Chapter 17
"Broken Inside"

    Duo was greeted at the door by a frantic maid.
    He stuck around to hear about ten seconds of her frantic babbling before dumping his bomber jacket and personal toolbox on the floor and racing for the stairs.
    The oil on his hands left dark streaks on the banister as he took the steps two or three at a time. His face smudged and his work shirt stained with grease and fuel oil, he burst into the main bedroom, eyes darting instantly towards the large four-postered bed.
    The poor nurses were distraught, one of the newer ones obviously close to panic as they struggled to keep their patient pinned to the bed, crying out to him in a frantic medly of concerned voices. Tangled in the sheets and drenched in sweat, Quatre Winner thrashed against their restraining hands, golden head tossing against the pillow as he let loose a wordless scream of terror and rage.
    "Please-- lie still, Quatre-sama!"
    "You're all right-"
    "You're home, you're safe-"
    "Quatre-sama, please--"
    Duo rushed to the side of the bed, pushing aside the new, helpless looking nurse and seizing a fist that went swinging by. He pinned his friend's hand to the bed in a firm but careful grip and with a quick grab caught the smaller boy's chin in an unbreakable hold with his free hand.
    "Quatre," he shouted, overpowering the nurses' pleas as the pale boy on the bed stopped screaming long enough to draw in a ragged breath. "Quatre, snap out of it!"
    Unfocused eyes shot his way, wild with unseen horrors. Quatre reacted instantly and violently to the hold; he wrenched his other arm free and swung at Duo with it, kicking frantically to remove the other nurses. Duo turned his head just in time to catch the punch on his cheek rather than his nose, and winced. Quatre had grown weak in the past month or so, but blind terror lent him inhuman strength during his fits.
    "Quatre," he tried again, loosening his grip just a little. "Look at me!"
    "Where's that sedative?" one of the more experienced nurses asked sharply. Another nurse came running into the room just then, needle upheld. "Here," she gasped.
    "No, wait," Duo said quickly, releasing Quatre's chin to lay a protective arm over the writhing boy. "Not yet. They're only a temporary relief. He needs to be able to break out of this himself."
    The older nurse leveled him with a harried, impatient look. "Sir," she said with forced politeness, hair all out of place and chest heaving from her exertions, "it will calm him down. Now please, let us do our job.."
    "I said wait," Duo interrupted savagely. The nurses took a wary step back at the tone and the dangerous look to his eye-- the shadow of Shinigami peeking out at them in deadly frustration.
    The head nurse drew in a slow breath, pressing her lips tightly together to keep her comments to herself. She gave the nurse with the sedative a short nod, and stepped out of range of Quatre's kicking feet. The other nurses hesitantly followed her lead, backing away from the bed.
    Having cowed the women, Duo returned his full attention to the whimpering, struggling boy on the bed, using all his strength to keep him pinned there. "Look at me," he insisted forcefully. Quatre's eyes were squeezed shut, and he was twisting desperately in an attempt to avoid the other boy. Duo took in a shuddering breath in an attempt to calm frayed nerves and slow his pounding heart.

    Duo Maxwell had gone into the war expecting to be dead before the end of it.
    There was nothing left for him to love or care for; only memories and the glorified vision of vengeance for those innocents killed in the past. He had told himself he would finish the war by himself, that he would avoid any possible allies.
    But Duo had always been a stubborn, outgoing child. And when he'd met the solemn pilot of Gundam 01, his heart and mind so much bleaker and darker than Duo's own, he'd been unable to stop himself from extending a hand of friendship. It had been slapped away, but that had only made him more determined. And as he met the other pilots, he'd made it something of a personal mission to be their reality check in the midst of all the death and warfare. They were all so.. mechanical. Focused to an extreme degree, and deprived of anything resembling joy or hope.
    Heero Yuy, who lived only for the mission, and categorized each and every thing he ran across-- even people. A boy with no past and no future, who lived only for the moment, willing to die in the next. Not for himself, but for the cause.
    Trowa Barton, cold and unyielding as the barrel of a gun-- and about as emotionless as one. A face set in calm, unbreakable lines, and a personality buried so deep under subterfuge and secrets it had seemed unreachable. He seemed to care for nothing, not even himself.
    Chang Wufei, who had so much emotion, but focused it all into a consuming sense of rage and an overpowering sense of justice. He scorned women, kept himself aloof from them all whenever possible, and was one of the most cynical men Duo had ever met.
    They were all fucking insane, as far as Duo was concerned.
    Then there was Quatre Raberba Winner.
    Quatre had been a welcome vessel of light and cheer in the midst of such dark times. When any of the other pilots could have easily dragged Duo into the darker parts of himself with too much exposure, there had always been Quatre to lighten the load with a smile. He seemed to Duo to be the most sane of them all; the one who knew exactly what he was doing and why. He'd chosen to take up arms for reasons more noble than perhaps any of them, and Duo had often thought it was his optimism and unfailing struggle for teamwork that had pulled them through in a way. Heero made a nice mountain to lean on, if one was looking for security; but Quatre had been Duo's real rock-- his grip on reality and hope. He'd made Duo want to live, made him actually begin to hope for a real future. He had never stopped to think that such maturity and rock-solid optimism in one so young and new to battle might be taking a toll on the spirit and mind in the midst of a ravaging war.
    The Zero incident should have been a big kick in the teeth, a wake-up call. But once it had been over and done with, and his little blond friend had seemed good as new, Duo had shrugged it off as a bad phase. After all, Quatre's father had been killed in front of his very eyes. And Duo had gone through the harrowing experience of the Zero system himself.
    Now he found himself wracked with guilt every day for not seeing it coming, for not turning to ask the boy how he was doing more often in between battles.
    Quatre's mind had shattered like glass, and Duo could find no one to blame but himself.

    It hadn't been immediately obvious. After the final battle, Quatre had seemed exhausted, able to dredge up only a tired version of his usually sunny smile. Duo hadn't thought anything of it. Hell, they were all tired. They'd fought long and hard for their victory, and a rest period had seemed like just what the doctor ordered.
    Plus, he'd been stabbed for crissakes. That psycho dyke Catelonia had speared him with a fencing sword; Duo expected the boy to be a little less chipper until he recovered. Heero had needed medical attention, as well, so Quatre had graciously invited the other pilot to his home colony to recover. Duo had tagged along to keep his buddies company, and though he was there every day, it still took almost two weeks for the dark reality to sink in.
    Heero, of course, had recovered in record time, despite his many injuries. Two cracked ribs-- one of them rebroken from the time he had tried to self-destruct --a mild concussion, a badly sprained wrist from fighting Wing's controls at the end of the final battle, several cuts and bruises, a gash on his forehead and thigh that had required stitches, and near-blindness for almost 48 hours from his rough entrance into earth's orbit and the very close explosion of the last chunk of Barge he had destroyed at point-blank range. He'd been limping stubbornly around the mansion by the sixth day, and had left them with a curt thank you after only sixteen days, still sore and battered, but too restless to stay. He'd been through worse.
    Quatre's injuries were not so varied; the most concerning one was the stab wound. But it had missed his vital organs, and had started healing nicely by the time Heero left them. Other than that, he sported only mild bruises and scrapes. Duo had visited both boys in their respective rooms during their recovery, and slowly had begun to notice a worrisome fact. While Heero was recovering rapidly, Quatre only seemed to be slipping farther away with each passing day. He slept more and more, and he lost his appetite. He ate very little, and began to lose an alarming amount of weight. He grew pale and listless, and he began to wake up screaming from nightmares more and more often. He became fearful of the dark images in his mind, and got very little sleep, so that he was always weak and tired, his eyes ringed with dark bruises of exhaustion. Duo had assumed the stab wound had been worse then they'd initially thought, but after he'd anxiously inquired the nurses about it, they'd assured him the wound was healing with no problems.
    It became more and more obvious that the real damage had been done to the Winner heir's mind.
    In the end, it had all been too much. Perhaps it was because Quatre had grown up in a sheltered, loving family. Or maybe because a boy brought up to be ruthless only in a board meeting had suddenly been forced to take lives, staining once pristine hands crimson with the blood of soldiers he fought in the war. It could have been a hundred reasons-- or more likely all of them combined. Whatever the real cause, it had simply been too much for Quatre to take and stuff deep inside, covering it all with a smile and an encouraging word. When the other pilots could take out their anguish and rage in battle, Quatre only allowed himself one real chance to do so-- and that had been when he was in the throes of the Zero system.
    With nowhere to hide, the distractions of strategy and battles out of the way, it had all come pouring into every inch of Quatre's being, until it was all he could think about and see. Nightmares somehow stumbled upon consciousness, until he seemed to be living one big, unending nightmare, trapped by the visions and screams in his head. The horrors of war, that the other four pilots had been able to face and deal with from the beginning, erupted in Quatre only at the end of the struggle. It was too much for anyone to expect of a young boy who had never experienced such a thing before the war. The inner strength that had kept Quatre going had finally cracked under the strain.
    While Heero had recovered and limped his way mulishly from the sanctuary of the mansion and went on to restart his life and recover in private, Quatre had slowly begun to waste away in bed, snared by his own mind.
    And Duo felt helpless to save him.

    Quatre's voice had grown hoarse from screaming, and he had been reduced to whimpering. He was still trying to escape Duo's grasp, his efforts more feeble as exhaustion from his efforts took a toll. He stopped thrashing and instead tried to roll away, curling up into a fetal position.
    Duo released his wrist and changed tactics. Force wasn't going to accomplish anything. In Quatre's twisted, confused mind, caught in a circle of war horrors, it might make him relive inquisitions from angry OZ soldiers.
    He lay down beside the boy, pressing up against his back, and wrapped his arms around the shaking body in a loose embrace. "Quatre," he murmured over the breathless whimpers. "Quatre, it's Duo. You're safe. It's over. It's over."
    He continued to whisper soft encouragements and reassurances for nearly ten minutes before slowly the quaking stopped and some of the stiffness went out of the body in his arms. Duo breathed a silent sigh of relief as Quatre went practically limp in his arms. Asleep at last. Please, God, let it be a dreamless sleep.
    He glanced up-- some of the nurses were still hovering around the room anxiously. Before he could tell them to leave, the golden head beneath his cheek shifted, and a weak voice asked hesitantly, "..Duo..?"
    Duo's heart gave a jump of surprise. It had been weeks since Quatre had recognized him or even seemed to notice he was close by. He reached up carefully to smoothe the hair back from a flushed face, but Quatre still wouldn't turn to look at him. He went tense, perhaps waiting for a blow, or the confirmation that the body behind him was actually an enemy, and not Duo at all.
    "Yeah, kiddo," Duo said with forced cheerfulness. "It's me. We're at your house. Safe," he added firmly.
    The tension seeped from Quatre at last, and the smaller boy gave a shaky sigh of relief. Finally he turned his head a little, and Duo lifted his head, quickly pasting on a grin for the other boy. Blue eyes focused on him, recognition quickly flooding them, and Duo's smile became less fake.
    Quatre blinked slowly and hesitantly glanced around the room, looking around at his nurses. One or two of them still looked nervous, expecting another outburst, but the rest had expressions of hope and happiness on their faces at seeing their young master lucid at last.
    Duo wouldn't allow himself to be overly optimistic. It wasn't in his nature, and anyway, he knew better. Quatre may seem all right now, but what about in a few minutes? What about when he fell asleep and had another nightmare? What if someone made a loud noise, and it startled him? Duo tightened his arms protectively but carefully around the other soldier's body and flicked the head nurse a significat look.
    She got the message. She set the sedative deliberately on the bedside table, making sure Duo saw it, and cleared her throat to get the attention of the other nurses. She led the way out of the room, closing the door softly behind.
    "Duo.." Quatre's voice was a breath of air, his eyes fluttering with the approach of exhausted sleep. "It's over.." It was partly a question.
    Duo nodded, quirking a grin at the other boy and laying a quick peck on his cheek in an attempt to lighten the mood. "Yup. It's all over. We're safe." He glanced over his shoulder at the sedative on the bedside table and hesitated. It would help Quatre sleep, and with his current lucidity, it might even ease him into a peaceful sleep. But he wasn't sure he wanted to risk it. The needle and the injection might jerk up more unpleasant memories and send Quatre over the edge again. Duo turned his back on the needle once more and caught the hesitant fingers that lifted from the bed, searching for his. He gripped the slender hand tightly in his own and let his forehead rest against a bony shoulder.
    "Duo..." Quatre's voice was barely audible. "'M so.. tired..."
    "Go to sleep," Duo commanded quietly.
    The limp hand in his suddenly turned into a deathgrip. "Stay?" he implored, turning his head a little, striving to catch Duo's eye.
    Duo lifted his head to look at the other boy, his face solemn. "I'll stay," he promised.
    "Keep watch," Quatre mumbled, eyes fluttering closed.
    "We're safe," Duo reminded him quietly. "There's no more war. We don't need to keep watch anymore, Quatre."
    Quatre didn't seem to have heard him. "Wake me up when it's.. my turn," he breathed. "Tell.. Dad I'll only be.. be a sec..."
    Duo went rigid, his head lifting quickly. "Dad-? Quatre," he said a little sharply.
    But the other boy had already succumbed to a sleep so deep it was nearly unconsciousness.
    Duo lay behind him, mind racing with frantic fear and unanswered questions, clenching the small hand in his so tightly it was sure to leave bruises the next day.


    Two heads swiveled as one as the front door opened and shut quietly. They sat poised with coiled tension on their separate mattresses, watching their clueless victim as he walked slowly into the room.
    Trowa didn't notice their scrutiny; he was frowning at a telegram in his hand, not even glancing up as he toed off his boots almost absently and dropped his tattered bag on the ground. He finally seemed to sense eyes on him, and raised his head.
    Wufei's eyes narrowed suspiciously, and a tiny worm of worry began to twist in his stomach at the strange look on his partner's face. He shot a quick glance towards Heero, but the other boy had risen to his feet and was staring at Trowa intently, asking a silent question with his eyes.
    Trowa glanced down at the paper in his hands, hesitating. His face was in its most unbreakable mask, making it next to impossible to tell what he was thinking. Only the stiffness of his shoulders as he stood undecided in the doorway, not yet entering the main room, gave away his inner turmoil. Wufei leapt to his feet and padded over with Heero to see what the fuss was all about.
    Heero reached for the telegram, and when Trowa didn't pull it back, he plucked it from the other boy's grip and scanned it quickly. Wufei, watching his face carefully, felt his anxiety mount as the slight frown of puzzlement quickly disappeared in a quick flash of surprise-- only to be immediately covered up by a scowl as he looked sharply at Trowa.
    "How did she get this address?"
    Typical Heero Yuy, Wufei thought impatiently, snatching the paper away. Nothing about what was in the note, only how someone had managed to locate them.
    "I gave it to her in case of emergencies," Trowa admitted softly, but with an undertone of steel that clearly warned Heero not to get onto him about doing so.
    Wufei barely heard. He was reading the telegram with growing disbelief.
    Wufei lowered the paper to stare at the willowy pilot. "I thought she called you her brother to secure your cover-up," he said. It came out sounding like an accusation.
    "She did," Trowa said quietly, staring at the note in Wufei's hand as if waiting for it to burst into flames. "I don't know what this is all about, but I'm going to find out."
    "What's this about a tip?" Wufei growled, snapping his fingers against the paper. "This whole thing sounds like bullshit to me."
    "I need to see her," Trowa said suddenly, moving past them and striding towards his bed where he kept his scant belongings. "I need to find out what this is all about."
    His two partners turned to watch him a little helplessly. Their previous plans were out the window, torn asunder by an innocent piece of paper. Wufei clenched it in his fist in a convulsive move as it suddenly sank in.
    "Trowa," he forced himself to say, keeping his voice as calm as possible. "Let's pretend we're in a parallel universe and this is actually true. You're that woman's real brother-- though I see nothing to support that--"
    "Her family was killed in the war," Trowa interrupted quietly, throwing his things into his bag. "Her brother fell from the wagon and was assumed dead; her parents died in an explosion. She barely survived."
    Heero still didn't speak. Wufei faltered, feeling uneasiness jump in to join the previous suspicion. He took a deep breath. "Right. So let's say somehow this is true.... What does that mean?"
    Trowa glanced up at him, still cramming the last of his clothes in the bag. "Nani?"
    "I mean," Wufei said shortly, bristling a little at having to come right out and voice his deepest worry, "are you leaving? For good."
    Trowa stopped packing and straightened to look him dead in the eye. After a moment his gaze shifted to Heero as well before he finally turned his attention back on his bag. "I don't know," he admitted quietly. "..Perhaps. If I really do have family, then.." he trailed off.
    Wufei was still clenching the note in his fist, and he was rigid as a steel beam. He shot Heero a quick, heated look, demanding that he speak. But Heero's face was impenetrable as Gundanium, fixed firmly in its soldier lines. He said nothing, and made no move to stop Trowa as the taller pilot moved for the door.
    Wufei suddenly felt lost and a little alarmed. Trowa was leaving. He might not be coming back. And Wufei was just honest enough with himself to acknowledge the fact that he didn't want Trowa to go.
    "Trowa-" He wasn't sure what he was doing-- what he was going to say to the other boy, how he could possibly convince him to turn his back on the possible last remaining relative he had. But he was suddenly feeling selfish, with a side order of frantic denial, buried deep under the sudden hurt and anger. He grabbed Trowa's arm before he reached the door and glared fiercely at him when Trowa glanced back at him reluctantly.
    "Gomen," Trowa murmured, looking once more from him to Wufei, regret in his eyes, before he carefully pulled his arm free.
    Wufei's tongue was frozen, and he could do nothing but watch as Trowa turned his back and left, shutting the door quietly behind him.
    And deep inside, where Wufei didn't want to hear it, the voice of reality was calmly telling him that Trowa wasn't coming back this time.
    He remembered Heero belatedly and rounded on him furiously. He might have been mollified if Heero's mask had crumbled with Trowa out of the room, if he had seen even a hint of regret or anger in those cold eyes.
    But Heero met his gaze unflinchingly, his face still set in stern lines.
    Wufei's temper exploded. "You don't even care, do you, Yuy?" he snarled, stepping foward threateningly, fists tightening. "I'm beginning to wonder if you ever did in the first place. Is this just another temporary setup for you, Yuy? Another experiment in your life, with a convenient backup plan in case things don't go as planned?"
    Heero's eyes narrowed dangerously, but he didn't speak yet. He'd never seen Wufei this angry with him before, and wasn't sure what the reaction would be if he were to say the wrong thing.
    Wufei was taking his hurt and anger and hurling them at Heero with all the scorn and fury he could muster. He'd been stupid enough to trust someone else-- two someones. Now one of them had left, and the other didn't give a damn. He might even be planning on leaving next. Wufei was angry at them both, and especially angry at himself. For trusting them. For giving the "relationship" a chance.
    For giving a damn.
    "Stay away from me," he spat acidly. He shouldered the unresisting soldier aside and strode across the room. He didn't trust himself to use the door; he might end up chasing down Trowa like a pathetic woman. Heaving the window open, he ducked through, throwing his leg over the sill.
    A flash of emotion flickered at last in Heero's features-- surprise? Realization? Fear? God only knew. Wufei certainly didn't know, and he didn't care, either. "Wufei-"
    Wufei ignored the sharp call. He pulled the rest of his body out into the open air and leapt from the second story window, landing lightly in the alley below. He wanted to run, to punch the brick wall, to kick the trashcan and then hurl its contents up at Heero. Instead he stuffed his hands in his pockets and stalked off, back rigid, stance stiff. He didn't bother to look back to see if Heero was at the window. He let his feet turn him in a random direction and started walking.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 18
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