| Authors: TB and Marsh
see part 1 for notes, warnings
Many Angels + Part 7
They made him walk it, though the elder apologised and called it policy.
It was a long way. Pride was the only thing that kept him putting one
foot precisely in front of the next.
There was a new guard on duty outside the cell, not the man who'd always
been there before. He wasn't much interested in their little parade. He
took longer than the old guard opening the cell, too--there seemed to
be new security measures. Duo watched surreptitiously, his head lowered.
They never sent the guards in first. They had the sniper rifles ready,
and they pushed him through the doors. The suden shove caught him off
guard, and he stumbled. One of them actually came in after him, steadied
him by the arm.
"Call if you need help," he said, and swept a glance over Wufei and Heero,
leaning against the walls on the opposite side of their cell. He backed
out with a hand on his sidearm, and then the door swung shut, leaving
them alone in the dark room.
Wufei moved immediately. He caught Duo about the waist before Duo could
warn him, and he almost blacked out from the stabbing pain in his broken
ribs. Whether Wufei helped him down or he just fell, he didn't know, but
when his vision cleared he was sitting on one of the wide stadium steps
that circled the auditorium-like space.
"We thought you were dead," Wufei was saying. "Forgive me. I'll be more
"Not dead yet." He wanted to lie down. Wufei was checking beneath the
ties of the hospital gown they'd left him in. He took care of ripping
off the bandage on his recently broken nose himself. "They could at least
have given us matching slippers," he added, and pointed muzzily at Wufei's
Wufei wore an expression he didn't much like the sight of. Didn't like
to think what a mess he looked, to have earned it. Thinking he was dead
didn't half cover it, not with proud Chang Wufei.
"How long?" he asked.
"Five days. No. Six. Wasn't it, Heero?"
"Six," Heero repeated. He came out of the darkness somewhere to the left;
Duo couldn't see out of that eye, but Heero kept to that side, near enough
that Duo felt his skin crawling.
Wufei examined Duo's cuffs. "Can you get those off?" he asked Heero.
Heero moved then, into Duo's eyesight. Duo couldn't read his face, but
he knew what the clenched fists meant. "You need to stay awake," Heero
said. "Tell us what you told them about us and our mission."
"Not now, Yuy. He's barely keeping it together as it is."
He made it to his feet on anger alone. "I didn't talk."
"There would be no shame if you were overwhelmed with physical force,"
Heero said flatly. "I don't ask to accuse. I ask so that we can deal with
what they know."
"I didn't talk!"
"He said he hasn't," Wufei interrupted, and guided--pushed--Duo back to
the step. "I want these cuffs off. If nothing else, they could serve as
Duo felt through his plait, Wufei helping when he struggled to raise his
arm high enough. "They took my picks," he mumbled.
"Heero has a set." Wufei turned, an imperious hand outthrust. Heero met
Duo's eyes with a strange reluctance; then he did indeed produce his picks,
prying loose the bottom of his shoe and pulling the small wires from the
seam. He sat to put his shoe back on as Wufei crouched over Duo, laboriously
trying to manipulate the maglock. He flushed when his first attempt, and
then his second, failed.
"I can do it," Duo said.
"I've got it." Wufei was brusque in his embarrassment. But he was right.
Only seconds later, the maglock disengaged, and the cuffs fell open and
dropped to the ground with a clang. Wufei rubbed Duo's wrists gently,
careful of the splints on his right-hand fingers. "Do you think you could
use your hands?"
The adrenaline from the long walk from the infirmary was fading. He felt
shaky, and pain was edging in, like smudges sitting on the surface. "When
I have to, yeah."
"They accused us of doing this. We didn't." Wufei's dark eyes slanted
up to Duo's. "We wouldn't."
It took him a minute to process that. "I know." His throat was dry, and
he coughed, sparking pain along his ribs again. "Why would they hide it?"
"Someone screwed up, and someone else covered his ass."
Barton, that meant. Duo didn't understand that, right away. "They were...
I think they came while you were gone. I don't remember all of it." It
worried him that he couldn't. It came in flashes that felt like morphine
dreams--nightmares with no sense or logic. He freed one of his hands from
Wufei's, and pressed his palm over the ache in his groin. There was a
pressure bandage there, and he had a vague memory of someone telling him
"Are you all right?" he asked. He included Heero in his question, turning
his head until he could see the other boy. Heero stared back without blinking.
"Nothing like this was done to us," Wufei said.
"I'm fine. I'll be all right."
"You ought to rest."
"Yeah." If he slumped just right, he thought he might be able to prop
himself up. Wufei kept trying to help him settle, but Heero was watching
every move, and Duo didn't want to--show a weakness, or something. Just
because Heero had rescued him once didn't mean he'd make the same choice
twice, not if he thought Duo wasn't going to make it out of the cell on
his own power.
"Just let me," Wufei said, not noticing their silent communication.
Heero nodded once, silently. He turned away, abruptly, and crossed the
floor to where he'd been when they'd brought Duo in. He sat facing the
wall. Another time, it might have made him sad, or angry, even; Duo could
only feel relieved to have a momentary reprieve from judgement.
"Why you being nice?" he asked Wufei. He was tired, absolutely drained
suddenly, and Wufei was warm. He did lie down then, and Wufei guided his
head down to his lap.
"You'd do no differently," Wufei said. His fingers probbed carefully at
"Thank you." He could barely keep himself awake, except for that ache
of discomfort that was turning into a true pain. Not enough to keep him
awake, not at all. "Tell him I didn't talk."
"I've been telling him for six days." Wufei covered his eyes with a palm.
"None of us ever would."
"I didn't." In the dark behind Wufei's hand he closed his eyes, unable
to keep them open. "They didn't even ask me anything."
"Yuy knows you didn't. Don't you, Heero?"
He fell asleep before he heard the answer.
He thought the ringing was part of his dream, at first. Then instinct
kicked in. He woke up disoriented and uncertain, but with the phone in
his hand. "What?" he said, when he could form the English.
It was Wufei. "You awake?"
"Yeah." Not really. "What time is it?"
"Seven forty-five. Take a second. Wake up fully."
That had his attention, and Wufei's tone. He sat up and fumbled on his
right side for a light. He wasn't in his bed, as he'd thought, but on
his couch downstairs. He had the queasy feeling that meant he'd drunk
more than he was used to, and a headache that didn't like the lamp very
much. He didn't think he'd gone to sleep more than a few hours before,
except that vague memories of staring at a clock that never moved had
the feel more of a nightmare than reality. He cleared his throat, and
asked, "What's wrong?"
"Will Stanley's in the hospital."
It didn't compute to anything. "What?" he said again. Wufei repeated it.
Duo rubbed his face. "Why?"
"He attempted suicide some time during the night."
He went numb. "He... Why would he-- he was fine when he left."
Except he hadn't been. Duo remembered as soon as the words left his mouth.
"Nobody knows," Wufei said, in that quiet, intimate phone voice people
had in the morning dark. "There wasn't a note. The night janitor found
"The jani--" He was thinking in fragments and couldn't match any of the
ragged ends. "At HQ?"
"In the pool." Wufei didn't say anything for a long time. Duo didn't even
think to hang up, but when Wufei spoke again, he'd forgot he even held
the phone. "Listen. I don't know more than that he's alive and he's in
the hospital. I have a number if you want to call."
"Yeah. Okay." He looked at the end table under the lamp, and picked up
a pen and pad sitting on it. "I can take it now."
"Five-five-three-eleven-thirty. That's the nurse's station. He doesn't
have a phone in his room. They wouldn't talk to me, but they might tell
"Yeah." His hand trembled while he wrote, and he couldn't read what he'd
written anyway. "Yeah. Okay."
"If you need anything. A ride. Anything. I'm here."
"Yeah." He couldn't think. "I'll let you know."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he said vaguely, not even really hearing. "I've got to go." He
hung up with Wufei trying to get him back.
He could go over there. Santa Maria wasn't far away. He ought to go. He
should be on his feet, in his car, breaking all the limits to get there.
His body knew something he didn't, though, because it didn't move. He
turned off the lamp, and stared at the slivers of light poking through
his blinds. When his phone rang again, he set it off the hook. He lay
down and covered his eyes.
"Stanley," Duo said. He started to lean on the counter, then uneasily
kept his arms to himself.
"Are you family?" the nurse asked him, not even glancing up.
He hated hospitals. Most of his memories of them were hazed with drugs
and unrelenting bright lights, and the constant smell of sick overlaid
with chemicals. An old man dozed in a wheelchair, unsupervised, in a corner,
and a woman was asleep in the lobby with two young children draped over
"Family?" the nurse repeated.
"No." He looked back at her. "He doesn't have any," he remembered. "I'm--"
Another nurse noticed him standing there, and came to the station. "Are
you Agent Maxwell?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said warily.
"You can come back," she said, and lead him through a pair of automatic
doors labelled ‘Intensive Care'. They passed three glass-walled, blind-draped
units before Duo spoke.
"Is he that bad?"
The nurse glanced back. "This doubles as an isolation ward. He'll be here
until he's discharged." She halted in front of one of the units. "Please
keep your visit short."
"Okay." She opened the door for him, but didn't follow him in. Duo watched
her go through the observation window.
The man in the bed stirred. "You came," he said.
The room was white all over, made grey with the blinds drawn, and there
was nothing to look at but the bed, not even any flowers, this soon after.
Duo moved the single chair closer to the bed, and sat tensely in it. Stanley's
face was pale. There were bandages on his arms. When he noticed Duo looking,
Stanley slid them under his sheet.
"You're an idiot," Duo said. He cleared his throat, and looked at the
softly beeping monitor. "You didn't do it. Someone else did. You were
wrong not to stop it, but you didn't do it."
"I can't seem to forgive myself for that," Stanley said. His voice was
a pale reflection, too, weary and mumbling. "Even if you were the enemy,
and they told us-- I believed you were a threat to everything I believed
"I was. The same way you were to me."
"That didn't make it okay. It still doesn't."
He licked his lips. "It's okay. Will."
Stanley curled under his blanket. "You'd say just about anything right
now, wouldn't you? And tomorrow or next week when everything's back to
normal-- what then?"
"I'm supposed to kick you while you're down?" he said, harsher than he
meant to. He twitched the blanket away from Stanley's wrist. It wasn't
hard to imagine blood there.
"You didn't used to lie to me, at least."
"I don't care if you ever forgive yourself. But I don't think suicide
is any kind of pass, either. You live with what you did, and you try to
make up for it. That's how you make it better." He licked his lips again.
"But we're over. Right?"
"Christ, Will, we're beyond fucked up. What good does it do to pretend
otherwise? Why did you do this?"
Stanley avoided his eyes, and then Duo was avoiding his. His throat was
so tight it hurt, and his stomach felt jittery. He straightened an IV
line and didn't look to where it connected. "I'm sorry for what I said."
"You meant it."
"I'm sorry now."
"I heard you, Duo." Stanley was staring out the window when Duo made himself
look. He said, "Do you still?"
There was no easy answer to that leaping to mind. He didn't know. He backed
away from the bed and hit the chair, and hurried away from it. "I'm gonna
go. I'm gonna ask for a transfer. I'm just-- gonna leave."
Stanley's head turned. "Don't," he said. "Please don't dismantle your
life over this."
"What other choices are there? I stay here and you-- whatever. Implode.
I stay here and I implode. No."
"I'll leave you alone." He said it a plea. Duo halted at the window.
"Shut up, Will."
There was choked breathing behind him. He tried not to think about it,
and then couldn't think of anything else, and he couldn't turn to look.
"Merquise will transfer me. He already threatened it. It'll-- help." He
rubbed his face, and pressed his fist to his mouth. "Something has to
"Damn it, can you do one damned thing I ask?"
"You never ask the right questions."
"Why'd you have sex with me?"
"Because occasionally I have pretty ridiculous lapses in judgement." With
a massive effort, he faced the bed again. Stanley was looking at him,
an obscure confusion, a frown of some kind of pain lining his eyes. Duo
said, "I don't know. It... hurt both of us, I guess. Maybe I thought that
was the best I could get."
"Did it help?" Stanley picked at his sheet. "Fucking the dirty Ozzie."
It was obviously meant to carry venom. It didn't. It sat awkwardly between
them, a weapon Stanley was too far beaten to properly use. Stanley's teeth
bit into his lip. Lamely, listlessly, he said, "It was supposed to."
Duo put his hands in his pockets and curled them. "You get out of here,
and we'll talk about it."
"Yeah." Stanley nodded. "Thanks for coming."
He ducked his shoulder to the door. It opened under the pressure on silent
"I'm not a bad person," Stanley added suddenly. "I was eighteen years
old. More scared than anything else--" A beat faded into the noise of
the vitals monitor. "Once I understood what we were really doing."
Duo turned back one more time. "I know," he said.
"I'm sorry, Duo."
"Me too." He remembered to breathe. The air felt soupy, thick in his throat.
"Look, just-- when you get out. We'll talk more."
However official his suspension was or wasn't, there was no way Duo was
going to the office. Gossip about Stanley would have run through the building
like wild fire, and that gossip was likely to connect up at Duo's disgrace.
But the determination not to provide any further entertainment only lasted
through one day of brooding boredom confined to his own house. Wufei kept
calling, and then Heero started too, leaving an awkward message on his
mobile and then switching to one-word texts every hour. The one call he
thought he might get never came, though he kept checking the log for the
He drew the line when Quatre called from L4. If his own friends were going
to carry tales, he might as well be outside where he could honestly tell
them he hadn't had his phone. At dawn the third day, He drove to HQ, but
took the outer circle drive, not the inner that lead to the office complex.
He bypassed the lake, and parked outside the field and track.
On L2 he'd run all the time. Mostly because he was in trouble. But there'd
been an exhilaration in it, and a kind of pride--Solo had always said
he was the fastest he'd ever seen. And after Solo had died and his legs
had got long enough he'd raced with the older kids who did Free Running
on the rooftops. He'd never learnt many of the stylised tricks and gymnastics
of it, but he'd been quick and sure-footed enough to stay even, jumping
from vents and windows and ledges without knowing until he was airborne
where he was going to land. These days he only ran roofs during the odd
criminal chase. The track was a monotonous substitute, but it was lonely,
only an hour into the daylight, and that was something.
He was sweating hard and almost out of water when someone finally did
interrupt him. One of the company cars came from the direction of the
offices, and parked in the little lot next to him. Duo slowed to a jog
on legs that were starting to shake from the exertion. He recognised the
head of blond hair as it came out of the car. He drank the rest from his
bottle and clipped it back to his belt, and crossed the grassy lawn rather
than follow the track all the way back.
"I'm not going inside," he said, pre-empting Merquise's greeting. "I just
came to use the track. Word is I'm persona non grata, and all."
Merquise was in uniform-dress uniform, Duo noticed, and couldn't think
of a reason why he would be. Merquise closed the last few yards between
them. "Got a minute?" he asked.
"Yeah." Duo saluted half-heartedly, and wiped his face on his sleeve.
"I'm not really dressed for--"
Merquise shook his head. "Not here. Let's go for a walk."
He was surprised by that. They already had absolute privacy. But Merquise
seemed to be waiting for him to agree, for once, so he made a vague gesture
back the way he'd come, toward the lake. There were some trees there,
if Merquise was looking for cover. The taller man slowed his gait to match
Duo's, and they walked.
Merquise didn't break the silence until they'd reached the water's edge
and had no-where further to go. He removed his sunglasses and faced Duo,
who found himself tensing.
"William Stanley succeeded in a second suicide attempt this morning,"
Just blunt like that. Quiet. Duo stared at him.
"I thought you'd prefer to hear it away from the office."
He couldn't breathe. Everything went weird and hollow-sounding, as if
he'd stepped outside himself. He didn't even think of asking it, but his
voice went on without him, low and flat. "How'd he die."
"He used his service revolver. Apparently he wasn't taking any chances
He felt a jot of sickness, and then Merquise was touching him, a large
hand on Duo's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
Merquise blurred and Duo blinked until his eyes cleared.
"I'm sorry," Merquise repeated. He squeezed. "I know he cared about you."
"You don't know anything about either of us." He moved, and that was like
speaking, his body working without any conscious direction at all.
Merquise dropped his hand back to his side. "Perhaps not."
Duo rubbed his mouth. He couldn't think, except for that--all those calls
he hadn't answered, God, had they been trying to reach him? No. No, Merquise
said it was just this morning, and that meant while he'd been out here
running like an idiot, and-- "Why wasn't he on suicide watch?" he demanded
"What makes you think he wasn't?"
"Then how'd it happen? What the fuck is wrong with you people?"
"He was off duty." Merquise watched him warily. "Forensics puts his time
of death at around five this morning. The hospital discharged him, Duo."
He said it carefully, not dispassionately. "The assumption was he'd been
seeing someone. And that perhaps that someone would be present on off
Duo turned on him. "You don't get to fucking blame me for this, I don't
care who you are or what rank you have."
"No-one's blaming you. No-one's holding you responsible."
He wanted to pursue it, almost did, but he lost the thread of it. There
was a bench a few yards away. He sat on it. The metal slats were hot under
his bare thighs. It was an odd time for it, but suddenly he was aware
of all the sound around them--a buzzing from all over that was probably
insects, and the noise of a little breath of breeze through the tall grasses
in the meadow behind them and the branches above their heads, and chatter
from birds, ducks on the water. Nothing was silent, after all, not even
Merquise, who was breathing, going on breathing, and his uniform rustling
as he came step by step to the bench and waited for acknowledgement. Duo
felt his eyes brimming, everything went blurred again. He bit the inside
of his cheeks until he could beat it back.
"May I sit?" Merquise said. Duo nodded. Merquise eased his way down with
his hands on his knees. Then he slipped his fingers inside his coat, and
brought out a sealed envelope. He put it between them on the bench and
kept it from blowing away with a finger.
"What is it?" Duo asked.
"It was on Stanley's desk." Light blue paper, and Duo's name on the front.
He'd never seen Stanley's writing, he realised. The letters were slanted
and poorly formed, but it was his name, all the same. "I took it. No-one
else has seen it. It hasn't been opened. It's yours."
He didn't reach for it. His hands clenched into fists at the thought of
it. Note. Suicide note. People left suicide notes for their families,
they wanted people to know--why--
Merquise let it rest on the bench, and pressed his hands between his knees.
"Stanley had been coming to me for months. He had... a lot of personal
demons chasing him."
He sat there listening to all the noise all around them. "What was I supposed
to do differently?"
"Did you ever consider forgiving him?"
He felt a tear go. He wiped it away as it hit his cheek, as his throat
clogged. He concentrated on keeping his composure, on forcing himself
"For some of us, the war will never be over. Apparently."
"Shut up," he whispered.
"Go away. Take that with you." He pointed to the envelope without looking
Merquise put it back in his pocket. "I'll keep it safe for you, until
"Don't be alone tonight." Merquise stood then. "I don't want to find another
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