By Sunhawk

Being There (cont)

"Why?"

"Because I'm your best friend."

I got an inarticulate growl, then he levered himself up and into his chair. I held it steady, but let him do it. I was pretty sure if I had tried to help him right then, I'd have gotten decked. I reached to unlatch the brake and almost lost a finger for my trouble when he whirled the chair and headed for the kitchen.

Dinner was... not a comfortable affair. He ate as though he was chewing gravel and I didn't even try for small talk. So I was more than a little surprised when we were finished that he didn't immediately return to his room, but stayed and watched me clean up. I cleared the table under that dark glare and got the dishwater run before he finally blurted, "I don't understand you."

"What's to understand, Heero?" I asked him gently, continuing to scrape the dishes and stack them next to the sink.

"I need to understand what you want from me," he said and it seemed to me that he was making an effort not to snap and snarl like he had been ever since I'd brought him home with me.

I stopped what I was doing, picking up a towel to wipe my hands on and turned to look at him. "Why do you think that I have to want something?" I asked.

"Everybody wants something," he said and that sullen tone was back. I sighed, dropped the towel on the counter and went to squat down in front of him, putting one hand on the arm of his chair to steady myself. It was about the most vulnerable position I could have put myself in with him.

"I keep telling you, Heero," I sighed. "I am here as your friend... I don't want anything from you. This is what best friends do."

He just glared at me as though he might read something in my face that would give him a different answer than he kept getting. "Heero..." I tried. "I understand what you're going through and I just want to..." It wasn't the thing to have said. He hadn't been ready to hear it yet. He shoved at me, hard, and I went over backwards, sprawling across the floor. He didn't hurt me, mostly because I'd been half expecting it.

"What the hell do you know about anything!" he exploded and I thought for a minute he was going to try to run over me where I lay.

"Who the hell else do you think is going to understand?" I barked back, finally losing a little of my calm, and he actually shut up and blinked at me. "You think there isn't a thing that you went through that the rest of us didn't go through too? You think I don't have nightmares? You think I don't have nights were I can't sleep no matter what the hell I do? You think I don't understand the lure of the damn alcohol?" That, apparently, was pushing it a little too far, because he suddenly shoved his chair backwards and went back to his room like his tail was on fire. I just stayed where I was for a little while, lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. Dear God, I wondered if I was going to be able to do this. I had a mental picture of my heart and it was crisscrossed with scar tissue and still bleeding cuts.

He didn't come out of his room that evening again at all. I finished cleaning up the kitchen eventually, watched the news and then went the hell to bed.

It was the wee hours of the morning when his cries woke me. I was out of bed and down the hall before I had half a chance to think about it. By the time I burst into his room, I think he'd already woken himself up, but I went to him anyway.

"Heero?" I called before I dared get too close. "Are you all right?"

"Get the fuck away from me!" he croaked and it was all I could do not to scream and pull my hair out by the roots.

"No can do, buddy," I told him and dared move a little closer. He was sitting up, the sheets a tangled mess around him and I could see his hands shaking even in the dim light from the hall. Maybe, groggy as he was, he would be able to accept a little support? Maybe? Or at least groggy enough that I might escape in one piece? I sat down on the side of the bed and just held very still. "You... want to talk about it?" I asked very softly.

"No," he said harshly, but it wasn't yelled and he didn't shove me away.

"All right," I agreed gently. "That's ok." I hesitated, trying to read him, and then ventured, "Can I give you something?"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he croaked, irritation and confusion plain in his voice.

I took a deep breath, said a tiny little prayer to my maker and slide closer to him. "I'm going to give you five minutes. Five minutes that won't exist as soon as they're over. I won't remember a damn thing... I'll never speak of it. It will never have happened."

He gave me a look like I'd lost my damn mind, opened his mouth to speak but then shut it again, eyeing me like he was expecting me to bite or something. I think it was his curiosity as much as anything that got the better of him. He didn't tell me to fuck off again, so I took it for the closest thing to an 'ok' as I was going to get. I braced myself for the explosion I figured was coming, reached out very slowly and took him into my arms. It was like holding a board. But... he didn't instantly kill me.

"I know you don't want me here, Heero," I whispered, "but everyone needs a little human contact sometimes... just close your eyes and pretend I'm someone else... whoever the hell you want. I don't mind. Just hold on to me and I swear to God it'll be like it never happened."

I shut up then, just in case he really was pretending I was somebody other than me, and just held him against me. I could feel his heart pounding in his chest. It took him a little while, but he finally couldn't quite resist the need, and he slowly started to relax and finally, his arms came around me in a timid hug. I think I forgot to breathe. It was more than any damn five minutes - hell, it took him that long just to make up his mind he was going to go along with me - but I wasn't about to say a word about it. I'd have sat there all week as long as he was ok with it. I kind of imagined it was the first time anyone had ever held him. I dared rock him a little, no more than that, I denied myself everything that crossed my mind and just sat with him until he finally started to show signs of being uncomfortable. Then I helped him lay down and straightened his sheets, all business again. I could feel his eyes on me while I moved about, but he didn't speak. I hesitated at the door, turning back and taking a shot.

"Heero, nobody died in that crash... you only hurt yourself. You know that." I watched his eyes fly open wide and was a little gratified that I had caught him so by surprise.

"How did you..." he began, and I smiled.

"Told you," I explained. "You aren't the only one who has nightmares. I understand a little bit about guilt."

He didn't speak and I only said, "Good night".

I didn't get a lot of sleep the rest of that night. 

~~~*~~~ 

I make it sound like I poured out the booze and never looked back. Don't let me fool you. It was hard. It was damn hard. Roughest thing I think I've ever been through. I was bad enough the first couple of days, I wasn't even able to get to the hospital to visit Heero. I don't think he realized though, because he was drugged up enough that he wouldn't have noticed if I had showed up in a Big Bird costume.

The craving was enough to drive a wooden man to suicide, but then the nausea set in and I started to realize that this wasn't going to be quite the cakewalk I had thought. Drinking is bad for you. I was going to give it up. That's good... right? By the time I got the damn shakes and was constantly breaking out with the sweats, I was about ready to call an ambulance. It was the horror of thinking about Quatre's slightly scandalized voice talking about Heero and his drunk driving, and imagining him talking to Trowa and Wufei about me in that tone of voice, that made me tough it out. On the days that I managed to get in to the hospital for a little while, I found that Heero was doing just fine with his own withdrawal because they have drugs to help you with that sort of thing.

I'm a little ashamed to have to admit that I resented the hell out of that, for some reason. I realize that he wasn't in the physical shape to have gotten through what I was going through, but it still seemed like cheating somehow.

But then, maybe that's why he didn't hesitate to want to start drinking again. He hadn't had to fight his way out the way I did. Or maybe it was simply that he just didn't care. For me, it had been a conscious decision. For him, it had been forced by his accident. I suppose I understand. But it didn't make it any easier to deal with when he started wanting a drink.

 ~~~*~~~ 

"No way in hell, Heero," I said for what felt like the hundredth time, and I knew my voice was starting to sound weary. "Forget it."

His irritation was a palpable thing. "I said, I want a lousy damn drink, now where in the hell do you have it stashed?" He maneuvered his chair over near the kitchen cupboard and pulled the first door open he came to.

"I don't have anything alcoholic in this entire apartment," I told him and got a sneer for my trouble. He proceeded to drag everything that was on the shelf out on the floor, looking for a bottle that he was convinced I had squirreled away somewhere. Pots, pans, boxes of cereal, a canister of oatmeal that burst open when it fell. It all got pulled out and dumped on the floor. The entire contents of the cupboard and then he moved to the next one.

"Don't lie to me, Maxwell," he warned. "You drink... I've seen you. Now where the hell is it?"

"Damn it, Heero!" I snapped, watching him trash my kitchen. "I told you... I gave it the hell up! I was drinking myself to death and I fucking quit!"

He gave me a cold stare for a minute, really looking at me for the first time since the argument had started. But then he went back to dragging stuff out of the cupboards.

"Heero... knock it off!" I commanded, for all the good it did me, "You're just making a mess."

His answer was a strange sound that bordered on triumphant and I gasped as he pulled a half a bottle of vodka out of the cupboard. I'd missed one.

Before I had a chance to think, I was across the room and had it snatched from his hands. His response was a roar of the most primal rage I think I'd ever heard from him. I staggered away; bottle clutched in my hand and was saved by the mess he had made on the floor; he couldn't immediately get his chair through it. I have no doubt he would have broken my arm or whatever the hell he had to do in order to get that bottle from me if he had been able to get to me.

But then it sort of came to me what in the hell I was holding in my hands. I think the kitchen floor could have opened up and swallowed him and I wouldn't have noticed. I just freakin' forgot about him. I froze where I was; my mission of getting the booze away from him accomplished, and stared at it like I'd found the Holy Grail. Like I'd found a dead rat in my silverware drawer. Like I'd found Nirvana. Like I'd found a box of strychnine.

"Oh dear God," I breathed, and watched the liquid in the bottle begin to dance before my eyes as my hands began to shake. I could look at it and practically taste it on my tongue. Could feel the burning slide of it down my throat. Could... imagine the sweet, sweet oblivion it could grant me. There was enough in that bottle to numb my heart to the point that Heero couldn't touch me. There was enough to let me pass out and not have to deal with another sleepless night. I watched my fingers reach for the cap. I think Heero was still yelling at me, but I couldn't fucking hear him. I told my fingers to stop, but the cap was coming off anyway. I didn't have to hurt anymore... I didn't have to lie in my room all night and imagine him lying in his, hating my guts and wishing he were anywhere else but here. The cap was off.

"No," I whispered to no one in particular and when the whimpering person in the back of my head didn't listen, I said it a little louder. "No!" And then I was growling it over and over, "No! No! No!" And the damn vodka was going down the drain, and I was smashing the bottle on the sink and shards of glass were flying everywhere. I whirled around to find Heero staring at me with wide, shocked eyes and I was screaming at him, "You can't break me, you son of a bitch! You can't break me no matter what the hell you do!" and then I fled all the damn way to my room, slamming the door when I got there just for good measure.

I curled up on my bed and I hugged my pillow, trying desperately to pretend it was a person. A body. A living, breathing human being who gave a shit about me... and I sobbed and I cried and I just did my best to get it out of my system. It never helps; it just makes your nose run. I've never seen the benefits of it, but I've also never been able to stop it when it was bound and determined to happen.

I got up after a little bit and went to clean the mess up. Imagine my utter and complete shock when I walked back into the kitchen and found Heero trying to use a broom from his wheelchair. I just stood in the damn doorway and gaped at him for a minute; unable to process the information my eyes were sending to me. No way; couldn't be. He looked up when he noticed I was there and if his cleaning up after himself hadn't been enough to throw me... the funny little look of contrite surliness that was on his face would have.

"I'm... sorry," he murmured, a phrase that I imagine cost him dearly. My short-circuited brain wondered idly if he'd had to practice the line to get it out.

"It's all right," I assured him and finally got my ass in gear enough to go and take the broom from his hands. "If you can't trash your best friend's kitchen then whose... " I began, but it bought me a dark scowl and I just shut up, looking at him.

"Don't," he commanded harshly. "That's what I hate about you... that damned jester's act."

I blinked at him and let the grin slip away, turning to get to work on the glass and the oatmeal he'd spilled. I snorted. "People like the jester, Heero. They don't want to see the real me. The jester makes them laugh."

He moved his chair back a little so I could get at some of the mess. He was quiet for a minute, chewing on something and suddenly blurted, "I hate the jester... he lies."

I was down on one knee, getting at the crap that was under the edge of the counter, so when I jerked my head up to look at him, we were practically eye to eye. "Well, we can't both be pricks," popped out of my mouth before I had a chance to edit, and I held my breath, wondering if I had just completely blown it.

He shocked the hell out of me for the second time that night by grinning. It wasn't a huge grin, almost more of a smirk... and only on one side, but damn it all to hell... it was a grin. "You get rid of the damn jester and I'll... attempt to tone it down to... jerk."

He won an honest laugh from me, the first I could remember for a very long time, but when I stopped laughing I had to confess. "I'll try, Heero... but the joker's mask is almost as old as I am."

He only grunted, giving me a tight little nod, then left me to finish cleaning up the mess he'd made. 

~~~*~~~ 

All better? Hardly. It got better in some ways, I suppose. I stopped trying to be perennially 'happy' around him all the time and he... managed to accept a few things without his 'fuck off' tag line. Yep. A partnership made in Heaven. I got rather adept at dodging his blows and since his connection rate went down, he didn't seem to be trying quite so hard. God... I sound like I was letting him beat on me. It wasn't really like that. I honestly don't think he ever really meant to hurt me... it's like he trusted me to duck or something. Like he trusted me to understand and be on guard. I dunno... it sounds stupid whichever way I explain it. All I know is I was just determined to be there for him as best I could. I knew that underneath it all somewhere he was just testing. Pushing to see if he could drive me away, still convinced that I had a breaking point.

He was at my place for almost a month before therapy had him walking again and out of the chair.

Toward the end, it had become... a little less than awful. I think he had finally resolved himself to the fact that he wasn't getting anything from me in the way of alcohol and stopped pushing about it. I wasn't stupid, I knew he hadn't given it up, but was only biding his time until he was out from under my watchful eye. But since the incident with the bottle of vodka, he hadn't brought it up to me again.

We had gotten to the place where – when we weren't fighting – we could almost carry on a civil conversation if we could find a topic, and if it was just the two of us. Not that I got a hell of a lot of visitors during that month, not with Mr. Anti-social living with me, but we did have to go out to his therapy sessions and occasionally to the Doctor's office. During those times I might as well have been his cab driver. I think he was just afraid that people would give me credit for having some say in what was going on with him. When appointments were made, he never asked me if that was ok, never checked with my schedule. Just informed me later that he had to be here or had to go there. But I understood it was just more of the testing, more of the poking to see if I could be made to balk, could be made to give up.

Sometimes, not that I would ever in a million years ever say this out loud, but... I think things might have been easier if he'd been stuck in that chair forever.

As it was, he got himself flaming drunk within a week of moving out of my place. 

~~~*~~~ 

"Oh God, Heero... you didn't," I sighed, looking down at him where he lay sprawled across his couch, a half empty bottle of Wild Turkey on his coffee table and an empty tumbler dangling from almost limp fingers.

"How the hell did you get in here?" he glared at me, but it really wasn't up to par.

"You know there aren't a lot of places I can be kept out of when I make up my mind I want in," I informed him and he looked like he might actually work up to getting mad enough to get off the couch.

"That's breaking and entering," he glowered.

"Prove it," I sighed and reached to take the bottle away from him. That got his attention.

"I'm not living under your roof any more!" he snarled. "You can't tell me what to do!"

"I'm still your best friend," I told him sadly. "And it's still my job to keep you in one piece."

"I'll just buy more," he informed me sullenly as I put the bottle out of reach.

"I know that," I agreed. "That's why I'm not bothering to pour it out. But you look like you've had enough for tonight."

He glared daggers at me for a minute, but was really just too wasted to do much about me. I flopped down in the chair across from him and sighed heavily, rubbing a hand over my face and kicking my own ass for not coming to check on him sooner. Not that I could have stopped him... but still.

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