by Sunhawk

Dark Silences (cont)

He looked at me long and hard for a moment before carefully mouthing, hold me? And the look in his eyes would have broken even Lady Une.

My breath went out in a shaky sigh and I could only open my arms to him, afraid to reach... afraid of hurting. His arms went around me, hard and tight and I was reminded of my desperate embrace with Heero. Reminded of that rush of need that had been answered by the almost-harshness of the moment. I think that need was filling Duo right then... but I didn't know how to answer it. I couldn't bear the thought of hurting him further. His right arm was tight around my neck, his left resting on my chest, as high as he seemed able to raise it. I allowed my own arms to encircle him, as cautious as though I were holding a creature formed of blown glass.

He clutching harder, trying to get me to tighten my grip. I balked and he butted his head against my shoulder. I hesitated and he squeezed harder... his hands pleading.

"Damn it," I muttered against the top of his head. "Don't let me hurt... I can't hurt you."

He didn't relent until I was hugging him tight, then I felt his whole body release a heavy, silent sigh and he relaxed against me, molding against my chest.

I was near frantic wanting to let go, wanting to roll him back over and make sure he was all right. But he seemed... content and so I just lay and let him take what he needed. "Brave spirit," I whispered softly. "My brave damn spirit." I dared drop a kiss on the top of his head and I felt him shiver, but he didn't pull away.

Then there was a... tingle in the air that told me we weren't alone any more. I looked up and found Heero standing in the doorway, breakfast tray in hand and a look in his eyes that threatened to rip my heart from my chest. Duo must have felt me tense and he lifted his head to look at me, and followed my gaze to the door.

I had no doubt we looked like a couple of kids with our hands in the cookie jar.

Duo tensed and we both let go at the same time. I opened my mouth to... explain, I guess, but didn't know what to say.

Heero only looked... very lonely. He stepped into the room and set the try on the desk near the door. "I brought breakfast," he said very softly and suddenly seemed to be trying to look anywhere else but at us.

"Heero..." I began, but he turned away without another word and left the room, his face was calm but his shoulders were slumped. I could have handled it better if he had lost his temper. If he had gotten mad and yelled. I didn't know quite how to meet the misery that was coming off him in waves.

Duo broke out of the paralysis first and began rolling toward the side of the bed, intent on going after him.

"Duo!" I yelped and caught at him, trying to keep him from hurting himself further. I wished, not for the first time, that his fractured leg were in a cast.

He turned sharply, tugging at me. Not so much to get away, but to get me to come with him. To get me to help him. He has a very expressive face. Communicating with him had been easy, at least for me. As I have said... he is very eloquent even without words. His face told me... terrified. It told me... frantic. It told me... desperate and guilty. It told me self-loathing and pain beyond all the physical hurts he had endured.

What the hell else could I do? I bounded out of the bed, turned and scooped him into my arms and tore out of the room in search of Heero. This had to be made right.

He hadn't gotten far; Duo's looks don't take long to convey their meaning. Heero was still on the stairs.

"Heero!" I called and saw his back stiffen. He hesitated but didn't turn. "Heero...wait." I called again and he stopped completely, standing on the stairs with his back to us. I moved closer, stopping at the top of the stairs, a little unsure of trying to descend them with Duo in my arms. I wasn't sure what to say to him. How in the hell do you apologize when you weren't even positive what you'd done wrong? Damn it... that wasn't quite right. I knew exactly what I'd done and what he was feeling... I had felt it myself the previous night when I had walked in to find him brushing Duo's hair. I had felt left out. Stung by their closeness. Unsure of my place. Unsure of the whole damn situation. And I was still unsure even now. I didn't know what was going on here... couldn't half identify the feelings churning around in my gut. I didn't know how to reassure him... when I could have used some of that reassurance myself.

His one arm wrapped tight around my neck, Duo reached out toward the figure on the stairs with his free hand. He was trembling. No... he was shaking. His whole body was taut as a spring strung out as far as it could go. Then... as soft as a sigh, as harsh as a crow's call, as illusive as a flitting hummingbird... the sweetest sound I have ever heard;

"Please..."

It hung on the air as full of portent and power, as a prayer. It was such a soft sound that I was afraid for a moment that Heero hadn't heard, but then he whirled so suddenly on the stairs that he almost fell.

I couldn't have torn my gaze from his face had the house fallen in. The wonder... the joy... were palpable things. Still wrapped around with hesitation... confusion... doubt. He began to slowly climb to meet us, as unable to take his eyes from Duo, as I was unable to take mine from him.

Duo tugged at me to get me to set him on his feet and I complied, keeping my arm around him for support. He left his own arm around my shoulders without being prompted. When Heero gained the top of the stairs, Duo reached out with his other arm, though I know it cost him to raise it that high, and slipped it around Heero's neck. He looked from one of us to the other and what he was reading in our faces... I couldn't say. He was brimming with frustration; unable to force out the words he seemed so desperate to deliver. It was painful to watch him, a man never at a loss for words, normally as articulate as a poet, as expressive as a Shakespearean actor... struggling with the smallest sound. Then, suddenly, he was drawing us toward him; bringing the three of us together... and he kissed us. Together. At the same time. It was... awkward. It was ungainly. Uncomfortable. Ridiculous. Achingly, painfully... sweet.

I understood then the delicate wire he felt he was on. The minefield he felt he was traveling through. He was... the center. He was the core we were wrapped around. The flame that drew us in. He had been trying so hard to keep us balanced, even when he was the one who should have been getting all the support he needed from us. Trying so hard not to hurt... not to injure fragile, newborn feelings. He had understood what a delicate thing it was, that was growing between us, when we had not. Had understood that it all, somehow, hinged around him. I tasted guilt again, putting that kind of pressure on him in the shape he was in.

He drew back, looking from one of us to the other. I felt his fingers snake into the hair at the nape of my neck and he grabbed hold tight. Then he turned toward Heero, tilting his head back and offering up a kiss that Heero accepted with hungry abandon. I watched it unabashedly. I watched it, feeling Duo's fingers wrapped tight in my hair, making sure I stayed right there with them. I watched it and didn't feel the sting of jealousy. Didn't feel the bite of loneliness. I watched and... waited my turn.

And Duo gave it to me. He drew away from Heero, his face flushed and his breath quickened and he turned to me. I knew his other hand was locked tight on Heero somehow. Knew he was making every bit as sure that the Perfect Soldier stayed close beside us, as he had made sure the Dragon didn't flee. I claimed my place. Taking the time to savor our first kiss, tasting him, exploring him, allowing him to explore me.

He had carefully taken away that awkward 'first kiss'. Had forced the moment and removed the possibility that either of us would be stung if he chose to give his first kiss to the other. I couldn't believe the strain we had unwittingly put him under.

When we drew apart, I found Heero's eyes on us with much the same expression on his face that I suspected my own wore. Shell-shocked. Happy. Scared. Totally out of his depth.

Both of us turned, almost unconsciously, to Duo for guidance and I snorted in sudden derision. "He's the one who's wounded here," I grunted. "Do you think we can manage to make a decision without waiting for him to..."

Heero made a decision, suddenly and quite thoroughly. He leaned past Duo, slid his own fingers into my hair along with Duo's and... kissed me.

It was a fierce kiss; very unlike the almost languid one I had shared with Duo. He tasted sharply of oranges and... something spicy. Our tongues warred as we struggled for dominance. It awoke something inside me that almost frightened me and we parted, both of us panting and flushed.

Duo looked... anxious. A little of that 'out in the cold' apprehension lurking in his eyes.

"Baka," Heero murmured, tenderly brushing fingers lightly over his cheek. "Later... there'll be time enough, later."

"When you're healed," I joined my reassurances with Heero's. "Until then, I'm not going anywhere." I glanced up and met warm blue eyes and found encouragement there. "We're not going anywhere."

Duo looked oddly... distressed, as though he had not expected the bear to wake when he poked it with the stick. It was a little disconcerting to see our true, magnetic north... falter.

"Let's get him back to bed," Heero frowned, looking hard at Duo's pale face. "He looks about to pass out."

I couldn't have agreed more and helped ease Duo into Heero's arms, moving ahead of them to prepare the bed with the extra pillows so that we could prop him up and feed him breakfast.

We settled him in his nest of pillows and did our best to make him comfortable, though there didn't really seem to be a position he could lie in without pain. We were back to communication through nods and gestures, though it was a more hopeful silence... at least for me. He had broken past the barrier once, his fear of losing Heero greater than the fear that Bellows had beaten into him. Though the pain of losing the sound of his voice was... sharper for me now, having been graced with that single word.

And too... we were more aware of what we were doing, how we were acting around him and how he was reacting to us. If I touched him... held his hand or stroked my fingers over his hair, within minutes, he would seek Heero out and find some way to touch his arm or link their fingers. If Heero reached for him... Duo reached for me.

I felt... humbled by the care he took. Felt chagrin that we had made him feel he had to do this. Felt guilt that we had put this weight on his shoulders with our damn fragile egos.

Heero fed him another bit of sausage and Duo looked to me for a sip of his orange juice. I met Heero's gaze over the breakfast tray and I saw the unhappy guilt in his eyes as well. One of us sighed softly and between us, Duo tensed.

Heero set aside the fork and gently cupped Duo's face in his hands. I saw Duo's eyes flick almost frantically in my direction, so I took his hand in mine, maintaining the balance for him.

"Listen to me," Heero told him gently. "We're sorry... we didn't mean to frighten you. You need to stop worrying about us so much. We're... we're... " He let go of Duo's face, turning to me, his eyes open and trusting... asking for my help.

"You are what's important right now," I told Duo, adding my reassurances to Heero's. "This is all very..." I waved my free hand vaguely in the air, "confusing right now. But you've shown us rather firmly how you feel. Trust us now. We promise not to be so... skittish, all right?"

He couldn't help a smile and a tiny little snort, which caught him by surprise and made his eyes fly open wide in alarm.

"It's all right," I soothed, squeezing his fingers. "It's safe here... don't fight against it."

He couldn't quite hide the panic that welled up, though he tried, glancing away from us and looking at the wall.

"No one is going to hurt you," I said firmly and he spared me only a flick of his eyes.

Heero and I sighed almost as one.

"Are you still hungry?" Heero asked gently, changing the subject and we got a negative shake of his head.

Duo was chewing on something, worrying it like a dog with a bone, but either didn't know how to ask, or just wasn't ready to bring it up.

"What is it, spirit?" I asked softly and only got another shake of his head.

Heero touched my arm, a bare brush of his fingers. "When he's ready," he told me and I subsided.

It nagged at me, that vaguely unhappy look on his face, but I let it go; following Heero's lead on this one and giving Duo the space to think through whatever was bothering him.

Heero found a roll of plastic wrap in the kitchen and we used it to cover Duo's stitches so that we could help him take a shower. It took the three of us to manage all that hair, but I could tell he was grateful to be clean, even if we thought he would die of embarrassment in the process. Heero and I mutually agreed to leave our shorts on and just got in and got wet with him. I held him up while Heero gently washed and rinsed his hair. Then he gave me a break by holding him while I carefully did what I could to wash Duo's battered body. I was heartsick by the time we were done.

Duo was plain exhausted before we were finished, almost lolling in our arms as we got him out and dried. We weren't able to do much more with his hair than blot it dry and pull it back in a quick tail. Heero wouldn't let him go completely to sleep without another dose of pain medication, then we tucked him in and watched him collapse almost instantly.

I found myself dropping into the chair Heero had drawn up to the side of the bed, feeling fairly damn exhausted myself. The act of bathing Duo had been a trial... only serving to draw to my attention each and every bruise and scrape, every cut and contusion. Whenever I chanced to close my eyes, I could see Bellows lashing out at Duo. His face twisted in an insane mask of hatred and raw fury. I shivered convulsively and not just from the dampness of my skin.

Emotional upheaval can be every bit as wearing as physical labor. And I felt about as 'upheaved' as I could get. I was very confused and unsure of my ground. One minute I was clear with what was happening here... between the three of us, and the next I only felt like a lost little kid.

Warm, strong hands came to rest on my shoulders and I flinched in surprise. I glanced up to find Heero looking down at me, his own face the very picture of hesitancy.

"You're very tense," he said softly and those rough hands of his began to knead across my shoulders.

"I'm... very baffled, I guess," I told him, looking away, willing myself to relax and accept this gift.

"Baffled?" I could hear the smile in his voice, though I couldn't see it.

"Well how in the hell would you describe what you're feeling right now?" I grumbled, thinking he was amused at my description.

"Scared?" he said softly and I was moved to look up at him. "Damn scared," he reiterated and I could hear it straining at his voice.

"Of what?" I breathed, and reached my hands up to lie over his, stilling the gentle massage he had been giving me.

"Messing this up," he promptly told me. "Hurting one of you... not... not being..." he stopped abruptly and looked away. I could see the echo of my own fears and frustrations in his face.

"Not being what?" I prompted when he didn't go on.

He was quiet for a little bit and I squeezed his hands encouragingly. "Not being good enough," suddenly popped out of his mouth and I blinked up at him, seeing more emotion wash over his face than I would have thought him capable of. "You two are so... beautiful... and graceful... and... and good. I feel so rough and... and... stained next to you."

I rose to my feet and turned to face him, not truly believing he could possibly feel that way, but having to face the truth of it in his halting words.

It was my turn to take him into my arms and his turn to seek shelter there. "See yourself through our eyes, Heero," I told him simply.

We were all so full of doubts and fears, the three of us, and I wondered again just how this was supposed to work. Just how this could work. But then I remembered the gift of Duo's kiss in the hallway. Rendered so bittersweet by his trying so hard to stand on the edge of the knife and balance it all in his own hands. He who needed our care and love more than he ever had, who could barely stand on his own, who was still wrestling demons that might yet prove too strong for him. But... there he had been for us, reaching out and doing his best to hold it all together. Even though his eyes told me he was just as scared as we were. Just as unsure. Just as confused and overwhelmed, just as lost. Where the hell were we? Where were we going? What could the future possibly hold for three war-weary soldiers clinging together? But when I thought about that kiss, remembered the ache in my heart when I heard that whispered plea, felt the arms around me now, strong and warm... I thought; God this could be... everything!

"I love you both," I said, shocked at the sound of my own voice. I blinked for a minute, looking at the wall over Heero's shoulder and waited for some sort of explanation as to just who had said that, because I was absolutely positive it hadn't been me. Couldn't have been me.

Heero stiffened and straightened away from me, catching at my shoulders as though he couldn't believe I had spoken either. I kept waiting for him to ask me to repeat it. He looked at me long and hard, "Are you... sure?"

"Yes," I told him resolutely. "No. I... think so..." I found myself meeting his eyes, begging him for some sort of guidance. "I'm so damn confused," I finally confessed and cringed, waiting for the hurt to come into those beautiful blue eyes. But he only grinned at me sheepishly.

"I think... I think I'm damned confused too."

It surprised me a little, to hear him say it out loud, but perhaps my saying so first had made it easier for him. I was still reeling from both confessions, having blurted the second one almost as an explanation for the first. I felt the utter fool, and for one soul-weary moment wished I could go back in time and undo all these feelings, make it not be so. Stop it before it ever started. But... I wasn't truly sure where in time I would have to go to erase these emotions. Back before we had ever met, I suspected. When I traced backward, I had to admit that I had felt a spark of... something; from the first moment I'd laid eyes on Duo. I remember thinking that no one who could pilot a Gundam as well as he did should be able to laugh and smile and lift the darkness from the hearts of his comrades the way he did. And Heero... he had impressed me with his strength and courage from our first mission together. Had won my respect with his steadfast dedication to peace and his unwillingness to accept defeat.

"Have you..." Heero ventured into the quiet that my musings had left, "ever been in love before?"

I shook my head even as I was saying, "Yes." I hesitated, comparing how I had felt then with how I felt now and had to amend it. "I thought I was. If you had asked me a week ago... I would have said yes. But now... what I felt then was nothing compared to what I'm feeling now." I met his eyes, trying to make him understand.

He looked almost desperate to fathom it, searching my face as though I were some oracle that he had sought, long and hard. He suddenly seemed to realize that his hands were still holding me by the shoulders and he hastily dropped them. "What... does it feel like?" he whispered and looked supremely embarrassed. He wanted me to catalog it for him. With his programmer's mind, he wanted me to give him a simple 'if/then' statement to guide him through this. If you feel this, then it must be love. He wanted a damn flow chart.

I scrubbed a hand over my face and sighed. How the hell should I know? I wanted to blurt out, but didn't have the heart. He looked so... vulnerable and lost, asking me for direction. I wanted to laugh and tell him it was the blind leading the blind. "Scary?" I smiled softly, trying to lighten his mood and he tried to smile for me, but it didn't work. I sighed again. "I... hurt when he hurts. Hurt when you hurt. I would cut off my own arm if it would stop his pain." I blinked at him, afraid that I must sound like a lunatic. "You are both more important to me than I am... that's as close as I can come to explaining it."

He frowned at me darkly. "But... but Quatre and Trowa almost fit that category. Does that mean that..."

I snorted softly, more at Heero trying to fit 'love' into parameters to understand it, than anything. But I suppose it was no worse than my trying to approach it 'logically'. "There are many kinds of love... and I suppose they do fit... in their own way."

"Then what makes how I feel about them different than how I feel about you and Duo?" He ran a hand through his already tousled hair with no little frustration and I found myself reaching to smooth it as best I could with my fingers. I smiled at him suddenly, an answer of sorts coming clear in my mind at the feel of the damp, silky strands.

"Do you want to touch them?" I whispered. "Do you have the desire to know what every inch of their skin tastes like? Do you... ache with wanting to feel their hands on your body?"

It was... a joy to watch his eyes widen and his face flush, his breath quicken and his hands reach out without him seeming to notice. "No," he choked out.

"I think," I told him huskily, "that's the difference."

"Then... then..." he stammered, his hands finding my waist and drawing us together. "I think that I might love you too."

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