Author: Calic0cat
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Fragments + Chapter 24

Hot.

Pain.

Thirsty.

Noise.

Vibration.

I sensed things before anything really made sense.

Before I struggled back to consciousness enough to realize that the noise I was hearing was that of a ship's engines coming online without proper warmup. That the vibration was that of a ship lifting off.

Disoriented and confused, I forced my eyes open and found myself strapped in a chair in the cockpit of a small ship. Sally was in the seat beside mine, twisted slightly so that she could apply pressure to my wounded shoulder. That explained the pain; the wound must have opened and started bleeding again and she was trying to get it stopped.

I swept my eyes anxiously around the small area, then released the breath that I'd been holding as I confirmed that both Heero and Wufei were present and at the ship's controls. The viewscreen showed the open door of the launch airlock for an instant as we passed through it; then we were moving through the launch corridor and hovering while the inner door closed. There was a pause while the launch chamber's air was removed. The ship's engines roared and the ship itself vibrated in protest as Heero redlined it immediately when the outer door irised open. The force of launch slammed me back against the chair, pain flared into agony, and everything went blissfully black and silent again.

***

I don't remember much of the trip after launch. Just a few blurry, feverish memories.

Sally cursing whoever stocked the ship's medical kit.

Fei and Heero holding me down while she did something damn painful to my shoulder. Namely, cleaned the infected wound with whiskey that must've been about 100-proof from the ship's bar - which was far better stocked than the medical kit according to Fei.

Somebody always being at my side whenever I was conscious and coaxing me to swallow a few sips of a sugar/salt/water solution to try and counter the dehydration and blood loss. Finding out just how many units of blood they'd given me once I arrived at the hospital made it clear why that hadn't really improved things though it had at least kept me from getting a whole hell of a lot worse.

And then there's the things that seem like memories but obviously aren't. Like Heero holding my hand and murmuring things that I can't quite hear in a tone that makes my heart leap before he leans over and kisses me tenderly.

Damn fever-induced hallucinations.

If there'd been any truth in those hallucinations at all, then I'd have woken up in the hospital with Heero by my side. Or at least a fucking *note* for god's sake.

Instead, I woke up with Wufei there to tell me that Heero and Sally had gone back to the satellite to join the team that had made the actual bust. Yep, I'd definitely been hallucinating.

"Maxwell, have you heard a thing I've said?"

I gave Wufei a sheepish forced grin and admitted, "Not a thing after the bit about our partners joining forces since we were both unfit for duty. I've been too busy planning what kind of mayhem the two of us can get up to while they're gone."

He saw right through me - as usual - and said gently, "He only agreed to go after Sally assured him that you would be fine once you were given a blood transfusion. Out of all of us, he was the one with the most thorough knowledge of the factory part of the satellite. And besides that, it wouldn't be fair for someone else to get all the credit for the bust after everything you two went through on this assignment. This way, he's representing you both."

I glared at my much-too-observant best friend and said drily, "Yeah right. And Heero Yuy is always so gosh-darned anxious to make sure he gets the proper credit, now isn't he. Don't try and pretty it up, Chang.

"Duty's the most important thing to him, same as it's always been. With his memory back again, everything just went right back to the way it used to be as far as Heero's concerned. Why wouldn't it? His temporary aberration of behaviour caused by the amnesia is over and done with.

"I'm the one who was dumb enough to fall in love with an 'aberration' the same way I fell in love with the real thing in the first place. Only difference is that the aberration acted like he might've felt the same way in return. But the aberration's gone now, so..." I shrugged without thinking and bit my lip as my injured shoulder protested.

Wufei frowned. "Duo, he *did* talk to you alone before he left. Are you sure that you don't remember that? On the ship, while we were waiting for medical transport to arrive, before he and Sally left?"

That damn hallucination reared its all-too-tempting head. I hesitated before admitting, "I'm not sure. There's *something* but it doesn't make much sense." Wufei raised one eyebrow in inquiry and I shook a finger at him, "Don't even bother to ask 'cause I'm not telling. It's just a hallucination from the fever and everything else anyway."

He shook his head and gave me a steady look. "Duo, don't dismiss whatever it is too lightly. He *was* worried about you. He shielded you with his own body while he carried you to the escape ship. Maybe you should give him the benefit of the doubt, hmm?"

I turned my head away to avoid Wufei's insistent gaze. I didn't want to talk about this anymore. Heero hadn't said or done anything from the time he broke us out of that small room onwards that even faintly implied he thought of me as anything other than a partner. Not that I could be sure of. Hell, he'd hardly spoken to me at all. Couldn't even seem to bring himself to *look* at me most of the time. When he did, he scowled. And...

"Duo..." Wufei's voice was quiet but insistent.

"Fei, he *knows* how I feel. I flat-out *told* him, okay?" My voice cracked and I stopped to steady it before continuing, "I told him *before* he went all cold and shut me out again. I overstepped that damn invisible line again, Fei. And he did the same damn thing he's always done." I heard Wufei take a breath as if to speak and I sharpened my voice, cutting him off before he could speak. "Don't you dare lecture me about giving him the fucking benefit of the doubt 'cause there's no doubt left. That invisible line isn't just a line; it's a fucking high-voltage electric fence and I'm sick and tired of gettin' electrocuted. I just..." I closed my eyes and shook my head. "If he really does care - and I do mean *if*, don't jump to the conclusion that I'm agreeing here, Chang - if he cares, he's the one who'll have to prove it. Next move is up to him."

I left my other thoughts unspoken. That even if he cared, that didn't mean he actually was interested in a relationship with me.

Just because "Odin" had seemed to feel something deeper than casual friendship or a working partnership that didn't necessarily mean that *Heero* would want to pursue it. If the feelings were there but he wasn't willing or able to express them... Well, in that case, their existence didn't exactly mean a whole hell of a lot.

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