and she took her things to go sit with them. Quatre got up off the floor to sit back down in the chair next to Trowa, who wrapped him in a comforting embrace. Wufei came back after a while, looking guilty and chagrined, and took his place beside me. Before he had the chance, I sat back and put my hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. It had taken a small child to remind me that I was not the only one in the room who loved Duo. I was not the only one who was suffering here.

‘You all right?’ I asked softly.

He grunted and nodded a tight little nod. ‘Wouldn’t have thought a child that size could cut your heart out and feed it to you like that,’ he murmured low enough so that the words were for me alone.

I smiled for him and then we grew quiet. Other than the muted sounds of the hospital around us, the only noise was Carrie prattling away to her mother and father about her weekend. It was apparently impossible to keep a child of four quiet. I kept waiting for her to get tired and fall asleep somewhere, but it didn’t seem like it was going to happen. I found myself wishing again that they would just go away. Somewhere in there, it hit me they probably had nowhere to go. So I offered them the keys to our apartment, feeling guilty as hell as they thanked me. But in the end, they blessedly accepted and went the hell away and I didn’t have to listen to Carrie say ‘Unca Duo’ any more. I just hoped they would keep Bernie from tearing our place up.

After two hours, Wufei flung himself to his feet intent on strangling someone to get answers. Trowa restrained him and Quatre went off to ask the questions in what, I’m sure, would be a much more refined manner.

He returned with not a lot of information, just that Duo was still in surgery and the Doctor would come out to speak with us when they were done. We tried to take heart from the simple fact that he was still alive.

My head was pounding and my stomach churning by the time a middle-aged man in surgical scrubs came through those doors, rubbing at tired neck muscles and looking around the waiting room. It had been three and a half hours.

We rose as one when he asked, ‘Family of Mr. Maxwell?’

He looked a little taken-aback when the four of us descended on him.

‘How is he?’ Quatre asked gently.

‘He came through the surgery.’ The Doctor couldn’t contain a slightly amazed shake of his head. ‘He’s in recovery.’ But then he gave us a stern look, ‘We’re not out of the woods yet though, the next twenty-four hours should tell.’

‘When can I… we see him?’ I asked and I was half thinking that I might not wait for permission.

The Doctor gave me a quizzical look. ‘Are you Heero?’

I blinked at him owlishly, and Wufei had to confirm my identity for me.

The Doctor gave me an odd smile. ‘Your EMT driver recommended that I bring you into the damned operating room.’ He chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck again and looking at me appraisingly. ‘I wouldn’t go that far, but I’ve known Roger a long time… I’m going to break the rules on his say-so and take you back there now.’

It seemed to be a night for breaking the rules.

So I followed Dr. McKay through the doors marked ‘no admittance’, trailing along beside him as he led me where I wasn’t supposed to be.

‘Don’t be alarmed by all the tubes and wires,’ the Doctor was telling me. ‘He’s just out of surgery; there’s a lot of things we don’t normally let people see. He won’t regain consciousness for some time. He’s on a respirator...’

But then we were there and I didn’t hear another word the man said. A nurse gave me a startled look, but stepped aside after exchanging glances with Dr. McKay.

I could hear the heart monitor, sounding slow and labored, each beep seeming to take an eternity to sound.

‘Duo?’ I breathed, and went passed the nurse to get to him, not really seeing her. He was still on his stomach and I don’t even really want to talk about what he looked like. It was a mental image that haunted me with nightmares for… a very long time.

I found his hand, I knew I could touch that without hurting him, and I stroked his cheek. ‘Oh Gods love… you made it. You did it… I knew you could. Everything’s going to be all right now.’

Words to convince myself as much as him. It was the only thing I could give him in that moment… the sound of my voice.

Behind me, I heard the nurse exclaim, and the Doctor mutter, ‘Well… damn.’ I turned, alarmed, but found them with puzzled grins on their faces looking at the heart monitor. When I focused on it, I realized it had steadied. It sounded almost… normal.

Dr. McKay quirked a cock-eyed grin at me. ‘I guess I owe Roger a steak dinner, young man.’

‘That’s ok,’ I told him softly. ‘I owe him a damn sight more than that.’

+

Heero…? Yes… Heero. Can rest now. Heero’s here.

+

Still unconscious, he fought his way off the respirator after only five or six hours. But it was almost twelve hours before he finally struggled up through the drug induced haze and regained some semblance of awareness. I never left his side. They moved him out of recovery and into ICU, and I went with him. I thought I would have to fight my way in there; thought I would have to defend my right to stay beside him, but it seemed that Dr. McKay’s bending of the rules had set a precedent.

Duo and I were accumulating a long list of debts. Had broken a hell of a long list of rules. I wasn’t looking forward to explaining to Commander Une about the Lear jet.

For a while after he started to come around, his eyes would open but he didn’t really seem to be seeing anything. They had him so medicated, it was a wonder he was waking at all. I just continued to hold his hand and whisper to him, letting the world move around us. After an eternity of hours, his eyes started to track my movements and seemed to be registering the things I was saying. At length, he tried to speak but couldn’t. I traced his lips with ice chips until he could take the moisture from my fingers and he finally managed to croak words.

‘Carrie?’

I smiled for him, so blessed relieved to hear his voice at last, ‘She’s fine. The stupid dog is fine. You even saved Dirt.’

A tired quirk of his lips. ‘Guys?’ he asked.

‘Everyone is ok, love,’ I soothed. ‘Nobody got hurt… but you.’

‘Time?’ he asked then, able to communicate with these single words. We had both been in the position he was in before. We both knew the things that preyed on your mind when you started to come around.

‘It’s Sunday night,’ I told him. ‘You haven’t been here twenty-four hours yet. We’re at St. Michaels, still in the ICU.’

I knew the things you needed to orient yourself. Had been there often enough myself. I knew his next question before he asked it, but waited, hoping it wouldn’t come up.

‘Home?’

I stroked his hair. ‘Not for a while, my heart. We’re going to be here for a bit yet.’

He gave me an unhappy frown but drifted away to sleep again.

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