DISCLAIMER: (Borrowed in part from Jay, with her permission) The Gundam Universe of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is Sotsu Agency, Sunrise, ANB, and Bandai America, Inc. Characters, places, timeline and other elements of the Gundam Wing series are the property of said organizations, and I do not profess to own them. The original material herein is the author and not considered public domain. Please don't sue or plagiarize. I'm in a perpetually non-prosperous state and all spare change usually goes into coffee or bags of oats.

WARNINGS: Angst, sap, implied yaoi, physical/emotional abuse, suicide attempts, blood.

SUMMARY: Duo winds up in an institution due to severe depression, and Heero helps him face not only his own demons, but also the ones working at the facility who are trying to make his life a living hell.

Part Nine
by Shira

Heero and Duo stepped out of the car and took in their surroundings. Duo stretched lazily after their long day traveling to arrive at the Winner Estate, reminiscing momentarily about the last time that he'd been there - it was during the Colony War. Grabbing up their bags, the two head for the main house entrance and were greeted by Quatre, his smile lighting his face. Behind him were Sophia and Anja, who'd both managed to fly home to see Duo and Heero when the arrived. There was hugging and kissing and thanking going all around, and even a few tears shed by Quatre as the group happily embraced in the main foyer.

After Dr. Westin admitted that there was definitely a problem at the L2 Institute for the Mentally Disabled, the case immediately did an about-face, and suddenly Sophia's story about Duo was making more and more sense. Westin answered every question precisely, filling in the judge on what had been happening at the facility, and how it had affected Duo during his stay there. The defense re-examined their witness, but this time they were unable to fix the mess that Westin had made for them, and suddenly things were not looking so peachy for the future of the institution. The case was awarded to the prosecution, with Duo's custody being granted to Dr. Winner under guidelines for his emotional rehabilitation, beginning with his immediate removal from the facility. With these serious allegations now on the floor, essentially being proven true by the hospital administrator, the previous investigation from the prior court case involving the window jumper was then ordered to be re-opened by the judge, with Dr. Westin as the chief witness.

Since Duo would need to be under Anja's care for a while, it was agreed after an offer from Quatre that he rehabilitate at the Winner Estate, where Anja could meet with him at her convenience during her busy schedule on L4. It was a good excuse for her to get home at least once a week too, so she was more than happy to have their sessions there. With Duo residing at the mansion for the time being, that left a question in Heero's mind as to what to do about his job. He was due back to Preventer's Headquarters in less than a week. After some calls and some conferences, Sally was able to find a way to station Heero at a different outpost where his services could be used, and he could also be close enough to Duo to commute daily to the Estate. Pleased with that outcome, he thanked her profusely - he wanted to be sure that he was there with Duo during his healing, no matter how long it took.

Gingerly sitting on the edge of the bed in what was to be his bedroom, Duo was motionless, reflecting on what had transpired in the past three weeks. Heero had suddenly shown up in his life again, at a time when he thought that he would simply rot away his years in that God forsaken place called an Institution for the Mentally Disabled, and like a knight in shining armor, had rescued him, bringing him to this castle of the Winner Estate. He was thankful, that was for sure, but he knew he should also be happy...he should be ecstatic for all intent and purposes, but he wasn't. That feeling of dread, that self-loathing, it was still there. But maybe it would be different this time. Maybe Anja knew what to do to make him feel better, because for the first time in a while, Duo thought that maybe he really did want to feel better. "Progress already," he thought to himself.

Getting up, he walked to the adjoining bathroom, standing in front of the large mirror. Looking at himself, Duo sighed. He looked pathetic. He was thin, his complexion was gray, and his hair was dull. Stress and lack of sleep had definitely done a job on him, not to mention the number of meals he'd missed in the last three years. Staring into his own jeweled eyes, he barely recognized himself as the former pilot of Deathscythe - the differences were spooky. His total stance and expression was wrong. Shaking his head, Duo went to sit down again, convinced that he had a lot of work to do if he was going to remedy this.

Heero walked in at that time, looking to see what Duo was up to. He sat quietly next to his friend on the end of the bed and smiled an encouraging smile. For a few minutes nobody spoke, and then Duo asked "Which bedroom are you in?"

A feeling of hope and anticipation raced through Heero. "The other hallway, first on the left." They talked idly for a few more minutes, that kind of jabber when two people have a lot to say to each other, but neither knows how to start it, and then Duo rose from the bed, pulling off his T-shirt.

"Gonna take a shower." He said, his sentence short and to the point. It was neither a request for Heero to leave the room, nor an invitation for him to join in, but rather, just simply a statement. Heero just sat, watching the form in front of him undress, remembering the strength and power that this young body once had, and seeing how frail it had become. Stripped down to his underwear, Duo was about to enter the bathroom when Heero stopped him.

"How did that happen?" He called attention to a long burn-like scar on Duo's back; one that he knew was never there before.

Duo stopped in his tracks, but did not turn to face Heero. "I don't remember." He answered. Then he elaborated a little more. "Another one of those unfortunate accidents." Having said that, he continued to the bathroom where he undressed completely and got into the shower. Turning on the spigots, Duo let the warm water attempt to rinse the bad off his body and out of his mind.

When he was finished, he stepped out of the shower and dried himself, exiting the bathroom to find Heero still there waiting for him. There was a towel wrapped around his head like a turban, hiding his hair. Heero patted the bed next to him, and Duo quietly sat beside him. Grabbing his hairbrush from the duffel bag on the floor in front of the two, he unwrapped the towel on Duo's head and started brushing. He brushed and brushed, and then finally braided the chestnut strands into a tight, damp tail, then looked at his friend.

"Are you happy, Duo?" Heero asked.

After a moment, Duo replied "No." He pried his eyes away from Heero's and looked at the carpet.

Sighing, Heero pressed him "Why, Duo?"

"Because," the braided man began, "I can't be happy. I've never been happy. I don't know what it is... to be happy."

Heero put the brush down on the bed beside him. "Can we fix that?"

Duo replied with an abrupt question, taking the Japanese man by surprise. "Heero... are YOU happy?" There was no answer, because they both already knew the answer to that. "How can I be happy if nobody else around me is happy either? What is there to be happy about?"

"I'm not happy, Duo, because I've had to learn the hard way what it's like to be a caring person. I threw away what could have made me happy, but now here you are again, and I want to try again to help both of us be happy."

"It isn't that simple Heero... at least not for me." Duo responded.

"Give it a chance, Duo." Reaching his arms around his emotionally incapacitated friend, Heero hugged him until Duo hugged back.

Duo's first session with Anja Winner was fairly uneventful. She spent the entire time asking him about why he felt so sad, and why he kept trying to kill himself. After discussing the emotional toll that being a soldier had taken on him, she delved even deeper, questioning him about his childhood, or what he remembered of it. He stayed mostly straight-faced, mostly emotionless throughout the entire two hours, although Anja sensed the sorrow that he was trying to hold back. Today though, she just wanted him to talk, to unburden whatever he felt he wanted to. They would deal with the emotional issues later. Even though his answers were short, and he did not even begin to cover the scope of what he was feeling inside, Duo left Anja that day with all sorts of memories floating in his mind. Memories and feelings that, for the past three years, he'd forced himself to push down where they couldn't hurt him. Now, opening these unhealed wounds so they were fresh again, Duo returned to his bedroom, laid face down into the pillow and cried for all he was worth.

In the weeks to come, Heero and Quatre attempted to try getting Duo back into the swing of everyday life, but were met with some resistance. Having spent so much time alone, it became plain to see that Duo was now preferring that, rather than joining in with his friends. Heero would stay with him in his bedroom for hours at a time and they would just talk, sometimes until they both nodded off, but besides an occasional visit to the rec room to watch TV, Duo insisted on remaining in his bedroom. He did take his meals with everyone else, but generally ate in silence, and the characteristic differences in him now versus three years ago had Quatre unnerved, to say the least. This just wasn't Duo.

At first, progress with Anja was very slow. Duo had started to put up the same wall that he'd erected around himself when Dr. Westin was the one questioning him, but with Heero there to talk things over with, he eventually relaxed and let down his defenses. Talking about what hurt him was difficult. Extremely difficult. Every session ended the same way - no matter what progress had been made, it would be finished off with Duo crying in his bedroom, feeling the pain of whatever old secrets about himself that they'd uncovered that day. The one that hurt the most was the one that was responsible for most of his troubles. The secret of Duo's detachment from himself and from all people, his guilt for everything. Guilt, as Anja had told him, was a very powerful emotion, and was almost always unfounded, but most people never figured that out. Yes, he could definitely agree it was an enormously powerful emotion, but he would be hard pressed to understand that his was for naught.

It was after a particularly upsetting session that Duo, still unwilling to come to terms with himself, went out of the confines of the estate to "walk for a while" to calm himself down.

on to part ten

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