Heero opened his eyes and blinked sleepily. The sun shone in through the open window, the curtains swaying gently as a light breeze entered the warm room. Heero took a deep breath and let it out, sighing at the sensation. He looked down at the peacefully slumbering Duo on his chest and smiled, albeit sadly. The American's eyes were shadowed, deep purple circles only serving to accentuate the prominence of too-thin cheeks.
Stroking one hand down the American's hair, Heero's fingers trailed along the satiny-soft strands that had broken free of their interwoven prison, and then down beyond where upon caressing Duo's back, Heero could feel each rib standing out sharply.
'We've got a long way to go making you healthy, Shi-chan,' Heero thought sadly. ' But I promise we'll get there. Mission accepted.'
He bent his head forward, dropping a gentle kiss on Duo's head; the slight movement causing Duo to shift slightly. His eyes scrunched up for a minute as a yawn broke free, before opening slowly to stare kittenishly at his lover.
"Morning," Heero answered him, abandoning his second attempt on the top of the head for the more interesting target: Duo's lips. Duo smiled and returned the kiss eagerly before drawing away slowly and sitting up. His eyes closed as he waited for the room to stop spinning.
Heero waited patiently - it was the same thing every time. Every time the American sat up, the blood rushed away and back, making him dizzy. 'Low-blood sugar levels' he recalled the serious-faced Maguanac doctor explaining to them. He had wanted to Duo to go to the hospital but Duo had absolutely refused.
'It wasn't fair,' Heero reflected, ' that the most active and life- filled one of us all is the one who's suffering the most.'
The end of the war had heralded in peace for everyone on earth, but for the pilot of Gundam Deathscythe, it brought nothing but pain. No one, not Heero or even Quatre and his space-heart, had realized what had been going on during the war, but when the weeks went by and Duo's health had gotten progressively worse, Heero had demanded an explanation.
A street kid for as long as he could remember, Duo had spent the bulk of his youth stealing and begging for scraps of food that he ended up giving most of it away to the others. Like many children from L2, Duo suffered from starvation, and malnourishment. While his immune system was able to handle the diseases that frequently ravaged L2, Duo fell prey to more common illnesses, such as colds and the flu. Bronchitis permanently took up residence in his lungs at the young age of nine, and by the time he had found a temporary home with Father Maxwell and Sister Helen at the Maxwell Church, he had a cough like a forty year old man suffering from asthma and a lifetime of smoking.
But even with his health problems, he was still the best thief and sneak on the colony. He should have been - after all, hadn't he been the protégée' of Solo? When his wanderings eventually led him to Doctor G and his first meeting with Deathscythe, the beak-nosed professor had at first wanted to revise his thinking. Surely such a sickly whelp would be unable to cater to the demands piloting a Gundam would require? But Duo had proved his mettle and the Doctor had then devised a drug that would counter the bronchitis and suppress his coughs. Monthly shots, that Duo administered himself, usually in the privacy of his Gundam, helped keep his airways clear and the addition of modified steroids helped to increase his strength so he'd be able to pilot Deathscythe.
However, drugs could only do so much. Even when he'd hooked up with the other pilots, Duo's childhood had forced some serious habits on him. One being unable to eat more then one meal a day. Certainly Duo did his best to make it a large one, but even so, his stomach, already having shrunk from years of hovering on the brink of starvation, rebelled, usually making him sick later on. Doctor G took Duo's assurances that he was feeling much better at face value, automatically assuming that a starving orphan would happily gorge himself when presented with such banquets as what Quatre would no doubt lay in front of him, and kept providing Duo with the supplements Duo would eventually need and crave, just to make it through the day without collapsing.
It was after the fall of Mariemaia's brief reign, and the subsequent peace that the victory had won, that any of the pilots noticed something was wrong.
Heero pulled himself from his reverie as Duo smiled weakly at him.
Heero nodded and rose gracefully from the bed. He then turned and helped Duo stand as well, providing him a shoulder to lean on. Duo only allowed Heero to carry him when it was apparent that his legs would not hold his slight weight, and even then, protested it. He had nothing against Heero's strong arms wrapped snugly about him; he merely detested the display of weakness. He felt Wufei would point at him, shouting "Weak! You're WEAK!", when in reality, he knew the Chinese pilot considered Duo a good friend, and would move heaven and earth if he thought it would help Duo regain some of the vibrancy he'd displayed during the war.
Heero walked Duo downstairs, mentally cringing at each harsh gasp of air as the smaller pilot found even this simple task of walking the short distance to the kitchen taxing his limits. Heero knew that Duo hated being this way, even though the fact that, exhausted or not, the pilot making it all the way down in one trip was a definite improvement.
"Hungry Shi-chan?" Heero asked, settling Duo into one of the kitchen chairs and smoothing his unruly bangs back. Duo grinned at the use of Heero's nickname for him, but shook his head.
"Not really." It was the same every morning.
Heero nodded and reached for the jug of orange juice, pouring the American a cup. He grabbed a handful of seedless red grapes and put them on a plate to set beside Duo, knowing the pilot's weakness for the fruit. He watched Duo nibble on one, remembering when he would eat the whole thing at once, and then shook himself mentally.
It had not been Duo wolfing down every scrap of fruit he could find, it had been that thrice-damned medication that he had hooked Duo on, making him feel stronger then he really was. Heero growled as he remembered finding out just how much of an act it was.
"Duo? DUO!" Heero sprinted forward and caught the staggering American just before he completed his tumble down the stairs. He shook the American roughly. "Baka! Why aren't you more careful?" He then paused, noting the dazed look on the pilot, the feverishly warm skin.
"Are you sick?"
"I'm never sick," Duo protested feebly. "Just tired..."
His eyes slid shut and he would have pitched forward if not for Heero gripping him tightly about the shoulders. Heero swore and lifted the American with ease, swinging Duo's legs up into his arms. His eyes widened as he realized just how light the pilot was, and he carried Duo back to his room. Taking a moment to safely navigate a path through the mess Duo called home, he deposited the smaller boy on the bed before hurrying for the door and calling for Quatre to get the doctor that was kept on hand to tend to the Maguanacs and subsequently, the Gundam pilots.
When the doctor had read off his findings of malnutrition, starvation, bronchitis, exhaustion, low blood-sugar and so on and so forth, the other pilots were in a state of extreme disbelief, How could someone as hyperactive as Duo Maxwell be so sick?
"There were also traces of foreign substances in his bloodstream which could have been one of the methods he used to hide this from you," Heero remembered the doctor pushing his glasses up and staring at them,
Later on, Duo had finally woken and was surprised to see a crowd gathered around his bed. When confronted, Duo had broken down and confessed what had happened.
"I ain't seen or heard from G since blowing up Deathscythe," Duo had admitted. At the time, that had been nearly two months ago. Without Doctor G, Duo had been unable to administer the shots when he'd run out of his own supply, and had been surprised when the Quatre's doctor had informed him of what would have happened if he had.
"Those drugs were meant for use under intense conditions - adrenaline, shock, fear, anger, even remorse - things invoked by the war. Had you continued with your injections, the drugs would have had an adverse effect on you, Duo."
The solution? Nothing short term. Duo had been upset to learn that his recovery would take years, if at all, thanks to the tampering done to him. The hardships of his youth coupled with subsequent years of drug abuse on his already damaged system served to make him a near- invalid as his condition seemed to worsen as the first few days passed with no change for the better.
Heero blinked and saw that Duo had eaten all the grapes he'd set out and he dropped a kiss on the top of his head as he walked by.
"You like doing that, dontcha?" Duo grinned cheekily. Heero nodded, setting his own breakfast of fruit and juice out in front of him.
"You want anything else? More grapes?"
Duo shook his head and Heero's face fell slightly. "Okay, Duo," he said before digging into his own food.
Duo watched for a minute - and then reached for a banana. Heero smiled as the American pulled the peel off and broke off a small piece, placing it in his mouth and chewing thoughtfully.
"Well...maybe room for a LITTLE more..."
Heero's smile grew as he watched Duo take another bite. It would take a long time, yes. But he would do it.