The tense-to-breaking feel
of his muscles seemed to ease and he uncoiled somewhat, reaching a hand
out for me. I took it in mine and held it tightly. His eyes met mine over
Heero's arm for a second and he looked very groggy and confused, through
the pain and the fear. I smiled at him warmly, "You know you're safe
here with us, spirit... you have nothing to be afraid of."
His trembling faded, almost as though his battered body could no longer
A tension seemed to fill the air and I glanced up at Heero, shocked to
find his face twisted into a mask of unbearable pain. It lasted just a
moment before the old face was back, the one I hadn't seen since I'd arrived
here. The face with no emotion in it. He sat forward and eased Duo from
his lap into mine. Duo went where he was placed without complaint, eyes
half-closed in exhaustion. I frowned questioningly at Heero.
"What are you...?" I began but he cut me off with a sad little
"I told you..." he said softly. "It's about him and what
he wants. You are obviously what he wants." His fingers seemed
to have trouble leaving Duo behind, drawing slowly away as though it were
painful to lose the contact. Then he turned to go back to his own bed.
In my arms, Duo began to tremble.
"Heero," I called gently, and he made me say it twice before
he turned back.
I got to see, in the dim light, the rebirth of hope in his eyes as he
took in the scene before him.
"It isn't me," I told him. "It's us."
He came back towards us on hesitant feet, afraid to believe what he was
seeing. When he got near enough, his hand reached out almost of its own
volition and stroked down the side of Duo's face. "I'm still here,"
In his near doze, Duo took a deep breath and... settled.
Heero's eyes widened and met mine. "I... don't understand."
I gave him a sardonic grin, "What safer place in the world than between
the Dragon and the Perfect Soldier?"
It surprised a rueful snort from him and he shook his head at the very
notion. Or perhaps my use of the code names we had all grown to find so
I looked at the bed I was sitting on, measuring the space available and
glanced up at him with a small smile. "Care to test my theory?"
He raised an eyebrow and made the same visual appraisal.
"He needs the rest," I murmured. "If it brings him any
comfort to have us here... why not?"
"Why not?" he echoed in a breathless tone.
I looked down to find Duo watching us through half lidded eyes, his expression
very still, as though he had awoken to find wild deer in his room and
was afraid of frightening them away. "Is that all right, Duo?"
I asked gently and got a very cautious nod.
We settled him in the center of the bed and then carefully crawled in
on either side of him. I ended up next to the wall again and wondered
how that kept happening. I stretched out facing them, one arm tucked under
my head and the other draped across my hip. Heero was almost my mirror
image. Duo lie flat on his back and suddenly seemed very awake, eyes wide
and staring up at the dark ceiling. I found myself reconsidering the whole
idea. He looked... scared.
"Are you sure this is all right?" I queried, trying to convey
that it wouldn't be a problem if he wanted us to leave. He reached out
and took my hand, squeezing tightly, then with a sudden flinch, reached
with his free hand to take Heero's too.
"Go to sleep," Heero told him gruffly and eventually he did
as he was told. Heero and I were a little longer about it... though we
did our best not to meet each other's eyes. There was too much to talk
about... too much that I don't think either of us understood. Maybe we
were all three just a little scared. If I had tried to sit down and explain
to anyone just what in the hell was going on here... I don't think I could
have. There were too many layers. Too many things that might just be wishful
The fact that I am somewhat ambiguous about my sexuality is not a new
thing to me. I had found that my attraction to other human beings seemed
based more on something rather illusive... something not tied to gender.
Something that allowed me to see both Duo and Lucrezia Noin as desirable
people. Something that let me see both Heero and Sally Po as attractive.
That came as no surprise.
The fact that I found Duo Maxwell incredibly... distracting was also not
a surprise. He had, as Heero so aptly put it, gotten under my skin some
time ago. He has that illusive... something. More than his fair share.
The fact that I truly loved him, wanted to be able to think of
futures and lives together... that was a bit of a surprise. At
least to most of me, I think my heart had known, somewhere underneath
all the denial. But I did. There was nothing I wouldn't sacrifice for
him and it wasn't contingent on how he felt for me. That, I think,
is what told me as much as anything, just how deeply I felt for him. I
loved Duo and I wanted him happy, even if that meant my own unhappiness.
Now, the fact that Heero loved Duo was not much of a surprise either.
I had known it in some peripheral way for some time. It was there in his
eyes if you caught him when he didn't know you were looking. It was there
in his actions... though, until this night, he would have denied any emotional
attachment and insisted that it was 'best for the mission'. Caring for
Duo was only common sense; Duo was important to the war effort. It had
nothing to do with personal feelings. And maybe he had made himself believe
that in some small way. But, no, there were no surprises there either.
What was surprising were these strange feelings that wanted to find a
way through this that would hurt no one. As much as I wanted to be able
to answer Duo's pain with my caresses and my love, wanted to be able to
hold him in my arms and tell him how I felt... I couldn't bear to see
that dead look in Heero's eyes again. It had surprised me that
his pain had cut me every bit as much as Duo's had.
And just what in the holy hell did that mean?
Duo's sleep wasn't what one would call restful. He just plain hurt too
much. His total mental and physical exhaustion would take him under, but
then the aches and the pains would bring him back to wakefulness and I
would look to see his eyes, open and staring at whatever was in front
of him. Heero got up in the wee hours and brought him another dose of
pain medicine and he took it without any argument... a thing that told
us both how very much he was hurting.
I heard whispered words of reassurance from Heero more than once, and
delivered some of my own. Duo didn't sleep well... but at least he didn't
have another nightmare. Though when I chanced to brush up against him,
I could tell he was as tense and taut as if we were still in that damn
cell. I didn't know how to take that from his shoulders. I could only
imagine what it had taken, mentally, for him to hold his silence through
everything that Bellows had done to him. At the time, I had wished more
than once that I could trade places with him... take the beating to save
him from it. But... honestly? I don't know if I could have done what he
did. I don't know that I could have kept from screaming when... when that
damn shock rod... when that thrice-damned son-of-a-bitch Bellows had...
I found Duo's fingers gently touching my cheek and I realized that I was
almost panting in rage, my muscles bunched with the desire to pound the
bastard into the floor. I raised my eyes to meet the glitter of Duo's
in the dim light.
"I hope the mother-less bastard rots in hell," I managed through
teeth I had to unclench.
Duo awkwardly patted my arm, his hand twisting around to reach me. I looked
past him to find Heero watching us. "I'm... sorry," I said and
knew that I was talking to Heero. I had been the point man. I was the
one who should have kept Duo safe... for the both of us. And I failed.
I sat idly by and watched while that... that... misbegotten inhuman son
of a jackal had tortured Duo... had almost... almost... killed...
"Oh God... Duo; I am so damn sorry," I blurted and suddenly
had to be... elsewhere.
I untangled myself as carefully as I could, crawled to the end of the
bed, climbed over the footboard and fled for the relative privacy of the
hall. Once there, I found it wasn't enough and continued my flight to
the more secure bathroom where I could shut the door and hide. I turned
on the water in the sink to drown out any noise because I was very afraid
I was about to cry. I had not shed tears since I was a child, but I could
feel them pricking at the backs of my eyes. I braced my hands on the sink
and hung my head, fighting against them. I didn't dare let them get started...
I was afraid I might not get them stopped again.
He had come so close... so very damn close. Right in front of my eyes
and I had sat and watched it play out without lifting a finger. My hands
had been free. I might have stopped it. The two somewhat sympathetic guards
might not have interfered. Bellows and his loyal lapdog alone, I might
have been able to overpower. I might have spared Duo. I might have spared
Winner. Duo had been so... damn courageous through the whole thing. He
had done what he had to, to get us out of there. He had endured for us
more than Winner and I together could have stood up to, and still managed
to come through it with a comforting smile for us, an encouraging touch.
I felt so... useless. So damn... cowardly. I felt like I had failed them
all. I felt ugly and weak and dishonorable and... I raised my head to
meet my own eyes in the mirror and despised the person I found there.
In a sudden fit of self-loathing, I cursed at the image before me and
drew my fists back to eradicate the spineless coward in the mirror.
Hands as strong as steel bands, closed around my wrists and Heero's voice,
very close behind me, said simply, "Don't."
"Leave me alone!" I snarled.
"So you can hurt yourself?" he asked gently, voice very calm.
He had the leverage and he had the strength; I quit struggling after it
became apparent I wasn't going to win anyway, not without escalating things
to a brawl.
"It wasn't your fault," he told me firmly, still holding my
wrists tightly, as though he were afraid I might still try to smash them
into the glass if he let go.
"I let them hurt Duo," I told him, surprised at how sick and
twisted my own voice sounded. "My hands were free... my damn hands
He didn't let go, but brought our hands down to my sides again and he
was suddenly so close behind me, I could feel his body heat. "You
didn't have any choice. You know that. If you had moved too soon, you'd
have only gotten yourself killed."
I didn't have the words for what was roiling around inside of me. There
was a part of me that wanted to shout, I should have been dead before
I ever allowed that to happen to him! There was a part that wanted
to go into the other room and shower Duo with kisses and apologies until
he found his voice again. There was a part of me that wanted to go out
and get roaring drunk until I couldn't hear Bellows voice in my damn head
any more. And there was another part that only wanted to sit and weep.
I looked up and met his eyes in the mirror and whispered, "There
isn't even a mark on me." Somehow... that was the final insult, that
Winner and I had escaped almost untouched while Duo had taken all the
punishment... all the pain and suffering. For us. To win our freedom.
I saw understanding in those bottomless blue eyes.
"You brought them out alive," he consoled. "If you'd been
killed... they'd have never made it on their own."
I knew that. Somewhere deep down inside... but it didn't help. Every time
I closed my eyes, I could see Duo writhing on the floor, frantically trying
to evade the blows. And in my heart I could feel his silent screams. Could
see those beautiful eyes boring into mine.
I didn't know I was shaking until Heero brought our hands, still joined,
around me. He gave a tentative tug and I let myself fall back against
"I let them..." I whispered, not able to get more than that
out. "I let it happen..."
"You didn't let anything happen," he reproached gently.
"And Duo knows that. I know that."
There wasn't an answer and I didn't try to make one. Just leaned stiffly
into his strength.
"Wufei," he breathed next to my cheek. "We both want so
much to hold him right now... and we can't. He's too... fragile."
I could feel him searching cautiously for words, like a man stepping carefully
through a minefield. "Let me... hold you the way I can't hold him?"
My breath caught in my throat and I know I tensed under his hands. What
was he asking? What...? He was hesitant... uncertain, but having said
it out loud, he seemed unable to back down, and I found him turning me
around to face him. He finally let go of my wrists and stepped back a
pace... opening his arms without another word. He couldn't quite meet
my eyes and his face was as red as fire. It was that, somehow, that let
me... not flee the room. I am not altogether sure which one of us reached
out first. I'm going to say that he took me into his arms because I am
somewhat loath to say that I threw myself there.
We were suddenly just wrapped around each other so tight I couldn't quite
breathe properly. I knew I was hurting him, because he was hurting me.
But... it was answering something that had been going unanswered for some
time now. I wanted... we both wanted, nothing so much as to hold
Duo close and protect him, to shelter him in my... our arms. But
we couldn't... didn't dare. He was hurting so much... was so brittle right
now. I felt course and clumsy next to him, I could hurt him so easily.
I could feel in Heero's embrace that he felt all those same things...
and was trying to offer this substitute.
For a long time, we just hung on, and his strong arms made something inside
me cry out until I found myself wrestling with the tears again.
"You didn't come out untouched," he whispered to me finally.
"Don't try to tell me you did. You may not have any broken bones...
but you're bleeding inside. You're hurting as much as he is... now that
you've let yourself slow down long enough to feel it."
"Heero..." I began, not sure what I needed to tell him, not
sure just what it was I suddenly needed him to know. I'm sorry
danced on the tip of my tongue, but it seemed so inadequate, somehow.
Help me played about in my head as well... but I had no explanation
just what I wanted help with. So all that came out was a strangled, broken
"Hush," he told me. "Come back to bed... you've frightened
That struck me like a dash of cold water in the face, and suddenly embarrassed,
I drew away. I don't think Heero had intended that reaction, because his
expression looked pained. He started to speak, but then thought better
of it, seeming to understand that the moment was broken. He reached around
me to shut off the water that had been running all that time, then flicked
off the lights and opened the door to lead me back to the bedroom. I couldn't
look at him. I didn't know what to say to him. I felt terribly self-conscious
at the same time that something inside me was crying out to return to
his comfort. I felt cold wherever he wasn't touching me anymore.
Of course, it was all swept under the rug when we got back and found Duo
halfway across the room, limping heavily, bent almost double, trying to
come after us.
Heero and I might well have been a damn stereo unit as we both gasped
his name and demanded to know what in the hell he was doing. He stopped
hobbling forward when he saw us, his eyes coming up and seeming vastly
relieved. I moved to pick him up, to get him off the damn fractured leg,
but he put his hands out to stop me. The movement almost toppled him over
and Heero was there to steady him. I froze... unsure of what had just
happened and watched Duo's face twist in rabid frustration. He was trying
to speak, was wrestling with trying to force sound out, but nothing would
come. He looked about ready to implode. I didn't know what to do... was
smarting over the implied rejection, and just... did not know what
Duo's eyes were shining brightly, his face twisted painfully, and I thought
for a moment he was going to burst into tears. His hands balled into fists
and he was suddenly striking ineffectively at the air, unable to do more
to vent his frustration. On an impulse, I stepped within range, suddenly
wanting to feel his blows... wanting that tiny punishment from him. But
all I received was Duo's arm thrown around my neck and his head buried
against my shoulder. He was shaking his head back and forth against me,
almost frantically. I could feel him trembling. I met Heero's eyes over
Duo's bent head and saw... sad understanding written there? I'm not altogether
sure just what I saw.
"It wasn't your fault," Heero said then, echoing what he had
told me in the bathroom and I frowned at him.
But Duo's head jerked up and he was suddenly nodding emphatically, looking
first at Heero and then at me.
"Duo doesn't blame you," Heero said softly and I realized he
was trying to give Duo the voice he couldn't find on his own. 'He knows
you did what you had to do... the same as he did.'
Wide almost-violet eyes stared into mine, willing me to accept what Heero
was telling me. Willing me to believe it.
"He trusted you to do exactly what you had to do... he trusted you
to be strong for him," Heero whispered softly and Duo turned his
wide-eyed gaze in his direction, looking almost shocked. But it was obvious
that Heero was still getting it right, from the tiny, almost unconscious
nods Duo was making.
"He put his trust in you and you did not let him down. You
kept your head and didn't panic. You trusted him to keep himself alive
until the time was right." Heero's words were coming faster... seeming
to slip from his throat without him half hearing them himself. It was
almost as though he truly was channeling Duo's voice. I shivered. "Duo
understands what it is to be a soldier... he understands what it took
for you to sit there and watch. He knows that doesn't mean you didn't
Duo looked away from Heero and back at me, his gaze drawing my eyes away
from Heero's to meet his again. He gave me a very firm, deliberate nod,
the ghost of a small, relieved smile playing around his lips.
But then he sagged and almost went to the floor. Heero swept him up with
a gruff, "That's enough of this for now."
We put him back to bed and Heero checked him over quickly again, looking
for hot spots, checking for swelling. It was too soon for more pain pills,
for which I was sorry, because he had greatly taxed himself trying to
leave the room on his own. I felt the bitter taste of guilt; understanding
that it was my running away that had caused him to try.
I hesitated, after he was settled, unsure what to do. But Duo reached
out for us at the same time that Heero nudged me toward the bed. "You
need to get some more sleep," he commanded, managing to sound irritated
and concerned all at the same time.
It was the hopeful look on Duo's face though, that truly decided it for
me. I wouldn't deny that look for anything in the world. Apparently...
neither would Heero. We climbed back into bed and Duo's expression slid
over into relieved.
Somehow, I did manage to fall asleep again. Truly asleep this time and
not the damn dozing that I had been doing all night. And no more bizarre
I woke facing the wall and immediately registered a heat source at my
back. There was a moment of mind-bending... confusion, before things clicked
back into place and I remembered where I was. I couldn't believe I had
fallen so deeply asleep that I had been rolling around; I had gone to
sleep facing the other way. Gingerly, I raised my head and cautiously
looked behind me, worried that I might have bumped Duo in my sleep. I
found him awake and looking at me, watching me actually, with a warm...
almost happy light in his eyes. My heart... did something odd and I reflected
that waking up to that look every morning would not be a difficult thing
to get used to.
I noticed that the other side of the bed was vacant and looked questioningly
at my... bedmate. Gooseflesh ran down my spine as I dared let that thought
flit through my brain.
Duo made the hand to mouth, eating gesture and I understood that
Heero had gone for breakfast.
I turned over to face him, still feeling relaxed and oddly... comfortable
from sleep, and gave him a critical look. "How are you feeling?"
I asked, surprised to see my own hand reach to smooth a stubborn strand
of hair from his eyes.
He quirked a tired grin and gave me a small shrug that only involved one
"Are you in a lot of pain?" I frowned, my fingers reaching out
to touch and then drawing back. There were so few places that the touch
of a hand wouldn't just cause more pain.
His face got that frustrated look again and I watched in rising concern
as he tried to force sound out through a throat frozen by mental blocks
that he had seared in place with his own iron control. The muscles in
his throat were working almost convulsively; his face was darkening with
effort. When he raised fisted hands to seemingly strike at the sides of
his own head I couldn't just lie and watch any more.
"Stop it!" I snapped, grabbing his wrists to pull his hands
away and having a very surreal moment of flashback on my middle-of-the-night
foray down the hall. "Stop fighting so hard... it will come on its
own. Don't... please don't... you're going to hurt yourself."
He subsided, stopped fighting against me, and I was surprised to find
myself hovering over him, his hands in both of mine, practically lying
nose to nose. I could smell the sweet muskiness of his breath. I could
see the sudden vulnerability that lie in the back of his eyes. He tested
my grip on his wrists with a gentle tug and when I let go, his hand reached
tentatively out to rest on my shoulder.
[cont] [back to