Disclaimers: I don't own these characters and make no profit from my storytelling. Warning: none

Synopsis: The five pilots come together in a private school to prepare for a mission. An incident between Heero and Duo has the Deathscythe pilot questioning the other pilots' friendships. He decides to put them to the test.

A Test of Friendship - Part 5
Duo's Friendship Arc 4
by Dyna Dee

Duo lay still, unable to move even if he wanted to. His world now was comprised of pain and unbearable heat. His hand constantly moved, almost of its own volition, from two fingers to a fist and he was only vaguely aware of the sound of his friend's voices and their ministrations to him. Unable to do anything, he let himself drift in and out of consciousness.

Time passed with little meaning to the Deathscythe pilot. He was only aware at different intervals of the activity surrounding him as his consciousness faded in and out. Every once in a while, he could sense the others moving and talking hurriedly around him. He came closer to consciousness as he was placed in a bathtub filled with tepid water where hands held him down until he began to tremble from the chill. Those same hands became gentle as the lifted him out, dried, and redressed him. He was distantly aware of his hair being brushed. The sharp prick of a needle in his arm registered dimly to him that the penicillin and pain medication had finally arrived. Following that, came a vague awareness of being wrapped in a blanket and carried, his only care was that his leg throbbed agonizingly from the movement, and he lost consciousness as he was placed gently down on the cold leather seat of a car.

Many dismembered dreams later, he heard Quatre's voice asking him to do something. He furrowed his brow trying to concentrate on the jumbled words, trying to make sense of them. Understanding dawned that Quatre was urging him to take a drink from the glass held up to his lips. With effort, he slowly cracked opened his eyes to see the other boy's face only inches from his own. Quatre was smiling down at him despite the dark circles under his eyes and the weariness visible on his face. Without hesitating, the blonde leaned forward touching his lips to Duo's forehead.

"The fever's down." relief sounded in his voice.

"You gotta quit kissing me." Duo's voice sounded weak even to his own ears, and he managed a faint smile. "The others will be jealous."

"Let them be." Quatre chuckled. "Here, drink this." He pressed the lip of the glass to Duo's lower lip and tilted it, allowing a small, steady trickle of cool cranberry juice to flow into his mouth. He continued until the glass was empty.

"How long?" Duo asked.

"We've been here two days." Quatre answered as he turned to replace the glass on the bedside table. He then fussed with the pillows that propped the bedridden pilot up. "The guys will hit the base tonight. If all goes well, Trowa will arrive in the morning. Wufei and Heero will leave school during the next week or two to allay any suspicion that we were together."

"Where are we?" Duo used as few words as possible to get the information he wanted with as little effort to conserve his energy. He felt so .....drained.

"In a cottage in the country, about 70 miles from the school. It's really quite isolated, perfect for convalescing. Heero did a good job finding this place. It's perfect!"

Duo mumbled something sarcastically to the effect of "Perfect is as perfect does."

Quatre studied him for a moment. "Hungry?"

Duo tried to smile. "I'm hollow." he answered truthfully. It had been a long time since he felt this cramping, gnawing sensation, reminding him of the feelings of near starvation back on L2.

"Just give me a few minutes then." Quatre turned and quickly left the room.

Left to himself, Duo had an opportunity to look around the room he found himself in. It was a square room, the walls were painted a pale yellow with a window to the left of the bed perfectly framing a green field and wooded area in the distance. He was in a large, old-fashioned, four poster bed with several multi-colored quilts topping it that appeared to be hand made and tucked securely around him. The contents of the room were simple. There was a dresser that matched the style of the bed with a large mirror over it, his duffle bag lay on top. The bedside table had a white ceramic lamp with a pale yellow shade sitting in the middle of it, the only light in the room. His eyes strayed to the window that was halfway open allowing the breeze from outside to enter, causing the sheer, white gauze curtains to billow gently in a ghost-like manner. The room was quaint and picturesque, something he had only seen in old books. Much like a house of a beloved grandparent.

He sighed, feeling content and closed his eyes to concentrate on an assessment of himself. He could feel his fever was still present, but much more tolerable. His leg still ached, but the throbbing was gone as well as his headache. He took in a deep breath, enjoying the cool freshness of the country air wafting through the window.

"Oh no you don't!" Quatre called out as he entered the room and saw his patient's eyes closed and looking restful. "You've been asleep for two days. You need to eat and talk to me or I'll go stir-crazy."

Duo smiled and forced his eyes open as Quatre placed a cup of warm soup in his hands. He glanced to the table to see a plate of sandwiches and cut-up fruit. He couldn't remember a time when he had been so cared for. Even though he felt terrible, it was still a wonderful feeling to have someone take care of you.

"Do you need help?" Quatre asked concerned, seeing his friend pause. Duo shook his head and then lowered it downward as he raised the cup with slightly trembling hands to sip at the warm broth.

As he ate, Quare provided the conversation. He had been in touch with Sally Poe who had given him instructions on how to treat him and administer the medicine. "She says that if your leg still hurts you probably have a crack in the bone. Because we can't cast it, you are to stay off of it for at least two weeks, maybe longer and not put any weight whatsoever on it."

"Two weeks?" Duo's voice sounded weak and incredulous. "Is there a t-vid screen here?"

Quatre shook his head looking apologetic. "Sorry, but I'm afraid not.

Duo groaned in dismay.

"It won't be so bad." Quatre tried to console him. "I've got some books, cards, a radio, and you have your C.D. player, your lap top and, of course, me!" He smiled cheerily at Duo who suddenly looked very tired. He picked up the dishes to return to the kitchen. "But for now, you need to rest. I'll come back in a little bit to keep you company. Okay?"

Duo managed a brief nod before succumbing to his body's desire for sleep.

Waking again that evening, the two boys shared their dinner together on the large bed. Duo woke feeling better and hoped his progress would continue. Around eleven o'clock, they turned on the radio hoping to hear news of the soon to be destroyed base. It was well after two a.m. before the special news report stated that the base had been attacked once more by the renegade Gundams. The two boys drifted off to sleep as soon as they heard that there were no casualties or prisoners taken and Quatre slapped the radio off.

Trowa entered the cottage as the pre-dawn light lit the early morning sky. He moved soundlessly into and through the cottage. Both bedroom doors were open and he approached the first one. His eyebrows raised in surprise at the sight before him. Duo lay on his back covered by many blankets, his long braid falling over the side of the bed. A slight snore was emanating from him signaling his state of rest. Next to him lay the small blonde haired boy. He was fully clothed and resting on top of the covers though on his stomach and pressed against the injured boy's side, his arm flung haplessly over Duo's chest.

Setting his bag down by the door, Trowa moved to the far side of the bed and placed his hand on the blonde boy's shoulder giving it a nudge. Quatre rolled over and opened his eyes, startled at first. But as he recognized who it was, he managed a warm, sleepy smile in welcome. The taller boy signaled for him to follow him out of the room, which he did, shutting the door behind him.

As was his way, Quatre gave his friend a brief hug. "I'm glad you're here." he sighed. "The mission went well?" He stepped back to look up into Trowa's tired face.

"Yes, it went as planned." he replied and then nodded his head towards the bedroom door. "How is he?"

"Better." Quatre answered, relief in his voice. He then began to relate to his friend his two day stay with an unconscious boy on his hands.

"He's talking then." Trowa asked hopefully.

"Yes, and it makes it a lot easier to care for him." Quatre yawned trying to wake up further.

Trowa stretched his aching and tired body Quatre's yawn seem to set off a large one of his own. "I'm for bed." he announced.

Quatre bent to pick up the other's bag from off the floor. "Come on, our room is over here." he moved down the small hallway.

"You're not bunking with Duo?" he asked a little surprised.

Quatre turned to stare back at him a question in his eyes. "No," he answered, "we always room together. Why would you think......" he stopped and paused for a moment as a thought came into his head. "Oh! You thought because I......."

"What else was I suppose to think, you looked pretty cozy in there with Duo."

"We listened to the radio for news about the base to make sure you guys were O.K. I just kinda fell asleep, and you know I always move towards warmth." Quatre explained easily with a shrug as they entered the second bedroom where he moved to turn the light on.

Pulling back the covers, he turned to Trowa who had taken his bag from him and was rummaging through it.

"Hungry?" Quatre asked. "I could fix you some eggs."

"Too tired." Trowa answered with another yawn and he sat on the edge of the bed.

"Sleep then." the blonde admonished and he smiled in farewell at his friend and left the room, closing the door behind him.

The Heavyarm's pilot woke around 1 p.m. and found the cottage silent. He showered and dressed before he poked his head into the other bedroom. Quatre was not there, and Duo turned his head towards him as if he sensed his presence and gave him a gentle smile. "How are you feeling?" the taller boy asked.

The braided boy's answer was a crooked smile and a shrug.

Trowa frowned. "Where's Quatre?" he tried again. Duo pointed to the window. "Outside?" Trowa guessed. Duo nodded.

"You're not talking to me." Trowa stated, and Duo shrugged.

Shaking his head in frustration, he moved to leave but stopped. "Do you need anything?" he asked the bedridden boy.

The bedridden boy nodded and lifting his hand, pointed his index finger to Trowa.

"What's that mean?" he asked perplexed.

Duo pointed to the outside again.

"I should go and get Quatre." Trowa interpreted aloud and was pleased to see Duo nod.

"Alright, I'll go get him." The Heavyarm's pilot turned and quickly exited the cottage in search of the blonde Arabian. He found him in a small unweeded garden to the side of the cottage picking berries from thorn infested vines.

"Duo needs your help." he said in greeting, making the smaller boy jump.

"Geeze, didn't hear you behind me." Quatre explained and then popped a deep red berry into his mouth. "Why couldn't you help him?" he asked curiously after swallowing the tasty treat.

"He's not speaking to me and I don't know what this means." he explained and held up his index finger.

"He's not?" Quatre looked perplexed. "The index finger signals that he has to use the bathroom and he can't put any weight on his leg. Here," he handed the half-filled bowl of berries to the taller boy. "I'll go talk to him if you'll finish picking the berries." Trowa nodded and Quatre quickly returned to the cottage.

"Why won't you talk to him?" he asked Duo a few moments later while he was busily engaged in supporting the injured boy's weight as he hopped on his good leg towards the bathroom.

"He needs to figure it out. They all do." Duo replied through gritted teeth as he tried to deal with the pain the movement of the jarring hops caused.

"Figure what out?"

Duo grabbed hold of the door frame to support his weight, releasing Quatre's need to hold onto him. He rested his head against the white painted wood trim to dispel the dizziness he felt and catch his breath. With effort he tried to explain by briefly telling Quatre what had transpired between he and Heero on the night of his arrival to the school.

"When he said, 'Finally, some quiet!', I thought that maybe what he said was true. That you were all sick of me talking." He looked up through his bangs at the other boy, looking and feeling weary.

"Do you know how much energy it takes to appear happy all the time, and to talk just to keep the silence at bay?" he asked. "I hate the silence." he said thoughtfully. "It allows me time to think of what I've done, what I've lost, and most of the time, I can't bear it." His violet eyes raised to meet the blue sympathetic ones. "I thought I was helping, but I guess I was just being annoying and tiresome. I decided I'd give all of you the silence you wanted and if you wanted me, as your friend, you would have to prove it to me." He reached out his hand to clasp Quatre's arm. "You did that, Quatre. You took care of me, helped me and even comforted me. I've never felt so cared for before. Thank you, my friend." Both boys exchanged a real and warm smile with each other.

"And you need the others to do the same? Show they care for you?" Quatre asked.

Duo nodded. "In their own way, yes. But for all I know, they are happy with my silence. Especially Heero." he said sadly.

Quatre reflected only a moment on all he had been told by Duo before reaching out for him. "Come on, let's get going so you can get back into bed." he urged, gently helping Duo into the bathroom.

Once again settled comfortable in his bed, somewhat refreshed and thoroughly tired, the wounded boy quickly fell back to sleep. Quatre shut his bedroom door and met Trowa in the kitchen. He quickly related his conversation with Duo to him.

Duo opened his eyes several hours later to see Trowa siting in a chair by his bedside reading a book. He sensed the wounded boys eyes on him and looked up with a pleasant smile.

"Nice nap?" he asked pleasantly.

Duo nodded and raised his eyebrows questioningly looking past him out the bedroom door.

"Quatre?" the taller boy asked, guessing at what the silent boy was asking.

When Duo nodded Trowa continued. "He went into town for some supplies. Do you need anything?"

Duo raised two fingers.

"Thirsty?" Trowa guessed and the braided boy nodded. "I'll wager your hungry too." Another nod confirmed it.

Trowa stood and left the room, but returned moments later with a glass of water and a small assortment of snacks. He watched silently as the boy from L2 ate the entire plate full.

Duo lay back on his pillow and sighed.

"I would imagine that you would like a bath and to shampoo your hair." Trowa said and immediately had the other's complete attention.

Duo nodded, but with a worried look on his face.

Trowa stood from the chair. "I'll go prepare it and come back to help you there, alright?

There has a slight hesitancy to his nod of approval, but Trowa didn't acknowledge it and left the room. A moment later he heard the splash of water pouring into the bathtub.

The older boy returned to the room five minutes later and help to ease the wounded boy from out of his bed. They slowly made their way down the hall and Duo was taken aback as Trowa actually chatted amiably about the cottage and the countryside around them. He kept up the light conversation as he helped Duo, whose flaming cheeks showed he was obviously embarrassed, out of his tee shirt and cut off the bandage on this thigh before removing his boxers. He then helped ease him into the tub full of deliciously warm water.

It took a lot of effort not to put any weight on his damaged leg, but all that was put behind him as he slipped into the water in the deep and old-fashioned porcelain bathtub. Reaching back for his braid, the pulled it forward and pulled the band off the end, allowing the mass of hair to come loose and float in the water around him. He submerged his whole body underneath the water. When he surfaced, Trowa was at his side with a bottle of shampoo in his hands.

"Let me wash it for you, and then I'll leave you to soak for awhile." Trowa said, but paused for Duo's permission.

Duo nodded his approval and sat still as the other boy poured the shampoo on his head and gently massaged it into his scalp and then down the long tresses. Satisfied that he had covered all areas, he had Duo dip under the water again to rinse out most of the soap. He then repeated the same procedure with conditioner.

Trowa stood looking satisfied. "I'll give it a final rinse with fresh water when your ready to come out." he said as the turned to walk to the door. "Be back in 15 minutes. Enjoy." he said with a smile in parting.

He returned as promised with clean boxers and tee shirt in hand. Ten minutes later Duo was back in bed, his wet hair wrapped in a towel as Trowa re-bandaged his leg. Rolling over and sitting up, Duo saw that Trowa had his hairbrush in hand.

"Shall I do the honors?" he asked.

Duo blinked surprised by the offer, but with a slight nod, gave his permission. Trowa helped him scoot forward on the bed so that he would fit behind him.

It took a full twenty minutes to brush out the wet tangles, but it was accomplished to Duo's satisfaction, and he was doubly pleased with the gentleness and patience his friend displayed in performing this sometimes onerous task. Trowa suggested they let it hang lose for a bit longer to dry as it was still quite damp in places. Duo nodded and the other boy crawled out from behind him to stand at the side of the bed. He reached out a hand to touch the long hair again.

"You hair is truly beautiful." Trowa said a bit awed as he studied the color and texture of the hair as the chestnut colored mass fell around the smaller boy, cascading like a curtain and puddled on the bed around him.

Duo's blue/violet eyes were bright as he motioned Trowa to come closer. The green eyed boy moved in as if to let the other whisper to him, when he found himself grabbed and embraced around the neck.

"Thank you, Trowa." Duo whispered in his ear.

The surprised boy slowly put his arms around the Deathscythe pilot and hugged him back. "The pleasure was mine." he whispered back, smiling at the warmth of the moment shared between friends.

on to part 6

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