Heero pulled the second flashlight from his pocket and handed it to Trowa. "Gloves," he said, and Trowa nodded, following him into the house.
"Liddie," Trowa said, heading past him into the kitchen. A minute or two later, Trowa returned, shaking his head. His meaning was clear: Liddie hadn't seen Jade, and Heero nodded as he buttoned up his zipped up his parka and tucked in the ends of his scarf. Trowa nudged him, and Heero looked up to see Jade's black coat hanging over the last hook.
"Fuck," Heero whispered, and tore the door open, flashlight clicking on as he strode into the snow.
It took five minutes to circle the clearing's edges, from the field, past the buried snowman and the Jeep, behind the barn, and around behind the house again. No footprints disturbed a light snowfall from two days previous, although older prints were still visible from when Heero and Jade had gone hiking the week before.
"No," Trowa moaned, a strangled sound behind Heero. They had come around past the back porch to see the tracks of fresh prints heading down the mountainside.
Heero sighed and glanced up at the moon, three-quarters full. He clicked off the flashlight and shoved it into his back pocket, tugging his gloves up sharply before setting off down the hill. Trowa did the same, falling into step behind him as their eyes adjusted to the early evening glow of the snow. It made the world a strange gray, and the purplish sky between the bare branches made Heero think of Jade's eyes.
We fucked up, he thought, his mind's voice flat against the crunching of their boots in the crisp snow. The footing was treacherous on the downhill path, and he was glad of Trowa's quick grasp on his shoulder once or twice. The former acrobat was having no trouble keeping his balance, and the awareness made a smile creep to Heero's lips despite the circumstances.
*I* fucked up, he thought, and sighed. Is there anything we've done right? He didn't have time to finish berating himself, as they stepped from the path onto the snow-covered deer track that ran alongside the creek. Trowa gasped, and was pushing past Heero, flying towards the creek. Heero, startled, halted for a second, and bolted, directly behind Trowa.
The two sitting rocks were silhouetted in the moonlight, the creek's rapids burbling loudly despite patches of snow and ice in the calmer parts. Heero could see a third shape, sitting farther into the water, and suddenly it was masked by Trowa's body. The taller man had run straight into the creek, splashing the water up past his knees. Heero could barely make out Trowa's inarticulate cries as he leaned over, lifting the dark shape. Trowa's legs nearly buckled under him as he turned.
Heero's heart stopped, then started, as he waited on the shore, his arms out. Trowa fell to his knees, still half in the water as Heero caught Jade and set him down gently on the snowy ground. Jade's face was gray and waxen under the moon's cold light. Heero swore, as Trowa crawled from the water, crouching on the bank while he helped Heero pull Jade's sweatshirt off. Heero had his parka unzipped and Trowa raised Jade enough for Heero to get the jacket over Jade's shoulders and zip it up. Heero toed off his boots and pulled the socks from his feet, slipping his feet back into his boots and tying them quickly. Last, he pulled off his gloves, and he and Trowa rammed them over Jade's stiff fingers.
"Oh, god," Trowa cried softly. His eyes glinted as he looked up at Heero with a desperate look. "Pulse weak, but there."
"Roger," Heero said automatically, and slipped his arm under Jade's legs, the other arm around Jade's back.
The man's head lolled, and Heero grunted, thinking twice about flipping Jade over his shoulder as he recalled his annual Preventers class in emergency medical issues. The heart is particularly delicate, he remembered the instructor saying, when it's been under severe stress such as hypothermia or significant blood loss. Trowa pulled off Jade's boots and wet socks, replacing them with Heero's dry socks.
"Enough," Heero said, and lifted Jade gently in his arms, cradled against his chest. Trowa went ahead, and Heero followed.
The return trip took too long, and yet seemed faster than coming down, Heero thought, and wondered why that might be. Jade's weight was heavy in his arms. Even Heero's strong metabolism was starting to feel the effects of Jade's wet pants soaking into his left arm. Trowa's teeth were chattering badly, but it was Jade's silence that had Heero the most worried. He struggled to remember everything about hypothermia that he could recall.
Danger signs include intense shivering, numbness in the extremities, lack of coordination, and sleepiness, the memory stated calmly in Heero's head. May also include difficulty speaking, disorientation, and amnesia. In the silence and bitter cold, the instructor's words were tinged with a sudden blackly humorous edge that had Heero choking back a desperate laugh.
Amnesia, he thought. Well, we've got that one covered.
Trowa ran ahead as he got to the top of the path, grabbing several logs from the woodpile and dashing into the house, the boots and sweatshirt dropped unceremoniously by the wood stack. Heero hefted Jade's weight in his arms one more time, juggling the man gently until Jade's head was more securely against his shoulder. He tried not to jar the unconscious man too much as he quickened his pace into a fast jog.
The bath water was running as Heero elbowed the front door open, kicking it closed behind him. Trowa stood up from the fireplace, his soaked clothes scattered about on the floor. He headed for Heero, taking Jade from Heero's arms, oblivious to his nudity as he headed into the bathroom. Heero immediately pulled off the soaked sweater and shirt. He kicked off his boots, wriggling his toes to get feeling back as he followed Trowa.
Jade was laid out on the bathroom floor, and there was barely enough room for Trowa alongside the pale body. Heero took the parka Trowa handed him, and threw it into the living room without looking. Kneeling down, he pulled off Jade's socks as Trowa struggled with the sweatpants. Between the two of them, they managed to get Jade unclothed, and together lifted him into the lukewarm water. Jade made no sound, and Heero pulled an eye open and waved a hand, looking for pupil reaction. There was none, and Heero shuddered.
"Mirror," Trowa said, sluicing the water over Jade's body as the tub slowly filled. He knocked the hot water tap, while Heero dug through the medicine cabinet for a small traveling mirror Trowa always kept. He handed it to Trowa, who held it over Jade's mouth. Trowa handed it back to Heero with a satisfied nod.
"Thermometer," Heero said, handing Trowa the instrument. He watched as Trowa switched the thermometer on, and held it inside Jade's ear canal for several seconds, until it beeped.
"Eighty-seven," Trowa said, sinking back on his heels with a sigh.
"Thank god," Heero breathed, his legs suddenly shaky. It wasn't below eighty-six, the true danger level that would require medical knowledge and equipment they didn't have. Heero sat down on the edge of the bath, taking over from Trowa in supporting Jade's head above water. "Clothes," he added, and gave Trowa a tentative smile. He raised his eyebrows when Trowa blushed deeply. "Go on," Heero told him. "I don't want to have to deal with both of you at once."
"Sure," Trowa responded, but his tone was brighter. He leaned his head back, exhaling deeply, then stood in a single graceful move that took Heero's breath away. Trowa paused long enough to brush his knuckles against Heero's hand, and headed into the living room.
Five minutes later he was back, dressed in warmer clothing, with a blanket and extra towels.
"More blankets on the sofa," he said, and Heero nodded.
"Eighty-nine," Heero told him, clicking off the thermometer and setting it back in his lap.
The tub was nearly full, and steam was rising from the water. Jade's cheeks and fingers were starting to lose the bluish tint, but his skin was still too white under the water's surface. Trowa turned off the water, then pushed up one sleeve, reaching down into the water to take Jade's hand. He ran his fingers over the knuckles, and Heero watched, curious, as Trowa gripped the tub's edge with his free hand.
"Jade," Trowa whispered. "Please, don't ever scare me like that again."
Tears were tracking down his face, dripping into the tub water as he leaned over to kiss Jade's pale forehead. Heero cradled Jade's head, letting it slip down until only Jade's face was above the surface. Trowa sighed, closing his eyes as the tears continued to fall. Heero leaned over, realizing for the first time there were tears on his own cheeks, finally defrosting in the bathroom's warmth. New tears joined them as Heero waited anxiously for Jade to move.
"Shit," Trowa suddenly said.
His tone wasn't panicked, but reverent. Heero glanced at Trowa, then down at Jade, his own breath catching in his teeth with a hiss. Jade's eyes were half-open. Heero leaned over, his tears falling faster, blurring the image of Jade's eyes tracking his movements. The eyelids fluttered, and Jade's hand twitched in Trowa's grasp.
"Oh, god, Duo," Trowa said, putting his other hand on Jade's cheek, alongside Heero's hand. Trowa made a strange sound, somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "Now we *know* it's you. Only you would run and hide... "
The body in the tub was still for several heartbeats, and then suddenly Jade's mouth opened widely as he gasped, almost like a fish caught out of water. His eyes opened, staring up at Heero, the pupils dilated, and he thrashed a little, panting desperately for air. Trowa shoved his hands down into the water, grabbing Jade's hands. Heero pulled Jade up to a sitting position, and Jade arched his back, clawing at Trowa's grasp. Then, just as suddenly, he went limp, his eyelids slowly dropping. Heero looked over Jade's head at Trowa, who was gaping.
"Temperature," Trowa said, his hands moving to support Jade's head. He was soaked up to the armpits, but didn't seem to notice.
Heero scrambled for the thermometer in his lap, his fingers fumbling as he found the switch and placed it in Jade's ear. He lost track of his own heartbeats, rapidly fluttering in his chest as he waited for the little machine to beep. When it did, he nearly dropped the thermometer from his hands shaking too hard.
"Ninety-one," he said.
"Sofa," Trowa replied.
Between the two of them, they managed to get Jade from the tub, patting him down gently with the towels. Heero held Jade upright, Jade's head resting on Heero's shoulder, as Trowa wrapped the unconscious man in a blanket and lifted him carefully. Heero moved around them in the living room, laying the blankets out and stoking the fire as Trowa settled Jade on the sofa. Three more blankets were laid over Jade, and Trowa stood up, looking at his wet shirt and sweater with an irritated expression.
"I guess I should change again," he muttered. "I'll bring you a shirt," he added, regarding Heero's bare chest with amusement.
"Tea," Heero replied, and both men nodded.
Several minutes later, they were back in the living room. Trowa settled in under Jade's feet, while Heero lifted Jade enough to slide under the man's head. Trowa handed him a pillow, and Heero tucked it under Jade's head, twitching the blankets until they were up around Jade's chin. Heero sighed, pulling Jade's wet hair out and wrapping it in a dry towel. He looked over to see Trowa staring at Jade's still face.
"Eighteen total," Heero whispered.
He looked down at Jade's slack jaw. There was more color, now, and the skin wasn't nearly as cool or clammy. Heero absently brushed the damp bangs from Jade's face and adjusted the blankets again. Jade's breathing was deep and even, and Heero leaned forward to get his mug from the table. Sipping it, he winced at the hot liquid, and set it back down.
"We should've said more," Heero murmured, chancing a look at Trowa.
Trowa looked away, a line between his brows as he studied the roaring fire, his mug grasped in both hands. "Do you think that would've---"
"Yes," Heero interjected. "We told them so little."
"How were they to know if it was only Jade, or endemic of a larger likelihood?" Trowa shook his head. "Giving them information would have meant the sources would be revealed in debriefing, and there's no way I will regret keeping Jade from those doctors."
"If we'd talked more, they would have at least seen the true effect this had on us," Heero insisted. "They could've planned better, instead of going in with only five in the front line inspection. They could've known to have sedatives, rather than imprint."
"No," Trowa said. He set his mug on the table and reached under the blankets, rubbing Jade's feet as he spoke. "I still think it's a horrendous thing, but we're talking about the Preventers. They barely have the budget for new staplers. The only way they would've gotten a hundred-plus sedative injectors would have been if we'd shown up and paraded Jade around to demonstrate just how bad it would really be."
"We were selfish," Heero replied, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. "We were thinking only of protecting Maxwell, when we should've thought of what knowledge Jade had, that could have been used to prepare the Preventers for the investigation. Not floor plans or processes," he added, forestalling the comment he knew Trowa would make, "but the psychological state, the frame of mind... "
"They knew more than us," Trowa said. "They had the records, the statements from that woman... they were giving *us* information. What could Jade possibly have provided, other than a chance to study him under a microscope? I wouldn't do that to him. If he ever comes back... "
"Then we need to be able to tell him we did the right thing."
"I've been a hero and a murderer, sometimes in the same day," Trowa replied. "I don't think there is such a thing as the right thing to do. It's all dependent on who's making the statement, and how far they're removed from the event by time or proximity."
Heero snorted. "Fine. Question is, can you live with everything we've done?"
Trowa was silent for several minutes, and Heero finally turned his head, opening his eyes to see his lover's gaze resting on Jade's sleeping face. After a pause, Trowa raised his gaze to meet Heero's, steadily and with conviction.
"Yes." He sighed. "When it's all stacked up, one against the other, I'll live with what I did, and pay the consequences."
"So," a third voice interrupted.
Heero looked down to see Jade's eyes halfway open, regarding Trowa with a thoughtful look. He couldn't say anything, too unexpectedly joyful at hearing Jade's voice again.
"Why... " Jade sighed, his eyes closing for a second, before opening again to stare at Trowa. "Did you and I almost have sex?"
"I... " Trowa's eyebrows were arched, and he frowned a little. "Yes, but I didn't want---"
"Don't tell me you're not attracted to me," Jade retorted, his expression mildly smug. "Give me the truth."
"Because you're not... you're not you," Trowa finally said. "I won't be with someone who's not aware of who they are. It means all your reasons and motivations are suspect, because you're not operating with full knowledge."
"And if I were me?" Jade moved, under the blankets, and sighed again, his eyes closing.
"I'd still have to think about it," Trowa murmured, his cheeks a little pink. "I mean... I'm with Heero. I won't be with someone else, not when I'm already with him."
Jade nodded, then craned his neck to look up at Heero. He shifted under the blankets, then halted the motion with a soft sigh. His eyes closed for several minutes, and Heero waited, puzzled. Finally Jade moved again, and his eyes slid open to stare up at Heero.
"And you? Didn't you... you touched me... " He frowned, a thin line between his brows. "But did we... "
"No. Doesn't mean I didn't want to," Heero managed to choke out. He tensed, waiting for Trowa's response, but when none came, he took a breath to relax, meeting Jade's deep blue eyes with an even stare. "But Trowa's right... it's not fair, to take advantage of you just because your training tells you that you should want something. When you're my friend again, then... " He faltered, uncertain how to put it, and looked up to see Trowa's sympathetic gaze, and the rueful twist of Trowa's lips before the other man ducked his head, letting his hair fall into his face. Heero looked down at Jade. "When you come back, when you remember...then we'll deal with whatever happens. But until then, the answer will always be no."
"We still love you," Trowa added, his tone gentle. "But love and sex aren't the same thing."
"No, they're not," Jade answered, and his tone was reasonable, if a touch laconic. "But then, I always knew you were an honorable man, Trowa." He closed his eyes, a little smile tugging at the corner of his lips, and a second later he was asleep again.
Heero grinned wryly, and brushed the drying hair out of Jade's face.
"Maybe the cold water knocked some sense into him," Trowa said. He looked embarrassed, but pleased.
"I don't know what did it," Heero said, "but something's different."
"*Trowa*," Heero said, a bit exasperated. He rolled his eyes, as a huge grin burst across his face. "He called you *Trowa*."
Heero shook himself, aware that several long minutes had passed, possibly more. Glancing over his shoulder at the clock, he was startled to see it was nearly nine o'clock, yet his body felt as though it were past midnight. Flicking the switch on the thermometer one last time, he checked Jade's temperature and gave Trowa another grin, bordering on goofy.
"Ninety-five," he said, and set the thermometer on the sofa's arm. "I'm ready for bed, but he still needs to warm up some more."
"Too bad the sofa doesn't pull out," Trowa observed, not moving.
"Does it?" Heero glanced over at Trowa, making sure not to crush Jade's head against his chest as he twisted to study the back. "How can you tell?"
"Under the cushions," Trowa explained. He leaned over, pulling up the blankets and pushing his hand under the middle cushion. "If it did, there'd be a---" His eyes went wide, and he started to laugh. "Well, what the hell. It is a sofa bed."
"All this time we dealt with a cold bedroom when we could've slept down here?" Heero shook his head. "So what do we do?"
"First, get Jade off the bed."
"I hate that name."
"What?" Trowa stopped, halfway through the action of lifting Jade's feet to get out from under the blankets. "What brought on that comment?"
"Just sick of it," Heero said. "Sick of seeing him and calling him something else... like it lets him keep thinking he's just a damn copy."
Trowa's face was a mixture of emotions, and he finally shook his head. "Strange." He paused, a line flickering between his brow, and smiled. "I told Jade he needed a new name...he wouldn't pick one, but I said I'd come up with several and he could pick which one he liked best, then." He stood up, carefully rearranging the blankets around Jade's feet, and stretched. "Guess it's time?"
Heero nodded. "Maybe... I hope. But what do we call this new Jade?"
"I don't know. I couldn't think of anything, really... and haven't had much of a chance."
"I can... " Heero paused, considering the word that had just popped into his head, and gave Trowa a shy smile. "But I guess it can wait until he wakes up again. Let me get him up, and I'll help you set up the bed."
Trowa waved him away with one hand. "Just lift him out of the way, and I'll make the bed."
Heero regarded the living room with a sigh of long-suffering patience before slipping under the blanket to join Trowa and Jade. Trowa's clothes were still scattered across the floor, and Heero's parka was laying by the table. Boots lay haphazardly by the door, and the sofa cushions had been tossed to behind the sofa, with the low table pulled over to the side and pushed up against one of the wingback chairs. More wood was stacked by the fire to dry, and the fire itself was roaring, heating the living room to a blissful level even without the benefit of every blanket piled on the bed.
"You are not going to be straightening up," Trowa said, his voice muffled by the blankets pulled up around him. "Go to sleep."
"I was just---" Heero started to say, but Trowa cut him off.
"I saw where you were looking." Trowa grinned at him over Jade's still form.
Heero made a skeptical noise and moved closer to Jade's body, sliding his hand across Jade's bare chest until it laid over Trowa's ribs. Trowa, in return, propped his head up on his fist, his arm across Jade, his hand on Heero's elbow. The two of them looked down at Jade's sleeping form, and Heero caught himself smiling again. Trowa inhaled sharply, and Heero looked down to see Jade's eyes were open again.
"Mmm," Jade said, his teeth chattering a little as he opened his mouth. "Cold."
"Temperature's coming up, and your body's reacting," Heero explained. "How do you feel otherwise? We can make some tea."
"Temperature?" Jade gave Heero a sleepily annoyed look, and wrinkled his nose. "Coffee?"
"It's time for bed," Trowa pointed out. "Now is the last time you need coffee."
Heero blinked. "Beer?" He shook his head curtly. "If you're thirsty, it's warm liquids for you, not cold."
"Heat it in the microwave," Jade muttered, his eyes closing as he snuggled down in the blankets.
"Microwave," Trowa repeated, incredulous. "First, we don't have a microwave. Second, warm *beer*?"
"Bullshit," Jade said, laughing softly, and wriggled a bit more, nuzzling his face against the blankets. "Everybody has a microwave. Can't make dinner without 'em."
Heero opened his mouth to say something, but saw the line form between Jade's brows. The longhaired man's eyes opened, narrowed, and he glanced from Heero to Trowa and then back again, looking suspicious.
"I'm naked," he murmured, as though surprised by this news.
"It's the best way to warm you up," Trowa said. He brought a hand out from under the covers and tapped Jade on the nose. "Don't get any ideas."
"Who said I was getting ideas?" Jade closed his eyes, and yawned, then smacked his lips a few times. "A part of me thinks it's heaven. Crazy, hunh." He shivered, and a hand slipped up from the covers to tug at the necklace as he made a face at Heero. "Someone get this off me or I'm going to end up with nothing but a big knotted hunk of---" He stopped, registering Trowa's and Heero's stunned expressions. "What? Is there something on my nose?" Slim fingers poked out from under the blankets to rub his nose.
"Duo... " Heero could barely breathe the name.
"Ow," Duo said, flinching. His eyes shut, and he swallowed hard. "Something just shocked me."
Trowa's hand was on the pendant, and Heero looked down to see Trowa's hand was shaking badly. Several tears splashed onto Trowa's hand, and Heero realized they were his own. Duo looked up at the two of them, bewildered, and craned his neck so Trowa could get to the pendant's latch. Trowa lifted the necklace in his hand, and the pendant caught the fire's reflection, turning crimson. Duo made a face at the pendant, then gave Heero a strange look as more tears hit his shoulder.
"What... Heero? Why are you crying?"
Heero opened his mouth to say something, but all he could do was laugh. Duo's eyes opened wide, and he glanced at Trowa, who could only shake his head. Tears were pouring down Trowa's face, and he clutched the pendant in his hand, and bent his head to lay it on Duo's shoulder.
"Oh, god, oh, god," was all Trowa could manage to say.
"You two are acting pretty damn weird," Duo muttered.
"Not Jade," Heero managed to say, his laughter calming as the sobs took over. "Duo, oh, Duo," he said, and threw his arm over Trowa's shoulder, slipping his other arm under Jade to hug them both.
"Fuck, Heero," Duo retorted. "Your electrical blanket's short-circuited and it's zapping the hell out of me. And I think it's frying your brain cells, too." He struggled a bit in Heero's grasp, and Heero clung tighter as Trowa continued to mumble under his breath. Duo lifted his head a bit, came nose to nose with Heero, and rolled his eyes. "Hey, guys...having trouble breathing here."
Trowa raised his head, laughing, and Heero relaxed his hold, catching Trowa's laughter and echoing back. Duo's baffled expression and wide eyes only made them both laugh harder, and Trowa wrapped his arms around Duo, hugging him tightly again.
"Whatever you guys are on," Duo muttered, "it's rude to not share."
"Duo," Heero whispered.
"Ow," Duo said.
"Maxwell," Heero amended.
"*What*?" Duo huffed.
The room was silent, except for Trowa sniffling, and Duo stared at Heero for a long time. He yawned, his eyes closing from the effort, opening them again to stare at Heero before shaking his head and curling up under the covers. Heero could feel Duo's body moving against him, but it wasn't an erotic action. It was comforting and warm.
"Go to sleep, you two," Duo muttered. "And in the morning, we're going to have a talk about the consequences of Preventers who do drugs and act crazy around their friends, and don't even share."
Heero laughed again, joined by Trowa's quieter chuckles, while Duo pointedly ignored them both. After a few minutes, Trowa settled himself with his head on his pillow, facing Heero, while Heero got comfortable on his side, facing Trowa. Duo's profile was solemn, then one eye opened.
"What is this, a slumber party? Jeez, you two are freakin' me out, here."
Trowa laughed again, and leaned forward to kiss Duo on the cheek. "Good," he whispered.
Heero echoed the action on Duo's other cheek. "Idiot," he said, and grinned.
"It's drugs." Duo sniffed. "It's got to be drugs. Should've known setting you two up together was a bad idea."
Heero woke as sudden rush of cold air brushed over his skin, followed by the sound of someone panting rapidly. He opened his eyes to see Duo sitting up in the bed, clutching the blankets to his chest as he hyperventilated. Duo's silhouette was red in the fire's dying light. Trowa sat up, on Duo's other side, his expression anxious.
"Maxwell?" Trowa's hand landed on Duo's shoulder.
Duo reacted immediately. He twisted to the side and his left hand flew out, slamming into Trowa's jaw. "Don't fucking touch me, you creep!" In a flash, Duo was across the covers, scrambling off the bed with a blanket in hand. Wrapping it around himself, he tumbled to the floor with a thump, sliding backwards until his shoulders hit the shelves. "Keep away from you, you fucking bastards, or I'll slit your throats!"
"Maxwell," Heero cried, and launched himself off the bed. Trowa had one hand on his cheek, and was squinting at Duo in confusion. Heero landed a few feet away from Duo, and realized the longhaired man's eyes were unfocused. Duo's head was thrown back and he was panting heavily, his entire body shaking. "Maxwell," Heero repeated, softer, crouching with his hands out to defend or catch Duo, as needed.
"Fuck," Duo groaned, through clenched teeth. "God!" He arched backwards, his head snapping against the bookshelf as he screamed. "When I---" He screamed again, his body twisting as though trying to escape something. "Damn bas---" He screamed a third time, coming up on his knees as the blanket fell away from him, his hands clenched into fists against his shoulders. "When I get---" Duo shrieked, and his arms jerked but didn't move away from his shoulders.
"Maxwell!" Heero yelled, unable to take any more. Grabbing Duo's wrists, he yanked them away from Duo's body, and pulled the man into his arms. "Maxwell," Heero called a second time. "It's a memory, just a memory, you're safe, Maxwell, you're safe---"
Duo screamed again, twisting in Heero's arms, but Heero held on tight, his words reduced to inaudible mumbling as Duo slowly stopped shaking. A minute passed, and Duo flinched in Heero's hold, but his breathing began to calm.
"Maxwell," Heero said, releasing one arm long enough to reach up and smooth down Duo's hair. "It's okay, you're safe, nothing will hurt you here."
"Heero," came the reply, and Duo sighed, letting his entire body go lax against Heero as his head fell down on Heero's shoulder. "Oh, fuck, I just had the worst nightmare." His laugh was muffled. "Haven't had that one that bad since after the war, eh?"
"Maxwell... it wasn't a nightmare," Heero said, and pushed Duo away far enough to see Duo's face. The downcast expression reminded him of Jade, and Heero bit back a quiet sob. Cautiously he brushed the long bangs out of Duo's face, his fingers trailing through the hair, tucking the strand behind Duo's ear. "It was a memory," he whispered.
"A... " Duo's brows furrowed, and he closed his eyes. Duo took a deep shuddering breath, and his entire body tensed. "Those assholes... that one guy, I remember the room, and the... " His eyes popped open and he reached up, grabbing a hank of his hair, letting his fingers run to the end, where it stopped just below his nipple. Duo's fingers tugged on the hair, and he made a choking sound. "No," he said, reeling back from Heero, his hands coming up in front of him. "No, no," he said, his hands flailing at Heero's hold around his waist.
"Maxwell, you're safe, it's all behind you," Heero said. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Trowa getting down from the bed, and coming to kneel beside Heero, but slightly behind him, allowing Duo plenty of space.
"You're not there any more," Trowa agreed. "You've... " He cast an apologetic look at Heero, and returned his attention to Duo, who halted his actions, his head down as he listened to Trowa's voice. "You've... been with us for nearly four months."
Duo laughed, a short barking laugh, and shook his head. "No... I remember the... " His head came up, and he stared at Heero with wide eyes. "Fucking shit, you gave me a hand-job. *Twice*."
Heero froze, feeling Duo's tense body under his hands. Heero knew his face was red, and not from the nearness of the fire. He swallowed hard and dropped his eyes as he nodded. He could feel Duo shift, pulling away, and he could see the blanket move as Duo pulled it closer around him.
"And you... " Duo was talking to Trowa. "I gave you a blow-job, and tried to seduce you."
"Yes," Trowa said, in a defeated voice. "But---"
"But nothing," Duo spat. "I... I wanted to," and he sounded surprised. "I... oh, god," he cried, and Heero looked up to see Duo putting his hands against his ears as though to drown out sounds. "Everything is in my head at the same time, and I can't straighten it out, and I remember... " He shuddered, his breathing picking up into panting as he swayed, his eyes squeezed tight. "There was a man, and a box... and... oh, fuck, fuck," Duo moaned, unable to speak as his breathing became ragged.
"Maxwell," Heero said in a pleading tone. "Don't try to remember it all at once. Come back to bed, get more sleep, and we'll help you piece it together in the morning."
"Bed?" Duo gave a sharp laugh, but his hands were still raised. "Hello, I don't mess around with friends."
"We're not messing around," Trowa snapped, and sighed, running a hand through his hair. "But you had severe hypothermia, and until your body temperature's been stable for twenty-four hours, you need to stay warm."
"Hypothermia," Duo repeated, and frowned. "I don't... what... " He shook his head.
"You were sitting in the creek," Trowa said.
"What creek---" Duo shook his head curtly. "Whatever. No. Don't tell me. I'm not sure I want to know why you told me to sit in the creek."
"I didn't," Trowa replied, his tone sounding desperate. "If I'd known that's where you were headed, I would've---"
"There's a barn," Duo interrupted. "There's a chain... " His eyes went wide, and he cautiously pulled back the edge of the blanket until a foot was exposed. Heero watched, confused, as Duo leant over, staring at his foot. "My ankle... this... " He put a hand on it, shaking it, and the bells chimed. "You," Duo said, his voice low as he glared at Heero. "You attacked me... or... was it... "
"I did," Heero said. "I wanted to remove the anklet."
"But... " Duo yawned, and his shoulders slumped. "It's like.. .a dream, or looking back at a single day too full to comprehend... there's so much... "
"Come back to bed," Trowa coaxed. "Sleep now."
"I don't want to," Duo replied, and shook his head as he put one hand up to cover his face, curling over as he spoke. "I... it's like something inside me... wants both of you, wants to be with you... and I... *no*," he said abruptly. "I'll just sleep on a chair."
"Shut up, idiot," Heero said, sensing the moment was past, and that Duo was mostly lucid. Standing, he bent over Duo, bringing him to his feet, ignoring the other man's blush at Heero's and Trowa's nudity.
"Geez, put some clothes on," Duo muttered, as Heero guided him back to the bed.
Trowa disappeared upstairs, as Duo got under the covers, and Heero laid the blanket back over the other ones. A minute later Trowa returned with pajama bottoms for them both, and Heero pulled his on before crawling back under the covers. Trowa joined them on the other side, and the three were quiet for several minutes, until Duo's voice broke the hush.
"It was the church," he said, very quietly. Heero said nothing, and didn't move to touch Duo, although he could feel the chill radiating from Duo's body as it warmed under the blankets. Duo sighed. "I went there for food... I told them I was eighteen, that Du---" He winced, and Heero could hear the sound of Duo swallowing, followed by a gasp. "I told them... the Deathscythe pilot was my hero... "
Heero kept quiet, waiting, watching Duo's profile as expressions flitted too rapidly across Duo's face to be seen in the low light from the fire. Duo shifted, drawing his arms up to cross over his chest, bumping Heero as he moved, and pulling quickly away.
"There was a man... several men... " Duo paused, his eyes wide, glittering in the darkness. "And then when I woke up... it was dark, and cold... there were... " He closed his eyes. "I thought war was hell. I had no idea."
"You don't have to talk now," Trowa whispered. "There's time. Don't force it."
"I remember... god, I wish I could forget," Duo continued, as though he'd not even heard Trowa's words. His voice dropped to a breath, faint beneath the sound of the crackling fire. "And when I knew I couldn't get out, I... " He frowned, and licked his lips. Heero watched, fascinated, and curious, as Duo kept speaking in the same monotone, bemused, voice. "I... put everything in a box, labeled with my motto. Somewhere, safe, deep... that it couldn't be touched. Couldn't be found... "
The three men were silent for several minutes, until Trowa raised his head, reaching across to Heero with one hand. Heero took it, clasping it tightly as he let his arm fall across Duo's waist, above the blanket.
"Wufei gave me the idea," Duo said, when no one responded. "On the lunar base, I watched him meditate. He... was somewhere else, peaceful. Never could get it, until it was down to me and a whip---" He choked, and fell silent.
Trowa moved, on Duo's other side, twitching head to get the hair out of his eyes.
"I knew you'd find me, eventually," Duo whispered, but his voice cracked on the last word, and became a sob. "There's too much in my head, and I feel like I'm drowning... "
Heero did the only thing he could, which was to press closer to Duo, his chin on Duo's shoulder. "Shh," Heero said, "we found you, and we won't lose you again."
"Drowning," Duo repeated, the sobs bursting from him in great jagged heaves. "Heero," he cried, "I can't breathe... "
Trowa sat up halfway, tugging at the blanket and moving under it until he was poised over Duo. "Breathe with me," he said, and lowered his lips to Duo's.
Heero watched, startled, as Trowa held his mouth only a finger's width from Duo's lips, breathing out and in, with deliberate slowness. Duo's eyes went wide, and his head jerked back, but there was nowhere to go. Trowa's eyes were open, staring into Duo's, shadowing Duo from the fire's light, and Trowa continued his unhurried breathing against Duo's mouth. Gradually Duo succumbed, the sobs dying into a few hiccups, and then into a deep, even pace as his eyes closed. Trowa continued matching breaths, until it was clear Duo was asleep, and then Trowa pulled back with a sad look at Heero.
"There's no end," Trowa whispered, and Heero silently had to agree.
End Part 26
On to Chapter twenty-seven
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