Memories of Pain
(Part 3 of the Road trip Arc)
I jogged easily along the gravel path, my eyes shifting watchfully between where I was going and Duo’s form, half a length ahead of me. Though it had been months since his leg brace had come off, his right leg was not built back to what it once had been. His therapist had reluctantly released him to these morning jogs just this week, and it still worried me to see him running on it. I was ever vigilant of any sign he might fall.
There weren’t any of the other knee patients at the clinic that had progressed at this point in their rehabilitation to running. Most of them, at this stage, were still struggling with walking without a limp and would have choked if you had suggested they try a deep knee bend, much less go jogging. I was inexplicably proud of him at the same time that I was concerned that he was pushing himself too hard. Knee surgery was not something you came back from over night.
The park was pleasant this time of day; still cool, not a lot of people about, and I had come, in just these few days, to relishing this routine we had together. I let Duo set the pace, and we just moved along the path, under the trees at a steady, ground eating pace, that he could usually manage for about a mile. Then we would stop and rest for a bit before walking back.
We were coming to a point in the gravel running path where it rose slightly to the top of a small hill that overlooked the athletic park before coming back down and going out of the trees and entering the main track and field area. We usually stopped at the top of the hill and rested on a bench that had been built under a spreading maple tree before turning back the way we had come. It had a nice view over the valley to the east where the sun was still low in the sky.
Half way up the hill, I saw him falter. I had hold of him instantly, before his knee did more than sag under his weight.
‘Damn!’ he said, caught by surprise, ‘How do you do that?’
‘Do what?’ I asked, holding him up while he tested the knee.
‘Know I’m falling before I do?’
I just chuckled. His leg was being uncooperative, and I pulled his arm over my shoulders and helped him walk the rest of the way to the bench at the top of the hill. He sat down with a sigh and I knelt in front of him, checking his knee over. It felt hot and was slightly swollen. We would need to ice it when we got home.
‘Watching my ass, again, weren’t you?’ he teased.
‘Well, it does give me something to do.’ I replied smugly, and shocked a bark of laughter out of him.
His eyes sparkled with mischief, bright and so alive. Not like they had been just a few months ago. He’d come so far since those dark days of recovery. It was so good to see him laughing again, genuinely smiling and happy. And it was still such a bittersweet shock that I was part of his source of happiness. He could tolerate the touch of my hand without flinching as he had for so long after we got him out of that torture chamber on the station. He’d said he loved me. I still pulled that out of it’s secret place in my heart and stared at it in disbelief sometimes.
I sat down beside him and we just watched the sun creep up the sky for a while.
Finally, he flexed his leg and grimaced, ‘We’d better head back; it’s starting to get stiff.’
I frowned, ‘Maybe I should carry you…’ I began, and he rolled his eyes at me.
‘I can stinking well walk, Mama-Yuy!’
‘Are you sure?’
He laughed, ‘You’re sweet when you worry.’
I felt my face flush and he laughed some more, delighted, and then kissed me lightly.
Neither of us heard the steps on the gravel until it was too late.
‘Will you guys look at this? Gross!’
We were instantly on our feet and moving apart, soldier’s instincts taking over. I kept myself on Duo’s right, his weak side, and made sure the bench was between the new arrivals and us.
There were five of them, hotshot athletes out this early because some coach somewhere was making them. Irritated to be out of bed this early, full of hormones and black coffee. Too stupid to recognize trouble when it glared death at them.
‘Look at the hair on that one!’ a blond jock with a buzz cut jeered.
I could not believe I had not heard them coming. A tiny voice inside my head whispered, told you this was a bad idea. I quashed the voice even as I had to admit it was right. This was why soldiers shouldn’t ever let the walls come down. Caring meant distraction.
‘Ahhh, don’t they make the cutest couple?’ another, muscle-bound moron giggled, as the group of them topped the hill. Dressed pretty much alike, obviously part of some local sports team, here on campus not because of their IQ.
They were continuing towards us, splitting up and coming around the bench from both directions, jeering and laughing. They had us pegged as easy targets, somebody they could take out their frustrations on. There’s a word for what they were engaging in, and it’s rude. Duo and I automatically shifted back to back.
‘We don’t put up with that kind of shit around here!’ the one I had tagged as the ringleader growled menacingly.
There were two coming for me and the other three were closing on Duo. I couldn’t risk his being able to handle them in his condition. I didn’t wait while this dance played out. I shot forward, not waiting for them to make the first move. A hard kick to the mid-section of the buzz cut boy doubled him over and I saw to it that his face met harshly with the back of the bench. I simply caught the arm of the second one as he swung at me and snapped it. These weren’t fighters; they went down screaming with their injuries and made no effort to get back up. Good.
I heard, as I was turning, Duo dispatch the leader with a kick to the face that I couldn’t believe he even tried. He landed badly and had to tuck and roll to evade a grab from muscle boy. I was on them then, and I’m afraid concern for Duo made me a little rougher than was probably necessary for the situation. If track were truly their sport, most of them would likely be sitting out the season. Once they were down, I knew they weren’t getting back up, and I dismissed them.
Duo was up and ready for round two before the last one hit the ground, he quirked a grin at me, hands on hips, ‘You never let me have any fun any more.’
I moved to his side, ‘They pissed me off.’ I growled.
‘Well, they’ll know better than that the next time.’ He was actually enjoying himself, I swear he was.
‘Are you all right?’ I looked him over critically.
‘Fine.’ He grinned a feral grin, and deliberately leaned in and kissed me. The Duo equivalent of flipping them off, I suppose. I kissed him back.
‘Can you walk back down?’
‘Of course.’ And he demonstrated by leading off back down the path. He was limping rather obviously by the time we got back to the car, one borrowed from the Winner estate, and though he wouldn’t ask for help, he didn’t deny me when I moved in and wrapped an arm around his waist and shored him up.
There was a bizarre sense of deja vu as I helped him into the car, and he got quiet for a minute, thinking back, I’m sure, to the trip when it was him helping me in and out of cars. He shook it off and grinned at me,
‘If you want, I can drive.’
I just grunted, sliding into the drivers seat, and he laughed some more. His eyes were bright and his face was flushed and I realized this was the first action of any kind he had seen since the mess on the space station. He missed it. You get addicted to the adrenaline. We are what we are, I guess. I realized that he would probably be returning to active duty soon, and I sighed. I wished it didn’t have to happen.
‘I’ll be all right.’ He said softly.
I grunted in surprise, it still amazed me how our thoughts circled around each other, and I could tell he wasn’t just talking about the swelling in his knee. He knew what I was sighing over.
Then his smile blazed forth again, ‘After all, you can’t keep me a captive sex slave forever!’
This time, the surprised laugh came from me, and I looked over at him, but he was already turned to watch the houses go by out the passenger window.
We hadn’t taken that step yet. Not that I didn’t want it. For a while, it would have been impossible with his injuries anyway. Then, when he was feeling better, it just never seemed to be the right time. I didn’t want to push him. He made these little jokes and I sometimes thought he was just waiting for me to make the first move. But etched in my memory forever, was the image of him in the throes of that damned interrogation drug that translated touch into pain. For months, the merest brush of anyone’s hand would make him flinch in reaction. He finally seemed to be over-coming it, and I was not going to let my desires damage the trust that was growing between us.
What we had was enough. We kissed. We touched. On the nights when the nightmares got too much for him, he would come and crawl into my bed and we would hold each other. Across a crowded room, he could meet my eyes and give me a look that made me feel kissed to my very soul. What we had was more than I had ever dreamed of. I would wait until he was ready. And if it never happened, it didn’t matter.
I pulled the car right up to the front door of the safe house, and came around to the passenger side just as he was pulling himself out. I didn’t ask, I just scooped him up and carried him up the front steps.
‘Heero, for cryin’ out loud, I can walk!’
‘Not if I don’t put you down, you can’t.’
The door flew open and Quatre came charging out to meet us, ‘What happened?’ Is he all right?’
‘I’m fine!’ Duo was starting to sound irritated, ‘Damn it Heero, you upset Quatre, put me down!’
‘His knee's swelling, I need ice.’ I commanded as I came through the foyer and carried Duo through toward the formal living room. I would miss this house when we had to move on.
Quatre darted off on his mission, yelling for Trowa and Wufei.
Duo groaned, ‘Now look what you’ve gone and done.’
Before anyone else arrived in the room, I laid him down on the sofa and taking his face between my hands, kissed him hard. ‘I like carrying you.’ I grinned evilly, ‘And now I have an excuse to coddle and baby you all afternoon.’
I released him before the others came pouring into the room, Quatre bringing ice packs and towels and painkillers.
‘What happened?’ Wufei wanted to know, his eyes checking us both over for injuries.
‘We were attacked in the park.’ I told him tersely. ‘Bunch of jocks, looking for trouble.’
‘I take it,’ Trowa frowned, ‘they found it?’
‘Most definitely.’ I bent to the task of wrapping Duo’s knee in the thin towel and packing it in ice bags. He just glared at me.
‘Is Duo OK?’ Quatre hovered around me, trying to help.
‘I’m not freaking unconscious here!’ Duo snapped, ‘Stop talking about me like I’m not in the room!’
‘He’d be better if he hadn’t tried executing a flying kick.’ I intoned. That got them going.
‘Maxwell! What were you thinking?’ Wufei berated him, hands on hips.
‘I was thinking,’ Duo snapped back, ‘that three very big thugs were going to break me in half if I didn’t do something first!’
‘But a flying kick?’ he asked, incredulous, ‘With your knee?’
‘Till you fell on your ass.’ I tossed in, just to keep things stirred up.
‘You fell?’ Quatre demanded, ‘Are you sure nothing else is hurt? Is your hand Ok?’
Duo flexed his left hand for Quatre’s benefit, the one that had taken several surgeries to put back together. ‘See? Fine. I wasn’t stupid enough to hit anybody with it.’
‘And Yuy!’ Wufei was suddenly in my face. ‘What were you doing while Duo was fighting these punks off?’
I grunted in surprise, ‘I had my own set of punks.’
‘He only had two.’ Duo muttered petulantly, seeing an opening to turn the tables.
Then things took a decidedly different turn, when Wufei said ‘And how the hell did a bunch of college kids get the drop on you two to begin with?’
There was a moment of stunned silence while I struggled with plausible explanations, none of which started with; we were necking on the park bench.
Trowa saved me, I don’t know if it was deliberate or not. ‘Well, they’re obviously fine; I’m going back to work. When you get a minute, Yuy, we have a mission tomorrow, we need to talk.’
He left the room and the banter died. I could see emotions playing across Duo’s face for a second before his patented grin settled in place. ‘Man, you guys have all the fun, what’s the mission?’
A few months ago, I would have been irritated at him for his attitude, now I knew him better and realized he was in knots wanting to know where we were going and if we’d be in any serious danger, but he couldn’t let that show, not here in front of everybody. But I knew he was worried. I hadn’t been on a lot of missions myself in the last couple of months, between my own hospital stay and recovery, and then caring for Duo.
‘Guess I’ll go find out.’ And I followed Trowa before Wufei had a chance to start in on me again.
The mission turned out to be a fairly straight forward hit on a munitions dump; intelligence had found evidence of a new site building in the asteroid belt. Nothing major, it wasn’t even supposed to have progressed to the point of being heavily defended. There was the potential for a bit of fireworks, but I personally thought two of us on the mission was overkill, it seemed that cut and dried. But it was going to mean several days away from the others.
I spent the afternoon closeted with Trowa, going over reports and calculating time and distances, making our plans and discussing our options. I didn’t see Duo again until we broke for dinner. It was a lavish meal that Quatre had made himself, having given the cook and kitchen staff the night off. All the foods were Trowa’s favorites, and I realized suddenly that this was a ritual of Quatre’s any time Trowa had a mission without him. Quatre seemed to find extra reasons to touch him; they sat side-by-side, exchanging glances and not really speaking out loud, but saying volumes with their eyes. I had to look back in memory to realize this had been going on right in front of me for ages and I’d never looked outside myself to see it. Quatre was obviously apprehensive, and I tried to put myself in his place, tried to imagine that it was Duo going off tomorrow and leaving me behind. My eyes sought Duo’s across the table, but he was carefully avoiding looking at me, teasing Wufei, or distractedly stirring his food around. I caught him stealing glances at Trowa and Quatre a couple of times.
Duo left the table first, Trowa and Quatre disappeared not long after, and I found myself cleaning up the mess with Wufei.
‘Wash or dry?’ he asked.
‘Whichever you prefer.’ I grunted, and wound up washing.
I scrubbed in silence for a while; lasagna is damned messy stuff, looking out the kitchen window at the darkening sky. I should be thinking about the mission, not Duo, and I knew it. Beside me, Wufei maintained an almost respectful silence.
‘You’ll keep an eye on him?’ I ventured into the quiet after a while, not looking at him.
‘Of course.’ There was a hint of something…amusement? In his voice.
I ignored it. ‘Don’t let him run by himself, his knee gives out on him sometimes.’
There was only a noncommittal grunt as Wufei dried another plate and put it in the cabinet. He wasn’t going to make this easy.
‘Listen for him, would you, at night?’ My face felt flushed, ‘He still has nightmares…about the station, sometimes.’
I waited, but Wufei didn’t comment and I ground my teeth wishing he’d help me a little here. But this was for Duo’s sake and it didn’t matter how embarrassed I was, I needed to get the information across to somebody.
‘Just don’t touch him, until he’s completely awake. It’s ….bad…if you do.’
That drew an odd sigh and I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. He reached to take a now clean glass from my hand, brow furrowed in a frown.
‘I promise I will watch over him while you are away.’ He intoned solemnly and I could see him working over something else in his mind. I stayed quiet, waiting for it, but he didn’t speak again until we were done. He put the towel away while I drained the dishwater. His reflection in the now dark kitchen window met my eyes.
‘Heero, you are not responsible for what happened to Duo. You are letting yourself get distracted. That’s a dangerous thing…for both of you. Trust me to take good care of him while you’re gone and put it out of your mind before you ever board your Gundam. For both your sakes.’
I was so surprised that I just stood with my mouth gaping open while he walked out of the room.
Too close to the things my inner voice kept whispering to me. Damn. He knew. Or suspected. I don’t think Duo or I either one was quite ready to bring our strange relationship out in the open. It was too new, too raw, and as jumpy as over-sensitized flesh. It needed to grow into something less fragile before we were able to bring it into the light of day. But Wufei was right; I could not be thinking about Duo while I was piloting Wing into a firefight.
The house was still by the time I made my way to the study to gather my laptop and the stack of mission reports and headed up to my room; everyone else had already retired. I was reading over, one more time, the list of mission objectives as I came down the hall and passed Quatre’s door. The sounds issuing from within brought me to a cold stop in the middle of the hall.
Trowa’s voice murmured, soft and low, and then Quatre’s rose in a deep-throated moan. He gasped out Trowa’s name in a near incoherent voice that was so altered by desire I hardly recognized it. The sound of their passion hit me like a physical blow and I just stood there; I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, didn’t mean to stop frozen there like an idiot, but their sounds washed over me, making my blood run like heated wine through my system, rushing straight to my groin, straight to my cheeks. Oh, they made me ache. I had to close my eyes and struggle against the paralysis that held me rooted to the spot, hearing Quatre begin to groan in rhythmic counterpoint to Trowa’s sobbing of his name.
Then some other, older instinct kicked in and told me I was being watched. I felt the familiar prickling on the back of my neck, and my eyes snapped open to see Duo in the doorway of his room at the end of the hall, watching me, I don’t know for how long. He stood bare-foot, wearing just a pair of jeans, his hair unbound and a brush hanging limply from one hand, his head leaned against the doorjamb, his face completely unmasked and open to me. He looked so…sad, his eyes bottomless amethyst pools of aching need. Like a thirsty soul on a boundless salty sea. Where had I heard that? Didn’t matter; it fit. I started toward him without any conscious effort; I don’t think I could have not gone to him at that moment.
The hall suddenly seemed a mile long and all I could see was Duo’s sweet face, framed by that silky waterfall of hair. I longed to sift it through my fingers and feel it brushing across my bare skin. To lose my hands in it at the base of his neck….
I stopped in front of him, and he retreated before me, an open invitation to follow him inside. The room was lit by soft candlelight, and there was the faint scent of sandalwood in the air. He pushed the door closed behind me, shutting out the light from the hall and leaving us enveloped in a soft, golden halo of warm light. I sat the laptop and reports down on the table by the bed and Duo dropped the brush on the floor.
‘Duo?’ I whispered, almost afraid to break the stillness, and he was suddenly in my arms, pressing himself against me, his mouth seeking insistently for mine. I enveloped him, wrapped myself around him and opened my mouth to his hungry probing.
I groaned, in unconscious imitation of the sounds I had heard moments ago in the hall, a sound that came from deep in my chest and I hardly recognized as my own.
Yes! My body screamed, Finally! Finally! Oh God’s yes!
My gut was on autopilot, clenched tight and just feeling, it had no room left for voice.
My heart, it’s rhythm sporadic, tried to speak to me, slow down! It said, something’s not right, here! But I was too lost in sensation to hear.
The tiny voice that after all this time, still thought this was a hideously bad idea just hunkered down in the back of my head and muttered shitshitshitshit.
Duo’s hands were everywhere, tugging at my shirt, jerking at the snap on my jeans and his roughness was arousing me in a way he couldn’t know. But it was his utter silence that finally filtered through and let me hear what my heart was telling me.
Where my hand slid up his back, the muscles stood out in steel hard cords. His hands on my shoulders were trembling, shaking so hard he was grabbing at my clothes with clenched fists in an effort to hide it. I drew back and looked into his face, and what I saw there wasn’t passion, but fear. His eyes were shut, tight, and I took my hand away from his body to tentatively reach up and touch his cheek. He flinched. Hard. Like before, right after we got him back from the station. His eyes snapped open and met mine, and we both froze.
‘Duo? Duo, stop, please stop.’ I breathed, not sure whether to let go or draw him in.
He made an anguished, mewling cry and pushed away from me, leaving me feeling cold and empty.
‘Heero, I’m sorry…so sorry.’ His voice was thick and his eyes were lost in another time and place, ‘I can’t…I can’t…Gods, I thought I could…’
I reached a hand out, his pain drawing me to him, but he twisted and flinched away. ‘Gimme a minute…just a minute.’ He panted out, and retreated, almost staggering, to the bathroom. He shut the door firmly and then I heard water running.
All I could do was stand there in the middle of the room and stare at the closed door. Oh Gods, what had I done? How could I have screwed things up this bad? I felt hollow inside; drained and sick.
I refastened my pants, and tugged my shirt back into place, running a hand through my hair and when the minutes ran on, I let my trembling legs take me over to the side of the bed where I sat down. I concentrated on calming down, running quickly through a couple of control exercises and when he finally emerged from the bathroom, I was able to focus on him completely, putting my own needs and desires behind me. It really wasn’t hard; most of my passion had died in the instant he had recoiled from me.
I stood, but found I couldn’t rush to him, despite an overwhelming need to hold him, to make it better somehow. We fluttered about each other like a pair of skittish animals, magnetically drawn to each other, but the moment making an impossibility out of intimacy. His eyes looked shadowed and haunted, and somehow, when he glanced at me out of the corners of them, I felt he was seeing something more than just me standing there. I finally couldn’t stand it any more.
‘Are you all right?’ I ventured into the awkward stillness, inadequate words, at best.
He nodded, still not able to meet my eyes. I wanted to hear him say it. I just wanted to hear his voice, to know he didn’t hate me.
He glanced at me, for just a second and snorted softly, ‘I’m OK, Heero. I’ll be all right.’
His voice didn’t hold any anger, only an immense sadness, and the sound of it made my stomach turn over.
‘Can I hold you, love?’ I whispered, ‘I swear to God I won’t press you again. I’m so sorry, so very sorry.’
He turned wide eyes on me, ‘Wasn’t you. Was my fault. All my fault.’
He came into my arms again, not with the mad fire of before, but gently; wrapping his arms around my waist and letting me put my arms protectively around him, nuzzling his face against my shoulder.
‘I’m sorry. I thought I could…’ he faltered, hesitated, ‘I wanted to give you...I wanted…’
‘You’re not ready, my heart.’ I soothed, and the endearment made him shiver in my arms, ‘It doesn’t matter. I won’t lie to you and say I don’t want it. But I don’t want it that way. Someday, when it’s right for both of us…’
He tensed against my shoulder, sighing heavily, ‘You got yourself one messed up piece of work, Yuy.’
I smiled into his hair, ‘I think we are equally messed up, and that’s why we fit together so perfectly.’
I felt a tiny smile against my neck and it made me bold.
‘I love you, and what I feel when I’m with you is more than I ever thought I would have. It’s enough, Duo; more than I deserve.’
He pulled back, searching my face, emotions playing naked in his eyes.
‘Me? More than you deserve? God’s Heero…how can you say that?’ his face warred with a half a dozen bitter feelings and finally crumbled into guilt.
‘I’m nothing but a …a damn street rat! You deserve someone better! Someone clean and …and…’
I cut him off with a gentle kiss, ‘There is no stain on your hands that does not stain mine as well. Who else could love a cold-hearted soldier but another soldier? Who else would have the strength but you?’
He deflated, laying his head back on my shoulder, ‘I’m not strong. Not like you.’
I sighed against his neck, ‘Your strength makes a mockery of mine.’
He jerked upright again, looking almost angry for a moment, searching my face. Then his eyes widened.
‘You mean it, don’t you?’ he said, awed, ‘You really mean it.’
‘I was trained from the time I could walk to do the things I do, love.’ I traced the line of his jaw, the lines of old scars. ‘But you…you just do what needs to be done, I don’t know how you manage, sometimes. You amaze me.’
He just stared at me, cheeks flushed, looking, I think, for some sign I was mocking him. He didn’t find it.
The moment ended, it began to feel awkward as we just stood and looked at each other.
‘Gods, you’re poetic tonight.’ He finally managed a small smile, sliding out of my embrace.
I smiled in turn, ‘Maybe it’s the atmosphere.’
He bent to retrieve the brush and I turned to pick up my laptop, thinking it was time I went back to my own room. My own, dark, empty room. I stopped, with my hand on the doorknob thinking about the mission, thinking about Quatre and Trowa, and the long empty hours before dawn. I thought about nightmares. I turned back.
‘Duo…do you think…I mean…would you…’ there was no way I could ask this on the heels of what had just happened.
But he didn’t wait for me to ask, with his back turned, not looking at me, he said,
‘Heero, I can’t give you what I want to give you. Not yet…maybe not ever. But, would it be too much to ask for you to stay here with me tonight?’
I smiled, ‘Not too much to ask. I would like it…very much.’
Neither of us undressed completely; I kicked off my shoes and we crawled together beneath the covers. There were a few minutes of self-conscious sorting out, until suddenly Duo started to giggle, and we stumbled upon each other in the strange landscape we found ourselves in. I wound up on my back, Duo tucked in under one arm, his head resting on my chest. I realized the sandalwood fragrance I had noticed earlier was coming from his hair, it mixed with the scent that was definingly Duo and encircled my senses, making me feel warm and safe and I began to drift toward sleep.
‘Love you.’ I muttered, feeling myself slipping away.
He shifted, twining around me until it felt like he was everywhere, ‘All my heart.’ He murmured, his breath washing warm and sweet across my chest.
Oddly, it was the most restful sleep I had experienced in a long time. It shouldn’t have been, Duo is a…restless sleeper; I woke several times to find myself tangled in strands of sleek, chestnut hair, his arms wrapped around me tight and warm. He made me feel a hundred different things but they were all good things, and I slept without dreams. I thought for the longest time, that he might spend a dreamless night as well, but in the earliest hour of pre-dawn, before the birds even began to stir, I awoke to find him coiled beside me, tense and trembling.
And may the Gods forgive me; I lay still as a stone and let the nightmare overtake him.
There was something more in these nightmares that he was keeping from me. Something worse than the bizarre, erotic, drug enhanced torture he had endured on that space station. It ran deeper, older. I needed to know what it was. He needed for me to know what it was, but he wasn’t able to tell me. His waking, conscious mind wasn’t able to tell me. I couldn’t help him if I didn’t know what was going on. So I stayed still, and didn’t speak when I could still have talked him free of it. I bit my tongue and let it happen, hoping beyond hope that I would get some clue. This had to end.
The trembling turned to shudders and he began to moan softly,
‘Solo…help me…help me…where are you?’
His voice was soft and slurred, lost in sleep, lost in nightmare. He didn’t sound like Duo at all, but like a child.
‘Don’t make me go back out…they’ll catch me again…please…’
The childish terror tore at my heart. His breath came in hitching gasps while he listened in his mind to the answering voice I couldn’t hear.
‘Hurts so bad…Solo, why do they do that? Hurts…’
Oh, how I wished I could hear that other voice, all the clues were on the side of the conversation I couldn’t be privy too.
‘…No, I don’t want the little ones to starve…’
At my side, Duo curled in on himself, sheets clutched to his chest, listening intently.
‘I’ll be brave…I won’t let them down…I won’t cry…’
Before I realized it, the talking was over, and the nightmare was dragging him deeper and he was thrashing against me, fighting someone, but it was a young Duo, who didn’t have the size and training to fight the way my Duo could have, and I easily kept him from hurting either one of us.
‘Duo! Duo, wake up! It’s Heero. You’re all right. You’re safe. I’ve got you.’
I was able to break the grip of memory before it carried him too far from me, and he came awake biting back a strangled scream, eyes wild and black in the dim light of the near burned out candles. There was a moment that he didn’t know me, a horrifying moment before I saw recognition in his wide eyes and then he was on me, arms so tight around me I feared he might crack ribs. I enfolded him and he began to shake.
I brushed sweaty strands of hair out of his face and stroked his brow. ‘It’s all over. It’s all right. I’m here, I’m here…’
I felt like such an asshole. Guilt gnawed at me the whole time I rocked and comforted him. But I had the clues I had sought, and I lie whispering to him while he fought off the darkness and I pieced it together. I hoped he would break down and let go of his control enough to cry and let it out. He was right there on the edge of it, and I wanted that release for him, but he just lay and took great, gasping breaths and fought it off.
His shuddering subsided and he pulled wordlessly away, climbing out of bed and going to stand by the window, arms wrapped around his own bare shoulders. The dim light of pre-dawn lit his face in a pale ghostly light, and the last of the candles glowed warm on his back. My breath caught; he was so beautiful. So ethereal and fey and so much more than I had ever dreamed. I rose and followed him, making sure he knew I was there, and gently rested my hands on his shoulders. I looked past him out the window and the closed in expression on the face reflected in the glass, hardened my resolve.
‘Duo, who raped you?’
He went white as death, all in an instant, and swayed on his feet. I reached to catch him, but he flinched so violently away from me he went over side-ways and fell, cracking his hip against the desk. We ended up on the floor, me on my hands and knees not knowing what the hell to do next, Duo curled up in a ball, rocking back and forth, moaning softly. It was very little consolation that I had put the pieces together right. I lay down beside him, very carefully not touching him.
‘Duo? Talk to me, Duo.’ He was looking right through me, I tried to sound stern even though my insides were shaking like a leaf, ‘Come on Duo, it’s Heero. Let me help you up. Are you all right? You’re scaring me. Duo?’
Nothing seemed to register. I reached out a cautious hand and was able to lay it on his shoulder. His skin was icy cold, muscles knotted and tense.
‘Please don’t do this. Please don’t leave me here alone.’
Something flickered in his eyes and he suddenly had my wrist in a bone-grinding grip. ‘Help me.’ He growled, but when I started to pull him into my arms, he gritted his teeth and almost snarled, ‘Help me…focus.’ he was fading. I knew what he wanted and I balked away from it. But his eyes were wide and empty again and he was being sucked back into whatever nightmare world awaited him.
I jerked him up by the arm and shook him, ‘Damn it, Duo! Don’t make me do this!’ I could see him struggling to find his way back and not making it.
I had done this; I had pushed too much at him too soon, I had ripped the cover off the nightmare and exposed it to the light and driven him screaming into the dark to hide from it. Now I had to undo it, had to deal with the consequences. I steeled myself and slapped him hard across the face. Pain equals anger, anger equals control. Duo’s world, Duo’s way. I saw a flash of anger in him and struck again. His lip split and a tiny thread of blood crept down his chin.
‘Damn it, Duo, come back to me!’ I was shouting at him now, my hands on his shoulders, the only thing holding him up, he was like a rag doll lolling in my grip. ‘Don’t make me do this!’ My voice cracked and I was shaking almost as hard as he was. His blood was on my hand.
Then the bedroom door crashed open, and Wufei was there, ‘Yuy! What the hell...!’
The light from the hall flooded the room and fell across us, illuminating us in what must have been a very bizarre scene. Wufei was clad only in a pair of very wet pants, and some detached part of my mind realized he had come running from the shower. His hair was raining drops of water everywhere as he strode across the room, his eyes flicking to all the clues, my shoes by the bed, our rumpled, obviously slept-in clothes, the blood on Duo’s mouth.
Then he was shoving me violently away, pulling Duo up and heaving him to the bed, ‘Damn it, Yuy! Give him a focal point!’
I was still on my knees on the floor; dumbfounded that Wufei had figured it all out in just three strides across the room.
And, crack, went his open hand across Duo’s face, hard enough to nearly knock him off the bed. But Wufei had his arm in a tight grip and held him in place.
‘Maxwell! Come on, damn it! Focus!’
‘You can do it, come on and focus!’
‘Damn it, Yuy! Get up here! Talk to him!’
I heard a gasp from the doorway as I pulled myself up the side of the bed, and spared a glance to see Trowa and Quatre standing there, obviously roused from sleep by the noise. Quatre had a horrified look on his pale face, only held back by a grim looking Trowa.
But in Duo’s eyes I could see a spark of life again, his face turning toward Wufei’s blows, unconsciously asking for the pain.
‘Duo, can you hear me? Please, Duo, come back…come back…’
Wufei hesitated, looking deep into Duo’s eyes, ‘Maxwell?’ There was still no response, and Wufei hauled back and belted him so hard he lost the hold he had on his arm, and Duo went over sideways.
‘Wufei!’ Quatre yelled in mixed anger and fear, and struggled in Trowa’s grasp to get to the bed.
Then, very softly, Duo’s voice came drifting up, muffled in the blankets, ‘Wufei? That’s enough now…damn. That’s more than enough now.’
I sat down heavily on the side of the bed, relief spreading through me and making me feel like someone had just pulled the plug on whatever powered me. I just sat and stared at the blood on my hand. Duo’s blood on my hand.
Trowa finally freed the frantic Quatre, who flew to the bed and set to finding Duo under the hair and the bedclothes. ‘Duo? Duo, are you all right?’
‘Shhhhh,’ came back the distant voice, ‘Head really hurts.’
Quatre probed around, gently evaluating the damage, smoothing the long wisps of hair away from Duos face, straightening the tangled limbs, ‘I need an ice pack and some aspirin.’
He fairly leapt off the bed to go after it; Trowa hesitated for a moment and then trailed in his wake.
Slowly, wobbling like a newborn, Duo sat up and his eyes found mine through the veil of his hair. He didn’t speak, didn’t move, but his eyes begged for the shelter of my arms. But even poised as he was on the edge of that hungry, catatonic, oblivion, he respected the discretion we had maintained in front of the others and he wouldn’t reach for me until I granted him permission. His face swam for a moment before my eyes, I blinked hard and banished the tears and opened my arms to him.
A primal, anguished moan escaped his lips as he pitched forward into my lap and flung his arms around my waist, holding on as though something was trying to rip him away. I gathered him up and rocked him like a child.
Wufei watched, his normally impassive face overshadowed by a faint, hurting frown. I’d never seen his hair down before; it hung on either side of his face like the black wings of some exotic bird and made him look entirely unlike the Wufei I knew.
‘Wufei…’ I couldn’t find the words to tell him what I wanted to say; I didn’t know how to tell him how much I valued his constant level-headedness, his uncanny ability to somehow always know what was right, and so, I sat in silence, staring at him over the top of Duo’s head.
But Duo couldn’t leave it at that and blindly reached out until Wufei relented and took hold of his hand. Duo drew him down to sit on the bed beside us, where he could see him.
‘Thanks for bringing me home, Mr. Dragon.’ A ghost of a smile played around his already swelling lips.
It surprised a tiny grunt of a laugh from Wufei, and the pained look passed from his face, ‘My pleasure Mr. Black. See I don’t have to do it again.’
Trowa and Quatre returned, and aspirin was immediately forced down Duo’s throat and an ice pack was applied to the side of his face. If they thought it odd when they returned to find Duo nestled in my arms, they didn’t mention it. I didn’t care any more; after all the things I had done wrong tonight, Duo still wanted to be in my arms.
‘What in the hell happened here?’ Wufei finally queried, after watching Quatre hover over Duo for a minute.
‘Nightmare.’ Duo said simply, but Wufei wasn’t having any of it.
‘I think there has to be a little more to it than that.’
‘The mother of all nightmares?’ Duo tried on a tired grin, but that didn’t wash either.
‘Maxwell.’ Wufei stood firm, hands on hips, looking from one of us to the other.
Duo gave up all pretense, and his voice sounded small and very tired, ‘Look, guys, I’m sorry. But I can not talk about this right now, OK? I can’t even think about it too hard…please, just give me a little time.’
Even Wufei softened, ‘All right, Maxwell…for now.’ He gave Trowa and Quatre a look and they left the room somewhat reluctantly under his gaze. He followed them out, stopping at the door only long enough to say, ‘You leave with Trowa in two hours, Yuy. Get this worked out.’
When we were alone again, Duo let his head recline back into the crook of my arm, letting the ice pack fall away, and smiled up at me, ‘Does this mean our first night together is an unprecedented disaster?’
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry and settled on kissing his forehead.
‘We are so screwed up.’ He muttered, eyes drifting closed.
‘Don’t you ever, as long as you live, ever do that to me again.’ I told him, meaning it to be light banter, but it came out in a strangled, near-sob and I had to stop talking.
He stopped trying to pull the mask back on, and heaved a sigh, ‘I’m sorry, love. I don’t really know what happened.’
That scared me, ‘What…what do you mean? How much do you remember?’
His eyes refused to meet mine for a moment, ‘Oh…I remember…everything.’ He got very quiet and I could see him poking at something in his head, like a small child testing the water with a cautious toe. Then his head snapped harshly from side to side in firm denial, and he whispered, ‘I’m gonna have to come at this in my own time, Heero. I’m sorry.’
‘I’m the one who’s sorry, my heart. I pushed you too hard. I…’
His fingers came up and brushed my lips, halting me.
‘Heero, we can sit here all day telling each other how sorry we are for shit that is not either one of our faults, or you can put me to bed and go get ready for your mission.’
‘Bed?’ I smiled, rubbing my thumb across the scars on his left hand.
He closed his eyes and blew his breath out, ‘I am so tired, I feel like I’ve been carting Deathscythe around on my back all night. Just let me sleep a couple more hours.’
I eased him down on the bed, and indeed, when he tried to lever himself up to get under the blankets, his muscles shook with fatigue.
‘Do you have underwear on?’
‘Lose the jeans.’
‘Oh. OK. Would be more comfortable.’
He managed to wriggle them off his hips, but I had to pull them free of his legs, then I lifted him up, worked him under the blankets and tucked him into the place we had so recently curled together.
His utter exhaustion was catching up to him, his eyes getting heavy-lidded. I found the discarded ice pack and tucked it in against the bruised side of his face, bending to kiss him gently on his uninjured temple.
‘Sleep.’ I commanded, ‘No dreams. Just rest.’ I felt his hand slide up my chest and he turned his face to receive a soft kiss on his bruised lips.
Then, suddenly, the front of my shirt was clinched tight in a fist that just seconds ago had been trembling with exhaustion and I found myself nose to nose with him, staring, surprised, into a pair of very bright, very clear, amethyst eyes.
‘If,’ he growled low and menacing, ‘you go off on this mission and get yourself killed, I will firmly believe it was all my fault, I will not be dissuaded from this belief; I will then self destruct my Gundam, follow you all the way to hell, and haunt you for the rest of eternity. Do I make myself perfectly clear?’
‘Good.’ He let go of my shirt, his arm falling bonelessly back on the bed. ‘Now go get ready. Do what you have to do. I will be fine until you get back.’
I sat and stared at him, his eyes were already closed, and I shivered. I had no doubt he meant it.
I brushed away a lock of sweat-darkened hair, and murmured, ‘Good night.’
‘Night.’ He mumbled in turn, voice distant and sleepy.
I left the door open when I left the room.
The door to my own room I shut tight, I had just under two hours and had a lot of work to do. I started with a solid hour of rigorous calisthenics until I was slick with sweat and my mind was finally focused away from where it had been for most of the night. I followed that up with a quick shower and a change of clothes. When I went downstairs, I felt almost ready to face the others and still had most of the last half hour in which to grab a quick breakfast.
Quatre was in the kitchen again, making batches of perfect omelets as fast as Wufei and Trowa could eat them. I took my place at the table without comment, and Quatre slipped a steaming plate in front of me with a bright, beaming smile.
I took it as approval of the current state of things between Duo and myself. Quatre was something of a romantic. Wufei kept frowning at him. Reminding him, I suspected, of some previous agreement not to broach the subject with me. Breakfast was passed pretty much in silence.
Unfortunately, this left my mind free to wander, and it circled right back around to the thing I had just spent an hour sweating it away from; Duo. Should I talk to someone about what I had learned last night? Should I warn them? It seemed a breech of confidence somehow. Duo wasn’t ready to deal with it yet. In fact, I was beginning to suspect he had been repressing the memory and had not really been aware of the whole truth until I had shoved his face in it. I didn’t know a thing about repressed memories. Could it be dangerous? Was it going to make the nightmares better or worse? Would Duo try to face up to it alone, while I wasn’t there? In the end, Wufei took the decision out of my hands. As I finished eating, he caught my eye and then left the table and headed into the study. I dumped my dirty dishes in the sink and followed him. He closed the door behind me, and cut right to the core of things.
‘You’ve given me a mission without all the pertinent information, Yuy.’
He moved to sit on the corner of the large desk this room contained, and after a moment of shocked silence, I pulled the chair out and slumped into it. This was why I could rely on him, why I had asked him, to take on this ‘mission’, as he had termed it. He was the one who had been able to bring Duo back to me. He was the one who could keep a calm, rational head. I was a little surprised when I thought about just how much I had come to count on him in the last couple of months. Opening my heart to Duo had opened it to the others as well. A year ago, I would not have flinched at allowing any one of them to die if it had meant the success of a mission. Now, I don’t think I could have. That scared me as much as anything ever had. At the same time that it gave me hope that I wasn’t quite the monster I had always believed I was. Duo had given this gift to me, but I couldn’t yet tell if it was a good or a bad thing.
I raked my hands through my still damp hair and let my breath out in a sigh. ‘I don’t really know what I can tell you.’
‘Are you two lovers?’
Always straight for the killing blow, our Wufei. It shocked a grunt out of me and forced me to meet his eyes for a moment. There wasn’t any judgment there, just a search for legitimate information.
No…not… No.’ I said, face burning.
He granted no quarter, ‘But you’re in love?’
I hadn’t thought my face could get any hotter, but I was wrong, ‘Apparently.’ I mumbled.
He regarded me for a moment, and granted me a reprieve with a slight change of subject. ‘Do you know what brought on that…attack, this morning?’
I chewed on that, and he waited patiently.
‘Do you know anything about repressed memories?’ I finally asked.
I was finally able to meet his eyes as I made the decision to share what little information I had, ‘This stays between you and me until Duo has a chance to work this out.’
He nodded a grave affirmative and I continued.
‘He had a nightmare last night and he talked in his sleep a little. I think…I’m almost sure, that he was assaulted as a child back on L2.’
Wufei’s face turned grim and angry, but he kept silent.
‘Maybe more than once.’
His jaw worked as he ground his teeth, ‘As a child?’
‘I think so. His voice sounded…much younger.’
He looked off into some distance, over my head and took a slow, calming breath.
‘When he woke up, all it took was the word ‘rape’ to send him into that…fit.’
‘You think he was repressing the memory of the attack?’
I nodded, ‘At least partially.’
Out in the foyer, I could hear Trowa making final preparations to leave for the hanger. I saw Wufei’s eyes flick in that direction. I was running out of time, and I abandoned the last of my stupid introversion in a rush.
‘I’m afraid for him, Chang. I’m afraid he’s going to try to dig those memories up on his own. I’m afraid he’ll go off into that…that dark place with nobody around to help him and be lost forever.’
His face lost the anger and registered astonishment; I’m sure it came as quite a surprise coming out of the mouth of the perfect soldier, ‘Heero…’ he began.
But I was started and couldn’t stop, I cut him off before the moment was gone, ‘I’m trusting you with my heart. Watch over him. Keep him safe for me until I get back. I can’t do this mission if my gut’s all tied up with worry. I have to be able to convince myself he’s safe in order to get my head where it has to be.’
He stood up and gravely laid his hand on my shoulder, ‘You have my word.’
And that came with all the weight of a life lived with the strictest of honor.
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak again, and went out to join Trowa in the walk to the hanger. I managed to glance up the staircase only once.
Go to Chapter Four:Facing The Nightmare
Back to Chapter Two