By Sunhawk

Being There (cont)

Was it a selfish thing to do? Probably. Did I care? Not really. I was still reeling from the brutal reality that I was not nearly as whole as I had been pretending to be. Was still aching from the realization that Heero didn't need me anymore. That no one really needed me at all. Was still stinging from the epiphany that I might not have waded in there and mud-wrestled Heero's demons to the ground for him... but for myself. Because I loved him. Because I had wanted with all my heart for him to turn around one day and look me in the eye and understand that I needed him too. I had wanted to hear from him the one thing that I had never managed to teach him, no matter how hard I tried. And didn't that just make me the most pathetic, selfish bastard alive? What the hell kind of friend was I? Would I have done the same for Wufei? Or Trowa? Quatre? For someone that I didn't want something from? Heero had been right all along.

But what did it matter now, anyway? I suppose I had done the right thing even if it had been for all the wrong reasons. I had helped to turn his life around. Had helped him take those first steps off that dark, narrow road. What did it matter that I was trapped here, alone. He could make it on his own now... he didn't need me anymore. He'd found his place, he'd make a life for himself; and one of these days he'd find someone to share it with. Hell... maybe it would be that blond in the red dress. Maybe he'd have kids. Maybe someday he might even tell his kids about the guys he'd fought in the war with, and maybe he'd remember me with some fondness... the guy who, for a short time, had tried to be his best friend. Even if it had been a lie. But then... he never had to know that. Never had to know what a weak and selfish man I was underneath it all.

I drank until I was able to cry. I cried until I threw up. Then I drank until I couldn't think anymore.

The next morning, I woke cold and sick and cleaned it all up. This was a ritual that I was more than familiar with, and I settled back into it as though I'd never left it.

I spent my days relatively sober. I didn't have the money to keep myself drunk twenty-four hours a day. So I walked the beach, just trying not to think, but doing little else until I couldn't take it anymore and fled back to the cottage and my waiting bottles. Then I drank until the pain went away and I was able to sleep. I woke later and later each day. I ran out of clean clothes after the third day and tried to do a wash in the surf. The water was as cold as ice and turned my hands blue, making them numb. I stood at the edge of the ocean for quite awhile and wondered how long you would have to stay in that water before the numbness got all the way in to your heart. I stopped washing my clothes that way after that... just used the little sink in the bathroom. The ocean had made them smell oddly fishy anyway.

When I began buying booze but not food, the guy at the quick-mart stopped making small talk, only watching me suspiciously as he took my money and sacked my 'supplies'. I really didn't care.

I lost my ability to manage my hair somewhere in there and just left it loose, habit as old as memory the only thing that even made me brush it.

I started to lose track of time and began to line the empty bottles up in rows on the floor of the cottage, one bottle to mark each day. But that got depressing, so I stopped. What did it really matter anyway?

So I'll just say it was sometime later. A week? Maybe two? I don't really know. But I had risen from my narrow, cold bed particularly late and was still out walking the beach when the sun set. I hadn't seen a sunset in a very long time. I blinked at it and remembered that that was one of the things that used to draw me to the ocean so long ago when I had first fallen to Earth. I stood in the cold sand and watched it... a little awed. It reached inside me somehow, the first thing outside a bottle to get my attention in a long time. I had forgotten the sad beauty of a sunset. The death of the day. The end of the light. The coming of the darkness and the endless hours of bitter solitude. I watched until the light was almost gone and then I saw a thing that stole the breath from my body and twisted in my heart like a dull knife.

As the golds and swirling reds faded, and the light slowly bled from the sky, everything turned... blue. Not the bright cornflower blue of the daylight, of a summer sky; but the deep, cobalt blue of midnight. The clear and perfect blue of the oldest of stained glass windows. The absolute, the exact, the very same blue as Heero's eyes. Heero's beautiful, beloved eyes. It was there for only the space of a handful of my labored heartbeats and when it faded completely... when the first stars shone through and it was gone... I fell to my knees in the surf and wept for the loss, crying his name for the wind to carry away to nowhere.

I drank that night until I thought I would never wake up. But somewhere after I was past remembering, I threw it all back up, probably saving my own life. It was a hell of a mess to clean up in the morning.

I hid from the sky the next night, not able to bear the sight again. But the night after... I crept back to the water's edge and, like any good addict, gave my soul the thing that was killing it. I waited through the sunset, not even seeing it, waiting for that moment, that precious fleeting moment, and when it came, I stared unblinking, trying to pull the blue inside me, tried to imagine Heero behind the sky. For that tiny span of time I imagined all the 'might have beens', let myself dream of the ever-afters. I picked up the splinters of what was left of my soul and I held them carefully where they could see the sky. And the blue breathed life back into the splinters... enough that I could go on another day. Enough that I didn't just walk into the water until the ice numbed me to the core and took all the pain away. Enough... just barely enough. The moment when the blue fades completely to black is an elusive thing... there is an agonizing moment of doubt and then... it's just gone. I whispered his name to the wind again and went back to my cottage to my little friends the bottles.

It became a part of my ritual to go stand at the water's edge and wait for the setting of the sun. I think a part of my mind was still looking for that thing it was suppose to be finding to cling to, and this was the best I could manage. I wasn't sure what would happen the first evening that the clouds obscured the sky and the blue didn't come. I might have been a little afraid of that thought if I hadn't been so totally far-gone. Because I was very far-gone at that point. Lost. My dark road had narrowed and then narrowed some more, until there was no room to turn back... no room at all.

All my demons and nightmares had come home with a vengeance. All the memories of the past, all the pain and despair. Come home with a strength that made a mockery of what I had been living with. But all of it overshadowed by the new pain that had come with the realization that Heero didn't need me anymore. My mission was complete and what was there left for me now? Nothing but the pain and loneliness.

I didn't start to truly panic until the money was running so tight that I began to see that there was an end to my little friends the bottles. I began to buy the cheaper stuff, but it only took more of it. I understood somewhere under the haze I was in, that I was nearing the end of the road. But it was very dark now and I wasn't sure what it was that was ahead of me.

Fate, I'm pretty sure, is a damn bitch and she has a sense of humor that can only be described as perverse. My money finally ran out on the very day that a storm blew in and when I walked to the water's edge that night... it was far too cloudy and overcast for the blue to come. There was only gray. And then darker gray. And then black. I fell to my knees and wept that night and then couldn't find it in me to bother walking back to the cottage. There was nothing there; after all, even my little glass friends were gone. There was nothing left. There didn't seem to be anything left inside me either. All the splinters of my being seemed scattered to the winds and all I could do was sit there in the sand while that wind bit at me, pulled at me, seemed to urge me to seek the numbness that the water could bring.

I might have taken the walk that night if I hadn't so desperately needed to see the sky just one more time. I needed a clear sky. A clear sky and the evening light to give me the blue just one more time. That doesn't sound altogether sane, does it? I'm not sure I was.

I sat through the night and the cold ate at me, but I couldn't find it in me to care. It really just didn't seem to matter. It was all just too hard... too much work. So I just sat. The sun came up and the light warmed me some, but the wind still blew in off the water, harsh and cold. I felt light-headed and my lips were cracked. My skin felt tight, like I was on the verge of bursting from it. And I thought about that a little bit... thought about my spirit breaking away from the pain-filled husk that was my body and going to join with the blue.

The cold was so intense by afternoon that I was trembling almost violently and I began to fear that I wouldn't last long enough to go join with my blue. But by the time the evening came, some hint of anticipation seemed to warm me from the inside and I stopped my shaking. The sunset, I think, was beautiful... but I only wanted it to hurry, to leave the sky and give me what I needed so that I could just close my eyes and move on. I had decided that was what I needed to do. If I could close my eyes while the blue was there, in my eyes, in my sight... perhaps I could capture some of it inside? I was barely breathing from the expectation.

"Duo?" the voice was soft and hesitant and I wondered that the sky had found a voice with which to speak with me.

"Shhhh," I told it. "It's almost time."

Something warm settled across my shoulders and I shivered.

"Duo... what are you doing?" the voice asked gently.

"Falling into the sky," I answered and didn't offer more explanation than that... the sky would understand.

More warmth enveloped me, and there was the sound of sharply hissed breath. "My God... you're near frozen!"

"Doesn't matter," I reassured, eyes on the distant skyline, waiting for that moment. The moment when I could give up and go away.

"Duo," the sky became insistent and there were suddenly hands trying to pull me to my feet, pull me away.

"No!" I wailed. "I can't die without the sky... I can't... the blue night... Heero's blue... "

The hands became gentle, the voice soothing. "Look at me, Duo. I'm right here."

It was Heero, hands on my shoulders feeling hot as fire. I blinked up at him, where he knelt beside me, in confusion. Then I met his eyes... his damn blue eyes and realized what a pale comparison the sky had been. "Heero?"

"My God... you're sunburned raw... " His voice was tinged with concern and I suppose that was what finally got my attention. "Duo, can you hear me?"

"What are you... ?" I began trying to puzzle it through and couldn't seem to make my brain think that hard. "How did you... ?"

He was getting rather desperately adamant that I was getting up and I found myself on my feet so suddenly that the world spun dizzily around me. I think I moaned, and then I left my feet altogether.

He turned with me toward the cottage, muttering under his breath in a strange mixture of anger and fear. The warmth of his chest and his arms made me begin to shiver uncontrollably and I closed my eyes, wishing I could just go to sleep.

I have a faint recollection of him kicking the door to the cottage open and realizing quickly that there was no heat to be found there. I have no idea what he thought of the sight that greeted him... I faded for a bit and when I became aware again, we were in the front seat of a running car, I was wrapped in my blankets and the car's heater was running full blast.

I blinked open blurry eyes to find Heero rubbing my arms briskly. "Don't you do this to me," he was growling and it was that sound of... distress that got my attention again.

I didn't know what to do. I felt like I ought to say something but couldn't think what that would be. I'd never run this scenario through my head. I'd never imagined anyone coming after me... much less finding me.

His eyes found mine open and he turned my face up to look at me searchingly. "Why did you run away, Duo?"

I frowned, thinking back on it and told him, "It was time to go... you didn't need me any more."

His eyelids fluttered faintly, flinching as though I had swung at him. "I'll always need you... you idiot. You're my best friend."

It was an oddly wonderful, painful thing for him to say. He'd never acknowledged it before. I said it all the time. Insisted on it all the time. But he'd never said it before. It was wonderful. But he'd said it... just that way and I felt the ache of knowing he was not my best friend. He still didn't understand the difference. It was painful.

He saw something of the sadness in my eyes and frowned slightly. "Why, Duo?" he asked me gently.

"It just... hurts too much," I confessed. "I'm just so tired."

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked then, voice full of pain. "Why didn't you come to me?"

I looked up at him, not knowing how to tell him that he'd never... made those kinds of offers to me. Not knowing how to explain that the street of friendship runs two ways. I had never felt free to come to him with my own problems. Had, honestly thought that I could bear up under whatever the hell came my way. And I had... as long as I'd had Heero to care for. As long as all my attention had been expended on defending him and watching over him. It wasn't until that had gotten ripped out from under me that I had discovered how lost I was.

He continued to work my chilled limbs with his hands, even while he was frowning at me, worrying with the questions. "I thought we were best friends, Duo."

I couldn't speak. There was nothing I could say to him that wasn't a lie. And aside from the fact that I didn't like to lie, an evasion at that point would have taken more wit than I possessed in the throes of hypothermia. So I just sat and stared at him.

There was a spark of something in his eyes... a little hint of pain that quickly turned to anger because that's how he always deals with his pain. "I thought we were always there for each other," he growled.

I just couldn't help it, my mouth opened and I heard someone else say, in a very small voice, "When have you ever been there for me, Heero?"

I watched it come clear in his eyes as he finally came to understand. I was a little awed... watching him piece things together, watching him figure it out. I watched his anger vanish. Watched his confusion turn introspective, watched realization dawn and slowly turn to... horror.

"Oh God, Duo," he whispered and I suddenly found myself in his arms. It shocked an anguished cry from me and I wanted to tell him I was too raw to deal with this... wanted it too badly to bear it when he took it away again.

"Heero," I breathed against his chest and he unwound the damn blanket to bring me in next to him, before wrapping the blanket tight around us both.

"Your job isn't done," he whispered to me. "How the hell could you leave me before you finished teaching me how to be a friend in return?"

He was so warm, and he felt so good... I wanted to just give in and take this from him, but it wasn't right and I knew it. I had lied to him and lied to myself and I couldn't continue without confessing. "I can't teach you that, Heero," I murmured. "I'm sorry... but I'm not the right person... You were right... all along, and I didn't even realize it. I did want something from you... I... I wanted more than just friendship. I'm sorry... so sorry."

I felt him go still and I tried to prepare myself for the angry words, for his shoving me away, but he didn't. "Then," he sighed softly, "I can have my five minutes and I don't have to pretend anymore?"

I could have wept. I think I did. He brought his hand to my face and tilted my head up until he could kiss me. It wasn't at all what I thought it would be like kissing him, but I imagine I tasted like three-day-old road kill... and it probably didn't help matters much when I passed out in the middle of it.

~~~*~~~

Happily ever after? Well... not like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty or any of that shit. Neither of us was exactly Prince Charming. I lived; that was a decent enough beginning and we didn't really push for much more right away. I guess we both figured that a relationship forged during that mess wasn't going to have much of a foundation. We had a couple of false starts... more than our fair share of fights. But we kept gravitating back to each other and finally faced up to the fact that we did indeed love each other.

It got to be a little like happily ever after, then... or as close as we were going to get. Love ain't easy. It takes work. A lot of work and maintenance, a lot of care and effort. In time... we pretty well figured it out. We have our good days and we have our bad, and as time moves on there are more of the good ones.

Guilt, and the horrors of our youth didn't just go away, of course, but that burden is lessened with two backs to carry it. He still has nightmares. I still suffer from insomnia sometimes. But I'm there to wake him up and hold him afterwards. He's there to love me and listen to me when I need to talk.

He moved back into my apartment right after I got out of the hospital that second time. We flirted around the issue for a little bit before finally turning the guest bedroom into a study. And that? That was the real beginning of our happily ever after. The sex? Nah... it was the not being alone at night. Just the not being alone. 

~~~*~~~ 

He found me sitting by the window in the living room in the dark, staring out at mostly nothing.

"Duo?" he called softly and came to sit behind me in the window seat, wrapping warm arms around me. "Why didn't you wake me?"

"Ah," I shrugged and leaned into his embrace. "Not so bad tonight. Just not tired, I guess. I thought I was being quiet... what woke you?"

He rested his forehead on my shoulder and murmured, "I got... cold."

I couldn't help a small smile. "I'm sorry, love. Why don't we go back to bed?"

He sighed in the affirmative but then didn't seem inclined to move. I realized after a moment that he was worrying at something and I turned my head a little to see him better. "Heero? Everything... all right?"

He brought his fingers up to brush, gentle as a breath, across the long scar on my temple.

"I never," he whispered brokenly, "never told you how sorry I was... how very sorry I am... "

"Hush," I told him fiercely. "I'm not sorry at all. I love that scar." I could see shock register on his face and he stared at me, aghast, but I continued before he could speak. "It's what changed things... it's what brought you back to me."

The haunted look didn't leave his face, but he leaned in and gently kissed the length of the thing. Lips as light as a feather on my face. I shivered.

"All the same," he told me huskily. "I'm sorry... so very sorry."

I understood then that he was having his own bad night and I turned around to wrap him up in my arms. "It's all right, Heero... I'm here."

"Always?" he whispered, not able to keep the faint pleading sound from his voice.

"Always." I confirmed and held him tight. Let him hold me tight.

"We're... " he ventured after a moment, "best friends... right?"

I drew back to smile gently, letting him see the truth in my eyes. "Very best friends." I could see the doubt still nibbling at his heart and I brushed sleep-tousled hair from his eyes. "You are my best friend," I confirmed for him and finally felt him relax a little.

He quirked me a little smile and took my hand. "Come back to bed?"

"Yeah," I agreed, and let him lead me there. We curled together, in the middle of our bed and talked softly through the rest of the dark, quiet hours.

Sometimes... this love thing isn't so damn hard after all. 

End  

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