Has it seriously been more than six months since the last chapter of this? Urk. Time flies when you're working. Not that I was prolific when I *wasn't* working, but I never felt too zombified to write. Refresher link!
Happy 4th of July, United Statesians!
Wufei twitched out of another half-formed nightmare, this one leaving no memories, only his quick heartbeat and the taste of copper in his mouth. The faint movement he'd made awoke a wave of pain - a sure sign that the last of Master O's concoction had worn off.
It hurt. Hurt to breathe. His shoulder was one raw throb, and his throat felt as though it had been scrubbed with sandpaper. The rest of him felt as though he’d been Yuy's punching bag for a few days. The drugs really had been blocking a lot of the pain. If he could have, Wufei would have gone back to sleep. But he wouldn't be able to do that just yet; the arm he was lying on was tingling warningly. The other pains might subside with meditation and will, but he was not going back to sleep until he changed positions.
He opened his eyes, and was immediately sorry. It felt as though the sun was inside his head. He swallowed the nausea, forcing his uncooperative lungs to breathe deeply until the light no longer made him want to throw up.
He was on his side, staring at a bedside table. Gradually he realized the “sun” was the lamp, and the light gradually became bearable. There was a glass of water on the table. Seeing it, he suddenly felt tremendously thirsty. He shifted forward. The moment he did, a hand ran over his hair.
“Shhh,” murmured a husky voice. “It’s just a dream. Rest.”
“Merquise?” Wufei’s voice was little more than a rasp. A warm wall at his back pulled away, managing to drag most of the covers down his body, too. He hadn't realized there had been someone with him in bed. He managed to roll onto his back, to find Merquise looking down at him. There was a dark bruise on his jaw, and his left eye was purple-black. Wufei hadn’t even noticed the injuries yesterday – had it been yesterday?
“You’re finally awake,” he said, checking Wufei’s pulse. “How are you feeling?”
“Thirsty.” His arm was all prickly, but that would pass.
Wufei moved for the nightstand again, but Merquise reached over him, taking the glass and holding it for him. One hand supported his neck. Wufei swallowed, the water rolling down like nectar. He finished it, and lay back. The water left a cold trail down into his stomach.
Merquise glanced down at him. “Are you hungry? Treize made soup.”
Wufei shook his head. The nausea was not nearly as strong as it had been, but food didn't sound appealing. “How long was I asleep?”
“Almost twelve hours, if you don’t count the interruptions.”
“What interruptions?” He’d had nightmares. He remembered that much – nightmares that spiraled into each other. Barely, he remembered waking up. No, being woken up. Not much after that – he must have fallen back asleep in short order.
“You didn’t sleep particularly soundly. We woke you for breakfast, and you lasted about long enough to make it to the bathroom and swallow half a glass of juice.”
Wufei vaguely remembered that. Well, he remembered the juice. “Oh.” After a moment, he added, “I’m cold.”
“I’d like to check your shoulder, and then we’ll get you warmed up.” At Wufei’s nod, Merquise unbuttoned Wufei’s shirt – a different one than he’d worn to bed the night before, Wufei noticed – exposing a wide swath of bandages across his shoulder and chest. Merquise frowned, brushing his fingers along the bare skin of his stomach, just below the edge of the bandages. The touch was gentle, but unexpected. Wufei shied away, unthinkingly reaching up to push Merquise back with his bad arm. The motion sent a bolt of agony through his shoulder. The next thing he knew, he was bent over the blankets, struggling for breath, and Merquise was easing him back against the pillows, apologizing. White spots burst across his vision for a few seconds, then faded - apparently he wasn't going to faint again.
While he struggled for control, the blonde reached over to the nightstand, wringing out a cloth. Wufei closed his eyes, trying not to show just how much that had hurt. Merquise laid the damp cloth on his forehead, and checked the shoulder a second time. Wufei peeked at the blonde's expression - serious, but not deeply concerned.
“Damn. Your shoulder’s bleeding again. I’m going to have to get Treize to change the bandage.” Merquise smiled grimly. “He’s confined me to bed or else.”
“Or else what?” Wufei asked.
Surprisingly, a line of color spread itself across the older man's pale cheeks. Merquise coughed. “Never mind that. Treize!”
The general poked his head in the door. “Milliardo, I don’t think – Wufei. You’re awake.”
“And he managed to jostle a few stitches. Make sure it’s just that and nothing serious.”
“Yes, my liege.” Treize gave a mock sweeping bow.
Merquise waved his left hand regally in response. The other remained on Wufei’s wrist, moving back and forth slowly
Khushrenada sat on the bed on Wufei's other side, unwrapping the bandages deftly. Wufei tried to look, but he could only catch the tail end of the wound, curving down towards the middle of his chest, where stitches gave way to butterfly closures. The bruises from his last beating had had several days to develop, and they dappled his ribs, which were more prominent than they had been a few weeks before. It did not look like his torso to him.
Cool fingers tilted his chin up, then slid down, pressing gently against his skin. Wufei watched Treize's face as Treize examined the wound. “It looks like you’ve just stretched the wound a bit; nothing too serious if you lie still and let it heal.”
“Which was the problem in the first place,” Merquise pointed out.
Khushrenada wrapped Wufei's shoulder with fresh bandages. The movement and pain left Wufei struggling not to pant or cling to his enemies. He concentrated on breathing and Merquise’s hand on his wrist, stroking across his wrist bone. At last, it was over, Treize’s nimble fingers buttoning his shirt and tucking the covers around him again.
He was shivering. His body had used too much energy – even regulating his temperature was too much trouble now. Or perhaps it was the blood loss. Or a side effect of the drugs. Who knew? He’d gone from tired to exhausted again, though. By Wufei’s internal clock, he’d been awake perhaps fifteen minutes. He wondered if there was a way to go back to sleep without letting them know just how tired he really was. He glanced up, suddenly aware of the general’s steady gaze.
For the first time, he realized that while Merquise looked marginally well-rested, Khushrenada bore dark circles under his eyes, and the beginnings of lines around his mouth. When had he last slept? Khushrenada gave Wufei the same once-over.
“How much pain are you in?”
“Not very much,” Wufei told him. “Really. The wound isn’t infected.” He was certain of that much, at least. The pain was clean and sharp, with none of the aching heat that accompanied infection.
"You should have told us that you were hurt."
Wufei bristled. "I’m fine." Merquise snorted, and Wufei amended the lie. “I’ll be fine.”
Khushrenada's mouth tightened, growing white around the corners. "Wufei, when you stop breathing, you're not fine. When your shoulder won't stop bleeding, you're not fine. When you scr -" He broke off with visible effort, raking a hand through his hair. It stood up in a way that might have been funny, if Wufei hadn't been concentrating so hard on not yawning. Or moving any part of his body. If he stayed absolutely still, it only hurt quite a bit. He was fairly sure he was hiding it well enough, though.
"We'll talk about this later," Merquise said, from the other side of the bed. "Perhaps when Wufei has a little color in his face?" Then again, maybe his acting skills weren’t as good as he thought.
The older men exchanged a long look, and Khushrenada dragged a hand over his face. "Sorry. Can you stay awake a few more minutes, Wufei? There's soup in the kitchen. I'll bring some for you."
A few minutes. Wufei swallowed. “I’m not hungry.”
“If you eat something, we can start the antibiotics.”
Wufei very briefly considered the complications an infection might cause, and began working himself into a sitting position. “All right.”
The general disappeared through the doorway, and Merquise moved closer, putting an arm around him to steady his balance, and touching his skin lightly. “You feel clammy.”
“It’s a little cold.” Wufei let him fuss with the covers for a moment. “Merquise-”
“Call me Zechs.”
“Did I say anything? While I was sleeping?”
“Nothing I could make out. I think there were some words, but I didn’t understand any of it.”
Wufei frowned. He didn't like that; he was normally a quiet sleeper, even when the nightmares came.
Wufei looked to Merquise's - Zechs' - face.
"Did the drugs come from OZ?"
Wufei hesitated. He was inclined to bluff - could Zechs be sure he had taken something? - but there was something in the pale gaze that told him that Zechs was sure. "No."
Zechs let out a slow breath. "Thank you."
Wufei nodded, faintly puzzled. The moment passed, however, when Treize returned with a tray.
There was soup, as promised, with tender bits of chicken and mushroom. There was enough for all of them, even though the older men spent more time watching Wufei surreptitiously than tending to their food. It was their loss, Wufei decided, since the soup was delicious. It chased away the last of the cold. He would have been content to go to sleep right then, but he managed instead to make it to the bathroom, mostly unaided. He deliberately avoided his reflection; he wasn't sure what he'd see, but he didn't want anything to dim the drowsy glow.
By the time he got back to the bed, Treize had pills and a glass of water handy. Wufei raised an eyebrow.
"Antibiotics and a morphine derivative." Treize's gaze dared him to protest.
Wufei was pretty sure he'd be able to sleep without the medication, but he took both anyway. Tomorrow, they could fight about it; for now, all he wanted was to curl up and go to sleep.
Sleep didn't come as quickly as he expected, though. Treize helped arrange him against Zechs' chest, and dimmed the lights to a faint glow. Wufei let sleep creep into his bones as he listened to Treize's quiet report of the news; Romefeller was assuming Zechs had fled to Relena's side, or perhaps Lake Victoria. They weren't worried yet. Wufei tuned out, savoring this pre-sleep.
Comfort was not a very large portion of Wufei’s life. The safe houses, when they were available, were chosen for their location and their anonymity, not for their luxuries. Often they were a short step up from living out of a cockpit. He suspected that it wasn’t just lack of resources that was the issue. The doctors wanted to keep them focused on the war. It wasn’t such a hardship to go on another endless recon mission if you’d been sleeping on concrete floors and taking cold, rust-scented showers.
Most days he didn’t think about it much. He didn't require luxury; he'd even embraced a sort of ascetic lifestyle after Meiran had died. But now, he was dimly grateful for the goose down quilt tucked around him, the thick mattress and soft pillows heaped around him. To his surprise, Zechs' presence was a comfort as well. It should have been distracting. The man was, after all, an officer on the other side of the war. Even without that, Wufei wasn't used to sharing such a small space with other people. When he'd shared quarters with Sally Po and the other resistance fighters, Wufei had jolted awake repeatedly, checking and double-checking the readiness of his weapons.
He felt no inclination to do that now. If anything, the warmth was welcome, helping to brace him. He couldn't explain the relaxation that the long fingers brought quite as easily, however, or why Treize's presence was so calming. Probably a result of the drugs; they'd clearly dulled his wits and fighting form. He'd have to mention that to Master O the next time they communicated. Wufei had no intention of telling his old teacher just how Wufei had come to discover the side effects, however. If the elders learned that Wufei was spending time with OZ officers, the consequences would be very unpleasant indeed. And if they learned that one of the officers was holding him while he drifted on the painkillers he'd accepted from the other . . . Wufei shuddered, and Zechs tightened his embrace. "Go to sleep. I have you."Sleep was so different this time; it enfolded him, letting him sink deeper and deeper. The last thing he was aware of was Treize's tenor, the words indistinct, and Zechs' responding chuckle resonating against his back. Then Wufei slept; deeply and peacefully, for the first time in weeks.