Warnings : Yaoi, angst/sap, OOC, language, and a couple of OCs, Duo POV.
Thanks to Christy and Ash for beta reading and Aya for encouragement.
Dedicated to Ebonydove.
Feed-back is a dream I have.
And I don't own anything in this series, either.
By: Sunhawk

Absolution

It was not as difficult as it probably should have been to convince Wufei that my nightmare had been a fluke. The man had a life, after all. An apartment. A girlfriend. A cat, for cryin' out loud. That one still got me; Wufei... with a cat. Anyway, the point was; he had a life and he wanted to get back to it. He needed to get back to it.

It took me a couple of days to get my feet back under me, but I finally managed to pull my head out of my ass and got back to the business of taking care of Heero. Wufei stayed with me a second night, and I was truly grateful... at the same time that I was extremely embarrassed. Once I got some decent sleep again, that run to L3 and back started to fade a little and I realized that I had once again demonstrated my incredible sense of timing. Or lack thereof.

Out there, between the stars, with all my fears knocking at my airlock, I had listened to Neo talk and I had let his fears feed my own until I'd had this blood-inspired piranha frenzy on my hands. I completely panicked. I should have come back and concentrated all my attention on Heero. I should have used the last of my funds to 'dry-dock' my ship and just left her there until Heero was recovered and I was able to spare the time for what I should have known was going to be a mind-bending task.

I still don't think I was wrong in the choice I made. I am not a slow individual. I like to think I'm a fairly quick study... stubborn maybe, but quick. I had it very dramatically demonstrated to me on the trip to L2 just how screwed up I was. Being a stubborn individual, I made the trip to L3 just to verify the results of my 'I can do this if I just push hard enough' experiment. All the test results were in, and they were pretty damn conclusive; Duo Maxwell was no longer a pilot. There was no need to continue the experimentation until somebody got killed. I would not be another Neo. So I stand by my decision, since it was the only one left to me, but I suppose I kinda have to take it on the chin over the timing issue.

I will say it now to all pertinent parties. I was stupid. I am sorry. I am done for now. Nervous breakdown all over; we now take you back to your regularly scheduled program.

I had managed that first night with Wufei, despite the small interruption in the wee hours, to get a decent amount of rest. Wufei hadn't dared leave the room again after returning from the bathroom to find me struggling with unseen attackers and refusing to draw breath. I think he woke hours before I did, that second time, but he just stayed until I woke on my own. I honestly don't even remember what time it was when we went to bed, but I'd be willing to bet I slept for over twelve hours... not counting the brief intermission. I was just fucking exhausted.

I woke to find Wufei sitting in bed beside me, leaning against the headboard and smiling at me in a way that made me blush all the way to my toes. He led me gently through that first day like I was made out of eggshells. Fixed me breakfast and wheedled until I ate. Helped me with the laundry so I had clean clothes. Took me back to the hospital. Led me around like a puppy, and that first day I was more than willing to be led. I was just still too damn wrung out to work up the large amount of irritation it would have taken to argue with all of them

It had been afternoon by the time we had gotten to the hospital. I was surprised at first that neither Trowa nor Quatre mentioned the fact that I hadn't been there when they arrived that morning. Surprised until I thought about it, and realized that it only meant that they had been briefed on my little stress related... incident. So I got to go through the rest of the day with the knowledge that the whole damn world knew what a screw up I was. Joy.

That day was rough. Not, I suppose, as rough as the day before it... but rough all the same.

Wufei left me alone with Heero for part of the early evening while he went home to feed his cat, shower and change clothes, but came back to the hospital in time to take me back to the apartment again at the end of visiting hours. Hours that we were being pushed to observe now that it had been demonstrated that Heero could be a good boy and stay where the hell he was supposed to.

Those few hours were... sweet, quite possibly the salve on my soul that got me through the day. Heero was very... gentle with me; not bringing up the day before, not trying to make me 'talk about it'. I was there for one of his forays up and down the hall, and got to be the one to support him and hold his arm. I had bathed him again, afterward, doing my best to put everything I couldn't say into my touch. We talked a little bit, nothing really heavy, just some reconnecting. I sat on the side of his bed and he rested his hand on my hip. We just sat for a while and... oh hell; we did the whole gazing into each other's eyes thing, ok? Shut up about it. I think LeAnn had to go lie down somewhere from a sugar overload, because I didn't see a whole lot of her during that period. But by the time Wufei showed up to get me, I felt... grounded. A little more centered.

Heero had insisted, before I left, that LeAnn fetch his car keys from his personal belongings and give them to me. It was a lovely gesture, so much so that I didn't have the heart to tell him that for the last three years, all my travel had been inter-planetary. I'd never bothered to get myself an official driver's license. I just took the keys and gave him a smile and a kiss. I've never understood his problem with public transportation, anyway.

Wufei stayed with me again that second night, fixing us dinner and helping me put a couple more boxes worth of stuff away. That stopped when he ran across my box of pictures, and we spent the next hour going through them while I spun stories to go with the faces. He laughed in all the right places, and I think he thought he was doing a good thing for me, in getting me to talk a little bit. I had been... somewhat quiet that first day. But the majority of the pictures were either from the war, or from my years just starting out in the trade... two time periods I was not all that eager to think about right then.

There were pictures of Smitty, Bernie and Havers. Some taken at McMurphy's, and a couple from a day I had popped up at their office to surprise them, taking pictures of them in 'their natural habitat'. There were some pictures of Hayden and me. Then Hayden and Toria; I was able to get a couple of laughs out of Wufei with stories of how Toria and Hayden had met. There were pictures of the kids from the home, and those made me pause a moment, guilt taking a nibble as I worried about my finances.

Then Wufei pulled out a picture of me with Hayden and Toria, taken in the cargo hold of my ship the day I took possession of her. We had set the camera up with an automatic timer and laughed like little kids, trying to get all three of us in the picture at the same time. It's the freakiest damn picture; we were in zero-g and the camera was just floating there; we might have been a little drunk as we careened around the cargo bay, trying to get in front of it as the shutter clicked. I'd thrown away half a roll of pictures of blank walls and people's feet. Only one picture had really come out; Hayden is dead center and he has one arm out, snagging his wife as she had drifted by and drawing her, giggling insanely, into the frame. His other hand had stretched out at the last minute and grabbed my braid, pulling me down into range. We are twisted every which way, all laughing uproariously. It was probably one of the happiest days of my life.

Looking at it, I knew my grinning mask slipped just a trifle, but I was relatively helpless to stop the _expression that must have crossed my face.

Wufei carefully took the pictures from my hands and slipped them back in the box, putting the lid back on my life.

"I'm sorry, Maxwell," he grunted. "Sally tells me that sometimes I'm not the most sensitive person in the world."

I just snorted, letting him take my memories away and put them in the drawer. "It's ok." We stopped unpacking for the night.

I showered and we went to bed. That is a decidedly weird statement... 'we went to bed'. Since one half of that statement was Wufei, and not Heero. It didn't help matters much that I was feeling... physically lonely. Heero has a way of... of using those hands and that body of his and taking me places that allow me to forget. Allow me to set everything aside while he's touching me. I missed him.

After the lights went out and the goodnights were said, there was a bit of silence before Wufei ventured, very softly, "You remember you have therapy tomorrow... right?"

I think I sighed; I had kind of pushed it out of my head. I had missed two or three sessions now, I'm not even sure, and would have been more than happy to just quit. Though some part of my head knew that was a bad idea. Some small part of me was quick to point out the little signs that told me my body was feeling the lack of those sessions. I knew I needed to get back. Besides, Wufei wouldn't have reminded me unless Heero had reminded him. If I showed up at the hospital tomorrow when I should have been at the clinic, Heero was going to throw a flaming fit.

"Yeah," I muttered and heard a slightly surprised sounding grunt. He had been putting that reminder off for some time, obviously, because he had been anticipating a fight. I sighed again. "I'm not a total idiot."

"I didn't say you were," he grumbled.

I was feeling drowsy and yawned before mumbling, "Your grunts are as expressive as Relena's little sniffs."

He chuckled, "That dismissive one she does?"

I laughed, delighted that someone else had noticed those. "With her nose tilted in the air just so?"

"That's the one," he confirmed. "I've been on the receiving end more than once."

I blinked into the dark for a second. "You mean I'm not the only person in the world she would like to see boiled in oil and served to rabid dogs on a platter?"

"With soy sauce." I could hear him grinning.

"Oddly..." I said around another yawn, "that makes me feel better."

He was quiet for a minute and sleep began to creep up on me. "I didn't mean to imply you were being... an idiot," he sighed. "But... we weren't sure if you were intending on quitting all together...you didn't go the other day..."

He let that hang there in the air and I thought about it for a minute. "Didn't really mean to," I mumbled, voice feeling thick. "But erasing your life is kinda an all day job."

There was a shocked little grunt and I repressed a chuckle.

"That'n was your 'upset' grunt," I told him, barely able to get the syllables out.

Warm fingers touched my shoulder. "Go to sleep, Maxwell."

"I'm tryin'," I mumbled, "but s'body keeps talkin'."

He snorted, but shut up. All I remember after that was willing myself to stay on my own side of the bed. Reminding my sleepy brain that was not Heero over there, and that rolling over to seek the warm body next to mine would be an incredibly bad idea.

I managed to wake first the next morning and fixed breakfast for him, for a change. It seemed to signal to him that I was getting my shit together. Either that, or he was lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that I had gone the night without a nightmare. No one had realized, despite my fears otherwise, that I couldn't sleep alone. Wufei had only been spending the night with me because of the... breakdown I'd had at the hospital. Now that I didn't look quite like a cast member of 'Night of the Living Dead', he seemed to be relaxing his vigil. Which was fine with me. Sure, it was going to put me back with my 'where the hell am I going to sleep?' problem, but I was heartily sick of being hovered over.

To be honest, I was more than a little surprised, but pleased as all hell when he headed off to work after breakfast. I got the little reminder of therapy again just before he left, but then he really did leave. I could have danced for joy.

Of course, it didn't take ten minutes before I had to turn the stereo on to combat the silence.

I spent the couple of hours before I had to leave working around the apartment. Half the dishes Heero owned were stacked in the sink, and I still had a couple boxes full of stuff to put away. I did what I could before heading off for the bus stop. I tossed Heero's car keys in the dish by the front door on my way out.

I walked into the clinic with guilt-beast in tow and having trouble keeping my head up. I could already hear the tongue-lashing I was gonna get from Jean. I had actually considered trying to wear a long sleeved shirt to hide the gauze, but it was an ironclad cinch she was going to find out sooner or later anyway, so I just wore my regular workout clothes; running shorts and a t-shirt. My only rebellious act being the message on the front of my t-shirt; 'Due to budget cuts... the light at the end of the tunnel has been shut off'. Jean would appreciate it.

I signed in and took a seat, waiting for Jean to notice I was there and wave me into the gym. I figured she wouldn't do much more than glare at me before turning me over to the dreaded Dan... as she had promised to do if I 'screwed myself up again'. I hadn't had to work with Dan all that much, but he seemed like a guy who enjoyed his job a little too much.

She finally caught sight of me and grinned, giving me the sign to enter her domain. I could see her say something, through the big front window, but didn't think to start lip reading until I noticed her say my name. I saw several of the other patients that I had come to know over the months, stop what they were doing and turn to watch me walk through the doors.

I felt my shoulders hunching as I made my way across the room, and tried to relax. I saw her notice the bandage and waited for the explosion. I wasn't prepared for the wide grin.

"Do I know my Duo, or what?" she chortled and I heard a collective groan from the rest of the room. "Pay up ladies and gentlemen."

I should have been shocked that the lot of them had been betting on me... or against me, depending on how you wanted to take it. But, Jean made close to a hundred dollars from the other ten people in the room and it put her in such a good mood that she didn't even abandon me to Dan.

Of course, the gauze had to come off so she could examine the wound. There were questions and I gamely pulled out fairy dust and my patented self-deprecating grin, spinning my story again. Jean wasn't suspicious at all and I spent the entire session enduring cracks about 'stripped screws'.

She did ease my mind, somewhat, by opining that she thought I would get full movement back in my arm once the cut healed. I trusted her judgment more than any doctor's; she had more experience with the aftereffects of things. Doctors, if you ask me, can be overly optimistic sometimes. Therapists are a little more realistic.

She ran me through my workout like a damned trained dog, setting me to do an exercise and going off to start somebody else off on their routine, returning in the nick of time to make absolutely sure I didn't have time to rest before starting me on my next task. She pushed me through my entire two hours and then some, taking the time to make me work with my arm to evaluate its condition. Her parting words were, "no more trips for you... at all. Ever. Don't even think about it."

I didn't have the heart to tell her that she had nothing to worry about; trips were a thing of my past.

By the time I got the hell out of there, I was sweat-soaked and shaking and needing an aspirin for my throbbing arm. I had not realized how much I was favoring it until Jean had forced me to actually use it. I sat on the bench outside the clinic waiting for the bus and thought of my old afternoon naps with some fondness.

It was already after lunch, and I debated going straight to the hospital, but I knew I really had to stink. So I made a run back to the apartment for a quick shower and a change of clothes. I took a few minutes to set my laptop up and boot it, logging into the net to see if I had any nibbles on the ship.

My picture of Sisyphus greeted me after my system finished playing its 'happy music' and finally booted. I couldn't help but grin at the poor guy. "I know just how you feel, man," I muttered.

The two extra vacuum suits had sold. At my asking price, no less, but there were no messages about the ship yet. The income from the suits, though, would be enough to let me send some money off to Octavia and the kids. That went a long way toward making me feel... a little less like a loser.

Then it was back to the bus stop and off to the hospital.

Therapy had left me feeling washed out and I was just as happy to get to Heero's room and find him alone. I didn't want to have to make small talk with the other guys or have them looking at me like they were afraid I was going to spontaneously shatter where I sat.

Heero's face lit like Christmas morning when I walked into the room. I felt strangely light-hearted myself; I had done nothing today that I had to keep from him. The thought almost made me laugh. I had gotten a full night's sleep. I had gone to therapy. I hadn't gone down to the port. There wasn't a thing I was going to have to lie about... for the first time in a long time, I was going to be able to tell him about my whole day and not have to worry about leaving things unsaid. I was eager for a day like I'd had with him the day before. His gentle words and soft touch, his eyes on me so warm and loving.

"Did you have trouble getting the car started after it sat for so long?" he greeted me and I repressed a groan. Oh yeah... the car. Ouch. Perhaps not a day like the day before.

"I had no trouble with the car what-so-ever," I grinned at him. Since I never went near it.

"Where'd you park?" he queried. "Did you need money for the garage? I think they charge..."

I snorted at him and rolled my eyes. "The car is out front." Of the apartment. "They don't charge if you park on the street."

"What did you have for lunch?" he continued with his third degree and I actually frowned at him.

"The same damn thing I had yesterday!" Nothing. "Heero... what in the hell is with the interrogation?"

He had the decency to blush and ducked his head, looking away from me. "It's just... driving me nuts. Being stuck here and not being able..." He ended in an inarticulate mumble and I went around the bed and sat on the edge, leaning down to give him a gentle kiss.

"Can we start this over, love?" I grinned at him.

His eyes flicked up to meet mine, and he smiled sheepishly in return.

"Ok, then," I chuckled at him. "Hello, Heero... how are you feeling this afternoon?"

"Better," he informed me, and I laughed.

"You've been saying that since the day I got back," I chided. "By your account, you ought to be feeling better now than before you got shot!"

A corner of his mouth quirked up. "I just want the hell out of here."

I tapped the end of his nose and then soothed it with a tiny kiss. "Not yet, oh husband-mine. It's your turn to endure."

His hand came up to cup my cheek tenderly. "I just want to be able to come home and take care of you," he whispered, voice sounding melancholy.

I sighed and shook my head ruefully. "You've got that a little backwards, don't you, love? You want to go home so I can take care of you."

I knew damn well he had meant exactly what he had said, but I chose to ignore it.

He caught my hand in his when I reached to stroke his hair away from his eyes. "You scared me," he said softly.

I guess I had just gotten the previous day because he'd thought I was still... emotionally fragile or something. Now I was going to pay for the good day with a bad one.

I dropped the feeble attempt to lighten things up and just sat looking at him for a minute, collecting my thoughts. He'd obviously been sitting here alone for some time, with nothing to do but think. "Look, Heero... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have..."

He cut me off with a pained little sigh. "Don't apologize. There's nothing to apologize for. I tried to tell you; you haven't dealt with the accident yet..."

I couldn't help a small chuckle. "Heero... I think it's been dealt with. I got back in the saddle. The horse kicked the shit out of me. End of story."

He frowned darkly and his fingers squeezed mine. "No... that's not the end of it..."

I didn't growl, ok? It flitted through my head, but I did not growl. "What in the hell is driving this?"

He looked vaguely guilty and glanced down at our hands, still linked together. "Wufei... told me about the nightmare."

I had to count to ten. Forward... and then backward.

"And did he report to you how many times I peed?" I asked him, rather proud of the level tone of voice.

He flushed, but I could see his jaw get that set to it that told me he was going to get stubborn, and I jumped in again before he could speak.

"Are you telling me you never have bad dreams?" I gritted. "I had a fucking nightmare... find me somebody who doesn't now and again. What in the hell is the big deal?"

"He said... he said you stopped breathing," he whispered, looking at me with wide eyes. "He said... he said your damn lips were turning blue."

Wufei had failed to mention that part to me. If he hadn't been there, would I have started breathing again on my own? Would I have woken myself up? Could you actually kill yourself by simply believing you didn't have any air?

I repressed a shiver that would have told him how much that revelation had shaken me. I didn't know how to answer that. I didn't know what to say to him.

Frustration danced in his eyes and suddenly he had hold of me by the shoulders, pulling me down against his shoulder where he could wrap his arms around me.

"Heero!" I yelped. "Be careful!"

He ignored me, his fingers seeking the back of my neck and holding me against him. "This is making me crazy," he told me. "I want to go home. I want to be there with you. You need me and I... I can't... I'm not able..."

He was still struggling with words that he either couldn't find, or was afraid I wouldn't hear.

"Damn it, Heero," I growled, relaxing against his shoulder since he wouldn't let me go anyway. "You've been taking care of me for the last stinking seven months! I am fine."

"Fine?" he whispered, very near my ear. "You're trembling... I can feel it."

I sighed in exasperation and pulled back again, this time he let me sit up. I looked him squarely in the eye. "I hadn't been to therapy in a week. Jean worked me like a trained monkey, ok? Yeah... I feel a little shaky; it will pass."

He looked like he was choking on the knot of words trying to find their way out of his mouth.

"How in the hell would you feel?" I blurted, before he got the knot untangled. "If our positions were reversed? Damn it, love; you scared the holy crap out of me, too. When I saw Trowa and Quatre at the dockyard, I thought... I thought..." I bit it off and looked away, eyes stinging and gut clenching in remembrance of that day.

"I'm sorry," he murmured, reaching to touch my cheek.

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