Set Me Free
by Ricci
kikkoman@gmx.de

Part Two A

Author's notes: This is a 1x2, with some 'guest appearances' of 4. Beside that it's a pretty mushy story and inconsistent with the Gundam Wing timeline. Gomen nasai!

I took some liberties with the medical stuff in this story, the treatments administered here would never happen in the real world. But, hey, they can build gundams, sooo...... ^_~

Disclaimers: Gundam Wing and all related characters belong to Sotsu Agency, Sunrise and TV Asahi. No copyright infringement is intended, no money made.

Many thanks to Chaos Angel who beta-read the story for me, arigatou gozaimasu!!

Archive: of course, if you like to!

C&C craved!

 

One day later

When Heero awoke for the third time, it was like it used to be; asleep one moment, awake the other. He was grateful for that.

There was no one in the room this time; no greeting commitee like the last time. Heero blinked several times and narrowed his eyes at the ceiling. It looked different. Obviously because he wasn't in the same room anymore, though he could still hear the strange beeping noise coming from somewhere behind his back.

Just when he was considering what to do now, he heard the sound of a door being opened. It unnerved him that he couldn't turn his head to look at the newcomer, but thankfully the person stepped up to his bed and revealed himself to be a doctor.

"Oh, you're awake." Heero recognized the voice.

"Kitamura?" The man nodded while his fingers felt almost absently for Heero's pulse.

"Hai. How do you feel? Do you have a headache?" Heero's expression gave away nothing.

"I'm fine." He mumbled, staring at Kitamura with those piercing blue eyes. Kitamura vanished to return with a chair. He sat down beside the bed so that Heero could see him.

"Where's Duo?" the Japanese boy wanted to know. His voice sounded flat; emotionless. For a moment Kitamura was worried that the incident had damaged more than his motoric center. But then he remembered what Duo had told him about the silent youth's personality and suddenly saw Duo's affection for Heero from a whole different point of view. It added another layer to his growing respect for Duo.

"Duo-san went home to get some sleep. He was quite exhausted after staying with you all this time." Heero's eyebrow twitched, but other than that his expression didn't change in the least. Silence reigned for a moment while Kitamura waited for Heero to ask something, anything, but the young man remained silent. Finally Kitamura shrugged and got up, pushing the chair away. "I have to do some more tests, I will be back in five minutes." Heero didn't even look at him as he left the room.

It didn't take him five minutes to get his instruments, but he checked on Duo on the way to get them. Duo was still sleeping on the couch in his office, exhaustion drawing fine lines on his face. He was sweating and moaning in his sleep, so Kitamura turned the heat down before he left again. He hadn't wanted to burden Heero with the knowledge that he and Duo shared, though he knew it was only a matter of time until he had to tell Heero. As it was, Heero would probably find out himself in the next ten minutes.

Heero's eyes shot open when he heard the door, but it was only the doctor, Kitamura, who was pushing a cart with some machine on it. He went to the foot of the bed and drew back the covers.

"I will test your reflexes now, so I need you to tell me what you are feeling. If it helps, you can close your eyes." Heero's glare told him that he wouldn't. Kitamura attached some sensors to Heero's legs, connecting them to the strange machine with different sets of cables. "Okay, we'll start now. Tell me as soon as you feel anything." Heero concentrated and stared at the white ceiling. Kitamura frowned and turned the volt control higher. "Heero-san?"

"What? I don't feel anything." Kitamura's heart fell and he turned the machine off. So it was true. This had been the last confirmation.

"Is something wrong?" Heero's voice was quiet, and it still held no emotion, no tinge of worry. Kitamura sighed mentally and straightened. He went to Heero's side again and met the cold stare of his eyes.

"I'm afraid so. I'm very sorry, Heero-san, I had anticipated something like that but hoped it wouldn't come true." He paused, he had never been good at telling bad news. Heero just continued to stare at him.

"Your legs are... paralyzed. There has been some damage to your motoric center, caused by the operation, and it resulted in paralysis of your legs. How extensive the damage is I can't tell yet, we'll see. But this is what caused your blackout yesterday." He trailed off and braced himself. But Heero's eyes were still as empty as before. Kitamura continued. "The wounds on your head are healing well, I think the stitches can come out in about four days. Is there anything you want to ask me?" There HAD to be something, it was simply impossible that the boy could remain that calm.

"Is Duo going to be back?" Kitamura hid his incredulity. He schooled his features to express a calm and confidence he didn't feel and met Heero's eyes again.

"I can give him a call and tell him you want to see him, if you want that."

"Aa." Heero didn't look at him any longer, and so Kitamura retreated quietly, taking the machine with him. He returned to his office and sat beside Duo on the small couch for a moment, watching the sleeping boy and feeling sympathy for him. There was a long, thorny road waiting for Duo, and if he wouldn't want to take it, Kitamura wouldn't blame him.

He extended a hand and shook Duo softly. "Duo-san!" Duo's eyes fluttered open and he stared at Kitamura for several seconds in confusion, before he blinked.

"Kitamura-sensei? How long did I sleep?" Kitamura went to his desk and sat down heavily behind it.

"Nearly a whole day. Listen, Heero-san is awake now, and... he knows. I told him." Duo looked by all means as if he had received a punch in the stomach.

"So there's no doubt..." he whispered.

"I performed the test myself," answered Kitamura quietly, feeling for Duo. "His legs are paralyzed. He'll have to get used to a wheelchair." God, it stung to put it that bluntly, and how it must have stung. Surprisingly there were no tears from Duo this time. He just stared at the ground, hands folded in his lap.

"Can I go see him?"

"If you feel up to it... in fact he asked for you." A small smile crept on Duo's face.

"He did?" he whispered again, before stretching and getting to his feet. "I'll go now." He glanced sideways at Kitamura. "Thank you... I-I'm sorry I broke down on you last night, I was..." Duo trailed off.

"Don't blame yourself. Go and..." Kitamura stopped abruptly, the 'cheer him up' dying on his lips. So many false phrases for a doctor...

Duo seemed to understand and just nodded once. The door clicked shut and he was gone.

The way to Heero's room seemed to be longer than it had ever been. Never had it been so hard for Duo to just keep on walking. He didn't allow himself to think about what was waiting for him in that hospital room, didn't want to make this decision now. All he knew was that he loved Heero more than his life, and he would never let him down. No matter what the future might bring, they would face it together. But deep inside he knew that in the end it wouldn't be his decision.

The perfect soldier wasn't so perfect anymore.

*~*~*

While he was lost in his thoughts his feet had taken him to Heero's room. He hesitated for the fraction of a second before he pushed the door open and faced the lone figure on the bed. Heero glanced at him with empty and bottomless eyes.

"Duo..." Duo's fingers twitched as he nearly reached out and took Heero's hand as was his wont.

"Heero." He didn't know what to say. For once in his life Duo "Chatterbox" Maxwell fought for words. But Heero didn't have to.

"I have a request." Heero waited until he had Duo's full attention before he continued. "I want you to kill me."

"NANI???" shrieked Duo, clamping a hand over his mouth. Heero regarded him coolly.

"I don't care how. Kill me." Duo shrank back.

"W-why - are you crazy?? How can you ask -- that?!?" Heero looked away from him, to the white curtains fluttering in a soft breeze coming through the opened window. "I'm useless... like this. I take it the war is over. I was never meant to survive the war. So end it now, or I'll do it myself."

Unbidden tears rolled down Duo's cheeks, and the anguish he felt was so bitter, so absolutely hopeless that it nearly transformed into rage at this boy, who rejected him and everything he had done with a few simple words.

"So you're taking the coward's way out, huh, Yuy? That's what you wanna tell me? Well, I won't let you." Heero's head shot around and his eyes burned into Duo's like a blue white hot flame. Duo didn't let that faze him. "You can be glad you are alive, Heero! Oh, of course, we could have left you in the state you were in before the operation, sure. Me holding your pants and wiping your butt when you're done shitting." There was pure hatred in Heero's eyes then, though his voice didn't change in its usual lack of modulation.

"I never asked you to save me."

"You never asked how *I* felt! Damn it -- !!!" Duo started yelling; he didn't care any longer what Heero thought. "I love you, you cold-hearted son of a bitch! God knows I tried not to, but I do, I can't help it. I know that you're feeling *something* in that heart of yours, it's not dead yet!" To Duo's astonishment *that* got a reaction out of the other boy. Heero swallowed hard, and suddenly his eyes weren't so hard, so cold anymore, but those of a boy, alone, scared and insecure. And angry. Emotions swam through them faster than Duo could watch, and rage was always among them.

"I-I don't-- want-- to feel this!" hissed Heero through clenched teeth, his eyes burning with an unholy fire. He balled his fists and shook violently. Duo jumped up and pinned his arms down, holding him in place.

"Stop it! Heero..." An anguished cry tore from Heero's throat as his last defense crumbled under the onslaught of all those raging emotions and he clenched his eyes shut. There were no tears when he cried, choked gasps the only sound in the still room. All fury left Duo in a rush and he felt his heart open wide, overflowing with his love for Heero, as he bent down and gently took the other boy's hand again.

"Suki da," he whispered over and over, kissing Heero's bandaged forehead, his cheeks, his chin, and finally his lips. He could still feel Heero trembling underneath him, fighting to get his control back, and tried to convey every ounce of strength he had left into the kiss. Heero flinched. "You are not alone." Duo whispered when he broke the kiss, pronouncing the words slowly and carefully. "I will be by your side as long as you let me." Heero's eyes were closed, exhaustion settling on his features in a slight frown.

"I need... I have to... think..." he whispered in a broken, feeble voice. Duo fought down the feeling of rejection and pressed Heero's hand shortly.

"I'll be back," he said as he left and went to look for Kitamura.

*~*~*

Heero dared to breathe again when Duo was gone. He wished for the blackness to take him again, for the sweet darkness that sleep brought, but his body refused to do him that favor.

The mission had always been clear. Either be successful or die. Death had been a constant comrade; he had to smirk mentally at the ambiguity of those thoughts, but he had been sure it would have taken him sometime, when he would die alone and in pain. He had sensed death when his gundam had crashed and had welcomed it. But now... he didn't know what to do. The future was unclear and blurry, and it held lots of pain. Could he deal with that? Did he want to deal with that? His thoughts were in an uproar. You'll never be able to walk again. Never run again. Trapped. Useless. Good for nothing. What's there to live for anyway?

His breath left him in a rush. Duo. Love.

You don't know what love is. But you know enough to be afraid of it. It controls you, it binds you, it makes you vulnerable, and you can't afford that. Soldiers don't have weaknesses.

But the war is over.

But you're still a soldier. Without honor, but still a soldier.

The last thought burned all the way to his heart. He should have died. He should have given my life for something greater than he was. He should be rotting in hell by now for everything he did. Heero retreated to do just that, burn in his own personal hell.

*~*~*

"Talked to him, finally... told him... well, kind of." Duo was leaning on the windowsill and staring out of the small window in Kitamura's office. He hadn't told Kitamura about Heero's suicidal wish nor did he intend to. They would take Heero away if they knew. Nothing had ever broken Heero the soldier, no enemy torture, pain or despair had been able to break his determination for accomplishing a mission. But his instincts told Duo that Heero was dangerously close to breaking right now and that Duo was the only one able to protect him.

So he kept silent, confused, angered, and saddened.

Kitamura tiredly rubbed his face with the palm of one hand. "Duo... believe me, this is too much for you to handle it alone." Duo turned and leaned on the sill with his elbows.

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"I think it's time to add some counseling to Heero-san's therapy." elaborated Kitamura and groaned when the crick in his neck reminded him of one too many sleepless nights. Duo was looking at him wide-eyed.

"A psychiatrist? Are you talking about a psychiatrist??" Upon Kitamura's nod he started to chuckle softly. "That would be only a waste of that poor person's patience! Hell, he barely talks to ME, you don't really think he'll open up to a complete stranger, now do you??"

"Actually I do think that it'll be easier for Heero-san to work this out with a neutral person, if you understand what I mean. He can't settle this with you, because he can't expect any neutral advice from you, he can't discuss it with me, because he most probably despises me right now, and for some reason I don't think he'll be able to open up to Shelley, a woman." answered Kitamura and got up to shrug out of his lab coat.

"Wait a minute- why should he hate you?" asked Duo curiously.

"I didn't say 'hate', I said 'despise'." retorted Kitamura. "I'm the easiest person to make responsible for his current situation. I know you think that this is unfair, but it is only normal and in fact healthier. It makes dealing with everything a whole lot easier." Duo emitted a bitter laugh before he turned to the window again.

"You want to... and me? Shall I stop visiting him? I waited for so long..."

"No, of course not." answered Kitamura wearily. "Think of the therapist as a... mediator. Let him talk to Heero, then talk to him yourself. I really don't think you can work this out with Heero on your own." Duo didn't like what he was hearing, not one bit. He was deathly afraid that this therapist would find out about Heero's condition and then... Bitterly he recalled those daydreams he had nursed an eternity ago, where Heero woke up and loved him as much as Duo loved him, and they'd work everything out together. He shook his head. "I don't believe that. He was... I... he was so different. You know what I mean? I felt like there's... something..." Kitamura took out his keys and locked his desktop drawers, before he grabbed his coat. Duo left the office with him, and Kitamura turned to him when they were standing in the hallway.

"Look, I'm not saying you shouldn't visit him anymore. Nor am I implying that you shouldn't talk to him, but I think he would just feel... cornered if you go and confront him with your feelings now." When he saw that Duo wanted to argue he hurried to continue. "I'm not a psychologist, but even I can see that. Give Heero-san a break and a chance to sort things through. There's a friend of mine here in the house who's a therapist, you should call him." Kitamura fumbled in his pocket for the number and gave it to Duo who sighed resignedly and took it. Uncertainty shimmered in his eyes.

"You really think so...?" Kitamura nodded.

"Yes. Go home and try to relax. Everything will be fine." He found that he couldn't believe his own words when he turned and went.

*~*~*

Duo stared after Kitamura for the longest time before pocketing the piece of paper with the number on it and finally deciding to go back to Heero's room. He opened the door tentatively and peered inside. His heart melted when he looked at the obviously sleeping Heero, and he slipped silently into the room, settling down in the chair beside the bed. Heero looked exhausted, worn out, and there was a slight frown marring his forehead, though his features were softened by sleep.

"What are you thinking in that stubborn head of yours?" whispered Duo and touched Heero's hand softly with the back of his own. "Are you scared? Do you really feel... useless? Are you alone... like me...?" A soft knock disturbed the comforting silence and Duo frowned, wondering who that might be. It was Junako. He gestured for her to keep quiet and met her in the hallway, not wanting to wake Heero. "Good to see you, Junako-san! Sorry I didn't call..."

"You had other things on your mind." answered Junako, still smiling. "So how is he?" Duo's broad grin vanished immediately.

"He's... paralysed from the hip downwards. It's an aftereffect of the operation. And he's quite...confused right now..." Junako noticed the slight pauses and sensed that there was more to it than Duo let on. But she wouldn't force him to talk about it.

"I'm sorry, Duo-san." Her eyes conveyed her sympathy. "That makes it all the harder to tell you." Duo frowned.

"Tell me what?" Junako sighed and looked to the side.

"Hazegawa wants you to come back tomorrow or you're fired." There was no other way to put it. Duo snorted.

"He can't just fire me! I have a contract!" Junako sighed again.

"Yes, you do, and the contract says six weeks vacation a year. You already had more than ten! Look, I understand your situation. But Hazegawa doesn't. He just wants to get the work done. Please, Duo-san, talk to him! Maybe you can make a deal and only work part time." Junako felt bad when she saw the scowl that she knew only hid his sorrow. Duo wasn't good at hiding his feelings. "I-I'm sorry." she said quietly and looked to the floor. Duo exhaled sharply.

"Don't be, Junako-san. It's not your fault after all." He managed a smile. Junako felt that he was shutting her out again. "I'll talk to him... tomorrow. Thank you for telling me." She bowed slightly and turned to go. It was Duo's hand that stopped her. "Sorry, Junako-san. Would you like to-to have a coffee with me?" This time Duo's smile was sincere and she felt like a weight was lifted off of her shoulders.

"Yes, very much." she answered. Together they went to the cafeteria and sat down on one of the white tables.

"Everything in here's so sterile!" commented Duo and looked around. "They could've at least made the cafeteria look normal." Junako sipped some hot coffee, holding the mug between her cold hands. She didn't really know what to talk about, there were so many things she wanted to know about Duo, but ever since that fateful evening where alcohol had overridden her inhibitions completely and she had just kissed him, he had been closed off. Polite and friendly, but not really there. Junako wanted to assure him that she understood, that she wasn't after him, at least not in THAT way. If she only could convince herself of that fact, too.

"Duo-san..." Duo's incredible violet eyes focused on her. She took a deep breath and plunged forward. "I want to apologize for - for that night, I didn't really know what I was doing. I am sorry." She bowed her head slowly, ashamed, and let the steam of the hot coffee warm her already hot face. "I-I want to be your friend." she whispered softly, willing her screaming heart to be silent. Duo stared at her bowed head, at the soft auburn hair hiding her face. Was she crying? He cleared his throat.

"I don't know, Junako-san." She looked up at him again and he saw that her eyes were dry.

"I can't deny that I feel... drawn to you." she said slowly. "I care about you. But I realize that that's not... where you're interested. That you will never feel the same for me... I can accept that." Duo leaned back in his chair and tilted his head to look at the ceiling.

"Junako-san... I don't want to disappoint you. And I'm not saying we can't be friends. But we don't really know each other, and now I don't have time to get to know another person better. I really don't want to turn you down or something, it's just... there's work, therapy... Heero needs me now. More than ever." His eyes held sympathy when he glanced at her again. Junako was silent, turning her mug around in her hands. Why did she even bother fighting that fight? It was a lose-lose situation. She found that she had lied when she had told him she could accept that. She couldn't. Heero... he was a mere obstacle for her. She knew that deep down she didn't give a damn about him, she only cared because Duo did. If Duo knew, he'd hate her. And yet... When she looked at him she felt her heart contracting sharply at the thought that he was unhappy, at the thought that he deserved happiness; and if he only found it with that darkhaired boy, so be it.

Junako placed the cup gently on the table. "Arigatou, Duo-san. I have to go. Don't forget to call Hazegawa." She bowed before she left. Duo watched her go with a pained expression on his face.

"What's wrong with me?" he asked himself. Never before had he felt so completely and utterly alone. Heero was the sun in his universe, everything revolved just around his well-being, this love... Duo folded his arms on the table and rested his face on them. He let the tears fall without making a sound.

This love... maybe it would kill them both.

*~*~*

When the cafeteria closed in the evening Duo went to have one last look at Heero. He would never admit it but he felt terribly lonely. Hopelessness weighed heavily on his slumped shoulders and he dragged his feet on the way to the second floor where Heero's room was. The door was ajar, probably the night nurse had already checked on him. Duo tiptoed into the darkened room and bit his lip. Silvery slanted moonlight fell on Heero's face, caressed his cheekbones and jawline and lent silver reflection to dark eyelashes. His slender body was still lean though it lacked the callous roughness of sinuous muscles. He looked softer now, more at ease, beautiful in a way that belied his discipline as a ruthless soldier.

Innocent.

In that moment, where Duo couldn't move, couldn't breathe, he knew that he WANTED Heero with every aspect of his being, that the subconscious longing for completion within his soul would be laid to rest when Heero opened himself to him and trusted him with every aspect of his own soul. The whispers of love died on his lips as he drew a shaking hand nearer to that inconsistent face that radiated coldness and yet held the promise of an emotional depth that was rare. A single tear escaped his eyes and rolled slowly down his cheek to drip onto the cool skin of Heero's hand. Duo snatched his hand back as if burned, but the Japanese boy didn't stir.

I have to go now.

Duo didn't dare whisper the words.

I love you, but I have to go now. Oyasumi, koi.

He didn't look back once as he strode out of the room, or he would have seen Heero open his confused blue eyes and stare at the tiny drop of salty liquid on his hand.

*~*~*

When his alarm went off, Duo opened bleary eyes and glared pure hatred at the damn thing. He felt sick. He'd spent the last night in Heero's bed since his own bed had suddenly felt empty and cold, he snuggled deeply into the covers that still held a faint trace of Heero's smell. Duo hadn't washed them since Heero had left. But the familiarity of the smell had kept him from falling asleep, instead he was drowning in memories. It hadn't helped that he'd already felt down to begin with. This was worse than any lovesickness he had ever experienced, not that there had been much experience. He was so used to these small things like touching Heero, stroking his back, ruffling his hair, talking to him, taking a walk with Heero's hand in his own... so many little things.

Now he was forced to restrain himself, pretending he didn't know Heero's body as thoroughly as his own. A break up-- he was sure he would eventually be able to handle that. If Heero didn't want to have anything to do with him, honestly, then Duo knew he would accept that. But this is was worse. Hope and dread were waging a war with his hormones, sometimes Duo felt as if he were being ripped apart from the inside.

"Goddammit!!" He grabbed the innocent clock and threw it against the wall, though it didn't give him the satisfaction of shattered into tiny little pieces. "Goddammit." he repeated for good measure and rubbed his face roughly with his palms. Duo didn't want to go to work and face Hazegawa. He didn't want to work all day for an ungrateful stick-in-his-ass BAKA who didn't appreciate anything and he most certainly didn't want to call some psycho-something who'd pick his sex-life apart.

Frankly, he just wanted to crawl back into his warm bed, pull the covers over his head and cuddle some more with a nice dream version of said stick-in-his-ass baka doing some nasty things to him. Duo yawned and glanced out of the window. It was still dark, winter was near now. The streets appeared to be frozen and it looked quite uncomfortable outside.

Decision.

Fuck Hazegawa.

Duo let down the electric shutters and sent an angry glare to the sturdy alarm clock who sat on the floor.

Fuck them all.

The bed was still warm and cozy and welcomed him with the soft promise of oblivion.

*~*~*

Heero lay awake and stared at the snow that drifted slowly to the ground. He couldn't do much more than move his eyes, and so he had been staring at the window since Duo had left the previous night.

Duo.

If they would bury Heero under all those drifting snow flakes it still wouldn't be cold enough to match the coldness in his chest where his heart used to be.

He was frozen with fear.

They'd taken everything from him that had given his life purpose, and now they expected him to walk away with a smile? He couldn't do that, literally. Nor could he trust the feelings Duo seemed to have for him.

Did he always... care for me? Or did he convince himself during those two years that I am a really nice person inside? Heero snorted. Why was it that people always fell under the spell of the Relena-syndrome? Heero knew he was attractive, or had at least been attractive the last time he had looked into a mirror, but that wasn't the major reason. He knew it was the aura of determination and death that gave the image of the proverbial mysterious stranger who hid deep emotions under his rough exterior. Heero smirked and ignored the stabbing pain that caused.

Mysterious stranger.

To him it was clear what he was. A killing machine, a now DEFECTIVE machine, built for war, useless for peace. Simple as that. There were no more missions waiting for him, there was no purpose left to delay the inevitable. Better to die now, clean and quick, than to suffer from humiliation and die lying in his own shit. But right now he couldn't do anything except for waiting. He regretted having asked Duo to do it for him, since he would probably try to stop him. No, Heero would be patient and wait for the opportunity to arise.

No need for Duo, he told himself firmly. I don't need anyone.

*~*~*

His determination grew during the morning hours, when the nurse came to bathe him and re-dress his wounds, wrapping his head carefully with fresh bandages. Her attempts at small talk sputtered to a hesitating silence when he simply ignored her incessant chatter. The humiliation was more than he could endure, knowing that he wasn't in the hands of the enemy, that it wasn't a matter of honor not to flinch when she touched him in his most private areas. His thoughts went back to Duo as he imagined Duo doing this to him. He flushed involuntarily, but if the nurse noticed, she didn't comment on it. She undid the restraints around his head completely and pushed another pillow under his neck to support his head.

"Kitamura-sensei will be there in a minute." she assured him with a genuine smile that flickered and vanished again when he didn't react. Only when the sound of the door indicated that she was gone did Heero turn his head experimentally, finding that the pain was endurable. His arms didn't feel so weak anymore and he lifted them carefully, studying his trembling fingers.

Soft. He had gone completely soft.

Where there had been strong and lean muscles once were only soft flesh now. They looked thin. Thin and useless.

The shame burned brighter than ever.

"So you feel better, Heero-san?" a low voice interrupted his scrutiny. Heero let his arms drop and glared at the doctor. Kitamura closed the door behind him. "How is your head?" Heero stared at the wall. The muscles in his jaw tightened imperceptibly.

"I'm fine," he said finally. Kitamura sighed in dismay. This was worse than he had expected. It was a good thing he had already called Toyama-sensei, the hospital's psychologist, since he had the sinking suspicion that Duo wouldn't do it.

"And here I thought I'm the one supposed to make a diagnosis." he answered jokingly, but his humor was lost on the grim young man before him. "Did you have any cramps during the night? Headache?" Heero still refused to look at him.

"No. I said I'm fine." Barely suppressed anger welled up in the doctor. They had done so much to save this boy, this insensitive BRAT, and he-- Kitamura forced his anger back. Toyama was better equipped to handle that, he would make sure Heero met Toyama this very morning. Kitamura schooled his expression into an emotionless mask and entered the things his trained eye could see into the patient's chart, instead of trusting Heero's words. Obviously the patient had had a hard time sleeping, there were blue smudges under his eyes. The eyes themselves were too glazed, probably from pain, as the fine lines between the patient's eyes suggested. Sensation had returned to his arms and hands, that was a good sign. The nurse had already checked for fever, pulse and blood pressure, everything in normal ranges. Kitamura flipped the chart closed again.

"In about two hours Toyama-sensei will talk to you. He's your therapist. You may want to take a nap before that." The boy on the bed locked eyes with him, fury exploding behind two bright blue irises. Kitamura just ignored him and turned to go, feeling disappointed and angry, but well aware that he didn't know Heero well enough to fight this battle. Heero lay under the sterile white neon light and fought for his control.

Weak! That was all they saw in him, a weak, sick little boy who needed to be pampered! Oh, but he could see the pity in their eyes when they looked at him, and the worst thing was that he knew they were RIGHT, he was weaker than he had ever been before, and there was nothing he could do. Heero raised his arms again and watched his shaking hands until his sight blurred.

 

Part Two B

"Damn thing... turned it off, didn't I?" Duo awoke the moment he realized that it wasn't his alarm he was hearing, but the doorbell.

"Coming!" he yelled and scrambled out of bed, hopping on one foot while trying to fit the other into one leg of his black jeans. He cursed when he nearly tripped. "Hang on a sec!" Hastily he stumbled to the door and opened it. Junako's worried face met him.

"What are you DOING?" she asked urgingly. "You should have been at work an hour ago! Didn't you call Hazegawa-san?" She flushed when she looked at his bare upper torso.

"No, I didn't." Duo answered quietly and leaned against the doorframe, folding his arms across his chest. "Junako-san... I'm not gonna go back there." Junako frowned and Duo wondered briefly if that was anger simmering in her grey eyes.

"You can't be serious, Duo-san." Yes, definitely anger. "You're throwing your job away? And how do you plan to pay your rent??" Duo pushed himself away from the doorframe, unconsciously blocking the door.

"It's not like I need this apartment anyway! I'll just move to another place and get myself a decent job." Junako wasn't fooled. She heard the 'now that Heero isn't here anymore'. Bitterness coursed through her.

"Fine. Run away if you think that that's going to help. I only regret I put so much effort into convincing Hazegawa-san not to fire you immediately." The disappointment threatened to choke her, and so she just turned and went, tossing a soft "Sayonara." over her shoulder. Duo watched her go until the elevator doors closed behind her, before he stormed into his apartment again and slammed the door shut with all his might.

"FUCK YOU ALL!!!!" It hurt. He wrapped his long arms around himself and trembled. He hated himself, hated Heero, loved Heero... "God, I love you, baka." Duo whispered. "Why can't you see that?" He slumped down on the couch. Suddenly his life enfolded itself before his inner eye in a clarity that shocked him to the very core. Heero was all he had. Quatre and Trowa were friends, from a distance, but there was no one close to him. The ex-pilot shivered.

What had happened to him?

He used to go out anytime he could, used to socialize and hang out in bars or discos, used to flirt ravenously with both genders... The excitement, the thrill-- where did it all go?

Duo opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling as he rested his head on the soft cushions of the couch. He felt so torn between his love for Heero and the sense of duty affiliated with that and the desire to be free again, unbound. There had never been a real opportunity to revel in the feeling that the war was (hopefully) over for good. That joyous relief had transformed into a festive mood among the people who celebrated the peace on the streets, in parties, everywhere. Duo hadn't been a part of that. He remembered sitting in some other plastic chair in the hospital and listen to Kitamura's analytic explanations, frozen in shock. Duo's gaze swept over the small apartment nearly apologetically.

'I'm gonna leave,' he realized suddenly 'and try to find the Duo Maxwell I always wanted to be.'

The tiredness left him in a sudden rush and he felt alive again. He stretched languidly and levered himself up off of the couch, grabbing his shirt and looking for his coat, while he slipped into it. His conscience stirred and reminded him that he was supposed to call the therapist in the hospital, or at least see how Heero was doing, but Duo made an effort to ignore it. This wasn't about Heero, this was something he needed to do for himself, or he might lose the chance and regret it forever. On some level it was crystal clear to Duo that he was on the road that led inevitably to the point where he would hate Heero for stealing his youth, for binding Duo to him in a bond that was invisible yet indestructible and devoured Duo wholly at the same time. He couldn't let that happen. Even if that meant leaving Heero behind. For now, it was better that way.

*~*~*

Heero found that the waiting was slowly but surely getting on his nerves. Maybe that had been part of Kitamura's tactic, to let him smolder in his own impatience. But Kitamura didn't know about his training. So Heero stayed silent and endured the long minutes, until there was a faint knock on the door. He didn't acknowledge it, as usual, and so it took some time until the door opened a crack and a head popped up.

"Heero-san? You awake?" Heero remained stonily quiet. Slender shoulders followed the long-haired head, finally Heero glanced sideways and took in the lanky figure and rumpled appearance of a still young doctor. "The name is Toyama!" the newcomer said cheerily and flopped down into the seat. Heero groaned mentally.

Great. The Duo Maxwell Syndrome.

"...you’re feeling better," Toyama finished saying just as Heero began to listen to him again.

"I'm fine."

"Oh, that's always good to hear. I'm here to talk to you about the implications of your impairment." Toyama answered and went from cheerful to serious in the fraction of a second. Heero shot him a glance.

"I am paralyzed. I won't be able to walk again. What's there to talk about?" Toyama seemed to consider this for a moment.

"It is not clear yet if you will STAY paralyzed. For all we know it could be just temporal. Aren't you curious?" Heero swallowed, but didn't know what to say. Toyama just smiled and continued. "First we'll concentrate on the physical therapy. Do you remember Shelley? She worked with you before the operation and will start therapy again as soon as your stitches have come out. And..." Toyama bent down and rummaged through the bag he'd brought with him, "I want to test your memory with this test kit. Do you feel up to it?" Heero nodded and couldn’t help but feel relief surge through his body that this strange doctor didn't know about his death wish and wasn't going to pick him apart.

Together they went through the questions and tasks of the test kit, Heero answering in monosyllables most of the time. His mind kept wandering back to Duo, wishing to be with him while denying it at the same time.

Duo was his anchor in this reality, he was the only one who was *real*...

But Duo loved him. Or an image of him, Heero couldn't decide what was true. All he knew was that this Duo was a stranger to him in many ways, that he missed so many things. When had Duo become so tall? Why was he so very thin? What did he do in those two years? Did he have a job? So many questions, and Heero was afraid to ask them, afraid to admit weakness and insecurity when he needed to feel strong and aloof to keep his self esteem. He hated to feel so dependent, hated all the implications of being impaired. Heero was glad when Toyama finally was through with his questions and sat back to study him for a moment.

"Do you have any questions, Heero-san?" Heero suppressed the sigh that rose in his chest and looked down at his hands.

"When will Duo be back?" God, how he hated that!

"I don't know, I'm sorry. From what I heard he won't be here today, at least that's what Kitamura-sensei told me. Do you want me to give him a call? I could-- "

"No." Heero interrupted him quietly. "I am tired." Toyama took the hint and got up to leave. Before he closed the door behind him he shot one last glance at the young man who was trying so hard to erect impenetrable walls around his heart. Eventually he'd find out that he'd only shut out the warmth that way.

*~*~*

Heero wasn't tired. In fact, all he wanted to do was run away, leave that damned place to find out what had happened to the world he had used to know. Oh, it would have been simple to ask, for a newspaper, for some old reports... or for Duo who surely would be more than willing to relay the whole story to him, and if only for the reason that it would give him an excuse for talking two hours.

But once again that would mean admitting weakness.

Heero turned his head very slowly and stared at the window; at the tiny spot of gray heaven he could see and the branches of a big tree that rocked in the wind. It was snowing again, or still, and with the snow came a strange silence. The minutes seemed to tick away, until Heero was ready to scream, just to tear the oppressive weight of the silence in the room.

'Why didn't I die... I wasn't supposed to live... what's there to live for anyway... can't feel my legs...' His thoughts went in circles, on and on like a horrible merri-go-round, and finally centered on one word.

'Duo... Duo Duo Duo Duo....'

*~*~*

Duo came to a halt in front of the old looking house in the old parts of the city. This was his sixth attempt now, and if it wouldn't work, he'd crawl right back to Hazegawa-san and beg for mercy. He straightened and plastered his best disarming and charming grin on his face before entering. The bar was empty at this time of day, only the wax on the tables and the wooden seats, worn smooth by people sitting on them over the years, told their own story about the times this place came alive with music, laughter and smoke. Behind the bar there was an old man, absently wiping the counter while staring at a TV screen above his head. Duo cleared his throat.

"Sumimasen..." The old man noticed him and turned around.

"Heya, son, what do ya want?" Still smiling Duo stepped closer.

"I'm looking for a job. Do you need anyone?" The old man eyed him while chewing on his wrinkled lip.

"How old are ya?" Duo did his best to hide his anger at that question. Better not act like a smartass right now.

"Eighteen. An adult."

"Not in the old times, my son, uh-uh, not then." Duo's hopes started to go downhill. Damn you, grandpa, today I AM! The old man still eyed him with an indecipherable expression, until his face wrinkled even more to something that was similar to a grin. "Ya got patience. That good, that very good." He slapped his flat hand on the bar. "Sit down, will ya." It wasn't a question, and so Duo complied. "Ya like whiskey?" Duo nodded slowly. Was that a test or what? "That's the spirit, sonny, nothing like the firy lady whiskey, if ya know what I mean." The old man gave him a conspirator’s wink and vanished behind a black curtain that separated the bar from another room. When he came back he held two glasses and a dusty bottle of whiskey. He sat them on the table with a sharp clank and poured some whiskey for both him and Duo. "Cheeri-ou!!" Before Duo could even blink the old man had tossed the shot back and was busy pouring himself another one. Duo hesitantly raised the glass and took a big gulp. It was liquid fire, lava slowly searing down its way to his poor stomach. Duo's eyes bulged and he started to cough violently, a hand sneaking up to stroke his burning throat. The old man grinned at him appreciatively. "Good stuff, ne? Brewed this myself in... oh, a long time ago." He looked at the bottle lovingly. "Ma’s good ol' baby." When Duo was sure he could trust his voice again he dared to ask a second time.

"Uh, so... about this job..."

"Ya still want it?" For some reason the old man looked surprised. Duo nodded and grinned. Trying to scare me away, eh? "If ya still want it..." the old man said contemplatively, before he broke into a huge grin, "Then ya can have it!! Shigemaru!" Just as Duo wondered what THAT was supposed to mean, the old man winked at him again. "That's m'name, son. And you're...?"

"Duo Maxwell, sir." Shigemaru looked utterly disgusted. "Aw, don't insult me! Sir! Ha! I'll show ya sir!" And with that he tossed his, what, fifth? sixth? shot back. "When can ya start working?" Duo was so relieved that he was sure he could hear the sound of a big rock falling from his shoulders.

"Tomorrow. This evening. Now!" Old Shigemaru nodded solemnly. "Now THAT's the spirit, sonny! Bring the papers and be back at six." Duo extended his hand.

"Thank you, sir." The old man actually pouted. "Sir, sir, sir! I won't give ya my hand if ya call me sir! Shi-ge-ma-ru. Ya can add a san if it makes ya happy!" Duo couldn't help but laugh. This bar might not be the coolest in the old marketplace, but it was cozy. Plus it had Shigemaru. The old guy grinned at him madly, before he made a shooing gesture with both his hands. "Now get lost, I'm watchin' TV. Six, don't forget!" Duo nodded.

"Hai, I'll be there!" As he strode out of the bar he couldn't believe his luck. No more bitching Hazegawa! No more being at work at seven thirty in the morning, with just a huge stack of newspapers to wade through, gathering useful information for the archives.

Freedom! Suddenly the day seemed so much brighter.

Two hours later Duo sat in his apartment and drinking some coke, and watching the sun set through the huge panorama window. He would have to go soon, to his new job, to his new life, hopefully. He would have to leave this small apartment behind as well, he knew that without doubt. His heart ached when he thought about that, both because it held so many painful memories, and because it hurt to leave them behind. When Duo saw the two beds, side by side, he couldn't help but remember all those times when he had watched Heero sleep peacefully, all those little movements he made during the day that had Duo hoping in the beginning that Heero was about to wake up soon. Duo remembered sitting cross-legged on Heero's bed, Heero being propped up against the pillows, while Duo read some book to him and laughed at the jokes alone.

"Baka." Duo chided himself and emptied the can. Memories were for old people who lived in the past. He was still young, still free to chose the direction his life would be taking. Stretching once more he got up and left a part of his life.

Memories wouldn't stop him.

*~*~*

He wouldn't come.

It was already dark outside, the snow still drifting slowly to the ground as it had all day. Heero knew because he had watched it while he'd waited for the loud-mouthed baka to come back. Something hurt deep inside at that realization, in a place where Heero didn't dare to go and he tried to shut the pain out, until the familiar emptiness filled him, drowned him.

Will it be like that every day now? he wondered. Will I lose the last bit of self respect I still have just because I will wait for him every day? Heero had let the hospital day flow around him, had let them run tests, ask questions, poke and prod until they were satisfied, because he didn't have the strength to actually care. His lifeline had been Duo once again, as much as he hated to admit it, this need. Why didn't he come? Heero was as confused as he could get. Nothing made sense anymore, he didn't have the minimum of facts he needed to re-evaluate his situation as he would do in any mission he got. All he had was this need for the baka and the pain, and since the pain threatened to overwhelm him at times, he clung to the image of violet eyes and grinning lips in a heart-shaped, open, and endearing face. Even though it had changed, matured, in those two years he had missed, the eyes and those lips were still the same. Heero clenched his teeth as the need tore through him again.

If you were here now, Duo, I'd let you hold me, I'd bury my head in your chest and let your fingers soothe away the pain...

The neonlight went out suddenly, as the night shift began and the hospital floors quieted down. Heero's eyes adjusted to the darkness and he stared at the branches that scraped over the glass of the window with a soft sound.

He had never felt this lonely. He had always been able to control emotions like these and go on with his life, they had never held such power over him. Why couldn't he make them go away? He hated this feeling of loneliness that bordered on self-pity as much as he hated his current situation.

I don't want to live... I don't want to die either. I just don't want to live like this anymore. Two days and he was giving up already. And the next round of loneliness that bordered on self-pity began.

*~*~*

A beeping noise attracted the attention of the night nurse immediately. She had been instructed to monitor this particular patient very closely, so she knew immediately what the beeping implied. In a haste she called the ER team and all but raced to Yuy-san's room, punching Kitamura's beeper number into the EC device she carried with her all the time. Two hours later her fellow colleagues returned to the ER while Kitamura had ordered Yuy-san to be placed in the ICU once more.

Kitamura was exhausted. Not only had Heero's heart stopped twice, he had gone into seizures on top of that, tearing some of the stitches and perhaps inflicting even more damage on his sensitive system. Kitamura exhaled sharply, disappointment and anger mixing with worry. He'd have to call Garibaldi first thing in the morning and... Duo.

The creases on his forehead got deeper as he thought about the young man. He'd tried to get a hold of him for hours, but he was nowhere to be found. Duo's enraged boss had made it pretty clear that he didn't want to see Duo ever again, and no one in the hospital had seen him visit Heero.

Weird.

That had to have been the first day since Kitamura had first met Duo that Duo hadn't been there to see Heero. Something was going on. And it wasn't good. Maybe Toyama had some clue of what was happening.

*~*~*

Duo was having the time of his life. When he had arrived at six, there had been two other men, maybe three or four years older than him, preparing the bar for opening. Shigemaru had still been wiping the counter and watching a game show, but had introduced Duo to the other men, Tetsuro and Shikawa. Duo found back into his old habits quickly, joking around and earning more than a few hearty laughs. Around seven the first patrons arrived, shortly before midnight the bar was cramped. Most of the visitors were older than Duo, even older than his co-workers, and he recognized the music to be from before the war. Between taking orders and laughing along with the others Duo realized just how much he had missed this atmosphere. He had to yell to be understood, but everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves.

All the voices, the laughter, the music and the smoke... Duo was in his element. Shigemaru was cracking up jokes and had his own little audience as he sat on a bar stool and nearly fell off because of his wild gesturing. After two girls had tried to hit on him Duo's male ego was proud that he obviously hadn't lost his touch, though his thoughts sneaked back to Heero once or twice. It didn't matter.

At four in the morning the last guests left and the place lapsed into a strange silence. Shigemaru still sat with crossed arms on his stool, snoring through his open mouth. Tetsuro leaned exhausted against a wall, while Shikawa started to clean the tables and empty the ashtrays. Duo's feet were killing him, and his eyes burned from all the smoke.

"Geez..." Tetsuro cracked one eye open at him.

"Yeah... and it's just in the middle of the week." Duo's eyes widened.

"God!"

"You can call me Tetsuro, you know," retorted Tetsuro dryly as they shared their last good laugh before cleaning up together and waking Shigemaru who went to the counter and checked the money. When it was Duo's turn Shigemaru grinned broadly. "One, two, three, four.... ten thousand yen for yer shift. Aaaand... tada! These are yer tips!" With that he pressed another five thousand yen into Duo's hand.

"Holy shit!" Shikawa whistled despite his exhaustion. Duo still stared with wide eyes at the fistful of money.

"Are you-- are you sure that's correct??" Shigemaru nodded solemnly.

"Ya seem to be a good waiter, son! Good work today."

Duo smiled. "Thank you, Shigemaru-san." The old man waved disgustedly. "Aw, there he goes and '-san's me again! Yer’re impossible!"

It had been a long time since Duo had been in such a good mood. He couldn't help but feel proud of himself. Finally he was making his own decisions again, finally he met other people... and he seemed to do well in his job. When had Hazegawa-san ever praised him? He felt bad that he had upset Junako who surely thought he was one of the biggest jerks alive, but for once he didn't feel like he was choking under some invisible weight. He unlocked the door to his apartment and slipped inside, still feeling lightheaded. The answering machine was blinking furiously, indicating that obviously someone had desperately tried to reach him. Duo pressed the play button and kicked off his shoes. After the first few words he stilled and stared at the machine. No!!

*~*~*

Kitamura looked up when the door to his office was slammed open to reveal a disheveled Duo with a desperate expression on his face. "Where is he? Why's his room empty??"

"Calm down, Duo-san! He was transferred to ICU; he had a pretty rough night, but he's fine now." Kitamura said sternly. Duo was still panting heavily, slowly closing the door and plopping down on a seat.

"Oh." Kitamura still had that stern expression.

"What I would like to know is where you were yesterday. I tried to call you numerous times. You missed your first session with Toyama-san." Duo didn't meet his eyes.

"Sorry 'bout that. I was... I needed to be for and by myself a while." Kitamura sensed that there was more to it, but he didn't ask.

"Do you want to see Heero-san? He's sleeping right now." Duo nodded slowly. "I'll take you there."

*~*~*

Heero was indeed sleeping peacefully when Kitamura drew back the curtain that separated all the beds in the ICU from each other. Once again there was an army of machines surrounding him, beeping and blinking like they had a life of their own. Duo adjusted the surgeon's mask he was wearing and stepped closer.

"What exactly happened, after all?" he asked Kitamura quietly, not taking his eyes off the slumbering Heero. Kitamura sighed and flipped open Heero's chart that he carried with him.

"We're not exactly sure. He just went into seizures; that's a common risk with every brain injury. It's also the reason we kept such a close eye on him. Garibaldi-sensei suggested we put him on special medication, but with all the drugs he was receiving then... I didn't want any resistances or dependencies to form. He is alright now, just sleeping off the effect of the painkillers we gave him, and he'll be transferred back to his room as soon as he wakes up." Kitamura sighed again. "This is new territory, Duo-san. There is no procedure that tells me what to do, and Garibaldi-sensei is the real expert. If you want..." Here Kitamura started to sound uncomfortable, "...we can transfer him to Europe where he would be one of Garibaldi-sensei’s patients. In fact Garibaldi-sensei asked me to suggest that to you." Duo touched Heero's hand softly.

"No. I'm sorry, but I trust you, Kitamura-sensei. I know you're doing everything you can... and I can't go to Europe now... If you don't have any objections I'd like him to stay here."

Kitamura was relieved. He'd grown too fond of Duo and Heero to just pass them on like they were nothing more than test objects. Though he and Garibaldi went way back and he trusted his old friend, he knew that Heero would be just another number, another person that easily blended in with the rest of patients. He was also sure that Garibaldi wouldn't let Duo-san 'interfere' with the therapy.

"Thank you for your faith in me." said Kitamura softly and smiled at Duo. "But please talk to Toyama-sensei, ne?" Duo sighed and looked down at Heero again, stroking back a stubborn lock of dark-brown hair from the handsome face.

"I will." he answered. "I promise." He stayed true to his promise. Though it meant ignoring his exhaustion and once more succumbing to the silent steady rhythm of hospital life, he went to Toyama's office in the basement at nine o'clock in the morning, leaving the still unconscious Heero in the care of the nurses. He knocked on the white door, feeling a little bit self-conscious suddenly. "Uhm... hello? Toyama-sensei?"

He heard a muffled "Come in!" and opened the door slowly. Behind a huge desk a bespectacled dark-haired man rose and smiled warmly, extending his hand. "You must be Maxwell-san, ne? Come in, come in!" Duo took the offered hand and shook it, relaxing.

"Yes. Kitamura-sensei told me to come here. Uhm, is it okay...?" Toyama nodded and gestured him to sit down.

"Perfectly fine, Maxwell-san. I would have called you today anyway." When Duo had plopped down on the brown loveseat in front of the large wooden desk, Toyama continued, "So you're Yuy-san's legal guardian?" Duo nodded and shifted on the sofa. The other man smiled reassuringly and opened his drawer to take out a white sheet of paper. "Kitamura-san told me you met Yuy-san during the war? Is that right?"

Again Duo nodded and felt the urge to add a small "Yes." Toyama twisted a pencil in his hand and seemed to contemplate his next question.

"How long ago was that?" Duo narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "Three... four years ago. I think." Toyama jotted something down on the still white sheet of paper that lay on his desk in front of him. "I won't ask how you met, since Kitamura-san already told me not to ask. But... what kind of relationship did you and Yuy-san have? Back then, I mean." Duo sighed and recalled those memories he had buried deep down somewhere where they couldn't just float up that easily.

"We were... comrades. Eventually partners. Well, sort of. We got close, but we didn't quite... touch, if you understand what I mean."

"You mean it was just superficial?" asked Toyama.

"No! No." answered Duo immediately, shifting again. "I mean, we didn't have the time and place to consider things like that... We kinda looked out for each other. And Heero's the silent type, he doesn't exactly dance with joy and cry in sadness. We never really talked. I just knew that he cared. Somehow." Toyama considered this for a moment.

"And you fell in love?" Duo smiled.

"Yes. Kind of..."

"But you didn't tell him?" queried Toyama after a short pause.

"I-- w-we were on a mission. As usual, as usual." Duo tried very hard not to fidget. "I wanted to tell him. But I wasn't sure how. I mean... I always thought I'd meet a nice and beautiful girl someday... I didn't expect to get these-- these feelings towards a guy. You just don't go to your best friend and tell him you l-like him!" 'Shit, what's wrong with me?' cursed Duo mentally. Why was he stammering and stumbling over his words like a teen on his first date??

"Did you feel that Yuy-san had equal feelings?" asked Toyama carefully though he could already guess the answer. Duo gave a short laugh and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees.

"Feelings? Heero Yuy? No. Honestly. That's why I hesitated. I mean, sometimes I thought that there... that there was something in his eyes, you know. I wasn't sure. So I didn't say anything." Duo looked at his folded hands thoughtfully. "It was harder when Quatre and Trowa got together, two of the other Gundam pilots, and I always saw them exchanging looks and sometimes quick kisses. I was jealous! I wanted to have that, too. I even considered asking Quatre how they managed, but I didn't have the guts. Then the accident happened and I couldn't tell Heero anymore." Duo took a deep breath and looked at Toyama who was busy taking notes. Finally Toyama raised his head and tipped his pencil against his chin.

"Yes, the accident. Why--" He was interrupted by Shelley's voice shouting for Duo. A few seconds later Shelley opened the door to Toyama's office and poked her head in.

"Good news, Duo!! Heero's awake! You wanna see him?"

"Sure!" answered Duo enthusiastically and sent a pleading look to Toyama.

"We'll continue this talk another time, Maxwell-san." Toyama said. "But I expect you to call me and not just wait until something happens to your friend, okay?" Duo already had the door handle in his hand. He turned and bowed shortly.

"Yes, I promise. Thank you!!" And then he was gone.

*~*~*

Heero swallowed painfully. His throat felt sore and abused, obviously it had suffered the insertion of another respirator tube. He swallowed again, as if it could make the raw feeling go away. What had happened anyway? He didn't remember anything except dreaming of Duo... Duo who hadn't come to see him. Forcefully Heero tore his thoughts away from that sensitive topic and tried to find out why his head felt like it would split in two any moment. When he tried to raise his hand he found that he was restrained, which had him flexing his muscles in rising panic, but his reason told him they had probably done that for his own good, not to hurt him. Though it wasn't as if he could just stand up and walk away anyway.

Suddenly the door slammed open to reveal a breathless Duo, the handle still in his hand. Heero turned his head as best as he could. Duo breathed deeply one last time before he closed the door slowly and carefully behind himself.

"So you're really awake," he said without looking at Heero.

"Aa." Heero replied and frowned, wincing at the sudden pain. Duo nodded slowly and folded his arms over his chest as he stepped to the window and watched the gardens outside. Heero felt uncomfortable and nervous, but he did his best not to let it show. Duo seemed so... distant. He opened his mouth to ask a question, nothing in particular, just something to break the tension, when Duo chuckled softly and unfolded his arms, leaning his forehead against the cool glass of the window.

"Should they have let you die? Heero?" Heero's lips formed a fine line in his face. Duo didn't notice. "Ah, winter. So cold... it's freezing outside, you know?"

"No, I don't." Heero answered stonily, confused by the sudden change. His discomfort intensified.

"Oh... yeah." Duo was still gazing out of the window, a little smile curved his lips. Heero wondered if he had gone insane.

"Duo..."

"Mh?" Duo turned around suddenly, the smile gone, his eyes hard and unreadable. "You want me to get a knife for you? Or some pills? Or just take that pillow and get it over with? Come on, Heero. You have to tell me, I can't --"

"Shut up!" Heero hissed while his fingers held the sheets in an steely grip. He noticed on some subconscious level that he was cold. "Just shut the fuck up." Duo chuckled again, a mocking and yet bitter chuckle.

"Oh yeah. The fool I am! I'm so sorry, Yuy-san. Yuy-san, can I get you anything? A knife? A - "

"DUO!!" roared Heero, losing control and patience. He ignored the pain that burned in his veins to center in his head. But Duo remained unfazed.

"I hate you." he said quietly and looked into Heero's widening eyes. "You must know that I hate you for what I allow you to do to me. Maybe it's true. Maybe I don't love you after all. I wonder. How can it hurt so much inside? Tell me!" Heero was at a loss. His ire had cooled to forgotten ashes, leaving him confused and frightened. Strangely it didn't hurt to admit that.

"I'm sorry," he stated matter-of-factly while he held Duo's gaze.

"That's not enough for me, Heero," whispered Duo with wide eyes. "I can't accept that. If I go now... I'll never come back. You must know that. It's only fair." Deep inside Duo knew that he was far from being fair, but he couldn't help it. Heero just continued to stare at him. A muscle twitched in his jaw.

"Duo." Duo waited patiently, mentally urging Heero desperately to say those words, to show... to ask... But Heero just lay there, silent like a rock. Duo's heart contracted painfully one last time, squeezing the last bit of feeling out of it and leaving only emptiness and determination.

"Fine. It's goodbye then." Duo's lips twitched, trying to form a smile, failing utterly. Heero opened his mouth as if to protest, as Duo turned and crossed the short distance to the door that would lead him out of Heero's life and of a time that would remain in his heart as a memory, a cruel memory of the kind that rise and torment you in those unguarded moments when sleep won't come, but no sound came out. As the door got closer and closer Duo pleaded with Heero in his mind, begging him to ask...

"Duo..." Heero's words were a choked whisper. Duo stopped in his tracks. He wouldn't turn around so easily this time. Like he had already stated, this time it wasn't enough. "Duo... I... Duo..."

"Don't say you're sorry when you just don't know what it is you need." Duo whispered and closed his eyes against the bitterness permeating from his words. Heero's thoughts were jumbled, confused, scared, with a little anger somewhere in there, too.

"What do you want, Heero?" whispered Duo. "What do you want?" Heero stared at his balled fists when his eyes started to burn. Something was choking him, destroying him. His mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out of it. The flood of emotions inside revolted against his control, against his iron grasp on reality. And then the dam broke.

"DUO!" Duo swiveled around, shocked by the force behind the sound of his name.

"GODDAMNED SON OF A BITCH!! ASSHOLE!!!" Heero's voice broke. "IhateyouIhateyouIhateyouIneedyou..."

Duo watched him shake violently, watched him fight for his control, took in silently the telltale shining wetness on Heero's cheek, didn't budge when the torrent of intensity hit him. Heero was breathing hard, clenching the sheets in his fists so hard, that his knuckles had turned white.

"You need me?" whispered Duo again, incredulous. "What for?" Heero just turned his head and stared at him. It took all of Duo's Will power not to take a step back when he was confronted with the hate, the despair and the sadness in those blue eyes.

"I DON'T NEED ANYONE!!" Heero yelled suddenly. One of the white bandages on his head turned a dark red. Duo closed his eyes and raised his head high, so that the hot tears were trailing down into his hair.

"No, you don't need me. You never have. I was just a burden you carried to feel human. Just a reminder of what you were fighting for and against, to be broken, to be tossed away as casually as you tossed away your will to live." Duo opened his eyes again and smiled sadly. "This is your world as much as it is mine, Heero. You are a mere boy. You have a lot to learn." Heero's gaze never wavered when Duo turned to the door a second time. "Maybe you'll grow up one day. Maybe you won't insist on compensating for what you never had when it costs you the freedom to make your own choices." Duo had reached the door. The metal handle was icy under his fingers. "Maybe I'll be back then."

End Part Two

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C&C craved!! ^_^