Here's the final (hopefully) rewrite of Stigmata. Feedback o kudasai! Let me know if this is a leetle less confusing than the first version. Thankee thankee!
"You ok over there, Fei?" Duo grabbed his coffee out of the cup holder next to him and took a dubious sniff. It smelled terrible. "Christ."
"Yeah." Wufei grimaced as he took a sip out of his own styrofoam cup. "I don't know how you Americans not only drink this?stuff, but actually seem to thrive on it." He was still sweating; it was beading on his forehead. "It's a wonder you made it through the war without getting poisoned by your own drink."
Ignoring the insult to his drug of choice had become second nature years before. "You're still looking a little shaky." Duo said. "You sure?" He glanced quickly over, keeping just enough attention on the road to keep from drifting lanes. All around him, brake lights were flaring to life as the other cars on the highway suddenly realized that there was a law enforcement vehicle in their midst. Duo had always found that particular reaction amusing; the Preventers never had anything to do with traffic control, but people still felt the need to suddenly obey the rules of the road whenever they came around.
Wufei scowled. "You can stop it already. What is it you keep telling me? Oh yes? 'You're not my mother, your tits aren't big enough.'"
"Whatever. I'm not the one that just puked all over the Prime Minister's desk."
"You're not going to let me forget that, are you."
Duo grinned as he changed lanes around a SUV that had suddenly decided ten miles an hour under the speed limit was a good idea. "Not ever. Payback's a bitch."
"Look, it was either vomit on you, vomit on the Prime Minister herself, or grace her desk. I think I picked the lesser of evils."
"Tell that to Relena. You're a dead man if she catches up with you."
"I think I can run faster than her." Wufei slumped in his seat. It was easy to tell how embarrassed he was; there was a light blush coloring his cheeks. Duo knew for a fact that Wufei had a bit of a thing for the Prime Minister-he'd been teasing his partner about it unmercifully for the last several months.
"That won't do you much good unless you can manage a couple thousand feet per second." Duo grinned. "Heero's been taking her shooting, I've heard."
The only answer was a pained moan as Wufei leaned forward in his seat.
"You sure you're ok?"
Wufei's face went from flushed to pale and doughy; sweat was starting to soak into the collar of his uniform. "I'm fine."
"No you're not."
"Shut up." Wufei said.
"Come on man, talk to me." Duo swerved around a minivan, barely missing its rear bumper. The sudden movement brought a green tinge to Wufei's face.
"Pay attention to the road, would you?"
"Sorry!" Duo quickly looked to the front. "You're not looking so good."
"You're acting like you're sick, 'Fei. Considering how into the while 'manly martial artist, can't show pain thing,' you are, that says you're full of shit."
"Let's just get home, ok?"
For a long, long moment, Duo stared at the white and yellow lines of the highway rushing past them. Finally, he said, "No." He grabbed the radio, barely snagging it before Wufei could. "Unit five-two to station."
"Damnit, I said let's just go home!" Wufei made another grab for the mic. He was easy to fend off; his hands were shaking badly and his grip was weak.
"Stubborn asshole." Duo muttered as the radio crackled into life.
"Go ahead." Said a tinny female voice.
"Hey Noin, we're going out of service. I'm taking Wufei to Memorial
"Kisama..." Wufei growled.
"What was that, Duo? I couldn't hear."
"Wufei said a dirty word." Duo laughed. "He's feeling kind of cranky." He punched down on the accelerator, speeding to the off ramp that led to the hospital.
"Do you need ambulance assistance, Duo?"
"No, I'll be ok to get him there."
"Acknowledged. Let us know how he is when you get there. Out."
Duo returned the radio to its cradle with a defiant look. "I win."
Wufei's glare was most eloquent. "I'm going to beat some manners into you."
"As long as you live that long, I'll be happy to let you try." Duo guided the car off the highway. "Just hang on. We'll be there in another minute or so."
When they arrived at the hospital, Duo pulled in across three handicapped spots near the front door. He had a feeling that the hospital staff wasn't going to object--Wufei only looked worse; he was resting his forehead on his knees, no longer able to sit up straight. "You hang tight. I'll be right back." He shoved the cruiser's door open with his foot and ran to the hospital's entrance.
The minute he entered the doors, he grabbed the first nurse he saw by the arm. "I need help--my partner's looking like he's about ready to croak in the front seat."
That was all it took. The next instant, a swarm of people wearing green and pink uniforms went streaming out the door. Duo followed them, just doing his best to stay out of the way as they hauled Wufei out of the car, put him on a stretcher and started to wheel him away. Sharp pain jabbed through Duo's leg as he turned to follow them; all that saved him from falling to his knees was a quick grab at one of the handicapped parking signs. There was blood running freely down his leg from a gaping hole mid-thigh, soaking into his tan pants and making them shine in the light cast by the street lamps. Duo reached down toward his leg, trying to cover the wound with a shaking hand. "What the fuck?"
The last nurse to leave closed the car's door with a loud bang-
"--you even CARE?" A woman nearly screamed, still standing next to the door that she'd just slammed shut.
Duo blinked, trying to clear his eyes of the lingering image of green uniformed nurses scurrying away. "What?"
"Haven't you been listening to me?" the woman demanded, combing a distracted hand through her black hair. Her fingers caught on a knot, and she jerked them out, pulling out a few hairs in the process. "Damnit...if you don't start listening, nothing will ever get better!"
Black hair. Black hair like - Duo blinked again, trying to figure out why he'd had such a hard time recognizing his own wife. "I am paying attention, Hilde. I just had a headache there for a minute."
"A headache. Of course." Hilde covered her eyes with one hand. "Of course, because you're hung over, just like normal. I can't take this any more."
"Calm down babe, ok?" Duo backed away from her until his legs encountered the dining room table. He sat down on the edge, one hand automatically feeling for the bottle of whiskey that he knew was somewhere close.
"What the hell are you doing?" She dropped her hand. "Can't you go five minutes without a drink? What happened to you?"
"Nothing. What's the problem?"
"You said you were listening!"
Duo shrugged. "Then explain it to me again, ok? I guess I didn't understand it the first time."
"I can't believe I'm doing this." Hilde sniffled loudly. "Look, you have a problem. Every night, you come home and get drunk. I'm sick of it, ok? I'm sick of pretending that there isn't anything wrong. You broke my china cabinet yesterday."
He sighed. "I--I just need the help to sleep. Please, Hilde, there's no other way I can sleep any more."
"That's it? You're not even going to try?"
"You can't even admit something's wrong, can you."
"Nothing is wrong. Everything's just fine."
"No, it's not." Hilde covered her eyes with her hands. "It wasn't your fault. You have to believe me. It wasn't your fault." Tears were sliding down her cheeks now "Please, Wufei..."
"What?" Duo looked up at Hilde. "What are you talking about? What happened to Wufei?" He felt panic begin to set in. Had Wufei made it out of the hospital ok? He couldn't remember.
She continued as if she hadn't heard him. "You can't keep blaming yourself like this. If you don't stop, you're going to end up inside a bottle for the rest of your life."
The whiskey bottle that had been next to him toppled, soaking his pants with room-temperature alcohol. "Damnit!" He looked down to find that the liquid on the table was red. He touched it with a shaking hand. "Hilde? What's going on?"
"--so until you do, I have to say goodbye." She finished, turning away from him even as he reached toward her with a red-coated palm.
"Hilde!" He jerked as pain exploded in his shoulder.
The door slammed shut behind her with a loud bang.
A few people in the waiting room clapped dryly as the embarrassed nurse began to pick up the metal tray she'd dropped. Duo was one of the ones clapping. The nurse, who was short and had her curly black hair pulled into two pigtails, dropped a mock curtsey to the crowd before she scurried off, her cheeks almost glowing red.
Duo was about to return his attention to the eleven-year-old national geographic he had picked up when there was a hesitant tug on his sleeve. He looked up, keeping a pleasant smile on his face. There was a little girl standing next to him. She smiled back, revealing a large gap where three of her front teeth should have been. "Are you a p'lice officer?"
He tapped the shield hanging from the pocket of his tan shirt. "Not quite. I'm a Preventer, see? What's up, honey?"
She giggled. "You gots a real gun?"
"Yeah." He reached under his arm and tapped the grip of his gun. "See?" The metal was warm under his fingers, and very familiar. Idly, his fingers traced the initials incised in the metal. 'Wu?' That wasn't right. He jerked his fingers away from the gun as if burned.
"You shoot people with it?" The little girl asked.
He cleared his throat in an attempt to recover from his confusion. "Well, yeah - but only really bad people.""
Instead of being intimidated like he'd expected, she gave him an even wider grin. "Cool. Just like TV. You tell 'em to freeze, right? Reach for the sky!"
This time, he laughed. "Not quite - but close enough."
"Thanks, officer!" She laughed with him, then pulled a cellophane wrapper out of her pocket. There was an extremely squashed, but still relatively whole Ding Dong in it. "Here ya go."
Not quite sure what to do, Duo allowed the girl to deposit the snack in his hand. It was still warm from being in her pocket. "Thanks--" She was already gone, skipping across the waiting room and yelling, "See, I told ya, he is a p'lice officer!" to a couple he could only assume were her parents.
Aware that the little girl still might be watching, he tucked the flattened Ding Dong into his breast pocket before going back to his magazine. He flipped through it quickly, looking for pictures of topless native women. If there had been any, some horny teenager had ripped them out before he could get to them. Frustrated, he put the magazine down and rested his hands on his legs. It wouldn't be too much longer before they'd let him come in and see Wufei, then he could get back to work. He'd never liked hospitals; it was probably the smell that got him the most.
His pants leg squished unpleasantly under his hand. It was slick with blood. "The fuck?" He began to stand when pain struck him in the chest, knocking him back into the chairs. The shield he'd shown the little girl so proudly a moment ago fell free. There was no crack; it simply split in half, both warped pieces of it skittering across the floor, one ending up under a chair.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
He couldn't breathe.
One hand reached up, clutching for the front of his shirt. His fingers found no hint of fabric, only a gaping hole. "What?" he gasped. Hot tears were running from his eyes, pulled free by pain and disbelief.
No one looked up.
"Trauma team activate." A dispassionate voice announced, just as the doors to the ER were flung open and two paramedics ran though full tilt. The person on their stretcher was wearing a tan uniform and had a long rope of hair. Both were soaked with blood.
One of the doors hit the wall behind it with a loud, final bang.
He stared at the metal bank of freezers, unable to feel, or forget, or even think as he watched the door shut.
"I'm sorry." He heard himself say. "I failed. I wasn't there to watch out for you." He leaned forward and rested his forehead on the cold metal of the door, drowning in an emotion that was now all too familiar.
After a long moment of silent communion, he turned and left, pulling his wheeled IV stand along next to him. The stitches in his lower stomach forced him to shuffle along; his slumped, hollow shoulders made him into an old man. "Duo, you idiot."
The morgue's door shut behind him with a soft click.