Author: Sunhawk

Finding Common Ground (cont)

"What for?" he wanted to know, and I supposed the last couple of days had entitled him to the full story.

I tilted my head back to look up at him, "I took Duo to lunch downtown, and we saw Wufei there. He was tailing the college kid who knifed Duo."

His eyes went round and he made a tiny 'oh' sound. "Did he... did he hurt him?"

"Not overly much, from what I could see. Just threatened the piss out of him." I couldn't keep the smirk off my face. In the distance, I heard the sound of a car coming up the drive. Outside, Duo perked up and he slid to the edge of the car hood.

"I take it," Quatre answered my smirk with a faint one of his own, "that Wufei does not know that you... observed him."

"Not yet. But I think he is about to."

Outside, the gray car was pulling in behind the maroon one. Wufei got out, a concerned look on his face at seeing Duo sitting out there all alone.

"Those two," Quatre told me as we watched, "about drove me insane."

I glanced up in time to catch a sad expression on his face.

"Wufei is so... reserved. Duo thinks he looks down on him." He let go of a heavy sigh, "Duo tries so hard to cover the pain and all he does is shut Wufei out."

Wufei was approaching Duo, who had slid to the ground, landing with his weight carefully off his bad leg. I saw Wufei say something, I imagined him demanding to know what Duo thought he was doing. I watched Duo, waiting for the smart-ass remark that I wouldn't be able to hear, but instead just saw his jaw working.

"Wufei has really come to... admire Duo, in his own way." A sad shake of his head. "They poke at each other constantly. I thought they were going to kill each other."

In the driveway, Wufei was saying something else, and finally Duo found his voice and said something that brought a shocked expression to Wufei's face. Suddenly Duo made the two steps and threw his arms around Wufei's neck, hugging him for all he was worth. Behind me, Quatre made a small, elated sound.

Wufei just stood there for a frozen moment, and then his arms came up and slowly folded around Duo. I leaned my head against the window frame and smiled. It was a truce of sorts, the beginning of an understanding between them. The more anchors Duo had in his life, the better.

"Heero," Quatre's voice had taken on a serious tone and I realized the subject had changed, "you understand he's testing you, don't you?"

I couldn't make the mental switch; what was he talking about?

"What... ?"

"The way he's teasing you."

I suddenly realized he had seen Duo kissing me outside, and I flushed.

"No, I don't understand." I turned my attention to him entirely, as Duo and Wufei moved apart and an argument was starting over the crutches.

"Think about it Heero." He was trying to get this out while we still had a moment alone, "What does Duo fear most in the world right now, other than losing you?" He didn't wait for me to answer. "Physical intimacy. Sex."

He patted my shoulder as we heard the front door open, "Think about it."

He left me sitting there to go help Wufei get Duo in the house. I heard the faint creak of the crutches and had to smile; Wufei had won the argument.

He was testing me. Testing my control. Damn, I couldn't believe I had not seen it. He needed to know that I was safe. He knew I wanted him, knew I wanted our relationship to be... more physical. But he wasn't ready and he was trying to give himself the assurance that I wouldn't push it. That I wouldn't try anything until it was right for him. Just like Duo; he found something in his path that he feared, and he had to poke a stick at it to see if it would rear up and bite him.

I rose and followed the sounds of their voices, normal levels of conversation for a change, no yelling, no cursing. It was something of a relief; Wufei had disappeared, probably to return his katana to its place in his room before a fuss was raised over it. Quatre was standing at the bottom of the stairs, watching Duo go slowly up them.

"Ok," Quatre was saying, "I don't see why not. I'll bring one up to your room." And he turned toward the kitchen.

Trowa was coming down the stairs; thank all the Gods, because I was too far away when I saw Duo falter and start to sway. I think some look on Duo's face had given Trowa warning, because he made a sudden dash down the dozen stairs that separated them, reaching his side just as he went down. Trowa caught him, though the crutches went, with a crash that brought Quatre and Wufei running from their separate parts of the house.

"It's Ok," I heard Trowa say, "I've got you."

By the time I got up the stairs, Duo was trying to regain his feet, but it was obvious Trowa's arm around his waist was all that was holding him up. His face was pale and drawn and beaded with sweat. I moved in on the opposite side from Trowa; we lifted him in a fireman's carry and took him the rest of the way to his room where we put him down on the bed. I felt his face, checking for fever. Trowa pulled his shirt up, looking for signs of leaking blood on the binding. Wufei came around us and bent to pull his shoes off as we tried to make him comfortable. Quatre hovered near the head of the bed, cold can of soda still clutched in his hand.

"Is he all right? What... what happened?"

"Gods." Duo moaned darkly, "I've died and gone straight to bloody hell."

I ignored him, "I think he just over exerted himself." I told Quatre, "Judging from the shirt I found this morning, he lost a lot of blood."

"They wanted to give him a transfusion at the hospital, but he refused." Quatre informed me, looking a little guilty at the betrayal of information, and not meeting Duo's eyes.

"They said," Duo huffed indignantly, "that it was not necessary."

"But they recommended it." Wufei supplied.

"I don't like needles." Duo stated flatly.

"Get that out of here." I commanded Quatre, pointing at the can of soda, "And I need someone to run to the store."

"Hey!" Duo objected, reaching too late for the can.

"I want some protein drinks, and some of those sports drinks." I continued.

"Vitamins," Wufei threw in, "with iron."

Quatre and Trowa were nodding as they took it in, like they were accepting a mission, and heading together for the door. I heard Trowa tell Quatre as they started down the stairs,

"Liver's good for that, isn't it? We can make liver and onions for dinner... "

Duo pulled his pillow over his face and screamed.

Wufei smiled somewhat maliciously at me and said, "Don't worry about him climbing out the bathroom window, we nailed it shut days ago, but don't leave him alone in the kitchen, he keeps stealing the car keys."

"Like I need keys." Duo's voice came muffled through the pillow.

Wufei just laughed and left the room.

I sat down on the side of the bed and eventually, he poked his head out from under the pillow and looked around, "Are they gone?"

I chuckled and stroked my fingers fondly through his bangs, "Yes, love. Are you all right?"

He started to work himself up to some flippant remark, but I brushed my fingers across his lips. "No masks between us, my heart; are you all right?"

He relaxed a little, "I think so. Just kind of tired."

"You should tell me, when you need to rest," I tapped the end of his nose, "before you fall on your face."

"Didn't know I was going to fall on my face until it happened." He grumbled peevishly.

"You scared me." I admonished, trying to look stern.

"I apparently scared everybody... again."

I smiled tenderly and brushed his cheek with the back of my fingers. "It was lucky Trowa was close by." He'd been better than half way up the stairs.

He grew quiet and looked up at me with searching eyes, "Heero, what the hell is wrong with me?"

I gently took up his left hand, the one that had seen several surgeries in the last couple of months, and began to massage it. It never failed to relax him. "Duo, you don't have any reserves. You've been through hell and back since that last mission, you can't expect your body to take that kind of abuse and bounce back instantly." He sighed as my fingers rubbed up and down the length of still livid scars, and closed his eyes, "And... and you're under siege internally now as well. These nightmares... ."

"Not really nightmares." He murmured, "Memories."

A shock ran up my spine. Was he finally going to talk to me about it? I was afraid of breaking the spell, and continued my massage without speaking.

"It's there now, all the time. I can hold it off during the day, with distractions. But at night... "

I didn't let my hands stop their gentle stroking and waited for him to continue, almost holding my breath.

"When I finally can't stay awake anymore... it's there... waiting."

I was staring at his face, he seemed so passive, as though he were floating above it, describing it from a great distance; safe.

"It's like I live through it... again." His voice lost some of it's detachment, "... and again... "

I had stopped massaging without realizing it, and he opened pain filled eyes to gaze at me.

"I thought once I faced it, it would be... over." He pulled his hands away from me and began to rub the right palm. His face clouded and his voice dropped to a mere breath, "Heero, it hurts so bad."

I thought my heart would shatter and I gently gathered him to my chest and rocked him in my arms.

"They were huge men," he whispered against my shoulder, "they could have crushed me with one hand. Soldiers. Drunk."

My vision wavered as my eyes filled with tears, I pulled him closer, wrapping my arms around him and stroked his hair.

"I wasn't fast enough; I almost made it... almost got over the fence. Another second... just another second."

His voice sounded so weak and distant. The tears spilled from my eyes and began to track down my face. I made no effort to stop them.

"I couldn't fight them. They were just too big. He grabbed me by one ankle and just hung me there... like... like a damned animal."

His voice was starting to sound strained, the emotion finding it's way through the artificial calm.

"He had this huge knife and just... just cut the clothes off me. I felt so... exposed, so... vulnerable."

I rocked him, and cried; not letting a sound escape that might break the spell that was letting him unburden himself of this... atrocity.

"He... did it... from behind... I couldn't see." His eyes were wide and staring, not seeing me, not seeing the room we were in. If he heard my heart, with his head pressed against my chest, it must have been a thundering sound.

"I didn't know... I thought they were going to kill me... I had no idea... "

Of course not. Gods in heaven, you were just a child. How could you know what evil men were capable of?

"Then... then... I thought he had killed me."

Almost, I broke down and began to sob, but I didn't want him to stop, I wanted it all out, and so I took deep breaths and rode through it.

His voice got very quiet, I almost couldn't hear him, "Then... the first one said... I'll hear it... in my head... until the day I die... 'You were pretty good, kid. Maybe we'll look you up again some time.' "

One of us shivered, I'm not sure which.

"I think Solo was close by. I think he must have been there... waiting for them to finish. He came for me too fast... after."

My eyes burned and I pulled my legs up, wrapping myself around him, sheltering him as much as I could.

"I... I couldn't ever forgive him for that." His voice was full of pain now, "I knew he couldn't have stopped them. I knew they'd have only hurt him too... but I... but I screamed for him... and... and... he didn't come."

Too close to home. I failed him. This... Solo failed him. How many times had I not been there for him? When he needed me, how often had I not come through? The sobs broke past my control and I crushed him to me, burying my face in his hair.

He pulled back, looking up at me in wonder, his eyes as dry as bone. With a tentative finger, he brushed tears from my cheek and touched them to his lips. Then he began to softly kiss the corners of my eyes, drinking the tears; gently at first and then with more urgency, kissing the salty taste from my lips, smearing the tears across his own cheeks, as though I could shed them for the both of us.

I had not cried like this in memory, and now I could not seem to get stopped. I rocked him and held him and I'm not sure which of us needed the comfort more. After a bit, I became aware that he was doing the rocking as much as I, and was murmuring softly to me, "It's all right, love. It's all right now."

It almost finished the job of breaking my heart in my chest, and I understood completely the tears Quatre had shed the night before. The absolute awe, that Duo was capable of granting such comfort in the face of his own pain.

It was like a shock of cold water in the face, and I was finally able to pull myself together and draw back to look at him, "You are so much more than I deserve." I told him huskily.

He didn't speak, just looked at me, stroking my tear stained face with gentle fingertips. He was leaning against my knees, reclining in the curl of my body and he felt right and good in my arms.

"Duo, listen to me." I told him earnestly, looking deep into his amethyst eyes, trying to throw off all the layers of masks, letting him see me. Letting him see the truth behind my words. "I want you to know that I will never lay a hand on you if you don't want it. I will never force you. I will never touch you in any way that you don't want. I love you more than breath and I would sooner die than ever cause you pain."

He blinked at me, looking deep and I could almost see something... some fear? Fade from his eyes. But it was replaced with a haunting sadness and he softly said, "I don't know what I want. Sometimes... I almost think... I almost want... "

"Shhhhh, it can't be in fear, love." I drew him back against my chest and stroked his back.

"I'm so sorry, Heero." He whispered after a minute.

"For what?"

"For... everything. For being so damned screwed up. For... teasing you. For not being able to... to love you."

"Stop that." I commanded, "You love me with every beat of your heart. I feel it in your touch; I see it in your eyes. What you can't do is have sex with me, and that is an entirely different thing. And it doesn't matter."

"But it would be... " he quirked a tired grin up at me, "a bonus?"

I chuckled lightly for him because he wanted me to, "Oh love; someday I hope I can show you how it was meant to feel. I want to be able to erase the pain with pleasure. But as long as the hurt is so... sharp in memory, as long as the fear is so twisted up in it, I'm afraid no matter how careful I am... I would hurt you."

There flashed in his eyes for a brief moment, a naked longing, but it was quickly gone.

"I love you, Heero; so damned much."

He fit himself against me with his head tucked in under my chin and one hand idly seeking the chain around his neck, fingers finding the ever-present gold cross and stroking it, other hand locked tight around me. I continued to rock him and at length, I felt the tell tale signs of his drowsiness.

I turned him in my arms and lay him back on the bed.

"You are taking a nap before dinner." I informed him with mock severity, moving to draw the curtains.

I thought he would argue, but he just settled himself, leaving ample room for me, I noticed; an unspoken plea for me to stay with him, and said, "Can you put some music on? I have trouble falling asleep in the middle of the day."

There was a CD in the player and I punched the button, expecting some horrific rock music to come blaring out, but instead, there was the gentle sound of harps and flutes. I grunted in surprise and kicked off my shoes and went to join him in bed. He was already dozing and muttered, "S'cold." So I pulled the quilt out from under him and tucked him in. Another sign of the blood loss, because the room was more than comfortably warm. He was asleep almost before I could get him tucked in under my arm and his head pillowed in the hollow of my shoulder. I chuckled; trouble falling asleep during the day, my ass. From the CD player, a rich, female voice with a faintly Gaelic accent began to sing and I grunted in surprise again; not Duo's normal choice of music. She sang me softly to sleep as well.

There were no interruptions, no dreams good or bad; I awoke again with the feel of another presence in the room, fighting the disoriented feeling you have when you sleep when your mind knows you shouldn't have. Wufei was standing in the doorway, looking torn, and I gathered from the smells of hot food, that he had come to wake us for dinner. He looked relieved to see my eyes come open, the decision to wake Duo, now in my hands. The quality of the light told me they had waited late to fix the meal, I nodded to Wufei who nodded in turn and left.

"Duo, love, it's time to wake up." I whispered softly, kissing his brow. He stirred, slowly coming up out of sleep, struggling against it and almost failing. I regretted my decision to wake him; I'd never seen him this deeply asleep before. But it was too late; he was stirring beside me, wrestling with consciousness.

"Do you want me to go down and bring your dinner up to you?" I asked, sitting up and chuckling at him.

"No." he muttered thickly, "Gotta go down, let the guys see I'm Ok."

I frowned; always covering up. Always wearing the mask. Where did he find the strength?

On the bed, he stretched, arms over his head, cat-like in his abandon, until the stitches pulled sharply and he was wide awake and curling in on himself.

"Ouch." He muttered, glaring at me as though I had done it somehow, "I'm awake already."

I lightly smacked his hip and chuckled at him again, "You forgot, I didn't."

He gave me a wounded look while I hunted up my shoes. I noticed the crutches leaning just inside the door and was sure I had Wufei to thank for their presence.

Duo was sitting on the side of the bed, yawning hugely.

"Shoes on or socks off." I told him, "I don't want you going down that hardwood stair in your stocking-feet."

He gave me an annoyed roll of the eyes, "Yes, Mama-Yuy."

Then he started to stand up and promptly sat right back down, eyes just a little wide.

I sighed heavily, "Over did it this afternoon, didn't you?"

He nodded, had the grace to look sheepish, and gave in to the urge to rub at the offending leg.

"You can't ever listen to anybody, can you?" I muttered, stooping in front of him to feel the knee.

"That... has pretty much been one of my major character flaws my entire life." He grimaced as I prodded and probed, finding the knee swollen and obviously tender.

"We're discussing Maxwell's character flaws?" Trowa's voice came from behind me, sounding amused.

"No," I informed him, "that would take way too long. We're getting ready to explain to him that we are carrying him down to dinner. You arrived just in time."

Trowa obligingly moved in on Duo's other side and before we could get any argument out of him, scooped Duo up in the fireman's carry we had used to get him up here.

"Guys... " he complained peevishly, "I'm not a damn invalid."

"No, you are not." Trowa agreed with him, "And we are trying to assure you do not become one."

Duo thought better of responding, and instead asked guardedly as we started down the stairs, "What the hell is liver and onions?"

"Vile." I informed him, and beside me, Trowa snorted.

"They are not!" Quatre defended Trowa's cooking from the bottom of the stair, "Not if they're prepared right."

We made the kitchen without mishap, and Wufei was there to pull a chair out, and by the time we had Duo settled, he was blushing a furious shade of pink and not doing a lot of talking.

I turned to get the pain pills from over the kitchen sink and when I turned back, found Trowa dishing up a huge helping of liver on Duo's plate, Quatre proffering a choice of no less than seven different flavors of protein drinks, and Wufei hovering at his elbow, waiting his turn to descend with the bottle of vitamins. The look on Duo's face was the most incredible mixture of white-faced horror, and over-whelmed joy, I thought for a moment he would short-circuit.

"Gentlemen." I said in that voice I have that carries weight, "a little space, please."

There was a moment of frozen silence, during which Duo shot me a grateful glance, and everybody else managed to look vaguely guilty. I took the vitamin bottle from Wufei and sat it down beside Duo's plate along with the bottle of pain meds and ordered, "One of each before the meal is done." He nodded meekly, eyes tracking my every move like a drowning man watching the shore. A look that said, 'Don't leave me alone with these lunatics!'

I scooped about half the liver and onions back off his plate until there was a reasonable sized portion in front of him, and selected one of the bottles in Quatre's hands at random, opening it and setting it down next to the pill bottles. Everybody took his seat when I took mine and we commenced a more normal meal.

As it turned out, Duo loved liver and onions, eating with apparent relish, though I noticed that the actual amount of food he managed to consume wasn't what it first appeared to be. He was a master of artful stirring and empty forked maneuvers that left you with the impression that he had just stuffed himself silly. But he ate, and took the pills, and even decided that the protein drink wasn't all that bad, so I let it go, content with what he did manage.

We had slept for hours; it was early evening, and I wondered how we would ever get back to sleep tonight. I felt wide awake. After the meal, Quatre shooed us out of the kitchen while he and Trowa cleaned up. I carried Duo the short distance into the more informal living room, the one with the overstuffed, comfortable furniture and made him a nest of pillows on one end of the couch. I pulled a book out of the bookcase in the corner, and sat down at his feet.

"I think I ate too much." He moaned after a bit, and snuggled down in the pillows to watch the news. When I glanced up twenty minutes later, surprised that he was watching the sports news instead of switching channels as he usually did, I found him sound asleep.

Wufei wandered in and came to stand over him for a minute, slipping the remote control deftly out of his slack fingers.

"He looks so damned... innocent when he's asleep." He whispered to me with a shake of his head. He turned the remote toward the television as if to turn it off, but froze when the top story in the local sports news came on.

Seems the basketball team from the college, the local pride and joy, had suffered a series of bizarre, unfortunate accidents. The team was left so short handed, they had canceled the season. The team high-scorer, a popular pretty boy, whose image was flashed on the screen, had actually dropped out and transferred to another school, in another state.

The story ended, and Wufei turned the set off, staring at the blank screen for a moment.

"Thank you." I said softly, "It... meant a lot to him."

He looked at me sharply; face flushing slightly, and finally grunted in dismissal, "You do not trifle with what comes under my protection." Then he tossed me the remote and turned and left the room.

I smiled fondly after him, and shook my head. Trowa had been right; he would wade into the pits of hell for Duo... calling him a damn baka every step of the way, and insisting he had gone there for some other reason.

They all loved him, in their own way, Quatre in his pure, shining, forgive-everything way. Trowa with his impassive, solid, reliable grounding. Wufei with his carefully shielded, fierce as fire concern. I'm not sure what I brought to the mix that was any more or any better than what they offered. What was it that made Duo love me so much that the sound of my voice could pull him back to reality when the nightmares came hunting? That my presence was enough to stop him trying stunts like stealing a car and running away from home? That the touch of my hand could ease his fears and let him sleep in peace?

We had been forged in the fire of war, into a whole, of which we were each an integral part; if Trowa was our strong frame, Quatre was our heart. If Wufei was our iron nerve, Duo was our shining spirit. But what was I? Perhaps you can't name your own part in the bigger whole. I didn't know.

I watched him sleep, never tiring of studying his peaceful features, watching the gentle rise and fall of his chest. I wanted to memorize every line and plane of his face, every strand of his beautiful hair, every scar, every perfect part of him.

Around us, the rest of the house went about its business, leaving us in an oasis of quiet. I heard the dishes get done; I heard the distant murmur of voices in the laundry room. I heard someone go up the stairs and someone else come down. A door opened and I heard footsteps overhead. Life meandered on. It was hard sometimes to remember that there was a war on. It was hard to remember that several days ago, men had died at my hand. I would sorely miss this house when we had to move on. We had stayed here longer than any of the other safe houses we had lodged in, and I suspected that Quatre was pulling strings to keep us here where Duo had access to so many things that were making his recovery easier.

Duo finally stirred somewhere around midnight, opening blurry eyes to find me there, still watching. It was important to me, for him to know that I was there. He smiled softly and said, "What the hell time is it?"

"Just after midnight." I said, putting aside the book I hadn't looked at in hours. "What woke you?"

He grinned sheepishly, "Uhmmm... gotta pee."

I rose and bent to pick him up and was shocked when all he did was raise his arms to aid in the process, wrapping them around my neck, and resting his head on my shoulder.

"This is a new twist." I grinned.

"It's midnight." He informed me, "I'm turning over a new leaf. I am going to get through one whole day without somebody yelling at me."

I chuckled and kissed the top of his head, carefully starting the climb up the stairs.

"An entire twenty-four hours, my love? Such ambition."

"You don't think I can do it?"

"I didn't say that... maybe if Wufei leaves the house... "

He chuckled, "You yell as much... well; almost as much as he does."

"I do not."

Just as I reached the top of the stair, he tilted his head back and flicked his tongue out to catch my earlobe and suck it gently into his mouth. I almost dropped him.

"Duo!" I snapped, "What are you trying to do? Kill us both?"

I looked done to catch a wicked gleam in his eyes as he said, "Ok, new leaf starting now."

I took him to the bathroom and left him with his crutches to do his business, and miracle of miracles; he came out using them.

We climbed into bed together, as a matter of course, neither of us even thinking that it would be otherwise. I wrapped him in his quilts and he curled against my warmth with a sigh. I thought he would lie awake for hours, but he drifted right back off, and I quickly followed him. Dawn found him sprawled bonelessly across my chest, braid wrapped around my arm, my fingers laced with his. No nightmares, no... memories. No relived pain. Had we finally cleared some hurdle? I had not roused once to the signs of his distress. I lay trapped beneath him, not willing to disturb his sleep even were the house on fire.

He finally woke, maybe an hour later and I delighted in watching him wake in slow degrees, first snuggling against me, then waking enough to realize he was almost on top of me, pulling back and almost falling off the bed. I choked on a laugh, catching him before he went over the edge.

Then he looked at me wide-eyed and unbelieving, "Did... did I... "

"Not once, my love." I told him warmly, "Clear through the night without so much as a whimper."

We curled together for a bit, basking in the feeling that maybe... just maybe the worst was finally behind us.

He did indeed manage to get through the day without anyone yelling; the absolute picture of meek obedience. Doing whatever anyone asked of him without complaint. It was almost... frightening.

Our days became strictly regimented as I steered him toward physical recovery. Regular meals, nights of uninterrupted sleep, exercises; we could do this, I knew we could.

On Tuesday he had his check up, and the physician released him from use of the crutches and allowed the return to slightly more rigorous exercises, but not yet to running. His stitches came out, his color was returning, the limp faded, and he didn't tire as easily. We began to leave him alone now and again, and he truly seemed to blossom, his spirit returning, as the nightmares seemed to be leaving him in peace.

Trowa and Quatre were assigned to escort a supply convoy, and were gone over night near midweek. Wufei and I tinkered with Gundam repairs and began to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon sparing with each other from boredom as much as anything. Duo would watch us sometimes. Things seemed to have returned to as much of the relative normalcy that our lives could manage. A week passed.

Saturday, I spent most of the morning in the hanger. Quatre was away in town, attending to some Winner business, Trowa in tow. Wufei had taken on the weekly task of grocery shopping, since we had not gotten around to recalling the estate staff. I think all of us were more comfortable without them around. Duo was in the gym getting his workout finished so that we could go into town after I completed repairs.

I realized that the lunch hour had come and gone without Duo coming to nag at me about eating, so I chucked my wrench into the tool box, stretched an aching back and made the walk back to the house. Wufei was in the middle of putting the groceries away when I walked into the kitchen.

"Now you show up." He grunted at me, "After all the work is done."

"Where's Duo?" I was surprised that he hadn't come up to help when he heard Wufei come in.

"Maybe he went upstairs to lie down." Wufei suggested, putting the fruit in the bowl on the table.

I frowned; something was making the hair on the back of my neck prickle. I headed for the stairs without a word, taking them two at a time. I looked first in Duo's room, and then, almost on a whim, in mine. I almost missed the betraying fact that my laptop was open and booted up on the desk.

For a moment, I stood frozen in the doorway staring at it. A screaming foreboding was flooding through my veins, my thudding heart driving it like ice through my system. Distantly, I heard Wufei come up the stairs, heading for his own room. He paused to give me a puzzled look before disappearing through his own door.

Slowly, I moved toward the laptop, and my eyes found the file on the center of my desktop that hadn't been there before. I forced my hand to move to the touch pad and open it. Duo's voice came small and tinny from the speakers,

"Heero... I'm so sorry. I... I meant to tell you, but the time was never right. I... I returned myself to active duty the night after the fight at the mall. I... God, love, I'm so sorry... I have to do this. I got an assignment this morning. I knew you'd try to stop me. But, please try to understand... if I let someone else go in my place... and something went wrong... I can't... I couldn't handle that. Ok? Please don't be mad. It's an easy mission, I swear. I'll be careful. Shouldn't take two or three days. Heero... I love you. With all my heart and soul. I'm coming back, love. I promise... I'm coming back."

The file stopped playing, and the silence in the room was horrendous. I think I moaned. I reached up to close the lid on the laptop and my hands were shaking. An arm came around me from behind, squeezing tight and offering an anchor. Wufei's voice came soft from above me, "It's going to be all right. You have to believe in him, Yuy. You have to believe that it's going to be all right."

But there wasn't any room in me for faith; I was too full of panic. My hands moved to clutch at Wufei's arm, and I'm sure I hurt him, but he never wavered.

"I can't lose him. I can't." I whispered, to him, to the Gods, to whoever would listen, "I can't."


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