Dancing on the Beach (cont)

When he entered the house, he didn't need to go in search of Quatre, he was right inside the front door, fairly bouncing on the balls of his feet waiting for him.

"Well?" He didn't wait for Heero to speak, but grabbed him by the arm and drug him into the kitchen, "What happened?"

Heero glared at him, feeling like he wanted to shake the hell out of him, "Where's Duo?" He hissed.

"In the shower." Quatre let go of his arm, seeing the warning on his face, but didn't back off, "Did you follow him?"

"Yes, damnit!" Heero growled at him, "Why the hell didn't you warn me?"

Quatre quailed, taking a step back from the stark anger, "I didn't know what to say." He cocked his head and looked faintly confused, "Heero... I think maybe you didn't see the same thing I did... what happened?"

Heero's anger drained away in the face of the honestly confused expression on Quatre's face, "I'm not sure exactly what the hell I saw."

Quatre nodded in some understanding, "Did he go to the beach again?"

Heero grunted, nodding.

"Did he... did he dance?"

Heero looked hard into Quatre's eyes, "Yes he did. And damn near ran himself through with that Gods damned hunting knife of his."

Quatre's eyes flew wide and the last clue fell into place, "That gash... that was the night I followed him! But I didn't see the knife, how did he... ?"

"It was wedged into the pile of his clothes."

The picture was complete, or as complete as it was going to get, and suddenly, Quatre's knees felt weak. His eyes left Heero's and lost their focus as that night replayed in his head.

"Oh Gods. Oh Gods. When he leaped... Oh my Gods." He was only vaguely aware that Heero had hold of his arm and was leading him to the kitchen table and was easing him into a chair. His hands began to shake.

"Heero... I was so scared. I didn't know what to think. I was so embarrassed that I had followed him in the first place, just because I was curious about where he went. I didn't see the knife... I couldn't figure out where the wound came from. Oh Gods; if I'd known, I would have said something a week ago. I'm so sorry."

Heero took the chair next to him and awkwardly patted his shoulder, 'It's Ok, you didn't know. I never would have guessed.'

"It was darker that night, and I never thought to look at his clothes. I couldn't hardly take my eyes off... "Quatre blushed furiously and ducked his head, "I mean... I wasn't... I didn't... ah hell."

Heero snorted a soft laugh, "He was rather distracting, wasn't he?"

Quatre's head jerked up again and he looked at Heero, eyes bright, "I never knew he could dance like that!"

Heero just grunted.

"Heero, what are we going to do?"

"I'm not sure." And he sighed heavily, "Make damn sure he doesn't go for any more walks for one thing."

They could hear, through the kitchen pipes, the faint sound of the shower shutting off.

Heero looked up at the ceiling, as though he could see his partner through the intervening floor and walls, "I think,"He said hesitantly, "I'm going to go check on him."

He left Quatre sitting in the kitchen, and forced himself up the stairs; his steps uncertain, and his heart in his throat. He didn't deal with emotional confrontation well.

He paused outside the door to Duo's room, trying to get his thoughts together, trying to figure out what to say. He could hear the sounds of Duo moving about inside. He knocked lightly and all sound from within stopped dead. There was a long wait and then the soft sound of Duo's voice, 'Come in.'

Heero opened the door and stepped inside. Duo was sitting on his bed, wrapped in a layer of blankets, combing his wet hair. Heero could see his hands still shivering, though he tried to hide it.

"Duo... " He wasn't sure what to say.

"What do you want, Heero?" Duo's voice still held a hint of anger, and it decided Heero on what he should probably say next.

"'Duo, I'm sorry I followed you. I... I didn't mean to spy."

The admission made Duo's face soften, and he looked away, resuming the work on his hair. "Excepted." He said simply, and Heero could tell he was hoping the conversation was over.

But Heero found himself moved to go and sit on the bed beside his partner. "You... scared me."

Duo didn't speak, still clinging to the hope that Heero would drop it. His skin looked deathly white in the harsh light of the room, and his whole body was trembling slightly. Heero reached out and gently laid a hand on his bare shoulder.

"Gods!" he muttered, "You're still ice cold!"

Duo stiffened, and a flash of the anger came back, "I'm fine."He said flatly, and Heero withdrew his hand.

"How bad did you cut yourself?"He went doggedly forward, figuring Duo was already mad; he might as well get that question out of the way.

Duo slapped the comb down on the bed, turned his face away and blushing furiously, jerked the blanket away to bare his chest, letting Heero touch and probe until he was satisfied the cut wasn't deep.

"Happy?" Duo hissed, still not meeting his eyes, "Now leave me alone."

Heero recoiled, a little stung, "Duo, I was worried; that's all. I don't understand... "

Duo's eyes came back around as he pulled the blanket up again, "I told you, Heero. It's really none of your business."

"You're my partner." The anger was slipping back into Heero's voice as well now, "Of course it's my business."

"Please... just leave me alone." There was a note of defeat in his voice, fatigue finally laying claim to him.

"Not until you promise me you'll never do that again." Heero pressed hard, seeing the weakness and meaning to exploit it.

There was a long silence and finally, an almost imperceptible nod, "Fine."The voice was small and resigned, "I promise. Now go away."

Heero rose and left the room, wanting only to stay and hold the shivering body of his partner, wanting to warm him and protect him and find the answers to the questions raging through his head. He paused at the door and looked back, only to find Duo already lying down, curled up almost invisible under the pile of blankets. Heero turned off the light and shut the door behind him.

Quatre was down the hall, standing in his doorway watching for him. He quirked an eyebrow and Heero shrugged, shaking his head. Quatre touched the center of his chest and Heero nodded reassurance. They both went to their beds, but sleep didn't come easy that night for either of them.

Morning made the whole thing seem like a dream as Duo bounced and laughed his way through breakfast, acting as though nothing had ever happened. Quatre maintained the illusion that he didn't know, and Heero was forced to keep his mouth shut.

He and Quatre talked about it between the two of them, Heero relaying what had passed between himself and Duo the night before. Quatre filling in the gaps and telling Heero his theories that the beach episodes corresponded with the rougher missions.

Heero found himself dreading missions even more than usual. Several weeks went by, with only a few simple hacking jobs coming in, and Heero began to relax a little. After all, Duo had promised; and he never broke a promise.

He discovered after the first several days, that Quatre had taken Trowa into his confidence, and though he was a little irritated, he accepted it; he should have know it was coming. The two were partners, just as he and Duo were, and normally shared everything. He was only a little surprised that Quatre had not told him before now. He himself decided to speak to Wufei, not wanting their other teammate to be the only one left in the dark.

So it was four hearts in throats, and four minds in turmoil when Duo was assigned another search and destroy.

It was Heero, Duo, and Wufei, tasked with finding a shuttle convoy attempting to deliver supplies to an outpost. There would be heavy defense, since the Gundams had wrecked havoc on the supply lines over the last several months, and the outposts were getting desperate.

It was a nasty affair. They completed the mission. They did what they came to do. The battle lasted hours. The screams of the dying echoed in their heads much longer than that. There was no radio chatter on the return flight.

Heero and Wufei docked and disembarked first, moving as one, without discussion, to stand at the base of Deathscythe, waiting for Duo. It took him long minutes to shut down and dock. Longer still for the hatch to sigh open on his Gundam, and when he climbed down, it was a slow, weary climb, with none of his usual style and grace.

He turned to meet their eyes when his feet were on the ground, and Heero could see written on his face the understanding that there were no secrets here, and he flushed faintly.

"Let's head back and get dinner." Wufei suggested lightly and they moved to flank their teammate without any real conscious plan to do so.

Duo gave Heero one odd, almost pleading look that he could answer only with confusion and Duo himself broke the eye contact, defeated. They turned and made the walk to the safe house, there was none of Duo's usual talk, he simply walked between them, shoulders slumped and head hanging.

He took overly long in the shower, and only picked at his food later at the dinner table. Heero found an excuse to brush his arm, and found his skin cold to the touch, knowing that the shower had been in icy water. He didn't understand and he didn't know what to do. There was something wrong with his partner that he didn't know how to fix. Bandages and stitches wouldn't do it this time; he was at a total loss. All he could do was hover, offering his company, hoping that eventually Duo would talk to him.

They tried. They all tried. Heero just by being there, never leaving his partner alone for long. Quatre cooking like there was no tomorrow, plying the unusually quiet pilot with all the things that he had ever even once exclaimed over. Trowa did his best to bring home distractions, renting old movies and offering board games that Duo normally delighted in playing to pass the hours. Wufei decided to teach him some of his simpler katas, dragging him out in the early morning hours to the back yard. Duo tried as well, rising to each new offering with his patented grin intact, complimenting and eating Quatre's food, playing the games and sitting with the group laughing at the old movies. He attacked Wufei's teachings with a vengeance, throwing himself into the ritualistic routines with a concentrated will that took Wufei by surprise and forced him to escalate his training to some of the more complex forms. Heero took to watching them, never far from his partner's side.

He seemed to be the only one who realized that this was all on the surface. That if Quatre had looked passed the smiles and the compliments; Duo wasn't really eating half his normal fare. Though he laughed and played the games, it wasn't with his usual exuberance; where once he would have led the group, dragging the games out and pestering everyone to play, now he followed, coming to the table only when sought out. And the hours of practicing katas with Wufei were only a pale replacement for the ritual of his dancing. Though it was an outlet that he threw himself into with all his will, it somehow left him almost frustrated and angry.

And it only got worse with each mission that came. Heero began to fear for his partner; he was becoming more reckless with each passing day, tackling more than he could handle; seeming to almost deliberately antagonize his opponents, drawing the fire of every gun on the field. He seldom communicated anymore during battle, speaking only when it was absolutely necessary, and when his voice came over the comm, there was the blare of screaming rock music in the background, as though he could drown out the sounds he didn't want to hear.

Heero began having nightmares, dreams where he watched Deathscythe self-destruct, that left him shaking and shivering in his bed. Dreams that drove him to cross the hall and crack Duo's door open in the middle of the night, because his heart had to see his partner safe in his bed.

The end of the week found another mission. A base infiltration with a two-man team, Wufei and Duo. Heero didn't like it. He didn't like it one bit. He went to Wufei's room while he was packing his gear.

"What's up, Yuy?" the Chinese man greeted his arrival, lifting an eyebrow when his teammate shut the door behind him.

"I need to speak with you... about Duo." The more Heero thought about this mission, the worse the idea seemed.

Wufei simply continued pulling on his gun harness, and waited patiently for him to continue.

"Have you noticed how he's been lately? In battle?" Now that he thought about it, there hadn't been that many missions that Duo had been on with anyone but Heero himself.

"I don't think I know what you mean; I have noticed nothing out of the ordinary." Wufei frowned at him, concerned.

"Listen, Chang; this is important. The last several missions, Duo has... he's getting reckless." He wasn't sure how to get across his point without making accusations.

"Are you saying he's suicidal?" Trust Wufei to cut right to the hearts blood of the matter.

Heero blew out his breath and ran his fingers through his hair, "I don't know. Maybe. Something's happening inside him... he won't talk to me. I don't know what's going on."

Wufei stopped his preparations and turned his full attention on Heero, "What are you telling me?"

"I'm not sure I know!"Heero was beside himself with frustration, "He's not acting like himself! We stopped those damn trips to the beach, but now... somehow, things are building up inside him... I'm... worried, Chang."

"I could have wished you would have brought this up before now." Wufei glared at him.

"How the hell can you not have noticed?"Heero growled in exasperation, "He hasn't been himself since I confronted him!"

Wufei seemed to deflate a little, "You're right. I think I saw it and... didn't want to see it."

"Suicidal is a damn strong word, Chang. But... I'm not entirely sure it isn't accurate. Watch him. Watch him close."

He left the room, feeling a horrid helplessness and wishing that he could just cancel the mission. If Duo hadn't already known about it; wasn't suiting up for it right now, Heero would go in his place and never tell him. But all he could do was stand in the living room and watch them slip out together into the dark and wish he knew how to pray.

He stayed there, where he could see the front door, and waited for their return even though it would be hours and hours before they came back. He knew there was no point in trying to go to bed, he would never be able to sleep, would only toss and turn, listening for the sounds of them coming in. The installation was only a couple of hours away. They should be back by morning, if all went well, but somehow, Heero doubted all was going to go well. The longer he sat, the more sure he was that he had made a grave error in not calling the mission off. He shouldn't have let this go on so long; he should have confronted Duo when he first started noticing that something was bothering him. This was his partner, and he was letting him down. The whole point to having a partner was to have someone to watch your back, someone to be there when you needed help. His thoughts spiraled and twisted in on themselves while he sat alone in the dark, until finally, near dawn, he heard sounds that indicated someone was on the porch. He fairly leaped from the chair he had been in all night and ran to throw the door open. He surprised them, as Duo struggled to get the door open and hold Wufei up at the same time.

His wide, amethyst eyes met Heero's, full of pain and despair and something darker and all he said was, "Help him." In a whimpered voice that sounded lost and panicked.

Heero moved in on the other side, and pulled Wufei's arm around his shoulders. They hauled him into the house, and Heero kicked the door shut behind them. Trowa and Quatre came thundering down the stairs and there were shouts and questions and Wufei wavering in and out of focus. They had trouble prying his fingers away from Duo's jacket but finally succeeded, and Heero and Trowa carried him up to his room where they were able to strip him out of his clothes and examine his injuries. They found a gun shot wound in the meaty part of his thigh that was bleeding profusely.

"We're going to have to take him in." Trowa hissed, working over it, "This looks bad; he's lost a lot of blood."

"Duo?" On the bed, Wufei's hand groped out, reaching, and Heero took it.

"You're all right. Duo got you back, we're going to have to take you in to the base, Ok?"

"Where's Duo?" Wufei panted, trying desperately to keep his focus.

"It's all right, Chang." Quatre reassured him, "Duo got back with you."

"Then where the hell is he?" He yelled, his anger helping him stay aware.

Heero looked around and suddenly realized that Duo hadn't followed them into Wufei's room.

"What happened?" He demanded tersely; this wasn't like Duo at all, and Heero was suddenly afraid.

"I got hit because he froze." Wufei gasped out, finding Heero with fearful eyes, "He's a mess. Go find him."

Quatre squeezed Heero's arm, "We can take care of Wufei, Heero. Go."

It was all the reassurance he needed, and he bolted out of the room, checking first in Duo's room, not really surprised to find it empty, then leaping down the stairs meaning to check the ground floor. But the first thing he saw was the front door standing wide open, and he knew without a shadow of a doubt he had closed it.

He started running, thinking to check the hidden Gundams first, but on a sudden inspiration, heading toward the beach. His heart was racing; his gut was churning, and his mind near to whiting out with terror. All his foreboding, all night long had come to this. He was afraid of what he was going to find on that beach; couldn't move fast enough, it felt like one of those dreams where you ran and ran and didn't get anywhere. He vaulted down stairs and leaped over benches, pushing his body to its limits, trying to get to the beach as fast as possible. His minds eye saw Duo swimming out with the tide and not turning back. Finally, he reached the boardwalk, running out its length, his feet pounding on the wooden slats. He threw himself against the rail, the rough board biting into his hips as he hit it almost at a full run. Below, he could see something dark on the sand near the place where Duo had gone into the water all those weeks ago. With a cry, he hurled himself over the railing, landing in the sand with a bone jarring impact, staggering up and running toward the dark shape. The moon was not out tonight, the only light coming from the lights up on the boardwalk and the street far above.

"Duo!" He reached the dark, unmoving shape, and pulled the limp body of his partner into his lap. "Gods Duo; what have you done?"

His body was lying at the waters edge, the surf rolling up and pulling at his legs, soaking into his clothes, the water diluting the blood into a pink foam.

His wrists were slashed, and his life was bleeding away into the ocean.

Heero moaned his anguish even as he levered himself up, hauling Duo up into his arms and stumbling up the beach, heading up to the street where there was a pay phone.

The sand made the going difficult, especially under the extra weight, it was all Heero could do to make his way through it until he reached the hiking path and started the climb to street level.

"Duo can you hear me? Please, Duo; wake up. Stay with me, please stay with me." He talked, rambling nonsense, not half hearing what he was saying, just hoping to get through to his partner; his friend.

There was a faint stirring in his arms as they reached the path, and Duo's voice, faint and slurred, "S'rry. Tell 'Fei I'm so sorry."

"You'll tell him yourself, damnit." Heero whispered in response, his arms tightening around the shivering body he clutched to his chest.

He wasn't sure Duo even heard him, "Screwed up this time. I screwed it all up."

"You did not. Everything's fine. Wufei is fine. Trowa and Quatre are taking him to the base. He's going to be all right." He hoped that were all true, he didn't want to lie, but he needed to comfort. The cold seawater and the blood were soaking into his shirt and making him feel the cold, he could only imagine what Duo was feeling.

Finally, finally, they reached the top of the path and Heero lay his precious burden down on the ground while he grabbed the phone and made the call, giving the codes and the directions that would bring help as fast as possible. He was amazed how steady his voice was, how the soldiers training took over and made his brain work to do what had to be done even while his hands shook and his heart ached and Duo's life blood oozed across the pavement at his feet. Message delivered, he hung up the phone and knelt down beside his shivering partner, turning the wrists to the light. The cuts were deep, probably delivered with that same damn knife that Duo always carried, the one he had nearly thrown himself on. Heero viciously hoped the Gods damned thing had washed out to sea. He tore his own shirt off, and ripped it down the middle, doing his best to bind up the gashes and slow the bleeding. Duo was deathly pale and shuddering beside him.

"Duo, can you hear me?" He asked gently, wanting some reassurance that he was still aware.

The eyes didn't open, but Heero saw his mouth work, tongue slipping out to lick at dry lips. It took several tries before a sigh of sound came to him, "S'rry... so sorry."

Tears stung at Heero's eyes, and he blinked furiously to keep his sight clear so he could see what he was doing, "Damn it, Duo! Stop fucking apologizing."

There was a tiny ghost of a grin; little more than the twitch of his lips, "I screwed up really bad this time Heero."

"Damn straight you did." Heero growled at him, his voice getting husky despite himself. He had Duo's wrists bound as best he could, and shifted him to get his head below heart level, holding his arms up above him, hoping to slow down the flow of blood. "But help is coming, you have to hang on, Duo. Just hang on."

Duo's eyes came open and he seemed to be fighting a great drowsiness, "Mean 'Fei; almos' got him killed. Screwed up. I can't do this any more."

Heero lay down beside him, trying to give him some of his own body heat, curling one arm around his head and pulling him into his shoulder. "He's all right. He's going to be fine. You may have made a mistake, but damnit, Duo; this isn't the answer."

"Can't... can't endanger the others." His eyes were slipping closed again, "This is... best."

"No!"Heero couldn't help the rise in his voice, and the tears broke passed his control and streamed down his face. "You stay with me, damn you! Don't you do this to me!"

Duo's eyes opened again, searching for his partner, his face taking on a look of wonderment, "Heero? Don't cry. Please don't cry."

"Gods Duo; why the hell didn't you talk to me before it came to this?" He leaned his head down, touching his forehead to Duo's.

"I... I didn't think you cared." Came the breath of a reply, "You guys are all so... damned strong."

Heero pulled back and looked down into the chalk white face next to his own; the amethyst eyes were closed again. In the distance, he heard sirens and wished to hell they would hurry.

"Duo; Gods, of course I care. We all care. You can't leave us like this. You can't leave me. Please... Gods... please don't die." His voice was a broken thing, gruff and frightened.

Duo drew a shuddering breath and forced his eyes open again; to Heero's gaze they looked dull and flat and he wasn't sure he was even seeing him any more, "Heero? Favor?"

"Anything." He whispered, willing the sirens to draw nearer.

There was a hesitant silence and then soft as a sigh, "K... kiss me goodbye?"

It hit Heero like a blow, and he jerked upright, staring down into the face beneath his.

"No!"The cry ripped from his throat, catching him by surprise with its fierceness, and Duo flinched beside him. "You want my kisses, you live for them!"

Duo said something then, but there didn't seem to be breath left to get the words passed his lips and Heero leaned down and kissed his forehead and his cheek, alarmed by the feel of the icy skin, "You hear me, Duo Maxwell? You live and I'll kiss you every day for the rest of our lives! But I won't say goodbye!"

Duo smiled softly, but didn't speak or open his eyes again. The transport truck roared up at long last, sirens blaring, and the medics leaped down and Heero found himself shoved out of the way while they set to frantic work. Then they were both loaded into the truck and Heero remembered very little else for some time. His eyes only saw Duo's still form, ghostly pale and fragile looking on the gurney on the floor of the truck, with, it seemed, a dozen hands working over him. Heero could only draw hope from the frenzied activity and try to stay the hell out of the way. Someone threw a blanket to him, but it didn't register that he was supposed to be doing something with it, and someone else came and wrapped it around his bare shoulders. He heard the work 'shock' and one of the attendants came and tried to talk to him, but he only shoved the man back towards Duo with a warning growl. After that, they left him pretty much alone.

The ride seemed to take forever, another one of those nightmare runs that didn't gain any ground. Heero tried to take heart from the continued attention to Duo's limp arms. If he died, they wouldn't still be working on him, would they? He found himself rocking to and fro and forced himself to stop.

The tears had stopped flowing when Duo had stopped talking to him, when they had pulled him out of his arms. His emotions felt wrapped in cotton; dulled and far away. As long as he could sit and see Duo across the truck, and knew that he was still alive; he was content to just sit and stare. He was rocking again, and he didn't bother to try to stop this time.

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