Managing to get through the shower without passing out seemed to be the point to the whole ordeal. Nurses are good about putting people at ease in the middle of the most undignified moments, but there was just nothing to be done about a shower and a guy without the use of his hands. It ended up being more of a hose down than anything, and I seriously wondered about policies, procedures and living in the heart of nowhere. I’m pretty sure there were better ways to do things if you happened to have the facilities.
Guess I should be glad they didn’t just haul me out to the parking lot and turn a garden hose on me.
I was appallingly glad to be returned to my bed at the end. And even more appallingly… embarrassingly… disgustingly glad to find Heero still there.
Though there was the sense that some heavy conversation had gone down while I’d been out of the room. There was an odd tension in the air that made me feel like I should be blushing, but they didn’t bother to share and I didn’t bother to ask. Pretty sure I didn’t want to know anyway.
Heero was very careful to… be close. It took me a bit to realize that he was just trying to ooze reassurance all over me. Part of me wanted to be humiliated at the implication that I needed it, but there was a bigger part that… needed it.
I guess I was just tired enough and drowsy enough that I didn’t care; I’d never before had what he seemed to be willing to give me, and I just couldn’t seem to do anything but drink it in. The touches, the looks, the gentle questions of concern. It felt too good and I just let myself drift, my arm laying across Heero’s lap as he perched on the side of the bed, and listened to them talk with only half an ear.
Heero talked about my dogs, and Trowa talked about his flight. Heero told the pizza story, and Trowa asked questions about my place. I’m not sure at what point my vaguely pretending to doze turned into a real doze, somewhere after they’d started talking about the possible accommodations.
And apparently, somewhere before Wufei showed up.
I think the exertion of getting out of bed for the first time since I’d been admitted, had coupled with my desire to not really have to deal with questions and unhappy looks, and that’s what drove me back to sleep. Because really… hadn’t I slept enough?
Heero and Trowa had been speaking pretty much in normal tones, providing a kind of back-ground noise that was oddly soothing, but it was the sound of Wufei’s voice hushed but somehow still upset, that brought me back to full wakefulness.
‘…hypothermia, you never said a damn thing about his hands!’ was the part that I caught, and then a couple of swear words in Chinese.
He was looking right at me when I opened my eyes, and we both sort of blinked when our eyes met. ‘Uh… hello Wufei,’ I ventured, and he had the good grace to look a bit contrite. Probably for waking me.
‘Maxwell,’ he greeted, as obviously on automatic as I was. But then the autopilot failed us both and we just stared at one another.
‘Could have said something,’ Trowa drawled from his spot in the only chair, a wry smile tugging at his lips. ‘We could have flown out together.’
‘Asshole,’ Wufei murmured, turning his attention that way. ‘If you’d slowed the hell down for two seconds, I would have.’
‘If you’d shared your inside information, I might have been more inclined,’ Trowa rejoined and it made Wufei grimace.
‘Talk to him,’ he said, indicating Heero with a jerk of his head, but Heero only gave the two of them a look that showed not an ounce of regret for his actions, and it rather stopped the conversation cold. Though, when Wufei answered Heero’s look with one of his own, I saw him notice how close Heero was sitting next to me. Saw him notice the way my arm was draped across Heero’s legs. The way Heero was almost unconsciously stroking his hand over my arm. His eyes did something odd, something I thought might indicate disapproval, but I couldn’t be sure.
They were seriously making me feel odd. That strange talk of rushing to find me was messing with a lot of notions that had lived in my head for a long time. It was making me think about things that I normally avoided thinking about as much as possible. It was making me remember things that just brought pain. It was… making me feel.
I had a sharp moment of wondering when I’d forgotten how to do that, but the hunt back through memory was too convoluted and only left me feeling vaguely depressed. Like I’d somehow let go of something important.
Or maybe what had slipped through my fingers had just lost its shape, and I’d not understood what it was when I gave it up.
I had the strangest urge to crawl up into Heero’s lap and let him hide me in his arms, but the thought came with a jolt when I realized I wasn’t entirely sure of his reaction. I think that was the moment I really realized just how much we’d put the cart ahead of the horse and it made me just a little bit scared.
But then Wufei was clearing his throat and looking uncomfortable. ‘Would it be possible for me to have a moment to speak with Duo?’ he asked, his tone sounding almost formal. Trowa stood from the chair with no more prompt than that, but Heero hesitated, looking first at Wufei, and then at me.
‘Come on, Heero,’ Trowa chuckled. ‘Let the man debase himself in private.’
I had to stare when the line got nothing from Wufei but an odd duck of his head. Heero still hesitated, leaning close to me and giving me a questioning look. The fact that I didn’t really want him to go was what made me give him a small nod.
‘S’ok,’ I told him softly and he squeezed my arm before joining Trowa on the walk out of the room.
And then it was just me and Wufei and I found myself wishing I could just go back to sleep. It took him a moment, but once we were alone, he moved closer and his stance was… weirdly proper. ‘Duo,’ he began, launching in with a ‘gird your loins’ feel that made me wonder if he’d been practicing. ‘I would like to apologize for my part in this whole mess. You were falsely accused, and I allowed myself to be swayed by what turned out to be circumstantial evidence. I should never have accepted Quatre’s words without questioning…’
It probably wasn’t politic… but I couldn’t contain a snicker. He blinked at me in surprise, his little speech stumbling to a halt. ‘You sound like you’re talking about a case,’ I tried to explain, not wanting him to think I was rejecting his apology. I was relieved when it made him smile.
‘I suppose I did think of it that way,’ he confessed ‘Afterward. I’m an investigator, after all, and I should have known better than to take everything at face value.’ He sighed then, snagging the chair to turn it around and sit in it backward, his arms folded across the back and losing the formal prim and proper attitude. ‘I truly am sorry, Duo. You’re not that kind of person and never have been. I should have kept that in mind no matter what Quatre believed.’
The more heart-felt words were harder to take than the more practiced ones, and I found myself squirming uncomfortably, wishing that he hadn’t come. Glad that he had. Confused by the contradiction of those feelings and sorry I hadn’t gotten a copy of the script that would have made the conversation easier to deal with. I wanted to tell him it was ok, but it sort of wasn’t.
‘Well,’ I finally mumbled. ‘Quatre was… very believable.’
He cocked his head and gave me a penetrating look. ‘He even convinced you?’
That left me staring at him, not sure what to say. There was a small voice somewhere way in the back of my head that was getting pissed and wanting to yell, ‘The hell!’ but I guess I kind of couldn’t entirely deny what he was implying.
Obviously Quatre hadn’t convinced me about the main event, but he’d gotten to me with the sub-text. ‘I… guess…’ I told him, working it around in my head, but not quite able to get the pieces put together.
‘You can’t completely blame Quatre,’ he said, resting his chin on his folded arms and watching me intently. I could only answer him with a stare and he sighed. ‘Duo… there had to have been something there before. The Duo Maxwell I used to know would have put Quatre Winner on his ass that night.’
I didn’t quite now what to say to that. I could vaguely remember wanting to knock Quatre on his ass, but I mostly remembered the hurt, the feeling of betrayal.
A feeling like a very old wound tearing open.
‘What is this, Duo?’ Wufei asked then, his hand stretching out to ghost over the bandages wrapped around my own. ‘Hypothermia doesn’t do this sort of damage. What happened?’
There was that damn question again. The one I wasn’t certain how to answer. Severe loss of… something. Temper? Control? My mind? Nothing I much wanted to admit to? I was still struggling with that other thought… the part where Quatre might only have shone a light on something that had been far older than his doubts and accusations, and here Wufei was throwing me this new curve ball.
I didn’t want to deal with it. With him. With… much of anything.
Heero came striding back into the room then, as though my mental flailing had called him, and his expression wasn’t happy. ‘That’s enough, Chang,’ he growled, and came straight to me, full of his reassurances. Quick to offer his touch.
I wondered about that. How did he know how much I craved touch? Had I always been that way? I suppose I had, in some way or another. I remembered loving it when Father Maxwell would pat me on the head, or Sister Helen would brush and braid my hair. Hell, even old G would reward me with pats on the back when I managed some new trick he set me to.
I was… a somewhat needy little shit when you got right down to it, wasn’t I?
The guys were gathered around me and I was vaguely aware that they were… not arguing exactly, but we’ll call it a little tense.
‘Then you tell me just what the hell happened to his hands, Yuy,’ Wufei was replying to something Heero had said, and I couldn’t help hunching up and trying to hide the offending body parts under the blankets.
Trowa was mostly staying out of it, though I could tell he wasn’t going to object to any answers that Wufei got. It was very surreal suddenly being surrounded by them. I’d been alone for so long, and here they all were again, like I’d never been gone. It gave me the oddest urge to laugh out loud. Made me want to jeer and ask them what in the hell my hands had to do with any of them anyway? Made me want to shout that they had no damn right to ask me anything.
But… I guess that was pretty damn stupid since I was the one who had taken off in the first place. Kind of not fair to be angry at them, when… God… when they really hadn’t ever done anything wrong.
That was still kind of hard to swallow when I let myself think about it. All of my logic, all of my beliefs, all of those months…
‘…when he’s ready to talk about it, damn it,’ Heero was saying, his arm resting around my shoulders in a way that was supportive and reassuring and… possessive.
Made me think about that part. Made me remember that single morning we’d had together and how wonderful it had been, and how fleeting it had seemed, and what a fragile damn thing what I had with Heero really was.
Scared me that I might have messed it all up, after wanting and dreaming for so damn long. He’d been right there the whole time. Willing and, according to him, wanting too. But I’d been too lost in… whatever the fuck I’d been trapped in, to see it.
I leaned my head into Heero’s shoulder without meaning to, and listened to Trowa gently reprimand Wufei, ‘I don’t think this is the time…’
‘And when will the time be?’ Wufei returned, and while his voice was firm, his tone was surprisingly gentle. ‘Are you just going to ignore the white elephant? That isn’t going to help…’
I closed my eyes and tried to ignore them, very aware that I was hiding again. That seemed to be what I did any more. That hadn’t always been my answer to things… had it? Or had it? I run, I hide? I certainly hadn’t run when I’d had a Gundam in my hands. When there’d been a war to fight. An enemy to vanquish. Revenge to take.
I had never run from a fight, but… maybe I ran from other things? Ran from the pain? Hid from what I couldn’t bare to think about? Pain… loss… death… betrayal?
I run, I hide, but I never tell a lie.
Not, apparently, until I’d learned to lie to myself.
The fear that nibbled in my chest, that the thing that might be growing between Heero and me had been damaged by the choices I’d made and the things I’d done…
Was that the fear that Quatre had felt? And what did he feel now that those fears had been realized? Maybe not in quite the way he’d foreseen, but maybe in a way that was worse.
‘What the fuck are you saying, Chang?’ Heero snapped, and his arm tightening around me brought the argument back into focus. I opened my eyes to look up at him, seeing his expression clouded with something that couldn’t decide if it was anger or something darker.
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ Wufei said softly, his voice trying to soothe the words. And whatever it was that he thought was obvious must have been… because nobody spoke. I found myself looking at Wufei instead of Heero and knew that it pained him to say the next part, but he did it anyway. Always was the one to point out the ugly bits nobody else wanted to. ‘He… meant to die that day.’
There was something of an uproar as both Heero and Trowa snapped out denials and I just stared at Wufei. He didn’t bother arguing, but the gentle, sad look he was giving me just about turned me wrong side out.
When I thought about that morning in the paddock, I only really remembered a vague anger at the stupid fence post. But that just kind of sounds nuts, now doesn’t it? Even I’m pretty sure I didn’t put myself in the hospital because a stupid fence post wouldn’t fall down and say uncle. That look of Wufei’s was making me take a mental peek past that moment when it all went out the window, and the only thing that had mattered had been… something other than what had led me outside.
Something other than the pain of thinking that Heero had used me and left me. Something other than finding myself alone again.
I think I just hadn’t been able to bear that thought. Hadn’t been able to handle being handed the dream, just to have it jerked away. Just to have it turn into the worst sort of nightmare.
‘… the fuck out of…’ Heero was snarling, and I reached up to shush him with the brush of bandaged fingers across his lips. It made them all shut up and stare at me, the room seeming suddenly too big and quiet without the sound of their voices filling it up.
It made me feel the silent emptiness of my little house reaching out for me and I shivered, suddenly as afraid of returning there as I’ve ever been of anything. And I think in that moment I knew.
‘He… might be right,’ I whispered, my own voice so soft to my own ears that I was surprised that they all seemed to hear me. I was relieved beyond measure when Heero’s reaction was to gather me into his arms with a sound that might have been pain, or might have been relief.
Wufei settled a hand on my leg and squeezed gently. ‘Admitting it is half way there, my friend… now you just have to let us help.’
Help me, I wanted to say, but didn’t, I just held on to Heero and ignored the pain in my hands. It was very strange to suddenly be caught when I hadn’t even known I was falling.