Warnings : Yaoi, angst/sap, OOC, discussion of NCS of OC in
the past, language, Duo POV.
Thanks to Christy for beta reading in spite of near Armageddon!
Feed-back is a dream I have.
And I don't own anything in this series, either.
House hunting is a bitch. There’s just no other way
to put it. I never in a million years would have guessed how damn hard it
would be. Buying my own ship had not been this difficult; they only make
so many kinds, after all. I wanted a transport class cruiser. I narrowed
it down to five models just from research. Eliminated three of those on
first sight and finally settled between the last two after a test flight.
Done, I had owned a ship. The hardest part had been coming up with the money.
But houses. Dear God, do there have to be so many choices?
Brick, frame, one story, two story, a story and a damn half. Full basement,
part basement, crawl space, slab. How much land? What about location? Taxing
district? Commute distance? I determined really damn fast that whatever
we bought was going to be our permanent home because I was never doing this
We had a kind of faulty start, as we wandered into the realtor’s
office with only vague notions of what we wanted. I honestly think the woman
was ready to throw us out on our ears after the first couple of visits.
We didn’t have answers to any of her questions, which made it damn
near impossible for her to do her job. I thought she was going to throttle
us as we dismissed house after house. We figured it out when she stopped
returning our calls. So we regrouped.
We took her questions and a handful of house listings and
went home to plan the mission. Yeah, that was how we got through the whole
damn thing. We turned it into a mission. We started with a map centered
on Preventors headquarters and calculated what we deemed ‘acceptable’
driving distance. Then we began doing research. I think everybody we knew
was so sick of getting grilled about their homes, that they started avoiding
us after the first week.
But we figured out that garages are a good thing, especially
attached to the house. Basements only seemed to serve the purpose of collecting
junk. Attics were kinda cool. A second bathroom was not an altogether bad
thing. Frame or brick didn’t really matter as long as there was siding
on the frame, because painting sucks.
We started to narrow down the parameters, but it was a hell
of a struggle. It took me a bit to figure out exactly why things were so
difficult, and why the whole process was exhausting the hell out of me.
Heero was making me make all the decisions. Oh, he was being subtle as blazes
about it, but he somehow managed to make everything my choice. He was still
hung up on this house being ‘perfect’ for me, and was bound
and determined to see that I got the home of my dreams.
We won’t even delve into the whole issue of my dream
home being out among the stars, because we all know there was no way in
hell that was ever going to happen again. Those days were long over.
So we were to the point of making a trip back down to the
realtor’s office with answers to questions the poor woman had never
even dreamed of asking, when it finally dawned on me.
Unless I was very damn careful, we were going to end up with
a house that I liked and Heero didn’t. Oh… stop laughing at
me, I see the irony. It smacked me in the face every time I climbed behind
the wheel of my much-hated car. A car I hated more with each passing day.
I didn’t want that to happen to Heero, didn’t want him living
in a home where things at first annoyed, and then infuriated him, just on
general principle. You can start out with the best self-sacrificing intentions
in the world, but you can’t force yourself to love something you hate.
Living with a less than appealing car was one thing; the damn things don’t
last forever. Living with a less than appealing house was another thing
all together, especially since I’d already established that I wanted
the place we found to be our home for the rest of our lives.
We had sent our new list of requirements off to our reluctant
real estate agent, Marla Montoya, and must have convinced her we were serious
because we had an appointment with her on Saturday to go look at houses.
There was a list of six places we were scheduled to visit that day and I
have to admit to having a hard time deciding whether to be excited or nauseous
thinking about going. I really was anxious to get out of Heero’s third
floor apartment, to be someplace where I could go outside and just sit if
I wanted to. To feel like we could make major structural decisions without
having to get permission from the landlord. To be able to come and go without
feeling like old Mrs. Hitchcock was tracking our every move. And most of
all, to live someplace that I felt was as much my home as it was Heero’s.
I wanted to lose that sense of being a guest. I wanted to belong again.
Heero had been right about that much… I’d never truly, deep
down in my bones, felt at home in his apartment. He had too much history
with the place that didn’t include me.
But I was also terrified of reliving that horrid experience
with the car. I didn’t want either one of us to go out and ‘give
in’ to the other one. I didn’t want to get so exasperated that
I just caved to his wishes again, but even more than that, I didn’t
want him settling for something just to try to make me happy.
I’m afraid I had a headache before we ever left the
house. I’ve thought a couple of times that it was a damn good thing
that I hadn’t suffered so much with tension headaches during the war…
we would probably have lost.
We met Miss Montoya at her office and just let her do the
driving. We went through the first couple of houses like the proverbial
shit through a shingle. The places were totally wrong, I didn’t even
have to worry about trying to unravel the truth behind what Heero really
thought. I had mentioned a fireplace at one point and nothing would do now,
but that the house have a functioning fireplace. The first house had one,
but the chimney had been bricked up and it was just for show. The second
house didn’t have one at all. Heero walked out of it without looking
further than the front room. The third place had a fireplace all right,
but the bathroom was so tiny you couldn’t have gotten a regular tub
in it, much less the more elaborate fixtures I had teased Heero about getting
someday. Then we pulled up to the fourth house and I thought I’d died
and gone to Heaven.
It was out near the edge of town, on a dead end street. The
nearest neighbor probably could have heard somebody screaming if they stood
on the front lawn, but a rise in the land and the vegetation made it impossible
to see them. The house made me think of… stray dogs. The kind that
just need a couple of good meals and a bath? We had to step over the bottom
step to get to the front porch because of a broken board. The porch, though,
was massive; deep and shaded, wrapping clear around two sides of the house.
The front door was a beautiful, heavy slab of oak with scars and tales to
tell all on it’s own. That was a weird thought, I suppose, but I remember
standing on the porch waiting for Miss Montoya to unlock the door and thinking
just that. That here was a house that had seen whole generations come and
go, that had stories hidden all through it.
Miss Montoya led us into the living room to prove that the
place had the pre-requisite fireplace, a huge stone thing with a massive,
carved mantelpiece. I barely heard her begin the spiel about the house having
been on the market for over a year, I wandered away while she was still
explaining about the former owner having been in a nursing home for the
last ten years, refusing to give the house up until the bitter end. The
relatives had apparently put the place up for sale within days of the settling
of the poor woman’s will.
There was a hallway that took me to the back of the house
and I went that way, drawn by a light that I couldn’t explain, because
there was no electricity. The place was completely empty, and obviously
had been for ages. There was wallpaper on the walls in the hallway and a
small place where it was peeling showed me that there was layer upon layer.
The topmost was a rich crimson brocade stuff, but underneath was a pale
yellow floral. I wanted to pick at it and see all the layers, wanted to
ponder the hands that had put each layer in place.
I reached the end of the hall and came out in a bright, wide-open
room. It looked like it might have been a porch at one time, but had been
enclosed and finished. There were windows all along the wall directly across
from the doorway, the source of the bright illumination I had seen. It was
my studio. The one that Heero had envisioned for me. I could see it all
cleaned up and painted. I could see an easel there, could see my paints
and supplies all neatly put away in the floor to ceiling cabinets there.
This was it. This was the house. I could feel it in my bones; the place
was so old, rich with history and character. Unique and wonderfully mysterious.
It was everything I hadn’t understood I wanted. I’d bet anything
that we’d find odd little things here and there when we moved in,
things that the former owner’s relatives had overlooked as they had
abandoned the place. Hell, there might even be things that were left here
from before the previous owner. I found myself wondering about the woman
who’d lived here, who’d made this her home. Probably widowed
and holding on to the place she’d lived in since she was first married.
I moved almost reverently across the floor of the studio to
look out through the windows, delighted to find a backyard gone wild from
neglect. There was a massive weeping willow way out across a sweeping sea
of thick grass; it’s branches hanging so low they swept the ground.
Everything was brown and dried looking this time of year, but I could imagine
what it would look like come spring. I wondered about wildlife, I’d
bet there were rabbits in that grass, maybe even other things. I could imagine
a hammock or a porch swing under that tree, where you could lie at dusk
and watch the animals come out of hiding. There were built-in cabinets all
along the wall under the windows and looking down at the countertop, I found
bits of pottery and a dusting of dirt. I could visualize the woman who had
lived here working with her tools, repotting flowers and ferns, watering
and tending. An outlet for her attentions after her children were grown
and moved out. I’d bet this room had been a veritable greenhouse.
I turned and left the room, hunting for Heero and Miss Montoya,
using the sound of their voices to trace them to the kitchen.
‘… really just too much work,’ I heard Heero
telling the realtor. ‘It needs more repairs than I’m prepared
to take on.’
‘It’s quite a bargain, Mr. Yuy,’ she replied
and I slowed my steps to listen to them without them knowing I was there.
‘The house has been on the market for some time and the price has
come down substantially.’
‘We both hold rather demanding jobs, Miss Montoya,’
Heero told her patiently. ‘We just don’t have the time or ability
to tackle something of this magnitude. I’m sorry.’
She replied with something I didn’t hear, because I
was too busy trying to figure out why the backs of my eyes felt so funny.
How very… odd. We hadn’t been in the house ten minutes, but
listening to Heero dismiss it out of hand was making me feel like I hadn’t
felt since the day my ship had sold. I could honestly have stood there and
wept from the feeling of loss. God, but I wanted that house. I wanted to
repair that front step and strip away that wallpaper. I wanted to explore
every last square inch of it. Wanted to paint and furnish and make it ours.
But here we were in that moment I had anticipated. Heero did
not want this house. Heero was standing around the corner from me voicing
his honest feelings to the realtor. But I knew as well as I knew what color
the sun was, that if I went into that kitchen and told Heero I loved this
house, he would buy it right there on the spot. Would make poor Miss Montoya
draw up the paperwork before he let her walk out the door. Would pay whatever
had to be paid to get me this house. Despite the fact that he didn’t
want it. So I knew what was required of me. What I hadn’t anticipated
was how much it was going to hurt.
I didn’t let myself look any further, didn’t let
myself go up the stairs, didn’t even go on in to see the kitchen.
I walked with measured tread back across the living room and took myself
out to the front porch to wait for Heero and Miss Montoya.
I found a thought hamster sitting on the porch swing, and
when I stepped through the front door, he gave me a rather mournful look
and half-heartedly waved a little banner that simply said, ‘Ouch.’
‘No shit,’ I agreed and watched him fade away.
‘What was that?’ Heero asked from the doorway,
and startled me.
‘Nothing,’ I sighed and was able to turn and greet
them with a bright smile. ‘Sure is a beautiful day out, isn’t
it? Are we still on schedule?’
Miss Montoya glanced at her watch as she locked up behind
us and couldn’t quite contain a chuckle. ‘Way ahead of schedule,
actually. You two are rather decisive.’
I led the way back to the car and the house was so far away
from what Heero thought of as ‘acceptable’ that he never even
asked me what I thought of it. We looked at two more houses that day, I
know we did because it was on the agenda, but I’ll be damned if I
can tell you what they were like.
Miss Montoya dropped us off at the office to pick up Heero’s
car, giving us a look of mild reproach before driving off and leaving us
there. I’m sure she was thinking that we were wasting her time again.
I must have been awfully quiet on the trip home, because it
wasn’t long after Heero got us back to the apartment that he sought
‘Hey,’ he said gently, slipping his arms around
me from behind, settling his chin on my shoulder and giving me a squeeze.
‘We’ll find something, don’t worry. We’ve only been
seriously looking for a little while.’
I sighed, trying to dispel the visions I had of that house,
and leaned back into his embrace. ‘I guess I just didn’t think
it would be this complicated,’ I temporized, thinking that it was
him and me that were the complicated aspect.
He sighed in his turn and lifted his chin from my shoulder.
‘I know… I guess I’d hoped that being able to give Miss
Montoya a list of parameters would help speed things up.’ He tilted
his head then, and dropped a kiss on that spot where neck curves into shoulder,
and made me shiver. ‘You’re very tense,’ he noted and
his voice took on that worried tone I knew so well. He stepped back a pace
to turn me around and I was greeted with the worried look that went with
that tone of voice. ‘Why didn’t you tell me you had a headache?’
he suddenly asked and I was left blinking at him.
‘What?’ I blurted. ‘You’re a mind
reader now? How the hell did you know I have a headache?’
He raised a finger to gently trace between my eyes. ‘You’ve
got that little frown you get when you’re in pain,’ he told
me and couldn’t quite hide the spark of satisfaction that I had admitted
I snorted and looked away, trying to clear the expression
from my face, but he took me by the hand and with a tug, led me toward the
bedroom. ‘Strip,’ he commanded, giving me a nudge toward the
bed and then left me there, disappearing into the bathroom. I heard water
running in the sink after a few minutes. I dutifully began undressing, wondering
just what he had in mind. By the time he emerged from the bathroom, with
a dripping bottle of lotion and a towel in hand, I was starting to feel
a little weird standing there buck-naked, wearing only a faint blush.
As he walked across the room toward me, he gave me an appreciative
rake of his eyes that only made me flush harder. ‘Face down on the
bed,’ he told me then, kicking his own shoes off as he moved that
I stretched out as instructed and he came to straddle my thighs,
carefully tucking my braid out of the way. ‘Relax,’ he murmured
and I heard the cap on the lotion bottle pop open. I braced myself for that
first touch of cold liquid, but it never came. Instead there was the delicious
feel of heat pooling low between my shoulder blades.
I couldn’t help a soft sigh. ‘You warmed it.’
‘Of course,’ Heero chuckled, his fingers coming
to smooth the lotion over my back. ‘I’m assuming this is a tension
headache… you need to relax, not tense up more.’
He is so very damn good at this. I’ve thought more than
once that somewhere in his mysterious past, he’d had professional
lessons. His touch is firm where it needs to be, gentle where it should
be. He never forgets things like my still healing and somewhat tender burn.
He is tireless, seeming to draw pleasure of his own just from touching me,
just from easing my aches and pains. The headache didn’t stand a chance.
It wasn’t long before he had me groaning quietly in appreciation,
and all of the pain and frustration of the day just seemed to melt away.
His hands slowed after a bit and he leaned down to place a
gentle kiss on the side of my face. ‘Headache all gone?’ he
sighed near my ear.
‘Hmmm,’ I agreed amiably. ‘I am goo…
watch me turn into a puddle.’
He chuckled and slid off to lie beside me, his hand still
gently stroking up and down my back. Despite its barely being evening, I
think I could very easily have fallen asleep there, I hadn’t felt
that relaxed in a long damn time. Movement was just too much of an effort.
Heero’s hand left my back for a second and I heard the lotion bottle
open again. ‘I think I missed a bit of dry skin here,’ he murmured
softly, with a pitch to his voice that told me he had begun to think more
erotic thoughts. His hand settled on my thigh and began massaging upward,
working the lotion in and kneading up the length of muscles, following the
line of thigh into hip and finally onto ass. His fingers massaged and squeezed,
and a small sound escaped his lips, telling me when the touches began to
be as much for his pleasure as mine. His fingers, working reflexively over
my skin, put me in mind of a great cat helplessly flexing its claws as you
scratch behind its ear.
Then his slick fingers dipped cautiously toward that place
he’d only ventured once before, and he whispered, ‘May I?’
next to my ear.
I suppose it shouldn’t have caught me so by surprise,
but it did, and I couldn’t help but jerk away. It was just too sudden,
before I had a chance to think. I was instantly sorry, but couldn’t
retract my body’s rather blunt reaction.
The look on his face was this strange mixture of shock and
regret and he was reaching to gather me to him, before I even had a chance
to decide just what I had meant to do. ‘Hey… hey… it’s
all right. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that… I’m
I felt myself blushing half way down my chest and burrowed
into his embrace as much to hide as anything. ‘You… just surprised
me, that’s all,’ I managed to tell him. ‘I didn’t
‘Hush,’ he soothed, holding on like he was afraid
I might run away. I was vaguely aware of his wiping his hand on the towel
he’d brought with him, then that hand came to stroke over my hair.
‘Don’t you dare apologize for letting me know what you aren’t
comfortable with. I moved too fast, that’s all… my fault.’
He was still mostly dressed and it was starting to make me
feel extremely ill at ease, very vulnerable and exposed. ‘It’s…
kind of…uhmmm… chilly now that the lotion is cooling off…’
I mumbled and it was enough to gain me the blanket. I pulled it up around
us, feeling much better, shielded again, and settled into his arms.
He was chewing on something that he couldn’t quite seem
to get spit out. I thought he was going to speak a half a dozen times, but
each time nothing came out and he subsided again.
‘What happened to our new resolve to speak plainly?’
I teased after a little while of feeling him struggle.
He sighed heavily and his arms tightened around me, taking
on an unconsciously protective air. ‘I want to ask you something that
I think might upset you,’ he blurted, and when I tilted my head back
to look at him, he really did look troubled.
‘Just ask,’ I told him, trying on a small smile
that didn’t seem to reassure him much.
‘You told me once,’ he began, and then hesitated.
‘We talked about…’ he didn’t seem to like that either,
and blew out a frustrated breath. ‘You hide things and I don’t
I pushed back a little, so that we were lying where we could
see each other instead of me having my face buried in his collarbone. ‘Heero…
what is it?’ I prodded, reaching to smooth his hair from his forehead.
‘You told me once that no one has ever… hurt you…’
he flushed slightly and for a second couldn’t meet my eyes. ‘Sexually.
You said that you’d never been… harmed that way.’
Once it was out and in the air between us, he did look up
to meet my gaze. Fiercely, hopefully, fearfully, desperately. It was a little
bit overwhelming. ‘I would not lie to you about something like that,’
I told him firmly. ‘If I have any bad memories at all that even border
on sexual, it was that mission with Jenson.’
I felt him shiver and he reached to cup my face with his hand,
gently brushing his thumb over my cheek. ‘Then why do you react so
strongly sometimes, to the things I do?’
God, his damn heart was right there in his eyes, and I couldn’t
miss how… unsure of himself he felt over this. Trying to please me
and afraid that he might be wandering around in a minefield that he didn’t
I sighed. ‘I… I think we need to talk about something,’
I told him, and saw the most stricken look come over his face. I heard what
I’d said about two seconds before he got the irony of being on the
wrong side of that line, and we laughed together like a pair of loons for
a couple of minutes. It helped. It eased the tension. Talking about sex
is… damn difficult.
‘I’m sorry,’ I murmured when I could stop
chuckling, and leaned my head to rest against his shoulder.
‘Point made,’ he laughed in return. ‘I’ll
be more careful delivering lines like that myself.’
There was a bit of quiet then, while I thought about what
I wanted to say and couldn’t quite seem to come up with the words.
Heero shifted away from me, so that we were lying face to face again, with
a bit of space between us. ‘Just say it, love,’ he coaxed with
a gentle smile.
I couldn’t help a heavy sigh and felt myself flushing,
just thinking about bringing this up. I focused on a spot in the center
of his chest. ‘Look… I’ve never… actually…
been with anybody but you, ok?’ I blurted as fast as I could manage,
and then waited, all but holding my breath, to see what his reaction would
be. There wasn’t one. He made me look at him and when I finally did,
I found this… strange expression on his face. One part… amused,
the asshole. But about two parts pure, unadulterated joy, and the rest was
some kind of bastard mix of possessive and aroused and predatory.
‘That’s what you’ve…’ he began,
but then thought better of it. ‘Never?’ he had to ask, his voice
just a bit incredulous. I gave my head a tiny little shake and before I
knew what was happening, he had me pushed over on my back and was kissing
the hell out of me, his hands in my hair, his body pressed tight against
The kiss was deep and fierce, possessive and gentle all balled
together into something that left me wanting to curl into his arms and stay
‘My Duo,’ he breathed, when he drew back, his
eyes alight with some inner gladness. Some deep joy that I found myself
aching to share. But… I knew better than that.
Something made him think it through, maybe the look in my
eyes, maybe just the natural flow of the logic. I saw the moment when that
spark of happiness dimmed just a bit as he put it together and understood
that here was a thing we could never share.
‘Oh God,’ he whispered, his voice thick with the
sudden shift in the tide of mixed emotions. ‘If I’d ever had
any hope… If I’d only known… I wouldn’t…’
I panicked, ok? I all but slapped my hands over his mouth
to shut him up. ‘Don’t!’ I yelped and the surprised look
on his face made it impossible for me to look at him and continue. I rolled
out from under him and curled up near the edge of the bed. I was afraid
if I could see his eyes, I’d see a truth there I didn’t want
to know. ‘Heero… please, I don’t want to know who, you
understand? I know this is stupid… I know I had no claim on you and
I’m not trying to say that I’m angry over it,’ I floundered,
wondering if he half knew what I was saying. I told you talking about sex
wasn’t easy. ‘I can’t know who it was… I feel so
damn clumsy when we’re together… I couldn’t… I don’t
know that I would ever be able to face them… if I know them…
If…’ Well, wasn’t this just awkward as hell?
His hand found my shoulder and he pulled until he forced me
over. I still couldn’t meet his eyes and gave serious consideration
to jumping up and running to lock myself in the bathroom. He put a hand
under my chin and dragged my face around until we were eye to eye. I cringed.
‘It was nobody you know,’ he stated, voice steady
and gaze unflinching. ‘It wasn’t anybody you are ever going
to run into.’
We just blinked at each other for a second while I let that
sink in. The only thought running through my head was, Oh thank God!
‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered, voice little more
than a breath. ‘I… try not to think about it, but it’s
He smiled a twisted little smile, part self-deprecation and
part reassurance. ‘I’m the one who’s sorry. I can’t
tell you what it does to me inside… knowing that my hand is the only
one…’ his damn eyes welled up for a second and he had to take
a breath before going on. ‘I am so very sorry I can’t give that
to you. If I’d ever dared to dream of this day, I’d have waited
I didn’t know what to say to that. Couldn’t voice
how much it cut at me sometimes that he had experienced these things with
someone else. Though, I suppose it was as much the fact that I hadn’t
as he had. It was just one more thing that left me feeling as though we
weren’t on level ground. I wasn’t exactly a blushing, naïve
innocent when Heero and I had gotten together, you don’t grow up on
L2 without learning a thing or two. But it was all second hand knowledge,
and while I had understood the mechanics, I had not understood the feelings
until I’d been there myself. It just made it more awkward for me,
knowing that whatever we did together, he had done before. I could only
thank God that my worst fear had not come to pass. I had privately been
terrified that Heero’d had some sort of relationship with one of the
guys, or another Preventor. I don’t think I could ever have faced
them again if it had been. I couldn’t begin to tell him how relieved
I was that this faceless ‘other person’ was someone I would
never have to meet.
He was looking at me with a strange little expression that
bordered on perplexed and I couldn’t help asking, ‘What are
you contemplating so damn hard?’
‘I just,’ he began, rather sheepishly, ‘always
imagined you… I mean, you were always so outgoing. And during the
war you seemed so… knowledgeable. I just assumed…’
I raised an eyebrow. ‘You imagined I was what; some
kind of sex maniac?’
He looked startled. ‘No! Of course not,’ he blurted
and I think I rather surprised him because it didn’t seem like he
meant to say the next part. ‘I just used to have these… nightmares
about you with other people…’ He finally noticed the grin and
realized I was teasing. He shut up just a little too late to stop the admission.
I propped myself up on one elbow and looked at him. ‘Oh,
you did?’ I grinned. ‘You thought about me that much all that
I was still teasing, but the look on his face went rather
melancholy. ‘Every day,’ he whispered and reached up to brush
gentle fingertips over my face. ‘Sometimes… at night, I still
wake up and have to touch you, just to prove to myself you’re really
I couldn’t answer that. I thought my damn heart had
crawled up my throat and was about to burst. I’m not altogether sure
if I leaned down or he rose to find me, but we were suddenly melded together
in a kiss that threatened to ignite the sheets, and it was a long while
before we bothered to worry about getting out of bed for something as inconsequential
We were both left in one of those weird touchy-feely moods
where we couldn’t seem to keep our hands off each other. We didn’t
bother to get completely dressed again, pulling on pants and padding around
the apartment barefoot. He cooked while I set the table and I spent most
of the time while he was standing at the stove with my arms around his waist
and my head on his shoulder, watching him work. We ate out of each other’s
fingers until we were snickering helplessly at our own antics. Then it was
his turn to stand behind me while I did the dishes, only he didn’t
just stand. That got stopped when I almost broke a plate.
When the last dish was stacked in the drainer, he turned me
around and backed me against the counter, stealing a kiss and smiling at
me. ‘Do you have any idea how damn sexy you are?’
I blinked at him and felt a blush starting somewhere around
the vicinity of my toes. ‘Heero…’ I murmured, wanting
him to stop, understanding that this was prompted by my comments earlier
about feeling so inexperienced next to him.
But he was not to be deterred. ‘Hush,’ he commanded
gently, touching a finger to my lips. ‘You are, and you should know
it. You are handsome and desirable and half the women at Preventors headquarters
were falling all over themselves trying to figure out how to meet you, the
minute you came to work there.’
The blush was turning into something that was starting to
be physically uncomfortable and I squirmed under his gaze. It was a sweet
gesture I suppose, but I just wanted the words to stop. You can call a duck
a swan all you want… but it would still be just a battered old, scarred
He seemed a little amused by my flushed condition, and couldn’t
stop touching my face. ‘God… how can you not know how striking
you are? You turn heads everywhere we go.’
I could feel my eyes widening, could feel my shoulders hunching,
but couldn’t quite seem to stop myself. I just wanted to disappear.
‘Don’t be ridiculous…’ I mumbled, feeling my hands
curling closed and wanting to crawl into my pockets.
There was a look in Heero’s eyes that could only be
described as unhappy. ‘Don’t, love… don’t do that,’
he sighed and caught my hands in his own. ‘I’m sorry; I didn’t
mean to make you uncomfortable. But I mean it… you are so damn beautiful.
You can make me want you just walking through the room.’
I snorted softly and tried to free my fingers, but he was
turning my hands and brought them up to gently kiss my palms. I stared hard,
watching carefully to make sure I kept them relaxed. Then he took my right
hand in both of his and brought it to rest against his chest, smoothing
my hand across his skin. I hissed in surprise and tried to jerk away, but
he wouldn’t let me.
‘Stop it!’ he commanded, his eyes dark and sorrowful.
‘I want you to stop being afraid to touch me with your scars, Duo.
I don’t care… I don’t even see them anymore.’
I continued to stare at where my hand was touching him, trying
to pull free. ‘Damn it, Heero… I could hurt you! Let go!’
He blinked at me in surprise, holding us very still but not
freeing me. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked softly.
I couldn’t help scowling, not much liking to talk about
my damn defects. ‘I can’t… I don’t feel things very
well,’ I floundered, and wished I could turn time back about a half
an hour. This was taking a twist that wasn’t much to my taste.
He lifted my hand from his chest then, holding it in his and
carefully began to stroke over the scars with his fingers. I could see it,
but the touch was so feather light that there was just… nothing.
I frowned, hating this, and grumbled. ‘I can’t
feel that, Heero.’
The movement of his hand over mine hesitated and then resumed.
I could see he was increasing the firmness of his touch. ‘I feel a
pressure… that’s all.’ I wondered idly if a blush could
get stuck. Could you turn so damn red that you couldn’t turn back?
‘Duo-love,’ he chided gently, his hands stilling.
‘It’s more than that and you know it. I’ve seen you handle
eggs without any problem.’
I refused to look up at him, staring at our hands instead.
‘I could hurt you,’ I said again, not able to completely erase
the strange, petulant tone in my voice.
‘Never,’ he murmured softly and lifted my hand
up again to kiss my fingertips. ‘Touch me… touch my face. I
want to feel your hand on my cheek.’
A sound escaped me that was somewhere between surprise and
dismay. The statement made me meet his gaze and I saw nothing there but
trust and belief. I shivered.
‘Touch me,’ he said again, more firmly, and freed
I swallowed and tried to calm my pounding heart, but it did
little good. My hand, there at the edge of my own vision, hovering in space,
‘Please, Heero,’ I managed through a throat gone
‘It’s all right,’ he soothed, his need for
this small thing shining in those midnight eyes of his.
I wanted to do this for him. It seemed such an inconsequential
thing, a simple touch. But there was something, somewhere deep in my heart
that did not want to let those scars touch him. Those ugly, wicked scars.
Those scars that told the world how badly I had messed up that night. Those
scars that were my punishment for letting Jensen kill that girl. For almost
killing Quatre myself. It wasn’t right.
The trembling was taking over my whole body and I just couldn’t
understand it. Heero had touched my hands before. Hell… it wasn’t
possible that I hadn’t inadvertently touched him at some time or other.
But, somehow, his forcing the issue was making it almost impossible for
my fingers to close those last few inches. I was trying… but…
it just didn’t seem right.
‘Touch me,’ he said on a breath, his voice steady
and warm, encouraging me with relentless calm.
‘Please don’t make me...’ a voice begged,
whimpering softly. ‘Please, Heero…’ I wondered who had
spoken. I couldn’t stop shaking. This wasn’t right. This was
‘Yes it is,’ Heero said; voice a gentle siren’s
call. ‘Please, love… for me?’
I watched my hand finally stir, my trembling fingers moving
of their own volition and brushing across his cheek. I couldn’t seem
to remember how to breathe.
‘That’s it,’ he told me, triumph plain to
hear in his voice. ‘You’re not hurting… I won’t
let you hurt me.’
That hand, that alien hand with its ugly scars stroked over
his face again, tracing his jaw line and cupping his cheek. His eyes fell
closed with the sound of an almost erotic moan. ‘Yes,’ he coaxed.
Then my knees buckled and I went down like a sack of pole-axed
potatoes. Heero couldn’t stop it, and just went down with me. What
So I ended up in Heero’s lap on the damn kitchen floor,
shaking uncontrollably, wrapped so tight in his arms that I couldn’t
have gotten up if my life had depended on it. He was murmuring soft reassurances
and I was just trying to get my head around what had just happened. Somewhere
down in my gut, it was in me to cry, but most of the rest of me was still
trying to figure out exactly why that would be.
‘I’m sorry,’ Heero was whispering to me,
his one hand stroking over my hair, the other holding me tight against him.
‘You need to let go of this… you need to get past it. Your hands
aren’t that bad, Duo. Very few people even notice the scars unless
they’re pointed out.’
I opened my mouth to tell him that he didn’t understand,
I didn’t care what they looked like, I didn’t care what people
thought, but all I managed was, ‘I…’ and it stuttered
and caught in my throat, and I knew if I tried to go on, those tears were
going to win, so I just shut my mouth again.
‘Oh God, love,’ he sighed and brushed a kiss across
my forehead. ‘You’ve let this eat at you until it’s so
deep you don’t even see what you’re doing. You never even think
about it until you touch another person.’
My hands curled closed and drew in tight to my chest, in a
defensive posture that was as old as the scars. ‘Q…Quatre...’
I choked out and his arms tightened around me.
‘You know better than that,’ he scolded gently.
‘Quatre doesn’t react to your scars; he reacts to the guilt
that you went through all that pain to save his life. He had a hard time
dealing with the fact that you made that sacrifice without a second thought.
None of us handled it well. We… we weren’t sure we could have
done the same, had we been in your place.’ He tried to tilt my head
up so that he could see my face but I fought him and he didn’t push
the point. There was a sigh and then, ‘We were in awe of what you
did, Duo. Every one of us.’
I frowned, where he couldn’t see it anyway. I’d
never understood their insistence about that. Did none of them get the part
where the whole bloody mess was my fault to begin with? How could the fact
that it was my mistake that put Quatre in danger in the first place, keep
‘Damn it, Duo,’ he murmured when I didn’t
speak. ‘I’ve never seen you break anything. I’ve never
seen you harm anyone. Can’t you see that? This isn’t about you
being afraid of hurting me.’
Then just what the hell is it about, I wanted to shout at
him. You know so damn much… tell me what this pain is all about.
I dared to uncurl my fingers and looked down at the strange
landscape that was the palms of my own hands. I thought about the night
that I had deliberately shoved those hands into the fire over and over again,
desperately trying to reach Quatre before the whole damn building blew up
around us. I thought about the hideous pain. I thought about the months
of healing. I thought about the night right after, when I had dreamed that
I had been held and cherished, and I remembered waking to find myself alone.
I remembered the squad breaking up not long after that, and being left to
the tender mercies of Dr. G’s clinical medics. I remembered going
back to the fighting long before I should have, because being alone is harder
to deal with in a crowd.
Out of the corner of my mind’s eye, I saw a hamster
shuffle up. He looked vaguely oriental and walked with a slow limp, leaning
on a little cane. He looked terribly old. He patted my foot with a venerable
air and produced a little sign, etched in careful script that said, ‘It’s
not about hurting him… it’s about hurting yourself.’ Then
he bowed and faded away.
Well fuck. Hope he didn’t show up very often…
he rather hit below the belt.
I looked again at the scars that traced over my hands and
suddenly understood. It wasn’t about the physical damage… it
wasn’t about the fire or that mission. It was about waking up from
that drugged fever dream and believing that I was all alone in the world…
again. And knowing that I had reached out for the last time. Those scars
were my reminder that I was meant to be alone and that it wasn’t right
for me to dare think otherwise. I flashed abruptly on that long gone painting
from the long gone room from hell aboard my long gone ship, and I understood
it for the first time. The painting with my hands charred to blackened bone
and the guys all with their backs to me. It was my head trying to explain
to me that I would always have to take care of myself, because there was
no one else to watch my back.
You thought I was trembling before? Should have seen me then.
I was suddenly so cold I couldn’t get close enough to Heero, and shaking
so hard I didn’t trust myself to speak.
Heero gathered me close; though I could tell he didn’t
half understand what was going on. ‘I’m here,’ he soothed.
‘I’m right here, baby.’
I wanted to laugh, but knew where that would lead and it took
me another minute before I could manage, ‘Tell me?’
He let out with a tiny little sound of relief and was suddenly
kissing everything he could reach. ‘Yes… oh yes; I love you.
More than anything. I’m right here… I’ll always be right
There was more, all things I needed to hear, and he just held
me and talked to me until the urge to weep passed and the trembling faded
It was late, I wasn’t sure how it had gotten that way,
and he took us off to bed then, thinking to fetch an extra blanket. He would
have tucked me in and coddled me like I was sick, if I would have let him,
and it was a temptation that had to be fought. A terrible temptation to
just close my eyes and let the little kid who lived in the back of my head
come out and curl up in his arms, to be kissed and comforted. But I sent
the little kid off to bed with a glass of water when Heero came toward me
with the sweats I sometimes sleep in.
‘No,’ I sighed, reached for him. ‘I want
to feel you… skin to skin, tonight.’
His soft smile was a beautiful thing to behold. He shed the
last of his clothes and we crawled into bed together, wrapping round each
other, twining and holding on tight. It wasn’t long before I knew
we’d be making love again. That light was in his eyes when he looked
at me, that flame kindled from his protectiveness that sometimes flared
so hot it was frightening.
It started slow, gentle and unhurried. Simple touches and
caresses, the soft brush of lips, the ghosting of fingertips… of undamaged
knuckles. I saw a flash of disappointment in his eyes and I knew he wanted
my hands moving over him, but it was too hard to force that still, I wasn’t
ready. He let it go and I was grateful… the mood would have been lost
had he pushed me.
Our touches were becoming more heated, our bodies were starting
to respond on their own, straining toward the edge of need. Movement had
not yet found that rhythm, but the urge for completion was right there within
our grasp… that moment when it stopped being about the pleasures of
the journey and became all about the final destination.
‘Touch me… the way you did,’ I heard my
voice moan out and I’m not sure which of us was the more surprised.
He lifted his head and looked at me long and hard. I could
see him wrestling with his own desires, could see his doubts. ‘Are
you sure?’ he made himself ask, and it only cemented my trust in letting
him do this.
‘Yeah,’ I panted and forced myself to shift, offering
him access. That fire rose in his eyes and he was reaching blindly for the
bottle of lotion. I shivered, but he didn’t see.
He squeezed the lotion out into his palm, warming it with
his hands and he looked back at me. ‘Let me… let me take it
a bit farther?’ he whispered then, his voice thick with emotion I
wasn’t sure I could name.
I blinked at him, caught for a moment in the past, not sure
of what he was asking. Suddenly not sure of what I was asking.
‘Not that far,’ he was quick to soothe, seeing
the look in my eyes. ‘Nothing more than touching. I swear.’
I hesitated only a moment more and then nodded. I wasn’t
sure. I wasn’t sure at all, but I needed to give him something. Needed
to try and overcome my own fears and believe in the trust I had for him.
Because it was still there despite everything we’d been through and
I wanted to show him that… wanted to reassure him everything was all
right between us.
He dipped his head back to resume suckling at a nipple, his
hands nudged my legs further apart and then there was that touch. That touch
that had thrown my world off its axis, had made me want things I didn’t
think I ever would. Made my body twitch and buck, made my legs shiver and
brought mewling sound from my throat.
He stroked and swirled his fingers around my entrance, nothing
more than he’d done in the shower and it made me shiver and writhe
every bit as much as it had the last time. I fisted my hands in the sheets
and let my eyes fall closed, lost in the sensations he was giving me. I
could feel his excitement, could hear his quickened breath, and knew beyond
a doubt how much he wanted this… how much he wanted me. It made me
feel badly, for denying him something he obviously craved so much. It made
my heart swell thinking about the patience he’d shown me, understanding
that he would back off even now, if I so much as said ‘stop’.
I opened my eyes to look at him, where he lay beside me, and the passion
etched on his face made me envision him, suddenly, lying between my legs.
Made me imagine him moving above me. I shivered hard and his hands slowed.
‘All right?’ he whispered and I managed a tight
‘Y…yes,’ I told him and it was on my tongue
to ask him. Hell… to beg him. But there was still a part of my head
that couldn’t stop seeing… things I didn’t want to think
about right then. And I knew he wouldn’t have anyway. He’d already
promised not to go that far, and I knew he wouldn’t break that trust.
‘Relax,’ he sighed, his breath tickling my belly.
‘You need to relax.’
His fingers were moving again, suddenly feeling wetter, slicker…
and it seemed his angle changed. I let my eyes fall closed and concentrated
on not fighting him, not fighting this strange intrusion. I felt his fingers
gently probing, sweeping back and forth in a gesture designed to open me,
and I think I forgot to breathe waiting for it to happen, waiting for him
to enter me.
Then he swallowed my cock to the balls and I gasped in shock,
body arching into his touch, mind short-circuited entirely.
He claims he’s no good at this, because he has trouble
letting me come in his mouth… but my God, the depth he can manage.
I felt him swallowing around me, his throat working to draw me in, even
as he pulled away, and I threw back my head, biting down on a silent groan.
He drew slowly back until only the head of my cock was caught gently in
his teeth and then he stilled… waiting for me to feel it. Waiting
for me to notice.
I drew in a startled breath as I suddenly realized, and when
I did, he began slowly to move inside me. My body tightened, and I cried
out at the strange, strange feel of it. ‘Oh God… Heero,’
I moaned, and managed to focus on him for a second, long enough to see the
blaze of pure desire lighting his face, but then he swallowed me again and
I couldn’t see anything more.
It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and
there was a long few minutes while I tried to make up my mind if it felt
good or bad… right or wrong. It just felt… strange. He worked
my aching length with lips and tongue, distracting me, not letting me think
too hard about what he was doing to me with his hands. His gentle, loving
My own hands wanted to reach for him, wanted to bury themselves
in that wild tangle of hair, wanted to urge him on… wanted…
But I didn’t dare, this far gone… I didn’t dare. I let
go of the sheets and stretched my arms over my head, grabbing hold of the
headboard, making sure I didn’t forget myself. Guilt welled in my
chest, but he had me too lost to dare.
His fingers, massaging and stroking inside me, found a rhythm.
He suckled me with a desperate need, matching that rhythm, and I felt something
building inside my gut, inside my chest. I cried out with it, thrashing
beneath his hands, straining toward something… something I couldn’t
name, something that was so close I could almost taste it… almost
reach it. I writhed into his touch, panting and striving to grasp that…
that feeling that was just out of reach. It was right there… so very
close; I could almost identify what it was. I was sobbing Heero’s
name, begging him with incoherent cries to help me attain it… help
me seize it. I could distantly hear his own breath panting raggedly. Could
hear him, when he could manage it, urging me upward, urging me to let go.
Then his fingers plunged farther than they had before, caressing
deep within me and it was like my world turned white, in a flare of heat
and cold that rushed over my skin in waves. I bucked, my body leaving the
bed, and I thought I heard the headboard crack.
He felt me tightening and pulled away, wrapping his free hand
around my swelling erection and began to pump me hard. My orgasm swept up
through me with an intensity so brutal I felt my own semen spatter across
my cheek. My body clenched tight around his fingers, pushing me over an
edge I’d never felt before. I screamed out in near anguish, lost in
the overwhelming pleasure coursing through me… and devastated as I
felt that other feeling evade my grasp. The bubble of it, that had threatened
to expand in my chest until I couldn’t breathe, just faded away…
unattained and unidentified.
I knew nothing for a time. The roar of my own blood in my
ears was all there was to be heard. The flare of that overpowering light
seemed to have burned my eyes, and there was nothing to be seen. Feeling
had narrowed to the pulsing remnants of an orgasm unlike anything I’d
It was the feel of Heero’s fingers slipping slowly and
carefully from my body that forced awareness back on my battered senses.
I whimpered softly, not liking the strange empty feeling I was left with,
and I opened my eyes to look at him. I realized then, how one sided that
had been, how I had totally ignored his need while he had met… hell;
surpassed my own. But when I looked to him, with guilt nibbling at me, I
met only a sloe-eyed, sated smile. I turned my gaze down the length of our
bodies and was surprised as hell to find my thighs covered with the evidence
of his own completion.
He shifted, sliding up next to me so that we were face to
face and he bent to kiss me. There was the faintest taste of salt and I
remembered the feel of my own come on my face. Heero groaned softly and
deepened the kiss, invading my mouth hungrily, chasing that taste with abandon.
When he drew away, he smiled tenderly down and said, ‘wait here.’
Then he rose and went into the bathroom. I heard water running and knew
he was cleaning up.
Wait here, he said. Like I could have moved if the apartment
had caved in. Like I gave a damn. My legs were still trembling so much I
doubt seriously if I could have stood up and walked that far. Crawling seemed
more likely, but wasn’t very appealing. So I did as I was told and
He came back with a washcloth and a towel and bent to cleaning
me up with touches that bordered on reverent. We didn’t speak. All
I could do was stare up at him, my head still trying to wrap itself around
what had just happened. All he could seem to do was smile.
When I was as clean as I could be without a full-fledged shower,
he returned the washcloth and towel to the bathroom and came back to crawl
in beside me. I watched him settle the extra blanket over me and tried to
remember what it had been like to sleep in my solitary, empty bed. A hollow
feeling crept up on me, bringing the sting of unshed tears to my eyes and
making my throat hurt. I suddenly didn’t want to remember what it
had been like. ‘I love you,’ I blurted and the sound of my wavering
voice alarmed him.
‘Are… are you all right?’ he asked, stretching
out beside me, pulling the blankets around us.
In answer, I turned toward him and carefully brought my hand
up to lie against his cheek. ‘I’m fine,’ I told him and
watched a smile of pure joy blossom on his face.
He covered my hand with his own. ‘I love you so much…
you know that, don’t you?’
‘I figured it out,’ I smiled in return.
We curled together then and I gave in to the exhaustion of
the day, letting all the whirling thoughts go away and falling into a deep
and dreamless sleep.
It didn’t last.
I had slept so much right after the accident, when I’d
first been released from the hospital, that I think it had rather surprised
Heero, once I was better, that I actually slept less than he did. Left to
his own devices, he will sleep close to seven hours a night, where I seldom
go more than five or six. Though I had adapted a little since living with
him, and found myself more able to go back to sleep if I woke up too early.
That trick failed me miserably when I woke the next morning
before five. I tried to just roll over and doze back off, but once awake,
the thoughts came rushing back like a tide coming in, and I knew it was
hopeless. It was obscenely early for a Sunday morning, and I didn’t
want to disturb Heero with my tossing and turning. Silently, I slipped from
bed and gathering my discarded sweats and the first sketchpad I found, I
crept out to the living room. It was too early for breakfast and the television
would have disturbed Heero, so I curled into the corner of the couch with
my sketchbook. It seemed it had been ages since I’d put pencil to
paper and I was moved to do a little bit of drawing to pass the time.
Sunday morning. What an odd feeling; I could remember a time
when days of the week hadn’t mattered to me. I hadn’t known
what a lazy Sunday morning was like. Hadn’t understood the joys of
a Friday or Saturday night, when your time was your own. It sometimes takes
me by surprise, these major changes that have happened in my life without
any real effort on my part. It still sometimes leaves me with my head spinning,
wondering just what in the hell had happened.
I opened the cover of my sketchpad and began leafing forward,
looking for a blank page. I grimaced as the pages revealed just which book
I had picked up. I hesitated over the strange little self-portrait I had
drawn on the way to L3, right before I’d inadvertently almost killed
myself. But I wasn’t in the mood to dwell on the pain and despair
etched into the two faces that were both mine. I was struck again with the
thought that I should destroy the damn thing, but again, just found myself
leafing past it. Somehow… I couldn’t quite bear to tear it up,
that strange, dark, double portrait. I flipped on past studies of Wufei’s
cat, past pictures of Heero, past a portrait of Quatre and Trowa that I
really meant to finish one of these days, until I found that blank page.
There was a certain… soothing effect that came with sketching, and
I rather felt in need of a bit of comfort. In a bit of the familiar.
My head was so full of thoughts that it felt… overstuffed.
I couldn’t quite stop thinking about my hands, about my scars. Couldn’t
stop thinking about Heero. Neither of us escaped the war… unmarred,
but he just seemed so damn perfect to me somehow. He had his scars, you
don’t self-destruct your fucking Gundam and walk away unscathed, but
they seemed… different from mine, to me. Why did where the scars came
from make a difference in how I saw them? I don’t really know. He
had hit that deceptively small red button at the call of duty. Had taken
the third path when given two choices… surrender, or the colonies
will be destroyed. He had figuratively flipped Oz the ultimate bird, and
made his own choice. That he had lived was a damn miracle. But… it
had been noble, somehow, as totally asinine as that sounds. At the time,
I had cursed him, cussed him and drunk to his somewhat premature ghost,
but somewhere under all the pain, I had seen his sacrifice as something…
dignified. The faint scars that traced his shoulder and chest weren’t
even there to my eyes. I… just didn’t see them. Never much thought
But my own… there was nothing noble or decent in how
I had gained them. They were nothing to me but a reminder of the fact that
all mistakes carry a price. My mistakes on that mission had been many and
varied, had cost a young girl her life and almost cost Quatre his. I just
couldn’t seem to get past that.
There was just no straightening it all out in my head. My
scars weren’t just scars, I guess, is as close as I can come to explaining
it. My disfigurement meant something… something that I wasn’t
Damn, but I was sick of chasing that damn chicken around the
barn, and shook my head as though I could jostle the thoughts loose and
make them fall away.
My eyes focused on the sketch in front of me and I had to
sigh. A detailed study of my own hands had somehow formed under the pencil,
while I hadn’t been looking. My hands… the way they had been.
A long time ago. A very long damn time ago.
I flipped the page almost angrily, and consciously started
a portrait of Heero. I really didn’t need one of those damn psychotherapy,
artistic brain-dump sessions, thank you very much. I had enough of a collection
of pictures not suitable for the general viewing audience, I sure as hell
didn’t need any more.
Sometimes I almost wished I could just go somewhere and sleep
for a while. Sleep while all the problems resolved themselves. Not wake
up until this strange tension between Wufei and me was gone. Not wake up
until Heero had found us a house and moved us in. Not wake up until I had
answers to so many of the things that plagued my poor, beleaguered brain
most of the daylight hours. The job. The kids. The car.
I had to slap a hand over my mouth to stifle the bubble of
laughter that tried to find its way out of my throat. God, didn’t
I sound like some kind of domestic basket case? I pushed aside the mental
image of me, kissing ‘the little woman’ goodbye with the prerequisite
three and a half little kids tugging at my pants leg while I tried to get
myself off to work. Dear Lord, but I was totally losing it. I forced my
attention back to the paper under my hand and just tried to concentrate
on getting Heero’s pose right. Sitting with his legs drawn up, his
back against something… a wall maybe.
Its not that I really hated my job. It was all right, I suppose.
It’s just not what I had imagined I’d be doing at this stage
of my life. I’d had dreams and plans, once upon a time. Now I just
seemed to be getting by. I’d lost my direction somehow.
Don’t laugh, but in my wide-eyed youth, I’d imagined
that I would own a whole fleet of ships one day. I’d thought that
I would be able to bring in ex-soldiers… guys like me who maybe were
having a little trouble fitting in. Guys who would welcome the chance to
be able to pilot again. I had dreamed that we would make a name that would
be known all over the solar system as the crew that could bring back anything.
I had thought that someday I would be bringing in enough money
that I’d be able to completely upgrade the Maxwell Home, that I’d
be able to send every one of those kids to the best schools money could
provide and see to it that they all got as many chances at their dreams
as it took to make them come true. Instead of the pathetic one-shot I was
barely able to provide now.
I had hoped someday to be in a position to pay Quatre back
for the surgeries he’d had done on my hands. I had dreamed of being
able to look him in the eye again without feeling that weight on my mind.
I had dreamed…
I had dreamed some damn silly things, once, a long time ago.
I sighed again, and remembered why I had always kept myself
exhaustingly busy. I remembered why I never used to do the lazy Sunday type
mornings. Idleness meant introspective. Introspection pretty much meant
brooding. Brooding led to depression, and after that it was just kind of
a downhill trip.
I set my pencil aside to look at Heero’s portrait and
flinched when I realized I’d ended up seating him on the built-in
cabinets in the back room of that damn house we’d looked at. He was
leaning against the wall, his arms draped over his up-drawn legs, looking
out the windows at the willow tree in the backyard. The scene through the
windows looked more like spring and the tree was a fantasy of frothy, blowing
‘Oh for God’s sake,’ I muttered to no one
in particular, and turned the damn page so roughly I almost tore it.
I realized that guilt-beast was curled on the couch beside
me and I thought about that fact for a little bit. Found my thoughts circling
around to last night. Circling around to what had happened between Heero
and me. Thought about how it had felt. About how I had felt.
My God, but I’d never experienced anything like that
before. I shivered, sitting there in the living room, just thinking about
it. If my emotions got any more tangled up, trying to sort that whole thing
out, I just might throw up right where I sat.
How much of my trepidation came from the simple fact that
Solo had told me ‘No’ on this subject in no uncertain terms?
How twisted was that? That a man… no, a boy, who had been dead for
more than half my life had that much control over how I thought. It makes
you wonder about the things that make up your psyche. About the things that
formed your damned thinking. Things you might not even really remember.
Solo had warned me about the dangers of the street. Solo had kept me safe
as long as he had lived. He was the first human being I can ever recall
trusting. And I had trusted in his teachings most of my life. His lessons
had seldom led me wrong. It was a damn uncomfortable place to be, stuck
between the guilt of denying Heero… and the guilt of betraying Solo’s
‘Yer such a total asshole, sometimes, have I ever told
ya that, kid?’ Solo’s non-voice sounded right near my ear and
I had to grin at the nobody who wasn’t there.
‘Seems like its come up once or twice,’ I murmured
‘Just what’n hell was the rule again?’ he
snickered and was there, perched on the back of the couch.
‘Never…’ I hesitated, remembering his real
voice all those long, long years ago. ‘Never sell yourself.’
‘I don’t see no sellin’ goin’ on here,’
he smirked at me and I had to blink at him. ‘Shut yer mouth, rat-boy…
ya look pretty stupid.’
I heard my own mouth snap closed and I gave him an angry frown,
my brother who wasn’t really there. ‘My, aren’t we feeling
perky this morning?’ I growled, voice a mere whisper.
‘Yer not much of a kid no more,’ he said, giving
me that appraising look he gave kids before deciding if they were fit to
join the gang. ‘Looks t’me like yer all growed up. This ain’t
about breakin’ my rules… this is about,’ he leaned toward
me, that infuriating smirk on his face, and tapped intangible fingers on
my sketch pad. ‘that,’ he said in triumph and was suddenly gone.
I looked down into my lap and gasped in shock at the portrait
staring back at me. ‘Jesus God!’ I moaned and drew my arm back
to throw the damn thing across the room. But it was plucked from my hand
before I could let it fly.
I gasped in indignant surprise, jerking around to find Heero
standing behind the couch, a worried frown trying to settle on his face,
and my sketchpad in his hand. It makes me crazy sometimes, that he can get
inside my radar like that. It’s a good ten feet to the bedroom door,
and I’d never heard him coming.
‘Not funny, Yuy,’ I growled, trying to hide the
panic. ‘Give me that back.’
He didn’t even dignify the lame attempt at cover-up
with a response. Just stood staring at the picture in his hands, his eyes
turning dark with a little bit of confusion… a little bit of shock.
I sighed, understanding that the evasion dance was a pretty
damn useless endeavor at this point. No way in hell was he going to take
a look at that portrait and not have a question or two. He just left me
sitting there for a long minute, while he studied what was in front of him.
Then he came slowly around and sat carefully down beside me.
‘Duo…’ he began, seeming very unsure of
what to say to me, his eyes full of a thousand questions. ‘What…’
he tried again, hesitating for a long second, glancing from the sketchpad
to me. ‘Who was he?’ he finally asked gently, and I let out
a gusty sigh, running a hand through my hair.
Who was he? Who indeed. Could I even say? Could you honestly
say that any of us street-kids could have answered that question? I guess
it didn’t really matter, in the end. It hadn’t much mattered
to the boy in the portrait.
‘We called him Froggy,’ I said, looking at the
picture and not at Heero. I couldn’t help smiling just a tiny bit,
at the memory. ‘He had these… long legs and knobby knees. Solo
said he looked like a frog, though God knows where he ever saw a frog to
Froggy’s dead eyes stared back at me, flat and lifeless,
wide as hell… so damn wide and… stunned. That was the thing
that I had remembered the most; the totally shocked look on his face. It
had taken a while, for him to die, and he had been so damn… surprised.
Like he’d never known before that moment that there were simple mistakes
you could make that could cost such a high price.
‘He turned up just a couple of weeks after Solo took
me in,’ I told him, still not looking away from Froggy’s pale,
pale face. My fingers thought to reach out to close those eyes, the way
they had all those years ago, but I knew it wouldn’t block that memory
away now, anymore than it had then. ‘We were close to the same age…
I guess.’ I thought about that for a second. Wondering, not for the
first time, just how the hell old I was. Solo’d had this trick where
he made us reach over the top of our heads and touch our ear. If you could
reach, you were old enough to go out with the pickpockets. If you couldn’t…
you had to beg. Froggy and I could both just barely reach. ‘Times
were… rough. We were both newbies, still learnin’ the trade…
still learnin’ how to steal without gettin’ nabbed.’ I
stopped, blinking furiously for a second, hearing the damn street accent
coming into my voice. I shivered and pushed it aside. ‘The…
the gang was short to start with, then add in the mouths that were still
learning… times were hard.’
A warm hand enveloped mine and I let myself cling for just
a minute, before I became mindful of the pressure and eased off. I still
couldn’t look up at Heero, couldn’t quite tear my gaze away
from the dark circled, wide eyes on the paper. He was so pale. He’d
been so… pale.
‘We hadn’t eaten in days. I don’t think
Froggy was used to it yet… it still got to him.’ There was a
tiny little, tight kind of sound that seemed to come from Heero’s
chest somewhere, but I ignored it. ‘We’d been out workin’…’
I grimaced, fighting the pull of memory. ‘Working, and were headed
back. Just the two of us. This guy… this guy approached us and offered
us money,’ I couldn’t help the hesitation, couldn’t help
the strange little falter in my voice. Heero kept his silence, holding tight
to my hand, and just let me tell it. ‘If we’d go… He wanted…’
I was starting to blush and dared a glance up. ‘You know?’ I
asked, squirming under the memory. ‘Come on, kid… just a quick
fuck? Won’t take ten minutes outta yer day. I’ll give you two
whole credits…you can eat damn nice on two credits. Come on…
it feels damn fine… damn fine… I promise.’
‘I know,’ Heero said gently, his voice a mere
whisper, and I shivered. He laid the tablet on the couch and wrapped both
his hands around mine, holding on tight.
‘I told him hell no, but Froggy was so hungry…’
I looked back down at those dead eyes and remembered how he’d looked
at me. ‘Come on, man,’ he’d begged. ‘Solo don’t
havta know. Two credits! I’m so hungry!’
I could remember pulling on his arm, seeing something in the
man’s eyes that had scared me. ‘Solo says no!’ I had yelled
at him and pulled for all I was worth, scared to death and not half understanding
why. But he had gotten suddenly angry and pushed me away. ‘Damn you!
I’m sick of bein’ hungry! You go ahead and run if you’re
so damn chicken! I’m stayin’!’ And I’d run. I’d
run like the devil himself was after me. ‘Don’ never sell yerself!’
I’d yelled at him. And it had become my damn litany all the way back
to the abandoned warehouse that had been our sleeping place that week. ‘Nevernevernever…’
‘I went and got Solo… as fast as I could go,’
I whispered, having to clear my throat to get the words out around the lump
of memory in my chest. ‘But… it was too far away… we didn’t
I’d led Solo and some of the bigger guys back to that
alley, running so fast they almost hadn’t been able to keep up with
me, even though I’d already run the route once. Even though I had
thought my lungs were on fire. Even though I hadn’t eaten in a couple
of days. We found him in the back of the alley, the guy was long gone. ‘Did’n
even pay me…’ Froggy had mumbled to me, but I’d barely
heard him. I couldn’t stop staring at his bare, knobby legs and all
‘All that damn blood…’ I realized I’d
said that out loud and forced myself to look away from the portrait on the
couch beside us. I took a breath, and then had to take another. There’s
some shit that just sticks in your damn head and won’t ever go away.
Not ever. ‘I’d never seen Solo so damn pissed. He was cussing
Froggy and cussing that nameless man. Nobody else was sayin’ anything…
Solo tore up what was left of Froggy’s pants and… and tried
to stop the bleeding.’ That part about undid me and I stopped, remembering
Froggy’s whimpering cries, remembering Solo yelling at him and telling
him what an idiot he’d been. It had taken me a long time to understand
that was how Solo covered up when he was scared. He got pissed. Flaming,
wicked pissed until he could do the things that had to be done. Even when
they were ugly, miserable, scary damn things.
‘We took him back to the warehouse,’ I said then,
and felt Heero’s hands tighten on mine. I had to shake my head, knowing
what he was thinking; knowing how he thought we’d messed up. I couldn’t
contain a bitter little snort. ‘The homeless don’t exactly have
insurance cards,’ I told him. ‘You want to see the inside of
a hospital on L2… you have to prove you can pay.’
There was the sound of a sharply indrawn breath, but nothing
else. I think Heero was afraid that if he interrupted me, I’d just
stop talking. I did stop, for a minute, wanting to collect my thoughts,
wanting to tell this without all the hysterical weeping shit. I’d
cried that night, helpless and scared and confused as hell. That was the
first time Solo had told me, ‘Boys don’t cry, kid.’
‘We couldn’t get the bleeding to stop, no matter
what we did,’ I told Heero softly. ‘It… took awhile, but
he bled to death in that warehouse.’
‘I’m so cold,’ Froggy’d told me, over
and over while I sat and held his hand. He’d been so scared…
so very scared. He’d not said much about what the man had done to
him, except to impart to me in a wavering, whispered voice that it had hurt…
a lot. He’d died staring at me, his eyes so wide and his face so pale.
He’d just looked… surprised, like he couldn’t believe
what had happened.
Solo had moved us before the body was cold. Gathered the whole
gang up and took us out of there into the night. We holed up in the shell
of a burned out building. Solo had been so… angry, like I’d
never seen him. He’d scared me for the first time ever. Before we
dug in for the night, he’d called us to his side and Froggy became
an object lesson. A lesson that not a one of us ever forgot. Ever. There
were worse damn things in this wicked, wicked world than starving to death.
Solo had given me my street name that night. After the others
were settled, he had come to sit beside me. Had told me that he was proud
of the decision I’d made, that I’d done the right thing in coming
for help. That Froggy had made his own decision and it wasn’t my fault
that it had been the wrong one. He’d tousled my hair and given me
a small smile and christened me ‘Dodger’, because of how fast
I had lain in the dirt and watched him move around our den
for the night, checking each of the others before going to his own rest.
I remember thinking that I would be just like him, that I would help him
protect the little ones. That I would become Solo’s right hand man,
and together we would take care of all the others. Turned out that neither
of us was much to write home about. He couldn’t protect the children,
and I couldn’t protect him.
I found my head resting on Heero’s shoulder and I wondered
idly how that had come to happen.
‘I’m sorry,’ Heero whispered softly. ‘God…
I can’t believe I’ve been pushing you… I’m so sorry.’
I straightened and brushed his cheek with the back of my fingers,
meeting his anguished eyes head on. ‘Don’t be,’ I told
him firmly. ‘That was about a little kid and a… a rapist. That
was about power and abuse.’ I smiled gently for him, brushing at his
sleep-mussed hair. ‘We’re neither one of us kids anymore, and
you’ve never touched me with anything but love.’
He tentatively slid his arms around me and I returned the
embrace hard and firm, reassuring him that I was all right.
‘No wonder,’ he murmured. ‘Why didn’t
you ever tell me? God, Duo… if I’d known, I’d have never…’
‘Hush,’ I chided. ‘It’s an old memory.
You’re not that man… I’m not Froggy. I know you would
never hurt me. It’s just… something I try not to think about.’
‘And last night… made you think about it,’
he said, a statement more than a question. There was no real denying it
so I didn’t try. I reached around him, managed to snag the sketchpad
and deftly tossed it onto the coffee table, safely out of reach. Then I
pushed hard, knocking him backward onto the couch, me going over with him.
He grunted in surprise.
‘And I’m tired of thinking about it,’ I
told him, grinning widely, sprawled across his chest. ‘I’m hungry,
husband-mine… feed me!’
He returned my grin, but there was the ghost of melancholy
behind it. I suspect he’d had more questions, but he understood that
I was changing the subject and he respected the course alteration.
‘What would you like?’ he chuckled at me, his
hands playing with the flyaway hair that had escaped my braid over-night.
‘Uhmmm,’ I pondered theatrically. ‘Maybe
something disgustingly sweet and sticky that I can eat off your bare chest?’
I gave him a leer and he laughed out loud.
‘Yuck,’ he informed me in mock horror. ‘Food
sex? Please tell me you’re not into food sex?’
‘Depends on the food,’ I purred next to his ear,
and then gave that ear a little nip. ‘Now let’s go find some
breakfast before I’m forced to resort to cannibalism.’
I started to climb up, but he caught me around the waist and
with a buck and a flip, inverted our positions. It was my turn to grunt
in surprise. ‘Cannibalism might be interesting,’ he informed
A lot of heavy kissing happened then. That kind of ‘not
really going anywhere’ but otherwise pretty damned passionate kind
of kissing? It took a little while before we bothered making our way to
Then we really started to dance. I didn’t understand
for a bit that it was a tango; I thought at first I was dancing alone. I
wanted out of the kitchen and away from him, to get that damn sketchpad
put up before it crossed his mind to look through the rest of it. But every
time I started to edge away, he seemed to find something I needed to do.
I’m slow… it took three tries before I figured out that he knew
exactly what I was doing and was countering my every move. We ended up standing
across the table from each other, just staring. I was holding the orange
juice, he was holding a jar of apple butter. Neither of us could seem to
find any words, and when the toast chose that moment to pop up, we both
‘This is stupid,’ he said, and set the jar on
the table. ‘We both know what’s going on here.’
‘Heero,’ I warned, not wanting to fight over it,
but not really wanting him to see what else was in that book. I cursed myself
for not destroying the damn pictures when I’d had the chance.
‘Duo,’ he told me, suddenly dead serious. ‘You
know I’m going to go look, what is there that you don’t want
me seeing so badly? I thought we agreed no more secrets?’
I set the orange juice down a little harder than I had meant
to, and heaved a heavy sigh. ‘It’s not that it’s a secret…
it’s just some of those pictures are old. It’s just going to
upset you and…’
That was pretty much all it took. He was out the door before
I had a chance to finish the thought. Well, great. Just great. I debated
waiting in the kitchen for him to come back, but then couldn’t do
it, and trailed over to the doorway, where I stood and watched him.
The sketchpad was still open to Froggy’s portrait and
he flipped backward from there. I would have grinned at the blush that crept
into his cheeks when he found the picture of himself, sitting in a room
he’d never been in, but I knew what other pictures he was going to
find and that just kind of took the humor out of it.
‘Where…’ he asked in some confusion. ‘Where
is this place?’
I shrugged noncommittally. ‘No place, really,’
I lied, and though he gave me a funny little look, he didn’t push
it. Then he flipped to the next page, the one that I knew was the picture
of my own hands, and I had to look at the floor. There was a soft, unhappy
sigh, and he said gently, ‘I made you think about a lot of things
last night… didn’t I?’
I didn’t answer, but he didn’t really seem to
be expecting one. I heard the page turn again and dared a glance back up.
It was… strange, watching his face as he sifted through the book.
Watching his expression morph from distressed to amused to tender to embarrassed.
I saw him run across the strange portrait I had started of Trowa and Quatre
and he smiled. Saw him find a study I had done of him while he was sleeping,
his arm thrown wide and his face unlined and peaceful, and he flushed darkly.
Saw him uncover the many sketches I’d done of Beowulf, and he grinned
Then he turned the page and found it. And I watched his grin
leave him. Watched his face pale. He looked at it for a long time. Studied
it. I found my own face flushing and my eyes sought the floor again.
‘It’s old,’ I told him, not sure I’d
even said it loud enough for him to hear.
‘When?’ he asked softly, and somehow he was standing
right in front of me. It surprised me, and I had to resist the urge to take
a step back. Francis was suddenly there, pushing on my leg for all he was
worth, little ‘repress’ banner flying. I could see the sketchpad
dangling from Heero’s fingers and I caught a glimpse of that portrait
of a man on the edge of defeat. A man at the very end of his endurance,
and the little boy who was long past his.
‘On… on that trip to L3,’ I confessed, not
sure what possessed me to tell him that. Though, I suppose had he put any
effort into it, he could have looked at the other pictures and gotten some
clue just when I had drawn that. Maybe that’s what made me not try
and tell him it was years old… the fact that he probably already knew.
‘Damn it, Duo!’ he suddenly snapped. ‘Is
this how you felt? When you made that damn trip? How the hell could you
take that job in this kind of shape?’
My head jerked up to look at him, and I took that step backward
quite despite myself. I might very well have stepped on Francis in the process.
Heero was extremely… not happy with me.
‘I… I wasn’t…’ I stammered,
unsure of the ground suddenly. There was a strange shock of pain through
my chest at having Heero seriously mad at me. If there is anything in this
universe that can break me in a heartbeat, it’s the fear of seeing
disappointment in Heero’s eyes when he looks at me. Pissed off is
just over the border from disappointed, practically right next-door. ‘I
‘Dear God…’ he exclaimed, not sure whether
to look at me or the portrait. ‘How the hell could you not know that
this was inside you? I tried to tell you you weren’t in any shape
to be piloting!’
God, why hadn’t I destroyed the damn thing when I’d
had the chance? I should have incinerated it onboard my ship before I’d
ever docked on L3.
That thought kind of got tangled up with the fear coiling
around in my gut, and before I quite knew what I was going to do, I’d
grabbed the sketchpad out of Heero’s hand and was moving toward the
stove with it. It only took my reaching for the burner for Heero to figure
out what I was about.
‘No!’ he shouted, and there was the strangest
quaver of panic in his voice. He had trailed me into the kitchen and wasn’t
that far behind me. There was the thud of a lunging footfall, and a steel
strong arm suddenly had me around the waist. He jerked us away from the
flame of the burner before I had a chance to shove the book into the fire.
There was a… scuffle. I didn’t have any leverage,
with my feet off the ground, but I had the tablet. There was a distant part
of my brain that seemed to think this gave me some advantage, and I recognized
the thinking of the soldier… a hostage of sorts. But I lost my grip
on the damn thing when we went over in a tangle of arms and legs, knocking
a kitchen chair over in the process. I hit the floor off balance, with one
of my arms pinned and couldn’t do anything about the fall. I landed
flat, square on my back and my breath went out in a whoosh, my lungs feeling
like they were paralyzed. Nothing registered for a long couple of seconds
after that, but the panting of Heero’s breath and the sick sound of
me trying to suck in air.
For the second time in less than a day, I found myself in
Heero’s lap in the middle of the kitchen floor. He was holding me
tight enough to bruise, and when I got enough breath back that I could think
again, his frantic words finally started to register.
‘… Oh God, oh God, I’m so sorry, I’m
so sorry,’ his voice was actually shaking and I raised an unsteady
hand to pat his arm, but it didn’t stop the torrent of words. ‘I
promise, I’ll never touch any of your art books without your permission
again. Please… please don’t ever do that. I don’t ever
want you to have to go through that again. Your art is… is…
too precious… it’s like a part of you; you can’t destroy
it… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…’
I couldn’t answer him; I didn’t know what in the
hell to say. Inside me, there was just this strange, relieved voice giggling
insanely because he wasn’t mad at me anymore. How stinking pathetic
‘Heero… calm down,’ I finally managed to
wheeze out, and it served to make him stop his unconscious rocking.
‘Duo… are you all right? Did I hurt you?’
I damn near laughed at him. Damn near, but not quite. ‘I’m
fine,’ I told him. ‘Just got the wind knocked out of me, that’s
‘I didn’t hurt your back?’ His grip eased
as he sat back to look me over, and for a second I thought he was going
to strip the sweatshirt right off me.
‘Heero-love,’ I said gently, ‘calm down;
it’s all right.’ I scooted around until I was facing him, sitting
on the floor between his thighs, and took him by the shoulders. ‘Come
on… this is a little extreme… what’s wrong?’
His hands dropped down and hooked behind my knees and I watched
him work at it, watched him try to formulate words. His fingers began to
knead at my calves without him even realizing it.
He was afraid to just say what was on his mind, I could tell.
Was afraid I was going to get upset again. I suppose, sometimes, if you
think about it, it’s no wonder he thinks I’m a little unstable.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw George helping Francis to his feet. The
little guys looked really pissed. Francis’ ‘repress’ banner
was a little worse for wear.
‘Look,’ I told him with a sigh. ‘I’m
sorry. That was probably a little bit over-reaction. I hadn’t ever
meant anybody to see that picture… I kept meaning to destroy it and
I guess… I guess I was just trying to… rectify an oversight.’
My face was getting warm and I glanced down at the strange knot our legs
made twined over each other. ‘It… it doesn’t really mean
‘Everything you draw means something,’ he said
softly, his hand leaving my knee to touch me under the chin and make me
look up at him. ‘Every piece. They’re like… little reflections
of you. I cherish every single one of them.’ Then he got an odd, pensive,
almost pleading look. ‘When we find our house… I want to frame
them. I want your artwork hanging everywhere.’
I felt my face flaming. ‘Heero… you don’t
want my stupid little pictures…’
He cut me off, his eyes intent. ‘I do. I can not believe,
sometimes, that you don’t understand how damn gifted you are.’
I squirmed under his gaze, wanting to refute his words at
the same time that I knew that would just push him into argument. ‘I
don’t have any training…’ I murmured, trying to find somewhere
to look that didn’t let me see the fire in his eyes.
‘So?’ he said gently. ‘You more than make
up for that with raw talent… with pure ability.’ Again, he caught
my chin so that he could meet my gaze. ‘You know… Quatre has
to almost physically restrain his sister from coming after you.’
I felt my eyes go wide, ‘What?’ I asked in confusion.
‘The one who dabbles around with watercolors?’
he reminded me and I had a vague memory of someone mentioning said sister,
but couldn’t remember anything else about it. ‘She’s had
several showings and is very immersed in the art circle. She saw that picture
you did for Quatre of Trowa on the tightrope. She’s dying to ‘discover’
His smile was affectionate, but I couldn’t return it.
There was only this dawning sense of… panic. ‘Shit!’ I
blurted. ‘I don’t know anything about that kind of crap! Quatre
‘Calm down,’ he soothed. ‘She’s under
strict orders to leave you the hell alone unless you show an interest.’
His thumb stroked over my cheek and his smile widened. ‘But she swears
she could get a showing of your work into any gallery in town.’
My head was fairly whirling. I was still trying to figure
out how in the hell we had gotten from fixing breakfast to sitting on the
kitchen floor taking about art galleries. I wanted to pull my program out
of my hip pocket and check to see if I’d missed an act of the play.
What the hell? Days like this could teach you to hate the weekend.
I just sat and stared at him, trying to trace the conversation
backward to see just how in the hell we had gotten to this place and got
lost somewhere around the apple butter. ‘Please, Heero,’ I blurted.
‘There’s so much shit in my head, it feels like it ought to
be leaking out my ears. Stop… please stop. I don’t want to talk
about any of this any more… I don’t want to think anymore.’
My voice held an embarrassing tone that could only be described as pleading.
I just didn’t care; I really was just about at the end of my emotional
‘Come here, love,’ he murmured and pulled me forward
until my head was resting on his shoulder. He started that rocking thing
again. I think it’s a… a nurturing thing. Women do it all the
time. Watch a woman in the checkout line at the grocery, doesn’t matter
if she’s carrying a kid or just a gallon of milk. She’ll do
that weird little swaying thing. They can’t seem to help it. When
I get like this… Heero can’t seem to help it. ‘Just let
me hold you… everything’s all right,’ he whispered and
murmured and soothed, stroked my hair and just… rocked me.
God… it was such a temptation to sink into that care,
to relinquish everything to him and let him take charge. Like I had right
after the accident. It would be so easy to just let him take care of me,
take care of everything. He could shelter me and protect me, he could tell
me what I needed to do, could…could…
It was too damn much of a temptation and I recoiled from that
desire, pushing gently away and straightening to smile at him. ‘Hey,
I thought you promised to feed me!’ I laughed and watched something
fleeting dance across his face before he chuckled and shook his head. ‘You
know… being in love with you is something of a damn roller coaster
I blinked at him, unsure how to take that. ‘That doesn’t
sound… very good?’
He tilted his head to regard me, his smile fading just a bit,
turning a little wistful. ‘You’ve given me some of the brightest
moments of my life… and some of the darkest.’
‘Dark?’ I stammered out, eyes going wide in shock.
I didn’t know what to say; felt like my damn heart had plummeted all
the way to my feet.
‘No,’ he hastily reassured. ‘Not like that…
not like that at all. You’ve just frightened me, so many times. I
can’t help but worry.’
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry; he’ll give
me a damn heart attack one of these days, with his wording. I drew a breath,
feeling almost shaky with relief.
‘I know, love,’ I told him, and made a careful
point of touching his cheek with my fingertips. ‘And I’m sorry.
I really don’t mean to worry you. Everything is fine. I’m just
tired of all the… depressing thoughts, is all.’
He lifted a hand to ghost gently against the back of mine,
where it rested on his face and he gave me a tiny little smile of acknowledgment
of the gesture. But it faded to an odd frown fairly quickly. ‘Are
you sure? You’ve been so… quiet since yesterday. Are you sure
nothing’s bothering you?
It was something of a jolt that he had noticed; I had thought
I had managed to shut away my disappointment completely. Had thought my
mask was perfect; I wondered where the crack was. ‘I guess I was just
a little frustrated we didn’t… do better in the house hunting
department,’ I sighed, telling enough of the truth that I hoped it
would pass for the whole truth.
‘Don’t worry,’ he comforted. ‘We’ll
find something soon.’
The phone rang then, and kept me from having to reply to that.
I was more than grateful, and heaved a rather gusty sigh of relief after
he had scrambled up off the floor to go answer it. I was tempted to just
sit there until he came back, then I caught sight of that damn sketchpad
and I was tempted to finish the job of burning at least that one picture.
When temptation struck a third time, urging me to just go crawl back in
bed, I sighed again and got up to put the kitchen to rights. Chair back
on its legs, sketchpad freaking closed, burner off, and more toast in the
toaster. I put the stone cold slices on my own plate; Heero would just throw
I could hear the murmur of Heero’s voice in the other
room, and wondering who it might be on a Sunday morning, I went to the doorway
to listen in. When you are partnered with a Preventor agent, phone calls
at odd hours always leave you with a certain tension in your gut.
When Heero saw me, I heard him say, ‘here he is, let
me ask,’ to the person on the other end of the phone. Then he covered
the mouthpiece and gave me that appraising cock of his head. ‘Quatre
wants to know if we’d be interested in an impromptu cookout this afternoon.
If you’re feeling up to it?’
‘Cookout?’ I questioned, raising an eyebrow. ‘Is
he nuts… it’s got to be 30 degrees outside!’
Heero grinned and rolled his eyes in his ‘humor him’
gesture. ‘The eating part will be inside,’ he reassured
I snorted and shook my head. ‘Well…it might do
us good to get the hell out of the house for awhile,’ I told him and
didn’t miss the pleased surprise that flashed in his eyes.
He graced me with one of his rare, wide grins and turned back
to the phone to tell Quatre we accepted and to get the details. I heard
the toast pop up in the kitchen and left the room while he finished up.
I was nibbling at my toast and apple butter by the time he
came in to sit down across from me and he never realized that I hadn’t
thrown out the slices that had been sitting there all morning. That’s
something I’ve never been able to do. Yeah… maybe the hot, fresh
slices would have tasted better, but there was nothing wrong with the cold
slices to make them inedible. Cold and tough did not mean spoiled. Where
I come from, spoiled is the only reason to throw food away.
‘So what’s the occasion?’ I prompted, as
he spread his own toast with the preserves.
‘Apparently some Winner company function was yesterday,’
he informed me. ‘Some kind of company dinner or something. There were
a lot of leftovers, and the patio was already all set up. So…’
I interrupted him with a snicker. ‘So Quatre saw an
excuse to have a get-together and jumped all over it.’
‘Something like that,’ he agreed and reached to
snag a banana out of the fruit bowl, peeling it and offering me half. ‘If
you’re sure you feel like going. We don’t have to.’
‘I’m fine, my worry-wart,’ I grinned at
him. ‘It probably really would be a good idea for us to get away for
a little while.’
He looked happy with me, and I’m sure he was thinking
about how reluctant I had been for so long, to leave the apartment and deal
with other people. That look on his face helped ease away the last of my
trepidation about our earlier… altercation, but then I caught his
eyes flicking toward the closed tablet sitting on the end of the table.
‘I didn’t touch it,’ I told him without
looking up from my plate.
‘Sorry,’ he murmured, and tried to cover his relief
with an expression of contriteness. I didn’t reply and we finished
breakfast in relative quiet.
‘What time are we supposed to be at Trowa and Quatre’s?’
I asked, while we cleared the table, my mind suddenly on something else
‘Before noon,’ Heero replied, starting to run
the dishwater. ‘Why?’
‘I wouldn’t mind a quick shower,’ I told
him, hoping the ‘quick’ comment would register with him and
tell him I wasn’t looking for company. ‘If I have time.’
‘Go ahead,’ he smiled at me. ‘I’ll
get the dishes while you do that. We should have just enough time to get
a load of laundry done before we have to leave, if we hurry.’
‘Gotcha, boss!’ I grinned and hurried out of the
room, deliberately leaving the sketchpad lie on the table. Good; he was
in Mr. Efficient mode, which would make this task a lot easier.
I ducked into my room, and slipped into the bathroom long
enough to start the water running in the shower. Then I crept back to the
bedroom door to listen, assuring myself that Heero was still in the kitchen,
truly washing dishes. It wouldn’t take him long, so I had to hurry.
I own more than one sketchpad. I own more than one picture
that I really didn’t want Heero to see. As silent as one of my damn
hamsters, I went to my dresser and frantically dug out the tablet I’d
had with me while Heero was in the hospital. I leafed through the damn thing,
past pictures of Heero sleeping, past a quick study of one of the nurses,
until I found the damn thing. Throwing a glance at the doorway, I quietly
peeled the page out, and quickly shoving the pad back into the drawer, fairly
ran to the bathroom.
I felt like a damn criminal, sneaking around in my own room
like some sort of thief. But one glance at the damning self-portrait of
my own emaciated body treading on a narrow path littered with broken glass,
and my resolve hardened ten-fold. I felt a little safer once the bathroom
door was shut behind me, but the damn thing didn’t have a lock and
I couldn’t quite lose the ‘Oh shit, hurry!’ feeling in
the pit of my stomach. My damn hands were shaking. I kept expecting Heero
to burst in and demand to know what in the hell I was doing.
With one last glance at the thing in my hands, I went to stand
over the toilet and bent to shredding it into confetti as fast, and quietly,
as my fingers could manage. Then I flushed. I didn’t breathe a sigh
of relief until the toilet bowl had refilled and I reassured myself that
every last scrap was gone. I thought my legs were going to give out when
the adrenaline stopped pumping through my body. I almost started giggling
insanely, but decided I better get on with that shower before Heero got
suspicious. So I stripped and unbound my hair, stepping under the hot water
with guilt-beast in tow. His mood was rather foul, he’s not all that
fond of water, and was kind of pissed off to be drug into the bathtub to
do his job. He bit so hard I half expected to see blood running down the
Please God, I remember thinking. If there is a God…
don’t ever let Heero find out I did that.
I know he’d promised, but I just didn’t see the
point in taking the chance. I do learn from my mistakes… sometimes.
We spent the rest of the morning doing the chores that we
usually had all day for, and left for Trowa and Quatre’s with at least
enough clean clothes for the next few days. I ended up driving, something
I seemed to be doing a lot lately. It’s not that I minded, exactly,
but sometimes it was difficult to hide my dislike for the car while I was
actually in the thing.
‘Hey,’ Heero said after we’d gotten out
of the parking lot and were on our way. ‘If you get tired or just
want to leave, I want you to tell me. I don’t want you toughing it
out if you’re not enjoying yourself.’
I gave him a sidelong glance. ‘I thought you said this
was a cookout?’
‘It is,’ he confirmed, frowning slightly.
‘Then why does it sound like we’re headed into
a fire-fight?’ I grinned at him and he snorted.
‘I know how you… dislike large groups of people,’
he said, watching me carefully. ‘And knowing Quatre, there’s
probably going to be a good sized invitation list.’
Great. I wished he’d mentioned that before I’d
agreed to this trip. I couldn’t help glancing down at my black jeans,
plain white t-shirt and open denim shirt; I’d sure as hell have put
more effort into dressing if I’d realized it wasn’t just the
guys. ‘Good sized?’ I couldn’t help but question.
‘Not one of his typical, official dinners,’ Heero
soothed. ‘Maybe a dozen or so, if I know Quatre.’ I saw him
catch my glance and he sighed. ‘You look fine, Duo. It’s nothing
Somehow, I wasn’t reassured. But, there was nothing
to be done about it now. I thought about my music with longing and regretted,
not for the first time, that the stupid car didn’t have a decent stereo
system. I doubted seriously if I would be able to tune anything into the
radio that was going to help.
Suck it up, Maxwell, I thought to my cringing inner-child,
the one who knew just how out of place we were going to feel if there were
a bunch of people there we didn’t know. This was part of Heero’s
life, and now that I was a part of his life, these were things I was just
going to have to learn to deal with.
I was somewhat reassured to pull into the big, circle drive
and not have to park a mile from the house. There were other cars, but not
a million of them. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
I resisted the urge to reach out for Heero’s hand as
we walked up the driveway. I would not allow the squirming kid in my head
to turn tail and run. Really, I wouldn’t. I stuffed my hands in my
coat pockets and it got me a frown.
‘Damn it, Heero,’ I hissed. ‘It’s
freakin’ cold out here, ok? My hands have been sensitive to the cold
ever since they got burned. It isn’t always about… hiding them.’
‘But…’ he began, looking confused, and I
had to sigh.
‘I know it sounds… weird. I can’t feel it
at… at skin level, but it makes them ache, down in the bone.’
It took some effort to keep it from sounding defensive.
He looked rather taken aback, and murmured a contrite little,
‘I’m sorry… I didn’t know.’
I smirked at him. ‘Guess you don’t know everything
after all,’ I teased lightly and his expression cleared. We walked
several more yards in silence. I couldn’t help but scan the grounds,
scan the windows of the house, looking for some clue who and how many and
all that shit. I think I sighed. I must have sighed.
Heero came closer and suddenly bumped his shoulder into mine,
making me stagger a step sideways. I looked at him sharply and found him
grinning at me.
‘You look fine,’ he told me. ‘These people
are all your friends. You will do just fine.’
I blushed, looking at the ground, but gave him an equal nudge.
I was rather pleased that his step faltered as well; guess I was getting
some of my muscle back after all.
Then we were on the porch and the front door was flung wide.
Quatre’s beaming face was the first one I saw and he ushered us into
the house with the delight of a child greeting Santa Claus. ‘You made
it!’ he exclaimed, reaching for our coats before Heero even had the
door closed behind us. ‘I’m so glad! Give those to me and I’ll
hang them up. Trowa and the others are either in the kitchen or the rec
room, go on in.’
He was a bundle of energy, as usual, practically pulling our
coats from our arms and pointing the way to the aforementioned rec room
at the same time. I pitied Trowa sometimes, trying to keep up with the guy.
I had often thought, after the war, that Quatre had become a little bit
addicted to the adrenaline, to the constant action. I think when he didn’t
have something keeping him occupied; he caused things to happen just to
give himself something to do. Thus the constant parties and get-togethers.
He was definitely at his best under pressure.
There was a touch in the small of my back and I turned from
contemplating Quatre’s retreating form to meet Heero’s bemused
gaze. ‘Come on,’ he said gently, and steered me in the direction
of the kitchen.
We found Trowa there, arguing with Sally over the proper way
to eat chips and salsa. Rashid was at the stove, alternating stirring a
pot of something and tossing interjections into the conversation. I blinked
at the unlikely picture of the big man in a white apron.
‘… where I come from, that is referred to as ‘double
dipping’,’ Sally was saying. ‘And it’s just not
Trowa grinned at her fake, offended little tone and deliberately
stuck his half eaten chip back into the bowl for more dip. ‘It is
not double dipping if you are good enough to break the chip when you bite
it without it actually touching your lips.’
‘Are you saying you are a… a better chip eater
than I am?’ she responded in mock indignation.
‘Oh God,’ Heero sighed, moving over to glance
into the pot that Rashid seemed to be guarding. ‘Not this argument
Rashid gave him a commiserating roll of the eyes, ‘I’m
afraid so, I’m already sorry Master Quatre put the left-over chips
Sally chuckled and winked at Trowa. ‘You two are just
jealous because you’re not even in the running as chip connoisseurs.’
Then she was giving me an appraising up and down glance that made me want
to take a step back. ‘Now, Duo here… he just looks like a chip
person. I’ll bet he could give us a run for our money, Trowa.’
‘Actually,’ I had to tell her; eyeing the concoction
they were dipping the aforementioned chips into. ‘That stuff tears
my stomach up… can’t touch it.’
She huffed a little grump and raised an eyebrow. ‘Wouldn’t
have pictured you as the type with a glass stomach.’
‘I’m… not much of a cook,’ I explained
with an uncomfortable shrug. ‘I’m afraid my diet, pre-Heero,
was rather bland.’
Trowa snorted. ‘Bland is one word to describe nothing
but military rations… not the one I’d use, but apt, I suppose.’
Sally gave me a funny little look, kind of sympathetic, kind
of sad. I felt my hackles rise just a bit. ‘I happen to like them,’
I informed her.
Trowa just laughed. ‘That’s because you are a
sick individual, Duo,’ he told me, in this totally benign tone that
made it all right. I was able to laugh with him and Sally finally joined
I glanced towards the stove and found Heero watching me with
an odd look on his face. Kind of happy, but more than that, I couldn’t
‘Hey,’ Sally suddenly said. ‘Do you know
how to play pool?’
I blinked at her. ‘Yeah… doesn’t everybody?’
Her smile became feral. ‘No, they do not,’ she
informed me in a haughty, almost imperial voice. ‘None of these cretins
can manage to learn.’
I returned her grin. ‘How completely awful for you,
‘Oh, M’lord,’ she fairly beamed at me. ‘Would
you please do me the honor?’
I glanced at Heero again, getting an almost imperceptible
nod and a bright smile of approval. It dawned on me then that he was happy
to see me bantering with his friends… our friends, and it gave me
a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. Kind of a weird lurch between
pleased and humiliated. Pleased that I was making Heero happy, that I wasn’t
embarrassing him. And humiliated that my performance around other people
was even an issue. How pathetic was that? And had I, subconsciously or not,
just asked Heero’s permission to go play a game of pool?
I offered Sally my arm, in the outstretched, Renaissance style.
She rested her fingertips on the back of my wrist in the same manner, making
a sweeping gesture with her free hand. ‘This way, M’lord.’
She led me through the house to the big rec room in the back.
I could see Abdul through the sliding patio doors, bundled in a heavy coat
and gloves, hovering over a covered grill.
‘My God!’ I muttered to Sally. ‘Can you
get any more devoted than that? Is there anything they won’t do for
She stifled a laugh with the hand that had been resting on
my arm, effectively cutting me loose. ‘Oh, Abdul is addicted to barbecue.
He’d stand out there in a blizzard if Quatre let him!’ She walked
further into the room, giving the chilled looking Magacnac a little wave.
‘The upside is he’s had enough practice that he’s a damn
I snorted and followed her toward the pool table, waving at
Abdul as well.
And that was when I saw Wufei sitting in the corner of the
room, huddled over a chessboard, sitting across from Lucrezia Noin.
I thought my brain was going to short-circuit trying to decide
which point of irritation to get annoyed about first.
Wufei. Things were a little strained between us yet. We’d
not really had a chance to sit down and talk since that disaster of an impromptu
lunch-date. And this wasn’t the time or place to be having that heart-to-heart.
Which meant we were going to still be dancing around each other like a couple
of skittish yearlings. Wonderful.
Sally. Had she not learned her lesson at the diner? She had
freely admitted what a bad idea it had been, trying to shove Wufei and I
into each other’s faces. You couldn’t tell me she hadn’t
realized he was in this room. That whole pool thing had been a simple ruse
to get me in here. I won’t even tell you what popped into my head
Noin. Damn. Noin meant Zechs. Zechs… Millardo…
whatever the hell the son of a bitch wanted to call himself now a days.
I could not tolerate the man. Hadn’t really met him face to face until
after the end of the war, but I had disliked him from the first moment I’d
ever heard that… arrogant voice of his. The bastard had tried to drop
Armageddon onto the Earth. Had effectively attempted to start a second ice
age. But worse than that… he’d almost killed Heero. No, he was
far from my favorite person. I couldn’t for the life of me understand
what Noin saw in him. And I could not deal with the way everybody acted
as though those final months of the war had never happened. As though the
guy hadn’t done a thing wrong. Guess that’s what comes with
having a high and mighty family name. I wouldn’t know much about that.
The only thing on the plus side of the ledger was the fact
that the massive black eye I had given Wufei was mostly faded.
‘Hey!’ Noin greeted me with a wide grin. ‘Sally
finally found somebody to play against her? Careful, Duo… she’s
a pool shark!’
On total autopilot, I accepted the cue from Sally’s
hand and grinned back at Noin. ‘Hey there yourself, Mizz Noin, Ma’am.’
Wufei ventured a quiet, ‘Hello, Duo.’ Managing
somehow to achieve a look half way between dignified and whipped dog.
I thought I heard the breath of a sigh from Sally.
‘Hi, Wufei,’ I said, trying not to sound too stiff,
and not able to think of a thing else to say. I’m sure the moment
would have quickly grown miserably uncomfortable if Noin hadn’t been
‘Go easy on him, Po,’ she drawled. ‘You
don’t want to scare off the first potential opponent you’ve
had since Zechs started refusing to play.’ Sally only offered up a
rather fierce grin and Noin laughed.
Sally was racking all fifteen balls and I used it as an excuse
to turn away from the chess players. ‘Straight pool?’ I asked,
pleased that I kept my voice light, not letting my irritation with her show
‘Unless you’d rather play 8-ball?’ she inquired,
hesitating, but obviously not bothered by the idea.
‘This is fine,’ I told her and stepped away.
‘Don’t you want to break?’ she asked me
sweetly, but with a feral gleam in her eye.
‘Ladies first,’ I said with a certain noble air,
and bowed slightly.
She snickered, but moved around the table to make the break.
At the chessboard, I heard Noin exclaim over capturing one
of Wufei’s rooks and he muttered a curse. I wondered about it; Wufei
is the best chess player I know. I think my presence was distracting him.
Sally sank the first freakin’ nine shots without breaking
stride. I don’t think she would have missed the tenth one if Noin
hadn’t suddenly called, ‘Wufei! Get your hand off my knee!’
Even I had to chuckle at the incredible shade of indignant
red Wufei managed to achieve. Sally turned, as her shot went wild, and glowered
at Noin, standing with her hands on her hips. ‘That was evil, oh partner
of mine. Truly evil.’
Noin managed to stop cackling long enough to choke out, ‘Come
on, Sugah… give the poor guy a chance to play!’
I took my turn, all’s fair in love, war, and pool, after
all, and finished clearing the table. When I straightened, Sally was grinning
at me in appreciation. ‘Oh… finally,’ she chortled gleefully.
‘A worthy opponent!’ She did everything but rub her hands together
in anticipation. I had a bad feeling I was going to be there for a while.
We started another game and I took the break. I meant to clear
the table without letting her get a shot in edgewise. After the eighth ball
dropped, Noin chuckled throatily and told Sally, ‘I think you’ve
met your match, m’dear.’
‘We’ll see,’ Sally rejoined while I sank
balls nine and ten. Whenever I managed to turn myself that way, I caught
Wufei covertly glancing toward me. He looked like he was desperate to think
of something to say, but never seemed able to come up with anything. It
was quiet for a minute while I lined up the next ball, a slightly more complicated
bank shot. Just as I made my move, Noin suddenly yelped, ‘Yuy! Where’s
I never hesitated, onto her tricks already, and she sighed
in irritation as the ball went unerringly into the corner pocket. ‘Nice
try, Mizz Noin,’ I ragged her.
‘Just trying to be fair,’ she said in a voice
that fairly dripped innocence.
‘Thanks for the effort partner,’ Sally acknowledged.
‘I think you’re in trouble here, oh Mistress of
the Pool table,’ Noin taunted while I bent back to work. ‘He’s
‘You should have seen him during the war,’ Wufei
interjected, almost timidly. ‘He used to have nerves of steel.’
Ouch. Used to have. Well, didn’t that just say it all?
Has been. Lost my nerve. Nerves of what, now? Glass? Eggshells? He had meant
it as a compliment… I know that, but my heart heard the harsh truth
behind his words and quailed in my chest.
I heard a teeny, tiny little grunt and figured that Noin had
just kicked his shin under the table. Women always seemed quicker on the
uptake than men, if you asked me. I figured I’d better leap into the
breach before Wufei started sputtering and apologizing. Didn’t need
that, things were uncomfortable enough. I didn’t think I could handle
Not taking my eyes off my next shot, I threw on a grin and
said, ‘Gundanium. Nerves of Gundanium. It’s Heero who’s
got steel composition… but it’s not his nerves.’ Inwardly,
I cringed. God… I couldn’t believe I’d just said that.
But it got the desired effect, Noin and Sally were giggling insanely, helping
me to cover Wufei’s little uncomfortable moment. When the laughter
started to fade, I didn’t let an opening appear, turning to Sally
with a grin. ‘Sorry about not letting you play, M’lady.’
‘You’ll slip up,’ she informed me condescendingly,
deliberately tilting her nose in the air. ‘They all slip up sooner
I changed my position and bent again to the task at hand.
I called the shot and lined it up.
‘What’s all the laughing about?’ a voice
said. A deep, cultured voice.
I missed the shot by a mile. Sally grinned in triumph.
‘Just talking about… metal properties,’
Noin informed Zechs, trying to sound serious and failing.
‘Metal?’ the man questioned in amused disbelief,
moving into the room. Damn, he hardly looked like the same bastard…
I mean, person, out of uniform. He wore a pair of dress pants and a soft
looking blue sweater that accented his eyes. I wondered if he’d done
that on purpose, if Noin had done that on purpose, or if it had just been
an accident. It was all I could do not to snarl at him. He looked so…
elegant. So relaxed and at ease. I wanted to reach up and smooth my hair.
I wanted to punch his lights out. I wanted to slip my hands in my pockets.
I wanted to punch his… ok, ok… I’d probably do better
to punch him in the gut. The man was just freakishly tall.
Between him and Wufei, I wanted to go the hell home.
He had moved to stand next to Noin and she was looking up
at him with that damn adoration in her eyes. Not for the first time, I had
to wonder what she saw when she looked at him. They were bantering easily,
it had turned quickly from steel to chess, and Zechs was teasing Wufei about
losing to his wife. Wufei was laughing.
I think that ate at me as much as anything. Wufei hadn’t
been laughing before; I’d made him too uncomfortable. I glanced at
Sally and found her attention on the other conversation, realized suddenly
that they had forgotten me for the moment. I was struck with this horrid
urge to be… elsewhere. I carefully laid my cue-stick down on the table
and took a step away. No one noticed, so I slipped silently out the side
door that Zechs had come in, all but running down the hall when I was finally
out of sight.
I was going to find Heero, tell him I had a headache and make
him take me home. Or let me go home and he could stay if he wanted. One
of the guys would bring him home later, I had no doubt. I didn’t care…
whatever it took to get me the hell out of this place.
Francis suddenly materialized in my path; eyes squeezed shut
in terror, and repress banner held before him like a shield. I stopped in
my tracks, managing not to step on him again.
Damn it; he was right… I couldn’t do this to Heero.
I stood there for a second, right in the middle of the hall and tried to
think what to do. I… needed a couple of minutes to myself, that’s
all. I just needed to get my bearings and calm down. Where? Well hell; I’d
stayed in this house before, I knew my way around. About the only place
I was going to get any privacy was going to be a bathroom… and I was
well aware of where those were. That would be good. It would give me my
moment of privacy at the same time that it would explain my sudden disappearance.
Fuck me sideways if I couldn’t damn well pull a mask of some sort
out of my ass! It was a stupid, damn dinner with friends; hell if I couldn’t
do this. So I took off moving again, down the hall, through the foyer and
up the stairs, taking them two at a time… and almost knocked Relena
on her ass at the top of the stairs.
‘Oh!’ she gasped. ‘Excuse…’
she began, but then just stopped, blinking at me.
‘Hi Relena,’ I grinned at her. ‘Sorry about
that, I didn’t see you!’
She took a step away from me and her jaw did this weird tensing
thing. I had reached out automatically to steady her, but pulled my hands
quickly back at that reaction, stuffing them in my pockets. ‘Oh,’
she said, managing to pack a whole bucket full of gloppy bitterness into
that single syllable. ‘Excuse me, Mr. Maxwell.’
I did my dear-in-headlights routine and managed a completely
coherent, ‘Huh?’ She took another step backward, before attempting
to navigate her way around me. ‘Relena?’ I blurted, totally
confused. What the hell?
She paused, managing to make me feel like some sort of slug
on a glass slide. ‘Yes?’ she responded in that icy tone.
‘What…’ I sputtered, completely baffled
about her attitude. The last time I had seen her, about a week after the
trip to L2, she had been downright pleasant. ‘What’s the matter?’
Her eyes got… hard. She wasn’t hiding anything,
and she was flaming pissed at me. ‘You tell me, Mr. Maxwell,’
she ground out and I couldn’t help flinching. It was a verbal slap
in the face if I’d ever heard one.
‘I don’t understand,’ I began, and saw the
ice creep further into those eyes.
‘I don’t suppose a… a gutter rat like you
would!’ she snapped and I swear, for just a second, I saw pain in
her eyes, but I couldn’t figure out where it came from. She was the
one doing the attacking here, after all.
I felt stupid, and kind of vulnerable, with my hands in the
pockets of my jeans, so I pulled them out, but only ended up with my arms
wrapped around myself, with the damn scarred things tucked under my elbows
to hide them. ‘Relena… I really don’t know what I’ve
done,’ I tried again. All the ice was gone in a heartbeat, replaced
with a fire that made me want to step away from her. For one surreal second,
I thought she was going to slap me.
‘I don’t appreciate being told I can’t visit
my best friend in the hospital because… because you don’t want
me there!’ she hissed, and I was kind of afraid she might just rupture
‘What!’ I exclaimed, and had to force my voice
to lower. ‘I never said…’
Her eyes narrowed again and she made to turn away, I thought
to reach out and grab her, forgetting myself. There was this weird as hell
moment while my hand hovered like some damn intoxicated bird between us.
My brain wanted to stop her from walking away. My gut wanted to hide from
her. Something new crossed her face while I found someplace else to tuck
‘I was told to stay away from the hospital after you
deigned to come back,’ she informed me in an acid laced voice. ‘I
was told my presence might upset you. I was told I wasn’t welcome
at Heero’s bedside.’
I just gaped at her for a long damn minute before I managed
to find my voice. ‘I… I swear to God; I didn’t have anything
to do with it, Relena.’
She opened her mouth sharply, and I expect she was going to
reprimand me for using her first name, but then it snapped closed again
and I saw a hint of hesitation. I pushed forward.
‘They didn’t tell me they did that,’ I told
her earnestly. ‘I swear… I didn’t know. I wouldn’t
have allowed it if I’d known.’
She bit at her lip and all the anger seemed to be draining
out of her, but then her damn eyes welled up and I just wanted to run screaming
from the house. ‘It hurt… a lot,’ she murmured. I understood
that it was something she had needed to tell somebody for a long damn time.
And it was probably the weirdest twist of the fabric of her world, that
the person she finally was able to dump that on was… me.
‘Ah, damnit,’ I muttered, hands fluttering toward
her again before finding their way back under my arms. ‘Of course
it did! I don’t know… hell; I guess I do know what he was thinking…
but it was a completely stupid thing to do!’
‘Did I… did I do something wrong?’ she blurted,
looking up at me suddenly, like I had all the answers.
‘No,’ I told her firmly. ‘I was out on a
job when Heero was… shot. I had a lot of… trouble. I…
I…’ God, I didn’t want to stand here and go over all this
shit with her. I didn’t know how to explain to her the depth of the
emotional trauma I’d gone through, nor the shape I was in during the
period she was talking about. But damn Heero, he’d left me in a position
where I owed her some sort of explanation. ‘I don’t know if
Heero told you… I had to sell my ship,’ I began, not knowing
where else to start.
‘He told me you went to work for the Preventors,’
she said, confusion plain on her face, warring with her hurt and the remnants
of her anger, for supremacy.
‘It wasn’t by choice,’ I sighed, and found
myself unable to look at her. One of my hands escaped, and went to swipe
through my bangs. ‘I… couldn’t handle piloting any more…
because of the accident. I was kind of forced to give it up.’
I didn’t know how to explain it to her; she’d
never understood my love of the stars. She had a touch of space-phobia,
if I was any judge, and I doubted she could even comprehend what that simple
phrase had meant. Just what all I had been forced to give up. I had said,
‘my ship’ and I’m sure in her mind she equated that with
selling a car or something. She would never understand how that ship had
been my home, my lady, my livelihood… and I had lost it all. I took
a deep breath, forcing my hand back into hiding, just wanting to get this
told and done with. ‘I… kind of had a bit of a… I mean,
I sort of… Hell; I guess you could say I had a little break down.
It wasn’t pretty… and I scared the shit out of Heero, and I
imagine that’s why he did… what he did.’
There. Done. All told, and I hadn’t even burst into
flame, though my face felt just about hot enough to toast marshmallows over.
She didn’t say anything for the longest time. Just stood
and stared at me, until I thought I would squirm my way right through the
floor. ‘I’m sorry,’ I murmured, totally unable to meet
her gaze. Guilt-beast came loping up the stairs, delighted to have tracked
me down and gleefully latched onto an ankle, chewing viciously. How in the
hell could Heero have done this? He knew my relationship with Miss Aristocracy
was tenuous at best; what had he been thinking?
She unbent just a bit and touched my elbow lightly. ‘I…
I’m not sure you have anything to be sorry for,’ she said gently,
though she kind of looked like she’d just swallowed one of McMurphy’s
less than stellar concoctions. I’m sure it about killed her to even
entertain the idea that her Heero could possibly be the one at fault here.
It rather threw gasoline on the tiny spark of indignation
that had taken light in my soul though. No… damnit, I didn’t
have anything to fucking be sorry for! I wasn’t the one who had done
this. I wasn’t the one who should be up here explaining and apologizing.
I wasn’t the idiot that didn’t know any damn better than to
tell a person something like that with no more justification than he had
obviously given her. Sometimes, for all his vaunted social graces…
Heero Yuy could be an asshole.
‘Excuse me,’ I told her suddenly. ‘I think
I need to go have a talk with Heero.’
She looked a little shell-shocked and just a bit afraid of
me, but she got out of my way without a peep. I imagine my face had done
an interesting transformation from damn near miserable to totally pissed
off. That look has been known to make guys twice my size back the hell off.
I certainly didn’t blame Relena for giving ground.
I all but ran back down the stairs.
Heero had some damn fast explaining to do.
I’d left him in the kitchen and I headed there first,
the logical place to begin my hunt. I didn’t see him immediately,
my eyes raking over Trowa, Quatre and Rashid dismissively. Quatre looked
like he might speak, but the look on my face must have given him pause,
because he didn’t; only looking up at Trowa in confusion.
Then Heero came in the back door, carrying something, and
heading across the kitchen. He started to smile when he saw me, but it faltered
as he saw my face. I strode across the floor to meet him.
‘Yuy!’ I snapped. ‘We need to talk…
right damn now.’
He blinked; looking a little taken aback, but actually started
around me. ‘Just a second, Duo…’ I suppose he just meant
to set down his burden, but it felt like he was brushing me off, and it
really ticked me.
‘No,’ I growled, grabbing the whatever-the-hell
it was out of his hands, turning with it toward the stove where he’d
obviously been heading, meaning to get rid of it. ‘Now. This is important
and I want to…’
People were suddenly yelling at me. I froze, not able to make
sense of the cacophony of voices. It was Rashid, standing closest to me,
who swiftly plucked the tray from my hands and I realized, belatedly, that
both he and Heero were wearing oven mitts.
‘…Oh my God!’
I’m not sure what it was that I’d taken from Heero,
intent on getting it out of the picture, but it had apparently been damn
I knew this drill, and moved for the sink the instant I realized,
hitting the cold water to halt the damage. You’re not supposed to
do that, apparently increases the chances of shock, but hell… I always
figured it was the quickest way to cool things off. I couldn’t feel
it, of course, but I caught the faint, damn familiar scent of cooking flesh.
I knew that ‘cooking’ could continue for a small space, even
though the heat source had been removed, unless you acted fast. Once I felt
I had brought the temperature down enough, I killed the water and looked
my palms over. They were… pretty well scorched. Two stripes running
straight across the palms and across the middle of my fingers, where they
had curled around the handles of that… whatever it had been. Second
degree, if I was any judge. I was reaching to blot them dry on my pants
legs when the paralysis that seemed to have enveloped the rest of the room,
finally broke. There were suddenly people all around me. I heard a kitchen
chair being drug hastily away from the table, someone abruptly had me around
the waist and I was practically shoved down on it. Quatre was kneeling in
front of me, eyes wide, visibly shaking, holding me by the wrists and trying
to keep my hands from touching anything. Heero was squeezing my shoulder,
fingers biting hard in his distress. I heard running steps and Wufei appeared
in the kitchen doorway. He stopped in his tracks and cursed rather liberally
‘Duo,’ Quatre was saying, and I was able to hear
him over all the rest of it, because he was right in front of me. ‘Should
I call an ambulance, or do you think you can get to…’
I couldn’t help laughing at him, I really couldn’t.
‘Ambulance? Oh, for God’s sake… I do not need an ambulance!’
‘Duo…’ he whispered, staring at my hands.
‘This looks bad…’
I snorted and felt Heero’s fingers tighten further.
‘Hey!’ I blurted. ‘You want to leave me some damn feeling
in that shoulder, Yuy?’
He instantly let go and I turned my attention back to Quatre,
who was starting to look… not so good. ‘Come on, Qat, calm down.
It’s not like it hurts. This happens all the time… I can’t
feel it at all; honest.’
It was meant to comfort. Somehow… it didn’t. He
just looked totally stricken, kneeling there in front of me, and for a minute
I thought he was going to cry. I understood, in that moment, that he had
thought the surgeries he had bought for me had mended… everything.
‘You can’t repair nerve damage, baby brother,’
I told him as gently as I could. He had that look, like I remembered from
the night I’d burned them in the first place, a kind of bastard mix
of shock and panic. He was getting set to totally lose it and I really didn’t
think I could handle that on top of the rest of this exceptional day. I
did not want to have to deal with that part where he started blaming himself
for what I had done. I looked past him to meet Trowa’s eyes, doing
my God all mightiest to impart to him that he needed to remove Quatre from
the presence of another one of my accidents. He gave me a tight nod of understanding,
and taking Quatre firmly by the shoulders, led him away. Quatre’s
total lack of resistance to being led, spoke volumes about his state of
mind. I was all set to breath a sigh of relief when the rest of the world
lost their collective minds.
‘Wufei,’ Heero was ordering tersely, ‘get
your car, I’ll get the med-kit and we’ll meet you out front.’
Wufei ran off to comply with nothing more than a grunt of acceptance.
‘Heero!’ I began, but he wasn’t listening
to me at freaking all.
‘Sit tight, love,’ he told me with another squeeze
of my shoulder, and took off for the stairs at a run.
‘Heero, wait!’ I hollered after him, but he didn’t
even slow down. I was left to gawk after them like a carp laid out on the
pier in the sun.
‘Oh, Jesus Christ!’ I muttered in disgust, and
suddenly became aware of an intensely uncomfortable feeling. I looked up
for the first time and found the rest of the party guests staring at me
in varying degrees of alarm. Francis came and made a damn valiant effort.
He really, really did. I’m thinking I might have to put him in for
a Purple Heart one of these days, because he got his furry little ass trampled
six ways to Sunday that day.
Rashid was standing somewhere behind me, conversing in low
tones with Abdul who had come in too late for the main event and had to
settle for a recap. Relena was leaning in the doorway to the foyer, looking
vaguely ill. Sally, Noin and Zechs were standing by the door that led to
the rec room, Sally still holding her pool-cue in her hand. It was when
I saw on her face that she was getting ready to come over to… do that
mothering thing, that I finally reached my snapping point. I’d apologize
to Francis later.
‘You know…’ I told nobody in particular,
‘now that I think about it, I’ve got some… uhmmm…
burn cream in the car.’ I stood so suddenly I almost toppled the chair;
I was babbling whatever in the hell popped into my head, mouth on total
autopilot, because my brain had decided to take a vacation. ‘I’ll
just run out and get it for the… ride. Yeah.’ Nobody gainsayed
me, caught too by surprise I think, and I headed for the door Relena was
in. No way in hell was she going to try and stop me. ‘Tell Heero I’ll
see him later,’ I hissed at her as I ducked by, but didn’t give
her the chance to reply. I didn’t start running until I was outside.
I thanked whatever God might be listening that I had put my
car keys in my pants pocket and not my coat pocket. I think that’s
what had delayed Wufei, because I saw no sign of him as I fled down the
driveway. I threw myself behind the wheel of my car, shaking like a leaf
and just wanting as far away from there as I could get as fast as I could
get there. It’s a very good thing that I do not have the ability to
teleport… I’d have ended up in Outer Mongolia before I’d
had a chance to think about it.
I got the car started and just threw it in reverse, not taking
the time to turn around. I saw the front door of the house fly open just
before I got the car far enough down the drive that the shrubs hid it from
sight. I hit the brakes, spinning the car completely around, then kicked
it in the ass. They would come after me. I knew damn good and well they’d
come after me, and I wasn’t having any of it. Not right now, by God.
Not right now.
It was a lucky thing I didn’t pass any cops, though
I was kind of surprised nobody called in and reported me, it’s a residential
area, after all. I’d be willing to bet I hit eighty at one point.
I wove and dodged and switched back and ran like freakin’ hell. I
put more effort into evasion than I ever had during the war, on the run
when my life had depended on it. It felt like my sanity depended on it this
time. Felt like my… whatever you wanted to call it; relationship?
Marriage? Love life? Whatever. I felt like that was kind of hanging in the
balance right now too. I didn’t think that Heero or I either one was
in a place where we could talk this out. Best if we both had a chance to
calm down a little bit first. I needed some damn distance.
Oh shut the hell up… I don’t know what makes me
do this. Sometimes I just can’t take anymore and I have to get away.
I never have dealt with total humiliation very well, haven’t I mentioned
that? I’m sure I’ve mentioned that.
Could you get any more humiliating than that little episode?
Well, perhaps we shouldn’t challenge the power of worse here. Yeah,
you probably could get more humiliating… but I didn’t care to
try. I knew when to quit. That situation didn’t have any outcome that
wasn’t going to fall under the heading of ‘worse’. So
I ran. Sue me. At least I know my limits.
I dared to slow down after about a half an hour, and it took
me a little bit to get oriented enough to figure out where I was. There
was no sign of my pursuers and I breathed a sigh of relief. Pursuers. I
almost laughed. I was thinking of my lover as something to be run from.
How freakishly pathetic was that? I was running from Heero and Wufei like
they were the worst kind of Oz interrogators. Ok… I did laugh then,
not able to stop even when I heard the note of hysteria in it. I had to
pull over until I was able to blink my eyes clear enough to see. Damn.
I took the time, while I was sitting there at the side of
some nameless road, to button my denim shirt up and turn the heat on. It
was damn cold out. Then I just started cruising. I didn’t really have
any plans, I hadn’t thought beyond getting the hell out from under
all those staring, judgmental eyes. Going back to the apartment was probably
not the best idea for a little while; Heero would have that staked out one
way or the other. Wasn’t going back to Quatre and Trowa’s on
a bet. No thank you. Guess that just left driving around.
A throb of pure, unadulterated pain lanced through my chest
of a sudden, and I found myself missing my ship like I hadn’t missed
it in months. I would have sold my soul and all the caffeine in the world
to still have that place to go back too. I missed my home.
I felt oddly shaky and knew that my body was registering the
trauma that my mind could not. I might not feel it, but that didn’t
make it not there. At some point, I really was going to have to take the
time to treat the burns. I knew what a danger infection could be when you
were dealing with French-fried flesh.
My head was on total over-load. A conga line of hamsters began
parading the length of the dashboard, each with a little banner trying to
entice me to think about their preferred subject. Froggie. Heero. Relena.
Scars. My ship. My job. The house I couldn’t have. The house I was
probably going to end up with. Wufei. Zechs. Heero. Wait a minute; two Heero
hamsters? That was hardly fair.
God, but he was probably having a cow by now. Guilt appeared
on the floorboards between my knees and I thought he about ripped my balls
off. How could I have done that to Heero… again? He was probably frantic.
He was probably tearing into anybody that dared try and get in his way.
I felt a little bad for everybody left in that house. If anybody was left
in that house. Sort of threw a monkey wrench into Quatre’s party too,
I guess. Seems I’d pretty much fucked over everybody’s day.
I kind of wanted to go back then, wanted to try and put things
right. But I just couldn’t picture facing any of them. Couldn’t
make myself do it. When you screw up this bad, it’s pretty hard to
face the music until you absolutely have to.
But you know? Underneath all the guilt… I was still
pretty pissed off about the whole Relena thing. I had worked damn hard to
get the woman to the point that she could speak to me without open hostility.
Heero knew that. He knew what a delicate balance my relationship was with
Her Highness. How could he have done this to me? How could he have done
this to Relena? Did he have no damn concept of what that must have felt
like to her? Just what had he told her? And to have not even warned me,
I just didn’t get it.
Then the car was stopping and I looked up to see where I had
ended up. I started that hysterical laughing thing again. Dear God…
did I have an autopilot?
I was sitting out in front of that house. The house. My house.
My dream house that Heero didn’t like. The one I would never own,
because I just couldn’t do that to him, no matter how much I wanted
it. What kind of home would it be if it wasn’t right for both of us?
Pretty much like the one we were in now… where I didn’t feel
But I got out of the car anyway. I walked up the front steps,
careful to avoid that broken board. I thought about sitting on the porch
swing, but looking it over, wasn’t sure I trusted the chains it was
hanging from. So I walked around the porch, going down the side and finding
another little stair that led to a path that disappeared around the back
of the house. I followed it and startled a crow that flew off to sit on
the edge of the roof, where it cawed down at me in irritation. There was
the graveyard of a once well-tended flower garden at the back of the house
and I could imagine the little old lady who had lived here most of her life,
working in it. I’ll bet this yard had been something to see in its
I just stood for a while and looked at the grounds. Looked
at that massive willow tree. Watched the clouds scud across the sky. I even
saw a rabbit, way at the back of the lot, hopping along in that slow way
they have when they’re just wandering around. It was the first wild
rabbit I had ever seen. It made me grin just a little bit. It was…
peaceful. I felt calm here.
I wanted to kick myself, why in the hell was I walking around
this place, letting it get more and more under my skin, when I already fucking
knew I couldn’t have it? Heero had made it quite plain to the realtor
that he didn’t want this place. Why couldn’t I let it go? I
really am something of a little masochist, aren’t I?
I took a last look around, trying to make a conscious effort
at saying goodbye. Of making whichever part of my brain that was so in love,
admit that it was pointless to dream. Was it the little boy? Was it the
soldier? I wasn’t sure, but we all had to walk away. So I did.
While I was getting in the car, I took a last look back and
realized that it was all of us. There was something about the damn place
that called out to every part of me. Guess we’d just have to be miserable
Suck it up, Maxwell. Get over it.
I found myself just driving again, and even the hamsters seemed
too depressed to put much effort into anything.
I suppose I needed to be thinking about heading back, but
every time I tried to turn that way, my face burned and I felt like throwing
up. So I’d just wander off on another side street instead.
Damn, it was so freaking quiet I wanted to scream. I reached
and hit the radio, despite the fact that the damn thing only tuned anything
in about half the time. I got some static and punched through the stations,
passing up several commercials until I heard music and left it there. It
was some canned, new wave recycled crap. All synthesizers and drums, what
was popular right then. I hated it, and longed for my own music, but let
it play because it beat the hell out of the silence.
I swear to God my wanderings were totally random, totally
without plan but I suddenly realized that I was on the road to the spaceport.
I felt like a damn salmon trying to find its way back upstream. What long
buried urge had led me back here? What the hell was my sub-conscious planning
on doing now?
I turned off before I actually passed through the front gate,
not entering the grounds. There’s an old access road that runs the
entire length of the field. In the summer, kids will come out there and
picnic, just sitting and watching the shuttles launch. This time of year,
there wasn’t a soul around. I pulled off the road and parked in the
grass. I let the car run for a bit, just for the radio, but it changed to
the damn DJ talking about on-line dating and I switched it off. On a strange
whim, I climbed out of the car and went around to sit on the hood. It wasn’t
God awful cold, the engine was letting off a bit of heat that countered
the wind just a little.
Dear Lord, but it was strange being here… on the outside
looking in. To my left, if I bothered to count bays, I could have figured
out where my ship had last been docked. I wondered if she was in there somewhere,
my Demon-girl who wasn’t mine anymore. Who damn-well had another name
by now. I wondered what that kid had christened his ship. I wondered how
he was doing. I wondered if my star-spattered cabin had been painted over.
Wondered if he’d killed Neo’s butterflies. Probably… he’d
been a pretty young kid. Had probably seen them as silly and girly. Had
most likely painted the whole damn ship by now. It shouldn’t have
mattered to me… but it did.
I thought about going back to the apartment again, it crossed
my mind every little bit, but I kept finding excuses not to. This time,
I decided I would stay until I got to see a ship launch. Just one, and then
I’d go home to Heero and face the music.
I drew my legs up to sit cross-legged; it was a little warmer
that way. My arms found their way around my chest and I carefully tucked
my hands under my arms for warmth. I really needed to deal with my burns.
I really did. But I didn’t even like to think about it, it just made
me feel stupid all over again. I’m normally very careful what I do
with my hands. I couldn’t believe that I’d let myself get so
upset that I had not realized that tray was hot. Thinking back on the incident,
I must have looked like a raving lunatic. In front of freakin’ everybody.
Oh joy, oh bliss.
Out on the field, I saw a tow truck heading down the main
line, heading for some bay. Going to hook up to some ship. My heart sank.
I’d sworn to go home as soon as the next ship launched. I guess I
had hoped that the wait would be a little longer. I shivered.
I wondered who was in the driver’s seat of that tug.
I wondered with a sudden pang if it might be Dusty. I wondered what he would
say if he saw me sitting out here. Would he be mad at me? I used to go to
his house for dinner every three or four weeks. I hadn’t seen him
since before the ship had sold. I thought about that, thought about all
the people that used to be part of my life and I realized that I didn’t
see any of them anymore. It was like… like Duo Maxwell had died to
that world when his ship had died. I used to do that Thursday night out
with the musketeers about once a month too. I used to hang with Toria and
Hayden whenever our paths brought us to the same dock at the same time.
Now I barely exchanged e-mails with them once a week.
It was just… so hard. They all reminded me of everything
I had lost. Everything that had been taken from me.
I shivered again; the engine was starting to cool. Shifting,
I pulled my legs up to my chest and settled my forehead on my knees, listening
for the sounds of that tug coming back down the line with a ship in tow.
There are days that I…
A long time ago, I’d had dreams. I’d always believed
that as long as you could dream, as long as you could see where you wanted
to be… that somehow, you’d get there. It wouldn’t always
be quite what you thought it would be when you saw if from a distance…
but you’d get there.
I didn’t really have any dreams anymore. When I looked
to the future… all I saw was more of today. Which shouldn’t
have been an altogether bad thing, but somehow it was… frightening.
I mean… I had Heero, I had a roof over my head, I had a job. These
were all good things. But I didn’t have that dream. I wasn’t
working toward anything. I was just… existing.
Somehow that seemed kind of sad.
I heard the sound of a car coming down the access road about
the same time I heard the whine of the tug engines, straining with the load,
pulling a ship out of its hanger. I didn’t bother to raise my head
until I realized the car was slowing.
I gave very serious consideration to screaming.
The car stopped. Trowa got out. Rashid pulled away. I blinked
Trowa stopped for a minute to survey the area, looking out
across the field, looking at me. Then he walked calmly over and sat down
on my hood next to me.
‘You forgot your jacket,’ he said quietly and
handed the thing to me without really looking my way. It took me a second,
but I reached out and took it, slipping it on. It was deliciously warm from
being in their car and it made me shiver almost violently. Trowa didn’t
comment, just nodded his head toward the ship trundling slowly across the
field. ‘Is that a TH model or one of the XL’s?’
I squinted across the way. ‘An XL-50,’ I told
him. ‘Looks like the ‘Star Shark’ from the markings. Buck
Kruger runs a kind of luxury passenger transport out to the colonies. For
the rich and elite who think first class on a commercial flight isn’t
good enough. We all laughed at him when he came up with the idea, but he’s
making a fortune.’ I smiled faintly, remembering the argument we’d
all had the night he’d announced it over at McMurphy’s. I’d
lost ten credits a month later when he had to start putting people on a
waiting list. I didn’t feel too bad about it though, Smitty had lost
We sat watching the ship make its slow way down the field
in silence for a minute, then Trowa off-handedly said. ‘I brought
the med-kit, when you’re ready to do your hands.’
I looked at him, but he just sat there, keeping his eyes on
the tug and its burden.
‘I’m so sorry I screwed up Quatre’s party,’
Trowa snorted and grinned widely, sparing me a quick glance.
‘You certainly know how to liven things up, that’s for sure.’
I dropped my head back down on my knees, to hide it when I
flushed darkly. ‘I feel like such a fucking moron,’ I groaned.
He dropped a hand on my shoulder and squeezed tight for a
second. ‘Duo… it’s not like anyone is mad at you. Just
I rocked my head to the side, to peek out at him over my arm.
‘And that’s better?’
He laughed, shifting to pull his legs up and sit cross-legged,
dropping the afore-mentioned med-kit into his lap. ‘I suppose not,’
he agreed amiably.
‘I hate that, Trowa,’ I told him, not sure what
prompted me to. ‘All those people staring at me. Feeling sorry for
me. I… just hate it.’
His smile faded and he looked out across the field again.
‘I know, but it’s the price you pay for having people care.’
It was quiet for a bit then, his eyes tracking that tug, mine
stealing covert glances at him. I really didn’t know what to say to
‘Can I call them?’ he suddenly asked. ‘Just
to ease their minds? I don’t have to tell them where we are.’
It rather surprised me, his asking first. And I realized with
a start that if I said no, he wouldn’t make the call at all.
‘Yeah,’ I grudgingly agreed. ‘But…
I’m not sure I’m ready to talk to anybody yet.’
He nodded and slipped his hand into his coat pocket for his
cell phone. I raised my head from my knees then, just staring at nothing
while he dialed.
‘Yeah,’ he said to the thing after an incredibly
short number of rings. ‘It’s me… I found him. Everything
is… Quatre? Quatre…..? Yuy? What the hell…? He’s
fine. No, you may not. He is fine. He is with me. We’ll be…
Shut up, Yuy. We’ll be back in a while. Hold on a minute…’
He turned to me then, and said, ‘You want to go back to our place
later, or the apartment?’
I almost groaned, thinking about going back home with him,
wondering who all might still be there. I couldn’t face all those
damn people, but I wasn’t sure how that would sound. I just looked
at him, trying to formulate the words and he grinned.
‘We’ll go back to the apartment…’
he said into the phone and I couldn’t help the sigh of relief. ‘No,
I will not… Shut up, Yuy. When we’re damn good and ready, that’s
when. Goodbye.’ He hung up and shoved the phone back in his pocket.
I gaped at him for a minute and then started to laugh, it
had that edge to it and I turned away from the look on his face to stare
at nothing while I tried to push it down. A weight settled on my shoulders,
but he didn’t speak, just waited it out until I got it choked off.
‘Pissed off, huh?’ I managed after a bit.
‘Scared, is more like it,’ he told me gently and
his arm slipped away. I was sorry to lose the little bit of warmth that
his closeness had offered. I hunched back into myself and looked out across
the field to realize the tug had disappeared. The Shark should be just about
on the launch ramp by now.
‘Duo,’ Trowa said after a minute of watching me
watch nothing. ‘I’m freezing my ass off, can we at least sit
in the car?’
I knew he’d felt me shivering when he had touched me
and that remark was mostly for my benefit, but cold as I was, I wasn’t
quite ready. ‘In a minute,’ I told him distractedly, hearing
the roar of a ship’s engines in the distance.
I could hear it, at first, and then as they came to full power,
I could feel it vibrating up through the seat of my pants. I slid off the
hood and dropped to the ground and then I could really feel it, throbbing
through me. I closed my eyes, able to tell just what was going on from the
sound and the feel. I felt the thrusters kick in and knew the Shark was
almost at the end of its countdown. I could hear the whine as she fought
against the launch ramp, eager to fly free… eager to return to her
place between the stars. Then there was that unmistakable sound as she was
boosted, ramp and thrusters working in tandem and… I snapped my eyes
open to see her as she left the end of the ramp, riding skyward on a painfully
bright tail of pure Hell fire. I lost the vibration first, and then the
sound, and finally I lost the sight of her. But I just stood and stared
at the place where the ship had disappeared and I imagined the things that
came next. Imagined that moment when gravity gives way and you break free.
That moment when you return… home.
I was completely shocked to feel the cold ice of tears freezing
on my face. Just as shocked to find that Trowa was standing close behind
me, hands on my shoulders, body shielding me from the wind.
‘Come on,’ he said softly, and gave me a little
nudge toward the car. I hesitated, feeling my body talking to me, and fished
the car keys out of my pocket. I dangled them in front of him and he wordlessly
took them from me, giving me a little nod in return. I walked somewhat unsteadily
around to the passenger door and he let me go by myself, getting himself
into the driver’s seat, starting the car and adjusting the heat.
He had the med-kit in his hands and I didn’t fight him,
just turned to sit sideways to make it easier for him to work.
‘I can get it,’ I told him, thinking about all
the times I’d had to deal with it on my own. Your brain does not immediately
understand that it has lost an input where input has always been. Remembering
that you cannot feel heat or cold, that you can cut and not know it, is
a learned skill. I had been with the Sweepers off and on while I had gone
through that learning curve, and could still hear Kurt’s voice echoing
warningly in the back of my head whenever I made one of these little blunders,
‘I know you can,’ Trowa replied. ‘But I’m
here… no reason I can’t help.’
I was shivering so much that he had a little trouble on the
first hand, before the heat finally kicked in and I started to warm up.
He didn’t comment on it anymore than he had spoken of my bawling like
a baby out there just watching a stupid ship launch. Somehow… it just
felt like he didn’t need to ask. It felt like he understood.
‘So,’ he ventured, while he was still working
on my right hand and we didn’t have to look at each other. ‘Feel
like telling me what it was you originally came into the kitchen looking
to castrate Yuy about?’
I couldn’t help a tiny grin at that mental image, but
had to think about it for a minute. I suppose there was no harm in talking
about it; I had obviously been prepared to air that particular piece of
dirty laundry right there in the middle of the Winner kitchen to begin with.
Then I had to wonder about something.
‘Were you aware that Heero forbid Relena to come and
visit him at the hospital?’ I blurted and watched him closely. There
was no mistaking the shock and confusion on his face.
‘No he didn’t,’ he countered reasonably.
‘She was there… I saw her.’
‘You saw her while I was away,’ I replied. ‘Did
you ever see her after I got back from L3?’
He wanted to refute that too, but I saw him thinking about
it, and I saw when he realized he couldn’t. ‘No… you’re
right. Now that I think about it, I remember thinking it was odd, but I
just assumed that she had to leave the city for some reason. But what makes
‘Because I ran into Relena at the party,’ I ground
out, remembering that confrontation. ‘She was so pissed off at me
I thought she was going to shove me down the stairs! She thought that I’d
made Heero send her away! She thought it was all my doing! She would hardly
even speak to me!’
I caught a slightly bemused look on Trowa’s face and
started to get really flaming mad. I opened my mouth to launch into him
for thinking this was funny when he held his hand out.
‘Duo,’ he said calmly. ‘I wasn’t done.
Can I have your hand back?’
I realized I’d been gesturing wildly, trailing gauze
in the air, and had to grin sheepishly. ‘Sorry,’ I muttered.
‘It just really ticks me off.’
He lost his little smile and frowned down at my hand as he
bent back to work. ‘It should,’ he informed me. ‘I can’t
believe Heero would do something that stupid.’
‘God, Trowa,’ I told him, and felt a little guilty
for dumping this all on him. ‘She was so hurt. I thought she was going
to cry standing right there in the middle of your damn stairway. I don’t
know what reasoning he gave her, but he obviously didn’t explain things
very well. And I was the one she was ready to behead! She thought I told
him to do it!’
Dear God, but it was so good to have someone to talk to. Someone
to validate that I wasn’t completely nuts, that I did indeed have
the right to be angry. It was nice, even if it was just this one thing,
to be able to open up and spill my guts and not have to worry about everything
getting repeated back to Heero.
‘I’ve been thinking about that,’ Trowa said
softly and I blinked at the top of his bent head in confusion. ‘The
rest of us have come to a place where we’ve found total honesty to
truly be the best policy. But that doesn’t give us the right to shove
that down your throat. You need someone to talk to sometimes. I wish, for
both your sakes, that person could be Heero. But if you’re not ready
for that, we can’t force it. I want you to feel free to talk to me.
If you tell me something is just between the two of us… it will stay
I think I probably turned what Toria would have termed, ‘an
interesting shade of red’. Then I did my carp routine while I figured
out that I had said that last part… out loud. Shit.
He stopped wrapping fingers and looked up at me, first in
confusion and then in dawning understanding. ‘You didn’t mean
to say that… did you?’
My interesting color must have gotten down right fascinating.
‘Uhmm… no,’ I told him. ‘When I get particularly
upset I have this tendency to… blurt shit out. Which is one of the
major reasons that it isn’t always a good idea for me to be around
Heero when I’m really upset.’
We stared at each other for a long couple of minutes, until
I started to feel really damn uncomfortable with him sitting there just
holding my hand. Then he went back to bandaging fingers.
‘I guess I can understand that,’ he said quietly
and there was something strange in his eyes.
‘Come on, Trowa,’ I found myself saying. ‘You
guys make me feel like some kind of… of pathological liar! Don’t
you ever keep anything to yourselves?’
He didn’t look up, just finished with the last pieces
of tape, and finally let go of me. I inspected the job while he packed the
med-kit up. ‘Thanks,’ I murmured and then waited. He was working
on something and I just let him.
He gave me a searching look then, his eyes asking me if he
could trust me in turn, and I nodded gravely. ‘Sometimes,’ he
told me, his voice lowering unconsciously. ‘I get… kind of overwhelmed
in Quatre’s… world. I have to get away for a little while. I
just feel like I’m going to forget who I am. I tell him I’m
going to go visit Catherine, and I do… I just take some extra time
to be by myself along the way.’
He looked a little shamefaced, a little guilty. But he looked
a little hopeful too, like he thought I might be someone who understood.
I gave him a lopsided, sad little grin. ‘Like pressure’s
building up and you just have to get the hell out before your head explodes?’
He grinned back, with that same wistful air. ‘Yeah…
kind of like that,’ he agreed.
It felt good that he had confided in me, though I suspected
it had been at least partly to encourage me to open up in return. ‘I
always wondered how you dealt with living with all those servants hovering
all over the place.’ I mused. ‘It makes me crazy and I always
thought it would drive you just as nuts.’
He chuckled. ‘It can be… awkward. The worst part
was learning to let other people handle my things. Do my laundry. Clean
up my messes.’ He shook his head in remembrance.
The car was starting to get almost comfortable and I felt
the ache of muscles that had been tense too long. I could feel that strange
‘wobbly’ feeling too, deep down in my gut, that told me quite
firmly that my body had been through a bit of an ordeal, even if my head
hadn’t been told about it at the time.
‘I think I’m almost ready to go home,’ I
told him, surprised at how tired it came out.
‘Almost?’ he teased, looking across at me.
‘Yeah… almost,’ I affirmed. ‘I’m
getting… kind of tired.’
He frowned a little, looking me over. ‘You all right?’
‘Yeah,’ I smiled, letting my eyes close. ‘Just
been a rough couple of days, I guess.’
He chuckled, then was quiet for a minute before asking, ‘Heero
said you’ve been… upset about something all weekend. You want
to talk about it?’
I opened my eyes and grinned at him. ‘You trying to
trick me into spilling my secrets while I’m all groggy?’
A corner of his mouth went up in a wry little smirk. ‘No,
just trying to get done with this conversation before you fall asleep on
I laughed lightly, while my mind ran around in circles trying
to decide if I could do that. Talk to him about… that. Francis appeared
and shoved his repress banner up my nose, but behind him, on the dash, George
stood madly waving a sign twice his height that said ‘YES’ in
flaming red letters. Guess George had more time in.
I turned in the seat until I was completely facing Trowa and
I could see his face take on a serious expression. I could tell from his
eyes, from the set of his jaw, that he knew I was going to tell him something
that was, at least to me, important.
‘You swear to God, Trowa Barton,’ I glared at
him. ‘Just between you and me. Not even Quatre, because he’d
just try and fix things.’
‘I swear to you Duo,’ he reassured, solemn as
a churchyard. ‘Just between us.’
I took a deep breath, but still found it hard to push the
words out past the defenses I’d erected in my head. ‘I found…
a house,’ I blurted, knowing that once I got started, even if I faltered,
he’d work the rest out of me. I wanted it worked out. I wanted to
dump this shit out of my head and maybe he could help me get past it. Help
me put it behind me.
He raised an eyebrow, just to let me know how bizarre that
had sounded, but waited for me. I raised a hand to rub it across my eyes,
but saw the bandages and put it back down. ‘It’s perfect. It’s
wonderful. It’s everything I wanted even before I knew what the hell
it was I wanted.’
He couldn’t stop a little smile. ‘That’s
not a bad thing, Duo.’
I sighed, found the fingers on my right hand picking at the
bandages on my left and forced myself to stop. ‘But Heero doesn’t
like it,’ I explained, looking up at him with what I knew must have
been a truly pained expression, because I saw his smile fade and sympathy
come into those eyes of his. ‘I overheard him talking to the realtor…
he doesn’t want it.’
‘Ah,’ he said, in some small understanding. ‘Did
you talk to Heero about this?’
‘No!’ I exclaimed. ‘You know Heero…
if he realized I wanted it, we’d be moved in tomorrow whether he hated
it or not. I can’t do that to him. I know what it’s like to
be where you don’t feel at home.’
He looked vary damn sad then, and there was true appreciation
in his face, for what I was saying. I felt badly and thought maybe I should
just shut up, afraid that I’d echoed too close to an issue of his
own, but he wouldn’t let me.
‘You’re sure of what you heard?’ he prompted,
and there wasn’t any trace in his voice of what I thought I’d
seen on his face.
‘Yeah,’ I sighed. ‘He told Miss Montoya
that the place was too run down, that he didn’t want to have to do
that much restoration.’
He frowned in confusion, looking a little harder at me. ‘The
house is in bad shape?’
‘Not all that bad!’ I blurted. ‘It’s
completely livable, but its been empty for years and years and needs a lot
of attention! You should see it… there’s a huge front porch
with this great porch swing. The fireplace in the living room is just massive!
You remember the one at that safe house, where Heero and I had… that
big fight? It’s bigger than that one, and the most fantastic…’
He was looking at me with the strangest, almost tender expression and I
had to stop. ‘What?’ I prompted, blinking at him.
‘That’s as excited as I’ve seen you in…
a long time,’ he said gently.
I flushed darkly and looked down at my hands, looking really
weird with the gauze wrapped around them. ‘Yeah, I think I could really
get excited about that house, Trowa. It’s old. It’s got a heart
to it, if that makes sense. Not like those new houses where the whole street
looks the same and people have to put weird crap out on their lawns just
to find their way home at night.’
‘The geese with the clothes and the flamingos?’
he chuckled and I had to laugh.
‘Yeah… like that. I wish you could…’
Then I thought of something and reached for the glove box. Yes, the flyer
was still in there. ‘Here… look.’
He took the paper from my hands and looked it over, studied
the picture, reading the description. ‘It’s kind of big, just
for the two of you, isn’t it.’
‘A little,’ I grudgingly admitted and pointed
at the little floor plan. ‘But look, this room at the back would make
the most perfect studio. There’s windows all along the back and…’
I trailed off, realizing that I was just getting myself worked up about
it again. I sighed. ‘I guess I’m just having trouble getting
it switched to the ‘can’t have’ side of the ledger.’
He didn’t answer me immediately, looking at the floor
plan, and I turned to sit frontward again with a dark sigh.
‘Heero would give his right arm to see the look on your
face that I just saw,’ He told me very carefully, sounding as though
he had weighed every one of those words one by one. It caught me so by surprise,
I didn’t even blush. I think I was just too shocked. It took me a
long damn couple of minutes to get my tongue working again.
‘But I can’t do that to him, can’t you see
that?’ I asked, my voice coming out all breathless and kind of pathetic.
‘What kind of home would it be for him?’
‘I suspect that wherever you are, will forever be home
for Heero,’ he said, and then gave me an odd little look. ‘Duo…
I admire the hell out of your altruistic tendencies, but sometimes you have
to worry about your own happiness and let the rest of the chips fall where
I snorted softly, and went out on a limb. ‘Wise council,
Mr. Barton… you practice it much yourself?’
He looked at me rather sharply and for a minute I thought
I’d crossed the line, but then he threw back his head and laughed.
‘Touché, Mr. Maxwell.’
‘You as tired of sitting here as I am?’ I drawled
then, desperately ready to change the topic, to stop delving quite so deep
into the waters we’d been fishing in.
‘Yeah, I think I’m done,’ he agreed, and
turned to put the car in gear.
It was a relatively quiet drive back, though not uncomfortable.
I think we both had more than enough to think about.
Of course, the closer we got to our destination, the more
I could think about just one thing; how upset Heero was going to be. How
upset Heero already was.
‘You going to live?’ Trowa asked with a bit of
amusement in his voice.
‘Why?’ I responded, somewhat guardedly.
He chuckled. ‘That’s the third time you’ve
sighed in less than a minute.’
I sighed again, heard what I’d done and laughed. Trowa
laughed along with me, but it was short lived. ‘He’s just so…
overwhelming when he gets like this.’
‘I know,’ he commiserated. ‘Not too many
people will get in the way of Heero Yuy in ‘protect mode’.’
I almost sighed again, but cut it off. I caught a grin on
Trowa’s face and realized he’d noticed. ‘I just don’t
want to go to the damn hospital, ok? I don’t need to go.’
‘No you don’t,’ he agreed. ‘I know
‘Then why didn’t you say something back at the
house?’ I blurted before I had a chance to think about it.
He chuckled, but I noticed the blood rise to his cheeks. ‘Because
I had no desire to get castrated?’ he ventured. ‘Like I said…
Heero Yuy in full defense mode is a damn daunting thing.’
I only glared at him.
‘So… you want me to come up with you?’ he
said when I didn’t respond. We were damn near there and I was starting
to feel like I was going to throw up.
‘Will I look like a sniveling weenie who’s afraid
of his own… roommate, if I say yes?’ I chuckled.
‘No,’ he grinned in return. ‘You’ll
look like a man with a level head on his shoulders.’
And then we were there. Joy.
Trowa pulled in and parked, giving me an encouraging look
before we climbed out of the car. I had to resist the urge to move in close
to him as we walked across the lot. I could only thank God our apartment
windows were on the other side of the building, though I still felt like
there were eyes on me the entire way.
I hesitated at the bottom of the stairs, looking up and feeling
that wobble again. Damn but I hated living on the third floor.
There was a hand under my elbow quite suddenly, and I looked
up into amused green eyes. ‘If you don’t think you can make
it, I can go get Heero. I’ll bet he’d come down and carry you.’
I rolled my eyes. ‘The entire damn three flights? No
thank you.’ But it served to poke me into movement.
‘You feel shaky,’ he observed as though he were
commenting on the weather. ‘You all right?’
‘Yeah,’ I told him, holding my hands up to look
at them as we climbed. ‘I may not be able to feel it, but… something
happens. Like my body knows there’s been a trauma somehow, even without
the nerve pathways to tell my brain.’
He grunted, concern crossing his face, but he held his tongue,
for which I was grateful. I had the strangest sense of déjà
vu and remembered the last time I’d made this climb with Trowa at
my side. I chuckled and he looked at me oddly. ‘So, what exactly,
are your bodyguard rates? I’m thinking it might just be cheaper for
me to keep you on retainer instead of paying hourly.’
He broke out in a wide grin and shook his head. ‘You’re
family… I can get you the special discount. Don’t worry about
I was going to try for the flippant answer, but there was
suddenly a weird little warm place in my chest and when I opened my mouth
to speak, it seemed to clog my throat. We were almost at the top of the
stairs before I managed, ‘Thanks, man… sometimes it seems like
you’re the only rational one in the bunch of us.’
‘I’m not sure that says a lot,’ he quipped
and we laughed a little bit, around the strain of almost being there. I
was trying to fumble my apartment key out of my pocket with my bandaged
hands when the door flew open in our faces.
Heero has this habit of running his hands through his hair
when he’s really upset. He kind of looked like he’d been doing
nothing else for about the last three hours. If it wouldn’t have gotten
me decked, I’d have laughed out loud.
‘Uh… hi honey, I’m home?’ I struggled
valiantly for light and teasing, but it kind of came out uncertain and…
wobbly. My new favorite word; wobbly. It just seemed to sum me up today.
He stood there, doorknob clutched in one hand, looking first
at one of us and then at the other. I thought for about three seconds that
he might just be having a stroke or something. I didn’t know what
else to say, it was kind of in his court and he didn’t seem to have
a damn clue.
‘Heero,’ Trowa said calmly. ‘Breathe.’
It served to make Heero blush and he finally stepped back
so that we could at least come into the apartment. It was Trowa who thought
to close the damn door. I couldn’t read Heero’s mood, beyond
the ‘upset’ part. He didn’t seem to know what to do, what
to say. So we just stood there, staring at each other.
Trowa was starting to seem amused as hell with the whole thing,
and walking around behind Heero, said something low in his ear. Heero looked
at him sharply, blinking rapidly, and Trowa grinned. ‘Those are pretty
much your only three choices… pick one; I have to use your bathroom.’
Then he left us alone. I resisted the urge to throw something at him for
running out on me.
Heero was looking at me funny, his head cocked off to the
side. ‘He said… I should hit you, hug you, or help you pack
your bags. I’m not hitting you… do you… you don’t
want to… pack… do you?’
All I could manage was a vehement shake of my head, but that
was all it took to make him close the distance and sweep me into his arms.
‘Damnit, Duo,’ he whispered, low and husky, ‘You
have to stop doing this to me.’
I wrapped my own arms tight around his neck and just murmured
‘You’ve got me on that damn roller coaster ride
again,’ he said softly, trying to tease me, trying to smooth it over,
but it was rather put to the lie by the clutching hold he had on me.
‘I’m sorry,’ I sighed next to his ear, eyes
squeezed shut and just breathing him in. ‘I guess I was a little more…
on edge than I’d realized. I just couldn’t handle anymore…’
He drew back to look at me, loosening his hold just enough
to bring a hand up to my face. He looked pained. ‘I told you on the
way over, to tell me if it got to be too much, love… why didn’t
That rather served to remind me of what had started the whole
damn ‘barbecue incident’ in the first place, and I pulled back
a little bit. ‘Because things ‘got to be too much’ kind
of all at once, when I ran into Relena and she offered to let Abdul put
me on the grill with the rest of the dead meat.’
‘Nani?’ he demanded, and I could see him getting
all set to get seriously pissed off at Relena.
‘Oh no you don’t, big boy,’ I informed him,
a bit of my earlier anger coming back. ‘This is all your mess! What
the hell was the meaning of telling Relena she wasn’t allowed to visit
you in the hospital?’
He did, thank God, have the decency to look chagrined. I think
it was the only thing that kept me from getting really worked up to fuming
again, that and the fact that I was just too damn tired.
‘I was trying to protect you,’ he said, his arms
tightening unconsciously and then easing off as he realized what he was
doing. ‘You were… like I’d never seen you. I was scared
to death about the shape you were in, and there was almost nothing I could
do to help. I just thought… you two don’t get along very well,
and I thought it would be easier if you didn’t have to deal with her.’
I groaned and dropped my head onto his shoulder in exasperation,
lacking the strength to strangle him. ‘Yuy… you idiot, she was
left with the impression that I demanded that she not be allowed near you.
She thought that I… threw some kind of jealous fit or something!’
‘But,’ he muttered, confused as hell, ‘she
never said a thing! It’s been months!’
‘That’s because she wasn’t mad at you, she
was mad at me.’ I lifted my head and looked him in the eye. ‘She’s
had this weird complex, thinking I’m trying to cut her out of your
life, ever since the accident.’
‘I had no idea,’ he frowned, almost as though
he doubted what I was saying. ‘She was fine with it when I called
her from the hospital.’
I managed to keep myself from rolling my eyes. ‘And
just how drugged up were you at the time?’ I inquired flatly. I was
pleased to see the dawning horror on his face.
‘But she hasn’t said a damn word about it in two
months!’ He had to go back around and take one more whack at that
dead horse, and we finally broke away from each other, mostly because I
needed my arms to truly make the annoyed gesture I was working on.
‘She’s a woman, Yuy! They don’t just come
out and tell you anything!’ I snapped, and would have delved further
into that topic if Trowa’s boisterous laughter hadn’t interrupted
‘Coming from you, Maxwell… that’s kind of
priceless,’ he chortled gleefully.
I whirled around to face him, but couldn’t keep the
anger alive. ‘Yeah well, Barton…’ I began, then blinked
at him for a second before chuckling, ‘I’m just to damn worn-out
to come up with anything witty right now… get back with me on that.’
He snorted and shook his head as though disappointed in me.
‘Listen, can I borrow your car to get home so I don’t have to
sit around here for a half an hour listening to you two fight and make up?’
‘Sure,’ I told him and gingerly fished the keys
out of my coat pocket. The move did two things, reminded me I was still
wearing my jacket, and reminded Heero of my hands. After I tossed the keys
to Trowa, I started to unzip and slip out of the thing, and Heero was suddenly
right there helping me.
‘Easy,’ he murmured, low and soft, trying to keep
Trowa from hearing, I’m sure. ‘Let me.’
Trowa has good hearing though; he chuckled maliciously and
Heero flushed. But he didn’t stop what he was doing, peeling me gently
out of my coat and then going to hang it up for me.
‘Hey Duo,’ Trowa suddenly said, in a calm, almost
lazy voice, that totally did not match the intense gaze he was giving me.
‘Could you get me a soda or something for the road?’
‘All right,’ I said uncertainly, trying to read
his eyes and failing. But it was obvious he wanted me to leave the room,
so I did. Heero started to object, started to tell me to sit down and rest
while he went to fetch the drink, but Trowa was already talking to him.
I stopped just inside the kitchen door to listen.
‘Oh, before I forget again, Heero,’ Trowa was
saying. ‘Quatre’s sister Judith heard you were house-hunting.
She’s interested in getting into real estate. She found a house listing
and wanted us to drop if off.’
I felt my eyes widening in shock. What the hell was he doing?
There was a feeling in the pit of my stomach that was somewhat reminiscent
of the flu. From the other room, I heard them moving, imagined the paper
Heero grunted and chuckled lightly. ‘She’s too
late… we actually already looked at this one.’
Trowa chuckled along with him and I could almost see the innocent
look on his face. ‘No kidding? That’s funny. What did you think
of it, if you don’t mind my asking? Judith will want to know how close
I realized I was holding my breath, but couldn’t exhale
for fear of missing something. I thought I’d die waiting for Heero
‘Oh, it was a beautiful old house, damn near perfect,
if a bit large,’ Heero tossed out carelessly. ‘But it needs
a lot of work. Duo doesn’t need that kind of burden right now. I want
to be able to give him a home that we can enjoy… not one that’s
going to take all our time and resources.’ There was a pause and I
imagined the flyer was changing hands again. ‘But tell Judith thank
you for thinking of us. If she can find another place like that one, that
isn’t so… run down, have her call us.’
I just kind of drifted over into the doorway, where I could
see them, as though I had to look to verify who had spoken.
Trowa gets large amounts of credit here for not laughing his
ass off at me, ok?
‘You know, Duo,’ he called out in a voice that
damn near drawled. ‘On second thought, forget the soda. I’ll
get your car back to you sometime tomorrow. Good night.’
I got a wink as he turned and left, and a broad grin, but
he didn’t laugh.
‘Good night,’ Heero replied, oblivious to the
by-play. ‘And thanks, Trowa.’
For fetching and bandaging his errant boyfriend.
He was almost out the door before I got my tongue unglued
from the roof of my mouth. ‘Yeah, Trowa… thank you.’ For
a hell of a lot of other things.
He waved dismissively and walked out. I just kind of stood
and stared after him.
I know what I heard… but I wasn’t sure I could
trust it. Heero wasn’t just being polite? He had really thought the
house was ‘damn near perfect’? It didn’t mesh with what
he had said to Miss Montoya. I would not let my hopes start that damn upward
climb. Not yet. It hurt too much when they just fell down again.
But now that Trowa was gone, I was left alone with Heero Yuy
in full ‘nurture and protect’ mode. The man should have been
a nurse. Or someone’s mother.
He couldn’t seem to bear to be too far from me, coming
over to wrap me in his arms for a lingering hug as soon as the door was
‘You’re all right?’ he asked me gently.
‘Really all right?’
‘Just a little… shaky,’ I answered, trying
out that honesty thing, just for kicks.
He was quiet for a minute, just holding me close against him
and I basked in his warmth, starting to relax for the first time in hours.
‘I…’ he began cautiously, ‘would feel a lot better
if you’d let me take you to the hospital.’
I sighed, but didn’t raise my head from where I had
it burrowed against his neck. ‘I do not need to go to the hospital,
Yuy,’ I said very resolutely. ‘Forget it. I am fine.’
His hand found its way under my braid, his fingers curling
lovingly around the back of my neck, stroking lightly. ‘Baby…
those are second-degree burns. They need to be looked at.’ His voice
was so… troubled, bordering on distraught, that I almost caved in.
But the idea of spending the next couple of hours in a crowded emergency
room for no real reason was enough to stiffen my resolve.
‘Listen to me, husband-mine,’ I told him, keeping
my voice as reassuring as I could manage. ‘I know this is the first
time this has happened since we’ve been living together, but you’re
going to have to deal with the fact that it’s not really a rare occurrence.
Not being able to feel things like heat and cold means that I make these
little blunders from time to time. I know how to deal with it and I know
when I’ve passed the point of dealing with it on my own.’ I
drew back to look him in the eye, to hopefully add weight to the words.
‘Trust me… all right?’
He didn’t look convinced, sliding his hand away from
the back of my neck to brush his fingertips across my cheek. He finally
settled his hand on my forehead, continuing to frown at me. ‘Duo,’
he said gently, as though he were talking to a child. ‘I’m afraid
you might be in the early stages of shock… your skin is too cool,
you admitted you feel shaky… I just want…’
I think he got kind of pissed off when I started to laugh.
‘I just spent the last couple of hours sitting outside without my
coat on! Of course I feel chilled!’
He didn’t… see the humor.
The remark got me ensconced on the couch, wrapped in the afghan
before you could say ‘stupid thing to say’. But at least he
seemed to get over the hospital idea. A sweater was fetched from his closet,
pillows were brought from the bed, a second afghan was dug out of the bottom
of a blanket chest somewhere. All of these excesses were delivered on my
person with an almost constant running monologue about the idiocy of sitting
around outside in thirty-degree weather without a coat. I just let him go,
letting him work off his anxiety, hopefully getting some of this mother-hen
crap out of his system. I was just thankful he’d finally forgotten
about calling 911.
After a little bit, I found myself alone in the living room
while he took himself off to the kitchen to make hot soup for me. I had
little doubt that it would be chicken soup if we had any. I kept myself
from grinning until he was out of the room. Like I said; he’d make
somebody one kick-ass mommy.
I suppose I have to admit I was feeling a little better as
I started to warm up, but that really wasn’t what was on my mind.
Once Heero had stopped fussing, or at least stopped fussing
in the same room as me, I couldn’t help but notice that Trowa had
managed to leave the house listing lying on the coffee table. It was right
there next to my sketchpad and I leaned over to snag them both, bringing
them into my lap. I looked at the tiny picture of that house again and sighed
wistfully. God I wish Heero would calm down. I really, really wanted to
talk to him about what he’d said, but I was pretty sure he needed
to be out of the mood he was in first. I opened the tablet, and being very
careful to avoid certain pages, flipped forward to the sketch of Heero in
the back room of that house. The sketch of Heero… in my studio. My
studio. It kind of made me shiver, thinking about that, and not from the
cold. It had been so long since I’d had someplace to call my own,
someplace where I could feel free to make changes. When you make a home,
you put your mark on it. Even if it’s nothing more than choosing the
furniture and arranging it. The colors and the placement of things is your
choice, it reflects something about you. This apartment reflected only Heero.
There was nothing of me here at all. And while it was a perfectly livable,
pleasant place… it wasn’t mine. Wasn’t… ours.
I heard the unmistakable sounds of Heero dishing up the soup,
and rose to go to the kitchen before he hauled it all into the living room.
I moved quietly and was sitting at the table before he half knew I was there.
‘Duo,’ he said reprovingly. ‘Go back where
it’s warm. I’ll get a tray and…’
‘Get a grip, Yuy.’ I grinned at him. ‘I
got chilled… I didn’t catch pneumonia! And dish some of that
soup up for yourself. I know damn good and well you haven’t eaten
Some of that almost scary, almost maniacal light seemed to
finally fade from his eyes and he gave me a little smile. Almost sheepish,
but not quite.
We were quiet while he moved around the kitchen, putting a
bowl in front of me, setting out some crackers. He got down another bowl
and dished up some of the soup for himself. It was, as I had suspected it
would be, chicken noodle. I had to hide a grin with my first spoonful.
‘Listen…’ I began, just as he said,
We both stopped, and we grinned nervously at each other.
‘Go ahead,’ he offered.
‘No,’ I told him. ‘I think mine’s
going to be kind of… long. You go first.’
He frowned at that, and I thought I was going to have to argue
him into it, but then I think his own need to know the answer to whatever
it was he wanted to ask me, got the better of him. He didn’t chew
on it near as long as I expected him to.
‘Duo-love,’ he said very gently. ‘Why did
you run away?’
Well shit. Maybe his subject matter would take longer than
mine. I repressed the urge to renege and tell him that I would go first
‘You… kind of scare me when you get like…
that,’ I told him, watching my spoon push noodles into the depths
of my soup to drown.
He sat and stared at me for a long minute, his own dinner
forgotten. ‘What?’ he fairly breathed. ‘You’re…
afraid of me?’
I flushed crimson and tried not to cringe. ‘Not…
like that,’ I blurted. ‘You just over-react to anything that
happens to me… and the whole damn world follows your lead!’
‘Follows my lead?’ he parroted, obviously confused
‘Yeah,’ I said, somewhat bolstered by the fact
that he was still talking to me, and we weren’t yelling yet. ‘The
other guys knew that whole rushing to the emergency room thing was over
the top… but they won’t say no to you. I just get… lost
in the shuffle.’
‘I was not over-reacting,’ he protested, doing
his best to keep his voice steady and calm. ‘Quatre agreed with me…’
I almost laughed, but managed to keep it toned down to a snort.
‘That’s not fair… you know how Quatre reacts to anything
to do with my hands!’
He opened his mouth to argue that point, but I raised an eyebrow
and he finally shook his head in defeat. ‘Ok… I have to give
you that one. Quatre is just a bit… sensitive on that subject.’
I did let myself laugh out loud then. ‘Now there’s
an understatement for you!’
He smiled along with me, seeming a little relieved to hear
me laughing. ‘Eat your dinner,’ he scolded, and took a spoonful
of his own.
‘Yes sir,’ I murmured and followed suit.
I thought about his question while we ate for a bit. Thought
about what had been running through my head in that moment, trying to find
him a truly honest answer. ‘I don’t really know what makes me
do it, Heero,’ I finally sighed. We both knew we were talking about
more than today. This wasn’t the first time I’d headed for the
hills when I’d started feeling pressured. ‘Damn it… it
was just so humiliating, having all those people staring at me.’ I
shuddered theatrically and he looked like he wanted to argue with that statement,
but I didn’t let him. ‘I was already a little irritated with
‘Sally?’ he questioned, his voice going a little
cold. A little predatory.
I let out a little frustrated growl and started to run my
hand through my bangs, stopping when the stark, white gauze caught my eye.
‘She’s bound and determined to ‘fix’ things between
Wufei and me. And much as I would like for things to go back to normal…
the middle of one of Quatre’s parties wasn’t the place to try
‘I’ll speak to her,’ he told me, and there
was a hint of irritation in his voice.
‘Leave it alone, Heero,’ I warned, looking him
hard in the eye. ‘She’s done nothing wrong. Wufei and I do need
to work this out.’
He deflated, and dropped his gaze from mine, stirring idly
at his soup. ‘I know, but…’
‘No buts,’ I cut him off again. ‘I wasn’t
complaining. I was just saying that I already wasn’t in the best state
of mind when I ran head on into Relena and had that little… discussion.’
He looked like he was going to apologize again, but I didn’t give
him the opening for that either. ‘What I did was careless. I know
better. After I realized… I was as embarrassed as hell. Then on top
of that, Quatre falling to pieces… and on top of that, you turning
it into a three-ring circus… I just had to get out.’
How’s that for honesty? Did I cover everything? Well…
I guess I left out the part where Zechs Merquise came into the same room
with me and dared to breathe, but I really didn’t know that I wanted
to get into that little discussion right now, on top of everything else.
‘I’m sorry,’ he murmured, not even pretending
to eat any longer. ‘I didn’t know what was going on. Everything
was fine… and then you were suddenly so angry. I didn’t even
realize at first what you’d done. I just stood there like an idiot
and let you… let you…’
‘Enough of that, Yuy,’ I admonished. ‘It
wasn’t your fault. It was mine. If I hadn’t lost my temper,
I’d have noticed that you were using hot pads.’
He raised his eyes from his bowl to look at me, and his expression
just about killed me. ‘I screwed up. I froze. If Rashid hadn’t
I sighed and rolled my eyes. ‘If Rashid hadn’t
been there, I’d have figured it out two seconds later, from all the
people screaming at me, and dumped the thing on the stove.’
There was more staring. He wanted to beat himself up some
more, but could see I was going to counter his every argument. Would pop
his every justification about how this was all his fault.
He finally tried on a tentative little smile. ‘You know…
we really should stop having these discussions over dinner. We’re
going to starve to death.’
I laughed for him and we agreed we should finish eating before
we had to reheat the soup to make it palatable.
He, of course, wouldn’t let me help with the dishes,
but made me go settle myself in my nest on the couch until he was done.
It didn’t take him long, then he came to sit with me, offering up
a more composed expression. ‘So… I think it’s your turn.
What did you want to talk to me about?’ he queried.
I’d been thinking about it, while I had waited for him
to finish cleaning up, but still wasn’t sure where to start. I had
known that he wouldn’t forget this, that he would come to finish hashing
out whatever it was I had started to say. Not that I had hoped he would
forget… but… where the hell to start?
I want this thing that you don’t want, but I don’t
want you to give it to me just because I want it, since I don’t want
Oh, never freakin’ mind.
‘Heero,’ I blurted, ‘sometimes it feels
like if I asked you for the moon, you’d spend the rest of your life
trying to figure out how to get it to me.’
He chuckled wryly, giving me a bemused little smile. ‘I…
don’t think I understand.’
I sighed, reaching to run my hand through my bangs, forgetting
the gauze until I snagged my hair on it. I dropped my hand back into my
lap and almost laughed, suddenly aware of just where this new nervous habit
had come from. ‘Look… do you have any idea what a burden that
can be? I have to double think everything, just to make sure that I’m
not ‘forcing’ you to do things just for my sake.’
‘You don’t force me to do things, Duo,’
he told me, his voice very intent. ‘In fact… you almost never
ask me for anything at all. I don’t mind…’
He stopped when I sighed. ‘That’s kind of my point,’
I said, not able to totally keep the faint dejection out of my voice. ‘You’d
do anything for me… I know that. So how am I supposed to know when
you’re doing things that you don’t want to… just to make
Something feral came into his eyes then. ‘I’d
sell my soul if it would buy your happiness.’
I shivered and stared at him wide-eyed. ‘Ok… that’s
totally my point! Do you honestly think I could be happy if you were running
He had to laugh, and I’ll admit it did sound pretty
damn stupid, but he’d started down this particular analogy road. ‘Duo…
it’s an expression…’
‘I’m not being stupid, Yuy,’ I grumbled,
glaring at him. ‘That was just an expression. But answer me this…
what if I told you the only thing in the world that would make me happy
was… was for you to quit the Preventors?’ It was the worst thing
I could think of, for him, on the spur of the moment.
His face went dead still, his total lack of expression showing
me his shock at the very idea. He loved his job. He loved feeling like he
was making a difference. It was an honor thing, with him and Wufei both,
I think, and I doubt if he could conceive of doing anything else with his
life. ‘Is… that what you want?’ he breathed softly.
I thought I would pull my hair out. It was right there in
his eyes; if I said ‘yes’, he’d be on the phone to Commander
Une in the next minute tendering his resignation.
‘No, you idiot!’ I blurted. ‘I’m freakin’
trying to make a point here! That job isn’t just a job to you. It’s
more like a… a damn calling, and we both know it. But if I said ‘kiss
it goodbye’, you’d be working at the local McDonald’s
come tomorrow morning!’
He blinked at me for a minute, looking rather taken aback.
Then he tried on a tiny little smile. ‘Well… I’d like
to think I could do better than wearing a paper hat and flipping burgers.’
It was a comment designed to calm me down, and it did make
me take a moment just to breathe. But my stomach still felt like it was
full of a flock of pissed off butterflies. I had gotten rather wound up
over this, hadn’t I? Maybe just too much stress for one day? Perhaps
I shouldn’t have brought this up on top of everything else. But we
were hip deep now, with no path back, only forward.
‘Heero-love,’ I told him, voice a little steadier.
‘You see what I’m saying? I don’t want that kind of power.
I understand what that says about how much you love me, but I don’t
want that kind of relationship. It puts all the major decisions on my head.
I want… a partnership with you, but that can’t be as long as
you keep sacrificing everything for my sake.’
He looked a little… odd. A parade of strange emotions
wandering through his eyes faster than I could read them.
Then he crawled into my nest of afghans and pillows with me.
I ended up with Heero lying on my chest, with his head nestled
under my chin and I thought… God, it’s stupid, but I thought
for a second I would burst into tears.
He’d never sought this from me. This was my position,
and it felt… very odd to be the one doing the holding. But it felt…
good. Damn good.
‘So,’ he sighed, when he was settled in my arms.
‘Going to tell me now, what this is all about?’
‘If you swear to me you will be completely honest,’
I told him; not at all sure I trusted that he would be. ‘If you won’t
just give in to me, because you think you’re making me happy.’
He hesitated, which earned him more points than his just blurting
out his pledge. ‘I’ll do my best,’ he finally told me.
I wasn’t sure whether to be reassured by his honesty, or worried about
And then we lay there for a little while. I thought about
wording and he waited for me. I thought about trust and he waited for me.
I thought about how in the world I would be able to tell what he really
thought and he… finally sighed in impatience.
‘I liked one of the houses we looked at,’ I told
him, calm and steady and not letting my trepidation come into my voice.
‘But I didn’t say anything because I heard you tell Miss Montoya
you didn’t want it.’
Jeez, that sounded kind of… stupid, didn’t it?
After all the build up. I was rather surprised he didn’t just laugh
I couldn’t help thinking the confession should have
made me feel better, to have finally gotten that off my chest. To have finally
told him what had been bothering me all weekend. But I just felt vaguely
sick, waiting for him to answer, Afraid he would insist that we buy the
house sight unseen. I could suddenly see how getting what I wanted in the
wrong way, could poison the dream until it would be worse than not getting
it at all.
He raised his head and looked up at me with a strange little
gleam in his eyes, and said, ‘So sell it to me.’
‘What?’ I responded, sounding quite intelligent,
He stretched up the extra couple of inches required to kiss
me gently, and said, ‘Convince me, Mr. Maxwell. Sell me on this house.’
‘You mean it?’ I breathed, afraid to believe.
‘You won’t just…’
‘I understand what you’re saying, love,’
he told me simply, and there was something in his eyes that told me he really
‘Then let’s go!’ I grinned, almost laughing
at the surprised look on his face.
‘Where?’ he blurted, frowning at me.
‘I work better with visual aids!’ I chuckled and
began pushing him off. ‘Come on… before it’s too dark.’
‘Duo,’ he said reasonably, looking at me with
a touch of good-natured indulgence in his eyes, moving off my chest and
sitting up. ‘It’s Sunday, Miss Montoya isn’t going to…’
‘Screw Miss Montoya,’ I informed him, scrambling
to my feet and heading toward the closet to get our coats. ‘Well…
not literally, she’s not my type. But since when did I need a damn
key to get into whatever the hell I wanted into?’
‘I don’t know that we ought…’ he started
to protest again, looking at me as though I’d grown a second head.
‘Oh, take a walk on the wild side, Yuy!’ I grinned
at him. ‘I need light to present my case properly, and I’m losing
the light.’ He looked for a moment like he didn’t have a clue
what to say to me, but then he seemed to remember my bandaged hands and
couldn’t just stand there watching me struggle into the jacket.
‘This will constitute breaking and entering,’
he grumbled; as he took my coat away from me and helped me slip it back
‘Only if we get caught, lover!’ I smirked at him.
‘And besides… we can always flash that Preventors badge of yours
and claim we’re investigating… something.’
He sighed, managing to sound greatly put-upon, but slipped
into his own coat as well. ‘Only if you promise to be more careful
about those hands,’ he scolded me. ‘I know you don’t feel
it… but that doesn’t mean you should be using them like nothing
‘Yes, boss,’ I said contritely and headed for
He snorted. ‘Oh that sounded believable,’ he groused.
‘Just come on!’ I laughed and he followed me out.
I hadn’t flat out told him which house I was talking
about, half because I really did want to be able to show him the things
I’d seen about the house that he hadn’t, and half because I
was just nervous. Afraid that I wouldn’t be able to convince him.
Afraid that I would.
I navigated while he drove, without giving him the final destination.
He responded to my ‘turn here, go there’ commands with sighs
and rolling eyes, but somehow seemed to be… pleased about something.
I kept catching him glancing at me with these funny little smiles, though
he did his best to keep the ‘exasperated’ expression firmly
I was so cheap-watch wound tight excited, so Ohmygawd anxious
that I was starting to get a headache. I wondered what it would do for my
case if I puked in his car.
I saw when he figured it out, and stopped bothering to give
directions. The last mile was kind of quiet. He was frowning thoughtfully.
I was trying not to peel the gauze off my hands in my nervousness.
And then we were there.
He pulled up and parked, turning the car off, but waiting
for me, still following my lead. I got out; feeling like our whole future
was resting on my shoulders, and started the walk up to the porch. Heero
followed after me, strangely quiet. Or maybe I was the one who was strangely
quiet. I suddenly wasn’t so sure this was such a great idea.
Jimmying the lock took no more time than using a key would
have, so we didn’t have to linger suspiciously on the porch. Not that
there was anyone around to see us. Heero sighed softly as we stepped inside,
closing the door behind us. ‘Oh, you are such a little goody-two-shoes,’
I chuckled. ‘Relax… bet you’ve never snuck into a movie
theatre before, either.’
He raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment on the strange
expression. ‘This is going to be pretty hard to explain, if we get
caught,’ was all he said.
‘Then we’ll just have to be careful,’ I
teased and guided him into the living room.
I tried to let go of my unease, tried to recapture the feeling
I’d had while we’d been here before, however short-lived it
had been. ‘Come on, Heero,’ I told him. ‘You have to admit
this is the coolest looking fireplace we’ve seen anywhere.’
‘Coolest?’ he mocked me, archly. ‘I don’t
remember ‘cool’ being on our list of pre-requisites.’
It caught me rather by surprise, that he was willing to play
the devil’s advocate for me. That he was willing to make me win this
and not just give in. I felt a flash of hope, and some of my excitement
came back. ‘Cool is always a factor,’ I informed him haughtily,
and wandered over to run my hands along the stones. ‘Just look at
it… it has to be a hundred years old! Can you imagine the man who
built it? He probably dug the stones out of the backyard himself!’
Heero grunted and moved to stand beside me, reaching out to
touch the stones with a tentative air, as though he thought they might be
‘Not like those houses we looked at yesterday,’
I tried to explain. ‘There was no… soul to them. They were all
alike, built from the same set of plans. The guy who drew up the blue-prints
has probably never even been in one of those houses.’ I moved away,
turning about in the center of the room, looking around at the crown molding,
at the deep windowsills. ‘This place has a… voice. It’s
I moved to where I saw the ghost of a plush couch, seat deep
enough to accommodate two, lying side by side. ‘Can’t you imagine
winter evenings here, with just the fireplace for light?’ I trailed
my fingers along the back of that nonexistent piece of furniture as I went
by. ‘We could put the stereo system there in the corner.’ I
could almost hear the music playing.
Heero cocked his head, his eyes following me as I moved around
the room, touching things, pointing out the little details. Then I happened
to step where I could see down the hall and realized that the sun was setting.
Understanding that I was losing my much-vaunted light, I moved to take Heero
by the arm and pulled him down the hallway with me. ‘Hurry, Heero…
before it gets too dark to see.’
‘Hands,’ he murmured, gently untangling his arm
from my grasp, but his tone wasn’t so much irritated, as it was…
I took him to my studio. The room he’d never gotten
to. Not speaking for a minute, just watching him as he moved with me into
The setting sun was streaming in the back windows, making
the normally white room glow with a warm, orange fire. I saw him recognize
it from the drawing and he turned to look at me for a second. I could only
smile sheepishly. He stepped away from me and walked around the room, pausing
where I had stood the day before, looking out at the back yard, at the willow
tree. His fingers dusted through the residue of potting soil, just as mine
had, and I say his eyes look for the other signs that had told me this had
been a virtual greenhouse, once upon a time. He cast a glance back over
his shoulder at me and then walked deliberately to the other end of the
counter, climbing up to sit in the very spot I’d drawn him, mimicking
the pose. The fading sunlight set him aglow, set his hair on fire and made
him look like some damn exotic fire creature come to life. It made my heart
ache. It made me wish for my paints. I just stood and stared at the picture
he made… determined to burn the image into my mind for later. It was
as beautiful as I had ever seen him.
He stretched out a hand and I went to join him, crawling up
to sit facing him, feeling almost reluctant to intrude.
His smile was gentle and warm, and just a touch wry. ‘You
never saw the kitchen, did you?’ he asked and I had to shake my head.
‘It’s awful,’ he informed me flatly. ‘I
completely refuse to do anything until we remodel it. I don’t care
how bad the rest of the house is, the kitchen comes first… it sucks.’
I nodded, staring at him, trying to judge… trying to
‘The price is enough below what we budgeted,’
he said firmly. ‘That we should be able to afford a contractor to
do that part, but after that… any other repairs, we’re going
to have to do ourselves.’
‘I’d like that,’ I told him, and he frowned
‘It’s going to be a lot of hard work, Duo,’
he informed me, wearing the shadow of that concerned look he gets. ‘Are
you sure you’re up to this? That’s why I dismissed it…
I don’t want you wearing yourself out.’
I looked around, seeing the room in my head the way I wanted
it to be. ‘That’s part of what attracts me, Heero,’ I
said quietly and I don’t know that he understood. I frowned, thinking
about it. ‘It’ll be… building something again.’
I turned away from him, sliding off the counter and walking over to where
I could ‘see’ my easel, almost reaching out to touch it. ‘It’s
been so long since I felt like I’ve had a… direction. I look
at this place and I just ache to fix things. I can see how it ought to look…
how it once looked, and I want to make it a home again.’
There were hands on my shoulders, turning me around, and when
I met his eyes they glowed with an inner fire that the sunset couldn’t
come close to imitating.
‘My Duo,’ he breathed, looking at me in a way
that made me feel warm somewhere inside, but made me shiver all the same.
‘You’ve sold me. I won’t lose anything that’s brought
this… life back to you. I’ve dreamed of seeing you like this
again, ever since that damned accident.’
I could only stare at him wide-eyed and shocked, while he
fairly drank me in with his intense gaze. Then he leaned slowly in to kiss
me. Gently at first, bare brushes of his lips over mine until something
inside me let go. The headache was just… gone. The vague unease was
just… gone. I met his soft touches with more desperate ones and he
wrapped me close against him. I suddenly knew that everything was going
to be all right. It was all going to work out. He stopped his near frantic
rain of kisses, pressing my face into the crook of his shoulder and telling
me not to cry, which made no sense, but he held me tight, murmuring soft
promises until the sun was completely gone and it really did get dark.
‘Let’s go back to the apartment and call Miss
Montoya,’ I whispered, suddenly afraid of losing this. Afraid that
someone else would move faster and take our house away from us.
‘All right,’ he soothed and steered us toward
the door, his arm still around me. ‘We’ll tell her we’re
thinking about making an offer, but Duo… we really need to come back
and look at the rest of it.’
‘I know,’ I admitted sheepishly, realizing that
the whole upstairs might be gutted and we wouldn’t know it. But somehow,
I’m not sure it mattered.
I think Heero sensed that, and he sighed, chuckling softly.
‘You’re hopeless,’ he grumbled. ‘Let me do the damn
talking… one look at your besotted face and the woman will know she
can ask whatever the hell price she wants.’
‘Hey!’ I objected, starting to slap at his arm,
but he caught my wrist with a growl of warning and I flushed, grinning unabashedly.
‘I have done this kind of thing before, remember?’ I informed
him, ignoring the slip.
‘We’ll see,’ he grumbled, lifting the arm
he still held trapped, to lightly kiss the gauze. I snorted, retrieving
my poor, battered hand just as we got to the front door. We took a quick
look around, found the coast clear and slipped outside, carefully making
sure to lock up behind us.
‘Now that’s the first thing we need to take care
of,’ I told him. ‘Those locks are pathetic.’
He chuckled at me as we made our way down the front steps.
I hesitated as we walked across the front lawn, turning back to look up
at the house. Our house. Heero didn’t immediately notice and I heard
his footsteps, still moving away.
I wanted to offer up a little prayer that nothing had changed,
that no one else had made an offer on the place, but I was kind of afraid
to push my luck. Sometimes… when I want things a little too much,
I’m scared to draw divine attention to it. God sometimes seemed to
have a twisted sense of humor where Duo Maxwell was concerned. Having something
outside my control take this away from me at this point, would rather fit
that sense of humor.
There suddenly seemed to be a shadowed presence on the porch
swing and I imagined it gently swaying.
‘Don’ worry, kid,’ Solo’s voice came
to me on the breath of a still wind. ‘I’ll keep an eye on’t
for ya.’ He leaned back and tucked immaterial hands behind his imaginary
head. ‘I like it here.’
‘Me too, old friend,’ I whispered.
‘Duo?’ Heero’s voice called and I turned
to find him waiting by the car. ‘Is everything all right?’
I smiled and went to join him. ‘Just fine, love,’
I told him. ‘Just about perfect, in fact.’
He smiled in return, giving me another quick kiss, looking
at me with that strange, contented look again. Then he opened the car door
for me, mindful of my hands.
I glanced back toward the porch, watching Solo peacefully
swinging, while I waited for Heero to make his way around the car. I wondered
idly if I should tell him our new house was haunted.
That thought made me chuckle. Well…perhaps some other
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