by Maldoror


Chapter eighteen:Over and Out

change cars, leaving the uniform jacket covered in the blood of two different men in the backseat with only some relief. Most of it's soaked through to the shirt underneath, and I haven't dared to look at my braid since I removed the drysuit at the water treatment plant. I try to think of something reassuring, something funny to say to the silent presence on the other end of the mike, but the car rattles and rolls on in growing silence, and my mind just can't seem to move with it.

For safety reasons I have to abandon the second car and walk the last two miles. Just to make my day complete.

*Duo, when you get near the crossroads, warn me.*

No, that's what it would take to make my day complete. Trip an alarm on the approach to the safe house and get shot by my lover.


"Yeah yeah, I heard ya. I'll give you a heads-up."


I trudge on. The night in this out-of-the-way corner of a country lane is free of all but a few streetlights at crossroads, and the reflection of the moon on cold puddles and on the leaves of trees. Between those spots of light, the darkness stretches like nothingness, like there was never anything there at all to begin with. My steps echo metallically on the tarmac as I occasionally cross the road, muddling any tracks I might leave out of sheer habit. The pockets of darkness drag at my gaze as I skirt them. I feel cold and tired, and only remote relief as I realize I'm approaching ­well, not home, but the safe-house where I can rest. Maybe rest.

I almost miss my cue, as my footsteps echo on the tarmac of the turnoff to the safe-house. Damn, I don't need to get yelled at as well.

"I'm at the crossroads, I'll be there in five." I mutter into the comms. The first words I've said since I ditched the car I realize.

*Roger. You will approach by the north and come in through the kitchen entrance.*

I frown slightly. Heero is as anal as you get but that's a bit more micro-management than I'm used to.


*This is a mission. I want you in the upstairs bathroom in ten minutes in complete silence. Avoid perimeter defences.*

"Uh??" My hand flexes towards my gun but I think Heero would have warned me if the house had been compromised and full of soldiers. "What kind of mission?"

*It's not a crucial one, but I want you here in ten minutes or less.*

"... OK." Heero wouldn't ask me if it wasn't important in the scheme of things. Well the scheme of something.

The reflected flicker of a TV screen is the only thing moving in the dark kitchen. I sneak forward, every muscle in tune to my movements and the objects around me, my bare feet sliding silently over tiles. I glance into the living room.

The TV is on but muted, white noise in the pale blue flickering light. Quatre and Trowa were visibly waiting for me ­ the medical kit is on the coffee table in front of them, as well as the perimeter alarm set to ring if anyone gets near- but they've been busy these last two days, and the wait got the better of them. Trowa is curled up against the armrest of the couch and Quatre is curled up against Trowa. They're both fast asleep.

I look at them for a minute, despite the clock ticking. I drink in the quiet hum of blue light blanketing them, the tenderness of Trowa's arm over Quatre's shoulder, the way the blond Arabian is clasping his lover's thigh like it's the best source of comfort on the planet and in space.

I should go, I stink of blood, it'll wake them, and they'll be trained killers and my good worried friends again. I'd rather they stay like this for now. I grin at them silently and ghost towards the stairs.

I go up the steps on my hands and feet, spreading the weight around to avoid the creaking of old wood. Fortunately Wufei is gone till the end of the week, on that mission in Argentina. That leaves only Heero. I creep down the hallway, staying near the wall to avoid yet more creaks. Where he is and what he's planning is anybody's guess. It didn't sound like I was in trouble this time around, but with Heero it's sometimes hard to tell.

I approach the bathroom we share with Wufei. I'm looking forward to a quick shower actually, if Heero will let me. He'll want to debrief me first, while checking me over for injuries and by then I'll be too bushed for- no, I could never be too tired for a shower after this mission. I could be dead and still want to take a shower.

The bathroom door is closed, the slight click of the lock blocking my entrance is the first noise since I came in.

*Pick the lock.* Heero's voice is very quiet in my commlink.

What the hell? I fish my picks out from my braid and have the simple lock open in three seconds. I could have done it with a toothpick in ten, this is not exactly stealth-master level difficulty here.

I creep into the bathroom and look around.

The only light is moonlight and a small emergency candle on the edge of the sink. The air in the bathroom is warm, humid and smells of eucalyptus.

A dark figure sitting on the edge of the bath, hidden in shadows, looks like it was waiting for me since the dawn of time.

I slide in and close the door. Strange place for a mission debriefing.

"Well I'm here." I murmur, so quietly that my throat-mike is the only thing allowing him to pick it up. "Why'd you need me here in ten minutes?"

He takes off his headset and says, quietly: "The water would have cooled otherwise."

I just stand there, for a whole thirty seconds, trying to make sense of what my eyes and ears and senses are telling me. Heero is sitting in his usual position ­ the one that makes a piece of wood look relaxed- on the edge of the tub which is half-full of gently steaming water and bubbles.

"Er... " I fish around for something smart to say, but at that point I'm lucky to even get that sound out.

"Get in, Duo. Now."

Well that's a tone of voice I don't disobey. Why should I anyway? I use the solvent he hands me to get rid of the throat mike, while he relieves me of the camera and papers. I strip while he flashes through the photos. He appears to be happy, and I'm ecstatic as I ease down into warm suds. It's a relief to get rid of the mike and earphone, as well as the uniform. The water makes a gentle attempt to strip me of my bruises as well. Heero puts the camera and papers on his laptop on a shelf near the sink and returns to his previous position.

I lean back against the bath's enamel surface. It's a free-standing tub, Heero is sitting right behind my head, staring at the wall.

"Well this is nice." I murmur, and my eyes start to close involuntarily. I hear him shift behind me.

He leans over and fishes my braid out of the soapy water and starts undoing it. I watch him carefully. Heero has never approved of my hair, he sees it as a useless vanity at best and a hazard at worst. Not that he'd be stupid enough to try to cut it off while I'm relaxing. Even stone-boy knows better than that...

There was only a very limited number of things he could have been doing but I'm still amazed from tip to toe when he gently swirls water over my head with his hands, then reaches for the shampoo.

OK, what the hell is up with him? Who slipped the happy pills into his protein drink? And ­he starts to massage my hair and scalp ­ is there anyone they want me to kill to thank them? Or will simple, slavish devotion for the rest of my natural lifespan be enough... My eyes close.

I manage to enjoy it for about thirty seconds, then I give up.

"Spill, Yuy." My voice brushes the darkness in a whisper, almost drowned by the splash of water and the rasp of his hands in my locks. "What are you doing? And don't tell me you're washing my hair."

"I'm assessing your status."

I blink. "Uh?"

"I think I know what it must have cost you to swim through that sewer."

"Show me one sick fuck who enjoys swimming through people's-"

"You have told me some elements about your childhood. I have inferred others."

The water suddenly cools down more than mere thermodynamics can explain.

"Oh, the bit where I was a street rat?" My voice is still the softest whisper. The others are downstairs and might wake, and I don't think either of us wants that. It's amazing how much emotion and venom you can put into a whisper when you really try, though.

"Yeah, I guess when they said the stinking trash I was would end up in the gutter, they were being optimistic. I went even lower than that." What am I saying, I didn't care about that. Wasn't thinking about that. Was I?

"Why would that bother me?" I snap. "I aced the mission. I know I bitched about it-"

"I would have pulled you from the mission if you hadn't."

The water splashes against the sides of the tub. "Say what?"

"I may be wrong. But I think it's when you say nothing that I should start to worry."

"Well damn, I know what to do next time." I mutter. I'm trying to figure out what the hell is going on here.

"None of it got into your hair, Duo."

Now where the hell did he pick that up from... I'm sure I didn't say anything... did I? Not aloud...

Even though I'm unsure of just about everything right now, I can't help relaxing as he starts to rinse out the suds. I try not to remember Sister Helen doing this for me, for us all, holding us close and telling us that we were so much more than smelly street trash...

Something cold on my scalp brings me back. Conditioner, my nose informs me. Well I'll be damned.

"I'm also worried about your reaction to Veneze."

And the water was just getting warm again... Now I'm dipped into the artic ocean. It takes all my willpower to stop the shudder going through my frame to rise as far as Heero's hands. But I do stop it.

I pull myself forward in the water a bit. He drops the strands of my hair.

"Is that what this is about? You worried your soldier is going to go to pieces?"

"No. I know you're stronger than that."

I give him a glance over my shoulder, but the moonlight has ignored him and he's in deep shadow.

"So what are you up to?"

"I'm trying to assess your status, and remedy any injury."

"What, you're feeling sorry for me?" Yeah right, as if. "You think I need you to hold my hand or I'm gonna burst into tears?" My hushed voice is as sharp as my knife and I realize I'm trying to cut him with it, though I don't know why. The hollowness of what he's offering hurts me I guess. I've never wanted Heero to pity me, to feel like I was a lot weaker and less dedicated than he was. He's shrugged off worse than this. I've shrugged off worse. I thought he knew that.

There is silence behind me. I wonder what he's thinking. Probably that my mind was even less reliable than he thought. Probably disappointed.

"I'll be okay." I mutter, shrugging away his hand reaching for my hair again. "I don't need your help."

"No, you don't need it."

I lift my head to glance at him, puzzled.

"It's not a question of need, Duo." His voice is low and, of course, unemotional. I have to listen to the words, and words are never enough. "I was never designed to be part of a team, and I didn't need to be. I certainly didn't want or need to get this close to someone, either as a partner or as a lover. But it's happened, and I think we both are the better for it. This partnership entails certain responsibilities, I accept them as fully as I accept the benefits because in my mind they are indissociable.

"So if you are hurt on one of your missions, I will help treat you.

"If you are captured, I will, one way or another, release you.

"If you are killed, I will bury you.

"You know this. You do the same for me. Why is this any different?"

My throat aches. Why indeed... Why does psychological need feel like neediness, weakness, any more than having him help me set a broken bone...

"If the positions were reversed, would you want me fussing over you?"

There's silence for a few seconds.

"Am I fussing?" The voice is quiet, calm, unemotional (natch). If I wasn't madly in love with this guy I would have missed the slight ghost of uncertainty in his words. "I was unsure how to proceed to assess and repair this kind of injury, I may have made a mistake. I am untrained in this sort of considerations. " Woefully so, babe. "And I have not been able to discern how you help me in this kind of situation. I suspect this is not something I can learn from you, and I apparently can't improvise it either."

I sink my forehead onto my knees. My hair spreads out around me in the warm water, ghost of sensations brushing against my skin. ... Veneze's blood, finally loosened by Heero's fingers, dissolves in the warm water... not able to discern how you help me... you help me...

I sigh and gather my hair up in a rough twist.

"Waters getting a bit cool."

He stands quietly, probably to get a towel. I catch his t-shirt as he passes, careful not to make it a threatening gesture.

"... It could use some warming up... "

He hesitates. I give him my best smile. The real one, the one no-one else gets to see, and tug hopefully at his t-shirt.

He breaks away and the water does its temperature dive again ­there's some little bugger throwing ice-cubes in this thing I swear- until I realize he's just gone to lock the door.

I drool a bit as he slips out of his clothes, the moonlight caressing him. Before I can get jealous of the heavenly sphere taking liberties with my guy, he's nearing the bath, and I scoot away to give him some distance as he climbs in. We carefully settle into the warm water.

"Your hair?" He murmurs, as I slowly approach him, waiting for him to relax enough to be able to curl up besides him.

"Conditioner needs to stay in for twenty minutes."

"No wonder you always take so long in here." He grumbles but I can feel the tension ebbing from his body and between us as well.

There's still a bloodstain. "Veneze?" he whispers, almost reluctantly.

I look him in the eyes and shrug, as I carefully draw a finger along the line of his jaw, across his lips. "Veneze was several degrees worse than the sewer but he came from the same place. Doesn't matter. You don't have to worry about me now. You were on the comms to get me through both the sewer and Veneze."

"I didn't say that much."

"You stayed. You listened."

He nods solemnly and reaches for me gently, pulling me to him. I catch his wrist and angle it towards the moonlight. The watch face gleams in the silver light.

"What?" He asks, perplexed.

"It's nearly midnight. Just wait a couple of minutes."

"... What?" Great, now he really thinks I'm crazy. I probably am.

"Nothing, babe, just a promise I made to myself."

The electronic digits hit the 12:00 and I sink into him gratefully.

On to chapter nineteen

Back to chapter seventeen

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