Across the Universe
Part 2 - Inciting
The doctor escorted them through a keyed door and into the heart of the facility. He explained the work of the Institute and its leading role as a reformer in the treatment of the emotionally disabled. Doctor Finch had been on staff for two years and specialized in group therapy.
As they came to a juncture where four hallways met, he asked if they would like to see one of the group recreation areas. Now that they were in, they wanted to search every room on the medical campus, and would take any opportunity to do so. He brought them into a large room used for leisure. Twenty-five men and women were seated around the room wearing t-shirts or cardigan sweaters, sweatpants and slippers. The room was pleasant with big picture windows which let in the bright afternoon sunlight, and gave a spectacular view of the grounds.
Even as the doctor led them across the room, Quatre's eyes wandered, searching for Duo. Many of the patients were watching television, while others played checkers, or admired the variety of birds at the feeder outside. There were several nurses on hand to interact with the patients and to monitor them.
"These are the best adjusted patients. No one with a history of violence is allowed in here." The doctor gestured around the room. "I don't suppose your colleague is here?"
Three pairs of desperate eyes scanned the room and settled on a head of long, brown hair. Quatre stepped forward, his eyes wide as saucers and his heart thumping in his chest. He walked over to see the patient's face... and frowned. "It's not him." He turned away to hide the tears that formed at his great disappointment. Trowa was at Quatre's side in an instant, putting an arm around his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," Doctor Finch said. "I guess you will have to wait for Doctor Gies. It would be good to have one less John Doe on our hands."
"One less?" Heero asked. "How many do you have?"
"Can we see them?" Trowa asked.
"That would be difficult to arrange. They're scattered throughout our facility."
"But Doctor Gies could arrange it?" Trowa asked.
"Of course." The doctor's brow furrowed as he looked to the patient Quatre had thought was their friend. "May I see the photo again?"
Heero grabbed his mobile and opened the file with Duo's image. "Is there something about him you recognize?"
"Not exactly. Does your friend have long hair like the man there?" He pointed to the patient.
"He did," Heero said. "You can see part of his braid in the photo."
"How long was it?"
"It went down to his waist," Quatre said, his eyes brightening. "Do you have a patient with a braid?"
"No, but there is another male patient with very long hair. Only a few of our male patients have long hair, so that's why I'm remembering it."
"May we see him?" Quatre asked.
"He's one of Doctor Gies's patients, so we would need his permission. But I'm sure Zero Two has hair down to his waist."
"Zero Two?" Heero asked, his heart skipping a beat.
"Yes," Doctor Finch said with a smile. "I hope you don't find that name odd, but when he came to us after the war, on the form where his name should have been was the number-Zero Two. The nurses thought it would be better to call him that than John Doe."
"Where did he arrive from?" Trowa asked.
"One of the colonies, I believe, but I would have to look at his file to be certain."
"Where is he now?" Quatre asked.
"He's too unpredictable to mix with the other patients, so he's kept in another wing."
Heero stepped forward, grabbing the doctor by the front of his coat. "Where is he?"
The doctor's eyes widened. "I--I don't know exactly."
Heero's grip tightened.
"I-I could find out... Maybe Doctor Phelps would know. J-just a moment," the doctor sputtered.
"Do it," Heero said, his voice deadly.
The man gulped and Heero slowly released him. Doctor Finch stepped over to a phone and after several minutes returned with the information they needed. He straightened his coat and kept his distance from Heero. "He's in a secured recreation area. But we can't see him without authorization."
Heero pointed to the Preventers patch on his jacket. "Here's your authorization."
The doctor gave a nervous nod. "Follow me."
~ ~ ~
They exited the building and walked through a colonnaded breezeway to another building. This part of the facility had a much higher level of security. There were keypads, retinal scans, and guards posted at intervals. Though the guards did not carry guns, Heero found their presence disconcerting.
The open, sunny rooms of the previous building were replaced by prison like cells. On either side of the corridor were barred and locked metal doors, and behind the doors the screams of the insane.
Quatre cringed and his steps slowed. "I don't think I can do this."
Trowa took hold of his hand. "We've come this far..."
"But I can feel their pain," Quatre said, bringing his free hand up to his heart.
Trowa's impulse was to take his lover in his arms, but they needed to keep moving. "We have to do this, Quatre. All of us."
Quatre nodded as the screams cut through him. He prayed that Duo was not one of those tortured souls.
At the next security checkpoint there was a work area with desks and locked cabinets filled with medical supplies. Behind the main desk was a guard in the standard brown uniform of the Institute. He was a large man with broad shoulders. Doctor Finch explained that he needed to see Zero Two.
"Only Doctor Gies can give clearance for that," the guard said.
"These gentlemen are on official business from the Earth Sphere Unified Nations. They may be able to identify Zero Two. And if so, Doctor Gies will be most grateful to them."
The man seemed to consider this, his eyes settling on Heero's uniform. "Sign in," he said, shoving a clip board across the desk.
Each one signed their name and then looked to the man again. Heero was growing impatient and was about to force his way through when the guard grabbed a set of keys from a lock box and nodded for them to follow. "He's in the rec room."
This recreational room was nothing like the one they had seen moments ago. This one was behind a locked metal door. The guard peeked through a small window in the door. "Yep, still in there."
There was no sound coming from the room. "Are you sure someone's in there?" Quatre asked.
The guard nodded. "The doctor has given strict orders that no one is allowed to touch this patient. Even the aides have to sedate him before he can be bathed."
"Why is that?" Quatre asked with deep concern.
"He doesn't play well with others. Gets violent when he's touched." The guard shrugged. "He's a model patient most of the time. Quiet as a mouse." He tapped his keys on the window. "You've got company."
With a turn of the keys in the lock the door hissed open like an entryway in a space dock. The sound sent shivers across Quatre's skin. Memories of battling OZ with Duo at their side suddenly seemed like yesterday. Were they only seconds from finding their long lost friend?
The guard stepped back, but made sure they knew he wouldn't go far should they need help. Heero wanted to set him straight on who did and did not need protecting around here, but decided not to comment.
Their eyes settled quickly on the lone figure seated in a plastic chair at a table. His loosely bound, chestnut colored hair hung down his back to his waist as he huddled over the table, intent on some task.
Heero's breath caught. Could it be?
The room was rather large for one man's solitary confinement. Rather large and rather plain with Robin's egg blue walls, gray carpet and a skylight.
"Do you recognize him?" Doctor Finch asked.
From this angle, the hair in the loose ponytail concealed the man's face. His hands were in continuous motion, sorting through black beads.
Quatre stepped forward cautiously. He was more frightened than he had been in battle. "I don't feel anything," he said, as he slowly approached the man. "It's as though no one is sitting there."
"He's a tough a case," the doctor said. "I haven't worked with him, but everyone knows about Zero Two."
Heero nearly growled in frustration as he pushed passed them. He went around and stood at the opposite side of the table and stared at the patient's face. The man didn't looked up, but Heero knew him the moment he laid eyes on him. His chest tightened like an iron fist had taken hold of his heart and was about to rip it from his body. Duo... <
"Heero?" Quatre asked in a worried tone. "Is it...?"
Heero gave a small nod.
"It's Duo?" Quatre darted to Heero's side and looked at the patient. "Duo, it's you!"
Quatre stepped forward his arms out, but Doctor Finch shouted from across the room. "Please don't touch him!"
Quatre froze and looked wild-eyed at the doctor. "But, it's Duo! He'll know me."
The doctor and Trowa joined the others standing in front of the table. They stared at the patient, but the patient didn't acknowledge them.
"Does he know we're here?" Trowa asked.
"Yes, I believe so. I think we'd better wait for Doctor Gies to return."
Quatre knelt beside the table, looking into Duo's face. "Duo, it's Quatre. Don't you remember me? What have they done to you?"
"I don't think he knows you," the doctor said.
Quatre turned moist, bewildered eyes up at man. "But I'm his best friend. He's got to know me."
"The mind is a complicated machine. Perhaps if you visited him everyday, in time he would recognize you."
The former Gundam pilots stared at their friend seated at the table. He had not looked up once. It was as though they weren't even there. Duo's eyes were downcast, focused on his task, his slender, pale hands stringing a long cord with black, shiny beads.
"Zero Two, you have visitors," the doctor said, trying to engage the patient. Duo's hands just kept working.
"Don't you recognize us, Duo?" Quatre said, persistent in his attempt to reach his friend. "It's Quatre... and Trowa and Heero. We're here to see you. What's happened that you don't know us?"
"I suspect part of his condition is from post-traumatic syndrome," Doctor Finch said.
"What was his condition when he was brought here?" Trowa asked, his hand going to Quatre's shoulder.
"I've only been on staff two years, but I had heard there were violent episodes. I believe those have diminished due to a closely monitored daily physical regime, healthy diet, and chemical therapy."
"Chemical therapy? You mean drugs?" Quatre asked.
"Yes, Doctor Gies is ahead of his time in that regard. I would say your friend's current state of contentment is due to the chemical therapy. It allows him to enjoy this exercise-"
"That's enough," Heero said. His eyes had not moved from Duo. He could not comprehend that the young man sitting before him-placid-was the same spitfire he had known five years ago.
His skin looked far too pale, but Duo seemed physically well, which was probably due to the physical exercise he was given. His hair was tangled and loosely bound, but freshly washed, and he was wearing a clean white long sleeved t-shirt, gray sweat pants and slippers.
Quatre got up from the floor and asked the doctor more questions about the treatments used at the Institute. He listened to the doctor's excited explanations of innovative methods the Institute had pioneered.
"We appreciate all the Institute has done for Duo," Quatre said, staring at the blankness on his friend's face. He wanted to believe the Institute was making progress-albeit slowly.
"Thank you," Doctor Finch said.
"Would you mind if we sat with him for a while?" Trowa asked.
"I think it would be good for him," the doctor said. "I'll see if I can access his chart and we can talk more."
After Doctor Finch left the room, the friends stood around the table watching Duo. There was a drawn out silence as the situation sank in. They had found Duo, but he was not whole. Now what to do?
"He acts as though we're not even here," Quatre said, his heart sinking at Duo's unresponsive state. It was so unlike his formerly larger-than-life self.
"Has he really been here since the end of the war?" Trowa asked.
Quatre frowned. Now that they knew where Duo had been these intervening years it felt like they had let him down somehow. "I wish we had found him sooner, but they seem to have done a lot for him. It's been a good home for him."
"No, it hasn't," Heero said.
"I don't like seeing him here anymore than you, Heero, but what's the alternative? What is it you don't like?"
"Everything," Heero said with eyes blazing.
Quatre shook his head. "None of us expected to find him... like this."
Heero felt his skin going from warm to hot. He was trained to regulate his pulse and breathing, but right now he was losing control. "This is no place for him."
"Do you really think it's that bad?" Quatre asked. "Maybe we should be grateful for what they've-"
"He's a soldier, damn it!" Heero shouted. He wanted to crawl out of his skin, blast through the ceiling of this cell and get Duo the hell out of here. "Have you looked at him, Quatre? They've got him making fucking beaded necklaces!"
The former Wing pilot lunged forward, sweeping his arm across the table and knocking the beads onto the carpeted floor. Duo immediately clutched the half-made necklace to his chest, but did not respond in any other way.
Quatre moved quickly, shoving Heero back and away from the table. The friends stared at one another, a battle tension in the air.
"Stop it!" Trowa shouted.
By then, Doctor Finch and the security guard had returned. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave," the doctor said.
Ignoring them, Trowa glared at his companions. "At least he's alive."
"You call this living?" Heero asked.
Quatre's heart hammered. The intensity of emotion from Heero was almost enough to knock the breath from his lungs. Such strength of feeling was not new to Heero, but it was something Quatre had not sensed from him since the war.
"We can't turn against each other now," Quatre said, regaining his calm. "We have to agree on what's best for Duo, and I think that the doctors are making progress with him."
"Damn it, Quatre," Heero said, gritting his teeth.
"Why are you acting like this?" Quatre's heart was sputtering erratically trying to keep up with his friend's raging emotions. He dared to reach out and place his hand gently on Heero's forearm. "Tell me what's bothering you."
Heero looked into his friend's eyes. He saw Quatre's concern, but was this the time and the place to release the burden of his heart?
Quatre's clear eyes searched his, and in an instant realization brightened in them. "Oh, Heero..."
"Don't say it," Heero said, stepping away from his friend. "Don't you dare say it."
"What?" Trowa asked. "What's going on?"
Quatre glanced at his lover and then back at Heero. He didn't know what to do. They needed to talk. He needed to hear Heero admit his feelings, the feelings that Quatre could sense all too clearly now. Tormented, lonely feelings...
"I need you out of this room," Doctor Finch said, authoritatively.
With much reluctance, the former Gundam pilots went out into the hall, but would go no further. They had to come to a decision on how to handle Duo's rehabilitation. One thing was certain, they all wanted Duo's treatment re-assessed.
When the guard locked the door behind them, leaving Duo in that cell alone with his craft project, Heero wished like Hell he hadn't let them destroy his Gundam. He wanted to take this whole damn place out, blow it off the map.
"I think it'd be best if you came back another day. I can set up a meeting with Doctor Gies-"
"Unacceptable," Heero said, staring at the man.
"Your behavior has made it necessary," the doctor said, nodding to the security guard.
Heero watched the guard go around to his station and call for more guards. They were going to forcefully remove them from the facility! Well, two could play at that game.
He turned to his friends. "We're getting Duo out of here. Now."
"You don't have authorization to take that patient anywhere," Doctor Finch said. "Who do you people think you are?"
"We'll need his medical records," Heero said, ignoring the doctor's protestations.
"You're not getting anything."
Several guards came jogging down the corridor toward them.
Heero looked to Quatre. "He can't stay here, Quatre. Not one minute longer."
"Be reasonable, Heero. We don't know the details of his condition. We have nowhere to take him."
"We should wait for Doctor Gies to tell us more about Duo's treatment," Trowa said. "Then we can talk about transferring him to another facility."
Heero couldn't act reasonable in this moment. His emotions were overflowing and all he wanted was to take Duo in his arms and make it better, and he couldn't do that with Duo locked in that room. Maybe his friend's were right and they should wait to speak with Doctor Gies, but that wouldn't change how he felt about this place. Duo did not belong here, and he believed that the only way Duo was going to get better was to be away from these so-called pioneers of medicine.
"Look me in the eye," Heero said to Trowa, "and tell me you can turn your back and leave him here."
Trowa's brow furrowed. "We wouldn't be turning our backs on him!"
"Trowa..." Quatre said, trying to soothe his lover.
"No, Quatre, I've had enough of Heero's attitude." Trowa stepped towards Heero in a threatening posture. "Where do you get off acting like you're the only one who cares about Duo? As I recall, you barely tolerated him during the war."
"Trowa don't..." Quatre said.
"We all did things we regretted later," Heero said.
The look on Trowa's face turned from anger to confusion. "All right, so you regret being an ass to him, but that doesn't give you more say over what happens to him now."
"None of you have any say," a voice said from behind. They turned to see another doctor approaching. He was an older man with a trim gray beard. "I'm Doctor Gies," he said as he joined the group. "What is this commotion? When I returned just now, I was told that Preventers agents were here to see me, and heard calls for a security detail to be sent to this wing."
"They want to take Zero Two with them," Doctor Finch said. "They say he's a colleague of theirs."
"I'm responsible for all the patients at this facility," Doctor Gies said. "Zero Two is in no condition to be transferred."
"What condition is he in... exactly?" Heero asked.
"Unless you have legal guardianship over my patient, I am not at liberty at say."
Heero's back stiffened. They had found Duo! They needed to get him out of here and find out what these mad scientists had been doing to him all these years.
"The Preventers have been investigating Duo Maxwell's disappearance for five years," Heero said. "It would help our report if you could tell us about his condition."
"Maxwell? How can you be certain this is the man you're looking for?"
"We have positively identified him."
Doctor Gies raised an eyebrow. "Visual identification?"
"Yes." Heero showed Gies the photo of Duo. It had been found in an OZ databank some years ago and pictured Duo in his trademark priest's collar.
"Well, physically there is a resemblance, but unless you have DNA to support your claim you could be mistaken."
Heero stepped toward the doctor, but Quatre quickly moved between them, deflecting a potential confrontation. "It has been five years, since we saw Duo, but we knew him well. I'm sure we could get the necessary data to verify his identity."
"I admire what you're trying to do," Doctor Gies said. "There's nothing I would like better than to give Zero Two his life back, but you must understand my caution."
"Of course, doctor. We want what's best for Duo, too," Quatre said.
"You probably noticed that physically he is quite healthy, but his mental condition is fragile. Without this level of care, he would have gone mad, but as you've seen, he's quite content."
"He's vacant," Heero said. "Or is that how you like him? High on so many drugs that he can't think for himself."
"Heero!" Quatre said. "Doctor Gies has been given a difficult case..."
"Has he? I haven't heard what condition they're treating."
Gies stared hard at Heero. "I've heard the Preventers always get the job done, and I can see you are determined to do what's right. Perhaps you gentlemen can meet with me tomorrow to discuss my patient's possible identity."
"We know it's Duo," Quatre said.
"As I said, I'm responsible for him, and I'll need to verify the facts."
Something wasn't right here. Heero felt it in his bones; his warrior's instincts were raising the hair on the back of his neck. The doctor was trying to get rid of them. If they agreed to the meeting and left, they would not gain access to the facility again.
"As an agent of the Earth Sphere Unified Nations," Heero said, "I am taking custody of Duo Maxwell as a witness to war crimes."
"War crimes?" Quatre asked in shock. "Heero, what are you talking about?"
It was an idea that came to him in the moment. As a witness to OZ's mistreatment and possible torture of prisoners of war, Duo could be released into his custody and taken from this place. No questions asked.
"Young man," Doctor Gies said. "If you truly care about your colleague you would desist with this nonsense and allow us to get on with our work."
"Are you resisting the authority of the Preventers?" Heero asked.
"I'm resisting your ridiculous misuse of power. Now guards, please escort these gentlemen from the Institute."
The guards took a step forward, and Heero pulled his gun from his holster and pointed it at them.
"Heero!" Quatre shouted. "Don't do this."
"You're taking this too far," Trowa said.
His eyes didn't waver from the guards, though they were no threat. They carried only batons, mace and handcuffs.
"Do you really want to tarnish your career by kidnapping one of my patients?" Doctor Gies asked.
Heero gave a little snort. Nothing mattered, but getting Duo out of here. With one hand he grabbed the mobile phone clipped to his belt and pressed the automatic dial for Wufei. His friend answered on the third ring.
"Yuy here. We've located Duo at the Institute for Mental Illness."
"How is he?"
"Stable. I've taken him into my custody as a witness to war crimes."
"Why do I get the feeling you don't have authorization to do that? Have you talked to Une?"
"Damn it, Yuy."
"This isn't the time, Wufei."
There was a sigh on the other end of the line. "I suppose you need back-up."
"I can get agents there in five minutes."
"Thank you," Heero said, rather uncharacteristically for an official call. "Yuy out." He clipped the phone back on his belt, his gun now fixed on Doctor Gies. "Open the cell and prepare him to leave."
"You don't know what you're doing," Gies said. "He's on a strict regimen and if he goes off that schedule-"
"What doctor? What happens when he's not on your drugs?" Heero asked, gritting his teeth.
The doctor looked flummoxed, caught in some deception. He signaled for the guard to open the cell, and asked a nurse to bring a wheelchair and a sedative.
"You're making a terrible mistake," Gies said. "I don't know what you think you're accomplishing taking him from here. Make your inquiries, but leave him here where his condition is monitored at all times."
The guard and nurse went into the room with Doctor Gies. Heero, Trowa and Quatre stood in the doorway.
"Where are we going to take him?" Quatre asked, nervously. "Do you have another facility in mind?"
"He's coming home with us."
"Do you have any idea what it takes to look after an invalid?" Quatre asked.
Heero turned fierce eyes on Quatre, making the smaller man visibly shiver. "You are one of the richest men in the Earth Sphere. Are you telling me you don't have the resources to care for one of our own?"
"So that's your plan? Have Quatre look after him?" Trowa asked.
"I'm asking for your help," Heero said, his voice softening.
He glanced over to Duo and watched as the nurse hurriedly gave him a shot of sedative and stepped back. Duo turned towards her, his arm swinging towards her and he growled like a caged, angry animal.
"Quatre," Heero said, trying to control his emotions. "We can accomplish anything we set our minds to. We will do this for Duo."
"We?" Trowa asked. "Quatre and I will do what it takes, but what about you?"
"I don't intend on leaving Duo again."
The tone of Heero's words sounded unusually possessive. Trowa supposed his friend meant that he would do whatever it took to make Duo well again.