Crossing Paths Arc: Part 16

Part 16: Crux
by Kracken

Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't make any money off of this
Warnings: Male/Male sex. Graphic. Language. Violence. Very strong content in this one, so if you are sensitive please proceed with caution!

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"Why won't you tell me where you put them?" Duo asked in agitation. "You said that you wouldn't hide them from me!"

Heero's face was almost expressionless, trying to project calm for Duo's benefit, but he couldn't keep the worry off of it completely as he replied, "You know that it is necessary, Duo. They had to be modified so that your dosage can be stepped down, but, if I made the remainder available to you, you would try to take more."

"Modified" Duo echoed that one word, fearfully, knowing what that meant. His hands clutched strong arms not his own in reaction. Those arms held him tighter, forestalling any sudden, or violent moves.

Sitting in a chair by the table, it was Trowa that Duo was locked in an embrace with, the slim, wiry acrobat standing behind him and crouching to keep him in his seat. Panting with growing alarm, Duo could hear a calming, "Shhh," from Trowa in his ear.

"Duo, it will be all right!" Quatre said from across the room. He was rubbing at the center of his chest, feeling the tension in the room keenly. Both he and Heero had declined to be the one's to keep Duo under control, both of them strong enough to break bone accidentally if Duo became too wild. Trowa was larger than Duo, but very slim and very attuned to his body because of the fine acrobatic work that he did at the circus. He easily held Duo in place, yet managed not to hurt him in the process.

Wu Fei stepped forward, face very stern. He met eyes with Duo and said, "A crossroads has come into your life, Maxwell. It's time to prove just how strong you are in body and mind. We have been preparing you for this moment, but it is up to you to take the next step. Calm your mind. Calm your heart. Do what you know must be done and don't hinder or curse Heero for helping you."

"It's going to hurt!" Those words erupted from Duo before he could stop them and a tear slipped down one cheek from his amethyst eyes. Duo shook the tear away, ducking his head, feeling ashamed by it and his plaintive outburst, yet unable to stop the flow of more tears.

Wu Fei was quiet for a moment and then he said, "It is your trial by fire. You've had them before and passed each time. The pills make you weak. They make you a toy for your enemies. You sit and cry and whimper like a beaten dog. Where is your pride? Where is your courage? Where is the man, Duo Maxwell? Find him and triumph over your enemies."

Duo wiped his face on his sleeve by roughly raking his cheek over it sideways. He was dressed in a black, cotton nightshirt, knowing that street clothes were going to be out of the question considering what state he was soon to be in. Everything dangerous or breakable had been removed from his room. A pair of cushioned handcuffs adorned the bed frame. His friends had gathered. He was about to be denied a full dose of medication. The pain was going to start. Wu Fei was telling him-telling him... "I won't be a chicken shit and back out!" Duo stated fiercely and raised his head, glaring at Heero. "Give me the dose, Heero, but you better freakin' take care of me!"

"Always," Heero replied, just as fierce. Duo grinned at him, a man looking death in the eye, and Heero grinned back; soldiers ready for battle.

"Close your eyes," Wu Fei told Duo. "It will be easier if you deny your mind the visual stimulation to reinforce your mental and physical reaction."

Trowa suddenly surprised everyone by saying, "I do not like this!"

"What?!" Quatre exclaimed, blue eyes wide with confusion. "Why, Trowa?"

"I feel that Duo is being forced," Trowa explained, agitation coloring his voice. He began to loosen his grip. "He seems to be backing out and you are shaming him into continuing."

"No," Duo replied firmly, struggling against the rising urge to take the opportunity for escape that Trowa was giving him. He closed his eyes, instead, and put hands on Trowa's arms to keep them in place. "I need to be forced," he explained almost angrily, voice rough with emotion. "The addiction is forcing me to live the life I've led up until now, Trowa. Can you understand that? It won't let me change without a fight, without help, without someone forcing me and being stronger than the pills. Please... do that for me, Trowa."

Duo had never considered Trowa a friend. They had interacted very little during the war, the almost silent man as much a mystery then as now. When Duo felt Trowa nod against his hair and the man's arms tighten on him once again, Duo wondered at the shared experience of blood and war that could make comrades out of even such different personalities as theirs. For four years they had all denied that bond that went deeper than like or dislike, but now, in that crisis, it was being renewed.

Duo didn't have any option then, but to wait, feeling as if it were at his execution and the firing squad was being reluctant. He heard shuffling, Quatre cough, Wu Fei mutter something, and then Heero was very close and saying, "Here are your pills, Duo," and placing them in Duo's hand. The execution was being carried out at last and Duo was being given the opportunity to participate in it.

Trowa shifted his grip to allow Duo to swallow the pills, yet Duo remained frozen while sensitive fingers felt the odd shapes of the pills and his mind realized that Heero had cut them down to reduce their potency. It wasn't his ritual, his mind clambered in alarm. It wasn't the pills he knew he needed to take. Duo began to panic and watched himself do it as if he were outside of his body and only a spectator. He couldn't help tensing against Trowa's arms. He couldn't help shivering or slow the rapid speed of his heart. All of Wu Fei's training was blown away by the force of rising agitation; by an addict's reaction to being denied his full fix.

"Swallow the pills!" Wu Fei urged and pushed Duo's hand up to his mouth, "Don't think!"

Duo obeyed in part. He needed the fix more than he needed the ritual, so he swallowed the pills with difficulty, Heero handing him a plastic cup of cold water to wash them down with. His body sighed with relief, thinking that it was getting what it needed, yet Duo couldn't follow the second half of Wu Fei's order. He couldn't not think. He couldn't not realize that he hadn't taken a full dose

Duo opened his eyes and stared at his comrades. They were staring back, anxious, yet cautious. Heero was still very close, leaning down, cobalt blue eyes wells of concern. "I'm fine," Duo said with a grin and then, patting Trowa's hands, he added, "You can let go, Trowa. I guess this isn't too far along yet to really bother me."

Hard on the heels of that, Wu Fei said quickly in warning, "He's lying!" He scowled at Duo, snapping, "You were never good at lying, Maxwell, so don't start now."

Duo felt the panic rising again. He needed to convince them. He needed them to believe what he was saying, "I am all right!" he insisted, measuring out each word and trying to stay calm, "Let me go!"

Trowa asked the others uncertainly, as unconvinced as Wu Fei, "What now?"

"I think he'll be all right once the pills enter his system," Heero replied. "He should be restrained until then."

"Hey, guys!" Duo protested, still smiling, but unable to keep his attempt at a humorous tone from having an angry bite. "I told you, I'm all right!"

"And I said that you are a poor liar," Wu Fei snorted. He leaned down to be at Duo's level, black eyes critical. "Admit it," he demanded, "You want to be free so that you can search for your pills. If we release you, you will tear Quatre's estate apart looking for them, won't you?"

Duo's smile dropped, all pretense drying up and fear beginning to raise it's ugly head. Wu Fei had stated his exact thoughts. Duo glared. "Not that I'd find them, right?" he bit out. "Heero probably has them strapped to his shorts."

Heero grunted involuntarily in sour amusement, but he was serious again in the next instant as he stated confidently, "You won't find your pills, so be reasonable and don't try looking for them, Duo."

"Reason has nothing to do with it," Wu Fei said with a knowing, clinical air as he looked at Duo keenly, "Am I correct, Maxwell?"

Duo nodded, once, short and sharp, feeling ashamed again as he was forced to admit, "Yeah, I'll look anyway. I can't help it."

"Then someone should stay with him at all times to keep him from doing that and, maybe, hurting himself and others," Quatre suggested anxiously, imagining a trained Gundam pilot, killer, and terrorist, wandering his home in a state of violent, mental meltdown. "I'll inform the servants-"

"No!" Heero cut him off quickly in a tone that didn't invite argument. "I promised to take care of him and I will."

"And you won't need to sleep, Yuy?" Wu Fei wondered with a sarcastic raise of a dark brow. "You will accept my assistance. It is a logical arrangement, since you will have to continue his physical training, while I must pursue Maxwell's mental training."

"I will assist as well," Trowa said in Duo's ear, "You may need him restrained again. He has bones like a bird and not much fat to cushion them. We can't risk the added stress and trauma of a broken bone at this point."

"I am in the room, guys!" Duo snarled. "You don't have to act like I'm not here!" He pulled sharply against Trowa's arms, unable to help his rising anxiety, but Trowa held him easily in place.

Duo needed to find his pills. That unreasoning urge began to beat at him like a strong surf and that, coupled with a sudden feeling of being trapped and helpless, began to wash away at mental stability. Denied a physical means of escape, Duo resorted to the weapon of words, thrusting them into the hearts of his friends in an attempt to gain his freedom, not caring what he said in his growing fear and agitation; wanting release at all costs.

"You're all just a bunch of hypocrites anyway!" Duo accused viciously. "You're just helping out crazy Maxwell because you feel guilty that you turned your backs on me for so long! Where were you when all of this started, huh? Ignoring your past and trying to forget all the times that I saved your lives in the war? Shaking your heads that old Duo Maxwell turned out to be just what you expected; L2 trash? Well, fuck all of you anyway! Let me the Hell loose and don't let the door hit you in the ass!"

"Duo!" Heero said sharply. Duo glared, breathing hard, and Heero's expression of surprise, mingled with shock, brought him back to himself enough to feel the bite of shame, yet he couldn't stop the voice inside of him that told him that he needed his pills more than anything else just then, including his friends. "You know how things were after the war," Heero continued, setting the record straight, refusing to let Duo change it for any reason. "If you're going to blame us, then you have to blame yourself too. You are just as guilty of ignoring your comrades and trying to find a 'normal' life. You are only saying such things so that we will be angry enough to release you. That's not going to happen."

Duo swallowed hard, lowering his head and hiding behind his chestnut bangs. He tried to think of another way, another plan, that would gain him his release, but the others were unmoved, silent sentinels that stood about him like statues, waiting. After a time, as the pills slowly entered Duo's system, he felt the familiar, calming haze of his medication overtake him. His panic began to recede and so too his unstable and unreasonable fear and need to find his pills. While the medication robbed him of clarity in some areas, it granted him the opposite in others. Duo suddenly, and brutally, had his previous actions and words brought into sharp relief.

Duo groaned in anguish, his stomach twisting into such a hard knot of realization that he felt ready to be ill. He shook his head sharply, knowing that any apology was useless, that he could never recall the hateful words that he had uttered or erase from the mind's of the others his moment of pathetic failure to keep control of his panic; his need for his drugs. Duo shouted to his friends, to the world, but mostly to himself, "I am such a weak, useless, bastard!"

"We will work on your lessons," Wu Fei said patiently, "and you will learn to be less of one", as if Duo were simply a petulant student and not a man on the verge of mental and physical disintegration. Duo wanted to believe him, had to believe him. It was the only hope he had.

"Our mole at the Winner Estate has reported that all of the pilots are in residence and that they are in the process of helping Duo Maxwell to disobey government orders, Senator Santoro. He has gathered enough proof to support his claim. We can move against them at any time."

Santoro rubbed a thumb across the thick scar on his face and grinned at the tall Alliance officer. "We will wait. When the withdrawal symptoms hit their hardest, Duo Maxwell will sing like a bird to get more of the medication. I don't have any doubt that he'll testify against his own comrades."

The officer didn't appear to be so certain. "I've heard that the Gundam pilots were intensely trained in all areas of war, sir, are you so certain that Maxwell won't over come his addiction?"

The Senator lowered his hand to clutch at a gold cross hanging by a gold chain around his neck. "The drugs he was given came out of Oz's best war labs. They were made to break men. They will break Duo Maxwell." He grinned. "I will take great pleasure in crushing what's left of him, and the other pilots, under my heel!"

The officer smiled in eager anticipation. "I look forward to seeing that, Senator"

Duo rocked, shivering, teeth gritted and eyes wide and staring hard at Heero. Knees drawn up to his chest, he had his arms wrapped about them, sweat running down into the collar of his wrinkled and dirty night shirt.

Duo pulled ineffectually at the handcuff around one wrist. It rattled against the iron headboard and Heero looked at him automatically at the sound, lowering the book he had been reading. Sitting in a nearby chair, he had rarely left it, or Duo's side in three days.

The doctor dropped Duo's unbound wrist. "His pulse is erratic," he announced to Heero, "His heart and liver scans show tremendous stress already. Couple that with fluctuating hormone levels and my prognosis isn't good. I know that you will reject my recommendation, but I'm duty bound to give it. Put Captain Maxwell back on his pills. There is still time to avoid any long term, or even fatal, damage."

"Thank you, Doctor Kinson," Heero replied noncommittally.

The doctor sighed, as he picked up his equipment and charts. "A body wasn't meant to endure these kind of stresses, Captain Yuy," he informed Heero. "He can't win this battle."

"Duo can," Wu Fei corrected. Leaning against a wall, with his arms crossed over his breast, he looked at the doctor as if the man were beneath contempt for his weak view of the situation. "You can't imagine the training we have all endured. Four years hasn't erased it from Duo's memory. He will use that training to overcome the effects."

"I hope, for his sake, that you're right," Doctor Kinson snapped back angrily, "But I will report my findings to Quatre Winner. He may decide differently."

"Duo has decided for himself," Heero told the doctor with an edge of warning in his voice. "Don't interfere."

"Don't threaten me!" the doctor exclaimed angrily, but he was going towards the door more quickly. "I will do what is best for my patient."

"We will do what is best for our friend," Heero assured him.

"When is 'letting him die slowly and painfully' best for him?" Doctor Kinson shot back, but was wise enough to make his exit at the same time and close the door quickly behind himself.

"Yeah, what he said!" Duo panted, acknowledging at last that he was aware of what was going on around him.

Wu Fei scowled, knowing that he couldn't show weakness for Duo's sake. He settled on the bed, back straight and eyes telling Duo that he wouldn't accept anything but abeyance. "We restrained you while an untrained civilian was in the room, but, now that he's gone, we can release you again. If you try to harm either one of us, you know that we are very capable of putting you in restraints again."

Duo gave a shaky nod and Wu Fei unlocked his wrist cuff. Duo rubbed at his freed wrist and shivered all over convulsively as he complained, "I feel like my veins are on fire... like my brain is full of bugs, crawling around, eating me alive. My bones hurt. My muscles ache. I-I don't want to do anymore exercises. Don't- don't ask me to do them, k?"

"I'm not asking you," Wu Fei replied, moved inwardly by Duo's brittle appearance, his nervous, twitching, shivering, body and his obvious mental distress, but outwardly as hard as stone and as unmerciful. "Go to level two meditative state and then visualize your heart," he ordered. "We will work on slowing the beat. It will help you to calm down."

"Heero!" Duo made his voice as needy and as plaintive as possible, even reaching out to Heero with a supplicating hand, "I just want to be left alone. I'm so tired and everything hurts! Can't I go outside for a little while? Can't you trust me just a little? I won't do anything. I'll just sit in the garden and get some sunshine. I-I-"

"Promise?" Heero finished, his hands clenched around the book in his lap. "Don't use that word when you know you don't mean it. We can never have a relationship if we can't trust one another."

Wu Fei looked from Heero to Duo with a raised eyebrow, maybe not having realized how deeply Heero's and Duo's relationship was until then. He grunted and said, "Well, Maxwell, I don't have such EMOTIONS for you to cloud my judgment and I'm not fool enough to believe anything you say in the state you're in. Try and convince Yuy all you wish, but I will remain unmoved. I shall be the calmer head in this matter." He looked hard at Heero as he finished, "and, I suggest Yuy, that you defer to me from this moment forward so that your personal feelings don't interfere with Duo's recovery."

That hit Heero hard, Duo could see. Heero's jaw clenched tight and he looked as if he had been kicked in the gut. Duo could imagine how hard it was for a person like Heero, who prided himself on his total commitment to a mission, and his ability to shut off all humanity at will, to be told that he was too emotional to be trusted.

"I agree," Heero replied and it sounded as if he had dredged those two words out of the bottom of his being.

Duo winced and tightened his grip on his knees, bowing his forehead against them and taking a shuddering breath. He took control of himself as much as he could and then looked up again, face drawn, pale, yet determined as he said, "I'm sorry, Heero. I want to say that before... before I can't any more."

Heero dropped his book on the chair as he rose and walked over to Duo. He pried Duo's shaking hand from his knees and gripped it tight. "It doesn't matter what happens or what you say during this time, Duo, I know that you can't help it."

Duo looked up at Heero and managed a limp smile. "You're so damned handsome, strong, able, and... kind," Duo said softly, "I still can't believe that you want anything to do with me."

Heero's blue eyes sparkled and Duo felt that he was the center of Heero's world as the man pulled up Duo's hand and put it to his lips in an emotional, rough movement. Rubbing his cheek against Duo's palm, he then dropped Duo's hand, with more care than he had his book, as he stepped away again.

"Hmph!" Wu Fei snorted, but it was only a sound to disguise his discomfort at having witnessed the intimacy. "If we can begin now , Duo?"

"Yes," Duo whispered, a soft, mesmerized look on his face as he composed his frail body into an attitude of meditation.

"Senator Santoro."

"Milliardo Peacecraft?"

The platinum blonde brother of Relena Peacecraft stared with hard, blue eyes out of the vid screen at Santoro. "Did you really think that you could report the use of government troops on a civilian estate and avoid my notice?"

Santoro raised innocent eyebrows. "Prince Peacecraft, I was put in charge of policing the veterans of the war, including the ex- Gundam Pilots. I was under the impression that the government, and your sister, had given me complete autonomy in that respect."

Milliardo seemed to be reading something off of another screen. "In your notice, which I suspect you filed to avoid military challenges to your troop movements, you state that you suspect the Gundam pilots of plotting sedition. No where in this filing is there proof of your claim. Where are the Gundam sympathizers? Where are their weapons? Where are the credits funding their operations? If counter alliance activities are suspected, common sense would dictate further surveillance."

"Prince Peacecraft," Santoro replied, his voice as sharp as a whip. "If the government questions my judgment, then I will respectfully cease operations. Since they have not communicated a protest as of yet, I must proceed believing that I have their support and that my actions are justified."

Milliardo seethed, "You didn't file the report with the council! I called you only to confirm your intentions before informing them of the situation and lodging my protest."

Santoro let a long silence hang, wanting to give force to his next statement, wanting his words to sink deep like a barb into the pale haired aristocrat-soldier, and then he said, "It's been long known, sir, that you are a sympathizer, even, if I may be candid, a lover of Duo Maxwell's. You were found together in a rather.... compromising position when he was arrested for being an anti Alliance sympathizer. While I know that you only had the purist intentions, I'm certain that others will not see it so, and remember that day, when you lodge your protest for my operation."

Milliardo narrowed his eyes and his face went red with anger. He didn't lose his temper, though, and his next words were measured and careful. "I know that you have a personal vendetta against Duo Maxwell. I remember that day when he cut your face."

Santoro touched the thick scar with his thumb, "You mean this one, Prince Peacecraft? I hardly notice it any more. It's not very politic of you to bring it up. We all have scars from the war. We all have to forgive and forget, right, sir?"

"You don't intimidate me, Senator," Milliardo replied coldly.

"I wasn't trying to do that, Sir, but certain truths are inescapable, nonetheless." Santoro motioned to his lieutenant and the man nodded and left the room to begin the operation. Santoro turned his attention back to Milliardo and he smiled. "I'll follow the law, don't worry, sir. They won't be harmed if they cooperate fully."

"I am filing my protest," Milliardo persisted. "The government will send out observers at the very least."

"I will welcome them," Santoro replied pleasantly. "I really must go, now, Prince Peacecraft. If you will allow me..." Milliardo cut the connection without saying goodbye. Santoro's smile widened. "Go ahead and send your observers," he chuckled. "Too bad they'll be far too late."

Go to Part 17: Fly

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