Duo sat up in bed, facing his intruders, and fixated his gaze on Heero. His eyes were dull, lost...but the recognition was there. His heartbeat increased and he thought that he might cry, but the emotion never reached the outside world. Instead he just stared at the man who used to be his best friend and lover.
"Duo?" Heero asked in a whisper. Duo let his eyes fall to avoid his friend's gaze. Heero turned to the nurse. "Can we be alone for a few minutes?"
"I can give you ten minutes, since its after normal visiting hours. You can come back tomorrow if you like." Heero thanked her and escorted her to the door of the sparsely outfit dormitory style bedroom, shutting the door as she left. Then turning, he gently walked up to the bed and sat at the very edge, near the foot.
Duo's head was still down, but Heero could feel the bed shaking slightly. Duo was trembling. His hair was a mess. It was loose, not in the braided ponytail that it was usually done up in, and there were knots and tangles strewn throughout. His bangs were overgrown and fell to the sides of his face down past his chin. He looked ragged, like he hadn't slept well in weeks, and his skin had a greenish tinge to it. He'd definitely lost weight too; sitting in the bed, he looked frail and weak, a far cry from the vibrant person that left Preventers headquarters that day nearly three years ago. He wore an old T-shirt, and under it, the priests collar. His crucifix still hung where it had always for as long as the Japanese man had known the other. This was a mere shell of the Duo Maxwell that Heero had once known. His heart sank.
"Duo?" Heero called to him again and was met with the same reaction. He slid forward on the bed so that he was now sitting next to the sickly looking young man and tried to lift up his chin. Duo slapped his hand away. He briefly glanced in Heero's direction before letting his chin flop down again to hide his face. He was sporting the yellowish-purplish remnants of what was probably an old black eye. Heero sighed, assuming that the black eye was probably Duo's reward for some kind of insubordination. "You just can't make it easy on yourself, can you?"
For many minutes the two just sat, motionless, Heero thinking and Duo...doing whatever he was doing. A rap at the door snapped them both back into the moment. They shot simultaneous glares at the door in apprehension; Heero because he knew it was the nurse coming to tell him he had to leave and Duo because he was starting to feel a panic about Heero walking out that door and disappearing. Yet in all his tension and worry, he still did not react. It all stayed locked away, and without so much as a word or a gesture, he let Heero leave so that he was, once again, alone in his own private hell.
"I'll be back in the morning." Heero had said. Then the door was shut behind him. It was dusk. The sun was rapidly setting beyond the barred safety glass window of the room, and Duo hunkered back down in his bed, covering his head with the blanket once more. When he was certain that he was completely unwatched, he allowed himself to soundlessly sob under the covers. Something that he hadn't had the ability to do in a long, long time.
"Quatre... if I wasn't so good at holding my composure...I would have lost it right then and there." Heero explained his visit to the other former pilot. There was a tray from room service on the desk next to the laptop and he was still nibbling on the remains of dinner as he spoke. Night had fallen by then; the room was lit by a soft bulb in the lamp on the desk. "Lets put it this way...it's not a very good situation there. And if anything that the cabby says is true, I expect to find out more little secrets about what's been going on with Duo while he's been there. What's really disturbing though is that there's a whole building full of patients there, so you know Duo isn't the only one being mistreated either. Apparently this place has a reputation."
"Well... I guess the question now is what to do about it. About Duo." The concern was obvious on the blonde's face.
"He's apparently a ward of the colony, because he has no family and no name, well, to them he has no name, so I can't just trot on in there claiming to be his best friend and take him home. I have a feeling this is going to take legal action to get him out of there. If worse comes to worse, we could ask Sally for Preventer intervention."
"Yes..." Quatre added. "...but it's the weekend. I'll ring up my sister Sophia. She can help. But she won't be able to do anything until Monday at the earliest. I'll ask her to put this case at the top of her list...or as close to the top as she can. Are you able to hang around there for a while?"
Heero swallowed a mouthful of food. "I can stay as long as I need to. I'm not leaving this colony without him." His determined look said it all, and Quatre believed every word of it. "I'll find out as much as I can this weekend, like how they're treating him and such. Maybe that will be a help to us in getting him out."
"Sounds good. Let me know everything that you find out." The call connection was cut and Quatre's image disappeared from the computer screen.
Bright and early Saturday morning Heero had something to eat and was on his way to the Institution to see Duo again, and continue with his snooping. Nurse Laura was off for the weekend, so he had to go through the same ordeal as the previous day to gain admission to the grounds. Once inside, he signed in and played today's staff for the same information as he'd gotten yesterday. Most of the answers to his questions were the same, but there were a few discrepancies, that lead him to believe that there definitely was a problem with certain staff members at the hospital.
The new nurse walked Heero down the same hall to the same room. On the way, the orderly from yesterday's incident in the lobby passed them, having just exited a different patient's room, and his eyes locked with Heero's, distrustfully. Looking ahead of him, Heero ignored the man and followed the nurse, wanting to be able to observe everything without influencing what was going on there. When she led him into room 26, there was Duo, sitting on a wooden stool, with one of the other nurses violently raking at his head with a brush.
"Trying to brush his hair, since HE wont do it." The younger nurse said arrogantly when Heero's cold glare fell upon her. Duo sat emotionless as his head was yanked and hairs could be heard breaking.
Heero pushed past the older nurse and grabbed the brush. "I'll do it!" He glared at the two women, women who should have more bedside manner than to treat a person so roughly, and asked them to leave him with Duo. Shrugging him off, they both did go, and the two friends were alone once more.
When the door to the room rested closed in its jamb, Heero stood behind Duo and started to gently brush his hair. The brush tangled every second stroke. He hadn't much experience with long hair, but after a few minutes had managed to figure out that, by brushing carefully from the bottom first, he could work his way up and get all the tangles out. It took a long time. The hair was a mess, and there were broken strands and frayed ends sticking out everywhere. Eventually, however, Heero managed to pick through the jungle of brown locks and could easily slide the brush through, from scalp to end. Duo still sat motionless, secretly enjoying what he was feeling, wishing it would go on forever.
"Hair band?" Heero asked the seated man, expecting nothing for an answer. He was pleasantly surprised when Duo raised his arm and pointed to a little wicker basket on the top of the only dresser in the room. He never changed his gaze or said a word, but at least he responded. Fishing in the basket, Heero pulled out a black elastic band and then went to stand behind Duo again. Holding the band in his teeth, he braided the long tresses. He was slow, and the braid was loose, but he'd only ever had to do it a few times - whenever Duo had hurt himself in the past and couldn't manage on his own. Reaching the end of the braid, he wrapped it with the elastic and let the tail flop down onto the back of its owner. It was still as luxuriously long as he remembered.
"Stay here... I need to get something." He disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a pair of scissors from the front desk. "OK Duo...hold still so I don't gouge your eye out." That was Heero's way of trying to be funny. There was a flicker of movement in the corner of Duo's mouth, but only a split second, and it was gone. Well...at least that was making headway.
Kneeling in front of him, the Japanese man held the scissors as steady as he could and snipped carefully at the mop of bangs that had overgrown to the point of hiding Duo's face. Hair fell to the floor in clumps, but Duo didn't object once. He remained statuesque, letting his friend cut the hair, returning it to a closer resemblance of what it used to be. When he was finished, Heero pulled Duo up off the stool by his upper arm and dragged him to the small mirror that was hanging over the dresser, making him look.
"Better?" There was no answer. Duo pulled away and flopped himself down on the bed. He grabbed the end of his braid and wrapped and unwrapped it from around his hand.
Heero stayed with Duo for nearly five hours that day - as long as the staff would let him before they once again had to escort him out of the building. He tried to get Duo to talk to him, to tell him what it was that was causing him to be so withdrawn, but of course, there was no response. Duo stayed despondent throughout the entire visit, barring the one move he made during the hair brushing. After a while, the two just sat on the bed, leaning against the wall, and Heero went as far to grab a hold of his former lover's hand and hold it tight. If there was any one thing that he could have done that day to help melt Duo's ice-encrusted heart, that was it. Duo squeezed back, but that was all. That was enough, Heero decided. After three years of living in an institution and being subject to God knows what, a little bit of ground gained was plenty. There would be tomorrow. And whatever this was that was holding Duo as its prisoner, he would find it and kill it. He made a promise to both of them.
When the nurse came to escort Heero out of the bedroom, she walked in to a big surprise. Combed and braided hair. "Well Hallelujah! I guess we'll just let YOU brush his hair every day then, since he'll actually let you do it!"
Heero glared momentarily at the woman's sarcasm, then turned back to Duo. "I'll be back in the morning, OK?" As he began to walk toward the door the nurse blurted out another remark.
"Now if you could only get him to eat! Every time he goes on a hunger strike, he has to get force fed, and we all HATE that... don't we Priest?"
"His name is Duo."
"Oh... sorry. Right." She pulled the door closed behind Heero and the two proceeded through the halls of the facility.