by Trixie

Trowa's fingers were cold. He couldn't do anything with them. The floor was covered with mottled carpet that was so many colors at once, it faded into nothingness. Trowa stared hard at it, trying to pick out as many individual carpet threads as possible.

The chair was uncomfortable. The only kind of chair that would have been comfortable to sit in for so long would have been too expensive and unwieldy for the space, but it didn't make the chair any less irritating. Trowa felt like his feet were falling asleep, although his circulation wasn't impeded in any way.

There was no ambient music playing. Trowa was annoyed by this. There should have been something to distract people from the quiet. Instead, there was only the harsh silence of people who are afraid to say anything, and the air circulating around them.

There were other people waiting there, too. He wanted to be alone, to have a private room to wait. No one wanted to be there. It was a room designed to be as comfortable as possible given the limitations of space for people who would rather be anyplace else in the world.

Trowa most certainly did not want to be there.

He supposed absently that people were nervous being around him. He didn't mind. He didn't want them around him.

Commander Une was sitting a discreet two chairs down. She was sitting, staring straight ahead, her hands folded neatly in her lap, her legs crossed in a ladylike fashion. Her military rigidity prevented her from moving even in the slightest.

Trowa would appreciate her calm, cool efficiency in almost any other situation. He had no idea how she even knew to be there. He felt a slight resentment against her for being so informed.

Sally Po was sitting in the chairs behind him, shifting position regularly every few minutes. Trowa wanted to beat her and tie her down, just to keep her from making the noise when cloth rubbed against cloth. He certainly didn't think there was *any* earthly reason for her to be there. He assumed that she was there because Wu Fei could not be. He felt that she was a weak substitute.

Heero was lurking somewhere in the background, but Heero wasn't in the forefront of Trowa's thoughts.

There was a family over in the corner. The mother had fallen down the stairs to the basement. Or maybe the father had kicked the shit out of her. The children were subdued, but still unruly. The oldest girl wanted to go to the park. She kept making snide comments about her mother ruining a sunny day.

Trowa supposed that the sun was shining, but he didn't see what that had to do with anything.

There was a couple on the other side of the room. They were young, too young, and they held each other's hands without looking at each other. They each had several tattoos and piercings, and they wore lots of silver jewelry and black clothes. Trowa didn't think they looked pale because of their makeup.

When he looked at them, he felt his stomach twist and he wanted to claw the skin off his flesh. They reminded him of Duo and himself.

He had already been waiting too long. It didn't take this long to die, unless it was a really painful death. But did it take this long to live?

Trowa leaned down over his hands, intertwined on his knees, and stared at the carpet some more. He wanted very much to not be there. To not be waiting anymore. For this day to start over again.

He didn't know how to make that happen. He should rip the veins out of his arms for being so useless.

There was a sudden rush of sound, but Trowa didn't look up until he heard Relena's voice.

"Oh, I'm so sorry! I got here as soon as I could!"

It was unclear to Trowa exactly to whom Relena was speaking, so he assumed that he was not required to answer. Nor did he feel an overwhelming urge to look up at her. He didn't see any reason for her to be there.

She came to sit right next to Trowa, putting her hands on him. He tried to flinch away, but there was only so much distance he could put between them and still stay in the chair. Her eyes were watery and red, and Trowa had to repress the reflex to vomit at the thought of Relena crying over Duo.

"It must have been so terrible for you, Trowa! To come home and find him like... like... My goodness, I can't even..." She gave every impression of wanting to cry on his shoulder, and Trowa knew that he would have to physically throw her off of him to keep his personal space intact. He hoped that she would try soon.

He hadn't been aware of Une standing up, but she then had her hands on Relena's shoulders, pulling her back with little pressure. "Relena." Une's voice was quiet, clear, and authoritative, and Relena was once again just a child, looking to someone older and worldlier for guidance.

With a shuddering intake of breath, Relena sighed and shifted away from Trowa. "I'm sorry. Of course, you don't want to... I didn't mean to... Do you know anything...?"

Relena looked to Trowa, but he didn't acknowledge her question, he simply shifted so that he was facing away from her as best he could in the confines of his seat. Une shook her head once and Relena sighed, sitting back.

Relena seemed intent upon sitting next to Trowa, occasionally wanting to reach out to him, but he continued his surveillance of the carpet, and pretended to ignore her.

A nurse came to get the family, letting them go back to see the mother. The couple continued to wait. Trowa cracked his knuckles one by one, pushing his fingers back as far as he could, hurting himself weakly.

He wanted to go away from here, go to the bathroom, or get something to drink, or go outside for some air, but he was afraid that if he left, he wouldn't come back.

He was startled by the call of "Mr. Barton?" right before him, and he didn't want to answer right away. He couldn't interpret the tone of the woman's voice.

Relena cleared her throat and poked him in the ribs with her elbow. Trowa briefly considered slapping her across the face. Looking up, he cleared his throat, hoping the woman would understand.

She smiled, and stretched her hand out to him. Trowa did not want to touch the hand of a stranger who worked with sick and diseased people, but he hesitated, unfolding his hands. He couldn't commit to a decision, though, and she withdrew her hand, still smiling. "Mr. Barton, you are listed on Mr. Maxwell's file as the de facto next of kin. Is that right?"

Trowa blinked, startled into fidgeting. "I am?"

The young woman blinked this time, looking suddenly uncomfortable, as if she wished she had a file to look over. "Er, yes, you brought him in, correct? I mean, you rode in with the paramedic, right? You live with Mr. Maxwell?"

Trowa leaned forward, rubbing his palms over his knees. "Yes."

She smiled, sighing with relief. "Ah, I'm Dr. Croft. Mr. Maxwell has stabilized. We used Narcan to reverse the effects of the heroine. He regained consciousness and went into respiratory distress twice before we were able to stabilize him completely; he must have taken a great deal of heroin."

Trowa could not discern whether or not she was being judgmental, but he felt inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, and assume that she was not.

She cleared her throat, and squatted down so that she was at Trowa's eye level. "He's going to be fine. We did have to restrain him; he's a lot stronger than he looks. He's been somewhat disoriented, but he seems to be coming out all right, so if you would like, you can go back and see him."

Relena bounced forward in her seat. "He can have visitors then? How long will he have to be hospitalized?"

Dr. Croft looked nervously from Relena to Trowa, and then over to Une. She was understandably unused to dealing with such famous and powerful people. "Well, usually, we would be releasing a patient in Mr. Maxwell's condition as soon as they were cogent and able. Er, we don't really *need* to report cases to the police when they come in by ambulance, of course, as the police and the emergency bands are the same. But, in the case of a Preventor operative, it is mandated by UESA law that agents or employees who come in to the hospital for narcotic-related conditions must be kept under surveillance for at least 48 hours. It's, er, a balance and control rule." She appealed to Trowa apologetically as she spoke, her eyes conveying her sympathy.

Trowa wasn't interested in sympathy. "I can see him?"

Dr. Croft nodded enthusiastically, getting up. "Yes! In fact, he's been asking for you."

Trowa blinked. "He's... He's been asking for me?"

Heero snorted in the background, but no one paid him any mind. "Yes, he has. Several times, in fact. He's actually gotten a little boring on the subject." Dr. Croft winked at him, and motioned for him to follow her.

Trowa got up on rubber legs, and walked with inconsistent strides behind her. She led him past the double wide door leading back to the ER, and past the line of patient quarters, each no more than a space for a bed surrounded by curtains. The nurses' station was in the center of the room, with all the patient quarters surrounding them. In the back, there were rooms for patients as well, but it appeared to Trowa that most people were brought in to here. Duo was behind a curtain in a bed in the corner. He had an IV in his hand, and he looked pale and ashen, but all things considered, he didn't look so bad.

Trowa nearly choked on his feelings. He could not process what was going on inside of him. It was a jumble of things more potent than he was accustomed to coping with, and he had to repress the urge to bolt.

The desire to put his hands on Duo was stronger.

Duo's eyes were half-lidded. He was dressed in the sparse hospital gown, and his arms looked very thin tied down to the metal guardrails of the bed. When he saw Trowa, Duo did not attempt to smile, but he did try to sit up a little. "Tro." Even his voice was weak.

Trowa went to stand by the bed, and put his hand on Duo's face. The braid hanging over the edge of the bed looked like it had been trod upon. "Hey."

Dr. Croft cleared her throat, and looked away. "Well, I'll... I'll give you two a minute. Please remember Mr. Maxwell, to look after your health better in the future. Snorting heroin is a bad way to deal with the pain."

They watched her leave. Trowa put his hand on Duo's hand, and nearly let go when he felt how cold it was.

"Fuckin' bitch," Duo muttered under his breath. He shifted in his bed, pulling on his restraints uselessly. "Jesus fucking Christ in a taxicab... Today sucks, Tro."

He only nodded in response, running his fingers over Duo's sticky bangs.

"I need you to do something for me, Tro. Please?" Duo's eyes were red and he struggled to keep them open. It gave Trowa a lump in his throat. "I need your help."

"What can I do?" Trowa's voice was unusually hoarse, and he wondered if Duo could hear it, too.

Duo smiled and visibly relaxed. "I need to get the hell outta here, Tro. Please?"

Trowa nodded almost immediately. He wanted to think that this was something that Duo could only ask of him. He pulled Duo's bag out from under the bed, and leaned over to take out Duo's IV. "Give me a minute, all right?"

He slipped out of the curtained cubicle, carefully holding the curtain together behind him. He slipped a pair of scissors that were on the nurses' desk into his pocket quickly. Dr. Croft was standing nearby, reading over a file and working on some paperwork. Trowa cleared his throat unobtrusively, and started to talk before he was certain he had her attention. "Thank you for saving him. I... Thank you."

Dr. Croft's face lit up with a grin. "Oh, don't give it a thought. It's, well, you know, my job." She tried to laugh at what she wanted to be a joke, but it was fairly irrelevant. "You were both Gundam pilots, weren't you? And there was one other in the waiting room, too, right? I suppose you guys remained friends throughout, huh?"

Trowa blinked. "Something like that."

Dr. Croft smiled like a young woman. "I used to play with toy Mobile Suits when I was a child. I always wanted to have a Gundam model, but my parents thought I was going to be locked up as a traitor. I liked the one with the whip, the one that breathed fire, the best."

Trying to smile, Trowa nodded. "That was Wu Fei's."

Dr. Croft flushed. "I must sound silly to you. But I never thought I would meet a Gundam pilot, much less help one."

He released his breath slowly, nodding haltingly. Pointing upward, he nodded, indicating the painting behind the nurses' station. "That's lovely, isn't it?"

Dr. Croft started, looking at the painting, seeing it for the first time. "Er, yeah, I guess."

"You could do us another favor by looking at it for a few minutes." He turned to walk away, but he did notice how she seemed to flush with excitement.

She spoke quickly, her eyes glued to the painting. "Take the door on the left, go down the hallway following the arrows for radiology. There's a door fairly close to the parking lot at the end of the green hallway to the right of mammography. I'll be taking a coffee break in a few, so you and Mr. Maxwell should have about ten minutes alone before I need to take him upstairs."

"Thanks again." Trowa spoke quietly, without turning his head to face her, so he hoped that she could hear him, but he doubted it.

He slipped back into the cubicle with Duo, who was pulling out his clothes slowly, his hands still restrained. Trowa cut the restraints quickly, letting the plastic ties fall to the ground. He untied Duo's gown for him, and helped him into his clothes. Duo grumbled about the condition of his clothes, but Trowa shushed him.

They followed Dr. Croft's instructions, and were out of the hospital in five minutes. Duo was weak still, and needed Trowa's help at times, but Trowa didn't mind. They got to the car, but they were moving slowly. Trowa was not really sure what Duo wanted to do now, but he was pretty sure that they wouldn't have much time before Une became aware of their absence. He wasn't sure how well Duo understood the situation that they were in, or how to explain it to him.

Duo coughed, and shifted around, trying not to move. "Well, I guess we don't have much time, huh? Hey, Tro, howzabout we take a little vacation, hm? Get outta town for a bit... Clear our heads..."

Trowa looked over to Duo. He was frail, and shaking a little, sweating far too much, his skin sallow. Trowa swallowed hard. The feelings that were choking him were only getting stronger. They would need supplies.

"We'll stop someplace out of town. Is that okay? Do you... need to use the bathroom?" Trowa clutched the steering wheel. He didn't know much about these things, except for what he'd seen in movies.

Duo chuckled humorlessly. "Later. 'M tired, a bit. Damn, do I have any cigarettes in here...?" He picked through the pockets in the door, and the glove compartment.

Trowa reached to the backseat without looking, and pulled up Duo's jacket.

"Heh, you've always got things under control, don't you, Tro?" There was jealousy in Duo's voice as he loosely pulled out a cigarette.

Trowa ignored it, and got onto the closest expressway. He wasn't entirely sure which direction they were headed, but he was pretty sure it didn't matter.

Duo flipped on the radio, and turned to stare out the window. Trowa could see him fidgeting, and he knew what it was like to be in pain and not be able to get comfortable. He sped down the expressway, and tried not to look at the back of Duo's head too much.

It was midnight when they stopped at the 24-hour combination discount department store and grocery store. Duo went to the bathroom, moving like an old man, his limbs moving like they were not really a part of his body.

Trowa watched him disappear behind the door to the men's room, and then sighed.

They needed supplies.

Trowa grabbed a cart and moved quickly. He picked up some t-shirts and track pants for them, a few pairs of boxers, some flip-flops, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner, a hairbrush, a razor, shaving cream, bottles of energy drinks, a few boxes of clove cigarettes, safety blades, energy bars, apples, oranges, boxed juices, various bandages, soft drinks, eye drops, some analgesics, some Pepto-Bismol, blueberry muffins, beef jerky, wet wipes, cereal, and condoms and lube.

Duo was still in the bathroom when he was done. He was standing in front of the mirror letting the water wash over his hands. Trowa did not say anything as he came to stand next to Duo, but he couldn't help but look in the mirror with Duo, staring into the reddened eyes of his lover.

Duo cleared his throat, but didn't say anything. He splashed some water on his face, and shook his hands off over the sink. He shuffled instead of walked, and trailed after Trowa even though he was walking right next to him.

Trowa considered putting his arm around Duo's waist, but he was tired and unwilling to cause a scene, and if he were in Duo's shoes, he would be damn sick of being needy by now.

Duo climbed into his seat like he was a child, almost on his hands and knees, and he was half-asleep before he finished buckling up. He looked like death after death had been sick with the flu for a week.

The music turned to static, and Trowa flicked the radio off. He drove through the night, and just as the sun was coming up, the ocean was before him. Duo was still sound asleep, looking completely dead to the world, so Trowa just drove around until he needed gas. He went to pay so that he could ask if there were any motels that would let him check in early.

The directions to the Oceanview Inn were somewhat confusing when he heard them, but he was able to follow perfectly easily. It had rooms in a strip with the doors facing the parking lot. There were supposed to be back doors in every room facing the beach. It was a bit pricey, but they didn't give Trowa any trouble at all checking in, and the ocean air was refreshing and cool.

He had to carry Duo into the room. He placed Duo down on the bed, expecting the other man to wake up at any moment, so he was watching Duo's face carefully the whole time. But Duo did not stir at all. He took off Duo's shoes, pants, and shirt, and pulled the blanket over him.

Duo slept, and Trowa watched from the chair next to the bed.

Special thanks to my best friend, who daylights as Nurse Ratchet, for the medical info.

On to part ten. Back to part eight.