Warnings : Yaoi, angst/sap, OOC, language, and a couple of OCs, Duo POV.
Thanks to Christy and Ash for beta reading and Aya for encouragement.
Dedicated to Ebonydove.
Feed-back is a dream I have.
And I don’t own anything in this series, either.
It was not as difficult as it probably should have been to
convince Wufei that my nightmare had been a fluke. The man had a life, after
all. An apartment. A girlfriend. A cat, for cryin’ out loud. That
one still got me; Wufei… with a cat. Anyway, the point was; he had
a life and he wanted to get back to it. He needed to get back to it.
It took me a couple of days to get my feet back under me,
but I finally managed to pull my head out of my ass and got back to the
business of taking care of Heero. Wufei stayed with me a second night, and
I was truly grateful… at the same time that I was extremely embarrassed.
Once I got some decent sleep again, that run to L3 and back started to fade
a little and I realized that I had once again demonstrated my incredible
sense of timing. Or lack thereof.
Out there, between the stars, with all my fears knocking at
my airlock, I had listened to Neo talk and I had let his fears feed my own
until I’d had this blood-inspired piranha frenzy on my hands. I completely
panicked. I should have come back and concentrated all my attention on Heero.
I should have used the last of my funds to ‘dry-dock’ my ship
and just left her there until Heero was recovered and I was able to spare
the time for what I should have known was going to be a mind-bending task.
I still don’t think I was wrong in the choice I made.
I am not a slow individual. I like to think I’m a fairly quick study…
stubborn maybe, but quick. I had it very dramatically demonstrated to me
on the trip to L2 just how screwed up I was. Being a stubborn individual,
I made the trip to L3 just to verify the results of my ‘I can do this
if I just push hard enough’ experiment. All the test results were
in, and they were pretty damn conclusive; Duo Maxwell was no longer a pilot.
There was no need to continue the experimentation until somebody got killed.
I would not be another Neo. So I stand by my decision, since it was the
only one left to me, but I suppose I kinda have to take it on the chin over
the timing issue.
I will say it now to all pertinent parties. I was stupid.
I am sorry. I am done for now. Nervous breakdown all over; we now take you
back to your regularly scheduled program.
I had managed that first night with Wufei, despite the small
interruption in the wee hours, to get a decent amount of rest. Wufei hadn’t
dared leave the room again after returning from the bathroom to find me
struggling with unseen attackers and refusing to draw breath. I think he
woke hours before I did, that second time, but he just stayed until I woke
on my own. I honestly don’t even remember what time it was when we
went to bed, but I’d be willing to bet I slept for over twelve hours…
not counting the brief intermission. I was just fucking exhausted.
I woke to find Wufei sitting in bed beside me, leaning against
the headboard and smiling at me in a way that made me blush all the way
to my toes. He led me gently through that first day like I was made out
of eggshells. Fixed me breakfast and wheedled until I ate. Helped me with
the laundry so I had clean clothes. Took me back to the hospital. Led me
around like a puppy, and that first day I was more than willing to be led.
I was just still too damn wrung out to work up the large amount of irritation
it would have taken to argue with all of them
It had been afternoon by the time we had gotten to the hospital.
I was surprised at first that neither Trowa nor Quatre mentioned the fact
that I hadn’t been there when they arrived that morning. Surprised
until I thought about it, and realized that it only meant that they had
been briefed on my little stress related… incident. So I got to go
through the rest of the day with the knowledge that the whole damn world
knew what a screw up I was. Joy.
That day was rough. Not, I suppose, as rough as the day before
it… but rough all the same.
Wufei left me alone with Heero for part of the early evening
while he went home to feed his cat, shower and change clothes, but came
back to the hospital in time to take me back to the apartment again at the
end of visiting hours. Hours that we were being pushed to observe now that
it had been demonstrated that Heero could be a good boy and stay where the
hell he was supposed to.
Those few hours were… sweet, quite possibly the salve
on my soul that got me through the day. Heero was very… gentle with
me; not bringing up the day before, not trying to make me ‘talk about
it’. I was there for one of his forays up and down the hall, and got
to be the one to support him and hold his arm. I had bathed him again, afterward,
doing my best to put everything I couldn’t say into my touch. We talked
a little bit, nothing really heavy, just some reconnecting. I sat on the
side of his bed and he rested his hand on my hip. We just sat for a while
and… oh hell; we did the whole gazing into each other’s eyes
thing, ok? Shut up about it. I think LeAnn had to go lie down somewhere
from a sugar overload, because I didn’t see a whole lot of her during
that period. But by the time Wufei showed up to get me, I felt… grounded.
A little more centered.
Heero had insisted, before I left, that LeAnn fetch his car
keys from his personal belongings and give them to me. It was a lovely gesture,
so much so that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that for the last
three years, all my travel had been inter-planetary. I’d never bothered
to get myself an official driver’s license. I just took the keys and
gave him a smile and a kiss. I’ve never understood his problem with
public transportation, anyway.
Wufei stayed with me again that second night, fixing us dinner
and helping me put a couple more boxes worth of stuff away. That stopped
when he ran across my box of pictures, and we spent the next hour going
through them while I spun stories to go with the faces. He laughed in all
the right places, and I think he thought he was doing a good thing for me,
in getting me to talk a little bit. I had been… somewhat quiet that
first day. But the majority of the pictures were either from the war, or
from my years just starting out in the trade… two time periods I was
not all that eager to think about right then.
There were pictures of Smitty, Bernie and Havers. Some taken
at McMurphy’s, and a couple from a day I had popped up at their office
to surprise them, taking pictures of them in ‘their natural habitat’.
There were some pictures of Hayden and me. Then Hayden and Toria; I was
able to get a couple of laughs out of Wufei with stories of how Toria and
Hayden had met. There were pictures of the kids from the home, and those
made me pause a moment, guilt taking a nibble as I worried about my finances.
Then Wufei pulled out a picture of me with Hayden and Toria,
taken in the cargo hold of my ship the day I took possession of her. We
had set the camera up with an automatic timer and laughed like little kids,
trying to get all three of us in the picture at the same time. It’s
the freakiest damn picture; we were in zero-g and the camera was just floating
there; we might have been a little drunk as we careened around the cargo
bay, trying to get in front of it as the shutter clicked. I’d thrown
away half a roll of pictures of blank walls and people’s feet. Only
one picture had really come out; Hayden is dead center and he has one arm
out, snagging his wife as she had drifted by and drawing her, giggling insanely,
into the frame. His other hand had stretched out at the last minute and
grabbed my braid, pulling me down into range. We are twisted every which
way, all laughing uproariously. It was probably one of the happiest days
of my life.
Looking at it, I knew my grinning mask slipped just a trifle,
but I was relatively helpless to stop the expression that must have crossed
Wufei carefully took the pictures from my hands and slipped
them back in the box, putting the lid back on my life.
‘I’m sorry, Maxwell,’ he grunted. ‘Sally
tells me that sometimes I’m not the most sensitive person in the world.’
I just snorted, letting him take my memories away and put
them in the drawer. ‘It’s ok.’ We stopped unpacking for
I showered and we went to bed. That is a decidedly weird statement…
‘we went to bed’. Since one half of that statement was Wufei,
and not Heero. It didn’t help matters much that I was feeling…
physically lonely. Heero has a way of… of using those hands and that
body of his and taking me places that allow me to forget. Allow me to set
everything aside while he’s touching me. I missed him.
After the lights went out and the goodnights were said, there
was a bit of silence before Wufei ventured, very softly, ‘You remember
you have therapy tomorrow… right?’
I think I sighed; I had kind of pushed it out of my head.
I had missed two or three sessions now, I’m not even sure, and would
have been more than happy to just quit. Though some part of my head knew
that was a bad idea. Some small part of me was quick to point out the little
signs that told me my body was feeling the lack of those sessions. I knew
I needed to get back. Besides, Wufei wouldn’t have reminded me unless
Heero had reminded him. If I showed up at the hospital tomorrow when I should
have been at the clinic, Heero was going to throw a flaming fit.
‘Yeah,’ I muttered and heard a slightly surprised
sounding grunt. He had been putting that reminder off for some time, obviously,
because he had been anticipating a fight. I sighed again. ‘I’m
not a total idiot.’
‘I didn’t say you were,’ he grumbled.
I was feeling drowsy and yawned before mumbling, ‘Your
grunts are as expressive as Relena’s little sniffs.’
He chuckled, ‘That dismissive one she does?’
I laughed, delighted that someone else had noticed those.
‘With her nose tilted in the air just so?’
‘That’s the one,’ he confirmed. ‘I’ve
been on the receiving end more than once.’
I blinked into the dark for a second. ‘You mean I’m
not the only person in the world she would like to see boiled in oil and
served to rabid dogs on a platter?’
‘With soy sauce.’ I could hear him grinning.
‘Oddly…’ I said around another yawn, ‘that
makes me feel better.’
He was quiet for a minute and sleep began to creep up on me.
‘I didn’t mean to imply you were being… an idiot,’
he sighed. ‘But… we weren’t sure if you were intending
on quitting all together…you didn’t go the other day…’
He let that hang there in the air and I thought about it for
a minute. ‘Didn’t really mean to,’ I mumbled, voice feeling
thick. ‘But erasing your life is kinda an all day job.’
There was a shocked little grunt and I repressed a chuckle.
‘That’n was your ‘upset’ grunt,’
I told him, barely able to get the syllables out.
Warm fingers touched my shoulder. ‘Go to sleep, Maxwell.’
‘I’m tryin’,’ I mumbled, ‘but
s’body keeps talkin’.’
He snorted, but shut up. All I remember after that was willing
myself to stay on my own side of the bed. Reminding my sleepy brain that
was not Heero over there, and that rolling over to seek the warm body next
to mine would be an incredibly bad idea.
I managed to wake first the next morning and fixed breakfast
for him, for a change. It seemed to signal to him that I was getting my
shit together. Either that, or he was lulled into a false sense of security
by the fact that I had gone the night without a nightmare. No one had realized,
despite my fears otherwise, that I couldn’t sleep alone. Wufei had
only been spending the night with me because of the… breakdown I’d
had at the hospital. Now that I didn’t look quite like a cast member
of ‘Night of the Living Dead’, he seemed to be relaxing his
vigil. Which was fine with me. Sure, it was going to put me back with my
‘where the hell am I going to sleep?’ problem, but I was heartily
sick of being hovered over.
To be honest, I was more than a little surprised, but pleased
as all hell when he headed off to work after breakfast. I got the little
reminder of therapy again just before he left, but then he really did leave.
I could have danced for joy.
Of course, it didn’t take ten minutes before I had to
turn the stereo on to combat the silence.
I spent the couple of hours before I had to leave working
around the apartment. Half the dishes Heero owned were stacked in the sink,
and I still had a couple boxes full of stuff to put away. I did what I could
before heading off for the bus stop. I tossed Heero’s car keys in
the dish by the front door on my way out.
I walked into the clinic with guilt-beast in tow and having
trouble keeping my head up. I could already hear the tongue-lashing I was
gonna get from Jean. I had actually considered trying to wear a long sleeved
shirt to hide the gauze, but it was an ironclad cinch she was going to find
out sooner or later anyway, so I just wore my regular workout clothes; running
shorts and a t-shirt. My only rebellious act being the message on the front
of my t-shirt; ‘Due to budget cuts… the light at the end of
the tunnel has been shut off’. Jean would appreciate it.
I signed in and took a seat, waiting for Jean to notice I
was there and wave me into the gym. I figured she wouldn’t do much
more than glare at me before turning me over to the dreaded Dan… as
she had promised to do if I ‘screwed myself up again’. I hadn’t
had to work with Dan all that much, but he seemed like a guy who enjoyed
his job a little too much.
She finally caught sight of me and grinned, giving me the
sign to enter her domain. I could see her say something, through the big
front window, but didn’t think to start lip reading until I noticed
her say my name. I saw several of the other patients that I had come to
know over the months, stop what they were doing and turn to watch me walk
through the doors.
I felt my shoulders hunching as I made my way across the room,
and tried to relax. I saw her notice the bandage and waited for the explosion.
I wasn’t prepared for the wide grin.
‘Do I know my Duo, or what?’ she chortled and
I heard a collective groan from the rest of the room. ‘Pay up ladies
I should have been shocked that the lot of them had been betting
on me… or against me, depending on how you wanted to take it. But,
Jean made close to a hundred dollars from the other ten people in the room
and it put her in such a good mood that she didn’t even abandon me
Of course, the gauze had to come off so she could examine
the wound. There were questions and I gamely pulled out fairy dust and my
patented self-deprecating grin, spinning my story again. Jean wasn’t
suspicious at all and I spent the entire session enduring cracks about ‘stripped
She did ease my mind, somewhat, by opining that she thought
I would get full movement back in my arm once the cut healed. I trusted
her judgment more than any doctor’s; she had more experience with
the aftereffects of things. Doctors, if you ask me, can be overly optimistic
sometimes. Therapists are a little more realistic.
She ran me through my workout like a damned trained dog, setting
me to do an exercise and going off to start somebody else off on their routine,
returning in the nick of time to make absolutely sure I didn’t have
time to rest before starting me on my next task. She pushed me through my
entire two hours and then some, taking the time to make me work with my
arm to evaluate its condition. Her parting words were, ‘no more trips
for you… at all. Ever. Don’t even think about it.’
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she had nothing
to worry about; trips were a thing of my past.
By the time I got the hell out of there, I was sweat-soaked
and shaking and needing an aspirin for my throbbing arm. I had not realized
how much I was favoring it until Jean had forced me to actually use it.
I sat on the bench outside the clinic waiting for the bus and thought of
my old afternoon naps with some fondness.
It was already after lunch, and I debated going straight to
the hospital, but I knew I really had to stink. So I made a run back to
the apartment for a quick shower and a change of clothes. I took a few minutes
to set my laptop up and boot it, logging into the net to see if I had any
nibbles on the ship.
My picture of Sisyphus greeted me after my system finished
playing its ‘happy music’ and finally booted. I couldn’t
help but grin at the poor guy. ‘I know just how you feel, man,’
The two extra vacuum suits had sold. At my asking price, no
less, but there were no messages about the ship yet. The income from the
suits, though, would be enough to let me send some money off to Octavia
and the kids. That went a long way toward making me feel… a little
less like a loser.
Then it was back to the bus stop and off to the hospital.
Therapy had left me feeling washed out and I was just as happy
to get to Heero’s room and find him alone. I didn’t want to
have to make small talk with the other guys or have them looking at me like
they were afraid I was going to spontaneously shatter where I sat.
Heero’s face lit like Christmas morning when I walked
into the room. I felt strangely light-hearted myself; I had done nothing
today that I had to keep from him. The thought almost made me laugh. I had
gotten a full night’s sleep. I had gone to therapy. I hadn’t
gone down to the port. There wasn’t a thing I was going to have to
lie about… for the first time in a long time, I was going to be able
to tell him about my whole day and not have to worry about leaving things
unsaid. I was eager for a day like I’d had with him the day before.
His gentle words and soft touch, his eyes on me so warm and loving.
‘Did you have trouble getting the car started after
it sat for so long?’ he greeted me and I repressed a groan. Oh yeah…
the car. Ouch. Perhaps not a day like the day before.
‘I had no trouble with the car what-so-ever,’
I grinned at him. Since I never went near it.
‘Where’d you park?’ he queried. ‘Did
you need money for the garage? I think they charge…’
I snorted at him and rolled my eyes. ‘The car is out
front.’ Of the apartment. ‘They don’t charge if you park
on the street.’
‘What did you have for lunch?’ he continued with
his third degree and I actually frowned at him.
‘The same damn thing I had yesterday!’ Nothing.
‘Heero… what in the hell is with the interrogation?’
He had the decency to blush and ducked his head, looking away
from me. ‘It’s just… driving me nuts. Being stuck here
and not being able…’ He ended in an inarticulate mumble and
I went around the bed and sat on the edge, leaning down to give him a gentle
‘Can we start this over, love?’ I grinned at him.
His eyes flicked up to meet mine, and he smiled sheepishly
‘Ok, then,’ I chuckled at him. ‘Hello, Heero…
how are you feeling this afternoon?’
‘Better,’ he informed me, and I laughed.
‘You’ve been saying that since the day I got back,’
I chided. ‘By your account, you ought to be feeling better now than
before you got shot!’
A corner of his mouth quirked up. ‘I just want the hell
out of here.’
I tapped the end of his nose and then soothed it with a tiny
kiss. ‘Not yet, oh husband-mine. It’s your turn to endure.’
His hand came up to cup my cheek tenderly. ‘I just want
to be able to come home and take care of you,’ he whispered, voice
I sighed and shook my head ruefully. ‘You’ve got
that a little backwards, don’t you, love? You want to go home so I
can take care of you.’
I knew damn well he had meant exactly what he had said, but
I chose to ignore it.
He caught my hand in his when I reached to stroke his hair
away from his eyes. ‘You scared me,’ he said softly.
I guess I had just gotten the previous day because he’d
thought I was still… emotionally fragile or something. Now I was going
to pay for the good day with a bad one.
I dropped the feeble attempt to lighten things up and just
sat looking at him for a minute, collecting my thoughts. He’d obviously
been sitting here alone for some time, with nothing to do but think. ‘Look,
Heero… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…’
He cut me off with a pained little sigh. ‘Don’t
apologize. There’s nothing to apologize for. I tried to tell you;
you haven’t dealt with the accident yet…’
I couldn’t help a small chuckle. ‘Heero…
I think it’s been dealt with. I got back in the saddle. The horse
kicked the shit out of me. End of story.’
He frowned darkly and his fingers squeezed mine. ‘No…
that’s not the end of it…’
I didn’t growl, ok? It flitted through my head, but
I did not growl. ‘What in the hell is driving this?’
He looked vaguely guilty and glanced down at our hands, still
linked together. ‘Wufei… told me about the nightmare.’
I had to count to ten. Forward… and then backward.
‘And did he report to you how many times I peed?’
I asked him, rather proud of the level tone of voice.
He flushed, but I could see his jaw get that set to it that
told me he was going to get stubborn, and I jumped in again before he could
‘Are you telling me you never have bad dreams?’
I gritted. ‘I had a fucking nightmare… find me somebody who
doesn’t now and again. What in the hell is the big deal?’
‘He said… he said you stopped breathing,’
he whispered, looking at me with wide eyes. ‘He said… he said
your damn lips were turning blue.’
Wufei had failed to mention that part to me. If he hadn’t
been there, would I have started breathing again on my own? Would I have
woken myself up? Could you actually kill yourself by simply believing you
didn’t have any air?
I repressed a shiver that would have told him how much that
revelation had shaken me. I didn’t know how to answer that. I didn’t
know what to say to him.
Frustration danced in his eyes and suddenly he had hold of
me by the shoulders, pulling me down against his shoulder where he could
wrap his arms around me.
‘Heero!’ I yelped. ‘Be careful!’
He ignored me, his fingers seeking the back of my neck and
holding me against him. ‘This is making me crazy,’ he told me.
‘I want to go home. I want to be there with you. You need me and I…
I can’t… I’m not able…’
He was still struggling with words that he either couldn’t
find, or was afraid I wouldn’t hear.
‘Damn it, Heero,’ I growled, relaxing against
his shoulder since he wouldn’t let me go anyway. ‘You’ve
been taking care of me for the last stinking seven months! I am fine.’
‘Fine?’ he whispered, very near my ear. ‘You’re
trembling… I can feel it.’
I sighed in exasperation and pulled back again, this time
he let me sit up. I looked him squarely in the eye. ‘I hadn’t
been to therapy in a week. Jean worked me like a trained monkey, ok? Yeah…
I feel a little shaky; it will pass.’
He looked like he was choking on the knot of words trying
to find their way out of his mouth.
‘How in the hell would you feel?’ I blurted, before
he got the knot untangled. ‘If our positions were reversed? Damn it,
love; you scared the holy crap out of me, too. When I saw Trowa and Quatre
at the dockyard, I thought… I thought…’ I bit it off and
looked away, eyes stinging and gut clenching in remembrance of that day.
‘I’m sorry,’ he murmured, reaching to touch
‘You’re… you’re all I have left, Heero.’
I blurted, catching his hand in mine and squeezing again. ‘I want
to take care of you, too… I just want you safe and well… I…’
Frustration flickered across his face again. ‘You’re
keeping something from me,’ he said then, voice thick and intense.
‘I can tell… even after you promised. I’m just so damn
I heaved a sigh and sat up straighter, deciding to come clean
on the one point. Perhaps it would ease his mind enough that he would stop
digging for the other points. ‘If I freakin’ tell you, will
you not try to ‘fix’ it?’
His eyes looked so… hopeful, that guilt-beast just fucking
appeared out of no-where and nailed me in the ass before I even knew he
was back. Heero nodded and then amended it with a tiny little, ‘I’ll
I snorted and glanced away from that piercing gaze. ‘I
don’t have a driver’s license.’
‘What?’ he murmured, blinking in surprise.
‘I never fucking needed one, ok?’ I said and knew
I sounded defensive. ‘I couldn’t afford a car and the ship,
too. It wasn’t practical, so I never bothered with it.’
‘So…’ he hesitated, confused. ‘How
did you… I mean…’
I sighed, frustration getting the better of me. ‘I did
not drive the damn car illegally. I took the bus. It is no big deal…
or it wouldn’t be if you stopped making it a big deal. There is this
lovely thing called ‘public transportation’ that is just a wonderful
invention, maybe you’ve never heard of it? Great big vehicles with
lots of seats inside? Somebody else does the driving?’
I shut up and looked away.
‘Why didn’t you just tell me?’ he asked
‘Because,’ I grumbled. ‘You would have made
one of the guys come all the way down here just to chauffer me around and
I’m sick to death of being a pain in everybody’s ass!’
‘Duo!’ he blurted, sounding shocked. ‘You
‘I am,’ I said firmly. ‘Before that damn
accident, I was a relatively self-sufficient person. Now I’m just
this blood-sucking leech…’ Oooops. There went the mouth again.
I felt like my thoughts had just made an end-run around my brain.
‘You are not!’ he scolded, suddenly looking pained.
‘Don’t talk like that.’
I couldn’t meet that pain in his eyes, and looked away.
In that instant, I wished I were free to run away. I wished that I still
had a place I could run to. It hit like a damn blow, suddenly, that I was
totally dependent on him now… I had no home of my own anymore. We’d
been living together for over six months, but I’d always had that
bolthole… that place I could retreat too if I really had to. I felt
like I’d made the leap out of the airplane, and then decided to check
‘Why shouldn’t I?’ I sighed and let my head
drop back down onto his shoulder so I didn’t have to look at him.
‘It’s the God’s honest truth.’
I wanted to give in and lean. I needed to be strong and support.
I wished… for a damn nap.
His hands stroked over my hair and I felt him sigh. ‘You
are not a… leech. They’re your friends… we are all your
friends… we love you and we just want to help. Let me in…’
‘What would you have me do, Heero?’ I asked him,
and was surprised when he had a ready answer.
‘Stop hiding. Stop lying. Talk to me.’ He had
a lot of ready answers. ‘Stop trying to bear everything alone. Tell
me what you’re feeling… I can’t read your mind, you know.’
I couldn’t help a dark chuckle. ‘Never thought
I’d hear you admit to that one.’
There was a small silence, and then, ‘They took my crystal
ball with the rest of my belongings.’
He won a snicker and I raised my head to smile for him and
suddenly found my lips covered with his. There was a desperation to the
kiss, a voraciousness. If he had been whole and well, he would have pinned
me to the bed and ravaged my mouth while he ripped the clothes off me. My
body was flooded with heat and I moaned, shifting to deepen the kiss since
he couldn’t. We speak better with touch than we do with words. I could
feel his love like a solid thing under my hands and it was something I had
needed to anchor me.
When I drew back I was surprised to find his face swimming
before my eyes.
‘I. Love. You,’ he told me forcefully while I
sat and blinked my sight clear.
‘Then let me do the things I have to do,’ I whispered.
‘I’m… feeling like the biggest damn loser on the face
of the planet right now. I need this… to not fail you on top of everything
‘Oh, love…’ he breathed and I stilled him
with a soft kiss, nothing like the first one.
‘Please?’ I said, trying not to let it sound pleading.
‘The worst is over… I know my timing wasn’t the best,
but it had to be done. And it is done.’ I tried to quirk him a grin
but only ended up blushing furiously. ‘I promise; no more hysterical
‘I wish you hadn’t done that… to your ship,’
he said softly, touching my face tenderly. ‘It was too soon…
you should have waited and not made the decision while you’re still
I heaved a sigh and met his eyes. His were so full of…
belief in me. Full of love and… faith. I’m sure mine just looked
‘Listen to me, Heero,’ I told him intently. ‘Physically,
I will recover… some day.’ I couldn’t contain the discouraged
sigh, wondering just how in the hell long before that happened. ‘But…
mentally… it’s in my damn bones. That… fear has soaked
in and it’s not going away. I am not going to get over it. No amount
of talking about it is going to make the panic stop. If we were talking
about…’ I wracked my brain, looking for an analogy. ‘If
we were talking about falling off a horse… yeah; maybe I could cope
with it and eventually go on. But there’s no margin for error in what
I do. If I freeze or I panic on the job… somebody dies. Maybe not
even me. I won’t take that chance.’
His fingers tightened on my arms almost painfully. ‘It…
it just… tears me apart, thinking about you… going in there,
all alone. I wish you had waited for me.’
I flashed on the horrendous mental picture of Heero witnessing
the insane, screaming attack I had made on the room from Hell, armed with
a paint stripper and fez-sporting hamsters. I shivered. ‘I don’t
want to talk about it. It’s over.’
He graced me with a pained little frown and opened his mouth
‘Damnit,’ I said. ‘I came to spend time
with you, not to get lectured!’
He relented. Praise God and Allah and little winged Cherubs;
he backed the hell down. Which was a damned good thing because I was about
two minutes from running out of the hospital screaming at the top of my
I busied myself for a bit, changing his water and straightening
around his area. Someone had pushed his table so far over he couldn’t
reach it and I repositioned it. He was out of Kleenex and I found some on
a cart in the hall.
He finally got around to telling me that the last of his external
staples had been removed that morning. He showed me the wounds for the first
time and I found that I had to sit down when my knees felt suddenly weak.
I discovered his hand in mine and had to make myself not crush his fingers.
It had been… a very near thing. A God damned near thing.
‘It’s all right,’ he whispered gently.
‘I know,’ I whispered back, and he pulled his
gown back down and let me sit in silence for a minute, holding tight to
‘What you’re feeling…’ he said, very
softly, ‘is what I’ve been feeling for months. Only you don’t
have any freshly healing scars to reassure me with.’
I tore my gaze away from his abdomen and met the intense glitter
of his steely blue eyes. That had been a cheap shot. One that I hadn’t
seen coming. I opened my mouth to speak, not knowing how in the hell to
answer that. He gently stroked his thumb over my lips to stop the words
that weren’t coming anyway.
‘Don’t,’ he told me. ‘Just…
keep it in mind, all right?’
I nodded, the most I could manage.
Dinner came then and I could have kissed LeAnn. I used her
mercilessly to alter the conversation and the mood. Used the meal to head
us toward our nightly routine. He ate his dinner and I gave him his bath,
even washing his hair. Everything I could do for him, I did, in an effort
to keep the conversation from wandering back where I didn’t want to
Finally, it was time for me to leave and that thought hit
me hard. ‘Finally’; God, but I didn’t want to feel that
We said our goodbyes and I was shocked as hell when he let
me go without any admonishments over the whole stupid lack of transportation
I caught the bus back to the apartment, reflecting that sitting
with him through the night had been easier. I was going to have to go straight
to the theatre to get any sleep at all; the showings only ran to eleven
on weeknights. I wouldn’t have the matinees to fall back on. I would
have to get my couple of hours in immediately and then go back to the apartment
and… work crossword puzzles for the rest of the night or something.
I had been entertaining the idea of trying to sleep alone before Heero had
informed me of Wufei’s ‘turning blue’ comment. I somehow
didn’t think I’d be dozing off by myself anytime soon. I wondered
idly how long before Heero was released from the hospital. That would make
my damn life so much easier. At least I didn’t have therapy tomorrow.
The French flick was gone, replaced by some epic historical
thing. I bought my ticket, delighted to find that being a different shift,
there was a different usher. I think the other guy had gotten to the point
where he recognized me. I settled myself in ‘my’ corner seat
and was asleep before the lights even dimmed. On a weeknight, there weren’t
a lot of people in there with me… but there were enough. There was
the soft murmur of voices and the rustling of shifting bodies. It was enough.
I blinked awake when the lights came back up and my subconscious
informed me the movie was over. I sat up and was suddenly aware that someone
was sitting very close to me. Not three seats away. That kicked my defenses
into high gear; it scared the holy shit out of me that some stranger had
gotten that close to me while I was at my most vulnerable. But then the
‘Duo,’ Trowa’s soft voice asked. ‘What
in the hell are you doing?’
Three hours of sleep is not really enough. It is, in fact,
just about enough to let you really sink into a good, deep sleep. So waking
up from a three hour ‘nap’ kind of leaves your brain going,
‘what the hell?’ in a very blurry manner.
‘Sleeping,’ I told him before I had a chance to
edit it. Sleep deprivation is an interrogation method, in case you didn’t
‘Why?’ You gotta love Trowa; he is such a man
of few words. I resisted the urge to answer ‘because’.
I realized that my mouth was on autopilot and so just shut
up while my brain had a chance to blink owlishly and stagger around looking
for a gear to be in.
‘Duo?’ Trowa prompted.
I fell back on that ages old evasion method. ‘What are
you doing here?’ Answering a question with another question.
‘I believe that is the question I asked you; what are
you doing?’ Guess Trowa knew that game.
I was waking up a little bit and I dared try a different tactic.
‘It’s been kind of a long day and I thought the movie would
help me unwind… but it was kind of boring,’
There was the ghost of a sigh, a sound I don’t think
he had meant to let me hear. ‘I’ve been here the whole time.
You were asleep before the movie ever started.’
It was my turn to sigh, and I didn’t fucking care if
he heard me. ‘Then what in the hell are you asking me for? You obviously
know what I’m doing here.’
He frowned and started to speak again, but there was the sound
of someone clearing their throat and we both looked up to find the usher
standing there. The kid looked God awful uncomfortable.
‘The theatre is closing,’ he mumbled and we didn’t
have much choice but to follow him to the exit.
Outside in the cool evening air, I turned my steps toward
the apartment and sighed again when Trowa fell in beside me.
‘Trowa,’ I asked, ‘why are you following
He glanced at my profile as we walked across the street. ‘You
have Quatre tied in knots,’ he said bluntly. ‘I promised that
I would make sure you were all right. Quatre and Wufei… had a small
disagreement about whether you were ready to stay on your own tonight.’
I growled. I gave in to the urge I’d been harboring
all evening and I just freakin’ growled. ‘Do you have any idea
what a major pain in the ass it is to have you guys acting like I’m
an escaped lunatic from the dangerous criminals’ asylum?’
He chuckled lightly and I was glad it was too dark for him
to see the blush on my face.
‘Yeah,’ he agreed in a companionable manner. ‘I
can kind of imagine. But can you tell me why you went to the movies to sleep?’
We had reached the front walk of the apartment complex and started down
‘Honest to God, Trowa,’ I told him. ‘As
much as I like you guys… it’s really nobody’s damn business.’
We were at the steps leading into the building and I hesitated,
wondering if I could get him to just go away.
‘You can’t sleep without someone else around,
can you?’ he asked gently.
I whirled to look up at him. ‘Is it just fucking tattooed
on my damn forehead, or what?’ I blurted, remembering how easily Neo
had figured me out as well.
Trowa chuckled merrily, and his fingers flicked at my bangs
as he pretended to scrutinize my forehead. ‘Nope. Doesn’t appear
I found myself sitting on the steps and after a couple of
minutes, Trowa sat down beside me.
‘Duo,’ he said patiently, ‘it’s not
all that surprising to anyone because it is so understandable.’ He
didn’t touch me, but he was sitting close enough I could feel his
body heat and it made me shiver. He was looking off at the streetlights
or the stars or something… I’m not sure what. ‘I know
you weren’t there on that mission when… when Quatre…’
he floundered for a minute and I quietly supplied,
‘Zero-system?’ When Quatre had almost killed him.
He nodded sharply and we both had to take a second to shove
old memories away. ‘I was adrift for… hours,’ he fairly
whispered, and I couldn’t help turning to look at him. His eyes were
wide, lost in the past. I found my hand reaching to rest on his arm and
he glanced at me gratefully. ‘Only a couple of hours…’
he repeated and I knew he was comparing his time with mine. A shiver wracked
me and his hand closed over mine where it rested on his forearm. ‘All
the same… I couldn’t bear it. I completely broke… I didn’t
even remember who I was when it was all over. It took me… months before
I could even begin to… to…’ He broke off and looked away.
‘I know,’ I told him. ‘You don’t have
to tell me any more.’
He glanced at me. ‘Duo, we can’t understand how
in the hell you’ve managed as well as you have.’ He gave me
a rueful smile. ‘You have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about.’
I withdrew my hand to rub across tired eyes and blew my breath
out in an exasperated sigh. ‘I just feel like a total moron,’
I confessed. ‘Like some kind of pathetic… helpless idiot.’
‘You shouldn’t,’ he soothed.
Sitting with him in the near dark was too much like talking
to my ghosts and he was pulling more from me than I had meant to say. ‘I
just can’t fail Heero, Trowa. Everything he’s done for me…
all the sacrifices he’s made… he needs me now and I’m
doing such a bad job of handling things.’
‘Don’t let what Wufei said, get to you,’
he grumbled angrily. ‘He had no right to say that.’
As much as he’s given up for you… where the hell
were you when he needed you?
I thought about that, my fingers rising of their own accord
and brushing my still sore jaw. ‘It was true… what he said.
I should have been there.’
He snorted and glanced sidelong at me. ‘You’re
going to stop living your life so that you can be around on the off chance
that Heero is going to do something stupid?’
I found my hands curled into fists and had to stop myself
from hitting the concrete steps. ‘I didn’t need that last job
to tell me I’d lost my damn nerve!’ I burst out. ‘I had
it rather forcibly demonstrated to me on that stupid trip with Relena! It
was just my own Goddamn stubbornness that wouldn’t let me face it.
If I’d just been a big boy and sucked it up the first time, I would
have been here. Heero wouldn’t have been so stinking distracted that
he let himself get shot!’
I wrapped my arms around my knees and shut up. There were
a couple of minutes of quiet, and then Trowa’s hand came to rest on
my back. I wondered about these guys who, during the war, had been so standoffish.
When had they learned to be so open? When had they learned how to be such
He rubbed gentle circles for a minute before offering, ‘You
wouldn’t be our Duo if you didn’t keep throwing yourself at
I couldn’t contain a snort of laughter. ‘Wufei
says I’m a tenacious bastard.’ I was oddly proud of that.
Trowa chuckled with me. ‘It’s… apt.’
‘I just… if I can just get by until Heero’s
out of the hospital,’ I told him in a hushed tone. ‘Everything
will be all right.’
His hand stilled, coming to rest on my shoulder. ‘I
don’t know that that’s true…’
I turned to look at him, wanting to convince him that I knew
what I was doing. ‘No… listen, Trowa,’ I told him vehemently.
‘Once Heero’s back, I won’t have any trouble sleeping.
I’m handling everything else… that’s the only sticky point.
I just have to get by until then. It’ll fade with time… I’m
sure of it. I just have to tough it out a little longer…’
He didn’t look reassured. He only looked troubled. I
wanted to scream; could these guys not listen to anything I said?
He didn’t speak immediately, just sat beside me with
his arm curled around my shoulders until I started to feel uncomfortable.
‘Sometimes…’ he said very softly, when he
finally did speak. ‘Sometimes it doesn’t fade, it just lies
in wait for a weak moment.’
I didn’t ask, and he didn’t say more. I probably
should have, but I honestly just didn’t want to hear about it right
then. It was easier to believe that I only had to struggle through a couple
of tough weeks, not that it could be a struggle I might not be able to win.
The look on his face told me he was speaking from personal
experience and I felt bad that I couldn’t bring myself to ask him
about what he meant. Guilt-beast joined us on the steps and I had to suppress
the urge to move over and make room for him.
Trowa cleared his throat after it became apparent that the
conversational ball had fallen rather flat on my side of the net. ‘How
about we go upstairs and you pack some things and come home with me?’
I blinked up at him stupidly. ‘What?’ I suppose
I should have seen it coming, but I hadn’t.
‘Quatre will be thrilled to have you,’ he smiled.
‘And if I’m the one who convinces you to come stay with us,
maybe he’ll forgive me for dragging him out of the hospital that first
I didn’t answer him right away, mulling it over.
‘Come on, little brother,’ he chuckled teasingly.
‘Quatre will turn it into a party. You’ll make him happy.’
I snickered. ‘Little brother?’
‘Well,’ he grinned back. ‘If you’re
Quatre’s ‘brother’… that makes you mine by default.’
My grin widened into something a little evil. ‘Isn’t
I took him by surprise and he laughed out loud, quickly cutting
it off with a nervous look around at the dark apartment windows. ‘Brother-in-law
then,’ he amended. ‘Come on… let me take you home.’
He meant his home, and I knew that, but I still had to fight
the urge to tell him I didn’t have a home anymore… I’d
destroyed it with my own two hands.
I thought about his offer and saw it for the two-edged sword
that it was. Yes, in a house full of people, I could probably find a place
that I could sleep without the screaming, breath-snatching nightmares. But…
it would be admitting to a weakness and allowing Quatre to throw himself
into full-fledged No-Holds-Barred mother-Hen mode. But I suppose I had seen
on a rather personal basis that this group of guys did not keep a hell of
a lot of secrets from each other. Trowa had already ferreted out my somewhat
unorthodox sleeping arrangements and I was pretty sure the rest of them
would know all about it before morning. I glanced at guilt-beast and turned
my head to hide the smirk.
‘Hope Quatre doesn’t have a problem with pets,’
‘Nothing,’ I sighed. ‘Ok… what the
hell; why not?’
He smiled at me as though I were the one doing him the favor.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, but rose to my feet and led the
way up the stairs.
I let us into the apartment and he followed me into the bedroom.
‘Let me get my duffle bag and a change of clothes and I’ll be
ready to go,’ I told him and opened the closet door.
Cold, cold hands were closing on my arms, reaching for the
air tank… pulling… wrenching.
‘Shit!’ I wailed, confronted by a member of the
Derry crew in broad fucking daylight. I staggered backward, trying to get
as much space between me and the closet as I could manage. An inarticulate
scream was forming on my lips. I came up hard against a warm body and I
clung to that realization; a warm body. Not dead. Not a ghost. Not after
my air. Warm. OhGodohGodohGod…
Steel strong arms closed around me and spun us away from the
sight in front of me. Distantly, I heard the closet door slam shut. ‘It’s
all right! It’s not real! It’s all right…’ Trowa
was calling to me, the same message over and over. When I stopped struggling
to get away, he loosened his grip enough to turn me in his arms.
‘Hold on to me,’ he commanded, and I didn’t
need to be told, my hands were reaching of their own accord before he half
had me turned.
His arms enveloped me, holding me tight enough to bruise.
My brain was firing off sporadic commands, sending out confused little hamsters
who couldn’t make up their minds if this situation fell under ‘fight’,
‘flight’, or ‘cling’. I finally decided to listen
to the thought-hamster who only arrived with a banner that read; ‘holyshit!’.
I felt light-headed, almost like I couldn’t breathe.
My hands were fisted in Trowa’s shirt and some small part of my functioning
brain was mortified about the position I found myself in.
‘You’re all right,’ he kept telling me,
his voice calm and soothing. ‘You’re in your room. I’m
right here with you. Everything is all right. Stop panting…’
I didn’t know I had been until he pointed it out and
I struggled then against instinct to make myself quit. My heart was hammering
so hard my chest hurt.
One of his hands shifted and pressed the side of my head against
the center of his chest. A stray hamster took a moment to stop his hysterical
skittering to point out to me how damn tall Trowa was.
‘Calm down,’ he said gently. ‘Listen to
my heartbeat… concentrate on the sound of my heart.’
I could feel it, slightly quickened, but not the mad pounding
of my own. It was… soothing. It gave me a grounding point.
‘Take a deep breath,’ he ordered. ‘Hold
it… hold it… now let it out, slowly.’
When he felt me complying, he eased off on his tight grip.
‘Again,’ he commanded, and, ‘again.’ Until my own
heart began to slow and calm. Until I could breathe without every inhalation
catching in my throat.
I felt myself breaking into a cold sweat, having only a moment
to register it before I began to shake.
It seemed to signal something to Trowa and his embrace became
more gentle, his mantra less exact. ‘It’s ok… it’s
ok now. I’ve got you… I’m here.’ Just vague nonsense
that he continued until I was able to force my hands to let go.
How stinking mortifying.
‘I… I’m sorry,’ I choked out.
‘Hush,’ he reprimanded, ignoring my efforts to
pull away. ‘Duo… why the hell is there a vacuum suit in your
I… giggled. I couldn’t help it; it just burst
out. I managed to stop it though, along with the next thing I had wanted
to ask; you mean it’s real? You saw it too? I was terrified that it
would turn into one of those hysterical sobbing routines again.
‘I… I couldn’t let it go… with the
ship,’ I managed to gasp. ‘It was almost… almost my damn
final resting place… it didn’t seem… right to sell it.’
His hand stroked over my hair. ‘Damn it,’ he muttered.
‘I forgot it was in there,’ I confessed sheepishly,
and it was his turn to stifle an odd little chuckle.
He turned us and walked me slowly toward the little adjoining
bathroom. I wanted to protest, but I was still shaking like a leaf and felt
like my legs were made of something unpleasant… like gummy worms,
maybe. When we got there, he turned on the cold water and I didn’t
have to be told to splash my face with it. When I finally raised my head
and confronted my own dripping reflection, I looked wide-eyed and pale as
a ghost. I met Trowa’s worried gaze in the mirror over my own shoulder
and I had to fight not to let myself seek shelter in his arms again.
‘I am so sorry,’ I muttered. ‘It just took
me by surprise… I completely forgot the damn thing was in there.’
He opened his mouth to say something and then seemed to think
better of it. ‘Let’s just get out of here,’ was what he
ended up saying.
I nodded and he stepped back to let me out of the bathroom.
I don’t know what he was expecting, but it obviously wasn’t
for me to stride back across the room toward the closet.
‘Duo!’ he yelped and came after me, certain, I
think that I was about to trigger another… daymare. Hallucination.
Trip to the land of weird.
I took a deep breath and jerked the damn door open before
he could get to me. The little kid in my head squeezed his eyes shut.
My vacuum suit was in my closet. I regarded it for a moment,
but it didn’t have the insignia of the Londonderry on the breast.
There was no flash-frozen corpse in it. It did not want my air. I reached
passed it and grabbed my duffle bag. I remembered to breathe.
When I emerged, head and psyche intact, Trowa was regarding
me with a slightly frightened expression. ‘You don’t waste a
hell of a lot of time getting back on the horse, do you?’
‘Why waste time?’ I joked ruthlessly and it might
have actually gotten a laugh if my voice hadn’t been shaking so bad.
He moved out of my way while I went to the dresser and packed
up a couple of changes of clothes and some toiletries with trembling hands.
‘Ready?’ I asked when I was done and he just came
with a grim little, exasperated shake of his head and took the bag from
me, ignoring my protests.
‘Yeah…’ he sighed. ‘Let’s go.’
By the time we got to his and Quatre’s place it was
almost midnight. But at least I had stopped shaking like a kitten in an
icebox. Trowa even let me walk up the front steps without a hand under my
elbow, something he hadn’t done on the way out of the apartment.
‘I don’t suppose,’ I speculated without
any real hope, ‘there’s any point in my asking you to keep that…
awkward little incident to yourself?’
He snorted, not without a certain amount of sympathy, ‘the
lot of us learned a long time ago that secrets only cause trouble.’
Ouch. Well, wasn’t that a prettily stated reprimand?
I flushed to the roots of my hair and couldn’t think of a thing to
say in return. This was promising to be a long damn visit; I already doubted
I’d made the right choice and we weren’t even in the front door
Trowa opened that front door and ushered me inside. Within
seconds, I heard the sound of rushing footsteps. ‘Trowa? Did you find
him? Did you get to talk to him? Is he all right…?’
The blush I was suffering with deepened to a hitherto unknown
shade of red. Quatre came into the foyer then and his face lit up with a
bright smile, his eyes taking in the duffle bag that Trowa had relinquished
back to me. ‘Duo! You’ve come to stay with us?’
I sighed and cast a glance up at Trowa, who was smiling amusedly.
Whether at my discomfiture or Quatre’s obvious relief… I’m
not sure. ‘Well, Trowa here seemed to think it would… be a good
They shared one of those annoying damn glances while I looked
around and tried not to notice. Then Quatre came and gave me a fierce hug.
‘I’m glad you listened. Come on, and we’ll find you a
There was the sound of Trowa clearing his throat and Quatre
glanced at him. I felt the tingle of communication, and signals passed.
I sighed heavily.
‘Can we not do this?’ I blurted.
‘What?’ Quatre blinked at me, looking tense.
‘This whole dance,’ I said, struggling to keep
the irritation out of my voice. ‘Trowa is going to take you off to
the side and explain things to you and then you’re going to come back
and try to act like you don’t know, while you figure out how in the
hell we’re going to get through this mess.’ I looked from one
of them to the other and was gratified to finally see Trowa blush. ‘Here’s
the deal, Qat; I can’t sleep in a room by myself. That’s why
I’m here. I have wake-the-dead, screaming nightmares every time I
I wondered idly what my blood-pressure reading was. I thought
about asking for hamster food, because the little guys were starting to
file in with their waving thought-banners.
And my personal favorite, George; the bearer of the all-purpose
exclamation banners. Tonight, his simply read,
I liked George; he was starting to grow on me.
Quatre was looking at me with that wide-eyed, misty expression
that always makes me want to turn and run away. He’d worn that expression
a lot during the first month after the accident. Thinking back, I realized
it was darn familiar from the period of time when I flash cooked my hands,
‘Oh, Duo,’ he said gently and I watched the guy
do the most amazing transformation. One minute it was just sweet, little
Quatre looking at me like he wanted to wrap me in a baby blanket and cuddle
me on the couch, and the next he turned into some sort of domestic Major
Servants were summoned and terse orders were issued. Someone
was directed to see that a dinner was put together and brought to the ‘green
room’. Another one was instructed to ‘run a bath’ in that
same room. Yet a third was told to run ahead and prepare said room with
‘fresh linens’. I was relieved of my duffle bag and it was sent
off with servant number three.
I realized pretty quickly that I was going to be spending
the night with Quatre. Somehow it wasn’t what I had expected, but
should have been. I guess I’d had some vague notion of a Maganac bunkhouse
or something. How silly of me.
I looked back at Trowa once, as Quatre was shepherding me
off to the ‘green room’, with a somewhat forlorn look. Trowa
only grinned at me and waved good night.
Quatre did, at least, dismiss the servants after their errands
were complete and I was very grateful. I’d had a couple of scary damn
visions of Winner employees stripping me buck-naked and scrubbing me pink
in a bathtub full of scented water.
I found the bath to be… weird. I’d always used
showers or, at the orphanage, washed out of a pot of water heated on the
stove. It seemed strangely… counterproductive to wash while sitting
in the dirty water. How could you really be clean? I could hear Quatre moving
around in the bedroom, arranging things the entire time I was bathing. It
was tempting to just stay in the stupid tub, I felt too damn worn out to
deal with him. And yes, the damn water was scented. Some kind of lavender
The room, thank God, sported a pair of twin beds, and I at
least was not going to have to endure another night of sleeping with somebody
who wasn’t Heero. Wufei’s presence the last few nights had been…
somewhat welcome for the obvious reason, but had only served to rub my nose
in my loneliness.
When I emerged from the bathroom, wrapped in several towels,
I found a borrowed pair of pajamas laid out neatly on the bed that had obviously
been designated as mine, judging from the presence of my duffle bag on it.
Quatre was already dressed for bed and was working at a table
across the room, with his back discreetly turned. I quickly donned the silly
pajamas with a sigh; when in Rome and all that. Suppose there was no point
in telling him that if I wore anything to bed at all, it was just a pair
of underwear. When I was done, I turned my attention to what he was doing
and found him setting out a meal that would have fed a family of five for
‘Good God, Quatre!’ I blurted. ‘Please tell
me Trowa and half the Maganac corps are eating with us!’
He flashed me a totally unabashed grin. ‘Just you and
I dropped the damp towels on the end of the bed and moved
around to the little table in the corner, feeling ridiculous in the burgundy
nightclothes; I felt like a little kid. Though I doubted many kids outside
the Winner family wore silk pajamas.
Quatre sat down in one of the straight-backed chairs, and
I had little choice but to sit down opposite him. I eyed some of the stuff
on the table dubiously; not even able to identify it.
‘Quatre…’ I began, not at all sure what
I wanted to say to him, but a glance up at him showed me the most heart-breaking,
crestfallen look, and I had to gift him with a warm smile. ‘It all
looks so good, I don’t know where to start.’ His smile was back
instantly and I almost sighed; he was still that same, old Quatre after
all these years. Everything he felt was written right across his face. I
never had gotten around to teaching him to play poker.
He began to dish things onto my plate since I couldn’t
seem to make up my mind ‘where to start’. The only thing I even
recognized where the steamed vegetables. I nibbled at those until he took
a bite of his strange oblong shaped, breaded something or other so I could
at least see what in the hell to expect. I mimicked his method of cutting
into it, having seen that it was full of some sort of sauce and pieces of
what looked like chicken. It wasn’t bad, though I would have been
just as happy with a nice ration bar. It might not have been hot, but it
would have been a hell of a lot easier to clean up after.
I was so engrossed in trying to figure out what was on my
plate, that I guess an uncomfortable silence ensued.
‘Duo,’ he asked gently. ‘Is something wrong?’
I had to flash him a rueful smile. ‘Qat… have
you ever even had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?’
He blinked at me. ‘No, but I’m sure the cook would
know how to make one… I’ll call for…’
‘No!’ I laughed out loud despite myself, raising
a hand to keep him from leaping to his feet. ‘This is fine! I just…
I mean… Just what in the hell is this stuff?’
He looked at me as though I had just walked in and asked him
why the sky was blue. ‘Chicken-cordon-bleu… don’t you
There had been an ‘of course’ in that pause, I
was sure of it, and again resisted the urge to sigh.
‘It’s fine, but I’m a fairly… simple
guy, you don’t have to have anybody go to all this trouble just for
me.’ I ate another fork-full of the stuff just to prove to him that
the meal was all right.
‘The cook just heated up some of what she served for
dinner this evening, Duo,’ he reassured me. ‘It was really no
I reflected that the peanut butter would probably have given
her more trouble; I’d be willing to bet there had never been a jar
of the stuff in the house.
One of my thought-hamsters jogged out long enough to point
out to me how worlds-apart Quatre and I were when you got right down to
We ate in silence for a few more minutes and then Quatre,
his attention carefully on his plate, said, ‘What happened to us?’
‘What?’ I blinked across the table at him, trying
to squelch the fish imitation that I tend to do when people blind-side me
with these sudden, personal questions.
‘We used to be able to talk about anything,’ he
sighed remorsefully, his eyes seeming to see something other than his…
weird chicken stuff and vegetables.
‘There was a war going on, Qat.’ I smiled at him.
‘Emotions… run pretty high when you could get your ass killed
at any minute.’
He looked very sad, stirring his food around. ‘Are you
saying that… do you mean you don’t…’
I laughed at his floundering, taking the opportunity to lay
my fork aside. ‘I thought you made your living doing political maneuvering?
Handling delicate negotiations in the board-room?’
He blushed, his eyes flicking between me and his plate. I
struggled with the overwhelming desire to stand up and flee. To just run
out the door, burgundy damn silk pajamas and all, and not look back. He
didn’t answer the teasing and I knew the verbal ball was still in
‘Quatre… a lot of time passed, that’s all,’
I told him with small sigh. ‘We all moved on… drifted apart…’
I hesitated, understanding that the truth of that statement lie mostly with
me. They hadn’t drifted. They had moved on… together. I had
missed out on that. I had been so… tired and scared, so raw and hurt
that I had just run. I had run far and fast, and tried my damnedest not
to look back. While they had all been there to support and help each other,
I had… struggled through all the after effects of losing my youth
fighting in a war… with only the support of my sad little ghosts and
my own, damned self.
Wow. That sweet, chocolaty coating that is Duo Maxwell covers
up a nice gooey center of bitter, bitter crap, doesn’t it?
I was completely unaware of the fact that I had stopped talking
and was just sitting with my head hanging, my hands dangling between my
knees until Quatre took me by the shoulders.
‘Allah… I am so stupid,’ he murmured and
I’m not even sure how he had gotten around the table without my noticing.
‘You don’t need this right now… I am so sorry, Duo.’
I muttered something that didn’t even make sense to
me, and didn’t fight it when he pulled me to my feet.
‘I just miss you,’ he told me simply. ‘I
miss having my ‘big brother’ to talk to.’
I think if I had tried to answer him I would have burst into
tears, so I held my tongue, managing only to return the hug he was suddenly
giving me. After a few moments, he guided me over to the bed and helped
me climb in. I shivered, remembering Sister Helen tucking us in at night,
and only thanked God he didn’t try to kiss my forehead.
So… there you have it. That was my life for the next
while. Nights at the Winner-Barton household, afternoons and early evenings
at the hospital, alternating mornings at therapy. I wasn’t fighting
with quite so much on my plate, having only to deal with a handful of tasks.
I closed the deal on the two spare vacuum suits and made the
arrangements for their delivery. That allowed me to send some money off
to Octavia, and I finally sat down and wrote her the little note I had been
avoiding, explaining sketchily about my sudden lack of employment, apologizing
for the slow-down in funds and promising to send what I could. They did
not rely entirely on me, of course, but I knew what a difference the supplement
Quatre insisted that one of them take me wherever in the hell
I had to go in the mornings, to either the hospital or therapy. I was a
little surprised that they allowed me to get myself from therapy to the
hospital on my own, but I was seldom left to return to the Winner estate
in the evenings by my own devices. Trowa usually arrived at the hospital
an hour or so before the end of visiting hours, spent some time with Heero
and then took me back to his place.
I stopped equating myself with Sisyphus so much, and started
thinking… plow mule. With those little blinder things that they put
on them to keep them focused on the path. Yep. I had this row to plow; just
strap me in the old harness and set me on my way. One step in front of the
other… just keep going. Slow and steady. No problems here.
After the first couple of days I thought I was going to self-destruct.
If someone had handed me one of those old detonators, I think I would have
howled with glee and punched that damn plunger down without a second thought.
By the third or fourth day, I was losing track, I was desperate
for some damn privacy and connived to get to therapy early. Jean was able
to work me in and then I turned on every ounce of charm I ever even thought
I had, until she turned me loose, cutting the session short. I fairly ran
out of the clinic, not wasting my precious time waiting on the bus, but
flagged down a cab and fled back to the apartment with a maniacal grin on
my face. Free! Free at last! Well, for a couple of hours. It was probably
all the privacy I was going to be able to bear anyway, before my irrational
fears started kicking in, but for the moment… it was pure bliss.
I think that was a large part of what was making me nuts;
all of my wants were warring with all of my fears. I wanted my ship back.
I was afraid to pilot. I craved the feeling of zero-g. I was terrified of
hard vacuum. I was more than used to having privacy and time to myself.
I was suffering with isolophobia. It was like some kind of cruel, cosmic
joke. Like the horse chasing the carrot on the stick only to discover it
was poisoned. Or at least really damn bitter.
At first, I fully intended to throw myself down on the sofa
and just spend my few hours listening to my music, but my guilty conscience
wouldn’t let me. Once I had the stereo going and was sprawled bonelessly
across the couch, the time began to feel like it was trickling through my
fingers like sand. So I thought about everything I’d been missing.
I cranked up the music and went to the kitchen to fetch a bottle of soda
and a ration bar. Then I went to shower in a real shower, with my own towels
and my own shampoo. I walked around afterward buck-ass naked, letting my
hair air-dry a little bit before I braided it.
With all my indulgences out of the way, I thought hard about
what needed doing, and booted my laptop to check my messages. I had the
receipt from my money transfer to Octavia and a query on the ship. I had
to swallow down the lump in my throat before I was able to answer the guy’s
series of questions about the ship’s history and specs. I fired off
my response and filed the original message where I wouldn’t have to
look at it in my in-box, staring at me accusingly.
After I cleared the junk mail, the only thing left was a message
from Toria and Hayden, which I opened with a grin, eager to hear what was
going on with my two friends.
Hey Buddy-boy! What the fuck is going on! The boards show
your Goddamn ship is up for sale! What do you think you’re doing?!
If that rat-bastard Heero is making you sell your baby, you tell him I’m
coming after him, and I’m gonna kick his ass! I never was sure about
him, not after he refused to call the damn medics when you passed out at
the expo. This isn’t funny, Duo Maxwell; I want to know what’s
going on and I want to know right now!
We love you,
Toria and Hayden
I blinked at the screen of my laptop for a minute and then
just shut it down. I couldn’t answer her right now. I wanted to laugh.
I wanted to cry. I didn’t think either one was a good idea right then,
so I just didn’t think about it.
The receipt had made me think about the money that I wasn’t
going to be able to send to the home, though. So I thought about that instead.
Before the accident, the funds that I had supplied had accounted for most
of the extras those kids ever saw. If there was any one thing that I could
point to that was eating away at me; that was probably it. That I was letting
Octavia and the kids down.
That made me think about my stupid vacuum suit in the closet.
It was completely irrational for me to hang on to the damn thing. I no longer
needed it. It was worth a hell of a lot of money. The kids could use that
money and I was being a total jerk for hanging on to it when I could sell
I left my laptop and went into the bedroom. There was a moment
of hesitation when I got there, remembering the weird… flashback thing
that had happened the last time I had opened that closet door. But I hadn’t
been prepared then; I knew what was in there now and wouldn’t be taken
by surprise again. My hand shook when I reached for the knob anyway.
I didn’t give myself a chance to think about it, but
grabbed hold of the damn thing and hauled it out into the light of day.
I needed to go over it, make sure it hadn’t been damaged, make sure
it had been cleaned to specs. I’d been stuck in it a little longer
than the regs stated was… recommended. I would salve my guilt over
not being able to send as much money to the kids, by selling the suit. I
would salve my unease over getting rid of the suit by sending one hundred
percent of the profits to the kids. There… neat little solution, if
I do have to say so myself.
I dumped the thing on the floor and began by checking the
seals. I tried not to think too hard about being on the inside of the damn
thing. I tried not to think… period.
When my thought-hamsters began their parade, little thought
banners flying, I snarled, ‘Shut the hell up!’ to no one in
particular, and they ran off to regroup. George was the last to go, dragging
a ‘what the hell?’ banner without much enthusiasm.
My fingers were on automatic, checking filters, inspecting
seams, opening all the flaps on the utility belt. Then my fingers found
Something stowed in the main carrying pouch. Something hard
and oblong. I pulled it out.
‘What the hell?’ I muttered and thought I heard
a hamster giggle.
My trembling hands twitched in a violent shudder and the book
fell from my fingers. A book. It took me several long seconds to figure
out what it was, where it had come from, and how it had found its way into
The journal of the Captain of the Londonderry. He of the flash-frozen
blood crystals. The very man who led his crew through my nightmares on a
fairly regular basis.
Another long moment’s thought told me the rest of it.
The book whose retrieval had cost me the precious final moments I had needed
to get off the Londonderry before he had parted ways with the Randy Wench.
The little thing lay on the carpet on the floor of my room
in Heero’s apartment and looked… very innocent. The thing had
actually been my damn downfall, when you got right down to it. If I hadn’t
gone back for it, I would have made it off the ship before the accident.
I would have been on the right side of that tether when it broke. It never
would have happened. I looked down at the unassuming thing and didn’t
know what to say… what to think. I wanted to be angry, but it just
George left his brethren behind for a moment to scamper out
and present me with a thought; ‘son of a bitch’.
So I obliged him. ‘Son of a bitch,’ I said, but
it didn’t really help. I shrugged at George and he shrugged in return
and trotted off to try again later.
I found my hands reaching for the journal. I just sat on the
floor and held it for a bit, but my little thought-producing buddies deserted
me for a change and I couldn’t quite make up my mind what I should
do with it. There was a momentary urge to fling it across the room, but
it was too short-lived to come to fruition. I finally decided that I didn’t
want to be sitting in the same room with both the suit and the journal,
and so wandered with it out to the living room. I ended up curling into
the corner of the couch and eventually I ended up opening the cover.
Captain James Lyle Camden.
I read the name on the title page and closed the book again.
Captain half-face had a name. I shivered again and wondered about why it
seemed so cold of a sudden. James Lyle Camden. Had his friends called him
Jim? Jimmy? Or maybe JC? Had he even had any friends? Had he been a good
Captain? He’d gone down with his ship, that said something, didn’t
it? I suppose the answers to a lot of the questions running around my head
were right there in my hands.
Captain Camden. The Captain of the Londonderry. The man whose
ship I had defiled. One of the ghosts who kept me from sleeping when no
one was around to guard my rest.
I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten the damn thing.
It had been stuffed there, in the ‘pocket’ of my vacuum suit
for… months now. Ever since that moment that a piece of space debris
had found its way, in all the vastness of space, to that tiny little place
occupied by my steel, twenty-four gage, tether line.
This book had cost me my life and I was afraid to open it
again. What if there wasn’t even anything in it? What if it was just
the guy’s duty roster? What if it was just his damn inventory? Did
I really want to know that I had given up everything I was and everything
I had dreamed, for… what now lay in my lap?
I couldn’t get my head out of that moment. When I had
turned back down that dark corridor, my flash beam bobbing ahead of me as
I returned to that room after that damn, damn book. I could still see the
body, hanging in ‘mid-air’. I could still see the dark red crystals
dancing about, adding to the weird undersea imagery.
If I had just gone on. If I had just left the damn thing.
I could, quite suddenly, pin the end of my life down to one defining moment.
The second that I had stopped on my flight from the ship and gone back after
Captain Camden’s journal. It was like his ending his own life had
left a trap waiting across all those years until I had blundered into it,
and it had ended mine as well. My fingers moved to open the cover of the
book so many times that I lost count. I was so cold.
I balanced the journal on the arm of the sofa and curled up
tighter, drawing my legs up to my chest and wrapping my arms around them.
I lay my head down next to the book and stared at it. Did I really want
to know? I couldn’t say, so I just stared at it.
‘Duo?’ a voice was calling and I jerked upright
as the apartment door swung suddenly open. I blinked up with gritty feeling
eyes, and found,
‘Maxwell!’ he snapped, and looked oddly uncomfortable.
‘Are you all right?’
‘I…I guess so,’ I told him, feeling terribly
confused. ‘What’s wrong?’
He came across the room to stand over me, where I still huddled
in the corner of the couch, but he seemed oddly reluctant to really look
at me. He kept trying to meet my gaze, but his eyes kept sliding away.
Maybe I could get Wufei to look in the book for me? Maybe…
maybe he would sit here with me and read some of it to me, if I asked him?
Maybe he wouldn’t even mind if I leaned against him a little bit…
he was terribly warm and I was still so damn cold. They kept telling me
that they were my friends and that they wanted to help me. They kept offering
me their touch… kept insisting that we were all brothers, in this
together. Was it… acceptable to ask? Was it ok to reach out and tell
one of them that I needed to be held for just a tiny little minute?
I looked up at him, raising a hand, looking for a way to ask
for what I didn’t know how. Then he frowned, looking confused.
‘Maxwell,’ he chided gently. ‘What in the
hell are you doing? You scared Heero to death; he was expecting you over
an hour ago. And… and where are your clothes?’
George darted out and did his job, supplying me with my next
I scrabbled after the afghan and felt myself spontaneously
combust. I was sure of it; I was about to burst into flame. Wufei looked
just about as red and I growled something incoherent that caused him to
turn away while I ran for the bedroom, and more importantly, my clothes.
Well… that probably left a lasting impression. God,
where in the hell was my head? The short answer to that would be…
the asteroid belt.
I dressed in a clean shirt and jeans and went back into the
living room, still braiding my hair. I started to tell him to call Heero,
but he was already on the phone.
‘…on the couch.’ I heard. ‘Must have
dozed off… No… No… He’s awake now. Let me check.’
Wufei turned his attention to me, and while my face was still
flushed warmly, his seemed to have returned to his normal color.
‘Heero wants me to tell you that if you’re tired,
you should just stay home today.’ I could tell from the tone of his
voice that he knew damn well there wasn’t any point in even asking,
so I just rolled my eyes at him and he smirked back. ‘He’s fine,
Yuy,’ he said into the phone. ‘We’re on our way.’
‘Tell him…’ I suddenly blurted, not sure
what moved me to do it, ‘it may be a few minutes.’
Wufei quirked a questioning eyebrow in my direction, but relayed
the message to Heero and then hung up.
‘Duo,’ he asked gently. ‘What is going on?’
‘Listen,’ I began earnestly, trying to get it
out before I had too much chance to think about it. ‘Can I ask…
Would you mind… I…’
He looked oddly amused, which wasn’t helping things
much, and I dropped my eyes. ‘Never mind. I need to find my boots.’
I fled back to the bedroom, grabbed my boots and a clean pair
of socks and threw myself down on the side of the bed to put them on. Stupid.
What had I been thinking?
I was aware of Wufei’s presence in the doorway before
I was half done. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him taking in
the sight of the vacuum suit sprawled out on the floor and his expression
was doing the strangest little dance. I’m sure he’d heard all
about my… incident with the suit earlier in the week.
I stood when the boots were on, and headed toward him. ‘You
ready to go?’ I asked brightly.
‘No,’ he said gently, but firmly. ‘Not until
you finish what you were going to say.’
I stopped, but he wasn’t budging, I could tell.
‘I’m sorry,’ he told me. ‘I’m
just not used to you struggling with words, you’ve always been…
terribly eloquent when you wanted to be.’ He smiled softly. ‘Please…
whatever you wanted to ask me… it’s yours.’
My hand started to reach out and I turned it into a nervous
brush of my fingers through my hair. He seemed serious enough. He seemed
like he meant it. Maybe…?
I found myself looking at my toes. ‘When I got stranded…
I was on my way out. I was leaving… I’d already downloaded the
data and I was… damnit… I was leaving…’ I stopped
for a minute because my voice was getting… strained, already. ‘The
Captain of the ship… he opted to… he decided to go with his
ship… he shot himself. In his cabin.’ There was an uncomfortable
minute while I picked through words. ‘At the last minute, I realized
that a man who… that a guy who would do that would probably have left…
something. I went back…’
‘You went back,’ he repeated, as if he needed
clarification. I nodded, miserable.
‘Yeah… I was… almost out, and I went back.’
I blinked and dared a glance up at him.
‘Ah hell, Duo,’ he murmured and then answered
the need I had been unable to voice, and pulled me carefully into his arms.
He did it slowly, as though afraid he might spook me, but I’d been
alone all morning and the little boy who lived in my head was crying out
desperately for someone to hold onto. It was the little kid who threw his
arms tight around Wufei’s neck and clung with bruising strength, not
His breath went out in a tiny little gasp, caught by surprise,
It was easier to talk somehow, with my head buried in his
shoulder, ‘The Captain had a journal. I took it… was just getting
ready to leave his cabin again when… when it happened.’ He stroked
a hand up and down my back and made tiny, soothing little sounds, but I
barely heard. ‘I forgot about the thing… can you beat that?’
I choked on a laugh. ‘Sold my life for that damn book and I forgot
about it… I just found it this afternoon. Wufei… I’m afraid
to look in it. I don’t know what in the hell I’ll do if…
if that stupid thing… if I killed myself for nothing.’
His arms tightened around me. ‘Stop saying that,’
he commanded almost angrily. ‘You did not kill yourself. Don’t
All I could do was nod against his shoulder.
‘Where is it?’ he asked then, his voice much gentler.
‘In… in the other room,’ I told him with
a shiver. ‘I was trying to make myself read it.’
‘Come on,’ he said calmly. ‘Show me.’
I lead him back to the couch and we sat down together. I didn’t
lean against him, as I had thought about earlier. But then… putting
clothes on had gone a long way toward alleviating my chill. I felt myself
flushing again, thinking about the picture I must have presented when he
had burst into the apartment. I picked up the journal and held it in my
‘Quatre makes me wear pajamas,’ I muttered, by
way of explanation, but I doubt he had a clue what I was talking about anyway.
He either followed my thoughts, or didn’t care. ‘The
silk ones?’ he grinned and I nodded.
‘They’re… hot.’ I grumbled while my
fingers toyed with the edges of the book.
‘I don’t like them either,’ he commiserated,
and gently pulled the thing from my hands.
‘James Lyle Camden,’ I said.
‘What?’ he asked, a puzzled frown gracing his
I nodded toward the book he now held. ‘I… got
that far. Captain James Lyle Camden.’
He opened it. No more trouble than that. I almost laughed,
but was more than well aware where that would lead. Contrary to my earlier
thoughts, I found myself leaning against the arm of the couch, away from
him, where it was impossible to see the pages.
He was silent. He turned some pages. He read. He turned some
more pages. He read some more. I found the end of my braid in my hand for
lack of anything to shred into confetti.
‘Come on, Wufei,’ I croaked, after what seemed
like a half an hour, but probably wasn’t five minutes. ‘What
the hell is it… his damn laundry list, or what?’
He jerked guiltily. ‘I’m sorry Duo. No…
this is most definitely not just a manifest list. This is the Captain’s
I let out a breath that I hadn’t known I’d been
holding. I opened my mouth to speak, but found my throat too dry to manage
it, so I just nodded again.
Wufei carefully closed the journal and I suddenly felt the
need to be elsewhere. Was flirting like hell with the ragged edges here,
and I didn’t trust myself all of a sudden. I was not going to have
another one of those damn humiliating breakdowns. Especially not in front
of Chang Wufei… again.
I rose, rather abruptly, and went off to the kitchen. I pulled
a bottle of my soda out of the fridge with slightly trembling hands and
downed half of it right there, with the door still open and a cloud of frosty
air billowing around me. The thought of a beer flitted through my mind,
but honest to God? I had been kind of afraid to touch any alcohol at all
recently… afraid that I might find that it helped and I wouldn’t
be able to stop.
The Captain’s diary. Well, that was something, at least.
Some small consolation, that I had not sold all my dreams for Captain Camden’s
little black book or something.
That almost produced a chuckle, but I knew better than that
and bit down on my tongue until the urge passed. I shut the refrigerator
door and turned to lean against the counter. Wufei was in the kitchen doorway,
watching me try to cope. He must have decided that I wasn’t coping
well, because he came across the room toward me.
‘Don’t, Wufei,’ I whispered, but he didn’t
listen. Wufei never listens.
He caught me by the shoulders and forced me to meet his eyes.
‘There are messages in there, at the last, to his wife and children.
A dying man’s last words to his family… it was worth the effort
to try and retrieve it.’ I choked down a sob and he pulled me against
his chest. ‘I won’t say it was worth the price you’ve
paid… but it wasn’t ‘nothing’.
He let me hang on until I could breathe without it hitching
in my throat. I was shaking with the effort of not letting it turn into
‘Can we go to the hospital now?’ I asked when
I could manage it. I really needed to go to the hospital. To Heero.
He nodded against my shoulder. ‘But you’re coming
home with me tonight, or I’m coming here with you. We’re going
to do some reading; there are some things in that book that you really need
He left me in the kitchen to finish my soda, and when he came
back to get me, he was carrying Heero’s duffle bag. Packed with things
for me, presumably. Guess that meant I was going to his place tonight. I
was starting to feel like a foster child.
He drove us to the hospital and we walked up to Heero’s
room together, I don’t know what his intentions were, but I suspected
they involved me and the word ‘glue’.
Heero, of course, was worried as hell and while I would have
been more than happy to tell some pretty, soothing little lie about falling
asleep on the couch after therapy, I suspected Wufei would not. Sure enough,
before I could open my mouth he jumped in and told the whole damn thing
right down to the naked part. I glared at him, for all the damn good it
I wondered, sometimes, about that whole ‘truth and nothing
but the truth’ thing they did with each other any more. I didn’t
remember any of them being so damn tight assed about the honesty kick during
the war. In fact, I remembered being teased a couple of times about my own
code of not lying. It had been a pretty childish whim of mine, I guess.
I had tried for years to maintain that code, in honor of Father Maxwell,
until reality had risen up and shown me the impracticality of it.
‘But you’re all right?’ was Heero’s
main concern when the story was told.
‘I’m fine,’ I reassured him with a sigh.
‘I just lost track of time.’
A strange little frown crossed his face and he gave me an
appraising glance. ‘Why in the world were you… I mean…’
His eyes flicked in Wufei’s direction and he flushed slightly. I suppressed
– see how good I’m getting at that? – the urge to pull
my hair out by the roots. I’ll bet there wasn’t a one of these
guys who could pass a can of worms and leave it unopened. I spared a scathing
look in Wufei’s direction that I hoped imparted my extreme happiness
with him in that moment.
‘Look,’ I growled. ‘Quatre is a sweetheart.
I adore him. He is wonderful. But… he is making me insane. He supplies
me with these ridiculous, miserably uncomfortable pajamas and fully expects
me to sleep in them. He keeps feeding me shit I couldn’t identify
if I was given the cookbook it came out of. I don’t think there is
such a thing as a soda in the entire damn estate. The man has people who…
who run his damn bathwater, for Christ’s sake!’ I had warmed
to the subject matter despite myself and had to force my voice down to a
more normal level. ‘I needed a break. I conspired to get a couple
of hours to myself and I hid out at the apartment, where I proceeded to
use a shower, in water that was not scented with something weird, ate a
damn tasty ration bar, swilled Mt. Dew and sat around buck-naked just because
I could. Ok? I was not aware that anyone else had a key to your apartment.
I was not expecting company.’
Wufei was chortling insanely, trying to control it and failing
miserably. Heero… somehow, just managed to look even more upset.
‘What,’ I snapped, before I could stop myself,
‘the hell is wrong now?’
Pain washed across his face and he whispered, ‘When
did you stop thinking of our apartment as your home?’
Whoa. Sucker punched. I felt the need to sit down, but wasn’t
anywhere near the chair. But, damn, did it serve to shut off Wufei’s
When did I stop thinking of it as my home? Had I ever? Yeah…
I think so. When had things changed? I wasn’t really sure.
The look on Heero’s face made guilt give a half-hearted
nibble at my ankle, but to be honest, I think the poor beast was getting
tired; he just wasn’t gnawing with his usual vigor. There’s
a thought; could you wear out guilt?
‘I…’ All I could do was stare at him. I
didn’t know what in the hell to say.
There was an odd little sigh from Wufei and he mumbled some
remark about lunch, getting up and leaving the room in something of a rush.
Heero stretched a hand out toward me and I went to settle
on the side of his bed, taking the offered touch.
‘You feel so far away from me,’ he breathed, his
fingers wrapped tight around mine.
I just felt like the weight of all the last few months was
settling over my shoulders all at once. ‘Only because you’re
pushing me,’ I told him gently and watched him blink at me in shock.
‘Heero… love, I am at the very end of my endurance… please…
just stop. I’m on a… a path… a very narrow path. I have
to walk it. You can’t do it for me, but your pushing is just…
His eyes looked haunted and frustrated, his fingers were hurting
‘Why can’t you stop trying to handle so much…
why can’t you let yourself rest… let yourself heal?’ His
tone was pleading.
‘What would you have me do?’ I sighed. ‘Stop
coming here? What do you think that would do to me… to not be here
with you at a time like this? Do you think I could just forget about you?
Forget I was failing you?’
‘You’re not taking care of yourself,’ he
accused. ‘It’s killing me that you’re putting me before
your own welfare.’
‘Your well-being and mine are tangled together, love.’
I chided. ‘I’m taking care of myself the best that I can.’
‘You look so tired…’ he said, tracing his
fingers over my face.
‘I am tired, Heero,’ I admitted. ‘But that
isn’t going to change as long as you’re in here. I need you
well… I need you out of here. That’s the first goal on the path…
stop fighting me and start working with me.’
He frowned darkly. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
I quirked a sudden grin at him. ‘It’s a mission,
ok? We’re down, behind enemy lines and we’re both injured. I…
I need you to help patch me up, but you can’t until we get back to
the safe house. You see? You have to let me help you now, so that you can
help me later.’
A corner of his mouth twitched at the analogy, but he tried
not to show it; he didn’t want to encourage me. But then his expression
went all serious again. ‘Duo… you still…I mean, you…’
He was blushing darkly.
‘Don’t you do this to me,’ I growled. ‘You’ve
not doubted me for a second from day one; don’t you dare start doubting
He looked vaguely sheepish and glanced away. I stroked a finger
under his chin to get him to lift his face and then brought my lips down
to seek his. ‘You know I love you… we promised each other forever,
didn’t we, husband-mine?’
He returned the kiss, and I could feel his fears and his doubts,
could almost feel him trembling beneath me. When I drew back, he looked
‘I thought we were making a home together… I thought…’
‘Not now, Heero,’ I sighed. ‘That’s
not in the mission parameters yet. Later… the path is just too narrow
‘Then… will you please just let me hold you for
a minute?’ he said softly and I was able to smile.
‘I think that can be worked in to the plans.’
I squirmed around until I could lay my head on his shoulder and he was able
to curl an arm around me. It wasn’t near what either one of us wanted,
but as much as we could manage until he was better.
We were quiet for a few minutes and I felt myself starting
to relax for the first time in days.
‘So,’ he ventured softly after a bit. ‘What
are the mission goals?’
‘Long or short term?’ I grinned against his hospital
He made noises to indicate he was pondering it. ‘Long?’
‘That’s simple,’ I murmured. ‘Happily
He snorted. ‘Short term?’
‘Even simpler,’ I snickered. ‘Get you out
of here so we can fornicate like bunnies.’
That won me an honest laugh, serving to show me that he really
was getting better when he didn’t clutch instantly at his stomach.
Though the laugh faded rather quickly.
‘You sure you can get us to that safe house?’
he murmured then, twisting enough to kiss the top of my head.
‘Yeah… I think I can,’ I smiled. ‘If
you’ll stop dragging your damn feet and insisting I don’t know
‘Your sense of direction has never been all that great,’
he told me and I smiled happily, it was so sweet to be talking about…
nothing at all.
‘Well, my sense of direction doesn’t suck nearly
as badly as my sense of timing,’ I confessed, and he chuckled, but
refrained from comment.
Wufei appeared in the doorway then, hesitating on the threshold
until he was sure it was safe to come back in. ‘You two all finished
Heero grumbled unhappily when I sat up.
‘With the arguing and the yelling?’ I quipped.
‘As finished as we ever get.’
Wufei snorted and came on into the room with a wide grin plastered
on his face. ‘Hungry, Maxwell?’
The strong scent of food wafted to me as soon as he got close
‘Oh God, Wufei,’ I groaned, ‘is that what
I think it is?’
He produced the bag from behind his back with a flourish and
grinned a little wider. ‘Well… let’s just say it’s
not anything you’re likely to find in the Winner kitchens.’
‘Normal food,’ I intoned reverently. ‘Wufei…
you are my new best friend.’
‘Hey!’ Heero growled and Wufei actually smirked
Wufei and I drug Heero’s little rolling table around
to the side and sat down across from each other to share our dinner. The
bag proved to hold the wonderfully simple fair of hamburgers and chips,
with small side salads.
‘Look at this,’ I grinned between bites. ‘I
don’t need a culinary dictionary to identify anything! This is a hamburger.
There is nothing weird on it; no bean sprouts or unidentifiable sauces.
This is a chip. Hot oil was used in its production. This lettuce came from
a grocery store; it was not flown in from Romania. It is green, not purple.’
Wufei chuckled at my running monologue, looking terribly pleased
‘I hate the both of you,’ Heero groused, his arms
folded across his chest and eyeing the food with the air of a starving man.
Wufei laughed at him. ‘At least you graduated from the
liquid diet,’ he commiserated in a… not very commiserating tone.
‘Graduated to paste,’ Heero complained, but when
I looked at him a little closer, his eyes were positively glowing, watching
It somehow made things taste better. How pathetically weird
I made a point of eating every bit of it, even though I was
pushing a little, there at the end. But, my God, did I feel guilty as hell
about it when LeAnn delivered his dinner a little while after that, and
we had to sit and watch him eat… I’m not sure what it was; do
they still make gruel?
He took his walk after dinner, he was taking several a day
now, and I could not have begun to explain to him how that simple trek up
and down the hall made me feel. With his hand on my shoulder and my arm
around his waist to steady him, guilt-beast didn’t even bother to
hang out with me. I felt… needed? Wanted? Useful? All of the above?
LeAnn changed his sheets while he was out of the bed and when
we got back to the room, informed us that Heero could try a shower if he
wanted to give it a shot. It was a progress, for which I was pleased. But…
I was oddly saddened by the loss of the sponge baths. When I looked at Heero,
I thought I saw some of the same feeling behind his eyes. I smiled at him
‘It’s another step down the path, love,’
I murmured and we went and he took that shower.
It was a real chore, fighting with the IV lines, and by the
time we’d gotten him through all that, he was exhausted and barely
able to keep his eyes open. Wufei and I got him tucked back into bed, and
Wufei leaned down and told him,
‘Duo’s going home with me, all right?’ And
Heero nodded; sleep creeping inexorably up on him.
I kissed him goodbye and I think he was off to lala land before
we were out the door.
Wufei has a ground floor apartment, with a little patio. It
wasn’t at all like I had expected it to be. I had envisioned him living
in little more than a bare dojo, sleeping on a pallet on the floor and with
katanas displayed on all the walls. Well… maybe not that bad, but
austere at the very least.
It was surprisingly warm and inviting. The furniture was dark
and overstuffed, the décor an elegant but bizarre mix of oriental
and renaissance. There were plants. A lot of plants. But the most disconcerting
thing was the catnip toy lying in the middle of the living room floor. I
just stood and blinked at it while he moved around me.
‘The bedroom is down the hall to the left, so is the
bathroom. It’s the first door,’ he was telling me as he moving
around, dumping my duffle bag on the couch and wandering over to check for
messages on the answering machine. ‘I called Quatre earlier from the
hospital to let them know that you were coming home with me tonight.’
I winced guiltily. ‘Damn, Wufei, thanks. I didn’t
even think about it.’
He grinned at me. ‘Wouldn’t want Quatre to skin
us both alive.’
I chuckled and dared to move a little further into his sanctum.
I felt… odd about being in his home.
‘What would you like for dinner tonight?’ he asked
lightly. ‘I can order out or cook. It doesn’t matter to me.’
Then he smiled. ‘And be honest.’
I laughed with him over the shared joke. ‘Honestly?
I don’t normally eat more than two meals a day; lunch was more than
He turned from where he had been sorting the mail and gave
me a strange, almost sad look. ‘Maybe a little something later, then,’
was all he said.
I felt uncomfortable again, and he seemed to sense it. ‘I
packed your laptop and your art supplies when I got your clothes…
if you’re looking for something to do,’ he said, a little too
‘Thanks,’ I murmured and went to sit on the couch
beside my bag.
There was the sound of a moderately heavy sigh. ‘Duo…
relax. I don’t bite. My cat might… but I don’t. Make yourself
at home. I have a bottle of wine in the kitchen, would you like a glass?’
I cringed. ‘No… no thank you.’
‘Duo?’ he asked gently, and I glanced up to find
him regarding me quizzically. I guess he’d seen me drink before and
knew that I really didn’t have a problem with it.
‘I’ve been… avoiding alcohol,’ I muttered,
looking down at my hands and not at him. ‘I’m kinda afraid…
I… just don’t think it would be a good idea right now.’
There was a soft little, ‘ah,’ of understanding.
‘Probably… a wise decision.’
I didn’t know what to say to that and was floundering
around trying to think of something witty, when Wufei’s cat finally
made an appearance and turned his attention away from me.
‘There you are, you mangy beast,’ Wufei addressed
the animal with an oddly affectionate smile. ‘We have company, come
and introduce yourself.’
I didn’t know whether to gape at him or laugh. It was
the most mind-bending thing I had seen all day; Chang Wufei talking to a
cat. I managed to contain it to a snort. The cat went from twining between
Wufei’s legs to sitting on the coffee table. I never saw him jump,
I think he teleported. The animal sat for a moment, and gave a half-hearted
lick at one paw, the picture of nonchalance. But I could see his nose twitching
in my direction as he investigated the thing that had dared invade his realm.
I couldn’t help but grin at him.
Then he opened his mouth and let out a God-awful yowl. I jumped
in surprise; I would not have thought a creature that size could have produced
a noise like that. Wufei laughed and nudged the cat in the ass.
‘Stop your complaining and just go say hello.’
Did you know that cats could be very disdainful? I didn’t.
I’d never seen a cat up close before. There were some that lived around
the docks, they kept them there to keep the mouse population down, but they
were all feral and would run if they saw you within a hundred yards.
The cat responded to Wufei’s little push by getting
up and strolling across the table as though he’d meant to do that
anyway. He stopped at the edge and stretched his neck out to sniff at me
I couldn’t take my eyes off the damn thing. I felt like
one of those small town kids in the big city, gawping at the skyscrapers
and picking hayseeds out of their hair. ‘Can I… can I touch
him?’ I breathed, afraid of scaring him away.
I had a feeling Wufei was smirking at my obvious fascination,
but I couldn’t spare him the attention.
‘Of course,’ he said gently. ‘He likes to
be scratched behind his ears and under his chin.’
I stretched out a hand and waited while the beast sniffed
at me. But before I could make any further move to pet him, he stretched
his head up and began to rub it against my fingers. I laughed with delight,
then stifled it quickly lest I scare him off.
‘What’s his name?’ I whispered.
Wufei’s voice, when it came, was from a different part
of the room as he went about his business. ‘Beowulf,’ he told
me with a certain ruefulness in his voice.
‘Hell Wufei,’ I grinned. ‘The name’s
bigger than he is!’
I dared to turn my hand, scratching Beowulf carefully under
the chin and had to chuckle at the way he stretched his neck out. Then I
suddenly had a cat in my lap. I blinked down as the animal calmly turned
around three times and settled across my thighs as though he napped there
There was a sudden flash of light and I jerked my head up
just in time to see Wufei sheepishly lower a camera. ‘I’m sorry,’
he grinned. ‘But the look on your face was just too priceless. I take
it you have never… seen a cat before?’
I shook my head and looked down again as Beowulf yawned hugely
and began to take a bath. ‘Not… up close like this. I’ve
seen strays at the docks, but they won’t come near you… not
even if you put out food.’ I flushed slightly at that inadvertent
admission. ‘I’ve never gotten to touch one before…’
‘Well,’ Wufei moved to put the camera away. ‘He’ll
lie on you all day if you let him. When you get tired of him, just shove
him off.’ There was an odd tension in the air and I looked up to find
Wufei regarding me with that tiny crease between his eyebrows that told
me something was bothering him.
I tilted my head and looked back at him with a quirk of a
grin. ‘Spit it out.’
He dropped his eyes for a second and the frown cleared into
a wry smile. ‘I’m trying to figure out how to discreetly ask
you if you’ll be all right if I go take a shower.’
I laughed. ‘Well… that was subtle. Yes, Wufei…
you may shower. I promise not to self-destruct while you’re gone.’
‘Just don’t sit there like that the whole time,’
he teased. ‘Relax. Make yourself at home.’
Then he was gone.
Beowulf finished his bath and spent a little time sniffing
my pants leg. I stroked a finger down his back and watched his skin shiver.
I scratched behind his ear as Wufei had suggested and he twisted his head
in this impossible angle to aid me. I couldn’t help a chuckle. They
have such… small frames under all that hair. I suspected that shaved
of all that fur, he would resemble nothing so much as a snake with legs
and ears. I suppressed a snort and I swear to God the animal read my mind,
because he gave me a disdainful little sneeze and jumped off my lap. Every
move he made was with this slow deliberateness. He sauntered off toward
the kitchen, I watched him for a minute, then scrambled for my sketchpad.
I didn’t get Astra’s portrait done… maybe I could manage
Pencil and pad in hand, I stalked the cat into the kitchen
where he ate a few bites from a food dish. He gave me a glare that indicated
he was not impressed with my following him around, so I backed off a little
until he was done. Tail held regally in the air, he swept passed me as though
I wasn’t there, making his way back into the living room, where he
curled up under an end table and regarded me as if to ask just what in the
hell I thought I was doing. I sat down on the floor and flipped open my
sketchpad. Beowulf scrunched himself into this little, compact form and
sort of… huddled. Kind of. With his tail wrapped around him like he
was covering his own paws with it. I ended up stretched out on my stomach
next to the coffee table. Distantly, I heard the water turn on in the bathroom,
but I was already lost to the flow.
I decided that evening that cats are pretty damn cool. Stop
laughing at me; L2 street rats don’t exactly get to visit the zoo
on a regular basis. And Beowulf was being very accommodating, sitting like
a true artist’s model, still as a statue, only his ears moving occasionally
as he caught some sound. Until Wufei finished in the bathroom.
‘Oh my God!’ I suddenly heard. ‘Duo! Duo,
are you all right!’
Beowulf laid his ears back and took off like a shot, startled
by the yell and disappearing into the back of the apartment somewhere.
‘What?’ I said intelligently and pushed up on
one elbow to look at him. ‘What the hell’s the matter, Wufei?’
He was looking at me wide-eyed and frightened. It took me
a minute to realize what I probably looked like, and I was caught between
embarrassed and… damned amused.
‘Chill, man,’ I grinned up at him. ‘You
guys have got to stop being so damn jumpy.’
He looked a little chagrined as the fear faded from his eyes.
‘What… are you doing?’ he ventured at last.
‘Well,’ I drawled. ‘I was sketching your
cat until you scared him away.’
That peaked his interest and he came around the table where
he could see the partially finished portrait. His eyes widened and he breathed,
almost reverently, ‘Maxwell… that is incredible! You’ve
totally captured him; it looks more like Beowulf than… Beowulf does!’
I had to laugh and he stretched out a hand to pull me to my
feet. ‘Well, it would look better if you hadn’t made him run
away before I got it finished.’
‘I’ll go find him,’ he said, and there was
the strangest emotion in his voice. I couldn’t quite place it…
but it seemed to hold a hint of longing.
I watched him walk away; realizing that his hair was down
and he had changed out of his work clothes into a rather well worn pair
of jeans and a t-shirt. I settled myself into a corner of the couch and
waited for him to hunt up my suddenly reluctant model.
He tried, when he returned with the somewhat miffed Beowulf,
to get him to sit on the coffee table in front of me, but the cat was bored
with the whole thing and kept jumping down.
‘Just hold him,’ I finally suggested. ‘I
just need to get his ears right, and can’t quite capture it…
he keeps moving them.’
Wufei curled himself into the chair across from me and Beowulf
immediately settled down on his lap. Wufei quirked an affectionate smile
down at the animal and muttered something about ‘mangy beast’.
I finished the portrait as fast as I could and flipped the
page when Wufei wasn’t looking. I was not going to let this moment
slip through my fingers.
Wufei’s hair, still down and wet from the shower, framed
his face, softening the usually stern features. His fingers were almost
unconsciously scratching behind Beowulf’s ear and the cat wore an
expression of utter contentment. It was a wonderfully peaceful scene. It
tugged at me somehow; this man was my friend. My friend. He wasn’t
just watching out for me for Heero’s sake. That had been genuine fear
in his eyes when he had come out of the bathroom and he had thought he had
found me passed out on the floor. He tried so hard to be the calm, reliable
one. The level headed one. But… sometimes, like when I’d scared
him, you could see a hint of the guy who wasn’t any more sure than
the rest of us that he knew what the fuck he was doing.
I sketched as fast as I could, getting it roughed in so that
I could finish it later if I had to. He didn’t seem to know anything
at all about drawing, because he sat patiently for a very long time considering
he thought I was only fixing Beowulf’s ears.
‘Are you having trouble?’ he asked at length.
‘Should I try to get him to sit up straight again?’
I almost laughed, as I captured the tiny smile on his face
as he looked down at his housemate. ‘No… ‘I muttered,
‘he just keeps flicking his ears around.’
‘Whistle,’ he said.
‘What?’ I muttered, blocking in the shadows that
his hair cast on his face.
‘If you can whistle, he’ll point his ears toward
you,’ he explained.
‘I’d rather he were listening to you,’ I
said, quickly following the line of his arm down where it curled around
‘Oh,’ he said, confused, but obligingly began
to murmur to the cat in his lap and, as promised, the delicate little ears
flicked in his direction. Perfect.
He gave me another ten minutes before he finally started to
lose his patience. ‘Duo…’ he dared. ‘Aren’t
you done yet?’
‘Yeah,’ I grinned at him in triumph and Beowulf
lost his lap when Wufei stood up and dumped him rather unceremoniously on
the floor. I flipped the pad closed and tossed it negligently on the coffee
table. ‘You got any juice?’ I asked and started for the kitchen.
‘Sure,’ he said off-handedly, his eyes on the
sketchpad. ‘The kitchen light switch is on the left.’
I managed to get to the kitchen door before he got the pad
picked up. I sneaked a glance when I heard the surprised intake of air.
His eyes were wide and his hand flew up to touch his loose hair. I ducked
on into the kitchen to hide the maniacal grin. Wufei doesn’t look
a thing like Wufei when he isn’t concentrating on it. I found some
orange juice and gave him a minute.
The sketchpad was back on the coffee table when I returned,
but Wufei’s face was still tinged pink. I smiled at him warmly, but
didn’t say anything. He didn’t speak of it either. Beowulf just
looked bored with the whole thing.
‘It’s getting late,’ he muttered after a
brief pause to clear his throat. ‘If… if we’re going to
look over that journal, we should be getting to it.’
I sighed; I had forgotten about it somehow, had pushed it
out of my head. I wasn’t sure I wanted to ‘get to it’.
‘I really think it will help,’ he said gently
and I found myself nodding. I let him fish it out of where he had packed
it in my duffle bag. We just stood and stared at each other for a minute.
I didn’t know what in the hell to do. Should we sit down side by side
and read it together? Should I read it while he sat and… and…
watched me? Should he read it first?
‘If you would like,’ he ventured, looking uncomfortable.
‘I could… read some of the entries to you.’
I flushed, but found the idea not all that repellent. ‘I
feel like a raving moron,’ I told him flatly.
It won me a grin and he gestured to the couch. I sat down
on one end and he moved my duffle bag before sitting down in the other corner.
As soon as we were sitting down, Beowulf joined us, seeking my lap when
he found his owner’s occupied with the journal. I found his warmth
to be oddly comforting. I nursed my glass of orange juice and Wufei read
to me. I couldn’t remember anyone reading to me outside of my dreams
since the orphanage.
It was the journal of a man. Just a man. He happened to be
the Captain of a ship in the Oz fleet. He happened to serve during the war.
But he was still just a man.
He had a wife and he had two children. A boy and a girl. The
perfect little family… except the part where Daddy went off to battle
one day and didn’t come back. The entries started out almost mundane;
‘Left port from L3 today. I think I’m going to
have trouble with my new second in command. He’s a real go-getter
and eager to prove his loyalty to anybody who will listen. Makes me think
he’s protesting too much. I don’t trust the man.’
There was a lot in that vein, talk of this or that crewmember;
things a Captain worries about. Things that a Captain… with a crew,
has to deal with.
‘Had trouble getting resupplied when we docked at L4;
I think some of the colonists were deliberately making things more difficult.
When will they learn that it’s just easier when they cooperate? You
can’t fight something the size of the Oz federation.’
Wufei read easily, I was kind of surprised. I had expected
him to have trouble with the idea of reading to me like a little kid. His
voice is strangely calming; I could imagine him with several children clustered
around him, listening in rapt attention. I sat my glass aside and curled
Beowulf into my arms; he seemed to like the extra warmth and rewarded me
with a purr.
‘I was able to ship a birthday present home for Jimmy’s
birthday. I hope it arrives in time. I feel so bad that I won’t be
there for it. Especially since I missed his sister’s last month, too.
They’re not even going to remember who I am by the time this damn
war is over.’
Wufei read for a bit, occasionally skimming or skipping bits
and pieces when it became too mired in personal references to make much
sense. His voice began to get a little hoarse, but I didn’t think
either one of us was ready to stop. It had become oddly impossible to put
the book down, even knowing how it was going to come out. After almost an
hour, I uncoiled myself from my corner of the couch and quietly reached
for the journal. He looked up at me in surprise but seemed grateful.
I’m afraid my voice wavered a bit when I first started,
but I forced it to steady. Beowulf left my lap when Wufei’s became
available and I felt… abandoned.
‘Things seem to be heating up. Not that high command
would let a poor foot soldier in on their plans, but orders are starting
to have a desperate feel to them.’
Some of the entries, like that one, were fairly short and
to the point. Sometimes days would pass with no entries at all. Sometimes
Camden made several entries in one day.
‘We’ve been ordered out to the asteroid belt.
Command won’t even tell me what for. We’re simply to take our
position and await further instructions. I wouldn’t say it out loud
for the world, especially not in the hearing of that idiot Williams, but
I think something is seriously wrong with upper command. Orders seem to
contradict themselves almost from hour to hour. Sometimes it seems like
the same people aren’t in charge from one day to the next.’
Williams. I didn’t recall the name from the list of
the dead that I had gathered. A survivor then?
‘We docked today and were able to pick up messages.
I got a note from Anna that said Jimmy got his present a day late, but loved
it all the same. She said he wanted to know when I was coming home. I might
have felt worse if Myers hadn’t gotten the news in the same batch
of messages that his brother had been killed in battle. The man had been
a Taurus pilot. I think Myers had been expecting the news for some time.
The crew doesn’t talk about it out loud, but it’s a well-known
fact that mobile suit pilots are sold cheap in these times. Sometimes it
feels like this will never be over.’
The next couple of entries were worse than mundane, detailing
supply problems and grousing about deep space rations. But then the tone
changed of a sudden and the time period was brought into hard focus for
the both of us.
‘Trieze is dead. I still can’t believe it. I thought
the man was immortal. The rumors are that he was killed by one of those
damn Gundam pilots. I supposedly saw one of them at our last dock; they
had him in irons and he was scheduled for execution. I personally don’t
think they had the right guy. He was just a damn little kid. They beat the
holy crap out of him too.’
I had to stop and Wufei and I both just looked at each other
for a minute. I could see him warring with himself. His conscience was telling
him to take the book back from me, but he didn’t want to be reading
this part out loud any more than I did. Wordlessly, I scooted down the couch
until I was sitting where he could read over my shoulder and we finished
reading the entry together in silence.
‘There’s just no way that kid could have been
one of those ruthless Gundam pilots. Fighting like that would break a kid.
Good God; he couldn’t have been much older than my little Leia! We
shipped out before the execution was scheduled and I was glad of that. It
made me sick to think they planned on televising it. I sent a message to
Anna and warned her to make sure the kids didn’t watch it when it
happened. I didn’t want my kids seeing something like that. I was
actually kind of glad when I heard the kid got away. I’ll always believe
they had the wrong person.’
I shivered and felt Wufei’s hand fall on my shoulder
to squeeze gently. I looked up at him and he looked as… haunted as
‘Maybe we should stop for the night,’ he said,
and couldn’t seem to get his voice above a whisper.
I shook my head. ‘No… I just want to get it over
with.’ Then I looked at him again. ‘Unless… unless you
want to stop?’
He gave me a sad little smile. ‘I’ll keep going
as long as you do.’
I wasn’t sure how to take that, and felt a little uncomfortable
with it. Like I was forcing him to read through this stupid thing with me.
The next several pages were more griping about that Williams
guy, who appeared to be the much-maligned second in command. Williams seemed
to have a fanatical streak a mile wide, and a thirst for power. He was out
to make a name for himself and didn’t care whose corpse he stood on
top of to get the attention he wanted.
I think Camden was starting to feel the presence of his maker
toward the end; he began to talk more about his kids and about his fears
of not being there to see them grow up. He talked about things he wished
he’d said to his wife. He talked about how they had met and Wufei
and I both had to put the book down for a little bit.
‘Wanna stop?’ I whispered.
‘We… we only have a couple more pages to go.’
Wufei whispered back.
Beowulf looked up at us as though we were nuts.
‘I feel… weird,’ I told him with a little
shiver. ‘Like some kind of voyeur or something.’
He nodded. ‘I know what you mean. I didn’t get
this wrapped up in it this morning, just skimming through it. I… I
think I’m sorry I suggested this.’
I left the book in his hands for a minute and shifted away
to get my glass of orange juice, finding it warm and drinking some anyway.
Wufei traded me the book for the glass and swallowed some too. He grimaced
at me and then we turned our attention back to the journal.
It got ugly after that. Williams, apparently, had a grudge
and a half against the Gundam pilots. All Gundam pilots. The Londonderry
had been sent to the asteroid belt to back up one of the all out, no-holds-barred
assaults on… us. The Londonderry had not been a destroyer level ship.
It hadn’t been much more than a courier. They were only supposed to
be there to ferry wounded or move supplies. During Camden’s off-shift,
the second in command took the helm and chose to interpret his orders in
a very… loose manner. By the time the assault had awakened Camden,
the damage had been done and the Londonderry had been ‘sinking’.
Camden had little choice but to order an abandon ship.
Williams had attacked a Gundam with the Londonderry; the poor
dumb son of a bitch. He had as much as committed ‘ship suicide’.
And then blamed the breach in orders on his Captain.
My hands began to shake so bad we couldn’t read the
‘Duo… Duo,’ Wufei murmured. ‘Let’s
‘I… I knew there was a possibility that…
that one of us had something to do with that ship, ‘Fei.’ I
told him and my voice was shaking as bad as my hands. ‘Most fighting
out there had something to do with us… I gotta finish it…’
He nodded and took the journal away from me and began to read
‘Williams was one of the first ones off the ship. He
took an escape pod with only one or two of his cronies. Two of the other
pods were damaged in the attack and he left us short. The bastard saved
his own hide and condemned sixteen of his shipmates to death. Though I suppose
he can’t be blamed for all of the deaths. At least Myers, White and
Nelson died in the assault.’
Wufei said something nasty in Chinese, stopping for a moment
to look off at nothing. ‘Dishonorable bastard!’ he muttered,
and returned to the journal, reading with a little more fervor.
‘The battle has moved off and we are left here. Our
distress calls have gone unanswered; we can only assume that there are just
too many disabled ships and not enough rescuers. We don’t even know
who is winning out there. I’m not sure why I am bothering to put this
down; it’s unlikely that anyone will ever find it. We are walking
dead men now. Men and women. I guess I am showing my age in that; it bothers
me more about Thomson and Reeves, the two women. Williams abandoned women
to die in cold vacuum. If he rots in hell for nothing else, he will rot
for that, I have no doubt.’
I had to draw a shuddering breath, lost in memory and Wufei’s
voice stilled. I looked up at him and he looked distraught to find tears
standing in my eyes. I couldn’t help it. I had to mourn for those
people whose fate I had almost shared. Whose fate I might well have had
a hand in.
‘Don’t stop,’ I whispered and he hesitated.
‘Please ‘Fei… don’t stop.’
He stretched out his free arm and let me lean against him.
It eased the shivering.
‘I should be out there with what is left of my crew,
but instead I’m hiding here in my cabin. I’ve even taken my
vacuum suit off. There is air left in some of the inner rooms… it
won’t last. I won’t die like that, going slowly as the air runs
out. Of all the ways in the damn world to die, that very idea has always
filled me with sick fear. I can’t. I won’t. I think that makes
me a coward, but I don’t care. I think that I would shame myself before
it was over. And somehow, that would be the final indignity.’
Wufei drew a quivering breath of his own, giving my shoulders
a squeeze almost without seeming to notice, before plunging on.
‘I hope someone finds this someday. Anna, my dear Anna.
I am so sorry. So very, very sorry. I never meant for this to happen this
way. I had planned on coming home after the war and spending forever with
you, just like we promised…’
Wufei’s voice cracked and I broke at the same moment.
Beowulf laid his ears back, sensing the tension in the air, and jumped down
to go find someplace else to sleep.
Wufei shut the book. ‘That’s enough, Maxwell,’
he said gruffly. ‘You may be able to deal with this… but I can
I carefully kept my face, now awash with tears, turned away
from him. I pulled away and stood, keeping my back turned, and walked across
the living room to the sliding door that lead out to his little patio.
‘Duo?’ he called after me and I raised a hand
in that stupid military sign that meant stay here, and slipped outside,
shutting the door carefully behind me.
The evening air was cool and once I walked a few paces away
from the building, I could look up and see some of the brighter stars. I
just stood there and waited for the tears to stop.
I had been way too raw for that. Entirely unprepared. I wondered
why that was. I had pretty much known all afternoon what I was going to
be faced with tonight. When had I gotten to the place where I could push
unpleasant things out of my head so far that I completely forgot them?
Could I have been the one who destroyed that ship? Was mine
the Gundam that Williams had attacked? Was it possible that I had set the
trap all those years ago that I had caught myself in? That was such circular
thinking that I almost got lost trying to unravel it.
‘It would’a been damn funny,’ Solo would
have said, while he snickered at me.
‘Shut up, rat-boy,’ I snapped and wiped rather
ineffectively at my leaking eyes.
‘What’na hell is with you lately?’ he groused.
‘Bawlin’ like a baby all’a time.’
I just sighed, not able to think of a suitable comeback and
he faded from my mind.
George wandered up, pulled his fez off respectfully, poked
me in the ankle to get my attention and produced a banner that simply said,
‘shit’. Guilt-beast lolled at my other side and looked up at
me with weary eyes as if to say, ‘I’m getting too fucking old
‘Oh… you guys are a lot of help,’ I muttered
and looked back up at the stars. The few I could see. I was filled with
a sudden pain that started in my gut and washed up through my chest, an
aching need to go home to the those stars. To see them as they are meant
to be seen, sharp and steady and clear and bright. Constant and as beautiful
as shards of crystalline ice. Stars don’t twinkle; did you know that?
It only looks like they do down here on Earth because of the atmosphere.
Those things in the journal; to Anna, to Camden’s wife…
so close to what I had almost said to Heero when I had thought I was going
to die on that trip to L3. They left my heart feeling cold and hollow. Ate
at me from a different angle than all the rest of it. Made me feel that
man’s agony right down in my bones.
I sat down on the ground, right at the edge of the patio.
I felt bad for guilt, not up to doing his job, and thought it might be easier
on him if he could just crawl in my lap. His expressive, blood-shot eyes
rolled my way disdainfully.
It had been near the end of the war, sometime after Treize
had died. What would that make it, three years ago? I had fired a shot three
years ago and been struck down by it across all that time? I’d…
I’d fucking killed myself. That’s what it boiled down to. If
it had been me. Despite how much Wufei didn’t like to hear me say
that. Wasn’t that just too damn ironic for words?
‘Ok, king-rat.’ I chuckled. ‘Ya got a point…
it is kinda funny.’
‘I don’t lie,’ he snickered near my right
ear, ruffled guilt’s furry head and disappeared.
Funny for me. Not so damn funny for Camden. What a motherless
bastard that Williams had been. And clearly gotten away with it. I hoped
his damn escape pod had… had imploded. Or something else really, really
Guilt got his second wind and bit down hard on the first piece
of anatomy that came to hand.
Fuck if Williams was going to get away with it. The hell if
little Jimmy and Leia would grow up thinking their father was a traitor
and an idiot.
I leaped to me feet, dislodging guilt and leaving my hamsters
in my wake. I drug my arm roughly across my eyes, wiping them clear. When
I turned back toward the apartment, I found Wufei leaning in the doorway,
regarding me with an uncertain expression on his face. He blinked at me
apprehensively when I came determinedly back toward him.
‘Duo?’ he asked softly, when I got closer. ‘Are…
are you all right?’
‘Fine,’ I told him rather flatly. ‘Do you
have an internet jack?’
He gave ground, looking at me almost fearfully. ‘Right
here in the living room,’ he said, pointing the way.
I went and fished my laptop out of the duffle bag, where Wufei
had packed it, jerking angrily at the zippers. I set it on the end of the
coffee table and strung the cable with shaking hands, booting the system
after it was plugged up.
‘What are you doing?’ Wufei questioned me, voice
trying to be calm and soothing.
‘I’m gonna get that son of a bitch,’ I growled,
watching impatiently as my laptop came up. ‘Damned if he’s going
to get away with abandoning all those people. I won’t let Anna think
her husband died a traitor. I’ll be damned if I let his kids think
that…’ my voice was rising and I seemed powerless to do anything
about it. ‘That their father was the bad guy. He’s not gonna
get away with it…’
‘Calm down, Duo,’ Wufei said gently and suddenly
his hands were on my shoulders. It felt like he was the only thing keeping
me from flying off in a dozen directions. ‘No more tonight. We’re
not going to change anything tonight. You have to calm down.’
I could feel myself quivering with almost out of control emotion,
too many to name, too much to deal with. ‘Can’t let him get
away with it!’
‘I agree with you,’ he continued to try to placate
me. ‘We’re going to check into this. But tomorrow…. You
need some rest… you need to calm down.’
I sighed heavily, rather proud that it didn’t escalate
to a moan. ‘I’m sorry… you’re right. You’re
right; I just can’t help it. I just keep seeing them… drifting
there. I can close my eyes and see them all and I know how they died and
I know they didn’t have to die. There was room in that pod if that
bastard had just taken the survivors. I know how they felt… I know
how each damn one of them felt! I felt it and for awhile I was one of them…
just drifting… and they all had families too and they didn’t
have the time to leave their messages or maybe they did and I just didn’t
find them but God there’s just so much you want to say and maybe those
two women were mothers and they left little kids behind and that means I
made orphans like me and the others and…’
‘Maxwell!’ Wufei snapped and the hands on my shoulders
gave me a sudden harsh shake. He turned me around so abruptly I stumbled.
‘Stop it!’ he barked at me and pulled me into his arms. ‘Just…
‘I’m sorry…’ I breathed, when I could.
‘God,’ he murmured. ‘All that’s holding
you together is glue and band-aides!’
I let out with a snort of harsh laughter and told him, ‘I…
I’m a little tougher than that; bailing wire and twine.’
His arms crushed me close against his chest and I could feel
the hammer of his heart against mine. He was scared. I was honestly frightening
him; he thought I was totally losing it. Guilt-beast sighed heavily.
‘It’s all right. Underneath the twine, I’m
slowly puttin’ the pieces back together, ok?’ I tried to reassure
‘I know, my friend,’ he said softly. ‘And
I’m sorry… this was such an incredibly bad idea. I didn’t
realize how much… how hard… I just didn’t realize.’
In that moment, if he had been Heero, I think I could have
let go. If Heero had been healed and whole, if those had been his arms around
me… I think I could have just given in to the need to collapse. I
would have answered any question he might have asked me… I wouldn’t
have evaded. I wouldn’t have lied. I would have told him every damn
thing I had ever felt… ever thought. Anything he wanted.
But this was Wufei. And while he was my friend… he was
not the home my soul sought. It was the vague unease that I might just answer
anything he would ask that drove me to pull away and offer up a watery smile.
‘I’m getting real tired,’ I admitted, so
that I might not admit to anything more. ‘Do you think we could call
it a night?’
‘I think that would be a good idea,’ he agreed
and showed me the way to the bedroom.
As uncomfortable as I had felt sleeping with him at the apartment,
it was nothing compared to how miserable I felt on his home turf, crawling
into his bed.
We said our goodnights, then lay and stared into the dark.
I think he was having trouble falling asleep too, but neither one of us
wanted to be the one to admit it. Thoughts of the asteroid belt whirled
around in my head. Memories surfaced and sank, piloted by little thought-hamsters.
I wished I dared go for a walk. I wished, oddly, for a beer. I wished for
someone to hold onto. I began to fear I would lie there, staring up at a
ceiling I couldn’t see, all damn night. Then Beowulf joined us in
bed. I gave a startled little gasp when he just appeared on the side of
the bed and gave a plaintiff little yowl almost in my ear.
‘Beowulf!’ Wufei snapped, and I could tell from
his voice that he had not been asleep.
The cat ignored him, coming to poke around my face with a
slightly wet nose.
‘Get down, you mangy beast,’ Wufei commanded.
‘Sleep somewhere else tonight.’
He received only a disdainful ‘mrrrr’ of complaint.
‘Does…’ I ventured, ‘does he usually
It took Wufei a moment before he sheepishly admitted, ‘Yes…
the damn animal insists on sleeping on the bed. But he can survive sleeping
elsewhere, just push him off.’
‘It’s all right,’ I murmured as Beowulf
decided that he might just share his space with me, curling up next to my
stomach. He was warm. I found my arms winding around him. ‘I…
I don’t mind at all.’
The comment was greeted with silence. I shifted the cat up
higher, closer to my chest, curling toward the heat… toward the contact…
toward the soft sound of breathing. Beowulf began to wash my chin; I decided
I probably shouldn’t let Wufei know that or he would banish the poor
‘Good night,’ I said softly into the dark.
Fingers brushed my shoulder. ‘I’m… here…
if you need anything,’ he told me hesitantly.
‘I know,’ I whispered back.
We went back to staring into the dark.
It was the stupid cat that finally let me sleep. His washing
my face with his sandpaper tongue distracted my thoughts. His warmth and
the sound of his quiet purr helped me relax. I drifted off, at long last,
with my knuckles rubbing absently against the soft fur.
Did you doubt that there would be nightmares? After sitting
there all evening pouring over that damn journal? That was most of the reason
I had so much trouble falling asleep; somehow I had known that Wufei’s
mere presence wasn’t going to be enough to keep them at bay this time.
It started just like the last time; back aboard the Londonderry.
I was trying to get away… trying to run in zero gravity. It was as
though I had forgotten how to navigate in free-fall. I could feel the corpses
gaining on me as I fled, moving like stereotypical zombies in some bad horror
movie. They could walk, where I could not, and even though they moved with
shuffling slowness, I couldn’t gain any ground on them.
I rounded the bend that hadn’t been there, just like
the last time. And just like before, came face to… face with the Captain.
With his head half gone and his blood-soaked clothes.
Captain Camden. Anna’s husband. Leia and Jimmy’s
I didn’t bother to scream for Solo… I knew he
wouldn’t come. I didn’t bother to scream for Heero… I
knew he couldn’t come. Things seemed to… freeze. I didn’t
fight against them and there was some hesitation on their part. Cold hands
did not immediately reach for me. I didn’t find myself struggling
‘I’m sorry…’ I whispered into the
cold emptiness that surrounded us. That would surround them… forever.
Sorry for it all. Sorry for the deaths. Sorry for living. Sorry for the
whole damn war.
Camden seemed, suddenly, to have an eye where none had been
before. It was brown; warm and kind if you could ignore the face that wasn’t
quite all there around it.
For the first time, in those long months of haunting my nights,
he spoke. ‘Anna.’ It was a whisper… a prayer… a
I blinked. I nodded. I understood.
The crew of the Londonderry quietly turned and retreated to
their cold graveyard, leaving me alone in the dark corridor. My hands clutching
unnecessarily at the air tank that some part of my mind knew I didn’t
need any more.
It wasn’t about Williams. It wasn’t about revenge
or justice or even about injustice. It was about love and family and bringing
home the words he had left behind. It was about absolution. It was about
I woke with a start and a gasp of breath and found that I
was holding Beowulf just a little too tightly. When I eased the grip, he
expressed his displeasure by swatting me in the face and jumping off the
bed. I imagined him swaggering off with his tail waving contemptuously in
I lay still and concentrated on getting my thundering heart
to slow, on not gasping for the sweet, clear air. My hands found their way
to the warm spot on my chest that was rapidly cooling now that my security
blanket had abandoned me, trying to hold the warmth in.
Wufei seemed to still be asleep, and I slipped silently from
the bed, making my wobbly way to the bathroom. A little cold water served
to wash away the last of the lingering stench of a vacuum suit that has
been used way too long. I wondered sometimes if that scent would stay with
me for the rest of my life. Phantom smell, or not… it never failed
to make me shiver in sudden, harsh remembrance.
It didn’t feel as though I could go back to sleep and
when I finished in the bathroom, I went on silent feet to the living room.
I had never gotten around to shutting down my laptop, and the room was lit
faintly by the soft glow of the screen and allowed me to navigate the strange
surroundings without falling over something.
I passed by my system and brushed a fingertip over the touch
pad to kill the screen saver, further brightening the room. I shook my head
ruefully; I had been so damn far gone last night I didn’t even remember
plugging up the power cord. I took a moment to glance at the system time;
I hadn’t seen a clock in this place yet. Wufei probably had the same
unfailing time sense that Heero did. It was almost five in the morning.
No… it was a sure bet I wouldn’t be going back to sleep now.
I wandered over to the patio door and stood looking out at
the faint glow of false dawn. I thought resolutely about sunrises and birds.
Clouds and butterflies. Earth had a very lot to offer, even to a homesick
child of the colonies. I sighed; so much for my resolve not to think about
unhappy things. It seemed all my thoughts came, rather quickly, around to
I left the doorway and went to sit on the couch in front of
my laptop, nodding a courteous good morning to Sisyphus. He didn’t
pause in his rock pushing to acknowledge me.
For lack of anything better to do, I pulled up my e-mail and
checked for messages. There was only one and it was from the guy who had
made the inquiry about the ship. He must be serious… he wanted to
see it. I closed my e-mail and sat back. Later… I would think about
Beowulf did that strange levitation thing he does again, and
was suddenly sitting on the coffee table looking at me as if hoping for
something, but I wasn’t sure what. When I just stared back, he huffed
a sigh and meandered over to sniff at my laptop. I braced my elbows on my
knees and let my head hang.
God… I was so tired. Just so very damn tired. I couldn’t
help but wonder if the dream at least signaled an end to the damn constant
nightmares. If I had believed that there was a God up there somewhere answering
prayers, I might have sent one his way with that hope. I think… I
think that would go a long way toward getting me through this; if I no longer
had to fear sleeping at night. If I could have that solace again, those
few hours of rest and forgetfulness. I shook my head at my own damn dreaming
and snorted a quiet little laugh. My braid slid from my shoulder and dangled
between my knees, swaying with the gesture.
Beowulf was off the coffee table in a heartbeat, on the floor
between my bare feet, lying on his back with the end of my braid caught
in his outstretched claws.
I jerked involuntarily and my hair pulled from his grasp.
Front legs somehow seemed to almost double in length as the cat stretched
up after his prey. I suppressed a chuckle and deliberately dipped my head
to let the tuft on the end of the braid bop him on the nose. He went after
it with all four feet.
I let it all go away to that new place where I seemed to be
able to put things that I didn’t want to think about, and just played
with the stupid cat. The little kid in my head finally opened his eyes and
laughed with delight, for the first time in quite a while.
We were quiet, though I had to make some effort toward it
a couple of times. I didn’t know Wufei was awake until the flash on
his damn camera went off again. Beowulf and I turned an irritated eye in
his direction. I blushed. Beowulf licked nonchalantly at a paw. Wufei grinned.
I suppose we did look pretty stupid. I was sprawled across
the coffee table on my belly, wearing nothing but my boxer shorts, with
my somewhat bedraggled looking braid dangling over the edge. Beowulf was
lying under the table on his back, all four legs splayed in an undignified
manner, stretching wildly in an effort to reach the offending ‘cat
‘Wufei,’ I said archly. ‘I’m not even
He smirked at me, completely unrepentant. ‘I kept your
ass out of the frame.’ And then he went to make breakfast.
Beowulf abandoned me again, scrambling after his owner; I
can only guess that it was breakfast time for him as well. I took the opportunity
to go get dressed, dragging my duffle bag to Wufei’s bedroom and digging
through it to see what my lover’s partner had packed for me to wear.
I was a little surprised to find a red turtleneck pullover that I hadn’t
worn in ages and a pair of black jeans. I dressed and re-did my hair, then
went to join Wufei in the kitchen.
He gestured me to the table and settled a plate laden with
fruit, toast and scrambled eggs in front of me.
I looked up at him with eyes that had to be bugging from my
head. ‘Is there some reason you guys all seem to think you have to
turn every meal into an opportunity to stuff me until I burst?’
He chuckled as he sat down across from me. ‘Because
you’re scrawny and you don’t eat properly on your own.’
‘Hey!’ I told him in mock indignation, ‘my
diet is probably more well balanced than yours.’
He snorted with a terribly superior air. ‘You eat gravel
masquerading as cardboard.’
I almost spit eggs out on the table trying not to laugh. It
still kind of amazes me the sense of humor that the Brothers Grimm had developed
while I was away.
‘Yes… but its very nutritious gravel,’ I
replied haughtily and all he could do was shake his head at me.
He needed to leave for work before seven thirty and he offered
to let me stay at his place until visiting hours started, but I felt awkward
about it and packed my stuff up to leave the same time he did. I could see
him warring with his sense of ‘honor’, or whatever in the hell
it was that made it hard for these guys to get in a car and drive somewhere
while I was waiting for a bus.
‘Do not even start with me,’ I warned him. ‘We
are going in opposite directions… it doesn’t make sense.’
He sighed heavily. ‘We can’t help but worry…’
he began and all I could do was roll my eyes.
‘You know, it absolutely makes me crazy the way you
guys act like I’m made out of glass.’ I grumbled, hefting my
duffle bag up higher on my shoulder.
His eyes looked sad for a moment before he gave me a small
half grin. ‘I truly wish I had taken some damn video footage of you
right after we got back, and maybe you would understand why we act the way
I just stood on the sidewalk and blinked at him, there wasn’t
a lot I could say to that. He turned and started to walk toward his car
but stopped at the last minute, calling back, ‘It’s true what
they say… you don’t appreciate what you have until you almost
I stood there like an idiot with my mouth hanging open and
watched him pull away. George wandered up with a little thought balloon
that simple read, ‘damn’ in very small letters.
‘No shit.’ I agreed and we made our way to the
I decided that perhaps my luck really had taken a turn for
the better when I arrived at the hospital and managed to get there early
enough to be present when Heero’s Doctor came around. He announced
that, if Heero managed well on solid food, they would be releasing him either
the next day or the day after. It was all I could do not to leap up and
hug the man.
I’m not sure if it was the change in menu, or my own
delight communicating itself to Heero, but he seemed in much better spirits.
Before he could ask me about the evening and the damn journal, I pulled
my sketchpad out of my duffle bag and showed him the picture I’d sketched
of Wufei and Beowulf.
We had another one of those sweet, sweet mornings where we
just sat together and talked of nothing at all. I found out that Beowulf
had started out in this life as Muffin and had been Sally’s cat. He
had made his preference for Wufei’s company known very early on and
Sally had finally moved him, lock, stock and cat dish into Wufei’s
apartment in disgust and gotten herself a fish tank.
I sat by his bed and worked on the sketch, adding the details
that I hadn’t had the time for the night before, and told him about
Wufei taking my picture… several times.
He laughed and told me about Wufei driving all of them crazy
when he had first taken up the hobby, but that he had surprised them all
by becoming damn good at it. He looked at me wistfully and told me that
he would be very glad to be able to add Wufei’s pictures of me to
the collection he had already.
Mid morning, we took his walk and I could tell that he didn’t
need my support near as much as he had. Which was a good thing… that
made me feel oddly melancholy. Am I just fucking weird, or what? He still
walked with his arm around my shoulders, but I kind of suspected that it
might have just been because we could walk like that together without anyone
thinking anything of it. I caught an odd little smile on his face at one
point that all but confirmed it for me. I couldn’t help but echo the
stupid, sappy expression and that made him chuckle. Soon we were hiking
up and down the hall, not able to even make eye contact without laughing
like loons. It served to wear him out faster than usual though, and I had
to help him, somewhat reluctantly, back to bed.
‘God, I love you,’ he whispered next to my ear
as I tucked him in, made sure his IV stand was back in place and the lines
were arranged out of harms way.
‘If I didn’t know better,’ I smiled down
at him, ‘I’d say you were drugged out of your mind.’
‘You just seem… better today,’ he ventured.
‘It does more for me than any damn medicine to see you smiling again.’
There was no answer to that other than a long, deep kiss,
which was cut short when Aaron showed up with lunch. Heero ate the solid
food with much less grousing than he had the liquid diet and I could hardly
He slept for a bit after that, though he fought against it,
and I sat and worked on my picture of Wufei. Then the comment that my subject
had made about video taping me in the hospital came back to me and I found
myself sketching Heero.
That’s what I was doing when Trowa and Quatre showed
up in the afternoon. Trowa moved immediately in behind me to see what I
was doing, while Quatre went through his daily ritual of checking Heero’s
‘Solid food?’ he noted with a smile, ‘Is
he doing all right with it?’
‘Seems to be,’ I whispered and focused all my
efforts into capturing the gentle expression on Heero’s sleeping face.
I figured it wouldn’t take long before all the talking disturbed him.
‘It’s only been two meals so far though.’ Then I had to
grin up at them. ‘The Doctor says if he doesn’t have any problems,
he’ll release him tomorrow or the next day.’
Trowa barely seemed to be listening, his eyes flicking back
and forth between Heero and the sketch in my lap. ‘Wufei said you
were good. Duo… you realize you could hang your work in any gallery
in town, don’t you?’
‘Yeah… right,’ I snorted and rolled my eyes
up at him. ‘And what would they call the exhibit? ‘Street Rat
‘I assume from the way everyone is looking at me,’
came Heero’s quiet, slightly groggy voice. ‘That he is sketching
me now, and not Wufei?’
‘Wufei?’ And of course I had to show them the
portrait I was privately starting to think of as ‘A Boy and His Cat’.
They continued to comment on my ‘artistic ability’
until I was feeling miserably uncomfortable and I stuffed the pad away in
my duffle bag.
‘You know that Wufei is green with envy over your talent,
don’t you?’ Trowa commented blandly and I looked up at him.
‘What?’ I blurted with my usual wit and aplomb.
I was really going to have to have a talk with my thought-hamsters about
Trowa chuckled lightly, ‘I think wanting to paint was
what led him to take up photography.’
Quatre let out with an odd little chuckle. ‘He did try
those art lessons a year or so ago, didn’t he? I’d forgotten.’
They talked around me in that vein for a bit and I mulled
the information over. I suppose it did explain Wufei’s reaction whenever
he caught me drawing or was in a position to look through my stuff. Who
would have thought?
Before I quite knew what was happening, a phone call had been
made to Wufei at work and the four of them were making arrangements for
me to go home with Trowa and Quatre for the night. I didn’t know whether
to object or not. On the one hand, Quatre was making me insane. But on the
other, Wufei had been getting a little too… close to some of the things
I just didn’t want to talk about. I had kind of hoped that I might
go back to the apartment and try things on my own, but I suppose that had
been a rather ludicrous idea with this group around. It was only going to
be for another night or two anyway, so in all reality, it just wasn’t
worth fighting over it.
We won’t even talk about how it made me feel to have
them making plans for me without a one of them even asking me what I wanted.
That had just become a given. Something to be expected. I was getting numb
to it. Really.
So when they were done with their discussion and informed
me that Wufei had to work late trying to make up some of the paperwork that
wasn’t getting done because Heero wasn’t there, and that I was
going home with them again… I just nodded. Smiled and nodded.
They left after an hour or two, with assurances that Trowa
would be back to get me at the end of the day. I didn’t even bother
to point out that I was pretty sure a cab driver would be able to find their
I couldn’t recapture the morning’s mood after
they were gone, no matter how hard I tried and it didn’t take long
before Heero noticed.
‘Duo?’ he asked gently. ‘What’s wrong,
I sighed and found my fingers rubbing carefully over the still
healing cut on my arm; it was starting to itch like a son of a bitch. ‘I…
didn’t have a particularly bad night last night… and I guess
I’d just hoped I could go on home tonight.’ Yeah… I used
the word for his benefit. Home. I had become aware of the fact that I didn’t
use it anymore and was making a conscious effort to reassure him. I think
he could see through that, though.
He looked at me pensively. ‘I thought… I didn’t
think you had bad nights as long as you were with somebody?’
Well, the mood was already shot anyway, right? So I went ahead
and told him a little bit about the journal. Mostly stuff about Camden,
Williams’ mutiny, and the messages the man had left to his family.
I didn’t expound on the details of the battle and the involvement
of a Gundam in the destruction of the Londonderry. But I did tell him about
the dream. About the fact that I hadn’t ended up fighting for my life
all night with a bunch of flash-frozen corpsicles. When I was done, he was
struggling between worried and hopeful.
‘You want to find this Anna Camden?’ he asked
‘I have to,’ I told him with a wry grin. ‘I
think it’s contingent on the good Captain and his living-dead crew
leaving me alone at night.’ Heero frowned at me fearfully and I had
to roll my eyes. ‘For God’s sake, Heero… I’m not
telling you I think I’m being haunted by the ghosts of the damn Londonderry.
I just think my own guilty conscience isn’t going to leave me alone
until I do this.’
He reached for me, making me move to sit on the side of the
bed instead of the chair, where he could get hold of me.
‘What in the world have I done,’ I asked him,
choosing my words carefully. ‘To make you guys keep acting like I’m
going to need a straight jacket fitting any day now?’
He flushed darkly and his fingers wrapped tightly around mine.
‘You… you seemed to… You talked, quite a bit…’
He was floundering around like a drowning man, his eyes flicking to meet
mine and then dropping away, and I considered just letting him go, to see
if he would ever get it spit out. But I couldn’t stand watching him
struggle so hard, and finally took pity on him.
‘Husband-mine,’ I grinned down at him. ‘I’ve
talked to my dead for as long as I can remember. That predates the trip
I made to the anti-chamber of hell. But I’m gonna let you in on a
little secret…’ I couldn’t help grinning widely and leaning
down to whisper conspiratorially, ‘they don’t really answer.’
It was something of a shock to see the relief wash up and
fill his eyes until I thought they would spill over.
‘Heero?’ I murmured, not quite believing the fear
I was seeing behind that expression. ‘What are you telling me? You
think… you think I’m nuts?’
‘Quatre’s Doctors…’ he told me, as
he tried to school his emotions. ‘They warned us over and over…
that no one could come through that… unharmed. That the amount of
time you spent out there was just too much. Hell; Trowa wasn’t adrift
a… a… tenth of the time you were, and he completely lost his
memory of the entire incident! He didn’t even remember Quatre!’
I worked very hard to keep all the irritation out of my voice.
Really damn hard. ‘Trowa got his ass blown up by his own lover. Right
after seeing said lover destroy an entire colony! I think the damn circumstances
were a little different.’ He didn’t look convinced. ‘Heero,
that’s like… like comparing a car accident and running out of
gas! Yeah, they’re both events that involved a damn car, but that’s
pretty much where the comparison leaves off!’
‘Don’t belittle what you went through,’
‘I’m just trying to forget what I went through,
damn it!’ I snapped. ‘But it’s a little damn difficult
when I have four people more than willing to keep dredging it up and rubbing
my God damn nose in it!’
Oooops. Those fucking little thought-hamsters had done another
end-run around my brain.
I was suddenly feeling a rather frantic need to… be
somewhere else. I managed to untangle myself from his hands and slipped
from the bed. I meant to calmly tell him that I was going to walk down the
hall to the soda machine and that I would be right back in just a minute
and to please stay where he was and give me just a little space. I’m
not sure what actually came out of my mouth.
I fled the room with guilt-beast latched onto one ankle, dragging
along all the way down the hall. The glow of the soda machine was like the
light at the end of the tunnel, beckoning me with the lure of caffeine and
the sharp bite of carbonation. I dropped my coins in and hit the button
a little more violently than was necessary, snatching the bottle up to open
it and gulped down three huge swallows without pause.
I’m not nuts. I want that on the record. I may be a
little… odd. I may have a slightly more active imagination than a
lot of people. I have, perhaps, not led the most orthodox of lives. I may
have had a somewhat less than stable background. But… I. Am. Not.
Was it really all that damn much to ask that they let it go?
I was so tired of my entire life revolving around that one stupid piece
of shit job to the asteroid belt. I was in the salvage business for a long
time. All on my own. I had hundreds of jobs to my credit. I had one go bad.
Count them; one. So now every breath I drew had to have something to do
with the Londonderry and the damn belt? Every time I sneezed for the rest
of my life, was somebody going to try to blame it on that damn accident?
I’m really sorry to have to report this… but I
was pretty screwed up before hand. I talked to myself before I’d ever
heard of the Londonderry. I painted ghosts and cut my own arm once a year,
before Howard ever even got that job offer. I embodied inanimate objects
with personalities before… hell; before the Maxwell church. That’s
just… who I am.
I pushed away from the soda machine, took another long swallow,
girded my loins and turned back toward Heero’s room. Only to find
him making his unsteady way down the hall toward me, using his IV stand
as an impromptu walker.
I thought for a split second that I just might scream.
‘Heero!’ I yelped and rushed to his side. ‘What
the hell are you doing? Didn’t I tell you I’d be right back?’
He looked at me, rather stricken. ‘No… you just
said something about damn hamsters and took off.’
I repressed the urge to laugh out loud, deciding that would
not do my ‘I am not crazy’ argument a lot of good, moved up
to offer him my support and determined that trying to explain what a thought-hamster
was, would… probably be a really bad idea.
He latched onto me like he thought I was going to disappear
on him and we headed back for his room.
‘I was thirsty,’ I murmured, when I couldn’t
find anything that rhymed with ‘hamster’ that I thought he would
He frowned, recognizing an evasion when he saw it and switched
his irritation to something he could at least see. ‘You drink too
much of that crap… it’s not good for you.’
‘Just be thankful it’s not whiskey,’ I ground
out and then immediately was sorry when his look went from stricken to…
horrified. I sighed, feeling worn down to the bone. ‘Heero…
you’re pushing. You’re pushing so damn hard I can’t hold
on much longer. I thought we talked this out yesterday. Please… we’re
so close to being through this. Don’t do this to me now…’
We got to the side of the bed, but instead of climbing back
in it, he sat down in the chair, letting his hand slide from my shoulder,
his fingers trailing down my arm until he could catch my hand in his. As
though he were afraid to let go of me. I sat down on my heels in front of
‘I love you,’ he whispered softly. ‘But
I don’t know how to make it be enough.’
I smiled sadly at him, ‘It’s not that you’re
not trying hard enough, love; it’s that you’re trying too hard.’
We stared at each other. I didn’t know how to vanquish
his fears, how to make him stop tearing himself apart over this.
‘I want this morning back,’ I found myself whispering.
‘Why can’t it just be like it was this morning?’
He blinked at me, reaching with his free hand to stroke a
finger along the corner of my mouth. ‘You… lost your smile.’
It was my turn to blink, and I couldn’t help turning
my face into his hand. ‘I’m sorry,’ I told him. ‘I
just get so frustrated. You guys treat me like… like a child who can’t
make their own damn decisions.’
‘Nani?’ he blurted and I sighed, suddenly so weary
I could have wept. I didn’t want to fight any more. I didn’t
have the strength to argue any more.
I found my head lying in his lap and was not at all sure how
it had gotten there. His fingers came hesitantly to stroke over my hair.
‘Nobody even asked me where I wanted to go tonight,’ I told
him. ‘Do you realize that?’
There was a bit of a silence while his hand continued to caress
the side of my head, brushing through the wisps of hair there. ‘We
didn’t, did we?’ he said at last. ‘Please… tell
me what you wanted? We’ll call Trowa…’
‘No,’ I said calmly. ‘What I want doesn’t
matter. It only makes everyone worry. It’s only another night or two…
leave it alone.’
His hand stilled. ‘Don’t say that… of course
what you want matters.’
I didn’t even need a hamster to supply the next line;
to who?, but I didn’t say it out loud.
‘God, Duo,’ he burst out suddenly. ‘I just
don’t know what to do.’
‘Stop trying to fix everything,’ I told him, surprised
at how flat it came out, how worn I sounded, even to my own ears. ‘Just
trust me and stop treating me like a damn child.’
We just sat like that for a little bit, until his dinner came
and then I helped him back into bed. He ate mechanically, not because he
was hungry, but because it was required if he wanted out of that place.
I tried to tease him about the food, tried to talk to him about nothing
in particular but he wasn’t very responsive and I just gave it up.
He dozed, or pretended to, after dinner and I retreated to a chair with
I didn’t know what in the hell to do, and he didn’t
seem to know either.
His silence was like a knife in my gut. I suppose, when I
thought about it, it had only been a matter of time before this happened.
Before we couldn’t hold it together any more. When I tried to look
forward… I couldn’t see my way clear. Hell, I wasn’t even
sure any more which one of us was right and which one of us was wrong. I
wasn’t sure it mattered… if I continued to try to make my way
through this; I only stood to lose him. To lose the last thing I had left.
But it felt like I was losing myself otherwise. When did what I wanted,
what I thought, cease to matter?
For the first time since I’d made the decision to make
the leap and take a chance on letting myself love again, I wasn’t
sure I hadn’t made a mistake.
He was going to hurt me again. He… wasn’t going
to wait forever for me to get my head together. And why should he? What
was there in me that was worth all this damn effort? I… I wasn’t
going to make it through this. I knew that above and beyond anything else.
I had known that from the moment I had lifted the lid on the box of broken
dreams. I couldn’t go through that again. That rejection… that
pain. Especially not now, on top of losing everything else. There just wouldn’t
be any point any more. I couldn’t even work up to being upset about
that. I was just too tired.
Something made my eyes focus on the page in front of me and
I all but gasped at the picture my hands had made without me. Sometimes
I wondered if those damn little hamsters really did exist and they sometimes
crept out when my attention wavered and they left these little gifts for
It was another damn self-portrait. In a surreal landscape
that I don’t even want to admit had to have come out of my own head.
I was walking that path of my analogy. Or standing on it. It wound away
behind me into the distance before it crumbled and fell away into nothingness,
making retreat impossible. It narrowed as it twisted and turned ahead of
me, until it was hardly as wide as my foot. I was dressed in the ragged
clothes of my youth, barefoot, my hair loose and whipping behind me, evidence
of the winds that buffeted me. I looked emaciated and weak, shoulders slumped
and hands wrapped hopelessly around my own thin body. I looked cold. I looked
hungry. I looked… desolate.
A pace ahead of me, the path had become laced with shards
of broken glass, and I was left with no choice but to tread on it, because
there was no place else left to go.
‘Shit.’ I hissed and slapped the cover closed
on the damn thing. I raised shaking hands to rub at gritty eyes and wondered
how long I’d been sitting there, drawing.
With a sudden start, I dropped my hands and stole a glance
at Heero, but he seemed to still be sleeping. I hurriedly shoved my supplies
back in the duffle bag, wouldn’t do for him to see that little gem.
Wouldn’t do for anybody to see that little gem.
I sat and watched him sleep for awhile and ached clear down
to my bones to be able to crawl up there in bed with him and rest my head
on his shoulder. But he was so angry with me… it seemed like a less
than stellar idea.
George jogged by, madly waving a banner that said ‘asshole’,
but I’m not sure which of us he was referring to.
We were still sitting like that when Trowa showed up; me in
my chair, staring at Heero. Heero in his bed… sleeping.
It was Trowa who bent to wake him, when I hesitated.
‘Heero,’ he said gently. ‘Visiting hours
are over… I came to get Duo.’
I don’t know if it was just my imagination that made
me think that Heero didn’t look very groggy when he opened his eyes,
or not. I’ll be the first one to admit I was feeling a little…
I moved up to the side of the bed, within reach and waited
to see if he would do so. But there was no reaching… he didn’t.
I didn’t. It was awkward as all hell. Trowa was staring at us. LeAnn
started to come in for some check-up or other and hesitated in the doorway,
probably deciding she had picked the worst place in the whole hospital to
be in that moment. I felt like my chest was imploding. I saw Trowa’s
attention waver as he turned toward the intruder in the doorway and I took
the opportunity to lean down, and whispered fiercely into Heero’s
ear. ‘I’m sorry… I’ll… be stronger. I swear.’
Then I turned, grabbed my bag and fled the room. Trowa caught
up to me at the elevators and I just avoided eye contact for a bit. He didn’t
speak, just kept stealing glances at me out of the corner of his eye.
My head was pounding and my back ached from sitting in that
hard chair all afternoon. I was drifting and I knew it. I needed to get
myself together and figure out what the next step was. That thought made
me flash on that new stupid portrait and I determined I should probably
destroy it at the first safe opportunity.
The ride back to the Winner estate was just about as uncomfortable
as I’ve been in a long while. Awkward is a word that does not even
begin to encompass the atmosphere in that car. Trowa asked if I was all
right about half way there and I just told him I had a headache. Then I
stared out the side window and thought I made it pretty damn plain I wasn’t
in the mood to talk.
When we arrived, he did two fairly predictable things. Fetched
me a bottle of aspirin and took Quatre off to the side for a small, private
discussion. Wanna take bets on what the topic of conversation was? Didn’t
While I tried to work up to the resignation I knew I was going
to have to be feeling to get through whatever Quatre came up with, I hauled
my laptop out and went into the study to jack into the internet. I still
had an e-mail to answer.
I pulled up the message, trying very hard not to think of
the poor guy as ‘the man who wants to take my ship away from me’,
and composed a quick reply. I suggested a time tomorrow morning for the
walk through of the ship and tried not to cringe when I hit the send button.
Then my eyes fell on the message right above it. Shit. Toria,
I had completely forgotten about her little ‘death threat to Heero’
I pulled it up and read it again. She was going to kill me
for making her wait this long for a reply. I couldn’t believe I’d
forgotten about this, it had been… over twenty-four hours since I’d
seen it. Guilt gave me a toothy grin and began debating body parts.
I began to type.
Hey spacer-girl! Listen hon, there’s been a couple of
changes since we saw each other last. The chief one being, I’m not
a pilot any more. Surprise! Please do not come and kill my boyfriend; he
had nothing to do with it. In fact, I shocked him with the ‘for sale’
sign as much as I shocked you.
Toria sweetie… I just finally faced up to the screaming
case of spacer’s-disease that I caught out there in the belt. I’m
sorry I didn’t send you a message when the ship went up on the boards,
so that you wouldn’t worry. I just can’t do it any more. Don’t
worry. I’m fine. Give Hayden my love.
It took me the better part of a half an hour to compose the
damn thing. I had it typed three times before deleting it and starting over…
When I finally hit the send button and sailed that one off
into the ether, I was surprised to find I had another new message. An answer
already from my potential buyer. Joy. Seems the guy had a day job and would
prefer to look at the ship in the evening. This evening to be exact. Double
I checked the time. I stared at the e-mail. I looked around
the room and found myself still alone. What the hell? I didn’t need
to ask anyone’s damn permission to make an appointment. I fired off
another message and asked if the guy could meet me at the dock’s main
office in an hour. He had to have been sitting over his computer; the answer
was an immediate ‘yes’.
I would have smirked at my laptop if I hadn’t been hating
this whole idea so damn much; the guy wanted the ship bad. He was not a
great negotiator; he’d already shown me at least part of his hand.
I went to the desk in the corner of the study and used the
phone to call a cab. I was not going to haul Trowa back out at this time
of night just to take me down to the docks.
Then I did the whole deep breath thing, plastered on a grin
and went to find my keepers.
As expected, Quatre was less than thrilled to hear that I
had ‘an appointment’ at this hour and even less so that I had
already summoned a ride that would be there any minute.
‘When will you be home?’ he questioned me nervously
and even Trowa had the grace to snicker at him.
‘I’ll try not to be too late, Mom,’ I teased
him and made him blush bright red. I didn’t tell him that I wouldn’t
be home in the foreseeable future since I didn’t have one anymore.
I’d destroyed it and was now about to go engage in what felt like
a little corpse selling.
The cab honked then, in the front drive and I fled before
he could grill me any more.
‘Duo!’ he yelled after me. ‘What about dinner?’
‘I’ll grab something on the way back!’ I
hollered, and climbed into the waiting cab.
I’ll spare you all the icky, boring, almost-like-selling-real-estate,
details. I don’t honestly want to talk about what it was like going
back aboard that ship. It was weirdly like walking through a stranger’s
ship with most of the walls stripped. The guy was all eager and excited…
looking to buy his first damn ship. I was ready to throw up just doing the
walk through. I ended up making him go stand outside when we got to the
talking part; I couldn’t stand to be in there for one more minute.
I was afraid I was going to break down and run the son-of-a-bitch who wanted
my damn ship, off into the night. We did the haggling. We agreed on a price.
He had to do the loan paperwork and would get back to me. I agreed to take
the ship off the boards for the price of a small retainer while he got his
approval. We shook on it and he walked away. I locked the ship down and
I walked away.
Somewhere in the back of my head there was a bell tolling
a dark, solemn song. I found my shuffling footsteps matching the slow knell
as I made my way off the grounds. Damn. That had been a little rougher than
I had anticipated. Like some kind of really bad dream; everything so familiar
and so alien all at the same time. I blinked when I looked up from my walking
to find myself at the bus stop, and cursed. What the hell? Was I on autopilot?
If so, I’d set the wrong damn coordinates. I would have felt like
an idiot going back to the office at that point and so walked another block
until I found a pay phone where I could call a cab. Bus doesn’t run
to the Winner estate.
All in all, I was delivered safe and sound back at Quatre
and Trowa’s in just under two hours. They’d left the porch light
on. I stood in the drive for a minute after the cab pulled away and just
looked at it. I had to chuckle; I don’t think anybody has ever left
a light on for me before. What an odd feeling.
While I stood there like a moron, the front door opened.
‘Duo? Are you coming in?’ Quatre called to me,
holding the door wide.
I stood and blinked at him for a moment longer before starting
the hard climb up those five or six steps. The whole thing seemed oddly
surreal; it didn’t feel like I’d been gone five minutes, it
was hard to get my head around the fact that I’d just sold…
the ship. Not ‘my ship’. Not ‘my Demon’. The ship.
Keep it impersonal, Maxwell.
He looked… hesitant. Which may sound odd, but I don’t
know how else to describe it. He just looked like he had a hundred things
he wanted to say and was about to choke to death trying not to say any of
Trowa appeared behind him and ventured, ‘Everything
go all right?’
I tried to fathom what was going on with them and replied,
‘Pretty well.’ I was left foundering when neither of them pressed
me about where I had been. Well… wasn’t this another odd little
trip to the Twilight Zone?
‘Are you hungry, Duo?’ Quatre asked carefully,
glancing at Trowa with an odd expression, almost seeming to search for approval
in his eyes.
‘Actually,’ I dared, ‘I forgot to stop somewhere…
but please don’t make anybody get up just to fix me something.’
‘Would you like to just go into the kitchen and poke
around?’ Trowa smiled at me and I couldn’t help a grin.
‘If that huge woman who cooks for you guys won’t
kill me for invading her domain,’ I snickered and Quatre flashed me
a smile. I cannot remember the woman’s name, but she just freaking
towered over me. I felt like a damn dwarf in her presence.
Trowa led the way and Quatre took a step to follow, hesitated
and I wondered again what was up. ‘Coming, Qat?’ I called, and
watched him smile in obvious relief, before he started after us.
They actually let me dig around in the refrigerator until
I found the makings of a fairly simple sandwich. Well, as simple as it was
going to get in the Winner household. This kitchen had probably never seen
a loaf of Wonder bread, but I found the strange Italian bread to be not
all that bad, and the meat was good even if I couldn’t identify its
Then Trowa went to the second refrigerator, the one that was
apparently reserved strictly for drinks – can you believe this place?
– And fished me out a soda. A lovely green bottle of ice-cold Mt.
Dew. They didn’t even make me pour it over ice, letting me just drink
straight out of the bottle.
Ok. Armageddon had apparently come while I was out of the
Quatre suggested we go sit in the study while I ate and I
was more than happy to oblige. I couldn’t help but imagine Amazon-cook
coming in, catching me eating her food without her explicit permission,
and gutting me where I sat. Bet she could turn me into an interesting side
dish; Maxwell over noodles, perhaps.
The study is a fairly small, cozy little room, compared to
most of the rest of the massive rooms in the house. I found I rather liked
it in there and settled on one end of the small couch with an almost weary
sounding sigh. My laptop still sat there on the coffee table and I had a
moment of shock when I realized that I had just walked off and left it lie
‘Sorry about that,’ I murmured to the two of them.
‘I guess I forgot to put it away.’
‘It’s not hurting anything, Duo,’ Quatre
was quick to assure me.
‘Who’s the guy on the wallpaper?’ Trowa
asked casually and I took a moment to glance up at them while I chewed a
bite of sandwich. There was the oddest feeling in the air that I couldn’t
quite put a name to.
I flashed Trowa a smile after I had swallowed. ‘Sisyphus.
‘Doomed to push his rock up the same hill for all eternity?’
‘That’s the guy,’ I agreed with an evil
grin. ‘Got damned to hell for tricking Death! Is that just not the
most ironic thing?’
Trowa actually did chuckle, but Quatre only looked…
kind of ill.
I went back to eating my sandwich. It was quiet while I chewed
and swallowed for a few minutes.
‘Hamid found a plumbing problem in the room we’ve
been using, Duo,’ Quatre said warily and I had to look up at him.
He and Trowa were pointedly looking… elsewhere. ‘I had our things
moved to another room… it’s a little smaller, but there’s
Click. I heard it, right in my head. Click. As the gears engaged.
I very gently set the rest of my sandwich back on the saucer.
‘You always did lie like shit, Qat. Which one of them called you?
Heero or Wufei?’
He went this funny shade of… pale, and tried to do my
fish imitation. I would have to remember to give that impersonation up;
it wasn’t very attractive.
Trowa handled it better. ‘Actually, they both did.’
I snorted. ‘So, what the hell did you guys do while
I was away these last years? Drink some nasty ‘I must tell every single
thing I know to my comrades’ potion? Get cursed by some vagrant witch
to spew every tiny bit of information that comes your way, to each other?’
Quatre managed a look that almost bordered on frightened,
but Trowa laughed at me. ‘No; we just spent a very miserable year
trying to hide things from each other before we figured out that…
a little support was a nice thing.’
‘Sometimes that total honesty thing can border on rude,’
I told him flatly. ‘I am a guest in your home… there is no reason
I can’t eat what is put in front of me and drink what is available.’
‘You are our guest, and there is no reason we can’t
provide things that help you feel more at ease.’ He gave me a shrewd
glance. ‘You didn’t expect Relena to eat what was put in front
of her on that trip to L2.’
I blinked across at him, ‘Heero told you about that?’
I was rather incredulous; what in the hell would they care about something
like that for?
Quatre finally dared to enter back into the conversation,
though his voice was rather subdued. ‘Heero came to get my help to
make the… supply list.’
‘You know,’ I ventured tentatively. ‘This
is a large part of why I don’t feel like I can talk to you guys…
every word I say is repeated like I’ve been recorded. What the hell
happened to confidentiality?’
Trowa gave me a very penetrating look. ‘Our confidentiality
is ironclad. Among the five of us.’
‘And what if there are things I don’t necessarily
want to tell Heero?’ I asked him point blank.
‘Why would you keep anything from Heero that you could
tell one of us?’ he chided gently. ‘Heero should be the one
person in the world you share everything with.’
I felt myself blushing and looked down at my hands. ‘He’s
in the fucking hospital. He doesn’t need to be worrying about me at
a time like this.’
‘And what if your evasions are only worrying him more?’
Quatre said logically. ‘What if his imagination is painting in far
worse things than the actual reality?’
I sighed and dropped my head into my hands. ‘It doesn’t
damn well matter now anyway… he’s so pissed off at me…’
I let that trail off and had to wonder about those damn thought-hamsters.
It was like they lay in wait for me to forget they were there so that they
could sneak messages passed my brain to the outside world.
There was movement in the room and I suddenly found Quatre
kneeling on the couch next to me. ‘He’s not… mad at you,’
he soothed gently and opened his arms to me. I don’t know where in
the hell Trowa disappeared to, but it was all at once just the two of us.
I sighed heavily and just let myself lean into the embrace.
Who would ever have pegged this group of hardened soldiers as a bunch of
huggers? ‘You didn’t see him tonight. He was wicked pissed.
He… he didn’t even kiss me goodbye.’
I let my cheek rest on his shoulder and stared at Sisyphus
on the screen of my laptop where it sat in front of me, quietly mocking.
‘He loves you very much, Duo,’ Quatre told me
quietly and I could feel my face burning. ‘He might get upset with
you, but he’s never going to get so angry that he doesn’t get
He was gently rubbing his cheek against the back of my head
and I had to snort bitterly. ‘I think he’s… given up on
me, Qat. I think he finally ran out of patience.’
‘You don’t honestly believe that?’ he murmured,
sounding almost exasperated with me for daring to think it.
I held up the bottle of soda to the light. ‘What the
hell did you do? Drug this stuff?’ I accused, marveling at the crap
that was slipping passed my defenses.
‘I’m just here,’ he chuckled. ‘And
willing to listen. I think you very much need someone to talk to right now.’
His hand began to stroke gently over my braid. I wondered what it was that
drew them all to touch my hair when they wanted to comfort.
‘I just tried to talk to him today… about him
treating me like some damn little kid that can’t make their own decisions.’
I suddenly found myself giving in to the urge to dump some of this crap
out of my head and was appalled to hear my own voice telling Quatre these
things. ‘He acts like I need protecting all the time… like I’m
not capable of taking care of myself.’
Quatre laughed. I was rather shocked and stiffened, sitting
up to look at him. His expression could only be described as bemused.
‘What do you find so funny about that?’ I asked
coldly, but if anything his grin only widened.
‘I just think it’s a darn ironic comment coming
from the guy who threw himself into the middle of a squad of Oz soldiers
to keep them from finding my hiding place.’ His grin turned into an
almost smirk as he watched my eyes widen and my mouth drop open.
‘That… that wasn’t the same thing at all!’
I blurted, and knew it was pretty damn lame.
‘Oh?’ he chortled. ‘You wouldn’t have
done that for anyone else on the team, big brother. You would have trusted
any of the others to get themselves out of there on their own.’
‘Well… the other guys… I wasn’t…’
I didn’t know what to say. I had leaped out of the underbrush during
that mission gone bad, because I had seen the soldiers only minutes away
from flushing Quatre out of hiding. I had been captured by those bastards
once already and had gotten the crap beat out of me. I had a half a dozen
damned scars from that lovely little encounter. I wasn’t going to
sit by and let them get their damn hands on my baby brother. I had made
that mad dash into the midst of the bad guys fully intending to take his
lumps for him. It had been a freakin’ miracle that I had managed to
get the hell away again. I’m still not real sure how in the hell I
did it. In all my years on the street, I have never run so far so fast.
It had seemed my feet had wings.
I found my fingers rubbing absently at the place on my thigh
where I had taken a bullet that night and made myself stop, but not before
Quatre noticed and his smile faded.
‘I never got to properly thank you,’ he said quietly.
I gave him a sudden grin. ‘I rather thought you gave
me your thanks when you decked Heero for daring to suggest I’d led
Oz back to the hide-out.’
He burst out with a sudden laugh and blushed bright red. ‘I
still can’t believe I did that!’ he whispered as though someone
might overhear the confession. ‘I’ve never been so mad in all
‘Hell… I was scared and you were defending me!’
I chuckled lightly with him.
‘I’ve never quite understood what kept him from
killing me,’ he said wryly, still looking embarrassed.
‘Uhmm… I think that would probably have been Trowa
standing right behind you with a look on his face that would have made a
charging rhino pee his pants.’
There was an odd little snort from the vicinity of the doorway
and we looked up to see Trowa standing there. ‘And you, Duo, standing
right beside me… barely on your feet but still looking like somebody’s
I opened my mouth to retort, but he was coming across the
room toward me, holding the cordless phone out. ‘It’s for you,’
he said with a small smile and was taking Quatre’s hand to pull him
from the room even while I was still putting the phone to my ear. I hadn’t
heard the phone ring, which should have told me just who in the hell was
on the line, but didn’t.
‘Hello?’ I said hesitantly into the receiver.
‘Duo?’ It was Heero’s voice, of course,
‘What…?’ I delivered that old standby line
while my brain did the processing. Then I had another one of those clicks.
Trowa had called him. ‘Shit! They didn’t wake you up, did they?’
I was irritated as hell with the both of them all of a sudden and heartily
sick of all the damn butting in.
‘No,’ Heero soothed, sounding a little sad. ‘I…
couldn’t sleep anyway. Duo-love… what happened this afternoon?’
I deflated immediately and sighed heavily into the phone,
‘I don’t know… I just don’t know.’
‘You told me not to doubt you, baby,’ he said
softly. ‘You can’t doubt me either.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I breathed. ‘You were
so angry… I thought you’d… given up on me.’
‘Never,’ he told me fiercely. ‘Don’t
you ever think that. I wasn’t angry… I was just frustrated and
confused. I don’t know how we got to where we are and I don’t
know how to get us back again.’
‘I got… sick and you got shot,’ I told him
with a dark smile. ‘That’s how we got here. We just have to
hang on until you’re well. That’s all. I’ll do better…
He didn’t speak for a minute and the silence on the
phone was punctuated with the soft sound of his breathing. I could have
curled up around that sound and gone to sleep. ‘Duo… it isn’t
about you ‘doing better’ or ‘being stronger’. You
are already shouldering more than your fair share. Maybe you’re right
about my needing to heal… but you have other people now. People who
love us, and you need to let them help us. Help you.’
‘Can you repeat that?’ I grinned at nobody in
‘What?’ he questioned.
‘That part about me maybe being right?’ I snickered.
It earned me a grunt. ‘Baka,’ he said tenderly.
‘Asshole,’ I murmured.
‘I can’t wait to be home with you,’ he blurted
suddenly. ‘I miss you so much it hurts.’
I found myself lying down, curling around the phone as though
it were his hand in mine and not just a damn piece of cold metal and plastic.
‘Soon… soon,’ I soothed. ‘Maybe tomorrow.’
There was an odd little, uncomfortable moment. ‘Uhmm…
don’t get your hopes up too much, but I have reason to believe that
tomorrow is a good possibility.’
‘I perked up instantly, ‘Oh? You gonna share your
‘Well, apparently, the phrase ‘if I handle solid
food ok’ means… if afore-mentioned solid food… follows
its natural course without incident.’
I laughed out right. ‘You mean you get to go home as
soon as you take a dump?’
There was the sound of a soft growl. ‘Well… if
you’re going to use the technical term for it; yes.’
I snickered some more. ‘So how’s it looking?’
‘Mission accomplished,’ he informed me dryly and
I almost fell off the couch laughing.
‘I’m so glad to be a source of amusement for you,’
he snorted and it took me by surprise to hear him using my own line on me.
‘The mission wasn’t that damn easy.’
‘Ow,’ I commiserated. ‘You… all right?’
‘I’ll live,’ he mock growled at me. ‘For
all you care.’
‘I care,’ I told him, managing to tone the mirth
down to just a wide grin.
‘Tell me,’ he suddenly said, voice gone all serious
‘I love you.’ I couldn’t not respond to
the need in his voice.
‘Tell me again,’ he commanded, voice sounding
‘I love you more than anything,’ I told him intently.
‘God,’ he breathed, ‘tell me again.’
‘I love you, Heero Yuy, you are my whole world.’
I chuckled softly. ‘Are you doubting me?’
‘I’ve missed your laughter,’ he whispered,
his voice so intimate that I could almost close my eyes and imagine him
right there beside me.
‘You?’ I wheedled gently.
‘What?’ he teased.
‘Prick,’ I groused.
‘Oh, my Duo,’ he murmured, relenting. ‘You
know I love you.’
‘Don’t always,’ I let slip.
‘You should,’ he whispered. ‘I’ll
see to it that you never doubt me again.’
Somehow, all the tension of the evening was washing away and
I was taken by surprise by a jaw-popping yawn.
He chuckled softly at me, ‘It’s pretty late, love.
I couldn’t help sighing. ‘Seem to be tired all
the damn time any more.’
‘We just need to get you home, in our own bed. You’ll
sleep better then,’ he soothed gently.
‘I’ll sleep better when you’re back where
you belong,’ I grumbled.
‘We’re almost there, my heart,’ he told
me, voice a gentle caress. ‘Just a little further. You can make it…
I know you can.’
‘Heero?’ I asked hesitantly.
‘What is it, love?’ he responded, and I thought
I could hear weariness in his own voice.
‘Tell me too?’ I whispered, not as steady as I
had meant to be.
‘Yes,’ he breathed. ‘God yes… more
than breath. I love you, my Duo… more than anything.’
‘Thank you,’ I murmured sleepily. ‘Good
He snorted affectionately. ‘Good night, love.’
I didn’t push the disconnect button until after he’d
hung up. I think I could have just drifted off to sleep right there, but
Trowa appeared not long after, and I imagined him sitting over the cordless
base unit, watching for the active light to go out.
‘Come on, Duo,’ he prodded gently and got me on
‘I gotta clean this mess up,’ I resisted, reaching
for the dirty dishes.
‘Leave it,’ he chuckled. ‘That’s what
Quatre has employees for… I got used to it; you can get used to it.’
‘It do’sn seem right,’ I complained thickly.
‘I made th’mess.’
‘And someone else is getting paid damn good money to
clean it up,’ he explained patiently and took me by the shoulders
and steered me toward the door.
The ‘blue room’ was just two doors down from the
‘green room’ I’d used last time. Another bedroom with
two twin beds and Quatre already ensconced in it, fussing with turning the
comforters back. I reflected, on a sudden bubble of thought, that Trowa
was probably just as eager to get my ass out of his house as I was. He’d
been doing a lot of sleeping alone since I came to visit.
I did note, with a strange mixture of happiness and guilt,
that there were no silk pajamas lying out waiting for me on my bed.
Trowa delivered me up to Quatre’s tender mercies, gave
his lover a quick kiss good night and then retreated.
‘Did you want a shower, Duo?’ Quatre asked solicitously
and I had to give out with a low chuckle.
‘I’d love one… but I’m ‘fraid
I just might fall sleep in’it,’ I told him and began losing
clothes. ‘Sorry, Qat.’
He just smiled at me. ‘Nothing to be sorry for…
it’s been a long day.’
I resisted the urge to say ‘no shit?’, managed
to get myself stripped to my shorts and just threw myself on the bed. He
looked, from what I could see through blurry eyes, a little disappointed,
but only came and pulled the sheets up over me.
‘Good night, Duo,’ he said, voice full of amusement.
‘Night,’ I got out, and it was the last thing
I’m not sure if it was the morning light or the sound
of their soft voices that woke me.
‘…hasn’t moved a muscle since he laid down,’
Quatre whispered, his voice laced with concern.
‘The whole night?’ Trowa responded, confirming
my suspicions as to who Quatre was talking to.
I heard nothing from Quatre and had to guess that he only
‘He’ll be stiff then,’ Trowa sighed. ‘When
I could attest to the truth of that statement without even
trying to move. What in the hell had I done, pass out?
There was a soft sigh of frustration and a bit of silence.
It was rather unnerving, having them sitting behind me somewhere staring
‘Why does he fight so hard against us?’ Quatre
wondered, his voice so soft I almost didn’t catch it. ‘Why can’t
he let us help him?’
‘He’s here, isn’t he?’ Trowa scolded
‘You know what I mean,’ Quatre grumbled. ‘Why
didn’t he come to us?’
‘You can understand that, if you think about it, my
light,’ Trowa said softly, his voice sounding amused. ‘He’s
in that place that we were all in… right after the war.’
‘Oh Trowa,’ Quatre breathed. ‘That’s
so awful! He was the one who taught all of us what it meant to be a…
a family. It’s not fair that he went all those years all alone.’
There was the softest of snorts from Trowa. ‘Life isn’t
fair, my heart, you know that as well as I do.’
‘I know,’ Quatre sighed and there was a bit of
silence. I was really starting to wish they would go away. This was damn
awkward, and I didn’t know how to go about ‘waking up’
without them knowing I’d overheard them. ‘I just feel like I
have so much to make up for. There were times, during the war, that I thought
I just couldn’t go on… but he really was there for me like a
big brother back then. I feel like… I’m failing him somehow.’
Trowa’s next words were muffled slightly and I imagined
him with his lips pressed briefly to his mate’s forehead. ‘We
can’t force him to trust us, love. All we can do is love him. It’ll
be enough… just give him time.’
I wondered if the blush I felt on my face was traveling anywhere
visible to them.
‘I just worry about the way he is,’ Quatre whispered,
his voice lowering even further and I had to concentrate to hear him. ‘In
the old days… before… he and I were both so…’ he
was struggling for words and it made me wonder; eloquent Quatre struggling
for the right words? ‘We were so lonely… we touched all the
time. Just a punch on the arm, or… a hug, sometimes. He’s closed
himself away. He never initiates anything. It’s like he’s afraid
to… reach out.’
There was a rather tense silence and I thought about pretending
to wake while there was a break in the conversation, but then I heard Quatre
sigh rather heavily and grumble, ‘What is it… you’re thinking
It took Trowa a second to answer, ‘Part of that is your
That was met with an icy silence and it was Trowa’s
turn to sigh softly. ‘You… you’ve made him so aware of
his… scars. He’s afraid to touch you with his scars.’
I almost stopped breathing, but realized that would very quickly
give me away. I focused all my concentration on keeping the rise and fall
of my back even and steady. I really wished that I could just make myself
melt into a puddle and seep away through the damn floorboards. I didn’t
know how in the hell to get my ass out of what was becoming a God awful
uncomfortable situation. They would have a cow if they realized I had overheard
There was another silence, followed by the rustle of material.
I imagined that Trowa had just taken Quatre in his arms.
‘Oh Trowa,’ He sighed and I missed part of what
he said, with his face most likely buried in Trowa’s chest. ‘…
so guilty. He did that to himself to save me. He stayed in a building that
was going to blow up any second to search for me. No one had ever…
‘Loved you so unconditionally?’ Trowa said gently
and there was a sudden sharp noise from Quatre.
I pounced on that noise with a wave of relief. I couldn’t
lie there and listen to any more of this. I’d be weeping into the
pillow in another minute. I let my arm twitch, as though disturbed by the
sound, and waited while their voices stilled. After a hand full of seconds
ran, I twitched the hand again and then attempted to shift. I didn’t
have to fake the moan that found it’s way out between my lips. Ow.
It really did feel like I’d passed out and lain as still as a stone
I spent the next minute acting like a groggy individual rousing
from sleep just a little before they were ready. Finally rolling over and
‘noticing’ my observers for the first time.
I blinked at them, I hoped, not too owlishly and grinned.
‘Do I do something incredibly interesting in my sleep? I keep waking
up with people staring at me.’ I only hoped that any residual blush
would be explained by that admission.
Trowa smirked back at me, already dressed and sitting on the
side of Quatre’s bed. ‘Actually we were trying to decide if
you’d died and rigor mortis had set in.’
Quatre seemed to suddenly need to go into the adjoining bathroom
and I pointedly didn’t look at him too hard, allowing him the moment
to save face and cover his upset. I flopped back on the bed and just looked
up at the ceiling. ‘Feels like it,’ I told Trowa with a groan.
‘What the hell hit me? A bus?’
‘Just a little emotional stress,’ Trowa drawled
and I felt my face flame.
All I could do was grunt at him.
‘Why don’t we get out of here, Trowa,’ Quatre
called brightly from near the doorway. ‘And let Duo shower and get
dressed. He has therapy in less than two hours.’
I moaned piteously and Trowa laughed at me. Quatre told me
to come down to breakfast when I was done and then they were gone.
I heaved a sigh of relief and spent the next couple of minutes
trying to convince my poor, stiff body to get the hell out of bed. The lure
of the shower finally did it, but when I made my way into the bathroom,
I almost fell over laughing. ‘Shower’ he called it; it was more
like a fucking spa. Four separate showerheads, adjustable to everything
from a stinging spray to a pulsing massage. I’m afraid that my fifteen-minute
rule that I had fallen back on while visiting the Winner household, went
right out the damn window. Luxuriate does not half describe what I did in
there. I felt almost human by the time I was done. When I finally made my
way down to breakfast, I wasn’t walking like a zombie any more.
They were in the smaller dining room at least, and not the
huge one with the table that would seat six thousand and still have room
left over for a large wedding reception. I hated eating in that one; it
made me feel like I should be whispering or something. I had to walk around
the end of the table to get to the seat that was obviously for me and as
I passed behind Quatre, I carefully reached out and tousled his hair.
‘Mornin’ Qat,’ I said and pulled out the
chair next to him.
I busied myself with arranging my napkin across my lap, but
I could see the absolutely beauteous smile on his face out of the corner
of my eye. I could also see guilt-beast leering up at me from where he suddenly
appeared under the table, peeking at me under the tablecloth, licking his
chops and contemplating where to start. Such a simple thing, that touch,
but I could see what it had meant to Quatre. I really needed to work on
this whole center of the universe thing. When had I stopped looking past
the end of my own nose?
We ate with nothing more than companionable chitchat and I
could have blessed them both. That poking and prodding everybody did, trying
to get me to ‘open up’, was wearing at me an unbelievable amount.
It was… nice to just sit and talk about nothing important. Soothing.
I packed my stuff up, in hopes that I wouldn’t be coming
back to the ‘green room’ tonight, and let Trowa drive me over
‘Duo,’ he called through the open car window after
I had gotten out, ‘thank you.’
I blinked at him, unable to formulate an answer and he only
smiled at me. It took me three whole minutes of standing there on the sidewalk
watching him drive away to put it together and realize that he knew I’d
heard everything they’d said this morning.
Then I went up to therapy to let Jean work me over, only to
get worked over in an entirely unexpected way.
I’d been there for over an hour, running through my
paces, bantering with Jean and some of the other patients that I knew from
sweating beside them for the last several months, when a new kid came in.
I felt my throat tighten and my gut clench in the second that
my eyes swept over them as they came across the lobby. A little girl in
a wheel chair, being pushed by a man, presumably her father. She was missing
a leg. It took me back to my childhood so damn fast I had a moment of not
being able to breathe. It was the absence of a noise that had been steady
and rhythmic that brought me back to the present and I realized that I had
stopped pushing against the weight bar in front of me. I blinked; unable
to remember what repetition I had been on and started over with a sigh.
We all have tables that are ‘ours’ for the duration
of our stay in Jean’s torture chamber, and I watched with no little
dismay as the new kid was assigned the one next to mine, were my duffle
bag lay waiting for me to finish.
I have a lot of trouble dealing with… injured kids.
With dead kids. With kids caught in a war that they didn’t start,
but who lose everything anyway. Hollow-eyed kids who look up at you with
large chunks of their souls missing, who…
I cursed under my breath and decided that I’d probably
done enough on the damn weight bench and moved off to the leg press, where
I would be turned around facing away from the row of work tables. I realized
my hands were shaking when I tried to adjust the pins on the leg weights
and had to take a couple of deep breaths.
This was obviously a kid with a fresh injury. This was not
a war injury. This was not a war orphan. That looked like her damn Dad with
her. Get a grip, Maxwell. No way in hell could this kid have possibly, ever
even thought about being anywhere near a Gundam or a Gundam battle or anywhere
else where I might have been the cause of what was wrong with her. No way.
Damn it… Could. Not. Be. Get a fucking grip, Maxwell!
I could absolutely have taken Jean out back and beaten her
to a pulp when she brought the kid over and settled her in the leg press
next to mine.
‘Helaine, this is Duo,’ Jean teased the little
girl as she disconnected the weights on the girl’s press so that she
was working with just the resistance of the machine itself. ‘He’s
my worst patient,’ she added in a conspiratorial undertone and the
kid giggled behind her hand.
Helaine. Could this day get any damn better? I thought about
moving off to some other exercise, but I had a good twenty minutes left
on the leg press and Jean and the girl both had seen me just start.
‘Hello,’ I ventured gamely and the kid grinned
‘Hi!’ she chirped brightly. ‘Duo’s
a funny name. What’d you do to your arm?’
‘Cut it,’ I told her and tried to make eye contact
with Jean but she just smirked at me.
‘Honey, your Dad said he’d be back to pick you
up in an hour, ok?’ Jean said, voice falsely cheerful and I watched
the kid’s smile falter, her eyes flicking toward the lobby.
‘Ok,’ was all she said.
‘You see if you can lift that bar twenty times and I’ll
be right back.’ She moved off then to check on the other three patients
she was juggling, and left the two of us alone.
The kid was probably seven or eight, it’s hard to tell
at that age, and with her sitting right beside me, I started to notice other
things as well. She was wearing a pair of shorts, just like we all have
to in therapy and her good leg was blotched with a handful of what I easily
recognized as burn scars. Judging from the healing rate, I would have to
guess that’s what happened to her other leg. I shuddered.
‘I don’t understand why I have to exercise this
leg,’ she whispered to me, as though afraid that Jean might hear her.
‘I suppose it’s easier than exercising the other
one,’ I said without thinking and then froze, weights hovering in
midair, and held my breath. Where in the hell had that come from? What in
the name of God was wrong with me today?
Helaine burst out laughing a heartbeat later, as though it
took her a second to think it through. ‘You’re silly!’
she blurted and covered her mouth with her hand to try and stifle the bright
laugh when several people looked our way.
‘I’ve been told that before,’ I sighed,
relief flooding through me and I resumed my lifting.
‘How come you got to do therapy on your legs if you
cut your arm?’ she wanted to know.
‘Oh, the cut’s new,’ I told her. ‘I’m
in here just because Jean likes to have someone to make fun of.’
She smirked at me and then got all serious, ‘I’m
here because our house burned down.’
I looked across at her and she had her lower lip caught in
her teeth as she concentrated on raising the bar.
‘Oh,’ I said softly. ‘I… I’m
She shrugged and stared down at the bar some more and then
blurted, ‘Mommy died.’
My weights crashed back down so suddenly that the noise made
everyone stop what they were doing and look our way. ‘Ooops.’
I muttered to Helaine and she giggled again, blushing when she realized
that everyone was staring.
We both took up our exercising again. ‘I’m sorry.’
I murmured after a minute of not finding anything else to say.
She smirked across at me. ‘You’re sorry a lot.’
I snickered, ‘I’ve been told that too.’
She got to twenty and stopped, looking around and found that
Jean was busy.
‘She’ll come back in a minute,’ I reassured
the kid. ‘She’s actually very organized… though you wouldn’t
know it the way she flits around like some butterfly from person to person.’
Helaine grinned at me and watched Jean moving around, getting
the ACL guy going on one of the stationary bikes.
‘My Mommy was like that…’ she murmured.
‘Always doin’ a bunch of things at once.’
‘She sounds nice,’ I said neutrally.
‘She was pretty too,’ she smiled in remembrance.
‘Daddy says I’m gonna look like her when I grow up… but
I don’t think so.’
‘Well…’ I ventured, not sure what moved
me to pursue this conversation. ‘Did she have blond hair like yours?’
‘Yeah,’ she grinned. ‘Only hers was long
and all soft and wavy.’ The grin turned into a funny little smirk.
‘Not as long as yours though!’ And she had to giggle at her
‘Well…’ I said, ‘I’ve been growing
mine for a long time.’
Jean came and moved her off to another machine and I found
myself unable to concentrate enough to do much more. I was nearing the end
of my session anyway and I found myself watching Helaine wherever she was
in the room and before I knew it, I was sitting on my table with my sketchpad
in my hands.
The muse was just adamant that something needed to come out.
Now. Right this minute. Jean came by once to admonish me for sitting out
when I still had my arm routine to go through, but moved off when she didn’t
get any response from me.
I got sucked down that vortex that takes me where time doesn’t
happen and place doesn’t matter. I watched that poor little kid moving
through whatever Jean set her to doing without complaint and I tried to
imagine what she was going to look like in another fifteen, twenty years.
When the ‘art’ let me go, I became aware of someone
close beside me and looked up into Wufei’s almost awed face. Then
I glanced back down and had to blink.
It was Helaine and her mother, sitting side by side on something
that looked vaguely like a porch swing. Mother was reading to daughter,
and daughter was leaning against her mother’s side. There was a cat
that looked suspiciously like Beowulf curled beside them. It was a very
peaceful scene. There was just a hint of some hanging flowers framing the
picture so that I could almost smell the ghost of trailing roses. I shivered.
‘What… what are you doing here?’ I murmured
to Wufei, trying to get my head back in the here and now.
‘Heero called,’ he told me gently. ‘He’s
been released. I came to get you so we could… take him home.’
I smiled up at him, where he leaned against the table beside
me. ‘Oh, thank God,’ I breathed.
Wufei’s expression became an affectionate little smile,
but before he could speak, Jean appeared at my other elbow and I thought
for a minute she was going to cry.
‘Is it done?’ she whispered reverently, and when
I nodded she took the pad from my hands to look at it.
‘Duo,’ she sighed. ‘It’s beautiful.’
Then she looked up at me expectantly. ‘Are you going to give it to
I flushed and ducked my head; I hadn’t gotten that far
yet. ‘I don’t know… you don’t think it’ll
‘Of course not!’ she frowned. ‘Duo…
the family lost everything in the fire. All their pictures… everything.
This is probably the only portrait the kid will ever have of her own mother.’
My eyes threatened to grow wide enough to take over the majority
of my face. Without thinking, I pushed the sketchpad toward her. ‘I…
I don’t even know if I got it right. Would… would you do it?’
Jean absolutely looked like she was going to smack me on the
side of the head, and I unconsciously leaned toward Wufei. Without a word,
she whirled away and headed across the room toward Helaine. I gnawed on
my lip and didn’t know what to do.
‘Maxwell?’ Wufei questioned, confused as hell.
I was trying to figure out how in the hell to explain the
whole, bizarre-ass thing, when there was a squeal and a bright call of ‘It’s
I raised my eyes and could see the kid grinning from ear to
ear, Jean standing over her with tears washing unabashed down her beaming
face. I let out a breath I hadn’t been aware I’d been holding.
‘Guess I got it right,’ I whispered and saw Wufei’s
head whip around to look at me. I could almost see him piecing things together.
A couple of the nearby patients had moved to lean over and
look at the picture in Helaine’s hands. She was burbling happily about
her mother and how she looked ‘just like that’ and loved flowers
and they used to read together and they didn’t have a cat but they
had a puppy once but her Mommy loved animals and…
I wasn’t aware that I was trembling until Wufei slid
a hand up to rest on my shoulder and squeezed gently. ‘I… don’t
think I half understand what’s going on here. But, I’d venture
to say you did good.’
My body leaned slightly, without my provocation, toward him…
toward what was becoming a familiar source of comfort and support. I had
to think for a minute before remembering where that word had come from.
Across the room, the words were winding down and Helaine looked
up to find me. In my mind’s eye, I saw a whole and healthy child leap
to her feet and run across the room to throw her arms around me. I could
see the ghost of the gesture in her eyes. I shivered again.
Wufei nudged me gently. ‘You should go over there.’
‘I know,’ and I turned pleading eyes up at him.
‘Come with me?’
‘Of course,’ he smiled and stepped away while
I slid off the table.
I got that neck-grinding hug when I got there and I swear
to God there wasn’t a dry eye in the little group that the kid had
‘You knew my Mommy?’ she blurted, looking from
the sketchpad to me.
‘Nope,’ I grinned. ‘You told me. And…
your Dad’s right… you will look like her when you grow up.’
I thought the grin was going to split her face.
I remembered the comment she had made about the cat, and offered
to change the cat to a puppy. She was ecstatic and babbled on about what
the puppy had looked like and I sketched it in. The audience was making
me damned uncomfortable, but there wasn’t a one of them that seemed
like they were moving until this little scene had played itself out. Not
The kid’s eyes were on fire by the time I had the cat
changed to a sleepy puppy and she whispered, ‘Can you put a little
necklace on my Mommy? She always wore a little locket that had mine and
Daddy’s pictures in it.’ More description, more sketching and
there was a tiny, heart-shaped necklace peeking out of the collar of a shirt.
‘And… and can my hair be like it was before it
was burned?’ she whispered.
‘Of course,’ I choked out. ‘How long was
She pointed and I altered. Jean had to leave the circle of
watchers to go blow her nose.
When that was done, I cleared my throat and looked down at
her where she sat beside me on the workout mat. ‘Anything else?’
She cocked her head and studied the picture intently. ‘Nope.’
She looked up at me with shining eyes. ‘It’s just right.’
Wufei plucked the sketchpad from my fingers then, delicately
removed the picture and rolled it for Helaine, producing a spare hair tie
from somewhere and deftly slipped it over the tube her drawing had become.
‘In that case,’ he smiled down at the kid, handing
her the drawing. ‘Mr. Maxwell needs to be going, he is late for…
his next appointment.’
‘Shi… crap!’ I muttered and scrambled to
my feet. Helaine giggled uncontrollably at my slip. I flashed her a shaky
grin as I gathered my stuff up. ‘See you next time, ‘Lainey!’
I told her and Wufei took me out of there. I didn’t even object when
my duffle bag somehow found its way onto his shoulder.
When the elevator doors had closed and blocked out all those
eyes and all that attention and we were finally alone, I sagged against
the back wall of the elevator and just shook with reaction. Damn…
I just can not deal with little kids in pain. I can’t.
Wufei let my duffle bag slide to the floor and before I quite
knew what he was about, had reached over and hit the button that stopped
the elevator between floors.
‘I thought you dealt with her just fine,’ he said
softly and pulled me away from the wall and into a tight embrace. Shit;
I’d said that out loud. It felt like something was drawing all my
muscles as tight as a bowstring. I couldn’t stop shaking.
‘What the hell is wrong with me ‘Fei?’ I
whispered. ‘Why the hell can’t I handle anything anymore without
‘It’s just been too much too fast,’ he soothed.
‘You’re too raw. Its… its like a… a thin scab forms
over the hurt… but it’s not healing, and every little thing
starts it bleeding again. Give it time, my friend… just give it some
He held me for a few more minutes until I stopped shaking
so hard that we weren’t sure if I could walk across the parking lot
or not, then he hit the release and took us out of there.
My mood lightened in the car a little bit as I let it soak
in just where we were headed. I was going to get to take Heero home. He
was well enough to leave the hospital. He was going to be all right. I wasn’t
going to have to leave him each evening. I wasn’t going to have to
be ferried back and forth between the Winner and Chang households like a…
strange foster child.
Wufei glanced across at me as he drove, ‘Better?’
‘Yeah,’ I muttered, embarrassed. ‘Sorry
‘Don’t be,’ he admonished gently. ‘I’m
not at all sure I understand what just happened, but it was very…
I snorted. Affecting. Nifty little word for ‘rip your
heart out and stomp the shit all over it’. God, but I just couldn’t
handle kids in pain. It offended something deep down in my soul; kids should
not hurt. Kids should not be in pain. Kids should not suffer.
‘What exactly happened to her?’ Wufei asked softly.
I ended up telling him the whole damn thing, everything I
knew and everything I had pieced together. Finding my own arms wrapped around
my chest before I was done.
‘You drew the child’s mother that accurately without
ever having seen her?’ Wufei asked, when I was done, his voice incredulous.
‘Lainey told me what her Mom looked like, a little,’
I explained. ‘Then I just tried to imagine what she’d look like
when she grew up.’
Wufei gave me a look that was hard to read. It was odd and
intense, but he didn’t speak and I let it ride.
Heero was fairly vibrating with tension by the time we got
there, dressed, packed, sitting on the side of his bed and more than ready
to go home.
‘What took so long?’ he questioned, the instant
we were through the door. ‘Is everything all right?’
‘You did not bother to tell me, when you asked me to
pick Maxwell up from therapy, that he had a fan club,’ Wufei chuckled
breezily and moved to take Heero’s bag. I was rather shocked that
he didn’t immediately relate to Heero every damn thing that had happened
the moment he was asked. Hell… I was rather shocked that he hadn’t
spilled his guts without being asked. But I was willing to take the gift,
I glanced around, more than familiar with how one leaves a
hospital, and as if on cue, Aaron appeared in the doorway with a wheelchair.
I raised a hand at the first sign that Heero was going to object.
‘Do not even start with me,’ I glared at him.
‘I wasn’t given a choice… you aren’t being given
a choice. Get in the chair, Yuy.’
He snorted disdainfully. ‘You didn’t have a choice
because you couldn’t damn well walk,’ he informed me, but he
got in the chair anyway.
I chuckled. ‘Well, you can’t walk far, so stop
‘I didn’t say anything,’ he pointed out
‘You were getting ready to,’ I growled.
‘Now you’re a mind-reader?’ he grumbled.
‘Learned it from you,’ I returned with a cheeky
Wufei groaned, ‘God help me.’
Aaron couldn’t seem to stop giggling.
It washed a little bit more of the morning away. Enough so
that guilt-beast rode in the front seat with Wufei, his head stuck out the
side window, tongue lolling in the wind.
Heero and I sat in back and Heero leaned against me, letting
me take some of his weight.
‘God, I’m so glad to have you back,’ I whispered
next to his ear after a couple of blocks of driving in a certain, companionable
He tilted his head and smiled up at me. ‘I love you…
I don’t think I’ve told you that yet today.’
I snorted softly, but couldn’t keep the smile off my
face. I practiced the line three times in my head, to make sure I wouldn’t
falter over the pertinent word, and then told him, ‘It’ll be
good to get you home.’
He fairly beamed up at me. I leaned down to kiss the top of
his head where it rested against me.
‘If you two don’t stop it,’ Wufei informed
us from the front seat. ‘I’m going to gag.’
‘Then you’d better stop watching for a couple
of minutes,’ Heero drawled and shifted up to deliver a sudden, hungry
kiss. I was lost in it in a damn heartbeat.
Neither of us was showing any sign of breaking away until
Wufei suddenly snapped, ‘If you do anything back there that stains
the upholstery, I will kill you both.’
The laughter served to break the mood.
There was a… small altercation when we got to the apartment
about how to get Heero up to our floor. His instructions were explicit that
he was not to climb stairs for at least another week. Wufei and I had planned
on simply carrying him up in the old standard, two-man fireman carry. Heero,
of course, objected strenuously to my being half of the two-man part.
He insisted that it wouldn’t hurt him to walk up a couple
of flights of stinking stairs and I thought for a moment that we were actually
going to have to fight with him over it. I started to panic, overcome with
a foreboding understanding that here we were at the end of our damn journey
and he was going to end up hurting himself trying to protect me. He would
wind up back in the hospital and it would be my fault because I had failed
to be strong enough to do for him what needed doing. A frustrated scream
was boiling around in my chest looking for a way out. I could feel my hands
starting to shake.
‘Yuy!’ Wufei suddenly snapped and went and got
right in Heero’s face. Terse, almost angry words were exchanged. I
think I’m glad I couldn’t really make out the nearly whispered
exchange; I’m not at all sure I want to know what Wufei said to him.
Heero glanced at me and his face did something odd. The next thing I knew,
he had relented, let us carry him up without so much as a whimper. I won’t
lie and try to say I wasn’t feeling it by the time we got clear up
to the apartment, but it wasn’t all that bad and I was pretty sure
a soda and five minutes of sitting down would be all it would take to settle
my faintly fatigued muscles.
We settled him on the couch and then Wufei went back to the
car for our bags. As soon as his partner was out of earshot Heero couldn’t
contain a worried, ‘you’re sure You’re all right?’
‘Yes dear,’ I told him sarcastically with a roll
of my eyes. ‘I’m just fine. Being the one of the two of us who
does not have bullet wounds in his damn stomach.’
He suddenly gave me an odd little smile. ‘I believe
that we are finally in that ‘safe house’ you referred to. Doesn’t
that mean that I am now allowed by your own analogy to hover and overprotect?’
I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or scream. I was still
trying to decide when Wufei came back into the apartment, my duffle bag
over his shoulder and Heero’s in his hand.
‘What the hell?’ he snapped, seeing us staring
at each other. ‘I wasn’t gone five stinking minutes!’
‘He started it,’ I muttered in a deliberately
petulant voice and went to the kitchen to fetch drinks.
I could hear them talking while I was out of the room and
just let it go, actually hoping that maybe Wufei could talk some sense into
my mate. Not that there was any real guarantee that that’s what he
was doing, but he had been on my side in the argument over the stairs. I
took a couple of extra minutes selecting the bottles from the fridge before
taking a deep breath and going back into the lion’s den. I handed
the drinks around, setting my own soda on a coaster on the coffee table,
before taking the minute to deliver my bag to my room, well aware of the
picture that was in the sketchpad inside that bag. I hadn’t found
a place to dispose of it yet and didn’t want to take any chances on
Wufei deciding he wanted to look through my drawings.
I decided when I about gave myself a heart attack, to pick
the vacuum suit up off the floor and stuff it back in the closet. I’d
deal with it later.
Then I joined the guys in the living room, curling into the
corner of the couch that had become ‘mine’, picking up my soda
to sip at it while I waited to see if one of them would speak.
It was Wufei who finally broke the silence, and good God did
‘I have just about had all I’m going to take out
of both of you,’ he growled, and glared at Heero. ‘There is
nothing physically wrong with him, he is not in pain, trust him to know
his own damn limits and get that ‘I am Superman’ stick out of
I took a swig of my soda to stop the grin from appearing on
my face and waited, I had no doubt that my turn was coming next, and he
didn’t disappoint me.
‘You,’ he jabbed his finger in my direction. ‘Have
been living for this damn moment for the last week. Enjoy it. Don’t
let him bulldoze you… you know when you’re right; trust yourself.’
I glanced at Heero and could only hope I wasn’t wearing
the same, sheepish, hangdog expression, but knew that I probably was. Which
meant that we both looked pretty damn stupid.
‘I have to get back to work,’ Wufei continued.
‘I will call you later, and I expect to interrupt you… cuddling
or something else disgustingly sentimental, not to find that you’ve
locked yourselves in your damn rooms!’ Then he took his bottle of
juice and he left. I could hear him grumbling to himself all the way down
I’m not sure which one of us chuckled first, but it
didn’t take long before we were both giggling like children. It got
out of control enough that Heero ended up with a pillow clutched to his
We settled down rather quickly after that, then he surprised
me by easing himself down on the couch and laying his head in my lap.
‘You’ve really been living for this moment?’
he whispered as he settled against me.
‘Well, Superman,’ I grinned. ‘More like
the way I envisioned this moment, not necessarily the way it turned out.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he breathed and I could feel
the warmth of his breath clear through my pants leg.
‘Hush,’ I chided. ‘We’re getting to
the part I dreamed about.’
I stroked my knuckles over his hair and at length, he murmured
groggily, ‘This is nice.’ Then he fell asleep and I just sat
for the next hour and grinned down at him.
We settled into a routine that got us by. Don’t get
me wrong, we still had our fair share of arguments; it made him crazy when
I hiked to the grocery store, even though it was only six blocks down, because
he didn’t want me carrying things all the way back. He completely
refused his pain medication and that drove me nuts. But we managed not to
kill each other.
We saw one of the other guys almost daily, a thing that bothered
me at first. I felt like they didn’t trust me with Heero’s care,
but I figured out after a while, that this was just something they did.
And their being there to help with the mundane chores helped things slowly
begin to turn around. The constant tension I had been under seemed to ease
and I could sleep at night knowing he was there beside me. Things got so
much better, in fact, that guilt-beast took the hamsters and headed off
for the Bahamas on a well-deserved vacation. It was a… blissful time.
It lasted about a week; then I got the notification that the
sale of the ship had gone through.
Nothing like a dose of toxic reality.
‘You’re not going down to that closing by yourself,’
Heero said, voice unsteady and eyes showing disquiet.
‘Heero,’ I told him tiredly, ‘you’re
not supposed to be climbing up and down stairs.’
‘You know damn well that’s only for a couple more
days,’ he said firmly. ‘A day isn’t going to make any
difference one way or the other…’
I faltered in my resolve and hated myself. I wanted him with
me and I couldn’t tell if I was considering letting him come for selfish
reasons, or if I really believed it wouldn’t hurt him.
‘I… I don’t know…’ I stammered
and he sat down beside me on the couch, wrapping an arm around my shoulders.
‘Trust me to know my limits,’ he told me softly.
‘I can do this. I want to be there with you.’
‘It isn’t going to take five minutes to do the
damn paperwork, Heero,’ I tried. ‘It’s no big deal.’
He snorted. ‘It runs deeper than that and we both know
it. Don’t try to gloss over it.’ Hesitantly, he pulled my head
over to rest on his shoulder. ‘Let me have this, please?’ he
said softly and I knew I’d lost.
‘We’re taking a cab,’ I informed him, voice
tight. ‘You’re not driving… you’re not supposed
to be driving.’
‘Fair enough,’ he pounced, more than happy to
make the small concession to win the larger one.
So he went with me. He was very careful on the stairs, taking
them one at a time, as much to ease my mind I think, as any thought of his
that he shouldn’t be doing this. We took a cab to the bank and I sat
down across the table from some bank rep, elbow to elbow with the kid that
was buying… the ship. I was calm and cool and collected and signed
all the papers. I was charming and witty and blasé and shook hands
all around. I didn’t start the trembling until we were in the back
of a cab on our way away from that place. There was very little in my head
but white noise. Heero hung on to me with both hands and got us where we
needed to be.
The cab driver couldn’t seem to decide whether he should
be disgusted by the sight of two men holding each other, or scared by the
state I was obviously in. He must have been leaning toward disgusted because
Heero seemed angry with him when we got back to the apartment and didn’t
even tip the guy.
I set the pace on the stairs, making sure that he went slowly,
one tread at a time to minimize the stretch on healing muscles. He didn’t
argue, just moving a step behind me, with his hand on my arm.
‘Duo…’ he began, once we were back in the
apartment, but I didn’t let him really get started.
‘You need to rest,’ I told him firmly. ‘That’s
the first time you’ve been out since you got out of the hospital.’
I could see him warring with what to say, while he studied
my face and tried to decide if I was really all right or not.
‘Park it, mister,’ I grinned at him, pointing
to the couch. ‘I’m going to fix you something to eat.’
He seemed unsure of his ground and let me bull my way forward.
I went off to the kitchen and put together a quick sandwich, finding him
on the couch where I had bade him sit when I left the room.
‘Good boy,’ I smirked and handed him the saucer.
‘You’re learning to do as you’re told.’
‘Duo…’ he tried again, his hands moving
automatically to accept the plate from me.
Again, I didn’t give him the opening. ‘I am going
to go get a shower while you eat your lunch!’ I chirped brightly and
moved away before he could object.
I don’t know what it is about me, showers and crying.
Maybe it’s because you can pretend the tears are just water. Maybe
it’s because it’s the one place that my voices seldom follow
me. Maybe it’s because the sound of the shower could drown out a hell
of a lot of noise.
I ended up braced against the wall of the shower, my head
hanging and the water beating down on the back of my neck, bawling like
a damn little kid. I hated it. I hated myself. I hated that I had no more
control than this. There had been a day, a thousand years ago, that I had
prided myself on almost never crying. It had taken a hell of a lot in those
days. I had known that tears didn’t help. I had known that in a lot
of situations, tears only made things worse… it was a sign of weakness
that would bring the predators down on you in a heartbeat. But lately…
since that damn accident that was slowly stealing everything I had ever
been, everything I had ever hoped to be… it seemed all I could do
She was gone. Really, irretrievably gone. The ‘Maxwell’s
Demon’ was no more. That kid would register his new ship with some
other name and he would go off to make his fortune. If I ever chanced to
see her again, I probably wouldn’t even know her. He would decorate
the inside of her the way he saw fit, might even destroy Neo’s butterflies.
Might paint over my stars and not even realize that he was wiping out L5
all over again. Had Wufei seen it? Had he realized that I had put it back
in the midnight sky for his sake? If he hadn’t… he never would
My ship. My Demon. I ravaged her and I killed her and I sold
her damn corpse. What kind of a motherless son-of-a-bitch was I?
Had I not already been bawling uncontrollably, that would
have made me laugh until I was.
‘Oh dear God… what did I do?’ I murmured
through the sobs.
Then strong arms were turning me around under the spray of
warm water and enveloping me in a tight embrace. ‘Damn it,’
Heero murmured softly. ‘I knew it… damn it, Duo…’
He cut that off fairly quickly though, well before he got to the I told
you so part, and it changed to gentle offerings of support. ‘I’m
here… I’m here, baby. It’s going to be all right…
let me hold you…’
I stiffened, aware of his still healing body… aware
of the very real possibility of hurting him.
‘It’s all right… please don’t fight
against me. Lean on me, just for a little bit… let me be here. I swear
to God I won’t let you hurt me.’
There was a tiny, rather inconsequential war that went on
in my head and when it was over, pride was dead on the floor of my brain
and need was firmly in charge. I wrapped my arms around his neck and begged
him softly, ‘don’t let me hurt you… don’t let me
I let him hold me. I held him. I cried until my throat hurt
and there were no tears left. I hurt. I was humiliated. I felt adrift and
groundless. I didn’t know who or what I was, or where in the name
of God I was going. What in the hell was I going to do now?
He stroked the heavy, water-soaked hair from my face and held
me wrapped as close as he could in those strong, sure arms of his. He whispered
and murmured, reassured and calmed.
When I tried to apologize, he kissed me until I shut up.
When the water started to cool, he got us out of there.
When he found me shaking with exhaustion, he took us to bed.
When I tried to object, tried to pull myself together somehow,
he just smiled tenderly down at me. ‘We both need some rest, love.
Just let me lie with you… ’
Oblivion claimed me swiftly, when I let myself rest my head
on his shoulder. It was as much a running away as it was a need for sleep.
I just didn’t want to think any more. Didn’t want to remember
the smile on that damn kid’s face as he signed the papers that made
my dream his own. Is there a special place in hell for people who whore
out their dreams?
When I woke, the light told me that some time had passed.
My head was pounding and my throat was mildly sore, pointed reminder of
the fool I had made of myself… just in case I had forgotten.
‘Awake, my heart?’ Heero’s voice whispered
near my ear and I turned to find him watching me intently. I flushed darkly
and looked away.
‘Oh God, Heero…’ I blurted. ‘I feel
like such an idiot.’
‘Hush,’ he scolded, voice so laced with emotion,
I couldn’t even name it. ‘You needed to get it out. You can’t
hold that kind of pain inside… you can’t hide from me.’
‘I just don’t understand what in the hell is wrong
with me,’ I told him, reaching to rub my hands over my face, as much
to hide from his piercing gaze as to ease the headache.
He caught my hands and pulled them away. ‘What is wrong,
is that you are trying to pretend that your world hasn’t crashed down
around you. You are trying to force yourself to carry on as though nothing
‘What in the hell do you expect me to do?’ I whispered
up to him, some part of my heart hoping that he had an answer that might
lead me out of this awful, awful place.
‘You can’t keep running away from these…
feelings.’ He soothed, stroking his fingers gently over my face. ‘You
have to let your heart and mind heal along with your body. Come to me when
you feel like this… when you reach the end of that rope. Just…
let me love you.’
I didn’t know what to say to him and just curled toward
his warmth, wishing I could flee into the forgetfulness of sleep again.
He sighed softly and curled an arm around me, stroking his
fingers through my damp hair.
I struggled with something to say to him, I’m fine.
I’m ok. I’ll be all right. They all seemed… lame.
‘Duo?’ he asked softly after a bit of silence.
‘What?’ I prompted, a bit timidly.
‘Can… we talk about something?’
I thought my heart would stop in my chest. Poor George appeared
on the bed beside me, teleported fresh from vacation, his fez askew and
wearing a little Hawaiian shirt. He was struggling with his banners, trying
to decide between ‘holy-shit!’ and ‘oh hell!’. I
blinked at the both of them and could only nod.
Heero took a deep breath and I tried to prepare myself for
the pain I was pretty sure I was about to face. The little kid in my head
closed his eyes, wrapped his arms around his head and began keening quietly
‘I’ve been thinking about this for a while,’
he said, looking up at the ceiling and not at me. ‘I wanted to wait
a little bit before I brought it up… but somehow this seems like it
might be a good time.’
The blood was rushing through my veins so loud, I had trouble
hearing him for a second.
‘Have you made any plans for the money that you…
that you got from that sale?’ he asked it very carefully, obviously
thinking hard about the wording, his voice hesitant.
‘Not… not really,’ I choked out and even
George seemed shell-shocked, sitting on the bed with his eyes wide and not
an appropriate banner in sight.
‘I’ve been thinking about some things,’
he continued, seemingly oblivious to my distress, dealing with his own disquiet.
I determined that when he finally got done dumping me, that I would pack
my things and move out with absolutely as much grace as I could muster.
It was hardly his fault that he was tired of dealing with my sniveling and
my weakness. He deserved someone better than me, someone who could be there
for him and who wasn’t such an emotional cripple. I would - so help
me God - not fall apart until I was far, far away from here.
‘What would you think of the idea of looking for a house
together?’ he suddenly blurted.
George and I stared at each other and the poor little guy
just gave it up and left me on my own. The best I could come up with was
a barely squeaked, ‘W… what?’
Heero stiffened where he lay by my side. ‘I… I’m
sorry,’ he stammered. ‘It was too soon… I should have
waited. I just thought it might help. You don’t feel at home here…
I started to notice things after I realized. You’ve never… you
don’t change things… you aren’t making this your home.
You act like a guest here and I don’t want that… I thought,
maybe…’ The words were slipping out faster than he seemed able
to control them and I thought about offering him the services of a thought-hamster
or two, but then I reflected that they hadn’t done my verbal editing
process a lot of good and forgot about it. ‘I’m sorry, forget
I said anything,’ he finished and suddenly grew quiet.
I blinked up at the ceiling. ‘You’re not…
you’re not asking me to move out?’ I whispered.
‘Nani?’ he exploded and finally turned to really
look at me. I’m sure he found my face as white as chalk and my eyes
as round as saucers. I was fairly certain my blood pressure had done something
really freakin’ interesting. His hands were suddenly on either side
of my face and I was being forced to meet his fierce gaze. ‘No,’
he told me firmly. ‘I am not. This… path of yours… I’m
asking you to make a home the next goal down it. I am asking you to pool
your resources with mine and for us to move out of here… together.
I married you, didn’t I? We tease each other with that, but damn it;
I meant it. We are in this together, heart and soul and all that damn shit.
Forever. You promised me forever and I mean to collect on that.’
There was no mistaking the strength of the possessive, loving
look he was giving me. No mistaking his resolve. His confidence that we
would come through this.
‘Heero?’ I sighed, unable to shift away from that
gaze even if he had let me.
‘What?’ he responded, eyes searching mine intently.
‘Do not ever again start a conversation with ‘we
have to talk’ or any other variation on that theme, ok?’
He snorted and couldn’t help quirking a small grin.
He had the decency to look slightly chagrined. His hands stopped holding
my face and I found his fingertips tracing over my own smile as it echoed
‘So,’ he prodded after a moment. ‘What do
‘Are you sure?’ I had to question. ‘You’ve
lived here a long time.’
‘Doesn’t matter,’ he smiled. ‘This
place isn’t right for you, so it isn’t right for me. I want
someplace to call our own. Someplace with a bit of a yard, and… and
a room with a lot of light where we can make your studio.’
He was looking at me with his damn heart right there in his
eyes and in that moment I wondered how I could ever have doubted him.
‘I have to take care of this thing with the journal
first,’ I had to warn him. ‘I can’t concentrate on anything
else until that’s off my shoulders.’
‘Of course,’ he said, and I could see something
truly bright and beautiful being born right in front of my eyes. ‘Wufei
has already started searching for Mrs. Camden.’
I grunted in surprise, though I suppose I should have realized
with his Preventor connections, he would have already started the research.
Heero’s fingers trailed up and down my arm and he smiled
at me wistfully. ‘What shall we look for, love?’
I thought about it for a moment, ‘I think I’d
like something… a little secluded. Someplace quiet. I’d like…
a garden… and… and a fireplace.’ I found my chest growing
tight as I thought about something that I had never let myself think about
I could almost feel the weight of his eyes on me, watching
me explore a house that didn’t exist outside my head. ‘You?’
I asked softly.
‘I think,’ he whispered, as though afraid of breaking
some spell. ‘I would like for you to paint our bedroom… with
stars.’ He seemed to be almost holding his breath, watching for my
I blinked up at him. ‘I… I would like that.’
His breath went out in a sudden gust and he gathered me against
his chest in a fierce hug. I settled against him, though I knew we were
going to have to get up soon, and continued to explore the house in my head.
‘Hey,’ I grinned, on a sudden thought. ‘You
ever stayed in Quatre’s ‘blue room’?’
‘I believe so,’ he said hesitantly, as he thought
about it. ‘Why?’
‘I want a shower like that!’ I chuckled.
‘Anything you want, love,’ he said huskily. ‘Anything
I decided to wait before I brought up the cat. Might not do
to spring too much at him at one time. Besides, I needed to talk to George
and the boys first… they might object.
‘What are you thinking about?’ he ventured after
‘How much I love you,’ I told him and the smile
he graced me with reminded me where my true home lie.
Go to Chapter Eight:Situations
Back to Chapter six
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