The sketchpad was back on the
coffee table when I returned, but Wufei's face was still tinged pink.
I smiled at him warmly, but didn't say anything. He didn't speak of it
either. Beowulf just looked bored with the whole thing.
"It's getting late," he muttered after a brief pause to clear
his throat. "If... if we're going to look over that journal, we should
be getting to it."
I sighed; I had forgotten about it somehow, had pushed it out of my head.
I wasn't sure I wanted to 'get to it'.
"I really think it will help," he said gently and I found myself
nodding. I let him fish it out of where he had packed it in my duffle
bag. We just stood and stared at each other for a minute. I didn't know
what in the hell to do. Should we sit down side by side and read it together?
Should I read it while he sat and... and... watched me? Should he read
"If you would like," he ventured, looking uncomfortable. "I
could... read some of the entries to you."
I flushed, but found the idea not all that repellent. "I feel like
a raving moron," I told him flatly.
It won me a grin and he gestured to the couch. I sat down on one end and
he moved my duffle bag before sitting down in the other corner. As soon
as we were sitting down, Beowulf joined us, seeking my lap when he found
his owner's occupied with the journal. I found his warmth to be oddly
comforting. I nursed my glass of orange juice and Wufei read to me. I
couldn't remember anyone reading to me outside of my dreams since the
It was the journal of a man. Just a man. He happened to be the Captain
of a ship in the Oz fleet. He happened to serve during the war. But he
was still just a man.
He had a wife and he had two children. A boy and a girl. The perfect little
family... except the part where Daddy went off to battle one day and didn't
come back. The entries started out almost mundane;
"Left port from L3 today. I think I'm going to have trouble with
my new second in command. He's a real go-getter and eager to prove his
loyalty to anybody who will listen. Makes me think he's protesting too
much. I don't trust the man."
There was a lot in that vein, talk of this or that crewmember; things
a Captain worries about. Things that a Captain... with a crew, has to
"Had trouble getting resupplied when we docked at L4; I think some
of the colonists were deliberately making things more difficult. When
will they learn that it's just easier when they cooperate? You can't fight
something the size of the Oz federation."
Wufei read easily, I was kind of surprised. I had expected him to have
trouble with the idea of reading to me like a little kid. His voice is
strangely calming; I could imagine him with several children clustered
around him, listening in rapt attention. I sat my glass aside and curled
Beowulf into my arms; he seemed to like the extra warmth and rewarded
me with a purr.
"I was able to ship a birthday present home for Jimmy's birthday.
I hope it arrives in time. I feel so bad that I won't be there for it.
Especially since I missed his sister's last month, too. They're not even
going to remember who I am by the time this damn war is over."
Wufei read for a bit, occasionally skimming or skipping bits and pieces
when it became too mired in personal references to make much sense. His
voice began to get a little hoarse, but I didn't think either one of us
was ready to stop. It had become oddly impossible to put the book down,
even knowing how it was going to come out. After almost an hour, I uncoiled
myself from my corner of the couch and quietly reached for the journal.
He looked up at me in surprise but seemed grateful.
I'm afraid my voice wavered a bit when I first started, but I forced it
to steady. Beowulf left my lap when Wufei's became available and I felt...
"Things seem to be heating up. Not that high command would let a
poor foot soldier in on their plans, but orders are starting to have a
desperate feel to them."
Some of the entries, like that one, were fairly short and to the point.
Sometimes days would pass with no entries at all. Sometimes Camden made
several entries in one day.
"We've been ordered out to the asteroid belt. Command won't even
tell me what for. We're simply to take our position and await further
instructions. I wouldn't say it out loud for the world, especially not
in the hearing of that idiot Williams, but I think something is seriously
wrong with upper command. Orders seem to contradict themselves almost
from hour to hour. Sometimes it seems like the same people aren't in charge
from one day to the next."
Williams. I didn't recall the name from the list of the dead that I had
gathered. A survivor then?
"We docked today and were able to pick up messages. I got a note
from Anna that said Jimmy got his present a day late, but loved it all
the same. She said he wanted to know when I was coming home. I might have
felt worse if Myers hadn't gotten the news in the same batch of messages
that his brother had been killed in battle. The man had been a Taurus
pilot. I think Myers had been expecting the news for some time. The crew
doesn't talk about it out loud, but it's a well-known fact that mobile
suit pilots are sold cheap in these times. Sometimes it feels like this
will never be over."
The next couple of entries were worse than mundane, detailing supply problems
and grousing about deep space rations. But then the tone changed of a
sudden and the time period was brought into hard focus for the both of
"Trieze is dead. I still can't believe it. I thought the man was
immortal. The rumors are that he was killed by one of those damn Gundam
pilots. I supposedly saw one of them at our last dock; they had him in
irons and he was scheduled for execution. I personally don't think they
had the right guy. He was just a damn little kid. They beat the holy crap
out of him too."
I had to stop and Wufei and I both just looked at each other for a minute.
I could see him warring with himself. His conscience was telling him to
take the book back from me, but he didn't want to be reading this part
out loud any more than I did. Wordlessly, I scooted down the couch until
I was sitting where he could read over my shoulder and we finished reading
the entry together in silence.
"There's just no way that kid could have been one of those ruthless
Gundam pilots. Fighting like that would break a kid. Good God; he couldn't
have been much older than my little Leia! We shipped out before the execution
was scheduled and I was glad of that. It made me sick to think they planned
on televising it. I sent a message to Anna and warned her to make sure
the kids didn't watch it when it happened. I didn't want my kids seeing
something like that. I was actually kind of glad when I heard the kid
got away. I'll always believe they had the wrong person."
I shivered and felt Wufei's hand fall on my shoulder to squeeze gently.
I looked up at him and he looked as... haunted as I felt.
"Maybe we should stop for the night," he said, and couldn't
seem to get his voice above a whisper.
I shook my head. "No... I just want to get it over with." Then
I looked at him again. "Unless... unless you want to stop?'
He gave me a sad little smile. "I'll keep going as long as you do."
I wasn't sure how to take that, and felt a little uncomfortable with it.
Like I was forcing him to read through this stupid thing with me.
The next several pages were more griping about that Williams guy, who
appeared to be the much-maligned second in command. Williams seemed to
have a fanatical streak a mile wide, and a thirst for power. He was out
to make a name for himself and didn't care whose corpse he stood on top
of to get the attention he wanted.
I think Camden was starting to feel the presence of his maker toward the
end; he began to talk more about his kids and about his fears of not being
there to see them grow up. He talked about things he wished he'd said
to his wife. He talked about how they had met and Wufei and I both had
to put the book down for a little bit.
"Wanna stop?" I whispered.
"We... we only have a couple more pages to go." Wufei whispered
Beowulf looked up at us as though we were nuts.
"I feel... weird," I told him with a little shiver. "Like
some kind of voyeur or something."
He nodded. "I know what you mean. I didn't get this wrapped up in
it this morning, just skimming through it. I... I think I'm sorry I suggested
I left the book in his hands for a minute and shifted away to get my glass
of orange juice, finding it warm and drinking some anyway. Wufei traded
me the book for the glass and swallowed some too. He grimaced at me and
then we turned our attention back to the journal.
It got ugly after that. Williams, apparently, had a grudge and a half
against the Gundam pilots. All Gundam pilots. The Londonderry had been
sent to the asteroid belt to back up one of the all out, no-holds-barred
assaults on... us. The Londonderry had not been a destroyer level ship.
It hadn't been much more than a courier. They were only supposed to be
there to ferry wounded or move supplies. During Camden's off-shift, the
second in command took the helm and chose to interpret his orders in a
very... loose manner. By the time the assault had awakened Camden, the
damage had been done and the Londonderry had been 'sinking'. Camden had
little choice but to order an abandon ship.
Williams had attacked a Gundam with the Londonderry; the poor dumb son
of a bitch. He had as much as committed 'ship suicide'. And then blamed
the breach in orders on his Captain.
My hands began to shake so bad we couldn't read the damn book.
"Duo... Duo," Wufei murmured. "Let's stop."
"I... I knew there was a possibility that... that one of us had something
to do with that ship, 'Fei." I told him and my voice was shaking
as bad as my hands. "Most fighting out there had something to do
with us... I gotta finish it..."
He nodded and took the journal away from me and began to read again.
"Williams was one of the first ones off the ship. He took an escape
pod with only one or two of his cronies. Two of the other pods were damaged
in the attack and he left us short. The bastard saved his own hide and
condemned sixteen of his shipmates to death. Though I suppose he can't
be blamed for all of the deaths. At least Myers, White and Nelson died
in the assault."
Wufei said something nasty in Chinese, stopping for a moment to look off
at nothing. "Dishonorable bastard!" he muttered, and returned
to the journal, reading with a little more fervor.
"The battle has moved off and we are left here. Our distress calls
have gone unanswered; we can only assume that there are just too many
disabled ships and not enough rescuers. We don't even know who is winning
out there. I'm not sure why I am bothering to put this down; it's unlikely
that anyone will ever find it. We are walking dead men now. Men and women.
I guess I am showing my age in that; it bothers me more about Thomson
and Reeves, the two women. Williams abandoned women to die in cold vacuum.
If he rots in hell for nothing else, he will rot for that, I have no doubt."
I had to draw a shuddering breath, lost in memory and Wufei's voice stilled.
I looked up at him and he looked distraught to find tears standing in
my eyes. I couldn't help it. I had to mourn for those people whose fate
I had almost shared. Whose fate I might well have had a hand in.
"Don't stop," I whispered and he hesitated. "Please 'Fei...
He stretched out his free arm and let me lean against him. It eased the
"I should be out there with what is left of my crew, but instead
I'm hiding here in my cabin. I've even taken my vacuum suit off. There
is air left in some of the inner rooms... it won't last. I won't die like
that, going slowly as the air runs out. Of all the ways in the damn world
to die, that very idea has always filled me with sick fear. I can't. I
won't. I think that makes me a coward, but I don't care. I think that
I would shame myself before it was over. And somehow, that would be the
Wufei drew a quivering breath of his own, giving my shoulders a squeeze
almost without seeming to notice, before plunging on.
"I hope someone finds this someday. Anna, my dear Anna. I am so sorry.
So very, very sorry. I never meant for this to happen this way. I had
planned on coming home after the war and spending forever with you, just
like we promised..."
Wufei's voice cracked and I broke at the same moment. Beowulf laid his
ears back, sensing the tension in the air, and jumped down to go find
someplace else to sleep.
Wufei shut the book. "That's enough, Maxwell," he said gruffly.
"You may be able to deal with this... but I can not."
I carefully kept my face, now awash with tears, turned away from him.
I pulled away and stood, keeping my back turned, and walked across the
living room to the sliding door that lead out to his little patio.
"Duo?" he called after me and I raised a hand in that stupid
military sign that meant stay here, and slipped outside, shutting the
door carefully behind me.
The evening air was cool and once I walked a few paces away from the building,
I could look up and see some of the brighter stars. I just stood there
and waited for the tears to stop.
I had been way too raw for that. Entirely unprepared. I wondered why that
was. I had pretty much known all afternoon what I was going to be faced
with tonight. When had I gotten to the place where I could push unpleasant
things out of my head so far that I completely forgot them?
Could I have been the one who destroyed that ship? Was mine the Gundam
that Williams had attacked? Was it possible that I had set the trap all
those years ago that I had caught myself in? That was such circular thinking
that I almost got lost trying to unravel it.
"It would'a been damn funny," Solo would have said, while he
snickered at me.
"Shut up, rat-boy," I snapped and wiped rather ineffectively
at my leaking eyes.
"What'na hell is with you lately?" he groused. "Bawlin'
like a baby all'a time."
I just sighed, not able to think of a suitable comeback and he faded from
George wandered up, pulled his fez off respectfully, poked me in the ankle
to get my attention and produced a banner that simply said, 'shit'. Guilt-beast
lolled at my other side and looked up at me with weary eyes as if to say,
'I'm getting too fucking old for this.'
"Oh... you guys are a lot of help," I muttered and looked back
up at the stars. The few I could see. I was filled with a sudden pain
that started in my gut and washed up through my chest, an aching need
to go home to the those stars. To see them as they are meant to be seen,
sharp and steady and clear and bright. Constant and as beautiful as shards
of crystalline ice. Stars don't twinkle; did you know that? It only looks
like they do down here on Earth because of the atmosphere.
Those things in the journal; to Anna, to Camden's wife... so close to
what I had almost said to Heero when I had thought I was going to die
on that trip to L3. They left my heart feeling cold and hollow. Ate at
me from a different angle than all the rest of it. Made me feel that man's
agony right down in my bones.
I sat down on the ground, right at the edge of the patio. I felt bad for
guilt, not up to doing his job, and thought it might be easier on him
if he could just crawl in my lap. His expressive, blood-shot eyes rolled
my way disdainfully.
It had been near the end of the war, sometime after Treize had died. What
would that make it, three years ago? I had fired a shot three years ago
and been struck down by it across all that time? I'd... I'd fucking killed
myself. That's what it boiled down to. If it had been me. Despite how
much Wufei didn't like to hear me say that. Wasn't that just too damn
ironic for words?
"Ok, king-rat." I chuckled. "Ya got a point... it is kinda
"I don't lie," he snickered near my right ear, ruffled guilt's
furry head and disappeared.
Funny for me. Not so damn funny for Camden. What a motherless bastard
that Williams had been. And clearly gotten away with it. I hoped his damn
escape pod had... had imploded. Or something else really, really bad.
Guilt got his second wind and bit down hard on the first piece of anatomy
that came to hand.
Fuck if Williams was going to get away with it. The hell if little Jimmy
and Leia would grow up thinking their father was a traitor and an idiot.
I leaped to me feet, dislodging guilt and leaving my hamsters in my wake.
I drug my arm roughly across my eyes, wiping them clear. When I turned
back toward the apartment, I found Wufei leaning in the doorway, regarding
me with an uncertain _expression on his face. He blinked at me apprehensively
when I came determinedly back toward him.
"Duo?" he asked softly, when I got closer. "Are... are
you all right?"
"Fine," I told him rather flatly. "Do you have an internet
He gave ground, looking at me almost fearfully. "Right here in the
living room," he said, pointing the way.
I went and fished my laptop out of the duffle bag, where Wufei had packed
it, jerking angrily at the zippers. I set it on the end of the coffee
table and strung the cable with shaking hands, booting the system after
it was plugged up.
"What are you doing?" Wufei questioned me, voice trying to be
calm and soothing.
"I'm gonna get that son of a bitch," I growled, watching impatiently
as my laptop came up. "Damned if he's going to get away with abandoning
all those people. I won't let Anna think her husband died a traitor. I'll
be damned if I let his kids think that..." my voice was rising and
I seemed powerless to do anything about it. "That their father was
the bad guy. He's not gonna get away with it..."
"Calm down, Duo," Wufei said gently and suddenly his hands were
on my shoulders. It felt like he was the only thing keeping me from flying
off in a dozen directions. "No more tonight. We're not going to change
anything tonight. You have to calm down."
I could feel myself quivering with almost out of control emotion, too
many to name, too much to deal with. "Can't let him get away with
"I agree with you,' he continued to try to placate me. "We're
going to check into this. But tomorrow.... You need some rest... you need
to calm down."
I sighed heavily, rather proud that it didn't escalate to a moan. "I'm
sorry... you're right. You're right; I just can't help it. I just keep
seeing them... drifting there. I can close my eyes and see them all and
I know how they died and I know they didn't have to die. There was room
in that pod if that bastard had just taken the survivors. I know how they
felt... I know how each damn one of them felt! I felt it and for awhile
I was one of them... just drifting... and they all had families too and
they didn't have the time to leave their messages or maybe they did and
I just didn't find them but God there's just so much you want to say and
maybe those two women were mothers and they left little kids behind and
that means I made orphans like me and the others and..."
"Maxwell!" Wufei snapped and the hands on my shoulders gave
me a sudden harsh shake. He turned me around so abruptly I stumbled. "Stop
it!" he barked at me and pulled me into his arms. "Just... stop
"I'm sorry..." I breathed, when I could.
"God," he murmured. "All that's holding you together is
glue and band-aides!"
I let out with a snort of harsh laughter and told him, "I... I'm
a little tougher than that; bailing wire and twine."
His arms crushed me close against his chest and I could feel the hammer
of his heart against mine. He was scared. I was honestly frightening him;
he thought I was totally losing it. Guilt-beast sighed heavily.
"It's all right. Underneath the twine, I'm slowly puttin' the pieces
back together, ok?" I tried to reassure him.
"I know, my friend," he said softly. "And I'm sorry...
this was such an incredibly bad idea. I didn't realize how much... how
hard... I just didn't realize."
In that moment, if he had been Heero, I think I could have let go. If
Heero had been healed and whole, if those had been his arms around me...
I think I could have just given in to the need to collapse. I would have
answered any question he might have asked me... I wouldn't have evaded.
I wouldn't have lied. I would have told him every damn thing I had ever
felt... ever thought. Anything he wanted.
But this was Wufei. And while he was my friend... he was not the home
my soul sought. It was the vague unease that I might just answer anything
he would ask that drove me to pull away and offer up a watery smile.
"I'm getting real tired," I admitted, so that I might not admit
to anything more. "Do you think we could call it a night?"
"I think that would be a good idea," he agreed and showed me
the way to the bedroom.
As uncomfortable as I had felt sleeping with him at the apartment, it
was nothing compared to how miserable I felt on his home turf, crawling
into his bed.
We said our goodnights, then lay and stared into the dark. I think he
was having trouble falling asleep too, but neither one of us wanted to
be the one to admit it. Thoughts of the asteroid belt whirled around in
my head. Memories surfaced and sank, piloted by little thought-hamsters.
I wished I dared go for a walk. I wished, oddly, for a beer. I wished
for someone to hold onto. I began to fear I would lie there, staring up
at a ceiling I couldn't see, all damn night. Then Beowulf joined us in
bed. I gave a startled little gasp when he just appeared on the side of
the bed and gave a plaintiff little yowl almost in my ear.
"Beowulf!" Wufei snapped, and I could tell from his voice that
he had not been asleep.
The cat ignored him, coming to poke around my face with a slightly wet
"Get down, you mangy beast," Wufei commanded. "Sleep somewhere
He received only a disdainful 'mrrrr' of complaint.
"Does..." I ventured, "does he usually sleep here?"
It took Wufei a moment before he sheepishly admitted, "Yes... the
damn animal insists on sleeping on the bed. But he can survive sleeping
elsewhere, just push him off."
"It's all right," I murmured as Beowulf decided that he might
just share his space with me, curling up next to my stomach. He was warm.
I found my arms winding around him. "I... I don't mind at all."
The comment was greeted with silence. I shifted the cat up higher, closer
to my chest, curling toward the heat... toward the contact... toward the
soft sound of breathing. Beowulf began to wash my chin; I decided I probably
shouldn't let Wufei know that or he would banish the poor animal.
"Good night," I said softly into the dark.
[back] [cont] [back
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