Tides of Change
Warnings : Yaoi, angst, sap, OOC, Heero POV, limey stuff, language and some major butchering of the original time-line. This is a direct sequel to the 'Road Trip' series.
Thanks to Christy for another super-fast beta job.
Congratulations to Aya on her two-year anniversary!
Feed-back would be wonderful... unless you hate it.
I suppose I own the computer this was written on… does that count for anything?
I didn’t think of Duo. I couldn’t think of Duo. I could not allow it, for if I did… I am not sure I could have made myself do what I had to, when I threw myself in front of that piece of the Libra. But when I placed our lives, his and mine, in the scale against most of the northern hemisphere of the entire planet… it didn’t balance. When I weighed our deaths against the destruction of the ecosystem of the Earth, against the lives of countless millions… men, women, children… it just didn’t balance.
I am not stupid. I knew both our lives were at stake, I knew that if I didn’t make it, if I ended up plummeting through the atmosphere and rode that fireball straight down to hell… that he would be right behind me. We’d sworn that to each other once, in a moment’s passion, and I knew that he had meant it every bit as much as I had. If I failed and died… Duo died with me. But I couldn’t let myself think of that. Because when everything else failed to stop Zechs and his insane plan, I knew that my moment of truth had come. That, somehow, it was my place to counter that madman’s desperate move. Call it destiny. Call it Karma.
It seemed there were a dozen voices screaming at me over the cockpit speakers. A dozen voices urging me on… calling warnings… calling instructions. There was a voice giving a running count down. Another one calling for Zechs. I heard Quatre cry out what sounded like a prayer. Wufei cursing Zechs to the seventh level of hell. Trowa just cursing. I didn’t really hear them. I had my target, had plotted my trajectory, was piloting like I had never piloted before. I didn’t need their warnings and I didn’t care about their encouragements. I listened for only one voice.
When I could spare my screens a glance, I saw Duo’s Gundam, pinned and held fast by our three friends. He was trying to come after me… and they wouldn’t let him. I could see their faces on each of the open comms, and I saw Duo’s, twisted in anguished rage. I heard him shouting, ‘Heero!’ It was… a recrimination. A plea. A curse. It was full of despair and anger, that single word. Full of disbelief and pain. Gods… such pain. Then his image flickered and was gone.
I couldn’t think of Duo… but I did. How could I not? I didn’t falter in my resolve, but I hurt for him. I ached to think what I was doing to him. I wondered if he had cut the visual feed for my sake, or his own. Then I wondered if he’d cut it completely… or only cut my visual.
My Gundam was shaking fit to rattle apart. My vector was all wrong for reentry, but then… I wasn’t on a reentry course. I was on an intercept course. I couldn’t get a damn lock on the target, and I knew I would only have one shot at this. Heat was building around me as the piece of Libra and I hit the atmosphere. It was now… it was now or never, damn it, and all I could think about was Duo. My Duo. No matter how hard I tried not to.
So many things to say. How do you tell the one you love goodbye when you only have a matter of minutes? Only minutes and an audience that consists of the entire Earth sphere? When the person you wanted most to hear you, might not even be listening?
But I knew better. I knew in that heartbeat that he was still there with me… he might have killed my communication feed so that I wouldn’t have to watch his agony, but he would not spare himself. Never himself.
I fought with my targeting system, wrestled it with nothing but brute strength, and screamed the only message I could give him in the moment we had left. ‘I will survive!’
It was a promise, a promise that I meant with all my being to keep. This would be the end of it… after all that we had come through together, this would be the end of the war and I would be damned if I wasn’t going to live to see it through to the other side.
As if sensing, somehow, that there was just no fighting against me, it all suddenly came together, computer targeting locked on, and I took my shot. Fired my buster rifle at that massive, damn chunk of destruction… and prayed. For the first time in my life, I begged the indifferent Gods for something less than a blind eye.
Let me do this… just let me live and I will make him happy. I will keep him safe and protected for the rest of our lives. I will love him like he deserves to be loved and I will stay by his side forever… just let me live through this. Please, Gods, please… for Duo.
There was a moment of twisted confusion, while the blast flare sent my sensors to white, that I wasn’t sure. Could not confirm that I’d made the hit; stopped the end of the world. It was the ragged cheer of the rebel troops that told me I’d done it, coming across my speakers in a tinny burst of static. I trusted in that sound and broke my dive, knowing I was mere seconds away from the point of no return. I realized with a sudden, sharp pang that there had been a time when I would have stayed the course, would have refused to pull up until I had confirmation from my own senses that the mission was accomplished. And I would have died. Would have held my course and position until it was far too late. It was almost too late as it was, and I had a heart-stopping moment when I thought the boosters weren’t going to do the job. A moment when I thought the harness or the g-forces were going to cut me in half. Then I was out and clear and I heard the exultant cries of my friends as they came to meet me.
‘He did it!’ Quatre shouted, his voice the first one that came clear to my ears. ‘He made it!’
‘Of course,’ Wufei replied coolly, but I could hear the relieved smile in his voice.
I waited for the joyous call of my lover. I let the sound of the other voices wash over me without really hearing them. I was listening for only one thing. But it didn’t come. His video feed didn’t come back on-line. His voice didn’t call out to me.
I hadn’t been afraid until that moment. Throwing my Gundam into a power dive and risking the siren pull of the Earth’s gravity had not truly stirred fear in my heart. I had been… anguished, perhaps, would best describe the feeling. Had been sorry under the resignation… but not afraid.
Fear stole its icy way into my gut then, ate at me with its bitter cold teeth.
‘Duo?’ I called, and didn’t care who heard me.
There was no answer and I began to panic. Had he broken away from the others? Had he followed my path and been caught in the trap I had escaped?
‘Where’s Duo?’ I barked, and my voice cut across all the chatter, silencing the cheers and the yelling.
‘Calm down, Yuy,’ Wufei chuckled in amusement. ‘He’s right…’ But his voice faltered and I knew that Duo was not right where he had expected him to be. ‘What the hell?’ he murmured.
I frantically punched the comm. unit up to Duo’s private frequency and hit the call button, my hands shaking in reaction. I cut off all the rest of them, sitting in my suddenly cold Gundam in a biting silence.
‘Hey,’ his voice finally came, sounding thin and battered, old and worn. There was music in the background, something I didn’t recognize, sounding melancholy and dark.
‘Damnit!’ I barked before the irony of it caught up with me. ‘You scared the hell out of me! Where are you?’
His laugh was bitter and flat. I punched for visual, but he wouldn’t give it to me.
‘I can’t do this… with the world watching,’ he said and I couldn’t fathom the depth of emotion I heard in his voice, twisted round and wrapped tight enough to strangle. ‘I love you.’
Then he was gone. Cut the link and left me there, in the cold. I scanned for long minutes, looking for him while my brain tried to make sense of what he had said. But you don’t find the Gundam Deathscythe when his pilot doesn’t want to be found.
It took Wufei calling me on my own private channel to shake me free; to make me follow the others back to what was left of the Peacemillion.
We were given a hero’s welcome. Cheered and applauded. It was all I could do not to snap and snarl at the people who approached me. I wanted to tell them to leave me the hell alone. Trowa and Quatre disappeared fairly quickly and later, much later, I was to discover that Quatre had been gravely wounded aboard the Libra before the final battle had even started. Wufei stayed by my side and deflected the well-wishers as best he could, eventually using my recent battle as an excuse to ‘take me to sick-bay’.
Instead, he found an empty conference room and took me there; away from the prying eyes of people I didn’t know how to deal with. People who were too elated to react to my icy glare the way they should have… the way they usually did.
I let Wufei lead me into the quiet room; lights dim with only the emergency generators running. I let him push me down into a chair and I barely registered that he perched himself on the table near at hand. There was a port in the room and I sat staring out it, wondering if Duo were somewhere within that rectangle of stars.
‘Did he talk to you?’ Wufei prodded gently, going straight to the heart of the matter, as always.
I grunted darkly, a slightly affirmative sound and there was a faint sigh.
‘What did he say?’ he asked, the soul of patience, and I had to glance at him.
‘Only that he couldn’t do this with the whole world watching,’ I told him. I went back to looking out the port, not able to meet the quiet concern in his eyes.
‘That doesn’t sound…final,’ he ventured.
‘Well, what the fuck does it mean, then?’ I snapped at him and was instantly sorry, but couldn’t contain the frustration writhing around in my gut.
‘Perhaps he realized what kind of reception we were going to encounter when we came aboard,’ Wufei said gently. ‘You know how he hates crowds…’
‘He hates crowds, so he just runs away?’ I blurted, glaring up at him, finding that his calm was irritating me even further.
‘Heero, he was pretty angry with us, for not letting him… for holding him back,’ he tried again, and I saw his hand start to reach out toward me, but then he thought better of it.
I threw myself to my feet and stalked to the port to get away from that touch, I wasn’t ready for it. ‘I almost died out there,’ I growled, defensively, finding that I was hurt a great deal by the fact that Duo wasn’t here holding me tight… that he didn’t need to be here to see that I was all right. I would have needed that, had our positions been reversed.
‘And he didn’t?’ Wufei said softly.
I whirled to look at him in surprise, my mouth falling open as I saw in his face that he understood something about the pact we’d made. Or perhaps he just understood the depth of our feelings.
‘Deny it,’ he demanded, and I couldn’t. ‘Give him a little time, Heero,’ he chided softly. ‘You act like he’s leaving you… he’ll be back.’
‘How do I know that?’ I breathed, looking at him searchingly, maybe hoping that he had some information that I didn’t have. Hoping that maybe he knew something he hadn’t told me. That he would pull something out of the air for me, like he so often had before.
‘Because if there is one thing through this whole damn mess that has been as constant as the North Star,’ he told me intently, his face flushing slightly, ‘it’s Duo’s love for you. You can’t doubt that… I don’t doubt that.’
‘Then where the hell is he?’ I whispered, suddenly very tired.
A little of his confidence slipped away for a second and I saw his own uncertainty. ‘I don’t know… but I know he won’t stay away for long. You know that, too, if you’ll let yourself see it passed your hurt feelings.’
I growled darkly at him and turned away. I’d indulge my hurt feelings if I wanted to. ‘Leave me alone.’
I was surprised when he did; surprised and a little bit sorry.
‘Where are you, love?’ I whispered to the stars after Wufei was gone. ‘Why did you go?’ The stars offered very little comfort.
After a while, with the loss of the distraction of Wufei’s company, I realized just how tired and achy my body was, and went back to sit on the conference table. I propped my feet in the chair and my elbows on my knees, just sitting and staring out the port. I was loath to leave this place of quiet and solitude; I didn’t think I could deal with any more of the congratulations and teary-eyed handshakes. Not without my friends to run interference for me, and I’d just driven the last one away.
Gods, but I was wallowing in self-pity. What in the hell was the matter with me? Duo hadn’t told me he was never coming back. He’d said he loved me. But I couldn’t help but worry… now that Treize was dead, now that the Earth and the colonies were in talks to end this damn war, what if he decided he didn’t want to stay with me after all? What if he found he didn’t love me as much as he had thought he did?
My head was trying to tell me that he was all right, that he had just needed a little time before he could deal with this rush of humanity and that it wasn’t me he was avoiding. But my gut was cringing in fear, babbling incoherently about abandonment, about the absurdity of trying to start a damn relationship in the middle of a Gods forsaken war. My heart was a leaden thing in my chest, whispering to me softly about how I obviously hadn’t loved enough, hadn’t been strong enough, had let him down one too many times. And, of course, that other voice… the one that only had the one point to make, the one about this being a bad idea right from the beginning. I wasn’t at all sure which one to listen to.
We’d come so far. Come through so much together. It couldn’t be over… could it? When I tried to think about a future without him there with me, all I saw was a blank. I couldn’t envision a life without Duo in it. Didn’t really want to try. There had been a time, not all that long ago, when I would have sold my life in the blink of an eye for whatever cause I had been handed. There was a time that I had tried just that; had self-destructed my Gundam without even trying to think of another way out of the mess we had been in. I had, somewhere down in the depths of my dark soul, wanted to die.
Before Duo. Before he had found my heart and my soul locked away the Gods only know where, dusted them off, and brought them back to me. Made me whole again. Maybe made me whole for the first time in my life.
Oh my sweet Duo…don’t leave me here alone.
Where could he have gone? Why wasn’t he here with me? Was he… was he all right? Was he hiding something from me? Had he been hurt in that last battle? He wouldn’t be afraid to let me know, would he? He hated being vulnerable and incapacitated so badly… would he have run rather than let me know he’d been injured? Gods; I was being absurd. I wished, just a little too late that I hadn’t sent Wufei away; I needed his calm, rational voice right now.
Just sitting there, doing nothing but brooding, I began to feel the ache and the soreness. Began to understand what a beating I had taken from Zechs, from the wrestling match with the Libra. I wanted nothing so much as I wanted to find a dark hole to crawl into where I could curl up and sleep. But I wanted to curl up with Duo safe in my arms. I wanted it so suddenly and so sharply that it sang through my veins… that need to have Duo there with me. It was a pain that eclipsed all the rest of it, that started in my chest and spread through me until I felt I would crumble away under the weight of it. I lowered my head into my hands, sat and… wept. I tried to remember the last time I’d cried and it seemed to me that it had been in Duo’s arms and that I had wept for his sake. Most of the tears I’d cried in my lifetime had been on his behalf… had been for his pain. I couldn’t even be angry with him… there wasn’t room in my heart for more than the fear.
Where are you, my love… and what’s wrong?
If I held very still, I could imagine him sitting close beside me, could almost hear his soft voice… don’t cry love, its all right… everything is all right. I tried to imagine the feel of his arms wrapping around me in comfort, in support. It only made me feel cold and I shivered.
I tried to think about the promises he had made to me, tried to make myself hear his voice whispering to me in passion… in love. But all I could hear was him screaming my name in horror as I dove after that piece of Armageddon on what must have seemed a suicide mission.
I hadn’t hesitated. I had seen the danger and launched my attack. It must have seemed that I hadn’t given him a second thought. It must have seemed that I had taken our future together and thrown it on the table like a pair of dice. I had let the presence of all those listeners, all those watchers, keep me from telling him anything close to what I had been feeling.
He still wakes at night, sometimes, screaming in denial from nightmares of my self-destruction. He clings to me on those nights as though his arms are all that hold me to life. As though he would fight the devil himself and all his minions for my possession. He never goes back to sleep afterward. Never.
Today must have seemed very like his worst nightmare come to screaming, bleeding life.
Oh my heart… what have I done to you?
If I was honest with myself, I had to admit that there really, truly wasn’t a hell of a lot I could have done differently, if I had this day to do over. But I wished I could. I wished with all my heart that I could have spared him those long, long moments of terror. Could have let someone else bear the sword for a change. It just hadn’t happened that way.
Behind me, I heard the door open and I wiped roughly at my eyes, looking at the reflection of that rectangle of light in the window to see that it was Wufei standing there.
‘Heero?’ he called softly and I could tell from his tone that he wasn’t there with any news that I cared to hear. I grunted at his reflection, not turning around. ‘Quatre is asking for you.’
‘Not now,’ I growled at him, utterly horrified that he had found me like this.
He hesitated in the doorway for a moment, perhaps hearing the roughness of my voice. ‘Heero?’
‘Leave me the hell alone,’ I snapped, refusing to turn and face him. ‘I’ll hunt him up… later.’
He began to make his way around the room to me and I thought I would scream. All I could do was hang my head to hide my face. I saw his feet stop their movement when he reached my side and he just stood there for a moment. Then a warm hand settled on my shoulder and I think I shivered.
‘He’ll be back,’ he soothed and the anger just melted out of me.
‘How can you know that?’ I asked; again half hoping he did know something.
‘I know Duo,’ he said simply, and I could hear that tight little smile of his.
‘Then tell me what’s wrong,’ I demanded. ‘If you know him so damn well… tell me why he ran away. Tell me why he left.’
There was the sound of a heavy sigh. ‘I don’t know, Heero… I can only make guesses.’ The hand on my shoulder squeezed tight. ‘Come on… Quatre’s in the infirmary and he wants to see you.’
That revelation came as such a shock that I jerked my head up to look at him, not thinking about what I was revealing. I saw his eyes fly open wide and I flushed to the roots of my hair, turning quickly away again.
‘Heero?’ he whispered, his voice full of disbelief and oddly… tender. I couldn’t bear that right now.
‘Don’t,’ I commanded.
He sighed. ‘Come,’ he told me. ‘There’s a lavatory across the corridor… you can clean up there. Quatre needs to get some rest, but is insistent that he talk to us first.’
‘What happened?’ I finally thought to ask.
‘That Catelonia woman…’ he growled angrily, ‘somehow managed to take him by surprise with a damn fencing foil, of all things.’
His irritation with the woman who had seemed only a hanger-on, but had turned out to be so much more, served to make him forget the state I was in. He led me across the corridor, muttering about the ludicrousness of the statement ‘war is beautiful’, and the questionable mental state of a person who would actually say such a thing.
‘Damn, stupid idealistic woman,’ he continued, leaning in the doorway while I washed my face in cold water. ‘Obviously she’s never seen a real battlefield. Sits in her ivory tower and reads books on the subject.’ He snorted derisively. ‘I’d like to see her spout that crap to someone like Sally Po. She’d get laughed right off the ship.’
‘Where is she now?’ I ventured, giving my face a critical glance in the mirror. I could only hope that the walk to sickbay would be sufficiently long enough that some of the redness would leave my eyes before we got there.
‘Trowa said he left her to her own devices,’ he informed me, making a point of picking at an imaginary hangnail. I realized that he was only making small talk to help me get my head back together. ‘The only reason he didn’t kill her where she stood was because Quatre wouldn’t let him.’ He shook his head ruefully. ‘I’m not at all sure they made the right choice.’
I grunted and waved him out of the room, indicating that I was done. He pushed off the wall and led the way. I fell into step beside him, trying to focus on what he was talking about and not on what my thoughts wanted to dwell on.
‘Quatre is going to be all right, isn’t he?’ I asked when it finally occurred to me.
Wufei gave me a sidelong glance and I felt ashamed that it had taken me so long to get my head out of my ass and think to question that fact. ‘He’ll be fine if he will stop arguing with the Doctor and do as he is told.’
I snorted softly; there wasn’t one of us that hadn’t been guilty of that at one time or another. Wufei included. He spared me one of those tight little smiles, but I couldn’t find it in me to return it. He sighed and we just stopped talking.
The ship was heavily damaged and we passed through sections where the artificial gravity was completely out of commission. We kicked off and drifted through those areas like strange, deep-sea swimmers. Like everything else in the last couple of hours, it only served to remind me of Duo. I couldn’t help but think how at home he was in zero gravity, how lithe and graceful. We passed crew members of the Peacemillion, doing critical repairs and looking for wounded. I found my eyes raking over each one, searching for a long tail of a braid, for soulful amethyst eyes. Several of them turned as we passed and when we were recognized, gave us a solemn little salute. Wufei nodded to them in acknowledgment.
‘Heero,’ he murmured to me when there was a moment of privacy, ‘he was fine when I last saw him.’
‘How do you know that?’ I scowled. ‘We didn’t know there was anything wrong with Quatre.’
He grunted and had the decency to look a little taken aback. ‘He was fighting against us like a damn demon… he certainly didn’t act injured.’
I gave him a glare that told him just what I thought of that remark and he actually flushed and looked away.
‘I just want some answers,’ I finally sighed. ‘All I can do is guess what’s going on with him… and one of my guesses is that he was hurt.’
‘I think its more likely that he didn’t want to come aboard and deal with all…’ he paused while we passed yet another crewmember that felt the need to shake my hand, continuing when he was out of earshot. ‘… this ridiculous hoopla.’
We came into a corridor that had gravity again, dropping to the deck and continuing on foot. ‘He cut communications to me… at the last. Wouldn’t let me see him or talk to him.’ I admitted in a hushed voice.
Wufei actually snorted. ‘Wise of him,’ he told me with the arch of one of those elegant eyebrows. ‘You certainly didn’t need to be listening to him curse us to hell and back at the top of his lungs, while you were dealing with… the situation.’
I gave him a questioning look and he sighed, rolling his eyes. ‘Heero… he was bound and determined to go after you. He wasn’t thinking straight, he could have blundered into the path of your damn buster rifle in the state he was in.’ I shivered at that thought but refrained from speaking. ‘It took all three of us to hold him back. He was not… happy with any of us.’
Not happy? Why did that seem like a blatant understatement?
‘He… got rather abusive,’ he continued, eyes on the deck plates. ‘He damned us to hell and back twice over. I’ve never seen him that… distressed. He might simply have been unable to… face us.’
It was a theory. I didn’t give it much credence… but it was a theory. I rubbed at blurry, gritty eyes and sighed heavily. ‘What else could I have done? I know… what he must have been feeling. But what the hell else could I have done?’
‘Nothing,’ he said firmly, glancing at me. ‘Be honest with yourself. If Duo had been the one in the right position, with the right weapon… he would have made the same move. It was the luck of the draw that you were where you were, and had the only weapon that stood a chance of stopping that thing.’
I chewed on that a little bit, and saw the truth of what he was saying. I knew Duo well enough to know that he wouldn’t have stood by and watched the end of the world if it had been in his power to stop it. But that only brought me back around to the original question more confused than ever. Why did he run?
Then we were at the door of the sickbay and the fruitless conversation ended.
Quatre looked… even more pale than usual. Pale and wan, with the heavy-lidded look of a person who has been drugged. Trowa was ensconced by his side with a grim look on his face that jolted me into the arms of memory so suddenly I gasped.
For a moment, in my mind’s eye, it was Duo in that bed, face bruised and scraped raw. Knee wrapped in that damned foam and metal brace, arm bound to his chest. And it was me sitting there in that chair with a look like a bear guarding its cubs.
Wufei mistook the sound of my shock and touched my elbow. ‘He’s going to be fine. He was very lucky… the wound missed the major organs.’
I only nodded and let the breath of touch bring me back to the here and now.
‘Heero?’ Quatre called, voice sounding sleepy and thick.
Wufei urged me to the bedside, staying close beside me. ‘I’m here,’ I told him gently.
‘Where’s Duo?’ he asked then, and I felt like he’d kicked me in the groin. ‘I wanted everyone…’
‘Remember,’ Trowa soothed before I had a chance to speak. ‘I told you he was sleeping. The Doctor sedated him too… you know how he gets… pushes himself too hard. He needs to rest.’
It was a blatant lie and I scowled at Trowa, watching him smooth Quatre’s hair from his forehead with gentle fingers. Wufei’s arm came to rest across my back, buying my silence.
Quatre gave a weary nod, accepting the story. It told me just how bad he must have been, there at the end, to have totally missed my frantic calling for Duo.
‘What did you want to see us about, Quatre?’ Wufei prodded gently, his hand still lying warm on my shoulder.
Quatre frowned, obviously distressed that we weren’t all five together, but deciding after several blurry blinks to go on without Duo. ‘I want us to stay together,’ he blurted and I saw Trowa smile at him in amused tenderness. ‘We need each other… these next months are going to be… difficult.’ He was so totally, as Duo would say, drugged to the gills that it was almost funny. In an oddly touching way. I reflected that this conversation might have taken a lot longer if his brain were in charge of his mouth, and not his emotions. ‘I think of you all as… my family. My true family… we’ve been through so much together.’
I watched Trowa stroke his fingers over Quatre’s face, trying to soothe him away from the emotional outburst that was trying to claim him. His hands are really rather long and elegant, I noticed for the first time. In another life, he might have been a musician… or perhaps a painter. I don’t know why that thought took hold of me of a sudden… what we might have been had this life not been so hard on us. Not made quite so many demands.
‘Do you remember that house we stayed at, while Duo was recovering from his knee surgery?’ Quatre suddenly said, and we let Trowa answer in the affirmative for us. ‘It’s… out of the way. It’s not a known Winner residence. I want us all to go there… to live for a while. Until we can sort ourselves out. I… I don’t want anyone to be alone.’
That hit me like a blow and I felt Wufei’s hand tighten on my shoulder, as though he were afraid I might flee the room. And I wanted to. It didn’t seem right that I was here, surrounded by my friends while Duo was out there… somewhere, by himself. That thought… of Duo, all alone, tugged at my heart. At the same time that my head was muttering that he was out there alone by his own damn choice. It was wearing me out… this waffling back and forth between stark terror and… flaming pissed.
On the bed, Quatre’s face was crumbling as he struggled with the drugs and the pain to get his message out. There was a desperation to his words, as though he feared that if he didn’t deliver them right now, right this minute, that something… awful would happen. It only fed my fear, only made my thoughts all the darker.
‘Its important,’ he whispered, looking up at us with pleading eyes. ‘Its important to me. I… I want… I…’
‘All right, Quatre,’ Wufei interrupted, not able to watch him struggle with it any more. ‘Its all right… I for one would be grateful for a place to stay for the time being.’
I nodded my acceptance, unable to say anything. I was worried that he would ask me if I thought it would be all right with Duo. I didn’t know what I would say… didn’t know how to answer on behalf of someone I suddenly wasn’t sure of any more. A day ago, I would have told him without doubt that Duo would be delighted to stay in that house again. It held fond memories for the both of us and Duo would be thrilled to go spend time there with the group of us. But now… I wasn’t sure. I just wasn’t sure. Thankfully, Trowa kept him from asking, as if sensing that the question would not be a good one right now.
‘There now; it’s all settled,’ he smiled lovingly down at his partner and it nearly broke my soul. ‘You promised me you would rest once it was arranged.’
Quatre turned toward the sound of his lover’s voice and I saw a tear spill from his eye and track down a pale cheek. ‘It’s ok now?’ he questioned blearily. ‘I…made things better?’
‘Please leave us alone now,’ Trowa softly said, not looking up, never taking his eyes from Quatre’s.
I didn’t need Wufei’s guiding hand to make me leave the room; I couldn’t get out fast enough.
‘…all better now,’ I heard Trowa whispering behind us. ‘Go to sleep now… hush… just rest… Duo is fine… everyone is fine… I’m here…’
I wanted to plug my ears and block out the tender endearments. I didn’t want to hear them, didn’t want them reminding me of the person I wanted to be whispering to. The person I wanted whispering to me.
Wufei’s hand dropped away as we entered the corridor. I looked across at him. ‘What are you going to tell him if… if Duo doesn’t come back?’ I blurted ruthlessly.
Wufei’s eyes registered a bit of shock, that I would dare voice that out loud, I suspect. ‘Yuy… he will be back. I don’t know what’s going on… I’m not going to even try to guess. But I’ve watched him fight his way through the seven levels of hell for you… he won’t just walk away without so much as a goodbye. Duo isn’t like that, and you know it.’ A hint of irritation entered his voice and his words stung like a reprimand.
‘I obviously don’t know as much as you do!’ I growled, angry with the world and needing to vent some frustration.
He glared at me, eyes hot and intent. ‘What the hell is that supposed to mean?’
‘You act like you know him better than I do!’ I snapped. ‘I can’t fathom what the hell is going on… what makes you so damn sure that you can!’
I saw something… dangerous uncurl in the backs of those glittering, dark eyes and he suddenly had me by the collar, backed up to the wall. It was surprise as much as anything that kept me from decking him.
Then he was in my face and snarling low and threatening. ‘You have in your hands one of the most beautiful, perfect relationships it has ever been my privilege to set eyes on. Do not screw it up with these ludicrous, damn self-doubts. He loves you. He loves you like I’ve never seen another human being love before. Get your head out of your ass. He. Will. Come. Back.’
There was the ghost of something… strange in his tightly controlled voice. Something I couldn’t quite grasp. He shoved away from me and stalked off down the corridor, leaving me standing there gaping after him. It was just as well; I don’t know that I could have formed a coherent sentence if my life had depended on it.
It wasn’t long before some workmen wandered by and I fled in the face of their eager desire to speak with me. In the end I locked myself in my Gundam and just sat monitoring the emergency channel that we had used all through the war. Sitting there in the dark, I felt like some kind of thief. I couldn’t keep myself from keying the mike and whispering, ‘Lost Boy? This is Hawk’s Nest… can you hear me?’ Of course there was no answer and I felt the utter fool. I didn’t do it a second time.
I did a lot of thinking that day. A lot of remembering. I sat in a Gundam that I wasn’t supposed to need anymore, listening to the static hiss of nothing over the comm. unit and imagined my lover was there in my arms. I could almost hear his voice sometimes, when I managed to block out the sound of him screaming my name.
‘With all my heart and soul.’
‘I love you, Heero; so damned much.’
‘I trust you.’
‘How do you always know what I need?’
I would have sold my soul at that point to know what the hell it was he needed. What it was that had sent him running from me.
‘I can’t do this… with the world watching.’ What in the hell did that mean? He couldn’t do what? Couldn’t face all these people? Couldn’t handle the sudden notoriety? Couldn’t deal with some injury in front of all those witnesses? Couldn’t love me?
Wufei was angry with me for doubting Duo. I didn’t know how to tell him how damned… brittle my heart could be. I had never in my life loved anything or anyone before. How could he possibly understand? A man who’d had a family once… who’d had a wife, even if the marriage had been arranged. How could he possibly imagine what it felt like to have found this one person in all the universe who could stir a heart I had long thought cold and unresponsive? To have found that person only to have them turn away? It… hurt. Gods but it hurt. I was afraid for Duo. I was… angry with Duo. I was confused and I was aching inside. I felt abandoned and betrayed. I knew I should withhold judgment. Knew that I didn’t have all the facts… that there was information I still needed. I felt like I’d been given a mission with no specs. No goals… no parameters. And wouldn’t Duo just jeer at me for thinking of our love in that way? Our love. Did it even still… exist?
I slept for a time in my dark Gundam, lulled by the hiss of the open comm. I dreamed of making love with Duo… and I dreamed of him pushing me away.
We left the Peacemillion the next day-cycle. I balked at first, not sure that I should leave the place where Duo had seen me last. But I was reassured that messages had been left for him should he show up… and I found myself loathe to stay alone among all those strangers so eager to fawn and hang on me. Especially since there was no guarantee that Duo would even come back to the ship at all. We skulked away, not like departing heroes, but like the clandestine rebels we had been for so long. I could not get my head around it being all right for people to recognize me. I could not deal with people knowing where I was. We were going into hiding again, just like… normal. Only now we weren’t hiding from enemy attacks, weren’t hiding from whatever Oz was choosing to call itself that day. We were hiding from all the attention, all the accolades and – as Wufei had called it – all the hoopla.
Somewhere in meeting halls and government circles, things were happening. People were talking and arrangements were being made. Treaties were being signed and negotiations were taking place. I found that I couldn’t really care about all of it. Peace. That thing we had fought for… struggled to obtain. It was here… it was happening. I found it was a hollow thing without my Duo by my side to share it with.
Rashid and the Maganacs had gone ahead to open the house up and I was more than grateful to realize that it was not going to be fully staffed with the typical house full of Winner servants. We weren’t going to pry the indomitable Rashid away from his Quatre-sama until that wound was healed and Quatre was back on his feet. But Rashid we could deal with. He and the Maganacs had been right there in the thick of things at Quatre’s side through most of the war. We didn’t leave them in awe. We didn’t impress them. They weren’t looking to shake our hands and tell us how wonderful we were. And they were relatively discreet… they somehow managed to not be underfoot all the time.
It was very… surreal coming back to that place after all the time that had passed. Rashid had brought Quatre and Trowa and their Gundams on a shuttle ahead of Wufei and I. Wufei himself had been avoiding being alone with me since we’d almost come to blows aboard the Peacemillion. So when I brought Wing into the hanger, I landed and secured my Gundam in relative peace.
It was a peace I had trouble bearing. Every sight, every sound, the damn scent of the place made me remember Duo and what we had gone through together here. I had told him I loved him for the first time in this very hanger. It was the place where he had almost committed suicide… unable to deal with those horrid flashbacks anymore. This was the place we had fled to when we had escaped from the space station. If I closed my eyes, I could still see him lolling in my arms, limp as a rag doll. The whole estate was so tangled in my memory with the beginning of my relationship with Duo… I had to wonder if Quatre had done this on purpose. Chosen this place to remind me of what had gone before… remind me of what I had. I could very cheerfully have hated him for it. In my heart I was afraid it was only reminding me of what I had lost.
After Wing was locked down and secured, I thought about making the walk to the house, but I found my steps turning toward the hill on the west edge of the property instead. Found myself seeking out the huge rock that was there. I sat down in the familiar spot and gazed out over the grounds… remembering. I had brought Duo to this place the evening after he had almost killed himself, to watch the sunset together. He hadn’t known that I had witnessed his aborted suicide attempt, second hand… caught, as it was, on his Gundam’s internal recorder. I hadn’t told him. To this day, I had not told him. I had just stayed close by him, loved him, cherished him… done my best to hold back the darkness for him. We had made love together for the first time that night and he had lain in my arms afterward and wept. I had never seen him truly cry before.
I remembered what he had said to me in the aftermath of our breaching the walls he had erected around his heart… around his soul.
‘Don’t ever ask me to go on without you.’
I thought about that. I thought about that very hard. I sat on the chill ground, leaning against the hard boulder in the exact spot he and I had shared all those long months ago, watching the sun creep across the sky… and I thought about how much I knew he loved me.
Wufei was right. And perhaps Quatre had been too… to bring me to this place.
I didn’t understand what was going on with Duo. Could not fathom what would make him panic and run… but I knew he loved me. When I pushed the hurt away and stopped letting my injured feelings cloud my thinking.
It was evening before I heard the telltale rumble of engines. A rumble like only a Gundam can make. I climbed slowly to my feet, stiff in every joint. My aches and pains from the day before objecting to my sitting on the hard ground for so many hours. I had thought I had made up my mind what I was going to do when he finally got here. Somewhere in the afternoon I had made a conscious decision to begin thinking about when and not if. I had decided that when he arrived I would leap to my feet, run all the way to the hanger where I would meet him as he climbed down from his Gundam. Then I would kiss him until he forgot whatever in the hell it was that had driven him away. I would love him until there was no doubt in his mind that we belonged together… and then I would apologize for anything he wanted me to.
But I found when the time came, when I watched that great black machine land and make its way into the hanger, that I couldn’t move. What if he didn’t want to see me? I just stood and watched until long past when I knew he had to have locked down and sealed his Gundam. Long past when I knew he was probably walking toward the house. I stood there until it dawned on me how it might look if I didn’t return right away.
I made the walk down the hill to the back of the house and couldn’t help feeling like a man walking to his own execution. I honestly did not know what I would do if he took his love away… I just wasn’t sure what would happen.
I slipped in through the kitchen door and found no one. I glanced in the doorway to the foyer and still saw no one. I turned my steps toward the wide staircase and finally found Wufei. He was coming down the stairs, but he was casting an odd look back over his shoulder.
‘Where is he?’ I demanded tersely.
‘Sleeping,’ he said simply, his lips twitching as he tried to settle on an expression somewhere between amused and concerned.
‘What?’ I blurted, ‘he can’t possibly be asleep already… he just walked in!’
He turned to look at me squarely. ‘Go see for yourself. He’s in the room he used last time.’
With an inarticulate growl, I brushed past him and went up the rest of the stairs two at a time, practically running down the hall, despite my best efforts to make myself calm down.
It looked like he had barely made it to the bed. Still in his damn flight suit, he was sprawled facedown across the bed, legs dangling off one edge, and an arm flung over the other. And he was, as Wufei had said, sound asleep.
I just stood for a minute and… looked at him. I marveled at how my heart steadied and calmed with just the sight of him. Just seeing the steady expansion and contraction of his rib cage as he breathed. He was here… he was finally here. Where he had been, suddenly didn’t seem very important.
I turned and closed the bedroom door behind me, deciding that I was not leaving his side until he woke and we’d had a chance to talk. Then I squatted by the bed and began unlacing his boots, working them off and setting them aside. He never stirred. I tentatively pushed on his legs to shift him more fully up on the bed and he still didn’t move. With a sigh, I simply rolled him over and bodily shifted him until he wasn’t hanging over the edge anymore. I couldn’t believe he was sleeping through this. I sat down on the side of the bed now that I could see his face and looked him over. He seemed… worn.
His eyes were dark circled and his face looked… gaunt somehow. His eyelashes, dark looking against his skin, seemed… clumped. There was something strange about his skin and I stroked a gentle finger over his cheek. It felt odd and on a sudden suspicion, I bent and carefully kissed his cheek, tasting his skin. He’d been crying.
I’m afraid I just sat back and stared down at him for a very long time, unable to get my head around that. Duo did not cry. I’d been graced with the sight once in all the time I’d known him and it had taken a great deal to bring him to that point. A very great deal.
I shook myself out of my reverie, rose and stripped the damn flight suit off of him, lifting him in my arms completely, so that I could turn the blankets back. I was utterly appalled that he slept on, limp as a rag doll when I tucked him into bed again.
Then I stripped down to my own underwear and crawled in beside him. If he wanted me gone from there, he could throw me out later. I couldn’t walk away and leave him this vulnerable… this helpless. I pulled him against me and curled around him, imagining perhaps, that he seemed to settle against my chest.
I thought, as exhausted as I was, that I would fall instantly asleep myself. But once I was there with him, holding him in my arms, all I could think about was what if this is the last time I get to hold him like this? I started to imagine him waking and throwing me out of his bed, out of his room… out of his life.
I found my fingers sifting through the fine little wisps of hair around his face, tracing over the tracks his tears had made on his cheeks.
‘Oh my little one,’ I murmured, that endearment that I couldn’t seem to help, but almost always made him glare at me. ‘Don’t you ever leave me like that again.’ I knew he couldn’t hear me, but I didn’t care and murmured softly to him until I finally fell asleep myself.
I woke to the feel of insistent hands tugging at me, warm lips nibbling hungrily along my jaw line. With a tense, trembling body stretched out atop me.
‘Duo?’ I breathed and settled my hands on his hips. He whimpered softly, his body moving unrelentingly against mine.
As easily as I could lose myself to this, as much as I would have delighted in giving in to his touch, there was a small voice in my head that told me things weren’t right. He was too… edgy. Too… insistent. Almost frantic. This was very unlike how Duo usually made love with me. He is still a somewhat tentative lover. The memories of his past, though greatly eased, are still with him. When we are together, things must always move forward fairly slowly. No surprises, nothing that feels too… rough. It doesn’t take much to break the mood for him. There are things I have to be careful of. It had taken a very long time before he had consented to making love to me with his hair down. He usually lets me lead… seldom makes the first move. The few times that he had, were treasured memories for me.
So what was this? And why now? What was wrong with this picture?
I pushed him up a little to look into his eyes, but he had them tightly closed.
‘Duo…?’ I began, but he forced himself back against me, silencing me with a harsh kiss. He was shaking in my arms.
I pulled him close and with a buck of my hips and a shove of my leg, flipped us over so that I was the one on top. ‘We don’t have to have sex for me to hold you,’ I whispered next to his ear and gave him the weight of my body, that anchor that he needed, that always seemed to grant him some measure of security. I was appalled when he wrapped his arms tight around my neck and began to cry.
‘I’ve got you… I’ve got you…’ I murmured and just held on.
‘You bastard,’ he choked out. ‘I hate you sometimes.’
I tried to ease up a little, to better see his face, but his legs were suddenly wrapped around me too. He whimpered softly, through the tears, ‘Closer… tighter… Gods, please hold me… don’t let go.’
I felt something unwind from around my heart. Gasped with the sudden absence of a pain that had been there for so long I had forgotten what it felt like not to hurt. I gave him everything I had, enveloping him in my arms, almost crushing him against me. I knew how he got… I knew what he needed.
‘I’m here… I’m here,’ I crooned. ‘I’m sorry… so sorry. There wasn’t anything else I could have done. I would give anything to have spared you from that.’
‘I know,’ he sobbed. ‘I know that, damnit! But it still… hurt. I thought… I thought…’ Thought you were going to die. Thought you were going to leave me… like everyone else.
‘Hush,’ I sighed. ‘I know. I know what you thought, love…’
He convulsed under me, part of him still clinging tight and part of him wanting to shove me away. I refused to let go.
‘How the hell do you know what I was thinking… feeling…’ he hissed at me, even while the tears still tracked down his face. ‘You didn’t… you didn’t…’ didn’t even give me a second thought.
‘The hell,’ I whispered in response to the unspoken accusation. ‘You were all I could think of! Love… what choice did I have? You know I couldn’t…’
‘I’m not stupid!’ he growled. ‘I know you had to do it. I know that…’
I loosened one arm enough to stroke my hand over his hair, a thing that seemed to soothe him sometimes. It didn’t seem to be soothing anything tonight; he was nothing but a bundle of raw emotions, churning in my arms. I was reminded of the ancient story of Tam Lin, as he admonished his lover to hold him fast even as the elves turned him into fearsome creatures in her arms. I felt like I had to hold Duo tight to keep him from being stripped away from me… had to hold on through anything.
‘What happened doesn’t mean I don’t love you,’ I told him fiercely. ‘You were all I could think of… you were all I was worried about. But I had to do it.’
He burrowed against me, as if he were hiding from me, and his voice steadied a little. ‘I… I could have helped you. We could have done it together.’
I shivered. Thinking about him making that plunge. ‘Duo… Gods, Duo…’
He finally pushed me away enough to look up at me, and his eyes were… haunted and strange. He gazed at me intently. ‘Heero… your damn Gundam almost didn’t hold together! I could have flown at your back, could have used my active cloak to protect us both while you took the damn shot. Hell, my Deathscythe is faster than your Wing… I was the logical one to go after it in the first place! You should have just let me have the damn buster rifle and…’
I couldn’t help it. I moaned and pulled him back into my arms. ‘No… no… I couldn’t have…’
‘But I was supposed to?’ he practically snarled at me.
I saw the fight we were about to have and I just didn’t want to go there. Didn’t want the yelling and cursing. When we fought, one of us usually stormed off until we’d calmed down enough to talk. I couldn’t bear the idea of him running away right now. I’d just gotten my hands on him again… I wasn’t going to be able to let him go.
I leaned up and looked down into those flashing, angry, hurting eyes of his and dared the tiny ghost of a smile. ‘I thought we established a long time ago that I am a damn hypocrite where your safety is concerned.’
He just blinked at me for a moment, then a strangled laugh burst from his throat. His face was a frightening paradox of amusement and pain, anger and relief. The laugh quickly turned hysterical and before I knew it, he was wrapped around my neck fighting with a fresh wash of tears.
Gods, what had I done to him?
‘I’m sorry, love,’ I whispered, rocking him in my arms. ‘I’m so very, very sorry.’
I felt one of his hands let go and when I looked, found it clenched tight as he dug his fingernails into his own palm. Trying to summon the pain that gave him his control, fighting against the flood of tears.
‘Don’t,’ I told him softly, taking the hand in mine and forcing his fingers open. ‘You need to let this out… you need to let it go. Don’t fight against it.’
‘I’m sick of it!’ he wailed. ‘I’ve had enough of the damn crying! Why can’t I get it stopped?’
I didn’t understand, but brought his hand to my lips to kiss the angry welts. ‘You need this.’ I murmured.
‘What’s wrong with me?’ he choked out between the sobs. ‘What the hell is the matter with me?’
All I could do was hold him tight and eventually he gave over to it, wrapping himself around me and crying himself back to sleep.
I was… frightened, if the truth be told. I’d never seen him like this. Had never seen him so raw and off-center. I truly felt like I was the only thing holding him where he belonged. The only thing holding him together. After I felt him relax in my arms, and his breath evened and calmed, I eased off of him, pulling him in next to my side the way we usually slept together. He was not so dead to the world this time and he instinctively settled against me, using me like a giant body pillow. I wasn’t able to lure sleep near enough to claim me again, and just lay awake, watching over him, stroking his disheveled hair and kissing his forehead. I whispered affectionate words to him, giving him the gift of my voice, the only thing I could think to do for him. It might not sound like much, but the sound of my voice had kept him safe from nightmares on more than one occasion. It still sent a thrill down my spine to see him calm and respond to my voice no matter how injured or drugged he was, no matter how tired or how asleep. It was something that I took a great deal of joy in, though I would never speak of it to anyone.
He only slept for another couple of hours and I stayed with him, watching his face, waiting for the first glimpse of those beautiful amethyst eyes of his. I love his eyes, so expressive and mercurial. Sometimes as richly violet as the stone I thought of when I gazed at him, sometimes softening to a blue that spoke of summer skies and Morning Glories. After that awful, horrible episode when we thought he might very well lose his sight forever, I didn’t take those eyes for granted. It had been a knife right straight through my soul when we had pulled him from the wreck of his Gundam and he had opened his eyes… his blank and staring eyes. The first time he had turned his head toward the sound of my voice and I had realized that he couldn’t see me - might never see me again - I think I died a little inside. I had not handled it well. Duo had dealt with it better. He always does. He is, emotionally, so much stronger than I am.
When those eyes finally opened now, blinking groggily and looking for me, I smiled tenderly and bent to kiss him before he half had a chance to speak.
‘I am sorry for everything,’ I told him softly. ‘Please tell me you still love me? We made it through to the other side… we’re where we’ve been fighting to be for so long. Tell me I didn’t throw our future away?’
I got a tiny little quirk of his lips and he said, ‘Of course I still love you, you asshole… do you think you could reduce me to this if I didn’t?’ He was blushing furiously and having trouble meeting my eyes. I knew how it tore at him when his control failed him. And I’d never seen it fail him quite like this before. I felt, a little bit, like I was holding a fey creature made of mist and spider webs. Like he might vanish if I wasn’t very, very careful.
I raised his head from my shoulder with a hand under his chin and kissed him gently, tenderly, and felt him respond. I ran my hand down the length of his spine and felt him shiver. I cautiously tested the waters of his need and found that they had calmed and were not so dangerously deep and murky. He let me coax him and draw him out. Let me urge him, wordlessly, to take what he needed, what he wanted from me.
Over the last several months, he had become a very… vocal lover. It had thrilled and enchanted me when I had realized. It killed me when I was forced to stifle the sounds of his pleasure. It was my fondest dream to find a place of our own someday, where we no longer had to worry about who was in the next room… who might be passing our door. I wanted to free this part of him. Wanted to help him give in to his passions, wanted to see him the way I knew he would have been, if not for… if not for what had happened to him.
Though the frantic edge of his need was gone, he still seemed raw edged and hypersensitive. It didn’t take long for him to begin his upward spiral, for his breath to come in stuttering, broken gasps, for his body to respond to my touch with quivering leaps. There was a desperation to his writhing, a fierceness to his striving. It wasn’t long before he was groaning and crying out under my hands, but there was a shakiness to his limbs… a strange weakness in him that rather caught us both by surprise. I had enticed him into the lead, but when he faltered, I took command and helped him find his completion, brought him with me to that place that lets him forget for the moment that he has to be strong… has to be in control… has to bear all things.
While his body was still trembling with the aftershocks, he looked at me, heart in his eyes and whispered, ‘I love you so damn much… I’m sorry I ran away. I was just so… confused… I…’
‘Shhhhh,’ I told him and kissed him gently into silence. ‘We’re together now… that’s all that matters. Heart and soul… remember?’
I finally got a small smile out of him, a shadow of his usual bright grin. ‘Heart and soul,’ he agreed, but there was something in his voice that spoke of a deep weariness.
‘What’s wrong, love?’ I asked gently, stroking the sweat-damp bangs from his eyes.
He seemed to think about it, as though weighing his words, not at all sure of himself. ‘I… I don’t know, Heero. I feel like I’m… cold inside somehow.’ His face clouded, obviously unhappy with the description and he sighed dejectedly. ‘I just don’t know… it all just seems like too much.’
I frowned and cupped his face in my hand. ‘You feel shaky,’ I told him. ‘When was the last time you ate?’
I knew I’d hit on something when his cheeks flushed and his eyes suddenly wouldn’t meet mine. ‘I… I’m not sure,’ he finally ventured in a very small voice.
I sighed. ‘Come on then, love,’ I urged him up and he finally went, seeming reluctant to leave my side at first.
He insisted on a shower and I went to my own old room while he took it, where I knew Wufei would have dumped my gear. I realized when I started to change clothes, just how long it had been since I’d showered myself and decided to wash up. I thought, with a pang, of joining Duo, but wasn’t sure he would want me there. His showers seemed, sometimes, like a sanctuary for him… someplace to retreat to when he wanted to think or be alone. I didn’t want to intrude… but I couldn’t help remembering the shower we’d taken together in this very house. He’d still been recovering from his surgeries and I’d carried him into the locker room in the gym because he’d been too weak to stand on his own. He’d washed my hair for me. At the time, it had seemed the most affectionate thing anyone had ever done for me. It was a memory I would treasure forever, the feel of his fingers, slick with soap, threading through my hair. The sound of his rich laughter. The sight of his eyes, so bright and full of love.
This house was so full of memories… both good and bad.
When I came out of the bathroom I was surprised to find Duo sitting on my bed, his good leg curled under him, hunched slightly as though he were cold. He had his comb in his hand and glanced up at me through the curtain of his bangs. ‘Would you mind?’ he asked hesitantly.
‘Of course not,’ I smiled, taking the comb from him and sitting on the bed behind him. ‘You know I love to help you with your hair.’
It wasn’t something I did all the time any more, not since he’d regained the use of his left arm. But we both enjoyed it and I had surprised myself by becoming rather adept at braiding. We didn’t talk about it, but I found brushing or combing his hair for him, to be a very sensual experience and I think that he felt the same.
He leaned into my touch, as I stroked the comb through his hair, as though seeking more contact. His knee managed to bump into my leg, his hand to brush across my foot. I deliberately shifted until my leg was pressed against his hip and felt him shiver. I quickly finished what I was doing and rose to my feet, reaching to take his hand and pulling him up with me.
‘Duo, love,’ I told him as I slid my arms around him, ‘it’s all right to just ask to be held.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered, his face flaming.
‘For what?’ I chided.
‘Being so damn… needy,’ he grumbled. ‘I feel… stupid.’
‘Don’t,’ I told him gently. ‘I’m feeling pretty damn needy myself.’
He snorted softly, and held me tight for several long minutes before pulling away. He still seemed… drawn inward, hunched in on himself. I remembered what he’d said about feeling cold. I pulled my duffle bag over and fished out my black sweater, I was more than a little surprised when he let me pull it over his head and dress him like a child. He smoothed a hand over it when I had helped him pull it down and I noticed him surreptitiously inhaling deeply. He realized I saw and he ducked his head, giving me a sheepish little grin and muttering a ‘thank you’. I understood that it was my own scent lingering on the sweater that he was indulging in, and I had to smile, feeling warmed.
I took him by the shoulders, turned him and gave him a nudge toward the door. ‘Let’s go get you fed,’ I commanded and he went without argument.
Though I wouldn’t have let him know it for the world, his docility was unnerving me. He was just… not being himself. He was so hesitant, so unsure of himself, as though he were waiting for my approval on everything. Guilt began its slow dance in the pit of my stomach. I had done this to him. I had made him doubt me. Made him doubt my love for him.
We went down the so familiar staircase and there was a strange sense that time had slipped. I had to remind myself that his knee was fine now, that he didn’t need my help. I caught him glancing around with an almost apprehensive look on his face and remembered what Wufei had said about him fighting with the others during the final battle.
‘Everyone was very worried about you,’ I ventured. ‘Quatre was asking for you in the infirmary.’
We had reached the bottom of the stairs and he whirled to look at me. ‘Infirmary? What the hell happened?’
I could have bit my own tongue. Of course he didn’t know, no more than I had.
‘He’s all right,’ I was quick to soothe. ‘He was injured when he went aboard the Libra.’
‘Where is he now?’ he queried, glancing through the foyer into the sitting room.
I felt myself flushing and looked away. ‘I…I’m not sure,’ I was forced to confess. ‘I hadn’t been in the house yet.’
His gaze snapped back to me and I caught the slight lift of an eyebrow out of the corner of my eye. ‘Wufei said you got in yesterday morning,’ he prodded gently.
‘I wasn’t in the mood to talk to anybody, ok?’ I growled. I was expecting him to… tease me. Was expecting the quirk of that self-righteous grin and his proclamation that paybacks were hell. I wasn’t expecting the stricken look that came into his eyes.
‘I… I’m so sorry, Heero,’ he whispered shakily. ‘I didn’t mean to upset you… I just didn’t know what else to do… I…’
Gods, but he was scaring me. I turned and caught him by the shoulder, cupping his face with my free hand. ‘Hey,’ I scolded gently, ‘I thought we’d already decided that we pretty much scared the crap out of each other.’ I was trying for a teasing tone, was trying to ease things for him, but I could feel him trembling under my hand. What in the hell was going on? ‘Duo? What is it? What’s wrong?’
He came into my embrace when I opened my arms, wrapping his own arms around my waist and laying his head on my shoulder. He was so… tense. So… high-strung and on edge. I stroked my hand over his braid and waited to see if he would talk to me. I knew better than to push too hard when there was something weighing on his mind.
‘I’m not sure,’ he whispered so softly I almost couldn’t hear. ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with me… I can’t seem to get my bearings… it’s too much. I can’t… I can’t…’
‘Well, certainly glad to see that you two made up.’ Trowa’s voice, droll and teasing as it was, made Duo jump in my arms as though someone had shot at us. He jerked away from me, his face aflame, his eyes frantically searching for something to pin themselves on besides Trowa or me. I realized there were tears standing in those eyes again and that he was desperately trying to get them under control. It shocked me speechless and I stood like an idiot, staring at him while he struggled to come up with a face that he could present to our teammate.
There was a sudden tension in the air as neither Duo or I could seem to remove our respective heads from our asses and Trowa finally ventured into the dead silence, ‘Breakfast is ready… would one of you go down to the gym and tell Wufei?’
I thought Duo would run from the room to take care of it. He made a sound as he fled, but I don’t know if it was an acceptance of the chore, or… something else. For a moment, I almost ran after him, but thought better of it. When I turned, Trowa had retreated to the kitchen. I decided I didn’t have much choice but to go there and wait for Duo to come back. The table was already set and I was sorry for it, it would have given me something to do. Instead I was left with nothing but to sit at the table and watch Trowa as he worked at the stove.
‘What was that all about?’ he questioned, his tone revealing very little.
I wasn’t sure what to tell him. Duo would not thank me for sharing this… whatever the hell this was, with the others. But it was rather painfully obvious that something unusual was going on.
‘I hadn’t realized that Duo didn’t know Quatre had been hurt,’ I finally temporized. ‘I’m afraid I didn’t deliver the news in the… best manner.’
Trowa turned from the stove with a frying pan full of scrambled eggs and proceeded to come to the table to empty it into a large bowl sitting there. He raised an eyebrow at me, telling me he didn’t entirely believe that there was no more to the scene he had witnessed than that.
‘Is he still angry with us?’ he asked me while he scraped the last of the eggs from the pan. ‘He was… as upset as I have ever seen him.’
I wondered, again, just what in the hell had happened between the four of them and how they had managed to keep me from hearing.
‘He just seems… very uncomfortable,’ I told Trowa, truthfully. ‘I think he might be… regretting some things that were said in anger.’
He snorted softly as he turned back to the stove, using a spatula to turn what proved to be sausage patties in another pan. ‘Well… he was very angry and a very lot got said.’
I couldn’t tell just how he felt about that fact. I sighed, hoping to the Gods that the others weren’t going to carry a grudge for something Duo might have done in the heat of the moment. He didn’t need that right now. ‘Trowa…’ I ventured, wondering if I could somehow put things right.
Trowa turned from the stove to look at me over his shoulder. ‘It’s all right, Heero,’ he told me gently. ‘We understand completely. We were just afraid he might not be able to forgive us for stopping him.’ He turned back to the sausage, turned away from me and his voice softened even further. ‘I thought he showed a great deal of restraint. Had I been in his place, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have hurt one of you.’
I grunted and when I thought about it, I suppose he was right. Had it been Duo under that piece of hell-fire, and they’d tried to stop me from going after him… I might well have killed somebody. I shivered violently where I sat and when my eyes focused away from memory, I found Trowa standing in front of me with a plate of sausage and an enigmatic smile on his face.
‘Damn,’ I muttered, seeing things in my imagination that I would rather not have.
‘Damn,’ he agreed amiably and proceeded to start dishing up two plates worth of breakfast.
I heard the murmur of voices coming toward the kitchen and was surprised that my mind instantly felt more at ease. Dear Gods… how the hell screwed up was I, that Duo couldn’t be out of my sight for five minutes without my feeling apprehensive?
‘… know better than that, Maxwell,’ Wufei’s voice came clear first, and he sounded very… gentle.
Duo’s response was so soft I couldn’t make it out.
‘Duo,’ Wufei’s voice took on an almost shocked tone and I knew when he used the first name that Duo had gotten past his defenses somehow. ‘I could never hate you…’ The sound of their voices had been moving closer, but now I could tell they had stopped walking and the tone softened further until I couldn’t make out all the words.
I met Trowa’s gaze and his expression was a bastard mix of discomfiture and concern.
Then Wufei’s voice rose a little, obviously trying to cut across something Duo was saying. ‘Duo, stop it… you have nothing to be sorry for.’
There was a painful sounding whisper from Duo and then a heavy sigh.
‘All right… ‘ Wufei chuckled softly, trying to pull Duo from his dark mood. ‘You were a bastard and an asshole… but I forgive you. There, happy?’
There was a funny little grunt then and I wondered if Wufei wasn’t getting hugged. He always acted as though he hated it, but I half suspected that it doesn’t bother him near as much as he pretends. Duo is the only one who will dare the Dragon’s dark glare to offer him that kind of human contact, and I think it was a thing he craved but wouldn’t admit to, under torture. But I had found for myself what a simple thing like touch could mean.
Duo adores Wufei, and his respect means the world to him. I was thankful that he hadn’t lost it over whatever altercation they had had. I was thankful that Duo meant enough to Wufei that he was willing to endure what must be an uncomfortable conversation in order to put Duo’s mind at ease. I would have to remember to thank him later.
Their footsteps resumed then, their problem obviously resolved, and they came on into the kitchen. Trowa had just finished placing his and Quatre’s breakfast plates on a tray. I noticed he hesitated in picking it up, realizing, I think that Duo would need to deal with him next.
Wufei took a seat at the end of the table and I could see that his face was still flushed, probably from the embarrassment of his rather emotional conversation with Duo. He immediately bent to dishing up his breakfast, doing his best to ignore the rest of us, or at least… to pretend to ignore the rest of us.
Duo, his steps hesitant, went partway around the table. He paused, seeming unsure of himself again and I noted how drawn in on himself he appeared. He reminded me of someone who was expecting a blow. I glanced at Trowa and found his earlier uncomfortable look had faded to one that was softly… affectionate. He met Duo halfway and I was struck, not for the first time, by how… slight Duo looked next to our much taller, much more muscular partner. My lover wouldn’t thank me for that thought.
Trowa quirked him a little grin. ‘You get lost on your way here, Mr. Murdock?’ he teased gently, using that strange nickname I hadn’t figured out yet. I kept meaning to ask Duo about it. ‘I thought you didn’t need me to lead you around anymore?’
Pure relief washed across Duo’s face, followed quickly by that look of sad pain again. He was looking up at Trowa, his expression begging for reassurance and I thought for a moment, from the sound of his voice, that he was going to burst into tears again.
‘Oh Tro,’ he sighed. ‘I think I killed the Easter bunny for real this time.’
Trowa chuckled and reached to wrap a hand around the base of Duo’s braid, giving him a little shake. ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he scolded. ‘Quatre isn’t mad at you… never was. He was worried as hell. Eat your breakfast and come upstairs to see him, ok?’
Duo just nodded and Trowa turned away to gather Quatre’s breakfast tray. Duo watched him go, then came to take the seat next to me. Very close next to me. Close enough that our knees touched. He gave me an apologetic little look, as if to tell me he couldn’t help it. I reached under the table and took his hand, squeezing it firmly, doing my best to offer him some support.
Duo’s relationship with Trowa is… odd. They, at times, seem to be very much kindred spirits. They share a certain similarity of backgrounds that gives them a common language sometimes, which the rest of us didn’t share. Duo had earned a great deal of respect from Trowa during the period of time that they had stayed together when Duo had been… while Duo’s eyes healed. I could still hear the near awe in his voice when he had told us later about their narrow escape and the things that Duo had managed to do, without his sight. He had shaken his head and told us that ‘the son of a bitch is made of nothing but grit and nerve’. He had gotten shaky just telling the story. I had gotten rather shaky just listening to it.
I realized that Duo wasn’t eating, and sighed. I put eggs and sausage on his plate and growled teasingly at him, ‘You’re not going to make me cut it up for you, are you?’
He jerked guiltily and bent to eating with a mumbled apology. I sighed again and watched him, almost mechanically, take a bite. I felt eyes on me and glanced up to find Wufei looking our way with an odd little frown.
Duo ate what I put in front of him, so lost in thought that I think I could have filled his plate with dirt and he wouldn’t have hesitated to eat it. Experimentally, I put a second spoonful of eggs on his plate and he never noticed. I managed, in that manner, to get a second helping of everything down him before he suddenly seemed to come back to himself.
When we were finished, Wufei caught my eye, and with an inclination of his head made it clear that I was to take Duo away, he would deal with cleaning up by himself. I gave him a grateful nod and steered Duo out of the room. It was very telling that Duo didn’t even notice that we were abandoning Wufei with the breakfast dishes.
He seemed… loath to be very far from me. We normally aren’t very demonstrative around the others, but I found his hands seeking to touch me almost without thought, as though he needed some reassurance that I was real. But then he would suddenly seem to come to himself and realize that someone might be around, and his fingers would jerk away. Only to come fluttering back when he forgot again. I finally just took his hand in mine and held it. He gave me a strange little look that was a bastard mix of gratitude and guilt, need and chagrin.
I led him outside, where we were less likely to run into anybody.
‘Where are we going?’ he asked, voice hesitant.
‘Just for a walk,’ I reassured and we fell into step, leaving the porch and heading by mutual consent toward the less tended part of the property… and a little privacy.
‘Going to lead me off into the woods and have your wicked way with me?’ he teased, but I recognized it for the forced effort it was.
‘I thought I had my wicked way with you this morning?’ I rejoined gently, my tone light, the pressure of my hand on his telling him I understood that he really wasn’t in the mood for joking.
We crested a small hill, leaving the carefully manicured lawn behind and venturing into what was probably just a small stand of trees, but to the two of us, colony born as we were, it seemed like a forest. I gave his hand a tug and pulled him in close to my side, letting go to wrap an arm around his shoulders. He smiled warmly and slipped his own arm around my waist. I couldn’t help returning the smile. I knew that there was no one currently at the estate who would think twice if they noticed us, but it still made me uncomfortable when I thought someone might see us like this. I was glad for the moment of privacy that let me give this to him without reservation.
We just walked for a bit, in a comfortable silence and I watched him looking at things.
Since that… accident… with his sight, I’ve noticed the way he really looks at things. Like he’s seeing them for the very first time. He makes me see the world differently myself. Makes me stop and give things a second glance. He points out things I never would have noticed if he hadn’t shown me. He found a little toad on the path we were walking and we stopped to watch it as it hopped across the ground, seeming to look up at us in trepidation. Further along the path, he found this strange insect that looked like nothing but a stick. We stood for several long moments watching it in awe. I never would have noticed it. We walked on and Duo found a spray of ferns growing in the shade of a tree. The delicate leaves reminded both of us of the lacy tablecloths from a special safe house long ago.
‘I want…’ he blurted, then stopped, blushing slightly and made to move on. But I wouldn’t let him.
‘What do you want?’ I coaxed, feeling suddenly very tender. Very…needy.
‘It’s stupid,’ he muttered, dropping his gaze to the ground.
‘Tell me,’ I wheedled gently, turning to draw him into my arms.
‘I want… things like that… where I live. Those little things,’ he was blushing furiously now, but went doggedly on. ‘Those things that make a house someplace that looks lived in.’
‘Then,’ I told him very carefully, ‘we shall have afghans and plants and… I don’t know what all else… in our home.’
There was a strange little silence… a very tense, very strange little silence.
‘Do you… mean that?’ he whispered softly and I could see something in his eyes that was just aching.
‘You didn’t think you were getting rid of me, did you?’ I teased softly and watched that raw emotion rise up and threaten to spill over again. He couldn’t seem to speak and I gave him a little squeeze. ‘When I said heart and soul… I meant for the rest of our lives, not just till the end of the war.’
Arms were suddenly around my neck so tight that my air went out in a grunt. ‘Tell me you mean it… please, oh Gods, tell me you mean it…’ He was babbling, begging me with desperate words to answer something inside him that suddenly seemed… almost too much for me to handle.
‘I mean it,’ I told him fiercely and held him as tight as I could manage, somehow never as tight as he seemed to need. ‘I mean it… I’ve never meant anything but the rest of our lives. You’re mine, forever and always… and I’m yours, as long as you want me.’
‘You’ll never leave me?’ he whispered, voice taut as a bowstring.
‘Never,’ I said solemnly, telling him what he wanted to hear. We both knew it was a promise that was out of my control, but I knew the reassurances he needed… and, ‘I’ll try not to’ was not what he had to hear right then.
‘Promise it,’ he said, his voice almost a whimper as he struggled not to say it. Struggled for control of this fear that seemed to be eating him alive.
‘I swear,’ I told him fiercely. ‘We’ll be together forever.’
He pushed back from me, regarding me with feverish eyes, suddenly seeming very… intense, and said, ‘make love to me.’
I’m afraid I blinked at him in shock. This was very unlike Duo and I wasn’t sure just what he was asking. ‘What?’ I blurted intelligently. ‘Now?’
‘Right here… right now,’ he told me huskily and was suddenly drawing me down to the ground. I didn’t know what to do but let him. I didn’t know what to think. He was kissing me hungrily, his body straining up to meet mine as he pulled me to him. I thought I would… spontaneously combust. I did my best to respond to him, I would never reject him… would never let his needs go unanswered. But. Oh dear Gods… there was a huge ‘but’. I thought I would die of humiliation thinking about someone coming along and finding us like this. I met his kisses and sent my hands roaming over him, but couldn’t keep my eyes from flicking around, couldn’t keep my ears from listening for the slightest sound. I tried… I really did.
I felt his hands still and I drew back to look down at him, hating myself for not being able to put aside my discomfort for him. Expecting to find hurt in his eyes… expecting to find reproach. What greeted me was a wide grin.
‘I love you,’ he told me warmly.
‘I’m sorry,’ I breathed; so unsure of his mood… so unsure of what was happening. ‘Give me a minute to… to…’ I wasn’t at all sure what I could manage, given a minute or given an hour. I honestly just didn’t think I could manage much of anything out here in broad daylight. He began to laugh. One of his beautiful, infectious laughs. They start with a little snicker that blossoms into something that borders on a giggle, but isn’t. It spirals up until he is laughing from somewhere deep inside, it takes over his whole body until his eyes are crinkled up and his toes are practically curled. It’s a wondrous thing to watch. Its usually enough to make me laugh with him, just from watching him… even if I don’t know what the joke is. But I was so confused and off balance, that all I could do was stare down at him. I’m sure my expression must have been… interesting, because every time he started to get himself under control, he caught another look at me and started laughing all over again. Had I not been so relieved to hear the sound, I might have gotten irritated enough to bury him in the leaves.
When he finally settled down, he smiled up at me, tears of mirth making his eyes bright. ‘Thank you,’ he told me simply, reaching to touch my cheek.
‘For what?’ I had to ask, feeling oddly uncomfortable, like I’d let him down.
‘For being willing to try,’ he said tenderly and there was something shining in his eyes that had been missing before now. Some spark… some light.
I caught his hand and kissed his fingertips, pressing my lips to his palm. ‘You scared me, love,’ I told him before I quite knew I was going to say it. Feeling like I was talking to my Duo for the first time in days.
He looked vaguely melancholy. ‘I know, Heero. And I’m sorry.’
‘Can you… can you tell me what’s going on?’ I dared, hoping I wouldn’t drive him back to that strange place he’d been all day, but wanting to make this… distance that had been between us, go away.
‘Don’t you,’ he began, looking hesitant, looking confused again. ‘Don’t you guys feel it? It’s… over. It’s really fucking over! Heero, I can’t get my head around it. I don’t know… I never thought…’ Never thought we’d live through it.
I brought my fingers to his lips to stop that line of thought, because I couldn’t bear to hear him say it out loud. I quirked him a little grin. ‘I’ve been a little busy thinking about… other things,’ I told him.
His cheeks flushed and he sat up to lean into me, as much to avoid my eyes, I think, as anything. He sighed softly. "I know… I’m so…’
‘Stop apologizing,’ I murmured into his hair. ‘You have nothing to apologize for.’
I felt him stiffen against my shoulder, but he didn’t raise his head. Sometimes it was easier for us to talk if we didn’t look. ‘Why aren’t you ripping my head off?’ he suddenly asked.
I resisted the urge to chuckle at him, because I could feel the tension in him as he asked the question. He deserved a straight answer. ‘If you’d come back yesterday… I might have. But the more time went by, the more I understood how much I needed you. I was… too scared to be angry anymore.’
He was quiet for a long moment and then he said, ‘I don’t know how to… how to explain…’
‘It’s all right,’ I whispered, enfolding his fingers in mine where they rested on the ground. ‘You don’t owe me any kind of explanation if you don’t want to give it. All that matters is that you came back. That’s what’s important to me… that you came back and that you’re staying.’
He did raise his head to look at me then, his expression oddly… troubled still. ‘Gods Heero… I feel so lost.’ There was a hint of surprise in his eyes that told me he might not have meant to say that out loud.
‘I’m here,’ I murmured. ‘We’ll be lost together.’
I had meant it teasingly, but it hadn’t come out that way and he looked at me gravely. ‘What are we going to do… what the hell are we going to do now?’
‘I don’t know,’ I had to be honest with him. ‘We’ll love each other and the rest will just have to work itself out.’
I managed to get a little snort of a laugh from him and he looked at me through the fall of his bangs. ‘You are such a hopeless romantic.’
‘Only when I’m with you,’ I assured him and kissed his knuckles.
He snorted softly again, but couldn’t hide the fact that his smile was faintly pleased.
I couldn’t stop my fingers from ghosting over his face, tracing that smile. ‘I swore I’d spend my life making you happy… keeping you safe, if I could just…’ I hesitated on the truth and temporized it a little, ‘if we just came through together.’ I think he might have understood when that vow had been made, despite my efforts, because something haunted veiled his eyes.
‘Heero,’ he whispered softly, not quite able to decide whether to look at me or not. ‘I… I’m scared.’
The admission took me by surprise; it was a thing that he never lightly admits to. My Duo is not easily frightened or intimidated. Not on the surface. If something causes him fear, you will usually only know it by the way he attacks it with both hands. He’s always been that way… has to poke the big scary bear just to see if it really does have teeth.
‘Of what, love?’ I prodded gently.
‘Life?’ he murmured, dropping his head and staring at the ground. ‘Peace? Heero… I don’t have any memories that don’t have the war as a background… what in the hell do I know about… living?’
I reached to pluck a dried leaf from his hair, only to discover that he was covered with them from lying on the ground. Looking at him, sitting there wearing my sweater, with the leaves in his hair and that oddly vulnerable look on his face… my heart threatened to stop in my chest. I had to resist the urge to smile at him. If he had asked me again to make love with him right there on the ground… I think I could have done it.
‘We’ll figure it out,’ I soothed and kept pulling the leaves from his braid.
He looked… almost irritated. ‘Damn it, Heero!’ he blurted, eyes full of a strange hurt. ‘I’m serious… what the hell are we gonna do?’
I stilled my fingers and met his anxious gaze. ‘For starters… we’re going to be able to go to bed together every night. I’m not going to have to sleep apart from you ever again.’ His wide-eyed gaze searched my face hungrily. I wondered if he had let himself think of any of the good things. ‘We’re going to find jobs of some sort… we’re Gundam pilots with enough training for a platoon… I think we can manage to find something we can do. Then we’re going to find someplace to live. Just the two of us… so that when we make love I don’t have to even think about being quiet or making you be quiet. No more stolen moments… no more worrying… no more fears.’ Something was waking behind the fear in his eyes and I pressed forward. ‘We’re going to argue about what color the couch should be and whether we want curtains or blinds. We’re going to buy ourselves the biggest damn bed we can find because I’m sick of sleeping together in those little single beds that we always end up with. We’re going to…’
He shut me up with a kiss. A deep, hungry, trembling, fearful… wonderful kiss.
‘I love you,’ he murmured after a while.
‘With all my heart and soul,’ I rejoined.
‘I’m… pretty screwed up… are you sure…?’ he murmured, his tone trying to be teasing and not succeeding.
I snorted softly and nuzzled his hair. ‘There is not a single doubt in my mind. Never has been. Never will be.’
He let his head rest on my shoulder, finally relaxing a little and his tone managed to achieve a little more lightness. ‘I like to eat crackers in bed,’ he informed me, just as though it would make some difference.
‘I can live with that if you can deal with the fact that I like to get up before dawn to run,’ I grinned, continuing to brush the leaves from his clothes and hair.
‘My cooking sucks,’ he murmured.
‘I’m well aware of that,’ I informed him, delighted that he seemed to be coming back. Seemed to be settling and calming. ‘I plan on doing all the cooking.’
‘But you hate to cook,’ he pointed out.
‘I hate food poisoning worse,’ I chuckled and kissed the top of his head.
He snorted. ‘Hardly seems fair… for you to do all the cooking.’
‘You can do the laundry,’ I bargained. ‘I hate laundry too.’
He raised his head to look at me and there wasn’t a mask in sight. His expression, as open as a book, speaking to me of trepidation and uncertainty.
‘We’re going to be fine,’ I told him and he graced me with a soft smile.
‘I can believe you when you talk like that,’ he whispered.
‘Believe in us,’ I said firmly. ‘As long as we’re together, there isn’t anything that can get in our way.’
His smile turned into a rueful grin. ‘I don’t remember falling in love with a poet… where the hell did you come from, and what happened to my Heero of the one grunt vocabulary?’
I gave him a narrow-eyed look and brought his hand up to kiss the knuckles. ‘Tis your own glowing beauty that has awakened the poet’s soul in the soldier’s body,’ I intoned solemnly and I thought he would rupture something laughing at me. I was able to laugh with him this time and something else seemed to fall away from between us.
‘We should probably head back,’ I prodded gently after he’d settled, and I was rather taken by surprise when he jerked and gasped.
‘Oh shit!’ he blurted guiltily. ‘Quatre!’
I made him wait for the minute it took to get the rest of the leaves and twigs off us, then we all but ran back to the house. The fact that this had slipped his mind spoke volumes to me about his mental state… but I wasn’t sure just what it said. The welfare of his friends has always taken top priority with Duo. I’d seen him ignore his own wounds while he tended to one of our teammates. Had seen him throw himself into the path of danger in an effort to protect those he loved. It was like his thoughts were so… turned inward, that the rest of the world could have vanished and he might not have noticed.
I thought about finding something to do while he went up to Quatre’s room, but I just didn’t want to. I honestly didn’t want to be separated from him, and I had the vague feeling that he more than welcomed the support that my presence would bring.
Once in the house, he took the steps two at a time to the second floor, but then hesitated in the hall. I reached and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. The smile he gave me in return was a little wan.
‘He was never mad at you,’ I whispered just before we got to the open door to Quatre’s room, then on a sudden thought. ‘Trowa lied to him on the Peacemillion… told him you were sedated because you exhausted yourself. I don’t know that he knows you… you…’
‘Ran away from home?’ he asked with one of those lop-sided, self-deprecating grins.
I gave his hand aother squeeze and prodded him gently toward the door.
Quatre was sitting up, propped with pillows and looking much better than the last time I’d seen him, his eyes were clearer, telling me there were fewer drugs in his system. Trowa sat in a chair pulled up to the side of the bed, his long legs stretched out and resting on the mattress near Quatre’s feet. They had been talking, but quieted when we appeared in the doorway. Quatre’s expression went from vaguely troubled to one of his rising-sun smiles in the space of a heartbeat.
‘Duo!’ he exclaimed. ‘There you are!
Duo moved further into the room, his eyes on the floor, his fingers twisting together and for a moment I thought he might turn and run. ‘Hey, Quatre,’ he mumbled, daring a glance up. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘Much better,’ Quatre reassured and the troubled look came back to his face. He turned and gave Trowa a glance laden with meaning, and I understood that he was asking for a moment alone with Duo. Trowa frowned, but I knew he’d never deny Quatre anything he asked of him.
I leaned closer to Duo, until our shoulders brushed and I had his attention. He looked up at me and saw where my gaze rested, turning his own eyes that way and reading the same meanings I had seen there. I quirked a questioning eyebrow and it took him a moment to decide. He gnawed his lip for a second before finally giving me a tight little nod. So when Trowa rose to leave the room, I went with him without being prompted. I really didn’t want to, but felt it was important for Duo to heal this last rift that really only existed in his own mind. I knew Quatre well enough to know that he wouldn’t hold a grudge against Duo no matter what Duo had said to him.
Trowa and I wandered out into the hall and stood awkwardly for a moment. I wasn’t sure about him, but I wasn’t in a mood to go far, but I felt rather stupid hanging around the doorway like we were eavesdropping. Finally, we mutually settled on going to sit on the steps.
‘Trowa,’ I ventured, after we were settled, ‘just what in the hell did Duo do that has him this… flustered?’
Trowa raised an eyebrow and couldn’t seem to stop one corner of his mouth from turning up. ‘He has a rather extensive… vocabulary, and he utilized almost all of it. He may have shown physical restraint, but there wasn’t anything stopping his mouth.’
I gave him a look that I hoped showed him I was a little tired of his oh-so-careful wording. He sighed.
‘Look, Heero,’ he finally blurted. ‘He thought you were in the process of committing suicide. He fully intended to go with you. When we stopped him, he fought us for all he was worth… without hurting anybody. But… he cursed us every which way he knew how.’ He tilted his head and for a second, met my gaze head on. ‘He damned us to hell, damned our loved ones to hell, threatened our progeny for ten generations. Questioned our heritage, our humanity, and our sexual preferences. The mildest thing I can remember he said had something to do with sheep. Is that enough of a picture for you to understand?’
I flushed and looked away. ‘All right. All right,’ I conceded. ‘He’s just acting so… strange. I’ve never seen him like this and I’m just trying to understand.’
‘What’s to understand?’ Trowa said, his voice sounding partly amused and partly irritated. ‘He almost lost the most important thing in the world to him. Isn’t he entitled to ‘act a little strange’?’
I squirmed under that green-eyed gaze, and I didn’t quite know how to answer him.
‘Come on,’ he said gently. ‘Think about it. Maybe it’s easy for me to see how he’s feeling because I came just as close to losing Quatre that day. I was pretty damned upset myself.’
I frowned, feeling oddly defensive of my concerns. ‘You may have been upset, but did you take off and disappear for over thirty-six hours? Did you come back an emotional wreck? Did you spend half the morning cry…’ I snapped my mouth shut on that just a split second too late. ‘Never mind,’ I mumbled.
Trowa sat and blinked at me until I started to feel uncomfortable. I was sorry I had let that slip out, Duo would not thank me for it, but I was pleased that it had served to wipe the smug look off Trowa’s face.
‘There’s something else going on here,’ I finally said, unable to take the silent scrutiny. ‘He’s obsessing over what we’re going to do now that the war’s over. He seems terrified of… of… tomorrow.’
That damned little smile was back and I just shut up again. ‘I know how he feels on that count, Heero,’ he told me softly. ‘You have to live like he and I have… from hand to mouth, never knowing what the next day is going to bring, to understand.’
I lost my irritation and looked across at him, willing to take whatever insight he could give me.
He sighed and rubbed at his eyes. ‘I’m not saying the training you went through wasn’t… your own brand of hell, but you had a kind of… security. You never lacked for food or shelter. Never had to do without the basic necessities.’
I grunted, but held my tongue, just listening to him.
‘This is… very unsettling for me too,’ he confessed, his voice dropping a little, as though he unconsciously didn’t want Quatre to overhear. ‘Most of the major changes in my life have not… been for the good. I have trouble believing… believing…’
‘That you deserve what we’ve won?’ Wufei’s voice, soft as it was, still made us both jump, and we turned to find him on the stairs behind us.
‘Yeah…’ Trowa agreed. ‘Like this peace is for everyone but… me.’
Wufei snorted softly and came around us to find his own seat on the stairs, a few treads further down. ‘You mean, everyone but… us?’
Trowa shook his head. ‘No, that’s the stupid thing. I feel like you guys have earned it.’ He quirked one of those sardonic grins, ‘And yes, I know what a double standard that is.’
Wufei chuckled lightly, though there was little humor in it. ‘No… I know how you feel. I can’t quite… quite…’
‘Get your head around it?’ I supplied and he tilted his head back to glance up the stairway at me. I shrugged. ‘Duo’s term.’
‘Apt,’ he murmured, turning to sit sideways and lean against the wall. ‘I guess I’m just having trouble believing in it.’
‘Like it’s a dream you’re going to wake up from?’ Trowa asked and got a nod.
‘Duo just seems so overwhelmed,’ I murmured, thinking about the morning in the woods, thinking about the sudden laughter and the equally sudden tears. ‘I don’t understand…’
It was Wufei’s turn to give me that damned annoying amused look. ‘Yuy, why is it so impossible for you to understand just what you mean to him? You…’
I flushed darkly again, but growled at him anyway. ‘Will you two knock it off? You are not seeing a… a third of what I’m seeing. Why do you just assume that I am over-reacting?’
‘Maybe because you always over-react where Duo is concerned?’ Trowa ventured.
Wufei joined him with a muttered; ‘You do have a tendency to treat him like...’ but he petered out under my dark glare and they both seemed to wilt a little bit. A very little bit, not nearly as much as I wanted.
‘I’m sorry, Heero,’ Trowa finally said. ‘But aren’t you even a little bit… unsure of what you’re going to do now?’
I opened my mouth to retort and closed it again. I was most certainly not going to give them the answer that was on the tip of my tongue; I’m going to love Duo. I thought about it, tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t have my face spontaneously combusting again.
But before anything occurred to me, there came a discreet little cough and we all turned to look towards the top of the stairs. Duo stood there, his shoulders hunched and his arms crossed over his chest, not quite looking at us. ‘If you guys are going to indulge in the group therapy session, you mind moving it in here… you’re making Quatre feel left out.’
I was gratified to see blushes on the faces sitting across from me as we all realized that our voices had obviously carried. Trowa scrambled instantly to his feet, brushed past Duo and disappeared into Quatre’s room. Wufei stood and followed him, leaving me sitting there alone, staring up at Duo… and waiting for the explosion.
But it didn’t come. I could see his chest rise and fall as he heaved a great sigh, but otherwise he just stood looking down, apparently captivated by the pattern in the carpet. I rose and went quietly up the stairs, taking his arm to pull him to the side. That staircase will forever be associated in my mind with Duo falling and it unnerved me to have him just standing there at the top of it. He went docily and it was my turn to sigh.
‘Please don’t worry so much,’ he suddenly blurted. ‘I’m fine… I’m really all right. I’m just a little confused right now… a little overwhelmed by it all.’
I slipped my fingers under the edge of the sweater and hooked them in the belt loops on his jeans, pulling him toward me. ‘You know worrying is just what I do,’ I told him, trying to make my voice warm.
He finally unwrapped his arms from around himself and settled his hands on my chest. ‘I just need to find my balance is all,’ he murmured.
‘You know I’m here for you, right?’ I whispered, very aware now of how voices carried, reaching to brush his cheek with the back of my hand.
He gave me a smile that was more like the ones I remembered and chuckled softly. ‘Always there to catch me when I fall?’
‘Always,’ I said, and it came out a little more fiercely than I had intended.
He inclined his head toward the bedroom door, looking up at me through his bangs. ‘Come on… they’re waiting.’ He reached up and took my hand, stepping away and giving me a tug. ‘Quatre was a little peeved that you guys were sitting out here talking all this heavy shit without us.’
When we entered the room, I saw that Trowa had reclaimed his chair on the far side of the bed and Wufei had settled on the floor against the wall directly in Quatre’s line of sight. Duo let go of my hand before we passed through the doorway and I was moved for a second to reach out and take hold of him again, sure that he had broken contact for my sake. But then I wasn’t so sure and I let it go. Duo folded himself on the floor, as Wufei had, only at the side of the bed, not far from the only other chair, the place I ended up by default.
I watched discreetly while Duo tried to sit cross-legged as Wufei was, though I don’t think he did it consciously, but his bad knee wouldn’t let him get comfortable. After a minute of squirming, a tiny little hint of a frown creasing his brow, he gave it up and stretched his legs out in front of him. After a few more minutes, I noted movement out of the corner of my eye and saw Wufei shift, stretching his own legs out. I wasn’t sure if it had been deliberate or not.
‘Well you three were certainly vocal enough a minute ago,’ Quatre’s sudden voice made me jump, breaking through my reverie. ‘Mind sharing with the rest of us?’
There was an uncomfortable moment of shifting eye contact before Wufei finally inclined his head in some sort of acquiescence and said, ‘Our apologies, we did not mean to exclude the two of you. We were merely discussing… the future.’
There was a small snort from Duo and I looked down at him, but he didn’t raise his eyes to meet mine, simply staring ahead, seeming to be interested in something under Quatre’s bed.
‘Heero seems to be having trouble understanding why the rest of us find this…’ Trowa waved his hand idly, managing to encompass the entire universe with that small gesture, ‘whole situation somewhat… daunting.’
I saw Duo glance up at him, but he didn’t speak
‘We’ve achieved our goals,’ I stated my position for the room at large. ‘This is what we’ve been working towards for over a year.’ I hesitated on the wording, not wanting Duo to feel like I was singling him out. ‘It seems we should be able to enjoy the peace we bought.’
There was an odd little bark of a laugh from Duo that had no humor in it what so ever, but he didn’t speak, still staring at the floor.
‘What, Duo?’ Quatre asked gently and I held my breath waiting to see if he would answer.
Duo’s eyes flicked up and he hesitated for another moment before blurted, ‘It was a damn sight more than a year that we’ve been working towards this!’
Wufei grunted in understanding, nodding slightly. ‘My training too, consumed a large part of my… childhood.’
They made me regret the comment; I hadn’t been thinking of things that way. I had only been considering the time since the start of Operation Meteor.
‘I’m not sure I would say I ever had a childhood,’ Trowa murmured from the other side of the bed and I saw Quatre look to him with an expression of pained guilt. But then Trowa chuckled darkly, ‘At least… not what you would call a normal one.’
I thought about my own training. My own lost youth. I have no real memories before working with Odin Lowe. I go by the name of Heero Yuy, mostly because that’s the name I had been using when my teammates met me. They were comfortable with it. But ‘Odin Lowe, Jr.’ was just as viable, and… neither of them was my birth name. If I’d ever had one of those, I had no memory of it. ‘But,’ I ventured, ‘doesn’t that mean that we deserve to enjoy our lives from here on out? We’ve earned this peace that we fought for.’
Beside me, Duo drew his good leg in toward his chest and wrapped his arms around it, an unhappy frown on his face. I wished I hadn’t spoken, I’d obviously upset him and I wasn’t sure why.
‘I don’t know about everyone else,’ Trowa said slowly, ‘but the war has… shaped me. Every aspect of my life. I can’t believe sometimes that it’s really over…’ he just seemed to peter out, as though he were having trouble finding the right words to express himself.
‘Like a dream you’re going to wake up from?’ Quatre quoted in a soft whisper, and Trowa reached to take his hand, smiling gently.
‘Well,’ Wufei interjected, ‘I’m not entirely sure that this peace can be trusted to begin with. Man is a damned foolish animal who continually amazes me with his propensity for making kaa-kaa in his own nest.’ It might have been funny if it hadn’t been for the dark scowl on his face… and the truth of the statement.
I glanced at Duo and found him staring avidly at the others, but he didn’t seem inclined to enter the conversation himself. I repressed a sigh.
‘There will always be the potential for a return to war,’ Quatre mused after a moment. ‘But I honestly don’t think we’re going to see it in our life times. I truly believe that Earth and the colonies have learned their lesson this time.’
‘For the time-being, perhaps,’ Wufei grunted.
‘As you say,’ Trowa interjected. ‘The peace may not last forever, but I think it will last for a long time to come. I think the harder thing is going to be learning not to be what we’ve been all our lives.’
I saw Duo’s ears perk up at that comment, but he still didn’t speak and I all but seethed in my frustration. I felt like it would be beneficial for him to enter into this discussion… get some of the things off his chest that had been bothering him, but he seemed hesitant to voice his thoughts.
‘What do you mean by that?’ I dared, hoping to keep Trowa on the track he was on, hoping to draw Duo out.
Wufei chuckled. ‘Well, for us mere mortals, Yuy… change is a frightening thing.’
I grunted, but didn’t speak, carefully watching Duo.
‘The war has been going on our entire lives,’ Wufei continued. ‘It colors every aspect of what makes us who we are. Its suddenly being over is very… strange. Like… like…’ he hesitated and I saw him look toward Duo, wordlessly asking for help in expressing himself. Something Chang Wufei seldom needed help doing.
‘Like going outside at night and suddenly finding all the stars gone,’ Duo fairly whispered. Wufei nodded his encouragement.
Duo was still staring under the bed and I had the urge to lean down to see if there really was something odd under there. ‘The war,’ Duo said softly, his voice almost reverent. ‘It’s been the shadow over my whole life… drove me from my first memories. I don’t know that I know how to… be anything else but a warrior.’ His eyes came up finally, and I was a little hurt that he sought out Wufei’s gaze and not mine. Looked to our Chinese partner for reassurance, but then… I suppose I had made it fairly plain that I didn’t understand his position, where Wufei seemed to.
‘Don’t know how to take the armor off?’ Wufei asked him gently and Duo dipped his head in the ghost of a nod.
‘So does anybody have plans?’ Quatre interjected suddenly and I was a little irritated at the alteration in the course of the conversation. There was a bit of silence while the five of us looked around, each waiting to see if someone else would speak. I couldn’t say that I had any concrete plans of my own. Just vague notions of starting a normal life with Duo, of finding a place to live… of finding jobs.
Wufei gave an uncomfortable little cough and said, ‘Well… before we left the Peacemillion, I was approached by Sally Po. She and Commander Une are starting a… an organization. A kind of elite peacekeeping force.’ He glanced around at us, trying to gauge reactions. ‘She invited me to join and I’m giving it serious consideration.’
Duo tilted his head and eyed our partner. ‘What kind of organization?’ he asked suspiciously. Duo has a deep-seated distrust of gangs masquerading as something… legitimate.
So we got a brief and somewhat sketchy introduction to a thing called the ‘Preventers’. I was a little intrigued by the idea, but Wufei really didn’t have all that much information yet. It was something I resolved to look into.
When Wufei finished relating what he had learned aboard the Peacemillion and grew quiet again, I began to contemplate trying to turn the discussion back toward what Duo had been saying. But the sound of soft whispering stopped me and I glanced up to find that Trowa had risen from his seat and was leaning over his partner with a slight frown on his face. ‘I think that will be the end of ‘group therapy’ for today, gentlemen,’ he said brusquely. ‘Quatre needs to rest.’
There was murmured disagreement from our injured teammate, but there wasn’t much energy behind it, and Trowa wasn’t having any of it anyway. We made a hasty exit.
Wufei informed us that he was going to clean up for a trip into town, and Duo and I soon found ourselves alone again. There was an odd moment while we stood and stared at each other, not quite knowing what to do, before he suddenly chuckled. ‘I suppose Gundam repairs would be… kind of stupid.’
I smiled. ‘Not if it would make you feel better.’
His expression flared into something almost hungry for a moment, before fading into embarrassment. ‘I know you think I’ve lost my damn mind…’ he began, but I stopped him.
‘Hush,’ I scolded. ‘That’s enough of that. You and I don’t feel exactly the same way about this… but that doesn’t make either one of us wrong.’
He gave me a shaky little smile. ‘I truly don’t deserve you,’ he murmured.
‘The hell,’ I mock glared at him. ‘You deserve the best of everything. You… deserve to be happy.’
Something… haunted seemed to come into his expression. ‘Heero…’ he began, but then didn’t seem to know what it was he wanted to tell me.
‘I just want to be able to make you happy,’ I told him. ‘I want us to be together… forever.’
Those amethyst eyes of his spoke to me of hunger and need, of weariness and emotional turmoil. Just as I was moved to reach out and take him into my arms, he sighed heavily and swept a hand up through his bangs. ‘I… think I will go out to the hanger for a little bit,’ he said, then looked at me searchingly. ‘If you don’t mind?’
He was asking for some space. Some time alone. I chewed on it, feeling a certain anxiety coiling around in my gut, but had to smile at him. ‘As long as… you’ll come in for dinner?’ I teased, as close as I could come to asking him to promise not to disappear on me again.
He guiltily dropped his eyes from mine. ‘I swear to the Gods, I’m not going anywhere. I just have some things to… think about.’
I did reach out then, brushing my fingers along his jaw line and coaxing his eyes back up. ‘I love you,’ I whispered. ‘Have I told you that today?’
That won me a bright, honest smile and a sudden embrace. ‘Actually, I don’t think you have,’ he said, and his tone finally managed to recapture some of the lightness we had achieved between us while in the woods.
So I told him. And I kissed him. Then I told him again. And I kissed him some more. Until, finally, he was grinning at me and some of his melancholy mood seemed to lift away.
‘So what are you going to be doing while I stare at my Gundam and try to convince myself that I don’t have a responsibility to bust all my knuckles on it any more?’ he asked, when I let him go.
‘If it would be all right,’ I ventured. ‘I was thinking I might see if I can catch a ride with Wufei into town. I thought I might cook tonight, but I need a few things.’
His grin widened. ‘Something special?’
‘Maybe,’ I teased.
So we went our separate ways, each of us uncomfortable with it, but equally uncomfortable with the realization that we were having trouble being… apart. I suppose there was a little bit of denial going on there, a little bit of poking at the bear. Neither of us quite ready to admit that we couldn’t handle something as simple as an afternoon apart. Duo would call us pathetic.
Wufei seemed surprised when I approached him, but pleased, and we borrowed one of the Winner cars to make the run into the little college town. At first, things were relatively quiet, each of us lost in our own thoughts, but then I felt eyes on me and glanced Wufei’s direction.
‘What?’ I murmured, a little afraid I was going to get another little lecture about treating Duo like, as Wufei liked to say, he was a sniveling onna.
But he surprised me. ‘Do you have plans for what you want to do now?’
I grunted, wondering what everyone’s obsession was with the future all of a sudden. The war wasn’t officially even over yet… all the paperwork hadn’t been signed. ‘Nothing concrete,’ I told him.
He snorted in wry amusement. ‘No plans and preparations? That is so unlike you.’
‘No,’ I told him with a little more solemnity that I had intended. ‘That is very unlike the soldier I was two days ago.’
I saw him glance rather sharply my way, but he quickly returned his eyes to the road. It was his turn to grunt. ‘What did you think of this idea about the Preventers?’ he ventured after a moment or two.
‘Honestly?’ I said. ‘It’s necessary. There will always be those people who are unhappy with the current state of things. No matter how much better we make the world… there will always be someone who will think that they could make things better.’
I glanced his way in time to see him nod. ‘My thoughts exactly,’ he said and his eyes slid my way again. ‘You know… you and I think rather alike, sometimes.’
I couldn’t help but smile; that was probably a true statement as long as we weren’t thinking about Duo. For some reason, Wufei always seemed to take exception to the way I treated Duo. He found me to be over-protective and, I suspect, overly sentimental.
‘So,’ I asked, ‘you’re really contemplating joining Sally and Une?’
He hesitated, gnawing on his lower lip for a second, a nervous gesture he rarely makes, then said, ‘I think I’ve just about made up my mind to do it.’
I turned to look straight at him. ‘You think?’
‘Sally has told me that they are intending on using a traditional ‘partner’ system.’ His lower lip took another bit of abuse and then he blurted, ‘I was rather hoping that I might convince you to join with me.’
If I hadn’t been looking right at him, I might have missed the faint hint of a blush that rose to his cheeks. I’m afraid I just sat and stared at him for a moment.
He had gotten past the initial broachment of the subject though, and was warming to the topic, not waiting for me to give an immediate reply. ‘I’m very intrigued by the whole idea. I think it would give me someplace to take my skills… someplace for us to take our skills, where they won’t be wasted. But I don’t think I could work with just anybody. I’ve come to trust the four of you and I think I could partner with any one of you without any misgivings.’ He had been glancing at me out of the corner of his eye as he spoke and drove, but now he looked away completely and I saw that color come back to his face. ‘You… would be my first choice. We’ve always worked well together.’
He fell silent then and I felt an odd warmth in my chest. ‘I am… honored,’ I said quietly and gave him a grave inclination of my head, as close to a bow as I could manage sitting in a car. His face was still stained by his blush, but he nodded in return.
‘I have to admit,’ I said after a moment, ‘that I was thinking about speaking to Une about it. Getting a little more information. I’m just not sure about Duo…’
Wufei cut me off with an uncomfortable little cough. ‘Sally has said that it would be against policy for a… couple to be partnered on the same team. Too much conflict.’
I grunted and thought about that one. I could see the wisdom of it, but it made me stop and think. If Duo did decide to join with us… assuming we joined up, ourselves, who would he end up partnered with? I didn’t like the idea of someone I didn’t know being there to guard my lover’s back. I suppose it sounds a bit conceited, but I wouldn’t trust just anyone to do the job I would.
I suppose I was quiet, thinking about it, for just a bit too long because Wufei cleared his throat and broached the silence with, ‘There is a great deal to what Trowa and Duo where talking about this afternoon. We are, by circumstances, warriors. Soldiers of fortune, so to speak. Whether you choose to admit it or not, fitting into normal society is going to be difficult for us. We don’t think the way civilians do, our lives have depended on that for far too long.’
I sighed. ‘I just… want a little piece of ‘normal’, I guess,’ I told him softly. ‘I want… some of what I lost. And I want to give that to Duo.’ I was a little surprised I had actually said that out loud and it was my turn to do the blushing.
‘I honestly think this is our way to have ‘normal’,’ he said, and the tone of his voice told me that this idea meant a great deal to him. ‘Where else are we going to take our… abilities? There are going to be a lot of ex-soldiers involved in this project. We will be surrounded by people who went though at least some of what we did. And… we would be doing something that… mattered.’
I chuckled at him. ‘You might consider becoming a used car salesman.’
He quirked me one of those sardonic grins of his. ‘Stop the hard sell?’
‘I think you’ve just about convinced me to test drive the idea,’ I agreed, ‘but I’d have to talk to Duo first.’
He nodded. ‘Of course.’
Then he was pulling into the mall and I raised an eyebrow. ‘Shopping, Wufei?’
‘I need some damn clothes,’ he growled at me. ‘It’s your own fault for not asking me where I was going before you decided to tag along.’
I laughed at him as we got out of the car and he gave me a half-hearted glare. ‘You could benefit with an article or two more in your own wardrobe, Yuy,’ he informed me, his eyes raking over me. ‘You’ve been wearing that same pair of jeans for three days.’
I snorted. ‘Have not. I just happen to have two pair that are just alike.’
I was expecting more of the verbal sparing, but we were nearing the entrance to the mall and Wufei sudden grew quiet. I glanced over at him, as we walked, and found a grim little frown on his face. He was staring past me and I turned to follow his gaze toward the delivery entrance ramp, but saw nothing. ‘What is it?’ I asked softly, my eyes scanning the area.
He seemed to give himself a little shake and blinked at me. ‘Nothing,’ he said, a little too fast. ‘Just… thinking.’
I frowned at him, wondering, but let it go.
I trailed after him as he headed for the nearest department store, waiting while he quickly picked out a couple of pairs of pants, then turned to look at the dress shirts. I did no more than raise an eyebrow, but it got me banished.
‘I am trying to prepare to enter the work force,’ he told me somewhat haughtily. ‘Now go find something else to do, and choose someplace to meet when we’re done.’
I couldn’t help laughing, but informed him, on a sudden thought, to come and find me in the music store when he was done.
I shook my head at him, he shook his head at me, and we went our separate ways.
He found me there, a half an hour later with a stack of CDs in my hand, puzzling over the difference between Celtic Rock and Celtic Folk.
‘What in the hell are you doing?’ he asked me as he walked up.
I flushed guiltily and frowned down at the CD in my hand. ‘Trying to replace Duo’s CD collection. Does this look familiar to you?’
‘Damned if I know,’ he muttered, and took the case from me to look at the cover. ‘Heero… Duo’s never owned more than four or five CDs, you must have ten of them there!’
I scowled at him, taking the CD from his fingers and defiantly adding it to the ones in my hand. ‘I don’t care,’ I growled and moved to the next bin. He followed me with a sigh.
‘What is this all about?’ he asked gently while I busied myself looking through the rest of the Celtic Rock CDs, the more I thought about it, the more I was sure the rock ones were the right ones.
I caught myself with my lower lip between my teeth and made myself quit. ‘Duo is just very… off-balance. I thought this might… help.’ I told him lamely.
‘Heero, just give him a little time…’ he began and I turned a glare in his direction.
‘Have you forgotten your conversation with him this morning,’ I snapped. ‘Tell me he wasn’t acting… upset.’
His expression became uncomfortable and he glanced away, but continued doggedly. ‘I still think you’re over-reacting just a little bit. It seems perfectly understandable that all of these sudden changes…’
I whirled on him and hissed, ‘Don’t tell me I’m over-reacting. You’re not the one who held him this morning while he sobbed his heart out…’ I almost bit my tongue getting the words stopped. I’m not sure which one of us was blushing harder. ‘Forget I said that,’ I blurted, horrified that I had betrayed that confidence… again. What the hell was wrong with me? ‘Just fucking forget you heard it.’ I brushed past him and headed for the cashier’s, feeling like I was going to spontaneously combust. Gods, what had made me tell him that?
He didn’t immediately follow me, for which I was very glad, and by the time the line moved forward, making it my turn to checkout, my face felt like it was its normal color again.
I felt Wufei’s familiar presence at my elbow and he suddenly reached around me to place something on the counter with the rest of my order. ‘Here,’ he said gruffly. ‘He’s going to need something to keep all those things in.’ Then he walked away to wait for me by the door, his sack twisting agitatedly in his hands.
I alternated looking at the CD rack on the counter and at the back of Wufei’s head. I wasn’t sure if I was pleased or annoyed. I finally settled on mildly amused and flashed a grin; I knew he was watching my reflection in the front glass of the store. I paid for my purchases and went to join him.
‘May we go now?’ he grumbled and I refrained from laughing at him.
‘I just need to stop off at a grocery and then I’m done,’ I appeased and got a long-suffering sigh and a roll of his eyes. We began walking out.
‘You’ll be buying flowers next,’ he groused.
‘Not a bad idea,’ I teased, just to watch him twitch in disbelief.
‘Roses,’ he informed me, calling my bluff. ‘If you feel you must carry through with this ridiculousness.’
‘Oh?’ I questioned, giving him a sidelong glance.
‘Yes,’ I was told with a great deal of dignity. ‘A single white and a single red, bound together. Flowers have meanings you know.’
I frowned at him. ‘They do? What would that mean, then?’
‘Unity,’ he informed me with a sly little smile and the son-of-a-bitch had me. I sighed. He laughed. Thankfully there was a florist section in the grocery. He laughed all the way back to the car.
Duo was still in the hanger when we arrived and I took my purchases straight up to the room we shared, while Wufei put the groceries away for me. I left the CDs and the storage rack in the sack and just set it on the desk, then stood with the stupid flowers in my hand trying to decide where to put them. On the desk with the gifts? On the bed? Bedside table? I suddenly heard an exasperated little sigh behind me and turned to find Wufei standing in the doorway with a small crystal vase in his hands.
‘Yuy, if you don’t put them in water, they’ll be wilted before he even sees them,’ he informed me with a roll of his eyes.
‘Ok Chang,’ I grunted, moving to take the vase from him. ‘Mind telling me how you know so damned much about flowers?’
I was honestly expecting him to get flustered and start sputtering indignantly, instead his face softened, but he didn’t immediately speak. He relinquished the vase to me, but took the flowers from my hand, expertly pinching off the stem of the white rose so that it was just a bit shorter than the red one, then arranging them both in the crystal bud vase.
‘Gardening and the art of floral arrangement was something of a hobby of my mother’s,’ he told me gently, giving the ribbon that bound the roses together a last touch before leaving the room.
I sat the vase on the bedside table and went down to fix dinner.
Trowa consented to give me a hand when he wandered through the kitchen and realized I was attempting liver and onions. Duo had developed a strange, almost-craving for the dish after Trowa had fixed it for him the first time, but I had yet to master the skill that made the damn stuff edible. It was far from my favorite food, but it was one of the few things I could count on Duo eating a decent portion of without being prompted. Sometimes I wondered how he managed not to waste away to nothing.
Right before it was ready to go on the table, Duo came in through the back door, adhering to the normal dinner hour we used when we were all together. I looked up to meet his eyes and was a little appalled at what a rush of relief I felt to have him in the room with me again. He offered up a strange little embarrassed grin that told me he felt the same. He came over to the counter where I was working, filching a slice of carrot from the salad as cover to whisper to me, ‘We are so pathetic, Yuy.’ Before moving off to help Wufei set the table.
Quatre even had Rashid bring him down to try eating at the table instead of in his room. Rashid and Trowa took turns hovering over him, and I think Quatre was regretting the idea fairly quickly. With the imposing Maganac sitting there at the table with us, conversation was kept to a rather dry, almost dinner-party minimum. Polite complimenting of Trowa’s and my cooking efforts. Requests for this or that dish. Pass the salt, please, and other mundane pleasantries. Not uncomfortable, but not one of the more open, somewhat personal conversations we’d been having lately. I wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or relieved.
It didn’t take long for Quatre to tire, or for Trowa to move in to take him back to his room when he did. Rashid went with them. Wufei rose when he finished and informed us that it was our turn to clean up, since he’d done the breakfast dishes.
It was actually something of a relief to find myself alone with Duo even if we were stuck with the dreaded kitchen duty.
Duo moved in quickly to claim the spot by the sink, taking the washing portion of this chore without question. He knew I hated washing. I nudged him in the ribs as I passed, carrying a stack of dirty plates, to let him know I noticed. He grinned at me.
‘So,’ I ventured after the water was run, ‘looks like all your knuckles are intact; you skip the Gundam repairs?’
He snorted softly and ducked his head. ‘I ended up dozing off in the cock-pit,’ he murmured, voice chagrined.
I glanced at him while I took the first hand-full of clean silverware from him to dry and put away. ‘You fell asleep?’ I said intelligently, thinking about how long he had slept the night before.
He nodded, looking embarrassed. ‘I started a data dump from ‘Scythe’s system to my laptop and it took a little while.’
‘A backup?’ I questioned, wondering what had prompted him to do that. There wasn’t much in a Gundam’s systems that would be usable anywhere but in a Gundam.
‘I had some… personal stuff on the system,’ he said, his face flaring hotly, making me wonder. But I decided not to push, he was obviously uncomfortable with something and I didn’t want to make it worse right now.
‘What made you decide to back stuff off now?’ I asked instead, thinking it was a completely neutral question. Expecting him to make some joke about it being easier than repairing stabilizers.
His expression went a little pensive, and his hands slowed in their scrubbing. ‘You realize they won’t let us keep the Gundams, don’t you?’
‘What?’ I murmured, not sure how we had arrived at this conversational point. ‘They?’
‘The Government,’ he explained, handing me another clean plate. ‘The people. Society in general. The Gundams were the most feared things during the war. People won’t be comfortable until they’re destroyed.’
I mulled that over, my hands drying and stacking without needing my conscious brain for help. He was right. And it probably wouldn’t take long before it came up. It was quite probably a very hot issue on the table at the peace talks right now. I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about that. Relieved? Apprehensive? I think I was leaning towards relieved, but a glance at Duo told me he was more firmly on the apprehensive side.
Duo thought of his Gundam as something of a sanctuary. Almost a… friendly presence. I had heard him talk to the thing before. Hell… I had talked to his damn Gundam before.
‘We’ll deal with it when it becomes an issue,’ I soothed, knowing he would do what needed to be done, but knowing it wouldn’t be easy for him.
He snorted softly and glanced sideways at me with a crooked grin. ‘Never had you pegged for the Scarlet O’Hara type.’
I blinked at him, realizing that this was another of his strange references that I didn’t understand. His grin spread and he put a soapy hand to his forehead in an exaggerated gesture of distress, ‘I’ll think about it… tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.’
I still didn’t get the reference, but I could appreciate the ridiculous southern accent, and leaned over to lightly kiss the side of his neck. ‘That’s kind of… sexy,’ I grinned at him and won a sharp laugh.
We dropped the subject then and I told him a little bit of what Wufei had told me about the Preventers, not actually telling him yet that our partner had asked me to join with him. Just carefully feeling my way, trying to judge how Duo felt about the whole thing. It didn’t appear as though he had thought about it all that much, seeming to only have a faint, lingering distrust of the idea in general.
We finished the dishes and though it was still a little early, I gave his arm a tug, getting him to follow me upstairs. He looked at me quizzically, but didn’t question, just following me lead. I let him go into the room first, shutting the door behind us, and by the time I turned, he had found the roses. I waited expectantly, feeling the heat begin to creep up my neck as he just stood there and stared at the vase. His expression was dancing around between so many emotions I couldn’t half figure out what was going on in his head. I started to feel the utter fool.
‘Heero,’ he breathed after a moment. ‘This is… this is…’ a grin finally burst across his face. ‘This is so cheesy!’
The blush did a full frontal assault and succeeded in taking over my entire face, but I didn’t really care; he was smiling. ‘I know,’ I chuckled. ‘You can blame Wufei.’
He raised an eyebrow in total disbelief. ‘Wufei?’ he asked skeptically.
I stepped toward him, taking the roses from his hand. ‘Yes, Wufei,’ I confirmed. ‘He says that flowers have a language, and when he started talking about it… I couldn’t resist.’
He bent and inhaled the scent of the flowers in my hand. ‘So… what are these saying?’ he teased lightly, as he straightened.
I brought the roses around and brushed them lightly along the line of his jaw and watched him shiver, his eyes widening slightly. ‘They feel like… velvet,’ he exclaimed and brought his hand up to reverently touch the soft petals.
‘Wufei says that the two of them together, the white and the red… mean unity,’ I told him softly and watched while his grin faded to something warm and tender.
The roses went back on the table and I was suddenly being kissed quite thoroughly.
When he drew back, he couldn’t resist another chuckle. ‘My poet,’ he murmured.
I snorted softly. ‘My heart,’ I murmured in return and kissed him again.
‘Is that what you brought me up here to show me?’ he asked.
‘No,’ I informed him with a hint of mock defensiveness in my voice. ‘That was just the… trimmings.’ I took his hand, reflecting on the fact that we couldn’t seem to keep our hands off each other today, and led him to the desk. Picking up the sack from the music store, I held it out to him.
‘What’s this for?’ he asked, managing to sound suspicious.
‘Because I felt like it,’ I said and waited while he took it from my hands, holding it for a moment with an air of… embarrassment? Uncertainty? I wasn’t sure. ‘I just wanted to give you something,’ I told him, trying to ease his discomfort.
‘A gift?’ he teased, still seeming unsettled about it. ‘Nice wrapping job, Yuy.’
I put my hand over his, where he held the sack. ‘I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable, love,’ I told him gently. ‘I want… I just want to be able to give you so much.’
He blinked at me, eyes a little wide. ‘Heero, I don’t need…’ he began, but I didn’t let him finish.
‘Shhh,’ I chided. ‘It isn’t about needs any more. The war is over and we’re allowed to have wants now. This is just something that I’ve seen make you smile. That’s all I want in the world… is to see your smile… to know you’re happy.’
His eyes took on a suspicious gleam but his fingers finally moved to unroll the top of the sack. ‘Heero!’ he gasped, as he pulled out a handful of CDs. ‘You must have spent a fortune! I can’t…’
‘You can,’ I said firmly, taking the sack and pulling out all the purchases. ‘I won’t argue about this. Duo, love… this is such a small thing. Not a drop in the ocean of things I want to give to you someday. Please… can’t you just accept that it’s ok to want? It’s ok to enjoy?’
He opened his mouth to speak, then seemed to think better of it. His fingers moved to ghost over the jewel cases scattered across the desk, as though he couldn’t quite believe in their reality. I turned to throw the now empty sack into the trashcan and when I looked again, Duo had the CD rack in his hands, turning it about and frowning slightly.
If nothing else can be said for Chang Wufei, it should be noted that he has discriminating taste. The rack was a lovely thing, and had been as expensive as hell. Solid wood, stained and buffed to a rich hue, it had an elegant Celtic design carved into the end pieces.
‘What is this thing?’ Duo asked, puzzling over it and I grinned, moving to take it from him. I set it down on the desk and stacked his little budding music collection in it.
‘Wufei said you were going to need someplace to keep your CDs,’ I explained.
I wasn’t really prepared for the strange… pole axed expression that came over him then. ‘K…keep?’ he whispered softly, looking up at me and I saw his fingers lift to touch the little gold cross under his shirt.
I understood in that moment that Wufei might ride me about the way I cared for Duo, might tease me about over reacting, but deep-down inside, he understood a lot more than he would ever admit to. Saw some things more clearly than I could.
‘Yes, love… keep,’ I told him gently and just watched him turning it over and over in his head, trying to come to grips with a concept that seemed very foreign to him. His eyes had that feverish look to them again and he seemed to want to speak, but didn’t quite trust his voice. ‘I…’ he tried, but stopped, looking from me to the rack on the desk. Gods… it was such a small little thing to have been the catalyst for this moment.
With a strange, frustrated gasp, he suddenly had me in a bear hug. ‘Thank you,’ he finally managed and I wrapped my arms around him in return.
‘You’re welcome,’ I breathed next to his ear, listening to the sound of something I had never quite identified, slide away from between us. His body shivered next to mine.
‘Believe in it, Duo,’ I told him fiercely. ‘No more fighting. No more running. No more hiding. There is no one to hand us orders to do things we never wanted to do in the first place. We’re free, love. We’re finally free!’
His arms were tight around me and I felt him draw a shuddering breath. I thought for a moment that he was crying again and I drew back to look at him with concern. He met my gaze unflinchingly.
‘It’s all right, Heero,’ he told me softly. ‘I think I’m done with the tears.’ Then he gifted me with one of his rare, true smiles and I felt all my concerns melting away.
‘That’s the smile I want to wake up to every morning for the rest of my life,’ I breathed, and felt the truth of it clear down in my bones.
He lay his head back down on my shoulder, but his embrace didn’t hold the desperation that had been fueling it all day. It felt comforting and filling me with tenderness instead of worry. ‘I can believe in you,’ he told me, his breath washing warm across my cheek. ‘You lead me… and I’ll follow.’
‘We’ll do this together,’ I scolded gently, holding him close. ‘From now on… we stop breaking the rules, and start making our own.’
Go to Chapter Twelve:Long Road Home
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