By : Sunhawk

Conversations (cont)

Solo had given me my street name that night. After the others were settled, he had come to sit beside me. Had told me that he was proud of the decision I'd made, that I'd done the right thing in coming for help. That Froggy had made his own decision and it wasn't my fault that it had been the wrong one. He'd tousled my hair and given me a small smile and christened me 'Dodger', because of how fast I'd run.

I had lain in the dirt and watched him move around our den for the night, checking each of the others before going to his own rest. I remember thinking that I would be just like him, that I would help him protect the little ones. That I would become Solo's right hand man, and together we would take care of all the others. Turned out that neither of us was much to write home about. He couldn't protect the children, and I couldn't protect him.

I found my head resting on Heero's shoulder and I wondered idly how that had come to happen.

"I'm sorry," Heero whispered softly. "God... I can't believe I've been pushing you... I'm so sorry."

I straightened and brushed his cheek with the back of my fingers, meeting his anguished eyes head on. "Don't be," I told him firmly. "That was about a little kid and a... a rapist. That was about power and abuse." I smiled gently for him, brushing at his sleep-mussed hair. "We're neither one of us kids anymore, and you've never touched me with anything but love."

He tentatively slid his arms around me and I returned the embrace hard and firm, reassuring him that I was all right.

"No wonder," he murmured. "Why didn't you ever tell me? God, Duo... if I'd known, I'd have never..."

"Hush," I chided. "It's an old memory. You're not that man... I'm not Froggy. I know you would never hurt me. It's just... something I try not to think about."

"And last night... made you think about it," he said, a statement more than a question. There was no real denying it so I didn't try. I reached around him, managed to snag the sketchpad and deftly tossed it onto the coffee table, safely out of reach. Then I pushed hard, knocking him backward onto the couch, me going over with him. He grunted in surprise.

"And I'm tired of thinking about it," I told him, grinning widely, sprawled across his chest. "I'm hungry, husband-mine... feed me!"

He returned my grin, but there was the ghost of melancholy behind it. I suspect he'd had more questions, but he understood that I was changing the subject and he respected the course alteration.

"What would you like?" he chuckled at me, his hands playing with the flyaway hair that had escaped my braid over-night.

"Uhmmm," I pondered theatrically. "Maybe something disgustingly sweet and sticky that I can eat off your bare chest?" I gave him a leer and he laughed out loud.

"Yuck," he informed me in mock horror. "Food sex? Please tell me you're not into food sex?"

"Depends on the food," I purred next to his ear, and then gave that ear a little nip. "Now let's go find some breakfast before I'm forced to resort to cannibalism."

I started to climb up, but he caught me around the waist and with a buck and a flip, inverted our positions. It was my turn to grunt in surprise. "Cannibalism might be interesting," he informed me.

A lot of heavy kissing happened then. That kind of 'not really going anywhere' but otherwise pretty damned passionate kind of kissing? It took a little while before we bothered making our way to the kitchen.

Then we really started to dance. I didn't understand for a bit that it was a tango; I thought at first I was dancing alone. I wanted out of the kitchen and away from him, to get that damn sketchpad put up before it crossed his mind to look through the rest of it. But every time I started to edge away, he seemed to find something I needed to do. I'm slow... it took three tries before I figured out that he knew exactly what I was doing and was countering my every move. We ended up standing across the table from each other, just staring. I was holding the orange juice, he was holding a jar of apple butter. Neither of us could seem to find any words, and when the toast chose that moment to pop up, we both jumped.

"This is stupid," he said, and set the jar on the table. "We both know what's going on here."

"Heero," I warned, not wanting to fight over it, but not really wanting him to see what else was in that book. I cursed myself for not destroying the damn pictures when I'd had the chance.

"Duo," he told me, suddenly dead serious. "You know I'm going to go look, what is there that you don't want me seeing so badly? I thought we agreed no more secrets?"

I set the orange juice down a little harder than I had meant to, and heaved a heavy sigh. "It's not that it's a secret... it's just some of those pictures are old. It's just going to upset you and..."

That was pretty much all it took. He was out the door before I had a chance to finish the thought. Well, great. Just great. I debated waiting in the kitchen for him to come back, but then couldn't do it, and trailed over to the doorway, where I stood and watched him.

The sketchpad was still open to Froggy's portrait and he flipped backward from there. I would have grinned at the blush that crept into his cheeks when he found the picture of himself, sitting in a room he'd never been in, but I knew what other pictures he was going to find and that just kind of took the humor out of it.

"Where..." he asked in some confusion. "Where is this place?"

I shrugged noncommittally. "No place, really," I lied, and though he gave me a funny little look, he didn't push it. Then he flipped to the next page, the one that I knew was the picture of my own hands, and I had to look at the floor. There was a soft, unhappy sigh, and he said gently, "I made you think about a lot of things last night... didn't I?"

I didn't answer, but he didn't really seem to be expecting one. I heard the page turn again and dared a glance back up. It was... strange, watching his face as he sifted through the book. Watching his _expression morph from distressed to amused to tender to embarrassed. I saw him run across the strange portrait I had started of Trowa and Quatre and he smiled. Saw him find a study I had done of him while he was sleeping, his arm thrown wide and his face unlined and peaceful, and he flushed darkly. Saw him uncover the many sketches I'd done of Beowulf, and he grinned openly.

Then he turned the page and found it. And I watched his grin leave him. Watched his face pale. He looked at it for a long time. Studied it. I found my own face flushing and my eyes sought the floor again.

"It's old," I told him, not sure I'd even said it loud enough for him to hear.

"When?" he asked softly, and somehow he was standing right in front of me. It surprised me, and I had to resist the urge to take a step back. Francis was suddenly there, pushing on my leg for all he was worth, little 'repress' banner flying. I could see the sketchpad dangling from Heero's fingers and I caught a glimpse of that portrait of a man on the edge of defeat. A man at the very end of his endurance, and the little boy who was long past his.

"On... on that trip to L3," I confessed, not sure what possessed me to tell him that. Though, I suppose had he put any effort into it, he could have looked at the other pictures and gotten some clue just when I had drawn that. Maybe that's what made me not try and tell him it was years old... the fact that he probably already knew.

"Damn it, Duo!" he suddenly snapped. "Is this how you felt? When you made that damn trip? How the hell could you take that job in this kind of shape?"

My head jerked up to look at him, and I took that step backward quite despite myself. I might very well have stepped on Francis in the process. Heero was extremely... not happy with me.

"I... I wasn't..." I stammered, unsure of the ground suddenly. There was a strange shock of pain through my chest at having Heero seriously mad at me. If there is anything in this universe that can break me in a heartbeat, it's the fear of seeing disappointment in Heero's eyes when he looks at me. Pissed off is just over the border from disappointed, practically right next-door. "I didn't know..."

"Dear God..." he exclaimed, not sure whether to look at me or the portrait. "How the hell could you not know that this was inside you? I tried to tell you you weren't in any shape to be piloting!"

God, why hadn't I destroyed the damn thing when I'd had the chance? I should have incinerated it onboard my ship before I'd ever docked on L3.

That thought kind of got tangled up with the fear coiling around in my gut, and before I quite knew what I was going to do, I'd grabbed the sketchpad out of Heero's hand and was moving toward the stove with it. It only took my reaching for the burner for Heero to figure out what I was about.

"No!" he shouted, and there was the strangest quaver of panic in his voice. He had trailed me into the kitchen and wasn't that far behind me. There was the thud of a lunging footfall, and a steel strong arm suddenly had me around the waist. He jerked us away from the flame of the burner before I had a chance to shove the book into the fire.

There was a... scuffle. I didn't have any leverage, with my feet off the ground, but I had the tablet. There was a distant part of my brain that seemed to think this gave me some advantage, and I recognized the thinking of the soldier... a hostage of sorts. But I lost my grip on the damn thing when we went over in a tangle of arms and legs, knocking a kitchen chair over in the process. I hit the floor off balance, with one of my arms pinned and couldn't do anything about the fall. I landed flat, square on my back and my breath went out in a whoosh, my lungs feeling like they were paralyzed. Nothing registered for a long couple of seconds after that, but the panting of Heero's breath and the sick sound of me trying to suck in air.

For the second time in less than a day, I found myself in Heero's lap in the middle of the kitchen floor. He was holding me tight enough to bruise, and when I got enough breath back that I could think again, his frantic words finally started to register.

"... Oh God, oh God, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," his voice was actually shaking and I raised an unsteady hand to pat his arm, but it didn't stop the torrent of words. "I promise, I'll never touch any of your art books without your permission again. Please... please don't ever do that. I don't ever want you to have to go through that again. Your art is... is... too precious... it's like a part of you; you can't destroy it... I'm sorry... I'm sorry..."

I couldn't answer him; I didn't know what in the hell to say. Inside me, there was just this strange, relieved voice giggling insanely because he wasn't mad at me anymore. How stinking pathetic is that?

"Heero... calm down," I finally managed to wheeze out, and it served to make him stop his unconscious rocking.

"Duo... are you all right? Did I hurt you?"

I damn near laughed at him. Damn near, but not quite. "I'm fine," I told him. "Just got the wind knocked out of me, that's all."

"I didn't hurt your back?" His grip eased as he sat back to look me over, and for a second I thought he was going to strip the sweatshirt right off me.

"Heero-love," I said gently, "calm down; it's all right." I scooted around until I was facing him, sitting on the floor between his thighs, and took him by the shoulders. "Come on... this is a little extreme... what's wrong?"

His hands dropped down and hooked behind my knees and I watched him work at it, watched him try to formulate words. His fingers began to knead at my calves without him even realizing it.

He was afraid to just say what was on his mind, I could tell. Was afraid I was going to get upset again. I suppose, sometimes, if you think about it, it's no wonder he thinks I'm a little unstable. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw George helping Francis to his feet. The little guys looked really pissed. Francis' 'repress' banner was a little worse for wear.

"Look," I told him with a sigh. "I'm sorry. That was probably a little bit over-reaction. I hadn't ever meant anybody to see that picture... I kept meaning to destroy it and I guess... I guess I was just trying to... rectify an oversight." My face was getting warm and I glanced down at the strange knot our legs made twined over each other. "It... it doesn't really mean anything."

"Everything you draw means something," he said softly, his hand leaving my knee to touch me under the chin and make me look up at him. "Every piece. They're like... little reflections of you. I cherish every single one of them." Then he got an odd, pensive, almost pleading look. "When we find our house... I want to frame them. I want your artwork hanging everywhere."

I felt my face flaming. "Heero... you don't want my stupid little pictures..."

He cut me off, his eyes intent. "I do. I can not believe, sometimes, that you don't understand how damn gifted you are."

I squirmed under his gaze, wanting to refute his words at the same time that I knew that would just push him into argument. "I don't have any training..." I murmured, trying to find somewhere to look that didn't let me see the fire in his eyes.

"So?" he said gently. "You more than make up for that with raw talent... with pure ability." Again, he caught my chin so that he could meet my gaze. "You know... Quatre has to almost physically restrain his sister from coming after you."

I felt my eyes go wide, "What?" I asked in confusion.

"The one who dabbles around with watercolors?" he reminded me and I had a vague memory of someone mentioning said sister, but couldn't remember anything else about it. "She's had several showings and is very immersed in the art circle. She saw that picture you did for Quatre of Trowa on the tightrope. She's dying to 'discover' you."

His smile was affectionate, but I couldn't return it. There was only this dawning sense of... panic. "Shit!" I blurted. "I don't know anything about that kind of crap! Quatre wouldn't..."

"Calm down," he soothed. "She's under strict orders to leave you the hell alone unless you show an interest." His thumb stroked over my cheek and his smile widened. "But she swears she could get a showing of your work into any gallery in town."

My head was fairly whirling. I was still trying to figure out how in the hell we had gotten from fixing breakfast to sitting on the kitchen floor taking about art galleries. I wanted to pull my program out of my hip pocket and check to see if I'd missed an act of the play. What the hell? Days like this could teach you to hate the weekend.

I just sat and stared at him, trying to trace the conversation backward to see just how in the hell we had gotten to this place and got lost somewhere around the apple butter. "Please, Heero," I blurted. "There's so much shit in my head, it feels like it ought to be leaking out my ears. Stop... please stop. I don't want to talk about any of this any more... I don't want to think anymore." My voice held an embarrassing tone that could only be described as pleading. I just didn't care; I really was just about at the end of my emotional rope.

"Come here, love," he murmured and pulled me forward until my head was resting on his shoulder. He started that rocking thing again. I think it's a... a nurturing thing. Women do it all the time. Watch a woman in the checkout line at the grocery, doesn't matter if she's carrying a kid or just a gallon of milk. She'll do that weird little swaying thing. They can't seem to help it. When I get like this... Heero can't seem to help it. "Just let me hold you... everything's all right," he whispered and murmured and soothed, stroked my hair and just... rocked me.

God... it was such a temptation to sink into that care, to relinquish everything to him and let him take charge. Like I had right after the accident. It would be so easy to just let him take care of me, take care of everything. He could shelter me and protect me, he could tell me what I needed to do, could...could...

It was too damn much of a temptation and I recoiled from that desire, pushing gently away and straightening to smile at him. "Hey, I thought you promised to feed me!" I laughed and watched something fleeting dance across his face before he chuckled and shook his head. "You know... being in love with you is something of a damn roller coaster ride."

I blinked at him, unsure how to take that. "That doesn't sound... very good?"

He tilted his head to regard me, his smile fading just a bit, turning a little wistful. "You've given me some of the brightest moments of my life... and some of the darkest."

"Dark?" I stammered out, eyes going wide in shock. I didn't know what to say; felt like my damn heart had plummeted all the way to my feet.

"No," he hastily reassured. "Not like that... not like that at all. You've just frightened me, so many times. I can't help but worry."

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry; he'll give me a damn heart attack one of these days, with his wording. I drew a breath, feeling almost shaky with relief.

"I know, love," I told him, and made a careful point of touching his cheek with my fingertips. "And I'm sorry. I really don't mean to worry you. Everything is fine. I'm just tired of all the... depressing thoughts, is all."

He lifted a hand to ghost gently against the back of mine, where it rested on his face and he gave me a tiny little smile of acknowledgment of the gesture. But it faded to an odd frown fairly quickly. "Are you sure? You've been so... quiet since yesterday. Are you sure nothing's bothering you?"

It was something of a jolt that he had noticed; I had thought I had managed to shut away my disappointment completely. Had thought my mask was perfect; I wondered where the crack was. "I guess I was just a little frustrated we didn't... do better in the house hunting department," I sighed, telling enough of the truth that I hoped it would pass for the whole truth.

"Don't worry," he comforted. "We'll find something soon."

The phone rang then, and kept me from having to reply to that. I was more than grateful, and heaved a rather gusty sigh of relief after he had scrambled up off the floor to go answer it. I was tempted to just sit there until he came back, then I caught sight of that damn sketchpad and I was tempted to finish the job of burning at least that one picture. When temptation struck a third time, urging me to just go crawl back in bed, I sighed again and got up to put the kitchen to rights. Chair back on its legs, sketchpad freaking closed, burner off, and more toast in the toaster. I put the stone cold slices on my own plate; Heero would just throw them out.

I could hear the murmur of Heero's voice in the other room, and wondering who it might be on a Sunday morning, I went to the doorway to listen in. When you are partnered with a Preventor agent, phone calls at odd hours always leave you with a certain tension in your gut.

When Heero saw me, I heard him say, "here he is, let me ask," to the person on the other end of the phone. Then he covered the mouthpiece and gave me that appraising cock of his head. "Quatre wants to know if we'd be interested in an impromptu cookout this afternoon. If you're feeling up to it?"

"Cookout?" I questioned, raising an eyebrow. "Is he nuts... it's got to be 30 degrees outside!"

Heero grinned and rolled his eyes in his 'humor him' gesture. "The eating part will be inside," he reassured

I snorted and shook my head. " might do us good to get the hell out of the house for awhile," I told him and didn't miss the pleased surprise that flashed in his eyes.

He graced me with one of his rare, wide grins and turned back to the phone to tell Quatre we accepted and to get the details. I heard the toast pop up in the kitchen and left the room while he finished up.

I was nibbling at my toast and apple butter by the time he came in to sit down across from me and he never realized that I hadn't thrown out the slices that had been sitting there all morning. That's something I've never been able to do. Yeah... maybe the hot, fresh slices would have tasted better, but there was nothing wrong with the cold slices to make them inedible. Cold and tough did not mean spoiled. Where I come from, spoiled is the only reason to throw food away.

"So what's the occasion?" I prompted, as he spread his own toast with the preserves.

"Apparently some Winner company function was yesterday," he informed me. "Some kind of company dinner or something. There were a lot of leftovers, and the patio was already all set up. So..."

I interrupted him with a snicker. "So Quatre saw an excuse to have a get-together and jumped all over it."

"Something like that," he agreed and reached to snag a banana out of the fruit bowl, peeling it and offering me half. "If you're sure you feel like going. We don't have to."

"I'm fine, my worry-wart," I grinned at him. "It probably really would be a good idea for us to get away for a little while."

He looked happy with me, and I'm sure he was thinking about how reluctant I had been for so long, to leave the apartment and deal with other people. That look on his face helped ease away the last of my trepidation about our earlier... altercation, but then I caught his eyes flicking toward the closed tablet sitting on the end of the table. I sighed.

"I didn't touch it," I told him without looking up from my plate.

"Sorry," he murmured, and tried to cover his relief with an _expression of contriteness. I didn't reply and we finished breakfast in relative quiet.

"What time are we supposed to be at Trowa and Quatre's?" I asked, while we cleared the table, my mind suddenly on something else entirely.

"Before noon," Heero replied, starting to run the dishwater. "Why?"

"I wouldn't mind a quick shower," I told him, hoping the 'quick' comment would register with him and tell him I wasn't looking for company. "If I have time."

"Go ahead," he smiled at me. "I'll get the dishes while you do that. We should have just enough time to get a load of laundry done before we have to leave, if we hurry."

"Gotcha, boss!" I grinned and hurried out of the room, deliberately leaving the sketchpad lie on the table. Good; he was in Mr. Efficient mode, which would make this task a lot easier.

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