by: Sunhawk

Absolution (cont)

Neither of us was showing any sign of breaking away until Wufei suddenly snapped, "If you do anything back there that stains the upholstery, I will kill you both."

The laughter served to break the mood.

There was a... small altercation when we got to the apartment about how to get Heero up to our floor. His instructions were explicit that he was not to climb stairs for at least another week. Wufei and I had planned on simply carrying him up in the old standard, two-man fireman carry. Heero, of course, objected strenuously to my being half of the two-man part.

He insisted that it wouldn't hurt him to walk up a couple of flights of stinking stairs and I thought for a moment that we were actually going to have to fight with him over it. I started to panic, overcome with a foreboding understanding that here we were at the end of our damn journey and he was going to end up hurting himself trying to protect me. He would wind up back in the hospital and it would be my fault because I had failed to be strong enough to do for him what needed doing. A frustrated scream was boiling around in my chest looking for a way out. I could feel my hands starting to shake.

"Yuy!" Wufei suddenly snapped and went and got right in Heero's face. Terse, almost angry words were exchanged. I think I'm glad I couldn't really make out the nearly whispered exchange; I'm not at all sure I want to know what Wufei said to him. Heero glanced at me and his face did something odd. The next thing I knew, he had relented, let us carry him up without so much as a whimper. I won't lie and try to say I wasn't feeling it by the time we got clear up to the apartment, but it wasn't all that bad and I was pretty sure a soda and five minutes of sitting down would be all it would take to settle my faintly fatigued muscles.

We settled him on the couch and then Wufei went back to the car for our bags. As soon as his partner was out of earshot Heero couldn't contain a worried, "you're sure You're all right?"

"Yes dear," I told him sarcastically with a roll of my eyes. "I'm just fine. Being the one of the two of us who does not have bullet wounds in his damn stomach."

He suddenly gave me an odd little smile. "I believe that we are finally in that 'safe house' you referred to. Doesn't that mean that I am now allowed by your own analogy to hover and overprotect?"

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or scream. I was still trying to decide when Wufei came back into the apartment, my duffle bag over his shoulder and Heero's in his hand.

"What the hell?" he snapped, seeing us staring at each other. "I wasn't gone five stinking minutes!"

"He started it," I muttered in a deliberately petulant voice and went to the kitchen to fetch drinks.

I could hear them talking while I was out of the room and just let it go, actually hoping that maybe Wufei could talk some sense into my mate. Not that there was any real guarantee that that's what he was doing, but he had been on my side in the argument over the stairs. I took a couple of extra minutes selecting the bottles from the fridge before taking a deep breath and going back into the lion's den. I handed the drinks around, setting my own soda on a coaster on the coffee table, before taking the minute to deliver my bag to my room, well aware of the picture that was in the sketchpad inside that bag. I hadn't found a place to dispose of it yet and didn't want to take any chances on Wufei deciding he wanted to look through my drawings.

I decided when I about gave myself a heart attack, to pick the vacuum suit up off the floor and stuff it back in the closet. I'd deal with it later.

Then I joined the guys in the living room, curling into the corner of the couch that had become 'mine', picking up my soda to sip at it while I waited to see if one of them would speak.

It was Wufei who finally broke the silence, and good God did he speak.

"I have just about had all I'm going to take out of both of you," he growled, and glared at Heero. "There is nothing physically wrong with him, he is not in pain, trust him to know his own damn limits and get that 'I am Superman' stick out of your ass."

I took a swig of my soda to stop the grin from appearing on my face and waited, I had no doubt that my turn was coming next, and he didn't disappoint me.

"You," he jabbed his finger in my direction. "Have been living for this damn moment for the last week. Enjoy it. Don't let him bulldoze you... you know when you're right; trust yourself."

I glanced at Heero and could only hope I wasn't wearing the same, sheepish, hangdog _expression, but knew that I probably was. Which meant that we both looked pretty damn stupid.

"I have to get back to work," Wufei continued. "I will call you later, and I expect to interrupt you... cuddling or something else disgustingly sentimental, not to find that you've locked yourselves in your damn rooms!" Then he took his bottle of juice and he left. I could hear him grumbling to himself all the way down the hall.

I'm not sure which one of us chuckled first, but it didn't take long before we were both giggling like children. It got out of control enough that Heero ended up with a pillow clutched to his stomach.

We settled down rather quickly after that, then he surprised me by easing himself down on the couch and laying his head in my lap.

"You've really been living for this moment?" he whispered as he settled against me.

"Well, Superman," I grinned. "More like the way I envisioned this moment, not necessarily the way it turned out."

"I'm sorry," he breathed and I could feel the warmth of his breath clear through my pants leg.

"Hush," I chided. "We're getting to the part I dreamed about."

I stroked my knuckles over his hair and at length, he murmured groggily, "This is nice." Then he fell asleep and I just sat for the next hour and grinned down at him.

We settled into a routine that got us by. Don't get me wrong, we still had our fair share of arguments; it made him crazy when I hiked to the grocery store, even though it was only six blocks down, because he didn't want me carrying things all the way back. He completely refused his pain medication and that drove me nuts. But we managed not to kill each other.

We saw one of the other guys almost daily, a thing that bothered me at first. I felt like they didn't trust me with Heero's care, but I figured out after a while, that this was just something they did. And their being there to help with the mundane chores helped things slowly begin to turn around. The constant tension I had been under seemed to ease and I could sleep at night knowing he was there beside me. Things got so much better, in fact, that guilt-beast took the hamsters and headed off for the Bahamas on a well-deserved vacation. It was a... blissful time.

It lasted about a week; then I got the notification that the sale of the ship had gone through.

Nothing like a dose of toxic reality.

"You're not going down to that closing by yourself," Heero said, voice unsteady and eyes showing disquiet.

"Heero," I told him tiredly, "you're not supposed to be climbing up and down stairs."

"You know damn well that's only for a couple more days," he said firmly. "A day isn't going to make any difference one way or the other..."

I faltered in my resolve and hated myself. I wanted him with me and I couldn't tell if I was considering letting him come for selfish reasons, or if I really believed it wouldn't hurt him.

"I... I don't know..." I stammered and he sat down beside me on the couch, wrapping an arm around my shoulders.

"Trust me to know my limits," he told me softly. "I can do this. I want to be there with you."

"It isn't going to take five minutes to do the damn paperwork, Heero," I tried. "It's no big deal."

He snorted. "It runs deeper than that and we both know it. Don't try to gloss over it." Hesitantly, he pulled my head over to rest on his shoulder. "Let me have this, please?" he said softly and I knew I'd lost.

"We're taking a cab," I informed him, voice tight. "You're not driving... you're not supposed to be driving."

"Fair enough," he pounced, more than happy to make the small concession to win the larger one.

So he went with me. He was very careful on the stairs, taking them one at a time, as much to ease my mind I think, as any thought of his that he shouldn't be doing this. We took a cab to the bank and I sat down across the table from some bank rep, elbow to elbow with the kid that was buying... the ship. I was calm and cool and collected and signed all the papers. I was charming and witty and blasé and shook hands all around. I didn't start the trembling until we were in the back of a cab on our way away from that place. There was very little in my head but white noise. Heero hung on to me with both hands and got us where we needed to be.

The cab driver couldn't seem to decide whether he should be disgusted by the sight of two men holding each other, or scared by the state I was obviously in. He must have been leaning toward disgusted because Heero seemed angry with him when we got back to the apartment and didn't even tip the guy.

I set the pace on the stairs, making sure that he went slowly, one tread at a time to minimize the stretch on healing muscles. He didn't argue, just moving a step behind me, with his hand on my arm.

"Duo..." he began, once we were back in the apartment, but I didn't let him really get started.

"You need to rest," I told him firmly. "That's the first time you've been out since you got out of the hospital."

I could see him warring with what to say, while he studied my face and tried to decide if I was really all right or not.

"Park it, mister," I grinned at him, pointing to the couch. "I'm going to fix you something to eat."

He seemed unsure of his ground and let me bull my way forward. I went off to the kitchen and put together a quick sandwich, finding him on the couch where I had bade him sit when I left the room.

"Good boy," I smirked and handed him the saucer. "You're learning to do as you're told."

"Duo..." he tried again, his hands moving automatically to accept the plate from me.

Again, I didn't give him the opening. "I am going to go get a shower while you eat your lunch!" I chirped brightly and moved away before he could object.

I don't know what it is about me, showers and crying. Maybe it's because you can pretend the tears are just water. Maybe it's because it's the one place that my voices seldom follow me. Maybe it's because the sound of the shower could drown out a hell of a lot of noise.

I ended up braced against the wall of the shower, my head hanging and the water beating down on the back of my neck, bawling like a damn little kid. I hated it. I hated myself. I hated that I had no more control than this. There had been a day, a thousand years ago, that I had prided myself on almost never crying. It had taken a hell of a lot in those days. I had known that tears didn't help. I had known that in a lot of situations, tears only made things worse... it was a sign of weakness that would bring the predators down on you in a heartbeat. But lately... since that damn accident that was slowly stealing everything I had ever been, everything I had ever hoped to be... it seemed all I could do was cry.

She was gone. Really, irretrievably gone. The 'Maxwell's Demon' was no more. That kid would register his new ship with some other name and he would go off to make his fortune. If I ever chanced to see her again, I probably wouldn't even know her. He would decorate the inside of her the way he saw fit, might even destroy Neo's butterflies. Might paint over my stars and not even realize that he was wiping out L5 all over again. Had Wufei seen it? Had he realized that I had put it back in the midnight sky for his sake? If he hadn't... he never would now.

My ship. My Demon. I ravaged her and I killed her and I sold her damn corpse. What kind of a motherless son-of-a-bitch was I?

Had I not already been bawling uncontrollably, that would have made me laugh until I was.

"Oh dear God... what did I do?" I murmured through the sobs.

Then strong arms were turning me around under the spray of warm water and enveloping me in a tight embrace. "Damn it," Heero murmured softly. "I knew it... damn it, Duo..." He cut that off fairly quickly though, well before he got to the I told you so part, and it changed to gentle offerings of support. "I'm here... I'm here, baby. It's going to be all right... let me hold you..."

I stiffened, aware of his still healing body... aware of the very real possibility of hurting him.

"It's all right... please don't fight against me. Lean on me, just for a little bit... let me be here. I swear to God I won't let you hurt me."

There was a tiny, rather inconsequential war that went on in my head and when it was over, pride was dead on the floor of my brain and need was firmly in charge. I wrapped my arms around his neck and begged him softly, "don't let me hurt you... don't let me hurt you..."

I let him hold me. I held him. I cried until my throat hurt and there were no tears left. I hurt. I was humiliated. I felt adrift and groundless. I didn't know who or what I was, or where in the name of God I was going. What in the hell was I going to do now?

He stroked the heavy, water-soaked hair from my face and held me wrapped as close as he could in those strong, sure arms of his. He whispered and murmured, reassured and calmed.

When I tried to apologize, he kissed me until I shut up.

When the water started to cool, he got us out of there.

When he found me shaking with exhaustion, he took us to bed.

When I tried to object, tried to pull myself together somehow, he just smiled tenderly down at me. "We both need some rest, love. Just let me lie with you... "

Oblivion claimed me swiftly, when I let myself rest my head on his shoulder. It was as much a running away as it was a need for sleep. I just didn't want to think any more. Didn't want to remember the smile on that damn kid's face as he signed the papers that made my dream his own. Is there a special place in hell for people who whore out their dreams?

When I woke, the light told me that some time had passed. My head was pounding and my throat was mildly sore, pointed reminder of the fool I had made of myself... just in case I had forgotten.

"Awake, my heart?" Heero's voice whispered near my ear and I turned to find him watching me intently. I flushed darkly and looked away.

"Oh God, Heero..." I blurted. "I feel like such an idiot."

"Hush," he scolded, voice so laced with emotion, I couldn't even name it. "You needed to get it out. You can't hold that kind of pain inside... you can't hide from me."

"I just don't understand what in the hell is wrong with me," I told him, reaching to rub my hands over my face, as much to hide from his piercing gaze as to ease the headache.

He caught my hands and pulled them away. "What is wrong, is that you are trying to pretend that your world hasn't crashed down around you. You are trying to force yourself to carry on as though nothing ever happened."

"What in the hell do you expect me to do?" I whispered up to him, some part of my heart hoping that he had an answer that might lead me out of this awful, awful place.

"You can't keep running away from these... feelings." He soothed, stroking his fingers gently over my face. "You have to let your heart and mind heal along with your body. Come to me when you feel like this... when you reach the end of that rope. Just... let me love you."

I didn't know what to say to him and just curled toward his warmth, wishing I could flee into the forgetfulness of sleep again.

He sighed softly and curled an arm around me, stroking his fingers through my damp hair.

I struggled with something to say to him, I'm fine. I'm ok. I'll be all right. They all seemed... lame.

"Duo?" he asked softly after a bit of silence.

"What?" I prompted, a bit timidly.

"Can... we talk about something?"

I thought my heart would stop in my chest. Poor George appeared on the bed beside me, teleported fresh from vacation, his fez askew and wearing a little Hawaiian shirt. He was struggling with his banners, trying to decide between 'holy-shit!' and 'oh hell!'. I blinked at the both of them and could only nod.

Heero took a deep breath and I tried to prepare myself for the pain I was pretty sure I was about to face. The little kid in my head closed his eyes, wrapped his arms around his head and began keening quietly to himself.

"I've been thinking about this for a while,' he said, looking up at the ceiling and not at me. "I wanted to wait a little bit before I brought it up... but somehow this seems like it might be a good time."

The blood was rushing through my veins so loud, I had trouble hearing him for a second.

"Have you made any plans for the money that you... that you got from that sale?" he asked it very carefully, obviously thinking hard about the wording, his voice hesitant.

"Not... not really," I choked out and even George seemed shell-shocked, sitting on the bed with his eyes wide and not an appropriate banner in sight.

"I've been thinking about some things," he continued, seemingly oblivious to my distress, dealing with his own disquiet. I determined that when he finally got done dumping me, that I would pack my things and move out with absolutely as much grace as I could muster. It was hardly his fault that he was tired of dealing with my sniveling and my weakness. He deserved someone better than me, someone who could be there for him and who wasn't such an emotional cripple. I would - so help me God - not fall apart until I was far, far away from here.

"What would you think of the idea of looking for a house together?" he suddenly blurted.

George and I stared at each other and the poor little guy just gave it up and left me on my own. The best I could come up with was a barely squeaked, "W... what?"

Heero stiffened where he lay by my side. "I... I'm sorry," he stammered. "It was too soon... I should have waited. I just thought it might help. You don't feel at home here... I started to notice things after I realized. You've never... you don't change things... you aren't making this your home. You act like a guest here and I don't want that... I thought, maybe..." The words were slipping out faster than he seemed able to control them and I thought about offering him the services of a thought-hamster or two, but then I reflected that they hadn't done my verbal editing process a lot of good and forgot about it. "I'm sorry, forget I said anything," he finished and suddenly grew quiet.

I blinked up at the ceiling. "You're not... you're not asking me to move out?" I whispered.

"Nani?" he exploded and finally turned to really look at me. I'm sure he found my face as white as chalk and my eyes as round as saucers. I was fairly certain my blood pressure had done something really freakin' interesting. His hands were suddenly on either side of my face and I was being forced to meet his fierce gaze. "No," he told me firmly. "I am not. This... path of yours... I'm asking you to make a home the next goal down it. I am asking you to pool your resources with mine and for us to move out of here... together. I married you, didn't I? We tease each other with that, but damn it; I meant it. We are in this together, heart and soul and all that damn shit. Forever. You promised me forever and I mean to collect on that."

There was no mistaking the strength of the possessive, loving look he was giving me. No mistaking his resolve. His confidence that we would come through this.

"Heero?" I sighed, unable to shift away from that gaze even if he had let me.

"What?" he responded, eyes searching mine intently.

"Do not ever again start a conversation with 'we have to talk' or any other variation on that theme, ok?"

He snorted and couldn't help quirking a small grin. He had the decency to look slightly chagrined. His hands stopped holding my face and I found his fingertips tracing over my own smile as it echoed his.

"So," he prodded after a moment. "What do you think?"

"Are you sure?" I had to question. "You've lived here a long time."

"Doesn't matter," he smiled. "This place isn't right for you, so it isn't right for me. I want someplace to call our own. Someplace with a bit of a yard, and... and a room with a lot of light where we can make your studio."

He was looking at me with his damn heart right there in his eyes and in that moment I wondered how I could ever have doubted him.

"I have to take care of this thing with the journal first," I had to warn him. "I can't concentrate on anything else until that's off my shoulders."

"Of course," he said, and I could see something truly bright and beautiful being born right in front of my eyes. "Wufei has already started searching for Mrs. Camden."

I grunted in surprise, though I suppose I should have realized with his Preventor connections, he would have already started the research.

Heero's fingers trailed up and down my arm and he smiled at me wistfully. "What shall we look for, love?"

I thought about it for a moment, "I think I'd like something... a little secluded. Someplace quiet. I'd like... a garden... and... and a fireplace." I found my chest growing tight as I thought about something that I had never let myself think about before.

I could almost feel the weight of his eyes on me, watching me explore a house that didn't exist outside my head. "You?" I asked softly.

"I think," he whispered, as though afraid of breaking some spell. "I would like for you to paint our bedroom... with stars." He seemed to be almost holding his breath, watching for my reaction.

I blinked up at him. "I... I would like that."

His breath went out in a sudden gust and he gathered me against his chest in a fierce hug. I settled against him, though I knew we were going to have to get up soon, and continued to explore the house in my head.

"Hey," I grinned, on a sudden thought. "You ever stayed in Quatre's 'blue room'?"

"I believe so," he said hesitantly, as he thought about it. "Why?"

"I want a shower like that!" I chuckled.

"Anything you want, love," he said huskily. "Anything at all."

I decided to wait before I brought up the cat. Might not do to spring too much at him at one time. Besides, I needed to talk to George and the boys first... they might object.

"What are you thinking about?" he ventured after a moment.

"How much I love you," I told him and the smile he graced me with reminded me where my true home lie. 


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