Author: Sunhawk
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Connections (cont)

'I... know,' he sighed, sounding frustrated and tired. He wanted so badly to give me something, some comfort, some reassurance.

'Just your voice is enough,' I told him softly, and hoped he'd understand.

'Damn it, but I miss you,' he blurted, and I'm not sure he meant to. His stress was a palpable thing.

'Me too,' I soothed.

'Duo-love,' he said then, his voice telling me how tied up in knots he was. 'Is there something...' But there was suddenly another voice in the background and he cut off whatever he'd been about to say. It was Wufei, and for a moment I was afraid that Heero was going to snap his partner in half over the interruption.

'Hey,' I called to him, cutting across the almost heated words he was trying not to let the phone pick up. 'Heero... calm down, lover. Everything is ok. I'm fine?'

He sighed, a sound that was every bit as loud as I'd been afraid my own sigh had been. 'I... I'm sorry,' he told one of us, I'm not even sure which.

'What's wrong?' I asked him, suddenly sensing something that I didn't understand. 'Heero, why are you so... on edge? Did something happen?'

I couldn't tell if his hesitation was just a hunt for words or not. 'Nothing specific,' he finally sighed. 'Just... not getting anywhere, and I'm running out of time.'

'Listen to me,' I told him firmly. 'If it goes to trial, it fucking goes to trial. We'll rip the guy's lies to shreds on the stand. You have to stop killing yourself trying to protect me from testifying. If it happens... it happens.'

I no longer heard Wufei in the background, but he must have still been close, because Heero lowered his voice and there were hints that he was moving. 'I love you,' he said to me, trying so hard to make me feel it, that I almost could.

'I know you do,' I said, freer than he was to say things. 'So much, that you're not taking care of yourself right now. I love you too, and I don't want you coming home with a damn ulcer.'

He snorted, about all he could manage, but I could feel him pulling it together. 'I'm sorry,' he said again, and I chuckled at him.

'When was the last time you got some exercise?' I prodded. 'When was the last time you ate something that wasn't delivered to your motel room in a paper bag?'

'This morning,' he grumbled in mock indignation. 'We ate out of the vending machine on the way out.'

I laughed, because he needed me too. 'And you talk about me! I want you to take Wufei and go out to eat tonight. A sit down place, with a waitress and the whole bit. And then I want you to go for a run or something. I'd suggest sparring, but I'm afraid you two would kill each other. You understand me?'

'Yes, sir,' he replied, sounding a bit sheepish, but I wondered if it was all for my benefit or not.

'Promise me, Yuy,' I commanded, and got the heavy sigh that told me he'd only been humoring me. 'Look, asshole... I worry about you too, ok?'

'Ok,' he murmured, sounding pleased. Sounding sorry. Sounding resigned. 'I promise.'

'Good,' I said and could tell that it came out a little bit smug.

'Duo,' he said then, sounding a little distressed. 'I... have to get going. We have an appointment before dinner.'

'That's ok,' I chuckled, trying to make it easier for him. 'I really need to get back to work myself. I've got three days to come up with a couple of paintings.' Then on a sudden thought, I added, 'and hey; tell Wufei those canvases turned out to be a real life-saver!'

'I will,' he replied. 'It will... please him.'

'Love you, husband-mine,' I told him warmly. 'And everything is fine.'

He hesitated, and there was a ton of unasked questions hanging in the air between us. 'I love you too,' he finally said. 'I'll see you Wednesday.'

Then the goodbyes, and then the hanging up. It was hard to sever that connection, and I found myself sighing when I settled the phone back into its cradle. But I hadn't been lying; I really did need to get back to my painting.

I polished off the half-eaten ration bar, and had to chuckle as I thought of another benefit to the things... they can't get cold, and then I went upstairs to change clothes. It was time to face what needed doing, and I can't say I was looking forward to it.

Jensen was still in the studio waiting for me, and I swear to God for a minute it seemed the predatory smirk he wore was... smirkier than it had been. I saluted the canvas with the bottle of soda and turned to get out my paints, determined not to let the son of bitch get to me two nights in a row.

I spent a solid hour working on the background, ignoring the man himself the best I could. I blocked in buildings and lined out the sidewalk, putting the skirling snow in the air. But then shadowed figures began to appear in the background. Indistinct... vague... dark...

I stopped painting when I realized they were Jensen's ghosts. I am not completely masochistic, no matter what anybody tells you; I took the half finished canvas off the easel and set it aside. Taking it down to the other end of the counter, far away from Allison and me. I would finish it some other time. When it wasn't quite so dark out. Maybe while Heero was home and I wasn't in our big old house all alone. I really don't need to look for ways to depress myself.

I realized with a start that Heero's call had distracted me when I'd gotten home and I'd never turned on my music. It rather surprised me that I'd gone several hours without the background noise. For a moment, I was tempted to try continuing without it, but I'd already noticed the silence. Had already let myself feel the unease that comes with those two things... 'alone' and 'silence'. I decided not to push for more, as much trouble as I'd been having, and went to turn on the stereo. Didn't want to be tempted into calling Trowa and Quatre again -- I doubted I'd escape being whisked off to their place two break-downs in a row.

I stood in front of the unit for several long moments, deliberating my choices, almost drawn to put on some battle music, just to see if I could stir up some backbone. But it wasn't that long before bed-time and I'd never in a million years manage to sleep if I let myself do that. Sleep had been elusive enough without my adding to my own problems. Helio's fluff music was obviously out... too many reminders of The Mission in there. Too many reminders of the things I'd already decided to set aside for the night.

I ended up putting on some Norwegian folk music, I liked the guy's voice, but I couldn't understand the words enough to get depressed over the lyrics.

Bolstered by the sounds of another human voice, even if it wasn't really human, and even if I couldn't understand it... I gathered my hamsters and went back to the studio to give it another try.

One more charge up the hill, boys... not ours to reason why.

I placed another blank canvas on the easel without a damn idea in my head, and proceeded to stare at it.

This is probably going to sound stupid, seeing as how I'd already jumped off the cliff in question, but... I don't feel like an artist.

I obviously have a bit of talent. I can't really deny that, and I've never tried, I mean... I'd had people paying me to paint murals in their ships for years. We're talking Spacers here; I must do ok, or they wouldn't hire me.

But this whole notion of filling an art gallery with my pictures was rather daunting. My pictures. Mine and nobody else's. Trying to imagine what this art show was going to be like was just too much to fathom. And headache fodder for another day; I had more than enough for the time being. The show itself was very much on my list of 'things to worry about later'. Why yes, I do the denial thing quite well, actually.

Though, if anything was seeping through that solid wall of denial... it was Ms. Aleyah Winner. The woman unnerved me; I didn't really trust her not to do things that I wasn't going to be overly thrilled about. Like that photo shoot. Hell, she hadn't been my patron for more than a couple of days, and I already felt like she had too damn much control over what was going on.

But she had me over the barrel of my own ignorance. I really couldn't do this without her. She had all the contacts, the clout and the know-how. All I had was a couple of battered old sketch books full of my blood and tears.

I wanted to parley that into something that would get me to my goal of helping Allison, and I couldn't do that without Aleyah's help. So I had to hand over the reins to her and that... rankled.

Or had you never noticed what a damn control freak I am?

I guess I just couldn't believe in all the things Trowa assured me she was getting out of this. It's a little hard for me to get my head around this notion that I am... a marketable commodity. It made it difficult to completely trust the woman when I just wasn't sure what she really wanted from all this.

And thoughts of Aleyah made me remember that brief look of hesitation on her face at Jacques, just before she'd taken my hand. Every time I thought I had her figured out, there was another layer revealed. Another... mask.

I wondered if the woman wore that professional little smile even when she was home alone. Most of the Winner children had a cast to their features that made them very damn similar. I suppose genetic tweaking can do that for you. But sometimes it seemed that Aleyah had worked most of her life to erase that look. Maybe to stand out from all those sisters just a little bit? Not for the first time, I tried to imagine what it had been like growing up in that household, but I really couldn't do it. Sometimes it made me feel an ache in my chest, thinking about it, and sometimes it made me cringe.

I suddenly had an urge to paint the woman's portrait. The notion made me snort; wouldn't that just frost the woman's cookies? I wondered if it would get past that... cool exterior of hers. I wondered if I would get some kind of reaction. The thought intrigued me enough that I found myself opening paint. It might be nice to paint something for a change that didn't want to turn my soul wrong-side out. Even if it wasn't something that would end up in the gallery, it would be nice to just paint.

Nice to put brush to canvas without... bleeding.

I've often wondered what it's like for real artists. Do they have that same disconnection from time that I can have sometimes? Do they come unglued from reality while they work? Not that it's always like that, I'm perfectly capable of just drawing without getting sucked into the Twilight Zone, for God's sake... but I've always wondered. Never met anybody that actually made their living through some sort of art, in order to ask.

Though, I suppose it was entirely possible that might change in a week or so.

It was a disconcerting notion, somehow. A layer to this mess that I hadn't taken into consideration before. While I might very well get some answers to questions that I'd wondered about for years... there was no guarantee that they would be answers I would like.

Hell... maybe I really was some kind of nut case, and I would only get that fact verified.

I listened to the music flowing around me, trying to catch words that made sense, trying to catch meaning without half trying, and just painted. Danse? Dance? Maybe so, it was hard to say. It was voice more than words that mattered, though the mind couldn't help trying. Med? Made? Probably not. Danse, again. And I couldn't help imagining a young Aleyah dancing across a field of green grass dotted with wild flowers. I chuckled at the notion; really just could not see the woman in that setting. She might get dirt on her outfit.

It ended up being a not altogether bad evening. Especially considering the one the night before. Though I have to confess to being a bit pissed with myself when I stepped away from the canvas, and realized it was almost three in the morning. Oooops.

I gave the picture in front of me a critical once over while I cleaned up, and couldn't decide if it was going to get my ass skinned, or not.

It was Aleyah's face all right... all half a dozen of them. Faces... masks... I'm not sure what to call them. The one closest to the foreground was only partly visible as it spiraled toward me, the expression that calm, cool, professional one; perfect smile in place. But it wasn't really a face. There was an edge and it looked almost porcelain in its perfection. The one behind wore an odd little quirk of a grin, almost rakish... almost not. The next was the imperial glare. The next was a vulnerable, hesitant look of almost longing. The next coquettish. The next, that of a young woman, bright eyed and eager. All of them falling outward from the central figure, as though caught and blown away by the wind. Aleyah, walking away through a field of flowers, summer dress blowing about her legs, bare-foot in the grass. She was looking back over her shoulder, laughing freely, hand up to her face to hold her long blond hair away from her eyes. You could see a ribbon between her fingers, just the hint of one, and even I wasn't sure if it was the tie on the final mask or not.

I snorted and shook my head, wondering as I turned out the lights and headed to bed, if it was possible for me to paint anything simple.

Tuesday was something of a bitch, running as I was on about three hours of sleep. I'd had to settle for a quick shower on the run in the morning and my damn hair was still damp when I got home. As usually happens when your senses are suffering from half your brain going on strike until you agree to let it sleep, I had one of those 'can't hang on to anything' days. I dropped more damn tools than I owned, and thought I was going to get ribbed to death by everybody in the garage. It was mildly amusing until Dave started keeping count, and every time something hit the ground, he would call out from where ever he was, 'Was that Maxwell?' and when somebody confirmed it, he would shout out the appropriate number.

The amusement factor waned after about ten.

I can't say for sure if the day dragged so badly just from the brain-dead factor, or if knowing Heero would be home the next day was giving me something to look forward to. I just know I thought it would never be over.

I opted to skip the whole painting issue that evening and instead gathered my sketch pads together, looking for those 'more recent' pieces that Aleyah had insisted on. I sat with them at the kitchen table, eating my ration dinner and making myself drink some juice instead of another soda. I'd been drinking entirely too much of it lately, even by my own standards, and had decided all the caffeine might be a factor in the sleep issues.

Recent sketches. Damn; that was a little bit more difficult than I would have thought. Let's look at what was available; my pre-burned hands, a corpse, Heero asleep in a hospital bed, my starved 'inner child', and Heero asleep in a hotel room.

Ok, how about semi-recent? I ran across the pictures of Wufei's cat and decided those might not be a bad idea, but figured Wufei would kill me for the one that he was actually in. That was the problem with a lot of my work; somebody I knew who would not be thrilled with finding their faces hanging in some gallery, was the subject matter. Though, I suppose I'd handed over that picture of Hayden quick enough. I guess the difference was knowing that Hayden would never see it. I was pretty sure that all the guys would end up going to the gallery before the show was over. They're supportive like that. And as curious as a herd of hyper-active cats.

I ended up not making many decisions, and just hoped that Trowa had been right that Aleyah wouldn't be all that upset if I couldn't come up with a lot more pieces.

By nine o'clock, I could barely keep my eyes open, so I decided to just give my e-mail a quick look and go the hell on to bed.

There was one of those 'You know you're from 'enter the name of your colony here- when...' things from one of the Sweeper crew, a note from McMurphy giving me the details of Jock's wake, and a brief message from Heero telling me he might get home before I did, and to plan on eating together. It was this weird little progression of up/down. The joke was actually kind of funny, the wake news was just depressing, and then I finished off with the high of Heero's note. Guess I should just be glad there wasn't a fourth message.

I took my butt off to bed with Heero's words firmly in the front of my mind and managed to doze off thinking about getting to see him, and not about funerals.

Wednesday dawned early. Ok, maybe it didn't dawn any earlier then normal, but I generally don't sleep more than about five or six hours a night. So I was awake at the God-awful hour of four in the morning. Left me plenty of time to take a nice long run though, chasing away the last of the vaguely erotic images left from my dreams. I was very damn glad that Heero was coming home.

After a more leisurely shower than the one the day before, I got myself ready for work and then went down to the studio to kill the last hour before I had to leave. Aleyah's portrait, such as it was, was finished and I stood it next to Allison's on the counter. Then I retrieved Jensen from his exile at the far end of the room, and set him back on the easel.

Set the painting back on the easel. God, if I wasn't careful, I was going to give the damn thing a personality.

The man and the ghosts of his conquests were not so... disturbing in the daylight. Looking at the picture, I couldn't help wondering what people would think of it. If they would wonder why all the figures in the painting but the one, were so shadowed and indistinct. It almost appeared to have been done to draw the eye to Jensen. As though those around him paled in comparison. But that wasn't quite right either, because there was something frightening about the ghosts despite the fact that Jensen was obviously oblivious to them. On a whim, I got out the paints and scattered a bit more snow about, letting some of it show, muted, through the background figures. The effect was... odd; serving to make Jensen even more of a solid presence. I shivered, put the paints away and went to work.

It occurred to me, during the drive into town, as I passed the exit to the market we used, that I would have to stop and pick something up for dinner on my way home. Heero wasn't likely to enjoy a home-coming meal of ration-bars, not even if we ate them by candle-light. And I already knew he was sick of eating out.

It was actually a kind of pleasant thought; cooking for Heero again. I don't really like cooking all that much, never bothered with it when I was out on my own, but it had been one of the earliest things I'd been able to do for Heero when I'd recovered enough after the accident for it. It had helped me feel like not such a leech. Had given me something to do in the afternoons while I had waited for Heero to come home from work. It had been... a very odd period of my life. I had been rather surprised that the weird, almost domestic feel of it had been... pleasant. After everything Heero had done for me, it was nice to be able to give something in return, no matter that it was such a small thing. At the time, wheeling myself around the kitchen in my chair as I worked, had been damned exhausting, and it hadn't felt like a small thing at all.

But Heero always seemed to enjoy it when I cooked for him, and that had made it worthwhile. It seemed like tonight should be something special and I spent the rest of the drive trying to make up my mind if we had enough ingredients at home for me to manage Sukiyaki or not. I didn't care for it all that much, but in my experimenting with traditional Japanese recipes for Heero, had discovered that he did. I could get the sirloin and snow peas easily enough, but the bamboo shoots and Chinese mushrooms would require a trip to the Asian market. That was a bit out of the way, and I didn't want to be late getting home. Heero would just worry, and that would rather spoil anything special I might have planned. Maybe I'd just stop at the fish market and splurge on something a little more expensive than Mrs. Paul's.

Work was nothing exceptional. Though I was much better rested and not quite so fumble-fingered, I had to endure a bit more teasing until somebody else did something stupid enough to make people forget about me. It pleased me just a bit too much that it ended up being Dave. Poor guy managed to somehow back a car into the oil collector, dumping a couple of gallons of used oil all over the floor. Dave swore somebody moved the thing while his back was turned, but Griff still yelled at him for a good five minutes, and by the time the mess was cleaned up, Dave was the 'joke of the day' instead of me.

And yes, you bet your ass I indulged right along with everybody else.

Wednesday made Tuesday look like a freakin' holiday. I distinctly remember looking up at the clock in the afternoon, convinced that it was time to go home, only to find it was only two.

When quitting time finally did come, it was all I could do to keep myself from running for my car. I had decided not to risk the longer drive and settled on a quick run to the fish market, it was on the way home and not usually all that crowded. I picked up some halibut and some shrimp too, because the guy claimed I 'couldn't find fresher if God dropped it from the sky into my hands, still alive', and then I booked for home.

I can't even tell you if I was relieved I got there first, or disappointed. Then I realized I couldn't start dinner until Heero got there, since I didn't have a clue what time it would be. So the fish went on ice and I went up to change and shower. Didn't want the poor man coming home to a lover who smelled of grease and oil. Nothing quite as off-putting as snuggling up to somebody who stinks.

And then... I went out to sit on the front steps to wait.

Yes, I am pathetic.

I have to admit that this trip had surprised me quite a bit. I had not anticipated missing Heero as much as I had. We'd been together just over a year, and during all that time, had not really been apart more than just a day or so. My trip to L3 and his stay in the hospital being the biggies. And even when he was in the hospital, I'd not been apart from him more than I would have been during a work day.

I honestly don't know how he managed that, because I'd picked up on enough conversations here and there over the course of that year, to figure out that he used to travel on assignment a hell of a lot more. I have no doubt it was because of me, and knowing Heero, he just flat told Commander Une 'no' in no uncertain terms. It was weird and embarrassing if I let myself think about it, which was why I'd never questioned him overly much about it. I just wasn't sure I wanted to know. Even though I kinda did, if you know what I mean. Guess I just didn't want to verify it.

I'd been sitting outside on the cold steps for a good fifteen minutes when I heard the sound of footsteps on the walk. The cadence was odd, and it took Ruthie coming into view for me to figure out it was because she was skipping. She had a digital camera dangling from one mittened hand, and a leash held tight in the other. A little brown, flop-eared dog was on the other end of that leash, dancing around one minute before, and the next behind. Pulling and darting about, generally causing Ruthie to laugh and giggle. I couldn't help smiling, and wondered what in the world she'd come to borrow this time. She was wearing what appeared to be a party dress underneath her coat and when she saw me sitting on the steps, stopped and gave me an exaggerated curtsy, though it was spoiled when the dog pulled her off-balance.

'Mr. Duo!' she called and finished skipping up to the porch. 'You're home!'

'Hello, Miss Ruthie,' I replied, not really sure how to otherwise reply to what had been a statement. That made her laugh some more, the pup sniffing the air in my direction inquisitively, her tail wagging a mile a minute.

'We're having a party!' Ruthie exclaimed, waving the camera at me as though that explained something. 'And Buffy and me are on a hunt!'

'A hunt?' I grinned, not at all sure what kind of party involved running around the neighborhood with a dog and a camera.

'Yep!' she said, and tried to fish something out of her coat pocket to show me. The dog, I'm assuming the afore-mentioned Buffy, was tugging in my direction and making the whole endeavor a bit difficult. I slid down another step, so that I could reach and pet the dog, and Ruthie got a piece of crumbled paper pulled out while the dog was still.

I thought the animal was going to wag its butt right the hell off.

'We're on a scavenger hunt,' I was informed, though the word scavenger lacked a consonant or two, and it took me a second to get it. The list was waved in my face and I didn't even try to read it. 'We gotta find three different kinds of trees! Can we go into your yard?'

I got the whole process then, and wondered how many other little kids were running around the area, mostly just staying out of the house and out of the hair of whoever was throwing this 'party'. Or maybe Ruthie was just on her own hunt.

'We got to take a picture of it!' she explained, and tried to hold the camera up to her face to demonstrate. It became obvious pretty quickly that Buffy wasn't making this chore particularly easy. Ok... Buffy was making the chore almost impossible.

I couldn't help laughing at the whole weird little ballet number they were doing. 'Sure,' I told her. 'But why don't you let me hold the leash while you go take the picture... I think it might be easier.'

She fairly beamed and handed the loop of the leash over in the next instant. 'Cool!' she said, which I took for acceptance, and then she skipped off around the side of the house. Buffy attempted to follow before coming up short on her lead and ended up sitting on the dry grass beside the step looking abandoned. The look of pure confusion was pretty priceless, until she began to bark feverishly, making sure her mistress realized that she'd forgotten something important.

I chuckled and gave the leash a tug. Buffy wasn't a terribly big dog, and she tumbled over my feet, looking up at me uncertainly. 'Hush you,' I grinned and ruffled the ears. The wagging was back, though she looked so damn dewy-eyed that I had to pick her up and set her in my lap. 'Ruthie will be back in a minute,' I explained, and only felt slightly stupid. The dog cocked her head, looking up at my face just as though she understood. It was cute until I figured out she was just plotting the best angle to get at my chin. Dog spit is kind of gross.

Then I forgot about it when I realized I heard a car coming up the street. We're pretty much the last house on a dead end road. If a car doesn't turn off before it crests our hill, it has to be coming to our place, and I was only expecting one person. I was standing before I realized it.

I know I was grinning like a damn loon the whole time he parked, but I just couldn't help it. I had stood with Buffy in my arms without really thinking about it, but that put her where she could reach my face again and she proceeded to distribute more drool.

'Damn it, Buffy,' I grumbled at her, leaning to put her down. 'You're going to have to learn better than that. That's just gross.'

When I straightened, Heero was almost right in front of me. I was still rubbing my sleeve across my chin and just opening my mouth to say hello when I got a really good look at his face.

For about two damn seconds I would have said 'stricken'. Pale, came to mind. Horrified.

But then it sort of got washed away by this... anger. I'm not sure what else to call it. Between one heartbeat and the next he was just freakin' furious.

'What the fuck is this?' he snarled, but it was obviously one of those rhetorical questions, because he didn't wait for an answer. 'You don't do something this major without talking to me first! What in the hell were you thinking!'

I couldn't do much more than just stare at him. Heero and I have had our fights before, but this was... like nothing I'd ever seen. There was a light in his eyes that wasn't altogether rational, and I have to admit he was scaring me. On about half a dozen different levels.

Buffy, apparently, is not one of those dogs that found a home through her intelligence, because she chose that moment to wander over to sniff at Heero's shoes. Heero made a noise that I couldn't identify, and almost stumbled back a step. 'Get that God damn thing away from me!' he snapped and I figure at that point my eyes had to have been as wide as saucers. I leaned down and snatched the dog up, retreating myself a couple of steps. I had brief thoughts of pod people, and murmured 'Good girl, Buffy,' to the stupid dog, because she'd finally figured out that this was a 'bad thing' and was whining quietly. Words of explanation would not find their way out of my throat. Part of my head was still trying to tell me that the man in front of me could not possibly be Heero, and the rest of me was just standing there staring, perfectly willing to be convinced.

Heero's expression was set in stone; the anger trying to bleed out around the edges, and that was when I heard Ruthie returning from the back yard. I was looking right at Heero and I got to see that expression fade back into the stricken one he'd worn when I'd first seen him. I've never really seen somebody go white as a sheet from up close before, though I pretty well knew what it felt like.

'Got it, Mr. Duo!' Ruthie crowed, and I had to turn away from the sight of Heero to even begin to reply to her.

'T-that's good, kiddo,' I choked out. 'Are you all done then?'

'Almost!' she cheered, fairly bouncing up and down as possession of the dog changed hands. 'You don't have a hamster, do you?'

I almost choked. 'No... sorry,' I managed.

'Darn!' she pouted. 'That's all Buffy and me need to win! A hamster!'

'Better get going then,' I told her, wishing her gone.

'Who was that?' she asked me brightly, and I kind of froze until the word 'was' soaked in a little bit. I whirled around, but Heero was gone. I had a panicked moment before I saw his car was still sitting at the curb and I realized he must have gone into the house.

'My... my roommate,' I said. 'Heero.'

'Oh,' was all she said, and then they were skipping off down the street. 'Bye!'

I can't remember if I told her goodbye or not.

My next conscious thought found me sitting on the damn steps again, staring after Ruthie and the stupid dog, trying to decide what I should be feeling.

Ok, I'm not a total loser. I know that Heero had come home and made a totally wrong assumption based on the evidence of his eyes, and had jumped my shit without asking question one. Well, without asking any questions he had allowed me to answer.

I should be pissed. I should be livid. I was perfectly within my rights to throw a hissy fit in his face the likes of which he'd never seen.

But...

But Heero had never done something like that to me before. Not like that. If our voices had ever been raised, it was usually in sheer exasperation. The only times I could really remember him yelling at me since we'd moved in together, was because I'd done something to scare the shit out of him.

This had been... not altogether coherent. When I had looked into his eyes, it was like he hadn't been looking back at me. He'd honestly scared me.

Physically? I don't know... maybe a little. He'd sure as hell looked like he'd wanted to deck somebody. But mostly... it was just having him unhappy with me. I have issues with that, probably more than is healthy. I'm kind of aware of how much of myself is pinned to Heero, and not to sound all melodramatic and crap, but I really don't know what I'd do without him.

Suicide? I'm not going so far as to say that. I just mean that I really don't know what I would do... where I would go.

So, while some sane part of me wanted to be flaming pissed, most of me was kind of hurting. The sane part said I should go find Heero and see just what the hell was going on, but the rest of me thought staying on the front porch until sometime around spring was a pretty spectacular idea.

I'm not sure the sane part won out so much as I got really cold.

I found him sitting right there on the couch in the living room. He'd made it no farther than that, had not even managed to get his jacket off. He didn't even look up when I shut the front door behind me.

He sat just on the edge of the couch, almost looking poised to bolt. His elbows were on his knees and his head was in his hands, fingers clenched in his hair. If tension were a color, the whole room would have been bathed in black.

I'd been home long enough that the stereo was playing, the Norwegian stuff again, and I listened to it for a bit while I watched him just sit there.

If I had been able to work up any anger while I'd sat on the porch, it would have washed away in that moment. This was my Heero... no matter what had just happened outside.

He didn't even react when I walked across the room to turn off the music. It was damn weird having the house that quiet with someone else in it with me.

Briefly, I toyed with the idea of just going to start dinner and giving him a minute to sort himself out before I tried to talk to him, but I had a bad feeling nobody would eat what I fixed. The fish had been too damn expensive to cook just to throw it away.

After a minute of just watching him do nothing, I finally walked over and sat down on the edge of the coffee table. Not right in front of him, that would have been a bit close under the circumstances, but within touching distance... if he so chose.

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