by: Sunhawk

Absolution (cont)

"You're... you're all I have left, Heero." I blurted, catching his hand in mine and squeezing again. "I want to take care of you, too... I just want you safe and well... I..."

Frustration flickered across his face again. "You're keeping something from me," he said then, voice thick and intense. "I can tell... even after you promised. I'm just so damn worried..."

I heaved a sigh and sat up straighter, deciding to come clean on the one point. Perhaps it would ease his mind enough that he would stop digging for the other points. "If I freakin' tell you, will you not try to 'fix' it?"

His eyes looked so... hopeful, that guilt-beast just fucking appeared out of no-where and nailed me in the ass before I even knew he was back. Heero nodded and then amended it with a tiny little, "I'll try."

I snorted and glanced away from that piercing gaze. "I don't have a driver's license."

"What?" he murmured, blinking in surprise.

"I never fucking needed one, ok?" I said and knew I sounded defensive. "I couldn't afford a car and the ship, too. It wasn't practical, so I never bothered with it."

"So..." he hesitated, confused. "How did you... I mean..."

I sighed, frustration getting the better of me. "I did not drive the damn car illegally. I took the bus. It is no big deal... or it wouldn't be if you stopped making it a big deal. There is this lovely thing called 'public transportation' that is just a wonderful invention, maybe you've never heard of it? Great big vehicles with lots of seats inside? Somebody else does the driving?"

I shut up and looked away.

"Why didn't you just tell me?" he asked gently.

"Because," I grumbled. "You would have made one of the guys come all the way down here just to chauffer me around and I'm sick to death of being a pain in everybody's ass!"

"Duo!" he blurted, sounding shocked. "You are not..."

"I am," I said firmly. "Before that damn accident, I was a relatively self-sufficient person. Now I'm just this blood-sucking leech..." Oooops. There went the mouth again. I felt like my thoughts had just made an end-run around my brain.

"You are not!" he scolded, suddenly looking pained. "Don't talk like that."

I couldn't meet that pain in his eyes, and looked away. In that instant, I wished I were free to run away. I wished that I still had a place I could run to. It hit like a damn blow, suddenly, that I was totally dependent on him now... I had no home of my own anymore. We'd been living together for over six months, but I'd always had that bolthole... that place I could retreat too if I really had to. I felt like I'd made the leap out of the airplane, and then decided to check my chute.

"Why shouldn't I?" I sighed and let my head drop back down onto his shoulder so I didn't have to look at him. "It's the God's honest truth."

I wanted to give in and lean. I needed to be strong and support. I wished... for a damn nap.

His hands stroked over my hair and I felt him sigh. "You are not a... leech. They're your friends... we are all your friends... we love you and we just want to help. Let me in..."

"What would you have me do, Heero?" I asked him, and was surprised when he had a ready answer.

"Stop hiding. Stop lying. Talk to me." He had a lot of ready answers. "Stop trying to bear everything alone. Tell me what you're feeling... I can't read your mind, you know."

I couldn't help a dark chuckle. "Never thought I'd hear you admit to that one."

There was a small silence, and then, "They took my crystal ball with the rest of my belongings."

He won a snicker and I raised my head to smile for him and suddenly found my lips covered with his. There was a desperation to the kiss, a voraciousness. If he had been whole and well, he would have pinned me to the bed and ravaged my mouth while he ripped the clothes off me. My body was flooded with heat and I moaned, shifting to deepen the kiss since he couldn't. We speak better with touch than we do with words. I could feel his love like a solid thing under my hands and it was something I had needed to anchor me.

When I drew back I was surprised to find his face swimming before my eyes.

"I. Love. You," he told me forcefully while I sat and blinked my sight clear.

"Then let me do the things I have to do," I whispered. "I'm... feeling like the biggest damn loser on the face of the planet right now. I need this... to not fail you on top of everything else."

"Oh, love..." he breathed and I stilled him with a soft kiss, nothing like the first one.

"Please?" I said, trying not to let it sound pleading. "The worst is over... I know my timing wasn't the best, but it had to be done. And it is done." I tried to quirk him a grin but only ended up blushing furiously. "I promise; no more hysterical venting."

"I wish you hadn't done that... to your ship," he said softly, touching my face tenderly. "It was too soon... you should have waited and not made the decision while you're still recovering."

I heaved a sigh and met his eyes. His were so full of... belief in me. Full of love and... faith. I'm sure mine just looked bleak.

"Listen to me, Heero," I told him intently. "Physically, I will recover... some day." I couldn't contain the discouraged sigh, wondering just how in the hell long before that happened. "But... mentally... it's in my damn bones. That... fear has soaked in and it's not going away. I am not going to get over it. No amount of talking about it is going to make the panic stop. If we were talking about..." I wracked my brain, looking for an analogy. "If we were talking about falling off a horse... yeah; maybe I could cope with it and eventually go on. But there's no margin for error in what I do. If I freeze or I panic on the job... somebody dies. Maybe not even me. I won't take that chance."

His fingers tightened on my arms almost painfully. "It... it just... tears me apart, thinking about you... going in there, all alone. I wish you had waited for me."

I flashed on the horrendous mental picture of Heero witnessing the insane, screaming attack I had made on the room from Hell, armed with a paint stripper and fez-sporting hamsters. I shivered. "I don't want to talk about it. It's over."

He graced me with a pained little frown and opened his mouth to speak.

"Damnit," I said. "I came to spend time with you, not to get lectured!"

He relented. Praise God and Allah and little winged Cherubs; he backed the hell down. Which was a damned good thing because I was about two minutes from running out of the hospital screaming at the top of my lungs.

I busied myself for a bit, changing his water and straightening around his area. Someone had pushed his table so far over he couldn't reach it and I repositioned it. He was out of Kleenex and I found some on a cart in the hall.

He finally got around to telling me that the last of his external staples had been removed that morning. He showed me the wounds for the first time and I found that I had to sit down when my knees felt suddenly weak. I discovered his hand in mine and had to make myself not crush his fingers. It had been... a very near thing. A God damned near thing.

"It's all right," he whispered gently.

"I know," I whispered back, and he pulled his gown back down and let me sit in silence for a minute, holding tight to my hand.

"What you're feeling..." he said, very softly, "is what I've been feeling for months. Only you don't have any freshly healing scars to reassure me with."

I tore my gaze away from his abdomen and met the intense glitter of his steely blue eyes. That had been a cheap shot. One that I hadn't seen coming. I opened my mouth to speak, not knowing how in the hell to answer that. He gently stroked his thumb over my lips to stop the words that weren't coming anyway.

"Don't," he told me. "Just... keep it in mind, all right?"

I nodded, the most I could manage.

Dinner came then and I could have kissed LeAnn. I used her mercilessly to alter the conversation and the mood. Used the meal to head us toward our nightly routine. He ate his dinner and I gave him his bath, even washing his hair. Everything I could do for him, I did, in an effort to keep the conversation from wandering back where I didn't want to go.

Finally, it was time for me to leave and that thought hit me hard. 'Finally'; God, but I didn't want to feel that way.

We said our goodbyes and I was shocked as hell when he let me go without any admonishments over the whole stupid lack of transportation thing.

I caught the bus back to the apartment, reflecting that sitting with him through the night had been easier. I was going to have to go straight to the theatre to get any sleep at all; the showings only ran to eleven on weeknights. I wouldn't have the matinees to fall back on. I would have to get my couple of hours in immediately and then go back to the apartment and... work crossword puzzles for the rest of the night or something. I had been entertaining the idea of trying to sleep alone before Heero had informed me of Wufei's 'turning blue' comment. I somehow didn't think I'd be dozing off by myself anytime soon. I wondered idly how long before Heero was released from the hospital. That would make my damn life so much easier. At least I didn't have therapy tomorrow.

The French flick was gone, replaced by some epic historical thing. I bought my ticket, delighted to find that being a different shift, there was a different usher. I think the other guy had gotten to the point where he recognized me. I settled myself in 'my' corner seat and was asleep before the lights even dimmed. On a weeknight, there weren't a lot of people in there with me... but there were enough. There was the soft murmur of voices and the rustling of shifting bodies. It was enough.

I blinked awake when the lights came back up and my subconscious informed me the movie was over. I sat up and was suddenly aware that someone was sitting very close to me. Not three seats away. That kicked my defenses into high gear; it scared the holy shit out of me that some stranger had gotten that close to me while I was at my most vulnerable. But then the person spoke.

"Duo," Trowa's soft voice asked. "What in the hell are you doing?"

Three hours of sleep is not really enough. It is, in fact, just about enough to let you really sink into a good, deep sleep. So waking up from a three hour 'nap' kind of leaves your brain going, 'what the hell?' in a very blurry manner.

"Sleeping," I told him before I had a chance to edit it. Sleep deprivation is an interrogation method, in case you didn't know that.

"Why?" You gotta love Trowa; he is such a man of few words. I resisted the urge to answer 'because'.

I realized that my mouth was on autopilot and so just shut up while my brain had a chance to blink owlishly and stagger around looking for a gear to be in.

"Duo?" Trowa prompted.

I fell back on that ages old evasion method. "What are you doing here?" Answering a question with another question.

"I believe that is the question I asked you; what are you doing?" Guess Trowa knew that game.

I was waking up a little bit and I dared try a different tactic. "It's been kind of a long day and I thought the movie would help me unwind... but it was kind of boring,"

There was the ghost of a sigh, a sound I don't think he had meant to let me hear. "I've been here the whole time. You were asleep before the movie ever started."

It was my turn to sigh, and I didn't fucking care if he heard me. "Then what in the hell are you asking me for? You obviously know what I'm doing here."

He frowned and started to speak again, but there was the sound of someone clearing their throat and we both looked up to find the usher standing there. The kid looked God awful uncomfortable.

"The theatre is closing," he mumbled and we didn't have much choice but to follow him to the exit.

Outside in the cool evening air, I turned my steps toward the apartment and sighed again when Trowa fell in beside me.

"Trowa," I asked, "why are you following me?"

He glanced at my profile as we walked across the street. "You have Quatre tied in knots," he said bluntly. "I promised that I would make sure you were all right. Quatre and Wufei... had a small disagreement about whether you were ready to stay on your own tonight."

I growled. I gave in to the urge I'd been harboring all evening and I just freakin' growled. "Do you have any idea what a major pain in the ass it is to have you guys acting like I'm an escaped lunatic from the dangerous criminals' asylum?"

He chuckled lightly and I was glad it was too dark for him to see the blush on my face.

"Yeah," he agreed in a companionable manner. "I can kind of imagine. But can you tell me why you went to the movies to sleep?" We had reached the front walk of the apartment complex and started down it.

"Honest to God, Trowa," I told him. "As much as I like you guys... it's really nobody's damn business."

We were at the steps leading into the building and I hesitated, wondering if I could get him to just go away.

"You can't sleep without someone else around, can you?" he asked gently.

I whirled to look up at him. "Is it just fucking tattooed on my damn forehead, or what?" I blurted, remembering how easily Neo had figured me out as well.

Trowa chuckled merrily, and his fingers flicked at my bangs as he pretended to scrutinize my forehead. "Nope. Doesn't appear to be."

I found myself sitting on the steps and after a couple of minutes, Trowa sat down beside me.

"Duo," he said patiently, "it's not all that surprising to anyone because it is so understandable." He didn't touch me, but he was sitting close enough I could feel his body heat and it made me shiver. He was looking off at the streetlights or the stars or something... I'm not sure what. "I know you weren't there on that mission when... when Quatre..." he floundered for a minute and I quietly supplied,

"Zero-system?" When Quatre had almost killed him.

He nodded sharply and we both had to take a second to shove old memories away. "I was adrift for... hours," he fairly whispered, and I couldn't help turning to look at him. His eyes were wide, lost in the past. I found my hand reaching to rest on his arm and he glanced at me gratefully. "Only a couple of hours..." he repeated and I knew he was comparing his time with mine. A shiver wracked me and his hand closed over mine where it rested on his forearm. "All the same... I couldn't bear it. I completely broke... I didn't even remember who I was when it was all over. It took me... months before I could even begin to... to..." He broke off and looked away.

"I know," I told him. "You don't have to tell me any more."

He glanced at me. "Duo, we can't understand how in the hell you've managed as well as you have." He gave me a rueful smile. "You have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about."

I withdrew my hand to rub across tired eyes and blew my breath out in an exasperated sigh. "I just feel like a total moron," I confessed. "Like some kind of pathetic... helpless idiot."

"You shouldn't," he soothed.

Sitting with him in the near dark was too much like talking to my ghosts and he was pulling more from me than I had meant to say. "I just can't fail Heero, Trowa. Everything he's done for me... all the sacrifices he's made... he needs me now and I'm doing such a bad job of handling things."

"Don't let what Wufei said, get to you," he grumbled angrily. "He had no right to say that."

As much as he's given up for you... where the hell were you when he needed you?

I thought about that, my fingers rising of their own accord and brushing my still sore jaw. "It was true... what he said. I should have been there."

He snorted and glanced sidelong at me. "You're going to stop living your life so that you can be around on the off chance that Heero is going to do something stupid?"

I found my hands curled into fists and had to stop myself from hitting the concrete steps. "I didn't need that last job to tell me I'd lost my damn nerve!" I burst out. "I had it rather forcibly demonstrated to me on that stupid trip with Relena! It was just my own Goddamn stubbornness that wouldn't let me face it. If I'd just been a big boy and sucked it up the first time, I would have been here. Heero wouldn't have been so stinking distracted that he let himself get shot!"

I wrapped my arms around my knees and shut up. There were a couple of minutes of quiet, and then Trowa's hand came to rest on my back. I wondered about these guys who, during the war, had been so standoffish. When had they learned to be so open? When had they learned how to be such good friends?

He rubbed gentle circles for a minute before offering, "You wouldn't be our Duo if you didn't keep throwing yourself at impossible odds."

I couldn't contain a snort of laughter. "Wufei says I'm a tenacious bastard." I was oddly proud of that.

Trowa chuckled with me. "It's... apt."

"I just... if I can just get by until Heero's out of the hospital," I told him in a hushed tone. "Everything will be all right."

His hand stilled, coming to rest on my shoulder. "I don't know that that's true..."

I turned to look at him, wanting to convince him that I knew what I was doing. "No... listen, Trowa," I told him vehemently. "Once Heero's back, I won't have any trouble sleeping. I'm handling everything else... that's the only sticky point. I just have to get by until then. It'll fade with time... I'm sure of it. I just have to tough it out a little longer..."

He didn't look reassured. He only looked troubled. I wanted to scream; could these guys not listen to anything I said?

He didn't speak immediately, just sat beside me with his arm curled around my shoulders until I started to feel uncomfortable.

"Sometimes..." he said very softly, when he finally did speak. "Sometimes it doesn't fade, it just lies in wait for a weak moment."

I didn't ask, and he didn't say more. I probably should have, but I honestly just didn't want to hear about it right then. It was easier to believe that I only had to struggle through a couple of tough weeks, not that it could be a struggle I might not be able to win.

The look on his face told me he was speaking from personal experience and I felt bad that I couldn't bring myself to ask him about what he meant. Guilt-beast joined us on the steps and I had to suppress the urge to move over and make room for him.

Trowa cleared his throat after it became apparent that the conversational ball had fallen rather flat on my side of the net. "How about we go upstairs and you pack some things and come home with me?"

I blinked up at him stupidly. "What?" I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I hadn't.

"Quatre will be thrilled to have you," he smiled. "And if I'm the one who convinces you to come stay with us, maybe he'll forgive me for dragging him out of the hospital that first night."

I didn't answer him right away, mulling it over.

"Come on, little brother," he chuckled teasingly. "Quatre will turn it into a party. You'll make him happy."

I snickered. "Little brother?"

"Well,' he grinned back. "If you're Quatre's 'brother'... that makes you mine by default."

My grin widened into something a little evil. "Isn't that... incest?"

I took him by surprise and he laughed out loud, quickly cutting it off with a nervous look around at the dark apartment windows. "Brother-in-law then," he amended. "Come on... let me take you home."

He meant his home, and I knew that, but I still had to fight the urge to tell him I didn't have a home anymore... I'd destroyed it with my own two hands.

I thought about his offer and saw it for the two-edged sword that it was. Yes, in a house full of people, I could probably find a place that I could sleep without the screaming, breath-snatching nightmares. But... it would be admitting to a weakness and allowing Quatre to throw himself into full-fledged No-Holds-Barred mother-Hen mode. But I suppose I had seen on a rather personal basis that this group of guys did not keep a hell of a lot of secrets from each other. Trowa had already ferreted out my somewhat unorthodox sleeping arrangements and I was pretty sure the rest of them would know all about it before morning. I glanced at guilt-beast and turned my head to hide the smirk.

"Hope Quatre doesn't have a problem with pets," I muttered.

"What?"

"Nothing," I sighed. "Ok... what the hell; why not?"

He smiled at me as though I were the one doing him the favor. I couldn't help but roll my eyes, but rose to my feet and led the way up the stairs.

I let us into the apartment and he followed me into the bedroom. "Let me get my duffle bag and a change of clothes and I'll be ready to go," I told him and opened the closet door.

Cold, cold hands were closing on my arms, reaching for the air tank... pulling... wrenching.

"Shit!" I wailed, confronted by a member of the Derry crew in broad fucking daylight. I staggered backward, trying to get as much space between me and the closet as I could manage. An inarticulate scream was forming on my lips. I came up hard against a warm body and I clung to that realization; a warm body. Not dead. Not a ghost. Not after my air. Warm. OhGodohGodohGod...

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