Crossing Paths Arc: Part 19

Part 19: Variations
by Kracken

Disclaimer: Don't own them and don't make any money off of this.
Warnings:Male/Male sex, graphic, violence, language.

"You must be able to do something for him?" begged Quatre's stricken voice.

"I'm afraid not, Mr. Winner," a stranger's voice replied regretfully.

"If it's money-"

"Of course not, sir!" The voice sounded offended. "We do have standards of ethics. Captain Maxwell is simply not a good candidate for either hormone therapy or growth stimulation procedures. Implementing those types of procedures in his state of health might do more harm than good."

"Might?"Quatre echoed.

"Most probably,"the man clarified. "He's simply too old, Mr. Winner."

"I'm not certain how he will react to this news," Quatre said in concern.

"He shouldn't be told at all, Mr. Winner," the man replied quickly. "The body can recover from amazing damage. It is possible that it may correct some things on it's own. Analyzing his percentage of disability, at this point, would be detrimental in the extreme to Captain Maxwell's psyche. He needs a positive attitude to help him to recover from the withdrawal treatments."

"Thank you, Doctor Winston," Quatre sighed. "I think you are right. I will talk to the others. When he hears your diagnosis, Captain Yuy will probably agree with you as well."

"Sir," the Doctor began carefully. "It isn't standard procedure to let a non relative make health decisions for a patient. If Captain Yuy had a Partner Contract with the boy, or even a statement from Captain Maxwell on file giving him the right to make decisions for him, I would feel better about this."

"Captain Maxwell is not a boy," Quatre snapped back. "If you are so worried about his 'positive attitude' you'd better remember that. As for Yuy, they are very close, if you understand me, and Captain Maxwell's return to health is his top priority. He will make decisions that are in Captain Maxwell's best interest."

"Yes, sir," the Doctor replied, but his voice was still colored by doubt.

"I don't think that I have to remind you that our position here is tenuous at best,"Quatre told him sternly. "Things may change at a moment's notice. Duo's treatment has to be concluded as soon as possible."

Duo was through being a silent spectator. He struggled against numbness. Pride stung him. He would make his own health decisions, dammit! It pounded through his brain, that rebellion, and it gave him the push to open his eyes at last and to see what was going on around him.

Duo blinked. His eyelids were crusty and his eyes felt dry. He had trouble focusing. Duo blinked more rapidly, getting his eyes to tear. When his vision cleared enough to see more than a blur, he saw that Quatre and the doctor had gone and that he was not in a hospital. He was surrounded by state of the art machines despite that fact. Solutions dripped slowly from suspended bags into his veins through long tubes and needles. With a small shiver of distaste and anxiety, Duo realized that a tube was down his throat as well and that something was attached to his nose to help him breathe.

Duo pulled the tube out of his throat slowly, gagging and almost throwing up bile as he flung the thing away from him. "Told you, Yuy," he rasped in a voice he hardly recognized as his own, wincing at the raw pain in his throat as he pulled off the breather tube as well, "tubes and breather machines aren't going to keep me alive!"

"I expected this!" Heero exclaimed.

Duo started. "Shit!" he grated. "Make some... make some noise next time, dammit!"

"I tried to be here when you regained consciousness, knowing that the first thing that you would do was to try to damage the very things that were keeping you alive!" Heero growled as he reached for a button that would presumably call the nurse and a team of professionals who would, no doubt, force the tubes back into Duo. Duo caught Heero's hand and squeezed it with a strength that surprised them both, the strength of desperation.

"Heero! Don't!" Duo lost his voice and frantically tried again, forcing the words out of his scraped raw throat. "Please, don't make me live like that!"

Heero pulled his hand back from the button and settled on the edge of the bed, giving Duo a hard look. "It's only for a short time. When you are stable-"

"That- that might not happen," Duo whispered. He let himself sink back into the pillows, drained, exhausted, and as limp as death. "Once in, they don't take them out again. You know that. I could go on for years..."

"You are being foolish," Heero growled, but he was taking Duo's hand in his and staring at it as he roughly caressed it. "I would say 'cowardly', but I know you better than that."

Duo swallowed hard. "I'm glad that you do. C-Could I get a drink?"

"No advisable," Heero replied. "You haven't taken anything in, except intravenously, for over a week."

"A week?"Duo blinked, confused. "What the Hell's been going on?"

Heero smoothed Duo's fingers and made them curl around his own hand. "Milliardo Peacecraft saved us. He knew about the drugs and he knew where a withdrawal treatment could be obtained."

Duo used his free hand to touch his nose. It was sore from the breathing tube. He wondered what he looked like. He felt thin and frail, ready to blow away. He couldn't ask everything that he wanted to know. His throat was too dry, his voice too uncertain. Instead, he kept it simple. First things first. "Doctor. Get him. Have him okay food and water."

Heero nodded, but he didn't move. Duo pulled away his hand impatiently.

"Do as I say,"Duo told him and managed not to sound needy.

"There are things that I have to tell you,"Heero began.

Duo shook his head. It made him dizzy. He shut his eyes again and said, "Later. Food and drink first.... and something for my throat. It hurts."

"Duo, about the raid on Quatre's estate-"Heero persisted, but Duo cut him off again.

"Doctor," Duo demanded.

"Duo!" Heero exploded and Duo opened his eyes too look at him startled.

Heero's blue eyes were shadowed and his face was hollow and pinched from worry and exhaustion. His chocolate hair was a mess, hanging in his eyes and making him look wild. He wore a simple green sweater and black pants. He looked like an ordinary, tired young man, not a war hero who had accomplished more in his short life than men three times his age.

"What?" Duo asked softly, suddenly concerned.

"You were... magnificent," Heero replied, much quieter, and his eyes glowed as he leaned over and kissed Duo softly on a sunken cheek. "Seeing you there, facing certain death, but standing firm to protect our old comrades... It made me love you even more."

Duo blushed furiously and hardly knew how to respond. They stared at each other, Heero very close, and almost eye to eye with Duo. Duo struggled for a smart assed remark, an attempt to brush off that intimate declaration. He was uncomfortable with this gentle, well spoken romantic who didn't fit his mental picture of the old Heero Yuy.

"I-," Duo licked dry lips, all out of smart assed sayings and evasions. "I guess I have to take another picture of you to match the new Heero."

Heero frowned for a moment, confused, but then he was smiling gently in understanding. "Not new,"he replied, "Just buried deep for too long."

"Well," Duo blushed again and fought a wave of weakness. "I hope you aren't expecting a lot out of me right now, but," he cleared his throat and struggled to continue, "things might get serious in the future if I get better. Of course, your chances of that might get even better if you went to get me that Doctor."

Heero looked disappointed as he stood up. "You used to be the one who always expressed his feelings."

"That was before they stomped all over me and showed me that everyone is suspect!" Duo snarled without thought, just an outpouring of sudden anger at the world, at his weakness, at his inability to be what Heero deserved. He didn't want Heero to love him, he realized suddenly, and that was at the heart of his continuing reluctance to admit that he loved the man back, even though he did with all of his heart. It wasn't his surprise that Heero was showing his emotions that was confusing Duo but the clashing of his own emotions; love for Heero and contempt for himself doing battle with his tongue. This time, his contempt for himself had won out.

Heero stiffened, but he was used to soldiers at the end of their strength. He knew better than to believe words born of pain and sickness. Still, Duo could see that he was hurt. It was in his voice as he said. "All right, I'll get you the Doctor, Duo. Try to rest while I'm gone."

"Sure," Duo replied as he turned his face away and closed his eyes. Dumb ass! he called himself, and worse. Heero did deserve better than him!

"How long have you all been staring at me?" Duo wondered as he opened his eyes and found his comrades sitting about various parts of the plain, whitewashed room. Not entirely plain, Duo corrected himself. Aside from the many pieces of medical equipment, there was also a very large crystal vase of purple roses and white baby's breath. "All that's missing is Milliardo and his personal flower shop,"Duo added. It was the tenth such arrangement in under a few days, but the Prince of Sanq had not seen fit to follow them into his room just yet.

"This is personal business," Heero replied. He was sitting closest to the bed, arms crossed over his chest, and he looked tense. He hated the flowers and he had taken barely undisguised pleasure in throwing them out each time Duo had asked him to.

Duo looked at all of their tight expressions and felt uncertain. Boney hands gripping the blankets nervously, he asked, "I didn't do anything wrong did I? I know I said some pretty ugly things while I was getting off the drugs, but-"

"Maxwell!" Wu Fei admonished, "It isn't always about you."

Duo bit his lip and then found a soft laugh. "It usually is, Wu Fei, so you can't blame me. Well, what's going on now? War start again? The place falling down on our heads? Relena Peacecraft get a bind in her knickers?"

Quatre covered a laugh behind a polite hand. Despite his muscles and tall stature, he could still, at times, revert back to the delicate, angelic boy he had been during the war. At that moment, he looked childishly embarrassed to have laughed.

"It's about Quatre's estate," Heero cut in worriedly. "Wu Fei was able to get most of his staff to safety while we engaged the enemy and made ourselves decoys-"

"Oh! So that's what was going on!" Duo realized with raised eyebrows. "I thought Trowa and Quatre had gone soft to get captured so easily and Wu Fei..."

"What?"Wu Fei snapped, ready for offense.

Duo smiled. "I knew you would be off protecting the weak. That's just who you are."

Wu Fei relaxed and gave a small bow of his head, acknowledging Duo's words, but then he was saying, "They need protecting again. Some of them were captured and imprisoned as anti- unification rebels."

"That can't be allowed," Trowa interjected. The tall, quite man stepped forward to put a hand on Quatre's broad shoulder. "Quatre and I will do whatever it takes to free them."

"Even if we have to take the entire household and holdings into Space," Quatre added, blue eyes determined. "There are a few out stations that the Winners own that we can defend with some success."

Duo looked at Heero. "You'll be going too?" When Heero only looked upset and didn't say anything, Duo answered his own question, "Of course, Quatre will need all the expert help he can get."He paused, swallowed in a dry throat and added, "I can't go."

The drugs and the withdrawal had taken Duo to the edge of death and back. He had spent long days hallucinating, screaming, cursing, and weeping pathetically. Heero had stayed by his side though it all, encouraging Duo and helping to clean him up when ever the food he insisted on eating was violently ejected again or he simply couldn't control his shaking body any longer. Duo didn't need a doctor to tell him that his hold on life was still not a sure thing. The monitors attached to his arms and heart were still erratic, the tests they ran on blood and tissue still showing signs that his addiction had only been a small part of his problems. The g force of a shuttle lift off from Earth's punishing gravity would be the last coffin nail, Duo knew, if he attempted it.

Duo wasn't bitter about being abandoned. He was bitter at the life that was necessitating that abandonment. He understood that Quatre needed to save his people. Duo had dedicated his life to saving people, had fought in the war and given up all hope of a peaceful youth in that cause. He wasn't about to balk now and do less when the freedom of so many people was contingent on him stepping out of the way of the people who were most capable of helping them.

Duo tried for a smile. He knew he looked ghastly, skin stretched over bones, dark circles under his eyes, and skeletal hands lifting and making irritated shooing motions as he said in a rough voice, "Well, what are you waiting for? Get the hell out of here then and do what you have to. The government isn't playing by the rules. You can't play by them either or innocent people are going to get executed for treason."

"I've talked to Sally Po and the Preventers," Heero told him. "They are willing to help us covertly. They'll station small ships as decoys while we escape Earth and they'll escort us to a Winner outpost station. Once there, we hope to move the station out of position and take up an orbit elsewhere. Hopefully, that will throw off pursuit and confrontation long enough for us to return and convince the people that their government has turned to self serving corruption."

Wu Fei stood and walked to Duo's bedside. He glanced briefly at Heero and Heero looked away, scowling hard and knotting his fists together in his lap. Wu Fei sighed and met Duo's eyes. Duo had been a soldier too long to miss that his straw had come up short once again.

"Maxwell," Wu Fei began and then, impatient with himself, he started again, "Duo, Milliardo will use his influence to have the prisoners transferred to a central holding station. Once there, we will attack and break them out of confinement. While that is happening, we will require a distraction of great proportions, one that will draw the troops away to another area."

"Zechs is going to help?" Duo was incredulous, using Milliardo's war time alias. "I wouldn't trust him. He's a blue blood and he cares a lot about Relena and his position. I can't see him endangering himself for anyone."

"He is minimizing his involvement," Quatre interjected with a bit of distaste. "You're right that he doesn't want to endanger his position. He'll confine himself to innocent paperwork shuffling to have the prisoners transferred."

"He's also willing to hide you," Heero bit out and looked at Duo then, cobalt blue eyes full of fire, "After you create the diversion we need."

"Oh," Duo said in a small voice. He thought about that information. It was still amazing to him that he could think clearly, and was thinking more clearly than he had since starting the pill regimen. With so little left of him, it seemed a miracle to him, a miracle he was thankful for as he returned Heero's look with intelligence and replied, "I'll do whatever I can. Those people need to be saved. You can count on me."

Mission accepted. Duo settled back into his pillows, resigned as he had resigned himself to die for his cause so many times before during the war. It only hurt more now, and seemed more of a loss than it had been when he had only been an orphan of L2 and half crazy from losing everyone that he had ever loved.

"I don't want to leave you," Heero declared softly, as if they were alone in the room. "But-"

"We'll do what we have to do, Heero," Duo told him sternly, making his voice cold. "No entanglements, right? Back to business and only business."

Heero reached out in concern and touched Duo's chin, making Duo look at him. "It's too late to think like that. I can say I'm sad, that I'm upset, and that I'm going to die a little for every day I worry about you and can't be here protecting you. I don't want to leave you with Zechs. I don't trust him. I don't want you to risk what bit of life you have left for anyone. I know that's selfish, but I can't help the way I feel. I have to go. I don't have to like it. I will come back and, if I don't find you alive and well when I do, the universe won't be big enough to hide Zechs and the damned government from my revenge!"

Duo shivered under the emotional onslaught of Heero's words. He wanted to ask why? Why did Heero think so much of him that he could feel so strongly? Duo held back, though, knowing it would hurt Heero to doubt or question him now. He blinked back tears, glanced at the others in embarrassment, and found them, even Wu Fei looking at their feet or turned away to give them some privacy. Trowa had an arm about Quatre's broad shoulders and he had drawn the man close to him, whispering something comforting in Quatre's ear.

"You have to go now? We have to do all of this now?" Duo wondered. "I can hardly stand on my own. What sort of diversion am I going to be able to create?"

Heero's face tightened. It wasn't the response that he had hoped for to his declaration. Duo wondered how many times he would put his heart on his sleeve before he stopped doing it. Maybe it was this time, Duo thought, seeing something hard creep onto Heero's face.

Duo licked dry lips, hating his uncertainty and his own self loathing. He reached out and took Heero's hand. He squeezed it hard and Heero blinked at him, hoping once again. "Remember," Duo said, "after I'm better, after this is over, we'll try to sort each other out. Give me the time, Heero. I need every minute of it, k?"

It was as much as he could offer. Heero nodded stiffly and the hard look was replaced by the serious look of duty, of a soldier compartmentalizing and preparing himself to do what had to be done. "We've already drawn up a plan," Heero began and Duo listened in appreciation as Heero outlined his part in it.

"Zechs will report that he has you in custody." Heero explained quietly. "The government knows that because of the leg locator, and Santoro has filed a report stating that Zech's is in league with us, but no one, as yet, has had the nerve to actually move against someone as important as a Peacecraft. Zechs assures us that is changing."

"So," Duo guessed. "I'm going to pretend to kidnap Zechs as a hostage and run like a bunny from the government hounds?"

Heero nodded. "Exactly. Such a move will remove suspicion from Zechs and force the government to deploy it's troops to find you. After the need for distraction has passed, you will then remove the locator and then 'disappear'. In reality, Zechs will hide you until we can return and stir up sympathy and popular support against the corrupt practices of the government."

"Remove the locator?" Duo gave a sickly grin. "You make it sound easy."

"They attach it to the leg bone, Heero," Quatre protested, not looking well at the thought of what removing such a device would entail for Duo. "You know that."

"Zechs will have his staff doctor attend Duo," Heero replied impatiently. "There is little danger or possibility for pain. This won't be a field operation."

Duo was only half relieved. He knew how a situation could deteriorate quickly and deviate from the plan. It was a necessary risk, though. He knew that he would remove the locator and make the mission successful, even if it meant taking it out with sticks and tweezers. The lives of Quatre's staff were going to depend on him not getting caught.

Trowa reminded them all that he had been a mercenary most of his life when he assured Duo, "I'll pack you a med kit with anesthetics and pain tabs, just in case. One will knock you out if there is an emergency and the doctor is still with you, and the other will numb a large area in case you are alone and have to perform the operation yourself."

"If I don't bleed to death, I can do it," Duo assured them. "I've done field operations pulling parts of my own Gundam and shrapnel out of myself. This can't be much worse, right?"

"You have the courage, but do you have the will?" Wu Fei asked suddenly.

"The will?" Duo echoed. It took him a moment to understand and then he nodded firmly. "I understand what you're asking, Wu Fei. I want to live," He looked at Heero briefly and then back at Wu Fei resolutely. "I have a reason, now. Don't be afraid that I'm going to lay down and die when things get tough."

"We must leave," Quatre said sadly. "It's terrible that we have to leave you like this, Duo."

"Time to save the world again," Duo replied with a forced grin. "That's what we're good at, right?"

"Right," Trowa replied and he was the first to file out of the room. Quatre followed, looking back at Duo with a soft, regretful expression.

Wu Fei grunted, as if it were all nonsense, and said gruffly, "We will work on your lessons when I return, Maxwell. You are far from being proficient."

"Love you too, Wu- man," Duo chuckled.

Wu Fei scowled, but it didn't reach his eyes. He gave Duo a respectful nod and left the room as well. That left Heero and he was the one most reluctant to go.

"Don't make this hard,"Duo whispered. "Don't get all sappy on me. Not now. I don't think I'm up to it. We're soldiers first. We have to be."

Heero was silent, considering, and then he said, "Tell me, before I go. I may- You know how things often fall out. We don't have the luxury of being naive. Just... say it, so I know it's true, that I'm not imagining it. You said it before, but you're a difficult person to understand and I don't know for certain whether you really meant it. So, once more, and then I'll go."

Every fiber of Duo's being tightened. He crossed his arms over his narrow breast and shivered from reaction, the reaction of emotions he didn't know if he dared to show, if he was worthy enough to show to such a man as Heero Yuy. "What do you see in me?"Duo wondered at last, bitter, perhaps questioning Heero's sanity.

Heero leaned close, lips almost touching Duo's ear. "The other half of my soul," Heero whispered.

Duo turned his head and stared into Heero's fathomless blue eyes and then he was suddenly overwhelmed by emotion. He fell into Heero's arms, all resolve lost, all doubts and self disgust put aside in the need to be held, to feel a warm body hold and care for him one last time before, maybe, dying in an attempt to save others. Heero held Duo close, murmuring reassurances into Duo's ear as he kissed Duo's cheek, his neck, and his lips last of all in a devouring motion that showed that his need was as strong as Duo's.

"I-I love you," Duo said throatily, embarrassed, unsure, but wanting that confirmation as much as Heero, maybe more. "You're so damn impatient, Yuy, but you're going to be late if you don't catch up with the others. Get the Hell out of here, and let me get on with my part of the job."

"Duo," Heero slid a hand to the back of Duo's neck and kept his eyes locked with Duo's amethyst eyes. He wanted Duo to be sure of him and not to doubt him after he left. "I know you said that you needed time, but I know you meant you only needed time to convince me that I can't want you. That's not going to happen. I'm going to convince you, if it's the last thing I do, that I'm the one that's not worthy of you."

Duo snorted and felt tears threaten. He made a pre-emptive wipe with the back of his hand across his eyes and growled, "The perfect couple," he said bitterly, "Two people who don't deserve each other."

"We will be perfect,"Heero insisted seriously, "Don't doubt that after I'm gone. Don't go back to thinking that I can't possibly love you. I do. You are worthy. You are beautiful to me. I will come back and make you see it too."

Duo shoved at Heero, but he was gentle as he said seriously, "Yeah, sure thing Heero. You do that, come back to me and make me see things through your rose colored glasses. Promise?"

Heero gave him one last kiss. Heero tasted of coffee and something cinnamon. It was that taste Duo would remember, he thought, and the way Heero's eyes glowed, trying to convince Duo by making them windows to his heart.

"I will return," Heero promised.

"I'll try to be waiting," Duo replied, more pessimistic.

"You WILL be waiting," Heero insisted.

Duo looked sheepish and mumbled, "Yeah, okay."

Heero nodded and then he was gone like a wild shadow, as quiet as a breeze. Duo stared at the empty doorway and felt tears begin to choke him. He stifled them in the next instant when a familiar, tall, pale, blonde man leaned against the doorjamb and looked at him with ice blue eyes and an expression of pain.

Go to Part 20: Chances

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