The Hospital Arc
Part One: Hospital
by D.C. Logan
"He looks so small," Heero thought.
It was 24 hours after the crash. Heero had gotten off lightly—three broken ribs, a fractured arm, and some surface abrasions from the road after he'd been thrown clear of the truck.
Duo hadn't been so lucky. He remained trapped in a transport truck that looked like it had been crumpled by a giant's hand. Emergency crews had taken nearly two agonizing hours to cut him free from the twisted metal as Heero had watched from a hidden vantage point across the tarmac. It hadn't been an easy time for him, torn between rushing over to give his aid, and bound by the assignment he'd accepted. But at the time, the mission had taken an uneasy priority over helping his friend.
The driver of the truck that had hit them was dead, and after seeing Duo, Heero was grateful for it—he didn't know what he would have done to the careless driver after seeing Duo in this condition.
Duo wasn't supposed to have any visitors, but that wasn't a problem for him. His photographic memory for the floor plans of all government installations and institutional buildings was flawless. He'd spent the morning hacking into the hospital database to check on Duo's progress and prognosis. Right now he was listed as critical but stable. The machines were breathing for him, and though his heartbeat was steady and regular, he hadn't raised to consciousness yet. Heero monitored the appliances with a practiced eye—approving of the degree of efficiency he saw in the military hospital.
"At least they know what they're doing," he mused.
He sidled to the door to check the corridor for activity. Duo was in a private room—an unusual circumstance that would likely change as soon as they made a positive identification of their John Doe patient. Heero had intentionally scheduled his visit during the hour of the early morning shift change—he was less likely to run into anyone who'd ask questions of him at this hour.
Seeing no one, he moved back to the hospital bed and stripped back the sheet. New stitches, blood that had dried, antiseptic stains, and assorted tubes and shunts ensured that Duo's main body functions were active and carefully measured. Heero pulled on a pair of medical gloves and quickly but thoroughly inspected Duo from undamaged toes to the top of his shorn head. Heero had become an expert in anatomy and human physiology for the usual reason—it made him a more efficient killer. But the research came in handy now as he evaluated the likelihood of moving Duo from this unit to a private facility.
He pulled the sheet back over Duo's body and reached down to bring the blanket up to his waist as well. No doubt about it—he couldn't be moved until he stabilized further.
Heero paused as he looked again at Duo's face—something he'd been unconsciously avoiding. It didn't look at all like the brash young pilot he'd come to admire. Bruised tissues ran the gamut from bright magenta to deep black purple across his face and exposed chest. His head had been shaved close, and revealed the neat row of metal staples holding the incision site together. The doctors had put an emergency shunt into his skull to relieve the pressure of his bruised and bleeding brain. The measure had likely saved his life and preserved his mind—but Heero wouldn't want to be anywhere within striking distance of Duo when he realized what had been done to his braided source of pride.
It was uncomfortable for him, watching Duo and knowing that soul of the brash talented pilot was lying dormant beneath the inanimate body in front of him. It was uncannily eerie to see him like this—not even the flutter on eyelid to betray the person underneath the bruised skin.
A clicking of heels in the hall warned him. Cursing his own stupidity, Heero ducked around the corner and into the head as a pair of whitecoats opened the door.
"And here is our special John Doe case," said the taller of the two. "We haven't a clue how he made it onto the base. Apparently he was attempting to liberate a cargo carrier when an out of control truck driven by a drunken lieutenant hit him. Lieutenant Murrain didn't make it—died on impact. This youngster came pretty close to the same fate—it took us a while to separate him from what was left of the truck. You've reviewed his file—the only other information that came back from the lab is his bone density test that shows that he very likely spent most of his developmental years off planet on one of the colonies. We've estimated his age within the range of 14 to 18 years. Hard to tell under all that damage, but that's where his skull fissure x-rays place him developmentally."
Heero listened carefully to the running commentary—but heard no response from the other visitor. More paper was shuffled and machines were tested to ensure that they were operating at the set capacity.
The other person finally spoke, "Did you scan him?"
"We did the routine scans for microchips, implants, and such. He's clean though."
There was a garumph of acknowledgment, then silence.
"How soon until we know if he has brain function left?"
The doctor considered, then replied, "All evidence supports active brain activity—but there's risk involved in trying to stimulate him prematurely. I'll contact you when he shows signs of coming around if you'd like. Should we keep him contained here? Or would your prefer moving him to your unit as soon as he stabilizes?"
Heero strained to hear the reply, but both men were moving into the hall, and the heavy door closed on his soft words.
"Damn. This is not good."
He wanted to move him out of here tonight if possible. Trowa had a medical room set up for him at the safe house, and Wufei had an ambulance standing by for when Heero deemed him ready to move. They needed to move him before the military made a positive ID on him though—although timing that and the hour he'd stabilized enough to be taken off the respirator would be dicey.
Heero took one last look at Duo's motionless body. "I'll be back before you know it Duo, promise." And started his path back though the service corridors of the hospital building to his exit.
"Well, he doesn't look good. I just checked his vitals via my tap into the hospital mainframe, and he's holding his own—but not improving by any measure. He's still unconscious—and they don't want to take him off the respirator until he comes around. The good news is that he's so banged up that making an ID off of any circulating photos they may have on file will be nearly impossible. The other good news is that the road crew had to cut his braid prior to the medics getting there—so they don't have that to go on either. The bad news is that they may decide to move him to a secure facility off base—in which case getting him out safely will be an entirely different proposition. What do you think? Now, or later?"
Heero looked at the other three pilots. Trowa looked pensive, Quatre sad, and Wufei was his usual inscrutable self.
Trowa was the first to respond. "Better dead than in the hands of the military. But give him the night—they're unlikely to move him before the brass awakes. What time did you visit this morning—4 am?"
Heero looked at the others, Quatre gave a reluctant nod, and Wufei consented.
"Okay then, here's the layout of the floor he's on...."
The transfer of the patient (Heero couldn't bring himself to call the wreck of a body they'd unloaded from the stolen ambulance as Duo yet) went smoothly, as a well-planned mission should. The only moment of panic that had ensued was when Trowa and Heero had disconnected the respirator. There had been an indeterminate and agonizing gap the length of five deep breaths before Duo had started breathing on his own with a rattling gasp that sent waves of relief coursing through Heero's overtaxed nervous system. Wufei was waiting by as planned, and Quatre had the medical equipment set up at the safe house and was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Deathscythe's pilot. Apparently that unusual empathy he had told him to have no fears that Duo would arrive alive—if not exactly well—and he had everything in order to monitor their comrade.
Wufei gasped in shock when he walked into the room after ditching the ambulance at a distant civilian hospital. "That can't be Duo, it isn't, right?" Quatre looked up from the chair next to Duo's bed and nodded an affirmative sadly.
Wufei tipped his head in subtle acknowledgment and bowed himself out the door before losing his compusure. It didn't seem right—they all knew the risks—but the Gundanium alloy suits were designed to protect the fragile lives within. It didn't seem right somehow that Duo had incurred this much damage from a collision of two mundane vehicles when he'd survived so much battle hell at the controls of Deathscythe.
Duo's body improved slowly over the next two weeks, and as the deep tissue bruises began to fade, and the swelling subsided, Duo's features began to emerge. But although his brainwaves indicated that "Duo" was there in some capacity, he didn't regain consciousness.
The pilots took turns watching Duo around the clock. Heero read to Duo at night from books he'd found stowed in one of Deathscythe's compartments.
"'In One Timing' means, when you have closed with the enemy, to hit him as quickly and directly as possible, without moving your body or settling your spirit, while you see that he is still undecided. The timing of hitting before the enemy decides to withdraw, break or hit, is this 'In One Timing'. You must strain to achieve this timing, to be able to hit in the timing of an instant."
The words were hundreds of years old, but the knowledge behind them was as timely today as ever. Knowing that Duo had thought enough about the book to "borrow" it off of his shelf, and realizing that he was repeating words that were familiar to both of them gave him a measure of comfort while his friend lay quiet and still, day after day.
The ugly scalp sutures were soon hidden under a halo of fuzzy red-brown hair. Quatre mused about Duo's reaction to the loss of his favorite accoutrement. And he was eager to hear the tirade, as he was despairing of ever seeing Duo back to his normal self again. Heero especially was looking paler and worried as Duo lingered without waking. The longer Duo remained in this state, the less likely he was to emerge mentally unscathed, yet something in his soul told Quatre that everything would turn out all right for the young American pilot. He maintained his core of hope and read on from one of the growing stack of books at his bedside. He selected a page at random and spoke in his soft lilting voice:
"The dark flows on itself. A dead mouth sings under an old tree.
The ear hears only in low places.
Remember and old sound.
This slag runs slow. What bleeds when metal breaks?
Flesh, you offend this metal. How long need the bones mourn?
Are those horns on top of the hill? Yesterday has a long look.
He suppressed a shiver. Strange, he'd never thought of Duo as the poetic type—but the book was old, well thumbed through, and the only one that bore his scrawled signature on the inside cover. How odd, he mused, for Duo to seek solace in the words of others when he was so eloquent with his own.
He looked again at Duo's face—was that a twitch? His heart skipped a beat. "Duo, hey Duo—if you can hear me, wiggle your fingers okay?!" The eye shifted again beneath its lid, but there was no other reaction. Still Quatre was optimistic. When he turned over the chair to Heero, he mentioned the movement and was heartened to see a glimmer of hope alight in Heero's expression. "Read from his poetry book—that's what I was doing when he seemed to react."
Heero sat down by the bedside and carefully examined Duo's face. Quatre hadn't been imagining things—Duo's face wasn't slack any longer. The soul inside was starting to fight to come to the surface. Knowing firsthand how difficult that road had been, Heero took Duo's hand in his and began reading from the book Quatre had handed him—The Collected Roethke. He read aloud, skipping pages at random, reading whole passages nonstop, until he came to a dog-eared page well worn with use:
"I think of the rock singing, and light making its own silence,
At the edge of a ripening meadow, in early summer,
The moon lolling in the close elm, a shimmer of silver,
Or that lonely time before the breaking of morning
When the slow freight winds along the edge of the ravaged hillside,
And the wind tries the shape of a tree,
While the moon lingers,
And a drop of rain water hangs at the tip of a leaf
Shifting in the wakening sunlight
Like the eye of a new-caught fish."
Caught up in the mental image the lines had created, he didn't immediately notice the subtle shift of fingers in his hand not his own, but he heard the harsh breath in the wake of his words and looked to Duo's face. The eyes were open and aware—but oh so tired. They flickered in recognition after painfully focusing on Heero's features, and a grim half smile made an appearance. "How long?" he mouthed without a sound.
Heero shifted the book to the side and moved closer to Duo's face. "Twenty-three days, seven hours." He checked Duo's eyes for a reaction. "Don't move—you're still hooked up to some equipment—does anything hurt?"
Duo paused to consider the question, but the effort was simply too much for him at the moment—and his eyes fluttered closed again.
It was enough for Heero. He felt like singing. He waited for a response, and when none was forthcoming, he gently placed Duo’s hand back on the side of the bed. Considering if he could leave him for the few moments it would take to tell the other pilots the good news, he gently smiled a rare, true smile.
Perhaps they’d all survive this mission after all…
1. A Book Of Five Rings - Miyamoto Musashi - The Overlook Press 1974 2. "The Rose" and "The Long Alley" from The Collected Poems Of Theodore Roethke - Anchor Press 1975