I'd watched the sun rise this morning. Last night, when they'd given me my normal sedative, I'd cheeked the pill. This morning, this meeting with a man that I had obsessed over but hadn't seen in three years… I wanted a clear head for those things, and the damn tranqs never seemed to wear off as quickly as they should. Insomnia was a bitch, but I could handle a few days without sleep. Well, it was more like self-preservation than insomnia. If I slept without the aid of the tranqs, my nightmares and my memory ran rampant. Not having the night terrors was worth the tranqs, I supposed. Didn't mean I had to like that they left me muzzy and drowsy even after they should have worn off. During the night, I had gathered all of my things –the few items of clothing that I had brought with me when I checked in, the paintings, the sheet music, the clothes and gifts Relena had sent– and packed them in the twin suitcases Relena had provided. It seemed odd that last three years of my life had added more things, more color, more joy than the eighteen years before. Still, I bet that Doctor Shindo would have said it made sense, that my personality, my person, my everything had been stunted and denied for those years. I'd chosen my clothing for the day with care. Black seemed to be the appropriate color to wear to meet my favorite Shinigami. A black shirt and jeans, just like he used to tend toward. As I had laid them out, I wondered if he would smile to see me in his color. I decided that Duo would smile to see the man that Death refused wearing his banner color, so I'd stuck with my choice. Doctor Shindo had assured me in that warm, soft voice of hers that I would be okay on the outside now, that I had pulled myself through the worst of it. Bull shit, the lot of it. I hadn't pulled through anything: I had been dragged to it and through it, kicking and screaming all the while. The only reason I had made as much progress as I had was because Doctor Shindo had told me a simple truth of life: most people are still trying to find themselves as when they are in their early 20s. It helped that I didn't see myself as such a freak for having no idea who I was at that age. I could relax into it, open myself to guidance. Even for the perfect soldier, it's terrifying to learn that your callous upbringing, your former purpose in life –those things that you were bred and trained to do were the things that destroyed you. I had been a good soldier. I had killed few to save the many, sacrificed myself for people who would rather brand me a murderer than admit their own stupid decisions. I had fought battle after battle, infiltrated hide outs, hastily thrown together rescue missions. 'The Perfect Soldier' hadn't been just a label: it had been my ultimate goal. I wondered what level of security clearance was necessary to view my psychiatric file. Probably a pretty high one, since I had spilled every secret I'd ever been asked to keep. I'd talked about the others, though I'd refused to use their names. I'd talked about missions and things they'd said. I talked about the people that sacrificed themselves to help us. But mostly, I talked about the ungrateful recipients of our sacrifices. It made me angry to see that four of the five Gundam pilots were treated like serial killers instead of heroes –and they were certainly heroes. Doctor Shindo had asked me once why I talked so much about the other four. I'd laughed and told her, "Because my life was so much fuller when they were around. We were boys of an age, all of us different, all of us the same. I'd never been allowed to meet people my own age before that." Doctor Shindo hadn't known what to do with that one –at least, she'd seemed a tad lost at the time. Of course, that might have been the barrowed words –Wufei had always referred to us that way, and I always thought it was the best description. Anyway, when the only things I was ever good at led me to hell that I couldn't escape, not for all the Gundam pilots in the world, they taught me other things. I'd learned piano –first classical, them composition. They taught me how to paint, to express myself in a way that didn't involve violence. Most of my paintings were still very dark, but I felt as though my soul lightened. There were a myriad of other skills they taught me to encourage self-sufficiency: cooking and sewing, among the many. One of my suitcases was mostly full of those canvases –I'd painted one specifically for each of my brothers-in-arms. I'd probably have to ship most of them, but I hoped that they would like them. I had to smile at that. It was the first time I'd ever worried about conveying a message to an audience, and it was important. I talked to the receptionist, knowing she flirted with me out of habit, because, really, who wants after a man with PTSD and insomnia, along with the dubious honor of being the only inpatient who had checked himself in to this particular mental institution? Whenever the lobby doors slid open, my eyes gravitated toward them. I figured that Duo would still be familiar –there's only so much a man can change in three years, right? This time, when the doors slid open, they revealed an older-looking Duo than I had known. He'd allowed that beautiful hair of his to grow even longer, yet he still wore it in a single long braid. It seemed we'd both felt the need to wear the Shinigami's signature color. His black t-shirt stretched tightly across the muscular planes of a chest that had finally filled out. His worn blue jeans rode low on his slim hips, stretched over his legs and at the same time emphasized the length of them, and caressed and cradled the shapely ass that even I would admit I'd often found myself staring at. He smiled at me. It wasn't that familiar Shinigami smile: not that devil-may-care smile that came with big guns, explosives, and close brushes with Death himself. The smile he wore was unfamiliar on his face, yet somehow suited: it was a tender smile, perhaps a smile of understanding. "Heya, partner," he greeted me, his tone light and almost jovial. "How ya been?" It surprised me how hard I had to fight back the urge to run to him, to fling myself into his arms and sob like a child, relying on the knowledge that had wormed its way deep into my heart: the knowledge that Duo Maxwell would never let me fall. After a steadying breath, I took an almost leisurely pace as I walked to him. "Hey. Again, arigato. For coming to get me." He closed the distance between us with long strides. Gods, had those legs always been that long? Ruffling my hair, he confided softly, "I was worried about you, Hee-man. You dropped off the face of the earth." The expression I gave him had to be familiar to him. Doctor Shindo called it my 'default expression': the blank stare that let no one have any glimpse of what was going on in my head. "Let's talk outside," I suggested dully, as though there were no emotion in me. Already, my restless damned soul surprised me with its hunger for the taste of freedom and fresh air. I would need to be free of this place before I could bear my soul to Duo and show him the other facets of the hell he'd frequently drug me through. He nodded, his expression falling back into a more guarded one. I acknowledged his answer with a curt nod, then moved back to the desk, hurriedly filling out the ridiculous paperwork I had to finish to leave. So occupied with the paperwork, I barely registered the receptionist telling me that Doctor Shindo wanted to speak to my friend before I left with him. I looked over my shoulder at him, pacing like a caged lion beside the sofa as he tried to make sense of all the information he was receiving all at once. I wanted to apologize: I felt like I was throwing another emotional nuke at my partner, and I didn't like it. Still, I called out his name softly. "Duo?" Questions reflected in those vibrant eyes, but Duo didn't ask. Instead, he responded to my summons. "Yeah, Hee-man?" "My… my doctor wants to speak with you, if that's alright." I really didn't think he needed to know how fucked up I had been –how fucked up I still was– but what the hell did I know? I certainly didn't have a medical degree, and I wasn't exactly testing on the healthy side of psychosis. Those gorgeous violet eyes flashed and flared wide to reflect his emotional pain for almost a millisecond before he retreated behind his own bland mask. "Sure." It had never been my intention to hurt Duo by asking him here. I didn't like the guilt swimming in my stomach, and I didn't like the fear swimming in my head. Most of all, I didn't like that I had taken his smile from him. Gods, how I wanted to see that smile!
Duo: A mental institution. A fucking mental institution! Well, he had said I'd understand when I came to get him. More than anything, I was glad that I hadn't given into Wufei about bringing him along. Through all I'd been through with this man, through the hell that became our home, our breath, our life, through the setbacks and trials and conflicts of the war that had always been our purpose, I had never wanted to cry. Never. None of those things had ever hurt me deep enough to make tears prickle at my eyes. I was used to being alone. I was used to not belonging. I was used to never having a place to call home, people to call family, friends to depend on. But finding out that one of the few men I did call friend had needed help, that he didn't come to any of us, that he had to seek help all alone –that was the first thing in five years that made me want to cry. My eyes began to burn with tears I dare not shed and it took all I had to keep them from falling. The receptionist blandly sent me back to the doctor's office. There was no doubt in my mind that she was expecting me: her door was open and she sat atop the desk instead of behind it. The doctor was a pretty little thing: petite and blond, with oceanic eyes and a rack that any red-blooded man with an interest in females would have drooled over. Hell, at any other time, I am not ashamed to say that I would have drooled over it. But it wasn't any other time, and she wasn't just any other person. She was Heero's doctor, so she held the keys to a few bits of very important information that I wasn't confident that even I could pry out of that stoic Japanese man. We stared at each other in silence for a few moments. Finally, she decided to crack the ice. "I'm Doctor Juli Shindo. Mister Yuy has been my patient for the last three years, Mister…" Knowing that she expected me to fill that not-so-subtle blank, I sighed before volunteering my last name. "Maxwell. Duo Maxwell." She studied my face for a moment. "I take it that you were unaware of the situation, Mister Maxwell?" Her voice was soft, kind, soothing. It was no wonder that she made her living as a head-shrinker with a voice like that one. "No. Fuck, no. We… well, our friends were convinced he was dead. Mother of God! What… what brought him here, to you?" "Mister Yuy checked himself in one morning a little over three years ago. He was not in a good condition –malnourished, severely paranoid, talking to himself. He kept saying he didn't know who he was anymore, that he had no purpose. Actually, he had to be put on a suicide watch for the first evening he was here, simply because we didn't know if he was suicidal or not and he was in no condition to tell us." Oh, that voice might have been soothing in any other context, but in this one, it freaked me the hell out. That might have been the news she was delivering, though. "Christ. His only purpose in life –gone the instant the peace talks reached fruition." Even in that circumstance, I could appreciate the irony. He'd been named after a pacifist, but his only purpose was war. "They raised him that way, and it was all for nothing, all fucking worthless the moment the war ended." I remarked softly. "You seem to know a great deal about it already. May I ask how, Mister Maxwell?" I gave her my coldest smile. "Heero Yuy was one of five Gundam pilots. His designation was 01. The military raised him to be the perfect soldier, and he was. He kept to himself, worked hard. He was surprisingly strong for his slim frame and had been observed walking five miles on a broken ankle without so much as a wince. War was his purpose: he was raised to be a tool in one. Now, granted, he was a very special tool with some pretty spectacular abilities, but he was a tool to them none the less. It's no wonder that he was utterly lost without the war." "That was certainly a non-answer," she remarked. "Still, you must know him well to know all of that. You are a friend of his?" "We were… boys of a certain age together. We went through a lot of things together." I'd be damned if I would ever tell that smug Chinese bastard that his turn of phrase had ever exited my mouth. The way her eyes widened told me that she had drawn the proper conclusion from that. Ah, we won't tell him that Heero ever said it, either, I decided. "Why was it that you needed to see me, Doctor Shindo?" I inquired politely, trying to get back on topic. Heero probably wanted as far from this place as possible, and I certainly couldn't blame him. I'd been here all of twenty minutes and met his doctor, and I certainly wanted to get the hell out of here. "Ah, yes. Well, he's still struggling a little with his personal identity, but he has been making a huge amount of progress. He's become more open, more willing to communicate. He's still learning some of the subtleties of human interaction, but he's making great strides. All in all, he has made great progress here. However, despite personally pushing for his release, I still have a few… concerns." The doctor actually sounded genuinely worried. "He needs support, community… people who understand him. We tried to do that for him here, but as you might guess, Mister Yuy proved rather… unique in comparison to our other patients." "If I'm allowed to be candid…?" At her nod, I continued. "Heero and I have been through some of the darkest hells the universe could throw at any person, and we got through them together. We ate together, lived together, and did our best to retain at least an ounce of sanity. Actually, the five of us have been through a lot of things –great sadnesses, great joys, doofy celebrations and pranks. We –that would be myself and the other three– have come to think of each other as family, forged by war and hell and tears. And I know that I will not be the only one to welcome him in with open arms. He is my brother in arms. He is my friend. He is important, and he was never forgotten." I met her gaze head on. "He is intensely important to us."
The smile she wore was genuine, not the smile of a clinician. "I hope and pray that you want what is best for him. The same for your friends, as well. He needs your acceptance in ways he never thought possible, and I believe he also thinks himself in need of forgiveness. Just… don't let him shut you out, and do your best to accept him and the positive changes he has made. And whatever you do, don't let him go. He'll fall again, this time deeper and darker."
"I'll never desert Heero. In fact, I recall a few occasions he was pissed at me because I wouldn't," I returned, sarcasm dripping from my tone. "It will be interesting to see how he reacts to such a problem now, I suppose."