When the silence did break, nearly two weeks later, it was with the announcement
of a mission. Duo bounced to his feet with some of his old energy, the thought
of battle revitalizing him, and an icy look at Heero kept the other from
speculating on Duo's current ability to pilot his Gundam.
The mission should have been routine, and was, except that Heero had to do most of the work. Duo was inattentive and sloppy, just barely avoiding damage to his beloved Shinigami. When the time came to head out, Deathscythe's flight was jumpy and erratic, and Heero saw the crash landing coming long before it happened. In fact, the Japanese was amazed the American had made it all the way to the safehouse without crashing.
Heero saw Quatre coming bursting out of the doors to meet them, and felt as if a heavy weight had lifted from his shoulders. Quatre was the sociable one, the one who fixed all their problems. He would know what was wrong with Duo, and how to fix it. Heero didn't have to worry about it any more.
After dinner that night, Duo quickly retreated to his room, unwilling
to face the scrutinizing looks of the other pilots. He locked his door and
stripped off his clothes, moving to stand before the floor-to-ceiling mirror
on the closet door.
His violet eyes moved over his reflection with a harsh gaze. Though his bones were showing through just about everywhere, Duo saw only the weight he had left to lose, filling in the hollows in his body with imagined fat. He clenched his fist in the end of his braid, and forced himself to acknowledge the desperate hunger within him, the clamouring for nutrition to sustain himself. He laughed, a horrible hollow sound, and wallowed in his own pain.
"This is right," he murmured, amethyst eyes lit from within with the light of his conviction. "This is MINE, and they can't take it away from me! I WILL do this!" The only answer was his own hunger.
No more missions came through, and though Duo did his best to avoid
spending too much time with the other pilots, that very avoidance drew attention
"Duo? Is something wrong? You've barely touched your dinner," Quatre remarked one night, his voice anxious. "I can have Abdul make something else if you don't like it "
A hint of panic flared in Duo's eyes, even as he casually waved off Quatre's concerns. "Nah, it's great, Quatre. I guess I just pigged out on too much junk food earlier - I'm not very hungry." Heero shot him a sharp look - he knew very well that Duo hadn't touched junk food in months.
"You, not hungry Maxwell? The world must be ending!" Wufei snorted. Duo flashed him a grin.
But Quatre wouldn't be satisfied until he'd seen Duo eat at least half the food on his plate, fussing that Duo would get sick unless he ate properly. Sweating, Duo forced himself to swallow the food, slipping as much into his napkin as he could manage. His starvation-shrunk stomach protested the influx of food, even as his body worked hungrily to digest it. He forced himself not to think of the amount of weight represented in the lush meal Quatre's chef had served them.
By the time he made it back to his room, Duo felt bloated and heavy, and was sick at heart. He hastily stripped and peered anxiously into the mirror, and even though he knew the food wouldn't have converted to fat yet, he imagined he could already see it starting to form.
Duo was practically in tears, hating himself for breaking his promise not to eat. "Baka, baka, baka!" He said softly, collapsing to the floor and pounding his fist into the carpet. His stomach roiled and he felt like he might throw up.
Suddenly his head lifted, his eyes brightening. "That's it!" He exclaimed, dashing to the bathroom. Some of the meal would have been digested already, but he could at least get rid of the rest of it. Leaning over the toilet, he shoved his fingers down his throat until he gagged, then threw up.
Duo heaved until nothing came up but bile, then forced himself to throw up once more for good measure. He staggered to his feet and peered into the mirror in satisfaction.
"This is perfect," he said to himself. "I can eat enough to keep the guys off my back, then just get rid of it before it causes any damage!" His eyes lit up in glee, and he did a little dance of joy around the bathroom.
This began a new cycle. Duo would eat lightly at breakfast and lunch, consuming his allotted food for the day. Then he'd pig out as usual at dinner, munching and chattering away as if there'd never been any question as to his health. Then he'd excuse himself, go to the washroom, relieve himself of his meal, and return to hang out with the others for the evening.
OZ remained quiet, and Duo was thankful, as it meant he didn't have to risk more damage to his beloved Shinigami because of his lowered fighting ability. He didn't even allow himself to go near the Gundam, afraid he'd pass out and hit the self-destruct or something equally damaging if he got into the cockpit.
Finally, one beautiful clear evening, after a particularly rich meal, Quatre all but bounced out of his seat. "Minna, it's a perfect night for star gazing! I've got a telescope on the roof, and there's no trees overhanging and no clouds in the sky! Let's go up!"
Heero and Wufei immediately tried to back out, claiming work, but Quatre was having none of it. "We never get to spend any time together, just being friends and normal boys. It's about time we started. Work on the mission and worshipping Nataku can wait until tomorrow!" Quatre beamed at the boys, and even Heero and Wufei couldn't resist Quatre at his most charming. Reluctantly, they agreed to the outing.
Duo stood. "I'll just be a sec " he started, but before he could excuse himself, Quatre had him by the arm and was dragging him towards the stairs. "Come on, Duo-kun, there's a comet passing by right now and I have to show you you'll love it!"
Duo protested weakly, but Quatre's grip was firm and he seemed bent on dragging the braided boy all the way to the roof. Duo panicked - he had to get to the washroom, he couldn't let all this food sit in his stomach and be digested. He HAD to get away!
Eyes wide and trembling, he stumbled along behind Quatre, with the other three following behind. He desperately tried to think of an excuse, all the while feeling as if every second meant pounds added to his frame. Finally, desperate to rid himself of the heavy, bloated feeling in his stomach, he tore himself from Quatre's grip and dashed back down the stairs to his room.
In the bathroom, he rammed his hand down his throat, choking and gagging on his own fingers. He sobbed while relieving himself of his dinner, curling around the toilet bowl almost protectively.
Cool hands soothed his forehead, and when he was finished, he looked up to see Quatre's worried blue eyes regarding him. Beyond him, he could see Heero in the doorway, his normally stone-faced countenance showing evidence of worry for his friend.
"I thought this might be what was wrong," Quatre spoke softly, cradling Duo's head against his chest. "One of my older sisters went through this, when I was about ten. Oh, Duo, Duo, why are you doing this to yourself?"
Duo sobbed into Quatre's shirt, gasping out an incoherent explanation between breaths. Heero looked confused.
"This is all because you thought you weighed too much? Baka! You were too light to start with."
Quatre hushed him with a look. "This isn't just about weight, Heero. It's a control issue. Duo, it's all right. You don't need to kill yourself to prove that you're in control."
Duo shook his head, trembling, and buried his face in his friend's shoulder. "You don't understand you can't possibly understand.. I need to do this, Quatre, I HAVE to "
Quatre rocked him back and forth gently. "No, you don't, Duo. You're not just hurting yourself, you're hurting us as well. We're your friends, we're here to help you. We've been worried about you. And you're endangering people with your inability to pilot, as well."
Duo cried harder, shudders racking his slim frame. Heero moved forward and put a hesitant hand on his shoulder. "Baka," Heero murmured, but his face held worry and concern.
Quatre lifted him, easily able to handle Duo's starved weight, and carried him into the bedroom. He put Duo on the bed and crawled in beside him, wrapping his arms around the sobbing boy. Heero hesitantly did the same on Duo's other side. From the corner of his eyes, Quatre saw Trowa in the doorway nod and direct Wufei out of the room, leaving the two boys to comfort the American pilot.
Duo cried for nearly an hour, and slowly the story of his obsession slipped out. Quatre murmured reassurances to him, and even Heero managed a gentle word or two. When Duo finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, Quatre and Heero slid from the bed.
Quatre closed the door gently behind him, then turned to face Heero with a little sigh. The normally stoic pilot was practically vibrating with worry for his friend.
"Will he be alright?" Heero asked, fist clenched tightly.
"He should be," Quatre replied. "I'm going to call my sister, the one who went through this. She's here on earth, and not all that far away. She'll be able to help him better than anyone. We're all going to have work hard though, and keep an eye on him, make sure he eats. It's going to be hard."
Heero grunted. "I'll make him eat."
Quatre turned a slightly disapproving look on the other pilot. "Heero, what he needs most right now is reassurance. He needs to know that we care about him, no matter what he looks like. That gaining weight doesn't mean he's not in control of himself. You're going to have to be very gentle with him - he's closest to you."
Heero's eyes softened imperceptibly, in a way Quatre had never seen before. "Baka. I don't care what he looks like. I just want him to be okay."
Suddenly Quatre knew that, despite the long struggle ahead of them, Duo would be okay. Heero would be there to watch over him.