"Daydreams...like books in the shelf of my mind"
--Lolah Burford, 'Edward, Edward'
by D.C. Logan
Wufei looked suddenly older, and sagged visibly. "I'd called him to give my flight information, and he offered to pick me up at Logan. My flight was supposed to arrive at 6:45, but was rerouted and delayed until midnight. Heero's car was struck head on by a drunk driver while he was on the way to the airport."
Duo motioned Wufei over to the window with its pulled blinds, and sat down hard on one of the institutional chairs that seemed to populate every hospital he'd ever visited. He hadn't expected this, not in a million. Amazing how a few seconds interval could re-sculpt your life. Damn.
Wufei watched Duo carefully and continued. "He'll recover in time. They're concerned about his breathing. He bruised his chest rather severely in the impact and they put him back on the ventilator to ease his breathing somewhat, but he's stable, and as long as he keeps improving they'll take him back off the ventilator in another twenty-four hours or so. It's just a precaution at this point. They had an orthopedic surgeon repair the breaks in his right arm, they reset the dislocation in the left shoulder; apparently he used his arms to shield his face during impact--an action which probably saved his life. Other than that and some minor cuts and lots of bruising, he'll be fine. The other driver didn't make it. She was a seventeen-year-old girl, first week on her license and coming home from a party. She lost control, crossed the barrier, and hit Heero head on. He didn't have a chance to avoid her."
Wufei didn't sit, but was watching Duo with caution--unsure of how to read him or his reaction to the news. Heero had been pleased to see him, shocked, but pleased, Wufei could tell. What he wasn't sure of was Duo's current state of mind, and that was important for what he needed to ask of him. Duo's fingertips were shaking. Duo looked down, noticed the tremor, and stilled them with sheer force of will. Wufei shifted his glance to the side and smiled at Heero's monitors. This guy had control; that was unexpected, and very very good.
"I'm going to get some coffee. Want some?"
Duo looked up to see Wufei watching him, and refocused his thoughts. "Sure." He reached into his pocket for change, but Wufei waved him off and turned to leave the room.
"I've got this round, you can get the next one if it pleases you to do so."
...And that was so Heero, that he knew one of them must have picked it up from the other. With Wufei gone, and the room empty but for him and Heero, he felt his curiosity start to creep past his phobia. He listened for the pattern in the sounds of the machines, compared it to the randomness of noise from the hallway and tried to gather his confidence back in. He rose to feet unsteady without the posturing he needed in front of Wufei, and moved to the bedside to peer down at his friend.
Heero looked awful, but better than he'd remembered from first glance. This side of his face had escaped the brunt of the impact; he was still beautiful, even like this; fragile and transparent and so very human. His breathing was strained and artificially regular with the aid of the machines. Duo had never considered what it would be like to not be able to speak, to write, to have to communicate all your wants, needs, and desires through looks alone. It was a humbling thought.
Blunt tips of swollen fingers emerged uselessly from the end of Heero's cast, and he touched one gently in a childlike curiosity. So strange to see the parts of the whole separated by cast and cloth and bandage. Duo pulled back his hand and glanced worriedly at the doorway, then at Heero's face, but he was alone in the room, and Heero continued to sleep, his thick lashes resting on his face. They were beautiful, long, and very exotic, and Duo cursed himself and his overactive libido for awaking at a time like this. Hell, he didn't even know how interested Heero was in him, or if he wanted anything more than friendship--it had been so difficult to read him at times. He backed away from the bed and retreated to his chair. He didn't want Wufei to return and catch Duo poking and prodding his friend.
Though when Wufei returned, he didn't so much as glance to Heero's bed, instead he walked directly to Duo and took up residence in the chair opposite him and extended the cup of coffee in a nearly universal offering of peace. Duo hesitated for a brief second, but after meeting Wufei's eyes, took the cup form his hand and blew across the surface before taking a sip. Hospitals did know a thing or two about coffee; he was grateful for that. One tiny blessing in a world turned upside down. One thing still didn't quite make sense though.
"Did Heero talk about me? I mean, how did you know we were friends?"
Wufei leaned back in his chair, fingers taut around a hot cup that should have burned his fingers, thinking about how much information was his to reveal. "Yes, he mentioned that he'd been spending rather a great deal of time in your company. Also that you'd likely worry about his absence. He asked me to contact you if anything should happen to him." He moved the cup of coffee to the wide sill and thought through the empty pause in the conversation, daring to add. "He considers you a good and honest friend, and I've never known him to make friends casually."
"Oh." Hell, that had been decent of the guy to admit all that in front of him with Heero in the room--conscious or not. "Yeah, I was worried, we all were," Duo confessed. "Didn't know how to find him or contact anyone to find out what had happened, you know?"
Wufei nodded and reached into his coat pocket, withdrawing a silver business card holder. It looked antique and had Chinese characters etched into the lid. He pulled a card free and handed it to Duo, who flipped it over and read it aloud.
He made it through "Wufei Chang, Agent, Thornwood Publications..." before stopping. There was a California address and three phone numbers listed below, but Duo's brain was still hovering on 'Agent' and 'Thornwood'. He looked up at Wufei who returned a shrug in response to Duo's unasked question and gave in to fate.
"Heero is an author; I represent his writing, among other things. We've known each other since we were six. He is my best and only friend, and I would follow him to the ends of the earth." He saw Duo's shocked expression, and slowly realized something. "He never told you, did he?"
"No, I just assumed that he was unemployed. You know, he seemed so uncomfortable being out in public, he was careful with his money, he didn't seem to have any place he needed to be..." Hell, it all fit when he thought back on it; the way Heero acted around people, his familiarity with the publishing industry. Duo had been too blinded by the man to see the trappings around him. Hell, talk about missing the little details.
"Recently, he's talked of little else than his time with you and your friends, and I can't remember him ever taking an interest in someone else's life before yours. However you managed it, he does care about your friendship--even if he doesn't say it often."
"Thanks, you didn't have to tell me that." Duo suddenly remembered that he still didn't know Heero's last name. Damn, why hadn't he thought to ask Wufei when he'd had the chance. Then again, he wasn't sure he wanted to reveal just how much he and Heero _hadn't_ talked about. Somehow, whenever they started talking, the details of each of their lives had paled in comparison to bolder topics like great literature, current events, and the fuel economy of electric cars. "Does he write under a pen name? Is he someone I would have heard of? ...I think I would have remembered seeing his name on a dust jacket since it's unusual, but then again..."
Wufei smiled, enjoying Duo's company despite the unusual circumstances, "In order then: yes, and probably." He held out a hand to forestall Duo's comeback. "Yes, he does all of his writing under a pen name, no, I'm not going to tell you what it is. That's for Heero to tell, and that's all I'm saying on the topic."
There was a note of finality to that statement that had Duo's mind racing, but kept his tongue stilled. It would keep. It would have to, since Heero wouldn't be able to say anything on the subject any time soon. That was for certain. He looked back at the bed, Heero had his eyes closed, but was shifting uncomfortably.
He checked, Wufei was watching Heero as well, and finally stood and moved to the bedside, looking down at him. A nurse chose that moment to enter the room. She seemed all bustle and efficiency as she ignored the two men in favor of adjusting machinery and entering notations into some type of electronic device. It made odd little beeps with every entry. It wasn't until she returned the device to her holster that she turned to the men and spoke. "Visiting hours ended seven minutes ago, you can come back between seven and three tomorrow." She faced them, hands braced on her ample hips, waiting for an argument. Wufei had just opened his mouth to protest, but thought better of it and snapped his jaw shut. Duo paused, caught between his promise and the rules. He leaned down to Heero's face and touched his forehead gently, "Heero? I need to leave, but I'll be back to see you tomorrow, okay?" Heero twitched, and his eyes opened thinly and made contact with Duo's before closing again. Well, thought Duo, at least he heard me.
The remaining coffee was discarded, and the two left together and soon lost conversation again, both caught up in private thoughts involving Heero and the other. Even the drive back to Duo's store was done in relative quiet--Wufei venturing an occasional remark about the absence of traffic, Duo responding with monosyllables in turn.
Wufei dropped him off in front of his store, declining the offer to come in or for the returned favor of a cup of coffee. He looked tired, Duo noted, and he was immediately contrite. "You going to see him again tomorrow?"
Wufei nodded, "You want me to pick you up? I can't promise an exact time..."
Duo thought about the store and scheduling, "That's alright, I'll meet you there if that's okay."
Wufei nodded, and his head sagged further. He was beat, the initial shock and subsequent strain were wearing him down. "I'll see you tomorrow then." He waited until Duo was on the sidewalk and preparing to close the car door before adding, "And Duo?"
"For being there for Heero."
Duo looked puzzled for a moment or two, and then smiled; and Wufei instantly saw what had initially attracted Heero to this man. There was an honest affection for people there that transcended the normal and ordinary. He was a beautiful individual, regardless of his connection to Heero. That Heero had captured his interest was beyond Wufei's understanding, but attraction between people worked in ways beyond his ken. Duo waved then and closed the door with a solid thunk before moving across the sidewalk and into his store. And Wufei was left alone again. Damn, he'd completely forgotten how it felt to be around someone like that--no wonder Heero was addicted. He put the car in gear and moved off to take his thoughts and concerns to bed with him. What a week it had been.
Wufei's meeting ran late the next day. It would have bothered him, but he was confident that Duo would already be at the hospital with Heero, keeping him company. Sure enough, when he finally stumbled through the door to Heero's room, Duo was slouched in one of the uncomfortable chairs that he'd pulled closer to Heero's bedside and was reading to him from a battered paperback. He looked up and stopped reading when Wufei entered the room. He raised his finger to his lips, glanced at Heero, and rose to meet Wufei at the door.
He spoke quietly so as not to disturb Heero. "Hey," he paused in indecision, should he address him as Mr. Chang, or as Wufei? He gave up and continued with the update. "One of the doctors was in earlier and said that Heero was improving. They might take him off some of the machines tonight or tomorrow."
Wufei visibly relaxed, "That's really good to hear. Any other news?"
"Well, he was awake for a while when I first got here, and seems more aware than he was last night." He flashed the paperback at Wufei, "I was reading to him, that way he didn't have to try to say anything or keep his eyes open. He dropped off to sleep a few minutes ago." Duo looked back at the bed before turning to Wufei again. "Want to walk down to the cafeteria for a coffee?"
Wufei looked over Heero's bed, it looked like they'd taken the backup equipment away to someone who needed it more, and Heero _did_ look more relaxed. The doctors had expected two to three weeks to recover from the deep tissue bruising, but Heero was doing well. He sighed and nodded, and followed Duo out the door and down the hall.
Wufei looked up from his apple pie, "What?"
"No one sent him any cards; no flowers; no balloons, no silly disposable stuffed animals..."
Wufei would rather have eaten his pie with his fingers than answer that subtle question, but he resigned himself to reveal more personal information without Heero's consent. "Heero doesn't talk about it, and I'm not sure he'd appreciate me telling you, but there it is..." He pushed his pie away, he wasn't hungry for it any more. "Heero doesn't have any family. We both grew up in St. John's boys' home, and as you probably guessed, he doesn't get out much, and doesn't make friends easily." He moved the plate with half-eaten pie further away, and drew his coffee closer. "Therefore, no cards." He looked back into Duo's face to read his reaction.
Duo was thoughtful for a moment or two, then shrugged, "That explains the lack of cards then," and tucked back into his own slice of pie. Wufei breathed a sigh of relief, no more questions, good.
The next day Wufei was already sitting with Heero when Duo walked through the door--and stopped short. Not only was Heero off of the ventilator, he was also awake. He also looked really pissed off; Wufei looked strained. Duo fought a brief instinctual urge to run like hell, but entered the room cautiously instead. It was one thing to talk to Heero when he couldn't talk back, it was something else entirely to have him awake, aware, and apparently angry.
Heero turned to Wufei and said something then, but his voice was too soft for Duo to hear. Wufei apparently disagreed with whatever it was Heero had said. Wufei looked exasperated, and he waved Duo closer.
Duo wasn't entirely sure that was a good idea, but he smiled at Heero and pulled a chair close to the other two.
"I want to go home." The voice was rough with disuse, oddly hoarse and very soft, but Heero was back in action. If attitude was anything to go by, he'd be better in no time at all.
A flat "No," was Wufei's response, apparently they'd been through this 'discussion' several times already if the tone in Wufei's voice was anything to go by.
"I hate hospitals."
Duo nodded encouragingly at Heero, he hated them too.
Heero's eyes widened fractionally in recognition of an unexpected ally and he turned his attention to Wufei, trying to wear him down. Wufei however, had his attention on Duo, which Heero wondered about. What _had_ the two of them discussed in his absence? He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know.
Wufei looked at the ceiling, but it offered no other usable options. "Alright, will you please excuse me for a minute?" he asked of Heero and Duo, and left the room without looking back.
Duo scrunched closer to the bed and grinned openly at Heero. "Hey, you're back."
Heero's face twisted automatically into a wry grin, but he flinched when that pulled muscles uncomfortably. He suddenly realized that he hadn't smiled when he saw Wufei that morning, he'd saved it for Duo. Well, that wasn't a surprise really. He was just getting ready to ask about all that he'd missed when Wufei appeared at the door, doctor in tow, and the moment was broken.
The doctor wasn't paying much attention to Wufei, and instead walked over to the bed and addressed Heero directly. Actually, he talked to his paperwork in the bedside manner of doctors everywhere, but he was facing Heero when he did it.
"Mr. Yuy? I understand that you're not happy with our accommodations and that you'd like to go home." He looked up from his clipboard; Heero glared back. The doctor thought better of trying to intimidate his patient and gave up. "If, and I mean if," there was a long pause, "you agree to stay another twenty-four hours under our observation, and _if_ you agree to acquire a full-time registered nurse for the duration of your recovery at home, then yes, I'll release you." He shifted his paperwork and looked at Heero, then Wufei, and finally Duo in turn. "And I'm charging the rest of you to make sure he does it. I don't want to see any of you back here. Got it."
Wufei didn't trust the demonic gleam of victory that lit Heero's eyes and he whimpered deep inside in response. Finding an in-home nurse that was up to dealing with a disabled and irritable Heero would _not_ be easy. Hell, this was going to be hell. This was going to cost a fortune, and a couple favors he'd been saving up for the right moment; and the asking of a new favor... Heero was going to owe him big for all this. Real big.
"Can I ask a favor of you?"
Duo looked at Wufei curiously. By implied consent, their commute to and from the hospital (at least on the few occasions they arrived or left at the same time) had always passed in near silence. Duo had just assumed that Wufei preferred it that way, but now he was wondering...
"No obligation of course, but I'd appreciate it if you'd at least consider..."
The question was left hanging in the open, and Duo was too curious to let it rest there for long.
"Sure, um, what?"
"Would you be willing to check in on Heero for me?" Wufei adjusted his grip on the steering wheel and changed lanes before looking back at Duo. "I need to get back to the office, there's only so much I can manage remotely like this." He hurried his argument so Duo couldn't insert a protest. "Heero's apartment is on the top floor of the building your store is in, so I don't expect that it should take much time from your schedule to stop by and check up on his progress for me. I'd be happy to compensa..."
Duo interrupted, "Hey, no problem. I'd be happy to make sure he's all right. Anything special that you're expecting him to need?"
Wufei changed lanes again and thought to himself, 'besides a new apartment, medical expenses for whatever nursing staff he could bribe, and whatever other havoc Heero managed to inflict on the building or his person?' What he said, however, didn't reveal his thoughts...much. "The nursing staff isn't expected to handle any shopping or cleaning or incidental needs--not that I expect you to either--but if you could manage that for me?"
Duo considered. Heck yeah he could handle that. He considered Heero a good friend at this point, and even if their relationship hadn't progressed beyond that stage, well, he didn't have many limits when it came to helping out friends. Heero needed help, he needed a good friend, and he didn't seem to have all that many of them at the moment. Wait a second... he lived over Daydreams? Hot damn, close, convenient... what could be easier?
"Sure, what are friends for."
Wufei smiled to himself, 'gotcha!'