I could never have explained to Heero how odd it made me feel
when he and I got together with Wufei, Trowa and Quatre, so I never tried.
He always referred to us as ‘the five of us’, but he couldn’t
understand that in my mind it was the ‘four of them’ and then…me.
They had kept in contact through all those years after the
war while I had run off with my tail between my legs and done my best to
vanish into a new existence. While I had stayed in touch with Quatre, one
can’t just abandon ones ‘little brother’ after all, it
had only been through letters and the occasional phone call.
They had more history together after the war than I had with
any of them before, during and after. They had all these little in-jokes
and rituals that I just didn’t follow. For instance, if any of them
mentioned white roses in front of Quatre, he turned the most God-awful shade
of red and all the rest of them would laugh uproariously for no apparent
reason. All I could do was chuckle along and wait until the conversation
turned to something that made sense.
They got together for dinner once a month almost without fail.
I hadn’t known that for a long time, Heero hadn’t gone during
my early convalescence, not having been willing to leave me alone for the
evening. And of course he’d never mentioned it.
After we had gotten back to Earth from that lovely little
foray to L2 with Miss Peacecraft, Heero and I’d had a long talk about
him getting on with his life. I had insisted that he stop acting like I
would self-destruct if he left me alone for five minutes and get back to
his normal routines.
One of those routines was his bi-weekly evening out with Relena,
and his resuming them had gone a long way toward making her give up the
Duo Maxwell voodoo doll. Or at least putting it away for the time being.
Another thing he had given up while he’d been caring
for me was a daily visit to the Preventor’s gym. He apparently was
in the habit of stopping off for an hour after work everyday with Wufei.
It had taken a little longer to convince him to pick that habit up again.
I was rather glad he did; it seemed to make a world of difference in Wufei’s
attitude toward me.
Then I found out from Quatre that Heero had played shortstop
on the Preventor’s softball team for the last two years but hadn’t
signed up this year. When I confronted him with it, he had patiently explained
that he hadn’t thought he would have the time to worry with it. It
wasn’t all that difficult to convince him to re-join the team mid-season
and I could tell it was something he had been missing.
It had felt like some sort of damn victory, getting him to
admit he didn’t have to spend his every waking moment with me. Getting
him to trust that I didn’t mind that he did things that didn’t
involve me. Convincing him to let the other people in his life back inside
The first time that one of those ‘pilot’ dinners
had rolled around after our little vacation to L2, I had insisted he go.
He had insisted that I was as much a part of the group as he was and that
I should go too. It had rather taken me aback; none of his other extra-curricular
activities had involved me. It had made me extremely uncomfortable just
thinking about it and I had managed to beg off; it had come not long after
our return and I was still having some…problems from my overexertion.
He had let it ride and actually went without me. I had been relieved, but
had also realized that I would not be able to avoid it forever.
And while I was ecstatic that he was actually listening to
me; was finally getting back to some semblance of what was normal for him,
it had left me feeling…damn hollow. Those extra hours of being alone
ate at me, only served to drive home how very freakin’ far from normal
I was. How distant I had drifted from my own life. While I chided Heero
for letting his universe revolve around me…I was letting myself revolve
around him and couldn’t seem to get it stopped.
It had been a weird, weird progression, my coming to grips
with his life. Intellectually, I had known that he had not just sat in a
dark room on his hands for the last three years. I knew that he had gone
on just as I had gone on, but other than the vague understanding that he
lived here and did that for a living, I hadn’t known anything about
him. It was difficult for me to face up to the fact that he had friends,
that he had favorite restaurants and favorite foods, that there were people
that he knew that I had never met. And I suppose it made it a little more
awkward that we were on his home turf; when we left the apartment, his neighbors
would speak. When we went out to eat, the waiters recognized him and called
him Mr. Yuy. When we went to the mall or the grocery we sometimes ran into
people he worked with. So even when I was trying to be something other than
his shadow, I ended up feeling like Alice in Wonderland right after that
first fall down the rabbit hole. Out of place and inappropriately dressed.
Damn. I’m bitching again. You have to understand how
freakin’ depressed I was after we got back from that damn trip. Circumstances
had forced me to push my body passed the point of no return and I had undone
a lot of the progress I had worked so hard to make. I started having the
dizzy spells again, I had trouble staying awake; I was sleeping ten and
twelve hours a day and still felt exhausted. My therapist had given my Doctor
a heads up and I had gotten called in to his office for a checkup that had
essentially ended up being a gentle ass reaming. My therapy sessions got
jacked back up to three times a week. It seemed I could feel myself back-sliding
So right when I was getting to a point where I wanted to reach
out for Heero, wanted to be able to lean for all I was fucking worth; I
didn’t feel like I could. The one thing that I had gotten out of that
jaunt with the Queen was the realization of how much Heero was cutting himself
off from his friends. Relena had managed to open my eyes to just how much
he was coming to focus on me and nothing else. My mission, when we got back,
was to turn that around. I couldn’t do that if he had a glimmer of
just how much I was faltering, how crushed I felt under the weight of this
whole two steps forward, one step back dance I was doing.
I couldn’t hide the physical aspect of things; he’s
not stupid. But I could greet it with stoic good cheer; I could pop off
to my therapy sessions with a grin and a wave, could drop a DVD into the
player on the nights he went out, with apparent relish for my ‘time
I just suffered through it; sucked it up and started that
Goddamn uphill climb again. I developed a strong empathy for that poor sap
in Greek mythology; the guy who is destined to push that big rock up the
hill for all of eternity because every time he gets to the top, the thing
rolls back down to the bottom and he has to start over. It took six weeks
before that stupid wrist brace finally came off, which was a massive relief…until
I figured out it was just going to add to my therapy sessions.
So it was already a day for mood swings the morning it came
off. I had started out ecstatic until the thing had actually been removed
and I had comprehended just how much I had lost in the way of muscle tone
and range of motion.
I had gone in to the Doctor’s office in the morning
to have the brace removed and my wrist checked. From there I had to go into
the clinic where I was given a whole new set of exercises for my wrist;
bringing my total daily time to an hour and a half… on my off days.
Therapy days were two hours on top of that. I smiled sweetly at my therapist,
I had learned that fits of temper only resulted in calls being made to my
Doctor, and did the exercises until she was satisfied I could do them in
I damn near burst into tears on the cab ride home. Six weeks
from the L2 nightmare and I had re-tamed the dizzy spells, re-conquered
the exhaustion, had fought my way back to where I had once been. Now my
wrist lay in my lap and throbbed like a son-of-a-bitch, a pointed reminder
that no matter how far I came, there would always be another hurdle. It
felt like I was watching that fucking rock roll back down to the bottom
of the hill. I couldn’t get back to the apartment fast enough; I was
ready to throw myself into Heero’s arms and spill my guts, was ready
to tell him I couldn’t handle anything more, was ready to confess
just how much I’d been covering up.
So it was something of a kick in the face when I got home
only to find a message on the machine from Heero, letting me know that a
make-up game had been scheduled for that evening, he probably wouldn’t
be home before eight or nine and not to hold supper.
I played the message twice and started to chortle hysterically
half way through the second pass. It was somewhat ironic that the day I
decided I really needed him, he was kept away from me by something I had
insisted he needed to do. I laughed until I was bawling like a baby and
then I went and took a shower.
I think…I think I had a teeny, tiny little nervous break
down. Or temper tantrum. Or…something. All I know is, I stepped into
that shower sobbing like a damn child and I don’t remember much of
anything else until I came back to reality curled up in a shivering ball
in the bottom of the tub under a spray of water that had turned to ice.
When I got myself together and got the hell out of there, I found that almost
two hours had elapsed. I huddled on the bathroom floor in front of the heater
until my hands stopped shaking enough that I was able to go make myself
some hot chocolate. Something inside my head had…snapped. Into place
or out of it, I’ve never been quite sure which.
I took my cocoa, wrapped myself in the afghan, sat on the
couch and called Howard.
‘Hey, old man,’ I greeted him when he picked up.
‘Duo? Is that you?’ he sounded pleased and when
I thought about it, I realized I hadn’t gotten in contact with him
or any of the rest of the guys in months.
‘In the flesh,’ I confirmed, rather amazing myself
how damn cheerful I sounded.
‘How are you doin’, kid?’ he asked and I
could tell he really wanted to know and I felt guilty about not keeping
‘Great, man!’ I reassured him, curling my trembling
hands around my mug for the warmth, cradling the phone against my shoulder.
‘That’s why I called, in fact; I’m getting ready to go
back to work and I was wondering if you had anything…’ I hesitated,
not sure how to word this. ‘Anything small…maybe a cargo run
There was the slightest hesitation. He knew as well as I did
that my reputation had suffered from that damn accident in the belt. Hell,
he was still out there in the trade, still had his contacts. He probably
knew more about my prospects right now than I did. When he spoke, it was
with slow deliberation. ‘Well, I did just turn down a small courier
job. It was…a little too small to be worth while for us.’
Ouch. A damn scut job. Something I wouldn’t have looked
at twice six months ago. But the very fact that Howard even mentioned it,
told me volumes about what the rumor mill must be churning out about me.
I realized with a start, just how bad off I might be. I took the name and
number of the contact and then made small talk for a couple of minutes before
I didn’t even give myself time to finish the cocoa before
calling the client. I knew if I gave my brain a chance to think about it,
I would probably back down. The arrangements were made within the hour.
I hung the phone up feeling like the biggest loser in the
world. I had just taken a Goddamn, exotic animal courier run. A fucking,
pet taxi service; Earth to L3. Just what in the hell had I been reduced
to? I gave myself ten minutes to sit on the couch and stare at the wall
and finish my hot chocolate. Then I got the hell to work; I didn’t
really have any choice. I was rapidly running out of funds; the spaceport
did not house ships in dock out of the kindness of their hearts, after all.
I carefully folded the afghan and put it away, went and rinsed
my mug, then logged onto the net and started my preparations. Logged the
flight plan, downloaded the information packet from my client on ‘ocelots’
whatever the hell those were, scheduled a refuel, and sent an e-mail off
to the guy from L3 who wanted me to repaint his ship’s ceiling. This
courier job wasn’t going to be all that profitable; might as well
make the most of it. I was going to be in the neighborhood after all.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening researching
my cargo, skipped dinner in one of those fits of ‘I just don’t
give a damn’, and made a point of going to bed before I knew Heero
was going to get home.
I wasn’t his fault. I know that. I wasn’t mad
at him; I just didn’t feel up to facing him right then. I had reached
for him and he hadn’t been there. I had figured out that I hadn’t
really needed to reach…I had managed, the way I always do, to get
by on my own. Tomorrow I would be fine again, but if I saw him tonight…I
don’t know. I didn’t want to take the chance; I was still just
I heard him come home and I felt like a real shit lying in
my room feigning sleep. I had left a rather lame little note about a headache
and I saw it dangling from his fingers when he came to stand in my doorway.
I watched him watching me, my eyes carefully slitted almost closed. He stood
there for a long few minutes before silently withdrawing. I heard him moving
quietly around the kitchen for awhile before he retreated to his own room.
I finally dozed off listening to the water in the pipes as he took his shower.
I made a point of not getting up the next day until I was
sure he’d gone to work.
There was a note written on the back of the one I had left
him, admonishing me to take it easy today and to give him a call at work
when I got up. It said he loved me. Well, that kicked the old guilt right
in the nuts.
I got some breakfast first, mostly just because I knew he’d
probably ask and I didn’t want to lie to him about something so simple.
Then I sat down to make the call.
‘Morning,’ I greeted him after he picked up.
‘Good morning, love,’ he replied and there was
a certain relief in his voice that made me feel bad for last night’s
small deception. ‘Feeling better?’
‘Yeah,’ I reassured, not having to lie. ‘I
am. Sorry I missed you last night. Did you win your game?’
‘Yeah, three to two,’ he confirmed. ‘It
was a close game.’ He hesitated. ‘Though, if I had known you
weren’t feeling well, I would have come on home.’
I snorted derisively, ‘Heero…I had a headache,
not a heart attack.’
He chuckled. ‘Sorry, I just missed getting to see you
I let my voice turn a little husky. ‘Will you be on
time tonight, lover?’ There was an odd little silence and I found
myself fearing that I wouldn’t see him at all today.
‘You forgot we’re going out tonight, didn’t
you?’ he asked, a touch of amusement in his voice.
Shit. The pilot’s night out. I had forgotten. Or maybe
I had driven it completely out of my mind because I just hadn’t really
wanted to think about it. I guess I was quiet a little too long.
‘Duo,’ he said gently, ‘if you’re
not feeling up to it, we don’t have to go.’
But I could hear the faint echo of disappointment in his voice.
‘No, it’s fine,’ I told him. ‘I just forgot; I can
put the steak back in the freezer…it hasn’t had time to thaw
out anyway.’ That was a base lie; I hadn’t gotten around to
putting anything out for dinner yet, but I had discovered that it was the
little details that made the lies sound more convincing. God, but I was
getting good at lying.
‘If you’re sure…’ he said hesitantly
and when I didn’t object, his voice brightened slightly, ‘I’ll
come home and pick you up after work.’
I gnawed at my lip, feeling my gut tightening already. ‘Uhmmm…how
should I dress?’ I asked, and knew I was blushing.
‘Casual,’ he chuckled and my face burned hotter.
‘Jeans casual or business casual?’ I persisted.
‘Jeans and t-shirt will be fine,’ he said and
I could fucking hear him grinning.
‘Stop laughing at me, asshole,’ I groused.
He laughed out right then, and I had to resist the urge to
hang up on him. ‘I’m sorry, love…I’ve just never
known you to worry about…appearances before.’
That would be the part where I was being thrust into the middle
of a group of guys that I hadn’t really spent any time with in years.
A group of guys that I used to kill people and blow shit to smithereens
with. A group of guys who had not only stayed in touch with each other,
but had actually gotten to be damn good friends. That would be the part
where I felt like a fifth wheel. The part where I was scared I wouldn’t
fit in and I was afraid I was going to embarrass my lover.
I forced a smile that he couldn’t see, but I had learned
you could hear such things. ‘Get off my case, Yuy or I’ll wear
the Hell-bound Beavers shirt.’
‘Ok…ok…I give,’ he returned the invisible
smile. ‘Does this help; when I come home, I will change into jeans
and my black polo shirt if it’s clean.’
‘Are you subtly suggesting that I do the laundry?’
I smirked and we finished out the conversation in that vein. I left him
laughing…always leave them laughing.
After we hung up, I went back to check on my trip preparations
and tried really hard not to think about how I was going to break the news
to Heero that I would be leaving in a couple of days. My refuel request
had come through and I noted that I would have to get my ass down to the
dock before lunch to meet the crew. My flight plan hadn’t cleared
yet and I considered putting a call through to the office to see if I could
nudge it along. I decided against it, I really wasn’t feeling up to
more banter right now. I spent another hour reading over the information
I had found on ocelots and then called a cab to make the run down to my
Once I got the refuel crew started, I had an hour to kill
and spent it going over my ship, trying to decide where to secure the stupid
ocelot cage. I finally settled on housing the thing in the guest cabin so
I didn’t have to worry about pressurizing the cargo bay for one small
piece of cargo.
I made it back to the apartment with plenty of time to shower
and change. I double-lathered, conditioned and combed. Brushed, flossed
and gargled. Scrubbed, trimmed and cologned. Then stood in front of the
mirror and glared at myself; what in the seven hells was wrong with me?
You would think I was on my first Goddamn date.
It took me a stinking half an hour to settle on a pair of
black jeans and a cream colored, band-collar shirt. Pathetic.
I sat on the couch to wait for Heero and found myself thinking
about Quatre. Should I wear the gloves, or not? Had he forgotten about my
hands? Would the gloves just bring it all back to his attention or would
having to see the remnants of the scars be worse? Most of the times that
I had seen him recently, I’d had blankets or afghans for camouflage.
I put the gloves on and took them back off three times before Heero got
home. I wondered idly where we were eating and hoped it wasn’t someplace
too exotic; my stomach was upset enough.
I heard Heero’s key in the front door and I took a deep
breath, girding my proverbial loins and all that.
Then he was in the room and his smile swept it all away for
the moment. He came right to me, took me in his arms and kissed me like
we’d been apart for months. When he broke away, he gave me the oddest
little half smile and wordlessly stripped the gloves off me, tossing them
on the coffee table before raising my hands up to ghost a kiss across my
‘I missed you,’ was all he said before going to
I sat on the couch again while I waited, not sure whether
to wish he’d hurry the hell up so we could get this over with, or
wish he just wouldn’t come out of his room at all. I thought about
coyotes gnawing their way out of steel traps and sighed. At that point,
getting through the evening without throwing up was my single, solitary
And no, you do not need to tell me how stupid I was being.
I had seen all the guys since the accident. While Heero had been on his
leave of absence, back during the days that I was still confined to a wheel
chair, Wufei would come by and run errands for us sometimes.
Quatre came by to visit me fairly often. That had been…a
heart-warming surprise; he had been the only one who really came for no
other reason than to see me. And of course, where Quatre was, Trowa was
seldom far behind, so I had seen and talked to all of them since the accident.
But it wasn’t the same as it was going to be hanging
out with them, all together. Especially on one of these outings that were
rife with a history I didn’t share.
Heero came out of his room, as promised, in jeans and polo
shirt. He was still wearing that damnable little, amused smile too. I had
to squelch the urge to flip him off.
He came and reached for my hand, pulling me to my feet. ‘Duo,’
he smiled at me gently, ‘we’re going out to dinner, not to a
‘I’m so happy to be a source of entertainment
for you,’ I growled.
His smile faded, changing to a look of concern and he moved
to cup my face in his hands. ‘Duo…love, what’s wrong?’
I sighed. What in the hell was the matter with me? I couldn’t
seem to do the simplest things for him without throwing a temper fit in
the process. I brought my hands up to curl around his wrists. ‘I’m
sorry, Heero…yesterday just wasn’t a very good day and…I
dunno…it seems to have carried over somehow…’ when I thought
about it, I really didn’t know what was depressing me so much. It
seemed there was something major eating at me that I just couldn’t
put my finger on. Something more…than my long list of current…
burdens. I dredged up a smile for him but the troubled look didn’t
leave his face.
He turned his hands and carefully took hold of my bad wrist.
‘How does it feel?’ he asked softly, really looking at it for
the first time without the brace.
I sighed again, rather heavily, despite my best efforts. ‘Aches,’
His fingers gently traced along my wrist, dipping inside the
sleeve of my shirt and questing up my forearm. ‘It looks so…pale
and thin,’ he told me, his expression oddly distracted as his fingers
stroked their way up my arm. Suddenly, his eyes cleared and he pulled me
into a fierce embrace, one hand slipping to the back of my neck to pull
me in close. ‘You know I’m here for you…don’t you?
Even if it’s just to…talk?’
I returned the tight hug, measure for measure and smiled softly
against his neck, feeling as though something…odd had just happened.
‘I know,’ I drew back and kissed him lightly. ‘We’re
going to be late.’
‘They’ll wait,’ he informed me and turned
the kiss into something deeper. I thought I was going to have to untuck
my shirt by the time he was done, just to hide the damn hard-on. He had
that freakin’ smile on his face again when we left the apartment.
This time I didn’t resist the urge to flip him the bird and he laughed
At the last minute I grabbed my little, squishy exercise ball.
I had totally blown off all my exercises today, taking care of my ship instead.
I could at least use the drive to the restaurant to do some of my new hand
routines. Besides, it gave me something to do in the car besides pick at
I considered telling Heero about the job I had accepted during
the drive, but decided that the evening was going to be uncomfortable enough
without him being pissed off at me on top of everything else.
We were there all too damn soon. Heero recognized the guy’s
cars and pointed them out. Great, that meant they were already in the restaurant
and seated. At least it was a simple, run of the mill steak house and not
some damn Mexican place or something, where I wouldn’t recognize anything
on the menu. I suppose I should just thank God that Heero had never insisted
I go on one of his outings with Relena.
The waitress showed us to a table in the back and the guys
were there grinning at us as we made our way through the crowded restaurant.
Two seats had been saved, side-by-side and I found myself sitting across
‘Duo, we’re so glad you could finally come,’
Quatre greeted me with a bright smile. ‘Things feel…complete
I felt myself flushing and reflected that at this rate it
was going to be a long fucking evening. I dredged up a bright grin. ‘Thanks,
Wufei was giving me the once over, the strangest spark of
amusement in his eyes. ‘Well, you certainly look better than the last
time I saw you…in person, anyway.’
I wondered what in the hell that was supposed to mean and
muttered something about looking shorter in a wheelchair. Then I remembered
that I had seen him at Relena’s party and was totally baffled by the
‘Uhmmm…that’s a nice shirt, Duo.’
Trowa smiled at me and I started to murmur the appropriate response but
the three of them began to snicker uncontrollably. Ok…just what in
the hell was going on? Did you know that inside jokes have a very peculiar
stench to them? I was smelling it all over the place. I glanced at Heero
and saw a small frown of confusion creasing his brow and realized that this
wasn’t one of their normal gags. Which meant it was aimed at me. Wonderful.
The waitress came back then to ask if we were ready to order
yet. The others obviously ate here often and didn’t need to look at
the menu, just began rattling off their choices. Not wanting to stall the
proceedings and end up with everyone’s attention on me while I desperately
tried to make a decision, I let my eyes sweep the surrounding tables. When
the girl got around to me, I was able to order a small sirloin and baked
potato. On a whim, I ordered some bottled water too; I felt the need of
a nice label to shred.
‘That was a good game last night, Heero,’ Quatre
ventured. ‘I didn’t think you were going to make that catch
in the third inning.’
I blinked across the table in no little astonishment; Quatre
went to Heero’s ball games?
Wufei snorted, ‘I thought he was going to run me over
making that catch.’
‘Not my fault you’re so damn slow,’ Heero
chuckled at him.
‘I am not slow,’ Wufei replied with a small grunt
of indignation. ‘I just play with a little more finesse than you do.’
Heero opened his mouth to reply but the waitress reappeared
with the drinks then and the conversation settled until she was gone.
‘Duo,’ Quatre said, smiling at me brightly, ‘you
should come and watch next week. You can sit with Trowa and me.’
My hands moved very smoothly without my having to tell them,
to open my bottle of water, and I took a sip. How to tell him that Heero
had never asked me? How to tell him I suddenly wasn’t sure Heero would
want me there? Quatre certainly seemed to have a talent for poking sticks
into unsuspecting anthills and stirring vigorously.
‘I don’t know,’ Heero was saying. ‘That’s
an awfully long time to be sitting out in the sun…’ I turned
toward him and found that little mother-hen frown on his face as he contemplated
me sitting on hard bleachers in the hot sun. ‘The games can run for
I completely hated myself for the rush of cold relief that
flooded up through my belly. What the hell was wrong with me tonight? I
was being as touchy and sensitive as a hormonal teenager. Of course he was
just being concerned for me. I smiled at him warmly and raised an eyebrow.
‘It might be worth it to see you two fighting over a softball in the
His face fairly lit up, an expression he could not have faked,
‘I could use some more support,’ he smiled. ‘Wufei has
a bigger cheering section.’
‘Quatre and I,’ Trowa interjected blandly, ‘are
completely neutral in our cheering.’
‘Yes,’ Heero chuckled, ‘but Sally isn’t,
and she makes all of her girlfriends come and take his side.’
‘I thought you were on the same team?’ I couldn’t
help pointing out and it garnered one of those rounds of laughter that told
me there was a story behind the story that I didn’t know.
‘There’s this most valuable player thing…’
Quatre snickered and left it at that.
I smiled and privately wondered if I would ever be up to speed
with these guys. I found my fingers picking at the edge of the label on
my water bottle and tried to stop. It was too early, if I shredded it too
soon I’d have nothing left to do but twist the buttons on my shirt
or fiddle with my hair. I repressed a sigh.
Then the look in Wufei’s eyes took on that strange glint
again. ‘Two athletes in the same household…’ he murmured
and Trowa snickered.
I looked from one of them to the other but couldn’t
decipher what he was saying. I glanced up at Heero and saw the same confusion,
so I felt justified in asking, ‘What?’
I thought the three of them were going to fall out of their
damn chairs, and to be bluntly honest, I was starting to get a little pissed
off. The inside jokes and one-liners that were meaningless to me were bad
enough, but this was obviously something that was targeting me personally
and I couldn’t quite figure it out.
‘All right,’ Heero cut into their mirth. ‘Just
what in the hell is going on?’
Wufei turned then and rummaged behind him until he came up
with a rolled up magazine that had been stuffed in his jacket pocket. ‘This,’
he grinned across at us and it’s a damned miracle I didn’t faint
where I sat when he unrolled the magazine to display it in front of my face.
It was a copy of ‘The Rising Times’ and my leather
clad self was plastered all over the front. I may have moaned. I’m
more or less positive my eyes bugged completely out of my head and I almost
spilled my bottle of water in my haste to get the thing snatched out of
Wufei’s hand, stuffing it out of sight in my lap. Oh dear God, could
this day get any fucking worse?
My three tormentors started laughing so damn hard that people
were looking at us from all the surrounding tables. I felt my face flame
to the point that sweat started to trickle down my damn back. It was probably
a good thing though, because I’m pretty sure I had been white as a
sheet only moments before that. Certainly didn’t need Heero going
into a fit of over-protective ‘are you all right’ concern right
here in the middle of the restaurant.
When the three stooges settled down enough that people weren’t
staring anymore, I dared to take a peek down into my lap. But the damn cover
of the magazine hadn’t changed; it was still a glossy picture of me
and Hayden decked out in our leather Gladiator costumes in the middle of
our routine at the Zero-gravity exposition. The photographer had caught
us at the moment of impact as we made the two-handed pass. Hayden’s
face is twisted in a grimace of almost-hidden fear and mine is a jaw-clenched
mask desperately trying to hide the pain that was lancing up my arm. Our
bodies are sheened with sweat, our muscles standing out in sharp relief
as we drove ourselves across the stadium floor. Fuck, we almost looked like
we had been artfully oiled. I closed my eyes for a second and said a little
prayer, but when I opened them again the damn thing was still in my hands.
‘Oh Jesus,’ I muttered to myself, because I didn’t
think the guys could hear me over their own chuckles. ‘What did that
damn woman do?’
The caption across the bottom of the magazine promised an
exclusive interview with ‘the multi-talented man who took second place
in the Colonies’ annual Zero-gravity competition’.
The expo was not something that ground-bounders had ever taken
an interest in. If you polled a hundred people on the streets of Earth,
less than a quarter of them would even be able to tell you that such a thing
existed. How in the hell had that Goddamn woman found out about my competing
in time to get pictures and have them inserted into the interview? The lead-time
in the publishing industry is months; she should not have had time to find
out the details and rewrite the article to fit it in.
What in the hell was this going to mean to me? My reputation
sucked right now. My business was in serious trouble; I was nearing the
edge of what could become a financial black hole if I could not get my ass
back to work and get my name cleared of the tarnish that was currently all
over it. This damn…publicity had the potential to take me the rest
of the way down. How would people see this? I doubt it would have much of
an impact amongst those in the trade; it was our damn expo after all. My
competing was nothing out of the ordinary. There might be some backlash
from the fact that I had granted this interview to a ground-bounder but
it would all most likely work itself out. I would probably have to endure
some teasing. Would probably be having this same fucking magazine shoved
in my face for some time. I could deal with that.
But what about potential clients? They were not in the trade.
Would I look like a flying, freaking idiot to them? My name plastered all
over this picture…this picture? Were there more? I was afraid to open
the damn magazine and look. I realized that this could be infinitely more
damaging than it had looked on the surface. What kind of fucking Pandora’s
box was lying in my lap? Could this truly get any worse? Do not - ever -
as long as you live, challenge the power of worse.
I realized that I had completely removed myself from my surroundings
when Heero’s hand slid over and pulled the magazine from my slack
fingers, forcing me to come back into the here and now. I blinked up and
found that some of the humor seemed to have faded from the three faces across
from me. Great; now I probably looked like I had lost my damn mind. I tried
to dredge up some of the last couple of comments and just couldn’t
do it. I went with the generic response and ruthlessly pulled a smile out
of my ass, plastering it on with spackling and rubber cement. ‘Well,
I’m pleased that I’m still able to entertain you guys even after
all these years,’ I chirped brightly.
I picked up my water and took another swig, watching the unease
that had been settling on them wash away in the face of my good humor. Heero
was leafing through the magazine and I forced myself not to look. My fingers
found the edge of the label on my water bottle and it was just fucking toast.
I picked and shredded for all I was worth. Screw it; I’d just order
another bottle if I had to.
‘That’s quite an outfit, Duo,’ Trowa commented
dryly and there was a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.
I put my grin on autopilot and repressed the urge to stand
up and just freakin’ run away. They were only teasing. This was nothing
any different from what Hayden and I had endured from Toria. Really it wasn’t.
‘Well…we might have considered changing the act
if we’d known we were going to make the cover of ‘The Rising
Times’,’ I quipped drolly.
‘You did manage to show a…fair amount of skin,’
Wufei murmured, only partially managing to conceal a wide grin behind his
glass of tea.
‘Hey,’ I informed him, trying not to sound too
defensive. ‘Those are completely accurate, second century BC recreations
from the Roman empire!’
‘Are the shorts under the tunics accurate?’ Quatre
snickered, not even trying to hide his grin.
‘Ya got me there,’ I muttered and took another
drink of my water, finding the bottle almost empty. The three stooges were
chuckling and exchanging looks again. Well hadn’t this evening just
taken a turn into the Twilight Zone? As much as I had been dreading this
dinner, it had managed to exceed my wildest expectations.
I dared a glance in Heero’s direction to see how he
was taking this. We had gotten firmly back around to that fear I had of
embarrassing him in front of his friends.
He had obviously come to the section in the magazine that
contained the article on little ol’ me, and the odd look on his face
made my eyes flick down to the pages he was staring at. Holy shit.
I sat my bottle down with slow deliberation and glanced around
the room. ‘Where are the restrooms?’ I asked no one in particular
and Trowa gestured vaguely over his right shoulder. I tapped my empty bottle
and calmly said, ‘If the waitress comes back, order me another one,
would you? I’ll be right back.’
Then I stood up and made my casual way to the restroom where
I puked into the toilet until I thought I would turn myself wrong side out.
There was a centerfold collage in that magazine of my very
own little self. There were the pictures that damn woman had taken of me
aboard my ship. There were more from this year’s expo; I had caught
a glimpse of a dramatic one of Hayden carrying my limp body out of the arena.
There were pictures from the other two expos that Hayden and I had entered;
a picture of us still in our blue, Atlantis, all-over body make-up accepting
that year’s award. Another from our first year, when we had done the
Cherokee theme; I had learned to do bead looming for that one. I had seen
something that’d had a Gundam in it and a small copy of that ages
old wanted poster from the colonies. The damn woman had managed to condense
my life down into a two-page photo spread.
That damn woman; that’s how I thought of her now. I
couldn’t think of her as ‘Angie’, I was trying hard not
to think of her as ‘that bitch’. So, by default, she was going
to be that damn woman.
The restroom was empty, the first piece of luck I’d
had in a very long damn time. I finished in the stall and went to the sink
to rinse my mouth and wash my face. I met my own eyes in the mirror and
I looked haggard.
Ok; enough of this. Get yourself together, Maxwell, I chided
myself and dug down deep, looking for…something.
What in the hell was wrong with me tonight? Where had my balance
gone? Where was this damn, dark depression coming from? If I had been sitting
around a table with Toria and Hayden, we would be leafing through that magazine
and laughing our asses off. Toria would fucking be rolling on the floor
and I would be rolling right along with her.
Why couldn’t I do that with this group of guys? Because
they weren’t really my friends the way Toria and Hayden were. They
were Heero’s friends and I was terrified that I was going to humiliate
him in front of them. I was afraid of looking up to meet his eyes and seeing
Was I embarrassed by the things that were in that magazine?
If someone had suggested that I would be, even six months ago, I would have
laughed in their face. I don’t really embarrass all that easy and
there are not a lot of things in my life that I’m ashamed of. Well…not
since the war, anyway.
But…and here’s the rub…I wanted the respect
of those four men sitting out there. Wanted it. Craved it. Needed it. But
they had seen me, in the last six months, at my lowest. At my absolute worst.
Respect was probably the last damn thing on their minds when they looked
at me right now. This magazine, full of all my secrets, was not helping
matters much. Goddamn woman.
I dug down deep for a piece of my music. One of my ever-present
songs that I used to mold my own psyche when it needed molding…needed
a little nudge down the right path. I came up with an old ‘the hell
with you’ song and let it flow.
‘So I flew around the moon three times and caught a
And came into this world of mimes to live just as you are
But all I found was pain here, and one thing that held true
That you did not believe in me, so I won't believe in you.’
I flashed a cocky grin at the mirror, just for practice and
strolled out of the restroom. Making my way smoothly between the tables,
proud of the fact that there was no visible sign of what had just happened.
No sign of the wide crack in my control. I managed to not even think about
slipping out the back door.
‘Never again, to do as all adults have done
Never again, will my world and your own be one
Never again, will you hear when the child within me cries
Never again, never is where my heart now lies
Neverland, never is where my heart now lies.’
Strange song for the occasion? Ya gotta hear it sung with
just the right attitude to get the feel.
When I sat down at the table there was a full bottle of water
sitting at my place and the empty was gone. The magazine had vanished from
sight and the talk was about something totally innocuous.
Great. Let’s complicate the problem, why don’t
we? Heero had obviously figured out that the teasing was bothering me and
had jumped their shit while I was away from the table. He meant well, but
this was only going to serve to broaden the rift. It was all I could do
not to drop my head into my hands and groan. Nobody really wanted to meet
my eyes. Except Heero, and I steadfastly refused to look at him, it would
only incite a conversation I really didn’t want to try and have here
in front of the others.
It didn’t matter; I had a new bottle with a fresh label.
Quatre gamely started a conversation about some movie he and
Trowa had just recently seen, but since no one else at the table had seen
it, that topic died fairly quickly.
Trowa asked Wufei about the motorcycle he had been customizing
and they managed to milk that subject until dinner arrived. I actually managed
to interject a couple of reasonably intelligent comments in there, but it
was quickly apparent that I wasn’t the only one at the table who was
uncomfortable enough to puke. I didn’t dare look up to meet Heero’s
eyes to judge what the hell was going on with him, but the other three were
sitting across the table from us and I couldn’t help but see the squirming
they were doing. I wondered what Heero had said to them.
I bent to cutting up my steak and sent a little wish up to
the heavens that this night would be over soon. Not that wishes and prayers
had ever gotten me much of anything, but I suppose it never hurt to ask.
I entertained the idea of broaching the subject of my imminent
departure for L3. What the hell; could things get any more tense? Maybe
it would actually make things easier if Heero found out here in front of
witnesses; it might keep him from getting thoroughly pissed off. So how
to start this conversation? Anybody know anything about ocelots? Funny thing
happened on the way back from therapy yesterday? Howard sends his love?
Heero’s fingers brushed the back of my hand, pleading
with me to look up and meet his eyes. I froze. I really didn’t want
to, I didn’t want to see the reproach that I suspected was shining
there. Couldn’t bear to see his disappointment.
Then a familiar voice called my name and took the decision
out of my hands, ‘Maxwell?’
I turned in my chair and found the three musketeers sitting
at the table behind us. They didn’t even have their drinks yet, having
obviously just been seated, explaining why I hadn’t heard them before
‘Smitty?’ I grinned. ‘What the hell are
you guys doing out of your cage?’
He smirked back at me, pushing his glasses up with his middle
finger before answering, ‘I’ll have you know we’re out
on good behavior.’
Across their table, musketeer number two flashed me a smile,
ignoring his partner. ‘Good to see you, Duo.’
‘Hey Bernie,’ and then I had to lean across to
accept the hand of the last of the odd trio. ‘How ya doin’,
‘Just fine, Duo,’ quiet Havers grinned at me.
‘Good to see you out and about again.’
I snorted and turned my chair a little further around to face
them. ‘You guys give up going down to ‘McMurphy’s’
or you get thrown out?’
Smitty brightened and poked me with an elbow. ‘Nah!
We were just lookin’ for a change of pace,’ then he grinned
wider. ‘You should come out with us, everybody would love to see you
I laughed lightly and fended Smitty’s bony elbow off
with a knuckle in his bicep. ‘What? Me go out in public with you three?’
‘Come on, Duo,’ Bernie cajoled. ‘McMurphy
can’t find anybody else brave enough to drink those concoctions he
‘You mean stupid enough.’ Smitty chuckled and
then yelped as I caught hold of a lock of his shoulder length blond hair
‘I believe,’ I chuckled at him darkly, ‘that
it was the both of us in that ‘blue drink’ competition; which
makes you stupid too.’
‘Brave,’ he intoned with mock dignity. ‘It
makes me brave too.’
I laughed out loud while Bernie and Havers shared a look at
‘As I recall,’ Bernie observed dryly. ‘You
both looked pretty damn stupid by the time the pitcher was empty.’
I straightened with no small amount of pride. ‘Yes,
but at least I walked out of the bar under my own power.’
Smitty dissolved into helpless laughter. ‘And promptly
threw up in that guy’s convertible.’
‘And your throwing up down that woman’s dress
was better?’ Havers interjected, totally deadpan.
‘Of course it was,’ Smitty drawled. ‘I passed
out before she could kill me, unlike Maxwell here and the owner of that
I snickered. ‘Nothin; like having a two hundred pound
construction worker after your ass to sober you up in a hurry.’
After the merriment faded, Bernie looked across at me. ‘Come
on, Duo. Come with us next week, McMurphy’ll probably buy a damn round
‘He can’t, asshole,’ Smitty informed him
with a roll of his eyes. ‘Did you forget already? He’ll be on
It’s always the little things that come back and bite
me in the ass. Of all the damn people to run into, in this place, tonight
of all nights…it had to be the three guys who worked in ‘traffic
control’. The office that handled all the flight plans for inner system
ship’s traffic for the entire fucking continent.
I spared a flick of my eyes in Heero’s direction and
saw a face that was set in stone. Oh shit.
My own face must have done something really interesting because
all three of my musketeer buddies were looking at me like I’d just
announced I was going to get my nipples pierced.
‘Was nice talking to you guys,’ I said airily.
‘I’ll give you a call in a couple of weeks.’ And I turned
back to my own table. There were confused but appropriate responses from
behind me but I didn’t really hear any of them.
Have I ever mentioned that I’m pretty sure that God
just fucking hates me?
I took a slow, deliberate sip from my bottle of water and
tried to gage the level of shit I was in from the faces across the table
from me. Wufei looked like he wished that he had totally blown this evening
off and done something fun…like getting a root canal. Quatre was just
staring across the table, first at me and then at Heero, that little muscle
in his jaw working, telling me he was thinking real hard about attempting
to interject himself into the middle of this mess. Trowa was cutting up
his chicken as though it was taking every bit of his attention; like the
chicken might just start fighting back any minute.
‘This would be the conversation I had planned on having
with you later this evening,’ I said, absolutely delighted that my
voice was as calm as if I had asked him to pass the salt.
There was a terribly long silence, punctuated only by the
sounds of Trowa’s cutlery. I found my water bottle in my hands and
contemplated the possibility of making a little money on the side, producing
‘So you were planning on telling me?’ Heero said,
voice sounding…cold. That couldn’t be good.
I sighed heavily. ‘Of course I was,’ and I dared
a glance in his direction again. I was prepared for his anger but what I
found in his eyes was closer to pain. I hadn’t really been prepared
for that. ‘Heero…it’s a simple courier job, Earth to L3
and back. I swear to God.’
‘We haven’t even discussed your…returning
to work yet,’ he stated and I tried not to flinch. There was a bit
of new tension in the air and I looked across the table to find Wufei glaring.
Great, just what I needed – I had upset his partner and now he was
pissed at me too.
‘I wasn’t aware that I needed your permission…’
I growled, then stopped and closed my eyes for a second. This was going
to get real ugly, real fast.
I opened my eyes and squared my shoulders. Wasn’t gonna
dance this dance. I pulled out my wallet and threw a twenty in the middle
of my plate of relatively untouched steak. ‘This was a bad idea,’
I told him gently, ‘and I’m not going to sit in the middle of
this restaurant, hashing this out in front of the whole world.’ His
eyes widened and I briefly touched his shoulder. ‘I am going back
to the apartment and you are going to stay here and finish your dinner.
I will see you later and we will fight until your heart’s content.’
I stood up, nodded to the guys and turned sharply, smacking
Smitty on the back of the head as I went by. ‘You’re buying,
the next time we go to McMurphy’s, asshole,’ I told him. All
he did was look up at me, wide-eyed, and nod.
I walked out, head up and back straight as a ramrod. Kept
my pace to a sedate walk too, aren’t you proud? I was actually rather
surprised that it wasn’t raining when I got outside; it would have
I glanced around and realized I was going to have to walk
further up the street before I stood a chance of hailing a cab. Damn, but
this taxicab bit was getting expensive. I wondered idly if there was a bus
stop around here close; it would sure as hell be cheaper and money was really
starting to become an issue.
I sighed and headed out, rubbing idly at a temple that was
suddenly throbbing. This day just kept getting better and better.
I heard running footsteps behind me before I got all the way
across the damn parking lot and had to resist the urge to scream.
‘Maxwell! Wait up a minute.’ My strangled curse
died in my throat; I hadn’t been expecting Wufei. I heard him slow
when I stopped walking. I turned to face him and waited for him to speak
He gave me an odd, cock-eyed grin. ‘We convinced Heero
to give you a little space on the condition that one of us drove you home.’
‘And you lost the coin toss?’ I snapped, feeling
mildly guilty about the crack.
His smile became a little sardonic. ‘Actually, I volunteered.
I thought Winner would have better luck getting through Yuy’s thick
That rather took me by surprise, and I just stood and blinked
at him for a second. Had I misjudged which one of us his glare had been
directed at earlier?
‘Come on,’ he coaxed gently, inclining his head
in the direction of his car, ‘let me take you home.’
‘You weren’t done with your dinner,’ I frowned
at him, feeling uncomfortable. ‘I’m just going to walk up to
the street and flag down a cab.’
‘Yuy will have my ass if I let you…’ he
began and my temper flared.
‘You mind telling me just what God awful thing is going
to happen to me during a fucking cab ride across town!’ I felt my
voice rising and bit down on it, closing my eyes again while I hunted for
the ratty edges of my control.
A gentle hand came to rest on my arm, ‘Duo…please?’
I let out a ragged sigh and nodded, letting him steer me toward
We settled in and pulled out in silence. I felt…like
an utter ass.
‘I…really didn’t mean to spoil the whole
damn evening,’ I ventured after a couple of blocks of watching the
street go by.
He chuckled darkly. ‘Well, it was memorable. At the
very least, it’ll give me an interesting story to tell Sally later.’
He won a laugh from me and I glanced over to catch him smiling
at me. ‘That’s more like the Maxwell I remember.’
I sighed. ‘Just hasn’t seemed like there’s
been a hell of a lot to laugh about lately.’
His attention went back to his driving and his smile faded
a little. ‘I…apologize for teasing you so much over that…magazine
I grunted in no little embarrassment. ‘Not your fault…I
don’t know why in the hell it blind-sided me so bad.’ I reached
to massage the bridge of my nose, ‘I sure as hell wasn’t expecting
the damn thing to end up on the cover.’
He snickered softly. ‘It was a rather…arresting
picture.’ He glanced across at me. ‘You really did that with
a damn fractured wrist?’
‘Yep,’ I grunted, letting my head fall back and
my eyes close. ‘Never been known for my common sense.’
There was another of those sardonic little snorts and then
a small silence.
‘You know,’ he said after a couple more blocks,
‘we may have been teasing you…but there wasn’t a one of
us that wasn’t impressed as hell by that story.’
‘What?’ I blurted, eyes popping open. ‘I
looked like some kind of…of…expositionist lunatic!’
He laughed out loud. ‘Well…the magazine did manage
to find the most sensational pictures they could. But the article itself
wasn’t bad, I never knew you were such a talented artist.’ His
hands worried at the steering wheel, fingers flexing. ‘You should
read it before you let it upset you so much you have to run off to the restroom.’
My face flooded with heat so fast I thought I would burst
into flame. Dear God…was I that damn transparent? The pain in my head
flared so sharply it sent streaks of white lancing across my field of vision.
‘Did…did Heero…’ I stuttered, feeling sick to my
‘No,’ he told me firmly, his voice somewhere between
amused and concerned. ‘He never realized, he was too busy ogling those
pictures of your half-naked, blue-painted…’
I think I moaned. I covered my face with my hands and just
wished we would fucking get there, already. ‘Jesus,’ I muttered.
‘He must be mortified!’
‘What?’ Wufei practically barked and I flinched,
I hadn’t actually intended to share that last thought. ‘Duo…don’t
you have any idea how damn…proud of you, he is?’
I glared across at him and felt my face flushing again. ‘Do
not be absurd,’ I mumbled, suddenly aware that the car wasn’t
moving. I glanced around and realized we were sitting in front of the apartment.
‘Thanks for the ride back, man,’ I told him and scrambled out.
‘Duo…?’ Wufei called, his face looking…odd.
‘Goodnight, Wufei,’ I said calmly, shut the door
of the car, turned and walked away.
I didn’t hear the car pull out until I was inside the
Once back in the apartment I dug a soda out of the fridge
and used it to wash down a couple of pain pills. I made up an ice pack and
went to stretch out on the couch with it on the back of my neck; it didn’t
help the blinding headache a whole hell of a lot, but it made me feel like
I was doing something. I would have gone on to bed if I hadn’t promised
Heero that we would have this out yet tonight. I didn’t know whether
to wish he’d hurry up and get his ass home, or wish he wouldn’t
come back tonight at all. I really didn’t know that I felt up to more…discussion.
You know…I utterly make myself sick. I don’t know
why in the hell it is so hard for me to slap on the old court jester mask
any more. All my years growing up, especially after the…massacre…it
just became second nature, I could have grinned through a wolverine gnawing
my legs off. Why in the hell couldn’t I manage to get through a single
damn day anymore without coming apart at the seams?
Heero gave it an hour. Whether he was giving me that time
or taking it for himself, I don’t know. But I heard his key in the
front lock an hour after I lay down with my ice pack, almost to the minute.
The headache had eased some and I was dozing in fitful spurts;
starting at every noise, waiting for him.
He came into the apartment, seeming much calmer than when
I had left the restaurant. I expected him to come straight to the couch
to start the conversation/argument I was dreading, but he surprised me.
He moved to the little table by the door where he typically dumped his stuff
each evening, and emptied his pockets into the bowel that sat there. Turning,
he slipped out of his jacket and draped it across the back of the armchair
before wandering over to his stereo system where he began to pick through
his small music collection.
I sat up and dropped the ice pack onto the coffee table, turning
to watch him curiously. I saw him slip a CD into the player but instead
of just letting it play, he very carefully chose a specific track. He was
moving toward me as the first strains of music filled the room.
‘Lend your love to me tonight,
Don’t ask me who or what is right,
I have no strength…I can not fight,
Just flood my darkness with your light…’
Emerson, Lake and Palmer? Ok…I will be the first one
to admit that Heero Yuy will surprise the shit out of me right up until
the day I die.
He stopped in front of me, taking my hand and pulling me gently
off the couch. He didn’t let go after I was on my feet, but raised
my hand to his lips and kissed the palm before bringing it to rest on his
shoulder. Then his arms slid around me and I found our bodies swaying gently
to the soft music.
‘It took me years to find this song,’ he whispered
next to my ear. ‘You played it…the first time I heard you sing…on
that mission.’ He brushed a kiss along the side of my neck, making
me quiver. ‘That was the first time I saw you with your hair down.’
I didn’t know what in the hell to say and just slid
one arm around his neck and rested my forehead on his shoulder. We’d
never…danced together before.
‘That was the night you…completely captivated
me,’ he sighed, leaning his head against mine. ‘I had felt drawn
to you from the moment we met…but that night….’ He straightened
and made me raise my head to meet his eyes. ‘God, love…I will
never forget how you looked that night.’ His voice was so…rich
with emotion that I shivered, staring into those bottomless eyes of his.
Eyes that could be cold as an artic wind or hot as flaring passion, by turns.
‘Fighting won’t make my heart content,’
he told me resolutely. ‘You are the only thing that makes my heart
The song had long since changed but we continued our languid,
barely moving dance…not really hearing the music anyway. He leaned
in almost tentatively, bringing his lips near mine but not quite touching.
Hovering close enough for our breath to mingle; asking permission…waiting
for an invitation.
It required little more than the tilting of my face to bring
my lips to meet his, then I forgot about the God-awful day I’d had;
it was all washed away in the face of our slowly rising desire.
He broke the kiss, pulling me tight against his chest and
his voice was a husky groan. ‘Make love with me tonight?’
‘Yes…’ I sighed. ‘Please…make
me forgot…everything.’ There was so damn much to forget.
He led me toward ‘my’ room and I’m not sure
if it was an unconscious attempt to yield to me the…home court, or
if it were simply the fact that it was closer.
We undressed each other with slow precision, fingers barely
brushing across exposed skin. It was going to be one of those nights. One
of those times that we made up for the frenzied speed of our first experience
together. When we make love like this, he can make me feel so…cherished.
Almost…deserving. I needed that tonight.
When the clothes were gone we just stood in the dim light
and he traced gentle fingers over my face, down my arms. ‘You’ve…come
so far,’ he whispered, his voice thick with unnamable emotion. ‘I’m
not afraid of your…breaking in my hands when I touch you any more.’
His eyes were roaming over me, alight with warmth and something
that felt very like pride. It made the blood rush to my face.
‘I’m not made of glass,’ I told him and
‘No…you aren’t. Not anymore.’
He stepped away to the bed then, drawing me down with him.
We curled around each other and just lay trading unhurried caresses. It
was…very unlike how we usually made love; there was no rush of heated
desire. No frantic grasping after completion. There was love behind the
soft brush of hands. Tenderness in the butterfly kisses that graced warm
Whispered endearments. Murmured proclamations of love. Gifts
of tender words of devotion.
‘…you are my heart…’
‘…believe in me…’
‘…always…in all ways…’
Time might very well have stopped. Passions started to rise.
Our touches began to have a higher purpose and Heero rose above me, his
eyes fever bright, his voice growing husky with longing.
‘Duo…I want forever,’ he whispered. ‘Promise
It shook me to hear him asking for that in a voice so full
of…need. A need so much deeper than this moment’s hunger of
the flesh. It made me want that too…and more.
‘For always, love,’ I gasped, heart threatening
to falter under the onslaught of raw emotion. ‘You are my soul’s
He moaned and claimed my lips in a sudden flare of passion,
Our bodies were moving of their own accord, hands stroking,
teeth grazing, tongues sliding. Breath was a symphony of gasping pants.
He suddenly broke away and looked down at me with a glittering
intensity in his eyes. I whimpered my displeasure and reached for him but
he stilled my hands with words that seemed spawned by some deep, unanswered
‘I want to…I need to…’ he hesitated,
looking into my eyes as though he could read my thoughts there. ‘I
want more…I want to seal forever.’
Somehow, I knew what he was asking for, and I’m ashamed
to admit that it sent a shiver of fear through me. We’d never done…that.
Had never taken that last giant step together. We’d never discussed
it, but I knew he wanted it, knew he wanted that ultimate act of love to
happen between us. But…it scared me.
I had seen too many things in my youth. Seen more of that
kind of thing than a child ever should. I knew the pain and suffering that
it could cause and I had shied away from it. Had denied it to him all these
months. Emotion roiled in my heart. Fear. Guilt. Resignation. And I saw
him read it all in my eyes.
‘I want you to take me,’ he breathed softly, stilling
the tumult of thoughts and stopping my heart in my chest. ‘Please?’
I didn’t know what to say. It was meant to reassure,
this sudden offering to do the… receiving, but the idea of my inadvertently
hurting him frightened me even more than the idea of my own pain. My eyes
must have been as wide as saucers and he smiled down at me.
‘I want this,’ he told me simply. ‘Before
you leave me…I need this.’
I shook my head in denial, ‘I’m not leaving.’
His smile became melancholy. ‘You are…and you
aren’t. I understand that.’ His fingers brushed over my cheek,
swept my hair from my eyes, stroked over my lips. ‘Please?’
I didn’t know how to deny him.
He bent to kiss me again when he saw in my eyes that I would
give him what he wanted and there was a new…tremulous fire in it.
Positions were inverted, bodies were shifted, oil was applied.
It was happening almost too fast and I found myself trembling as we settled
against each other. He lay under me, his legs wrapped around me with the
most erotic expression of anticipation on his face. I looked down at him,
his face so full of love and…joy. I was lost in those wide blue eyes,
frozen in time and place, poised to enter him and unable to move. Every
primal instinct I owned was telling me to thrust my hips forward. I was
throbbing with the need to bury myself in him. But every memory I had of
my days on the street told me that this way led to screaming…bleeding.
I had seen the young street kids who had opted to sell the one thing they
owned. I had seen them…after.
He murmured encouragement. I whimpered my doubt.
He was arched beneath me, his weight on his shoulders and
with a sudden flexing of his back he took the decision out of my hands.
I don’t know where he got the leverage.
He…enveloped me. Swallowed me. I had expected it to
be a difficult thing to penetrate into this tight, secret part of his body.
My limited experience told me it was an unnatural thing. Told me that it
would be painful for him. It was anything but. It wrenched an impassioned
cry from me that he echoed with a deep-throated groan.
It was a velvet sliding into incredible heat. I saw a hundred
things wash across his face…but no pain. Joy. Completion. Triumph.
Pleasure. But not pain.
He drew me into him, pulled me in tight until ages old instinct
took control of my body and I pushed forward. Wanting more. Needing deeper.
I began to shiver and closed my eyes, unable to do more than feel.
‘Don’t hide,’ he soothed gently. ‘Open
your eyes and look at me,’ he entreated. ‘Look at…us.’
I did as he bade and met his searing gaze; I was lost in him.
Body and soul.
‘Do you feel that?’ he whispered, his voice that
deep, throaty one. ‘You’re in me. You’re a part of me.’
I was shivering in earnest now, body still pushing against
his, trying to achieve a deeper union. If I could have crawled completely
inside him I would have done it. I couldn’t get enough…I wanted
‘We’re one body,’ he sighed, his eyes locked
with mine. ‘I can feel you pulsing…I can feel your heartbeat…inside
The minute he said it, I felt it…our hearts, completely
syncopated, beating together in a hard rhythm…and I was feeling it…from
within. It drew my eyes down to look where we were joined together.
‘You’re inside me…you’re a part of
me. Duo…give me forever!’
His words swept over me like a silken caress, sending prickles
of gooseflesh up my arms and across my shoulders. It crept down my spine
and pooled in my groin, turning my trembling into a wracking shiver. I wanted
to close my eyes and flee this overpowering rush of intimacy, but I couldn’t
tear my eyes away from him…away from us.
My body still strove to push further into his taut, moist
heat despite the fact that I was completely seated within. He was pushing
back against me as though he wanted more than I was able to give. One of
My breath was coming in sporadic gasps, and suddenly he…shifted.
Arched. Flexed. I’ll never be sure just what he did, but it was as
though we achieved that one more blessed, infinitesimal bit of contact…of
depth. It was as though I hit a switch somewhere inside him. His back bowed
up, his head arched back and with a sudden, guttural scream…he came.
I couldn’t take me eyes off him. Lost in the bliss of
the most incredible orgasm I’d ever seen him experience…he was
His body clenched and tightened around me, milking me to the
rhythm of his pounding heart. I was lost…completely lost.
I felt like I was fracturing into a million pieces. I was
coming apart and his eyes gazing up at me, so full of trust and love, seemed
the only thing that kept me anchored there. My completion overtook me, boiled
through my veins like a firestorm, exploding from my body and filling his.
I cried out with the sheer power of it; unable to bear the intensity of
the feelings coursing through me.
I am unused to involuntary sounds. It goes against all the
ingrained instincts of my youth. My pain…and my pleasure come cloaked
in stillness, in silence. This ripped sound up from somewhere deep inside
me, incoherent cries of pure release. It frightened me to have my control
so completely abandon me.
‘Heero?’ I sobbed, seeking an anchor, and his
face shone with the light of a victory hard won.
‘I’m here, love,’ his voice whispered across
my over-heated skin, his fingers coming to brush in its wake. Coaxing the
last of the tension from me, drawing me down into the shelter of his embrace.
‘Come here to me,’ he breathed and I let myself fall.
Wrapped in his arms, I lay against his chest and tried to
still the mad pounding of my heart; tried to will it to keep rhythm with
his. I could have wept with loss as I felt the cadence of our joining begin
to wan…felt his heart calm faster than mine did until his was beating
not in rhythm, but in counter-point. I began to doubt the truth of it; perhaps
I had imagined it? Its absence was a tangible thing. His chest was wet and
I didn’t know how it had gotten that way.
Calloused fingers stroked across my cheeks, wiping at something.
‘I’m here,’ he told me again and all I could
do was nod my head and hang on.
In the other room, the music had come round and round again
and I heard that song that had somehow…suddenly become ‘our’
song, ‘…just flood my darkness with your light…’
‘Let me be your light,’ he sighed and I let it
all go. Gave in to the trembling. Gave in to the swirl of emotion. Gave
in to his comfort.
‘How do you…’ I murmured against his broad,
strong shoulder, ‘always seem to know how to put things right?’
His kisses fell like rain against my hair, across my temple,
down my cheek. The gentle ghost of spent passion.
‘I would put the world right for you, if I could,’
he told me, his fingers stroking intricate designs over my skin. ‘Will
you talk to me now…please?’
I sighed, not really wanting to think in that moment, much
less renew the argument. But I had promised him that we would have this
out tonight. ‘I’m sorry, Heero. I swear I was going to tell
you about it when we got home tonight…I wasn’t trying to keep
it from you.’
‘I don’t mean that,’ he frowned. ‘I
want you to tell me what’s been bothering you.’
I twisted to bury my face in his shoulder and heaved another
sigh. ‘I don’t really know…just tired, I guess.’
His arms came tight around me and suddenly he was rolling
us over, so that I was flat on my back and he was hovering over me. ‘Something
is eating away at you…I can see it…Wufei can see it…’
his fingers brushed over my face again, wiping at suspicious moisture. ‘They
all can see it. I thought we were supposed to be partners? Why can’t
you share this with me?’
I blinked up at him in surprise. They all could see it? Was
I really that easy to read? ‘Heero…I just feel like my life
is…so…out of control. I…don’t…’ I struggled
for words that didn’t want to come clear in my head. ‘I’m
tired…I don’t know what to do…’
‘I don’t understand,’ he soothed softly,
but somehow, suddenly I didn’t want to be soothed.
‘I’m gonna lose my ship if I can’t get the
hell back to work!’ I blurted, the fears unexpectedly seeming to be
scrambling over each other to be the first to escape my suddenly inadequate
defenses. ‘My reputation is shot; I can’t get any decent offers!
You know what this job is? A fucking exotic pet delivery! A stupid scut
job!’ I bit it off in mid rant and shoved down hard on the rising
It was his turn to blink in surprise, but it quickly turned
to a frown as he saw me struggling for control of my emotions. Emotions
he was struggling to make me give in to. One of us sighed.
‘Talk to me,’ he pleaded. ‘Don’t shut
me out. Let me help make this right too.’
‘It’s my mess,’ I smiled up at him wanly,
reaching to brush knuckles across his cheek. ‘You can’t fix
His frown deepened, ‘I have savings, I won’t let
‘No,’ I stopped him. ‘If I can’t get
work…if I can’t get decent enough jobs to keep myself going,
then what the hell is the point? I might as well sell the ship and be done
He looked vaguely…horrified. ‘But Duo…your
ship…it’s so important to you…’
I laughed. Sharply, suddenly, and there was the harsh edge
of hysteria in it. ‘Then it’ll be another damn thing in a long
line of important things that I couldn’t fucking hang on to!’
I cried and had to turn my head and close my eyes to scrabble after the
fraying edge of some semblance of command over myself.
Where had that come from? It was one of those ugly moments
of insight that sometimes rear their heads when I least expect it. Was that
what was driving this morass of depression I couldn’t seem to get
my ass pulled out of? That ages old fear of losing something else that was
I tried to think about ocelots. I tried to think about launch
preparations. Tried starting course calculations. He wasn’t having
any of it. His hand turned my face back toward his, ‘Duo…stop
that. Look at me.’
He had to repeat it before I opened my eyes to blink up at
him. I saw a glimmer of understanding in his soft expression. It sent a
shiver up my spine; we were dancing around those things that I had told
him in my fever dream of near death. I hated this dance. I never knew how
much he really understood. Wasn’t sure just what he really knew and
what he was guessing.
‘Damn it, Duo,’ he whispered. ‘Stop bottling
these things up. There are so many things we haven’t talked through…you
haven’t dealt with what happened to you yet. You just keep pushing
‘I deal with it every fucking day, Yuy!’ I snapped,
thinking about those God forsaken hours and hours of therapy and exercise
that ruled my life.
‘Only the physical part. You won’t face what’s
in here,’ he whispered, his fingers reaching to touch the center of
my forehead. ‘You won’t talk about the accident…you need
to open up and talk to somebody about what happened…’
‘Stop pushing me!’ I yelled and found myself trying
to escape his embrace, but he always was stronger than me, even before my
trip to the belt, and I stayed right where he wanted me.
‘I can’t!’ he burst out, his own control
starting to unravel. ‘I was willing to wait…I was willing to
let you come at this in your own time, but you’ve upped the stakes!
You’re getting ready to go back out there…on your own and I’m…’
the harshness of his voice was suddenly gone and the last word came out
on a mere breath, too soft to hear.
I stared up at him and could see it in his eyes when I bothered
to look. He was afraid…more than just afraid.
‘You’re not the only one who lives with the fear
of losing things,’ he murmured and his fingers when they brushed my
cheek were trembling.
‘Oh Heero…’ I sighed and reached to pull
him down against my chest, curling my arms around him and holding on tight.
‘I’m so sorry…I don’t mean to upset you so damn
much…. I really don’t.’
He chuckled darkly and his breath washed across my chest in
a heavy sigh. ‘I’m the one who is supposed to be doing the comforting
‘I have to go back out there,’ I told him softly.
‘I don’t know any other way to face it…except to just
go face it down.’
‘Let me go with you,’ he blurted.
‘Then I wouldn’t be facing anything…I’d
just be leaning on you,’ I had to tell him, but was touched by the
offer all the same.
‘Then lean on me,’ he said, his voice dejected.
‘That’s what I’m here for.’
‘No,’ I told him resolutely. ‘That’s
a…crippled relationship. We deserve more than that.’
He had no immediate answer, only shifted his body to lie closer
to me, twining his legs with mine, working his arms under and around me.
‘I’m here too,’ I murmured, stroking my
fingers carefully through his sweat-damp hair.
He just rested against me for a time and we listened to the
faint music from the other room, suddenly aware of it again in the quiet.
‘…Like the sea,
There’s a love too deep to show,
Took a storm before my love flowed for you.
C’est le vie.’
I felt him stiffen slightly and I couldn’t help a soft
chuckle. ‘Seems to be a night for irony, isn’t it love?’
He only grunted and we listened through the end of the song
before he spoke again.
‘You know,’ he murmured at long last, his fingers
finding the end of my braid. ‘I got the holy hell beat out of me after
you left tonight.’
My heart was hit with a jolt of fear before my brain engaged,
informing me that I had just fully verified that he was totally without
‘Verbally,’ he amended, threading the tuft of
hair at the end of my braid through his fingers. ‘Quatre says I’m
being over protective and I have to give you more space.’
He was still, except for the gentle flicking of my hair, waiting
for some sort of response from me.
I didn’t quite know what to tell him, I agreed whole-heartedly
but I doubted that was what he wanted to hear. ‘You have developed
some mother-hen tendencies,’ I ventured.
He sighed, his hand tightening on my braid. ‘You do
understand how very close you came…don’t you?’
To dying. On that job.
‘Yes, Heero,’ I told him. ‘I don’t
remember much…but I’m well aware of the fact that I almost died.’
He shivered convulsively and his arms tightened around my
chest again. ‘You weren’t coherent for most of it,’ he
whispered huskily. ‘I couldn’t get your fever down…the
antibiotics weren’t touching the infection. Toward the end…I
cut the ship’s temperature down so far you could see your damn breath.’
He was silent for a minute, thinking back. ‘You went into convulsions
once. I thought…I was sure I’d lost you.’
‘You never told me that,’ I whispered softly,
stroking my knuckles up and down his back. I imagined him, aboard a ship
he wasn’t familiar with, out between the planets. Days away from help
and struggling all alone through a nightmare that probably looked like it
only had one end. It was a mental image that served to dull the edge of
my resentment over his protective hovering.
He didn’t seem to hear me, lost in memory. ‘It
was like a…punishment for…for reaching for you,’ he sighed,
so softly I had to hold my breath to hear him. ‘All those years I
kept my desire for you a secret and everything was fine. Then… I dared
to tell you… I dared try to touch you and… and you almost…’
his voice was getting thick. ‘Like some damn God with a sick sense
of humor was letting me have five minutes of heaven just to rip it out of
‘Oh Heero…’ I groaned. ‘You don’t
understand…things weren’t fine. I’ve been so damn lonely…
out there; all by myself…’
‘Then why go back?’ he pounced, raising his head
from my chest to look imploringly at me. ‘Why leave?’
I smiled at him. ‘Because it’s what I do…what
I am, but now I have someplace to come back to. Someone to come back to.’
I took his face between my hands, ‘I’m not leaving you. I’m
just taking on a job.’
He pulled away and laid his head back on my chest, turning
his face away from me. ‘Tell that to my heart,’ he grumbled.
‘I’ll tell it to whatever body part you want me
to,’ I snapped. ‘But it’s your damn hard head that’s
refusing to listen!’
He pulled away from me, rolling off and turning his back to
me. ‘God damn it!’ he snapped. ‘I’m… I’m…’
‘Scared?’ I supplied softly and spooned in behind
him. ‘Me too.’ I felt him stiffen under my arm and knew I’d
hit the nail firmly on the head. ‘But I love you and that’s
all I need. The rest will work itself out.’
He was quiet so long, I started feeling sleepy. ‘Just
remember; you promised me forever.’
‘So now we’re married?’ I teased drowsily.
‘If I could make it so,’ he told me huskily.
It served to wipe away the lethargy that had tried to claim
me. ‘Heero?’ I breathed. ‘What are you saying?’
He turned his head so he could see me out of the corner of
his eye. ‘If there was a legal way in hell… I would marry you
in a heartbeat.’
‘No shit?’ I blurted, feeling instantly bad for
the…poor choice of words. But it finally made him smile.
‘You have such a romantic turn of phrase,’ he
murmured in wry amusement.
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘What?’ he frowned in confusion.
‘I’ll marry you,’ I yawned and tugged on
his arm. ‘Now turn over here so I can get comfortable.’
‘Duo,’ he sighed. ‘You know that same sex
‘Trying to back out of the proposal?’ I grinned
and squirmed in next to him once I had him turned over, pillowing my head
on his shoulder.
‘Of course not…’ he began, frowning at me
in obvious bewilderment.
‘Good,’ I cut him off. ‘Then it’s
settled. We’re married. Now shut up and go to sleep.’
There was a long moment of silence.
‘I’m not changing my name to Heero Maxwell,’
‘Well, I’m certainly not changing mine to Duo
Yuy,’ I returned.
‘We could hyphenate it.’
‘We could leave well enough alone.’
He smiled down at me and bent to kiss the end of my nose,
but then his eyes clouded and he sighed heavily. ‘You’re doing
it again,’ he accused.
Changing the subject. Altering the course of the conversation.
Duck and cover.
I briefly considered playing dumb but decided against it.
‘I’m just tired, Heero,’ I told him. ‘Please…no
more tonight? I’m done in.’ Now there was an understatement,
I felt like I was coming off an out of control, emotional roller-coaster
‘All right, love,’ he conceded and kissed me lightly.
I tried to snuggle down for sleep and made an irritating discovery.
‘Damn it…this day just keeps getting better and better,’
‘Duo?’ Heero looked concerned. ‘What’s
I levered myself up. ‘We have managed to turn my entire
bed into one big wet spot.’
In the end, we abandoned my room all together, going to clean
ourselves up, then retreating to his bed for the night. I don’t know
about him, but I was hours falling asleep.
He doesn’t use an alarm; he has some sort of damn internal
atomic clock that he sets with a mere thought. When I woke in the morning
he was gone to work. I was a little surprised and just a little bit relieved;
I needed some damn breathing room.
I lay in his room for a while, reveling in his lingering scent
on the sheets and staring at his ceiling. Married. I chuckled to myself,
not the whole thing with the rings and the flowers and the tuxedos. It was
just a…promise…a pledge of the rest of our lives. A conscious
offer of fidelity, of commitment. It was what Heero had seemed to need,
something to hold onto while I was away. It hadn’t been a difficult
thing to offer him, hell; I’d felt married since…since…
Since we’d made love for the first time, ok? Shut up
about it. I’d never been… intimate with another human being
before, and that had been… a big deal to me. It had brought home just
how badly I didn’t want to go back to my old life, the way I’d
been living. Out there… alone.
So why was I in such a big hurry to get my ass back out there?
Alone? Two reasons. Because it scared me spitless and I’ve always
had to grab on and kiss my fears right between the eyes. And because Heero
deserved to be partnered to a… person… a fully functioning,
healthy, self-sufficient person. Not this… crippled, frightened, broken
man that had taken up residence in his apartment. Even I’m bright
enough to understand that a relationship based on my dependency would eventually
collapse under its own weight.
I’m a salvage man. A spacer. A ship owner and a pilot.
Time I got back to it. I started with a shower and then went to strip my
bed. My whole freakin’ room smelled like sex and I ended up with a
stupid grin on my face for most of the next half hour. I gathered the dirty
clothes together with the sheets and stuffed them into the big duffle bag
we used to haul things down to the laundry room. I very pointedly made sure
some of my own clothes were mixed in with his. I wouldn’t have time
to do the washing today, but Heero would do it while I was gone, I had no
When I went for a quick bite of breakfast, I found a note
on the kitchen table, I imagined him sitting here struggling with the wording.
‘It would be nice to know your schedule. Please don’t
leave without calling me. I can come home early if you’re leaving
today. Love, your husband.’
I was grinning like an idiot again. I wondered, not for the
first damn time, just how freaking far he could push his superiors. He seemed
to make up his own hours, seemed to bend his job to suit his needs.
I was tempted to look in the trash can to see just how many
times he had written that note before he had found just the proper…neutral
wording to suit himself. But hell, he probably wrote it out in his head
until it was perfect before committing it to paper only once. The ‘it
would be nice’ was the gentlest of reprimands, tempered by the teasing
‘your husband’ signature. He really does try so hard sometimes.
I ate one of the ration bars I had squirreled away in the
back of the cupboard, opened a bottle of soda, took a couple of swallows
and deliberately put it back in the fridge for later. Then I added a couple
of things to the grocery list on the front of said refrigerator, things
that I ate but Heero didn’t. My partner needed some reassuring.
I fetched my laptop to the couch and sat down to send my itinerary
off to Heero’s Preventor’s e-mail address, adding a small note
that managed to combine the words ‘forever’, ‘sexy’
and ‘sushi’ to decent effect.
I had a message from the guy on L3 and he was absolutely ecstatic
to finally be getting his paint job. Seems his current girlfriend had gotten
around to refusing to sleep with him until the former girlfriend’s
picture was removed from over their bunk.
On a sudden whim I pulled up an internet search engine and
went looking for the name of that guy in Hell; the one with the rock. It
took me a good ten minutes, but when I finally found the information I about
fell off the couch laughing. Sisyphus - his name was Sisyphus…and
he ended up damned to hell for tricking Death…twice! What an unbelievable
twist of the ironic. Sisyphus was my new hero.
Still chuckling, I downloaded a picture I found of an old
etching of the guy, pushing his rock up his hill, head bent and muscles
bulging under the strain. I turned it into my laptop wallpaper. When I finally
died and went to Hell I vowed to see if I could find Sisyphus, maybe I could
give him a hand.
My flight plan had come through as well, with a little note
attached from Smitty apologizing for getting me in trouble with my ‘buddy’.
I grinned, the son of a bitch was fishing to see if he could goad me into
telling him just what Heero was to me. Maybe if I ever ran into them again
with Heero in tow, I would introduce him as my husband and see if I could
actually render the smart-ass musketeer speechless.
I just had time to toss off a flippant response in which I
did not mention Heero, before I had to head out to therapy.
My therapist was less than thrilled to find out that I would
be out of town for the next couple of days and would miss at least one session
and maybe two. The results of my last trip, after all, had not been that
beneficial to my health. I got a rather lengthy lecture about how she was
getting a little tired of backing up with me and starting over. That if
I went off and did to myself what I had done last time, she was going to
turn me over to the chief physical therapist, Dan, who was rumored to truly
believe that ‘no pain, no gain’ was a way of life.
I eventually escaped the clinic and went straight to my ship
to handle the resupply and final inspection. I had an appointment in the
afternoon with the workman who was going to fit a lockdown station in the
guest cabin for the ocelot cage. I sure as hell hoped the damn animal didn’t
That little chore took just over an hour. The mechanic was
a big, beefy guy with a scraggly beard and a bad habit of using the word
‘y’know’. I thought I would scream before I finally got
him off my ship. I had to resist the urge to hose down the area he’d
been working in.
I took the time to download the week’s weather reports
and ran a quick scan of the job boards to see if there might be something
I could piggyback onto this job to boost my profit margin, but didn’t
find a thing.
That left me with just an hour before Heero was due home from
work and I didn’t want him arriving to an empty apartment. I didn’t
think that would do much for his mental state right now. I locked the ship
down, called a cab and hauled ass.
I didn’t make it; he’d skipped his session in
the gym with Wufei and come right home from work. I saw the car in the lot
and went pounding up the stairs to the third floor as fast as I could manage.
He had beaten me, but not by much. He was still clutching the bag of Chinese
take-out in his hand, standing in the middle of the living room with the
most God-awful stricken look on his face, when I threw the door open and
made my entrance.
‘Damn it, Heero,’ I panted. ‘You weren’t
supposed to skip your work-out.’
He managed to mostly banish the fearful look with a quirky
little grin. ‘Technically, we’re on our honeymoon… I thought
it would be a nice gesture to come home early.’
‘And bearing gifts, no less,’ I grinned, trying
to help him ease away from the tension.
‘You as much as gave me orders this morning,’
his grin widened. ‘Something to do with sushi and sex?’
I slipped out of my jacket and tossed it across the nearest
chair before heading toward the kitchen for plates. ‘The implication
was that take-out would leave more time this evening for…other things.
It’s your gutter-bred mind that connected the phrase ‘sexy ass’
with the dinner request.’
There was a grunt from my partner as he followed me into the
kitchen and by the time I came back to the table with the dishes, he had
put his moment of panic completely behind him.
The teasing stopped while we dished up dinner and an odd,
almost uncomfortable quiet took hold. I was struggling for something to
say, some reassuring comment I could offer up and pretty much coming up
‘I got a call from Trowa today,’ he ventured into
the silence, not looking up from his plate.
‘Oh?’ I said brightly.
He stirred rice around with his chopsticks. ‘He and
Quatre think… that I’m…throwing too much at you all at
once.’ He glanced up at me through the curtain of his hair, with eyes
that hoped I would refute the comment.
I thought about it and decided that I should probably not
let this opportunity pass. Though it was a toss up whether I wanted to kiss
or kick my little brother. Quatre really needed to stay the hell out of
things that were none of his business. I sighed softly, ‘I’m
sorry, Heero…I have to admit that I’m not…entirely comfortable
around your friends yet.’
He looked up at me with a frown. ‘They’re your
‘No they’re not,’ I told him gently, but
firmly. ‘I barely know them… it’s been years.’
He sat and regarded me for several long minutes and I felt
myself wanting to crawl under the table. I bit down on the urge to fill
the silence with rambling reassurances. The ball was in his court; his serve.
‘Those… guys, last night?’ he finally said.
‘Those were friends?’
I flashed a smile. ‘Well, I hope they still are.’
He mulled that for a few bites and then looked up at me again.
‘You were… more at ease while you were talking to them.’
I stopped with a forkful of rice half way to my mouth and
thought about it. I suppose I had relaxed somewhat while talking to the
musketeers. I had been on the inside of my own set of inside jokes, after
all. ‘Well, I’ve known them for a couple of years… we
have a history,’ I went ahead and ate that forkful of rice before
saying, ‘like you have with the guys.’
His gaze darted toward me, then dropped to his plate; we ate
in silence while he considered the implications of that.
‘I’m sorry,’ he murmured and was back to
stirring his rice around his plate in a strange parody of one of those Japanese
‘Nothing to be sorry for, Heero,’ I told him matter-of-factly.
‘You didn’t ask me to do anything… over the top. It just
came after a very bad day, I should have known better than to even have
He raised his eyes and the look he gave me can only be described
as… intense. He opened his mouth. Shut it. Opened it again. The look
on his face turned… frustrated. I wondered what in the world was going
on behind those deep blue eyes but knew I wouldn’t find out until
he was damn good and ready to tell me. Eventually he settled on, ‘Quatre
asked me to invite you to lunch one day next week, just the two of you.
He thinks it might be… easier for you.’
I couldn’t keep the frown from my face but I nodded.
‘Tell him… I’ll call him. We’ll set something up.’
‘Duo?’ he questioned gently and drew a sigh from
‘It’s a… nice gesture on his part, love.’
I tried to squelch the faint irritation. ‘But I have to confess you
guys are starting to make me feel like… like some kind of damn skittish,
wild animal that you’re trying to tame.’
He blinked across at me and the flush that darkened his face
made me throw back my head and laugh out right, the last of the irritation
‘Enough already,’ I told him then. ‘I don’t
even want to know what Wufei had to say on the subject. I don’t want
to talk about last night. I don’t want to talk about that damn magazine.
I want to spend tonight with my lover, not my mother-hen.’
We finished dinner, cleaned up the mess and settled on the
couch to play a little backgammon. Talk was kept light, he told me a little
bit about the case he was working on and I told him about the workman who
had come out to the ship that afternoon. I developed a cramp in the calf
of my leg from running up the stairs earlier and he offered to rub it out.
The evening progressed rather predictably from there and we spent the rest
of the night in his room this time. He made love to me like it was the last
time he would ever see me. When we finally settled down for sleep, I was
exhausted enough that I actually managed it.
I woke with his arms still curled around me. I was a little
surprised at first; we normally roll apart once we’re asleep, each
of us seeking a more comfortable position. Then I tried to slip away to
go get a shower before he woke and… found myself trapped. He wouldn’t
let go. Even sound asleep. I would have laughed if it hadn’t been
so… heart wrenching. Guilt crawled stealthily up the foot of the bed
and bit me resoundingly on the ass.
I glanced across him to the clock and sighed, he still had
a half an hour before he needed to get up. I guess I would just skip the
shower for now; I could always take one aboard ship later.
I raised my head from his shoulder to look up into his face
and was dismayed to find dark-circled eyes and a faint frown even in his
slumber. I wondered how long he had lain awake last night.
His arm tightened around me when I shifted. ‘Not yet…please…’
I think he was dreaming.
‘Shhh…I’m right here,’ I whispered
softly and felt another nip from guilt as the faint frown faded away.
I lay my head back down with a sigh and resisted the urge
to turn around and try to kick the shit out of the slathering, sharp-fanged
beast that was guilt. Guilt sucks.
I just felt like I had too much on my plate right now to be
able to deal with his fears too. I had enough of my own. There was a part
of my head that could not even think about going back out there between
the planets all alone again. I just had to keep shoving that aside, focusing
on the immediate. One freakin’, damn step at a time. Step one; shower.
Step two; pack. Step three; get to ship on time. Step four; run through
checklist. Step five; take on cargo. Step six; launch. Step six kept bringing
me up stone cold. My mouth would go dry and my hands would start to shake.
So I just didn’t think about step six. I’d get there after step
five and I’d deal with it when the time came. But I was already screwed
to hell in that I couldn’t even manage step one.
All right then, simply change the schedule. Forget the shower.
Step one; reassure terrified lover.
Fifteen minutes before he was due to get up, I managed to
squirm out of his arms and position myself to better advantage. I said ‘good
morning’… without benefit of words. He started awake with a
strangled cry and I almost got kneed in the side of the head for my trouble.
His look of blurry confusion was priceless and I raised my head from what
I was doing to give him a teasing, ‘good morning, husband-mine,’
before returning to the task at hand.
He managed something that might have been, ‘morning’
and might have been ‘more’. I wasn’t sure and obliged
anyway. His confusion faded quickly and before long the room was filled
with the sound of his erotic moaning.
After the moaning crescendoed in a piercing cry and he collapsed,
gasping and spent, I crawled up the length of his body and purred in his
ear. ‘Shower with me?’
‘If I can still stand up, damn it!’ he mock growled
and made to reach for me but I ducked away.
‘We’ll be late,’ I scolded and headed toward
the bathroom with a grin that made him grumble some more. He took almost
five full minutes to come staggering in after me. I let him help me wash
my hair until his soapy hands left my scalp and began working elsewhere.
‘I have a schedule, Yuy,’ I told him, pulling away to rinse
my hair. I almost sighed at the near imperceptible tension that arose at
‘Hey,’ I smiled, tapping at the container of shampoo.
‘Can you pick me up another bottle the next time you’re at the
drug store? I’m almost out.’
He folded his arms and tilted his head with an odd smile,
watching me slick the last of the shampoo from my hair.
‘Ok, love,’ he murmured. ‘That’s enough…
I get the message.’
I blinked water out of my eyes and met his gaze. ‘Busted,
‘I’m not that dense,’ he sighed and this
time, when he reached for me, I let him take me in his arms. ‘I trust
your intensions. Just…just stay safe for me?’
‘I’ll do my best,’ I told him, because anything
more would have been a lie. An obvious lie.
‘I love you,’ he murmured, and his arms tightened
around me. ‘More than anything.’
‘I love you too,’ I responded solemnly, then drew
back to smile at him. ‘I’m like a stray cat…you fed me;
there’s no getting rid of me now.’
He didn’t answer, just held me close under the warm
spray of water.
I sighed softly. ‘It’s not even a salvage job,
I felt him go… all tense and there was the sound of
an almost gasping sigh. ‘Duo… I was there when you put that
vacuum suit on to go after the Brannigan’s. I heard you… I saw
you when you came back.’ He pushed me away to hold at arm’s
length. ‘You were white as a ghost…shaking like a leaf. I thought
you were going to pass out. You may be able to lie to yourself, but you
can’t lie to me. You aren’t ready for this.’
I felt a thread of anger run through my blood but it refused
to flare into anything stronger because… because I knew he was right.
He was right but it didn’t matter. I didn’t know what in the
hell to say to him.
His eyes were… strange. Dark and almost angry, but I
couldn’t figure out which of us he was upset with. Me for going, or
himself for letting his fears eat at him so much. I smoothed his wet hair
away from those dark eyes and tried to calm the anger from them at the same
time, ‘I’ll be back before you have a chance to miss me.’
‘I miss you already,’ he growled.
Well screw it…he just wasn’t going to make this
‘Heero…’ I began, but he cut me off with
a sudden kiss, almost harsh in its desperate intensity.
‘Damn you,’ he breathed against my cheek, voice
twisted near to breaking. ‘You come back to me…do you hear me?
You damn well better come back to me.’
Then he was gone. Fled the shower. Fled the bathroom. By the
time I had picked my jaw up off the floor, finished rinsing and gotten out…he
had fled the apartment.
Well hell. There was nothing in this world I could do to reassure
him short of canceling the damn trip. If I quit the job I was sunk. I might
as well sell my ship and kiss the trade good-bye. This was going to be a
long, hard, up-hill battle building my business back. It was going to be
harder than just starting out had been. I hadn’t had any negative
rumors floating around about me back then, a clean slate. Before I could
work my way back to something substantial I was going to have to pay my
dues in a lot of little scut jobs to prove I could still pilot. If I could
I could not…it kills me to admit it…but I just
could not deal with his fears on top of my own. And yeah, I get the odd
little irony of the fact that it was my not dealing with mine, that was
mostly causing his. Twisted little situation we were in the middle of here,
by anyone’s standards.
I worried at it, like a dog with an old bone, looking for
that last scrap of…whatever the hell, while I threw my things into
a duffle. But I came up empty. I couldn’t think of a single way to
make this better, could think of nothing I could do or say that would ease
this for him. Hell, I couldn’t think of a way to ease it for me. I
already felt like I was going to pass out and was steadfastly not thinking
about where I was going and why. I was just doing my best to concentrate
on step two; packing.
And I finished that without coming to any conclusions. I left
for my ship without leaving a note… there was nothing more to say.
I managed to accomplish step three with five minutes to spare.
I stowed my gear and set about starting the final ship’s
lock-down, just doing my best to lose myself in the familiar routines. Letting
my hands do their well-known job, body on autopilot while brain tried to
inch it’s way toward the idea of launch. I briefly considered the
notion of attaching six or seven of those anti-nausea patches all over my
When I worked my way through the ship to the cockpit, my message
light was flashing. I jacked into the dock-net and called up my e-mail.
There was a single message, from Heero of course, and I found myself almost
reluctant to open it.
I was down to my last two steps. Getting my cargo loaded and
then that last one, the one that I was having trouble thinking about. The
one that was making my stomach churn and my throat ache despite my not thinking
about it. If this message was another plea for me to cancel the trip…
I was afraid I just might do it. I was that close. That God damned near
a breaking point I hadn’t realized I was on the edge of. My hand hovered
over the touch pad for several minutes before I finally broke down and clicked
the message open with an almost violent gesture.
Don’t ask me if I was hoping he would ask me one last
time not to go… because I don’t know the answer.
‘I’m sorry,’ the message read and I could
almost hear his breathless voice trying to get it out before it was too
late. ‘Please forgive me. You’re right; I’m scared. I
just found you… I can’t lose you. Do what you have to do, but
please just come home safe. I love you, Duo, I want forever.’
He’d finally stopped to think about what he was doing
to my concentration. The message was disjointed, not like his normal carefully
crafted ones. He’d been rushing to get it sent before I launched.
I’m not sure if it made things better or worse. I could picture him
sitting in his office at work staring at his computer screen, waiting for
a reply. I saw him running his fingers through that unruly hair of his in
that gesture he makes when he’s at wit’s end.
My fingers brushed over the keys while I thought. I didn’t
have a lot of time; my cargo was due in a matter of minutes, but I had to
answer him. I couldn’t manage this launch with that mental picture
of him dancing before my eyes; sitting… waiting… I began to
‘I told you, you are my soul’s home. I will always
come back to you. Always and forever. You’re my strength, Heero…you
have to be strong for both of us just a little bit longer. Don’t doubt
how tough an old street rat can be… I can do this. You just be there,
waiting for me when I come home. I love you.’
I agonized over it until I saw the cargo truck pull into the
bay, I hit the send button before I had a chance to change my mind about
the wording for the hundredth time and ran to direct the cargo handlers
into the guest cabin. Maybe it wouldn’t have sounded so hollow to
me if I had believed that part about being able to do this.
Ocelots are damned impressive beasties. It was sedated for
the launch and napped happily in its cage while two dockworkers wrestled
it into the lock-down station. The cat’s handler stood over them,
watching their every move like a hawk, even while he was rattling off a
set of instructions to me about the care and handling of ‘Astra’.
Mr. Blackmoor was a tiny little man with a pinched up, unhappy
looking face. A guy who frowned more than he smiled and I was betting if
he didn’t have an ulcer from perpetually looking on the dark side
of things, he would have one before he got much older.
I was given a hardcopy of the same information packet that
I had been e-mailed the night I took this job. I didn’t need it, but
took it without argument. He gave me a bundle that consisted of more sedatives
for Astra if she became agitated after the first dose wore off. He told
me she had traveled before and shouldn’t have any problems as long
as I wasn’t one of those ‘hot shot’ pilots. I almost laughed
at that one. I was cautioned to make sure her water bottle remained full
and was instructed on how to refill it without getting my hands where Astra
might decide to snack on them. He gave me a long lecture about the fact
that ocelots were not house pets; they were wild animals and should be treated
with caution. He showed me how the bottom of the cage retracted for ‘cleaning’
before finally showing signs that he was going to get the hell off my ship.
I got a wink from one of the dockworkers as they made their escape and I
suspected that they had already heard this monologue once already today.
The last thing I was given was a package of ‘ocelot
dinner’ that I was instructed to refrigerate. After the man was gone,
I took a peek in the brown paper packet and whistled. Apparently, ocelots
eat better than most people do. At least this ocelot did.
I stowed meat and medicine, and locked down the cargo bay
doors before heading for the cockpit. Time to get this sideshow on the road.
I took two seconds to check my e-mail one last time and had
to fight down a bitter upwelling of disappointment when I had nothing from
Heero. What the hell else was there to say? Absolutely nothing. So, of course
he hadn’t answer me. I can’t tell you what I had been hoping
to find. One last entreaty? One last ‘I love you’? I just don’t
Like the pathetically superstition-bound idiot I am, I buckled
Fuzzy-butt into the co-pilot’s seat, giving his bedraggled ear a rub.
I settled myself in the pilot’s chair next and found my fingers fumbling
for my cross without my conscious thought. I was steadfastly not looking
beyond the second. I was not launching my ship. I was not alone on said
ship. I was not preparing to go… out there. I was not.
I was simply running through a pre-flight checklist. That
did not mean I was preparing to do anything. I was not…
The urge to throw-up over took me in a sudden rush. The little
voice that had been whimpering in the back of my head all morning, the voice
that I had been placating with little white lies, was suddenly, completely
panicked and demanding to know what was going on.
It wasn’t on the pre-flight checklist, but I ended up
making room for it – ‘puking guts up’. I had a sinking
feeling that I was going to have to put it on the list from now on. Right
between disconnecting from the dock web and the final check of all hatch
I heard the chime of an incoming call before I was finished
and knew that my tow-truck was here. I prayed all the way back from the
head that it wasn’t Dusty. I wouldn’t be able to cover up how
rattled I was with him.
I slapped the open channel and almost wept with relief when
it was stoic old Cortaine who’s voice came across my speakers.
‘Requesting permission to lock onto your ship, Maxwell.’
He always manages to sound bored by the whole process. I’ve never
exchanged more than the usual banter with the man, he has no sense of humor
‘Go ahead, Cortaine,’ I called and listened to
the loud, metallic clangs of the grapplers latching on.
The voice in the back of my head was scrabbling desperately
for a front row seat where it could exert some control over the body we
both lived in. Nonononono…Won’t go…Can’t make me…Nonono…
My hands, on total autopilot, were buckling me in. I glanced
down at an odd clicking noise and found my fingers shaking so hard I was
having trouble getting the buckles to mate up. I giggled hysterically at
the notion that they looked like somebody else’s hands. Well hell;
they’d looked like somebody else’s hands for years now.
‘What was that, Maxwell?’ Cortaine called and
my little internal voice almost managed enough control to yell for him to
‘N… nothing,’ I managed and cringed when
my voice wavered.
The ship gave a lurch as we started to move. I was so slicked
with sweat my hair was sticking to my forehead. God, if Heero could see
me now, he’d probably deck me if he had to, in order to stop me. He
wouldn’t have had to. In that moment, if he had appeared in my cockpit
and simply said ‘wait’, it would have been all over.
I was struck with a sudden, gut-wrenching desire to send him
one last message. A final good-bye… just in case.
‘You all right in there?’ Cortaine queried and
I wondered if I really sounded that bad, or if the whole God damn world
knew what a mess I was.
‘I think I’m allergic to my cargo,’ I joked
ruthlessly. The lame comment, delivered in a voice that was tight with tension,
would never have fooled Dusty. Cortaine laughed.
‘Good thing you’re only takin’ the critter
to L3 then,’ he joked. ‘It would suck to be stuck in there with
it for longer than that.’
I didn’t bother to respond, he wasn’t really expecting
I hesitated over the music; I couldn’t do this in a
silent ship. No way in hell.
I wanted ‘March of Cambreadth’ but didn’t
figure Cortaine and the rest of the field would appreciate it. The whole
damn area would know something was up if I launched without my music on
external speakers. I never launch without my music, it’s part of that
whole ‘spacer’s luck’ thing. People in the trade don’t
like messing with it.
I settled on ‘Dance of the Sand Witches’, and
queued ‘March’ to kick in behind it. I’d be on the launch
ramp by then and the hell with all of them.
My gut was clenched so tight I was in physical pain.
Nononono…Don’t wanna…Can’t make me…It’s
dark and cold and empty…I can’t…I can’t…I
I hit the music and jacked the volume, thankful that I wasn’t
getting the same attention I had gotten last trip. The few pilots who happened
to be on the field stopped and turned to wave, but there wasn’t that
gauntlet of well-wishers to run.
The music swelled and sped, I latched onto it for all I was
worth. Cortaine stopped talking to me when it began to play anyway, so I
was able to forget about him. Electric guitars. Electric fiddles. Pounding
drums. The music set the pace of my heart and I let them drown out the voice
of the little, scared boy in my head.
Don’t wanna go…Please don’t make me go…I’ll
We were on the pad and Cortaine was aligning me with the ramp.
My hands were moving over my boards, initiating the latching process. The
tower was calling for the final synch. I started my engines.
I got the green lights. The countdown commenced, the guy in
the tower calling out the last thirty seconds, the auto selector amplifying
his voice over the music. The ‘March of Cambreadth’ kicked in
and the drums that drove my heartbeat steadied.
This was the song I had used during the war when I had not
been able to go on any more. When fear and pain, exhaustion and doubt had
slashed at my soft-underbelly… I had used my music to drive myself,
despite all of it. I embraced it now like I hadn’t had to in years.
‘Use your shield and use your head, Fight till every
one is dead, Raise the flag up to the sky, How many of them can we make
What do you do when you’re so scared you can’t
see straight? You get pissed.
No! I can’t…I can’t…
‘Fuck if you can’t!’ I yelled for all I
was worth and hit the jets.
My Demon roared to life under my hands and the voice in the
back of my head got just enough control to scream ‘Heero!’ like
the frightened child I can’t afford to be.
It was all lost in the sound of the engines anyway.
There was nothing to see but flash-glare through the ports,
but I knew the sky around me was giving way to the cold emptiness of space.
The yoke vibrated like a thing alive in my already unsteady hands. ‘Come
on, Demon-girl… don’t fight me,’ I growled.
Out and free. That moment that used to fill me with peace.
When the thrusters cut out because they’re no longer needed and the
crushing fist of God lifts from your chest. That moment when you are no
longer Earth-bound… no longer ruled by gravity. I used to love that
There was an almost giddy rush of accomplishment that rode
in on the crest of a rising tide of fear. All tempered by a solid realization
that I was committed. There was no turning back now. The trip to L3 is a
good twelve hours. On a better day, that was a nothing run… I’d
made the short hop a million times in my career. But somehow, today, the
L3 port seemed a lifetime away.
My training kicked in and I found my body moving without my
having to tell it what to do next. Shut down the thrusters, plot the course,
engage the main drive, change the music.
The voice in my head was nothing but a whimper. It had given
up the fight for lost and was just hunkered down trying not to think. Well,
that was fine; I was trying pretty damn hard not to think too much either.
Duty made me get up and go back to the guest cabin to check
on my ‘cargo’. In her cage, Astra slit a heavy eyelid and gifted
me with what seemed to amount to a pissed off glare. She didn’t know
who I was and I could see her nostrils flare, as she tasted the air for
my scent. But the drugs in her system kept her from really giving a damn
and those golden eyes fell closed again. She was gorgeous. I wished idly
that I could take her out of the cage and pet her; it would really have
been something to be able to touch that fur. It looked thick and soft as
velvet. I could imagine her purring if I could have scratched her ears.
But I remembered Mr. Blackmoor’s warnings about her being a wild animal
and decided that getting my hand eaten was probably not an acceptable risk
for the brief reward of being able to… being able to touch another
I laughed out loud and Astra slit one eye open to peer at
me disdainfully. God; was I that fucking desperate not to be alone? It was
a stupid cat; what in the hell was I thinking?
I whirled away from the sight of the cage and headed for the
galley, wishing on some level that I had beer in there. I probably wouldn’t
have drunk it even if I’d had it, but that didn’t keep me from
thinking about it. I knew better than to go that way, I’d seen enough
people in the trade take that ride when things got rough, and I knew damn
good and well that you didn’t come back up that road nearly as easy
as you went down it.
I settled on a soda and tried to sit at the galley table to
drink it, but found myself too restless. I needed something to occupy my
mind, something to help me not listen to the crying voice inside my head.
The one that kept trying to tell me just how thin the walls of a space ship
were. How very far away from a safe haven we had come. How very quiet it
was behind the music. How very alone we were.
I wandered back to the guest cabin and found my sketchpad
and pencils, deciding on a whim to sit and sketch the ocelot. I tried not
to think about the fact that I was probably making the excuse to stay in
the room with the beast just so I would be a little bit less alone.
‘Hope you don’t mind posing,’ I told the
big cat and she promptly yawned hugely, displaying a respectable mouth full
of sharp teeth. ‘I wonder just what it is that’s waiting for
you.’ A boyfriend, maybe? Perhaps a cushy new home in a zoo? I laughed
again. ‘What about joining Catherine’s circus? Maybe that’s
why you don’t mind traveling; you’re a circus performer!’
She wasn’t amused.
I put pencil to paper, but my mind was wandering and I found
myself thinking how much Solo would have liked to have seen the big cat.
He had loved animals, not that there were a lot of them to see on L2…
well, except for the rats. But we had seen a lady with a dog once and Solo
had followed her for three blocks, just watching the way the thing’s
hair had moved as it had trotted along.
‘What do you think of Astra, rat-boy?’ I queried,
but didn’t get an answer.
The lady with the dog had panicked after we had followed her
for a while and had suddenly grabbed a cop when she happened to pass one
and pointed us out. He had chased us for almost five blocks before we had
gotten away by darting through traffic heavy enough to dissuade him. Solo
had talked about that dog for days, before getting sullen about it. Then
we had never talked about dogs again.
I thought about Hayden and Toria and wondered if they had
their new ship yet. Probably not, or Toria would have called me to start
redoing the paintings of their fantasy family. At least… I hope she
would have called me. I was a little afraid that they felt so guilty over
that zero-grav expo mess, that they weren’t calling me at all. I suppose
I should take the initiative and send a message out; see how they were doing.
The pencil moved over the paper while my mind wandered around
in little circles. I was somewhat soothed by the familiar flow of light
and shadow, form and line.
I wondered how Heero was doing. Wondered if he had gotten
my last message. I hoped against hope that there would be something waiting
for me when I got to L3 and could jack back into the colony net. I could
call Heero from here, using the Ansible net, as he had used it to call Wufei
on that last trip, but that was damned expensive. Besides, I had told him
I was coming out here to do this on my own; calling him every five minutes
wasn’t much better than bringing him along. Leaning was leaning, no
matter what the crutch was. I had to get through this alone.
It irritated me somewhat, this idea that he had, that I could
just ‘talk this through’. I think he was dying to try to convince
me into therapy of some sort, but knew better than to bring that up. There
was just no point to that crap in this case. It’s not like I didn’t
know what the damn problem was. I knew it inside and out. I was screamingly,
horrifically, absolutely terrified of being marooned in hard vacuum. I was
borderline claustrophobic. I was nearly irrational about being alone. What
was there to talk about? I had an accident. I spent a week in total darkness,
near total isolation, on the verge of suffocation in the freezing cold of
deep space. Yeah… I had issues. Talking about it wasn’t going
to make it any better. Facing it might. And then again… it might not.
If it didn’t… it was all over. I didn’t have any choice
but to sell the ship and walk away from the trade. Walk away from everything
that I had single-mindedly worked toward for the last three years. I did
not know what in the hell I would do then.
My stomach poked at me, pointing out that I had been abusing
it today and it had finally settled enough, that food might be a nice idea.
I straightened and felt sore back muscles complain. That made me glance
at my watch and I realized that hours had elapsed. I was a little relieved
that I had been able to calm myself down enough to have slipped outside
the time flow a little bit. I had feared that the minutes of this trip would
tick by with the sluggishness of hours. Then I glanced down to see how Astra’s
portrait had come out.
It wasn’t the ocelot’s face that I found on the
paper, but my own… both of them.
I blinked stupidly at the self-portrait… portraits.
It was me, looking haggard and worn, old and drained, holding… me.
As a small child.
Grown-up me; my eyes are closed and shadowed, face lined with
pain and defeat. My cheeks are gaunt and my hair is wisping free of the
braid, straggling around my face. I am holding a little boy tight to my
chest, tucked in under my chin. My arms are wrapped around him, clutching
him to me with an almost desperate air, trying to offer shelter… trying
Child me; my eyes are closed too, scrunched up in sheer terror.
My face is grubby and my clothes are tattered; a street rat clear down to
the soul. My little hands are fisted tightly in the shirt of the man holding
me. I seek shelter. I seek comfort. The man looks as though he is long past
being able to protect either one of us.
We both looked… lost.
I flipped the cover closed on the sketchpad with a muttered
curse and threw myself off the bunk. Astra yawned toothily again and stretched
languidly, otherwise ignoring my outburst. I started to head for the galley
and then suddenly realized I wasn’t hungry anymore. I turned instead
for the cockpit. I could check course and heading and double-check that
I hadn’t somehow missed an incoming call. I sometimes don’t
hear things when I’m drawing. Really I don’t. It would kill
a little more time.
I was almost through the cabin door when it hit me that I
hadn’t stopped to touch Solo’s shoulder before launch. Hit me.
I mean that in an almost literal way, I felt like someone had hauled off
and punched me in the damn stomach. I just fucking stood there in the doorway,
afraid to turn around and look at the portrait. My Demon seemed, suddenly,
a very damn quiet place. Three years I’d been touching Solo, talking
to Solo, shipping out with the only real partner I’d ever had. The
ghost of my childhood protector. The ghost of my heart’s brother.
And… I had forgotten.
I turned slowly to look at the familiar figure. He stood,
just as he has stood since I had painted him there, with that sardonic,
almost bored grin. My mind wanted to supply a snappy line, wanted to hear
him jeer at me mockingly for breaking the tradition. He should have taunted
me about ‘messing with spacer luck’. Should have pointed out
that even Heero had known to slap his shoulder before launching.
‘My ghosts don’t rest’, I had told Heero
once and I had meant it. My ghosts have never gone gently into that dark
night… they are very vocal little bastards. At least inside my own
head. There were no voices today. No comforting jibes, no condemnation.
Just cold, hard silence.
I had forgotten.
My fingers sought the line of scars on my arm as I realized
that I had forgotten much, much more than a simple launch ritual.
The day I had gotten my wrist brace removed. I had been so
wrapped up in myself that I had forgotten what day it was. After all these
years… I had forgotten the promise I made to Solo. Forgotten my oath
to forever honor the day he died.
There aren’t a lot of days in my life that I keep. I
have no birthday. I have no family, so there are no birthdays or anniversaries
to observe. I really don’t believe in Christmas, a fact that would
have appalled and saddened Father Maxwell. But he had preached of a kind
and merciful God… something I’d never seen any evidence of.
That, somehow, made it all the worse – I only really have that one
day of remembrance a year; you would think I could manage not to screw that
I suddenly understood the quagmire of depression I had been
wallowing in for the past several days. Understood it and was so overcome
by it, that it was all I could do not to sink to the floor right in the
middle of the hall and wail out my guilt and misery. I felt like my whole
world was twisting out from under me.
There were thirteen thin, white scars on my forearm…one
for each year that Solo had been gone. There should have been fourteen.
‘Solo…’ I found myself panting. ‘I’m
so sorry…I didn’t mean too…I didn’t forget you,
I…I just let the time slip by…’
There was no excuse. I knew that, and I knew I was only trying
to ease my own guilt. There was no one here to hear me.
I’m not nuts. You do understand that, right? I talk
to my ghosts and my memory of them lets me hear their replies. Lets me paint
in what they would have said to me if they had lived and were still a part
of my life. I know that. I don’t for a minute believe that I am hearing
the voices of my dead. But I have a very…vivid imagination. My mind
can supply some very lovely lies. But right now, my mind was so swamped
in regret and shame that it wasn’t supplying much of anything. The
silence was enough to bring the sting of tears to my eyes.
‘I am so, so very sorry,’ I whispered to no on
Then I staggered off to my cabin to find my hunting knife.
I would put this right. I would fix this… right now. It was to be,
perhaps, not the smartest decision I ever made.
I remember finding the knife buried in the bottom of a drawer,
next to my box of old photographs. I remember stumbling back to the corridor
to stand looking up at Solo’s portrait. I even remember holding the
knife blade in my teeth while I rolled my sleeve up. I was shaking so badly
I had trouble doing it.
I kept expecting Solo’s voice to growl his displeasure
at me. His ‘ghost’… his memory had always hated this part
of my yearly ritual and my mind usually used his voice to argue with me
over it. There was only more silence. Somewhere deep inside, I knew it was
only my guilt keeping me from supplying what I wanted, but in the state
I was in, it felt like a denunciation. It felt like blame.
After that, I don’t remember a lot. Pain. Blood. Fear.
A feeling like I get when the muse takes control, that sudden, raging need
to answer the call of the ‘art’.
It’s a freakin’ miracle I didn’t kill myself.
It was the sound, finally, of Solo’s blessed, beloved
voice echoing in my head that brought me back to reality. ‘What the
fuck ya doin’, asshole!?’
It was my own brain finally engaging, you say? Fuck you. I
say it was Solo that saved my sorry ass because he forgave me. You don’t
like my reality… bite me.
The blood was freakin’ everywhere. I saw it in front
of me first. I was facing the blank corridor wall across from the line of
my dead and there was a brand, spanking new portrait there. A dark and brooding
likeness, somewhat flat in its monochrome medium of my own drying blood.
There was a hell of a lot of blood.
I looked down almost fearfully at my arm and was shocked to
see the gaping wound there. I could see the damn bone.
What in the hell had I done?
‘That’s what I been askin’, you fuckin’
moron!’ came the familiar voice and I laughed in relief despite everything.
‘Sorry…King-rat,’ I murmured.
‘Get yer damn head together, rat-boy!’ he yelled
and it served to kick my ass in gear. Training that pre-dates conscious
thought finally engaged and I grabbed at the gash, applying pressure even
as I headed myself for the head and the med-kit.
Distantly, I heard Astra growl unhappily and imagined that
the big cat was scenting all the blood… and not approving.
It took everything just short of a damn tourniquet to get
the bleeding slowed and finally stopped. I was reeling by the time I managed
it and as scared as I’ve been in… well, in five or six months,
All I could think was… Heero’s going to kill me.
It actually crossed my mind to try and hide it. But… well, I freakin’
sleep with the man. It was going to be a little difficult. The idea made
me chuckle. The chuckle rose up out of my throat until it was a full-bodied
laugh that quickly got out of my control. I was sobbing brokenly before
I even had a chance to figure out I was dancing on the edge of hysteria.
I despised myself in that moment. How could I have forgotten Solo’s
day? How could I have let something that important slip by me? It was like
that fucking damned accident had robbed me of… of everything. My strength.
My nerve. My past. It was trying to rob me of my ship, of my livelihood.
Sitting there in my blood-splattered clothes, sobbing like an idiot…
I could feel it all slipping through my hands. I was only grateful that
I was alone; I didn’t need any damn witnesses to this day.
I got my fucked up little self back under control when I managed
to start the bleeding up again. God, I was still hours out of L3. If I wasn’t
damn careful, I could bleed to death before I got there. More direct pressure
and more gauze wrapped almost tight enough to cut off the circulation all
together, and I got it stopped again.
Calmed by necessity, and much more cautious, the reality of
my situation beckoned to me. I was out here on my own, just like I had wanted…
now I had to deal with it. Wasn’t anyone around to pick up the pieces
but me, so I set myself to work.
Astra was a high priority and I went there first to check
on her. Her water bottle was still half full and she seemed content to lounge
around her cage, though I saw her testing the air with interest when I stuck
my head into the cabin.
‘Sorry, girl,’ I muttered to her. ‘I’ll
have to get back with you later.’
Then I took myself off to clean up the mess in the corridor.
It was awkward as all hell one handed and having to be oh so careful to
keep my left arm as immobile as possible lest I start the bleeding up again.
When I got to my destination, at the very least, I would have
Astra’s handlers aboard my ship. It would not do to have the port
authorities find my corridors splashed about with blood and a freakin’
military hunting knife lying in the middle of it all.
Blood’s a bitch to clean up, especially if it has a
chance to dry. Coupled with my new handicap, it took me over an hour just
to get it off the floor. I had to get down on my knees to accomplish the
task; leaning over almost made me pass out.
Then I turned my attention to the wall and wasn’t quite
sure what to do.
It was an odd portrait and not just because it was ‘painted’
in my own damn blood. It obviously hadn’t taken me long, or I would
have been dead long before I had finished it. It was nothing more than a
dozen or so smears done with my hand. A study in light and shadow…
rusty brown on steel gray. At first I thought it was Solo. Then I thought
it was Heero. Then I just wasn’t sure. I raised the cleaning rag to
it three times, but couldn’t quite make myself touch it.
‘Leave it,’ Solo said near my ear, his voice a
little flat. It was… a warning.
‘A reminder?’ I asked without having to turn to
see that he wasn’t there.
‘Yeah,’ he growled. ‘Cause we ain’t
never doin’ this again.’
‘Sorry old friend,’ I sighed. Sorry I forgot.
Sorry I did what I did when I remembered. Sorry for just a whole Goddamn
truck load of shit. I would damn near have given my left arm in that moment
to feel him slip an arm around me. To have someone there to lean on.
So I left it. Walked away and threw the rags into the incinerator.
I stood there and stripped to my skivvies, tossing the blood-soaked clothes
after the rags. I found that it had seeped clear through to my damn underwear,
so I tossed them too.
Then I took myself off to the head and did my best to clean
myself up. I hadn’t gotten it in my hair, thank Heaven, but it was
just about everywhere else. It took awhile and I was damn cold by the time
I was done, but I managed to not tear the wound open again.
Getting dressed was a chore I had not anticipated the difficulty
of. I was already damn near done in, and I thought I was going to pass out
before I was finally finished. All I wanted in the whole world, in that
moment, was to lie down in my bunk, in my star-spattered cabin, and sleep.
But I didn’t think I dared. There was the very real possibility that
I might never wake up. I decided at that point, that food might be in order,
and stumbled off to the galley.
I settled at the table with a couple of ration bars and a
protein drink, just listening to my heart hammering in my chest as though
it were laboring to continue. I wondered if I had screwed up my arm permanently.
I wondered what in the hell had come over me. I thought about how I was
going to explain the injury when I got to L3, because it was a stone, cold
cinch that I needed medical attention. I didn’t think ‘I fell
down the stairs’ or ‘I ran into a door’ was going to cut
it. Especially with the other scars on my arm. Damn, but this could get
ugly. All I needed now was to end up in an L3 psych-ward diagnosed with
a raving case of free-fall fever.
It took some effort to get myself moving again after I had
eaten and finished my drink. I was feeling weak and vaguely drowsy and it
was the fear of falling asleep at the table that finally made me move my
ass. I decided that the best place for me was in the cockpit where I could
do something about staying awake.
I was at least, thank God, well past the halfway point and
I decided that I should probably feed my guest before I completely forgot
about her. I took the packet of meat to Astra’s cabin and she must
have scented it; she was on her feet when I got there.
‘Hungry, girl?’ I asked and she rumbled what might
have been ‘yes, thank you’ or might have been ‘feed me,
you fucker or I’ll take your arm the rest of the way off’. Either
way, I obliged and dropped the meat through the feed-slot. She fell on it
with obvious relish, eyeing me warily as she ate. Traveling obviously didn’t
affect her appetite.
I idly hoped she didn’t make too big of a mess because
I wasn’t in any shape to clean up after her.
Satisfied that she was as happy as I could make her, I made
my wobbly way to the cockpit and proceeded to set several of the ship’s
alarms. One to signal when I got within a half an hour of L3. The other
one, I set to go off every fifteen minutes to ensure I didn’t fall
asleep sitting here.
I checked my course, I checked heading and time. I pulled
up a vector map and just freaking looked at it. I changed my music. I pulled
up Heero’s last e-mail message and reread it. I stared at my arm.
I looked at the chrono and groaned. I was obviously trapped in one of those
space-time continuum things and I was never going to get there.
I found that I couldn’t think about my arm too much
or my imagination felt severed muscles retracting up under my skin. Have
I mentioned that I have a fairly vivid imagination? Vivid and kind of morbid.
I was afraid to try and use my left hand, partly for fear of starting the
bleeding again and partly from the fear that I might not be able to.
I played that stupid ‘count the picture’ game.
How many pictures in the cockpit had Heero in them? How many had both Heero
and Wufei but not Trowa or Quatre? How many had me without a Gundam in the
I resorted to singing, playing the fluffy dance music that
I kept in the Helio folder. But that messed with my breathing and I ended
up fairly panting for air. I stopped that and almost wept when I glanced
at the chrono again. This was getting to be too much like my time in the
asteroid belt with nothing to do but wait. Only this time, I didn’t
dare retreat into sleep. I started getting scared again.
‘Solo?’ I queried softly, just to make sure I
could still conjure him.
‘I ain’t talkin’ to you,’ his voice
drawled. ‘You’re an asshole an’ a idiot.’
I sighed. ‘Well fuck you too.’
He appeared in the co-pilot’s seat long enough to flip
I called up a blank word document screen and thought about
typing up that final message to Heero… just in case. The cursor blinked
at me and I stared at it. How in the hell to tell him goodbye? How to tell
him I hadn’t meant for this to happen? How to make him understand?
The cursor blinked at me some more.
The fifteen-minute alarm brought me jerking awake and I had
a frantic couple of minutes cursing and fighting with the blood. I’d
let my arm relax and when it had fallen into my lap, the flex had been enough
to pull it open again. I was so screwed.
Having to turn the alarm off reminded me so much of using
it after the accident, to remind me to change the air tanks, that I started
to shiver in remembered panic.
My hand reached for the keyboard again.
I love you. I love you so much…please forgive me. I
didn’t mean for this to happen…
I erased it and stared at the blank screen some more. That
sounded too damn… I don’t know… whiney? I tried again.
I wish I had let you…
That one got struck away before I even finished the thought.
It wouldn’t do him any good for me to leave him anything that started
with ‘I wish’.
Please understand that I had to try this for myself. Understand
that I thought I could handle it. I did not intend to do what I ended up
doing. It truly was an accident…
God, that just sounded stilted, like I was making excuses.
In the end, I closed the damn utility and went back to playing
‘count the picture’. Were there any with me and Heero together?
How many with just Trowa and Quatre? How many with all five of us?
By the time the half hour alert went off, warning me that
I was more than within communication range of L3, the pictures in the cockpit
were burned into my retinas and I could give you the counts for every conceivable
combination of them. I had also come to an unhappy conclusion. I wasn’t
going to be able to pilot my own damn ship into dock.
My face would have been burning with shame if I’d had
the blood left for it.
‘Control… this is ‘Maxwell’s Demon’
requesting… assistance.’ The words tasted like sawdust in my
‘Maxwell’s Demon’ what is your status?’
promptly came back and I didn’t recognize the voice.
‘Control, I’ve had a small… accident and
am unable to dock.’ I looked down at my arm when I said it…
willing it to be better, but all that greeted my gaze was blood-soaked gauze.
‘State the nature of your emergency,’ the unfamiliar
voice said and I cringed.
‘Pilot is… incapacitated.’ I reported, trying
to keep it clinical. If I thought about having to do this too hard my stomach
clenched up. I sure as hell didn’t need that on top of everything
There was a slight hesitation and then the voice finally managed
to get a little personality to it. ‘Just who am I talking to? What
happened to the pilot?’ I decided the voice belonged to a woman once
she let a little emotion into it.
‘This is Captain Maxwell,’ I sighed, wishing I
could just vanish completely. ‘I am the pilot. I’ve had a small
accident and have lost the use of my left arm… I can’t bring
her in without risking bleeding to death before I get there.’
There was another hesitation, then, ‘Ok, Captain Maxwell…
do I need to send a ship out to meet you?’
‘I’m alright on autopilot,’ I told her.
‘And I could probably even manage to dock with just one hand…
but I didn’t figure you would appreciate me trying it.’
That won me a small chuckle and I was suddenly aware of what
a difference it was making, having someone to talk to. Even a nameless,
faceless port clerk.
‘Well, Captain Maxwell, my radar shows me you’ve
still got twenty minutes. You want to tell me just what your status is?’
I snorted a dark laugh. ‘Screwed?’ She laughed
at me and I brightened further. ‘And how about calling me Duo…
Captain Maxwell always sounds like he oughta be fifty years old.’
‘Duo then,’ she agreed but went doggedly back
to the subject. ‘So just what did you do to your arm?’
‘Tried to cut it off,’ I sighed and proceeded
to spin a yarn that was mostly air and fairy dust, but was terribly witty
and served to keep her interest enough that she stayed on the line and talked
to me the rest of the twenty minutes. I thanked God, because I honestly
think if she had signed off and left me alone for that last bit… I
would have been curled up in the fetal position on the floor by the time
they came to get me. I honestly don’t know if I was really that entertaining
or if she could hear the fear in my voice. My bruised and wounded ego likes
to think I was just too irresistible to hang up on. Maybe I was, I did finally
get a name out of her.
‘All right, Duo,’ Kayla told me at long last.
‘That’s close enough. Can you hold that position?’
‘You got it,’ I laughed and knew that there was
a certain giddy hysteria in it. I’d made it. By God and fuck me sideways…
I had done it. I eased forward in my seat, killed the engines and was able
to use the maneuvering jets one handed to stop my momentum.
‘That’s good,’ she said when she was satisfied.
‘Now sit tight for a minute, there’s a station maintenance ship
heading for you. They’ll link up with a docking tube and we’ll
get you out of there.’
‘I’d prefer to ride in aboard my own ship, if
that’s all right,’ I frowned, thinking about it. ‘I have
live cargo that I really need to see to, before I disembark.’
There was a bit of silence while she either thought it over
or conversed with the pilot of the ship headed my way, I’m not sure
She came back after a few moments. ‘That’s going
to depend on your condition, Duo. Let’s just concentrate on getting
Mr. Banks onboard right now.’
I nodded and then had to chuckle at my own lapse. I was nodding
at my comm. unit. Jeez… I really was screwed up. ‘Seems fair,’
I told her then. ‘I’m not a complete waste, I can walk…
I can talk… I just can’t move my arm.’
She chuckled for me and then I heard the clanging sounds of
a docking ring attaching to the outside of my ship.
‘Excuse me, Kayla,’ I grinned. ‘I think
I have company.’
I slipped from my pilot’s chair and made my wobbly way
down the corridor to the air lock. The retractable docking tube was attached
to my hull and I keyed open my exterior hatch. It took a couple more minutes
before I saw a figure enter the tube on the other end and head across. When
the presumed Mr. Banks was in my air lock, I hit the key sequence to cycle
him through, stepping back to give the guy room.
The man stepped aboard my ship and began undogging his helmet.
I waited patiently and suddenly found myself feeling utterly mortified.
I could not fucking believe I had gotten myself into this mess. I had never,
in all my years of piloting my own ship, gotten myself into such a bad place
that I’d had to call on ship’s services. I suppose you could
say that my little foray into the asteroid belt would qualify as a ‘bad
place’, but I hadn’t freakin’ called for help. I’d
sat my sorry ass down to face the Reaper and was shocked as the next guy
when I lived through the experience. This was, obviously, not the lowest
that I had fallen… but it was a damn low point all the same.
‘Welcome aboard,’ I grinned at the guy when the
helmet came off and I was greeted with a dark frown.
‘Captain Maxwell?’ he queried and I could see
he wasn’t happy.
‘That would be me,’ I sighed, resigned to having
this moment rubbed in my face.
‘I was told you had an emergency,’ he said and
his eyes were raking over me, obviously not happy to find me not at death’s
He looked to be a dozen or so years older than me, roughly
my height and not altogether happy with his present situation.
The grin I’d been trying to maintain slipped away all
together. ‘Sorry to be an inconvenience,’ I told him and it
came out a little flat. ‘I just need a little help docking…
I can’t manage it one-handed.’
His eyes flicked first toward my right hand and then toward
my left and his frown deepened. I gingerly raised my arm to display my bloody
field dressing, realizing that I had been unconsciously holding my arm protectively
‘Shit,’ he hissed and I was relieved to see the
frown vanish. His eyes came back to look at me a little harder. ‘Control
says you want to stay with your ship.’
‘I’d rather,’ I confirmed. ‘I have
live cargo and I would really prefer… I’d rather not…’
Well, wasn’t this awkward.
My rescuer chuckled at me. ‘Wouldn’t do much for
your business to have your employer pick up his cargo from ‘lost-and-found?’
It surprised a harsh laugh out of me and I had to shake my
head ruefully, ‘No… my reputation leaves a little bit to be
desired right now anyway…’
Shaking my head had been a mistake, something I comprehended
when I suddenly found myself leaning against the bulkhead.
There was a hand on my good arm and a worried voice said,
‘Sorry…’ I muttered. ‘I haven’t
been moving around much. Would you mind if we went back to the cockpit and
He hesitated and I was suddenly afraid that he was gong to
insist on an extraction, right here; right now. I straightened away from
the wall with some effort and plastered a grin all over my face. ‘And
can you not call me Captain Maxwell? It’s always sounded… kinda
pompous to me. The name’s Duo.’
The guy smirked at me, ‘I’m Phil. And you don’t
really need to tell me who you are.’
I rolled my eyes and took the moment to turn toward my cabin.
‘Please tell me you know me from a mutual acquaintance or a bar fight…
not from…’ I hesitated and let him fill it in.
‘The cover of ‘The Rising Times’?’
he supplied with a truly evil sounding chuckle.
I groaned. ‘I told you not to tell me that!’
He was laughing, and more importantly, he was following me
to the cockpit. Mission accomplished.
I could hear the grin in his voice as he followed me. ‘I
thought the name sounded familiar,’ he told me. ‘You’re…
kind of famous right now.’
I sighed, having to walk with one hand on the corridor wall.
‘In all the wrong damn ways.’
He took my elbow to steady me as we entered the cockpit and
I had to let go of the wall. ‘What, exactly, did you do to your arm?’
I tossed him a self-deprecating grin as I eased myself into
the co-pilot’s seat, carefully mindful of my arm. ‘Would you
believe I was changing air-filters?’
All I got was a raised eyebrow as he settled into my damn
pilot’s chair. He was oblivious to the surge of weird… almost
territorial irritation that washed through me.
So I dug out that fairy dust again and told the most outrageous
story about a vent grate and a stripped screw head. I embellished the crap
out of it, throwing in all those little details that make lies sound convincing.
I made him laugh and after that it wasn’t hard to make him believe.
Part of the trick is to make yourself believe first.
While I talked, the maintenance ship disengaged and moved
off, and Phil brought my ship around and headed her for the docks.
‘You taking her into my assigned bay?’ I asked
him in sudden concern, afraid he was planning on using one of the emergency
He flashed me a reassuring smile. ‘You don’t look
like you’re going to expire in the next five minutes. I think we can
take it in by the books.’
‘Thanks, man,’ I told him gratefully and let myself
relax a little bit.
I saw him glancing across at me a couple of times and wondered
about it, until he finally said, ‘Duo… you need to strap in.’
I looked down at the harness with a heavy sigh, trying to
figure out how in the hell to manage it. I reached one-handed and found
it just freaking impossible. He watched me fumble with it for a couple of
minutes before undoing his own harness and coming across to help me. I thought
I would die of mortification. It was extremely uncomfortable having this…
virtual stranger in my personal space, hovering over me and touching, by
necessity, places I’m not used to having people touch. I muttered
my thanks and he just grinned at me.
‘You’d think you would be used to all kinds of
straps and buckles,’ he snickered before turning back to the pilot’s
seat. It took me a minute to realize that he was teasing me about the damn
Roman costumes. I considered kicking his ass out of my airlock… but
I needed him. All I could manage was a grunt.
Once he was settled back in my pilot’s seat, he opened
the comm. ‘Control?’ he called. ‘You there, Kayla?’
‘Phil?’ came the quick reply. ‘I take it
‘Affirmative,’ he chuckled and began his approach.
‘What bay do you have me in?’
There was a hesitation, ‘I assumed that you would be…’
Kayla began, but he cut her off.
‘Nah…’ he laughed and glanced across at
me. ‘Captain Maxwell and I would like to do this by the numbers. Do
you have anybody waiting on the ‘Maxwell’s Demon’ at cargo
There was another small wait while she checked something.
‘Bay thirty-two,’ she said then and the tone of her voice told
me she understood. Phil tossed a wink in my direction while we waited for
her to confirm the presence of my clients. It took several long minutes
and when she came back her voice was…amused. ‘Blackmoor and
Smith Inc. will be waiting to off-load as soon as you dock.’
I wanted to groan, thinking about the damn half hour repressurization
wait, but suppressed it. I was shocked when, unprompted, my rescuer said,
‘Kayla…can I get a dock tube and hold off on a full repressurization?
I want Duo off this ship ASAP.’
I think I managed to get a tiny bit of a blush into my cheeks,
because Phil grinned cheekily at me. ‘That’s not necessary…’
I stuttered but he only shook his head.
‘We can do that,’ she confirmed, and then with
a bit of concern in her voice. ‘You guys all right out there?’
‘Let’s just say,’ Phil said wryly, sparing
me a glance. ‘That I have sheets with more color to them.’
I snorted indignantly but didn’t comment. Kayla signed
off and Phil began docking procedures.
I dared to let my eyes close for a minute, my whole body wanting
nothing as badly as it wanted to go lie down. I wondered idly how God-awful
therapy was going to be under the infamous ‘Dan’. I was sure
to find out because I had no doubt my therapist Jean would carry through
on her threat. I was pretty sure this qualified as ‘screwing myself
‘So,’ Phil asked conversationally as he jockeyed
my ‘Demon’ into position. ‘How long ago did you do that?’
‘I dunno…’ I mumbled groggily. ‘Five
or six hours.’
‘Damn!’ he burst out and I blinked my eyes open
to see him looking at me appraisingly.
‘Over all,’ I told him. ‘It’s been
a fairly crappy day.’
‘No shit?’ he agreed amiably and I had to laugh.
The next bit was something of a blessed blur. I won’t
bore you with all the damn details. Phil got my ship in and stood by me
while Mr. Smith, the associate of Mr. Blackmoor took possession of a rather
bored looking Astra. Phil even made the effort to stay between my left side
and my client so that the man never even saw my arm. It was a giddy relief
when the guy, his ocelot and his two burly dockhands were off my ship and
out of sight.
‘You are on your way to Medical Services,’ Phil
said then, putting a hand under my good elbow. ‘Now.’
I gave him a rather wan smile and allowed him to lead me off
the ship. I was more than happy to make the trip to the med lab. I was more
than proud of the fact that I made it under my own power. And more than
mortified when I almost fainted in the waiting room once we got there.
I was flat on my back on an exam table with my feet raised,
and two medics and a nurse bent over me before I could say, ‘Holy
shit!’ Phil disappeared and I never even got to say goodbye.
It took some conscious effort to relax my arm when they told
me to; I’d been holding it so still, at such an odd angle, for so
long it had become automatic.
They did all the standard temperature, blood pressure things
and some sort of fluid IV was started immediately. It was such a fucking
relief to be able to really relax after almost seven damn hours that I found
myself almost dozing under their hands. I heard what was starting to sound
like an alien language; ‘oncotic pressure’, ‘blood volume’,
‘haemodynamic’, I wanted to laugh. Then someone started to work,
stitching the fissure in my arm up and that rather quickly got my attention.
I blinked across at the medic sitting on my left side and
grinned widely. ‘So, Doc…how many stitches do you think?’
The man frowned at me and ignored the question. ‘Just
how did this happen?’ he asked bluntly and I bit down on a sigh.
So once again I did my dog and pony show, waving my uninvolved
hand around for emphasis. I told about the heavy, sharp edged air vent cover
and the stripped out screw. I cussed about a series of dropped tools and
other indications of just general bad damn luck. I bitched about working
at that stupid screw for an hour with every tool at my disposal. By the
time I got to the part where the screw had finally broken off of its own
accord, two seconds after I finally gave up on it, and let the grate fall
three feet onto my poor, abused arm, I had everybody in the room laughing…
except for the guy stitching me up. He was eyeing the line of scars that
ran up my arm at regular intervals and mentally noting that this new scar
fell right into the pattern. I just lay and grinned at him. I made him ask.
He finally did. He was pissed about it though, I could tell.
He thought his glaring at me would make me cave and start babbling guiltily.
I reached out to touch my scars in an almost reverent manner
and looked up at him wide eyed. ‘Isn’t that the freakiest thing?’
I breathed. ‘I just about shit when I saw that.’
He looked somewhat unimpressed and frowned at me all the harder
while he continued to stitch. I thought he was up to eight or nine stitches
and he was still working inside my arm. ‘Where did the rest of these
come from?’ he asked rather flatly.
I let my eyes get all melancholy and blinked rapidly a couple
of times for effect. ‘From the war,’ I almost whispered and
felt a little bad about the sideshow I was putting on. ‘We used to
keep track of the time that way… in the war camps.’ I looked
away from him and the blush that rose faintly to my face then, was driven
more by embarrassment over the melodrama than any memories.
I tried to look… haunted. He looked rather… stricken
and I knew I had him. The frown left his face and he bent back to work,
finally ending the third degree. I breathed a totally mental sigh of relief.
I’d pulled it off.
He started to give me a little talk about nerve damage, until
I turned my right hand over and showed him my scars and laughingly told
him that I probably knew a little more on that subject than I cared to already.
It seemed to corroborate my ‘war’ story somehow and he left
off on the lecture. He really couldn’t tell me what was going to happen
when this healed anyway, only time would tell.
They wanted to give me a transfusion and keep me for observation
over-night. I mulled it over and finally decided that it probably wouldn’t
hurt. The colonies matched time to Greenwich Mean Time on Earth and it was
already almost twenty three hundred hours. I needed sleep if nothing else,
there was no way in hell I was up to repainting a damn ceiling in the shape
I was in. And though I wouldn’t let myself think about it… sleeping
here with people coming and going was preferable to going back to my empty
ship and sleeping… alone.
In the end, I agreed to stay overnight in the clinic and was
lulled off to an exhausted sleep by the sounds of the third shift’s
voices. I dreamed that Heero was sitting next to me, holding my hand and
looking at me with that frustrated, fretful expression that he had worn…
my God; just that morning when he had run out of the bathroom.
By morning I felt a little steadier and checked myself out
of the clinic with a certain amount of confidence that I wouldn’t
fall on my face. I hunted up a pay phone and called the guy who was way
overdue for a paint job. I even managed to cajole a ride out of him. He
came down the docks to pick me up and I spent the fifteen-minute wait fetching
my paint supplies from my ‘Demon’ and sitting on a bench wishing
I hadn’t agreed to do this. We hadn’t discussed yet just what
he was expecting me to do for him. If he wanted the whole damn ceiling redone,
I was going to have to tell him I couldn’t do it this trip. If he
only wanted some alterations…I might be able to handle that in the
six or seven hours I had before my schedule had me launching on my return
trip. I really, really didn’t feel like thinking about that right
now, so I just concentrated on the paint job for the moment.
Ian arrived right on time and greeted me with a great deal
of enthusiasm. Mostly generated, I was sure, by the fact that he stood a
decent chance of getting laid tonight if my paint job made his girlfriend
He yammered away at me the enter trip down the line to where
his ship was docked, about what had happened between him and his first girlfriend,
who’s name escaped me until he said it, ‘Stella’. And
then how he had met his new girlfriend, ‘Bianca’.
Stella had been an… I believe the word is ‘air-head’.
I would have called her the typical, clichéd dumb blond except she’d
been a brunette. I had actually been a little relieved when she and Ian
had broken up, because the woman had not belonged aboard a ship. It was
a damn miracle she’d never gotten herself or Ian killed. It had been
an absolute bitch painting her… she had done nothing but simper and
giggle at me while she had floated around naked in free-fall. Posing in
the most absurd positions, flirting with me shamelessly while Ian had drifted
in the corner and watched us. I think the two of them had gotten some sort
of perverse rush out of it. I had never been so damn uncomfortable in my
entire life. It was the fastest painting I had ever completed.
I found Bianca to be a pleasant surprise. She was obviously
a true spacer; Ian had finally managed to snag himself a competent partner
and not just a bed warmer. She had her dark hair bobbed in the typical spacer
style, and wasn’t near as… busty as Stella had been. She seemed
predetermined to hate me though, probably for being the evil person who
had graced ‘her’ ceiling with the presence of Ian’s former
girlfriend. I repressed the urge to blurt out to her that it fucking wasn’t
my damn fault; I only paint what the client asks for.
In this case, the client wasn’t being very forthcoming.
Ian was leaving it all up to Bianca, and Bianca only seemed to want to have
the thing sand-blasted into oblivion. I suppose it was a spacer’s
frugalness that had kept her from doing just that before now.
I listened to them banter while I set my stuff up and suddenly
I knew what I was going to do. I called to Ian to kill the gravity, thankful
that I didn’t have to do this on a ladder, and set to work.
Stella’s portrait had been a nude because that’s
what Ian had wanted. Stella had been delighted with the idea and who was
I to argue?
Bianca had more class. I could tell that just listening to
her sling one-liners at Ian… some of which were going over his head.
I was a little thankful when the work pulled me a bit away from reality;
I was having trouble not laughing at the things that Ian wasn’t getting.
I mixed my paints and matched the blue-sky background, using
it to sweep in and eat away at the body ‘drifting’ in front
of me. Deft brush strokes turned buxom, rounded Stella into lean, muscled
Bianca. I lost myself in the flow of light and shadow, mixing the colors
and humming softly to myself. Ian and Bianca went away after a bit, but
I didn’t notice.
When it was done, I found that I was very damn tired and I
pushed off the ceiling to drift down toward the bunk to get a little distance
from the work.
Stella wasn’t even a memory. Bianca hung in the air
above me, her short dark hair a halo floating around her face. Her graceful
arms had brushed out and swirled clouds from the sky around her, cloaking
herself modestly. Her face wore an odd, almost Mona Lisa smile. A long leg
was visible, the curve of a hip, both lithe arms, part of a taut abdomen.
It was a tantalizing pose… much sexier than Stella’s had been
for the mere imagination factor. A large part of what makes something sexy
is the mystery. Stella had never quite gotten that.
I called to Ian to turn the gravity on and waited for them
to come back into the cabin. Weight returned, dropping me the last couple
of inches to the bunk and making me remember just how sore and achy I was.
There was a gasp from the cabin doorway and I looked up to catch the expression
on Bianca’s face. I think she liked it. At least she was no longer
looking at me as though I molested chickens for a hobby and smuggled sex-slaves
for a living.
They offered me lunch and I gratefully accepted, having a
little trouble remembering my last meal. From the looks of their galley,
Bianca was something of a gourmet cook, but lunch was simple sandwiches
and some sort of potato salad.
We chatted idly while we ate; Ian seemed more… refined
in Bianca’s presence. The last time I had been here, when it had been
Ian and Stella, the raunchy jokes had flown around the room like a flock
of pigeons looking to escape. I concluded that Bianca was good for Ian and
it crossed my mind that she would probably get along quite well with Toria.
Ian confirmed that he would transfer my fee to my account and couldn’t
stop thanking me. I’m fairly certain that Bianca would have ripped
him a new asshole if she had realized that he’d actually told me about
the whole withholding sex issue. I was discreet. We finished lunch and I
took my leave. I still had two hours to launch and wanted nothing as badly
as I wanted to be able to go lay down somewhere to sleep… but ‘somewhere’
wasn’t good enough, of a sudden. Walking slowly back toward my ship,
my supplies tucked under my arm, and trying to think about the return trip,
it hit me like a physical blow. I wanted… I needed to lie down to
sleep… not just somewhere, but in Heero’s arms. I wanted him
here, with me, so suddenly and so sharply that it hurt. It took my breath
away. I felt like I had the day my wrist brace had come off; on the ragged
edge and ready to lean.
Walking down the sidewalk, the thought brought a sudden dark
chuckle and several passersby turned to look at me oddly. My sense of timing,
apparently, sucks. Deciding I was ready for a little support and comfort
wasn’t going to do me a hell of a lot of good way out here on L3.
I should have called a cab, but money had become an issue
lately and my frugal nature kept telling me that it wasn’t that far
from docking bay forty-eight, where Ian’s ship had been, to thirty-two,
where my own waited. I had to find a bench somewhere around thirty-seven.
I still had a couple of hours before I had to be there anyway and nothing
much to do after I arrived other than sit around and wait.
I kept thinking about getting back on board my Demon and taking
off for Earth without even the company of the damn cat. Isn’t that
pathetic? My first solo flight in six months and I might have only made
it because I had been hauling live cargo? Was I that much of a wreck?
I came to a sudden decision.
I sat until my legs stopped their trembling and then stood
up to go find a bar.
Spacer bars are… not like your Earth bars. The trade
is a tight knit thing. We recognize each other. We know each other. Not
always by face or by name; it’s far too big a beast for that. But
you learn to identify… signs. A certain cadence of speech. A turn
of phrase. The way we walk. It’s there if you know what you’re
This close to the docks, there were a number of bars to choose
from and I picked one at random, drawn by the improbable name over the door
of ‘Joe’s Bar’.
Spacer bars never close. Spacer’s set their calendar
and their time by the job they’re doing and there were always pilots
coming in off a run no matter the time of day. When I opened the door and
went inside, there was an odd relief… a feeling, almost, of coming
home. These places are havens. For most of us in the business, our only
homes are our ships; these were the places we came to when we were in dock.
To seek company, to find kindred spirits, to swap tales and ease a little
of the loneliness that could get to you sometimes.
Heads raised and hands were lifted in greeting as I came into
the dim room. I didn’t know any of these people personally…
but we were all brothers and sisters of a sort.
I went straight to the bar and settled down on a stool, wishing
that there were a name for that drink that Greg had mixed for me all those
weeks ago at Relena’s party. When the bartender came up to ask what
I would have I almost described it to him but decided on a soda.
He didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow; a competent pilot
doesn’t drink when he’s on a run. Another difference between
a spacer bar and a regular old Earth bar… no one thought a thing about
my not drinking alcohol in here.
I hadn’t come here for a drink. I had come here looking
to see if I could find a passenger.
I surveyed the room carefully while I waited on my soda, finding
several obvious off-shift groups, a couple of solitary pilots and a few
of the less apparent souls. Nobody leaped out and grabbed my attention,
but that didn’t really mean anything. There are always down on their
luck spacers looking to hitch a ride on a freighter or a courier ship. Willing
to shell out a couple of hard-got credits under the table for the right
to ride in a cargo hold or an empty bunk. Sometimes they’d offer to
do odd jobs. Sometimes, the more desperate ones, would offer… other
things. I was looking for something a little above desperate. It was going
to be somebody’s lucky day if I could make a connection; all I was
looking for was a little company. Someone to talk to, someone to help hold
the nightmares at bay so I could manage the trip back home without arriving
in a catatonic state. My fingers fiddled idly with the latch on my palette
box until I registered the tiny clicking noise, and I made myself stop.
The bartender, presumably Joe, came back with my iced mug
of soda and I grinned at him. ‘Nice touch,’ I saluted him with
the mug and he snorted.
‘Most guys don’t notice,’ he grinned, obviously
a little pleased but trying to hide it. He quirked his head a little sideways
and frowned. ‘Do I know you?’
I sighed and ducked my head. ‘Probably from the expo,’
I murmured and tried to convey to him with a look just how much I would
rather not talk about it.
I saw the light of recognition go on behind his eyes and I
found myself sighing again. He smirked at me and stuck his hand out, ‘I’m
I set my mug down and took his hand in a firm shake, ‘Duo.’
‘I know,’ he said, rather predictably. ‘You’re
kind of well know right now.’
I flashed him a slightly self-deprecating grin, ‘I’m
hoping that blows over when the current issue of ‘The Rising Times’
is off the news stand.’
He laughed a little more heartily than the line had warranted
and I just chuckled along with him. Maybe I should consider going into stand-up
‘Listen,’ I continued, taking a sip of my drink.
‘On that note… I’m just getting back to work since…’
I groped around for a Reader’s Digest condensed version word and couldn’t
come up with anything better than, ‘since the ‘Londonderry’
His expression sobered immediately and he gave me a piercing
stare. ‘That was some damn nasty luck,’ he told me sympathetically.
I ducked my head, feeling my face flush. ‘Nasty luck
that hasn’t entirely let up yet,’ I murmured. ‘Jobs have
been… a little sparse. I was here on a run and getting ready to head
back to Earth. I was kinda hoping I might pick up a… passenger for
the return trip.’
His eyes got all compassionate… or full of pity…
I’m not sure which. I imagine he’d seen dozens of Spacers go
down the road I was on and had a pretty good idea what was at the end of
it. I repressed the urge to sigh, because it would have made the fourth
or fifth time since this little conversation had started. He grunted slightly
and his eyes left me to flick around the bar, looking for someone in particular,
I could tell.
‘Hang on a second,’ he told me and I just nodded.
He moved off, walking down to the other end of the bar where he could see
around the corner where I couldn’t from where I was sitting. I waited
patiently and nursed my drink.
When Bruce came back down the length of the bar, another man
was shadowing him, only on my side of the polished slab.
He was an old guy, grizzled and lean. His hair and short-cropped
beard were more salt than pepper. His eyes were a piercing blue and he was
sizing me up even as he walked down the hardwood floor. He’d obviously
been drinking, because he was carrying a mug of beer, but he didn’t
seem to be drunk. He looked… somewhere between suspicious and amused.
Bruce introduced him as Newton but the old guy practically
blew the bartender a raspberry and said, ‘Call me Neo.’
We did the handshake thing and the guys grip was strong. I
wasn’t sure if he was trying to prove something or if he was testing
me. I returned the pressure but didn’t up the ante. He gave me an
odd little grunt and let go, folding his lanky form onto the stool beside
me. I was a little surprised when Bruce made himself scarce, leaving us
to wheel and deal by ourselves. Neo didn’t say anything immediately,
just sat looking at me and sipping at his beer.
‘So,’ I ventured when I decided it had been long
enough. ‘You lookin’ for a ride back planet-side?’
He considered it as though it was a damn essay question and
I had to do that whole ‘repress the sigh’ thing again. At length
he drawled, ‘Just lookin’ to move on. Been on this colony long
It crossed my mind to wonder if he knew which flaming, damn
colony he was even on. I was sudden impatient with the stupid dancing. ‘Well,
I launch in just over an hour… if you’re not interested, I need
to know so I can move on down the line and try somewhere else.’
That expression he’d been wearing definitely took a
turn toward ‘amused’ and I tried not to frown. ‘Sure I’m
interested, kid,’ he said and I think it was meant to ruffle me. I
wanted to laugh; ‘kid’ was almost my birth name.
‘How interested?’ I parried, not rising to the
bait, but only sipping at my soda again.
I saw his eyes flick to my glass and then surprised me by
flicking toward my left arm. I realized that my sleeve had slide up a little
and a bit of bandage was showing. He didn’t ask and I didn’t
He hung his head in what was supposed to be a remorseful gesture,
but it was spoiled by the cocky grin that was dancing around his lips. I
didn’t give a shit about the money, but admitting that would only
serve to make him suspicious about my motives. He finally admitted, ‘I
don’t have a lot of money… I can probably spare five credits
on this trip.’
I sat and mulled that over. I didn’t want to appear
too eager; I certainly didn’t need it getting around that I wasn’t
able to fly alone. Under the circumstances of my not having a second…
that wouldn’t look too good. I looked him over, giving him that same
appraising rake of the eyes that he had given me when he’d walked
over here. This was a man who had done without a few things in recent times.
‘Seven credits and I’ll throw in a hot shower and dinner.’
I saw his eyes go all hot and feral for a second. He really
wanted one of those two items… bad. I let a corner of my mouth quirk
up to let him know I’d caught the look. It was his turn to sigh and
he gave me a half-hearted shrug, holding his hand out to shake on it.
I took it and I didn’t get the same hard, testing grip.
I grinned at him and he grinned back. At least it should be an interesting
I gave him my dock number and a launch time and he agreed
to be there at least ten minutes before lock-down. I finished my soda and
took my leave feeling like an absolute and total loser.
Back aboard my ship, I did a quick walk-through. Just making
sure everything was latched down and secure. I had left out the med kit
and Blackmoor and Smith’s dockworkers had managed to spill some cat
shit in my guest cabin. I was a little shocked that I hadn’t noticed
it when it happened and studiously bent to cleaning it up. The rest of the
ship was tight as a drum and I locked down everything but the cargo doors,
leaving them open for Neo.
I finally went off to the cockpit and allowed myself to call
up my e-mail, but there was nothing there. I was… hurt. Isn’t
that stupid? What would there have been for him to say? I felt like an idiot
sitting there staring at my empty in-box but I couldn’t help it. I
had been so ridiculously sure that Heero would have sent something…
some little note asking if I had arrived safely, telling me to be careful.
My comm. beeped at me and I picked up on the expected authorization
call for Neo. I vouched for his right to be here and they cleared his way
to bay thirty-two. I had a few minutes while he made the walk, so I sat
and carefully typed out a message to Heero. All it said was ‘Doing
all right.’ My hand hovered over the enter key while I debated sending
it. He hadn’t sent any queries of his own; maybe he didn’t care?
I shook my head… I knew that was absurd; I could remember the damn
look on his face yesterday right before he had left me alone in the shower.
I knew I was strung just a little too tight, was emotionally
just a little too raw. There was no reason for me to allow the lack of one
e-mail message to sink me into a bitter depression and cause me to retaliate
by withholding my own reassurances. Heero was probably just trying not to
push, trying to give me a little space. Isn’t that what I had wanted?
I chuckled darkly to myself as I watched Neo making his way
into my cargo bay through my monitors. Yep, this is what I asked for all
right… and I had gotten it in freakin’ spades.
I rose from my chair and went to escort Neo to the cockpit,
slapping almost harshly at Solo’s shoulder as I passed his completely
inanimate, totally unresponsive, still slightly pissed off portrait.
‘Ouch,’ he growled at me and I laughed out loud.
‘Fuck you, rat-boy,’ I snickered. ‘You’re
not talking to me… remember?’
‘You wouldn’t talk ta ya either… not wit’
I sneered, turning to flip him off as I passed the galley
I met Neo in the doorway of the cargo bay and grinned at him
wolfishly. ‘You’re early, my man!’ I chirped brightly
and then turned to lock-down the cargo bay before he had a chance to decide
he’d agreed to ship out with a mad man and tried to flee. ‘Welcome
aboard my humble home.’
He eyed me a little bit like he really was questioning my
mental state and I tried to tone it down a little. He glanced up the corridor
and raised an eyebrow, ‘I thought it was just you and me?’
I flashed him a smile that was meant to convey safe, sane
and stable. ‘It is,’ I confirmed. ‘Don’t all pilots
talk to their ships?’
I turned and led the way to the cockpit before he had a chance
to answer. He hesitated slightly in my corridor, looking at my line of passengers
and I left him to it; it was fifteen minutes to launch after all and no
point in his belting down already.
I mercilessly quashed the urge to check my e-mail one last
time and when I settled in my pilot’s seat I disconnected immediately
from the colony-net, to remove the temptation. I synched with the local
traffic control, confirming departure time and called out to Neo. ‘There’s
juice and soda in the galley, if you want anything.’
‘Too close to launch,’ his voice came back from
the hall. ‘I’ll wait ‘til after.’ There was a slight
hesitation and then, ‘No beer?’
‘Nope. Sorry,’ I called cheerily and imagined
a sigh I couldn’t possibly have heard this far away.
When he spoke again his voice was a little closer and I estimated
that he was standing in front of Solo, right outside the doorway. ‘Bruce
said you’re some hotshot artist. This your work?’
I laughed a little mirthlessly. ‘Hotshot? No. My work?
There was nothing for a very long few minutes and then, ‘Looks
pretty damn hotshot to me.’
I shrugged uncomfortably under a gaze I could feel but not
see. ‘It’s… passable I suppose, but I don’t have
any formal training. It’s amateur work.’
He positively roared. I turned to look at him and he was leaning
in the doorway laughing at me so hard he had tears in his eyes. ‘Amateur?
Are you a fucking asshole? What the hell do you call professional?’
I just stared at him for a minute and then couldn’t
help but smirk at the picture he presented. ‘You know…Art? The
stuff that gets painted on canvas and hung up in art galleries and shit?
People buy it?’
The comment only made him shake his head and he came on into
the cockpit. That stopped both his forward motion and his mirth as he got
far enough to actually see the décor in there.
‘Son of a bitch,’ he murmured, sounding awed,
and I wondered idly what he would say about what was behind door number
I turned back to my boards with my face burning faintly and
got back to work. I could feel him behind me, just standing there looking
around and I was kind of uncomfortable with it. I wished he’d go sit
‘Uhmmm… mind if I ride shot gun?’ he asked
hesitantly and it surprised me.
I grunted softly, glanced across at Fuzzy-butt and my face
positively flamed. ‘You gotta share the seat with my co-pilot,’
I grumbled defensively and saw, out of the corner of my eye, Neo move up
to look at the seat.
‘This is your co-pilot?’ he chuckled, raising
that eyebrow again.
‘Only one I’ve ever had,’ I confirmed and
decided to stop being embarrassed about it, the guy was having too much
fun watching me turn funny colors.
He chuckled again and leaned down to pick Fuzzy gently up,
his face growing wistful for a split second, the expression come and gone
so fast I almost missed it. ‘All pilot’s got their traditions,
kid,’ he told me quietly and settled himself in the chair, carefully
tucking Fuzzy in with him.
‘Maxwell’s Demon, this is control,’ came
across my speakers and it made my heart leap. I think I managed not to jump.
God, but I was strung tighter than a drum.
‘This is Maxwell’s Demon,’ I responded.
‘Is that you, Kayla?’
‘Hi, Duo,’ she answered, confirming her identity.
‘You’re leaving so soon?’
‘Got a schedule,’ I laughed lightly.
‘The clinic cleared you?’ she said and I could
almost hear the frown in her voice.
I tried not to look over at Neo. ‘Clean bill of health,
Mom,’ I teased. ‘Promise. And on that subject… can you
tell Phil ‘thanks’? I never even got to say goodbye yesterday.’
‘Will do,’ she said and her voice seemed lighter,
It was simple banter after that as she cleared me for launch.
I teased and laughed with her for all I was worth, using her voice to hold
the fears away. Using Neo’s presence to convince myself that I was
I dithered over the music and on a sudden whim of black humor
queued up ‘Pressure’. I glanced across at Neo, ‘Sorry…
I launch to music.’
He gave me a dismissive wave of his hand and a snort, ‘don’t
bother me none, kid.’
‘I'm sure you'll have some cosmic rationale, But here
you are in the ninth, Two men out and three men on, Nowhere to look but
inside, Where we all respond to Pressure. Pressure.’
I had to swallow down hard on a slightly hysterical laugh.
Ok… that might not have been the best choice for launch music. My
hands were either dancing across my boards or wiping ineffectively down
my pants legs. My mouth was on total autopilot, exchanging witty chitchat
with Kayla even as the little voice in the back of my head woke up to its
surroundings and started that Goddamn, ‘Nononono…’ shit
Then Kayla signed off and it was time, damn it, and I just
did what had to be done. My head flashed on that stupid self-portrait I
had blindly sketched the day before. I was moved to apologize to that little
kid. But since that little kid was me, it seemed kind of… nuts.
‘Solo?’ I breathed, when the thrum of the engines
was enough to hide the sound.
‘I’m here, baby-rat,’ echoed in my head,
all the comfort I was likely to get.
We were out and away and my hands did their job even while
my head was working on convincing the little boy that he was safe, that
everything would be all right. Launching from a colony dock isn’t
near as stressful as a planetary liftoff. You aren’t fighting against
the pull of gravity. It’s more maneuvering than anything else. Still
takes concentration, but isn’t nearly as… physically taxing.
When we were out and clear, the course was laid and I came
up for air, I found Neo sitting with Fuzzy in his lap giving me the strangest
stare. I blushed and tried hard to stop… for all the good it did.
‘Ready for that drink now, kid?’ was all he said.
‘Sounds good,’ I muttered and unbelted, finding
that my hands were shaking and leaned forward to hide it. I led the way
out of the cockpit; my hand reaching without thought to touch Solo as I
passed. Neo didn’t comment about that either.
I pointed out the guest cabin when we passed that side corridor,
letting him know that there was a shower there whenever he wanted. He trailed
behind me, oddly quiet, following me into the galley. I went to the fridge
and found myself a soda, thought better of it and got a protein drink instead.
I held the door wide so Neo could see the contents and he settled on an
‘I can pretend it’s a screwdriver,’ he chuckled
in a slightly self-deprecating voice.
He sat down at the table, swiveling his chair sideways so
that he could prop his long, gangly legs in the next seat over. I went to
the cupboard and fished out a couple of pain pills before sitting down on
the opposite side of the table from him, my arm was throbbing dulling.
He raised that quizzical eyebrow again and I wondered how
in the hell the guy could communicate so damn much with just that single
gesture. I grimaced and ducked my head.
‘So what’d you do to your arm?’ he broke
down and asked when I didn’t respond to his non-verbal question.
I gusted a sigh and found my damn hands picking at the label
on my drink bulb. I told the stupid story again, with all its embellishments
and melodramatic high points. He laughed in all the appropriate places but
something in his eyes told me he wasn’t buying it. He confirmed it
with a quiet, ‘Nice story kid… but you’re lying through
I sighed. ‘But it’s a darn pretty lie… isn’t
It surprised a bark of laughter out of him, I think he had
been expecting me to sputter and stammer and be all indignant.
‘So what really happened to your arm?’ he asked
very quietly after a couple of long, silent moments.
I looked at him very deliberately and said, ‘I cut it
shaving.’ Then I set my drink down and stood up. ‘I’ll
go lay out towels and stuff. Do you want some clean clothes? I don’t
think we’re very close to the same size, but I can try.’
He regarded me for a minute and there was some strange, sad
emotion in his eyes that I couldn’t name. I looked away first.
‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m fine.’
I left the galley questioning my good common sense and wondering
what in the hell had made me think this was a good idea. But then I thought
about trying to do this alone and decided that he might be irritating…
but he was distracting as well. I fetched towels, soap and shampoo from
my own bathroom and left them on one of the bunks in the guest cabin. I
just stood in there for a minute looking at the lock-down station that I’d
installed for Astra and would probably never need again, and tried to get
my thoughts to stop flitting around like bats behind my eyes. I repressed
an odd little giggle, a bit horrified at the sound that had almost come
out of me. Bats in the belfry. Sometimes I even amuse myself.
I took a deep breath, hoped fervently that my good friend
Neo would take the ‘I’m not talking about it’ hint, and
turned away to return to the galley. He was standing in the doorway of the
guest cabin watching me with those pale blue eyes. I almost shivered. I
imagined Heero berating me for allowing a total stranger aboard my ship
and had a truly surreal moment of feeling trapped. It was utterly ridiculous;
I could look at the guy and tell that even in my current state I could probably
take him out without raising a sweat. The training of my youth had taught
me more ways to kill a man in hand-to-hand combat than most people knew
existed, and I had used better than half of them in actual life or death
situations. This guy looked old enough to be my damn grandfather…
I don’t want to sound cocky, but I figured if it came down to it,
I wouldn’t have much trouble defending myself.
I think something of what I was thinking must have crossed
my face, because Neo suddenly straightened from where he’d been leaning
in the doorway and took a deliberate step back.
‘I left the stuff there on the bunk,’ I told him,
mostly to break the tension. ‘I’ll go start dinner. Anything
you particularly hate?’
He flashed me one of those self-deprecating grins. ‘Nope.
I’m not what you would call a picky eater.’ Then his face got
a little wistful again. ‘Though… something hot would be nice.’
I snorted and flashed him a grin. ‘I’ll see what
I can manage.’
There was an uncomfortable moment while he stepped clear of
the door and I maneuvered my way out of the cabin and fled to the galley.
I heard the water start before I had even settled on what to fix for dinner.
I thought back to my days on the streets and wished I had
stocked fresh vegetables and fruit. That’s something you never get
when you’re living hand to mouth; it’s never fresh, but expensive
as hell anyway. I thought about steak – that’s a thing that
you don’t ever dare eat unless it’s charred beyond recognition,
just in case it was old enough to have spoiled – but I could very
well make him physically ill if it had been too long since he’d had
much red meat. I finally settled on beef stew and buttermilk biscuits, even
finding a frozen pie left over from the L2 trip that had never been baked.
I had time to completely heat everything before I finally
heard the water shut off. I had begun to fear that he would drain my damn
water tanks. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what it was that had awakened
that hungry look in his eyes while we’d haggled over the price of
the trip… and it hadn’t been my cooking. I could remember the
days when hot showers were something akin to the Holy Grail.
I had the table set, deliberately putting us on opposite sides,
and dinner ready to dish up by the time he came out of the guest cabin with
a sheepish grin on his face. He’d left his long coat in the other
room and somehow managed to look even rangier without it to hide behind.
His visible skin looked scrubbed pink and his short-cropped hair was made
silver by the water still glistening in it.
I immediately launched into a running commentary on the stew
and biscuits, making sure he didn’t want anything else to go with
it, making mention of the apple pie that would be cool enough to eat by
the time we finished dinner. His eyes followed my movements and he grunted
his assent when it was called for and finally stopped me with an upraised
‘I won’t ask again.’
I shut up and we sat down to eat.
He rolled his eyes on the first bite and groaned like a man
having sex. ‘God… this is good.’
I snorted and gave him my own raised-eyebrow look. ‘I’m
not exactly a gourmet chief.’
‘It’s hot,’ he informed me with a little
laugh. ‘That’s miracle enough.’
I squirmed uncomfortably and started feeling guilty about
taking this guy’s money.
‘You headed to Earth for a reason?’ I queried,
hoping to change the subject.
He chuckled. ‘Not really, just time for a change of
scenery. Haven’t been dirt-side in… a couple of years, I guess
it’s been.’ His eyes flicked up from his plate toward me, ‘I
just gotta get out in space now and again… you know what I mean?’
I nodded automatically and my stew suddenly held no real appeal.
Yeah, I knew how that felt. That itch… that need to be out between
the stars. Sailing across the sea of space. My heart clenched painfully
in my chest. Guess that was just one more thing I’d lost. There was
no comfort here any more. This place, that used to be my home, no longer
‘I’m gettin’ this ride because you can’t
ship-out alone, aren’t I?’ Neo said in a voice that was both
gentle and sad.
I frowned. I sighed. I stirred my stew around and watched
the broth slowly fill the roads I made though it. ‘That pretty much
sums it up, I guess,’ I told him, without looking up. ‘Want
He threw his head back and laughed long and loud, taking a
minute to calm his mirth before murmuring, ‘You have got to be the
gutsiest little bastard I’ve ever met.’
I grunted and continued to stir at my stew, separating the
potatoes from the carrots and pushing them into neat little lines.
He watched me for a few minutes and I finally took a bite,
not because I wanted it, but because he was looking at me, and it felt weird.
‘You were all the talk… after that accident,’
he said softly, trying to appear as though all his attention was on his
‘Gossip in the trade always travels fast,’ I agreed
companionably and threw my head back to drain the last of my protein drink.
He regarded me in that strange, watchful silence again before
venturing, ‘You really stuck out there for a week?’
‘Yep,’ I said flatly and stood to retrieve a soda
from the fridge. ‘You want anything else?’
I thought I heard a soft sigh, but he only said, ‘No,
That put the verbal ball in my court, so I took the advantage
and said, ‘So… is there really a ‘Joe’ at Joe’s
bar? Or is Bruce the real owner? He kind of acted like the owner.’
There really was a sigh that time, rather heavy and rather
loud. ‘You remind me of me when I was a hell of a lot younger.’
I returned to the table and sat back down, opening my soda
bulb, bound and determined to alter the course of this fucking conversation
even if I had to bludgeon the man with the equivalent of a verbal road sign.
‘Conversation this way’.
‘Bruce seemed like an all right kind of guy,’
I said with a cheerful smile. ‘Never been in the place before today.’
He shook his head and finally muttered, ‘Ok, kid…
‘Good,’ I proclaimed. ‘Because I am nothing
if not pig-headed, fucking stubborn.’
‘You’re an odd one, all right,’ he agreed.
‘Bring me along for company… and then don’t want to talk.’
I glared up at him, but only found him grinning at me. I raised
an eyebrow. ‘More stew?’
He just shook his head at me, but then held his bowl out,
the gesture relating to my obstinance and not seconds. I dished up another
helping and it got quiet again.
‘Had my own ship once,’ he said at length. ‘A
long time ago.’
I opened my mouth to ask what happened and then closed it
again. I could smell an object lesson coming a mile away. When I opened
my mouth again, it was with a different thought. ‘What’d you
He looked up at me and quirked that lop-sided grin, ‘Newton’s
‘You’re kidding?’ I chuckled.
‘Nope,’ he smiled a little regretfully. ‘It
seemed terribly witty when we christened her.’
I caught the ‘we’ and didn’t ask. I didn’t
want to know. I wasn’t sure I had it in me today to be sympathetic
or to know the right things to say.
We finished the stew and I went to bring the pie to the table,
cutting a couple of slices and serving them. He murmured a thank you, took
a bite, and made those appreciative sounds again.
‘You know,’ he ventured softly after we had eaten
in a tense silence for several long minutes. ‘Speaking from personal
experience… you have one of the strangest cases of vacuum disease
I have ever seen.’
My fork cut through my pie harder than I had intended and
clinked loudly against the plate. ‘I brought you along on this trip
to keep me company,’ I told him calmly. ‘And if you feel I manipulated
you, I apologize. But either way… I did not bring you along to psychoanalyze
me. I am not stupid, nor am I blind. I am well aware of what my problem
is… I don’t need you to tell me what I’m suffering with.’
He was looking at me a little wide-eyed. ‘And you came
out here anyway?’ his voice sounded a little… awed.
‘I’ve had nightmares about one damn thing or another,
most of my God-forsaken life,’ I snapped. ‘Sometimes you can
face them down, and sometimes you can’t… I didn’t know
until I got my sorry ass out here and tried. Now are you satisfied? Can
we stop talking about this now?’
‘I’m sorry, kid,’ he murmured, truly seeming
to look at me for the first time. ‘You’re right; it’s
none of my business.’ He hesitated, glancing up at me and then looking
back down at his pie, ‘I just been there… ok? I guess I should
have just come out and said it… I’ve been where you are, and
if you’d like to talk, I don’t mind.’
What was there to talk about? He’d been where I am and
now here he sat hitching rides on freighters and couriers just to get a
taste of space travel again. Didn’t that pretty much say it all? It
didn’t really matter if he’d been trapped in a stinking, stale,
failing vacuum suit half a solar system away, all alone in the cold and
dark or if his fucking ship had exploded. He’d obviously come out
of whatever the hell, with the inability to pilot and the end result was…
the end of his days spent in bars and hanging around the docks, hoping for
a bit of what he had once had. I shivered.
‘I will keep that in mind,’ I said solemnly.
He ate the last bite of his pie then, looked at me with a
curiously shy grin and cut himself a second piece. ‘There really is
a Joe… but he works evenings.’
I was more than happy to finally get the conversation turned
aside and we talked about ‘Joe’s Bar’ while Neo ate his
second slice of pie.
We talked about Spacer bars. We talked about beer. We talked
about how God blessed expensive vacuum suits are now-adays. We talked about
the paint job in the galley; he even noticed some of the bugs I had painted
into the grass. He was the first person who ever had…they’re
to scale after all. He teased me about not having any butterflies.
‘I thought they might look… girly,’ I chuckled,
ducking my head.
‘Always loved butterflies, always meant to take my…’
he stopped talking of a sudden and looked… haunted. I had a glimmer
of suspicion about the past I hadn’t encouraged him to speak of. I
had a sudden, strange urge to capture some memento of this meeting. I liked
the old guy. As much as I seemed to remind him of a younger self…
he made me have thoughts about my own future.
‘Butterflies, huh?’ I mused and went to get my
He gave me a quizzical look when I came back, but didn’t
speak. I glanced around the room and decided that butterflies would make
more sense on the wall by the door, where my field of wildflowers grew.
I opened my paint box and grinned at him. ‘Tell me about butterflies.’
And he did. For the next hour he talked about the silly things,
and I painted them across my sky. They were obviously something of a hobby
with him, he knew a thing or two. We paid little attention to geography
or logic and there were Honduras morpyo cypris right next to North American
monarchs. I forgot myself for a time, catching his words and transforming
them into dabs of color. The little boy in my head was mesmerized by the
jewel-bright creatures and forgot to be afraid. A little of my tension eased
and when Neo finally ran out of words, I stepped back and laughed out loud
at the picture in front of me. There were a freakin’ hundred of them,
of every imaginable color and size, spiraling up into my sky as though they
were all joined in some ancient dance that the likes of which us mere mortals
could never understand. Once my delighted laugh faded though, the cabin
was strangely quiet. I glanced at Neo and found him alternating his glance
between the butterflies and me. He looked… almost awed. He looked…
I wasn’t sure what I’d done, but I felt bad for
putting that look on his face. I opened my mouth to apologize, but he spoke
‘I can’t believe how you captured them,’
he blinked up at me. ‘They’re damn near perfect… they
fucking look real!’ He looked away from me, his gaze returning to
the new mural. ‘Thank you,’ he said almost reverently.
I suppose I should have said ‘you’re welcome’,
but I didn’t understand what he was thanking me for, so I just stood
and stared at him for a minute.
‘You remind me so much of my son,’ he murmured
after a moment, looking at the fluttering insects and not at me. I don’t
think I was supposed to have heard that. I don’t think he meant to
say it out loud. From the look on his face, I was fairly sure that the son
was no longer alive… and I could guess that it had been a ship’s
accident. What ever had taken his son from him, had taken his ship and his
whole life right along with it. Guess we did have a little bit in common.
I swallowed hard and got a mental grip on myself. I guess
this was about more than just me. I carefully sat down at the table across
from him, busying my hands with putting my paints away. With a lump in my
stomach that felt like a lead weight, I said, ‘Do you want to talk
about it?’ I wasn’t sure I was up to bearing this… but
I couldn’t just watch the man sit there with that expression on his
He glanced at me sharply and his face took on a strange, unreadable
expression. ‘I don’t think you really need to hear about it,
kid,’ he said softly. ‘Won’t do me any good to tell it
again… didn’t help the first thousand times.’ He grinned
ironically. ‘And I don’t think it’ll do much good for
you to sit through it. Though I appreciate what it took to make the offer.’
I flushed to the roots of my hair and bent studiously to checking
the lids on all my paint tubes. It surprised me when his hand dropped down
and rested on my wrist for a second, squeezing gently before lifting away.
‘I wouldn’t mind a little bit of time to myself
though… if it won’t… I mean, if you…’ he was
floundering and I flushed harder.
‘I’m fine,’ I cut him off, feeling utterly
humiliated. ‘It’s just the… knowing that somebody else
is aboard… that’s all. You don’t have to stay right here.’
I glanced up at him out of the corner of my eye and he looked
a little embarrassed himself. ‘Wasn’t sure,’ he mumbled,
‘I couldn’t stand to be in a room by myself for almost a year.’
Then he was gone. Back to the guest cabin from the sound of
his footsteps. Guess I wasn’t the only one in the universe with ghosts.
It didn’t do much toward making me feel better.
I couldn’t put my paints away, since I stored them in
the guest cabin, so I just cleaned everything up and left the paint box
on the table. Then I killed a little time cleaning up after supper.
I had lied a little bit… it did bother me to be completely
alone. It wasn’t as bad as it had been when Heero had first gone back
to work right after the accident. During those first days I hadn’t
done much more than pray for the phone to ring. But it was still with me;
that fear. Still lived at the bottom of my soul and I was beginning to suspect
that it always would.
There was nothing else to keep me in the galley and I went
to the cockpit to check my course. My fingers brushed Solo’s arm as
I passed him.
‘Suck up,’ he grinned at me.
‘I thought I was too stupid to talk to?’ I whispered.
‘Well…’ his imaginary gaze swept the line
of my other dead. ‘The rest ‘o these guys is just… dull.’
I chuckled along with his uproarious laugh. I started to tell
him he’d be dull too, if he was dead… but then I remembered
that he was, and so just shook my head and went on into the cockpit.
There were no messages, and my course was still dead on. I
sighed and called up a vector map but there was sure as hell nothing new
to see there. I finally settled to fiddling with my music. I was tired of
Billy Joel and was waffling between hammered dulcimer and hard rock. Yeah…
I have rather eclectic taste in… well, just about everything.
‘Don’t suppose you got any classical music?’
came Neo’s quiet, gravely voice from the doorway and I managed to
hide the nervous jerk I made when he surprised me.
I queued up some Mozart, answer enough, turning to catch the
almost surprised quirk of a grin. He moved into the cockpit, taking a minute
to look at the pictures that I had made a border out of.
He looked at me with a strange light in his eyes. ‘You
were really a damn Gundam pilot in the war?’
I felt my shoulders hunch in automatic defensiveness. ‘Yeah.
‘Kid… how in the hell old were you?’ he
had that oddly awed tone of voice again.
I flushed and shrugged. ‘I’m not sure. I’m
an orphan. Fifteen? Sixteen maybe?’
‘Jesus Christ!’ he blurted. ‘What kind of
motherless bastards would send a fifteen year old kid off to fight in a
God damn war!
I laughed, but it lacked a certain mirth. ‘I don’t
know if they were motherless, but they were certainly… dedicated.
I can’t begrudge them my childhood… they gave their lives.’
He shifted Fuzzy-butt and sat down in the co-pilot’s
seat, pulling one foot up to rest on the seat. He looked all knees and elbows.
I could see his eyes still flicking up at my photograph border. Maybe he
was playing count the picture.
‘Neo?’ I said at length and was a little embarrassed
at how strained my voice sounded.
‘Yeah, kid?’ he answered softly, aware I think,
that I was going to bring up a subject that neither of us was probably too
keen on talking about.
‘You said that you had… trouble being alone for…
for…’ I hesitated and he sighed softly, taking the hint.
‘A year,’ he supplied and then tilted his head
to rest on the seat back. ‘I didn’t handle it as well as you
are. It was probably a year before I could sit in a room by myself without
cryin’ like a damn babe in arms.’
He stopped talking, having answered the question, but he didn’t
move. Just sat and waited for me to speak again.
‘Did it… did it just get better? Or…’
I wanted to ask if he’d resorted to some sort of therapy or something,
but didn’t know how to say it.
He snorted softly, a little bitterly. ‘All my money
ran out. I ended up out on the streets… a place I found myself alone
as much as not. The human body can’t… maintain that level of
fear forever. I think I just started to get a little numb to it.’
I mulled that over. It could be beat then? If I just kept
taking jobs, would I eventually manage to get past this? Had I been on the
right track with this whole ‘face it down’ thing?
‘Duo,’ he said softly. ‘It… never
really goes away.’
I imagine that the look I gave him then must have been pretty
He sighed, and got that sad, wistful look in his eyes again.
‘Look… I know you don’t want to hear my sad little tale
and I ain’t all that wild about tellin’ it again. But it’s
already on my mind and… well; there’s just something I need
to tell you.’
I sat and waited for him to continue for a minute and then
realized that he was waiting for me to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’,
so I nodded. He sighed again.
‘We were in the salvage business too. Me, my wife and
son. I’ll keep this part short… ‘ He was looking up at
my pictures and not at me or maybe he was just keeping his head tilted up
so the tears wouldn’t fall… I’ve used that trick myself.
‘We were on a job and I was out-ship… old satellite recovery.
Our ship… just exploded. No warning. To this day I have to idea what
in the hell… ‘ He had to stop for a minute and if I’d
known him better, I might have reached across and taken his hand. It was
that kind of moment. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it and had
to wait a minute. I just sat and didn’t look at him for a minute.
‘There was a ship in the area… It took them four hours, but
they picked me up. I was down to my last twenty minutes of air.’
I suddenly found that I was hugging my knees to my chest but
I didn’t even remember pulling my legs up. We just sat for a couple
of minutes and I wanted to ask him to give me Fuzzy-butt, but that would
have sounded worse than pathetic. Excuse me…I need my teddy bear.
‘Kid?’ he ventured after a couple of long, awkward
moments. ‘I been wondering… how in the hell did you… I
mean; a solid week? Where did you get the damn air?’
I swallowed, seeing those drifting corpses in my mind’s
eye again. ‘The ship I was after had been abandoned under attack during
the war. Some of the crew didn’t make it out alive… they were
kind enough to share the air they had left.’
His head came up off the headrest and he turned to stare at
me, wide-eyed, ‘Jesus fucking Christ!’
I wanted to laugh but was rather certain I would start…
doing something else if I let it out, so I just grinned mirthlessly. I heard
Solo’s voice again, ‘Sorry kid, the Derry crew wants their air
back.’ I might have actually shivered. I turned it into a shrug.
He was just sitting and staring at me and I was studiously
staring at the wall. When I let my eyes focus on what was in front of my
face, I realized that it was one of the pictures of Heero. I met his tiny,
facsimile eyes and clung to the memory of his arms around me. Out of the
corner of my eye, I saw my passenger open his mouth.
‘I don’t want to talk about it, Neo,’ I
told him softly. ‘I really don’t.’
He nodded and let his head drop back again. ‘You make
me feel damn pathetic, kid.’
It pulled my gaze away from Heero’s face and I glanced
across at him. He looked as miserable as I felt. I knew he was trying to
help me, but I just wished we could go back to talking about beer and butterflies.
‘Look, there’s a hell of a difference between what happened
to you and what happened to me. I was alone. Nobody else was… involved.’
I didn’t use the word ‘killed’, ok? I have a little more
tack than that. ‘I knew exactly what happened… I wasn’t
left with a million unanswered questions. The ship involved wasn’t
even mine. I did not… ‘ I cut off the phrase ‘did not
lose everything’ before it came out of my mouth. He cast a look in
my direction that was somewhere between grateful and embarrassed.
‘Thanks, kid,’ he mumbled after a minute. ‘Look…
here’s what I wanted to tell you and then we’ll talk about something
I was more than happy to nod my agreement.
‘I got offered a second’s position a couple of
years after… the accident.’ I wanted to snicker; I wasn’t
the only one who had trouble with that word. ‘I think the guy kinda
felt sorry for me. It’d been long enough that I thought I could try.
We got into a sticky situation and… I… ‘ He had been almost
blurting it out to get it said, but now seemed to get bogged down. ‘I
froze,’ he said ruthlessly. ‘I panicked and I froze and I got
the other guy killed.’
‘Shit.’ I blurted and then flushed. I glanced
at him, but the pained expression on his face seemed almost… too personal
and I looked away again, my eyes seeking Heero’s picture. I want to
come home, love. I whispered to him in the back of my head. God, but I want
to come home.
I heard him unwind himself from the co-pilot’s seat
and stand. ‘Do you mind if I have a soda?’ he asked quietly.
‘Bring me one too?’ I smiled without looking up
and heard him snort a small laugh.
‘Sure thing, kid.’ Then he left me alone. Must
have got lost on the way to the galley too, because it took him a good twenty
minutes to come back.
The rest of the trip we passed speaking of things that can
only be described as mundane. We were both cautious as hell about subject
matter. I avoided kids and spouses and the word fear. I can only imagine
what constraints he put on his own speech. We talked music and I played
a couple of odd songs for him. We talked a little about the streets and
the hustlers, and he showed me a trick he could do with a coin and a handkerchief
that I had never seen before. I told him about McMurphy’s. He told
me about someplace called ‘Heaven’s Gate’. We told drinking
Somewhere in there, it dawned on me that his accident had
probably happened while I had still been running the streets as a kid. I
wanted to know, suddenly, in order to put it into context with my own life,
but didn’t want to start that subject up again.
I had to wonder about a life spent both fearing and craving
the same thing with equal intensity. To lose the ability to pilot and ship
out… but to forever miss that place between the stars that used to
be home. I guess I got quiet thinking about it, because I glanced up to
find him looking at me with sympathy in his eyes again. He’d been
down the road I was on and knew that it led nowhere. I looked away first.
Then it was time for reentry and I was taken with the sudden
realization that I hadn’t done this last time. This was going to be
my first reentry since the belt. I was a little surprised that I wasn’t
taken with quite the same fear as I had been at launch. But then…
I wasn’t going out into that thing that I feared the most… I
was leaving it. There was still some anxiety, still some doubt, but the
end result of a screw up here was death riding a fire-ball to Earth, which
wasn’t half as frightening as abandonment in hard vacuum. I would
have laughed out loud at that bizarre notion, if Neo hadn’t been sitting
there next to me. Didn’t need the poor guy thinking I’d completely
lost my mind.
I called the tower and killed the autopilot. Taking my coordinates
and plotting my trajectory and then started my descent. I spared a glance
at Neo and found Fuzzy-butt clutched to his chest. Maybe reentry didn’t
play to my fears… but it must play to his. I didn’t have the
time or free brain cells to think of anything to say to ease it for him.
Mozart was still playing in the background and I bumped the volume a little
so it could be heard over the roar of the engines. Reentry is something
you have to do by hand, it’s too damn touchy to leave to a computer.
Computers don’t have instincts. Computers don’t recognize the
subtleties of ‘feeling’ right and wrong through the seat of
your pants. We became one, my Demon and I, and fought our way back down
to the fragile safety of the mother Earth. My fingers were clenched white
on the yoke and the slash on my arm was screaming with the pressure I was
putting on it. Sweat was beading on my brow and I could only shake my head
to dislodge it before it ran into my eyes. Then there was the hard impact
of landing gear on tarmac and the scream of the breaking thrusters. I thought
I heard the tail end of a muttered prayer from Neo’s direction, but
I discreetly ignored it.
We finally rolled to a stop at the end of the runway and I
ran through my shutdown sequence while I waited for the tow-truck to come
and haul me back to the hangers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Neo
discover the bear clutched tight in his arms and flush darkly, his eyes
flying wide in near-horror. I pretended not to notice, keeping my eyes on
my boards while he hastily stuffed poor Fuzzy back down into the seat beside
It was Harrison on the truck this morning, who’s not
overly fond of me so we passed little in the way of conversation. He just
latched on and began the haul. I ended up in the same slot I’d been
in before I left.
Neo left the cockpit and went to get his coat. He came back
counting out his credits but I stopped him with an upraised hand.
‘Forget it,’ I told him.
He frowned. ‘Don’t need any charity.’
‘Not givin’ it,’ I responded. ‘But…
you had a point. I really did manipulate you into taking passage with me
without giving you all the details. That voids the deal. I won’t take
He looked at me skeptically, but I could see in his eyes that
he really didn’t have the money to spare. His common sense was telling
him to take the turn of luck and run, even while his pride was insisting
that he pay for his passage.
I grinned at him. ‘Don’t look a gift horse in
the mouth… it might bite.’
He laughed and slipped the credits back into his pocket. ‘All
right kid,’ he finally agreed, then looked at me searchingly. ‘And
‘Welcome,’ I replied and turned back to my boards
as Harrison settled my ship into the hanger. He disengaged and pulled his
truck away without so much as a goodbye. I chuckled and began a total lock-down,
preparing to disembark. I felt Neo’s absence when he wandered out
of the cockpit.
I wanted to kick myself for the need that ran through me,
but I couldn’t resist the urge to make linking with the dock-net top
priority. I called up my e-mail with my heart in my throat and hated myself
for the utter despair I felt when there was nothing there. Damn, but I am
a somewhat pathetic little sucker.
I finished the lock-down, leaving only the cargo bay door
to seal behind me after we were off the ship, and left the cockpit. I found
Neo in the galley, staring at the whirlwind of butterflies with an odd little
smile on his face.
‘You ready to go?’ I called and he nodded, moving
to follow me out through the empty cargo bay. When we were both out on the
concrete floor of the hanger, I turned and keyed the big doors closed.
‘Thanks for the ride, kid!’ Neo called and I turned
to find that he was already walking away.
‘Anytime…’ I started to say and then stopped
at the thought. He turned at the odd tone of my voice and we grinned wryly
at each other in complete understanding. He waved and walked away. I waved
at his retreating back and started out of the hanger, beginning the long
trek to the main building where I could catch a cab. And found Trowa and
Quatre standing next to their car waiting for me out in the dockyard.
I don’t know why I didn’t just think that they’d
been kind enough to come down and offer me a ride. But the moment that I
saw them, before I even had a chance to register the solemn looks on their
faces, I knew something was wrong. The early morning sun should have been
warm on my back, but I suddenly felt as cold as the dead of winter. I stopped
walking and just stared at them. I couldn’t move. My brain was telling
my legs to get my ass over there and find out what in the hell was going
on, but my body refused to obey, insisted that it was going to stay right
here, thank you very much, and not have to find out.
They took the decision away from me by walking toward me.
‘What’s… wrong?’ I gasped when they
were close enough and I saw Quatre’s face go all pained.
‘Duo,’ he said gently. ‘There’s been
I was rather surprised to suddenly find that they had somehow
teleported the last five or six feet and Quatre had me by one arm and Trowa
by the other. I was even more surprised to find us on our knees in the dirt.
I don’t remember my legs giving out at all.
‘He’s going to be all right!’ Quatre was
telling me, his eyes all wide and scared, the grip he had on my upper arm,
just a little too tight.
My brain was having a little trouble making the connections
necessary to produce speech. All the voices in my head were in concert for
a change; calling Heero’s name in desperate fear. He’s all I
had left; I could not lose him too. Could not… absolutely could not
bear it. My ship… my business… my life…whatever in the
hell you want from me, God; but not Heero.
‘Where?’ I finally managed to blurt out and that
seemed to be the cue for them to lever me to my feet.
‘He’s in the hospital,’ Trowa soothed. ‘Come
on… we came to pick you up.’
I nodded, making the effort to help them get me there. My
knees hurt. They didn’t let go of me even after we were moving and
it was probably just as well, my legs felt like they were made out of rubber.
I could feel Quatre and Trowa exchanging glances and unspoken communication,
but I couldn’t make myself care.
Quatre sat in the back seat with me while Trowa drove and
once we were finally moving I repressed the hysterical voices in my head
enough to ask, ‘What happened?’
‘They were on a case,’ Quatre said gently and
I knew that ‘they’ meant Heero and Wufei. ‘Some sort of
weapons dealer thing… there was a hostage situation and Heero…
My mouth was as dry as sand. ‘How bad?’
‘He’s going to be fine,’ he smiled at me
a little sadly. ‘He’s already trying to check himself out of
It was meant to reassure, but it only hit me with another
shiver of fear. ‘He can’t do that…’ I began and
from the front seat, Trowa chuckled lightly.
‘Not with Wufei sitting on him, he can’t.’
I sighed, feeling some of the electrical traffic in my brain
beginning to sort itself out. ‘Wufei’s all right?’
‘Fine,’ Quatre told me gently and I suddenly realized
he was holding my hand. I flushed and tried to untangle myself but only
got a squeeze of his fingers.
‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered and started to tell
them that it had been a bad couple of days to start with. But, in retrospect,
that didn’t seem to be the best thing to bring up right now, so I
just shut up.
I glanced out the window, surprised to find that we were already
nearing downtown. My head seemed to be clearing a little bit, that first
clutch of fear and its mutant child, adrenaline rush, were easing. I was
really going to have to talk to Quatre about how to deliver bad news. ‘Can
I get some details, Qat?’ I finally managed to ask in a relatively
steady voice, and saw Trowa glance up into the rear view mirror at one of
the two of us.
‘Of course,’ Quatre smiled at me. Just happy,
I think, that I was starting to not look like I was going to pass out. ‘He
was hit twice… in the abdomen. It was… pretty nasty,’
he told me hesitantly. Then, more firmly, ‘But he’s fine now.
He just needs to rest.’
I wanted to growl at him, one is not ‘fine’ when
one has two bullet holes in one’s stomach. I swallowed convulsively
and found my eyesight oddly obscured for a second. I blinked and turned
my face back toward the window. Quatre reached to pat my arm, offering some
comfort. My bad arm. I hadn’t seen it coming and the breath hissed
sharply through my teeth. I flinched away from him and his eyes went wide.
‘Duo?’ he yelped. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Sorry,’ I gritted, the pain serving to intensify
the damn tears I’d been fighting. My arm curled automatically in toward
my chest and I hunched forward protectively, closing my eyes and struggling
Ok, God… I give up. Did I not already say that? I quit.
Uncle. Stop now. Little ol’ Duo’s had all he can take…
go pick on somebody else now.
‘Duo?’ Quatre’s voice was rising in concern
and I tried hard to care. Really I did.
‘Something’s wrong with his arm,’ Trowa
called tersely from the front seat and suddenly, there were gentle fingers
unbuttoning my cuff. I sighed and straightened, blinked my eyes open and
tried vainly to push Quatre’s hand away.
‘It’s all right,’ I appeased, but it was
too late to stop him now that he was on the trail of something that he deemed
might need his attention. He would not leave it go until he had my shirt
sleeve carefully pushed up and was able to see the gauze wrapped around
‘What happened, Duo?’ Quatre asked and his voice
had a hint of the old command mode I remembered from so long ago.
‘I cut it,’ I told him, trying to sound reasonable
and hoping he would just let it drop.
‘How bad?’ was, of course, the next question.
I heaved a sigh. ‘Twenty-one stitches,’ I told
him a little flatly.
‘Damn!’ Trowa blurted and looked in the rear view
mirror again to catch my eye. He looked, oddly, a little confused. ‘Did
you call and tell Heero?’
‘No,’ I frowned. ‘There wasn’t any
point in scaring him.’
Trowa just looked more puzzled. ‘Heero’s been…
upset about you. Worried to death. That’s why we come down to get
you, to try and appease him. How in the hell did he know?’
I thought about it and realized pretty quick that the only
possibility was that he had some kind of watch maintained on the Ship’s
Services reports. I swore softly. ‘It happened on the way out,’
I answered Trowa, though I think he had thought it was a rhetorical question
and had not expected either of us would answer. ‘I had to get docking
assistance… Heero must have tagged the L3 emergency net somehow.’
We had reached the hospital and the conversation died as Trowa
pulled the car into the parking garage. Quatre finally let me have my arm
back and I was only glad that he hadn’t tried to unwrap my damn dressing.
I rolled my sleeve back down and carefully rebuttoned my cuff.
They flanked me as we walked to the elevators, riding up to
the walkway that led over the street to the main hospital. I couldn’t
seem to get my head together and was appalled to realize fairly quickly,
that I was lost. I tried to make an effort to pay more attention to my surroundings,
but couldn’t stop the cacophony of wild thoughts running around my
head like a pack of slavering, mad hamsters. Between them and the sobbing
little boy who, I had lately discovered, lived in the back of my head, I
didn’t have enough concentration left to do more than grunt mono-syllable
answers to the occasional question I was getting from Quatre. He finally
just shut the hell up. I could feel them doing that exchanging glances thing
again, but I couldn’t care about that either.
There was another elevator ride and more corridors. A seemingly
endless hall with that pervading ‘sick’ smell that all hospitals
have. That mix of medicine and antiseptic and human misery, with that underlying
hint of floor wax thrown in for good measure. It was a scent I was more
than familiar with, and more than slightly…phobic is a little too
strong a word for it, but I can’t think of another one… more
than slightly phobic about the scent and what it meant. I shivered almost
violently and there were suddenly hands on my shoulders and on my back.
Quatre murmured something soothing and I nodded, not really hearing him.
But then I heard another voice; a very familiar voice and
I heard what it was saying loud and clear.
‘Let me up, Chang. Now.’
‘Not on your life, Yuy. You are being a total asshole.’
I made no conscious effort, but my legs suddenly decided all
on their own to take off running for the room the voices were coming from.
Maybe they’d been subverted by the damn hamsters.
‘Wufei… please. He’s hurt… I have
to go…’ Heero’s voice was so… wan. So full of pleading.
Had I been in Wufei’s place I would have picked him up and carried
him wherever in the damn hell he wanted to go. I could not have denied that
voice if my very life had depended on it.
Chang Wufei is not nearly as easily moved as I am. ‘Lie
the hell back down or I will have your stubborn ass sedated!’ His
voice was rising steadily in obvious anger and frustration and I had no
doubt that if Heero didn’t relent soon… Wufei would administer
the drugs himself.
Then I found the door and darted in, coming up short just
inside the room at the scene playing out in front of me.
They were literally arm wrestling over Heero’s IV’s.
Heero, trying almost feebly to pull them out, and Wufei gently, but firmly,
intercepting his every move. There was enough tension in the room that there
should have been some tangible sign of it… like a creeping black fog
or blood-red glowing light or… something.
Heero looked pale and almost groggy, his face twisted in anguished
frustration as he fought against Wufei, making no headway in getting free.
I’d never seen him like this… he was never the one to get hurt.
Never the one in the hospital bed, but always the one hovering over mine.
It… rocked the foundation of what was left of my world. I heard Trowa
and Quatre coming into the room behind me, and it served to kick my ass
out of its state of shock.
‘Heero!’ I snapped. ‘Stop it!’ And
strode across the room to flank Wufei.
Heero froze at the sound of my voice and it was like watching
a puppet with its strings cut. He just stopped fighting his partner and
almost… collapsed back onto the bed. Wufei straightened, casting a
glance my way, but stayed hovering there, as though afraid to trust that
Heero had really surrendered.
Heero was so muddled with the pain and the drugs, his eyes
met mine and they looked… fevered. ‘Duo?’ he breathed
softly, as though afraid I wasn’t real.
‘Right here, love,’ I murmured, as I got close
enough, catching the hand he stretched out toward me and squeezed it tight.
‘I’m here now.’
I was drawn in by the horrid fear still shining in those deep
blue eyes of his and for a moment I forgot that we weren’t alone in
the room, leaning down to kiss him gently.
‘You’re all right?’ he sighed, his eyes
roaming over my face, blinking owlishly as he struggled against a body that’d
had enough for one day.
‘I’m fine,’ I smiled reassuringly and reached
to brush the sweaty hair from his eyes. ‘I’m here… everything
is fine. You just rest now.’
I was only vaguely aware that Wufei had moved off a pace,
was conversing in quiet tones with someone, probably Quatre or Trowa.
Heero tilted his face up, asking more from me and I settled
on the side of the bed so as not to be so far above him, so he didn’t
have to strain so hard to reach me. ‘Easy, love,’ I murmured
and kissed him again. The hell with the others… if it fucking bothered
them, they could leave the damn room.
I cupped his cheek in my free hand, careful as could be, and
rained tiny kisses on his upturned face until I saw the fear fading from
‘You’re really all right?’ he finally asked.
‘I’m not the one in a hospital bed, husband-mine.’
I whispered to him with a grin and watched as the stress, the drugs, or
just pure exhaustion finally took their toll and his eyes began to droop.
‘I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere.’
‘Forever?’ he whispered, trying on the ghost of
‘Absolutely,’ I confirmed. ‘Not a minute
And with that, he stopped fighting it and let himself fall.
Looking down at his care worn face, finally relaxing in sleep, I knew what
I had to do. I had known it for a while, but hadn’t wanted to face
up to it, I guess. I faced up to it now and only wanted to sit there and
cry. I felt, suddenly, like the weight of the heavens and the Earth had
settled on my shoulders. I felt old and worn. Tired beyond my ability to
Behind me, there was the sound of Wufei’s frustrated
growl. Full of irritation and exhaustion, anger and guilt, and a dozen other
things I couldn’t name.
‘About God damn time you got here!’ he snapped
and I couldn’t help but jerk my head around to stare at him. What
in the hell was this all about?
‘What?’ I blinked at him, meeting his dark and
angry eyes in bewilderment. I barely registered Quatre’s shocked gasp.
‘As much as he’s given up for you… where
the hell were you when he needed you?’ he grated and I wondered what
kind of a horrendous night he’d had, left here alone to struggle with
his wounded partner. He looked about ready to explode… and I seemed
to be the ready target.
‘Chang!’ Trowa barked at him, his own temper flaring
on my behalf. Wufei didn’t even look his way.
I gently lay Heero’s hand back on the bed and slipped
free to walk around the bed to where Wufei stood, his fists clenched at
his sides. I stood toe to toe with him, staring him in the eye. He was wound
as tight as a cheap-ass watch. From what Trowa and Quatre had told me, Wufei
had probably been stuck in this room for close to twenty-four hours now.
The only one able to handle Heero’s unreasoning stubbornness... in
my absence. He looked damn tired… and wicked pissed. Something needed
to give before his head imploded.
‘You are his partner,’ I told him levelly, ‘I’m
only his lover. It’s your job to watch his back. Where the hell were
It garnered the expected result and I ended up on the floor
staring at the ceiling… when my sight cleared enough to let me see
it. I thought my damn jaw was busted. There was the expected flurry of raised
voices. I listened only enough to make sure that none of the voices belonged
to Heero; he still slept. It took a minute of blinking the world back into
focus before I could make myself care enough to intervene.
‘Stop.’ I commanded and the three of them fell
silent. I pushed up on one elbow and saw what I was looking for in Wufei’s
eyes. ‘Trowa. Quatre. A moment, please?’
They looked at me as though I had gone insane, but when Wufei
didn’t move to attack me again, only standing with his head hanging,
they relented and left the room. They both moved slowly, glancing back at
me with hesitation clear in their eyes. I had little doubt they didn’t
I probed gingerly at my jaw and quirked an eyebrow at Wufei.
‘You gonna help me up?’
He came slowly forward, his face full of shame and I grinned
at him, around the busted lip. ‘Nice shot, Chang.’ I gave him
my good arm and he pulled me to my feet.
‘Maxwell…’ he stammered, his face as red
as fire. ‘I… I am so sorry…’
‘Forget it,’ I smirked. ‘I asked for it.
He raised his eyes to meet mine, and I probably looked like
a loon, grinning like an idiot with blood smeared all over my chin. ‘You
did that on purpose.’ It wasn’t a question, and since it wasn’t,
I didn’t deign to answer it.
‘Tell me everything I need to know,’ I smiled
gently. ‘And then go the hell home and get some sleep. Your shift
is over… it’s my watch.’
He looked relieved. He looked guilty. He looked ashamed of
himself. If he had been anyone other than Chang Wufei, he probably would
have burst into tears. He just stood and looked at me for a minute and I
finally reached cautiously and touched his arm, duplicating the gesture
he had made, trying to offer me some comfort the night he had driven me
home from the restaurant. ‘Thank you for taking care of him…
but I’m back now. You’re allowed to step down.’
I wasn’t at all surprised to feel him stiffen under
my hand. I didn’t push my luck, letting go quickly and turning away
to pull a chair up to the side of the bed, settling in for the duration.
He regarded me through a strained silence for several, eternally
long moments. Then his shoulders seemed to slump a little, as though all
the long hours were catching up to him all at once. ‘You are right…
I let him down,’ he almost whispered.
I stretched a foot out and snagged the other chair, pulling
it over to face mine. It took him a minute to unbend enough to sit down.
‘Bullshit, Wufei,’ I grunted. ‘You aren’t
Superman… sometimes the bad guys get their licks in, and there’s
nothing you can do about it.’
He glared at me. ‘Do you not fucking care that he almost
I brought my gaze up to meet his and stared until his eyes
wavered. ‘Of course I care. Do not be an asshole. I would take those
bullets myself if I could, but I have no damn desire to eviscerate you over
it. I know you well enough to know that you would have thrown yourself in
front of the gun to save him. He wouldn’t be in this condition if
you had been able to stop it. I have no doubt of that.’ I watched
his face flush and he suddenly hunched forward, dropping his elbows to his
knees and putting his face in his hands. ‘All I’m saying, Wufei,
is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up over this, it wasn’t
There was a sound from him that was almost a moan. ‘But
it was,’ a voice sighed, and had he not been the only one in the room,
I would not have believed it was the voice of Chang Wufei. ‘God help
‘Tell me about it,’ I commanded gently, and wondered
a little bit about where all this sudden calmness was coming from.
‘We went in to the building, just the two of us, to
extract the hostage,’ he murmured, not raising his head. ‘He
was distracted… I knew he was. I should have aborted the maneuver.
I should have insisted someone else go with me.’ There was a pause,
full of the ghosts of bad memories, before he went on. ‘When we made
our move… I… counted on his being where he should have been.
But he was off… late to take position. I don’t know what happened…
but when the shooting started, he wasn’t under cover.’
I thought about it. ‘This was last night?’ I asked
He nodded. ‘A member of the SWAT team even joked that
we’d make it home in time for the eleven o’clock news if we
I sighed heavily and sat back. Wufei finally looked up at
me. ‘You know something?’
‘Just figuring it all out,’ I confirmed and rolled
my sleeve up.
His eyes flew wide and I saw him begin to piece it together.
I nodded, ‘I had to have docking assistance…’
‘Which would have been recorded immediately in the Colony
‘Which Heero could have tagged with an alert request
keyed to my ship’s name, using his Preventor’s authorization.’
‘And set to his pager number. Damn that son of a bitch.’
I chuckled darkly and watched his face trying to hide the
emotional roller coaster ride he was on.
‘Go the hell home, Wufei,’ I said quietly.
His eyes came up to search my face and I saw him flinch, looking
at my jaw. ‘Duo…damn it, Duo… I’m so sorry.’
‘You needed to belt somebody,’ I grinned at him.
‘And right now, Heero’s not up to it.’
I meant it as a joke, but his face twisted in pain. ‘You
make me feel like some sort of damn, vicious Neanderthal!’
I sighed and lost the grin, daring to reach out to hook him
by the back of the neck, pulling him toward me. He let me rest his head
against my shoulder, ‘Listen to me, Wufei,’ I whispered next
to his ear. ‘It is over. I will never put him in that position again.
It’s all done and over with.’
He pulled free to sit up and meet my eyes. ‘Duo…?’
he questioned softly, confusion plain in his eyes.
I just shook my head, refusing to sit here and discuss it.
‘Go home and get some rest.’
He opened his mouth, not wanting to give up the questioning,
but I cut him off. ‘No more today.’
His eyes searched mine, looking for… I’m not sure
what. His hand lifted as though he might touch my face where he had punched
me. But then he finally nodded and pushed himself up to his feet. He wasn’t
even out the door before Quatre was on his way back in; they must have been
standing right outside. I saw Trowa hesitate in the hall and exchange a
few words with Wufei.
I wanted to stand up and politely ask them all to go to hell
and leave me the fuck alone, thank you very much. I was too damn tired to
deal with this anymore. Too tired to deal with them. To deal with the masks,
and the smiling, and the damn reassuring. I just wanted to lay my head down
somewhere and rest, just for a little while. Was that really so much to
Quatre came and knelt in front of me, gently pushing to get
me to turn my face into the light. I gave him a smile, but he didn’t
respond in kind. I sighed.
‘Let’s get this cleaned up before Heero wakes
up and sees it,’ he said softly.
Trowa had finished with Wufei and followed Quatre into the
room. Quatre looked up at him. ‘I’m going to see if I can get
some ice from the nurse. Will you get him washed up?’
Trowa nodded, turning his eyes in my direction while Quatre
rose and left the room.
I have trouble dealing with Trowa on his own. I always feel
like he can see right through me, like there isn’t a bit of the court
jester act that he doesn’t recognize as hollow. I turned away to check
on Heero, making sure he was still asleep before I let Trowa lead me to
the little bathroom.
‘I assume,’ he drawled with a tiny smile on his
face. ‘That despite what Quatre thinks, you are perfectly capable
of washing your own face?’
It surprised a bark of laughter out of me and I grinned up
at him gratefully. ‘I think I can manage.’
‘That wasn’t a particularly bright thing to do,
you know,’ he commented casually while I ran the water to warm it.
‘He could have broken your damn jaw.’
‘I thought he had,’ I snickered. ‘In retrospect…
I suppose there might have been other ways to get him to own up to his own
damn guilt… but you gotta admit it worked faster than anything else
I could have come up with.’
It was my turn to do the surprising and he chuckled lightly.
‘And just when did you take the somewhat… twisted psychology
‘Life’s a psychology course, Trowa,’ I told
him and then leaned down to gently rinse my poor, battered jaw. ‘Ouch,’
I muttered and he chuckled again.
‘You didn’t hurt your arm when you fell, did you?’
he questioned, sounding a little embarrassed and I wondered idly if Quatre
had put him up to asking.
‘Nope,’ I told him as I finished washing up and
dropped it. I really didn’t need them to start in on me about what
had happened. I grinned up at him. ‘There; will I pass Quatre’s
He eyed me critically. ‘Not bad. That’s going
to bruise like hell, you know that?’
I glanced in the mirror and sighed, it was already darkening.
I should have one hell of a black and blue jaw line by tomorrow.
‘What are you going to tell Heero?’ he prompted
I flashed him a smile that was meant to be mega-watt but only
managed to achieve a low level of… wan. ‘Why… I got bored
just watching him sleep and tilted one of those stupid chairs back on two
legs and was killing time rocking back and forth, when the damn thing fell
over backward and I bashed my chin on the bedside table. Took me ten minutes
to clean up all the water I spilled. Wufei laughed at me every time he looked
at me for the next half an hour.’
‘That’s very… inventive,’ he said,
and his eyes looked a little sad.
I tried for the mega-watt grin again and managed to get it
turned up to… mildly amused. ‘It’s all in the details,
His face did some very odd things then and I had an uncomfortable
moment where I thought he was going to try taking me in his arms. I turned
away to find a towel and dried my face. When I turned back, he had moved
I went back to my chair by Heero’s bedside, I didn’t
want him waking up and finding no one there. Trowa took the other chair
and pulled it off to the side. Quatre came back not long after with an ice
pack that he insisted that I apply to the side of my face immediately.
‘Calm down, Qat,’ I teased. ‘I’ve
taken worse shots than that before.’
‘Not from a friend,’ he said coldly and I found
myself shriveling under his gaze. I hunted desperately for something witty
to say… something distracting, but a nurse came in then and managed
to get their attention off me for the moment.
‘He’s asleep?’ she chirped brightly with
a surprised air. ‘Well…will miracles never cease?’ Then
she caught sight of me, a new face, and she grinned even wider. ‘You
wouldn’t be Duo by any chance, would you?’
I nodded. ‘Guilty as charged.’ And she laughed
at my silly little joke. Did a lot for my poor laboring psyche.
‘That certainly explains how you got him settled down,’
she nodded sagely and began checking vital signs and making notes on Heero’s
‘Huh?’ I muttered intelligently and she giggled
‘He’s been calling for you continually since we
got him in here.’
I felt like flames should be licking off the tops of my ears,
I was flushing so hard. She laughed out loud, shaking her head as she worked.
I couldn’t even look toward Trowa and Quatre.
‘Did his partner go home?’ she asked me, and when
I nodded, gave me another one of those approving smiles. ‘Good. The
poor thing… he had quite a time.’
I ducked my head and found myself gnawing at my lip. ‘Uhmm…listen…on
that subject; there won’t be a problem with my staying the night…
I was more than prepared to get pissy about it. I would throw
around all the weight I could muster, even if it meant appealing to Quatre’s
sympathies and letting him throw around the Winner name. But, it’s
always best to ask nice first, and save the threats for later. I had no
intentions of leaving Heero alone here. They would have to have security
come and haul my ass out and even then they’d have to disable me pretty
damn good to keep me from just coming back in.
She looked at me for a moment, and maybe she saw some of my
stubborn resolve in my eyes. ‘Under the circumstances… I’m
sure something can be arranged. We certainly don’t want a repeat of
last night, after all.’
Hell… I didn’t even ask, that time.
‘Duo…’ Quatre was suddenly in front of me
and I resisted the urge to ask Trowa to take his ass home and get him the
hell out of me face. ‘Let one of us stay part of the night, you need
to get some rest…’
‘I’m going to be sitting on my ass in a chair,
Quatre,’ I told him flatly. ‘Not running laps. I’ll be
His eyes flicked almost involuntarily toward my arm. ‘You
shouldn’t…’ he began and I was suddenly just too tired
to deal with it anymore.
‘Shouldn’t drink and drive. Shouldn’t run
with scissors. Shouldn’t pet stray dogs. There’s a hell of a
lot of things that I shouldn’t do, Quatre. Being here when Heero needs
me, is not one of them.’
I saw his back stiffen and out of the corner of my eye, I
saw Trowa climbing to his feet. I sighed and turned back toward the bed.
Somewhere in there, the nurse had disappeared. ‘I… I’m
sorry, Qat,’ was the best I could manage.
There were suddenly warm, gentle arms around me and it surprised
me so much, a lump the size of Detroit formed in my throat. I found the
side of my head resting against his stomach and he whispered softly, ‘That’s
ok… if you can’t yell at your little brother… who can
you yell at?’
I choked on the beginning of a sob and had to hold very still
until the tide of misery had ebbed a little. My arms went around his waist
despite the fact that I told them not to… maybe it was those damn,
subversive little hamsters in my head again. It felt like those days during
the war… when he and I had both been so damn lonely we could have
curled up and died. We had found that we got along, had found that we had
a lot in common and that talking about things with each other had helped
us both feel a little less alone. We had started calling each other ‘brother’
and had meant it, back then, with a depth of feeling only a war can spawn.
‘It’s all right, Duo,’ he sighed. ‘We’re
here for the both of you.’
I took a deep, calming breath, forced my arms to let go and
smiled up at him. ‘Thanks, little brother… but I’m fine.’
A lot of things passed through his eyes then, anger…
frustration… a little bit of hurt. I didn’t have the strength
to make it better. All I could do was turn my gaze in Trowa’s direction
and silently plead with him to take Quatre and go away. I was stretched
as thin as I could go.
And, lo and behold, Trowa seemed to get the message.
‘Quatre…’ he said gently. ‘I think
it’s time we went home.’
Quatre looked up sharply when his lover’s hands came
to rest on his shoulders. ‘You can’t be serious!’ he snapped.
‘Very serious, my bright one,’ Trowa whispered
next to Quatre’s ear and I could tell he hadn’t intended for
me to hear it. I turned my attention toward Heero and tried not to listen
‘Trowa! He’s in no condition to…’
Quatre began but Trowa did something, I don’t know what, that made
him stop talking. There was that feeling of messages passing in the ether
Then Trowa said, ‘Duo needs some time alone with Heero.’
It seemed to be as much for my benefit as Quatre’s.
I turned back to meet his steady gaze and smiled gratefully.
He gave Quatre a nudge toward the door, but then turned back himself to
deliver a parting shot. ‘You won’t be doing Heero any favors
if you don’t take care of yourself as well.’
I didn’t answer. I think I was long past that. Then
they were gone. I heaved a sigh of pure, unadulterated relief, pulled my
chair a little closer to the bed and managed to lay my head against Heero’s
‘Well, love,’ I whispered, ‘hasn’t
this week just sucked?’
I sat like that for most of the next couple of hours, getting
a cramp in my shoulder and not really caring. I gave more than a passing
thought to bawling like a little kid, but was afraid that Heero would wake
and find me sniveling, so I crushed the urge under the heel of my boot with
absolutely no remorse.
Little rabid thought-hamsters kept bringing me things to think
about, but none of it was pleasant and I crushed a couple of those suckers
The next time the nurse came to check Heero’s vital
signs, I didn’t even raise my damn head, and she only tsked at me
sympathetically, patting my shoulder as she left.
He needed to rest and I was glad he was asleep. But I wanted
so badly to talk to him and wished him awake. I didn’t want to have
to explain my face or my arm, so it was just as well he was asleep. But
it frightened me to have him so totally dead to the world that he had slept
through Wufei knocking me on my ass, and so I wished him awake… Damn,
motherless little thought-hamsters.
I watched the pattern the sun made, spilling through the blinds
onto the floor, as it slowly crept toward the foot of the bed. I found myself
counting the seconds to estimate how many floor tiles it was moving an hour
and made myself quit.
‘You damn well better be all right, you asshole,’
I murmured against Heero’s rough hospital gown, just because the damn
silence was eating me alive.
‘You’re awake?’ his voice rumbled against
my ear and I jerked upright in shock, finding those beautiful blue eyes
open and looking at me.
‘Heero?’ I breathed and wondered how long he’d
been lying there awake, thinking that I was sleeping.
‘Hello, love,’ he smiled in return, and for the
moment everything was right with the world again.
‘You scared the crap out of me,’ I told him fiercely.
‘You too…’ he frowned, remembering. I could
see that his couple of hours of sleep had eased his grogginess somewhat
and knew that he wasn’t going to be happy with simple ‘I’m
ok’ reassurances for much longer.
‘How are you feeling?’ I asked softly and stroked
his cheek with the back of my hand.
‘Totally humiliated,’ he grinned, then his eyes
clouded. ‘Are you hurt? What happened? Why did you have to call Emergency
I sighed and tried to deflect the questions back at him. ‘Heero…
what in the hell possessed you to… to spy on me?’
He flushed faintly but got that stubborn look on his face.
‘I was worried… I wasn’t spying. I was just watching out
‘I can watch out for myself,’ I admonished. ‘You
had no business going into a firefight that distracted.’
His eyes took on a faintly haunted look and he couldn’t
meet my gaze for a second. ‘The timing of that page was rather…
I chuckled darkly. ‘That’s one word for it.’
But he was back around to thinking about what had started
this whole thing again and his eyes came up to sweep over me. He finally
registered the awkward angle I was sitting in, designed to keep the left
side of my face turned slightly away from him and he reached out.
I sighed and drew back before he could touch the bruised side
of my face. Well, he was going to have to see it sooner or later. I turned
a little and looked at him dead on, quirking my best self-deprecating grin.
‘Watch what you’re touching there, love.’
He gave me the expected, horrified look. ‘Duo? What
I ducked my head and tried to look embarrassed and told him
the story I’d practiced on Trowa. I would be boiled alive in teriyaki
sauce before I would come between Heero and Wufei; he was not going to find
out that his partner had decked me. I saw doubt in his eyes and I flushed
a little more. ‘Come on, Heero… stop looking at me like that.
I already got the ‘stupid’ lecture from Trowa.’ I just
hoped Trowa would back me up if it came down to it.
‘That does not answer the question of what happened
to you on the out trip,’ he said suddenly and rather took me by surprise,
his drugs must have completely worn off… there wasn’t a bit
of muzziness left in him.
He was going to know. The minute he saw the wound… he
would know. I could tell him my terribly amusing air duct grate story and
he might even buy it… for now. But sooner or later, he would see that
cut and he would know just what it was and more or less how it got there.
If I lied to him now, he would just find out later. And though I lied to
him in one form or another on a fairly regular basis, he had never really
caught me at it in anything major.
‘Heero,’ I ventured. ‘We’re not going
to talk about it right now. We will… when you’re better. I had
some trouble docking, but I am fine now. None of that matters with you here,
with two damn bullet holes in you.’
‘I want to know what happened,’ he told me, trying
to sound intimidating.
I grinned down at him. ‘You are in no position to get
all uppity with me, Heero Yuy. You are going to have some major payback
for all that hovering and babying you did when it was me in the hospital
‘Damn it, Duo,’ he growled. ‘Stop trying
to change the subject.’
‘I’m not trying,’ I toned the grin down
to a warm smile. ‘I’ve already changed it. We are not going
to get into it right now.’
‘I need to know… ‘ he began, but I shushed
him with a finger to his lips.
‘You are confusing your needs and your wants,’
I told him. ‘You need to concentrate on getting better. You need to
rest. You want to be stubborn and pushy.’ I lifted my finger and tapped
the end of his nose. ‘Understand this. I am back and I am here to
stay. No more trips… no more shipping out. I’m not going anywhere.
I’m going to be here for you.’
He subsided, though I thought he was going to rupture something
doing it. The nurse came back not long after that, seeming not altogether
pleased to find Heero awake already. She checked his vitals and produced
a little paper cup with pills in it. Heero refused them. I threatened him.
In the end the pills went down his throat and after the nurse was gone I
kissed the holy hell out of him to make sure the pills went down his throat.
That got me a glare so pathetic that I laughed at him. The sound seemed,
oddly enough, to ease something for him and he finally relaxed a little.
The nurse came back with his ‘dinner’ and he and I both raised
an eyebrow at the tray of nothing but liquids. She grinned apologetically,
‘Standard issue for abdominal injuries.’
The job of getting that dinner down him was almost as horrendous
as getting him off the subject of my latest accident. He is not a very good
patient, this lover of mine.
When the nurse came back to clear away the dinner dishes,
she seemed a little surprised to find everything gone. She gave me a bright,
approving smile and I wondered if it was the first that Heero had eaten
since he’d been here. I teased her about the vile properties of lime
jell-o until I was fairly certain Heero would get a decent flavor with his
next meal. I asked her for the stuff to give him a sponge bath before she
left and she fairly beamed at me.
‘It’s just so nice to have a family member show
some initiative in taking care of a patient,’ she explained when I
laughed at the look she gave me. ‘We’re so overworked, it’s
hard to get to all the things that need to be done.’
‘Let’s just say I know how bad it sucks to be
stuck lying in your own stink,’ I grinned, and she went off to fetch
the body wash and a pan for the water.
Heero didn’t say anything, but gave me an odd look.
I smiled down at him, while I moved the chairs out of the way and put the
side rail down. ‘Maybe I can figure out a way to get your hair washed
When the nurse, whose name turned out to be LeAnn, came back,
I got a quick lecture on not getting Heero’s dressing wet. She showed
me where he had a drain tube and admonished me to stay clear of it. It seems
he could turn onto his left side but not his right. She hung around to watch
me get started, just checking to make sure I wasn’t going to soak
the bed, I think. Then she grinned and shook her head at us as though we
were the cutest things since God invented kittens, and left us alone.
‘She’s nice,’ I murmured to Heero as I gently
ran the washcloth down his arm.
I got a distracted ‘Uh-huh’ and I chuckled at
‘Feel good?’ I smiled affectionately at him, and
he gave me a grateful look.
‘How did you know?’ he asked ruefully. ‘Did
I smell that bad?’
I chuckled at him. ‘No. I just remember how bad I hated
that… sick body smell. Wherever the hell it comes from; it makes you
feel all… itchy, or something.’
He nodded his agreement and tilted his head up to help me
reach his neck.
‘Don’t let me hurt,’ I admonished and he
only smiled at me with the oddest, almost melancholy look in his eyes.
When I finished with his front, I took a break to pour the
water out and get fresh; it was starting to cool. ‘If I put the bed
down flat, do you think you can roll up on your side so I can get your back?’
He hesitated, flushing slightly. ‘If you help me.’
We took it slow and I ended up doing most of the work. I didn’t
think he was going to manage to stay over until I thought to tuck a pillow
under his knee to take the strain off his hip.
‘That’s better,’ he sighed when he was settled.
‘You sure you’re all right?’ I asked once
more before starting.
‘I’m fine,’ he assured me, in the ghost
of his normal voice.
I washed his back quickly, in case he wasn’t able to
stay up on his side for very long. But when I was done, he still seemed
to be doing all right, so I got the bottle of lotion and began to massage
his shoulders and the parts of his back that weren’t bound around
with gauze. He groaned under my hands and I chuckled at him.
‘Oh God, that feels good,’ he sighed.
‘Yeah,’ I teased. ‘Being stuck flat on your
back for days on end really kills your hips and shoulders, doesn’t
He didn’t answer, so I got quiet too, just continuing
to knead at his muscles until he started showing signs of stress from staying
up on his side for so long. Then I helped him lay back down and was appalled
to find his face awash with tears.
‘Heero? Baby… what’s wrong?’ I blurted,
reaching to catch his hands in mine.
‘I didn’t know…’ he mumbled. ‘I
never thought… all those weeks you were in the hospital, you must
have been hurting so bad…’
I couldn’t help it; I laughed. He looked up at me with
a mixture of shock and anger on his face, but didn’t seem to quite
know what to say to me. I raised the head of the bed back up where it had
been and pulled his blanket around him, so he wouldn’t chill. Then
I crawled carefully up on the side of the bed and took him in my arms, pulling
his head in to pillow against my shoulder.
‘It’s all right, love,’ I soothed, absolutely
in a state of disbelief; I could not recollect ever seeing Heero cry before.
‘It’s the drugs… they do it to me too. It’s a side
effect of the anesthesia… it just makes everything seem so overwhelming.’
He just seemed to cry all the harder, sobbing as he started
to struggle against it.
I stroked my knuckles over his hair, nuzzling the top of his
head with my cheek. ‘Don’t fight it… just let it go…
you’re going to hurt yourself… just let it out, I’m here.’
‘Duo… oh God, Duo. I love you so much,’
he wept, his voice getting thick and unwieldy. ‘Why can’t it
be enough? I don’t know what to do…’
‘Hush, my love,’ I breathed against the top of
his head, and I felt the presence of that slavering beast, guilt. ‘It’s
more than enough. More than I ever dared to dream. I’m here to stay…
I’m not going anywhere.’
He was already exhausted from dinner and the bath and it wasn’t
long before he was asleep again, his fingers clutching mine, his head nestled
against the hollow of my shoulder.
Which left me with my ass precariously perched on the side
of the bed, twisted in a somewhat awkward position. I almost laughed out
loud when I realized I was trapped; I couldn’t possibly move without
waking him up. Something I would not do for the damn world right now.
LeAnn came back and I thought she was going to giggle her
ass off. ‘You look like a contortionist,’ she grinned at me
until she got a closer look at Heero’s face and noticed the tear stains.
Then she gave him a sympathetic little smile and set to work checking his
‘Not a word,’ I warned her with a frown. ‘He’d
die of embarrassment.’
She made that silly ‘locking lips’ gesture, finished
what she was doing and then looked at me thoughtfully. ‘How long are
you planning on staying like that?’
‘Until Hell freezes over if need be.’ I whispered
and gave her a look that just dared her to argue with me.
All I got was that grin again that told me we looked ‘cute
as hell’, and she came around and pulled one of the chairs up next
to the bed. ‘Here,’ she murmured and maneuvered my one foot
off the bed to rest on the chair seat. I grinned brightly at her; it took
a lot of the pressure off my back.
‘Thanks,’ I told her.
She just shook her head and rolled her eyes before leaving
us alone again. Leaving me alone again. I sighed and kissed the top of his
The sun had sunk below some other structure as it settled
toward the distant horizon and my pattern on the floor was gone. So I had
very little to distract myself with when the thought-hamsters put their
dog and pony show together and started parading dark thoughts around the
inside of my head.
I thought about Heero and the long haul we had ahead of us.
I realized that I knew very little about his condition. Had, perhaps, been
afraid to ask. I trusted that one of the guys would have told me anything
too terribly vital, and could only believe that we were merely faced with
a hospital stay and a long convalescence. And yeah, that ‘merely’
almost made me laugh when it popped into my head. I knew from personal experience
just how much ‘merely’ could suck.
I thought about Wufei and how bad he was going to feel when
he came back tomorrow and got a good look at my face. I’d taken a
peek at it when I’d been in the bathroom running Heero’s bath
water and it was a most delightful shade of purple and black, and swollen
to boot. I somehow hadn’t managed to keep Quatre’s icepack on
it for more than five minutes.
I thought about Trowa and wondered at his odd, stoic…
understanding. He seemed the only one willing to let me have my space, the
only one who understood what shaky ground I was on emotionally. Or at least…
the only one who understood, but wasn’t bent on pushing me on over
the crumbling damn edge.
I thought about Quatre and what a contrast he was to Trowa’s
steady… acceptance. My ‘little brother’ was hell bent
on making me break down somehow, was convinced that it would be good for
me to ‘get it out of my system’. He meant well, but he had no
understanding of how far a fall it was off the edge I was standing on. I’m
not sure there was a bottom down there anywhere.
Then the damn hamsters presented me with a mental picture
of Neo, his lanky frame curled in my co-pilot’s seat telling me about
losing absolutely everything in a single moment of unexplained time. I heard
his voice telling me, ‘It… never really goes away.’
Guilt-beast got into the act then, growling evilly from its
place under the bed and reminding me how long it had been since I’d
managed to send any money to Octavia and the kids at the Home. Who was next
oldest? Dear Lord, Ethan and Devon were the same damn age. I still had some
time before they got to be twelve years old, but it was a daunting idea
that I might have to come up with the money for the both of them at the
What in the hell was I going to do? I had that ‘Sisyphus’
feeling again, like I had my rock rolled almost to the top of the damn hill,
was holding it there with everything I had but was about to lose control
of it. I wondered if I could get out of its way this time, or if that rock
would crush me when I finally couldn’t hold my ground anymore.
I knew what I had to do. There really wasn’t any choice.
You would have thought that merely making a decision would make me feel
better, that having that uncertainty off my back would help ease things.
They say it’s supposed to. But… apparently not when the decision
isn’t the one you wanted to make.
It was very late when LeAnn came into the doorway with a nurse
whose nametag said ‘Pat’. They stood out in the hall and whispered
and grinned and I understood that shift change was happening. Pat looked
at us with that same damn grin on her face that LeAnn kept wearing and I
feared for a minute that she might come and pinch my cheek or something.
I waved good night to LeAnn with my free hand and they went away.
When Pat came for her first round of vital sign checks, she
surprised the hell out of me by bringing me a sandwich. I beamed at her
and wolfed the thing down, not even sure when my last meal had been. She
chuckled at me when she realized I had eaten the thing in the time it had
taken her to check temperature, pulse and blood pressure. She went away
without a word and came back with a bottle of apple juice.
‘Thank you,’ I grinned. ‘You’re a
She smirked. ‘It’s my job.’ Then she sobered
a little, looking down at Heero. ‘Whatever it takes to make sure I
don’t have another night like last night.’
That was the second reference I’d heard today about
Heero’s infamous first night here and I sighed, not able to leave
it alone this time. ‘What exactly happened?’
She gusted a sigh and made some adjustment to the IV. ‘His
partner dozed off and we found Mr. Yuy here half way down the hall, passed
out on the floor.’
‘Shit!’ I blurted and had to keep my fingers from
clutching at Heero’s hand.
‘Funny thing,’ she grinned. ‘That is exactly
what that nice Mr. Chang said when he woke up.’
She went away again, but at least I had my apple juice to
sip while my little thought-hamsters continued with their show. It was a
long damn night. One of the worst I can remember spending in a very long
time. Sleeping was impossible, so there was nothing to do but sit in my
twisted position, brushing the occasional kiss against Heero’s forehead
to soothe him when he stirred, and think.
By the time morning arrived, I would have welcomed Wufei coming
back and belting me again. Anything to stop the damn thought parade. I started
entertaining thoughts of picking off hamsters with a high-powered rifle.
They just giggled and flipped me off, dragging out old war memories in retaliation.
They had a bigger arsenal than I did. Yep. One hell of a long fucking night.
Quatre and Trowa arrived as soon as visiting hours rolled
around and I was both relieved and sorry, all at the same time. Quatre came
through the door with his mission face on, and I’m sure his goal was
to get me out of there and home to sleep. Which might not have been such
a God-awful idea if I had thought I could manage it… alone.
Trowa came straight to my side and put a hand in the small
of my back, his expert acrobat’s eye telling him what an uncomfortable
position I was in. I knew he was feeling my muscles trembling faintly with
the strain, but Heero had slept straight through the night and I wouldn’t
have them disturbing him.
‘Duo,’ he questioned. ‘How in the hell long
I shushed him, frowning darkly, ‘He had a bad night,
leave him alone.’
There was a heavy sigh from Trowa, but nothing more.
Quatre, at least, seemed oblivious to my position and was
taking the time to check Heero’s chart and looked pleased. He glanced
up at me and smiled, ‘You got him to eat?’
I nodded and he put the chart back and came to stand on the
opposite side of the bed from Trowa and me.
‘Duo…’ Quatre grimaced. ‘Your face
looks awful. I didn’t realize he hit you that…’
I quickly cut that off with a hard glare, ‘Yep. It was
a really hard table. That’s what I get for horsing around.’
He blinked at me for a second before looking past me to meet
Trowa’s eyes. I watched understanding bloom on his face and he frowned
at me unhappily.
‘I will not be the cause of anything coming between
Heero and his… table.’ I grated softly and watched that conversation
‘Duo,’ Trowa interjected himself into the silence.
‘Have you eaten?’
‘Yeah,’ I was able to confirm. ‘Pat brought
me a sandwich last night.’
‘Pat?’ he questioned.
‘The night nurse,’ I informed him, and as if on
cue the woman came into the doorway with a new guy in tow. Shift change,
again, I guessed. Pat was smiling at me with that damned dreamy look in
her eyes again, and if I’d entertained any hope that the new guy would
be immune to the whole ‘aren’t they adorable’ thing, I
saw that hope crushed as he beamed brightly at me. I waved goodbye to Pat
and she blew me a kiss. I think I sighed.
‘What was that all about?’ Trowa asked with a
bemused smile on his face.
‘We are,’ I groused, ‘apparently, too damn
‘cute’ for words. I get pointed out each time there’s
a shift change.’
I thought the two of them would bust a gut trying not to laugh
so loud they woke Heero up.
I was a little surprised when an hour passed and Wufei didn’t
show up. I had expected him to come back the minute visiting hours opened
up again. When I questioned it, I was informed that the three of them had
split the day into ‘shifts’. The night shift they had relinquished
to me, but Trowa and Quatre were expecting me to go home while they sat
with Heero through the day. Wufei would come in the afternoon and stay until
I came back. I mulled it over. I had not intended to leave, but I suppose
it made sense. I hadn’t really eaten much of anything in the last
day, I’m sure I needed a shower, and of course… there was that
whole sleep issue. But I sure as hell wasn’t going anywhere while
Heero was asleep. I would not have him waking up to find me gone. But Quatre
seemed to accept that without us even having to speak of it. They hadn’t
asked me to go yet… but I knew they would the minute Heero woke up.
I chewed on it for a bit and decided that if Heero seemed willing, it would
probably be a good idea. But if he showed the slightest reluctance…
forget it. They’d have to fight me.
Heero stirred beside me and I smoothed his hair and whispered
softly too him, as I had been all night, but this time he didn’t drift
Bleary, sweetly confused eyes blinked open and he smiled softly
to find me there. That look made the long hours of the night more than worth
‘Morning, sleepy-head,’ I whispered and kissed
the end of his nose, smiling down at him warmly. I got another couple of
seconds of that beatific, open smile before awareness began to come back
to him and it turned into a slight frown as he began to question things.
‘What time is it?’ he murmured and I felt him
jump slightly when Quatre answered him. He hadn’t realized immediately
that we had company.
‘Just after nine, Heero,’ Quatre said. ‘How
are you feeling?’
‘Better,’ Heero growled and I turned to reach
for the water glass. Trowa handed it to me when I couldn’t reach it.
I held it carefully to Heero’s lips while he sucked greedily at it.
He looked up at me with a frown when he was done and I took the cup away.
‘You haven’t been sitting here all night, have
you?’ he questioned, a worried look creeping into his eyes.
I ducked my head and turned it around on him. ‘I’m
sorry, Heero,’ I told him contritely. ‘I was tired and I didn’t
think you’d mind…’ I left it hang there, letting him come
to his own conclusions. I watched the frown clear away and he smiled softly.
‘Of course I don’t mind, but…’ he
glanced down but couldn’t really see how much of the bed I had from
that angle. ‘I didn’t think there was that much room.’
‘I don’t take up much room,’ I grinned at
him and realized I was going to have to get up, here in a minute. Not doing
it while he was asleep might have been a tactical error; both my legs were
Behind me, Trowa was standing with the water glass in his
hand and he cleared his throat with an odd deliberateness. ‘You know,
Quatre, this water isn’t very cold…’
Quatre was on it in a heartbeat, taking the pitcher and heading
for the nurse’s station to get fresh ice. As soon as he was out the
door, Trowa pushed the chair up next to the bed and I felt a hand grasp
the back of my jeans. I tried not to blush at the feel of Trowa’s
knuckles pressing against my ass and untangled myself from Heero, hoping
like hell that I wasn’t mistaking Trowa’s intentions. It was
slick. I moved; he pulled and lifted, and it looked for all the world like
I climbed out of that bed and sat - rather quickly - in the chair all on
my own. Heero never noticed a thing and I had to resist the urge to laugh
with delight. I tilted my head up to meet Trowa’s eyes and gave him
a mega-watt grin that was full force… I had an ally. Then the blood
began to find its way back into my extremities and I thought I was going
to squirm my way right out of the chair onto the damn floor. Trowa chuckled
at me, knowing damn well what kind of pain I was in but since it was my
own damn fault, I wasn’t getting any sympathy from him. For a second,
I felt a little dizzy, but I managed to cover that up when Quatre chose
that moment to return and Trowa’s attention went his way. I pretended
to watch Quatre come in with the fresh ice water along with everybody else,
while my blood settled and my head decided which direction was up. Now that
Trowa had me shifted out of the bed, he left my side and stopped hovering
near me, moving to help Quatre rearrange furniture to make room for all
When my sight cleared and I stopped feeling vaguely nauseous,
I glanced up to find Heero looking at me with an oddly unreadable look on
his face. He looked like he was getting ready to ask me something, so I
decided to deflect whatever it was before he could get started.
‘You going to eat breakfast without all the fuss this
morning?’ I grinned at him.
‘Not if I get anymore of that damn green slime,’
I laughed, ‘Oh… I think you’ll get a different
I managed to get the guys telling hospital food horror stories;
even managing to bow myself mostly out of the conversation all together.
I had decided that I would allow this ‘shift change’ of Heero-watching
to happen. I was going to attract too much attention to my own condition
if I insisted on staying here twenty-four hours a day. Heero would start
to worry, Quatre would start to hover and it wouldn’t take long before
one or the other of them figured out I wasn’t holding up so damn good.
In my head, I was forming a mission plan. Step one was to
stay long enough to get to be there when Heero’s Doctor showed up
and accumulate some damn information. Step two was… getting out of
the room without anybody noticing how bad my legs were shaking. We’d
see about step three if I managed step two.
The Doctor showed up, rather predictably, five minutes after
breakfast arrived. I was just starting to smirk over the fact that the jell-o
was orange when the man breezed into the room. I got a firm handshake and
an uncomfortably appraising once-over, his eyes lingering on my black and
‘The nurses tell me you didn’t try another nocturnal
sight-seeing trip last night, Mr. Yuy,’ the guy chuckled, giving the
chart a once over. ‘Glad to hear it.’
All he got from Heero was a grunt.
‘And you ate!’ he grinned, pulling out a stethoscope
and carefully blowing on it to warm it before pulling the blanket down to
listen to Heero’s abdomen. Everyone was quiet for the few minutes
it took. ‘Sounds good! I think we’ll be getting that drain tube
out tomorrow or the next day.’ I had to admit, the guy was damn perky.
I glanced at Heero and waded into the conversation. ‘So,
he didn’t hurt anything when he took his unscheduled hike?’
I got a growl from Heero, but a laugh from Dr. Warren.
‘Oh,’ he smirked. ‘I imagine he hurt himself
quite a bit. The question being… did he damage anything? The answer
being… no, despite his best efforts.’
The guy seemed willing to talk to me about Heero’s condition,
and all I was getting from the patient in question, was an unhappy look
but no real objections. So I questioned the good Doctor up one side and
down the other, until I felt like I had all the information I was going
We were probably looking at a solid week in the hospital before
he was released to go home. Dr. Warren didn’t want him back to work
for weeks yet, and then to limited duty. I knew that was where my real fight
lay and resisted the urge to sigh thinking about it. All major internal
organs had miraculously been left unscathed, though they had been really
concerned for his left kidney for a while. All the damage had been in the
bowel area, which had made for a damn dangerous situation, but the Doctor
was confident that all the damage was completely repaired. Monitoring for
infection was the biggest concern right now and most of the reason we wouldn’t
be going home for a bit yet. I found Heero’s hand in mine and wasn’t
sure which one of us had reached out.
I started feeling unspoken communication zipping around that
room the minute the Doctor left. I didn’t fight it. When it was delicately
suggested that I go back to the apartment for the day and return in the
evening to relieve Wufei, I stretched and yawned and reluctantly agreed.
Insisting only that Heero eat his breakfast before I would go. It served
to make him eat even though I could tell he didn’t really want it.
I gave him a quick kiss goodbye and knew just how distracted he was by the
pain and the drugs when it didn’t dawn on him that I didn’t
have a way home.
I was elated when I got out of that room on my own two feet.
Step two complete.
So I gathered up my hamsters and my silent ghosts, gave a
jerk on the leash of my drooling guilt-beast and walked the hell out of
that place. I had things to do.
Shower. Food. Sleep. Those were important goals, all. But
first I was going down to implement phase one in my new life.
I had taken that job to L3 thinking that I could bull my way
through this the way I bulled my way through everything else. I had learned
on the streets that when you were afraid, you had to just suck it up and
do what had to be done. I had learned piloting a Gundam in the war that
when you were afraid, you had to get flaming, wicked, insanely pissed and
just do what had to be done. Then life had taught me what real fear was.
I’d had a lot of things to dread in my life… but I’d never
had to be scared of my own mind eating me alive before.
I wasn’t a pilot anymore. I wasn’t in the salvage
business anymore. I could not do it. The accident in the belt had broken
me. What reason did I have to own a ship? None. It was time to face up to
the facts and just get the hell on with it. I would not become another Neo.
I would not try to be what I was not. I would walk away from it before the
trying of the thing cost me more than it already had.
I hailed a cab, had him stop off at one of those mailing places
where I bought a stack of packing boxes. Then I had him take me to the docks.
It took me the better part of three hours to pack up all my
stuff. There really wasn’t all that much when you got right down to
it. My clothes, my books, my little box of photographs. A box of oddball
things that I had accumulated over the years. A hand-full of tools. Fuzzy-butt.
My art supplies. I packed up the little bit of food that was left in the
When I was done with that, and had the pathetically small
number of boxes stacked by the cargo bay door, I went into the cockpit and
logged into the dock-net. I posted for sale the spare suits I had bought
for Her Majesty the Queen’s trip to L2, on the message boards. Then
I hunted up a local tool rental place and checked the price and availability
of a heavy-duty paint stripper. I reserved it for the day after next. That
done, I called the cab back and went to cart my stuff out to the hanger
door, locking my ship down when I left.
It crossed my mind to apologize to her; to my fair and loyal
lady, but I didn’t want to tell her just yet. She’d figure it
out soon enough. I sat on my pile of boxes waiting for my ride and watched
guilt try and gnaw my leg off at the knee. The thought-hamsters kept trying
to talk to me about ghosts, but I was getting numb.
The cab driver, when he finally arrived, helped me load my
boxes into the trunk and I was oddly depressed about my life fitting into
that small space with room left over. He tried to make small talk while
he drove me back to Heero’s apartment, but I just couldn’t seem
to rise to meet the conversation. I tipped him well enough when we got there,
and he actually helped me carry the boxes upstairs.
I took them into my bedroom after he was gone and just stacked
them along the wall by the dresser. In a fit of melancholy, I unboxed Fuzzy-butt
and put him on my bed, but he looked so damn out of place there, that I
ended up stuffing him in the closet.
I stripped and showered, thoroughly soaking the damn guilt-beast
when he refused to stop chewing on me. I combed and braided my hair, doing
my best to not look at myself in the mirror. I rebound my arm and dressed
in clean clothes. Two ration bars and a protein drink later, I had almost
met all my goals for the day.
Sleep. I’d saved the best for last. Just thinking about
it made the apartment suddenly seem as silent as a tomb. I knew beyond a
shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t be sleeping a minute in this place…
I thought about it long and hard. I had to get some sleep.
I had already been going for over forty-eight hours. I was getting groggy
and fuzzy-minded. My hands were shaking and my knees felt rubbery. But I
knew damn well if I laid down in this empty apartment I would end up staring
at the ceiling until it was time to go back to the hospital. It actually
crossed my mind to go find a damn park bench somewhere. I had to get some
rest or I would never make it through another night with Heero.
Sleep…but with company. How hard could that be? Then
it hit me and with a grin, I finished dressing and trotted out of the building.
Across the street and down two blocks was a small strip mall with a movie
theatre. I bought a ticket to the first matinee based strictly on the length
of the film. There was something playing with a French sounding name, which
ran just at three hours. There were not a ton of people there at that time
of day, but there were enough. I parked myself in a back corner, and with
the hum of human voices all around me, was asleep before the previews started.
I suppose I should have been worried about exposing myself
in that way, making myself vulnerable in a public place. But weighed against
the alternative, it seemed a fair risk.
My subconscious roused me when the lights came up. All told,
I managed almost three and a half hours. I bought a soda at the concession
stand on my way out of the theatre.
I managed to shake my guilt for a little bit, basking in the
pale glow of the small victory of having accomplished all my objectives
for the day. I even had the presence of mind to ditch the soda cup with
the theatre logo before I walked into the hospital. Aren’t you proud?
I heard their quiet voices as I neared the room and couldn’t
resist slowing my pace to hear as much as I could before they saw me.
‘You can’t fault him for worrying about you, Heero,’
I heard Wufei say.
‘I’m not… I just don’t understand
why he won’t tell me what happened,’ Heero’s voice sounded
tired and drained, and guilt-beast was back with a vengeance.
‘He is obviously fine now, whatever happened,’
Wufei soothed. ‘He will tell you in his own time. How can you not
understand his not wanting to burden you with something like that right
There was the sound of a heavy sigh and I found myself lingering
outside the room, loath to go in and interrupt their conversation.
‘I’m scared for him, ‘Fei,’ Heero
all but whispered.
‘I know you are, my friend,’ Wufei’s voice
held an almost tender note to it that I had never heard before. ‘You
two found your way to each other against all odds, after all these years…
just give him some time.’
‘There’s something wrong… and I don’t
know how to be there for him.’ Guilt damn near disemboweled me right
there in the hall.
There was the soft sound of Wufei’s amusement. ‘You
are hardly in a position to do much of anything right now. Like it or not…
it’s your turn to have to be patient and let yourself heal.’
‘I just want…’ Heero began, voice sounding
‘I know what you want,’ Wufei chuckled darkly.
‘But I’m not going to spy on him. He will share whatever happened
on the trip to L3 with you when he sees fit. I won’t go sneaking around
behind his back investigating him like a criminal. He is my friend too…
I won’t betray that.’
Ok… that was enough of that. I walked into the room
with a bright smile… or as bright as I could get it without stretching
the muscles too much on the black and blue side of my face.
‘Hey, Wufei,’ I greeted. ‘You look like
you’re feeling better tonight.’
‘Amazing what a difference it makes not having to arm-wrestle
this lout all night,’ Wufei quipped and then turned to look at me.
His eyes flew wide and I swear for a moment I thought he was going to burst
into tears. ‘Oh my God… Duo…’ he breathed, voice
full of shame and guilt.
I forced the grin to spread wider. ‘Looks like hell,
doesn’t it?’ I chirped with a bright laugh. ‘I told you
I hit it a good one on that table… but you just laughed at me!’
I could see in his eyes that he wasn’t going to play
my game with me and I tried giving him a glare, but he ignored it.
‘Duo,’ he said softly. ‘I already confessed.’
‘Shit,’ I muttered and turned to face the music.
‘Don’t blame him, Heero… I provoked the whole thing…’
He was just lying there, looking up at me with the strangest
amused sadness in his eyes. It was the most perplexing expression I had
ever seen him wear and I just shut up.
‘You going to kiss me hello?’ he asked gently
and what could I do but comply?
‘How are you feeling today?’ I asked softly when
we parted. We were, apparently, not going to discuss his partner cleaning
my clock. Who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth?
‘Better,’ he sighed.
‘Liar,’ I grinned at him and he blushed.
I turned my attention to Wufei, catching him staring at my
face. With a sigh and a glare in his direction, I changed sides of the bed
so that my battered jaw was turned away from him. ‘So… did he
There was a snort. ‘If you can call that lunch.’
So we made fun of the food for a little bit. It came to me
suddenly; that was why hospital food was so bad… it was a conversation
piece. It was done quite deliberately to give people something to talk about.
I didn’t share the observation.
Wufei stayed for a little longer, and he was very much more
relaxed. The stress and guilt that had been etched in his face the day before
had eased, only returning when he caught a glimpse of my face. More than
once he looked like he would speak of it again, but I refused to meet his
eyes while he had that expression on his face. He’d already apologized…
what else was there to say?
LeAnn bustled in and did the vital sign thing, declaring that
dinner would be arriving soon and Wufei made his excuses and left.
‘I missed you,’ Heero murmured when we were alone
and I took it to mean that he was feeling the weight of the pain and the
drugs, feeling the sharp edge of his confinement. I sat carefully on the
side of the bed and leaned down to wrap my arms around his shoulders.
‘I’m here now,’ I told him warmly and felt
his arms go tight around my waist. I stroked his hair and whispered soft
nonsense in his ear. Remembering how utterly devastating this could be.
This… helplessness. The feeling of being betrayed by your own body,
of being trapped by things that were suddenly out of your control. I remembered
how difficult it was to cope with all the well-meaning people. Sometimes,
when you were like this, simple conversation was beyond your ability. All
you wanted to do was sleep and make everything go away for a little while,
but there were all the visitors who needed to be acknowledged and dealt
with. Talked to and reassured. ‘You don’t have to be strong
for me right now,’ I murmured softly. ‘It’s your turn
He relaxed his grip and leaned back to gaze up at me, his
eyes suspiciously bright. ‘I was abysmal at this, wasn’t I?’
he said, trying to make it light but not able to hide the hint of pain in
I smiled down at him, and settled him back into his pillows.
‘No, you were not.’
‘I didn’t know any of the right things to do…
everything you do for me… I didn’t know. I just didn’t
know.’ His eyes were searching mine, looking for some hint of reproach
‘And just how do you think I learned?’ I chuckled
at him. ‘If the timing had been reversed, I wouldn’t have known
either. You’ll do better next time.’
I knew the joke was the wrong one when he frowned darkly.
‘Don’t say that. I don’t want there to ever be a next
‘Heero,’ I sighed and stroked my knuckles over
his cheek. ‘Stop worrying so much, you’re not helping yourself
get better. It’s your turn to be taken care of, you were there for
me when I needed you… let me be here for you.’
‘You still need,’ he blurted, as though getting
something said that he’d been thinking about for some time. ‘You’re
still recovering… I don’t want you putting yourself through
this kind of stress…’
I cut him off with a chuckle. ‘Spending time with you
is not stressful, Heero. This is where I want to be.’
He frowned again, my good humor seeming to get on his nerves.
‘Did you go to therapy today?’
It caught me totally flatfooted. I had completely forgotten
about it and he saw it in my eyes before I had a chance to even think about
covering it up, so I bulled forward and let the shocked expression claim
my face. ‘Shit! I completely forgot about it!’
He made the assumption that I would have gone if I had remembered
and I didn’t disillusion him. ‘Duo… love, you have got
to take better care of yourself.’ It was a reprimand, but the affection
was plain in his face.
‘Yes sir,’ I grinned at him and dinner arrived
then, stopping that line of conversation.
I helped him eat and when LeAnn came back around to collect
the tray I asked her for the bath stuff again and the paraphernalia to wash
his hair. She left to fetch it with that wistful look in her eyes.
When I glanced back down at Heero he was looking so conflicted,
a bastard mix of worry and gratitude, that it made me smile. ‘Stop
worrying so damn much. I like making you feel better.’
‘It’s a lot of work,’ he grumbled, but his
heart wasn’t in it. He wanted to be clean, wanted to be shifted off
his back for a while, wanted the fresh gown. I’d been where he was
and knew just how much you looked forward to being free of that damn smell
even if it was just for a little while.
I leaned down and nuzzled his cheek. ‘It is good for
me to make you happy. It released endorphins into my blood stream that lower
my blood pressure and extend my life span. If you’re in here long
enough, getting to wash your sweaty ass every day may actually result in
my living to be a hundred years old.’
It took a second, but I got the laugh. Then it dawned on us
that making a person with an abdominal wound laugh was not the best thing
in the world to do. I held his shoulders tight until he managed to control
‘Sorry,’ I murmured when he settled again, but
when I drew back he was smiling up at me, truly smiling.
‘I love you,’ he said simply.
‘I love you too,’ I responded.
LeAnn chose that moment to come back with the bath stuff and
I thought she would melt into a puddle on the floor.
Washing his hair was an exercise in patience, involving putting
the bed down flat and sliding him up until he was hanging over the edge.
I had to support his head and wash at the same time. It took two buckets
and a lot of water and LeAnn actually stayed and helped me with that part.
It took a lot to keep from soaking the bed. She went away when that was
done and I let him rest for a bit before I tackled the bath.
He got his pain pills somewhere in there, and once he was
clean and changed, with as full a stomach as he was going to get on his
liquid diet, exhaustion began to creep up on him.
I watched his eyes droop, not able to keep the tender smile
off my face. He looked so much younger hovering there on the edge of sleep,
eyes heavy-lidded and almost innocent.
‘Will you… lay with me again today?’ he
suddenly asked, longing plain in his voice.
What the hell could I say? ‘Of course, love.’
So I crawled up on the side of the bed, knowing enough to
position my chair for support first, and settled him in my arms.
‘You need… to rest,’ was the last thing
he murmured before drifting off and I almost snorted out loud. The sweet
idiot thought I was sleeping with him. Thought that I was lying here all
night and resting. I gingerly kissed the top of the head nestled against
me and smiled.
‘Sleep well, my heart,’ I whispered and settled
in to see what the thought-hamsters would find to entertain me with tonight.
I’d only thought the night before had been the longest of my life.
I made a mental note to get the hell out of the bed before he woke, this
time; I doubted Trowa would help me again.
I suppose it was all his talk, feeling as though he hadn’t
done enough for me during my own hospital stay that did it, but I spent
the majority of the night thinking about those days. Remembering the pain.
Remembering the unbearable frustration of being totally dependent. Remembering
the sucking black hole of depression. It made me think about the accident
again and more than once, I had to stop myself from clutching at Heero’s
hand where he had it wrapped around mine. Sometimes… if I thought
about it too much, it got hard to breathe… felt like there was a great
weight sitting on my chest. It was a night like that.
By morning I had a screaming headache. I managed to find a
position that let me hold and comfort Heero without totally losing the feeling
in my legs, though I had to sacrifice my shoulders and back to the cause
to do it. I thought the daylight would never come.
But it was worth it; when Heero had roused through the night,
I had been there to whisper and soothe, to reassure and comfort. I saw to
it that he slept, and slept well.
I tried to ease out of the bed before visiting hours opened
up again, before Quatre and Trowa showed up. I suspected that Trowa wouldn’t
leave it alone if he found me all twisted and in pain again, no matter how
much Heero wanted me here.
I barely had my feet on the floor when Heero stirred and reached
after me. ‘Duo… what’s wrong?’
‘Go back to sleep,’ I mollified. ‘I just
have to go to the bathroom.’
He mumbled something, but let go of my hand. I shook my head
and went off to the restroom, my reasoning for staying close beside him
all night completely confirmed.
I did some stretches while I was out of sight, as much as
I could manage in the tiny bathroom. I washed my face and did my best to
smooth my hair. Looking in the mirror, I had to admit that I looked like
total shit. My eyes were blood-shot and dark-circled, the bruising on my
jaw making my face look pale. This was going to take some light-footed dancing
to get the hell out of here without alarming anybody. I wished I had my
sunglasses with me, but I suppose wearing them inside the hospital would
only arouse suspicion anyway. I sighed and went back out to sit with Heero
while I waited for the guys to show up.
He was dozing, but fitfully, and calmed visibly when I sat
down in the chair beside the bed and took his hand.
His reaction to my few minutes of absence worried me; what
was he doing all day while I was gone? Was he staying awake the whole time?
Is that why he slept so much at night, because he was so tired from staying
up? Was he just sitting here fretting and agonizing until I came back? Guilt-beast
crept out from under the bed and latched onto my ankle, gnawing happily.
I vowed to try to get back earlier this evening. I sure as hell wished the
guilt-beast and the thought-hamsters were something I could organize and
control; I could send them off on errands. If I could teach them to strip
paint and do laundry, I’d have it made. I envisioned hamsters in little
Maganac outfits, complete with fez. That image left me blinking and I decided
I’d totally freaking lost my mind.
I started the damn dancing the minute Quatre and Trowa walked
through the door. Laugh and grin… constant movement. It’s hard
to focus on a moving target. I kept my face turned toward whoever wasn’t
looking. Found things to do with my hands. Engaged Aaron, the day nurse,
in conversation whenever he came into the room… he didn’t know
me well enough to question how I looked.
When I said my goodbyes to Heero, I playfully brushed his
nose with the end of my braid, causing his eyes to flutter closed automatically.
Then I kissed him in a manner that ensured his eyes stayed closed for the
duration. By the time he was able to focus again, I had danced my way out
of his line of sight. I thought of it as the ‘evasion waltz’,
and I personally think I’m rather good at it.
I escaped without a single person stopping me to ask what
the hell was wrong. I grinned all the way out to the street.
Today’s goals included phase two of ship evacuation,
food, a change of clothes and sleep. Not necessarily in that order.
I took the extra couple of minutes to nail down the closest
bus stop; cabs were getting too damn expensive. I discovered that there
was one right there at the hospital, across the street from the front entrance.
I caught the number five just before it pulled out and was able to ride
it all the way out to the docks for less than a quarter of what the cab
rides had been costing me.
Walking up the ramp into the cargo bay felt… oddly like
an invasion. My Demon-girl wasn’t happy with me and I could feel it
as I made my way into what used to be my safest sanctuary. What used to
be my home. Home wasn’t very welcoming any more. My Lady knew…
maybe Solo told her.
I didn’t even have to tug on guilt-beast’s leash…
he walked at heel now, without being told. My constant companion.
Well, there was nothing to do but get to work. The easiest
next step was probably going to be removing the pictures from the cockpit.
Not nearly as large an undertaking as stripping the murals from the cargo
bay was going to be, nor as… hard to think about, as destroying the
ones in the locked cabin. I really wasn’t all that keen on thinking
about that yet.
So I found a palette knife that would serve as a paint scraper
and spent the next three hours in the cockpit with my music blaring while
I picked and rubbed, scraped and lost knuckles. But when I was done, all
the photographs were gone and all that was left was my dried-blood walls.
If the new owner didn’t like the color, they could change it.
Then it was back to the apartment where I found I had no clean
long-sleeved shirts left; an absolute must if I wanted to avoid the ‘what’s
wrong with your arm’ conversation with Heero. I was so fucking far
gone that I stood in the middle of the apartment for five full minutes trying
to decide whether I could get away with not changing or if I should go ahead
and take the time to do some laundry now. Decision-making was become difficult
and that told me more than anything else just how sleep-deprived I was getting.
In the end, I delved into Heero’s closet and borrowed
one of his clean shirts. It was a little roomy across the shoulder, but
otherwise should do just fine, and I had the laundry excuse if he questioned
I stood in the kitchen with the refrigerator door open, eating
what I could find that would answer my bodies needs. Protein and iron, electrolytes
and… caffeine. Ok…ok… maybe they weren’t all needs.
I sucked down a couple of raw eggs and found a box of raisins.
There were protein drinks and the ever-present ration bars. Potassium was
a good thing and I ate a couple of bananas that were on the verge of being
too soft to be really good. I even dug out the bottle of vitamins that I
had been prescribed right after the accident.
Then I was down my list to the sleep issue, and headed out
for the movies again. Maybe I’d get lucky and they’d be running
a double feature today.
The best I could do was the French-flick again and I settled
in my corner feeling like some kind of bizarre vagrant. I was asleep before
the lights dimmed. My last conscious thought was wondering if the damn movie
was even any good.
I didn’t wake when the lights came back up, but instead
was mortified when I was roused by the poor usher that had been sent in
to wake up the fruitcake in the back row.
I blinked up at him and managed to mutter something inane
about it being a damn boring movie, and staggered off to the concession
stand for my soda.
I drank it on the cab ride and bought a second one from the
vending machine in the lobby of the hospital.
On a sudden inspiration, I stopped in the little pharmacy
next to the gift shop in that same lobby and bought a bottle of those eye
drops that are supposed to clear bloodshot eyes. I put them in on the elevator
ride up. I even made the effort to pat my own cheeks enough that I knew
it would bring a little color to my face. Show time.
I waltzed into the room with a bright smile, sipping at my
bottle of soda. I was surprised as hell to find Heero asleep, Wufei sitting
in a chair beside the bed watching over him.
I slipped in and took the chair on the opposite side of the
bed, turning myself slightly sideways so I wasn’t looking directly
‘Hey,’ I greeted him softly.
‘You’re early,’ he responded in a carefully
‘I wasn’t sure he was sleeping when I wasn’t
here,’ I confessed. ‘I thought I’d try to get here sooner…
just in case.’
He sighed heavily. ‘You… are right, he doesn’t
normally sleep much during the day.’
I glanced across at him, over the form of an obviously sleeping
Heero. ‘Is something wrong then?’ I asked worriedly.
‘They took the drain tube out today… and let him
try to get up and walk a little.’ I couldn’t tell from his tone
of voice how that went.
‘Everything… go ok?’ I ventured when he
didn’t elaborate and I got a nod.
‘He’s just tired… and they doped him up
pretty well before he went for his walk. The pain medicine helps him sleep…
when the idiot will take it.’
I jerked my head around and looked at him sharply. ‘He
hasn’t been taking his medicine during the day?’
He snorted as though it were a given, but then he glanced
away from Heero and caught the look on my face. ‘He’s taking
it at night?’
‘I don’t give him a choice,’ I told him
He gave me an odd little grunt and I sighed in consternation,
rubbing at eyes that I hoped weren’t as red as they had been. What
the hell was I going to do about this? I’d have to talk to LeAnn and
Pat about the timing of his dosage. If I could work it out so that they
gave him some right before I left in the morning, he’d only be missing
the dose in the afternoon.
‘God,’ I muttered. ‘Why does he have to
be so damn stubborn?’
Wufei almost choked to death trying not to laugh, he did everything
but bite his own knuckles. ‘Maxwell… that’s the funniest
thing I’ve heard all day! You, of all people, complaining about somebody
I refrained from comment and sipped at my soda.
We sat in silence for a little bit after that, just watching
Heero sleep. I should have kept the conversation going, kept him occupied,
but my brain was having a little trouble with that multi-tasking thing.
Right now I was drinking soda… witty repartee was just out. I caught
him looking at me, but didn’t have the time to deflect him.
‘Duo,’ he ventured quietly. ‘Are you all
I repressed a cringe. ‘I just can’t help…
worrying about him,’ I evaded.
He sighed in exasperation. ‘You two are going to have
matching ulcers in another couple of years.’
I chuckled. ‘Think it’ll take that long?’
He might have pushed it a little farther, but Aaron came in
then to check Heero’s blood pressure and temperature. They were still
monitoring very closely for infection. I verbally latched onto the poor
guy and shamelessly used him to deflect Wufei’s attention to other
things besides me and my condition.
Wufei left not long after, taking advantage of my early arrival
to go on home. I sighed with relief when he was gone.
I sat for a while and regarded my sleeping lover, thinking
about the fact that I hadn’t been there today for those milestones
of his recovery. Had not been there to hold his hand when that drain tube
came out. Had not been there for him to lean on as he made his first halting
steps down the hall and back. Guilt-beast stopped his gnawing long enough
to leer up at me from his place on the floor.
As soon as I get done with what I have to do, I promised the
beast. I’ll be here for him… nothing is going to stop me. I
just have to get finished… not that much longer.
Beast quit his leering and went back to trying to remove my
leg with his slathering fangs. The hamsters were delighted with their early
time slot and trotted out the floorshow they had arranged for the occasion,
waving banners with miniature copies of the murals from the room from hell.
Trying to make me think about having to go in that room all alone. Trying
to make me think about actually destroying one of those paintings. I’d
never really done that, not one of my own. Guess I was gonna find out if
it could be done.
Shift change happened and LeAnn stopped by to talk to me a
little bit. I brought up the pill issue and she agreed with a rather wicked
grin to alter the schedule for me.
He slept until dinner, waking when LeAnn roused him to eat.
He was pleased to find me there and managed to stay awake for a couple of
hours while I fed and bathed him, and gave him another massage. I kept moving
enough that he didn’t really seem to be able to focus on me, though
he did notice the shirt and I had to laughingly tease him about not getting
the laundry done while I was gone. It seemed to please him somehow, to see
me wearing his clothes, for which I was grateful, because it further distracted
him. It helped immensely that he was on his pain medication tonight as well
and just woozy enough that my condition was easily covered with laughter
And in the first piece of luck I’d had in days, he fell
asleep while I was still massaging his chest and arms, before he had a chance
to try to get me to lie down with him. So I was able to settle in the chair
by the bed, pulled up close enough that I could hold his hand and keep him
calmed, but not in that twisted pretzel position that had been killing me
the last couple of nights. I even managed to fall into a light sleep myself,
with him there close by, and augmented my paltry three hours. It was probably
the most sleep I’d had at a stretch since that night in the clinic
on L3. I took it as a sign that I was on the right track and vowed to get
straight to work in the morning on the ship. No time like the present and
all that shit.
I was caught by surprise by Trowa and Quatre, and they found
me asleep with my head resting on the side of the bed, my good arm twined
with Heero’s. I came to myself when I heard their voices but stayed
where I was for a second out of some ages old habit.
‘… have been so stupid! I never thought!’
I heard Quatre saying as they came into the room.
‘Well, he never mentioned it,’ Trowa responded
soothingly and I heard them coming closer.
‘That’s beside the point,’ Quatre grumbled.
‘One of us should have asked.’
I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to know, but figured I
was going to have to enter the conversation sooner or later, so I raised
my head and yawned by way of greeting.
Quatre was on me instantly, ‘Duo… how have you
been getting home in the morning?’
I blinked up at him in surprise. Well, of all the things for
him to decide to get worried about. ‘The way I always get around,
Qat; cabs and buses. Why?’
He gusted a sigh and glared at me in irritation. ‘Why
didn’t you say something? One of us could have driven you.’
I chuckled, ‘It’s no big deal, the bus stop is
right out front. There’s a bus that runs straight from here to the
docks in the morning.’
Ooops. I saw from the twin looks on their faces that I had
just slipped up in a major way, so I just shut up and regrouped, and waited
for one of them to say something to see how they had taken that.
‘The docks?’ Trowa questioned gently. ‘You
aren’t going back to the apartment?’
I kept a completely neutral expression on my face and said,
‘I’ve been sleeping in my cabin… why?’
They exchanged a look. It was one of those couple’s
looks. The ones I really hate when other people are using them. Something
passed between them that I couldn’t read. I cringed inwardly, waiting
for the questioning to begin, but Heero chose that moment to wake up.
His fingers tightened on mine convulsively when he didn’t
find me in bed next to him. I turned away from Trowa and Quatre, moving
up out of the chair to the side of the bed. ‘I’m right here,
Sleeping Beauty,’ I teased and it served to embarrass him enough that
he started out on uneven ground. I was hoping that having managed some sleep,
even if it was in a straight-backed chair, had improved my appearance somewhat.
I didn’t dance the evasion waltz quite so hard, relaying mostly on
bright smiles and teasing to mask my current location on the border between
‘emotional turmoil’ and ‘physical collapse’.
LeAnn and Pat furthered my efforts of keeping Heero off balance
by showing up with his pain medication just before I was ready to leave.
I grinned. Heero glared. I smirked. Heero balked.
‘I don’t want it,’ he growled at me and
I noted the unmistakable signs of Pat giving ground.
‘Ah, but dearest,’ I chuckled, taking the pills
from her. ‘You are mistaking me for someone who cares that you don’t
want it. You need it.’
‘It makes me groggy,’ he complained and I almost
laughed at the petulant sound of his voice.
‘It helps you sleep,’ I smiled benignly. ‘Little
birds have told me that you aren’t sleeping during the day at all.’
He opened his mouth to argue some more and I leaned down to give him my
own little glare. ‘Pay-back’s a bitch… isn’t it?’
His mouth snapped shut and he flushed hotly, but he grabbed
the pills from me and took them. Then he turned to face me dead on and opened
his mouth wide to pointedly demonstrate that he’d swallowed them.
Oddly, I felt like I’d been slapped. I remembered the
last time I’d had to push him into taking his medicine and I had kissed
him to verify that the pills had indeed been swallowed. It had been a balm
on the tiny sting of the little altercation. An apology on my part for forcing
the issue, an apology on his part for fighting me. He had just demonstrated
that he didn’t want that kiss this time. Pain sparked in my chest
as the center of my universe figuratively pushed me away. I think it showed
on my face for a second, because all the anger washed out of him in the
next moment and he was reaching for me.
I leaned down to rest my head against his. ‘I’m
sorry,’ he murmured.
‘It’s all right,’ I whispered in return.
‘That’s the best part about being in the hospital… you’re
allowed to be grumpy. It’s expected, actually.’
‘Duo…’ he sighed softly. ‘I love you.
You know that… don’t you?’
I snorted softly and drew back to smile warmly for him. ‘I
didn’t think you married me for my money.’
He looked… unsure of me. Not sure if he should take
the teasing at face value or if I was hiding behind it. I turned the smile
up and reached to brush his hair from his eyes. Then I suddenly remembered
the room full of people and blushed, turning to look and was surprised to
find we were alone. ‘Well… at least we have discreet friends…’
I began and was brought up short by the screaming pain that lanced up my
While my attention had been diverted, he had reached to stroke
his hands up and down my arms. I thought I would die. I covered it by suddenly
leaning down and burying my head in the hollow of his shoulder, his hands
let go and shifted to wrap around my shoulders. I could have wept with relief.
‘Duo?’ he questioned softly, concern evident in
‘I love you too,’ I murmured in reply and just
let him hold me for a minute. When I drew back, it was all safely covered
up and I grinned for him. ‘I have to be going.’
‘I know,’ he sighed, and then caught me rather
flat, a position I seemed to be occupying a lot lately. ‘You won’t
forget therapy again today, will you?’
‘Not now that you’ve reminded me,’ I chuckled
and kissed him lightly.
I attempted to take my leave then but hadn’t counted
on Quatre’s solicitousness, and found myself with company on the walk
out of the hospital. Apparently, Trowa was driving me home.
‘So,’ he ventured into the uncomfortable silence
that arose after we were away from Heero and Quatre. ‘Am I taking
you to the apartment, or to your ship?’
I mentally went over my plans for the day. With the bonus
of the sleep I had gotten last night, I fully intended to spend the whole
day working on my ship. I might stop for a quick theatre catnap, depending
on how well I held up to the job of paint stripping, but other than that
I was hoping to get a large part of this job behind me.
‘The ship, I think,’ I told him, unable to judge
his reaction to the news.
The elevator arrived on the ground floor and we walked across
the lobby. ‘You know…’ I glanced up at his rather impressive
height. ‘You really don’t have to drive me, the bus stop is
right there and the bus to the docks will be here any minute.’
He gave me one of those inscrutable glances, all the more
piercing out here in the daylight and snorted softly. ‘If Quatre didn’t
skin me alive… Heero would.’
I chuckled as we made our way across the street to the outdoor
‘You really should have said something, Duo,’
he said then. ‘It’s no trouble.’
I shrugged, uncomfortable. ‘I didn’t think about
it. I don’t normally have to go anywhere that’s outside walking
distance, but when I do I use the bus all the time.’ I grinned at
him, ‘I really don’t see your guy’s problem with public
He didn’t speak until he had the car doors unlocked
and we were inside. ‘It surprises me that you don’t own a car,’
he quirked me a small grin. ‘I remember how you were always tinkering
with the ones we had for our cover during the war.’
I chuckled, remembering some of those old beaters, and flashed
him a wide grin. ‘I just graduated up to something bigger!’
Then I thought about that remark a little harder and the grin faded some.
He didn’t seem to notice, but laughed at the joke. It
got quiet while he pulled the car out on the road. I could see him casting
surreptitious glances my way and turned slightly toward the window, just
in case my face still looked like shit.
‘Duo?’ he said softly and I glanced his way. He
wasn’t looking at my face. ‘There’s blood on your sleeve.’
I glanced down and saw the truth of it. ‘Well hell,’
I muttered and just stared at it for a minute. It wasn’t much, really,
but Heero must have pulled the stitches and I hadn’t noticed. Thank
God he hadn’t noticed either.
‘What happened? Trowa prompted.
‘Heero…’ I began, not sure how to word it
so it didn’t sound stupid.
‘He doesn’t know, does he?’
I sighed. ‘No. Not for lack of badgering, but…
he’d have a cow, so I won’t tell him what happened.’
There was a long silence and then, softly, ‘You know
it’s making him crazy, don’t you?’
‘Yeah,’ I admitted grudgingly, letting my head
fall back against the headrest, ‘but it’s gonna make him even
crazier when he sees it.’
He looked across at me as he maneuvered the car through traffic.
‘You aren’t going to tell me how it happened, are you?’
‘Nope,’ I agreed companionably.
It was his turn to sigh. ‘Duo… you’ve got
everybody worried half sick…’ he began and I couldn’t
help myself; I laughed.
‘What?’ he frowned defensively, surprised at my
‘I just figured out why I usually take the bus,’
He blinked and couldn’t help a small chuckle. ‘Ok…
I give. But listen to me, Duo, you have friends who are more than willing
to help you. All you have to do is ask.’
He looked embarrassed, but I didn’t doubt he meant it.
‘I… I’ll remember that,’ I told him
solemnly. ‘Thank you.’
We drove a little bit more in silence, but it felt a little
more… companionable somehow.
‘Hey, Trowa?’ I ventured after a couple of miles.
He hummed his response. I hunched a little bit and made a
point of looking out my side window, I knew I was blushing. ‘I just
wanted to tell you thanks… for the other morning. I couldn’t
have gotten up by myself.’
He chuckled. ‘You’re welcome. Though I have to
admit I was glad to see you didn’t try it again today. It’s
a wonder you were able to walk out of the room.’
I didn’t tell him how damn difficult it had been. ‘Heero
fell asleep last night before he had a chance to ask me,’ I murmured
without thinking about it too much.
‘He’s been asking you to sit like that all night?’
he blurted, and gave me an incredulous look.
I frowned, wishing I could get myself to a point where my
brain was engaging faster than my mouth. ‘He doesn’t realize,
ok?’ I growled, daring him to give me a hard time about it. ‘He
sleeps better with me there and he thinks I’m sleeping too. He doesn’t
know… so just leave it alone.’
‘Ok,’ he sighed. ‘Ok… relax. I won’t
say a word. It’s your business.’
There was silence again, but it was a little more strained.
He didn’t speak again until we entered the dockyard and were getting
close to my berth.
‘Just… Duo,’ he said suddenly. ‘I
don’t think he can take anything happening to you right now…
if you won’t take care of yourself for your own sake… take care
of yourself for his.’
He pulled the car up and stopped in front of my hanger while
I sat and gaped at him. I finally managed, ‘I’m doing the best
I can.’ Then I got out of the car and he drove away. I just stood
and watched him go, watched the car recede into the distance until it was
gone. I kept standing there, waiting for the paint stripper to be delivered
by the rental place; it was due any minute anyway. It was a clear morning,
it was going to be a beautiful day… not that it mattered much one
way or the other to me. For a second… for one dark second I was almost
overwhelmed with the desire to call him back. Help me.
I wished I could get guilt-beast to let go of my leg. I wished
the thought-hamsters would take their little banners and shove them up their
respective asses. Well hell, as long as we’re wishing let’s
wish for my nerve and my health back. Let’s wish Heero out of the
hospital and safe. Let’s wish the whole damn asteroid belt fiasco
had never happened. Of course… that would leave me without Heero in
my life so let’s go back a little farther and wish that I’d
realized I wasn’t dreaming that night all those years ago when Heero
had lain with me and held me through the pain of my burns. Well fuck…
let’s just wish that I’d never gotten burned in the first place.
By the time the delivery truck arrived, I had gotten clear back to wishing
that the L2 plague had never happened. Not quite all the way back to ‘I
wish I’d never been born’… but real damn close.
I got the basic run down on how the thing worked and the lecture
about my deposit. I told the guy I’d probably have it a couple of
days and he told me to call the office when I was done with it. He drove
off and I hauled the thing into the cargo bay. I’d already decided
I’d start there. It was going to take a little more fortitude to work
my way up to the hell-room.
I had saved an old pair of coveralls for working in when I
had packed my stuff up, and I changed into them then. I took Heero’s
shirt to the head and rinsed the blood out of the sleeve, spreading it on
the bed to dry. My bed looked funny without the starry blanket there, but
that was with the rest of my things at the apartment. Maybe I shouldn’t
have done the packing first.
I took me a couple of long minutes to decide where to start
in the cargo bay. I settled, finally, on the wall with the Gundams on it
and fired the stripper up. The sound of the motor on the thing was horrendous
in the enclosed area, even with the bay doors standing wide. I stood in
front of the wall staring up at the mural and gnawed on my lip. I could
do this. I had to do this. It wasn’t something someone else could
do for me. It was something that had to be done before I could sell the
ship. I would sell my Demon-lady, but I would not sell my ghosts.
Guilt-beast was back and the little bastard brought friends.
I thought they would drag me down like a gazelle and eat me alive. I wished
I could play my music, but I’d never get it loud enough to hear over
the roaring of the paint stripper.
I chuckled; I was back around to wishing again. Fuck wishing…
it wasn’t getting the job done. In a fit of… something –
temper? Pain? I slapped the nozzle of the damn thing down right in the middle
of Deathscythe’s leg and keyed the trigger. I was shocked at how fast
the paint was just fucking gone. I let go of the trigger and pulled the
hand-held thing back. There was a… hole in the leg of my Gundam the
size of a dinner plate. I blinked at it for a minute, awed at how easy it
had been. Physically easy. Don’t doubt that I felt about ready to
throw up. I had to repress the urge to run off and find my paints and fix
the damage. Nope; this is what I was here for.
The stripper was meant for use on heavy-duty industrial paint-jobs.
I don’t exactly paint my murals with house paint. These were acrylics
and oils. The stripper with its chemical jets and vacuum suction, laughed
in disdain at the job ahead of it.
I whispered a quiet apology to my loyal old friend and put
the nozzle back on the wall again. I felt almost as bad as I had the day
we sent them into the sun.
It took me just over an hour to finish that wall, it wouldn’t
have taken that long if it hadn’t been the cargo bay with its double
height walls. The bottom half, up as high as I could reach from the floor
took no time at all. It slowed me down when I had to get the utility ladder.
It was… surreal how fast I was able to eradicate the mural as though
it had never been. It had taken me days and days to paint the thing. I remembered
sitting in this bay on the top of the ladder, getting all the touches just
right. I remembered apologizing to my ‘Scythe when his portrait was
finished, for letting them take him from me. It was as easy as wiping a
chalkboard. It should have been harder. As much as it was tearing me up…
it should have been harder.
When the wall was as clean and blank as it had been the day
I’d walked aboard this ship, I turned my attention to the wall behind
me. The church… after the fire.
I wasted ten Goddamn minutes staring at it before I could
make myself touch the nozzle to the wall. Then I made my eyes unfocus and
just got on with it. It actually went faster, but then… I was kind
of moving with a little haste, trying to get it over with. I pretended the
end wall was just part of it, I didn’t even hesitate… just bulled
forward and wiped out the damn portrait of Relena Peacecraft that had spawned
that whole damn trip to L2. I started to laugh as the stripper closed in
on her… I ripped her head off first and chortled hysterically. But
then I had to remove Heero’s portrait too and the laughter died in
my throat with a strangled sob.
The cargo bay was finished before noon. I couldn’t fucking
believe it. The stripper was washing the paint off the walls with its high-powered
jets and sucking it away into the filtered tank as though none of it had
ever been. I took a short break when I finished in there; I was almost out
of gas anyway.
I found myself staring up at where Heero’s picture had
been and before I knew it, I was staggering down the corridor to the cockpit
and dialing the hospital’s number. I asked for Heero’s room
extension with a voice that almost cracked. But when Quatre answered the
phone I managed a calm, ‘Hey, Qat… did I leave my sunglasses
there? I can’t find them anywhere.’
‘I don’t see them, Duo,’ he responded after
a moment of looking around.
‘Ok, never mind,’ I sighed. ‘Is… is
everything all right?’
‘Just fine,’ he told me, a slightly quizzical
note to his voice. ‘Heero’s eating lunch.’
‘Ok then,’ I managed. ‘I’ll see you
guys tomorrow.’ And I signed off.
I curled in my pilot’s seat for several long minutes
and wished Fuzzy-butt were there. I did not let myself cry. I tried to convince
myself I was being an ass. I could finish this job today, I had no doubt
of it. As fast as the cargo bay had gone, I should have no trouble doing
the rest of it. I wasn’t going to bother stripping the galley or my
cabin; there was nothing in either room that was too personal to leave.
I could finish this today. If I could just make myself go into that room
and get started. I could make this be done and over with today. I could
get back to Heero and not have to leave him again.
I could give him the forever he wanted so badly.
I made that my shield.
One thing at a time. I went and refueled the paint stripper.
That was easy enough, right? Then I hauled it down to the end of the hall.
No big deal there, right? I stared at the keypad for a couple of minutes
before keying in the password; shouldhavebeenme. I had a moment of panic
before I remembered that I had changed it when Heero had been aboard. I
keyed it again; hell.
The door was unlocked. I stared at it. I wondered if the lights
were still jumpered out in there. I would have to fix it, if they were,
I couldn’t work in the dark. Wish I could. I snickered; wishing again.
Forever. For Heero.
‘It… never really goes away.’
I would not be another Neo. I knew when to get out. I knew
where the edges of my limits were… I would not go there. I was not
a pilot anymore. This had to be done.
I viciously hit the button for the door and it slid open.
Heero had fixed the lights when we were done with this room, because they
were on full. I didn’t give myself time to look. I attacked my baby
picture first. I screamed the whole time I was doing it. I didn’t
let myself think. I eradicated my imaginary mother. I destroyed my crucified
self. I wiped out Solo and dead-Becca and Helen and the church and the guys
and the remnants of Wing and dead-Heero and my fleshless hands… and…
everything. My life. I wiped it all away. And I screamed and I yelled and
The hamsters gaped in awe and finally fled the cabin; I didn’t
have any room for thought right now anyway, hardly needed them in here.
Guilt-beast took all his brethren and hid under the bed, I even scared the
fuck out of them.
When I was done, I went calmly into the head and tried to
throw up. There wasn’t anything in my stomach so I just hung over
the toilet and heaved for a while. I staggered out; dizzy and still feeling
sick and wondered about the fumes that damn stripper was probably putting
out. I went to stand in the open cargo bay door for a bit, just looking
out at the clear, blue sky. I blinked and found myself sitting on my ass
on the ramp. I wanted to… go home. But I was in the process of destroying
the only home I’d ever had. What do you do when you want to go home
and you don’t really have one? You just want.
‘C’mon, kid,’ Solo whispered next to my
ear. ‘Finish it.’
‘I can’t,’ I told him.
‘Ya gotta,’ he would have sounded scornful. ‘Ya
come this far.’
‘I don’t want to, then,’ I whispered.
‘What if… what if…’ I couldn’t
finish the thought.
He snorted. Or he would have snorted. Sometimes I get confused
with that. ‘I’m already dead.’
‘I know,’ I closed my eyes and tried to bring
him into focus.
‘C’mon… let’s just do it,’ he
told me warmly. ‘I’ll help ya.’
‘Promise me…’ I begged and had to stop before
I started bawling like a baby, and wouldn’t he just have gotten a
kick out of that.
‘Can’t make promises, rat-boy,’ he scolded.
‘You know that.’
He snickered, ‘Try ta make a promise?’
I didn’t rise to the bait. ‘Try to stay?’
‘You know I’ll always be with ya,’ he said
gently, more gently than he ever had in real life.
‘I love you, Solo,’ I blurted. ‘We were
brothers… brothers by choice, not blood. But brothers all the same.’
‘I know, kid,’ he smiled. ‘My baby-rat.
Rat-boy. Dodger… Duo. C’mon… let’s go get the job
He never called me Duo. I wasn’t Duo until he was dead.
‘All right,’ I sighed and opened my eyes. I’d
never really been able to quite bring him into focus anyway.
I was surprisingly calm as I climbed to my feet, walked back
aboard ship and dragged the paint stripper down to the main corridor. I
fired it up again and didn’t give myself a chance to think about it.
I started with the portrait of the girl that Jensen had killed. I worked
my way down the line, Rafe, Father Maxwell, Sister Helen, Becca, and all
the others; I erased them all. I hesitated when I got to Solo and punched
his shoulder one last time, in my mind’s eye, he turned that sardonic
grin my way.
‘Just do it, rat-boy,’ he murmured and I did.
Then I turned and got the dried blood portrait on the opposite
It was done. I was so damn calm it was scary. I shut down
the paint stripper and lugged it back to the cargo bay to await pick up.
I went into the cockpit and sat in the pilot’s seat for what was probably
the last time and I deleted all my personal files from the system. I stripped
out of the coveralls and threw them into the incinerator, walked into the
head and rinsed in plain water, I had already packed all the soap and shampoo.
The med-kit is part of the ship supplies and was still there, so I changed
my sweat-soaked dressing. I didn’t have any clean clothes, so I dressed
in the ones I had been wearing and ended up standing in the middle of my
cabin rubbing my cheek with the cloth of Heero’s shirt.
I wouldn’t allow myself to call to Solo. I wouldn’t
let myself speak to my Demon-girl. I was barely letting myself think.
I walked through one last time, checking to make sure I had
everything, knowing in that very quiet place in the back of my head that
this was it. This was good-bye. All my voices were still… silent in
I passed the re-gen niche where my vacuum suit hung and I
couldn’t, of a sudden, leave it. I hauled it out to the cargo bay
next to the paint stripper.
Then I went into the cockpit one last time, contacted the
rental place to come pick up their equipment, called a cab, and filed the
paperwork to put my ship on the market. I didn’t even flinch.
Then I walked out, locked down and didn’t look back.
The cab got there first and the guy started to get pissy with me about having
to wait, but something in my eyes made him shut up.
The delivery guy finally came and tried to joke with me about
being done already, but that same look made him shut up too, and he just
loaded the paint stripper up and went away.
I loaded my suit into the cab and gave the driver the address
to the apartment. There was no small talk the entire way there. When I told
him to wait for me, I wasn’t sure he was going to. I probably looked
like a loon dragging that stupid vacuum suit up all those stairs, but I
had almost spent eternity locked in the damn thing, and had found at the
last minute that I couldn’t let anybody else have it. I stuffed it
in the closet of my room and went back downstairs, almost surprised to find
the cabdriver still there. I gave him the address of the hospital and he
took me there without comment.
I sat as though outside myself and simply marveled at my calm.
I couldn’t quite understand it… my voices were waking up, after
all. I could hear the frightened whimper of the kid who lived in my head.
I could feel the struggle of the voice that was trying to call for Solo,
the one I was stifling for all I was worth. I could feel the bite of guilt-beast
where he had managed to chew his way into my belly and was now working on
hollowing me out from the inside. I could see the thought-hamsters who had
gotten over their fear and come back with their flitting little points to
be made. And I could hear that other voice, the one that I was pretty sure
was actually mine, asking over and over.
What am I going to do now?
I think the cabdriver was a little relieved to get to my destination
and dump me out. I didn’t think he was going to wait long enough for
me to pay him.
I walked up the hospital steps and across the lobby, found
my way to the elevator and took it up. I was in the hall outside Heero’s
room almost before I knew it.
There were voices from within, but I didn’t really care
today what they had to say, and just walked on in. They stopped talking,
Heero and Wufei, and looked up at me. Their smiles faded as they both caught
sight of me and I wondered what in the hell I must look like. I frowned,
thinking about it hard. I had showered. I had dressed. What could be so
wrong with how I looked to put those expressions on their faces?
‘Duo?’ Heero called to me and there was alarm
in his voice.
I blinked at him. This wasn’t right. Taking care of
Heero was all I had left. It’s what I was here for. This wasn’t
going to work if just looking at me was going to upset him like this.
I tried on a smile and went around the bed to lean down and
kiss him. His fingers sifted through my hair and I realized that I’d
never braided it again after I’d rinsed it out.
That left me standing there in shook, staring into Heero’s
wide, confused eyes. What the hell… I’d never forgotten to braid
my hair before. I don’t just wander around with it loose. No wonder
they were looking at me like I’d lost my mind.
‘I’d already packed up the bathroom stuff,’
I explained. ‘I didn’t have a comb or a brush.’
‘Packed?’ Heero asked softly, only looking more
baffled. I saw him exchange a look with Wufei.
I thought about that for a minute. Packed. Ooops; hadn’t
meant to say that. Well, he was going to find out sooner or later anyway,
I sat very carefully on the edge of the bed and took his hand.
‘Heero… you don’t need to worry anymore about my leaving,
ok?’ I told him earnestly. ‘It’s all over… all done
and over. I… I’m not going anywhere anymore.’
‘Duo… love,’ he whispered. ‘What are
you talking about? What’s going on?’
I wished the voices in my head would just shut the fuck up.
This was getting hard for some strange reason. I tried to hang onto the
calm and made a discovery. It wasn’t calm, it was more like…
‘Maxwell… what?’ Wufei asked and I realized
that last part had slipped out, out loud.
‘Ooops,’ I murmured and decided I needed a minute
to try this again. I patted Heero’s hand, got up and went into the
bathroom. Shutting the door carefully behind me.
I didn’t turn on the light but sat very quietly down
on the floor. Ok… perhaps I wasn’t quite as in control here
as I thought I was. Numb. I’d gotten this far on numb and now the
numb was wearing off. Shit. I should not have come here. What in the hell
was I going to do now? I wasn’t on the ragged edge anymore, I was
dangling by my fingertips and was about to fall. I couldn’t do that
here, in front of Heero; he didn’t need that right now.
I’d killed her, my loyal Demon-girl. Just like I’d
killed Deathscythe. They’d been there for me through thick and thin…
and I had killed them as surely as if they’d been real people and
I’d held a gun to their heads and pulled the trigger.
‘Solo?’ I ventured into the stillness of the cold
bathroom and got no response. I hadn’t expected any. That’s
why I’d been struggling so hard not to call for him. Had I finally
quieted my ghosts? After all these years? Had I truly banished them all
when I had destroyed their pictures?
What am I going to do now?
The bathroom door opened quietly and I was aware of Wufei
slipping inside. He didn’t shut the door behind him again, but left
it open a crack for the light.
‘Maxwell?’ he asked gently.
‘Present,’ I quipped ruthlessly and I heard an
odd sigh. He came and sat down on the floor beside me.
‘You want to start at the beginning?’ he said
calmly and I laughed.
‘Been there,’ I told him. ‘Or almost all
the way back to the beginning… made it as far as the plague years
anyway… I guess that’s close enough.’
He chewed on that for a minute, seeming very unsure of his
ground. Well that made two of us.
‘Duo,’ he tried again, ‘what is going on?’
‘I killed her, Wufei,’ I said then and felt him
stiffen. Ok… perhaps not the best wording. ‘My ship,’
I clarified. ‘I stripped her and raped her and killed her dead.’
He sat beside me in silence for a few minutes, then softly
said, ‘Tell me about it?’
I leaned my head against my drawn up knees.
‘I can’t pilot anymore, Wufei,’ I told him
point-blank. ‘I’ve totally lost my nerve… I can’t
do it. I tried and damn near killed myself. I… I put my ship on the
auction block today. It…it’s over.’
‘Oh Duo,’ he said simply and I felt his arm come
to rest around my shoulders. ‘Why the hell didn’t you tell us
what was going on?’
My breath was wanting to hitch and my eyes were starting to
burn. ‘There isn’t anything you guys can do.’
‘What?’ he chided. ‘A little support…
a little help… that doesn’t count for anything?’
‘I had to do it myself,’ I whispered, thinking
about the absolute horror of one of them seeing those pictures in the hell-room.
His fingers tightened and he sighed heavily again. ‘Duo…
we could have been there with you. And we will be here now… you need
some rest. Let me take you home…’
I cut him off with a growl, ‘Heero needs me… he’s
all I have left. I intend to be here for him.’
There was another long silence and then hesitantly, ‘You’re
barely here for yourself.’
I could see it for the truth and began to shiver in earnest,
mortified on some level and almost beyond caring on most of the others.
‘What am I going to do?’ I whispered, letting the question come
out at last. ‘What in the hell am I going to do now?’
His fingers were stroking over my hair and he whispered softly,
‘First of all, we’re going back out there to Heero.’
‘I can’t, Wufei… I can’t do this to
him.’ I choked.
‘Do you want him trying to come in here?’ he scolded
and there was a tiny hint of amusement in his voice.
‘God,’ I muttered, rubbing at my eyes and trying
to get my head together. ‘He would… wouldn’t he?’
‘Most definitely,’ he assured me. ‘He’s
been waiting for this for a long time… he won’t stand not being
here now that it’s finally happening.’
‘What?’ I panted, struggling with the emotion,
with the turmoil and losing on both fields of battle.
‘Duo,’ he told me, almost sounding affectionate,
‘we’ve all known you were having problems… we’ve
just been waiting for you to get to a point where you were willing to admit
you needed help.’
I sat hugging my own legs to my chest for a very long time,
thinking about it, thinking about Heero and the mess I’d made of things.
Thinking about my ship and about Neo. Thinking about the decisions I’d
made. I don’t think I was wrong in what I’d done.
‘Ok,’ I told him, taking a deep breath. ‘I
need just a couple of minutes… you go make sure Heero is all right
and I’ll be out in…’
There was an exasperated sigh and when Wufei spoke next there
was frustration in his voice. ‘That isn’t the kind of help I’m
talking about, Maxwell. I don’t mean to help you cover this up and
bury the bodies.’
I stiffened and turned my head to look at him. ‘You
understand me, Chang Wufei… Heero is what is important right now.
I’m not the one who was wounded… I’m not the one in pain.’
His hands shifted subtly and somehow, he had hold of me by
the shoulders. ‘Yes, Duo…’ he said quietly, ‘you
I gaped at him, a shiver nibbling at my spine. ‘I can’t
let him see me like this,’ I whispered and hated the hint of pleading
that had found its way into my voice. ‘He can’t know how damn
weak I am… he can’t know how easily I… I broke.’
I would have slapped my hand over my mouth if it wasn’t
already too late, and if it wouldn’t have looked utterly ridiculous.
What in the hell was he doing to me to make me say these things?
There was the most oddly out of place sound of a chuckle and
the hands on my shoulders tugged me into a simple embrace. ‘Weak?
Do not be an asshole,’ he murmured next to my ear. ‘I think
you know me well enough to know that I do not resort to base flattery –
you have always been our Rock of Gibraltar. You have to be the single most
tenacious, resilient, stubborn bastard I have ever been privileged to know.
Quatre’s doctors told us we’d be lucky if you didn’t end
up in a padded room after what you went through. We are all in awe, damn
it, but you have got to stop trying to carry the weight of the world around
on your shoulders.’
I just sat and blinked. He couldn’t see me with my face
pressed to his shoulder anyway. The minutes ticked by and he didn’t
let go. But then… I didn’t pull away. It wasn’t an awful
place to be; in his embrace. It wasn’t Heero’s arms, but they
were warm and strong all the same. My own hands slipped around him and I
found myself hugging back. My eyes burned; I was a tenacious bastard.
‘I’m getting worried,’ he chuckled after
a bit. ‘It’s too damn quiet out there.’
I nodded and tried to pull away, but he kept his arms around
me, pulling me up to my feet and I found that somehow, I was feeling oddly
unsteady and needed that support.
He began to guide me toward the door and I hesitated, ‘Wufei…’
I began, not at all sure what it was I wanted to say to him; there was just
too much running around in my head.
He didn’t seem to pay me any mind, as though I had never
spoken. ‘It’s been a lot of years since you tried to teach us
about the importance of brotherhood and what it means to be teammates…
we learned. But you went away and left us and didn’t get to reap the
rewards of the lesson. You have it now… you are one of us. The prodigal
son come home…’
If it was meant to break me the rest of the way down, it almost
did. But then we were through the door and found Heero sitting on the side
of his bed, struggling with the IV and the bed rail. I thought Wufei would
‘I thought I told you to stay where the hell you were!’
he snapped and deposited me in the first chair we came to.
‘What the hell was taking so long?’ Heero growled
back, but he stopped trying to work the tape off and the tubes out.
‘Leave that alone and get your sorry ass back in that
bed!’ Wufei warned, advancing menacingly, the gruffness of his commands
belied by the gentleness of his hands as he caught Heero’s legs and
swung them back into bed.
I watched as he got Heero tucked back in, listened as they
sniped at each other.
‘What is going on?’
‘Learn a little patience!’
‘You two are damn well going to be the death of me!’
I started to chuckle; they sounded so damn much like some
elderly married couple and I imagined them… eighty years old and with
walkers, carping and jabbing each other with verbal sticks. I tried to squelch
it, because I was pretty sure I knew where it was going to lead… but
it was far too late. The chuckles spiraled up and soon I was laughing uncontrollably
and of course, before long I was sobbing brokenly, my face in my hands,
trying to hide behind the curtain of my hair. Did all my breakdowns have
to involve the hysterical laughing thing?
Guilt-beast just snuck away and crawled under a chair, covering
his eyes with his paws in embarrassment. The hamsters began to whistle and
wandered off, pretending they didn’t know me.
‘Bring him to me.’ I heard Heero command in no
uncertain terms and I tried to put a lid on it, but the dam had burst and
there was no stopping it now.
‘Heero…’ Wufei began, sounding uncertain.
‘Bring him to me. Now.’
Hands caught at my arms and pulled me to my feet, moving me
gently toward the bed. I balked, scrubbing at my eyes, gulping for air and
trying to regain a toehold on the tear-slick, crumbling edge of my control.
Then it was Heero’s hands on me; my soul felt the difference,
recognized my other half, told my heart and I just let it all go. Crouched
on the edge of his hospital bed, huddled in the curl of his arm, I sobbed
until I thought I would just wash away.
‘Fei,’ I heard him whisper softly. ‘Go away…
There was the strangest disdainful, affectionate snort, a
hand stroked lingeringly over my unbound hair, and then we were alone.
Heero shifted, tried to draw me closer, but I had enough brain
left that I wouldn’t risk hurting him. There was a frustrated sigh,
‘It’s all right… I won’t let you hurt me. Don’t
fight me, love. Please… just let me be here.’
I squirmed and I twisted, as careful as I could be, and managed
to get my head pillowed on his chest. And if it left my legs bent uncomfortably
off the side of the bed, I didn’t care. He got his arms around me
and squeezed tight, almost desperate in his need to touch me.
‘I’m sorry…’ I panted, searching hard
for something inside to fight the damn tears with… and coming up empty.
‘Don’t you dare apologize to me,’ he whispered.
‘This has been so long in coming… so damn long. Stop fighting
it… just let it out. I’m here, I’ve got you.’
It twisted like a knife in my gut; I was the one who was supposed
to be taking care of him. He was the one who had been shot… he was
the one in the stinking hospital bed. It was his turn to do the leaning,
and where the hell was I? I couldn’t fucking support myself. He was
hurt. He was in pain. He had almost… almost…
‘You’re all I have left in the world, Heero,’
I told him through the sobs. ‘You have to be all right. You have to
get better… I can’t lose you too.’
He pressed warm lips to my temple and murmured, ‘Nothing
is going to happen to me. I’m right here. Duo… my sweet Duo;
tell me what’s going on? Please?’
‘That damn accident… it ate me alive,’ the
words found their own way out around all the defenses I had worked so hard
to set up, as though those defenses didn’t exist at all. ‘I
don’t have it in me anymore to… to fly. To pilot. I can’t
do it. I tried… I tried so hard… but it all went to hell. It’s
all over. I’ve lost it all…’
He was quiet. Afraid, I think, to interrupt the strange flow
of words. I was awash suddenly with a wringing, clenching fear that I would
lose him too… on top of everything else. ‘Heero… please,
Heero… you still love me, right? You still want me anyway… even
There was the sound of a strangled noise and his arms went
tight as a vise around me. ‘You are mine. My… heart. My…
soul. Forever. We promised each other forever… remember? Of course
I love you. What you do for a damn living won’t ever change that.’
I couldn’t answer him, just huddled there in his embrace,
hating myself for doing this to him now of all the damn times. What had
I been thinking? This could have waited… the damn ship could have
waited. I had enough money to pay the dock fees for a couple of months yet;
I hadn’t had to handle this right now. I had let Neo spook me. I had
let his damn stories panic me.
‘I am so very sorry,’ I told him.
‘Hush,’ he admonished gently. ‘Nothing in
the world to be sorry for. Nothing at all… none of this is your fault.’
‘But,’ I tried for a lighter tone and failed miserably,
‘my timing could have been better.’
He snorted softly and his hand came to smooth over my hair.
‘Maybe it was my timing that sucked.’
Then it just came down to the crying and the soft words.
‘…my ship… oh God… my ship…’
‘…I know… I know…’
‘…all gone… washed away…’
‘…oh love… no…you didn’t…’
‘…so quiet…so very quiet…’
‘…I’m here…I’m right here…’
‘…I’m so scared…’
‘…don’t be… we’ll get through
‘What am I going to do now?’
‘Heal, my love. You’re going to take the time
I would have sold my soul to just be able to curl up there
at his side and go to sleep. I was so tired… so very damn tired. His
gentle hands and quiet voice were a balm on my broken spirit, bringing me
some measure of ease. A somewhat truer calm and not the frozen numbness
I had given myself.
‘Why aren’t you sick of me?’ I asked at
‘I’ll never grow sick of you,’ he chuckled
at me, as though it were the most amusing joke in the world. ‘You
are my light and my joy. You are… everything.’
I looked up to find that fire in his eyes, that light of his
love for me that shines so bright I’ve never understood why it doesn’t
consume us both.
‘I love you,’ he told me simply. ‘We’ll
How could I doubt him?
Now that I had quieted, and wasn’t making quite the
ass of myself, guilt dared to crawl out and took a nip at my dangling legs.
‘I… suppose I should go find Wufei.’
Heero smiled softly at me. ‘No need; he’s been
guarding the door.’
I looked, seeing the back of that dark haired head through
the little glass and I flushed darkly. ‘Guess I should let him back
in,’ I mumbled.
I sat up slowly and he seemed reluctant to let me go.
‘If…’ he told me softly, intently, ‘I
were able, I would take you home and take you to bed and hold you close
all through the night.’
‘If you were able,’ I smiled sadly, ‘I would
I suppose it was a somewhat cruel thing to say. I hadn’t
meant it to be.
‘Promise me,’ he pleaded. ‘No more hiding…
no more secrets?’
I couldn’t refuse in the face of the pain in his voice.
It was a rather cheap shot, actually, because the next thing
he did was to undo the buttons on my cuff and roll the sleeve up. Damn.
Had he seen the bandage? Had one of the guys told him what little they had
found out from me? What the hell could I say on the heels of promising no
more secrets? I sighed rather heavily. ‘Heero… don’t…’
‘Hush,’ he commanded. ‘Show me.’
‘You’re not going to like it,’ I grumbled,
but he was steadfast, and I just said the hell with it… he’d
see it sooner or later anyway. I doubt if I could upset him much more than
I already had tonight. I pulled the tape lose and unwound the gauze, holding
my arm out for him to see when it was completely exposed.
‘Oh dear God…’ he breathed and his eyes
were as wide as saucers.
‘Told you,’ I said and it came out sounding…
His gaze came up to find mine, dropping back to look at the
wicked gash on my arm… right in line with all the others. ‘Duo…
you… did you…?’
I felt myself flushing fit to catch fire. ‘Yes…
and no.’ I told him with another of those heavy sighs. ‘I never
meant to… to do… that. But I…’ I didn’t know
how in the hell to explain that I only meant to cut myself a little bit,
but had unfortunately suffered some sort of nervous break-down and tried
to sever my own arm. Ending up painting on the bulkhead of my ship with
my own blood while I almost bled to death… just so I could wash it
off later. There’s just no real nice way to put that.
His face suddenly went pale and I swear to God, Guilt-beast
had let go of my ass and was latched hold of his. ‘Oh, love,’
he murmured. ‘I’m so sorry… I didn’t know what to
do when the date came around and you didn’t… when nothing…’
He stopped and swallowed, looking up at me with pain in his eyes. ‘I
hoped so much that you didn’t need to do that anymore. I… I
wasn’t sure if you had… stopped, or if you… somehow, had
I brushed my knuckles over his cheek, understanding a couple
of conversations that had puzzled the hell out of me at the time we’d
had them. He had remembered. Through all those years. The most important
anniversary of my life, and he had remembered while I had forgotten. Guilt
just didn’t know which one of us to gnaw on.
‘There was just… so much that day,’ I told
him, having a little trouble meeting his eyes. ‘I did… forget…’
I couldn’t say any more, just sat staring at the floor while he held
my arm like it was made of glass… staring at the God-awful wound with
all those tidy little stitches marching along its length. It had darkened
and looked bruised.
‘I didn’t know what to do,’ he said, not
able to bring his voice above a whisper. ‘I was so afraid… when
I came home that night and you’d gone to bed so early. I was sure…
so sure… but then the next evening… I couldn’t find anything…’
He kept glancing up at me, I could see him out of the corner
of my eye, but I couldn’t face him. I suddenly felt so utterly stupid…
I couldn’t even explain what had happened. I didn’t really know.
Was that going to sound worse than letting him think I’d done it on
His fingers hovered over it, wanting to touch and soothe,
but afraid of hurting. ‘I didn’t know whether to say anything
or not,’ he breathed. ‘I was so relieved… at first…
when you didn’t… when nothing happened. But then I got worried
that maybe you had forgotten… I just didn’t know what to do…’
He reached up to gently turn my face towards his. ‘I made the wrong
choice… didn’t I?’
I just sat and looked at him, too emotionally overloaded to
even look away. Somewhere deep down inside, I wanted to reassure. Wanted
to let him know that it wasn’t his fault. My mind just wouldn’t
cooperate and produce any coherent sentences. Where the hell were all those
stupid hamsters when I needed them?
‘I… I don’t know. I’m just too tired
to think about it…’ was the best I could manage.
He took my hand and held it, his eyes looking over my shoulder
for a second. His gaze somehow called Wufei and I heard the door open.
I dropped my eyes and felt myself flushing in shame. I waited
for the teasing to start. Waited, hunched into myself, for the derisive
comments. Instead, strong hands settled on my shoulders and Wufei said,
‘Ready for me to take you home?’
‘No!’ I blurted, aghast at the notion.
‘Yes,’ Heero said gently.
‘I’m staying here,’ I growled, but it came
out sounding only a little… petulant.
‘You’re going home and getting some rest,’
I was informed, rather firmly. I’d bet money that Heero hadn’t
taken any of his medication after I left this morning, because he lacked
nothing what-so-ever in the way of focus.
‘There won’t be anybody to stay with you,’
I pointed out, quite logically, I thought.
‘That’s what the hospital is full of nurses for,’
he told me with the quirk of a smile.
‘Duo,’ Wufei chimed in, ‘we were only forced
to stay with this idiot twenty-four hours a day while he was trying to run
off to L3 after you. He’ll be fine on his own over night now.’
I couldn’t see Wufei, standing behind me, but his hands
were calmly kneading my tight shoulders.
I wasn’t sure which one of them to address… which
one of them to argue with. ‘He isn’t sleeping very well at night.’
‘From the looks of things… neither are you,’
I was going to lose this one, I could tell. They were going
to tag-team me and I was just too damn tired to put up much of a fight to
‘Please, Duo,’ Heero said, reaching to stroke
a finger down my cheek. ‘Because it will put my mind at ease? Go home
and get some sleep. I need you to take care of yourself for me… because
I can’t do it right now.’
Ouch. That was rather below the belt, I thought. I sighed.
I nodded. I kissed him goodbye and turned to let Wufei take me out of there.
I got only the sharp intake of his breath as he caught sight of my unwrapped
arm. I flinched and rolled the sleeve down, pointedly not making eye contact
and he let it go.
I figured there wasn’t much point in telling them that
it really didn’t make any difference; I couldn’t sleep alone
anyway. I could go back to the apartment, but I would either lie there staring
at the ceiling or, if I managed to fall asleep, I’d only wake in a
couple of hours from one of those Londonderry vacation nightmares.
The drive was quiet. I just sat staring out the side window
feeling like the world’s biggest loser. It was dark. The stars were
out… they seemed to mock me.
‘Maxwell’s Demon’ was gone. The voice of
Solo was stilled. I was no longer the thing I had worked the last three
years of my life to become. I had just failed Heero in one of the few moments
that he had ever actually needed me to be there.
Maybe it was a good thing I couldn’t hear Solo’s
voice… I imagine he’d have a few choice things to say.
When we arrived, Wufei didn’t pull up out front to let
me out, but turned the car into the parking lot.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked, the first words
we’d spoken since we’d left the hospital.
‘Keeping a promise to a friend,’ he replied blandly.
I frowned, ‘I don’t care what you told Heero you’d
do… but I don’t need a damn keeper.’
‘I’m not talking about Heero,’ he said as
he got out of the car. ‘I’m talking about the promise I made
I hesitated a moment and then got out too, looking at him
over the roof of the car.
‘And no,’ he smiled softly across at me, ‘you
don’t need a keeper… you need your friends.’
I opened my mouth to argue, but he just turned and headed
for the apartment door. ‘You coming?’
What the hell could I do but follow? It wasn’t like
I had anywhere else I could go.
We walked up the stairs casting surreptitious glances at each
other. I think he was watching for signs of my faltering. I was watching
him for signs of what was going on inside his head.
He waited patiently for me to unlock the door to the apartment,
but once we were inside, he seemed to take off on his own agenda.
‘Were you planning on a shower?’ he asked as he
dumped his jacket and switched on the living room light.
‘Uhmmm… I suppose that’s not a bad idea,’
I admitted, mostly because I was starting to realize that he wasn’t
going anywhere soon and if I wanted out from under his watchful eyes…
the bathroom was probably the place to be.
‘Go ahead while I fix dinner,’ I was informed.
‘Will a half an hour be long enough?’
‘O…ok,’ I said, unable to think of anything
else to say in the face of his sudden efficient… ordering.
He was in the kitchen before I had a chance to do much more
than think about moving toward the bathroom.
I took my shower and washed my hair. I have to admit it did
make me feel a little better to get the yucky residue of the damn tears
off my face. But, you know… with him in the apartment… I couldn’t
make myself stay in there for more than that ages old, self-imposed fifteen-minute
limit. Some things will just never completely go away, I guess.
I did take the time to comb my poor tangled hair out and braided
it properly despite its being wet. I pulled on a clean pair of jeans and
a t-shirt, wasn’t any point in hiding my arm from Wufei… he’d
already seen it. All the clean long-sleeved shirts were Heero’s after
all, and all the way over in his room. So I just said the hell with it,
taking a certain perverse pleasure in pulling on a shirt emblazoned with
‘The voices in my head don’t like you’ and going out to
see what my lover’s partner had come up with in the way of food.
I padded in on bare feet, and wasn’t sure he’d
heard me at first, but he turned and the smile he gave me quirked into a
grin when he saw my shirt. Then the grin faded as he caught sight of my
arm again. I flushed, expecting him to ask me what had happened, but he
let it ride.
He was just finishing up a large pan of stir-fry and turned
to the table to ladle it out onto two plates. I sat down, feeling oddly
uncomfortable. He seemed more at home in what was supposed to be my home,
than I did. I watched him dish up supper and turn to dump the pan into the
sink before opening the drawer and pulling out forks for the two of us.
‘You,’ I said on a sudden suspicion, ‘have
cooked here before.’
He sat down, passing me my fork. He took a bite and chewed
it slowly, stalling his answer, I think. ‘Yes,’ he finally admitted
I sighed and took my own bite. ‘Fairly often…
am I right?’ knowing he wouldn’t respond unless it was a direct
He sighed in his turn. ‘Yes, we… all used to come
over more frequently.’
I felt… frustrated; ill at ease. I’m not sure
why I was pursuing the conversation… I was almost too tired to deal
with it. But the implication was plain; as hard as I had been trying to
get Heero to get his life back in order, he still wasn’t doing it.
Had only acquiesced on those things that I had actually found out about
and called him on. God only knew how many habits and routines he had abandoned
because of my presence.
‘Duo,’ Wufei said, looking down at his plate and
not at me. ‘Heero just wanted to give you a little space. We’re
a… rather intense group. He thought that you needed a little time
to… come back into the fold.’
I snorted softly and we ate in silence for a few minutes while
I digested that. Guilt-beast came scrabbling into the kitchen, delighted
to be back and latched onto my ankle with a happy growl. Fuck. I hadn’t
missed his smelly little butt at all.
There was a rather heavy sigh from across the table and I
glanced up to see Wufei with a strange, sardonic smile on his face.
‘What?’ I grumbled.
‘I just thought Winner had the guilt market tied up,’
he drawled. ‘I can see he needs to take lessons from you.’
It surprised a bit of a laugh out of me. ‘Well…’
I mumbled. ‘We are ‘brothers’, after all… it must
run in the family.’
He grinned at me and we finished the meal in silence. When
we were done, he took the dishes and stacked them in the sink with a bit
of a smirk. ‘I’ll cook… but I’m not doing your damn
dishes. They can wait until tomorrow.’
‘Heero would have a cow,’ I informed him and watched
‘But Heero’s not here, now is he?’
He herded me out of the kitchen and I was starting to get
a little concerned about just what in the hell he had in mind next, he obviously
wasn’t planning on leaving in the immediate future.
Not that it mattered much. I had figured that I would let
him bring me home and I would just spend the night doing the laundry or
something. I’d go down to the theatre early tomorrow afternoon, and
try to sleep through two movies before heading back to the hospital. So,
I supposed, if he wanted to hang around for a while, it didn’t really
matter. It’s not like I had plans.
‘You packed your things and brought them back here?’
he asked me, and it caught me so by surprise that all I could do was nod.
‘Would you like me to help you unpack some of them?’
I just stood and stared at him; this seemed rather ‘above
and beyond’. ‘Wufei,’ I questioned, ‘what is going
He ducked his head a little and gave me the oddest half smile.
‘You haven’t figured out that… we’re going to be
I did my famous Duo Maxwell fish imitation.
He chuckled at me for a second until I got my mouth snapped
shut and started to formulate an argument. Then he gave out with a somewhat
frustrated sounding sigh. ‘Duo, listen to me… we’re not
complete idiots. It is not beyond us to imagine a little bit how you’re
feeling right now. I told you; we are your friends every bit as much as
we are Heero’s. There is nothing wrong with letting us help you…’
‘I don’t need any help,’ I said, that thing
that was starting to become almost like a mantra with me. ‘I’m
He didn’t laugh, ok? I have to give him points for that.
‘I would… if I were in your place,’ he said
gently. ‘Had I been through what you went through, I’d be wrapped
around the nearest warm body and I wouldn’t let go.’
I think my jaw popped when it fell open. Even guilt-beast
stopped his chewing for a minute to look up at Wufei.
He pressed his advantage while I was so totally off balance,
taking me by the shoulders and turning me toward the bedroom. When we got
there, he didn’t give me much choice, just grabbed the first box and
set it on the bed. I stood and watched for a minute as he pulled out my
star-field blanket and turned toward the closet to put it away.
‘Can… can we put it on the bed?’ I asked
softly and he seemed relieved to hear me speak.
‘Of course,’ he smiled and I helped him strip
the bedspread and blanket off. He let me spread my old, familiar blanket
There wasn’t much else in that box and he lifted up
another, opening the lid and finding some of my clothes. He raised an eyebrow
in question and I found an empty dresser drawer, carrying an armload there
to put them away. He found my sketchpads and pencils in the bottom of the
box and glanced up at me with an odd look in his eyes, a little bit like
a kid on Christmas morning.
‘May I?’ he quirked a grin at me. ‘All I’ve
seen of your work is what was in that magazine and what was…’
he stopped, the grin fading as he realized what he’d almost said.
I flushed and shrugged, ‘I guess so… there’s
nothing special in there; just some rough sketches and junk.’
He sat down on the end of the bed and almost reverently picked
up the first pad. He gingerly opened the cover and there was a picture of
Toria staring back at him, floating in free-fall with a wrench in her hand.
I watched him carefully leaf through the pages for a few minutes, looking
at portraits of Hayden and Toria and their brood of imaginary children,
before I set the empty box aside and sat down beside him.
He glanced up at me warmly. ‘These are incredible, Duo.’
All I could do was flush and duck my head. The sketchpad was
only about half full; I have a terrible habit of picking up new pads before
the old ones are used up. He set it aside and took up the next one on the
stack. The flush spread down my neck as I realized he’d found one
of the older ones.
‘Uhmmm,’ I muttered. ‘Maybe this wasn’t
such a good idea.’
It was sketches from the war. Nothing awful, just studies
of… all the guys. And some odd, weird-ass mystical shit involving
The grin he quirked at me was enough to turn the blush into
something that was starting to feel like a sunburn.
It was bad enough while he leafed through the first couple
of pages. Heero working on his Gundam. Heero cleaning his gun. Heero with
that… scowl I remember so well. A head study of Quatre with his goggles
pushed up on his head. Quatre with his violin. Trowa with one of his lions.
But then he got to the ones of himself. I’d sketched him doing his
morning workout and taken the liberty of imagining what he’d look
like with his hair down. The only times I had ever seen it, it had been
dripping wet and slicked back.
I found my knees drawn up to my chest and I couldn’t
bring myself to look up at him. ‘Sorry…’ I muttered.
‘For what?’ his voice sounded amused. ‘You
did a pretty good job of capturing it strictly from imagination.’
When I dared to glance up at him, he caught my eye and deliberately reached
back, pulling the tie from his hair and giving his head a shake. His hair
found a natural center part, just as I had thought it would and swept down
on either side of his face like raven’s wings. It seemed an incredibly
intimate thing… I felt oddly guilty and dropped my eyes from his.
He looked… all together not like Wufei.
‘Well… I’ve seen yours down,’ he murmured.
‘It only seems fair. Besides, I don’t sleep with it tied back.’
That served to make me even more uncomfortable as I started
contemplating just what in the hell he had planned for sleeping arrangements.
We had not discussed just what my sleeping problems were. And I didn’t
intend to; I had not even gotten into it with Heero. I wasn’t about
to sit here with Chang Wufei and explain all the gory details of my horrible
sense of isolation when I was forced to spend very much time all alone.
I didn’t have the nightmares or the near insomnia when Heero was with
me, therefore I didn’t have a problem that we had ever needed to discuss.
I got up from the bed and went to put the empty box back on
the pile. ‘I think I’m done with this for tonight,’ I
told him and was just getting ready to ask if he wanted me to go turn down
Heero’s bed for him, when I heard the most awful intake of breath
and I turned to find him with a different sketchpad in his hands. The one
that I’d been using on that damned trip to L3.
He looked up at me with those dark, fathomless eyes of his
full of… something that made me very uncomfortable. Pain? Remorse?
Sympathy? I don’t know. I couldn’t quite meet that gaze. He
put the pad aside, the cover still open to reveal that damn self-portrait,
rose and came across the room to me. I would have backed up if I hadn’t
already been against the wall.
‘Yuy told me once… a long time ago, that we would
never get you to admit to your pain. He was very right about you, wasn’t
he?’ It was gently said, but I still couldn’t meet his eyes.
The floor was suddenly very damn interesting.
His hand came to touch my face and I jerked in surprise, my
eyes coming up despite my best efforts.
‘And I believe I told you that you were never to hide
an injury from us, ever again.’
I was helpless to speak and only nodded; an echo of the gesture
I had made all those long, long years ago. And just like the last time,
he wouldn’t accept that.
‘Duo… no more hiding,’ he told me firmly.
‘Yuy may think you need time, but I’m tired of waiting. Enough
of this… it hurts us to see you hurting. I’m not Yuy…not
Heero, and I know I’m not the one you want with you right now. But
I’m your friend all the same and I’m not going anywhere.’
We just stood and stared at each other for a minute. I was
swept back through all those years and my hands ached in remembrance. I
could still see him, with his head bent over me, working so very carefully
on my charred fingers. My hands curled closed of their own volition.
‘I’m just so tired, Wufei,’ I breathed when
it suddenly seemed that his intense gaze was the only thing holding me up.
‘I know you are, my friend,’ he murmured. ‘And
it’s time we remedied that… let’s go to bed.’
I was suddenly even too tired to worry about how weird it
was making me feel that he was planning on sleeping with me. I just let
him lead me back to the bed, he moved my art supplies while I stripped to
my underwear. He made sure I was settled before he went around to the other
side of the bed and I heard him undressing as well.
A thought-hamster struggled up the side of the bed, giggling
insanely to present me with a banner with a little picture of Wufei doing
his kata… with his hair down… glistening with sweat. I backhanded
the little motherfucker right off the side of the bed and listened to him
scream all the way to the floor.
‘Maxwell?’ Wufei asked, voice sounding concerned.
‘Don’t ask,’ I growled and curled up around
my pillow. I could feel him watching me for a moment, but he didn’t
speak again, just reached and turned the light off. It was gonna be a long
That was the last thought I had. I had completely underestimated
my total exhaustion; even the dancing hamsters couldn’t keep me awake.
I fell into a black oblivion the likes of which I had not seen in months.
I was running… in zero gravity… somehow not able
to comprehend that fact and so getting absolutely nowhere. My heart was
pounding in my ears.
The Derry crew wanted their air back.
I rounded a curve in a corridor that had been straight just
a moment before and come face to non-existent face with the dead Captain.
I stopped running and the rest of the crew caught up with me. I was surrounded.
I whimpered and tried to back away.
‘Solo?’ I cried, but got no answer. ‘You
son-of-a-bitch! Get me the hell out of here!’ But he didn’t
Cold, cold hands were closing on my arms, reaching for the
air tank… pulling… wrenching. Pain lanced up my arm from my
stitches and I cried out again.
‘Heero! Where are you?’ But nobody answered.
The air tank was ripped from my grasp and the shambling corpses
began to drift away. They had what they had come for and weren’t interested
in me any more. The air was gone; I couldn’t breathe. I held my breath
as long as I could before succumbing to the overwhelming urge to try to
inhale… and found nothing there. My heart was pounding so hard I could
hear it… my chest was on fire… my ears were ringing… I
was about to die. Out here in the cold and the dark, alone… all alone.
It had all been a damn dream after all… Heero, the guys… all
just a fever dream.
‘Duo! Breathe, damn it!’ Someone was shouting
and my shoulders where caught in a frantic grasp. ‘Wake up! Do you
hear me? Breathe!’
I sucked for air, suddenly aware of its blessed presence,
and it flooded my burning lungs with a sound that was so frightening I didn’t
want to admit it was mine.
Strong arms were dragging me up into a sitting position and
I found my reeling head pressed against a broad chest. I could hear Heero’s
heart pounding just as hard as mine was. I clutched at him like a drowning
man; body wracked with tremors…lungs gasping desperately for air…
brain completely overloaded.
‘Oh God, Heero…’ I wailed. ‘I thought
I dreamed you! The… the Derry crew came for their damn air again…
when in the hell will they stop hounding me? Why won’t they leave
He wrapped strong arms around me and rocked me against his
shoulder. I inhaled deeply again, savoring the sweet air, savoring his sweet,
anchoring scent… which was altogether wrong.
My eyes flew open and I jerked upright, blinking owlishly
‘I’m sorry,’ he stammered, looking totally
chagrined. ‘I… I went to the bathroom. I wasn’t gone ten
minutes. I’m so sorry… I didn’t realize it was this bad.
Duo why in the hell didn’t you warn me?’
I rubbed my hands over my eyes and flushed, looking away,
trying to find my balance. ‘Uhmmm… they never caught me before?’
There was the oddest little pained laugh and I glanced at
him through the fingers of the hand I had pressed to my face. He looked
really scared. ‘I’m sorry, Wufei… I don’t know why
I can’t seem to shake these damn nightmares.’
He dared to rub a gentle hand up and down my back, sighing
heavily. ‘Only you… and maybe Quatre… could manage to
feel guilty for using abandoned air tanks.’
I closed my eyes, but only saw drifting corpses, so I blinked
them open again.
I took a deep breath… and then another, just because
I could, and tried to calm my heart. ‘I’m ok now,’ I told
‘You’re just fine,’ he snorted. ‘I,
on the other hand, have just suffered a damn heart attack.’
I laughed but had to shut that off pretty quickly; been down
the whole hysterical road before, thank you very much. No thanks…
not a fun trip.
He moved away from me and the bedroom light came on. I blinked
in the sudden light while he came back to sit beside me again.
‘Do you want to talk about it?’ he asked softly.
I shrugged, easing back to lean against the headboard. ‘What’s
to talk about? I have these stupid nightmares…’
His eyes still looked a little anxious and I briefly considered
setting up a video camera to capture one of my Kodak moments on tape…
just to see what in the hell was so frightening. But, when I thought about
it a little harder, I really didn’t want to know.
‘I’ve been partnered with Heero Yuy for a long
time, and I thought he was the single most pig-headed, stubborn damn individual
on the face of the planet… and then you came home with him and I discovered
that the fates just hate my guts.’
I flashed him a wide grin. ‘But we love you, man,’
His eyes got serious… very serious. He opened his mouth
to say something but then shut it again. He got up from the bed and went
across the room toward my dresser. I took the moment to shift a little more
toward the head of the bed, sitting up a little straighter, and gathered
the faint comfort of my blanket around me. I glanced at the clock and it
was the God-awful hour of three in the morning. I rubbed at tired eyes and
wondered if I dared go back to sleep again.
Wufei came back from the dresser and tossed one of my sketchpads
and my pencils in my lap, saying only, ‘I’m going to get a drink…
would you like something?’
‘A soda would be really nice,’ I tried and then
sighed, seeing the look on his face. ‘Or a protein drink.’
He smiled and left the room.
I looked down at the pad in my lap and wondered what in the
hell he had given it to me for. Did he want me to draw something for him?
I flipped it open and found that it was the one from the war. I leafed past
the portraits of the pilots and looked at the ones that Wufei hadn’t
gotten to. The portraits of the five Gundams. I guess I’ve always
had a somewhat… odd imagination. I’d always thought of the huge
mecha as having personalities. I mean… I had fucking talked to my
damn Gundam, all right? I’m not nuts. It never really answered me.
No more than Solo ever did… until I’d…
Well, we just didn’t need to think about that right
I had drawn these odd little portraits of each of the Gundams
with… this spirit thing going on in the background. My ‘Scythe
had this strange demon kind of shadow… all dark suggestion and hints
of something really nasty. Wing, on the other hand, had this ethereal light…
a hint of something higher… something cleaner. Nataku had borne the
spirit of the whole Dragon clan, and the portrait of her - I don’t
know why I thought of that one Gundam as a her, but I did – was all
fierceness and fire. I leafed passed those pictures fairly quickly and found
the first blank page staring back at me. Had Wufei gotten lost on the way
to the kitchen? I found my fingers fiddling with my box of pencils as I
waited and finally gave in to the notion to pull one out.
I was taken with the urge to sketch Wufei, as he had looked
right after he had pulled the tie from his hair and shaken it loose. I closed
my eyes to better see the image in my head, but only saw the dead Captain
of the Londonderry. I shivered and just started to sketch.
Wufei came back after a bit and handed me an open drink. I
took it and sipped without really looking up at him. I was vaguely aware
that he stretched out on the bed beside me and was watching. I was lost
in the soothing flow of pencil over paper, I was totally unfocused and found
myself relaxing into the task. Some part of my brain wondered why Wufei
didn’t object to my drawing him, but he just lay beside me, propped
up on one elbow and sipped at his drink, still as some inanimate object.
Oddly, his gaze didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I was pulled into
that heart-beat rhythm of artistic flow that links something in my head
directly to the paper without seeming to involve any part of my conscious
mind. It’s just line and form, light and shadow.
When my fingers stilled and I blinked down into my lap, it
wasn’t Wufei’s face looking back at me… it was Solo’s.
That ironic, asshole grin intact on his familiar features. That fall of
blond hair spilling over his headband and ghosting across his eyes. Those
blue-gray eyes with their hunter’s gleam… the eyes of our protector.
‘Nice digs, rat-boy,’ echoed in my ears. ‘Ya
done pretty well fer yourself.’
I imagine my face did something very strange. I choked down
a sob because I wasn’t about to let that fucking get started again.
I just stared at him.
‘Who is he?’ Wufei dared to ask me, in a voice
that belonged in a church somewhere.
‘His name… was Solo,’ I murmured, not looking
at him where he lay so close beside me.
He was keeping still… so very still, as though not to
spook me. ‘Tell me about him?’
I opened my mouth and then shut it again. It seemed…
a base betrayal to talk to him about something like this. About something
that I hadn’t – consciously, at least – shared with Heero
yet. I wondered about that, wondered if Heero knew Solo at all. Had he touched
Solo’s portrait for luck simply because he’d seen me do it,
or had I talked about that whole superstition thing? Talked about the plague,
about this; the brother of my heart whom I had lost so… painfully.
‘He died in the L2 plague,’ I finally, grudgingly,
said and rose from the bed to put the sketchpad back on the dresser. At
the last minute, on a whim, I left the cover flipped open and propped the
portrait up where I could see it.
‘Was he… family?’ Wufei ventured and I sighed
internally, not letting it come out where he could hear me.
‘No,’ I said, still standing by the dresser with
my back to him.
‘Hey!’ my ghost objected.
‘Yes,’ I waffled, staring at the portrait and
wondered that somewhere deep down inside, I could forgive myself for the
massacre of my ship… of my home.
‘Which is it?’ Wufei chuckled at me.
My fingers rose to straighten the pad where it leaned against
the wall, ‘I suppose… he was the only kind of family a street-rat
‘And just what the hell was wrong with the family we
‘Nothin’… till you up and died.’ I
‘What?’ Wufei asked, his voice tinged with concern.
‘Nothing,’ I muttered and turned back toward the
bed. ‘Are we going back to sleep?’
He looked at me very oddly for a moment, like he wanted to
say something more, but finally just said, ‘It is four in the morning.’
I crawled back under the covers, turning my back on him. I
could feel him still behind me, just staring for a couple more minutes.
Then there was the sound of a sigh and he shifted around, climbing back
under the blanket and the light went out.
We were quiet for a time, but I knew he wasn’t any more
asleep than I was, and I’m sure he knew I was wide-awake as well.
‘Duo,’ he whispered after a bit. ‘You need
to talk to someone about these things.’
‘What?’ I grumbled, feeling irritated. ‘The
nightmares? The phobias? What the hell for?’
‘Sometimes it just helps…’ he began.
I chuckled darkly. ‘You’re as bad as Heero. What
is the point? It’s not like I don’t know what the problem is…
I could probably give you a clinical diagnosis. ‘Talking about it’
is not going to make the fear go away. Talking is not going to change anything.’
It rather surprised me how laced with bitter sarcasm my voice was.
I felt him shift and knew that he was propped up on that elbow
again, looking down at me. ‘Therapy… is not such an awful idea.
It’s been known to help.’
‘You get your head together with Heero?’ I asked
sourly. ‘It’s not like there’s some huge mystery here.
I had an… accident; as a result I am claustrophobic, isolophobic,
and fucking terrified of hard vacuum. This makes me a bad pilot. That makes
the ownership of my own ship a little… pointless. So I guess you can
add depression to my other list of problems. I don’t need a damn shrink
to tell me that!’ I stopped when I realized how much my voice had
A hand came and stroked over my hair. ‘Damn it, Duo,
you need to…’
‘Need to what?’ I snapped, pulling away from that
hand that was trying to offer comfort. ‘I just need to get through
one day at a damn time. It’ll fade… I’ll get the hell
There was the sound of a frustrated sigh. ‘But in the
mean time, you’re hurting. If it’ll help to talk to someone,
where’s the harm? It… it helped me.’
I think I forgot to breathe for a second. I blinked into the
dark and waited to see if he would say any more. He was very still back
there and I finally whispered, ‘What?’
‘I… had my own share of nightmares,’ he
said gently. ‘After the war was over and I found that… none
of the things I had done eased the… memory of losing my colony…
I was moved to roll over and face him, looking up into the
intense glitter of his eyes in the dim light. I reached to touch his hand
and he snorted softly.
‘One of these days,’ he smiled wryly, ‘I’m
going to figure out how a person like you, who has always been there for
his friends, who is always so quick to try and comfort and support…
has never been able to accept help from anybody.’
I gave him a grin. ‘I thought we’d already established
that I’m pretty screwed up.’
He chuckled with me for a minute and then flopped back over
on his side of the bed. I watched him lay there for a minute, captivated
by how different he looked with his hair down. I really was going to have
to sketch him one of these days.
‘Wufei?’ I ventured after a bit.
‘It really helped?’
‘Yeah,’ he sighed. ‘It did… not right
away. But it did.’
I gnawed on that for a little bit.
‘I’ll think about it,’ I told him.
‘It would be… a start,’ he smiled and there
was something in his voice that spoke of… relief.
Will you two shut the hell up, so’s a guy can get some
I chuckled, but remembered not to answer him out loud.
Good night, King-rat.
Maybe I wasn’t so damn nuts after all.
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