by: Sunhawk

Absolution (cont)

I'm really sorry to have to report this... but I was pretty screwed up before hand. I talked to myself before I'd ever heard of the Londonderry. I painted ghosts and cut my own arm once a year, before Howard ever even got that job offer. I embodied inanimate objects with personalities before... hell; before the Maxwell church. That's just... who I am.

I pushed away from the soda machine, took another long swallow, girded my loins and turned back toward Heero's room. Only to find him making his unsteady way down the hall toward me, using his IV stand as an impromptu walker.

I thought for a split second that I just might scream.

"Heero!" I yelped and rushed to his side. "What the hell are you doing? Didn't I tell you I'd be right back?"

He looked at me, rather stricken. "No... you just said something about damn hamsters and took off."

I repressed the urge to laugh out loud, deciding that would not do my 'I am not crazy' argument a lot of good, moved up to offer him my support and determined that trying to explain what a thought-hamster was, would... probably be a really bad idea.

He latched onto me like he thought I was going to disappear on him and we headed back for his room.

"I was thirsty," I murmured, when I couldn't find anything that rhymed with 'hamster' that I thought he would buy.

He frowned, recognizing an evasion when he saw it and switched his irritation to something he could at least see. "You drink too much of that crap... it's not good for you."

"Just be thankful it's not whiskey," I ground out and then immediately was sorry when his look went from stricken to... horrified. I sighed, feeling worn down to the bone. "Heero... you're pushing. You're pushing so damn hard I can't hold on much longer. I thought we talked this out yesterday. Please... we're so close to being through this. Don't do this to me now..."

We got to the side of the bed, but instead of climbing back in it, he sat down in the chair, letting his hand slide from my shoulder, his fingers trailing down my arm until he could catch my hand in his. As though he were afraid to let go of me. I sat down on my heels in front of him.

"I love you," he whispered softly. "But I don't know how to make it be enough."

I smiled sadly at him, "It's not that you're not trying hard enough, love; it's that you're trying too hard."

We stared at each other. I didn't know how to vanquish his fears, how to make him stop tearing himself apart over this.

"I want this morning back," I found myself whispering. "Why can't it just be like it was this morning?"

He blinked at me, reaching with his free hand to stroke a finger along the corner of my mouth. "You... lost your smile."

It was my turn to blink, and I couldn't help turning my face into his hand. "I'm sorry," I told him. "I just get so frustrated. You guys treat me like... like a child who can't make their own damn decisions."

"Nani?" he blurted and I sighed, suddenly so weary I could have wept. I didn't want to fight any more. I didn't have the strength to argue any more.

I found my head lying in his lap and was not at all sure how it had gotten there. His fingers came hesitantly to stroke over my hair. "Nobody even asked me where I wanted to go tonight," I told him. "Do you realize that?"

There was a bit of a silence while his hand continued to caress the side of my head, brushing through the wisps of hair there. "We didn't, did we?" he said at last. "Please... tell me what you wanted? We'll call Trowa..."

"No," I said calmly. "What I want doesn't matter. It only makes everyone worry. It's only another night or two... leave it alone."

His hand stilled. "Don't say that... of course what you want matters."

I didn't even need a hamster to supply the next line; to who?, but I didn't say it out loud.

"God, Duo," he burst out suddenly. "I just don't know what to do."

"Stop trying to fix everything," I told him, surprised at how flat it came out, how worn I sounded, even to my own ears. "Just trust me and stop treating me like a damn child."

We just sat like that for a little bit, until his dinner came and then I helped him back into bed. He ate mechanically, not because he was hungry, but because it was required if he wanted out of that place. I tried to tease him about the food, tried to talk to him about nothing in particular but he wasn't very responsive and I just gave it up. He dozed, or pretended to, after dinner and I retreated to a chair with my sketchpad.

I didn't know what in the hell to do, and he didn't seem to know either.

His silence was like a knife in my gut. I suppose, when I thought about it, it had only been a matter of time before this happened. Before we couldn't hold it together any more. When I tried to look forward... I couldn't see my way clear. Hell, I wasn't even sure any more which one of us was right and which one of us was wrong. I wasn't sure it mattered... if I continued to try to make my way through this; I only stood to lose him. To lose the last thing I had left. But it felt like I was losing myself otherwise. When did what I wanted, what I thought, cease to matter?

For the first time since I'd made the decision to make the leap and take a chance on letting myself love again, I wasn't sure I hadn't made a mistake.

He was going to hurt me again. He... wasn't going to wait forever for me to get my head together. And why should he? What was there in me that was worth all this damn effort? I... I wasn't going to make it through this. I knew that above and beyond anything else. I had known that from the moment I had lifted the lid on the box of broken dreams. I couldn't go through that again. That rejection... that pain. Especially not now, on top of losing everything else. There just wouldn't be any point any more. I couldn't even work up to being upset about that. I was just too tired.

Something made my eyes focus on the page in front of me and I all but gasped at the picture my hands had made without me. Sometimes I wondered if those damn little hamsters really did exist and they sometimes crept out when my attention wavered and they left these little gifts for me.

It was another damn self-portrait. In a surreal landscape that I don't even want to admit had to have come out of my own head. I was walking that path of my analogy. Or standing on it. It wound away behind me into the distance before it crumbled and fell away into nothingness, making retreat impossible. It narrowed as it twisted and turned ahead of me, until it was hardly as wide as my foot. I was dressed in the ragged clothes of my youth, barefoot, my hair loose and whipping behind me, evidence of the winds that buffeted me. I looked emaciated and weak, shoulders slumped and hands wrapped hopelessly around my own thin body. I looked cold. I looked hungry. I looked... desolate.

A pace ahead of me, the path had become laced with shards of broken glass, and I was left with no choice but to tread on it, because there was no place else left to go.

"Shit." I hissed and slapped the cover closed on the damn thing. I raised shaking hands to rub at gritty eyes and wondered how long I'd been sitting there, drawing.

With a sudden start, I dropped my hands and stole a glance at Heero, but he seemed to still be sleeping. I hurriedly shoved my supplies back in the duffle bag, wouldn't do for him to see that little gem. Wouldn't do for anybody to see that little gem.

I sat and watched him sleep for awhile and ached clear down to my bones to be able to crawl up there in bed with him and rest my head on his shoulder. But he was so angry with me... it seemed like a less than stellar idea.

George jogged by, madly waving a banner that said 'asshole', but I'm not sure which of us he was referring to.

We were still sitting like that when Trowa showed up; me in my chair, staring at Heero. Heero in his bed... sleeping.

It was Trowa who bent to wake him, when I hesitated.

"Heero," he said gently. "Visiting hours are over... I came to get Duo."

I don't know if it was just my imagination that made me think that Heero didn't look very groggy when he opened his eyes, or not. I'll be the first one to admit I was feeling a little... sensitive.

I moved up to the side of the bed, within reach and waited to see if he would do so. But there was no reaching... he didn't. I didn't. It was awkward as all hell. Trowa was staring at us. LeAnn started to come in for some check-up or other and hesitated in the doorway, probably deciding she had picked the worst place in the whole hospital to be in that moment. I felt like my chest was imploding. I saw Trowa's attention waver as he turned toward the intruder in the doorway and I took the opportunity to lean down, and whispered fiercely into Heero's ear. "I'm sorry... I'll... be stronger. I swear."

Then I turned, grabbed my bag and fled the room. Trowa caught up to me at the elevators and I just avoided eye contact for a bit. He didn't speak, just kept stealing glances at me out of the corner of his eye.

My head was pounding and my back ached from sitting in that hard chair all afternoon. I was drifting and I knew it. I needed to get myself together and figure out what the next step was. That thought made me flash on that new stupid portrait and I determined I should probably destroy it at the first safe opportunity.

The ride back to the Winner estate was just about as uncomfortable as I've been in a long while. Awkward is a word that does not even begin to encompass the atmosphere in that car. Trowa asked if I was all right about half way there and I just told him I had a headache. Then I stared out the side window and thought I made it pretty damn plain I wasn't in the mood to talk.

When we arrived, he did two fairly predictable things. Fetched me a bottle of aspirin and took Quatre off to the side for a small, private discussion. Wanna take bets on what the topic of conversation was? Didn't think so.

While I tried to work up to the resignation I knew I was going to have to be feeling to get through whatever Quatre came up with, I hauled my laptop out and went into the study to jack into the internet. I still had an e-mail to answer.

I pulled up the message, trying very hard not to think of the poor guy as 'the man who wants to take my ship away from me', and composed a quick reply. I suggested a time tomorrow morning for the walk through of the ship and tried not to cringe when I hit the send button.

Then my eyes fell on the message right above it. Shit. Toria, I had completely forgotten about her little 'death threat to Heero' message.

I pulled it up and read it again. She was going to kill me for making her wait this long for a reply. I couldn't believe I'd forgotten about this, it had been... over twenty-four hours since I'd seen it. Guilt gave me a toothy grin and began debating body parts.

I began to type.

Hey spacer-girl! Listen hon, there's been a couple of changes since we saw each other last. The chief one being, I'm not a pilot any more. Surprise! Please do not come and kill my boyfriend; he had nothing to do with it. In fact, I shocked him with the 'for sale' sign as much as I shocked you.

Toria sweetie... I just finally faced up to the screaming case of spacer's-disease that I caught out there in the belt. I'm sorry I didn't send you a message when the ship went up on the boards, so that you wouldn't worry. I just can't do it any more. Don't worry. I'm fine. Give Hayden my love.


It took me the better part of a half an hour to compose the damn thing. I had it typed three times before deleting it and starting over... and over...

When I finally hit the send button and sailed that one off into the ether, I was surprised to find I had another new message. An answer already from my potential buyer. Joy. Seems the guy had a day job and would prefer to look at the ship in the evening. This evening to be exact. Double joy.

I checked the time. I stared at the e-mail. I looked around the room and found myself still alone. What the hell? I didn't need to ask anyone's damn permission to make an appointment. I fired off another message and asked if the guy could meet me at the dock's main office in an hour. He had to have been sitting over his computer; the answer was an immediate 'yes'.

I would have smirked at my laptop if I hadn't been hating this whole idea so damn much; the guy wanted the ship bad. He was not a great negotiator; he'd already shown me at least part of his hand.

I went to the desk in the corner of the study and used the phone to call a cab. I was not going to haul Trowa back out at this time of night just to take me down to the docks.

Then I did the whole deep breath thing, plastered on a grin and went to find my keepers.

As expected, Quatre was less than thrilled to hear that I had 'an appointment' at this hour and even less so that I had already summoned a ride that would be there any minute.

"When will you be home?" he questioned me nervously and even Trowa had the grace to snicker at him.

"I'll try not to be too late, Mom," I teased him and made him blush bright red. I didn't tell him that I wouldn't be home in the foreseeable future since I didn't have one anymore. I'd destroyed it and was now about to go engage in what felt like a little corpse selling.

The cab honked then, in the front drive and I fled before he could grill me any more.

"Duo!" he yelled after me. "What about dinner?"

"I'll grab something on the way back!" I hollered, and climbed into the waiting cab.

I'll spare you all the icky, boring, almost-like-selling-real-estate, details. I don't honestly want to talk about what it was like going back aboard that ship. It was weirdly like walking through a stranger's ship with most of the walls stripped. The guy was all eager and excited... looking to buy his first damn ship. I was ready to throw up just doing the walk through. I ended up making him go stand outside when we got to the talking part; I couldn't stand to be in there for one more minute. I was afraid I was going to break down and run the son-of-a-bitch who wanted my damn ship, off into the night. We did the haggling. We agreed on a price. He had to do the loan paperwork and would get back to me. I agreed to take the ship off the boards for the price of a small retainer while he got his approval. We shook on it and he walked away. I locked the ship down and I walked away.

Somewhere in the back of my head there was a bell tolling a dark, solemn song. I found my shuffling footsteps matching the slow knell as I made my way off the grounds. Damn. That had been a little rougher than I had anticipated. Like some kind of really bad dream; everything so familiar and so alien all at the same time. I blinked when I looked up from my walking to find myself at the bus stop, and cursed. What the hell? Was I on autopilot? If so, I'd set the wrong damn coordinates. I would have felt like an idiot going back to the office at that point and so walked another block until I found a pay phone where I could call a cab. Bus doesn't run to the Winner estate.

All in all, I was delivered safe and sound back at Quatre and Trowa's in just under two hours. They'd left the porch light on. I stood in the drive for a minute after the cab pulled away and just looked at it. I had to chuckle; I don't think anybody has ever left a light on for me before. What an odd feeling.

While I stood there like a moron, the front door opened.

"Duo? Are you coming in?" Quatre called to me, holding the door wide.

I stood and blinked at him for a moment longer before starting the hard climb up those five or six steps. The whole thing seemed oddly surreal; it didn't feel like I'd been gone five minutes, it was hard to get my head around the fact that I'd just sold... the ship. Not 'my ship'. Not 'my Demon'. The ship. Keep it impersonal, Maxwell.

He looked... hesitant. Which may sound odd, but I don't know how else to describe it. He just looked like he had a hundred things he wanted to say and was about to choke to death trying not to say any of them.

Trowa appeared behind him and ventured, "Everything go all right?"

I tried to fathom what was going on with them and replied, "Pretty well." I was left foundering when neither of them pressed me about where I had been. Well... wasn't this another odd little trip to the Twilight Zone?

"Are you hungry, Duo?" Quatre asked carefully, glancing at Trowa with an odd _expression, almost seeming to search for approval in his eyes.

"Actually," I dared, "I forgot to stop somewhere... but please don't make anybody get up just to fix me something."

"Would you like to just go into the kitchen and poke around?" Trowa smiled at me and I couldn't help a grin.

"If that huge woman who cooks for you guys won't kill me for invading her domain," I snickered and Quatre flashed me a smile. I cannot remember the woman's name, but she just freaking towered over me. I felt like a damn dwarf in her presence.

Trowa led the way and Quatre took a step to follow, hesitated and I wondered again what was up. "Coming, Qat?" I called, and watched him smile in obvious relief, before he started after us.

They actually let me dig around in the refrigerator until I found the makings of a fairly simple sandwich. Well, as simple as it was going to get in the Winner household. This kitchen had probably never seen a loaf of Wonder bread, but I found the strange Italian bread to be not all that bad, and the meat was good even if I couldn't identify its source.

Then Trowa went to the second refrigerator, the one that was apparently reserved strictly for drinks – can you believe this place? – And fished me out a soda. A lovely green bottle of ice-cold Mt. Dew. They didn't even make me pour it over ice, letting me just drink straight out of the bottle.

Ok. Armageddon had apparently come while I was out of the house.

Quatre suggested we go sit in the study while I ate and I was more than happy to oblige. I couldn't help but imagine Amazon-cook coming in, catching me eating her food without her explicit permission, and gutting me where I sat. Bet she could turn me into an interesting side dish; Maxwell over noodles, perhaps.

The study is a fairly small, cozy little room, compared to most of the rest of the massive rooms in the house. I found I rather liked it in there and settled on one end of the small couch with an almost weary sounding sigh. My laptop still sat there on the coffee table and I had a moment of shock when I realized that I had just walked off and left it lie there.

"Sorry about that," I murmured to the two of them. "I guess I forgot to put it away."

"It's not hurting anything, Duo," Quatre was quick to assure me.

"Who's the guy on the wallpaper?" Trowa asked casually and I took a moment to glance up at them while I chewed a bite of sandwich. There was the oddest feeling in the air that I couldn't quite put a name to.

I flashed Trowa a smile after I had swallowed. "Sisyphus. Greek mythology."

"Doomed to push his rock up the same hill for all eternity?" Trowa supplied.

"That's the guy," I agreed with an evil grin. "Got damned to hell for tricking Death! Is that just not the most ironic thing?"

Trowa actually did chuckle, but Quatre only looked... kind of ill.

I went back to eating my sandwich. It was quiet while I chewed and swallowed for a few minutes.

"Hamid found a plumbing problem in the room we've been using, Duo," Quatre said warily and I had to look up at him. He and Trowa were pointedly looking... elsewhere. "I had our things moved to another room... it's a little smaller, but there's a shower."

Click. I heard it, right in my head. Click. As the gears engaged.

I very gently set the rest of my sandwich back on the saucer. "You always did lie like shit, Qat. Which one of them called you? Heero or Wufei?"

He went this funny shade of... pale, and tried to do my fish imitation. I would have to remember to give that impersonation up; it wasn't very attractive.

Trowa handled it better. "Actually, they both did."

I snorted. "So, what the hell did you guys do while I was away these last years? Drink some nasty 'I must tell every single thing I know to my comrades' potion? Get cursed by some vagrant witch to spew every tiny bit of information that comes your way, to each other?"

Quatre managed a look that almost bordered on frightened, but Trowa laughed at me. "No; we just spent a very miserable year trying to hide things from each other before we figured out that... a little support was a nice thing."

"Sometimes that total honesty thing can border on rude," I told him flatly. "I am a guest in your home... there is no reason I can't eat what is put in front of me and drink what is available."

"You are our guest, and there is no reason we can't provide things that help you feel more at ease." He gave me a shrewd glance. "You didn't expect Relena to eat what was put in front of her on that trip to L2."

I blinked across at him, "Heero told you about that?" I was rather incredulous; what in the hell would they care about something like that for?

Quatre finally dared to enter back into the conversation, though his voice was rather subdued. "Heero came to get my help to make the... supply list."

"You know," I ventured tentatively. "This is a large part of why I don't feel like I can talk to you guys... every word I say is repeated like I've been recorded. What the hell happened to confidentiality?"

Trowa gave me a very penetrating look. "Our confidentiality is ironclad. Among the five of us."

"And what if there are things I don't necessarily want to tell Heero?" I asked him point blank.

"Why would you keep anything from Heero that you could tell one of us?" he chided gently. "Heero should be the one person in the world you share everything with."

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