Author: Mons
Pairings: 2+3, mentioned 1x2x1 and 3x4x3
Summary: Sometimes running is all you can do to stay. Post EW.
Warnings: Some bad words, and an unhappy and lost Duo.
Disclaimer: The Gundam Wing characters and the world they live in are the property of Bandai, Sunrise, Sotsu Agency and related parties. I own nothing. No profit is gained from this story, and no copyright infringement is intended or implied.

[ note: third in my hallowed tradition of angst for x-mas ]

Sanctuary

The soft tones from the radio almost drown in the growl of the engine and the rumble of tires against black asphalt. It's late, the witching hour has come and gone, and the houses we're passing are dark. All normal people are sleeping by now. But you and me, Trowa, we're not. We're not sleeping. And we're certainly not normal.

We're in our usual places, you hunched behind the wheel, me curled up against the passenger door, and it's comforting in a strange way. Comforting, because this is something we share, and strange, because we were never close, at least not in the way most people define close. But close or not, here we are, joined in battle just like before.

Only this time it's different. This time there are no Gundams, no explosions, no missions, no bullets whistling around our ears. This time it's all about surviving without those things, trying to steer away from the destruction that was our path for so long. And above all, it's about resisting the urge to get up and start walking and never, ever come back.

The voices in my head beg for it; they plead for space and speed and all things far away from here, and I've found myself at the spaceport, standing by the big windows unsure how I ended up there. I stay there for hours and watch the runways, the ground crews, the shuttles taking off, and there's an ache in me to put on my best smile and scam my way through security (would be easy enough) and simply go. Anywhere. North, south, east, west. It wouldn't matter as long as that anywhere isn't here.

But in the end I never do. I know it's the same for you, Trowa. We both have ties to this dreary place that are stronger than our need to move on. So we do what we must to stay sane. Sane-ish. These nightly drives of ours dull the sharpest edges, soothe the most aching restlessness. But it's never enough in the long run.

A steady pulse of street lamps passes in the darkness outside, caressing us both without touch. It's a poor substitute for the touch I want, the touch I need, but in the absence of the real thing I close my eyes and pretend. I pretend his fingers are touching my face, my lips, moving slowly down my neck, curling around the braid. I pretend we're alone and he's pressing up against me, warm, so warm, easing the chill inside a little.

I hardly remember what started the fight this time. Some insignificant little detail, I'm sure. Lately it's been real hard to explain even to myself why the hell we still stick together, me and Heero. But when I get some distance from it all, from the fighting, the unjustified anger, the corrosive little circles my mind gets stuck in, I still see why. I see that we're right in this. I see that what we have is still worth holding on to. Even if it drives us both insane sometimes.

I had hoped we'd get our lives straightened out after we sent the Gundams into the sun. We haven't. If possible things are even worse now. There's nothing to blow up to get rid of latent aggressions, for one. Sometimes it hits me, am I freaking out because I've never known consistency before? Safety used to be constant movement. Safety used to be never trusting anyone. Not even yourself.

It was a crazy time, but despite the madness that was our life back then things were easier. At least between me and Heero. Not easy. Nothing is ever easy with him. But easier. More straightforward. It was simply a way to bleed off tension, a way to get rid of all the biochemical crap that still swamped your blood stream when the mission was over and done with. We used each other.

We rarely spoke a word when we got together back then. Barely even touched. That's just how it was; time and energy were precious things. It was quick and desperate and all about the physical, and that was okay. I wasn't really looking for something else. No promises. No complications. Easy.

But as I've found out the hard way, life doesn't do easy. And somewhere along the line I realized I was aching for something more. But I know bad timing when I see it, so when he'd come, silently, always silently, wrapping his fingers in my hair so tightly it hurt, I'd bite down on the words that wanted to escape. And they were words all about want and need and impossible things I couldn't have.

I kept a low profile, didn't do anything to change what we had. But things changed anyway, slowly, unnoticeably, and I'd like to think he was the one who led the way. It went from a matter of physical gratification to something else, something more, something worth holding on to. Something infinitely more complicated. And these days it's all about that, complications. I'm no breeze to live with, I know that, and Heero has about a million issues of his own to deal with. And the bottom line is: I don't know what hell we're doing. I get scared sometimes when it hits me that maybe we're still doing the same old thing. Still just using each other.

Heero changed after the war. We all changed in different ways, some good, some maybe not so good, and some outright bad. But I guess outliving what people have drummed into you to be the sole reason for your existence would seriously fuck with anyone's head. He didn't fall apart, no, but suddenly it was up to me to take charge, to lead and find the way for us both. For a while there I thought I could do it. For a while I thought it would work out, that things would settle down and we'd find a balance.

But guess what, Heero is still who he is, and I'm still who I am, and we fight our pasts everyday. He tries to shed the soldier persona, to find his way back to himself. And I try to survive in a world where none of the people I used to be are welcome any longer.

I uncurl myself and stretch in the cramped space. Reaching over I dial through the radio frequencies, more out of habit than from some real wish to change the station. Muted voices, music, hissing white noise roll past. I settle for another melancholic tune and lean back again. It's the only thing that plays this time of night. I should know, I've spent my share of sleepless nights with the radio as my only comfort.

I didn't have nightmares back then. I mean, sure, it happened, but they were pretty rare. These days I can't close my eyes without seeing reruns of my bloodiest deeds in goddamn Technicolor. I know I'm fucked up. Even if people didn't keep telling me that, I'd still know. PTSD and a mild case of manic-depression have been suggested to me, and yeah, I can see how it might look like that. Now, more than ever, I bounce between extremes, pushing and pulling at everyone and everything. But I've lived with that for as long as I can remember, and I've already survived several trips to hell and back without chewing down mood-altering pills, so I'm not about to start now.

I find the crumpled cigarette pack in my pocket and shake one out. The ritual of lighting it is executed per automation. I offer one to you, but you just shake your head without taking your eyes off the road. The smoke is raw as I inhale the first breath and hold it. Quatre looked at me with those wide, surprised eyes of his when he first saw me with a cigarette. Big fucking deal, Q, I've smoked since I was seven, and it was often stuff lots heavier than this, don't look so damn shocked.

I hate it when I get crude with him, but lately I just can't help it. I lash out at everyone. Heero and Wufei bite back with equal ferocity, as do you, Trowa, my man. Sometimes, in the rare moments of clarity, I see that we're like animals, going after each other's throats for the smallest infraction. Quatre's the only one who doesn't. His eyes will skitter a little before he looks away, and then he'll change the subject to the weather or something. He always manages to make me feel like I've just kicked a puppy or something. Dammit, I wish he'd just tell me to go fuck myself when I get in his face. I know he's got it in him, he's no little angel. There's just as much blood on his hands as there is on mine. If he'd at least get mad at me from time to time I wouldn't feel so bad. Actually, I take that back, I'd still feel like crap, I know I would.

I rest the side of my head against the cold window and watch the glass fog up as my breath ghosts over it. I've tried to figure things out, tried real hard for real long to find a way to repair things between me and the rest of the world. But I can't seem to fix anything, and all I'm left with is an ever-dwindling number of friends and the fact that the one person who has grounded me in sanity for the past few years is drifting away from me.

A flash of harsh, cold brightness suddenly lights up the darkness and time fractures a little. White-hot heat rolls over my face, and echoes of desperate, broken-up radio transmissions float through my head. The heavy smell of ozone closes in, and it's a split-second trip to hell and back until my mind registers the image of the lone truck that rumbled past us in the opposite direction.

Fuck.

I wet my dry lips and try to force my heart rate to slow down. I hate this. Hate that my head betrays me, hate that I've completely lost any ability to screen sensory inputs. I keep going to red alert on threats that aren't real. I close my eyes again and try to find my center in the one-note song of the engine, but sounds and thoughts keep interfering, keep getting in the way. I used to be good at this. Used to be able to grab the slightest opportunity of rest and just let go of every thought. But that has changed. Everything has changed. I bury both hands in my hair, and tug. Just hard enough to feel the dull sting in my scalp. Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one who feels lost. Totally. Fucking. Lost.

I never had any real plans about what I wanted to do after the war. Mainly because I was pretty sure I wouldn't be alive by then. But even when I made myself think about what might be, I always figured I'd find something. I'd find a nice job, or go to school and get a degree, and try to make something of my life. Try to forget what I learned and who I became.

Lord knows I've tried. I've tried for the past fifteen months to learn how to live without a gun in my hand and a bounty on my head. I've tried to figure out how to be a normal person. I never made it to school, but if life were a class, I'd say I was looking at a resounding F. Rationally I know I'm not the only one. Heero is just as messed up as me, but he deals with it by burying himself in work and hedging away from the past whenever it comes up. Sometimes I think that's part of our problem. We simply remind each other too much of things we'd rather not remember.

Wufei seems to be doing a little better; he's back in school, working part-time for some security company. But maybe he just appears okay because I don't see him too often these days. He's the one who has drifted the furthest. Not in terms of distance, he lives six blocks down, but in every other possible way.

I take another long drag on the cigarette and watch the smoke rise through half-closed eyes. Quatre is the one who tries to keep in touch with all of us. He seems okay too. Guess all those shrink sessions are paying off. I tried that, took Q's advice and went to see one of those counselors, but I gave up after a few times. How the hell can anyone who wasn't there possibly know what I'm talking about?

I shift and try to find an even remotely comfortable position, but it's hard. After hours of immobility my body is itching to move. I finally settle down with my shoulder propped up against the door, halfway turned towards you. You, Trowa, you know what it's all about.

Your military surplus jacket is too large, the worn sleeves fall over your hands. In the flickering light I see that the game face you wear for the world to see has slipped away, and you're... here. A foot and a half away. As long as I've known you, you've always had this distance thing going to keep people out of your space. Even us, and I think you consider us your friends. It feels strange to see you without that. Like maybe I'm not supposed to.

I think you suddenly feel my eyes on you, because you frown and your right hand comes up, pulling absently at your hair. You cut it a few months ago, short, real short, and it looks to me like you're still not used to it.

We don't talk much, you and me, not about the things that matter. But I've tried to tell you how I envy you and Q. You just snort and cut me off. But I do. Life hasn't been easy for you, and with all that's going on in your head I think you top even yours truly in the complexity category, my friend. But you keep trying, and what you two have is awkward and intense and desperate, and too much and not enough all at the same time. It's powerful in all its imperfection.

I love Heero as much as I know how to, but I don't think it's enough to keep us from falling apart any longer. All this other crap has come in the way.

The need to get out of the car comes out of nowhere.

"Pull over." My voice is hoarse after hours of silence.

You don't question it, just pull off to the side of the road, and as the car rolls to a stop you kill the engine. The silence that closes in around us is compact, much like when we would cut the power to our Gundams after combat. I cram the cigarette pack back into my inner pocket, and my mind still registers the absence of my gun. Not having it makes me feel edgy, vulnerable, incomplete. I flash a joyless grin at nothing in particular. Some kids have safety blankies. Me, I had an automatic. I push the door open.

The night air wastes no time invading the warm car. It's sharp like a knife, making me shiver almost immediately. I curse under my breath and pull the jacket closer around me. People ask what the deal is with me and being cold. A street kid like me should be used to it, right? Yeah, I was used to it. But you get unused to it real fast, and why the hell shouldn't I hate it? I've frozen my ass off more times that I care to remember, thank you very much.

I get out of the car not at all gracefully and stretch my stiff back. I busted it real good during a re-entry, just before the end of the war. The forward stabilizer system failed and I was thrown around like a damn rag doll, cracked a couple of ribs, and was bruised black and blue. A few weeks later I was back in business, and my back was fine. But now it hurts all the time.

I flick the cigarette away, and it burns an amber trace through the darkness. We've been out longer tonight than we usually are, and I bet certain people are concerned. If I had gone alone, I'm pretty sure they would've been out looking for me by now. Some misguided sense of responsibility. I want to tell them not to worry, that the razor blades don't call to me like they used to, but somehow I don't think they'd believe me, so I tell them nothing at all.

Shoving my hands deep in my pockets I make a slow lap around the car. The night is rich with the smell of rain and decomposing vegetation, and it's dark out here. Dark and silent and cold. You have settled against the hood, rubbing your hands together, trying to breathe some warmth into them as I pass. I see you eyeing me, and I know you're playing that damn mind game you do from time to time. You're picking me apart and putting me back together, just to see if all the pieces are there. I think you'll find the result pretty much the same as last time, Trowa. The pieces are all there, it just feels like none of them are in the right place any more.

I come up around the car again. You're staring at the faint, distant lights of yet another unknown city as I move past you, and I can tell your attention has left me and turned inwards. Seems your mission tonight isn't to get me to talk. I feel like a coward when relief washes over me. Yeah, believe it or not, I actually prefer to keep my mouth shut from time to time. Especially when the subject is moi. See, talking for the sake of other people is simple, piece of cake, I just put my mouth on autopilot, and tag along for the ride. I do it all the time. But talking for me? No, that's not quite that simple.

I keep walking and time takes on the quicksilver feel that only comes with the small hours, and I don't know how many times I've circled the car when a tiny trace of fire, a meteorite, catches my eye, as it burns across the black sky. I track it until it blinks out. You once told me how you used to wish on falling stars when you were a kid, so I close my eyes for a second, my feet still finding their way over the frosty asphalt. Star light, star bright...

I wish I could find my way back to myself. I don't like the person I've become.

A hand comes out and grabs the sleeve of my jacket. My eyes fly open as I stumble a little. "You're making me dizzy, walking in circles like that," you say. Your voice is very quiet.

I shrug out of the grip; I can't stand being constrained these days. I flash a quick, apologetic grin at you, but it dies on my lips when your eyes meet mine. There's a bright, brittle shine in your eyes that startles me. I've never seen you cry, Trowa. Not even during the terrible years. We saw death and destruction and grief and pain and things so bad no one should have to live with the memory, but I never saw you cry. I hate myself for feeling a little comforted deep down that you're as miserable as I am. Somehow it makes me feel like I'm not alone in the world.

Behind you, the horizon is shifting, and false dawn, the silent harbinger of the new day, is gaining ground. I wait for you to say something, anything, but you don't. You just keep looking at me, your breath a cloud of ragged mist in the frigid air between us.

What are you looking for, Trowa? You should know by now that I have no answers.

You pat the hood next to you, once. The warmth from the engine seeps through my clothes as I slowly climb up on the hood. I pull one leg up under me and start digging for the pack of cigarettes again. This time you hold out your hand and ask silently for one. As you return the lighter, without looking at me, your fingers brush against mine. They're cold as ice. You scoot up and lean back against the windshield, burrowing down into your jacket.

You're biting your lip. I can see it quiver. The hand lifting the cigarette to your lips is shaking too. Should I ask? Maybe that's what you want me to?

Before I can make up my mind, you open your mouth and start to talk. You don't look at me, and your words are hesitant at first, stumbling and hushed, almost like you're scouting my reaction. I suppose I'm doing something right, because you, the most close-mouthed person I've ever known, keep talking. The morning closes in all around us, and I say nothing as you finally tell me how you long for the road, how you mourn the past, and fear the future, and how the guilt is slowly killing you. You tell me how you can't function with Q, how you can't function without him, and how you feel like you're losing your mind, losing yourself. You tell me all this and it's like listening to myself.

I know you're not expecting me to hand you a happily-ever-after solution, because we both know there is none.

We sit side by side; you talking, me listening, and eventually the first pale rays of light find their way across the fields that spread around us. Nothing has really changed from a few hours ago, but as the traffic around us slowly picks up I realize it's time for me to go home. I know things will be exactly as I left them, that nothing in my life is perfect, but it's all I have. I just need to find a way to make it work. I want to. I'm done running this time around.

But you're not. Not yet. Pulling my jacket closer around me in the rising light I settle in for the wait. I will wait for as long as it takes, until your demons are neatly boxed in and you've locked the pad lock and hidden the key. Just like you have waited for me on numerous occasions.

We'll go home soon, but I know we'll be out here again. It's just a matter of time. We both seem to need this running, this hiding to cope with ourselves, but I'll be the first one to admit it terrifies me. Because what if. What if this is as good as it will ever get? What if we're all are damaged beyond repair?

What if next time the road doesn't lead back home again?

end

December 2003

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