"Ok," I agreed meekly
and let him pull me to my feet.
So I made the climb up those impossibly steep stairs for the second time,
Trowa's hand on my shoulder and my hand on the rail. God, but I didn't
want to do this.
"You know," I muttered, half way there, "I always thought
it sucked to make a condemned man climb the gallows stairs himself. Couldn't
the executioner just freakin' come down?"
Trowa choked on a snicker and glanced down at me. "Your mind makes
some strange leaps, Duo."
"Oh," I grinned for him. "You have no stinking idea."
But then we were there and Trowa stepped in front of me to open the apartment
door. Inside, the voices were still at it.
"...had just about enough out of the both of you! You should have
thought of the consequences before you lied to him!"
"You weren't there! You didn't see him..."
"How the hell were we supposed to foresee what happened..."
"Why in the hell you suggested giving him my system password in the
"If you hadn't forgotten the stupid file..."
"I thought you had a copy of it..."
"And why in the hell did you keep the God damn e-mail, anyway..."
"Shut the fuck up!"
Trowa's hand hesitated on the doorknob and he and I stared at each other,
rather wide eyed. I'm not sure I'd ever heard Quatre Winner use that word
before. Behind the door... there was a resounding silence. Trowa turned
the knob and I took a deep breath, wishing I could just disappear completely.
I really didn't want to do this.
It looked a little like this; Heero and Wufei were standing in the middle
of the living room, behind the long couch, staring at Quatre like he'd
just puked on the carpet. Quatre was standing on the other side of the
couch, hands on hips, jaw set, and face looking like he was contemplating
skinning them both alive and using their hides to re-cover his favorite
arm chair. The fierceness of his stance was spoiled only a little by the
sight of Fuzzy-butt dangling next to his thigh, bedraggled ear clutched
in his fingers.
I realized then that I had walked off that morning... no, yesterday morning...
well, whenever in the hell I had last been here, I had walked out and
left all the lights on. And my laptop playing through the stereo speakers.
And the television on. And Fuzzy-butt perched on a pile of blankets in
the middle of the couch. Oh... crap. It probably hadn't looked real good.
Then Trowa softly cleared his throat and all three of them jumped and
whirled, obviously strung as tight as bowstrings. I resisted the urge
to waggle my fingers at them in greeting.
There was such a wash of strange, strong emotions playing randomly around
that room that I couldn't have catalogued the half of them if my life
had depended on it. Relief? Yeah, that one was something of a given. Anger?
Pretty sure there was still some residual traces of that going on. Fear?
Maybe. There was a lot more, especially coming from Wufei, but somehow
I was too tired to care. Too tired to even try to read them.
"Duo..." Heero said, his voice little more than a whisper. I
had half expected him to come rushing over and... and... hug me? Deck
me? Yell in my face? One of those things... something, anyway. I hadn't
expected the strange, 'don't scare off the skittish wild animal' act that
I got. He walked slowly over to us and stopped just in front of Trowa,
looking past him to where I stood a pace behind. "Duo... are you
all right?" he said softly and it kind of ran all over me. He had
that vague disquiet thing going on again, that one that made me think
he doubted my stability.
"I'm fine," I replied, sounding a little testy even to me. "What
the hell are you doing back from your assignment? I thought it was supposed
to last most of the week."
He had the decency to blush, confirming my suspicions that they had canceled
their trip and come rushing home as soon as they had figured out that
I'd seen the incriminating e-mail message from JCamden. I saw his hand
twitch, as though it crossed his mind to reach out to me, but he didn't
do it. Because the others were here or because he thought I wouldn't stand
for it, I'm not sure. "Duo," he said in the soothing tone again
and it was all I could do not to growl at him.
Looking back on it later... I think if one of them had just come and put
their arms around me right then, the whole thing might have just faded
away without turning into the ugly mess that followed. But nobody did.
Wufei came to stand next to Heero, giving me that same worried look and
I felt my temper escalate up to the next notch. They didn't seem to understand
the 'united front' impression they were exuding like pheromones into the
air. "Maxwell," Wufei interjected in that same gentle tone.
"Where have you been?"
I'm not sure if it was me or Trowa who let out with the exasperated sigh.
"Where the hell do you think I've been?" I snapped, finally
starting to get truly angry.
"Calm down, Duo," Heero said, still using that tone of voice
that was seriously on my last nerve. "You need to let us explain..."
I snorted explosively. "I would be delighted to hear some sort of
explanation for this... it should be damn entertaining!"
They both kind of flinched, sharing a little glance and I was taken with
the urge to reach out and smack their heads together. I was having to
struggle with all my might not to let it turn into a 'them against me'
situation, because they were just oozing this damn... partnership thing
that was just needling at me like crazy.
Beside me, Trowa shifted a little closer, crossing his arms over his chest
and glaring down at Heero and Wufei, mimicking their stance and I understood
that he, at least, realized what my lover and his partner were unconsciously
"We were only concerned with your welfare," Heero began, his
voice gently placating and I felt my hands ball into fists. I wondered
where in the hell Francis had gotten off to... I could sure use a little
bit of help with that repression problem I had.
Then Wufei shifted slightly forward, as though he would put himself between
me and Heero. "If you want to hit someone, Maxwell... hit me. I was
the one who made the initial judgment."
Trowa and Quatre both made little noises of disbelief and the tension
in the air skyrocketed to a here-to-fore unknown level. "I don't
fucking go around decking my friends, Chang!" I snarled, though I
very much had the wish to do so, in that moment. He honestly thought I
had been about to hit Heero? What the fuck was wrong with these people?
I had a moment to register the somewhat chagrined look on Wufei's face
before Trowa suddenly interjected himself. "I think that's about
enough of this. Quatre, Wufei... it's time we got the hell out of here."
I glanced up at him, grateful beyond measure to have at least one damn
level head in the room, and almost missed it when Quatre came around the
couch to tug on Heero's sleeve. He mumbled something and Heero looked...
disconcerted. Then Heero headed quickly to the other side of the room.
"What the hell is going on now?" I growled and watched Quatre
turn wide eyes in Trowa's direction. I followed his gaze, understanding
that if I was going to get an answer it was going to come from Trowa.
Across the room, Heero was picking up the telephone.
Trowa sighed and his hand dropped to my shoulder to squeeze gently. "I
believe that Heero would be calling to cancel the missing person report."
"Nani!" I blurted, whirling to face him completely, convinced
that I couldn't have heard him right. Trowa managed to convey with a look
just how... embarrassed he was on Heero's behalf, and he gave me one of
those little helpless shrugs, obviously not able to explain the action.
"I left a fucking note!" I hissed, and Trowa kind of ducked
his head, dropping his eyes from mine. I had to remind myself that he'd
had nothing to do with this.
Distantly, I heard the mumble of Heero's voice and I wondered how many
Preventors strings he'd had to pull to get a report filed that fast. I
was pretty sure you had to be 'missing' for forty-eight hours before they
counted you truly misplaced.
"You left a note that claimed you had an 'obligation to dispatch',
Maxwell," Wufei grumbled darkly, his voice holding a hint of something
strange. "What the hell were we supposed to think?"
I turned on him, not at all sure what he was saying. "I figured you
were a bright boy," I snapped. "I assumed when you got an e-mail
from your own account that you would remember the incriminating evidence
you left there, and would figure out where I went."
He did blush darkly, I have to give him that, but he seemed damn upset
himself, of a sudden and wasn't backing down. "Oh, we figured where
you went... but your note was a little damn vague!"
"Well the first one just read eat shit and die," I told him,
hearing my voice rising and not really able to stop it. "I thought
the one I left was rather damn restrained considering what you two did
I swear, I heard Trowa snicker, but I was beyond caring, had actually
advanced a step in Wufei's direction. I would have sworn, if asked in
that moment, that he and I were the only ones in the room.
"We were only trying to protect the Williams'..." he blurted
and I could see he was really damn sorry the second it was out of his
mouth. I think time must have just freaking stopped.
I felt like he had just kicked me in the stomach as hard as he could.
They... they... had thought that I had run off to... to attack Emery Williams.
Like some kind of damn vigilante. The chill I had been fighting all damn
day suddenly seemed to take hold of my spine and I shuddered like a rat
terrier had hold of me. They thought I'd gone to... they thought I'd...
Oh my God. That was all I could think; oh my God.
I... might have said something. Yelled something. I wouldn't know what
it was; I was too busy going dead blank. Nothing in my head but white
noise and a little tiny voice whispering that 'oh my God' over and over.
But time suddenly seemed to reengage and when I came back to myself, my
right hand was on my left instead of my right, my knuckles were stinging
like fire and Wufei was sitting on his ass on the floor. A lot of voices
seemed to be yelling my name. I couldn't really hear anything but the
rush of my own blood in my ears, couldn't see anything except the broken,
hurting look in Wufei's eyes.
I may not make a habit of going around hitting my friends... but I was
apparently perfectly capable of it.
I very suddenly needed to be out of that damn room. Trowa and Quatre were
between me and the front door and I figured I'd never get past them. The
only thing between me and my bedroom was Wufei, who didn't look like he
was going to be stopping anybody from doing anything for the next couple
of minutes. So that was where I went, very quickly, and slammed the hell
out of the door when I got there. I was kind of surprised I didn't bust
the doorjamb. I wondered idly if Mrs. Hitchcock from up the hall had her
ear pressed to the damn wall. I suspected that the landlord would be getting
a full report about this, once she'd made sure she'd heard everything
It was a stupid gesture, but I sat down on the floor with my back to the
door. If they decided they were coming in after me, physically wrestling
with them was going to be real damn immature. But I couldn't resist the
'gone to ground' urge. Hey... I managed to keep myself from shoving the
dresser in front of the door, ok? I was kind of proud of that, because
I refrained without help from Francis. My little hamster buddies had been
rather pointedly absent tonight.
Well... wasn't this an interesting little state of affairs?
I thought about crying, but it was a conscious thought and just wouldn't
pan out... no matter how much I wished I could. That struck me as a really
stupid thing to be thinking, as much as I had wished lately that I could
stop being so damn emotional, and I almost laughed. But hysterical chortling
would probably be a bad thing for the guys to hear coming from this room
right now, so I didn't do that either.
When several minutes passed and nobody tried the door, I started to feel
a little stupid. I could hear the sound of murmuring voices but just tried
not to listen. Go away, I willed at them. Just go the hell away.
In an insane rush of pure perversity, I found myself thinking about just
how long I could hole up in here. I had access to a bathroom and thereby
had access to water. There was no food in the room at all that I could
think of, but I was more than familiar with how long a person could go
on water alone. I had a bed, though I realized suddenly that my blanket
was in the other room... along with my bear. That thought was enough to
set my face to blazing, remembering Quatre standing out there holding
the thing. Yeah, damnit, Duo Maxwell owns a fucking teddy bear; get over
it. I wanted my bear, all of a sudden; nobody else would come and hold
me. Nobody else wanted to hear what I'd been through, wanted to listen
to my doubts and my fears. Fuzzy-butt was nothing if not a good listener.
He'd proved that time and time again over the years, out there in the
dark between the stars when there'd been nobody else. When I'd had nothing
else but a bedraggled ear to rub, nothing else but a furry cold body to
hug. Nothing else... at all.
Did I have more than that now? Or had I just seen it all explode in my
hands? Could I go back to living with just my ghosts and my damn bear?
I'd known somehow all those months ago, in a fevered haze aboard my ship,
that if I dared to open the box of shattered dreams... there was no turning
back. Through the war, and afterward, I'd hidden the pain and hurt away
somewhere deep inside and somehow just carried on, had set it aside and
just... gone on. I sat now, and looked at that burden of loneliness and
misery... and honestly wasn't sure I had the strength to shoulder it again.
I didn't want to shoulder it again. But... what had just happened? What
in the name of God had just happened?
I almost managed those tears then, quite despite myself, but was able
to push them down again.
I looked around my self-imposed prison and wondered. Was this... home?
Did it feel like home? A little bit, I suppose. My things were here, what
there were of them, this is where I lay my head at night. I certainly
didn't have anywhere else I could go. I suppose if it came down to it,
if I called on one of the musketeers, they'd let me crash with them until
I could find my own apartment. I'd have to find another job too... no
way in hell would I be able to work in the same building with Heero and
Wufei after... after...
God... what was I thinking? Is that what I wanted? To leave Heero? The
ache that threatened to eat me alive when I tried to think about that,
told me no. But... what if it were the other way around? What if Heero
was ready for me to leave? He certainly didn't seem very happy with me
right now. And cold-cocking his partner probably hadn't helped much. I
heaved a sigh and was surprised when it caught in my throat. So I sat
for a minute and just concentrated on breathing.
Suddenly I needed the lights on and I shifted, very damn slowly away from
the door, so as not to rattle it. Didn't want the whole stinking world
to know I'd been holding the damn thing shut for the last... however the
hell long it had been. That thought gave me pause and I listened intently
for a minute, but heard nothing. Maybe... maybe the guys had finally gone
home? That would be a good thing, I decided. A damn good thing.
On hands and knees, I crawled over to the side of the bed where I had
dumped my sweats when I'd changed out of them... whenever it was, and
I pulled them into my lap. I thought again about a shower, but found the
idea of being that vulnerable right now to be... rather repellent. So
I squirmed out of coat and clothes and slipped into the comforting warmth
of the heavy sweatshirt and pants, leaving my coat on the bed to be the
only blanket I would have tonight. I went to the dresser and found a pair
of heavy socks as well, I was still damn cold. Once full clothed and feeling
somewhat armored again, I finally let myself turn on the bedside lamp.
I found myself wishing I had my laptop along with my blanket and my bear.
I had a feeling it was going to be a long, cold, quiet night. But I wasn't
coming out of my hidey-hole for love nor money tonight... no way in hell.
I was too... frayed. Heero was too upset. Nothing good could come out
of anything tonight. So I just crawled up and curled into a miserable
ball in the center of the bed, pulling my coat over myself as best I could.
I had few illusions about how much sleep I would be getting tonight.
I kept thinking about Anna... and Williams. Kept hearing her speak of
Camden with that little catch in her voice. I saw the stricken look on
Williams' face when I gave him the names of the people who had died aboard
the Londonderry, and wondered for the thousandth time if it had been fake
or genuine. I heard Wufei's voice telling me what they had truly been
afraid of, and I saw the pain on his face after I'd hit him. I could still
hear that damn condescending tone in Heero's voice, sounding like he was
calming a feral animal.
I ached all over from the long drive and all the damn tension. My back
was sore and my head was pounding. My stomach grumbled quietly to itself,
reminding me that my half-eaten breakfast had been a long time ago. I
lay and stared at the clock, my brain happily calculating away, and telling
me how many hours of sleep I would get if I could just doze off right
I had to go to work in the morning; I couldn't afford to miss any more
time. I hadn't worked there long enough to have accumulated any vacation
time. I'd already missed two days over this and I couldn't let it turn
into a third. Not having an income right now would fall under the category
of a 'very bad thing'. If Heero... if I ended up having to... make other
arrangements, I had to have a damn job. So it didn't matter that my personal
life was something of a mess, I had to get to work.
My head gleefully informed me that I was now going to get a half an hour
less sleep than I was going to have gotten the last time that calculations
had been completed, and I really needed to go to sleep right damn now.
I thought I heard a sound in the other room and I turned my attention
that way, it was the first thing I had heard in quite awhile. It took
a moment, but I realized of a sudden that it was the sound of my night
music. It washed over me like a caress and I shivered. Heero had queued
my night music.
Then the door to the room slowly swung open, increasing the volume of
my familiar songs and spilling light from the living room across the floor.
I heard more than I saw, with my head mostly buried in the depths of my
coat. There was a long moment of nothing and then the faintest sounds
of footfalls brushing across carpet. Another hesitation and something
settled over my legs with a familiar weight. My coat slid away as Heero
tucked my blanket around me.
His eyes met mine and he blinked, looking almost shocked. "You're
awake," he said rather pointlessly.
"Yeah," I agreed and we just stared at each other for a minute.
He seemed to fight a little internal war, struggling with words, and must
have lost, because he didn't look very happy with himself when, "Are
you all right?" popped out of his mouth.
"No," I told him and watched him blink.
His fingers twitched as though he wanted to reach out, but he didn't.
"Do you... do you want to talk about it?" he asked, and I wasn't
sure just what he was offering to discuss. After a moment's thought, I
decided that he was asking about whatever had prompted me to say I wasn't
all right... but since I wasn't really sure what had made me say that,
it left me floundering. "Yeah," I told him, just letting it
all go without my hamsters to help me. "I would have sold my soul
to have had someone to talk to these last few days."
He... flinched, but just stared down at me, waiting for me to speak again,
except I wasn't sure what else to say. The anger had pretty much been
run off by the misery which had gotten usurped by the fear and now I was
just kind of... numb. Heero suddenly knelt on the floor, bringing himself
down a little closer to my eye level. "Duo," he whispered, and
his fingers finally dared to brush across the back of my hand where it
lay fisted in the sheets. "I don't know what to do," he told
me, his voice all twisted round itself.
"I don't either," I told him, and the sight of him shimmered
before my eyes for a second. "Heero... I'm cold."
It was like something that had been holding him back, suddenly snapped
and before I had time to do more than let go of the sheet, he was off
the floor, on the bed and had me swept up into his arms.
"Oh God, Duo," he breathed into my hair, "I'm sorry...
I'm so sorry."
He was hurting me, his arms tight enough to bruise ribs, his hands too
high on my back, but I kind of didn't really care, the numbness around
my heart was gone and the pain inside washed away all thought of physical
"Damnit, Heero," I heard myself choking out. "I needed
you! How could you... how could you take that away from me?"
There was a moment that he went still as death, before his arms came around
me even more firmly, enveloping me, pulling me into him, molding us together
there on the bed. Then he began to... tremble. To shake. I tried to pull
away, to look up at him, but he wouldn't let me, his hand cupped my head
and held me tight against his chest and I could only listen to the mad
pounding of his heart, to the strange struggle he had with breath.
"Why?" I asked him, feeling my own voice quaver as I spoke.
"You both knew how much this meant to me... How could you lie to
me about it?"
He didn't answer for the longest damn time and I was sure then that he
was crying, but he never lets me see that. Never wants me to know. I understood
that utter humiliation just a little too damn well and waited for him,
let him keep his illusion, and he finally said, "You get so... caught
up in it... sometimes you talk about Camden as though you knew him. When
Wufei found out that Mrs. Camden had remarried, he talked to me about
how... strongly you reacted to the journal. To what happened between Camden
and Williams. We... I just didn't want to see you upset."
I digested that, feeling him shift a hand to wipe at his face. I resisted
the strange, perverse urge to explain to him that I was very well acquainted
with Captain Camden's ghost, thank you very much. It was that kind of
thinking that made him doubt my sanity sometimes.
"Wufei said," I began, speaking very softly and very calmly.
"That you were trying to protect... the Williams family."
He stiffened, holding very still. He had to know that Wufei had let that
slip. Why in the hell else had I... had I belted the man? He didn't answer
and I thought I would outwait him, but I couldn't do it. I pushed against
him again, harder, and he let me sit up. I looked him solidly in the eye,
not letting the remnants of his tears soften the question any... though
it tore at me in a way I hadn't expected. "Tell me, Heero,"
I whispered. "Did you honestly think that I was going to... to go
kill the man?"
His eyes flew wide and his hands bit hard into my upper arms. "Nani?"
he blurted, searching my face for something I couldn't quite comprehend.
"Dear God... of course not!"
"Then what in the hell were you so afraid of, that you conspired
against me with Wufei?" I had meant for it to come out forcefully.
Firm but calm, damnit. It came out on a wail of anguish and my eyes misted
He looked... lost.
[cont] [back to