By Sunhawk

Being There (cont)

"Why, Heero?" I couldn't help but murmur. "You were clean for over two months."

"Not by choice," he muttered defensively and there was the whole crux of the matter and I knew it. I don't even know why I bothered to ask. I had known this was coming since the night with the vodka bottle. Nobody ever gives up drinking because somebody else makes them. You have to want to all on your own. He didn't wait for me to ask anything else, but cocked his head to look over at me. "What the hell do you want from me?" he asked, eyes narrowed.

I sighed again and did my best to return his gaze unflinchingly. "Just for you to understand that you don't deserve this."

Reflexes born of a month of living under the same roof with him let me duck the heavy tumbler when he tried to nail me with it. After that, I shut up. I just sat with him until he finally fell asleep, then I cleaned up the glass and worked around his apartment until he got around to the throwing up. I figured it was coming, as much as he had put away after such a long time away from it. I cleaned that up too and got him to bed when I was pretty sure he was done.

"Why?" he asked me groggily while I was tucking him in.

"Because I've been there, Heero," I told him gently. "I understand what you're going through."

"You can't possibly understand," he said, and though I'm sure he was trying for harsh, it came out rather morose. "Nobody can."

"That's right," I grinned at him, realizing he probably wasn't going to remember much of this conversation later anyway. "You were the only Gundam pilot, weren't you? The only one who ever lost a childhood... who ever killed innocents. The only man alive who has nightmares and can't sleep at night. Sorry... I forgot."

He just blinked up at me with befuddled, blood-shot eyes, the drink stripping all his masks away and leaving his face as open as a book. He was just... confused. "Why?" he asked me again, honestly perplexed, his brow furrowing in concentration as he tried to think it through.

"Because I'm your best friend," I told him. "Now go to sleep... I'm on watch."

The alcohol spoke to me through his confused lips and said blurrily, "Thank you."

I was so shocked, he was asleep before I thought to whisper, "You're welcome." 

~~~*~~~ 

He was right about one thing; I couldn't stop him. The best I could do was... well, hell; I freakin' stalked him. He was pissed as hell at first, threatening to call the police on me and have me arrested. But after awhile, he seemed to realize that I wasn't stealing his alcohol and pouring it out... I wasn't tying him up to keep him from going out to bars... and he seemed to come to accept my presence somehow. I still wasn't a welcome presence, but at least he stopped threatening to shoot me.

He seemed to accept me as his God-granted personal chauffer, and it made me feel a little better to know that his accident had frightened him enough to at least make him stop driving. He might not care if he killed himself, but there was enough of him left in there that he cared if he killed someone else.

Besides, I had discovered that if he was just drunk enough to be relaxed, but not so drunk he couldn't focus clearly... he loved riding with me on my bike. It was about the only thing that he did seem to enjoy any more and I indulged him whenever he seemed so inclined.

Other than being his designated driver and all-around guardian Angel, the best I could do was just try to maintain things for him. I made sure he ate now and again, and never let him drink so much that he was in any danger of alcohol poisoning. I came in at least once a week and made sure his apartment wasn't so bad that he was in danger of having it condemned. And I periodically hauled him out to get-togethers and events, just to keep him in touch with the other guys. He made them uncomfortable, but I didn't care, and had made it quite plain that he was to be included or they could just kiss my lily-white ass goodbye too. He was one of us whether they liked it our not. He was one of us whether he liked it or not.

It was a period of time I thought we would never get through. He just didn't care, and wasn't making any effort no matter what I said or did.

Oddly, it was another 'accident' that finally seemed to wake him up. 

~~~*~~~ 

I plucked the beer bottle from his fingers before he quite knew what I was about, poured out what was left in the sand, and chucked the bottle into the trashcan. I turned back to face him with a grin and offered him one of the two bottles of soda I was holding.

"What. The. Hell. Did. You. Do. That. For?" he ground out and I only smiled.

"It's bad for you," I told him quite reasonably, still offering him the soda. Behind me, up on the boardwalk, the noises of the others seemed very far away.

He levered himself slowly up from where he had been sitting on the ground and turned to face me. There was a fury in his eyes that should have made me very afraid, and I suppose somewhere deep down inside... it did. Somewhere under the resolve I had that I was his only hope. I was the only one who was willing to keep sticking my hand in the fire for him. Relena had given up, the rush of young infatuation dying quickly in the face of ugly reality. Wufei was disgusted with him. Trowa was baffled. Even gentle Quatre couldn't seem to keep coming back for more. Just me; stupid, stubborn, idealistic Duo Maxwell the fucking masochist. No matter how many times he shoved me away, I kept coming back. Because I understood the place he was in and I understood that Heero Yuy wasn't equipped to find his own way back. He'd slit my throat before he ever admitted it... but he needed me.

"Why don't you come back up... " I began, my ever-present grin still firmly in place even in the face of his scowling, incredibly pissed off visage. I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. When he decked me, I was totally unprepared and I hit the stones of the wall beside us with a sickening crack and saw nothing but white for a bit and then nothing at all for a little bit more.

I don't know that I completely lost consciousness, but it was Wufei's voice screaming in a flaming fit of rage that made me care enough to stop trying to find the dark place that made the pain a little less.

"... you sick son of a bitch! You could have killed him! What in the hell is wrong with you?"

I opened my eyes to see Quatre... several Quatres actually, leaning over me with fear on all their faces. I blinked until I had it narrowed down to just two of him and figured that was good enough to function. I reached one hand to grab for his shoulder, missed, tried the other one and got it, pulling myself up into a sitting position. My head exploded and my stomach lurched. Oh, happy day.

"Duo, lie still," he gasped and I realized that there was blood on his hands. How odd. It dawned on me while I was trying to focus on Heero and Wufei that it was probably my blood.

"Leave him alone, Wufei," I said and might have spouted something in ancient Aztec for the shocked looks I got all around.

"What?!" Wufei snapped at me and I could see he was really, really angry. "The asshole damn near caved your head in! When are you going to wise up and give the hell up on... "

"Enough!" I snapped back and was really sorry when my head split open and my brains started leaking out of my ears. "Leave him alone; I started it," I told him in a much softer voice, holding my head tightly in my hands and wishing the ground would stop tilting. I couldn't figure out if I was just hearing the roar of the ocean... or if that noise was inside my head. I think Quatre's arm was all that was holding me up.

The look Wufei gave me was something akin to the look you give the guy who serves you a summons to court. "You are as screwed up as he is," he snarled and then stormed off.

I heard something strange in the distance and suddenly Trowa was leaning down to lift me in his arms. I gawped at him. "Tro! What are you doing?"

"The ambulance is here," he told me gently, and turned to carry me up the steps to the boardwalk, Quatre running ahead to flag down the emergency vehicle. Ambulance? What fucking ambulance?

I caught one last glimpse of Heero before they took me away and he looked... a little sick. And very alone.

"You can't leave him there like that," I blurted to Trowa, trying to look up at him with pleading eyes, but I'm sure it was rather spoiled by the blood I could feel running down the side of my face.

He looked down at me with an _expression somewhere between irritated and wondering. "Why do you keep trying with him?" he suddenly asked me.

"I'm his best friend," I told him seriously. "It's my job."

He snorted disdainfully, but his steps faltered and he looked me right in the eye. "Duo... he just almost killed you. He... I don't understand you."

"I've been where he is," I whispered, feeling suddenly nauseous, understanding full well I had a nasty little concussion and wanting to convince him before I couldn't. "And I understand what a damn lonely place it can be. He needs me because he's driven everybody else away... he needs somebody who'll stand by him until he can find his way back. Don't leave him here Trowa... please?"

Wufei was yelling from the boardwalk above us, telling Trowa to hurry the hell up. Trowa sighed heavily and rolled his eyes at me. "You're a damn pain in the ass," he muttered, but his eyes scanned the stairs above us and he finally spotted his mate. "Quatre! Come down here!" And I knew that I had convinced him and he would make Quatre go down and drag Heero with us to the hospital. So I let myself slide into the dark place for a little while where it didn't hurt so bad. Either in my head or in my heart. Sucker punched; who would have thought? 

~~~*~~~ 

It was fairly nasty. I vaguely remember waking up in the ambulance and puking all over some poor orderly. I don't remember a hell of a lot after that until the hospital. They had to give me something for the nausea to get me to stop up-chucking long enough to do the MRI. It was bad enough the doctor kept me over twenty-four hours. I remember two things fairly clearly; the headache that no amount of drugs seemed to touch, and the look on Heero's face whenever I focused enough to see it.

Massive, horrendous, huge amounts of guilt. Tinged with a strange hint of betrayal... like he was confused about why I hadn't ducked.

The guys told me later that I about drove them to distraction because whenever I was awake enough to talk, all I did was beg whoever would listen to me to watch out for Heero. Maybe it was a little self-centered, but I was pretty sure that he was upset enough that he just might do something stupid. Not necessarily on my behalf, not necessarily because it was me, but just because he'd so totally lost control that he'd almost killed somebody.

I don't know. I'm not explaining it very well. I just knew there was something about the way he looked that made me scared, and I had a job to do but couldn't. I felt like the point man that had fallen under fire. I was desperate that somebody take over my position, but everybody was so damn pissed at him that nobody seemed interested in doing it.

Quatre confessed much later that Wufei had finally exploded, telling Heero in no uncertain terms that he was by-God going to stay there at the hospital until I came around enough that they could talk sense to me, so that I would stop worrying. The poor guy was just spitting mad that I was agonizing over Heero's welfare in the condition I was in. They somehow finally managed to get across to me that Heero wasn't going anywhere and I settled down.

Maybe it worked out for the best. Because it came down to just him and me, sometime the next morning and we had a little talk. 

~~~*~~~ 

I opened my eyes and remember vaguely wishing I could stop my heartbeat, because my head was pounding in time with it. The nausea had eased, but I felt groggy as hell and damned sleepy. I felt like I had a little more presence of mind than I'd had for a long while though... until a soft sound made me turn my head and I found Heero sitting beside the bed with his face in his hands, sobbing quietly.

I watched him for a little bit, feeling... strange. It was an odd little rush seeing him there at my side like that. But I had to remind myself that if he was shedding tears they were for his situation, not necessarily for me. Sure he felt remorse... but he would have felt the same way if I had been a total stranger. He really, truly had almost killed me. No dramatics. No theatrics. He had hit me damn near as hard as he could and literally had, as Wufei had said, almost caved my head in. Of course he felt bad.

"Hey," I said softly and watched patiently while he scrubbed at his face before daring to glance up at me, as though he could hide what he'd been doing. 'It's all right, Heero,' I soothed and would have patted his hand, but it just seemed too difficult to raise my own.

He blinked at me for a minute, a tiny little frown of uncertainty marring his forehead. Then he blurted, "Why in the hell don't you hate me?"

"Too easy," I grinned, feeling my eyelids wanting to fall closed. "It's what you want me to do."

"Duo," he growled, frustration rather plain in his voice and I forced my eyes to open again.

"I know you didn't mean to do it," I told him plainly. "And I can see you're sorry. I'm your best friend, remember?"

"Why won't you give up on me?" he whispered, watching me with this strange hungry look in his eyes. Watching me fight to stay awake, watching me fight for coherent words.

"Because I care, you asshole," I told him and tried to smile warmly. "Everybody deserves a best friend, Heero. Even you. I'm just sorry I was all I could manage for you." I frowned, thinking about that. It hadn't come out quite right, but I couldn't think how to put it any better.

But then I forgot about it, because Heero had hold of my hand and was weeping again, clutching my fingers to his cheek. "Help me... Oh God, Duo... please help me... "

"I'm right here," I told him, trying to squeeze his fingers in return, but I'm not sure I managed it. If I had died right then from what he'd done to me, it would have been worth it because Heero Yuy had finally taken that first step back from Hell. 

~~~*~~~ 

Ok, you understand that the world was not all sweetness and light after that, right? Surely you don't think that's all there is to an addict giving up an addiction? I said it was the first step. Just the wanting to get help is a first step and a huge first step at that. But it's only the first step of many. On a road that is long and damn steep.

He moved back in with me when I got out of the hospital. I had made it easier for him by insisting to the guys that it was only fair that Heero be the one to stay with me since I'd taken care of him after his accident. Trowa and Quatre had grudgingly accepted the arrangement, but Wufei was fit to be tied, and had only agreed after getting in Heero's face and explaining to him in great detail what would happen to him if he dared raise a hand to me again. The big lug really loves me, God forbid he ever admit it.

I made it seem like it was Heero doing me the favor. Coming to stay with me to help me out while I recovered a little bit. Not that I really needed anybody, but it took some of the pressure off of him if we pretended in front of the others that it was for my sake and not his. They didn't need to know what was going on. Heero didn't need that kind of attention brought to his personal life. In that respect I could shelter him a little bit, and I meant to do it. I understood about there being some people you just couldn't bear to have... see all the gory details of your soul.

So I brought him back into my home and settled in for the siege. I hadn't anticipated how much it was going to take him by surprise, though. He'd kicked the booze once before, right? Well... he thought he had. He didn't understand that the worst of his detox happened while he was so drugged and out of it, he was just two steps to the right of a coma.

 ~~~*~~~ 

We knelt on the bathroom floor together and I held his head while he puked into the toilet for about the third time in the last hour. When he finished, I cleaned him up and helped him to his feet.

"Bed or couch?" I asked gently and got a moan that might have indicated that he preferred the moon. I took him to the couch, thinking that a change of scenery might be beneficial. I settled him in the corner of the sofa and he curled into a miserable ball. He had the shakes today and I went to fetch the blankets from his bed, bringing his pillows as well. He let me tuck him in with almost no response at all. I felt horrible for him, but there wasn't a lot I could do outside of making him as comfortable as I could.

"Can I get you something?" I offered, keeping my voice low. I remembered the screaming headaches. My own head wasn't feeling that great and I had to remind myself not to reach to rub at the stitches. It upset Heero.

"No," he growled, looking at me over the edge of the blanket as though I had just offered him a mug of snail glop.

"Heero," I coaxed, "it's too easy to get dehydrated through this stage... you need to try to drink something."

"I said no," he snapped, and I saw him regret it when he only caused his headache to flare.

I sighed, wishing I could shoulder this for him, but understanding that this was something of a rite of passage. This would turn into the battle scar that would help him remember later on, just why drinking was such a bad idea. I could ease things for him as best I could, but I couldn't do it for him. "Nutrition and hydration are... " I began again, but he was suddenly sitting up, spitting mad and snarling at me.

"I said, drop it!" he yelled and I couldn't help it, I flinched. Threw a hand up to protect my very vulnerable head and ducked. See? I'm not really a slow learner.

His face just... crumbled. "Oh my God... " he moaned and buried his face in his hands.

Without thought, I gathered him into my arms and he didn't fight me. "It's all right," I soothed. "It's going to be all right."

He clung to me and I could feel him shaking, could feel the heat of his elevated temperature. "Why does it hurt so bad this time?" he breathed, his voice no more than a whisper.

I smiled tenderly where he couldn't see it anyway. "You were unconscious for most of it last time."

He didn't answer immediately, just huddled against my chest, trying, it seemed, to absorb some of my body heat. "I... don't know that I can do this," he confessed in a very small voice after a long silence.

"Yes you can," I told him. "You don't have to do it by yourself. I'm here."

"Did... did you go through this?" he asked, his head still pressed against my shoulder.

"Yeah," I told him honestly. "And if you'll trust me, I can help a little bit."

He showed no signs of moving from where he was and I dared to rub a hand gently up and down his back, trying to help him relax. Trying to help warm him.

"I... do trust you," he said then, so softly I almost didn't catch it. I wondered later if he heard the painful little thump my heart made. It was iron control that kept my arms from tightening around him.

"Ok then," I whispered, afraid of breaking the spell. "You remember your nutrition lessons from the war, don't you? Your body is under a lot of stress here and you're just making it worse by not giving it what it needs. I know you feel like crap... but it's important. If we can get your stomach settled down, we can get some pain medicine down you that will help with the headache and the fever."

He nodded against my shoulder, but still didn't move to let go. I remembered the fear of what your own body was doing to you, I remembered nights when I thought I was dying from what he was going through. I understood that right now his need for human contact was more important than the other things, so I just held him.

"I don't think I can do this without you," he told me after a little while and I thought I would weep.

"You don't have to," I smiled instead. "That's what best friends are for. I'll always be here when you need me."

~~~*~~~

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