I skipped my nap that afternoon because I had so much to do
to get ready for the celebration at Relena’s. I normally slept every
afternoon after I got back from my therapy sessions; I had trouble making
it through the rest of the evening sometimes if I didn’t. But I needed
a shower and had my hair to wash before Heero got home from work, so I decided
to just skip it; wouldn’t do to show up at the Peacecraft mansion
with wet hair. I hoped I wouldn’t regret it. Even though almost three
months had passed since my little foray into the asteroid belt, I was still
a long damn way from completely recovered.
I almost didn’t make it back from that trip at all.
Weak from dehydration and malnutrition, suffering with more than one infection,
all of it complicated by my extended stay in zero gravity, my condition
had worsened as we made the in-bound trip. I remember very little of it
after the first few days. I have a series of disjointed memories that swing
back and forth like a metronome between Heero and Solo, between the light
and the dark as I hovered between life and death. I don’t need Freud
to translate that one for me.
They tell me I probably wouldn’t have made it if Heero
and Quatre hadn’t arranged a ship to head out to meet us with a Doctor
on board. Heero was only able to do so much with my limited medical supplies.
They got me stabilized and got me back. Then there was a God
awful long hospital stay complete with therapy, evaluations and visits from
psychologists. I apparently spent part of my time in the belt talking to
dead people, and this behavior seems to have alarmed Quatre.
I thanked God for health insurance almost every day.
When I was finally cleared of any major psychosis and physically
rehabilitated enough to manage a wheel chair, they released me from the
hospital. Somehow, I ended up at Heero’s place. To this day I’m
not sure I ever agreed to the arrangements; it seemed like everyone just
assumed that’s what was going to happen. I didn’t know how to
fight it. I could hardly go back to my ‘Demon’ on my own, at
least not for a while. I didn’t really want to go back with the Sweepers;
they were a great bunch of guys, but Howard looked at me with this…guilt
written all over his face every time he saw me. It had really torn them
up, listening to me slowly fading away out there half way across the solar
system. I wasn’t quite up to dealing with that kind of emotional overload.
There were too damned many of them, and each and every one of them seemed
to want to pat my shoulder and tell me things that they thought they would
never get a chance to say. I had decided I couldn’t go stay with them
the day that Kurt had showed up to visit me at the hospital. I had returned
his service medal, the one he had given me for luck before I had left on
that damn job. He had sat beside my bed, held my hand and…wept. The
man who, during the war, when faced with the loss of his leg had simply
looked down and muttered, ‘well, I said I needed to lose a little
weight.’ I just couldn’t deal with it; it was too much. I felt
bruised all over, inside and out, body and soul. And…heart.
Would I have refused to go with Heero if I’d had another
choice? I don’t know. It was still almost more than I could believe
in. I wanted to accept the promises we had made to each other, wanted to
pull the broken dream out of its box and see if it could be pieced back
together. But, to me at least, those things that we had said to each other
were all part of a fever dream…I found myself doubting, sometimes,
what had been said in truth and what I had only fantasized.
Between the physical trauma and the emotional turmoil, I think
I would have agreed to living in a cage with Trowa’s lions at the
circus if someone had told me that’s what we were going to do. I didn’t
have the energy to argue or discuss it. I just took the path of least resistance.
Whatever got me through without my having to make decisions. I think I was
just soul weary. Somehow, still in some bizarre form of shock.
How the hell did I get released from the hospital in that
kind of state? I’m a damn good actor, remember?
And just to top things off, seeing Heero and the guys again
after so long was bringing back memories. It was giving me nightmares. I
dreamed about that bastard Jensen for the first time since the war. I found
myself with a whole lot of time to just sit around and think…and all
the memories were making me think about things I had spent the last three
years burying deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Heero had a two-bedroom apartment and he at least let me have
my own room, he didn’t presume quite that much. It was probably the
only thing that saved my sanity, having that place I could retreat to when
things got to be too much. It wasn’t the same as going home to my
‘Demon’, but in the condition I was in, stuck in a damn wheel
chair until therapy brought back some muscle tone, it was the best I could
have hoped for.
I absolutely hate feeling dependent. I’ve been on my
own pretty much as far back as I can remember. My earliest recollections
are of running with the other orphans on the streets. We protected each
other; watched each other’s backs…but you still had to stand
on your own. A gang couldn’t afford to support members that didn’t
pull their own weight. I suppose the only time in my life that I had really
been anything close to dependent, was during the relatively short time I
lived at the Maxwell church.
So I was feeling frustrated and self-conscious, almost claustrophobic
in my need to get far enough into my rehabilitation that I could manage
on my own again. It bothered me more than I could admit that I was so indebted
to…fucking everybody. Heero and Wufei for coming after me. Quatre
and Trowa for all the time and money they had poured into mounting the rescue
operation. Howard and Kurt and the rest of the Sweepers for everything I
had put them through. With them, at least, I felt like the scales balanced
a little bit in that I had effectively saved Howard’s business and
thus their livelihoods.
Some of my part of the profits were currently going to pay
for docking space for my ship here in the city. Howard had offered to keep
her, but I had insisted on having her closer to where I was, even if I couldn’t
do anything about it yet. Kurt, I think, had understood a little bit how
I felt and had taken care of moving her for me. Not a lot of people could
seem to understand that; ‘Maxwell’s Demon’ was my damn
home. I had been living in that ship for over two years, docked or in space.
I had poured all my time and money into her; she was all I had in the world.
Now I suddenly had more, a lot more in the person of one Heero
Yuy. I just wasn’t sure what the hell that ‘more’ was.
I couldn’t get my head around it; could not comprehend that he truly
had been harboring feelings for me all these years. We had just started
to delve into it on the trip back from the asteroid belt, when I had gotten
so sick. Somehow…we had never gotten back around to talking things
out. Circumstances had just moved ahead without my ever being able to say
‘slow down! I’m confused!’. When I regained enough lucidity
to register my surroundings again, I was in a hospital with Heero fiercely
defending his position at my side and suddenly making major decisions for
me just as though it were his place. For a long while I more than welcomed
it. I hadn’t been able to make some of those choices, had not been
able to make myself care. Heero was there to take up the slack, never far
away, as gentle and supportive as if we had been together for years. It
was weeks before I regained enough brain-cells to question his constant
presence and discovered that he had taken a freaking leave of absence from
his damn job. When I had finally thought to ask, he had explained just as
though it were a given. I was shocked. And there, pretty much, was our relationship
in a nutshell. He had this firm conviction that we were…’together’,
a couple as it were. He seemed to wear the most damnable Mona Lisa smile
whenever he looked at me, as though he could see right through me. He approached
my care as though there were no question that he would tend to things. As
though we had an understanding that only he understood.
While I, on the other hand, just felt confused. Lost and overwhelmed
and like I had missed the middle reel of the movie. I couldn’t seem
to figure out how we had gotten from point A to fucking point Z and a half
and I had missed the rest of the alphabet. At first I didn’t have
the strength to argue about things. Hell, most things there was just no
arguing about anyway; I started out freaking helpless. And by the time I
started to come back a little we had already settled into some sort of routine
and I didn’t know how to stand up and say ‘time out’ ten
minutes after the ball game was over.
I was almost a month in the hospital; damn near three full
weeks. I don’t remember much of the first one. Out of the hospital,
I was confined to that thrice-damned wheel chair for most of the next month.
I had therapy sessions every day. It was the longest month of my entire
life. I thought I was going to lose my freaking mind. I retreated at night
to ‘my room’ and screamed into the pillow until utter exhaustion
swept me under and I would sleep like a dead man. The only upside to that
month was the fact that I was usually just too damn tired to dream.
Heero and I argued for a week before I convinced him to go
the hell back to work. He still waited until I had been released to limited
walking outside therapy. When the day finally came, I greeted it with a
mixture of relief and anxiety. It was going to be the first time I would
be alone since the belt.
Take that whichever way you want, because it was a bloody
damn two-edged sword.
Alone at last, half my head cried! Sweet solitude; a blessed
chance to listen to my music and get out of my wheel chair whenever I damned
well pleased without Heero rushing to my side and admonishing me not to
Alone…for the first time, the other half of my head
wailed. Horrid, lonely, cold…silence. Alone.
Heero fixed my lunch and left it in the refrigerator, carefully
placed on a shelf low enough to reach from my chair. He’d had the
landlord in the day before to install a phone jack in my bedroom so that
there was an extension next to my bed. He had made my breakfast before leaving,
called me four times throughout the day and came home early.
I would have laughed at him if I hadn’t been so damned
thankful to have him back with me. That day shook me to the core; I hadn’t
understood how scarred my poor old psyche had been until I had found myself
dialling Heero’s work number with shaking hands mid-way between his
second and third check-up calls. I had managed to make myself hang up before
it rang, but it had scared the hell out of me that I almost hadn’t
been able to wait the few hours until he got home.
He had brought home take-out for supper, something he never
did, and it took me a bit to figure out that it was so he didn’t have
to leave my side long enough to cook. He settled on the couch with me and
just held me in his arms. Neither one of us said anything about it, but
I knew he felt the tension in my muscles and the painful hammer of my heartbeat.
Again there was that strange feeling that he could see inside my head, that
somehow he knew how low I had been brought by his mere absence. Sometimes
it felt like he knew everything there was to know about me.
He carried me to bed that night and for the first time since
the trip in from the asteroid belt, he lay down with me, curling against
my back. I opened my mouth to object but he only chuckled and kissed the
top of my head. ‘Go to sleep, baka.’
I hated myself for needing him there so damn bad and was unreasoningly
irritated with him for knowing that I needed it.
I had to make him go to work the next day and insisted that
he stop checking on me so damn much. He only called twice but still came
home early. I surprised him by having dinner ready, but then surprised myself
when the simple chore exhausted me so much I fell asleep on the couch before
I could eat my share.
It gradually got easier as I slowly but steadily regained
strength. We settled into what must have been the strangest relationship
in recorded history. To all intents and purposes we acted like some kind
of damn married couple. Heero went off to work each day and came home in
the evening to dinner on the table. I spent my days straightening some,
as my strength improved, then taking a cab mid-morning to the rehabilitation
center for therapy and returning to the apartment afterward, where I needed
a nap before getting up and fixing dinner. We spent our evenings curled
together on the couch watching television or reading, sometimes playing
cards. Then we retired to our separate bedrooms for the night.
We kissed good morning, we kissed good-bye and we kissed good
night. But somehow it never went further than that. I don’t think
I was ready for more, physically or mentally, and somehow Heero seemed to
know that as well.
The quaking fear of being alone eased some; it didn’t
go away all together and that frightened me a little when I let myself think
about it. So mostly I just didn’t think about it and while Heero was
gone each day I just played my music and suffered through it.
And why in the hell am I sitting here brushing my hair and
dwelling on all this? Partly just because that seems to be all I do anymore,
sit around and try to figure out just what the fuck happened to my life.
Partly because this party of Relena’s was freaking me out, I didn’t
want to go. The woman does not like me, never has…never will. I was
not looking forward to spending an evening stuck in a damn tuxedo, wandering
around her satin and lace manor, rubbing elbows with people I would never
be able to carry on a conversation with.
I hit another tangle and cursed, damn near throwing the brush
across the room.
Gentle fingers took it from my hand and Heero’s voice
said, ‘here…let me.’
I jumped, shocked for the hundredth time at his ability to
get so near me without my knowing he was even in the room. I hadn’t
heard him come into the apartment.
I automatically tilted my head back for a tender kiss and
then sat frowning faintly at the wall while he stood behind me and carefully
finished the job of brushing my hair.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked softly, his voice
full of gentle concern.
I couldn’t tell him. I owed him so damn much and he
wanted me to go with him to this stupid thing. It was petty of me to not
want to go, I knew that. He was expected to attend because of his position
in the Preventors and he had asked me to go along. How could I turn him
‘Just…been a long day.’ Which wasn’t
really a lie.
‘You didn’t have trouble in therapy today?’
He was always quick to question that since the day the clinic had called
him at work because I’d…pushed a little too hard and passed
out in the middle of the session.
‘No.’ I sighed and wished I could find a way to
divert him but he suddenly did that thing he does that makes me crazy; he
read my damn mind.
‘You know…’ his voice sounded a little amused,
‘you wouldn’t have so much trouble with Relena if you didn’t
‘I don’t fucking have to bait her!’ I snapped.
‘She’s a snob. She looks at me like I’m a damn criminal
every time she sees me!’
He sighed softly and I was instantly sorry I’d yelled;
it wasn’t his fault that Relena was a bitch, after all.
He put the brush down and pulled me to my feet, turning me
around to face him, looking at me long and hard for a minute before quirking
a grin at me. ‘She’s just jealous of your hair.’
That sense of humor is something that still catches me by
surprise and I blinked at him for a minute before the laugh bubbled up out
of me. I let him pull me into an embrace and leaned my head to rest on his
‘Are you suggesting that I trade hair care secrets with
her?’ I murmured and let him lead me out of my bad mood.
He chuckled. ‘I’m saying that I’ve seen
you win over everything from hookers to junk yard dogs…I don’t
understand why one diplomat should be so difficult.’
I wanted to tell him that she was the one making it difficult
with her pert little nose stuck up in the air just because I was, horror
of horrors, an orphan and self-admitted former pickpocket. Her majesty couldn’t
imagine a life that could ever force a person to do things that they might
later be less than proud of. Or…maybe it was the fact that some of
the things that shocked her the most actually afforded me a certain amount
of pride. I had been a damned good pickpocket!
‘We still have to get dressed,’ I told him after
a few minutes of just standing in the curl of his arms trying to draw on
a little bit of that damned endless strength of his.
He drew back to look at me again. ‘Duo…you know
you don’t have to…’
I cut him off with a smile, all my trepidation stuffed back
in its box in the back of my head. ‘Can’t let you go have all
the fun,’ I quipped and saw the frown that told me he wasn’t
buying it. ‘Get dressed,’ I told him firmly and he left my room
with a sigh.
I finished with my hair, brushed my teeth and otherwise spit
shined my little self to a fault. There wasn’t a hair out of place
by the time I was done; there wouldn’t be a damn thing that Relena
would be able to point to with any contempt. I looked myself in the eye
in the mirror and vowed that I would keep my God damn mouth shut as well.
I would not embarrass Heero just for the brief pleasure of taking shots
at little Miss Wonderful.
I finished before Heero and sat in the living room while I
waited, damn near dozing off as my body kicked me in the ass and informed
me that it had rather gotten into the habit of that afternoon nap, thank
you very much.
I rose from the couch when he came out of his room and he
grinned at me. ‘You clean up fairly well.’
The appraising glance he gave me took me by surprise and I
didn’t have a ready answer to the wisecrack.
He went to the closet, got our coats and came toward me with
the strangest smile on his face.
‘Just remember,’ he murmured near my ear as he
helped me on with the jacket, ‘no matter how much attention you get…you’re
coming home with me.’
The line served to shock me so much that I didn’t even
object to his holding my coat for me. I was left with that floundering feeling
of being in over my head again, but this time I had to stop and question
something, just a little. We were going to be out in public in a social
setting for the first time…this wasn’t like being here in the
apartment alone together where I could just struggle with my confusion.
‘Heero…’ I felt myself flushing. ‘Are
we…I mean; is this…’
‘A date?’ he finished for me, a tender smile on
his face. ‘Do you…want it to be?’
I hated the way he left things like this to me. I didn’t
know what to say and just stood looking at him for a minute. Did I want
to show up at this huge society shindig on Heero’s arm? Was I ready
to go out in the wide world and let it be known that we were ‘together’?
Hell, I wasn’t even sure we were a couple yet. But I didn’t
want to be the one to say no…damn, I just didn’t know what to
‘No,’ he told me, reading it in my eyes. ‘I
don’t think you need that kind of extra pressure right now.’
It twisted in my gut and I had to lower my eyes. ‘I…I’m
sorry…’ I murmured.
‘Nothing to be sorry for, Duo,’ he told me warmly
and made me raise my head up to meet his eyes again. ‘It’s nobody’s
I almost asked him just what it was that wasn’t anybody’s
business but bit down on it at the last minute. Now wasn’t the time.
‘We’re going to be late,’ I warned him instead
and we left for the party. Heero drove, of course and I had trouble staying
awake. I really hoped there would be somebody else there that I knew, Wufei
or Sally Po or even Noin, just so I had someone to make conversation with
when Heero needed to be elsewhere.
I sat hunched up in my seat and tried to keep a neutral expression
on my face despite the fact that I felt like I was on my way to the gallows.
‘Warm enough?’ Heero asked once, reaching across
to take my hand for a moment.
‘I’m fine, why?’ I asked, confused.
‘You just look cold,’ he shrugged lightly. ‘I
know how you hate the cold.’
I tried to remember when I’d told him that and couldn’t.
There was that strange sense again that he knew all my secrets.
We were there all too soon. Heero pulled up to the front door
and a tall guy in a servant’s uniform came and took the car away to
park it. Heero tipped him and it made me realize that I had no money of
my own with me, I hadn’t thought to bring my wallet. I hoped to God
nothing would arise that would require me to have to tip somebody.
A young lady met us in the foyer and took our coats, giving
Heero a claim ticket and I had to marvel at the sheer damned efficiency
with which this ‘gathering’ was planned. Another lady met us
within minutes, offering a tray with champagne glasses. Heero took one but
I declined politely; alcohol and a body in the middle of physical therapy
don’t mix. We wandered off to the side and I watched the processing
of a couple more guests through the greeting system we had just come through.
I couldn’t think of this as a party any more; it was planned out with
more organization than some of the missions I had been on during the war.
Heero shifted us on through the foyer toward the main hall
where everyone seemed to be gravitating. The place was fucking unbelievable.
I felt like I was drifting around inside a piece of faceted crystal. Everything
sparkled, everything glowed. Much as I hate to admit it…it was damned
impressive, in a highbrow, excessive, pretentious kind of way. Before walking
into this room, I had felt uncomfortably over-dressed. Now, looking around
at the other guests, I felt downright drab. I glanced sidelong at Heero
and almost sighed at the bland expression on his face; he probably did this
all the time and didn’t seem to even be registering the surroundings.
His eyes were scanning the people and he occasionally would nod as he made
eye contact with this or that person. I made the effort to stop gaping at
the fairy tale, crystal palace room and looked the crowd over as well. Not
a single face registered that I recognized outside of having seen one or
two on the news. I must have sighed.
‘Duo?’ Heero asked softly.
I quirked a grin at him. ‘Did you bring your copy of
‘Who’s Who in Earth Sphere Politics’? I think I left mine
in my other tux.’
He chuckled and took an infinitesimal sip of his drink. I
realized it was more of a gesture than a drink and I wished I had picked
up a glass as well. It really was nothing more than a prop. ‘Oh, everyone
who is anyone will be here.’
Well that certainly explained my presence, I mused, but kept
my thoughts to myself.
He glanced at me with an odd expression after a minute, his
eyes leaving me to scan the crowd again. Maybe he was finally noticing how
totally out of my depth I was, but all he said was, ‘If you find yourself
stuck for conversational material, just mention next months summit meeting
and you’ll be able to spend a good twenty minutes doing nothing but
I snorted and had to grin at him. ‘You sure know how
to show a guy a good time,’ I muttered before I could quite stop myself.
I managed to get a laugh out of him though, so I guess the
line was all right.
Then the Queen of the fucking world made her entrance. I had
to contain a dark chuckle and really did wish I had one of those prop drinks
to hide the grin behind. Relena completely missed her calling when she went
into politics instead of acting.
She really was beautiful and in the years since I’d
seen her last in person, she’d given up that little girl hairdo and
the school uniforms. She appeared at the top of the grand stairway and I
briefly entertained the notion that the thing had been built with this moment
in mind. Well…this moment and probably a thousand others just like
it. She was wearing a tasteful but pretty damn sexy, blue and silver gown,
and her hair was all swept up in this fairly chic looking style. She paused
dramatically at the top of the stairs, making sure everyone had a chance
to notice that she had arrived, before she began to gracefully descend.
I tried really hard not to wish she’d slip and fall. I did…really.
The room, which had gotten quiet for that dramatic moment,
returned to its normal volume. Heero leaned close and whispered, ‘Stop
it,’ with a smirk on his face.
I flushed and ducked my head. ‘Not even a stumble? Can’t
I even wish for a stumble?’
I thought he was going to choke to death trying not to laugh.
I turned back and could see Relena’s progress through
the crowd more by the stirring of the people around us than my ability to
see her; she’s not all that tall. I was struck with the sudden mental
image of a lioness moving through the tall grass on the plains.
Then I realized she was headed our way and I started marking
all the exits in my head. I had not actually envisioned having to speak
with the woman. I had assumed that she would be far too busy with her hostess
duties to bother with one little street rat. I had not stopped to take into
consideration who I would be standing next to. Heero was like a fucking
I caught sight of a back across the room that looked suspiciously
like Wufei’s and made to ease in that direction. A hand touched my
elbow, stopping me in my tracks.
‘Duo,’ he admonished, ‘give it a chance…it’s
been years. She doesn’t bite.’
I glared at him. ‘Eats her own young maybe….’
I murmured but I don’t think he caught it and then it was too late.
‘Heero,’ she was saying, her voice all honey warmth
and he took her hand and kissed it.
‘Relena, you look lovely as always,’ he said smoothly
and she dimpled up at him. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes. But
then Heero was turning toward me. ‘You remember Duo, don’t you?’
Her eyes seemed to register me for the first time and she
turned my way. There was a frozen moment while we stared at each other.
‘Hello Relena,’ I said and thought that I managed
a smile quite nicely.
There were three full heartbeats before a frozen smile curved
those perfect lips and she said, ‘Hello…Mr. Maxwell.’
I let my smile widen into a grin and reached to take her hand
in the same gesture Heero had used. I saw her eyes flick down toward my
scars and I felt her fingers tense. Being the Queen of the world, she could
not snatch her hand back the way her eyes told me she wanted to. I carefully,
deliberately brushed the back of her hand with my lips and resisted the
urge to swipe my tongue across her skin just to see if I could make her
‘Ah…’ I smiled into those icy eyes when
I raised my head. ‘I apologize for being so bold…Ms. Peacecraft.’
I was delighted to get the disdainful sniff, probably too
low for anyone else to notice but I couldn’t let it pass without some
acknowledgment and winked at her. She did snatch her hand away then.
‘I’m so glad you seem to be…feeling better,’
she murmured, looking at a point somewhere passed my right ear.
‘Why thank you,’ I nodded and had to suppress
a feral grin. She had not been quite so surprised to see me after all. If
she had known about my condition, she had to know where I was staying. I
couldn’t let it pass. ‘I’m surprised that the health of
one salvage man was something that was brought to your attention.’
She stiffened for a moment and I knew I’d scored a point
but she covered it smoothly. ‘When the health of that person affects
my circle of friends, of course it would come to my attention.’
I smiled benignly. ‘Ironic, isn’t it? That the
circle of your friends should interconnect with the circle of mine?’
I felt like we were two dogs pissing out the edges of our
territory and there was poor Heero…our mutual stump.
‘Ironic?’ she asked softly. ‘I would have
said…unlikely.’ Then she swept off to greet more guests.
‘Score one for the Princess,’ I muttered under
my breath and watched her move off into the grass of the Serengeti without
so much as a whisker out of place to indicate that she had just tried to
disembowel the gazelle named ‘Maxwell’.
A hand came to touch my shoulder for just a moment and I turned
to find Heero with a bemused look on his face. ‘Ok…I’m
willing to admit that the two of you may not ever become fast friends.’
I refrained from comment since the only thing that came to
mind was, no shit, Sherlock? And that just didn’t seem appropriate
for the setting.
I smiled for him but had to stop my hands from trying to crawl
into my pockets. You don’t walk around in a tuxedo with your damned
hands stuffed in your pockets. He caught the aborted movement and frowned
‘Don’t,’ he told me with a hint of irritation
in his voice. ‘Don’t let her make you feel…’ he
began but I shrugged him off.
‘The only thing she makes me feel is annoyed,’
I told him firmly. ‘They’re my hands and my scars…honestly
won. I don’t care what she thinks.’
His smile returned but then a man I didn’t know approached
Heero and engaged us in a conversation about next month’s summit meeting
and I almost laughed out loud.
That was how the damned evening began to go. I do not understand
these kinds of events; I was ready to go screaming out the front door in
less than a half an hour. By the time the third person had come up to Heero
to get his opinion of the looming summit meeting, I was sick to death of
the whole thing and ready to go back to the apartment. I would have thought
you would have to pay people to attend a damn ‘celebration’
like this one and I entertained myself for several minutes trying to imagine
some of these people at a party thrown by the Sweepers.
I let the voice of the silver-haired woman currently pumping
Heero for security details wash over me without even hearing her, letting
my eyes scan the people around me. I finally spotted that person who I had
thought earlier was Wufei and was able to confirm his identity when he turned
where I could see his profile. He was with Sally Po, whom I had not seen
in years. With an apologetic smile at Heero, I excused myself and made my
way in their direction.
Wufei and Sally seemed to be ‘together’ and I
had to smile as I wound a path between the well-dressed elite. I heard music
begin to play and several of the obstructions between me and my goal got
out of the way as they headed toward the next room, which apparently contained
an orchestra and a dance floor.
‘No.’ I heard Wufei growl just as I came up to
them and I caught a wicked grin on Sally’s face.
‘No, what?’ I queried by way of introduction and
her grin got even wider as she turned to embrace me.
‘Duo!’ she exclaimed and gave me a tight hug,
not one of those delicate little things that people trade at these social
gatherings. ‘How are you?’ she wanted to know when she drew
back and I could tell from the look in her eyes that she truly wanted to
know, wasn’t just being polite.
‘Much better,’ I assured her and had to grin as
I looked her up and down. She was just as pretty as ever and still just
as rebellious; she was the only woman in the room wearing a pants suit.
It was exquisitely made, she wore it well and she outshone a number of the
women around her who were probably looking down their noses at her. ‘You
look fantastic!’ I told her warmly. ‘How is it that this was
the best you could do for a date?’
She chuckled with me while Wufei glared at us.
‘I should have known better,’ she shook her head
sadly but with a maniacal twinkle in her eye. ‘He won’t even
dance with me.’
‘What!’ I asked in mock horror. ‘The cad!’
Wufei sighed, managing to play the part of the martyr even
An evil idea took hold of me and I turned to Sally with a
flourish. ‘Well…I will dance with you, Milady.’
Her expression turned as depraved as mine, and she took my
offered arm. ‘Why, thank you Milord…that would be lovely.’
I led her toward the dance floor and just barely caught the
gesture as she turned and winked at Wufei as we walked away.
The music was slow, of course, and I was just as glad; I couldn’t
have handled anything more. She put her hand in mine and came into the curve
of my arm with a chuckle as we began to move with the music.
‘How long before he comes storming in here, do you think?’
I asked her.
She cocked her head and grinned at me. ‘I don’t
know…he really hates to dance. He might not, you know. You might be
stuck with me.’
‘Well,’ I smiled, ‘getting stuck dancing
with the most beautiful woman in the damn room…now there’s a
torture for you.’
She blushed to the roots of her hair and playfully smacked
my ear. ‘Stop it, Duo Maxwell. Turn the charm down.’
‘Awwww…’ I murmured, ‘you take all
the fun out of it.’
‘Well we both know you’re not interested…’
she smiled and I guess my smile must have faltered a little. ‘Duo,
‘What do you mean by that?’ I queried, wondering
just what all was being said about me behind my back.
She blinked at me in confusion. ‘I’m sorry…I
thought that you and Heero…I mean…’
She looked so damn baffled that I couldn’t get irritated
with her. ‘No need to apologize,’ I sighed, ‘I guess I’m
the only one who’s confused about my relationship with Heero.’
A laugh bubbled up out of her throat. ‘Well, Duo, it’s
pretty obvious how you two feel about each other.’
‘Is it?’ I sighed and wondered why in the hell
I was having this conversation with a person I hadn’t seen in over
a year. We were turning and gliding across the dance floor, but we might
as well have been in another world. ‘Sometimes I’m just not
She smiled at me and lifted her hand from my shoulder for
a moment to reach out and give my braid a tug. ‘You are so sure…you
just don’t know it. The things you said when you were hospitalized…your
brain may not know what’s going on, but your heart does.’
It was my turn to blush and I frowned at her. ‘What
do you mean? What things?’
She matched my frown and gnawed at her lower lip for a minute.
‘I was in to see you several times while you were in the hospital…and
from the things that Wufei has told me about the out-trip…’
she stopped talking suddenly and looked at me sharply. ‘Hasn’t
Heero talked to you about this?’
‘No…I’m not even sure what ‘this’
is…what are you trying to tell me?’ I felt vaguely unsettled
and had to concentrate to keep us moving with the music.
Her face showed a hint of anger but it didn’t feel directed
at me. ‘You know…over all; men are stupid creatures. You need
to sit down with Heero and have a nice long talk, Duo.’
I opened my mouth to ask her another question when there was
suddenly a tap on my shoulder.
‘Mind if I cut in,’ came Wufei’s almost
sullen voice and I met Sally’s gaze.
‘If it would please Milady?’ I asked innocently.
She fairly beamed and winked at me. ‘It would please
Milady very much,’ she sighed and I could see Wufei’s face soften
as I turned her hand over to him. I quickly made myself scarce.
It took me about thirty seconds to figure out that I had just
way overdone it and that I should probably go find Heero and have him take
me back to the apartment.
I left the dance floor on legs that felt like they wanted
to turn to water and looked around the main room, but didn’t immediately
see him. It dawned on me in there somewhere that I had assumed that we would
be eating here and had never eaten dinner; this fact was probably contributing
to my wobbly feeling.
My eyes were caught by the people at the bar set up at one
end of the room, and I watched long enough to figure out people were not
paying. I waited until there was a lull and made my way over. There was
a rather portly gentleman in front of me and I waited patiently while he
bitched and whined to the poor guy mixing drinks about the quality of the
brandy before he finally took his drink and went away.
‘What a jerk,’ I muttered watching the man push
his way through the crowd.
The bartender snickered, then looked appalled and tried to
shut it down. ‘Can I help you, sir?’
I grinned at him. ‘You can start by not calling me sir…I’m
not that stinking old.’
He returned my grin and I edged closer to lean on the bar
as much for support as anything. ‘I wondered if you might be able
to help me with a little camouflage?’
His grin slipped a little and I shook my head to reassure
him; I guess that had sounded a little odd.
‘Look…I’ve been…a little under the
weather and I’m feeling a little shaky. I could really use something
to drink, but I definitely don’t need anything alcoholic…’
Well, wasn’t this awkward.
But the guy beamed at me. ‘I know just what you need,’
and he set about hauling out bottles and jars. ‘We mix it up in the
servants section when we’ve been on-shift for one of these things
a little too long.’
He started out with an orange juice base and I watched in
amusement as he threw in some honey and some sort of powder. ‘Vitamin
C,’ he informed me with a grin and continued to measure and mix. ‘High
in proteins and sugars, absolutely no caffeine or alcohol. All disguised…’
he grinned as he finished running it through the blender, poured it out
into a large drink glass and presented it to me, ‘as a Screwdriver.’
‘Perfect!’ I applauded as I took the glass and
sipped. This was just what I had been looking for; not as good as sitting
down to a meal but something to help me get through until I could get out
of here, and it looked just like any one of the other drinks drifting around
the room in people’s hands. I scanned the room for Heero again and
still didn’t see him. I turned back to my benefactor and smiled some
‘And it tastes pretty good too!’ I told him and
caught him looking at me oddly.
‘Sir…are you all right?’ he was saying,
‘you look kinda pale all of a sudden.’
I took another sip of the drink and tried to steady myself.
‘Mostly,’ I murmured and continued to lean against the bar,
just hoping to God I didn’t look like I was drunk. ‘And my name
is Duo…I thought we got past that sir thing?’
He flushed and ducked his head and speaking very softly, said,
‘I’m Greg.’ His eyes flicked around and I realized that
he’d probably be in trouble for addressing the guests on a first name
‘Listen, Greg,’ I matched his soft tone. ‘Is
there someplace…real close…where I might be able to sit down
for a few minutes? I am absolutely going to die of embarrassment if I pass-out
at the Queen of the World’s party.’
The longer I stood here, the worse I felt. I sipped at the
drink again but it wasn’t going to act that fast. I knew this shaky,
light-headed feeling and knew that I needed to go sit down somewhere for
a while or there was going to be hell to pay.
Greg glanced around and I saw him make eye contact with one
of the girls that were wandering around with the trays. He waved her over
and they whispered together for a minute. She took his place behind the
bar and Greg gestured for me to follow him. It wasn’t far, thank God,
and he led him into a small side room where I practically fell onto a couch.
I raised my head after a minute and looked around.
‘It’s the servants' break room,’ he informed
me. ‘You shouldn’t be bothered in here.’ He frowned, ‘are
you going to be all right?’
I smiled wanly up at him and nodded. ‘This is just more
activity than I’ve attempted in …months,’ I rubbed a hand
over my eyes and tried to get myself grounded. ‘I’m not going
to get you in any trouble, am I?’
He grinned at me cockily. ‘Nah. Nobody ever comes in
here…we don’t really get breaks long enough to make it worth
I chuckled and drank some more of his protein concoction.
‘I guess I’ve just been really stupid today. I usually take
a nap in the afternoon after therapy and I missed dinner too…’
I trailed off and wondered at my mouth. What the hell?
His eyes went wide and he squatted down in front of me. ‘You’re
that pilot, aren’t you!’ he exclaimed. ‘I should have
realized when I saw your hair!’
Did I fail to mention that I’d made the news? Ex-Gundam
pilots rally to rescue former teammate, film at eleven! Jesus…I really
didn’t need this.
I sighed heavily. ‘Guilty,’ I murmured and hoped
he wasn’t going to be one of those people who felt compelled to get
in my face about what a stupid thing I had done when I took that salvage
‘You’re really lucky to have friends like those,’
he blurted and I had to grin at him; that wasn’t the usual reaction.
‘Yeah,’ I confirmed for him, ‘I know.’
‘Are you going to be all right? Should I get somebody?’
He looked troubled now that he realized what I had meant when I had said
I’d been feeling ‘a little under the weather’.
I thought about it; thought about sending him to go find Heero,
but then I thought about the scene that would follow when my over-reactive
roommate/boy-friend/what ever the hell, came bursting in here and most likely
carried me out of here in his arms. I shuddered. ‘My…roommate
hasn’t missed me yet. If it’s ok, I think I’ll just rest
here for a while and see if I can get a little strength back.’
He looked vaguely guilty. ‘I should get back to work…’
I waved him on his way. ‘Go on…I’ll be fine.’
He rose and went to the door and I grinned after him. ‘Thanks,
He grinned back and I was finally alone. I sighed and drank
as much of my orange juice potion as I could stand, and set the glass on
the table beside me. I would rest here until I felt like I could manage
to walk without falling down, then I would go find Heero and tell him he
needed to take me away from here.
I leaned my head back against the wall and took a couple of
deep breaths, trying to still the trembling. I really hated how wrung-out
the slightest little activity made me feel. I doubted sometimes that I was
ever going to have my strength back. It just seemed like I was faced with
this uphill battle on a hill with no top. I dozed off mulling over the strange
things that Sally had said. I had not meant to.
‘What is the meaning of this?’ It was the strident
sound of a very pissed off Relena Peacecraft that brought me back to reality.
I blinked my eyes open, feeling groggy and disoriented. Where the hell was
It took me a minute to get my wits about me; I had obviously
been asleep for a little while because the trembling had eased, but not
for much more than an hour because that odd quivery feeling was still there
in my gut.
I frowned up at her and realized that Heero was behind her.
I saw him reach back to close the door and I blessed him for doing his best
to keep this private.
‘What?’ I asked stupidly, still rubbing sleep
from my eyes.
‘You see what kind of person he is, Heero?’ she
snapped, her intense dislike for me naked in her eyes.
‘No, Relena,’ Heero said patiently. ‘I don’t
She cut him off. ‘He’s so drunk he had to sneak
off to the servants’ quarters to sleep it off!’ Her color was
up and she was so mad her hands were shaking. I’m not sure which one
of those two things shocked her the most; ‘drunk’ or ‘servants’
I shook my head at her. ‘I’m not…’
She never gave me a chance to finish the sentence, her eyes
flicked pointedly to the glass on the table. ‘I do not want this…this…gutter
snipe in my home!’
I had to stifle the urge to laugh. Gutter snipe? Where the
hell did she pick this shit up?
‘Rel…Ms. Peacecraft…’ I began again,
but Greg chose that moment to come slipping back into the room. He was carrying
a small packet wrapped in a napkin.
‘Duo…are you…’ he said before he had
the door completely open, then froze like a deer in headlights. I watched
his eyes widen as they flicked back and forth between Relena, Heero and
me, and I realized that the kid was about to get into some serious trouble.
‘What is the meaning of this?’ Relena snapped
again, this time directing it at Greg.
‘I…’ he began and his eyes flicked to me
for help. I rose from the couch and I could see him getting ready to say
While everyone else in the room had their backs to me, I mouthed
‘Maxwell’ at him, and it served to kick him back over into employee
mode. He bowed slightly in Relena’s direction.
‘Mr. Maxwell wasn’t feeling well, Ma’am,’
he informed her blandly and I nodded my encouragement. I had a feeling his
job was on the line. ‘He asked me for a place he could sit down for
a few minutes.’
‘And you brought a…guest to the servant’s
lounge?’ she barked, voice getting shrill. I could see her transferring
her anger in his direction. She couldn’t really get at me the way
she wanted to, but Greg was more than vulnerable.
I chose that moment to interrupt, passing a hand sign to Greg
to get the hell out of the room as soon as he could.
‘Relena,’ I said softly, deliberately using her
first name just to jerk her around where she was looking at me. ‘As
a guest in your home, I instructed one of your employees to find me the
closest available place to rest. He was only doing his job. If you have
a problem with my being in this room, take it up with me.’
Greg faded back as Relena turned her attention to me.
‘I have a problem with you being in my house,’
she said. ‘I did not invite you here.’
‘He came as my guest,’ Heero told her stonily
and I was having a little trouble reading him. Behind them, I saw Greg slip
‘He…is not welcome here,’ she said and her
eyes never left mine. We stood and stared at each other and I could only
wonder at the depth of her hatred for me. Finally she turned on her heel
and stalked out of the room.
Heero was seething; I could see it in his hands clenched at
his sides, in the set of his jaw. I just wasn’t sure which one of
us he was angry with.
‘Wait here,’ he said and turned to follow Relena.
I did not have the strength left to figure out if it was my head or hers
that he wanted to rip off. I was too damn tired and despite all my masks
and cover-ups and icy attitude…I was a little bit hurt. I’d
never done anything to that girl. I’d saved her Goddamn life on more
than one occasion. The scars on my hands that made her skin crawl were obtained
fighting in the war…her fucking war when you came right down to it.
There at the end we had all been fighting for her…fighting for her
ideals and her dreams. I had helped make her dream of peace a reality, but
I wasn’t welcome in her damn ivory tower house. I saw Greg peek in
at the door.
‘How the hell do I get a cab?’ I asked him and
he waved me to follow.
Fuck wait here. I was tired of waiting.
He took me out through the back, into the kitchen and I imagined
that here was another thing that would piss off her royal highness. He used
a phone there to call a cab company and pressed the little bundle he had
been carrying earlier into my hands at the last minute as I left. It proved
to be a sandwich; he had caught that comment I had made about missing dinner.
I promised myself that I would check back in a couple of days
and make sure the kid still had a job.
I started to give the driver the address to Heero’s
place then suddenly realized I had no money on me to pay him when we got
there. Before I had a chance to think about it, I gave him the address of
the shuttle-port where my ship was docked. Where my damned place was.
I ate the sandwich in the back of the cab on the way home.
I have no doubt the driver thought I was trying to stiff him for the fare
when we got to where we were going since I had to tell him I’d be
right back with the money.
‘Yeah…right, Mac,’ he muttered and rolled
He was genuinely surprised when I not only reappeared, but
tipped him pretty damn well for the wait. I watched him drive away before
slowly boarding my ship.
It was a strange homecoming. It had been almost three months
since I’d been on board my ‘Demon’. It was made all the
more surreal by the fact that I had not docked her here. My last memory
of being within this hull had been on the way back from the asteroid belt
and I’d been so sick that Heero had been piloting.
One of the last things that had occurred to me before I had
lapsed into unconsciousness had been that Heero Yuy and Chang Wufei had
been on-board my ship for a solid week.
A pilot’s ship is…a window into his soul. It’s
a very private place, almost an extension of himself. I’ve seen some
pretty strangely decorated ships in my time. We live and work in these vessels
and when it comes to furnishings…well, they’re still functioning
space ships and there’s not a lot of leeway there. When it comes down
to the paint jobs though, that’s a little different. The Sweeper ships
are probably some of the most outlandish I’ve seen because there are
so many hands involved when it comes down to the finishing touches.
But the ‘Maxwell’s Demon’ is mine and mine
alone. I’ve never had a partner, never had a second. Everything in
that ship was my design, my decision, was put there with my hand.
I have a certain amount of artistic ability and when it had
come time for me to decorate the inside of my ship, I had rolled up my sleeves,
poured out the paint, ripped open my soul and bled out all my pain, frustration,
hopes and fears all over the walls.
I walked my ship now, and tried to find the synchronicity
again, tried to find a little piece of who I was. My footsteps echoed hollowly
through my ‘Demon’ as I made my way, as if she were angry with
me for my long absence.
‘Sorry, old girl,’ I murmured. ‘It’s
been a bad couple of months.’
She was characteristically silent.
I stood in the cockpit and looked up at the dried blood colored
walls, let my eyes wander over the photographs of the five Gundams and their
too damn human pilots. I sought out the picture of me in the Oz prison,
my hands manacled together and blood running down my face. One side of my
face is so swollen I remember being blind on that side. I thought about
what I had suffered in that war…thought about what I had done; the
suffering I had dealt out. I thought about Relena not wanting to touch my
I left the cockpit and wandered down the corridor toward my
cabin. There’s a line of figures on the right hand wall of that hallway.
Lined up as though waiting their turn to go in and view the cockpit. Solo
stands first in line, looking straight ahead with a bored expression on
his face. He’s the Solo from my memories at the age he died, not the
one I hallucinated in the belt. Behind him are the other kids who died in
the plague, some of them stand sullen, some of them are smiling, little
Becca with tears on her cheeks. Sister Helen is behind them as though she
is herding them ahead of her and I felt a pang knowing what a difference
it might have made in their short lives if they had lived to know her. Father
Maxwell is next, as tall and foreboding as I remember, but with that smile
that puts the lie to his imposing size. He has to bend his head slightly
to stand in my corridor. Behind him are the other people I had known who
were in the church the night it burned; the woman who did the books, Rafe
the man who cleaned in exchange for a place to sleep, the poor souls who
had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Last in line is the
poor girl that Jensen had killed the night before he had tried to kill me.
At the end of the line of my dead is my cabin door and I walked
through there as well, looking up at my star spattered sky. It offered me
comfort and almost, I let myself go to curl in my own bed, but ‘Demon’
called to me still, feeling neglected and I walked on.
I passed by the galley door knowing I’d find no comfort
in my blue sky and cloud-shadowed grass room. I found my steps taking me
to the cargo bay even though I didn’t really want to go there.
It’s cold down there and I shivered as I palmed on the
lights. The five Gundams stared down at me from the left and the remains
of the Maxwell church loomed on my right. I walked around the parameter
and let the memories wash through me. My head began to hurt.
What had happened to…me? Where was Duo Maxwell in all
this mess? What was there between Heero and me? How was it that he seemed
so sure of me? How could he be so positive what I felt and what I wanted
when I wasn’t even sure myself? How was it that he seemed able to
read my damn mind sometimes? And yet…I couldn’t ever seem to
figure out what he was feeling…what he was thinking. Was there some
lack in me?
I came full circle and was confronted with the still blank
end wall. Something tugged at me; I felt the muse pulling me toward that
wall. I resisted; I knew I didn’t have the strength for one of my
‘let’s bleed my soul’ artistic attacks. The Maxwell church
wall had taken me days and I had not come up for air until it was done.
Not to sleep, not to eat. My muse is a fairly relentless, sadistic bastard.
But I was starting to ‘see’ images on that wall
and I knew I had to capture them before they were gone. I resisted long
enough to go back to my cabin and change out of the tux and to queue my
music to the ship-wide speakers. I didn’t even look to see what I
Then I went to get out my paints and brushes, and just hoped
I was up for this.
Shadow images were moving across my great canvas by the time
I had my things gathered and set-up in the cargo bay, and I opened myself
to the music, closed my eyes to the here and now and let the muse have it’s
way with what was left of my soul.
It sometimes feels like trying to capture the ghosts of butterflies
and you can’t look right at the image or it flees. Sometimes it’s
like part of the painting is already there and I am merely copying, it seems
so clear. Time ceases to pass, and life outside the process of the painting
ceases to matter. The muse is a demanding thing, caring nothing for hunger
or thirst, tired muscles or aching bones. The image is all there is, and
I have no choice but to follow where it leads and do my best to render what
it tells me.
I have no idea how long it took. I really have no idea how
I managed it. When the mural was done and the muse released me, I was two
rungs up on the stepladder and had only a moment to realize what a terribly
bad idea that was. Palette and brushes fell from my nerveless fingers, and
I fell after them. I was granted a moment in which to register what I had
created before the nauseating dizziness welled up. The image was seared
into my brain, as I lay on the cold floor of the cargo bay, tangled in the
rungs of the stepladder with paint silently pooling around me.
It is Relena’s crystal palace ballroom. It is glitteringly,
breathtakingly gorgeous. Speckled about with fairy lights and crystal teardrop
chandeliers. The grand, sweeping staircase is there in the background. There
are flowers artfully arranged just about everywhere. But the room isn’t
the crowded place it had been when I saw it last. There is only a single
pair of dancers, Heero and Relena. She in her flowing blue and silver gown,
he in his perfectly tailored black tuxedo. They are caught in mid turn,
her dress swirling around them. They look perfect together, dancing alone
across the marble floor.
But there is more to the painting…as there always is.
It is a cutaway view of the crystal palace and outside it is snowing. There
is a small group of people standing outside one of the large, leaded windows.
I am the central figure, dressed all in black as I often did during the
war, wearing a great flowing black coat. There are children all around me,
street children and orphans, dressed in rags. Several of them stand with
their faces pressed to the glass, watching the dancing couple within. I
am not looking at the dancers at all. I am looking down at a small child
who is holding my hand and looking up imploringly at me, pointing in the
window with her free hand. As if asking why we are out in the cold and snow
when there is such a beautiful, warm place so near to us. Only now the ballroom
doesn’t seem quite so lovely. It seems…hollow…empty. The
marble seems cold and unforgiving. The lights too stark and harsh in comparison
to the small, huddled figures of the children in the snow. It is suddenly
a portrait of excess and decadence.
Then my sight started to go to gray and I finally registered
the music that had been playing in an endless loop all around me.
'…'Cause I remember all the times I tried so hard
And you laughed in my face 'cause you held the cards.
I don't care anymore.
And I really ain't bothered what you think of me
'Cause all I want of you is just to let me be.
I don't care anymore D'you hear? I don't care no more.
I don't care what you say
I never did believe you much anyway.
I won't be there no more
So get out of my way.
Let me by
I got better things to do with my time
I don't care anymore
D'you hear? I don't care anymore
I don't care no more
You listening? I don't care no more
You know I don't care no more!
No more, no no more
No more, no no more
No more, no no more…'
It was echoing in my mind when I finally succumbed to the
darkness and was swept away.
Awakening in a strange place and not knowing how I got there
was becoming a damn habit that I was getting sorely sick of.
The surroundings were familiar enough that I figured out ‘hospital’
fairly quickly. The itchy pulling sensation on my arm translated in my head
to ‘IV’ just as fast. But I had to blink my blurry eyes open
to figure out why my other hand wouldn’t move. I found Heero sitting
on the edge of the bed, my right hand held in both of his, head bowed low,
his forehead resting against the back of my hand.
I squeezed his fingers to let him know I was back among the
living and when his head jerked up I was caught completely off guard by
the pain that lay naked and bleeding in his eyes.
‘Duo…’ he sighed and I lay blinking up at
him, watching him close his eyes and fight back tears. Heero…fighting
with unshed tears. It was enough to shift the world beneath my feet.
‘It’s all right,’ I told him, voice coming
rough and unsteady. ‘I’m…all right.’
It was almost more than I could comprehend, that I was the
cause of that pain etched into his face. This was the first time through
this whole thing that he had not worn that expression that spoke of utter
and complete faith in ‘us’. I saw doubt in his eyes for the
first time. I saw him look at me and knew that somehow his ability to constantly
know what I was thinking had faltered. For the first time, I almost felt
like we were on even ground.
I opened my mouth to speak again and my throat clogged on
me. He let go of my hand, brought me water and helped me sip it.
‘What happened?’ I questioned when I was able,
trying my best to piece things back together. ‘What…what day
He seemed to steady a little, having something to do for me,
and he took my hand again when I was done with the water. ‘It’s
Tuesday,’ he told me gently and I frowned, trying to do the math.
‘The party was Friday night,’ he supplied and the pain flared
in his eyes again. ‘I…I found you Monday afternoon.’
I nodded and waited for him to answer my other question; my
head was hurting too much and I just didn’t feel like putting forth
the effort to dredge up the information. But instead, he started in with
questions of his own.
‘Why did you run away?’ he asked, his brow furrowed
in confusion. ‘Why didn’t you wait for me?’
I heard his angry voice again, telling me in clipped tones
to ‘wait here’ in no uncertain terms. I felt the icy chill in
my gut again, not sure just who his anger was directed toward.
‘I…thought you were mad at me,’ I murmured
as it started to come back, ‘and…Relena thoroughly pissed me
off. I just wanted out of her damned house.’
His eyes widened and the tears threatened again. ‘I
was mad at her. I couldn’t believe she’d said those things to
you. I went to get our coats and when I came back…you were gone.’
I saw the echo of his panic and felt guilty.
‘I’m sorry,’ I told him and could only squeeze
his fingers. ‘I just had to get out of there…I wasn’t
thinking very clearly, I guess.’
‘I looked all over the place,’ he said softly
and he brought his fingers up to stroke across my cheek. ‘I couldn’t
find you anywhere. How did you…?’
I smiled wanly. ‘Greg took me out through the kitchen
and called a cab for me.’
‘Greg?’ he questioned in bewilderment.
That made me think. ‘The bartender…the kid who
helped me out.’ God, had it really been four days? ‘Heero…I
have to make sure that Relena didn’t fire him over it; he was only
doing me a favor.’
He nodded and brought my captured hand to his lips to gently
kiss my knuckles. ‘I’ll check, I promise.’
I was starting to struggle with heavy eyelids and looked up
at him imploringly. ‘Heero…I want to go. Please…can we
He blinked at me for a minute, and I wasn’t sure what
I’d said that had so taken him by surprise, but he finally smiled
at me. ‘Tomorrow, my heart,’ he soothed and I drifted off to
I was released the next day after a thorough lecture from
my Doctor about proper meals and not overdoing it. He’s a neat old
guy, and for a Doctor I like him pretty well. I also got a couple of remarks
about the utter stupidity of being on the top of a stepladder at this stage
of my recovery. He made it abundantly clear that I was damned lucky I hadn’t
broken any bones.
The drive home was quiet, and I had decided before we got
there that it was time Heero and I had that talk. He still seemed…off
center and a little less sure of me somehow; I felt like the playing field
had been evened a little bit.
He took me into the apartment and settled me on the couch,
found an afghan and tucked it around me, brought me juice. I figured out
pretty fast that he too knew it was time we talked and he was putting it
‘Heero,’ I stopped his fidgeting with the tone
of my voice. ‘Come and sit down.’
He stood and regarded me for a moment, seeing on my face that
there was no more stalling. With a soft sigh and a guilty little smile,
he sat down on the other end of the couch. We sat sideways and faced each
other; neither of us spoke for the longest time. I just wasn’t sure
where to start.
‘Heero…I’m not sure I can do this…’
I finally blurted and was astonished by the look of horror that washed over
‘Duo…please…’ he murmured and I shook
‘Listen,’ I told him softly, looking down into
the amber depths of my juice. ‘I…I’m so screwed up. I
don’t think I…’ I couldn’t figure out how to explain
what an emotional wreck I was. Didn’t know how to tell him that I
obviously didn’t feel things the way normal people did. I wanted to
tell him that I wasn’t sure I felt for him with the same…intensity
that he cared for me…but we’d never even spoken the words to
His brow furrowed in some small confusion. ‘Duo, you
are not…screwed up. You’re still recovering. You have to give
I sighed and set the juice glass aside; I really didn’t
want it right then. ‘This isn’t about the accident,’ I
told him softly. ‘This is about what’s in here.’ I touched
my hand to my chest and looked up to meet his eyes.
He was shaking his head again. ‘It’s all tangled
together Duo,’ he told me firmly and a little of that feeling that
he was looking inside my head was back. ‘You haven’t dealt with
what you went through yet…you haven’t laid the ghosts to rest.’
I blinked across at him and my right hand unconsciously sought
out Solo’s scars on my left arm and rubbed at them. ‘My ghosts
don’t rest,’ I told him.
He slid forward on the couch, coming close enough to reach
and still my fingers with his own. ‘I know,’ his eyes strayed
to my sleeve where it hid the line of scars that ran the length of my forearm;
one for every year that Solo had been gone. I remembered that night all
those years ago, the night he had followed me because he thought I was so
distraught that I might blow our cover. It had been the anniversary of Solo’s
death and he had been watching when I made the ninth mark. All these years
I hadn’t been sure if he had seen or not, had never been positive
how much he had heard. I knew now. I felt myself flushing, but I couldn’t
tear my eyes away from his.
‘This is all happening so fast…’ I breathed,
trying to make him understand.
He shook his head with a small, sad smile. ‘Four years
doesn’t seem so fast to me. This should have happened back then, if
not for the war…if not for our duty…’
‘But it didn’t happen then!’ I felt my voice
rising and tried to make it stop. ‘And now…’
‘Please tell me it’s not too late,’ he pleaded
softly and he took my hand in his again.
‘I don’t know,’ I had to tell him. I had
started this conversation and it seemed like it was a ball rolling downhill
all of a sudden, out of my control. ‘Heero…I hurt so bad for
so long…I don’t know that I can do this.’
There was that bleeding ache in his eyes again that I didn’t
know how to answer.
‘I know…I know,’ he soothed, his fingers
clutching at mine. ‘I hurt you. I know I hurt you. I saw…I heard…and
I didn’t know what to do…’
‘I couldn’t ever figure out what I had done to…make
you…hate me…’ I whispered, voicing it out loud for the
first time and was surprised when the pain welled up as fresh as when it
had been new.
‘I never hated you!’ he moaned, letting go of
my hand to take me by the shoulders. ‘Oh God! Never! I lost my heart
to you the damn day we met!’
I was completely confused now and searched his face for the
lie but couldn’t find it. ‘Then why in the hell did you send
that God damn message demanding that we never be partnered together again!’
I wailed, losing the fight against the ages old pain.
‘Because I almost got Quatre killed over my feelings
for you!’ he cried and suddenly let go of me to fling himself up to
his feet, as though the emotions that seemed to be roiling around inside
wouldn’t let him stay still. ‘On that damn mission with the
mobile doll factory with…Jensen…’ I could hear the loathing
in his voice when he spoke the name of the man who had tried to assault
me. ‘I couldn’t think straight! I made stupid decisions…I
was struggling so hard trying to not let myself protect you that I went
too far the other way and…and let you endanger yourself.’ He
was standing with his back to me as though he couldn’t meet my eyes.
‘The night we blew the factory, I should have been getting Quatre
out while you were retreating…but instead I was so afraid for you…I
He trailed off and all I could do was sit and stare at his
back. The silence ran for a bit while he seemed to get himself together,
then he turned to face me. ‘I’m sorry, Duo. I am so very damn
sorry…’ he came and knelt beside me and took my hands in his,
bringing my scarred palms to his lips. ‘This should have been me…I
should have been the one…’
I snatched my hands away, horrified by the idea somehow. ‘No!’
I snapped and curled my hands closed. ‘Don’t…don’t
He took my face in his hands and forced me to meet his eyes.
‘I love you,’ he told me, his voice intense and forceful, ‘and
I know that you care for me…’
‘How the hell can you be so damned sure of what I think
and what I feel when I can’t even sort it out?’ I cried, suddenly
finding myself on the edge of my control.
He looked infinitely sad then and almost…defeated. ‘You
may fight it with your head,’ he told me softly, ‘but when you
were sick, it was your heart that was speaking to me.’
I suddenly remembered what Sally had been trying to tell me
and my eyes flew open wide as it finally sank in. I had babbled God only
knows what, to God only knows who, in a fever dream fit of confession.
‘Heero…’ I gasped in horror and watched
the light go out of his eyes as he saw my reaction to the revelation.
He let go of me and sat back on his heels. ‘Duo…you
were sick…you almost died…’
I tried to calm down, tried to make my emotions feel what
my brain knew; it wasn’t his fault. I was the one who had run off
at the mouth, he had not made me tell him anything; he’d had little
choice but to listen.
‘I…I feel like my head’s been raped,’
I murmured and watched in shock as he recoiled as if I’d slapped him;
I had not meant to say that out loud. ‘Heero! I’m sorry! I didn’t
He stopped me with a touch on my arm. ‘You have every
right to feel that way,’ he said softly and couldn’t raise his
I was suddenly just very tired. ‘I…I need to…think
about this for a little while,’ I finally managed and he nodded.
‘Whatever you decide…whatever you need…’
he finally lifted his eyes again. ‘I love you and I want you here
with me…forever. But more than that…I don’t want to hurt
you any more.’
He rose from where he had been kneeling beside me and turned
away. His shoulders were slumped and his head hung down in defeat; he went
to his room and softly closed the door behind him.
I watched him go without speaking.
I wished idly for a little while that I had the strength to
go out for a walk but I knew it would be a stupid thing to do. I knew I
wouldn’t get far, but the lure of the fresh air was enticing anyway.
He loved me. He’d finally said it out loud. I could
only sit and wonder if I had said it to him yet.
I thought back through the years to the night he had followed
me away from that safe house in the woods. He had to have been following
me all evening. He had to have trailed me to town that day. What all had
he seen? What had he heard? What had I said? Had he been there when I admitted
to Paige that I was attracted to men? Had he heard me talking to myself
in the woods, pretending it was Solo because I was so damned lonely I could
have cried? Had he been revolted to stand there and watch me slice my own
arm open? Too much time had gone by; the details of that mission were too
dimmed in my memory. I only vaguely recalled the conversations I’d
had with Bill and Paige but I did remember the nagging feeling I’d
had all that afternoon of being watched.
Other things occurred to me then, thinking back on that time
we’d stayed together as roommates at school. The harder I had tried
to make him not hate me so damn bad, the harder he had pushed me away. This
new perspective let me see that he had been fighting his attraction to me.
Had been struggling with emotions that soldiers in a war weren’t supposed
I remembered that other mission, remembered Heero’s
eyes on me, glaring and angry whenever Quatre and I chanced to touch each
other. Had he been…jealous? Heero Yuy… jealous? I remembered
the way his gaze had moved over me when I had put on that damned spandex
‘streetwalker’ disguise. I thought about his coming out of his
room that night, intent on checking my injuries. Had that cold, calculating
attitude been covering up the fact that he truly was worried about me?
He had frozen on a mission because he had been scared for
me? He let his feelings for me interfere with his duty? Could I believe
that? Did I dare believe that? All those years of pain. All that time thinking
that he couldn’t stand the sight of me.
I remembered him working with Wufei over my hands when they
had found me trying to hide my wounds from them. I remembered his voice
gently telling me not to watch as Wufei cut away the charred skin. I remembered
the feel of his hand on my face, turning me away from the sight. I thought
hard about the dream I’d had not long after that…right before
Heero disappeared and then sent the message to Command requesting that we
not be assigned to work together again.
He had copied me on that message and I had spent the last
three years wondering…why? It was just like him not to send it behind
my back. There were times I wished he had…I probably never would have
known. Would have thought it was just the luck of the draw that we never
worked together again. Instead, I spent years worrying it like a dog with
a bone trying to figure it out. Well…now I had my answer. I was just
having trouble believing in it.
He came half way across the solar system to bring me back
from the depths of hell. On a moments notice, he had thrown himself into
a ship he had never seen before, and taken off on a weeklong journey without
even knowing for sure that I would be alive when he got there. That spoke
of love didn’t it? I thought about the little time we had spent on
the ship, just the two of us, before the fever had taken me and the memories
became confused and fragmented. Heero staying close by my side, understanding
before I did how darkly effected I had been by those long, long days floating
alone in the cold. Heero gently bathing me, feeding me, caring for me, holding
me through the night and whispering softly when the nightmares came hunting.
But…what had I said to him? He seemed to know everything
there was to know about me. Had I lain there those long days and told him…all
my secrets? No wonder he seemed to be able to read my damned mind.
And his absolute unshakable faith in me…in what I felt
for him. That had to come from what I had told him…from the things
that I had revealed during the dark hours when I had come so close to dying.
Had I known? Had I realized that I was probably not going to make it back
to Earth? What did that say? Was there some part of me that wasn’t
consumed by doubt and fear? Was there some part of my heart that was whole
enough to know that I loved him still? Some part of my soul that was strong
enough to let the walls down…to open myself once more? To take the
chance that I might get hurt again?
Was there some small part that still dared to believe in the
I found that hours had passed when I came out of my head again
and looked around. It was almost midnight. My glass of juice was long warm
but I sipped it anyway because my mouth and throat were dry.
I thought about packing my things and moving back home to
I thought about retreating to my room and hiding in the depths
I thought about calling Relena’s number just to hang
up on her.
I thought about that walk again.
Then I got up, wrapped the afghan around my shoulders and
went softly to Heero’s door. I tapped once, but didn’t wait
for him to open it. The room was dark and the light spilled in with the
opening of the door. He was lying on the bed flat on his back but the light
caught the glitter of his open eyes.
‘I…’ I’m afraid of being hurt again.
You hold in your hands all that remains of my battered, dented soul and
I will not survive another rejection. I cannot do that again…I don’t
have the strength.
‘I…’ I am…damaged goods. I sometimes
feel as though I am held together with bailing wire and twine. And I can’t
understand how you can say you love me. I don’t see what it is that
you see in me.
‘I…’ I need to know what you know. I need
to hear from you just what passed between us in those long dark hours between
the stars. I need to be on even ground with you. I can not abide this feeling
of having been put under a microscope. I have said things and I have done
things and I need to know what they were.
‘I…’ I think, perhaps, that you might be
right; I think I might just love you. I think I might have found the key
to the box that holds the bloodied remains of the dream I had of you. But
I don’t think I can resurrect it by myself.
He sat up slowly and looked at me, his eyes fever bright in
the dim light that was filtering past me. He slid over to make room for
me and held out his hand. I took the dozen steps to the side of his bed
and carefully lay down beside him, unwrapping the afghan to throw over the
both of us. I lay with my back to him and he came to curl behind me, sliding
his arm underneath for me to pillow my head on, draping his other arm across
my hip. Just as we had slept together aboard my ‘Demon’.
It was quiet for a long time.
‘We’re going to have to talk about what happened…while
I was sick,’ I whispered into the night.
‘I know,’ he sighed and his arm tightened around
me. ‘We’re going to have to talk about that mural too.’
I grunted; I had forgotten it. ‘O…Ok.’
His hand left my hip to pull the afghan closer and tuck it
‘Heero?’ I ventured at last.
‘What, love?’ he sighed.
‘That night…after I was burned…when I had
the nightmare…that wasn’t a dream, was it?’
‘I…’ I felt like a fist had taken hold of
my heart. What we had…whatever the hell it was, had not been born
on that trip back from the belt. It had truly started all those years ago.
‘I think I can do this,’ I whispered.
His arms clutched at me, holding me tight against him and
a strange trembling took hold of him, his voice when it came was thick.
‘I know you can. I know…we can.’
I think he was crying but he wouldn’t let me turn in
his arms to be sure. All I could do was reach behind me and hold on to his
shoulder until the trembling stopped.
‘It won’t be easy,’ I told him when he settled.
‘I know,’ he breathed against the top of my head.
‘Heero…I…I love you.’ Something dark
seemed to recede from around my heart.
This time he did let me turn in his arms and we held each
other through the rest of the night.
On to Chapter Five:Obligations
Back to Chapter Three
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