For You I Suffer
...back ripped to shreds...
...all my fault...
The first thing I heard clearly was the sound of humming. Snatches of words circled hazily in my memory, but I could not put them together into any coherent picture. I felt as though I were being roasted alive, yet my teeth chattered as my body was wracked with an awful chill. My throat was parched, but as I tried to ask for water, I found that I produced nothing more meaningful than a rasping croak. Fortunately, it was enough to make the humming stop immediately, and a wet cloth touched my lips a moment later.
"Duo, you are awake! Thank goodness." The words were garbled as though the speaker was trying very hard to speak while crying. Still, I identified the voice as belonging to a woman. I parted my lips to allow some of the cool liquid into my mouth and sighed with relief as it hit my tongue.
I felt decidedly odd, as though I was not quite connected to my own body. My eyes were closed, and I feared that if I opened them, I would find that I was floating freely as some disembodied spirit. I did not bother to question why a ghost would feel such a powerful thirst, or how, if I had no body, I could sense the terrible specter of unbearable pain that hovered just beyond my awareness.
I remembered my name, Duo, as the person had said. I remembered that I was from Fashel. But my brain refused to produce any additional information. Where was I? Why did I feel so light and yet, somehow, so heavy all at the same time? Why had the pleasant humming that had brought me to my limited state of consciousness been replaced with the sound of inconsolable sobbing?
The darkness and confusion swirled like a maelstrom in my mind, befuddling my thoughts. My inability to think clearly was quickly becoming tiresome and not a little frightening. I tried to open my eyes, but only succeeded after expending great effort. I thought that the first thing I might see would be the ceiling, or perhaps the sky, but I was not lying on my back as I had supposed. Rather, the softness of a feather filled mattress pressed comfortably into my right side, which I quickly realized was just about the only part of me that did not hurt.
I could see the silhouette of a figure just in front of me, but my vision was blurry, and it was only after several blinks that I could see clearly enough to identify my companion. I caught a glimpse of silk and lace, of blond hair and blue eyes, and my heart seized with fear. My body tensed as I was swept with a terror so profound that I could do nothing but freeze like a trapped rabbit in the face of it. The tightening of my muscles removed the veil that had protected me from that nagging yet distant sensation of agony. But once it had been ripped away, the full extent of my trauma instantly became known to me. I cried out in anguish, praying for death to release me from this torment.
"Oh please, Duo, please, you must drink this!" My lips were parted from my scream, and my companion poured a bitter-tasting brew between them, tilting my head deftly to the side so that only a little bit of the liquid escaped and spilled down my chin. I was instantly overcome with that feeling of weightlessness with which I had woken, and I recognized the taste of the medicine I had been given from the stale flavor that lingered on my tongue. It acted quickly, and I had barely finished swallowing before sleep beckoned once more.
A small hand gently pushed my hair away from my face and stroked my cheek in a reassuring caress. Trying to resist the fatigue caused by the drug and my body's desperate attempt to heal was hopeless, but I forced my eyes open long enough to get a clear view of my benefactor. I realized in those last moments of consciousness that what I thought I had seen was nothing more than a trick of grogginess and fear. Her hair was yellow, not white, and the blue eyes gazing upon me were filled with tears of sorrow rather than a soul-piercing hatred.
"Relena?" I whispered, my addled mind unable to provide an explanation for her presence.
"I am so, so sorry, Duo," she sniffed. She wiped hastily at the tears shining on her cheeks and forced a smile as she reached out to stroke my hair again. "You just rest now, and you will be just fine. There is nothing to fear. Nothing at all."
I had not the wherewithal to either agree or contest her assessment of my condition. So I did what I had been trained to do and obeyed her command. The humming resumed as I slipped away, and my last thought was one of grateful surprise at how well she sang.
I drifted in and out of consciousness, unaware of the passage of time. I had brief flashes of food being urged past my lips, my more base needs being seen to, and a burning pain that the bitter-tasting medicine just barely relieved. A parade of voices floated over me, some familiar and some unknown, but there was only one voice that I longed to hear.
I cannot say how many times Heero came to visit me as I slept, for only two such occasions linger in my recollection. I do not remember the words he spoke, only the tone of his voice. The first time his voice was low and rough, and it seemed as though he growled rather than spoke. The second time he was mostly silent, responding only a few times to my trainer's agitated questioning. Darkness claimed me before their conversation was done, but though it might prove nothing more than desperate self-delusion, I will swear until the end of my days that I felt his warm fingers brush gently across the back of my neck before I fell away from the light once more.
The next time I woke fully, I was still exhausted, though I had done nothing for days but sleep. But I could tell that my fever had broken. I felt clammy with sweat, but the chills were gone, and the relentless pounding in my head that had tortured me every moment I had been awake was nothing more than a dull ache.
Unfortunately, that was the only pain that had subsided. It still hurt to breath, and my efforts were hindered by the binding wrapped tight around my mending ribs. I remained hazy from my long sleep, but I slowly forced my thoughts into some semblance of cohesion. I took stock of myself, trying to determine what hurt and what did not. Dazed, I wondered idly why I could not feel the familiar pinch of my nipples clamps. A sharp stab of fire radiating from a single point lit in my chest as I shifted, reminding me abruptly of what had happened to them.
Unready and unwilling to face that memory, I instantly shut down that line of thought and turned my attention elsewhere. I got the strange impression that something was missing, but it was only as I was unconsciously tracing my uninjured hand down my stomach and over my groin that I came to realize that my cock was unfettered. It would have been superfluous in any case, seeing as how the acute pain that held sway over my entire body had rendered me thoroughly limp.
The burning sting that assailed my back was as ferocious as ever, but was now joined by an incessant itch. I knew that the sensation signaled that my rent flesh was healing, but I feared I might go mad before that happened. I squirmed in discomfort, hissing in pain as my body stridently protested the movement.
"Here, take a sip of this."
"Relena?" I croaked, the present mingling with my last bout of semi-wakefulness, leaving me confused and disoriented.
"I am afraid not. Though she did sit with you for days until I finally convinced her that you would not expire the minute she let you out of her sight. I suspect she will return before too long. She has taken very good care of you and has quite the makings of a fine nurse, I dare say. Of course, it helps that she is completely in love with you."
She chuckled at her own joke though I found myself unable to appreciate her odd sense of humor. It took me a moment to place the husky female voice as I drank as bid, but I eventually identified the lady doctor. Sally held the cup to my lips patiently as I drained it of its contents. The taste was different from the bitter licorice-flavor liquid I had been made to drink before. I quickly realized that this new medicine was lacking whatever it was that had kept me in blissful unconsciousness.
I was laying at a strange angle, half on my side and half on my stomach, cleverly propped up by pillows. Clearly whatever my injuries, my back had borne the brunt. I glanced up at the doctor as best I could.
"How bad is it?" I asked, my voice scratchy from disuse.
"I will not lie to you, Duo," Sally replied, her expression kind but grim. "You have several broken ribs, a broken wrist, a severely sprained knee, and at least one of your internal organs is sorely bruised if not slightly ruptured. You had a terrible fever for nearly four days, but it finally broke a little while ago. Since then, you have been resting much easier. Fortunately, you are young and you are actually healing quite nicely despite the severity of your injuries."
I was acutely aware of the one topic she was so studiously ignoring.
"And my back?" I asked quietly, as reluctant to broach the topic as she seemed to be but needing to know the full truth of my circumstances. She glanced down at her hands, clasped tightly to each other before her skirt. Her brow furrowed in resistance to my query, and her lips pursed into a disgusted moue. It was a moment before she met my questioning gaze but eventually she answered.
"You will carry those scars with you always. They are many and they are deep. Several of the blows nearly hit bone, and I am greatly concerned that there might be some nerve damage." I started, ignoring the pain, but she saw my horrified expression and swiftly alleviated my suspense. "Do not fret, Duo. Such damage would not prevent you from walking or anything of that nature. You have no problem feeling any of your limbs?"
I took a quick survey of my body and relaxed a bit as I could, for better or worse, feel every discomfort from head to toe. She grunted with muted pleasure as I shook my head.
"Very well. The damage, if any, will likely only become noticeable after your injuries have more fully healed. You may experience a lack of sensitivity in your back, an inability to feel if someone or something is touching you there. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it." I heard a sound behind me, and she smiled softly as she looked in the direction of its source. "You have visitors, so I will leave you to them for now. I will check in on you later this evening."
I hoped - or rather prayed - that one of the newcomers was my master, but when they came into my line of sight, I stifled my disappointment and forced a wry smile for Quatre's and Helen's benefit. The matronly woman was at my side in an instant, her plump, wrinkled cheeks becomingly flushed with anger. Her eyes were slightly watery and red as though she had recently succumbed to a bout of tears, but she smiled at me gamely as she sat next to the bed. I closed my eyes for a moment in pleasure as she stroked my hair in a familiar and comforting gesture.
"It is so good to see you awake and alert, son. I can't begin to tell you what a fright you gave me. Shame on you for treating an old woman so!" A corner of my lips quirked up at her teasing admonishment.
"Please forgive me. You must know I would never willing cause you to worry." My voice was still throaty with thirst, and I drank greedily from the cup of water she held to my lips. She dabbed away a drop of moisture that had spilled down my chin because of the awkward angle at which I was forced to drink.
As she did, my gaze slid beyond her and found the man who seemed determined to fade into the cream-colored walls of Lady Sally surgery. Never had I seen a more discomfited expression on someone's face. Gone was the usually jollity he so effortlessly projected, as though every laugh I had ever heard from him was nothing more than an invention of my imagination. Quatre looked as though his favorite thing in the world had died, and perhaps it had. So distressed did he look that I feared he wished he could expire as well.
"Quatre," I whispered, hoping to gain his attention. Instead, he turned away from me fully, his shoulders hunched defensively as he faced the wall. I suddenly remembered some of the first the words I had heard when the darkness held me most securely. My fault, he had said. His fault that I was laying on that bed so horribly mangled. His fault that I had been so ill-used by the woman to whom he had given his heart. My own heart ached for him as surely as did the constant agonies that wracked my body. Steeling myself against the pain, I reached out toward him with my uninjured hand.
"Quatre, please," I beseeched. "You must not blame yourself. You did not know what she would do. You could not have known, for how could someone as sweet-natured, as good as you ever even imagine such depravity?" His shoulders shook, and I heard his breath catch on a sob. Helen was weeping openly and tears stung my own eyes as I stretched out my hand even further.
"If I have ever needed you, I need you now. Please, Quatre, do not abandon me."
The blond man whirled around, his body shaking with the force of his shame and sorrow. He rushed to my side and took hold of my proffered hand with a force that threatened to crush one of the few parts of me that remained hale. He kissed the back of my hand over and over again, mumbling his grief.
"I am sorry, Duo. Gods forgive me, I am so sorry."
I exerted myself enough to pull him to me, Helen moving aside to give him room. I pressed a kiss against his lips, ignoring the tears and wetness the flowed ignominiously from his nose. I allowed him all liberties as he returned my kiss, and he took what was offered. His tongue delved deeply into my mouth, his passion borne of relief rather than lust.
Pride and nobility were forgotten on his side as was any resentment I might have harbored against him for leaving me to Dorothy's less than tender mercies. After all, what was his crime? Falling in love with the wrong woman? Surely ever person alive had succumbed to that particularly failing at least once. Never had Quatre harbored any ill-will towards me or treated me with anything less than a kindness bordering on love. I could neither hate him nor fault him for his mistake when I myself was guilty of indulging in a love that defied all wisdom and reason.
The thought of the target of my own foolish longings bid me ask the question even as I strove to ignore my vain yearning. Despite my discomfort, my breathing was not the only thing that had grown hard from the force of Quatre's kiss, but I pulled away from him far enough to speak, driven by the cursed demon that had enslaved my heart.
"Has the baron come?" Quatre's grimace and Helen's outburst of disgust gave me all the answer I could have wanted. I closed my eyes and turned my face into my pillow as my heart threatened to break.
"Honestly," Helen frothed, "I can't think what that boy is about." Any shock I might have felt at her irreverent appellation for the baron was lost beneath the grief that made me wish I had never woken at all.
"Helen, please," Quatre admonished softly. I tried to take comfort from the feel of his fingers as they combed gently through the tangled nest of hair that one of Lady Sally's minions had piled carelessly atop my head after finally managing to wash away all of the blood. "Heero did come, Duo, more than once."
"Only twice," Helen groused uncharitably.
"Yes, only twice then," Quatre replied, his irritation directed more toward the baron than Helen. He sighed, his frustration with Heero's behavior evident. "But I cannot help but think, Duo, that he was simply too overcome with anger to endure many visits. I remember the look on his face the first time we came to see you after...." He paused though his fingers did not, the silent petting continuing as though he drew strength from the contact.
"I have never seen him so incensed as he was that night, that's the truth," Helen interjected. "That woman had better wish for nothing as dearly as a swift end. But I'm certain he means her to suffer what she made you have endured in full measure, and well she should!"
I turned back to face them, my expression frozen in shock at what Helen had just revealed.
"What do you mean ‘a swift end?'" My startled gaze flew from her to Quatre. "What is to happen to her?" Though I could not even bring myself to speak her name, I was horrified by what Helen had let slip. Quatre's features froze into an expression of merciless coldness that was so alien to his pleasant features that I could swear I felt the chill of it.
"The baron has ordered her mother and father expelled from Calderash. Their lands, possessions, and her father's title are forfeit. They were escorted under arms to the border with Slaburry several days ago with nothing but the clothes on their backs."
"But what of...?" I gulped, still unable to bring her name to my lips but desperate to learn of her fate.
"Right now she is a guest in the baron's dungeon, but he has already decreed that she is to be executed for her crimes against the throne." Quatre's tone was emotionless as he answered. I could have been asking about next year's crop yield for all the interest he showed in the topic. But I was not deceived by his show of disinterest. The corner of his eye twitched and my heart broke for him at what had to be the dashing of all his hopes for his future happiness.
But the information he had related resonated in my head. She is to be executed. I cannot deny the intense feelings of elation and satisfaction that flooded through me at the moment I learned what Dorothy's punishment would be. Who would blame me for those emotions seeing as how she was solely responsible for my grievous state? But remorse and shame followed quickly on their heels. Even though I was a clear testament to Dorothy's capacity for malice and cruelty, I could not countenance the knowledge that I was to be the cause of someone's death.
"No!" I shouted, breaking Quatre out of his forced impassivity if the wide-eyed stare he fixed on me was any indication. "No, ya can't! Sh' doesn't deserve it." How easily the refined speech I had taken pains to adopt since becoming the baron's slave fell away from me. Helen's plainspoken verbiage had not let me forget myself completely, and my distress lent the peasant accent that had surrounded me all my life new traction on my tongue.
"But, Duo," Helen breathed, blinking at me incredulously. "Damnit, boy, she almost killed you!"
Quatre clenched his jaw at her bald statement, unable to contradict the truth of her words no matter how much he might wish to do so. I shook my head, immediately regretting it a second later as my back lit on fire. I moaned at the feel of my skin pulling against the gashes in my flesh and the intermittent patch of the already forming scar tissue that was a testament to my youth and good health.
"No," I repeated. My energy drained away, unable to withstand the double assault of emotional turmoil and physical strain. "She is mad, but that is not a reason to kill her." Haltingly I related what Dorothy had spewed in her hatred, fighting against the abrupt flood of exhaustion that beckoned me to sleep once more.
"She wanted to marry her cousin, Treize, and when the baron banished him, she feared that her life was ruined. So she decided that the only way to regain her standing was to marry a nobleman from Calderash." I shot an apologetic glance at my trainer but pressed on. "She knew you loved her and thought that marrying you would serve her purposes, but she came to believe that you would never have her... because of me." Quatre's face had gone white, drained of blood as I divulged the depths of Dorothy's lunacy.
"Because of you?" he asked in an absent tone of voice, his stunned visage as still as a mask. I hated myself for doing this to him.
"She thought that it was me that you loved to her detriment. I told her that she was mistaken, but she would not hear of it." It would be a lie to say that Quatre did not love me, for his affection for me was apparent in every tender gesture and gentle smile. But his feelings were not the stuff of passion or desire. Though I loved him as a dear friend, my heart belonged firmly to another, as had his. It was only Dorothy's psychotic folly that had made her unable to see the truth and to throw the gift of Quatre's love back in his face so heinously.
"She's insane," Helen scoffed.
"Yes, she is. And that is why it is help she needs, not an appointment with the executioner." I stared at Quatre, pleading with him to not let the betrayal he felt cloud his judgment. "My lord, surely you see the truth of it. Banish her if you must," I begged, my words slurring as I gave in to fatigue. "Send her to Slaburry to be with her parents. Let them take care of her. But killing her would be wrong. It is not what I would wish, no matter her infamy toward me."
Though I could tell that Quatre remained unconvinced, I was unable to press my case. I laid my head against the pillow and allowed sleep to take me, unable even to make my goodbyes to my trainer and my keeper. But my tiredness was not completely a product of the lingering pain that had become my constant companion. Something Quatre had said had sparked a most unwelcome memory and I was stubbornly determined not to face it.
She is to be executed for her crimes against the throne. That is what Quatre had said when explaining Dorothy's fate. Not for her treatment of me, but for dishonoring the baron.
He belongs to me. He is mine, and she has ruined him. The growl of Heero's voice surfaced to the top of my mind, and though Quatre had immediately and vehemently protested his characterization of me, I was unable to forget. Neither the justified anger for the mistreatment of a loved one, nor even the distant sympathy one might feel for an injured stranger. Dorothy's crime against Heero had been her disfigurement of something he owned.
The bitter memory followed me down into sleep, refusing me the escape I so urgently sought. I had dropped away from conscious thought before realizing how soaked my pillow had become with tears.