Author: June
see prolouge or chapter 1 for notes, warnings, disclaimer

Reformation/Reaffirmation + Chapter 4

new sheen all over everything
when you open up your mouth to sing.
baseballs travel further when you watch them fly.
apples fatten on the trees when you walk by.
you bring something unreplaceble to each and every day.
or you used to anyway.
but this world couldn't hold you
and you slipped free
this world couldn't hold you
and you slipped free
without me

- "Bluejays and Cardinals" m.g.

The weight pressing down on him was familiar but he couldn't put a name to the body. It felt like someone he knew. It felt like someone he trusted. And it felt like they knew what they were doing. Simple, steady, rhythmic, in control, confident, it filled him with a warm, dark sense of security. This was exactly right, exactly what he was supposed to feel. His head pressed back into the pillow and the feeling in his gut twined and curled into one sharp, perfect moment of completeness. The figure above him was real and heavy, the sweat on his skin slick under his palm. Wufei slid his hand along the young man's ribs, rubbing his forearm up his back, fingers just tracing the knobs of his spine. He'd known this person forever. His hand moved up from vertebra to vertebra, until he reached the base of the skull, finding damp skin under thick hair.

He tried to open his eyes and found them heavy and sandy with weariness. The weight shifted off him and laid down beside him. He rolled into the warmth now settled next to him and came up against something cool and unmoving. Hands groping under the blanket for the familiar presence of the young man, he found a pair of bony knees dressed in crisp trousers, curled against a narrow chest underneath an equally crisp dress shirt. He fought with his eyelids and his voice, needing to find what he had lost, needing it desperately. He clutched at this other body until he found a neck and a jaw, cheekbones and hair under his fingers like fine silk. Wrenching his eyes open, he found Quatre in bed with him, dead as the day they'd found him.

I blinked and stared and didn't breath until the body faded and I realized that it was the cold wall against my palm, not cold skin. Then I took a breath. The dream and the nightmare were making my chemistry go haywire. My shirt clung to my chest, and I shivered as sweat dried; my heart thudded in my ears and my fingers buzzed with adrenalin. But I felt a deep physical longing for the comfort the dream had given me. I wanted it back because it had been real; it had been mine. But Quatre had been real too. I could feel them both - terror and longing all at once. Then I rolled away from the wall and noticed the sticky, rapidly cooling mess in my underwear. Fantastic.

I slid out of bed as quietly as I could, searching for my flip flops with my toes before I stepped down onto the floor. Then I shuffled to the sink to clean up. I heard Onur shift in his bunk and scowled down at my stomach, holding open the elastic band and wiping away the evidence of my dream. When I was finished, I turned and even in the dark, I saw him watching me.

"They're coming tomorrow, right? It's the 13th."

I nodded. "I'm not ready to do this again."

+

Trowa and Heero showed up first. They came together, and I was waiting for them in the common room, seated at the table where we'd celebrated my birthday almost two months earlier. We nodded our greetings and they pulled out two chairs across from me. They hung their coats on the backs of the chairs, and I noticed that they weren't Preventer jackets. They both looked like they could use a drink and I felt bad that they couldn't smuggle in a flask. I felt like I could use one, too. I wasn't ready for this. I'd tried all morning to be ready, not actually knowing what being ready really meant. Did it mean not getting emotional? Did it mean embracing my emotions and crying like a little kid? Did it mean holding hands or solemn, respectful silence? They were all coming here, which meant I was sort of the host, which meant I had to look out for them, which meant I had to be ready for them, which meant I was back to where I started not knowing what "ready" meant.

It was difficult for me to believe it had already been a year since they'd visited like this, for this reason. Heero didn't really look like he believed it either. He didn't look up at me, and I got the distinct impression that Trowa had dragged him here. Trowa, as usual looked cold and blank.

"You look like hell," he said. It wasn't an insult, so I didn't treat it as one.

"Should I look different?"

He shrugged and shook his head, absolving himself of having to make that call. Then he removed a small package from his pocket and offered a quirked eyebrow as he put it on the table. I smelled it immediately - marinated chicken of some kind and broccoli. "You could use the protein," he murmured.

"Yes, I could," I replied, mouth already watering. He hadn't brought any utensils and I didn't want to draw attention to the fact that someone brought me food by going to get some, so I ate all it with my fingers. It was still warm and the chicken was tender and clean-tasting. The broccoli was crisp and salty and it was probably the best thing I'd tasted in two years. He put two peaches on the table after I was done with the chicken and I made the conscious decision not to feel humiliated over devouring food that someone had brought to me out of concern and perhaps pity. If I thought that Trowa would hold it over my head later, I would have taken the food and given it to Onur or Karl, but watching him watch me eat, it wasn't difficult for me to see that I'd just made his day - as well as this day, of all days, could be made.

"The last time we were here did not end the way we would have liked it," Trowa said softly, his lips barely moving. "It was not my intention to provoke you into acting out. I hadn't meant to cause trouble."

I laughed. "Oh, it ended just the way I like it." Trowa's mouth tightened and Heero tensed. I sucked peach juice off my fingers and told the truth. "You didn't cause trouble. They would say I went looking for it." Heero abruptly stood up and walked towards the rear corner of the common room. Trowa and I watched him go, not sure whether something was wrong or if he'd just decided to wash his hands. We both relaxed when he returned with a damp paper towel and handed it to me. I finished wiping off my hands, watching Trowa watch me do it.

"Is that how you see what happened?"

At that moment, Duo appeared in the doorway, eyes darting over the small crowd to find our table. We made eye contact and he started toward us, dropping his gaze as he came. "I think that... they were looking to find me in trouble."

"They do that for everyone here?" he asked, moving the empty food carton back and forth across the table with his knuckles.

"More or less. They keep a close eye. Obviously."

Duo made it to the table then and came around to my side before touching either Heero or Trowa. It was always better to approach them from the front with both hands visible. He dropped his outer shirt over the back of the chair and tugged his t-shirt out of the waist of his jeans before circling back around to greet them. Heero stood up and gave him an awkward hug that lasted a little longer than he appeared to want, but Duo didn't let go until Heero finally gave up and wrapped both arms the whole way around his ribcage. They were pretty much the same size and height and when Heero hooked his chin over Duo's shoulder and closed his eyes, I thought that they looked like brothers who hadn't seen each other in long enough that this greeting could be different than their others.

He bullied a similar hug out of Trowa, though it didn't last as long and didn't look like it needed to. When he came back to my side of the table he tugged on his t-shirt, tenting it open to try and get some air underneath. From my seat I saw a shadowy strip of pale skin and a trail of dark hair disappearing into his jeans. I looked away and then jumped a little when he laid his hand on the back of my neck. "Hey, buddy," he murmured, taking a seat beside me. His hand was sweaty, and he left it there until I turned and met his gaze. His eyes had dark smudges underneath them, making the irises look bruised purple. I leaned away from him and he shifted further into his own chair, shoving his hands into his pockets. I pulled the deck of cards from my pocket of my coveralls and laid them down in the middle of the table.

Last year, we didn't talk about Quatre. They all just showed up, and they never said whether it was planned or whether they each decided on their own that they needed to see the pilot they nearly lost on the one-year anniversary of the death of the one they did. Duo showed up first and we played basketball until Trowa came and two-on-one didn't seem fair. But we kept the court until Heero wandered into the yard, looking skittish and depressed all at once. We played two-on-two for a few minutes until Duo claimed he'd pass out with the heat, and then we went inside and continued to not talk about him while we played Gin Rummy until visiting hours ended.

By the looks of it, Duo didn't want the afternoon to go that way this time. He took a quick breath and held it, and we all tensed, waiting for him to say something. Then he let it out with a soft huff and leaned forward to put his elbows on the table. He picked up the deck of cards and started shuffling it, all the while glancing among the three of us as he started to speak. "So, here's what we're gonna do. We'll play Gin for as long as we feel like it, but the game is not an excuse to not talk to each other. We all showed up to bug Chang for the same reason, and if we don't wanna talk about the reason, I guess that's okay, but we are gonna talk to each other. Got it?"

Unsurprisingly, Heero wasn't looking at any of us, Trowa looked mildly irritated, and I was the spokesman for the group. "What is it you'd like to talk about, Maxwell?"

He shot me a glare for my tone of voice and then dealt Trowa and Heero their first cards. "It's been twelve months; why not start with some of the things we did this year that we haven't already told each other?" He glanced up at Trowa and Heero as he continued to deal. "And no Preventer crap. I know it's your job and sometimes mine, but I don't wanna hear about it. All the interesting stuff is classified anyway. Gossip about Sally or Zechs I can handle, but nothing more legit than what you'd find on the bathroom wall." Heero snorted a laugh and then looked like he'd spooked himself. Duo laughed right back at him and we all picked up our cards.

When no one said anything else, Duo shook his head and mumbled, "For fuck sake, okay, I'll go first." He drew, considered his hand, and then discarded. "I found Howard a lady-friend. She owns a small engine repair shop on L2, and when she became a client of ours a few months ago, I hooked the two of them up."

Trowa arched an eyebrow and looked impressed. He drew from the pile, laid down three sevens and then discarded. "Well done. Does he find time to spend with her, given all the traveling you do?"

Duo nodded. "He's decided that colony cluster is the place to be for salvage missions. And he's right. The place has always been a dump, but they shoot shit out into space all the time these days, now that they're tryin' to clean it up a bit. We can barely keep ahead of it all." Silence fell as both Heero and I took our turns, then Duo spoke up again. "Okay, dealer went first; now you go, Barton. Don't think I'm gonna make this easy on any of you. Whether or not the point of today is to distract ourselves or to wallow, I want dialog."

"Alright. Catherine's giving up the circus and moving to Rome to live closer to us." He looked to me for a reaction and I tried to look suitably interested. Heero didn't so much as blink, which said to me that he already knew. "There was an accident and she broke her ankle, but I think it will be good for her to stay in one place for awhile." Duo had perked up immediately at Trowa's conspicuous, though perhaps unintended pronoun use. He made all the appropriate noises and expressed his sympathy, though he was clearly more interested in that 'us.' Living up to my reputation as a selfish misogynist who wouldn't give two shits that someone, who may have served me horrible coffee in the past, fell off her tight-rope, I didn't say anything.

Heero cleared his throat when it was his turn to speak, paused to lay down a red ten, jack, queen run, and then said in his usual nasal monotone, "Relena is-"

"Don't care," Duo interrupted. "Whatever you're about to say, we probably already know about it; she's running the world and has no privacy."

He gave a dissatisfied "Hn" and wrinkled his brow in thought. "Noin told me Zechs lets her braid his hair in pigtails before they go to bed."

If Duo'd had a beverage, it would have gone shooting out his nose. Instead he gasped and snorted a few times and then dissolved into helpless laughter, pounding the table a few time for extra emphasis. Trowa was laughing quietly, hand in front of his mouth. "Why on earth would she tell you that, Yuy?" I asked, trying and failing to conceal my amusement.

The thoughtful look was back. "I don't really know. Maybe it's because she misses having Maxwell around the office." He turned to Duo. "You had that mission with her not too long ago. Did she...?"

"Yes," he said, struggling to regain his breath. "Yes, she did."

"Good grief," I muttered. "I bet they looked charming."

"They did, and yours would, too. Now, spill, buddy."

I played my king on Heero's run and gave it some thought. "We're getting a new dishwasher in the kitchen, which will make all of our lives much easier since the old one broke three months ago."

Duo rolled his eyes. "Booooring. That has essentially nothing to do with you."

I made a face back at him. "Yes. It does. No more dish-pan hands for me. Our cells don't exactly come stocked with hand lotion. And anyway, none of you said anything that actually had anything to do with your own lives either."

Duo looked a little sheepish when he a drew a card and eyed his hand. "Okay, okay. Oh!" We all watched him expectantly. "I've got a good one. This is new; I don't know how I forgot until now to tell you. I bought Scythe a present in honor of our second year together. Got a sweet deal on it too; working with Howard sure has it's perks." He leaned in close and waited until we followed suit, then whispered, "I picked up a cloaking system liked I had on Deathscythe Hell. I already installed it and it works like new. No bugs or anything."

A moment of stunned silence fell as he watched for our reactions. Finally Heero spoke up. "Duo, you know those are banned, both on Earth and the Colonies. Right?" Duo's cheeky grin and quick nod dared him to keep talking. "And you know we're Preventors. Right?" Beside him, Trowa's smirk widened.

"He's daring us to do something about it, Yuy." Duo chuckled and laid down three aces. Trowa tapped his cards on the table and then picked up Duo's discard. "So, is this round titled 'In what illicit activities have you participated over the past year?' Shouldn't be too difficult for Chang, but Yuy and I are upholders of the law. Breaking the law is wrong, Maxwell." Duo kept laughing. "But since this is a circle of trust and brotherhood, I faked a sick day to take my partner to a monster truck rally back in March." The volume of Duo's laughter increased by a few decibels, turning several heads in the common room.

I met Heero's gaze across the table. "I'm pretty sure you already knew that one, being his partner and all." His smile was small but real.

"I didn't know he took a sick day."

Trowa turned to him, looking a little defensive. "Like I could take a vacation day for that? Une would have wanted to know where I was going, and since you were still on leave, you didn't have to fake anything. You would have done the same."

"You were on leave in March?" I asked. But before he could answer, Duo interrupted.

"Oi, that's for the next round, when we compare war wounds. Heero's gotta stick to the theme."

"Why are you in charge of deciding the theme?"

"Because it was my idea. Now tell us when you were bad, Heero."

He spent the next two turns trying to come up with something, and finally, flushing under his tan, he muttered, "I went right on red when there was a sign saying I couldn't."

Duo and I both groaned, Duo gesturing with his free hand, "Heero, you're basically a cop. You get paid to not obey traffic laws."

"I wasn't in uniform; I was in my own car. It counts," he muttered, scowling at me. "And now it's your turn."

"Let's see," I started. "I'm in a rehabilitative facility because I broke the law, so breaking the rules here should earn me bonus points." Both Heero and Trowa heeded the warning in my tone and tensed. Duo watched me from the corner of his eye, a challenge in that sly look. "Just last week I watched a fight between a couple of Romefellar bullies and this skinny White Fang kid. I didn't report it, which is what I was supposed to have done. I watched him lose and said nothing. I kept my head down and my nose out of trouble."

"That was very big of you," Trowa murmured.

Duo's jaw clenched so tight I heard his teeth grind together as I threw his advice from a few weeks ago back in his face. "My turn," he said quickly. "Let's compare scars." He laid his cards face down on the table and jerked down the collar of his t-shirt. His collarbone stuck out amidst the wiry muscle of his shoulder and neck. "We had a big haul around last Christmas, and I was in the bay, looking through some of what we brought in. An unstable MS chest plate buckled in the temp change from no atmosphere to inside a salvage ship. The rivets shot out like bullets and one of them chipped my collarbone." I leaned forward to get a look, curious in spite of myself. I noticed, Heero and Trowa also looking on with interest. Freak accidents were like that. The wound had healed in a wide thick scar pointed diagonally towards his throat. A few degrees to the right and the rivet probably would have gone into his neck.

"You were lucky," I said.

Duo gave me an ugly grin. "Can you really call it luck anymore? How many times can you dodge death before you start wondering whether you're immune?"

"Exactly the number it takes to realize that your friends are not," Trowa murmured. "You were lucky." He pulled aside the hair that hid his right eye to reveal a jagged scar cutting across his brow. "And so was I."

Duo grimaced at the sight of it and rubbed his hand over the wound on his shoulder. "What was that?"

"Stray bullet. Not unlike your situation, I guess."

"When did it happen?" I asked.

"The same time this happened," Heero said softly, rolling up his sleeve past his elbow and shoving his forearm across the table for Duo and me to see. "That wasn't a stray. They meant to hit me, though fortunately their aim was off." There was a clean entry point, but no exit wound. The bullet must have lodged itself in his humerus.

"That would be why you were on leave in March, I'm guessing?" I asked, and he nodded. "And also why you didn't come to train with me until April." Another curt nod. He must have noticed that both Duo and I looked curious.

"Drug runners in one of the suburbs tore up the whole neighborhood. They're all either dead now or incarcerated."

"Oh, good," Duo said lightly.

Then they all looked expectantly at me, cards forgotten in their hands. If this was what Duo had intended from the beginning, he was getting what he wanted from us all a lot faster than he probably thought he would. We'd be spinning a bottle before too long at the rate we were going.

There were plenty of new scars to choose from; a few of them weren't even scars yet. Opting for the one that would disturb them all the least and leave me with the most dignity, I folded my leg up against my chest and pulled my pant-leg up over my knee to show what was left of the bruising from the fight after Duo gave me the bandanna. It didn't really hurt anymore, but the skin was still discolored. "The same bullies who regularly terrorize anyone weighing under 150 pounds, including the kid I mentioned earlier, decided they liked my hair band more than I did. One of them tried to break my kneecap; I broke his instead."

I watched Trowa's eyes travel from my knee to the bandanna holding back my hair. "I'd been meaning to ask you where you got that, but our afternoon ended abruptly last time."

"I found it."

"I gave it to him," Duo said in the same breath. Heero's dark gaze flicked from Duo to me and back and then to Trowa. The corner of Trowa's mouth twitched, my face went hot, and Duo shifted in his seat, reaching around to rub the back of his neck. He picked up his cards, drew from the pile and forced a smile. "Gin."

+

"I've been to see a grief counselor a couple times," Duo said, as he rearranged his cards in his hand. "Just, you know, to see if they could tell me something that would make me feel less..." He looked up. "I don't know. Less something."

We only had about half an hour left. Visiting hours would be over and they would all leave me to deal with the rest of this day by myself. Onur would take over after dark, so it wasn't so bad. But I had four hours on my own that were starting to look pretty daunting. We hadn't mentioned Quatre yet. We'd spent the afternoon telling each other silly, stupid things, sad things, pathetic and depressing things. The conversation got heavier and lighter on Duo's whim and our willingness to go along with it. As the minutes and hours ticked by, they hid less and less. After they left, when I was alone, or maybe in class tonight, I would catalog everything they said, every volunteered bit of information about their lives. I would count the number of times either Heero or Trowa said "we" and "us" when relating one of their stories. When Duo asked us about the best food we'd had all year, they'd been together when they'd eaten it. I'd caught another one of Duo's sly looks when they said it. If I went through everything again before I forgot any of it, I would be able to remember it all later, whenever I needed it.

Duo was the first to approach Quatre obliquely, but he put it all out on the table when he looked up at Heero and Trowa and asked without really asking that they say something to back him up.

"Has it helped?" Trowa asked.

Duo shrugged. "I don't know; I don't think so. This guy, he doesn't know me, doesn't know what I've- everything I've done. I mean, he knows because I told him, but he doesn't know, really. I don't know how many people I've killed. I could find out, I guess - they keep pretty close track of those things, of casualties - but I don't think that would..." He trailed off, and spent the next few seconds deciding what to discard. "Talking to this guy doesn't help me remember Quatre, doesn't help me forget him either, just makes me think... about dead people, about Quatre as another body."

"He doesn't sound like a very good grief counselor," I said, attempting to cover up the physical reaction I had remembering the nightmare. I could feel his cold skin under my hands, feel the fine quality of his clothing, how soft his hair was.

Duo was shaking his head. "No, I don't think I'll go anymore." And that was it; that was Duo's turn. Now it was up to the rest of us, and Trowa didn't look too excited to be speaking next.

"We-" Heero started, looking to Trowa. Trowa seemed startled, used to round after round of ordered confessions. It was his turn, not Heero's. But he nodded for his partner to continue. "We wanted to go to L4. We tried to go, to see what we could find."

I looked to Duo and he was spooked, eyes a little wider than usual. "And?" he urged. "Did you go?"

Heero hesitated and then shook his head. "We tried, but Une wouldn't authorize it. It was right after we joined and she didn't want us doing anything that would draw attention. No one trusted us, especially not Trowa."

"The Winners didn't want us there either, looking around, treating his office like a crime scene."

"We tried to contact Rashid and the Maguanacs, but they wouldn't talk to us."

"It was only two months after his death. They were probably too..."

"We tried all of his sisters, thinking that one of them had to want to know what had gone on with him, what he'd been going through that he would-"

"But eventually, they stopped answering our messages. The last one we got asked us politely to fuck off and leave him with some dignity."

"I tried to hack into their computers, thinking that maybe they'd have something there, a coroner's report, an autopsy... anything like that."

"But Winner security is just as good as Preventers. They probably hired the same guy to do it."

"I got nowhere."

"We haven't tried looking again in about a year."

Duo's and my eyes bounced between them until they'd finished the story of their frustrated efforts. Finally, Duo shook his head, bringing himself out of a daze. "A year ago... why didn't you tell us? We- or I, at least, could have helped you. I could have-"

"You weren't here," Trowa said, and if I heard the underlying accusation there, Duo probably did, too. "You took off for L2 and the sweepers before either of us could-"

"We didn't think you wanted to know," Heero murmured.

"But I came back! I always came back to see you. I come back almost every fucking month!"

"Then maybe you shouldn't have left at all," Trowa snapped. "You'd have saved a bundle on fuel and docking costs and you might have been able to help out your friends instead, of playing catch-up every few weeks."

I sat back in my chair and forced my gaze away from my friends, hands in my lap, gripping my thighs until it hurt. As entertaining as this afternoon had been, as informative as it had been, it was nothing less than humiliating for me. We'd laughed and shared moments of heartfelt understanding silence. If Quatre had been here, he probably would have made us hold hands. But this afternoon had been in his honor, and in his memory which unfortunately disqualified him from attending. If he'd been here, he would have picked up on how much I dreaded my turn to speak. Whether from his space heart or something as simple and obvious as my posture, he would have known that every time I volunteered a story from the past year, I was setting out for display every facet of how I was different from them, and he would have put a stop to the game before it even started. Heero turned right on red; I watched a kid lose a couple teeth. They came under fire in the line of duty; I barely escaped with my bones in tact and could do nothing about it except be ready for it to happen again. Duo had the best burger of his life; I had the two peaches Trowa brought from a fruit stand not three miles down the road. They were in contact with Quatre's family, with his friends, pursuing the mystery of his death with every resource they had; I had a friend inside who looked like Quatre but behaved nothing like him and who might actually be crazy, rather than kind and gentle and generous and everything anyone could ever want in a dear friend. Duo, Heero and Trowa were not happy - it was easy to see that they weren't. But they weren't like me either,and I could not be a part of their lives the way they were a part of each other's. It wasn't a surprise, and it wasn't a revelation, but a cruel reminder.

I was no longer a part of the conversation, which had now turned into a full-blown argument, so I got up and walked out, heading for the yard and some fresh air. There were now only a few minutes left of visiting hours. I had the infantile urge to hide from my friends until time was up and they'd have to leave without saying goodbye. I had almost headed for the cell block when greater reason and hopefully, some scrap of maturity won out and I continued outside. Dinner was in about an hour, followed by my evening lit class and then curfew, which was a fancy word for 'lock down,' at eight. I made it out to the yard and almost to a table when someone called my name. I glanced over my shoulder to see that it was a guard.

"I've still got ten minutes, Busey. I just need some air before smelling like the mess hall for the rest of the night."

He let it go, and left me to sit by the basketball courts. I watched a few Romefeller men shoot hoops and then rested my head on my outstretched arm. The late afternoon sun had the full force of a hot day behind it and even though my t-shirt had been clean that morning, now it smelled like sweat and felt dirty on my skin. The underside of the red bandanna was damp on my hair. I kept an eye on the yard entrance and one on the court, since the guys playing were not friends of mine. I watched Duo emerge from inside, followed a moment later by Trowa and Heero. They now had six minutes, and I really wished I had gone back to the cell block. Heero and Trowa stayed by the main building, leaning against the wall. Duo would be the one to try and smooth things over. He always had been. He jogged up to where I sat and stood in front of me, blocking my view of the basketball court.

"Hey," he started, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "I'm an asshole."

I looked up at him without lifting my head from my arm. "Yeah."

"Why didn't you tell me to shut up and just play cards like we did last year?"

"Because three-quarters of the time, I was enjoying myself."

He sat down across from me and rested one elbow on the table. With his other hand, he traced a line down the skin of my underarm. It tickled a little, but mostly felt odd and intimate - familiar, like he always did that when he apologized to me. I sat up straight and pulled my arm back and he withdrew his hand like nothing was out of the ordinary. "When can you come back?" I asked without thinking.

"I can be back in a few days."

"There's something really important I need to ask you, something I need your help with."

"Okay. I'll be here."

"Without turning your head, look at Heero and Trowa over there by the wall."

I saw his eyes slide to the side. "You pick up on how often they said 'we' or 'us' today?"

"I was going to try and figure out exactly how many times during class tonight."

"Think they're sleeping together yet?"

I shrugged. "Not sure."

"Yeah, me neither."

We watched them in silence after that. Heero had one shoulder against the wall, the other angled slightly forward. His head was lowered, one hand buried in his hair. He looked like he was about to be sick, which was more than a little alarming to me, but Trowa didn't seem too worried. He stood close to his partner, shoulders curled inward toward him, head lowered as well, almost touching Heero's.

"Heero's got some problems that he doesn't talk about," Duo murmured, eyes forward again.

"Seems that way. But he never talks about anything, so..."

Duo stiffened as he saw one guard approach them and another head out towards us. "Hey, buddy, I gotta get over there before Heero does something that'll get him fired." I watched him stand up without getting up myself.

"Tell them I said goodbye."

He hesitated, looking back down at me. "I will."

"I'll see you in a few days."

"Yeah."

I put my head back down on my arm and watched the basketball game.

+

I waited for Onur to return from his class, pacing in the middle of the room. I didn't want to look up at my bunk. Even knowing that there was nothing up there except a blanket, I still wasn't sure what my imagination might supply. Better to keep my eyes on the floor or the hall beyond. I saw Karl pass by on the way to his cell. He took one look at me and kept going.

Onur finally arrived just before the doors slid shut. I turned to greet him and he grabbed my shoulder when I tripped over the shoes I'd left in the middle of the floor. I'd been avoiding them while pacing, but now caught my flip-flop on one thick-soled shoe and nearly lost my balance. I met his gaze and then closed my eyes. "It's been a really long day."

He nodded and reached up onto his bunk to pull down his blanket. When I made no move to get mine, he reached around me and did it for me. He spread them both out on the floor, one on top of the other. Then he went down on his knees, pulling me down beside him. He shifted and settled himself and I did the same until we both faced Mecca. Then he started to pray in a language I didn't understand. But his words helped me to feel better than I had all day.

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