This Beginning's End + Part 17 (cont)

I sigh. That particular issue seems so... petty... now. Pointless. Ridiculous. "Heero, don't apologize about that anymore. It's... "

"But I need to," he insists. "You need to know, Trowa. Duo loved you. I mean, really loved you. He cared about me, he even told me he wanted me, but you, he loved."

I frown. Heero thinks... he doesn't know that... ?

"Heero, that's... he... " I stop. God, this kind of conversation makes me want to be somewhere else. "Heero... he left me a note," I manage.

He frowns at me. He thinks I'm trying to change the subject. "I think... I think you should read it." I motion to the pants I was wearing before, and he hands them to me. Carefully, I remove the folded-up letter from my pocket. My hand trembles slightly as I hand it to Heero. I don't really want him to read it. I don't want anyone else to touch it. It's... it's all I have left. But he needs to see the words... needs to know.

He takes it cautiously, and reseats himself in the chair by my bed to read. I watch him, watch his face change as he reads the letter. I see the already delicate complexion go paler as he reads Duo's words, discovers Duo's feelings for him. I watch him, and I see in his face a vulnerability I have never before seen in Heero Yuy. At this moment, he is... beautiful.

He shuffles the papers, reading the letter through several times as though he doesn't trust the evidence of his own eyes. When he has finished, he stares at the papers for several moments before he looks up at me. I see the turmoil in his eyes - pain and joy and loss all war for supremacy. "I... I didn't know," he says hoarsely. "He never... "

"He wouldn't," I tell him wearily. I'm so tired. "He... he thought... It was hard for him to tell people that. It was kind of... a superstition for him. He thought it jinxed things. That anyone he loved would eventually leave him." I close my eyes. "I guess I had just fulfilled the prophecy for him, so he didn't dare tell you... "

"Enough." He barely whispers, but it's enough. He carefully smoothes the letter, folding the pages back over before he sets it on the small table beside my bed. "Trowa... we're doing the same thing we've been doing all this time. Blaming ourselves. Regretting what we did wrong. Trying to pinpoint exactly which stupid ass thing we did to mess things up." He shakes his head. "It's... stupid. It never helped us before. Why are we still doing it?"

I stare wordlessly at him. What does he mean? What is he saying?"

"Duo... loved us. Loved us! And we - both of us - all three of us, actually, messed it up. Now it's too late. He's dead. We can never fix it, never make it right."

I close my eyes against the agonized finality of the words. I feel more tears leak out from my closed eyelids and run over my face to my bed. I can't even summon the energy to care.

I hear him move, and his hand is touching my face again, wiping the tears away. "Trowa, he's dead. We can't change it, and we can't change what happened. But we can be sure we don't make more stupid mistakes."

I open my eyes. Is he suggesting... he can't be suggesting...

"Pretty much all we've got left is each other," he says, and I notice the flush of embarrassment in his cheeks. This is a very untypical Heero conversation, and I can tell he's as uncomfortable discussing such emotional matters as I am. He's determined though. He's on a mission. Operation Emotion? Sounds like a pop ballad...

"I mean, there's Quatre and Wufei... but they have each other. They... aren't the same."

"Heero," I begin hoarsely. "I... I can't. Not after... you're too... "

"If you tell me I'm too damn pure for you... " he begins hotly.

"Heero... "

"I don't know how you could even think that. I'd killed more people by the time I was ten than... I was raised by an assassin, for God's sake. I was... " He stops his disjointed ramblings, and stares at me. "Do you know... do you know who... who supported me? Who funded my training? Who paid my upkeep, gave my orders... for most of my life? Who... who made me what I am?"

I stare at him, confused.

"Dekim Barton," he confesses raggedly. "J. told him about me... .but it was Dekim that ran the show. Told me how to behave, gave me my missions... God, Trowa! How... how tainted can you be?"

"Heero, no... "

"If you're guilty by association, then so am I!" he insists.

I lay on my bed, my eyes closed, trying to absorb this information. But it's not his fault... and he broke away. He refused to play his programmed role in Operation Meteor. "It's not that, Heero," I tell him. "That doesn't matter. And it's not even... it's not just... " I break off with a growl. "There's so much... You don't understand," I finish lamely.

"So tell me," he replies calmly.

I look up at him in astonishment. Tell him?

"Tell me these things I don't know. Help me understand," he clarifies.

Tell him? Tell him about... A vast disgust sweeps through me at the thought of giving voice to all those memories, of ever telling anyone, much less Heero, the details of my life. At the same time, I'm astonished by another, equally powerful feeling. I want to tell him, to tell someone. I don't want to be the only one who knows, don't want to be alone with the past anymore. I want there to be someone... who knows. And cares.

These contradictory impulses battle each other. And I'm left speechless, unable to give voice to either one.

Heero stands up, and looks down at me. "I don't know what there is between us," he says quietly. "I know I've always... cared about you. I've... wanted you. In several different senses of the word," he adds as he sees the panic sweep across my face. "I don't know how you feel... about me." His expression is touched by that vulnerability again. "I don't want to make you go anywhere you don't want to. But I know, regardless of anything else, I want to be with you. I want us to be... friends. Real friends. And real friends... real friends talk to each other. Talk to me, Trowa," he entreats softly. He lays his hand on the bed next to me, palm up. "Help me understand."

I stare at his hand. I feel my fingers clench into fists. I know what he's offering. I just don't know if I can accept it, don't know if I can ever release barriers that have stood for years... don't know if I can...

I tremble slightly as his fingers close warmly over the hand I have hesitantly dropped on his.

He stands, waiting, beside my bed, waiting for me to begin to talk. I struggle, but I can't. I can't speak. I can't stare into those eyes, and shape the words... tell him...

He shifts, moving his hand from mine, and I glance up at him. Has he taken my silence for rejection? Is he tired of waiting? Has he reconsidered his offer?

"I'm getting on the bed with you," he says quietly. "Is that all right?"

I nod quickly before I can refuse him. I try to move over, succeeding only in jarring my back. He sees me wince, and takes hold of my arm, stilling me. "Hold on," he orders.

He kicks off his shoes (definitely palace trained, my mind comments irrelevantly) and seats himself on the edge of my bed. Reaching under me, he lifts me up carefully, sliding into the place vacated. Carefully, he lowers my limp weight, this time resting me on top of him, rather than on the bed. I tense, trying to pull away from the contact, but he carefully stretches out his legs, ensuring that we're both comfortably arranged. One of his hands rests on the back of my arm, the other against my hair.

"Now, you don't have to look at me, but I'm here," he says softly. "Talk to me, Tro."

I try to stop the tremors running through my body. Heero's body beneath mine is hard and yielding at the same time. I search for feelings of disgust, of fear... but don't find them. I feel... comforted. Safe. For a minute, I'm still silent, still unable to speak. Then, suddenly, as I feel Heero's fingers gently moving through my hair, I can't stop talking. I tell him things I've only relived in nightmares. My words run into each other, I'm aware that I'm rambling, making no sense... Hot tears run down my face onto his chest, and I'm still speaking, still mumbling, my lips still shaping words as I sink down into oblivion.

________________________________________

Slowly I relax, slowly I flick the safety on and lay my gun beside my pillow, careful to keep it within easy reach. The signal from Wufei didnít come, the noise in the hall has worn down and several minutes have passed. I guess it was a false alarm. Iím in the mood where I shoot at shadows, though, and the racket in the hallway was a bit unnerving.

I move my fingers, running them gently through the soft hair beneath my hand. Iím edgy, but my concern is not for my own safety. My nerves are alert for Trowa. Heís not able to protect himself right now, and so I need to watch over him. Quatre and Wufei somehow understand my feeling. Nothing tangible is threatening him anymore, yet when they came in over an hour ago to check on us, and found Trowa asleep in my arms, they informed me - before I said anything - that they would be on guard outside the room, and wouldnít let anyone through. They said nothing more before they left, quietly closing the door behind them. They didnít have to. It is enough that we are together, and that we have closed ranks to protect our own from any outsiders - whether they be well-meaning or threatening.

I shift slightly, settling Trowa into a different position. He doesnít stir at all as I move him. He hasnít moved in several hours, not since he talked himself to sleep, worn out with grief and shock and the stress of our conversation and his subsequent revelations about his past.

I canít stop a slight shudder as I recall some of the things he told me before he dropped into unconsciousness. Almost from the beginning of his speech he was largely incoherent, jumping from memory to memory, leaving out words, sometimes supplying only his part of some long-buried conversation, sometimes railing against some absent, but obviously not forgotten, antagonist. The one thing that came across crystal clear, though, was the absolute brutality and misery that characterized Trowaís life before he became a Gundam pilot. His rambling recitation, half painful confession, half agonizing flashback, told me far more than I had ever guessed about the trials Trowa underwent from his childhood. The things he revealed... horrified me. And the worst part is, I know that thatís not everything.

This knowledge puts Trowaís recent ordeal in an even darker cast. After experiencing all that, learning to deal with it, building up another life and attempting to distance himself from it, to be thrust back into that world must have been... unbearable. Yet, he withstood it. For us.

I close my eyes, grimacing against the thought. Sympathy, remorse, guilt... What good are they? What have they done for us? What do they change? Sometimes guilt is good, it prevents a person from making the same mistakes heís made before, gives him a consequence for his actions. Sometimes, though... Sometimes it doesnít just keep someone from making mistakes. It hinders, paralyzes... keeps them from taking any action at all. Thatís the state weíve all lived in since before we came back to space. Itís time to stop. Itís time to go forward. Weariness stabs through me. I have to do it, I have to ensure that I donít waste any more opportunities... but at this moment I donít know if I have the strength to move on... without Duo.

Even as some more alert corner of my mind starts to fight it, I feel myself begin to succumb to the exhaustion that fills me. My eyes remain closed, my thoughts grow less and less coherent, and my awareness fades away to a tiny spark of wakefulness that is... almost...

Just as Iím about to lose myself to sleep, a tiny noise intrudes itself upon my consciousness. In my nearly-asleep state, it takes a moment for my mind to properly register the sound. Suddenly it clicks, and the realization sends my hand grasping for my gun even before my eyelids open.

It was the sound of the door, quietly opening and stealthily closing behind... someone.

Wufei or Quatre wouldnít have opened the door without signaling first. Therefore, this intruder isnít one of them. Someone has breached our security.

My hand closes around my gun. My mind rapidly considers and rejects dozens of strategies for dealing with the intruder while pinned down by Trowaís weight. Finally, after several seconds have elapsed since my realization of the meaning of the small noise I heard, I open my eyes to see who has invaded our rooms.

I stare for a moment, then close my eyes. I must have fallen asleep after all.

I move my fingers, feeling the cold metal of the gun. I shift slightly, feeling a slight pins and needles sensation where one thigh has fallen asleep.

It canít be.

I open my eyes again, and heís moved. Heís standing next to the bed.

It canít be.

Itís impossible.

Iím dreaming.

Why is my subconscious mind torturing me like this?

I stare up at him, and he returns the perusal. Slowly, his expression changes, his mouth widening into a curiously gentle smile.

"You guys look comfortable," he remarks softly. "Any room for me?"

"Duo," I manage, my voice no more than a whisper.

The smile widens into his customary grin. "The very same!" he announces cheerily. "Glad to see me?"

"Duo, how... what... .why... ."

"Donít forget who, where and when," he teases. "You seem surprised to see me."

"Youíre... youíre dead," I tell him stupidly. "I saw you... you... you didnít get out, Duo, you... "

"Easy, Hee-chan," he soothes, reaching down to lightly cup my cheek with his palm. I start slightly at the touch of his skin on mine, something I thought that I would never experience again. "Iím not dead," he assures me solemnly.

For some reason, those words, or the tone in which they were uttered, strike me as extremely funny. I start to shake, a few chuckles escaping, turning into a ragged sort of half-laughter, gaining strength...

"Itís ok, Heero," Duo tells me firmly, his fingers tightening on my chin. "Calm down. Iím here. Iím alive. Everything is ok."

I recognize the warning he is giving me - ĎYouíre being an hysterical onna. Control yourselfí - and immediately force myself to calm down. I try to register this new data. Duo is not dead. Duo is alive. Duo is here. It doesnít seem real. It canít be true. After the agony of grief Iíve lived in for the past several days, it canít be true. Iím not that lucky.

"What happened to you?" I demand when I trust myself to speak freely. I want to scream, jump up, wrap my arms around him... but I canít disturb Trowa. He needs the rest. Also, Iím half-afraid that this is some cruel, ephemeral dream, and that Duo will vanish if I touch him.

"That is a very boring story," Duo tells me, but his gaze strays to Trowa. He reaches down, and I feel his fingers move over mine through Trowaís hair, see him move over to gently stroke the sleeping manís cheek. "Is he all right, Hee-chan?" he asks me softly.

I shrug. "Physically, heís better. The doctor said his feverís been mostly down for a week, and most of his secondary injuries are healed. His back... " I pause, shaking my head. "I saw it a few hours ago. Itís better, Duo, but it still looks... horrible. The doctor wants to do skin grafts, but itíll be awhile before itís healed enough even for that."

The smile had begun to fade mid-way through my report; by the time Iím finished his lips are compressed into a thin, angry line. "Bastard," he mutters, and I know heís not talking about Dr. Rushton.

"He is dead, right?" I ask, probing into the unknown territory.

Duo nods grimly. "Oh yeah," he says with malicious satisfaction. "Thereís no picking that bastard out of the trash heap and patching him up this time. He was completely dead before the colony blew up."

I wince at the reminder of that cataclysmic event that - I thought - had robbed me of one of the people in the world who are the most important to me.

His expression softens. Of course he can read my reaction. Heís Duo.

Heís Duo. A wave of relief sweeps through me, so intense that it leaves me feeling weak. Heís Duo, and heís alive.

"I meant what I said before," he comments lightly. "You guys look comfortable. Is there room... ?" This time, the question trails away to nothing, and ends on a decidedly tentative note. He canít even think there wouldnít be.

"Of course," I say vehemently. He smiles, kicks off his shoes, and crosses to the other side of the bed, settling in to my left.

"Here," he invites, sliding one hand under Trowaís oblivious form, "scoot him over a little. I know heís heavier than he looks. Heís all muscle," he informs me, grinning.

I donít think to argue, following Duoís lead until weíre settled to his satisfaction. Somehow, heís arranged it so that my left arm is around him, his head pillowed on my shoulder. Trowaís weight is distributed evenly between us. I feel the back of his head brushing against my chest, and his cheek rests on Duoís chest. One of his limp hands is settled on my shoulder, the other on Duoís chest.

I have never felt so comfortable, so warm, in my life. The warmth builds up in me until I can hardly contain it. I have to close my eyes, determined not to give in to the prickling I feel behind them.

"So, Hee-chan," Duo murmurs, "Happy to see me?"

I open my eyes, looking down to see his violet eyes gazing coyly up at me. "Yes," I tell him flatly. Thereís nothing more to say.

He grins. "Likewise. There were a few hours there... I thought that my goose was finally cooked for real."

"What happened?" I demand again. I need to know.

Duo sighs, his gaze moving away from mine. "I didnít get off the colony in time," he begins uncomfortably. "By the time I blasted off, the reactions had already kicked in, and the explosion was imminent."

"What were you... " I begin, stopping when Duo shakes his head vigorously. "Iím going to have to tell Trowa, eventually," he says evenly. "Iíd rather not tell that part twice."

I nod my head slowly, accepting his temporary delay.

"Anyway, I wasnít able to clear the shield into space before the explosion," he continues. "I was almost there, though, and there were so many holes in the shield by that time that the pressure in there was almost equalized with space. So the explosion just blew me outward, and when I broke the shield space, it just kept pushing me out."

I nod, silently encouraging him to continue.

"I was in the Gundam, and since I was far enough away from the actual explosion, the suit held together. The shockwave was enough to knock me out, though. I donít know how long I was unconscious. When I came to, I thought I was fucked," he admits bluntly. "Most of my gear was shot to shit, including my communications gear and most of the radar and navigation systems, and I was running at seventy-two percent power loss."

I whistle softly under my breath. Iíd have thought I was fucked, too.

"So Iím running on less than thirty percent power, I have no communications, auxiliary radar, no food or water, I need to try to figure out how to fix the suit from inside the cockpit without the necessary parts or tools, and I had to piss like a racehorse," he concludes whimsically. "It wasnít the high point of my life."

"So how did you... "

"It wasnít easy," he assures me emphatically. "I had to channel most of the remaining power into life support systems. I managed to rig it so the suit could move, but I had no clue which direction to move it in."

"So howíd you figure it out?" I ask interestedly. It has always amazed me, the mechanical miracles that Duo can work at will. When you ask him how he did whatever he should not have been logically able to do, he waves a hand and tells you that he Ďrigged something,í or Ďfiddled with some wires,í or Ďmessed around a little.í

He looks up at me again. His expression is wary, but a small grin plays around his mouth. "I saw you, and saw which direction you went back in," he tells me.

I stare at him for a long moment. The long moment stretches into a longer moment. Neither of us speak.

Finally, I break the silence.

"What?" I ask, intelligently.

"I saw you," he repeats. "From the angle you were at, you couldnít see me. Light was reflecting off of some piece of junk right next to me, and blocked me."

I just stare at him, a new horror dawning. My god. He could have died, and I had been close enough for him to see me on auxiliary, and I looked right past him.

"Donít get all worked up, Hee-chan," he demands. "It wasnít your fault. And you showed me which way to go. I pulled some of the power off life support, punched it into navigation, got an adequate chart, and was on my way." He grins again. "It probably would have been faster if I walked," he comments. "The trip took a while."

I shake my head. I could have saved myself so much misery, and Trowa... .god, I would never have had to put Trowa through that, if...

"Cut it out, Heero," Duo advises firmly. I look at him again, and see that his brows are raised warningly. "Itís not your fault you didnít see me, and it all worked out fine. So donít wallow in guilt."

I nod. Iíd just resolved not to do that. Old habits die hard, I guess.

"When did you get in to the XV7889?" I ask.

He grins again, and this time the expression is rueful. "About an hour after you left," he confesses ruefully. I groan and close my eyes, allowing my chin to sink to my chest. "I wanted to go right back out, but Une wouldnít let me. She dragged me forcibly into a room, threw me onto a bed and threatened to shoot me if I moved. It seemed easier to sleep than argue, plus I was awful tired, so I slept for a few hours, then left to follow you." He pauses, staring down at the top of Trowaís head. "Iím sorry if you were... upset."

"Upset," I repeat flatly. "That doesnít begin to cover it," I admit.

His eyes, those eyes I thought I would never see again, abruptly raise to meet mine. "Really?" he asks tentatively.

I tighten the arm that rests beneath him, pulling him closer to me, while I reach over Trowa and run my free hand over his hair and down the thick length of his braid. "Really," I tell him seriously. "I thought you were gone, Duo, and Iíd... " I pause, and take a deep breath. In some ways, this is even harder than the conversation with Trowa. He was so shocked and battered and overwhelmed that he didnít need or even want any specifics. I could speak in vague generalities with him, talk in carefully couched terms of the future, tell him what I wanted without telling him what I wanted. Duo, though, is fine. Heís whole, and undamaged, and probably feeling a little smug since he came through the door and saw Trowa and me together. He probably even had a nap on his way here. Heíll expect... heíll need more.

"Heero, you donít have to... "

"No," I interrupt him abruptly, shaking my head. "I do need to. Because I never did. I never have. And I thought I would never have the chance." I take a deep breath. "Duo, I know I never told you this, and I tried to not show it, but Iíve... " I stop. "For a long time, Iíve... Iíve cared about you. And... Trowa. I tried not to," I admit. "I didnít want to. But I did. I do. I thought, when we slept together the first time, that you did it out of pity. And I hated that." I press on, over his cry of protest. "Then, later, I thought you were with me because... because you needed someone. I didnít think you could ever feel about me, the way I... " I falter to a stop again. Damn, I suck at this!

"Heero, I didnít think that. I... "

"I read your letter to Trowa," I interrupt. That stopped him - heís staring at me in amazement. "He showed it to me, because... well, I pretty much told him what I just told you. So he showed me the letter, so that Iíd know the truth. And so I knew how you felt, but Iíd never told you... " I close my eyes and breathe in. "I never told you that I love you."

Thereís absolute silence. He doesnít say anything.

Why doesnít he say anything?

Is he mad that I read the letter?

Has the fact that I left him floating in space to die changed his mind about me?

After a moment, I canít stand it any more. Cautiously, I open my eyes. Heís staring at me, his violet eyes luminous with unshed tears. A brilliant smile rests on his face.

"Oh, Hee-chan," he says softly. "I canít tell you how happy I am to hear that."

I feel an answering smile curve my lips, and I smile wider at the unfamiliarity of the sensation. Duo laughs, and stretches upwards... and I lower my head... and his mouth presses to mine, our lips melding together in a kiss that is at once more gentle and more passionate than any of the fervent, almost desperate embraces that we have shared in the past.

I feel one of the tears that I have been trying so hard to hold back escape and roll down my cheek.

Duo is home.

TBC

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