I never really came back up to reality after that. Every time the euphoria began to fade, like clockwork the cloaked women would appear, and there would be more needles, more drugs. It was the only way we had of gauging time. Perhaps Milliard and Wufei did, drawing lines on their cage floors like prisoners in old movies. I never knew.
Sometimes they would talk to me, but their voices would fade into a melody I couldn't make out. I only caught a word here or there. Too soon, they began to fade from my mind; maybe they were dreams and I was alone. Maybe I was still back on my home colony at L2, shaking with fever and waiting to succumb to the plague. Maybe I was their mad hallucination, and I didn't exist at all.
All that mattered was the fire in my veins. I gave up trying to fight it, or perhaps it destroyed my will entirely. It made the cage and the darkness fade away, and I felt like I could run and run, forever.
A worm of Need began to grow in my belly, getting bigger with each swift pain of injection. The only time I could feel metal decking beneath my cheek was when the drug faded and the worm-called-Need began to gnaw, setting my joints and muscles on fire, curling my fingers into tight fists that cut away at my palms with sharp and ragged fingernails. I scrabbled at the floor and screamed my agony.
And then the drug would come, and I would go crawling to the front of my cage, arm bared to receive the blessing.
My nose began bleeding, every time they gave me the drugs. It caused alarm at first - at least I was fairly certain it did - and they hauled the good doctor in to look at me, until he declared that it was a spike in blood pressure and quite acceptable. After that, no one paid it notice except to hold me down and half-heartedly wipe me off with a damp cloth every now and then.
I would sit still in my cage, reveling in the sound of my own breath, of being able to listen to the heartbeats of Milliard and Wufei. Blood would drip from my nose, pat pat pat, and I thought I could see the tiny cells in each drop. It was like my own fascinating impressionistic art.
And I would dream.
"Did you know, Milliard," I said, carefully forming each word around my sluggish tongue. The words seemed to print themselves into the air in front of me.
"Know what, Duo?" He asked. He was as calm as ever, but there was a strange note of worry in his voice. And Wufei? Where was Wufei?
"Wu..." I muttered.
"They took him into the lab for another round. He's been gone for a while."
I stared at my hands and tried to think of any reply at all. "Can't kill him yet."
"I hope not."
What had I been saying? I... eye. I looked up. "I know where that eye came from," I blurted out.
Milliard jerked as if I'd slapped him. "What?"
"The eye... blue kitty eyes. Belonged to a guy named... Angelo. Has a brother named Tony. Friends of mine. At least Tony is."
"Why are you telling me this, Duo?" He was angry now. Why was he angry? I could smell it on his breath.
"Angelo was a real prick. Do you see things in prick vision now?"
Milliard surged to the front of his cage, reaching toward me with clawed fingers. I think he would have tried to strangle me if I'd been within reach. "Why? WHY DID YOU TELL ME?"
"Because... I saw him. He fought the good fight. Like a tiger. And he was a tiger. Maybe he'll make you strong... so... so you can get the hell out..." I slumped toward the floor, every last bit of my energy gone. "Run, Milliard. Run far away."
A metallic sound, his fists striking the floor. "I can't!"
"Then we'll all die together like birds of a feather..."
He was screaming and he wouldn't stop. Maybe he couldn't stop. His voice was fading, because his throat was raw, and all he managed now were breathy moans.
And it wasn't me.
Slowly, I dragged myself from the dream, from running and running for all eternity between the stars. Because if he was screaming, I needed to be there. I needed to do something.
"Wufei..." I murmured, peeling my face away from the floor. It was stuck with dried blood that had run from my nose. My skin was stiff with it all, and my lips cracked when I talked.
He didn't stop screaming. Maybe he couldn't hear me.
Slowly, inch by inch, I dragged myself across the three miles of floor to the edge of my cage. "Wufei..."
He was writhing, curled in a ball of agony. Every now and then his head would jerk and strike the floor. His hands were tensed into claws.
I clenched my hands around the bars, trying to hold myself in the present and fight off the dream. "Goddamnit, Wufei, come on!"
Wufei curled into a ball and spasmed, rolling to his stomach. He clawed at the floor, scrabbling against it with already broken and bleeding fingernails. The muscles on his back writhed like something was trying to burst forth from him, and he threw back his head and screamed again.
I lunged forward, and somehow, things moved. I was close enough to grab his flailing hand with my own. It took five tries, because everything wavered like I was looking through water. His fingernails left bloody scratches on my hands, but I held on, locking my fingers around his. "Wufei, it's me. It's me..."
He stopped for a moment, drawing in horrible, shuddering breaths. "Duo..." He whispered.
"I'm here, Wufei. I'm here. I can't make it stop, but I'm here."
His hand tightened around mine with almost bone crushing force. "It wants out, Duo. I don't know how much longer I can hold it."
Tears were running down my cheeks, and I couldn't remember crying them. "Let it out, Wufei. You're killing yourself."
He moaned, full of despair. "If I let it go, both of you will die. I can't control it. It'll be like before, destroying everything. Nothing will be left."
The bars were cold against my forehead. I didn't have the strength to hold up my head any longer. "What is it, Wufei? What have they put in you?"
"I... don't know. But it's always been there. It whispers in my dreams. I don't want it to wake up!" He jerked, and his head slammed on the floor again.
The muscles of his hand squirmed, trying to rearrange themselves. He snarled twisted, trying to escape his own body. The texture of his skin changed, becoming cool and smooth, with the sharp edges of scales.
The door opened, blinding me with the sudden influx of light. Wufei's hand was jerked from mine as his cage moved toward the light. "WUFEI!" I screamed.
The door slammed shut, and there was darkness.
And the dream.
The sound of her breathing woke me with tiny threads of cold that crept on to my spine. I clawed my way up through the dream, almost sad to leave it behind. But someone was staring at me, I could feel it.
I was sprawled on my back, my nose sealed shut with dried blood and my throat raw. All I had to do was open my eyes, slowly in case someone had let light into the room again.
She hung upside down from the chain that suspended my cage, her feet locked around it and her arms free. Her face was turned toward me, pale and round like the moon. Her blue eyes were as sharp and cold as ever, and her white blonde hair hung in its braid, every strand tucked in and neat.
"Tamlin..." I whispered. We hadn't had a cordial parting last time I ran across her. If she wanted to kill me, as helpless as I was, it wouldn't be an issue. I tried to reach within, to my power, and I encountered nothing but numbness.
"Nothing you do will work now, Duo." She said, as if she'd read my mind. "They must have figured out what you are. Your cage is sealed with Rowan wood now; the lock contains a sprig. I can't touch it." She looked truly regretful. "I can't let you out."
I laughed. It was dry and horrible. "Let me out? Why would you want to do a thing like that?"
"Under orders, boy." She said, crossing her arms. "And perhaps, I feel sorry for you. No one should have to die like this."
"That's it," I said. "I'm going to die."
"If you continue to lay there like this, you will. And soon. Whatever they've injected you with is destroying you from the inside. You'll drown in your own blood soon."
"You act like I have a choice." I shifted uncomfortably. Now that I had left the dream, I could feel the need beginning to gnaw at me with sharp teeth.
She shook her head. "There's always a choice. For example, you could always commit suicide before they can kill you. It would be more pleasant, at least."
I snorted, or tried to. "I can't. I made a promise."
She slipped a little further down the chain, until her face was almost inches away from the bars. "In that case, your other option is to give up the wall of denial you've been using as a crutch for the past several years, and start believing in what you yourself have wrought."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Only because you don't want to believe it." She reached out and touched the bars in front of her, then jerked her hands back as if burned. "Damn."
"What is it, then, if you have all the answers?" I demanded. This was getting annoying.
"Heero." Tamlin said, her gaze boring in to me. "Call to him. He will hear you and come."
I shook my head, letting it flop back and forth. "How can that be possible?"
"He belongs to you. You made him, and he walks by your will. If you call, and you break through the handicap of your own disbelief, he will have no choice but to come."
"That's insane. That's impossible."
"And that's why it won't work until you let that go."
The clank of the door lock being disengaged echoed through the room. Tamlin glanced up. "I have to leave now, or they will capture me. Remember the path I've shown you. Growing up enough to walk it is your own choice."
Light flooded the room, and I shut my eyes tightly. They put Milliard in his cage first; I could hear them struggling to shove his limp form in. He was a lot heavier than either me or Wufei. Then my cage began to move, and I knew what was coming.
Without any prompting from my mind, my body crawled to the near edge of the cage and held out an arm. I needed it, I needed the hunger to go away and the dream to come back.
God help me, I needed it.
The needle sunk into my flesh, and I sunk into the familiar fire and the wash of euphoria.
The dream came again, and I was running, forever and ever through the stars. But this time, I admitted to myself what I'd been denying all along; that Heero and I had some kind of connection that didn't make sense in a rational world, and that it was because of what I'd done.
And I was no longer running to run. I was running to find Heero, screaming out our danger to him.
It was enough. It had to be.
I ran and ran for eternity, until in the dream, I found him. He was like a ghost, a pale pillar of orange and yellow flame standing on the dark side of the moon. The colonies at L2 whirled around him like a halo. He must have gone there looking for me.
I ran toward him, as fast as I could. The dream was beginning to fade, and I could feel the beginnings of the need in my belly, stirring. I didn't have much time, and I didn't know if I'd be able to find him again.
Or even if I really had this time. But I wanted to believe, and perhaps that would make it true. It may have only been the cruel teasing of an insane bounty hunter, but I wanted to believe.
In the dream, I had wings, soft and black. I wrapped them around me to protect my skin from his heat. Even from far away, I could feel it, living flame that danced across my skin. My nose was bleeding, regular drops falling away into the dark between stars. They shone like rubies before vanishing. "Lord of Light, are you there?" I asked. That was his name. It just was.
The fire became bright and hot for a moment. It was the only answer I was going to get. I shut my eyes, but still the light hurt. I resisted the urge to put the flame out with my hands; it was within my power to do. But it would destroy me in the end; my own comfort was no reason to do it.
"I don't have much time, so listen hard and remember my words. The Dragon and I are held in cages. We are dying. You have to find us. Bring the Healer and the Lord of Illusions. Call upon the leaches..." I swallowed hard and fell to my knees, so slowly. Beneath me, the ground moved, and I clutched my stomach, clenching my teeth against the pain. My wings shivered and shook, casting off black feathers.
The fire began to flicker out.
"Hurry..." I managed to grind out, before I felt the needle, and the burning.
Then I was lost in the dream and running once more, back where I had started. The memories of what I had done disappeared like grains of sand that ran between my fingers.
And there was only the dream.