Author: Merula
Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing.

Warnings: Language. Heero swears. Like you haven't heard it before??

Afterwards + Part 23

No. No! NO! I felt the sea water drain from my lungs. This was not supposed to happen! I was not supposed to survive this! My traitorous body wouldn't listen to me however. I took in an unwilling breath and then another, coughing.

My lungs were burning, my eyes stinging from the seawater. With every breath however, my lungs hurt less, every blink made my eyes clearer. My body was starting to repair itself already. Fucking nanites.

Unfamiliar people in dark clothes worked over me, checking my temperature, blood pressure, peering into my eyes.

If they didn't stop soon I would kill them!

I could see Quatre out of the corner of my eye, sitting by my head, wrapped in a blanket, shivering in the cold. Trowa was behind him, his arms wrapped tight around Quatre.

So that's how I got out of the water.

Damn Quatre anyway. Couldn't he just leave me alone?

"How long was he in the water for?" A medic turned his head to ask someone above me.

"About 10 minutes," I heard a soft female voice reply. Idun. So she was here too. Another unwanted savior.

But- I couldn't get as angry with her as I was with Quatre and Trowa for some reason.

The medic muttered something under his breath. Then he said: "Well, he seems fine. Even his temperature is only a few degrees below normal. Heart rate's normal, lungs are clear. We'll take him to the hospital to be sure..."

"No." I said firmly and the guy blinked down at me. I guess I wasn't supposed to express an opinion.

"Heero-" Quatre leaned over me. "Let us take you to the hospital..."

"I said no." I growled at him. It's not like there would be any damage, despite my wishes otherwise.

"Damn it Heero!" Another voice said and the medic got pushed out of the way.

A ghost appeared, leaning over me where the medic had been, and I think my heart stopped.

Duo was glaring furiously at me.

He- couldn't be real.

Was he mad because I failed? I wanted to protest that it wasn't my fault, but he didn't give me time.

"You were under for more than 10 minutes! There might be some kind of damage!" Duo was snarling, leaning over me so close that I could see the water beading on his face. I could feel his breath warm against my skin. "You are going to the hospital!"

He was breathing. He was shivering.

I reached out a hand and touched his cheek.

It was wet and cold, but it was there.

He was there.

Alive.

"Duo?" I managed to force myself to inhale, to say his name as my fingers stroked over his face.

His hand came up and covered mine, anger vanishing for the moment. "I'm here, love. I'm fine."

I pulled him down into my arms, holding onto him tightly. My eyes were stinging again. I could feel his chest rising and falling with each breath; feel him shiver with the cold.

Whichever of you gods brought him back to me, thank you- oh thank you...

"I'm fine- really- I'm so sorry love. We weren't on that shuttle- couldn't contact you- then we forgot, we didn't think... oh gods but I'm so sorry." He murmured in my ear. A part of me wanted more explanation than that. How the hell did they not think to contact someone before now?

The other part of me didn't care how the hell he had turned up here. It only cared that he was here with me again.

Alive.

I wanted nothing more than to just stay there and hold him- but he was shivering and I was aware that I was too. It was too cold to stay out on the beach.

"Inside," I said.

"Hospital," he countered.

"Nanites," I retorted. I felt him sigh.

"All right." His weight lifted off of me and he brought me to my feet with him. I leaned on him as he started talking to the medics. I didn't pay attention to what he said; I just let the sound of his voice wash over me.

Alive.

As I sat up, a blanket dropped over my shoulders. I turned my head. Sanura and my aunt stood there, more blankets in hand, looking like they firmly intended on wrapping me up in them. Trowa was helping Quatre to his and I could see the blonde was shivering still. I tugged the fabric around Duo and I.

"Inside," I said to them. "It's too cold out here."

It took a few minutes, but we headed towards the house soon enough. The medics left, soothed by Duo's promise that he would take me into a doctor if I showed any ill effects. Idun held on to my arm tightly as we walked towards the house, Duo was on my other side, his arm wrapped around my waist, my arm over his shoulders, leaning into me so that I could feel his warmth.

Quatre, Duo and I stripped out of our wet clothes, at Sanura's command, changing quickly into dry. Then Duo sat me firmly down on the couch and Idun proceeded to wrap me in blankets, despite my protests. I pulled Duo down onto my lap and he didn't protest. Idun went to make tea.

Sanura leaned over us, helping Duo to towel his hair dry.

"As soon as we're gone, hop in the shower," she told him. "It's all salty."

"Yes auntie," he teased.

I needed to talk to them.

Trowa had settled Quatre down on the bed and was holding him close. Quatre was still shivering despite his blankets and Trowa's arms.

"Is there a hotel nearby?" Trowa asked me quietly. "I think he needs a very hot bath."

Quatre snorted but I knew that he'd do what Trowa wanted.

"About fifteen minutes down the road. Bed and breakfast type place- hot tubs and all that." I nodded towards the phone. "Whitewater Inn, I think it's called."

"I'll call," Idun got to her feet. "Sanura and I need a place too."

"There's the futon," I offered halfheartedly. I did need to talk to Sanura and Duo, but...

"We'll come back tomorrow, nephew." Idun smiled. She was on the phone for a few minutes. I relaxed back into the sofa, arms loosely around Duo's waist, as he sat upright on my lap putting up with Sanura's fussing over his hair.

The coloring was all wrong- but the expressions- the smiles... was I wrong in my assumption? I didn't think so.

They all left a few more minutes after that and Duo proceeded to wrap himself around me.

"You're still cold." He scolded.

"You're still shivering." I said into his hair.

"Shower?" he suggested.

I got to my feet, bringing him with me.

As we stood in the warmth of the shower, I undid his hair for him and helped him wash it out. We hadn't been talking; I had simply been enjoying having him in there with me.

It was a total surprise when he suddenly turned on me, eyes dark, a lock of his wet hair smacking against my cheek, and hissed at me:

"How could you do that to us, you bastard?"

I reached out to him, but he knocked my hand away and I realized that he was close to tears. What thoughts had been going through his mind?

"I thought I had lost you."

"And so you decided to throw your life away? What about the others Heero? What about your aunt and Sanura? What about the guys?"

"I didn't decide anything," I told him honestly. "I just couldn't stand being at the funeral anymore, so I came here. And once I was here..." I shrugged helplessly. "It was too much Duo. There were just too many things here that reminded me of you."

"You couldn't have thrown them into the ocean instead?" He snapped.

He closed his eyes then and leaned back against the wall of the shower. I could see him taking deep breaths, trying to calm himself down.

I waited.

"Do you..." he paused and I waited. "Sometimes," he started again. "Sometimes I think you love me too much." His voice was tinged with something dark that I couldn't identify.

"I know I do." I countered flatly and his eyes opened in surprise. "Can you tell me how to love you less?"

"No," he answered after a long moment.

I turned off the water and got out of the shower. Duo obviously needed some space, as much as I hated to give it to him right now. I dried off quickly and left Duo alone in the bathroom.

[part 22] [part 24] [back to Merula's fic]