Dancing on the Beach (cont)

At long bloody damn last, the truck was pulling into the emergency bay at the base hospital with the sound of screaming tires and a sudden, hard lurch. The gurney Duo was on was hauled out the back almost before the truck was completely stopped. Heero clambered down, following behind, blanket falling away unnoticed. Someone appeared in his line of vision, attempting to draw him to the side, but he snarled dangerously and that person got the hell out of the way. He followed the gurney into the depths of the emergency room, not letting his eyes leave the pale, pale form. Several people made to touch him, to move him back to the waiting room, but one look into his icy blue eyes, and they backed off quickly. He stayed carefully out of the way, and eventually they stopped bothering him.

He watched them cut Duo's clothes away; he watched them start the IV, finally beginning the transfusion. He saw them working on the gashed wrists, saw heads shake, saw eyes flicking his way. It finally soaked through to his muddled brain that they were prepping Duo for surgery.

Panic began to pry its way around the numbness as he realized they wouldn't let him go with Duo. Suddenly, familiar hands were on his shoulders and Trowa and Quatre were there.

The heat of Trowa's hands resting reassuringly on his arms seeped into him, working passed the cocoon his heart was wrapped in and he began to shiver and he did something he never would have thought he could manage. He turned around to find his teammates and threw his arms tight around Trowa's chest, burying his face in the comfort offered him, letting go to the tremors that attacked his body. Quatre came in behind him, and the two sheltered him from prying eyes as the attendants wheeled Duo away to the waiting operating room.

Someone came up to Quatre and spoke to him in low tones, and again Heero heard that word; 'shock'. There was an exchange between calm, reliant Quatre and the faceless intern, and Heero felt vaguely that there was important information being passed, but he couldn't seem to focus enough to hear more than one word in twenty. Trowa's arms were tight around him, solid and strong and like an anchor in the fog he seemed lost in. Quatre's hands were firm and gentle on his back, and between them, they got him moving, and he went, unresisting, not caring in the slightest where, as long as it was away from the glaring, unforgiving lights and the sight of Duo's blood-soaked clothes in a pile on the floor.

They were granted an empty room; it was apparently a slow night, and he let his teammates take him there. A sink full of warm water was run, and he realized when they began to clean him up, that he was smeared with Duo's blood. His arms; his hands; his chest; his face. Quatre gently bathed him with the stark, white hospital washcloth that quickly turned a sickly red. The protective wrapping around his aching heart slowly unwound as the blood was cleaned away. Washed away.

Washed away by the cold ocean waves. Swept away by the cold, dancing wind. Blood rinsed clean by the grace of the only God Duo could believe in; Shinigami, the God of Death. In that moment, Heero understood what he had taken from Duo when he had denied him his dancing on the sand. Absolution. Shinigami's forgiveness. He danced in the moonlight and threw himself at Death, and if the God refrained from taking him, then he must be forgiven, right? 'Guess Shinigami forgave me again, huh?'

"What have I done?" Heero whispered, and his pain came home to roost in full measure and his knees buckled and the tears came, and could he have seen the horrified, shocked looks his teammates exchanged, he wouldn't have cared.

If Duo died, it was all his fault.

They cleaned him, and they dried him, and Trowa took his jacket off and slipped it on his chilled body, and the still warm garment was a comfort that finally let him regain some control. He did his best to explain, but he wasn't sure they understood.

They took him to a waiting room then, hovering over him like two mother hens; Quatre dealing with the people, deflecting questions and turning aside the curious, Trowa, an intimidating presence that stayed close and watchful; protective of his tenuous privacy.

Quatre went and found a blanket, tucking it in around his legs in the still wet jeans. Disappearing again, only to return with a cup of hot tea from the Gods only knew where, that he pressed into Heero's trembling hands. It helped. It all helped. Just their being there helped. His focus began to come back, and his brain to process.

"Where's Wufei?" He said at last, voice gravelly.

"He's in surgery as well." Trowa told him gently, one hand resting on Heero's back.

"I'll check." Quatre told him soothingly, and went to speak in low tones with the nurse at the desk. Heero was surprised to see her darting almost fearful glances his way, and beside him, Trowa rumbled a deep-throated chuckle, "You have to stop scaring the hell out of the hired help, Yuy."

It was such a normal thing to say, and Heero appreciating the effort, quirked a half-hearted grin at him. It faded quickly and his eyes returned to the doors that led to the surgery arena.

The hand on his back made small circles, "It's good it's taking this long. He's tough, Heero, he's going to make it." It might have been more comfort if Trowa hadn't sounded as though he were trying to convince himself.

Quatre rejoined them, "Wufei is out of surgery and in recovery. They said one of us could go in to see him when he wakes up."

Heero nodded, excepting the news with a great deal of relief, not only for Wufei's sake, but for Duo's as well.

It was an hour before someone finally came out of those damned doors and wearily approached them. Heero stood to meet the man, obviously the surgeon, blanket forgotten.

The man smiled faintly, his face otherwise unreadable, "Your friend is doing much better." He told them gently.

"When can we see him?" Heero demanded, not waiting for the rest of the man's prepared speech.

A frown crossed the tired face, "I'm afraid that in the case of self-inflicted wounds, we have a policy of waiting until the psychologist has had a chance to evaluate... "

Trowa cut him off smoothly, his voice bland and firm, "I'm afraid there's been a misunderstanding, Doctor. Our two teammates were on a... covert mission. All injuries were a result of their capture and subsequent escape from the enemy."

The man looked somewhat skeptical for a moment, looking first at Trowa, and then at Quatre, who nodded sadly, backing up his partner's statement. The Doctor looked angry then and muttered something about damned Oz bastards.

"As soon as he's awake then." He told them gently, seeming only glad that someone had arrived to take the frightening Heero Yuy in hand, "He's very weak and will need to rest."Then he turned and went back the way he had come.

Heero sank back down into his chair, knees feeling like they might fail him. He granted his two teammates a quirk of a smile, '"You two could sell swamp land for a living."

The two exchanged mild, innocent smiles; as pleased with Heero returning to normal, as they were with the success of their deception.

It wasn't long before a nurse came out with the news that Wufei could have a visitor. Heero wanted to go, but was afraid that Duo might wake while he was in with their Chinese partner. In the end, after an odd exchange of wordless glances, Quatre went.

Heero suspected they had made a conscious decision to leave the taller, more intimidating Trowa with him as a buffer between Heero and the hospital staff. It embarrassed him. He had not lost control of himself like this in... well, he wasn't all together sure he had ever lost control like this before. He couldn't quite believe the depth of his feelings. He had always been fond of Duo, had harbored a secret attraction even, but he had found to his shock, in that moment on the beach when he realized what Duo had done, that he loved the man. Loved him like he had never loved anything in his entire life. Had it been within his power to take Duo's wounds onto his own body, he would have done so without a second thought. He would have died on the beach if it would have meant that Duo would live.

Whenever he closed his eyes, he still saw the crumpled body lying at the waters edge, the icy water lapping at his legs, his braid looping across the sand like some exotic sea snake.

What had he done? Dear Gods; this was all his fault. What had he gone and done?

"You Ok?" Trowa asked him gently, his hand still resting on Heero's back.

"Hmmm? Fine... I'm fine." Heero answered, leaning to rest his elbows on his knees, dropping his face into his hands and rubbing at tired eyes.

"You got quiet again." It was a question, meant to draw him out, and Heero knew it but couldn't really be irritated.

He sighed heavily, "I was just thinking... trying to figure out how I should have handled the whole... beach thing."

"Heero," His friend said, lowering his voice for privacy, "You couldn't have let it go on. Sooner or later... he would have... slipped."

"I didn't understand. I didn't realize what it did for him; how it helped him cope."

"He has to find another damn way to cope." Trowa's eyes glinted dangerously, "If you're thinking of letting him... "

Heero looked up at his teammate with a dark scowl that firmly answered that question, and Trowa didn't bother to finish.

"Of course I'm not."Heero told him, verbally backing up the look, "I just don't know how to help him."

Trowa looked at him strangely, "Heero... we help him by getting him out of this hell. We report him unfit for duty and stop this right here."

Heero sat up and turned stunned eyes on Trowa, "No." His voice was low, but firm, "He did this because he felt he'd failed us. If we pull him off active duty, it will only reinforce the idea that we don't trust him."

"Wufei said he froze."

"You've never frozen, Trowa Barton?" Heero glared at him, "Never? I have. I know Quatre has, I've seen it."

Trowa lowered his eyes and finally had to nod.

"I've never seen Duo falter before. He's never broken like this." Heero leaned closer to his teammate, partly for privacy, partly from the intensity of what he had to say, "We never talk about what we feel, about what we've done. He called us strong; he thinks that none of us has ever lost our nerve."

Trowa looked up at him again, his eyes admitting that Heero spoke the truth, "So what are we going to do?'"

Heero sat back again with a defeated sigh, "I don't bloody well know."

There was a long silence, each of them lost in their own thoughts, until finally Trowa spoke, looking off in the distance at nothing.

"Well... how the hell do you deal with... it?"

Heero didn't answer at once; it was something he had been mulling over in the back of his mind since he had pieced the whole thing together. "I don't know... I just lock it down. I don't think about it. I keep it in terms of objectives and missions and goals."

He sat and stared off in the same middle distance for a while, not really satisfied with the answer, before glancing sideways, "How do you?"

Heero saw a muscle work in Trowa's jaw, "Quatre... helps me."

He grunted and considered the thought. He wasn't sure what Trowa was saying and wasn't about to ask for clarification. He thought about the two of them; the way they acted around each other. They complemented each other, supported each other, understood each other. He could picture them, working in the kitchen or repairing a Gundam; working side by side, finishing each others sentences, passing each other tools without having to ask. Knowing each others needs without being told.

He wanted that. So suddenly and so badly, his chest hurt.

"I want to... help Duo like that." He breathed, and couldn't look at his teammate to gage his reaction.

Suddenly he growled low in his throat. "Enough of this. I'm not waiting any more."

He shrugged out from under Trowa's hand, and tossing the blanket aside, went to find Duo. Trowa, sensing that Heero was completely back in control, didn't even think of getting in his way.

Heero strode straight through the doors that the Doctor had used earlier and began a systematic search of the recovery rooms. A nurse started to approach him, met his eyes and turned abruptly on her heel, pretending she hadn't seen him. The next nurse who crossed his path visibly quailed, but approached him anyway.

"Sir, can I help you? I don't think you're supposed to be back here."

"I need to see the wrist laceration patient." He told her, guessing that she would be better acquainted with the condition than the name of a newly admitted, unconscious patient. Her eyes flicked involuntarily to the left, and he brushed passed her.

"Debriefing."He muttered as she started after him, "Covert Ops."

That stopped her, and she hesitated in the middle of the hall while he made his way to the last room on the left.

The lights were glaringly bright, making Duo look all the paler against the white sheets. Heero's breath hissed as he approached the bed and looked down. The skin looked almost translucent, and Heero could see the pulse in his neck beating painfully hard. The heart monitor by the bed beeped a reassuring counter-point. Both wrists were swathed in stark bandages, and there were several bags hanging from the IV stand.

Heero just stood looking down for a long moment, watching the shallow rise and fall of Duo's chest. He wanted to take and hold one of those limp hands in his own, but was afraid of hurting. He settled, finally, on resting one hand on Duo's shoulder. He realized after a moment, that the blanket draped across Duo's body had been heated, and remembered how cold his partner had been. It swept over him then, just how bloody damned close he had come to losing this person who had slipped inside his guard while he had been unaware, and stolen his heart right out from under him.

The Doctor had said he would live. Would recover.

Carefully, gently, he leaned down and softly brushed his lips across Duo's. They felt parchment dry against him, and he soothingly slid his tongue out and moistened them, trembling as Duo unconsciously responded.

"That's one, my love." Heero whispered softly to the cherished face, his fingers stroking the pallid cheek.

Looking around, he found a chair and snagging it with his foot, drug it over and sat down, preparing to stay as long as it took for his partner to wake.

He didn't for a moment believe that Trowa's way was the answer to this mess. What Heero had stolen from Duo, all unknowing, was what had allowed the young man to live with himself and what the war had forced him to become. It was nothing more than a ritual, and Heero knew damn well that Duo was well aware of it. How in the hell it had all started, Heero couldn't even guess, but it had obviously developed over time into some sort of bizarre answer to Duo's need. Duo was a much more sensitive soul than Heero felt himself to be, more imaginative, more... aware. He couldn't just 'lock it down' the way Heero was able to. Couldn't categorize it, organize it, and dump it into the most detailed mission reports ever written to purge it from his system. Duo, somehow, needed someone else to tell him it was all right; someone to let him know that he was forgiven. Even if it wasn't really true, it apparently was enough to let him go on.

And Heero had taken it away from him. Left him floundering in his guilt and confusion, lost in that place where the screaming and bloodletting never stopped. Until he had finally faltered somehow; allowing a teammate to come to harm, and that was the one thing he couldn't live with.

Heero let his hand cup the smooth cheek, tracing the line of Duo's jaw, "I'm so sorry, Duo. I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't realize."

A soft sigh escaped from his partner's lips, and his eyes struggled open. Those beautiful amethyst eyes that always startled Heero with their vibrant color. He blinked slowly, and Heero saw pain flicker across his face, and confusion, and then a hint of fear.

"I'm here. I'm right here." Heero whispered, and those eyes turned his way, finding him and he saw the fear fade away.

"Heero?" the voice was hoarse and weak, and he was fighting to keep his eyes open.

"Yes, I'm with you. Everything's all right now." He soothed, gently squeezing the shoulder under his fingers.

"What... ?" Heero watched the confusion slowly fade as the memories came creeping back. "Wufei... Oh, Gods." Pain welled up in those eyes then, that had nothing to do with the physical world, and Heero heard the steady rhythm of the heart monitor lurch.

"Shhhh... He's all right." Heero reached to stroke soothing fingers across Duo's forehead, "Calm down. It's all right. Everything's Ok. Wufei is fine."

Tears began to seep from the corners of Duo's eyes, washing unheeded down the side of his face. "Oh Heero, I messed up so bad!"

Heero knew it was partially the drugs that had eroded his loves self control, knew that Duo would hate this if he were fully aware of his actions. But it shredded his heart all the same and he couldn't help easing up to sit on the side of the bed where Duo could see him without having to turn his head uncomfortably.

"No you didn't." He whispered fiercely, "You made a mistake. A simple, single damn mistake, that's all."

Duo blinked up at him, wide eyed and looking stunned, "Didn't Wufei tell you?"He whispered, tears streaming all the harder, "I froze, Heero. I... I couldn't pull the damn trigger and I got Wufei shot!" Behind him, Heero could hear the pulse of the monitor escalate again.

"Hush; hush now. Stay calm or they're going to come throw me out of here." Heero tried to smile reassuringly, stroking his fingers over Duo's hair.

His partner took a calming breath, letting his eyes fall closed and he frowned slightly, his concentration on the monitor and it slowly settled to normal. For a moment, Heero thought he had fallen back asleep.

"You're not hearing what I'm telling you, Heero. I almost got Wufei killed." His voice was soft and a little ragged. Heero found water in a pitcher by the bed and fished an ice cube out, gently tracing Duo's dry lips with it until Duo opened his mouth and took it from his fingers. Heero found himself reluctant to lose the touch, and let his hands continue to caress cheek and forehead. Duo was just muzzy enough from the drugs that he didn't find this at all odd, occasionally turning his face toward the calloused hands, as though asking for the contact, the warmth.

"Duo... we've all made mistakes. We've all lost our nerve."

"Don't lie to me." The eyes snapped open and the heartbeat lurched.

"I swear to you, I'm not." He leaned down, stilling his hands and bringing his eyes close to stare straight into Duo's, "We were just damn lucky that none of us got hurt. Do you remember that mission when I brought Quatre back in Wing and we had to go back later for Sandrock?"

There was a tiny spark of uncertainty in Duo's eyes, and he nodded, "You hid Sandrock in the mountains?"

"Yes, that was the time." Heero smiled softly, allowing his fingers to resume their soothing path over Duo's face, "We had been out for a week. We were both very tired; hadn't slept in days. In the middle of a fight, surrounded by mobile dolls, Quatre... forgot how to pilot."

Duo looked horrified, eyes going wide, "He... what?"

"He just... went blank. He... froze. If I hadn't been there... " He left the sentence unfinished.

"You guys never said what happened... why didn't... ?"

"It's not really the kind of thing that you like to talk about." Heero flushed a little and looked away, sorry now that they hadn't. Wishing desperately that they had talked about it, brought it out in the open. Maybe if Duo had heard the story...

"This is different, Heero; Wufei is never going to trust me again." The pain, the guilt, the shame were palpable things.

"I learned to trust Quatre again. The first thing Wufei asked about when he regained consciousness at the house was you." Heero told him with a sad smile, "He was afraid for you, realized before the rest of us that you were missing and sent me after you."

A strange look crossed Duo's face, a bastard mixture of hope and despair, "I wish you hadn't found me." He murmured, so faintly, Heero almost didn't hear.

He felt his own heart stagger in his chest, "Don't say that, love; please don't say that." His hands came to rest on Duo's shoulders and he squeezed hard, "We need you... I need you."

Finally, the touches, the endearments, the love in the eyes of the man sitting beside him, seemed to soak through the drug induced fog cloaking Duo's brain. He looked up into Heero's face, eyes searching hungrily. His hand rose slowly off the bed, not without a faint grimace of pain and came to rest on the back of the hand holding him.

"Heero?"He sighed, his features wearing an aching hurt and the monitor told Heero what little else he needed to know.

He leaned slowly down, "Calm; heart of my heart, stay calm."

The lips that rose to meet his were trembling and soft and yielded to him completely. Heero took the invitation, but gently and softly and with the greatest care, stopping when the keening of the heart monitor told him to.

"I will kiss you hello, my little one."He breathed next to Duo's ear, "I will kiss you good morning, and I will kiss you good night. But I will never, ever kiss you good bye."

It all seemed too much for Duo, who just lay still, his hand resting light and shaking on Heero's, the tears flooding down his face unnoticed, his eyes never leaving Heero's face.

"Duo... say something." Heero pleaded after a few moments under that stare.

"Heero... oh Heero... please... hold me?" The tone was desperate and hungry, the voice small and lost.

Heero smiled warmly, "I'm not sure how, love." He said with no little frustration, trying to find a way past the wires and tubes. Duo squirmed over with some difficulty, the simple act of sliding his body across the bed three or four inches leaving him panting, but Heero was able to ease onto the bed beside him and work his arm around him, and Duo collapsed into him with a sigh, burying his face against his partners chest.

"You're warm." He mumbled, once settled, and Heero drew the blankets back up around him.

"Rest now, my love. Go back to sleep, I'm here." Heero carefully straightened the bandaged arms back out on the bed, making certain nothing was touching the site of the wounds.

There was a very long stretch of silence, while they settled and relaxed into each other, the heart monitor steadied and slowed, and Heero thought for a while that Duo had dozed back off, but then his voice came, soft and strained,

"Heero... what am I going to do?"

"You're going to go on." Heero told him, having found the answer when he came into this room, "You're going to go on because I can't go on without you."

His only answer was a shuddering sigh, so he continued.

"You are going to rest, and you are going to get better." Heero brought his fingers up to stroke softly along the side of the face pressed against him, "We're going to get you out of here, and we're going to go on... together."

"I... I don't know... " Heero could hear the self-doubt in the anguished voice. I don't know if I can, the voice said. What if I freeze again? What if someone else gets hurt because of me? What if that someone is you? I don't think I'm strong enough. I'm tired and I'm cold and I hurt, and I'm not sure if I haven't reached the end of my rope.

Heero heard all that and more in the simple, aborted syllables that were whispered and left hanging on the air.

"I'll be there to help." Heero kissed the top of the head that nuzzled below his chin, "You can dance for me, and I'll wash you clean... we'll wash each other clean."

Duo raised startled eyes to look into Heero's face long and hard. He saw true understanding in the gaze that met his unflinchingly. Understanding and acceptance, and he knew the dancing wouldn't be the wild flirt with death that it had been, but could feel that Heero held the power of absolution in his heart.

"I... I would like that... very much." Duo answered him, and allowed himself to drift back to sleep, safe in Heero's arms.

~owari

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