Guardian Spirits (cont)

I completely refused to leave his side, dozing sometimes in a chair pulled up to the bed where I could hold onto his hand. I was able to cajole a urinal out of one of the third shift nurses, who seemed to find the pair of us heartbreakingly ‘sweet’. I didn’t care what she thought as long as I got some cooperation out of somebody. She would take the thing and empty it for me and slip me sandwiches when nobody was looking. Food was prohibited in the ICU.

It was the third day before they released him from intensive care and we were shifted to a regular room where he was finally allowed other visitors. Wufei, Trowa and Quatre descended on us like starving tigers.

He was able, in the short periods of time that he was awake, to converse in whole sentences now. His condition upgraded from critical to guarded. They were going to allow him to attempt eating a little broth. He was still on his stomach, almost all of his wounds being on his back.

The others were allowed in only one at a time, and I wasn’t surprised that Wufei managed to come first. He came in carrying a bag and looking me over as much as Duo.

He squatted down beside Duo, to be at eye level. ‘Welcome home, Mr. Black,’ he said softly.

Duo smiled, blinking sleepily at him. ‘Thanks, Mr. Dragon… nice to still be here.’

Then Wufei turned critical eyes on me. ‘This is the changing of the guard, Yuy,’ he told me firmly and I glared.

He only smirked. ‘The entire seventh floor staff is talking about you,’ he informed me. ‘Talking about how bad you smell.’

Duo actually grinned as I blushed to the roots of my damned hair. Wufei was holding the bag out. ‘Change of clothes, shampoo, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste. Two energy drinks and some protein bars.’ He managed to smirk harder. ‘He is out of the woods. I am here. Go and get cleaned up; I have the nurses permission for you to use the shower.’

Duo actually managed a chuckle. ‘You are kind of…ripe, love.’

It was the first time I had been more than two feet from him for the last three days. I took the bag and had to work very hard to force myself to walk across the room, enter the bathroom and close the door. The man that stared back at me from the bathroom mirror looked… haggard.

I gulped down the drinks first and inhaled the protein bars. The smuggled sandwiches at night, though much appreciated, had not really been doing the job. The shower was a miracle of relief. I had not been aware of just how damned tired I was until the moment when I had made the decision to give over the point position to Wufei. Three days of sleeping as I could in a straight back chair had me feeling like a zombie. It was all I could do not to slip down to the floor of the shower and go to sleep right there.

+

I watched the bathroom door close behind Heero with a strange mixture of relief and dread.

I had no illusions about the miracle of my continued existence. Heero had drug me kicking and screaming… ok, ok… whimpering and whining back to the mortal plane. I would not be here now if it were not for him. I don’t know if he knew that, but I sure as hell did.

There was no doubt in my mind that if he hadn’t been there at the top of those stairs that night, to call me back from the dark, I would have given up and… died.

‘I have five dollars that says he’s done in there in less than fifteen minutes,’ Wufei chuckled softly beside me, taking over the seat Heero had just vacated.

I smiled and twisted my head up to see him. ‘Think it’ll take him that long?’

He scooted the chair around a little and sat forward so I didn’t have to crane my neck. He surprised me by reaching out and taking my hand.

‘Wouldn’t want Yuy to think I wasn’t doing my job,’ he told me gruffly, but couldn’t keep the corner of his mouth from twitching up.

His fingers were warm and strong wrapped around mine. My own hand felt frail to me compared with his. I squeezed as best I could, grateful for the touch. I had not struggled back to consciousness once since the surgery without finding Heero’s hands on me somehow. Touching, holding, offering support and making sure I knew he was still there. There was a hollow place with him gone, and I was glad Wufei was there to fill it as best he could.

‘How are you doing, Duo?’ he asked me gently.

If I hadn’t already known how close I had come, that would have told me. Wufei seldom calls me ‘Duo’ unless I’ve scared the crap out of him.

‘All right… I guess. Just so damned tired.’ I sighed softly; it still hurt to breathe deep, and talking very much left me panting.

He smirked at me. ‘You look like shit.’

I smirked back. ‘Thanks a lot. Glad you came all this way just to tell me that.’

‘No problem,’ he grinned wickedly, but his voice was warm and gentle.

I had to rest for a little bit then; it couldn’t have been long, because when I opened my eyes, Heero was still in the shower.

‘Sorry,’ I muttered, but Wufei just chuckled lightly.

‘It’s all right; you need the rest.’

‘Fei, has Heero gone home at all?’ I asked him, the last couple of days were pretty much a blur.

He smiled, glancing at the bathroom door. ‘No.’ His fingers squeezed mine carefully. ‘They let him go back to you as soon as you were out of surgery and we haven’t seen him since.’

‘Damn,’ I muttered. ‘Can you see if you can get him to go get some sleep?’

He actually laughed, though he kept it low. ‘I can make no promises there, Maxwell.’

‘Try?’ I pleaded. ‘He’s killing himself. I don’t think he’s even leaving to go to the damn bathroom… I woke up last night and he was using a stupid urinal! I don’t think he’s eating, I…’

‘Shhh…’ Wufei reached out and stroked his hand over my hair, his voice sounding worried. ‘All right, Duo; calm down. I’ll talk to him, ok? Just calm down.’

I drew a shuddering breath and fought against suddenly heavy eyelids. ‘Thanks, ‘Fei,’ I managed, and found myself drifting away again.

‘Go to sleep, little spirit,’ I thought I heard. ‘Just rest.’

+

Just getting clean was enough to make me feel like I could go on for another couple of days. And now that Duo was in a regular room, I could ask the guys to bring me something to eat. That would help immensely.

I opened the bathroom door thinking that maybe… just maybe, I would not fall flat on my face.

‘Try?’ I heard Duo saying, his voice rising and full of anxiety. ‘He’s killing himself. I don’t think he’s even leaving to go to the damn bathroom… I woke up last night and he was using a stupid urinal! I don’t think he’s eating, I…’

‘Shhh…’ Wufei reached out and stroked his hand over Duo’s hair. His voice sounded tight with concern. ‘All right, Duo; calm down. I’ll talk to him, ok? Just calm down.’

Duo was suddenly overcome with exhaustion again, I could see all the signs of him fading back into sleep and he muttered something I couldn’t make out.

Beside him, Wufei continued to stroke gentle fingers over his forehead whispering soothing words until Duo had slipped away again.

‘You’re scaring him,’ Wufei said to me then, not turning around, and I moved to stand beside the bed.

‘He needs me,’ I said, simply.

‘Yes he does,’ he agreed, surprising me. ‘He needs you whole and well enough to take care of him.’

I only grunted.

He sighed and rubbed at eyes that seemed red and tired. ‘Yuy… Heero, for his sake, you have to take care of yourself too.’

‘I’m fine,’ I said, and it came out sounding… testy.

‘He’s been released from intensive care. He’s going to get better.’ He looked up at me with a searching gaze. ‘You can let yourself relax a little.’

A growl was trying to make its way up my throat and I wrestled it down. My desire to snap and snarl like some damn wild animal giving me testimony I didn’t really want to see, to just how exhausted I was.

‘He’s going to need you more once he’s released to go home. If you drive yourself to collapse now… you’re not going to be able to take care of him later.’

I sighed. He was making sense, he wasn’t really telling me anything I didn’t already know. He was just forcing me to deal with what had been staring me in the face for a while now.

He quirked a tired grin at me. ‘Heero, he can get by on the pale substitute of one of us for five or six hours a day.’

I had to smile in return, and I could see in his eyes that he knew he was winning.

‘I swear to you, one of us will stay with him the entire time you’re away.’ He held up his right hand and he didn’t say scouts honor, but his tone of voice implied it. ‘We will not leave him alone for a minute.’

I sighed heavily, letting my shoulders slump in defeat. ‘Fine. You’re right… I know you’re right.’

‘It will relieve his mind a great deal,’ he told me softly.

I had to duck my head and look away from him. ‘If I can… I damn near couldn’t make myself leave the blasted room.’

He snorted. ‘I’ll take you home myself.’

‘I can…’ I started to object, and then remembered we didn’t have a car any more.

‘Like I would let you drive yourself in the shape you’re in anyway,’ he grunted and then patted my arm. ‘I’ll go get Quatre and then I’ll take…’

But I cut him off. ‘I won’t leave him while he’s asleep. I’ll wait until he wakes again… so I can tell him.’

He just gave me one of those little almost-not-there smiles of his and said, ‘All right.’

He got up and made me take the chair, relinquishing Duo’s hand to me. I had to admit that the idea of getting to lie down in my own bed, even for just a couple of hours was damned enticing. Then I had a sudden thought, and groaned. ‘Misty and Justin aren’t still at the apartment are they?’

Wufei grinned at me. ‘Regretting your hospitality? No, they left yesterday to go stay with his sister.’ That made him think, and he fished my key out of his pocket. ‘Here, they left this for you.’

I took the thing and stuck it in my pocket; relieved beyond words that our home would indeed be the sanctuary I needed right now. If they had still been there, I doubt if I would have agreed to go.

When I looked up again, I caught Wufei looking Duo over critically. He glanced at me. ‘Gods… he’s a mess.’

‘He did have a house fall on him,’ I observed wryly and he chuckled.

‘He must be going crazy, stuck on his stomach like this,’ he said softly, reaching to pull the sheet up a little.

‘Not really,’ I said. ‘He’s still too… drugged. He sleeps most of the time.’

He sighed heavily, his eyes looking infinitely weary. ‘We came damn close again, didn’t we?’ he whispered.

To losing him. ‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘We did. Very damn close.’

We sat for a time and watched Duo sleep, and then Wufei slipped away so that first Quatre and then Trowa could come and see him. Wufei had obviously spoken with them about me, because they both assured me of their intent to sit with Duo while I went home. Trowa was there when Duo finally roused again.

‘Hey,’ I squatted down into his line of sight and smiled for him.

‘Hey yourself,’ he smiled in return and then his face clouded a little. ‘You’re still here…’

‘Of course I’m here,’ I chuckled lightly for him. ‘You didn’t think I’d leave without telling you first?’

His soft smile turned into a wide grin. ‘Really? You mean it? You’re going to go home and get some sleep?’

Beside us, Trowa chuckled and Duo noticed him for the first time.

‘Trowa!’

‘Hello Duo,’ he seemed much relieved to see Duo awake at last. ‘Looks like we’re going to get to spend some time together.’

‘Is… Quatre here too?’ Duo’s smile faltered a little and I knew he was thinking about how busy the Winner business usually kept Quatre, but Trowa just snorted.

‘Where the hell else would he be?’ he looked pointedly at me. ‘He’ll come back to see you again as soon as soldier boy here goes home.’

I graced him with a halfhearted glare, then bent to tell Duo goodbye. ‘I’ll be back as soon as I can,’ I said softly, squeezing his hand.

‘I don’t want to see you again before morning, Yuy,’ he told me firmly, but I could see the lie in his eyes and I almost didn’t go.

Walking out that door and down the hall was the hardest damn thing I’ve done in a very long time. It felt like a betrayal of the basest sort.

+

I almost called him back. Pathetic, huh? At least he was through the door before the…fear hit my gut and caused the heart monitor to lurch into high gear. I really hate those damned things. It’s like being hooked up to a lie detector.

‘Quatre will be relieved to see you awake,’ Trowa told me calmly, trying to distract me, I’m sure.

I quirked an eyebrow up at him. ‘Sorry,’ I muttered and knew that I was flushing. ‘I just…’

He leaned over and put a warm hand on my shoulder. ‘Hey,’ he said softly. ‘I’m sleeping with the man who went down into that basement with you, remember? I know what you went through. You have a right to…lean on us a little.’

I smiled gratefully, and found myself struggling with drowsiness again.

‘Can you stay awake just a few more minutes?’ Trowa asked timidly, his voice apprehensive. ‘Quatre really needs to… hear your voice.’

‘You ask so much,’ I teased. ‘I’ve been awake almost five whole, stupid minutes.’

He laughed for my benefit, hand rubbing lightly up and down my arm.

Quatre, when he got there, fairly flew through the door. His smile could have lit up the room.

‘Duo!’ he beamed at me and came to slip his arms around my shoulders for a firm hug. His embrace felt good; solid and real compared to the feather light touches I had been receiving from Heero and Wufei. I slid my arm around his and squeezed tight in return, though I could tell there was no real pressure in it, but it served to keep him there for a minute. He seemed to understand my need, and held me tight for a few minutes until my arm was trembling with fatigue and I had to let it fall back to the bed. He drew back and his eyes were shining wetly.

‘You scared the hell out of us, Duo,’ he scolded me and damned if he didn’t lean down and kiss the top of my head.

‘S’ok now,’ I told him, and felt the dark coming back for me.

‘It’s all right, Duo,’ Trowa told me. ‘Sleep.’

I closed my eyes on the sight of them happily embracing, the last thing I heard was Quatre’s voice sounding overcome with emotion, ‘He’s really going to be all right, isn’t he?’

+

Wufei took me home, insisting on coming upstairs with me. I think he was afraid I would just throw myself down on the couch for a couple of hours. When we got into the apartment, however, it became clear that he had more on his mind as he strode purposefully into our kitchen and began digging through the cupboards looking for something he could prepare quickly.

I followed him, meaning to object, but he fixed me with one of those stares of his that makes you feel like an idiot and said, ‘Go do whatever you have to do to get yourself ready for bed and I will fix you something to eat.’

There was no arguing with that voice. I turned toward the bedroom, and my eyes found Duo’s roses sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. They were starting to wilt, and I suddenly found the most important thing I had to do was change the water on those stupid flowers. Wufei didn’t comment.

Then I went to use my own damned bathroom and what a relief it was not to have to worry about some nurse barging in on me. I rinsed my face, changed into a pair of running shorts and went to eat the soup and sandwich that Wufei put in front of me.

He sat with me while I wolfed it down, chuckling at me as my hunger took control.

‘You going to be all right?’ he queried at length, when I slowed down a little.

I grunted.

‘Need anything else?’ he pressed, propping his chin on one hand.

‘Just a couple of hours sleep,’ I told him. ‘I’m fine, Wufei.’

He looked away. ‘Do you… want me to stay?’

I snorted, using the last of the sandwich to sop up the dregs of the soup. ‘I’m a big boy, Chang.’

‘Aren’t we all?’ he muttered, but before I could question that strange comment, said, ‘More than just a couple of hours sleep, Yuy.’

We locked gazes for a long, tense moment.

‘At least six hours,’ he told me resolutely.

I gnawed on that; it was still less than Duo had asked.

‘I want to be back before the Doctor makes his rounds at seven tomorrow morning.’ I was just as firm.

He was hesitant, but finally agreed with a tired nod. ‘I’ll be by at six to pick you up.’

He left and I went to bed, having only bare seconds to revel in the feel of our own familiar bed before I pitched headfirst into an exhausted sleep.

I think I managed four good hours before the nightmare swept up and tried to disembowel me.

It wasn’t long… it didn’t need to be. I was crouched outside that dark hole in the ground, pinned down by a half a dozen pairs of hands, unable to get near those damned stairs. I could hear Duo calling for me, but I couldn’t make him hear me no matter how much I screamed. His voice just kept getting weaker and weaker, sounding farther and farther away and finally, I couldn’t hear him at all.

Then Roger and his men were hauling that gurney up out of the dark and on it was Duo’s body… the way he had looked in the hospital when they first let me go to him. Sprawled bonelessly on his stomach, the respirator taped in place over his mouth, tubes and wires running everywhere. His hair all bundled up under one of those caps, wearing nothing but a pointless hospital gown that was completely gaped open, leaving his, in this vision, untreated wounds open to my sight. I could see the bones sticking out from the torn flesh of his thigh. The steel spikes were still thrust through his body, the wood gone so that I could see the stark metal.

His skin was cold and gray. His eyes were open, staring unseeing… flat and… dead.

I woke screaming his name and spent the rest of the night huddled in the middle of the bed with our quilt clutched to my chest.

+

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