Guardian Spirits (cont)

+

I was in that damn hospital for over two weeks. I was ready to pull my hair out by the end. I was missing whole days out of my life. I remembered only sketchy bits and pieces of conversations. I remembered pain. I remembered fear. I remembered Heero’s soothing voice, never far.

It got harder after I stopped drifting in and out. The pain was there all the time and it became more difficult to cope with it. It wasn’t helping that despite the fact that Heero was going home in the evenings to sleep, I could tell there was something wrong. But, of course he wouldn’t talk to me about it. I badgered Wufei to try to get it out of him, but he either didn’t have any luck, or he wouldn’t tell me.

I felt so utterly helpless and vulnerable. I don’t know why the hell it is whenever I get hurt it always freaking involves both top and bottom. I couldn’t walk on my own with the damned broken leg, and the wound through my torso made it extremely painful to use my left arm. The dozen or so punctures in my back and the backs of my legs made it uncomfortable as hell trying to lay on my back. I hate sleeping on my stomach. I hate feeling vulnerable. I hate being kept in the dark. I’m not all that keen about being in pain, either.

The guys had established a routine and one of them was with me all the time. I don’t know how in the blazes they worked it out with the hospital staff; visiting hours didn’t seem to apply to me. If I had to guess, I’d say Heero threw the Preventer’s name around some more. Or maybe Doc McKay just liked us…I don’t know. Heero came in for the day shift, always making a point of getting there before the Doctor made his rounds. He stayed until the evening, more than twelve hours. Wufei came in, overlapping him a little, usually having to almost force Heero to leave, and then he stayed with me until the small hours of the morning when Trowa and Quatre came. They sat with me until Heero came back. It made me feel awful. I was disrupting their lives and it really wasn’t necessary any more. I felt guilty and needy and like some kind of damn leech.

Drugs are not my friends. I know some people who can go under anesthetic without any problem. I can’t. Weeks after coming out from under, I’m left moody and depressed and vaguely sick. Hey, damnit; it’s documented medical fact. It’s called a side effect.

It all caught up with me about the fourth or fifth day. I’m not even sure, and that was just another little straw on the back of this sad and bedraggled camel. My time sense was screwed six ways to Sunday. I never knew what day it was, and could only guess roughly at the time based on who was sitting beside me.

At that stage of things, I was still sleeping more than not, but it was true sleep not the sliding in and out of consciousness that I had been enduring.

The pain woke me again. It’s really hard to sleep when your body is aching and stinging and burning in a dozen different places. I opened my eyes to find that Wufei had dozed off beside me, sitting in that stupid straight back chair. The lights were turned down for the night and the only real sound was that Gods damned, annoying heart monitor.

It was the wee hours of the morning, that dead middle of the night when nightmares creep out and run as they please. I lay and watched Wufei; watched the slow, steady rise and fall of his chest. A single lock of raven hair had slipped from that uncompromising tail and hung down across one eye. I looked at those eyes, closed in sleep, and could see that they looked bruised. He looked so damned tired. He should have been home in bed. He shouldn’t have to be spending his nights dozing fitfully in a stupid hospital room.

In my head, I heard the maniacal laugh of some mad God as he gleefully tossed that last straw onto the pile. I broke.

Tears poured down my face and I could tell I wasn’t going to be getting them stopped any time soon. The pillow was soaked in a matter of minutes, and my breath was threatening to start doing that hitching thing. I struggled to stay quiet. No way in the seven hells did I want Wufei to wake and find me like this. I did a fairly decent job of stifling the sobs. It was the thrice-damned heart monitor that gave me away.

His eyes flashed open and there was a moment of panic, as he looked frantically around. Then his eyes found mine and he blinked in surprise. ‘Maxwell?’ he asked, sounding incredulous, and his face went all soft and warm.

I doubt if he had ever seen me weep like a child before. Most of the tears I had shed in my lifetime had been in Heero’s arms. I really didn’t want him to see me now. I buried my face in the pillow and did my best to salvage the tiny little vestiges of what pride I had left.

‘Can I have a few minutes?’ I mumbled, not holding out a ton of hope.

He didn’t speak, but I felt the bed moving as he lowered it. I heard the scrape of the chair being moved and the clicks as the side rail on the bed went down and suddenly, his arm was sliding in under me and I found myself in the shelter of his embrace. I don’t know how in the hell he got himself twisted around that way, without actually getting in the bed, which he couldn’t have done without hurting me. He was oh, so careful, but completely unyielding. He was not going to give me those few minutes.

I was overcome with a rush of emotion, gave it up for lost and just took what he was offering. I buried my face in his shoulder and sobbed brokenly, the gasping cries making my chest ache like hell.

‘It’s all right, Duo. Just let it out… let it go.’ Like I could stop it.

His hand stroked reassuringly over my hair and shoulders, gentle and cautious. And I just lay in his arms and wept. It really didn’t take long; I was trembling with exhaustion after a surprisingly short amount of time.

‘I’m sorry,’ I panted, when I was able. ‘I’m so sorry.’

His arms tightened around me. ‘Don’t be sorry, bright spirit, you needed to let it out.’

Bright spirit? That was new. I decided not to question it. ‘It’s the drugs,’ I muttered, feeling like an utter ass. ‘They always do this to me.’

He chuckled softly, still not moving to let me go. ‘Oh, the pain and the guilt, the frustration and the feeling of helplessness have nothing to do with it?’

I blinked in surprise and tried to raise my head to look up at him, but it hurt too much and I just slumped back against his shoulder. The hell with it. I needed this; and if, by the Gods, he was going to offer it…I was going to accept.

‘Duo, we’ve all been where you are at one time or another.’ There was the shadow of a melancholy smile in his voice. ‘I remember feeling ashamed and weak and guilty… but I remember my friends being by my side even more.’

I let myself settle against him, feeling my eyes drifting shut. ‘Thanks ‘Fei’ I murmured with the last of my strength, and I got a bright chuckle in return.

‘I remember a little, stuffed dragon as well…’ Was the last thing I heard, and I fell asleep with a foolish little smile on my face.

When I woke hours later, Wufei was gone and Heero was there. I felt a pang of guilt; I had slept straight through Trowa and Quatre’s shift, as much as I had managed in one stretch so far. But then my eyes focused on the little beanbag black panther tucked beside my pillow and I had to grin. Maybe I could do this after all… with a little help from my friends.

+

I got to bring him home a week and a half later. It had taken days of preparation; Quatre was an absolute gift from the Gods. He took things in hand after it became fairly apparent that I wasn’t up to handling the tedium of coping with outsiders. I just did not have the patience to deal with forms and phone calls and arrangements. I gave him the keys to the apartment, my insurance and credit cards, and let him go. I trust Quatre implicitly.

He made arrangements to rent a hospital bed, seeing to its delivery and set-up. Made all the initial contact with our insurance company about the car. Got the paperwork done that authorized a rental until the settlement came through. Even picked the damn car up. He stocked the kitchen and the medicine cabinet, buying things I never would have thought of, like the no-rinse bath soap and the body lotion. He managed to find, the Gods only know where, shorts that snapped up the sides that were going to make dressing Duo a hell of a lot easier with that damned leg cast. He prepared meals in advance that he packaged and froze so that all I had to do was heat things up. He also cleaned the apartment, did up all the laundry and went through the mail that I had been letting pile up, handling all the bills and other dated material. Like I said; a rare and precious gift from the Gods. One I could not have done without in the rough shape I was in.

Duo’s mobility was almost nil. Walking without crutches was impossible. Walking with crutches was so painfully hard on his chest injury that he couldn’t go two steps. Most of the lesser puncture wounds had at least healed to the point that he could lay on his back a small part of the time. That had gone a long way toward improving his mood; he’s never been one to sleep on his stomach.

The hospital supplied a medical transport to get him home, and two rather large orderlies to manhandle him up the stairs. We let them, because it was their job and they knew what they were doing. The anxiety I felt, watching someone else carry him, was balanced by the fact that he was safer in the hands of professionals. I remembered to breathe again after he was settled in the hospital bed in the living room. I let Quatre and Wufei handle the thank yous and seeing them out. My attention was on Duo. He was hurting; I could see it in his eyes.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked him softly. ‘Do you need your pain medicine?’

He smiled wanly for me. ‘They dosed me up just before we left the hospital… I can’t take any more for a while. I’m fine.’

‘What’s hurting?’ I prodded gently.

He tried to clear it away so that I couldn’t see. ‘I… I’m just tired.’

I frowned down at him, brushing his cheek with the tips of my fingers. He looked so small and frail, so tired and worn out. My heart ached watching him struggle to be all right for me. He was trying so hard to hide the pain and ease my mind.

The guys were moving around us, unpacking the few things that had come home from the hospital with us. Quatre had come up with a small side table from somewhere that he had set up next to the bed. Trowa was placing the refilled water pitcher there, along with a glass. Wufei was going through the bag that contained the clothes Duo had been wearing the night of the storm. He salvaged the shoes and socks, throwing them into the hamper. The rest went in the trash, completely unrecoverable. Quatre was setting out Duo’s prescriptions on the table, unpacking the last of the stuff from the hospital. I saw him grin suddenly, and out came that silly beanbag animal that Wufei had given Duo. Quatre plopped it down on the pillow next to Duo’s head, and Duo took it in his hand, his fingers curling around it rather possessively.

I blinked in sudden remembrance and reached to unfasten his cross from around my neck. ‘Hey,’ I smiled. ‘You’re home now… you can have this back.’

He tilted his head to aid in my slipping it on him. ‘You kept it safe for me,’ he breathed, his fingers going to touch it, as if reassuring himself that it was really there.

‘Of course I did,’ I chided.

‘It felt strange not having it,’ he said, almost to himself.

I grinned. ‘You looked positively naked without it.’ I leaned down and kissed his forehead, gentle as a feather. ‘I never thanked you for it.’

He flushed slightly, but only said, ‘You’re welcome.’

The absolute silence in the rest of the room brought us back to our surroundings, and I blinked up to find three pairs of eyes watching us bemusedly.

Wufei grinned at us. ‘Either of you need anything else, or would you just prefer we go the hell away and let you enjoy being home?’

Duo chuckled softly, ‘I am getting kind of tired.’

‘Then we should leave and let you get some sleep,’ Trowa said, and came to touch Duo’s hand by way of goodbye. Quatre stepped in after him, but leaned down to wrap his arms around Duo’s shoulders in a hard hug. I cringed watching it, fearing that he would hurt Duo, but Duo seemed to accept it gratefully, his own right arm coming up to squeeze hard in return.

‘I think you’re getting stronger,’ I heard Quatre whisper to him.

‘Thanks, Quatre,’ Duo mumbled, looking slightly embarrassed.

The two of them left then and Wufei came up to say his own farewell. He had Duo’s cell phone from going through the bag from the hospital, and he laid it carefully on the table where Duo could reach it. ‘You need anything,’ he glanced up to include me as well. ‘Either of you. You know you can call me.’

We were alone then and I was seized with the most horrific rush of emotions. I was vastly relieved to have Duo home, away from that damned hospital with the comings and goings of all those people. But at the same time I was almost overcome with the weight of responsibility. He was counting on me for everything now, and already I felt as though I had done something wrong. There was a hurt lurking in his eyes that he was trying to hide from me and I didn’t know what it was nor how to get him to talk to me about it.

‘It’s good to have you home, love,’ I told him tenderly, taking his hand in mine, leaving the little panther lay in the middle of his chest. He seemed to want it close.

His eyes were getting heavy lidded and I smiled down at him. ‘Go to sleep my little one.’

‘Call me when you get ready to eat,’ he told me thickly, not even noticing the detested pet name. ‘Don’t wait.’

‘All right,’ I lied. ‘Just rest now.’

I stood beside the bed and held his hand until he seemed to be sound asleep and then went to settle myself on the couch until he woke.

Gods. I suddenly realized that nothing had really changed; I had merely switched locations. The only real difference here, was the chair was more comfortable and I didn’t have a nurse coming around every couple of hours to give me the reassurance that everything was still fine.

And all I could do was hope that having him home would be enough to ease the nightmares.

+

I had been elated to go home. It had been pure bliss when Doc McKay had told us that I would be released in a day or two. I thought the time would never pass. The trip, when it finally happened, had been exhausting even though I hadn’t done any of the real work. The ride had been painful, every bump sending shocks through my body. I had endured the embarrassment of being hauled up the stairs to the apartment like a sack of bruised potatoes with stoic good cheer.

Then they had come through the apartment door and I had seen the damned hospital bed set up in the living room and I had almost cried.

I wanted my own bed. I wanted…I needed to sleep with Heero next to me. I wanted to open my eyes in the small hours of the morning and hear his soft breathing, to know that he was sleeping peacefully. I wanted to feel his warmth next to me, to be able to reach out and touch him when I woke up with the sound of that freight train wind ringing in my ears. I had been daydreaming about it for days. No one had bothered to tell me about the damned hospital bed.

It stung. My gut twisted with a strange feeling of abandonment. I wanted to object. I wanted to make demands.

But I didn’t. I didn’t want to have to ask to be accepted back into my own bed. If I had to ask for it… it was going to take the comfort out of it. It would only make me feel awkward, like an intruder.

Heero was hovering over me as soon as the muscle twins were out the door. ‘What’s wrong?’ his voice was full of concern; I guess he could see something was bothering me and assumed it was a physical pain. ‘Do you need your pain medicine?’

I sighed and tried to push the feelings down, smiling for him. ‘They dosed me up just before we left the hospital… I can’t take any more for a while. I’m fine.’

I was being ridiculous and I knew it. This was just to make things easier on Heero. It was going to be much simpler for him to help me in and out of this higher bed. He would sleep better without me being there, shifting so restlessly. I knew that…but it still stung.

‘What’s hurting?’ he pushed a little harder, trying to get me to give him something he could make better.

I tried again to cover up the feelings I couldn’t seem to make go away and put on another soft smile. ‘I… I’m just tired.’

He wasn’t convinced, I could see it in his eyes and he brushed his fingers cautiously over my face. I wanted to press into his hand, force him to touch me with something more than those almost-not-there feather-light caress’s.

I was only vaguely aware of the guys moving around the apartment, putting things away and trying to be helpful. I took a shaky breath and tried to get hold of myself…this was ridiculous. I heard Quatre’s amused chuckle, and my little panther was suddenly sitting on my pillow. I reached for it and holding the damned thing in my hand made me feel oddly better.

‘Hey,’ Heero said, the spark of some remembrance in his eyes. ‘You’re home now… you can have this back.’ And I realized he was removing Father Maxwell’s cross from around his neck.

It was such a screaming relief to see that little thing. I had used it to help give Carrie the courage to climb up those dark stairs into the unknown. Had asked her to give it to Heero, to try to relieve his mind, to give him something to hold onto until I could get out and get to him. I hadn’t seen it since and had been afraid to ask. I just assumed Carrie had lost it. ‘You kept it safe for me,’ I gasped, strangely warmed by the fact that he had obviously been wearing it since the night the world fell in. He carefully fastened it around my neck.

‘Of course I did,’ he smiled at me again, that same soft, tender look in his eyes.

The weight of it lying against my chest felt good and solid, like something that had been wrong that was suddenly right again. ‘It felt strange not having it.’

He grinned. ‘You looked positively naked without it.’ He leaned down and kissed me ever so gently on the forehead and I tried hard to squelch my disappointment in these frustrating near touches.

‘I never thanked you for it,’ he said softly, and I warmed a little. Maybe I could do this… maybe.

‘You’re welcome.’

Wufei’s laughing voice came in the silence that followed, ‘Either of you need anything else, or would you just prefer we go the hell away and let you enjoy being home?’

I grinned at him, past Heero. ‘I am getting kind of tired,’ I admitted, and it was true. This had been the busiest day I’d had in a long time. I really did feel wrung out.

Trowa came toward me first, Heero stepping away to let him come up beside me. ‘Then we should leave and let you get some sleep,’ he said and reached to brush his fingers over the back of my hand. He was just like Heero and Wufei, touching me like I would crumble away under his fingers. Then he made room for his lover, and I had to grin as Quatre slid his arms around my shoulders and hugged me tight. Over his arm, I could see the frown on Heero’s face. It felt wonderful; I pulled him close, returning the embrace full measure. Or at least as full as I was able. Quatre drew back and grinned at me. ‘I think you’re getting stronger.’

I flushed, absurdly pleased and managed a ‘thanks, Quatre.’

The two of them left then and I raised my eyes to find Wufei very deliberately placing my cell phone on the table next to me, our eyes locked for a moment and he said, ‘You need anything,’ he turned his gaze to include Heero, ‘either of you. You know you can call me.’

But he was telling me that if I had another dark moment he would be there. He was telling me it didn’t matter what time it was. He was telling me that Heero didn’t know about my little break down in the hospital. I smiled my thanks, and he grinned broadly at me, his eyes on my chest. I realized that I was still clutching my little panther there. Then he was gone too and it was just Heero and me. It was strangely uncomfortable.

He came to my side again, taking my hand to lightly hold it and he smiled warmly, ‘It’s good to have you home, love,’ he told me, and it made it a little better. Now that the guys were gone and it had quieted, I was finding it hard to keep my eyes open.

‘Go to sleep my little one,’ his voice was a soothing sound, and it eased away some of the sting.

I thought about him sitting here, watching for me to wake again, and I told him, ‘Call me when you get ready to eat. Don’t wait.’

‘All right,’ he said, and I knew he was just saying it. ‘Just rest now.’

It wasn’t my own bed, but at least it was my own home and I just let go; went to seek the darkness for a little while. Heero was still holding my hand when I dozed off.

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