By : Sunhawk

Conversations (cont)

Her eyes got... hard. She wasn't hiding anything, and she was flaming pissed at me. "You tell me, Mr. Maxwell," she ground out and I couldn't help flinching. It was a verbal slap in the face if I'd ever heard one.

"I don't understand," I began, and saw the ice creep further into those eyes.

"I don't suppose a... a gutter rat like you would!" she snapped and I swear, for just a second, I saw pain in her eyes, but I couldn't figure out where it came from. She was the one doing the attacking here, after all.

I felt stupid, and kind of vulnerable, with my hands in the pockets of my jeans, so I pulled them out, but only ended up with my arms wrapped around myself, with the damn scarred things tucked under my elbows to hide them. "Relena... I really don't know what I've done," I tried again. All the ice was gone in a heartbeat, replaced with a fire that made me want to step away from her. For one surreal second, I thought she was going to slap me.

"I don't appreciate being told I can't visit my best friend in the hospital because... because you don't want me there!" she hissed, and I was kind of afraid she might just rupture something.

"What!" I exclaimed, and had to force my voice to lower. "I never said..."

Her eyes narrowed again and she made to turn away, I thought to reach out and grab her, forgetting myself. There was this weird as hell moment while my hand hovered like some damn intoxicated bird between us. My brain wanted to stop her from walking away. My gut wanted to hide from her. Something new crossed her face while I found someplace else to tuck my hands.

"I was told to stay away from the hospital after you deigned to come back," she informed me in an acid laced voice. "I was told my presence might upset you. I was told I wasn't welcome at Heero's bedside."

I just gaped at her for a long damn minute before I managed to find my voice. "I... I swear to God; I didn't have anything to do with it, Relena."

She opened her mouth sharply, and I expect she was going to reprimand me for using her first name, but then it snapped closed again and I saw a hint of hesitation. I pushed forward.

"They didn't tell me they did that," I told her earnestly. "I swear... I didn't know. I wouldn't have allowed it if I'd known."

She bit at her lip and all the anger seemed to be draining out of her, but then her damn eyes welled up and I just wanted to run screaming from the house. "It hurt... a lot," she murmured. I understood that it was something she had needed to tell somebody for a long damn time. And it was probably the weirdest twist of the fabric of her world, that the person she finally was able to dump that on was... me.

"Ah, damnit," I muttered, hands fluttering toward her again before finding their way back under my arms. "Of course it did! I don't know... hell; I guess I do know what he was thinking... but it was a completely stupid thing to do!"

"Did I... did I do something wrong?" she blurted, looking up at me suddenly, like I had all the answers.

"No," I told her firmly. "I was out on a job when Heero was... shot. I had a lot of... trouble. I... I..." God, I didn't want to stand here and go over all this shit with her. I didn't know how to explain to her the depth of the emotional trauma I'd gone through, nor the shape I was in during the period she was talking about. But damn Heero, he'd left me in a position where I owed her some sort of explanation. "I don't know if Heero told you... I had to sell my ship," I began, not knowing where else to start.

"He told me you went to work for the Preventors," she said, confusion plain on her face, warring with her hurt and the remnants of her anger, for supremacy.

"It wasn't by choice," I sighed, and found myself unable to look at her. One of my hands escaped, and went to swipe through my bangs. "I... couldn't handle piloting any more... because of the accident. I was kind of forced to give it up."

I didn't know how to explain it to her; she'd never understood my love of the stars. She had a touch of space-phobia, if I was any judge, and I doubted she could even comprehend what that simple phrase had meant. Just what all I had been forced to give up. I had said, 'my ship' and I'm sure in her mind she equated that with selling a car or something. She would never understand how that ship had been my home, my lady, my livelihood... and I had lost it all. I took a deep breath, forcing my hand back into hiding, just wanting to get this told and done with. "I... kind of had a bit of a... I mean, I sort of... Hell; I guess you could say I had a little break down. It wasn't pretty... and I scared the shit out of Heero, and I imagine that's why he did... what he did."

There. Done. All told, and I hadn't even burst into flame, though my face felt just about hot enough to toast marshmallows over.

She didn't say anything for the longest time. Just stood and stared at me, until I thought I would squirm my way right through the floor. "I'm sorry," I murmured, totally unable to meet her gaze. Guilt-beast came loping up the stairs, delighted to have tracked me down and gleefully latched onto an ankle, chewing viciously. How in the hell could Heero have done this? He knew my relationship with Miss Aristocracy was tenuous at best; what had he been thinking?

She unbent just a bit and touched my elbow lightly. "I... I'm not sure you have anything to be sorry for," she said gently, though she kind of looked like she'd just swallowed one of McMurphy's less than stellar concoctions. I'm sure it about killed her to even entertain the idea that her Heero could possibly be the one at fault here.

It rather threw gasoline on the tiny spark of indignation that had taken light in my soul though. No... damnit, I didn't have anything to fucking be sorry for! I wasn't the one who had done this. I wasn't the one who should be up here explaining and apologizing. I wasn't the idiot that didn't know any damn better than to tell a person something like that with no more justification than he had obviously given her. Sometimes, for all his vaunted social graces... Heero Yuy could be an asshole.

"Excuse me," I told her suddenly. "I think I need to go have a talk with Heero."

She looked a little shell-shocked and just a bit afraid of me, but she got out of my way without a peep. I imagine my face had done an interesting transformation from damn near miserable to totally pissed off. That look has been known to make guys twice my size back the hell off. I certainly didn't blame Relena for giving ground.

I all but ran back down the stairs.

Heero had some damn fast explaining to do.

I'd left him in the kitchen and I headed there first, the logical place to begin my hunt. I didn't see him immediately, my eyes raking over Trowa, Quatre and Rashid dismissively. Quatre looked like he might speak, but the look on my face must have given him pause, because he didn't; only looking up at Trowa in confusion.

Then Heero came in the back door, carrying something, and heading across the kitchen. He started to smile when he saw me, but it faltered as he saw my face. I strode across the floor to meet him.

"Yuy!" I snapped. "We need to talk... right damn now."

He blinked; looking a little taken aback, but actually started around me. "Just a second, Duo..." I suppose he just meant to set down his burden, but it felt like he was brushing me off, and it really ticked me.

"No," I growled, grabbing the whatever-the-hell it was out of his hands, turning with it toward the stove where he'd obviously been heading, meaning to get rid of it. "Now. This is important and I want to..."

People were suddenly yelling at me. I froze, not able to make sense of the cacophony of voices. It was Rashid, standing closest to me, who swiftly plucked the tray from my hands and I realized, belatedly, that both he and Heero were wearing oven mitts.

"...Duo!"

"...Oh my God!"

"...Shit!"

I'm not sure what it was that I'd taken from Heero, intent on getting it out of the picture, but it had apparently been damn hot.

I knew this drill, and moved for the sink the instant I realized, hitting the cold water to halt the damage. You're not supposed to do that, apparently increases the chances of shock, but hell... I always figured it was the quickest way to cool things off. I couldn't feel it, of course, but I caught the faint, damn familiar scent of cooking flesh. I knew that 'cooking' could continue for a small space, even though the heat source had been removed, unless you acted fast. Once I felt I had brought the temperature down enough, I killed the water and looked my palms over. They were... pretty well scorched. Two stripes running straight across the palms and across the middle of my fingers, where they had curled around the handles of that... whatever it had been. Second degree, if I was any judge. I was reaching to blot them dry on my pants legs when the paralysis that seemed to have enveloped the rest of the room, finally broke. There were suddenly people all around me. I heard a kitchen chair being drug hastily away from the table, someone abruptly had me around the waist and I was practically shoved down on it. Quatre was kneeling in front of me, eyes wide, visibly shaking, holding me by the wrists and trying to keep my hands from touching anything. Heero was squeezing my shoulder, fingers biting hard in his distress. I heard running steps and Wufei appeared in the kitchen doorway. He stopped in his tracks and cursed rather liberally in Chinese.

"Duo," Quatre was saying, and I was able to hear him over all the rest of it, because he was right in front of me. "Should I call an ambulance, or do you think you can get to..."

I couldn't help laughing at him, I really couldn't. "Ambulance? Oh, for God's sake... I do not need an ambulance!"

"Duo..." he whispered, staring at my hands. "This looks bad..."

I snorted and felt Heero's fingers tighten further. "Hey!" I blurted. "You want to leave me some damn feeling in that shoulder, Yuy?"

He instantly let go and I turned my attention back to Quatre, who was starting to look... not so good. "Come on, Qat, calm down. It's not like it hurts. This happens all the time... I can't feel it at all; honest."

It was meant to comfort. Somehow... it didn't. He just looked totally stricken, kneeling there in front of me, and for a minute I thought he was going to cry. I understood, in that moment, that he had thought the surgeries he had bought for me had mended... everything.

"You can't repair nerve damage, baby brother," I told him as gently as I could. He had that look, like I remembered from the night I'd burned them in the first place, a kind of bastard mix of shock and panic. He was getting set to totally lose it and I really didn't think I could handle that on top of the rest of this exceptional day. I did not want to have to deal with that part where he started blaming himself for what I had done. I looked past him to meet Trowa's eyes, doing my God all mightiest to impart to him that he needed to remove Quatre from the presence of another one of my accidents. He gave me a tight nod of understanding, and taking Quatre firmly by the shoulders, led him away. Quatre's total lack of resistance to being led, spoke volumes about his state of mind. I was all set to breath a sigh of relief when the rest of the world lost their collective minds.

"Wufei," Heero was ordering tersely, "get your car, I'll get the med-kit and we'll meet you out front." Wufei ran off to comply with nothing more than a grunt of acceptance.

"Heero!" I began, but he wasn't listening to me at freaking all.

"Sit tight, love," he told me with another squeeze of my shoulder, and took off for the stairs at a run.

"Heero, wait!" I hollered after him, but he didn't even slow down. I was left to gawk after them like a carp laid out on the pier in the sun.

"Oh, Jesus Christ!" I muttered in disgust, and suddenly became aware of an intensely uncomfortable feeling. I looked up for the first time and found the rest of the party guests staring at me in varying degrees of alarm. Francis came and made a damn valiant effort. He really, really did. I'm thinking I might have to put him in for a Purple Heart one of these days, because he got his furry little ass trampled six ways to Sunday that day.

Rashid was standing somewhere behind me, conversing in low tones with Abdul who had come in too late for the main event and had to settle for a recap. Relena was leaning in the doorway to the foyer, looking vaguely ill. Sally, Noin and Zechs were standing by the door that led to the rec room, Sally still holding her pool-cue in her hand. It was when I saw on her face that she was getting ready to come over to... do that mothering thing, that I finally reached my snapping point. I'd apologize to Francis later.

"You know..." I told nobody in particular, "now that I think about it, I've got some... uhmmm... burn cream in the car." I stood so suddenly I almost toppled the chair; I was babbling whatever in the hell popped into my head, mouth on total autopilot, because my brain had decided to take a vacation. "I'll just run out and get it for the... ride. Yeah." Nobody gainsayed me, caught too by surprise I think, and I headed for the door Relena was in. No way in hell was she going to try and stop me. "Tell Heero I'll see him later," I hissed at her as I ducked by, but didn't give her the chance to reply. I didn't start running until I was outside.

I thanked whatever God might be listening that I had put my car keys in my pants pocket and not my coat pocket. I think that's what had delayed Wufei, because I saw no sign of him as I fled down the driveway. I threw myself behind the wheel of my car, shaking like a leaf and just wanting as far away from there as I could get as fast as I could get there. It's a very good thing that I do not have the ability to teleport... I'd have ended up in Outer Mongolia before I'd had a chance to think about it.

I got the car started and just threw it in reverse, not taking the time to turn around. I saw the front door of the house fly open just before I got the car far enough down the drive that the shrubs hid it from sight. I hit the brakes, spinning the car completely around, then kicked it in the ass. They would come after me. I knew damn good and well they'd come after me, and I wasn't having any of it. Not right now, by God. Not right now.

It was a lucky thing I didn't pass any cops, though I was kind of surprised nobody called in and reported me, it's a residential area, after all. I'd be willing to bet I hit eighty at one point. I wove and dodged and switched back and ran like freakin' hell. I put more effort into evasion than I ever had during the war, on the run when my life had depended on it. It felt like my sanity depended on it this time. Felt like my... whatever you wanted to call it; relationship? Marriage? Love life? Whatever. I felt like that was kind of hanging in the balance right now too. I didn't think that Heero or I either one was in a place where we could talk this out. Best if we both had a chance to calm down a little bit first. I needed some damn distance.

Oh shut the hell up... I don't know what makes me do this. Sometimes I just can't take anymore and I have to get away. I never have dealt with total humiliation very well, haven't I mentioned that? I'm sure I've mentioned that.

Could you get any more humiliating than that little episode? Well, perhaps we shouldn't challenge the power of worse here. Yeah, you probably could get more humiliating... but I didn't care to try. I knew when to quit. That situation didn't have any outcome that wasn't going to fall under the heading of 'worse'. So I ran. Sue me. At least I know my limits.

I dared to slow down after about a half an hour, and it took me a little bit to get oriented enough to figure out where I was. There was no sign of my pursuers and I breathed a sigh of relief. Pursuers. I almost laughed. I was thinking of my lover as something to be run from. How freakishly pathetic was that? I was running from Heero and Wufei like they were the worst kind of Oz interrogators. Ok... I did laugh then, not able to stop even when I heard the note of hysteria in it. I had to pull over until I was able to blink my eyes clear enough to see. Damn.

I took the time, while I was sitting there at the side of some nameless road, to button my denim shirt up and turn the heat on. It was damn cold out. Then I just started cruising. I didn't really have any plans, I hadn't thought beyond getting the hell out from under all those staring, judgmental eyes. Going back to the apartment was probably not the best idea for a little while; Heero would have that staked out one way or the other. Wasn't going back to Quatre and Trowa's on a bet. No thank you. Guess that just left driving around.

A throb of pure, unadulterated pain lanced through my chest of a sudden, and I found myself missing my ship like I hadn't missed it in months. I would have sold my soul and all the caffeine in the world to still have that place to go back too. I missed my home.

I felt oddly shaky and knew that my body was registering the trauma that my mind could not. I might not feel it, but that didn't make it not there. At some point, I really was going to have to take the time to treat the burns. I knew what a danger infection could be when you were dealing with French-fried flesh.

My head was on total over-load. A conga line of hamsters began parading the length of the dashboard, each with a little banner trying to entice me to think about their preferred subject. Froggie. Heero. Relena. Scars. My ship. My job. The house I couldn't have. The house I was probably going to end up with. Wufei. Zechs. Heero. Wait a minute; two Heero hamsters? That was hardly fair.

God, but he was probably having a cow by now. Guilt appeared on the floorboards between my knees and I thought he about ripped my balls off. How could I have done that to Heero... again? He was probably frantic. He was probably tearing into anybody that dared try and get in his way. I felt a little bad for everybody left in that house. If anybody was left in that house. Sort of threw a monkey wrench into Quatre's party too, I guess. Seems I'd pretty much fucked over everybody's day.

I kind of wanted to go back then, wanted to try and put things right. But I just couldn't picture facing any of them. Couldn't make myself do it. When you screw up this bad, it's pretty hard to face the music until you absolutely have to.

But you know? Underneath all the guilt... I was still pretty pissed off about the whole Relena thing. I had worked damn hard to get the woman to the point that she could speak to me without open hostility. Heero knew that. He knew what a delicate balance my relationship was with Her Highness. How could he have done this to me? How could he have done this to Relena? Did he have no damn concept of what that must have felt like to her? Just what had he told her? And to have not even warned me, I just didn't get it.

Then the car was stopping and I looked up to see where I had ended up. I started that hysterical laughing thing again. Dear God... did I have an autopilot?

I was sitting out in front of that house. The house. My house. My dream house that Heero didn't like. The one I would never own, because I just couldn't do that to him, no matter how much I wanted it. What kind of home would it be if it wasn't right for both of us? Pretty much like the one we were in now... where I didn't feel at ease.

But I got out of the car anyway. I walked up the front steps, careful to avoid that broken board. I thought about sitting on the porch swing, but looking it over, wasn't sure I trusted the chains it was hanging from. So I walked around the porch, going down the side and finding another little stair that led to a path that disappeared around the back of the house. I followed it and startled a crow that flew off to sit on the edge of the roof, where it cawed down at me in irritation. There was the graveyard of a once well-tended flower garden at the back of the house and I could imagine the little old lady who had lived here most of her life, working in it. I'll bet this yard had been something to see in its day.

I just stood for a while and looked at the grounds. Looked at that massive willow tree. Watched the clouds scud across the sky. I even saw a rabbit, way at the back of the lot, hopping along in that slow way they have when they're just wandering around. It was the first wild rabbit I had ever seen. It made me grin just a little bit. It was... peaceful. I felt calm here.

I wanted to kick myself, why in the hell was I walking around this place, letting it get more and more under my skin, when I already fucking knew I couldn't have it? Heero had made it quite plain to the realtor that he didn't want this place. Why couldn't I let it go? I really am something of a little masochist, aren't I?

I took a last look around, trying to make a conscious effort at saying goodbye. Of making whichever part of my brain that was so in love, admit that it was pointless to dream. Was it the little boy? Was it the soldier? I wasn't sure, but we all had to walk away. So I did.

While I was getting in the car, I took a last look back and realized that it was all of us. There was something about the damn place that called out to every part of me. Guess we'd just have to be miserable together.

Suck it up, Maxwell. Get over it.

I found myself just driving again, and even the hamsters seemed too depressed to put much effort into anything.

I suppose I needed to be thinking about heading back, but every time I tried to turn that way, my face burned and I felt like throwing up. So I'd just wander off on another side street instead.

Damn, it was so freaking quiet I wanted to scream. I reached and hit the radio, despite the fact that the damn thing only tuned anything in about half the time. I got some static and punched through the stations, passing up several commercials until I heard music and left it there. It was some canned, new wave recycled crap. All synthesizers and drums, what was popular right then. I hated it, and longed for my own music, but let it play because it beat the hell out of the silence.

I swear to God my wanderings were totally random, totally without plan but I suddenly realized that I was on the road to the spaceport. I felt like a damn salmon trying to find its way back upstream. What long buried urge had led me back here? What the hell was my sub-conscious planning on doing now?

I turned off before I actually passed through the front gate, not entering the grounds. There's an old access road that runs the entire length of the field. In the summer, kids will come out there and picnic, just sitting and watching the shuttles launch. This time of year, there wasn't a soul around. I pulled off the road and parked in the grass. I let the car run for a bit, just for the radio, but it changed to the damn DJ talking about on-line dating and I switched it off. On a strange whim, I climbed out of the car and went around to sit on the hood. It wasn't God awful cold, the engine was letting off a bit of heat that countered the wind just a little.

Dear Lord, but it was strange being here... on the outside looking in. To my left, if I bothered to count bays, I could have figured out where my ship had last been docked. I wondered if she was in there somewhere, my Demon-girl who wasn't mine anymore. Who damn-well had another name by now. I wondered what that kid had christened his ship. I wondered how he was doing. I wondered if my star-spattered cabin had been painted over. Wondered if he'd killed Neo's butterflies. Probably... he'd been a pretty young kid. Had probably seen them as silly and girly. Had most likely painted the whole damn ship by now. It shouldn't have mattered to me... but it did.

I thought about going back to the apartment again, it crossed my mind every little bit, but I kept finding excuses not to. This time, I decided I would stay until I got to see a ship launch. Just one, and then I'd go home to Heero and face the music.

I drew my legs up to sit cross-legged; it was a little warmer that way. My arms found their way around my chest and I carefully tucked my hands under my arms for warmth. I really needed to deal with my burns. I really did. But I didn't even like to think about it, it just made me feel stupid all over again. I'm normally very careful what I do with my hands. I couldn't believe that I'd let myself get so upset that I had not realized that tray was hot. Thinking back on the incident, I must have looked like a raving lunatic. In front of freakin' everybody. Oh joy, oh bliss.

Out on the field, I saw a tow truck heading down the main line, heading for some bay. Going to hook up to some ship. My heart sank. I'd sworn to go home as soon as the next ship launched. I guess I had hoped that the wait would be a little longer. I shivered.

I wondered who was in the driver's seat of that tug. I wondered with a sudden pang if it might be Dusty. I wondered what he would say if he saw me sitting out here. Would he be mad at me? I used to go to his house for dinner every three or four weeks. I hadn't seen him since before the ship had sold. I thought about that, thought about all the people that used to be part of my life and I realized that I didn't see any of them anymore. It was like... like Duo Maxwell had died to that world when his ship had died. I used to do that Thursday night out with the musketeers about once a month too. I used to hang with Toria and Hayden whenever our paths brought us to the same dock at the same time. Now I barely exchanged e-mails with them once a week.

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