Across the Universe
Part 3 - Flowing
In moments, Duo was moved into a wheelchair, an Afghan thrown over his legs. His head was slumped forward in his unconscious state. Doctor Gies fussed about abuse of governmental powers, and reluctantly made a list of drugs and their doses. At the last moment, he handed over a copy of Duo's chart.
Quatre wondered if this was the best way to help Duo. There was so much they didn't know, including what had happened to him. Was he even the same boy they once knew?
The Preventers agents arrived and escorted them from the building like dignitaries under guard. The former Gundam pilots got into their rental car with Heero driving, Trowa in the front passenger seat, and Quatre and Duo in the backseat. Quatre used his mobile to arrange for a physician to meet them at the shuttle port.
"I'm calling Iria," he said, after ending the first call. "I think Duo should go to her hospital."
Heero cringed. "I'd rather he didn't go to another medical facility."
"I understand," Quatre said, calmly. "It's only temporary. Iria will be better able to assess his condition there, meanwhile I can have a suite of rooms converted for his care."
Heero saw the logic, and knew that Quatre would never let him down. Even though Quatre and Trowa had grown more cautious, they were loyal, capable young men. They always did the right thing.
As he drove them back to the shuttle port, Heero tried not to glance too often in the rearview mirror. They had won the war, but could they bring Duo back from the unknown?
~ ~ ~
On L4, Doctor Iria Winner and an elite medical team was waiting when they landed. Heero stepped back as Duo's care was given over to Quatre's sister, and the specialists she had gathered. Quatre had made a dozen calls in-flight to ensure everything would be ready for their patient. Heero felt some regret for his earlier comments implying that Quatre and Trowa did not have Duo's best interests at heart. The truth was that he feared his own limitations and the restlessness of his emotions, and needed their combined strength and intercession to succeed.
He had imagined Duo's return many times, but never like this, never as a shell of his former self. It was disconcerting and maddening, and not the homecoming any of them had wanted.
They went along to the hospital, where Iria was chief of staff, but they quickly felt useless. Duo's chart was handed over, and he was taken away for a broad array of testing. They sat in a waiting room and after a couple of hours Iria came out to speak with them.
"His condition is stable. We're keeping him sedated while we're awaiting the test results."
"Is there anything in his chart to indicate what's wrong with him?" Quatre asked.
"Oddly, no, but I'll need to go over it more closely in the coming days."
"Were you able to get him a private room?" Quatre asked.
Iria chuckled. "Anything for you and your friends, little brother. My staff followed your instructions to the letter. Would you like to wait for Duo there? He'll still be sedated, but at least you can see his room."
"That would be great, thank you."
On the tenth floor, a nurse met them at the elevator and escorted them to the private suite of rooms set aside for Duo. The main room had a double-wide hospital bed near a bank of windows and a seating area with comfortable chairs and couches to allow for several visitors at a time. The room was already filled with flowers, courtesy of Quatre, and the standard bed coverings had been switched with the best designer cotton sheets and a handsome all-white summer quilt. It was impractical, but Quatre didn't care. He had hired private nurses to attend to his friend twenty-four hours a day, in addition to the medical staff his sister had assigned to Duo's case.
"I still can't believe we found him," Quatre said, taking a seat in one of the upholstered arm chairs.
"I'm sure your sister will give him the best care," Trowa said.
"And I appreciate all you're doing," Heero said. "I'll arrange my schedule so that I can be here as often as possible."
"You're not taking a leave of absence?" Trowa asked.
"I have to return to L2 in the morning, but I will see about a temporary transfer to L4."
Quatre smiled. "I'm sure Duo would want you by his side."
The comment gave Heero pause. He was not the anxious type, but tonight he was anxious about many things-what the final word on Duo's condition would be; how long it might take him to recover; and if they would find evidence that the Institute had mistreated Duo. Once those questions were answered, he could consider the biggest one of all-did he have any chance with Duo?
"We should have an extra bed brought in, so we can stay with him," Heero said.
"If you're worried about him being alone, a private nurse will always be here. I've made arrangements for sleep quarters in the adjacent room."
"I suppose I could sleep on the couch."
"When would you have time? You'll be working," Trowa said.
"I plan to be here as much as possible."
Trowa and Quatre exchanged a look, but did not comment. Just then, Doctor Winner arrived with her patient on a gurney. The friends watched as a sleeping Duo was carefully moved from the stretcher to the bed. He was wearing a hospital gown and his hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
Iria came over to speak with them once more. "I've scheduled more tests for the morning. I should have something definitive to tell you by tomorrow evening."
"That would be wonderful," Quatre said.
"Get some rest, and know that your friend is safe."
"Thank you," Quatre said, giving his sister a big hug. He and Trowa started to leave, but Heero remained seated. "Aren't you coming home with us? You can spend the night in our guestroom."
"No, thank you. I'm staying here."
"Heero, you heard my sister, Duo is safe."
"Yes, he's in good hands, but I prefer to stay here tonight."
Quatre searched his friend's face and remembered the emotions that had rolled off Heero at the Institute. It was foolish to argue, but he wished his friend would open up about those feelings.
~ ~ ~
After his friends had gone and the activity around Duo had calmed, Heero pulled up a chair to his bedside. Duo's bio data was monitored by a machine next to the bed, and an I.V. slowly dripped a sedative into his veins. Until they knew what they were dealing with, Doctor Winner wanted Duo asleep.
The artificial light from the hallway spilled into the room casting everything in deep shadows, and accentuating the shape of Duo's face. Heero studied that face, melding the matured features before him with memories from years ago. Physically, Duo was unharmed, even his pert nose looked unchanged, but the state of Duo's mind was still clouded.
Duo was receiving the best care in the Earth Sphere, but all Heero could think about was the repetitious movement of Duo's hands stringing those damn beads. Long, slender fingers had pushed aside some beads and took hold of others, and then slipped them onto the cord. It was an insult to the fierce young man Duo had been to give him that task, and a shock to see how far Duo had fallen.
"The God of Death," Heero said, quietly, recalling Duo's self-proclaimed title.
It was a powerful image. No doubt it had helped Duo do what he had needed to do, but was it powerful enough to make Duo whole again?
~ ~ ~
The next morning, Heero flew in his Preventers ship back to L2. Enroute, an unhappy Commander Une contacted him.
"Do you have any idea what a mess you've created? The political fallout from the forced removal of a patient from a private facility is monumental. Doctor Gies has some very powerful friends."
"Yes, Heero, and he's using those connections to put the screws on the Preventers. There's talk of legislation further limiting our authority."
"It was necessary to remove Duo immediately."
"I understand your concern, but I wish you would've contacted me. I could have found another way to get Duo out of there."
"And how long would that have taken?"
"Heero," she said, her gaze penetrating even on the monitor. "I am relieved that you've found Duo, and now that he's been positively identified, we no longer have to worry about Doctor Gies taking steps to retrieve him."
"He was trying to get Duo back?"
"Until yesterday, Gies was Duo's legal guardian. He had every right-"
"He was abusing him."
"You know that for a fact?"
"Doctor Winner's tests will back me up."
"If she finds evidence of mistreatment, I will personally lead an investigation against Gies. In the meantime, you are on probation."
"But I'm returning to the warehouse on L2 now."
"Agent Torre will be taking the lead on the disarmament of the MDs. You are on desk duty for the foreseeable future."
"Yes, I want you to return to Headquarters as soon as possible."
"That would mean returning to Earth."
"That's right, Heero. I want you in Bremen where I can keep an eye on you."
"Commander Une, if I may make a request."
Une sighed. "Go on."
"I respectfully ask to be transferred to L4. Quatre, Trowa, Wufei and I-"
"I understand. You want to be there for Duo as he recovers. Wufei said as much to me yesterday. He's on probation, too, by the way."
Heero swallowed a grin. He knew Wufei would be angry at that black spot on his record, but it would be good for Duo to have his former colleagues with him.
"There's no use arguing with you or Wufei. You're good agents, and this thing with Gies will blow over... So, I'm granting your request for a temporary transfer to the Preventers office on L4. Chang, too."
"Thank you, Commander."
"Yes, well, consider it an investment in Duo's quick recovery. I'm sure with all of you there he will heal much faster."
Heero nodded, and the transmission from Bremen ended. He turned his ship around and headed to his desk job on L4.
~ ~ ~
The next evening, Doctor Winner met with Quatre, Trowa, Heero and Wufei in her office at the hospital. It was the first time the four friends had been together in months. Quatre spent several minutes trying to figure out just how long it had been, but they finally convinced him that no matter the length of time, it had been too long.
For the meeting, Iria brought her chair around from behind her desk and sat facing the young men. "First, I want to tell you that Duo is in good physical condition. Any injuries he sustained during his last battle are long since healed. His brain waves are strong, and we've begun the slow process of reducing his medications so that we can work with him in a more lucid state."
She reached to her desk and retrieved a clipboard with Duo's chart. "You mentioned something about Duo's transfer to the Institute and his name appearing on paperwork as Zero Two."
"Yes, that's what Doctor Finch told us," Quatre said.
"Well, no OZ paperwork was included in the file that Doctor Gies gave you."
"I'm not surprised," Heero said. "He was hiding something from us."
"I'm inclined to agree. Our initial tests of the drugs in Duo's bloodstream do not match those listed in his file."
"What?" Quatre asked.
"Doctor Gies gave you the wrong patient file," Iria said.
Quatre looked to Heero. "Why would he do that?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
"It's unethical," Doctor Winner said. "It would've been useful to have Duo's chart, but we can proceed without it. From what I've seen, the drugs they were giving him are designed to keep him in that semi-catatonic state. I tried to reach Doctor Gies today, but he hasn't returned my calls."
"Is there evidence that Duo was experimented on?" Heero asked.
"Not physically, so we'll have to wait for Duo to tell us. If he was tortured by OZ, he may not remember it at first, but we won't know his true state until he's weaned from the drugs and he can communicate with us."
"How long will that take?"
"It can take weeks for all traces of the drugs to leave his body, but I expect him to be fully lucid in 48 hours."
"Will he be violent?" Quatre asked. "Doctor Finch mentioned that Duo was violent when he came to the Institute."
"That's good to know and may account for the drug cocktail they're giving him. We'll watch for any signs of agitation."
"And if he's okay, will we be able to talk to him?" Quatre asked with a smile.
"Yes, of course, but he may not recognize you at first."
"I thought you said his brainwaves are strong and he's healthy," Trowa said.
"That's right, but if he suffered a great trauma, his mind may want to keep those memories and many more locked away. If that happens, it'll just take a little longer for him to recover. So, try not to be discouraged. I believe Duo is capable of a full recovery."
The prognosis was good, but it still shook the former Gundam pilots to hear about the potential complications of Duo's recovery.
When they left the doctor's office, Heero took Wufei aside. "We need to find out all we can about Doctor Gies."
~ ~ ~
Two days later, Quatre phoned Heero at the Preventers office, his voice bubbling with emotion. "Duo's awake! He's calm and he remembers me, Heero. He actually remembers me."
"He knew your name?" Heero asked, skeptical.
"Oh, yes. When I came into the room he recognized me immediately. Iria was very pleased."
It was looking more and more like the drugs were meant to inhibit Duo's senses and self-awareness.
"I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Trowa's coming in just a bit. And don't forget to bring Wufei."
"Of course." Heero ended the call, and though his heart was beating faster he felt an unusual reticence. Doctor Winner had warned that Duo's state of mind would be fragile, and his memories would come gradually. The fact that he had remembered Quatre was a big relief, but might good memories bring the bad as well?
When Heero and Wufei arrived at the hospital directly from work, Quatre met them in the hall outside his room.
"How is he?" Heero asked. He wanted to see how Duo was doing for himself, but he suspected Quatre had a reason for detaining them in the hall.
"He's good. He just finished supper. Trowa's with him now, talking about the circus."
"Then his memory is good?" Wufei asked.
"He's a bit confused by everything. It's like he's been in a coma for five years, but my sister said to be patient. The fact that he recognized me is a very good sign."
Heero's heart pounded in his ears. He was about to look into Duo's eyes for the first time in over five years. He hadn't been this nervous in his entire life.
Quatre gestured with his hands to signal they proceed quietly, and led them into the room. The moment they stepped over the threshold, Duo and Trowa looked up, and Heero's breath caught. Duo was sitting up in bed wearing a hospital gown, and his hair was neatly braided. Duo looked straight at him, but there was no recognition in his eyes.
As Heero drew closer to the bed, he realized that Duo did not know him.
"Duo," Quatre said smiling, "You remember Heero and Wufei."
"I-I'm not sure," Duo said. His voice was quiet and lacked the confidence they all remembered. His large blue eyes looked between Heero and Wufei, eventually settling solidly on Wufei. "You're... Chang?"
"Yes, Chang Wufei." Wufei puffed his chest out like a proud peacock at being recognized. "My Gundam was Nataku, and we had the honor of fighting alongside you and your Gundam."
"On Earth, right?" Duo asked.
"Yes." Wufei did not elaborate after Quatre gave him a worried glance. Perhaps it would overwhelm him to bring up too many memories at once. He already seemed confused by the Preventers uniforms.
Duo had gone to outerspace with his Earth-tuned Gundam and quickly learned its inadequacies. After the fateful battle in which he was captured, the Gundam scientists upgraded the Gundams for space battle and the next phase of the war, but Deathscythe and its pilot were no more.
"Perhaps we should order some tea," Quatre said. "How does that sound?"
Duo glanced at Heero again, but his eyes quickly slid away. "Tea sounds good."
Quatre called for room service, and he and Wufei settled into chairs next to the bed. Quatre was obviously overjoyed to have Duo back, but Heero couldn't help a pang of jealousy at their renewed connection.
Trowa got up. "There's something I need to ask Heero," he said, and walked over to his friend. He put his hand on Heero's arm and directed him out of the room. In the corridor he spoke quietly. "Don't worry, he doesn't remember me either."
"But you were talking about the circus," Heero said.
"Just filling time, hoping it'll trigger something. He knew Quatre right away... like lost brothers. Quatre was thrilled."
Heero tried to hide his great disappointment. He never guessed that Duo wouldn't remember him, and that it would hurt like this. Over the intervening years he had done all he could to track down leads, and prepare himself for the day their search came to an end. There had always been a chance they would never find Duo or that they would discover he was dead, but Heero had kept moving forward. One foot in front of the other he had gone about his life, focused on his work, and hiding his heart away.
Their mission was accomplished. Duo was returned, but Heero couldn't share in the moment. Once again, he was on the outside looking in.
"I'm not surprised he doesn't remember me," Trowa was saying. "I hardly interacted with him. But you... your paths crossed several times."
"He probably doesn't want to remember me."
Trowa chuckled. "It can't have been that bad."
"No, you were right the first time. I was an ass."
"Well, here's your chance to make amends."
Heero nodded and watched Trowa head back into the room. He hesitated to follow, hesitated to throw himself back into the hurt, but Trowa poked his head into the hall and waved him in. Maybe Trowa was right. He needed to make amends. Needed to show Duo that he was a decent guy and that those memories he was blocking of him weren't all bad.
He pulled up a chair like the rest of them. Tea was served and they sat for over an hour talking about a lot of nothing. It was the most uncomfortable hour of his life. Worse than being strapped to that exam table, bleeding and feigning unconsciousness in the Alliance military medical building.
His mind returned to that moment years before... A hiss of static from one of the monitors had alerted him to Duo's presence. He had seen Duo's face on the monitor, and read his lips. Even without sound, Duo's sarcasm had come through.
"What a guy!" Duo had said. "You've been awake all this time without changing your pulse or breathing pattern. Impressive. I'd like to ask you some questions. And if you'd like, I'll help you get out of here."
The rescue was fast and furious, and Heero had repaid Duo's efforts by stealing parts from his Gundam. Duo had good reason not to remember him.
The returned Duo was quiet, and spoke somewhat timidly like he hadn't found his footing yet. Having him alive and interacting even in this small way was a gift none of the former pilots had dared to dream aloud. Their reunion was going as well as could be expected until a nurse arrived to check on Duo. His eyes locked on her the moment she appeared in the doorway, and his body tensed.
Heero watched Duo's reactions to the nurse, noting his increased heartbeat on the monitor and the dilation of his eyes. Obviously, Duo did not trust this woman or medical personnel in general.
When she approached his bedside, he became extremely agitated and asked what she wanted. The nurse was rather young, and politely explained that Doctor Winner had ordered a sedative to ensure a sound sleep that night.
"No," he said, firmly with an edge of fear. "I don't want you to touch me."
The former pilots glanced at each other in silent confirmation that they had witnessed the same thing. Quatre asked the nurse to step into the hall with him, and moments later he returned to explain to Duo that Iria would speak with him later about the sedative. Duo did not enlighten them with why he had reacted that way-he might not have known-but his friends understood he was remembering something that had happened.
Considering that Duo was now awake to interact with his new surroundings, of which he was not entirely comfortable, Heero suggested that one or more of them spend the night. Of course, Quatre volunteered, but he had been spending most of each day at the hospital.
"I'll stay," Heero said.
Duo looked at him wearily and then to Quatre. "I appreciate all you're doing for me, but I'll be fine."
"But your memories aren't all back," Quatre said. "You should have someone here that you know."
Quatre had just unwittingly maneuvered Heero out of the job, but he was not giving up yet.
"Wufei and I will stay until Duo falls asleep. How would that be?" Heero asked.
That solution was accepted by everyone, including Duo. So, the Gundam pilots turned Preventers took the first night watch over their newly conscious friend. While Heero ran down to the hospital cafeteria to get sandwiches and coffee, since he and Wufei had not eaten dinner, Wufei sat at Duo's bedside chatting. When he got back, Wufei was in the middle of expounding on the role of the Preventers, an organization that had not existed at the time of Duo's capture. Like Quatre had said, for all they knew Duo had been in a coma for five years and had absolutely no knowledge of recent events.
An hour later, Doctor Winner came to see Duo on her rounds. Duo was not anxious in the least, which probably had everything to do with the fact that she was Quatre's sister. After she explained how important sleep was to his continued health and that the sedative she was recommending was a low dose, he agreed to the injection. Before he fell asleep she told him that the I.V. would be removed in the morning. His test results were good and the mild dehydration and nutrient deficiencies he had been suffering from had been corrected.
Iria left and did not question the Preventers agents staying behind with their friend.
Wufei turned off the light over the bed, so as not to disturb their sleeping friend. "Doctor Winner will probably release him in a day or two."
"I got that impression, too."
"What did you make of his reaction to the nurse?"
"Simple anxiety? You and Quatre are the only people who are not strangers to him."
"Do you think he could be remembering something that happened to him?"
Heero nodded. "That crossed my mind, though Doctor Iria said there are no physical indications of mistreatment."
"But we know that OZ is capable of mistreating its prisoners. Then there's the unusual cocktail Gies was giving Duo." Wufei shook his head in disgust. "The last five years cannot have been easy for him."
"Well, let's head out," Wufei said. "We can stop in to see him at lunch tomorrow if you like."
"I'm staying the night."
Wufei gave him a long look, but said nothing more. That was one of things he liked best about his friend. He knew when to argue and when to remain silent.
Instead of sitting at the bedside, Heero turned the sofa to face the bed and stretched out there. Duo did not know him and for that reason, Heero felt he should give the young man space. If he should wake to find the stranger, Heero Yuy, propped in a chair next to his bed, he might become as agitated as he had with the nurse. From this distance, Heero respected the awkwardness of the situation while satisfying his need to be near Duo and to watch over him.