Disclaimer: I don't own any part of GW nor it's characters, nor do I profit from it other than having hours of dreaming up stories to share.

Warnings: angst

The End's Beginning - Part 3
Duo's Friendship Arc 21
by Dyna Dee

As predicted, the next morning Wufei carried a fully clothed, hand and foot bandaged Duo down the stairs to the game room where the others were seated and waiting to be called for breakfast. He was appropriately contrite and repentant as he sat in a chair with his head bowed over his folded, bandaged hands and humbly apologized to Quatre for wrecking the bedroom and then to everyone for his loss of control, and then covered all the bases when he apologized to whoever ended up cleaning the mess that was his room. After letting him sit for several moments in silence, nervously waiting for their response, Heero demanded and then extracted a promise from him that such behavior would not happen again and that from that time on, he would be rooming with either himself or Wufei.

Apologies over, Sally entered the room with two men in dark suits in tow. She introduced them as Doctors Steinman and Hennessy, their assigned psychologists.

It was a full week after those formal and uncomfortable introductions were made that the pilots, still under house arrest, sat once again in the same room and received the oral report of the results of their physical and psychological testing by Sally and the two psychiatrists.

Sally began with the report on Quatre, who was recovering nicely from the sword wound to his side, yet showed signs of anemia and was deemed by the psychologists as being slightly depressed and suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome caused by his father's death, his sister's injuries, and his episode in Wing Zero under the Zero system.

Trowa and Wufei were diagnosed in a similar manner. Post traumatic stress syndrome with signs of depression seemed to be a mutual problem for all the young soldiers having endured so much at such a young age, though their physical health seemed to fair a bit better than Duo and Quatre's.

Heero was labeled as paranoid, with control issues and emotionally challenged. His health was good considering the injuries he'd sustained in the war.

Lastly, Duo was diagnosed as suffering from anemia, malnutrition, and manic depression that had been slowly progressing and becoming increasingly evident with his busts of anger and violence. The four other pilots were handed booklets describing the various forms of depression and the possible treatment of it, and they covertly looked at their braided friend and nodded their heads in agreement. The mood swings from being in a very good, uplifting frame of mind for a period of time to a dramatic decline into short periods of despondency now made sense as did his tantrum the week before.

Sally looked at the five sitting quietly before her as she continued. "There seems to be a common element of malnutrition and stress to your bones, but more important, we found traces of an unknown but identical chemical in Duo, Wufei, Heero, and Quatre's blood stream," she reported.

Much to the surprise of the others, Heero spoke up, offering an explanation of the unknown chemical. "We all received a medication developed by Dr. J. as we trained to pilot the Gundams," he began. "He developed a long term medication designed to strengthen our immune systems, bones, and muscles. The only negative side effect of this treatment was the stunting of our physical growth. Trowa didn't train to fly Heavyarms, so he wasn't given the drugs, thus his normal height."

The statement delivered in a clinical tone by their fellow pilot took a couple of moments to set in. When the initial shock wore off, Duo, whose aching feet made it impossible to stand up, collapsed down onto the floor, landing on his knees, his hands clutched at the hair on his head and he moaned, "A midget forever." His voice came out sounding miserable. "If they weren't already dead, I'd kill those blights on humanity."

"You're not a midget, baka." Heero snorted at his friend's exaggerated reaction. "Just vertically challenged." No one seemed to appreciate his attempt at humor as they all glared at him, so he continued. "The injection was designed to have a short-term effect. The substance that enhanced our bodies will dissipate and we'll start growing normally around the age of sixteen or seventeen, depending on each of our individual body's natural genetic design."

With an unspoken understanding, Wufei and Heero moved together their kneeling and un-consoled friend, and by grabbing him under his arms they lifted Duo's non-responsive, dead-weight body from off the carpeted floor and put him back into his chair. He promptly slumped forward, putting his elbows on his knees and burying his head in his hands, looking the picture of being miserable.

They all listened pensively as the two doctors took turns describing treatment and medications they would be prescribing to each of the pilots over the next few weeks, based on their individual diagnosis.

An hour after they had arrived, Sally led the satisfied doctors to the door. In doing so she discovered Relena and Lady Une had arrived as scheduled and they were admitted immediately to the room where the pilots sat in an unaccustomed, brooding silence.

Lady Une stood before them with Relena at her side as she announced that a decision had been made regarding their futures. The intern-government voted to keep the pilots' identities classified, as well as their ages and the colonies they from which they hailed. They were to be quietly pardoned from their war crimes, their reward for saving the Earth, with no great fanfare or celebration in fear of the backlash the new government would receive from those people hurt by the result of battles and loss of life attributed to the gundams.

All five heads raised with a look of hope at the news, and Lady Une continued saying that the government wasn't comfortable in letting the five dangerous boys free without some observation and supervision. Therefore, they were to be sent to school, under close surveillance, in order to finish their educations and, in blending with other teens their age under normal circumstances and in a controlled social setting, they could prove to the new government that they could successfully adjust to society's norms, leaving the life of violence they had know behind. A full scholarship to a private school and then college would be offered any of them wishing to continue their education. Then, the bomb hit.

"Miss Relena has generously offered all of you placement at the Sanq Academy of Higher Learning." She turned to look proudly upon the young woman smiling demurely beside her.

There was only about five seconds of silence as the words sunk in. Then came the eruption. "NO WAY!" Duo shouted, causing every one to jump slightly with the abrupt explosion. He exploded out of his seat, momentarily forgetting his wounded feet. "Ahh!" he cried out and fell back into his chair and lifted his bandaged, stockinged feet to cradle them in his hands.

"What's the matter?" Heero stood up from his chair and moved to Duo's side and looked with concern at his friend, baffled by his response. "I've attended the school and it's an acceptable institution for learning."

Duo shook his head adamantly and wore a frown as he studied his aching feet. They had been healing nicely, but that sudden move brought back unwanted pain. He then looked up to address Heero's statement, an incredulous, stubborn look on his face. "There's no way in hell I'm gonna wear those organ monkey costumes they call a uniform at that school. No way, no how, uh-uh, not me buddy. Count me out, take a rain check..."

"Enough, Duo," Wufei interrupted. "We get the point."

Duo scowled and turned his attention back to his sore feet while the others in the room were keenly aware of the hurt that was evident on Relena's face at his words.

"They really weren't all that bad," Quatre said quietly, knowing the others knew he was lying through his teeth in order to spare the girl's feelings. He'd shown them a school picture of himself and Heero in the "costume" and they'd laughed themselves sick at the style and colors, obviously designed with an eighteenth century romance novel in mind, and probably by a young girl or an old woman.

"If the majority of us vote to attend there," Heero spoke up in a firm voice as he looked down on his friend, "you will go." He reached a hand out to clasp the braided boy's shoulder, which the American promptly took exception to and knocked it off.

"Don't try to strong arm me, Heero." He glared up at the Japanese boy's unflinching stare. "I said I won't dress up like a clown boy everyday and I meant it," he responded stubbornly and added with defiance, "And you can't make me!"

The others held their breath; a line had been drawn between the two friends. Lady Une moved to speak, but with a sharp look from Quatre, she withheld her comment.

Finally, it was Duo who backed down from the standoff. His shoulders slumped marginally and his eyes dropped away from Heero's. He stole a quick glance at the others present, and only then did he noticed the look of hurt on Relena's face.

"Oh damn." He drew his bandage hand up and through his long bangs. "I'm sorry, Relena. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I..." he looked with appeal at each of the room's occupants for understanding as he spoke. "I honestly can't live in an uppity school in that formal type of clothing. I'm a street kid," he explained with a slight shrug. "I'd be like a common gold fish living in tap water trying to survive in a tank of exotic, tropical saltwater fish." He shook his head as his eyes and head lowered in embarrassment, and in a quiet, apologetic voice added. "I'm sorry, I just can't do that."

There were a few silent, awkward moments before they were all startled when Wufei stepped forward. "I can't either, though I thank you for your generous offer, Relena." He made a slight bow to the solemn looking girl.

"Me either." Trowa stood and moved to stand by Duo's chair. "I'm like Duo," he explained. He then looked down and smiled slightly at the braided boy as his eyes lifted up to meet his. "We're anything but genteel, aren't we Duo?"

Duo smiled back with a look of gratitude for his friends' understanding. "Maybe...," Duo spoke again, though his voice reflected his uncertainly as he looked up through his long bangs to Heero who still stood close by. "Maybe you and Quatre can go there and we can go to school somewhere else nearby. I know you probably want to be closer to get the best education you can," his eyes shifted nervously to Relena, guessing that would be the real reason Heero would choose to go to the Sanq school, then turned them back to Heero and continued. "And I don't want to be the one to stop you. We can still get together on the weekends.....that is, if you still want to."

This time it was Heero's face that softened. Though Duo hid it well from the others, his closest friend saw the look of pain and apprehension that was reflected in his expressive eyes. He was afraid his best friend was abandoning him, just when he needed him the most.

"No Duo," he answered in a tone of understanding. "I told you long ago that if I survived the war that I'd be your back up." Duo's watery smile showed his relief at his decision, and that Heero had remembered their mutual promise. Heero then looked up to Lady Une. "Is it possible to choose a learning institution with less rigid standards for dress and conduct?" he asked.

"I'll look into it." She gave a slight but warm smile at the loyalty the boys displayed for each other. They would probably need it in the months to come as they tried to assimilate back into civilian life.

Heero let the memory of that day go as he rubbed the back of his stiff neck, remembering that it was five days after that interview that the gundam pilots found themselves being settled in the second largest city in the Sanq Kingdom, forty minutes by car or bus from the small country's capital. The five were put into the school's dorms with instructions that they were not to leave the school grounds without permission. They were also informed that several plain-clothes soldiers, referred to by Une as "Protectors" would act as bodyguards, chauffeurs, and official witnesses to the pilots' behavior, good or bad. The five teens referred to them as watch dogs.

All of them bristled at the idea of being under constant surveillance, and four of them became worried as they saw an evil twinkle in Duo's eyes and a small, cunning smile form. Without knowing, the new government had just given the rebellious boy from L-2 a challenge....to sneak out under their noses as often as possible without getting caught.

That was hours before the school nurse called Duo into the office and handed him the first pill that the kind and well-meaning Dr. Hennessy had prescribed.

The weeks following had been an emotional roller coaster ride for all of them. Weekly visits to the psychiatrist usually left each of them unsettled and three of them received daily medications from the school nurse, who reported back to Une whether or not the pills were taken.

Heero sighed deeply, something he had done a lot of lately. His memory brought him to the present, and his legs silently turned his chair so his eyes could focus on the sleeping teen on the bed, pillow still resting over the top of his head.

Duo. He shook his head in worry as he observed the slight, nearly sixteen year old who had overcome so much in his life, accomplished great feats in his gundam, only to be laid low by a prescribed drug.

During the two months they had been at this school, the doctors had tried four different kinds of medications on him for his manic depression. The American had always been sensitive to chemicals in his body, and the prescribed drugs proved to be no different. At first, he was so dazed that he slept sixteen to eighteen hours a day, and then performed like a zombie when he was awake. He was definitely controllable, his emotional swings nil under the drugs influence, but he wasn't the boy they needed or knew.

New prescriptions were tried; one making him hyper, another emotional, and the latest left him irritable and nauseous. He was hard to be around and was losing weight that he couldn't afford to lose.

The former Wing Zero pilot let his head fall back to rest against the top of his chair. He was tired. Worry for his friend, their futures, the other pilots, school, and making some time to get to know Relena had kept him feeling drained. He lacked sleep because of his constant worry and he was sure what his unrelenting upset and burning stomach was telling him was that an ulcer was forming. Sometimes he thought war had been easier to deal with than the complexities of a normal and everyday life.

Because he had a hard time trusting and talking openly to Dr. Steinman, the doctor had encouraged him to find someone, a friend or teacher, that he could talk to, to share with them his fears, concerns and feelings. He turned his head to look at the braided teen's prone body. Duo had always been the one he opened up to, but the American was fighting his own battles and didn't need his worries added to what he was already dealing with.

His stomach began to burn again, and coming to a decision, the Japanese boy stood and silently left the room so as to not disturb the slumberer. He made his way down the hall to the public pay phone. Fishing into the pocket of his jeans, he pulled out several coins and picked up the receiver. Plunking in the appropriate amount, he punched in the numbers he'd easily memorized.

"Heero Yuy calling for Relena Peacecraft," he said to the person who answered on the other end. After several moments, his face softened slightly and he leaned against the wall. "Hello." He answered the greeting on the other side of the phone line quietly so that others in their rooms couldn't hear his voice carry. "Got a minute to talk?"


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