By Sunhawk

Being There (cont)

~~~*~~~

That was the roughest stretch we had; those first couple of weeks. Going cold turkey might not be the best way to handle things, I don't have a clue, but it was all I knew. The first couple of days were the most physically taxing, until the nausea eased off. Or maybe it was just how wrung out I was myself, fresh out of the hospital. But after we cleared the two-week mark, it got a little easier. In some ways. I'm not sure he was completely prepared for what we were facing. I think, sometimes, that he thought once he got through the detox period that things would be all over.

Detoxification sucks. Make no mistake there. The craving, the nausea, the shakes, feeling like your nerves are on fire and about to crawl out of your own skin, and of course... the hallucinations if you're too far gone. I hadn't had too much of that. I remember seeing a few people who, later, I realized couldn't possibly have been there, but nothing too unsettling. Heero had more trouble, and I spent more than one evening chasing dogs out of his room and sitting with him until he fell back asleep.

But after that, after your body is purged of the poisons you've been dumping into it for years, comes the really hard part. Because all the reasons you started drinking in the first place are still there. Deciding to give up your addiction is a fine thing. But you have to realize, that alone is not going to make your life all better. It's like calling a do-over and going back to square one. All the things that led you to the darkest moment of your life... are still there waiting for you. Now you have to figure out how to deal with them without resorting to the path you took the first time.

The hardest part for Heero was accepting the fact that other people had to be brought in and dealt with. He is a very private person, I think he wanted to just go away to a cave somewhere and come out a while later all cured and better. Getting him to join Alcoholics Anonymous had been a trial and a struggle, but I have to tell you I thought my heart would explode out of my chest with pride during the first meeting that he stood up and talked. I don't think I'll ever forget that night.

It was far from easy. Sometimes he fought me. Sometimes he turned to me like he wouldn't know what to do if I weren't there to tell him. Sometimes he made me ache from watching him try. Sometimes he made me want to scream in frustration. It was probably the most bittersweet time of my life.

 ~~~*~~~ 

"What in the hell do you know about it?" he growled at me, having one of his temperamental days. One of his, feeling sorry for himself days.

"Exactly what makes you think you have the market cornered on pain, Heero?" I chided gently, understanding that he needed to vent a little, needed to get some of the frustration out.

"How in the hell can you possibly understand what it feels like to be all alone?" he snapped at me. "To never know the right things to say or do? To always be out of place?"

I laughed and that earned me a dark glare. "Do you see me with an apartment full of company every night, Heero?"

"So?" he grumbled, a touch of the bad-tempered little boy peeking out. "Everybody adores you."

I couldn't help the sad little smile, though I knew it probably came off as a bit condescending. "They're my friends Heero. Just like they were your friends once... before you drove them off. But it wasn't enough, was it? In fact, it just makes it hurt worse, doesn't it?" I saw his eyes widen as I hit the target right on the mark, and I pressed forward. "Trowa and Quatre... Wufei and Sally... Zechs and Noin... it twists in your gut every time you see them, doesn't it? It twists in mine. They all... fit in, somehow. They all found somebody to love them no matter what. They... " I had to stop when I found myself on the verge of tears. He was looking at me, almost agog, and I realized that he absolutely could not imagine that anyone else in the world could possibly feel the way he felt. I forced myself to go on. "I love them, Heero... and I suppose they love me... in their own way. As a friend. As somebody they went through hell with. But it isn't the same. I still have to come home to an empty, cold apartment at night and stare at a dark ceiling. Don't tell me I can't understand."

"But... " he fumbled, his anger fading as he honestly tried to comprehend. "You always fit in... you handle all those damn social situations like it was easy!"

I laughed out right and he frowned darkly at me, but waited to hear what I had to say; an incredible improvement in itself. "All those parties of Quatre's?" I prodded, but didn't wait for his answer. "I just throw on the jester's mask and make 'em laugh. That way... when they're laughing at me, because I don't know the damn difference between those stupid little forks... I can't tell," I had to blink at myself, when the dark bitterness crept into my voice. "Heero... I'm in knots through every minute of those things... terrified that everyone is suddenly going to whip around and point at me... like that scene in 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'... like they're suddenly going to realize that I'm not one of them."

He chewed on that for a minute and finally ventured, "I always thought you handled everything so well... I never would have guessed."

I chuckled, a sound that came out as self-deprecating, though I hadn't meant it to. "What the hell would a street-rat like me know about... social situations?"

He finally gave me a little grin, "Well, I guess an ex-soldier wouldn't know the difference."

 ~~~*~~~ 

So we set out to learn the difference. Sound stupid? I had to start somewhere, and he'd finally given me a glimpse into one of the things that was bothering him. He couldn't fit in; he didn't know how to act around people. Didn't know how to make small talk or what was proper etiquette. All his soldier's instincts told him that there was safety in blending... but he stuck out wherever he went, like a wolf in a pack of poodles.

I treated it like a mission. We did research. Ok... we watched a lot of movies. We went to malls and restaurants and just observed people. I hunted crap up on the Internet, like just what in the hell the point was to all those stupid forks. I made Quatre throw a small dinner party, with just a few people that we knew, so we could practice.

Seems like a simple thing, doesn't it? Wonder why I never bothered to do this for myself? Sometimes I wonder too. When the problems had been my own, they had just seemed too overwhelming for me to half know where to start. But when they were Heero's problems... there was just no question that I would deal with them. It was like I had no choice. I can't explain it, so I'm not even going to try.

And no, don't be ridiculous... that was not the root of all his problems. It was more like a... symptom. Almost like the bone he was willing to throw to the dog. I felt like it was more of his unconscious testing. As though he dared show me that small thing to see how I handled it before he began to let me in. I guess I passed the acid test, because he did, finally, begin to let me in... let me see some of the real pain.

Some days were good... and some days were bad. As he opened up to me, I did my best to solve whatever I could. Some stuff was easy, almost fun... like when we taught each other to dance. Other stuff was... less than easy and there were times that I thought he would rip the heart right from my chest. 

~~~*~~~ 

I'm not a heavy sleeper at all. Barely floating, I suspect, just below the surface most nights. So when my bedroom door swung open, I was wide-awake instantly, but ages old instinct left me still as a stone, watching.

Heero stood there, silhouetted by the dim light from the hall, somehow managing to look hesitant even in the near darkness. I waited, to see what he was about, but he only stood there looking in for a minute before suddenly seeming to think better of whatever he had come for, and he started to turn away.

"Heero?" I called softly and saw him jump like I'd caught him with his hand in the till. He froze, but still didn't speak, so I ventured, "It's all right... I wasn't asleep. You want to... talk?"

He took a hesitant step into the room, so I sat up and he finally came and perched himself on the side of my bed. I waited patiently, not pushing and he ducked his head.

"Duo," he whispered, after a moment. "How did you... how the hell did you get through this?"

I huffed a sigh and thought about it, not sure how to answer. I thought about my own dark days and honestly had to admit that this part, the stage he was in now, had been a little easier for me. Because I'd had him to worry with... to nurse back to health. Caring for Heero after he got out of the hospital had taken so much of my concentration, that I hadn't had the time to think about my own problems. "You have to find something that you care about, Heero." I told him, as honestly as I dared. "You have to find that thing that means something to you and you throw yourself at it and grab on with both hands. It's the only way to get through to the other side of the darkness."

He chewed on that for a little bit and then cast a glance at me through the shadow of his unruly bangs. "What... what did you find?" he asked and I felt like he'd punched me. I sure as hell couldn't tell him what I'd grabbed onto.

I didn't let my disconcertion reach my voice though. "You have to find your own dream... I can't find it for you." Damn but that sounded all wise and philosophical... for a simple evasion.

He nodded, accepting it, and after a couple of quiet minutes he said, "Duo?" and it was so soft I almost didn't hear it, having to lean a little to catch the rest of it. "Can I... can I have one of those five minutes?"

I didn't know whether to cheer or cry. "Of course you can," I sighed and opened my arms for him.

He fell into my embrace and I held him while he trembled and spoke to me of the blood on his hands. Of the innocent lives he'd taken and the voices that haunted his nights. Of a little girl and a puppy that frolicked through his nightmares, embodying the countless hundreds that had died that night on a mission gone wrong, claiming an entire civilian complex.

I held him and I rocked him, and I dared stroke my hand over his hair. I wept softly with him as his memories woke my own and before the night was out that little girl and her dog had come to sniff through the ashes of the Maxwell church.

He fell asleep on my bed that night and I let him, lying awake myself, watching over him, until morning came.

I crept away before he woke, honoring the pact we made not to speak of these things. I got up and made breakfast and when he came out later, we went on as though it had never happened. Just as I had sworn.

I thought my heart would break. 

~~~*~~~

 He... calmed. I don't know how else to describe it. I wish I could take sole credit for it, but you have to want to turn yourself around to really do it. It sure as hell didn't happen overnight... but he was doing it. The guys began to trust him again, began to accept him back into the fold and that did a lot for him. A hell of a lot. I indulged in a little bit of 'I told you so' during that period, just because I felt like they deserved it.

He started talking about moving back to his own place not long after Wufei invited him to join the Preventers. And no... it was all Wufei's idea... I didn't even suggest it. But it was something else that worked wonders for him. I honestly think the Preventers was the thing he finally found to grab onto, or simply finding something he was good at, something he could do that would make a difference. He had been making progress before that, but he truly seemed to blossom then.

I was... torn on the whole issue. I was thrilled for him, about ready to burst like a new parent watching their kid take their first steps... but pretty damned unhappy about his moving out.

But, from the damn beginning, this had been about Heero and what was best for him. So when the day came, I helped him pack and moved him home and didn't say a thing. I remember standing in his apartment door, getting ready to go back to my own, cold empty place... and wishing I had the nerve to ask for my own five minutes. 

~~~*~~~ 

I stood on the balcony overlooking the great, open dance floor and sipped at a glass of Perrier. People moved below me like those little characters in that old computer game. I stifled a chuckle as I thought about being able to click on them and make them move around the room. Perhaps I could click on the boisterous politician who had been bothering Quatre earlier and make him jump into the pool? I sipped my drink to hide the tiny grin I couldn't stifle as, in my head, people began to whirl around and change their clothes. I imagined the portly, bored looking lady in the corner with a little balloon over her head, waving her arms and proclaiming that her 'fun' indicator needed some attention.

"What's so funny?" Trowa's voice came from close beside me, sounding amused.

I tried not to show that he'd surprised me and grinned up at him. He was sipping at his own camouflaging drink, but it looked to be whiskey and not just fancy water. But then... Trowa had never had a problem with alcohol.

"Oh, just imagining total omniscience and omnipotence."

He raised a sardonic eyebrow in question. "And what would you do with it?" he asked blandly.

I chuckled, looking just in time to see Quatre get cornered by Mr. Ownagenda again. "I'd start by making short and bald there strip to his skivvies and jump in the fountain out front."

Trowa almost choked on his drink and spared me a glance that came with a wide grin. "Don't worry... he's pushed Quatre about as far as he's going to. If he doesn't back off he's going to end up getting escorted off the grounds."

I snorted and turned my attention elsewhere. Ok, my attention was pulled elsewhere. Heero had come into the room and I was instantly aware of it. I watched him make his way across the floor and I had to grin. The drink in his hand was like mine... totally harmless. It was a simple prop, and not the kind you need to hold yourself up. I found myself smiling broadly. A woman stepped backward and almost stumbled over him. Heero reached out and steadied her, smiling gently when she apologized and then moved on. I thought my face was going to split.

"Look at him, Trowa," I whispered almost reverently, not able to keep the glowing pride out of my voice. "Just look at him."

Trowa turned toward me to see where my gaze had gone and he followed my line of sight just in time to see Heero shake someone's hand and laugh lightly at something that was said.

"You know, Duo," Trowa ventured softly. "I never would have believed the changes in him. I was ready to write him off for dead."

He was watching Heero and didn't see me shiver like someone had stepped on my grave. "He just needed a nudge in the right direction."

"Bullshit," Trowa told me, turning to look down at me for a second. "You damn well saved his life and don't think that you and I both don't know it. He was well on his way to truly self-destructing. That wasn't a nudge... you hauled him back kicking and screaming and spitting the whole way."

I flushed slightly and gave him an uncomfortable little shrug. "That's what best friends are there for."

The look I got then was intent.

Down on the dance floor I saw someone approach Heero, a lovely blond woman in a red dress. Heero smiled at her and they spoke for a moment, then I saw him set his drink aside and offer her his arm. They ventured out onto the dance floor together.

The feeling of pure, happy pride that had been threatening to expand inside my chest until I exploded with it... changed subtly and threatened me with a whole different feeling. Something I'd been having to get used to lately. I repressed a sigh.

"So," Trowa smirked at me. "Whatever are you going to do with all your spare time now that your little fledgling is all grown up and ready to strike out on his own?"

I'm sure he hadn't meant to run the sword through my heart. It was idle talk and I am enough of an actor still, that I smirked back at him and muttered some inane comment about taking up ceramics. He laughed, totally unaware of the pain that was flaring in my chest.

You have to find something that you care about, I had told Heero. You have to find that thing that means something to you and you throw yourself at it and grab on with both hands. It's the only way to get through to the other side of the darkness.

For all my sage advice... I guess I'm just a stupid son-of-bitch underneath it all. How could I not have seen all this time that the thing that I had found to hold onto... the thing I had embraced and committed myself to, that I had used to get myself through the darkness... was going to go away. Heero is what I had found that I cared enough about to set aside my own problems, my own doubts and nightmares for. I had looked up one day on my dark, lonely road to Hell and realized that he was walking that same road. I had managed to stop my descent because he had needed me. I had never thought about what was going to happen when he didn't need me anymore. Had not seen this day coming. How could I not have seen this coming? And just as that thought came to me I realized something I hadn't seen before... I wasn't out of the darkness; I had just taken a short vacation from it. Something in my chest just... tore and I found myself staring down at the dance floor through eyes that couldn't really see.

Somewhere, far below us - it seemed so damn far - I heard Quatre cry out in agony. Beside me, Trowa was instantly in motion, Heero, me, the party, his drink... all totally forgotten. I snagged the glass from his hand just as his fingers let go of it, saving it from smashing on the floor and I watched in a detached sort of way while he fairly flew down the great, curved stairway to Quatre's side.

I probably looked like a heartless bastard, just standing there while one of my best friends was collapsed on the floor. But I knew what they didn't... I knew where his pain was coming from, so I did the best thing I could for him. I downed Trowa's drink and turned and left the house. The farther away from Quatre I could get, the better off he would be. He's very sensitive to harsh feelings, when it's coming from someone he cares for.

So I did what I always did. Had done all my life. Hey... it's my tag line, remember? I run... I hide... but I never lie?

I couldn't lie to my friends, so I ran and hid. I was sorry for it, I truly was. But I found when I realized that all my demons and nightmares had only been waiting for me to finish the job of saving Heero before coming home to roost... that they were very well rested and ready for round two. And I was... already missing a large part of my soul and just didn't have the strength to fight anymore.

I left that party and went home. I threw some clothes and cash into a duffle bag, locked up my apartment and... ran. I turned my bike in a totally random direction and just took off. I drove most of the night, not stopping until I was so tired that I almost fell asleep 'in the saddle'. When I pulled off the road at last, I was surprised to see I had managed to find a damn beach. I sat on my bike on the side of the road and laughed out loud. I frightened a couple of sea gulls, but there was nobody else to hear me. It was rather severely off-season.

The beach. Guess I just had a thing for the ocean. I drove a couple more miles until I found something that passed for a small town. Village. Wide place in the road. There was a dinky business that rented ratty little cottages on the water, a gas station and one of those little quick marts. I pulled in and rented one of the cottages, getting a strange look from the owner. He had to open up the office to accommodate me and must have asked me three times if I realized how cold it was this close to the ocean at this time of year. I laughed rather ruthlessly and told him it didn't really matter to me. He kept on looking at me suspiciously and I finally found it in me somewhere to spin a pretty little lie about being a writer and needed to get 'the atmosphere' of late fall on the beach. In the end, he took my money and let me pick the cottage. I chose the one as far down the way as I could get. He locked the office up again after he'd given me the key and went away. I went to the quick-mart then and bought some supplies. Several packages of beef jerky and a bottle of whiskey. A loaf of bread and a bottle of vodka. A jar of peanut butter and a bottle of... well, you get the idea. When I was done, I packed the 'groceries' into my saddlebags and drove the half-mile on down the road to my new, temporary home. I parked the bike as close to the side of the little clapboard cottage as I could get it and took my things inside.

It really was a crappy little dump and I had to grin, thinking about the old days... thinking about hideouts and some of the shit-holes we had stayed in. This was by far not the worst place I'd ever been, but was also the worst I'd seen in years. I had one of those strange moments of... soul-twisting perspective. Part of me stepped outside me and we surveyed the room together. While the me who had lived in a nice third floor, two-bedroom apartment for the last year or so looked around and went 'yuck' - the me that had lived in burned out buildings as a child looked around and went 'wow'. It was that... constant contrast that threatened sometimes to tear my head in half.

I dumped my gear on the saggy little single bed and reflected that I would need to walk back up to the store and see if I could buy some blankets. The little, threadbare thing supplied by the management wasn't going to do me a lot of good.

There was the bed, a table with two chairs, a little hot plate and a door that led to a 'bathroom' that held a toilet and a sink but no tub. The toilet ran even if you jiggled the handle. I flipped the light switch and figured out that the electricity had been turned off for the season and the manager had obviously forgotten to do something about it. Or just didn't care. It didn't really matter... I didn't need a lot of light for what I was planning anyway.

I unpacked my groceries onto the counter, left my gear on the bed and went ahead and made the walk back up to the store before I stopped caring. I bought two heavy blankets and a flashlight, walked back down the beach, locked myself in my cottage, wrapped up in my new acquisitions and proceeded to drink myself into oblivion. It didn't take near as long as I had thought it would, I guess I was out of practice.

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