by: Sunhawk

Confrontations (cont)

I was bound and determined that he not figure out what had just happened. It had taken me all damn day to get him to agree to let me stay home by myself while he was away. If he had a damn inkling that I'd had another nightmare after all this time, there was no way in the seven Hells that I wouldn't end up at Trowa and Quatre's for the stinking week. And as much as I adored the two of them, I didn't want to repeat a stay in the Winner palace of total opulence. It wasn't exactly street-rat friendly.

"I'm freezing my ass off," I told him, letting myself seek out his heat, seek out his presence. "Remind me not to go to bed fresh out of the shower again."

He snorted softly and pulled me in toward him, throwing an arm and a leg over me. I sighed contentedly and willed the trembling to go away. Captain James Lyle Camden couldn't touch me here. Nothing could touch me here. I pushed aside the feel of the dead man's hand on my shoulder. The cloying scent of death that had hung like a cloud around him. I burrowed into what Heero was offering me and tried to convince myself I really was trembling with chill. The cocoon we made there together, under my star field blanket, slowly began to warm and I let myself soak it in, let it banish the cold of total vacuum. The cold of that astral graveyard.

"I love you, baby," Heero whispered, his voice sounding drowsy and I had to wonder. He seldom called me that unless he was worried over something I'd said or done. Did he know I was... stretching the hell out of the truth?

"I love you too," I whispered back and held very still while he drifted off to sleep.

The next couple of days promised to be... interesting. That's a curse by the way. A Chinese one, if I recall correctly; 'May you live in interesting times'.

I lay awake for a very long time, adrenaline making sleep an impossibility. My thoughts whirling in my head until there was just no way I could doze back off, despite Heero's comforting presence. I thought about Wufei and his admission. Deep down, I had been a little surprised to actually hear Chang Wufei admit defeat, in spite of Heero's warning. I thought about trying to continue the search myself, but I honestly didn't see how I was going to find anything when Wufei couldn't. What could I hope to accomplish that Wufei hadn't been able to with all the Preventor's databases, contacts, networking and pure computing power? My nightmare of Captain Camden pretty much confirmed for me that my subconscious, at least, had admitted the quest was over. Delivering the journal to Mrs. Camden was not going to happen and I was going to have to find another way to deal with my guilt over that whole damn Londonderry thing.

I thought about my new car and tried to think of something about it that I liked. I tried to club my hatred of it to death. I tried to imagine it painted blue or silver or even chartreuse. I tried to imagine it with a decent stereo system. Then I just tried not to think of it at all.

So I thought about... the shower. I thought about my childhood lessons, drummed into me by Solo, drummed into me by watching kids bleed to death and die. I'd seen a lot of shit in my misspent youth. A lot of damn scary shit. I had learned at a very, very young age that there really were worse things than starving. That there was nothing in the damn world that was worth the price I had seen some kids try to pay. Solo had taught me that, one of the first, most base lessons he had given us all. 'Ya don't never sell yourself, kid. Never... not for nothin' or nobody.' I'd seen him turn kids out of the gang for doing it. His street-rats weren't stupid, he'd said, and selling your body to the kind of people who would want a little kid was just plain stupid.

But I wasn't a little kid anymore. A long damn way from it. I wasn't contemplating selling myself for the price of a meal. I was contemplating... something else. Something I'd never imagined as a child. Sex had been coin back in those days. Something that someone did out of necessity, out of desperation. We had only seen it from our side, had never stopped to think that it must feel good to the person on the other side or they never would have come seeking it in the first place. I was contemplating a thing that I hadn't understood in those days, making love... not having sex. God... was I thinking about it? I had known for a long time that Heero wanted to... to take things to that level. I had always suspected, but when he had offered himself to me all those months ago, I'd known for sure. But he'd never asked me, had always seemed content to go on the way we were. But now... was he working his way up to asking me to let him... let him take me?

I shivered violently, not sure if out of fear or... out of desire. Heero tightened his arms around me, murmuring soft, unintelligible reassurances in his sleep. I shifted carefully until I could rest my head against his chest, until I could hear his steady heartbeat under my ear. I listened to it, lost myself to it, matched my breathing to his, the way Trowa and Dr. Webster had taught me, and let Heero's... being shield me from the thoughts and fears, from the doubts and questions.

I managed to get a little more sleep, dozing off just before the sun came up. Yes, it was going to be a long damn week.

Sunday was interesting. Remember that curse, please. Heero had an... agenda. It started with grocery shopping, and you would have thought he was laying in for a siege. He planned out meals for me for the whole three days, carefully selected for nutritional balance and ease of preparation. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes as I followed him through the store. I tried three times to tell him I would probably just be eating my military rations, was actually kind of looking forward to returning to the familiar fare, but I don't think he was hearing me.

We spent part of the afternoon doing laundry, like he thought I'd forgotten how the damn machines worked. Again, I just followed him around, eyes starting to hurt from all the rolling, and refrained from comment. Francis got a hell of a workout that day.

After every article of clothing I owned was clean and put away, Heero turned his attention to my car. He made sure I had a full tank of gas and even checked the oil. He produced a set of Preventor parking garage passes that he had somehow managed to get authorized in advance, before we had even bought the damn car. He affixed them to the windshield himself.

I just bit my tongue and let him go. If it made things easier for him, what the hell difference did it make to me?

When Sunday evening finally rolled around and it was time for him to go pick up Wufei, I thought he was going to end up making love to me right there on the floor, half in and half out of the doorway to the apartment. Would sure as hell have given old Mrs. Hitchcock something to bitch to the landlord about.

"Heero," I told him when he let me. "I'm a big boy, I lived by myself for a lot of years... I think I can manage for a couple of days."

He sighed, looking only a little sheepish. "I know," he said. "I just can't help but worry. I wish..." he began, but bit it off, giving me an apologetic little smile.

"I know what you wish," I chuckled at him, trying to take this whole thing with a grain of salt and a shrug-it-off attitude. "But if you're not careful, I'm gonna go find myself a damn bed partner just to spite you!"

He gave me a mock glare and reached to pull me close. "You'd better not. I'm the jealous type... haven't I ever mentioned that?"

I laughed, tousling my fingers through his hair. "Then don't drive me to it, Yuy," I teased. "Just kiss me goodbye and get the hell on with it. I promise to be a good boy while you're gone. I won't even throw any parties."

He grunted, trying to look annoyed while he swept his fingers through his hair in a vain attempt to smooth it, and then broke down and gave me that kiss.

"You going to call me when you get in?" I asked, by way of subject change.

"It'll be late," he informed me. "I'll call you in the morning from the hotel."

"Fair enough," I grinned at him, not bothering to tell him I'd probably be up when they got in anyway, if last night was any indication. "You two be damn careful, whatever the hell your getting yourselves into," I told him, not having to fake the fierceness of it.

"Yes sir," he murmured, looking pleased. He kissed me one more time and then he was gone. I just stood in the doorway for a long while and stared at the place where he'd disappeared into the stairwell.

It was a very strange mixture of It's about damn time! And Oh my God, he's gone! That was romping through my head at that point.

I slipped hurriedly back into the apartment, closing the door, when I heard Mrs. Pettigrew next door rattling her door knob, getting ready to take her dog out for his evening walk. She's a nice old lady, widowed, but she liked to talk and I just wasn't in the mood to stand in the hall for the next hour listening to tales of her late husband and their youth traveling with the circus. She's a neat lady, fascinating as hell, and I ordinarily loved listening to her tell her stories in that faint, southern accent of hers, but not tonight. I just didn't feel up to it tonight.

I locked the door for the night and turned to face the empty apartment. The place suddenly seemed... huge. Vast and... empty. And entirely too damn quiet. I thought of my music files with longing. I had them all backed up to my computer, but playing music on a laptop, through those tinny little speakers, is something of a waste. I went to Heero's stereo and hunted through his CDs until I found some classical stuff I thought I could live with. No poignant lyrics tonight, thank you very much. I turned it up as much as I dared and then proceeded to try and get through the evening on pure ritual.

Heero had made sure we ate dinner before he had to get ready to go. I swear to God the man thinks I will completely forget to eat if he isn't around to tell me it's mealtime. The dishes needed to be done though, and I went and busied myself with that. Washing, then drying rather than letting them sit in the drainer, just to kill a little more time. I left the kitchen when I found myself contemplating cleaning the oven. I snagged a bottle of soda on my way by the fridge, my pathetic little attempt at convincing myself I could enjoy my time alone. Heero isn't particularly happy about my soda addiction, and really gives me a hard time about drinking it too late in the evening. He thinks the caffeine will keep me awake. I almost laughed at that thought; didn't think that was going to be the problem tonight.

I showered. I laid out my clothes for in the morning. Set the alarm. Put my car keys in the pocket of the pants I planned on wearing to work so that there was no way in hell I could forget them. I found myself gravitating to the living room where the stereo was, and reflected that when Heero and I finally did get around to moving, that I wanted to wire our house so that there were speakers in several rooms.

I finally settled on the couch with the afghan and my laptop, intent on finding something to do to keep my mind off the fact that going over to Quatre and Trowa's was actually starting to sound like a good idea.

I checked my e-mail and only found, besides the usual spam, a note from Octavia letting me know that she was shipping me a disk of Davey's first recital. The music school recorded all the student's performances and she'd managed to wrangle an extra copy. It would take forever for the package to get to me from the colonies, but I had to grin in anticipation anyway. Until I started thinking about the kids too much and then I had to find something else to do. I glanced at the clock; great... Heero had been gone a grand total of three hours and twenty minutes and I was already fraying at the edges.

I decided I might as well brave the lion in his den and just go the hell to bed. That was the thing that was weighing on my mind anyway, might as well just get it over with. I could putter around all night avoiding it, but me and all my hamsters knew damn well what I was afraid of. So I shut everything down and went to my room, carefully following my bedtime ritual to the letter, finally shutting off the light and crawling into bed to sleep.

Yeah. Right.

Stop laughing, I hadn't really expected more than I got. But a guy can hope, can't he? Yeah... I lay there for God only knows how long and stared at the ceiling. Then rolled over and stared at the wall. Then rolled over again, buried my head in my pillow and stared at nothing. Then it was back to the ceiling. I won't even try to tell you what all was running through my head; we'd be here for hours. The kids. Heero. The bus accident. Clint Jones. Jock. Alcohol. The asteroid belt. The war. The church. God... it was like a hamster induced game of word association. So yeah, I lasted about two hours before I was clawing my way out of the tangled blankets with a frustrated growl.

I needed... I needed something familiar. I needed my night music.

So midnight found me with the stereo system pulled out from the wall, running wires from my laptop to the stereo speakers. How damn pathetic is that?

"Pretty damn pathetic, rat-boy," came the familiar voice of my dead best friend.

"Oh shut up, Solo," I told my own sub-conscious.

"Make me," he snickered and blew a raspberry.

"You know," I muttered as I stretched out on the floor to run wires underneath the stereo cabinet. "If you weren't dead, you could freakin' help me."

"Don' know nothin' about all this highfalutin crap," he informed me, leaning over to watch me work.

I ignored the comment, settling my laptop on the floor next to the nearest power outlet. "You know... if you were any kind of brother at all, you'd talk to this Camden guy... kind of ghost to ghost?"

"No way'n hell," he snapped, folding his legs to sit lotus position in mid-air. "He scares the crap outta me!"

I turned to glare at him, but he only did that Cheshire cat thing and was gone. "Thanks for nothing!" I growled and made my final connections.

So... one o'clock in the morning and I crawled back into bed with the sound of my well loved hammered dulcimers playing in the background. I left the bedroom light on. I thought I heard Solo snicker at me.

I'm sure it was another hour, but I refused to let myself toss and turn. I forced my body to lie still and I worked course calculations in my head, not allowing my thoughts to stray one iota. It seemed like I lay there for days, but I finally managed to get the hell to sleep.

You really want to hear about another one of those damn nightmares? Aren't you getting tired of them? I am. Come on... you know the drill. Cold. Dark. Still as only space can be. That sickening smell that was new, but becoming an integral part of my nights. The half-gone face. The staring brown eye. That name, over and over, 'Anna', until I was starting to hate a woman I had never met. The wrestling match over my air supply. Losing that match.

I actually shouted for Heero out loud, as I bolted upright in my cold, lonely bed. I slapped my own hands over my mouth to stop whatever might have followed that outburst. Shit.

I just sat in the middle of the bed and shook for a little bit. Well, hell.

When I thought I could move without falling on my face, I staggered out of bed, dug through my dresser until I found a pair of sweats and pulled them on, I was freezing to death. Then I walked through the apartment and turned on every light in the place. Every last one. I returned to the bedroom and pulled the comfort of my star-spattered blanket from the bed, grabbed Fuzzy-butt from his place on top of my dresser and went out to the living room, settling in my corner of the couch. I wrapped my shivering little self in my blanket and the afghan, snaking a hand out of my nest long enough to snag the remote control and turn on the television. Then I clutched Fuzzy-butt to my chest, burrowed into the warmth of my cocoon, listened to the discordant sounds of the stereo and TV fighting for supremacy and tried very hard not to cry.

It was three in the morning, I had a long damn way to go, and would just about have been ready to crawl into the lap of the next human body that presented itself to me. Heero? Most definitely. Wufei? Oh yeah. Trowa? No problem. Quatre? Yep, in a heartbeat. Sally? Pretty sure. Relena? Not so sure, but probably. Mrs. Pettigrew? And that was the one that pointed out to me just how screwed up I was. If Mrs. Pettigrew from down the hall had knocked on my door to find out what the shout had been about, I would probably have hauled her into the apartment by her thin little arm and made her stay while I baked her cookies and made tea. Just so I didn't have to be alone.

I halfway listened to the cheesy, canned laughter running in the background of the cheesy, canned sitcom on TV and tried really hard to think about nothing in particular. If Solo hadn't been so damn afraid of Captain Camden and the crew of the Londonderry, he would have drifted by and pointed out how damn feeble I was being.

"Fuck you," I muttered to him anyway, just because I knew what he would have been thinking, and hugged my bear tighter.

That level of... panic cannot be maintained forever, and by dawn, I was feeling droopy-eyed and lethargic, and I might actually have managed to drop back off to sleep if the phone hadn't rung. I struggled out of my knot of blankets and staggered over to the phone, knowing it was Heero, desperate to hear his voice, but equally desperate to keep him from noticing anything was wrong.

"Hello?" I grunted into the phone when I'd managed to get it picked up.

"Duo?" his voice came, warm and welcome and salving everything away.

"Good morning, love," I was able to say with a real smile coloring my own voice.

"Everything all right?" he asked, ever alert for the slightest damn thing. "You sound... groggy."

I chuckled softly. "I didn't have my atomic clock bed-mate this morning... I overslept."

He laughed at me, a touch of relief in his tone. "Should I let you go?"

"I'm not running that far behind," I told him. "You guys make it in ok?"

"We're fine," he said, sounding a little tired himself. "Took a little longer than we'd anticipated to get here, got tangled up in traffic. Everything's still on schedule though."

"That's good," I murmured, just wanting him to keep talking. "You have meetings today?" There was a moment's hesitation and I understood that he couldn't talk about it. I sighed. "Fine... can you at least tell me if you'll be calling me later?"

He chuckled lightly. "Actually, I was hoping to get you to call me. We need you to do something for us."

"Sure thing," I teased him. "Where are the bodies you need disposed of?"

He laughed and I could almost hear him shaking his head. "Nothing that interesting, I assure you. Wufei needs a file off his system at work, would you mind stopping by his office this morning?"

"How boring," I complained with a theatrical sigh and then took down the information he gave me. We exchanged a couple more little teasing pleasantries and then I had to get ready for work or I was going to be late as hell.

When I went into the bedroom to get dressed, the alarm was sitting there buzzing merrily to itself and I switched it off. I thanked God I'd had the foresight to do as much as I had the night before, and managed to be ready to walk out the front door in under twenty minutes. I had a banana and a bottle of soda for breakfast, eaten on the run. Caffeine and potassium... that was balanced, wasn't it? It was weird. I had to keep reminding myself not to walk down to the bus stop.

I got a look from Griff when I walked into the mechanic's bay that morning that could have burned paint off a Buick.

"Maxwell!" he hollered at me before I even had a chance to clock in and take my jacket off. "The next God damn time you get shot at on your lunch hour, I want to know about it!"

I couldn't help laughing at him. "Sure thing, boss-man," I called back. "Absolutely the next time it happens... you'll be the first to know."

He didn't look amused. Was, in fact, striding across the open floor of the garage like he was coming to deck me. I started to realize that he really was pissed off at me when I noticed that none of the other guys were watching. It had been my general experience that mechanics never missed a chance for a little entertainment at another mechanic's expense. It had been true with the Sweepers, and it had held true here so far as well. This couldn't be good.

By the time he came abreast of me, I had managed to lose the grin.

"You think this is funny, asshole?" he snapped. "You think it's funny that I got called upstairs yesterday and didn't have answers about one of my own men for Commander Une?"

"What?" I sputtered. "What the hell does Une care what I do on my lunch hour?"

He was starting to turn this sickly shade of red and I couldn't help but wonder about the poor guy's blood pressure. "She saw one of her people on the damn evening news and wanted information!"

"Jeez, Griff," I grumbled. "When I left yesterday I didn't know I was going to be Channel Seven's top story!"

"That don't excuse you not telling me what happened!" he bellowed, his proximity to me not lowering his voice any.

I was starting to get a little uncomfortable with this whole thing. I didn't feel like I'd done anything to warrant getting ripped a new one like this, but Griff just seemed like he was looking to knock somebody's head off.

"Will you calm the hell down, man?" I growled and all of a sudden he was reaching for the front of my shirt.

It was one of those slow motion things. In the space of half a heartbeat, instincts as old as time kicked my brain in gear and identified his move as hostile. Brain kicked reflexes in the butt who in turn notified the proper body part and before the poor guy had even touched the front of my shirt, I had his wrist in a bone-grinding hold. It was common sense that stepped in at the last second, over-riding all the others, and kept me from breaking his arm. I'm sure my _expression did an interesting little dance. From annoyed, to dead blank calm, to shocked. We finished out the second half of that heart-beat staring at one another and you could have heard a pin drop anywhere in the bay.

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