When you punish a person
for dreaming his dream
Don't expect him to thank or forgive you.
The best ever death metal band outta Denton
Will in time both outpace and outlive you.
-Mountain Goats, "The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton"
We spent the next four days in our own wing of a Winner-owned hospital out by the spaceport. Even though I hadn't been injured, the doctors wanted to monitor my back and leg, just to be sure I hadn't done permanent damage to the muscle or tendon. Une insisted because she'd paid for it and the doctors happily complied, I suspected, because they got to poke at successfully regenerated muscle.
Duo was laid up with a stitched-together bullet hole in his thigh and a reset wrist, a combination which kept him out of wheelchairs. Even though the hospital staff didn't know it, they saved themselves a lot of trouble by having to wheel him around themselves. A bed-ridden Duo was a pain in the ass, but a wheelchair-bound Duo was worse because he could find all sorts of places he wasn't allowed into.
Karl was in surgery for a day and then in intensive care while the doctors tried to save his lung. Regen wasn't sophisticated enough yet to regrow lung tissue, so, after removing shards of ribs and sucking out enough blood to nearly drown him, Karl was left to recover on his own. They kept him under and intubated until they were sure he could breathe on his own. I hadn't been allowed to see him.
For the most part, the nurses tried to keep me out of Duo's room to let him rest and recover. And I didn't actually mind too much, content to sit up in my own hospital bed and read. Or just sit and think. Most often, I did this with Heero. Trowa took on the task of keeping Duo occupied. Neither Heero nor Trowa left the hospital while we were there. They slept on couches the first night and on cots brought into our rooms after that. They didn't appear angry at us, though with both of them, it was difficult to tell.
Sitting with Heero, enjoying the silence and a game of Rummy, I finally gave in and asked him.
"Should we have asked you and Trowa to come with us?"
Heero looked up from his cards and thunked the two front legs of his chair back onto the floor before laying down three sevens. Then he put his feet back up on the bed frame and pushed back onto two legs again. He shuffled his remaining cards into a different order and frowned. I wasn't sure he would answer until he shook his head and shrugged.
"What does that mean?" I asked, drawing a card and then getting rid of it. I still had garbage in my hand.
"It means I haven't figured that out yet," Heero murmured. "But I think it was probably good that you didn't ask. Because we probably would have gone with you." He leaned forward to draw from the pile, adding it to his hand and then discarding. "And at the time, that would have been a bad decision on our part."
"Even though Une was working with Prescott to bring down Rorty?"
He nodded. "We didn't know anything about that until we offered to go after you ourselves."
"And Une told you not to rush off."
He nodded again. "But I wish you'd told us anyway. At least told us that you were planning to leave."
"Duo would have had to be the one to tell you. And he didn't want to screw things up for either of you by bringing you into it."
"He did manage to screw things up for himself quite spectacularly, though."
A fact I was sure Trowa was scolding him for even now. "He was just being himself. He was being my friend." I looked up as soon as those words left my mouth. "Not that you weren't. But Duo--"
Heero's mouth twitched. "Duo would do just about anything for you. He broke more laws than I can count on one hand. And he'd probably do it again if he thought he had to."
I realized my expression mirrored his. "It's really kind of a pain, knowing that he's ready to leap like that."
Heero's smirk pressed into more of smile. "It must be a real burden for you having a friend like that."
It actually was and when I didn't return Heero's smile, his intimate understanding of guilt told him why. "I've gotten him into more trouble than he's ever had before. He could go to prison for longer than me over this. Even though it was his decision to take me out of the hospital and go to L4, I was the one to ask for his help long before that. He did it for me. So I'm doing this to him."
Heero dropped his chair forward again. "We're working on that. I told you not to worry. Hopefully by the time we leave for Earth, it'll be close to settled."
I finally had something to lay down, lining up three queens on the table between us. "Are you going to tell me how you're settling it?"
He shook his head. "Not until we're sure."
I scowled. "That's not fair."
Heero took a slow breath, then laid down the rest of his cards, looking up at me with another smirk. "Well, I'm not going to tell you. And Trowa isn't telling Duo either. So you'll just have to wait." He twisted around in his seat, stretching his back and popping several vertebrae. "I'm hungry. Would you like to go to the cafeteria for some food? Maybe we could eat in Duo's room."
I didn't need a second invitation to get out of my room, so I reached for the sweatshirt hanging over the back of the bed and slid my feet to the floor, turning back to Heero when I was ready to go. "I'll buy if you answer one question. A different one from the one you and Trowa won't answer."
He tensed, then looked curious. "You have money?"
I sniffed. "That's a rude question, but yes, I still have some of the money Howard wired to Duo, enough to buy food for the four of us anyway. Now will you answer my question?"
We were halfway down the hall, headed for the cafeteria by the time he nodded. "What is it?"
"How long have you and Trowa been together?"
Watching him with frequent sidelong glances, I saw him swallow a few times and then start to flush. "I've never had a different partner in Preventers. We became partners when we joined."
"I know that part. That's not the part I'm talking about."
"I suppose you think the other part is your business, somehow."
"Trowa's bitchiness is rubbing off on you. And isn't it?"
"I'll tell you if you tell me about Duo."
He nodded to the Preventers stationed by the elevators and waited until the doors had closed before finally answering. "Almost three years." He looked quickly in my direction and when I didn't say anything, he elaborated. "Right after the second war, before you'd been released from custody, I went to L4 to check on Quatre and Trowa followed me."
The doors opened onto the top floor, where the cafeteria looked out over the city. "Three years is a long time," I said, not knowing what else was appropriate in the circumstances.
Heero shrugged. "It doesn't feel like it." We grabbed our trays and got into the sandwich line. He gave me another quick, furtive look. "Don't tell him you know. Please."
Since my admittance to the hospital, the first time, right after the fight in the laundry, I hadn't seen any of the hesitance, any of the guilt, or instability that sometimes came to the surface when Heero was surprised or felt cornered. But that made sense; he'd had a task ever since then--'find and help Duo and Wufei.' Ordering food now, after that task had more or less been completed, his unease was back. There were a lot of things Heero still wasn't sure of, one of which appeared to be how his friends perceived his relationship with Trowa.
"I won't tell him. And unless Duo has already told him about us, I'd appreciate it if you kept that to yourself, too."
Heero liked to reciprocate, so he nodded without hesitating. "Though I don't really know anything worth telling him," he added, with another quick glance.
I grabbed two sandwiches from the cooler, both of them egg salad. "Well," I started, "what would you do if you were stuck on a tiny ship for a week with the same person?"
He snorted a sharp laugh. "I would have had Duo bound and gagged by the end of the second day."
"But if he were Trowa?"
For the barest second, Heero's features relaxed into a sly grin. "Point taken."
When we returned to our wing, lunch in hand, we headed straight for Duo's room, finding them in much the same positions as when we'd visited before--Duo despondently trying to turn the pages of an automechanics magazine with the swollen red fingers of his left hand, Trowa slouched in a chair, his long legs crossed, one arm thrown over the back, the other holding a book. They both looked up when we entered and they both looked eager for the change of scenery.
"Food! Wufei, you are a kind man," Duo exclaimed, dropping the magazine onto the floor and straightening his uninjured leg. Then he carefully shoved himself over on the bed to make room for me while Heero pulled up a chair next to Trowa, handing him his sandwich with a murmured, "Here."
Trowa accepted with an even softer "thank you" and that was all the ceremony we got. Duo and I could watch for hours and still have no indication as to the depth of their relationship. I was glad I'd finally asked.
They moved Karl from intensive care to a regular room on the fifth day, the day we were all going back to Earth. Karl would stay for another week or two, until he could safely make the journey, before following us on another transport. The morning we were to leave, I went to his room and found him asleep. The rings around his eyes had faded a little, though he still looked haggard. Knowing how much trouble he had sleeping usually, I hesitated to wake him. But the doctors would know about his insomnia; they probably already had him on serious drugs to make sure that he could rest and recover. So I stood by his bed and gently shook his arm, stepping back and pulling a chair closer to sit by him.
He winced as he came awake, a hand reaching for his chest. His lungs must have ached despite the pain medicine dripping into his arm. When he blinked his eyes open and rolled his head to look at me, he smiled a little. "Tables have turned, eh? You here to taunt me like I taunted you?"
"That wouldn't be very nice," I said. "And besides, I don't have much to taunt you with."
"Hm, no word yet on what Prescott's gonna do with you? Future's still up in the air?"
"Then why are you here? I don't think that pesky honor of yours will let you beat up an invalid."
"I don't have any desire to hurt you either, though I'd stay away from Duo for a while, if I were you. He doesn't let go of anything easily."
"Be it a person or a grudge?" Even now, he was trying to get to me, but I wasn't about to be embarrassed by innuendo.
He looked up at the ceiling. "You know, it was obvious to anyone who looked that he liked you from the very beginning."
I frowned at him even though he didn't seem to notice. "There wasn't a whole lot I could do about it, was there. Not when I was two months into my sentence, not when I was two years in."
"And what's it to you anyway? Don't tell me you're jealous." I wasn't sure he was capable of such a thing.
He exhaled a careful laugh and looked at me askance. "Why wouldn't I be? You were nicer to me than anyone else in that place. You were also much more interesting. And I was your first. That's not something you just forget."
"Karl, you manipulated me every step of the way. You may have been my first," and I flushed in spite of myself, "but you used me. You were screwing around with any number of other inmates and staff. You ratted me out to a man who tried to kill me. You ruined anything good that we may have had."
It was the truth and it came out easily, but listening to myself say it, I still felt cruel. Karl kept his eyes on the ceiling. "I didn't want to. I know I did and I know I'm not sorry, but I didn't want to. If that means anything."
"You could tell me why. If there's more to it than that you didn't want to be bored, then you could tell me why you did it."
He gave a tired sigh. "What do you want to know?"
"When you realized Rorty was behind Benji's death. He was, wasn't he?"
Karl nodded, messing up his hair on the pillow. "Yeah, that was Rorty. It was after you and I had decided to start looking into it, when you were just bringing Duo onto the case. You and he were investigating in your way and I did it in mine."
I laughed. "What, did you seduce him or something?"
He rolled his eyes at me.
"Of course you did," I mumbled, answering my own question.
"Asking around the other men wasn't getting me anywhere. I needed an in with the administration. Prescott would have crushed my balls under her heels."
I shuddered at the thought. "You are not wrong."
"Rorty was approachable. He was too approachable. I got him to tell me everything about Benji. I even got him to talk about Quatre. I thought I was manipulating him when I talked him into letting me get rid of Basker and O'Malley, but they were his bargaining chip. He let me kill them and make it look like retribution for Benji, and then he got me to work for him. That was when I went to Prescott for help and told her everything about you, me, Duo and Rorty."
"I heard that part, I think," I interjected. "In the sick room with Brandt."
He nodded a confirmation. "I knew you were there and I knew what you would think about me. And that was fine. I had already told Rorty about you to try to get him to trust me. Then you went to see him and after that, he told me I had to shut you up. So I betrayed you to Rorty, not to Prescott; I figured you still had a right to hate me."
"What did Prescott do when you told her?"
"She'd already been in touch with Une after Benji was killed. What I told her confirmed what she was starting to suspect. When Rorty told me about Quatre, he had hinted at this network of people all over the colonies who were watching for leaders, who were looking to prevent political factions before they started. I told them about that and said they needed to figure out who all these guys were because Rorty wasn't telling me. I wasn't sure even he knew who they all were. I told them you were in trouble, too. I worked out a deal with them the same time I bargained with Rorty. I signed on as a Preventer for Une and I agreed to hunt you down for Rorty."
"I'm not sure I've ever known a real live double agent before."
He sucked in a breath to respond, recognized the tone of my voice, snorted a laugh and then winced. "Shut up. It was really hard."
I leaned back in my chair. "You loved every second of it, jerking around two powerful people who thought they had you wrapped around their fingers."
"I did love it, but I was jerked around plenty, too." He hesitated, the stained fingers of his right hand plucking at the blanket, probably looking for a cigarette. "If you're looking for an apology for jerking you around, I already gave you one, when I thought I wasn't going to live to be able to do it later. But everything worked out for the both of us. We'll be full-fledged Preventers before the end of the year. We can move far, far away from each other. You and Duo can finally go at it like bunnies with no one looking over your shoulder. Really, I did you a favor."
I scowled at the floor. "Neither of us can be certain about any of that."
"I know Une owns my soul for the next thirty-odd years. She's got yours, too; she made sure you got the best, most expensive treatment on the market."
"She had to do that because of you," I snapped. "I'm indebted to her because you ratted me out to Rorty."
He shrugged. "You were going to end up with her anyway. You knew that when you first got to that place."
"Yes, well, I'm not so sure that's what I want now," I grumbled.
That shut him up. It shut me up, too, finally saying it out loud. I wasn't sure I wanted to be a Preventer. I had no doubt that I could be one. Une had wanted me to join up as soon as the second war ended, and not even three years of jail time and an impromptu trip to L4 with Duo would keep me off the roster if she had anything to say about it--especially now that I knew Duo and I had already been doing her leg work the last few months.
At first, the knowledge that, out of all the men and women at RCNP in training to be docile and useful, I was the one who would become a Preventer made me feel different. It made me proud. But that didn't seem right now. 'Agent Chang' sounded like a character and felt like an ill-fitted uniform. He was someone I may have known two years ago, but now would have to find again.
"What do you want?" Karl finally asked.
"I want to be left alone," I bit out. "I want to finish my stupid degree and then figure out how I could have gotten more out of the program than I did--because I actually do enjoy pre-colonial literature. I want to get back to my physical training on my own terms. And, sure, I'd like to get laid without someone looking over my shoulder. I'm not sure I can do any of that with Preventers."
Karl gave a half-hearted grin. "Very few people can do that. And you certainly won't. We're the same in that."
My shoulders slumped. I knew he was right.
I looked up when I heard Duo's voice out in the hall, then quickly rose from the chair. I heard another voice murmuring under his, probably Trowa's, and turned back to Karl. "I have to go. Our flight leaves in an hour."
Karl lifted his hand in a weak attempt at a wave. "Maybe I'll see you dirt-side at a staff meeting."
"I hope you won't." I turned and started for the door, shrugging into one of Heero's jackets. I still didn't have any clothes of my own. I paused after zipping the jacket, turning back to look at him where he lay, hooked up to half a dozen machines. "When you get out, you should go back to pay your respects to Onur. He had no family, so no one claimed the body. His ashes are still there."
Karl nodded once and then turned his head to the wall, his eyes closed. I walked out to meet my friends.
On to the epilogue. Back to part nineteen.