PLEASE READ THE WARNINGS IN PART 0 BEFORE YOU READ THIS STORY. I WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY EMOTIONAL TRAUMA IF YOU DO NOT.
Title: Dim Lights
There was one orderly at the desk when I arrived, with one hand he flipped idly through some magazine whose main features seemed to be scantily clad women sprawled across cars. He was resting his chin in the other hand, and he didn't even look up as I approached, mumbling through his fingers, "You'll have to leave your stuff here."
I nodded, expecting as much. With a long-suffering sigh, the man set his magazine aside long enough to gather up my various notebooks and tuck them under the desk.
Heaving himself up from his chair, he walked around the desk to me and I tried not to wince as he ran rough hands over my sides and legs, patting me down. Apparently satisfied, he wrote something on a clipboard before gathering an immense ring of keys and gesturing at me to follow.
He unlocked one large, heavy door and led me down a concrete corridor lined with cells, screams and moans echoing through the one barred opening at the tops of the doors. I was blind to the appearances of these people but I could hear their pain, their insanity, and I pulled my coat a little tighter around myself, hurrying to follow the orderly.
"We keep him restrained pretty much 24/7," he said in a bored tone. "The last time we let him loose, we caught him trying tear his wrists open with his teeth, so..."
"Yes, thank you," I interrupted. I knew what I was getting into and I hardly needed him to remind me.
One twist of a key and I found myself standing in one of those cells, the steel door closing behind me with an all too final clang. "Scream if you need me," the orderly said, and shuffled back towards the front desk.
I could barely see in the dim gloom of the cell, and I squinted into the darkness, unwilling to move forward until I knew where its main occupant was. "Sir?" I called softly. "Can you hear me? Sir?"
"You aren't one of the regular guards." I stifled a startled cry with my hand, whirling in the direction of that raspy voice. "Are you one of them?" he asked. Such a voice as I had never heard; low, grating and I could only wonder when it was he'd last used it for anything but screaming.
Steeling myself, I took a wary step forward. "Them who, sir?"
I'd come too far to back away from this now, and I moved forward determinedly. "Mr. Maxwell?" I asked. It echoed harshly in the confines of the cell and I softened my voice. "Duo? Are you Duo Maxwell?"
The laughter was unexpected, and I flinched in spite of myself. "Well, that takes us back, doesn't it?"
"Mr. Maxwell," I continued doggedly, "I'm here to interview you. I need some answers."
"There are wolves in the henhouse," he sang out, suddenly, nearly shrieking the words. "Oh, Lord, oh Lord, there are wolves in the henhouse, oh, Hallelujah!"
Then I saw him.
Little more than a dirty smear of white in the darkness of the room, but as I stepped closer I could see the outline of his straightjacket. He was rocking back and forth, his hair, long, stringy, matted in some places, was tangled around him like a shroud. I wondered briefly why the orderlies hadn't shaved his head like they do with most of the other patients until I realized that there was a strip down one side that was much shorter than the rest. Apparently, they had tried to shave it once and Mr. Maxwell must have had other ideas.
I couldn't see his eyes very clearly in this dim light, but they seemed not to focus, the unseeing gaze of an infant, and I wondered if he was blind.
The taste of fear was heavy in my mouth, copper-penny warm but I moved forward regardless, kneeling on the cold, rotten cushioning that made up the floor of this place. He was still rocking, hitting the back of his head on the padded wall with each shift backwards. "Mr. Maxwell," I whispered to him, urgently. "Mr. Maxwell, I need your help.
He stopped abruptly and I bit my tongue, forcing myself not to flee from him. This close to him I could see the streaks of dirt lining his face, caked into the corners of his mouth. The stink of him was strong in my nostrils, as if the orderlies hadn't bothered to bathe him for a year. Perhaps they hadn't. Still, I could almost see a shadow of what he might have been once, young, handsome. Perhaps. I was studying him so intently that I started when he finally spoke.
"You," he began, low and hoarse. "Do you know what it's like in here? I haven't seen the sun for three years. There's no parole, no time off for good behavior. My last psyche test consisted of me going down on a fat, sweaty guy who stank of piss." He grinned suddenly, and I shivered to see it. "But they don't try that with me anymore." He clicked his teeth loudly, and I winced in spite of myself. "I used to have space, an entire fucking galaxy balanced right in front of my eyes. And now I have this and I am this. So tell me, -friend-," he sneered the word, "Why should I help you?"
I listened to him speak with something akin to awe. The first sign of sanity I had seen since I walked into this cell and it gave me hope. "Because if you help me, I will find a way to get you out of here, Duo Maxwell."
His breath hissed sharply between his teeth. One of his legs began to bounce up and down, a nervous gesture and I waited, patiently, until he spoke again.
"What do you want to know?" he asked gratingly.
Setting aside my distaste, I shifted to sit on the floor, hoping very much that there wasn't anything else living in this cell. "Tell me who 'they' are."
He laughed again, but I controlled my flinch this time, listening intently as he began. "They kept us busy with their little Preventers," he said, laughter still ringing in his voice. "Because they knew that if anyone could find out what they were up to, it would be us. And they were right. In the end it was Heero who..." His voice trailed off into silence and he hunched over and into himself before he again began to rock.
I thought I'd lost him then. Our interview was over and yet I'd still found nothing. I stayed out of desperation, staring at him as if by my will alone he might speak again. He stilled after a moment, and I heard a sound, nearly a sob as he said that name again. "Heero."
Then he seemed to recover somewhat, and he began again. "There were five of us in the beginning. We'd survived one war and the early stages of another. And we were fools," Bitterness of the likes I had never heard, and I couldn't have left his side now if someone had demanded it of me. Lost in the story web he was spinning, I sat there and listened. "Death had spat us back so many times that I think we began to see ourselves as immortals." Again, he laughed, high and bittersweet. "Little did we know that he was only waiting for the right time."
"Quatre was the first to go, an assassination of the heir to the Winner family fortune. Tragic, don't you think?" he said softly, mockingly. "Some lucky photographer got a lovely picture of one of his sisters, splattered with his blood and clutching his body while she screamed and screamed. It was plastered all over the papers for days...but none of those papers seemed to catch wind of the young circus performer who died a few days later."
"We suspected after Quatre, but after Trowa, we knew. And we got out. Only it's hard to hide when you don't know who or what you're hiding from. Wufei went his own way, same as always, and Heero and I took to the hills together. I figured if he was the one who wanted me dead there wasn't much I could do to stop it. I..." he hesitated, shaking his head slightly. "I don't know what he figured."
"We heard later that Wufei was dead three days after we fled. Found him in a motel somewhere, I guess. The official story is he committed suicide. Couldn't handle living after his family was dead. And then Heero..."
He seemed to be choking on words, not knowing which ones to say first, and I reached out unconsciously to him before I realized what I was doing and snatched my hand back. Mr. Maxwell was being polite enough right now but that didn't make him safe. He finally wrestled the words out, painfully, it seemed. "He was the one who finally found out the truth."
"And what is the truth, Mr. Maxwell?" I asked, softly, and he exploded, lunging slightly towards me as his anger suddenly erupted from within.
"That peace is just some fucked up fairy tale!" he shouted, and I scrambled backwards away from his rage. "And that we were stupid enough, desperate enough to believe it! Because we wanted so much for it to be true...oh, God..."
He was sobbing now, and I crept closer, watching tears wash clean trails down his cheeks. "He said it was his fault," he choked out. "His unfinished mission and that he would take care of it. I never saw him again so I know he's dead. I know."
"Mr. Maxwell," I began.
"You don't get it, do you?" he snarled. "It's all a sham; there are no true pacifists! The Sank kingdom is preaching to destroy weapons, total pacifism while they are stockpiling every fucking weapon known to God. By the time they are done with the world, they'll be able to take it over with a butter knife. The side with the guns is going to win, I'll tell you that."
"Didn't you tell anyone?"
He convulsed with laughter, screamed with it and I took another step back, fear rising again at the back of my throat. "Why the hell do you think I'm in here? Who is going to believe the insane ranting of a lunatic? Post-War traumatic stress syndrome, they called it. No one believed me..." The laughter faded and he said it again, softly. "No one."
"I believe you."
He said nothing for a moment, utterly still, and then he raised his eyes to mine, cool, violet, -sane- eyes as he looked at me through the dirty strands of his hair. "Yes," he said softly, nodding. "Of course you do, Relena." He closed his eyes then, and smiled. "I gave you what you wanted. Now give me what you promised."
Money is an interesting thing. It bought things, people, nations...and it could bribe an underpaid orderly to ignore one hard lump at the base of the spine, and as I sighted down the barrel of my gun at his heart, I hoped very much that I didn't get any blood on my new shoes.