by: Sunhawk

Absolution (cont)

Fingers brushed my shoulder. "I'm... here... if you need anything," he told me hesitantly.

"I know," I whispered back.

We went back to staring into the dark.

It was the stupid cat that finally let me sleep. His washing my face with his sandpaper tongue distracted my thoughts. His warmth and the sound of his quiet purr helped me relax. I drifted off, at long last, with my knuckles rubbing absently against the soft fur.

Did you doubt that there would be nightmares? After sitting there all evening pouring over that damn journal? That was most of the reason I had so much trouble falling asleep; somehow I had known that Wufei's mere presence wasn't going to be enough to keep them at bay this time.

It started just like the last time; back aboard the Londonderry. I was trying to get away... trying to run in zero gravity. It was as though I had forgotten how to navigate in free-fall. I could feel the corpses gaining on me as I fled, moving like stereotypical zombies in some bad horror movie. They could walk, where I could not, and even though they moved with shuffling slowness, I couldn't gain any ground on them.

I rounded the bend that hadn't been there, just like the last time. And just like before, came face to... face with the Captain. With his head half gone and his blood-soaked clothes.

Captain Camden. Anna's husband. Leia and Jimmy's Dad.

I didn't bother to scream for Solo... I knew he wouldn't come. I didn't bother to scream for Heero... I knew he couldn't come. Things seemed to... freeze. I didn't fight against them and there was some hesitation on their part. Cold hands did not immediately reach for me. I didn't find myself struggling for air.

"I'm sorry..." I whispered into the cold emptiness that surrounded us. That would surround them... forever. Sorry for it all. Sorry for the deaths. Sorry for living. Sorry for the whole damn war.

Camden seemed, suddenly, to have an eye where none had been before. It was brown; warm and kind if you could ignore the face that wasn't quite all there around it.

For the first time, in those long months of haunting my nights, he spoke. "Anna." It was a whisper... a prayer... a plea.

I blinked. I nodded. I understood.

The crew of the Londonderry quietly turned and retreated to their cold graveyard, leaving me alone in the dark corridor. My hands clutching unnecessarily at the air tank that some part of my mind knew I didn't need any more.

It wasn't about Williams. It wasn't about revenge or justice or even about injustice. It was about love and family and bringing home the words he had left behind. It was about absolution. It was about forgiveness.

I woke with a start and a gasp of breath and found that I was holding Beowulf just a little too tightly. When I eased the grip, he expressed his displeasure by swatting me in the face and jumping off the bed. I imagined him swaggering off with his tail waving contemptuously in the air.

I lay still and concentrated on getting my thundering heart to slow, on not gasping for the sweet, clear air. My hands found their way to the warm spot on my chest that was rapidly cooling now that my security blanket had abandoned me, trying to hold the warmth in.

Wufei seemed to still be asleep, and I slipped silently from the bed, making my wobbly way to the bathroom. A little cold water served to wash away the last of the lingering stench of a vacuum suit that has been used way too long. I wondered sometimes if that scent would stay with me for the rest of my life. Phantom smell, or not... it never failed to make me shiver in sudden, harsh remembrance.

It didn't feel as though I could go back to sleep and when I finished in the bathroom, I went on silent feet to the living room. I had never gotten around to shutting down my laptop, and the room was lit faintly by the soft glow of the screen and allowed me to navigate the strange surroundings without falling over something.

I passed by my system and brushed a fingertip over the touch pad to kill the screen saver, further brightening the room. I shook my head ruefully; I had been so damn far gone last night I didn't even remember plugging up the power cord. I took a moment to glance at the system time; I hadn't seen a clock in this place yet. Wufei probably had the same unfailing time sense that Heero did. It was almost five in the morning. No... it was a sure bet I wouldn't be going back to sleep now.

I wandered over to the patio door and stood looking out at the faint glow of false dawn. I thought resolutely about sunrises and birds. Clouds and butterflies. Earth had a very lot to offer, even to a homesick child of the colonies. I sighed; so much for my resolve not to think about unhappy things. It seemed all my thoughts came, rather quickly, around to unpleasantness.

I left the doorway and went to sit on the couch in front of my laptop, nodding a courteous good morning to Sisyphus. He didn't pause in his rock pushing to acknowledge me.

For lack of anything better to do, I pulled up my e-mail and checked for messages. There was only one and it was from the guy who had made the inquiry about the ship. He must be serious... he wanted to see it. I closed my e-mail and sat back. Later... I would think about it later.

Beowulf did that strange levitation thing he does again, and was suddenly sitting on the coffee table looking at me as if hoping for something, but I wasn't sure what. When I just stared back, he huffed a sigh and meandered over to sniff at my laptop. I braced my elbows on my knees and let my head hang.

God... I was so tired. Just so very damn tired. I couldn't help but wonder if the dream at least signaled an end to the damn constant nightmares. If I had believed that there was a God up there somewhere answering prayers, I might have sent one his way with that hope. I think... I think that would go a long way toward getting me through this; if I no longer had to fear sleeping at night. If I could have that solace again, those few hours of rest and forgetfulness. I shook my head at my own damn dreaming and snorted a quiet little laugh. My braid slid from my shoulder and dangled between my knees, swaying with the gesture.

Beowulf was off the coffee table in a heartbeat, on the floor between my bare feet, lying on his back with the end of my braid caught in his outstretched claws.

I jerked involuntarily and my hair pulled from his grasp. Front legs somehow seemed to almost double in length as the cat stretched up after his prey. I suppressed a chuckle and deliberately dipped my head to let the tuft on the end of the braid bop him on the nose. He went after it with all four feet.

I let it all go away to that new place where I seemed to be able to put things that I didn't want to think about, and just played with the stupid cat. The little kid in my head finally opened his eyes and laughed with delight, for the first time in quite a while.

We were quiet, though I had to make some effort toward it a couple of times. I didn't know Wufei was awake until the flash on his damn camera went off again. Beowulf and I turned an irritated eye in his direction. I blushed. Beowulf licked nonchalantly at a paw. Wufei grinned.

I suppose we did look pretty stupid. I was sprawled across the coffee table on my belly, wearing nothing but my boxer shorts, with my somewhat bedraggled looking braid dangling over the edge. Beowulf was lying under the table on his back, all four legs splayed in an undignified manner, stretching wildly in an effort to reach the offending 'cat toy'.

"Wufei," I said archly. "I'm not even dressed."

He smirked at me, completely unrepentant. "I kept your ass out of the frame." And then he went to make breakfast.

Beowulf abandoned me again, scrambling after his owner; I can only guess that it was breakfast time for him as well. I took the opportunity to go get dressed, dragging my duffle bag to Wufei's bedroom and digging through it to see what my lover's partner had packed for me to wear. I was a little surprised to find a red turtleneck pullover that I hadn't worn in ages and a pair of black jeans. I dressed and re-did my hair, then went to join Wufei in the kitchen.

He gestured me to the table and settled a plate laden with fruit, toast and scrambled eggs in front of me.

I looked up at him with eyes that had to be bugging from my head. "Is there some reason you guys all seem to think you have to turn every meal into an opportunity to stuff me until I burst?"

He chuckled as he sat down across from me. "Because you're scrawny and you don't eat properly on your own."

"Hey!" I told him in mock indignation, "my diet is probably more well balanced than yours."

He snorted with a terribly superior air. "You eat gravel masquerading as cardboard."

I almost spit eggs out on the table trying not to laugh. It still kind of amazes me the sense of humor that the Brothers Grimm had developed while I was away.

"Yes... but its very nutritious gravel," I replied haughtily and all he could do was shake his head at me.

He needed to leave for work before seven thirty and he offered to let me stay at his place until visiting hours started, but I felt awkward about it and packed my stuff up to leave the same time he did. I could see him warring with his sense of 'honor', or whatever in the hell it was that made it hard for these guys to get in a car and drive somewhere while I was waiting for a bus.

"Do not even start with me," I warned him. "We are going in opposite directions... it doesn't make sense."

He sighed heavily. "We can't help but worry..." he began and all I could do was roll my eyes.

"You know, it absolutely makes me crazy the way you guys act like I'm made out of glass." I grumbled, hefting my duffle bag up higher on my shoulder.

His eyes looked sad for a moment before he gave me a small half grin. "I truly wish I had taken some damn video footage of you right after we got back, and maybe you would understand why we act the way we do."

I just stood on the sidewalk and blinked at him, there wasn't a lot I could say to that. He turned and started to walk toward his car but stopped at the last minute, calling back, "It's true what they say... you don't appreciate what you have until you almost lose it."

I stood there like an idiot with my mouth hanging open and watched him pull away. George wandered up with a little thought balloon that simple read, 'damn' in very small letters.

"No shit." I agreed and we made our way to the bus stop.

I decided that perhaps my luck really had taken a turn for the better when I arrived at the hospital and managed to get there early enough to be present when Heero's Doctor came around. He announced that, if Heero managed well on solid food, they would be releasing him either the next day or the day after. It was all I could do not to leap up and hug the man.

I'm not sure if it was the change in menu, or my own delight communicating itself to Heero, but he seemed in much better spirits. Before he could ask me about the evening and the damn journal, I pulled my sketchpad out of my duffle bag and showed him the picture I'd sketched of Wufei and Beowulf.

We had another one of those sweet, sweet mornings where we just sat together and talked of nothing at all. I found out that Beowulf had started out in this life as Muffin and had been Sally's cat. He had made his preference for Wufei's company known very early on and Sally had finally moved him, lock, stock and cat dish into Wufei's apartment in disgust and gotten herself a fish tank.

I sat by his bed and worked on the sketch, adding the details that I hadn't had the time for the night before, and told him about Wufei taking my picture... several times.

He laughed and told me about Wufei driving all of them crazy when he had first taken up the hobby, but that he had surprised them all by becoming damn good at it. He looked at me wistfully and told me that he would be very glad to be able to add Wufei's pictures of me to the collection he had already.

Mid morning, we took his walk and I could tell that he didn't need my support near as much as he had. Which was a good thing... that made me feel oddly melancholy. Am I just fucking weird, or what? He still walked with his arm around my shoulders, but I kind of suspected that it might have just been because we could walk like that together without anyone thinking anything of it. I caught an odd little smile on his face at one point that all but confirmed it for me. I couldn't help but echo the stupid, sappy _expression and that made him chuckle. Soon we were hiking up and down the hall, not able to even make eye contact without laughing like loons. It served to wear him out faster than usual though, and I had to help him, somewhat reluctantly, back to bed.

"God, I love you," he whispered next to my ear as I tucked him in, made sure his IV stand was back in place and the lines were arranged out of harms way.

"If I didn't know better," I smiled down at him, "I'd say you were drugged out of your mind."

"You just seem... better today," he ventured. "It does more for me than any damn medicine to see you smiling again."

There was no answer to that other than a long, deep kiss, which was cut short when Aaron showed up with lunch. Heero ate the solid food with much less grousing than he had the liquid diet and I could hardly blame him.

He slept for a bit after that, though he fought against it, and I sat and worked on my picture of Wufei. Then the comment that my subject had made about video taping me in the hospital came back to me and I found myself sketching Heero.

That's what I was doing when Trowa and Quatre showed up in the afternoon. Trowa moved immediately in behind me to see what I was doing, while Quatre went through his daily ritual of checking Heero's chart.

"Solid food?" he noted with a smile, "Is he doing all right with it?"

"Seems to be," I whispered and focused all my efforts into capturing the gentle _expression on Heero's sleeping face. I figured it wouldn't take long before all the talking disturbed him. "It's only been two meals so far though." Then I had to grin up at them. "The Doctor says if he doesn't have any problems, he'll release him tomorrow or the next day."

Trowa barely seemed to be listening, his eyes flicking back and forth between Heero and the sketch in my lap. "Wufei said you were good. Duo... you realize you could hang your work in any gallery in town, don't you?"

"Yeah... right," I snorted and rolled my eyes up at him. "And what would they call the exhibit? 'Street Rat Graffiti'?"

"I assume from the way everyone is looking at me,' came Heero's quiet, slightly groggy voice. "That he is sketching me now, and not Wufei?"

"Wufei?" And of course I had to show them the portrait I was privately starting to think of as 'A Boy and His Cat'.

They continued to comment on my 'artistic ability' until I was feeling miserably uncomfortable and I stuffed the pad away in my duffle bag.

"You know that Wufei is green with envy over your talent, don't you?" Trowa commented blandly and I looked up at him.

"What?" I blurted with my usual wit and aplomb. I was really going to have to have a talk with my thought-hamsters about better lines.

Trowa chuckled lightly, "I think wanting to paint was what led him to take up photography."

Quatre let out with an odd little chuckle. "He did try those art lessons a year or so ago, didn't he? I'd forgotten."

They talked around me in that vein for a bit and I mulled the information over. I suppose it did explain Wufei's reaction whenever he caught me drawing or was in a position to look through my stuff. Who would have thought?

Before I quite knew what was happening, a phone call had been made to Wufei at work and the four of them were making arrangements for me to go home with Trowa and Quatre for the night. I didn't know whether to object or not. On the one hand, Quatre was making me insane. But on the other, Wufei had been getting a little too... close to some of the things I just didn't want to talk about. I had kind of hoped that I might go back to the apartment and try things on my own, but I suppose that had been a rather ludicrous idea with this group around. It was only going to be for another night or two anyway, so in all reality, it just wasn't worth fighting over it.

We won't even talk about how it made me feel to have them making plans for me without a one of them even asking me what I wanted. That had just become a given. Something to be expected. I was getting numb to it. Really.

So when they were done with their discussion and informed me that Wufei had to work late trying to make up some of the paperwork that wasn't getting done because Heero wasn't there, and that I was going home with them again... I just nodded. Smiled and nodded.

They left after an hour or two, with assurances that Trowa would be back to get me at the end of the day. I didn't even bother to point out that I was pretty sure a cab driver would be able to find their damn place.

I couldn't recapture the morning's mood after they were gone, no matter how hard I tried and it didn't take long before Heero noticed.

"Duo?" he asked gently. "What's wrong, love?"

I sighed and found my fingers rubbing carefully over the still healing cut on my arm; it was starting to itch like a son of a bitch. "I... didn't have a particularly bad night last night... and I guess I'd just hoped I could go on home tonight." Yeah... I used the word for his benefit. Home. I had become aware of the fact that I didn't use it anymore and was making a conscious effort to reassure him. I think he could see through that, though.

He looked at me pensively. "I thought... I didn't think you had bad nights as long as you were with somebody?"

Well, the mood was already shot anyway, right? So I went ahead and told him a little bit about the journal. Mostly stuff about Camden, Williams' mutiny, and the messages the man had left to his family. I didn't expound on the details of the battle and the involvement of a Gundam in the destruction of the Londonderry. But I did tell him about the dream. About the fact that I hadn't ended up fighting for my life all night with a bunch of flash-frozen corpsicles. When I was done, he was struggling between worried and hopeful.

"You want to find this Anna Camden?" he asked hesitantly.

"I have to," I told him with a wry grin. "I think it's contingent on the good Captain and his living-dead crew leaving me alone at night." Heero frowned at me fearfully and I had to roll my eyes. "For God's sake, Heero... I'm not telling you I think I'm being haunted by the ghosts of the damn Londonderry. I just think my own guilty conscience isn't going to leave me alone until I do this."

He reached for me, making me move to sit on the side of the bed instead of the chair, where he could get hold of me.

"What in the world have I done," I asked him, choosing my words carefully. "To make you guys keep acting like I'm going to need a straight jacket fitting any day now?"

He flushed darkly and his fingers wrapped tightly around mine. "You... you seemed to... You talked, quite a bit..." He was floundering around like a drowning man, his eyes flicking to meet mine and then dropping away, and I considered just letting him go, to see if he would ever get it spit out. But I couldn't stand watching him struggle so hard, and finally took pity on him.

"Husband-mine," I grinned down at him. "I've talked to my dead for as long as I can remember. That predates the trip I made to the anti-chamber of hell. But I'm gonna let you in on a little secret..." I couldn't help grinning widely and leaning down to whisper conspiratorially, "they don't really answer."

It was something of a shock to see the relief wash up and fill his eyes until I thought they would spill over.

"Heero?" I murmured, not quite believing the fear I was seeing behind that _expression. "What are you telling me? You think... you think I'm nuts?"

"Quatre's Doctors..." he told me, as he tried to school his emotions. "They warned us over and over... that no one could come through that... unharmed. That the amount of time you spent out there was just too much. Hell; Trowa wasn't adrift a... a... tenth of the time you were, and he completely lost his memory of the entire incident! He didn't even remember Quatre!"

I worked very hard to keep all the irritation out of my voice. Really damn hard. "Trowa got his ass blown up by his own lover. Right after seeing said lover destroy an entire colony! I think the damn circumstances were a little different." He didn't look convinced. "Heero, that's like... like comparing a car accident and running out of gas! Yeah, they're both events that involved a damn car, but that's pretty much where the comparison leaves off!"

"Don't belittle what you went through," he growled.

"I'm just trying to forget what I went through, damn it!" I snapped. "But it's a little damn difficult when I have four people more than willing to keep dredging it up and rubbing my God damn nose in it!"

Oooops. Those fucking little thought-hamsters had done another end-run around my brain.

I was suddenly feeling a rather frantic need to... be somewhere else. I managed to untangle myself from his hands and slipped from the bed. I meant to calmly tell him that I was going to walk down the hall to the soda machine and that I would be right back in just a minute and to please stay where he was and give me just a little space. I'm not sure what actually came out of my mouth.

I fled the room with guilt-beast latched onto one ankle, dragging along all the way down the hall. The glow of the soda machine was like the light at the end of the tunnel, beckoning me with the lure of caffeine and the sharp bite of carbonation. I dropped my coins in and hit the button a little more violently than was necessary, snatching the bottle up to open it and gulped down three huge swallows without pause.

I'm not nuts. I want that on the record. I may be a little... odd. I may have a slightly more active imagination than a lot of people. I have, perhaps, not led the most orthodox of lives. I may have had a somewhat less than stable background. But... I. Am. Not. Crazy.

Was it really all that damn much to ask that they let it go? I was so tired of my entire life revolving around that one stupid piece of shit job to the asteroid belt. I was in the salvage business for a long time. All on my own. I had hundreds of jobs to my credit. I had one go bad. Count them; one. So now every breath I drew had to have something to do with the Londonderry and the damn belt? Every time I sneezed for the rest of my life, was somebody going to try to blame it on that damn accident?

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