by: Sunhawk

Deceptions (cont)

"What happened?" Trowa prompted.

"Heero..." I began, not sure how to word it so it didn't sound stupid.

"He doesn't know, does he?"

I sighed. "No. Not for lack of badgering, but... he'd have a cow, so I won't tell him what happened."

There was a long silence and then, softly, "You know it's making him crazy, don't you?"

"Yeah," I admitted grudgingly, letting my head fall back against the headrest, "but it's gonna make him even crazier when he sees it."

He looked across at me as he maneuvered the car through traffic. "You aren't going to tell me how it happened, are you?"

"Nope," I agreed companionably.

It was his turn to sigh. "Duo... you've got everybody worried half sick..." he began and I couldn't help myself; I laughed.

"What?" he frowned defensively, surprised at my odd reaction.

"I just figured out why I usually take the bus," I quipped.

He blinked and couldn't help a small chuckle. "Ok... I give. But listen to me, Duo, you have friends who are more than willing to help you. All you have to do is ask."

He looked embarrassed, but I didn't doubt he meant it.

"I... I'll remember that," I told him solemnly. "Thank you."

We drove a little bit more in silence, but it felt a little more... companionable somehow.

"Hey, Trowa?" I ventured after a couple of miles.

He hummed his response. I hunched a little bit and made a point of looking out my side window, I knew I was blushing. "I just wanted to tell you thanks... for the other morning. I couldn't have gotten up by myself."

He chuckled. "You're welcome. Though I have to admit I was glad to see you didn't try it again today. It's a wonder you were able to walk out of the room."

I didn't tell him how damn difficult it had been. "Heero fell asleep last night before he had a chance to ask me," I murmured without thinking about it too much.

"He's been asking you to sit like that all night?" he blurted, and gave me an incredulous look.

I frowned, wishing I could get myself to a point where my brain was engaging faster than my mouth. "He doesn't realize, ok?" I growled, daring him to give me a hard time about it. "He sleeps better with me there and he thinks I'm sleeping too. He doesn't know... so just leave it alone."

"Ok," he sighed. "Ok... relax. I won't say a word. It's your business."

There was silence again, but it was a little more strained. He didn't speak again until we entered the dockyard and were getting close to my berth.

"Just... Duo," he said suddenly. "I don't think he can take anything happening to you right now... if you won't take care of yourself for your own sake... take care of yourself for his."

He pulled the car up and stopped in front of my hanger while I sat and gaped at him. I finally managed, "I'm doing the best I can." Then I got out of the car and he drove away. I just stood and watched him go, watched the car recede into the distance until it was gone. I kept standing there, waiting for the paint stripper to be delivered by the rental place; it was due any minute anyway. It was a clear morning, it was going to be a beautiful day... not that it mattered much one way or the other to me. For a second... for one dark second I was almost overwhelmed with the desire to call him back. Help me.

I wished I could get guilt-beast to let go of my leg. I wished the thought-hamsters would take their little banners and shove them up their respective asses. Well hell, as long as we're wishing let's wish for my nerve and my health back. Let's wish Heero out of the hospital and safe. Let's wish the whole damn asteroid belt fiasco had never happened. Of course... that would leave me without Heero in my life so let's go back a little farther and wish that I'd realized I wasn't dreaming that night all those years ago when Heero had lain with me and held me through the pain of my burns. Well fuck... let's just wish that I'd never gotten burned in the first place. By the time the delivery truck arrived, I had gotten clear back to wishing that the L2 plague had never happened. Not quite all the way back to 'I wish I'd never been born'... but real damn close.

I got the basic run down on how the thing worked and the lecture about my deposit. I told the guy I'd probably have it a couple of days and he told me to call the office when I was done with it. He drove off and I hauled the thing into the cargo bay. I'd already decided I'd start there. It was going to take a little more fortitude to work my way up to the hell-room.

I had saved an old pair of coveralls for working in when I had packed my stuff up, and I changed into them then. I took Heero's shirt to the head and rinsed the blood out of the sleeve, spreading it on the bed to dry. My bed looked funny without the starry blanket there, but that was with the rest of my things at the apartment. Maybe I shouldn't have done the packing first.

I took me a couple of long minutes to decide where to start in the cargo bay. I settled, finally, on the wall with the Gundams on it and fired the stripper up. The sound of the motor on the thing was horrendous in the enclosed area, even with the bay doors standing wide. I stood in front of the wall staring up at the mural and gnawed on my lip. I could do this. I had to do this. It wasn't something someone else could do for me. It was something that had to be done before I could sell the ship. I would sell my Demon-lady, but I would not sell my ghosts.

Guilt-beast was back and the little bastard brought friends. I thought they would drag me down like a gazelle and eat me alive. I wished I could play my music, but I'd never get it loud enough to hear over the roaring of the paint stripper.

I chuckled; I was back around to wishing again. Fuck wishing... it wasn't getting the job done. In a fit of... something – temper? Pain? I slapped the nozzle of the damn thing down right in the middle of Deathscythe's leg and keyed the trigger. I was shocked at how fast the paint was just fucking gone. I let go of the trigger and pulled the hand-held thing back. There was a... hole in the leg of my Gundam the size of a dinner plate. I blinked at it for a minute, awed at how easy it had been. Physically easy. Don't doubt that I felt about ready to throw up. I had to repress the urge to run off and find my paints and fix the damage. Nope; this is what I was here for.

The stripper was meant for use on heavy-duty industrial paint-jobs. I don't exactly paint my murals with house paint. These were acrylics and oils. The stripper with its chemical jets and vacuum suction, laughed in disdain at the job ahead of it.

I whispered a quiet apology to my loyal old friend and put the nozzle back on the wall again. I felt almost as bad as I had the day we sent them into the sun.

It took me just over an hour to finish that wall, it wouldn't have taken that long if it hadn't been the cargo bay with its double height walls. The bottom half, up as high as I could reach from the floor took no time at all. It slowed me down when I had to get the utility ladder. It was... surreal how fast I was able to eradicate the mural as though it had never been. It had taken me days and days to paint the thing. I remembered sitting in this bay on the top of the ladder, getting all the touches just right. I remembered apologizing to my 'Scythe when his portrait was finished, for letting them take him from me. It was as easy as wiping a chalkboard. It should have been harder. As much as it was tearing me up... it should have been harder.

When the wall was as clean and blank as it had been the day I'd walked aboard this ship, I turned my attention to the wall behind me. The church... after the fire.

I wasted ten Goddamn minutes staring at it before I could make myself touch the nozzle to the wall. Then I made my eyes unfocus and just got on with it. It actually went faster, but then... I was kind of moving with a little haste, trying to get it over with. I pretended the end wall was just part of it, I didn't even hesitate... just bulled forward and wiped out the damn portrait of Relena Peacecraft that had spawned that whole damn trip to L2. I started to laugh as the stripper closed in on her... I ripped her head off first and chortled hysterically. But then I had to remove Heero's portrait too and the laughter died in my throat with a strangled sob.

The cargo bay was finished before noon. I couldn't fucking believe it. The stripper was washing the paint off the walls with its high-powered jets and sucking it away into the filtered tank as though none of it had ever been. I took a short break when I finished in there; I was almost out of gas anyway.

I found myself staring up at where Heero's picture had been and before I knew it, I was staggering down the corridor to the cockpit and dialing the hospital's number. I asked for Heero's room extension with a voice that almost cracked. But when Quatre answered the phone I managed a calm, "Hey, Qat... did I leave my sunglasses there? I can't find them anywhere.'

"I don't see them, Duo," he responded after a moment of looking around.

"Ok, never mind," I sighed. "Is... is everything all right?"

"Just fine," he told me, a slightly quizzical note to his voice. "Heero's eating lunch."

"Ok then," I managed. "I'll see you guys tomorrow." And I signed off.

I curled in my pilot's seat for several long minutes and wished Fuzzy-butt were there. I did not let myself cry. I tried to convince myself I was being an ass. I could finish this job today, I had no doubt of it. As fast as the cargo bay had gone, I should have no trouble doing the rest of it. I wasn't going to bother stripping the galley or my cabin; there was nothing in either room that was too personal to leave. I could finish this today. If I could just make myself go into that room and get started. I could make this be done and over with today. I could get back to Heero and not have to leave him again.

I could give him the forever he wanted so badly.

I made that my shield.

One thing at a time. I went and refueled the paint stripper. That was easy enough, right? Then I hauled it down to the end of the hall. No big deal there, right? I stared at the keypad for a couple of minutes before keying in the password; shouldhavebeenme. I had a moment of panic before I remembered that I had changed it when Heero had been aboard. I keyed it again; hell.

The door was unlocked. I stared at it. I wondered if the lights were still jumpered out in there. I would have to fix it, if they were, I couldn't work in the dark. Wish I could. I snickered; wishing again.

Forever. For Heero.

'It... never really goes away.'

I would not be another Neo. I knew when to get out. I knew where the edges of my limits were... I would not go there. I was not a pilot anymore. This had to be done.

I viciously hit the button for the door and it slid open. Heero had fixed the lights when we were done with this room, because they were on full. I didn't give myself time to look. I attacked my baby picture first. I screamed the whole time I was doing it. I didn't let myself think. I eradicated my imaginary mother. I destroyed my crucified self. I wiped out Solo and dead-Becca and Helen and the church and the guys and the remnants of Wing and dead-Heero and my fleshless hands... and... everything. My life. I wiped it all away. And I screamed and I yelled and I cursed.

The hamsters gaped in awe and finally fled the cabin; I didn't have any room for thought right now anyway, hardly needed them in here. Guilt-beast took all his brethren and hid under the bed, I even scared the fuck out of them.

When I was done, I went calmly into the head and tried to throw up. There wasn't anything in my stomach so I just hung over the toilet and heaved for a while. I staggered out; dizzy and still feeling sick and wondered about the fumes that damn stripper was probably putting out. I went to stand in the open cargo bay door for a bit, just looking out at the clear, blue sky. I blinked and found myself sitting on my ass on the ramp. I wanted to... go home. But I was in the process of destroying the only home I'd ever had. What do you do when you want to go home and you don't really have one? You just want.

"C'mon, kid," Solo whispered next to my ear. "Finish it."

"I can't," I told him.

"Ya gotta," he would have sounded scornful. "Ya come this far."

"I don't want to, then," I whispered.

"I know."

"What if... what if..." I couldn't finish the thought.

He snorted. Or he would have snorted. Sometimes I get confused with that. "I'm already dead."

"I know," I closed my eyes and tried to bring him into focus.

"C'mon... let's just do it," he told me warmly. "I'll help ya."

"Promise me..." I begged and had to stop before I started bawling like a baby, and wouldn't he just have gotten a kick out of that.

"Can't make promises, rat-boy," he scolded. "You know that."

"Try?"

He snickered, "Try ta make a promise?"

I didn't rise to the bait. "Try to stay?"

"You know I'll always be with ya," he said gently, more gently than he ever had in real life.

"I love you, Solo," I blurted. "We were brothers... brothers by choice, not blood. But brothers all the same."

"I know, kid," he smiled. "My baby-rat. Rat-boy. Dodger... Duo. C'mon... let's go get the job done."

He never called me Duo. I wasn't Duo until he was dead.

"All right," I sighed and opened my eyes. I'd never really been able to quite bring him into focus anyway.

I was surprisingly calm as I climbed to my feet, walked back aboard ship and dragged the paint stripper down to the main corridor. I fired it up again and didn't give myself a chance to think about it. I started with the portrait of the girl that Jensen had killed. I worked my way down the line, Rafe, Father Maxwell, Sister Helen, Becca, and all the others; I erased them all. I hesitated when I got to Solo and punched his shoulder one last time, in my mind's eye, he turned that sardonic grin my way.

"Just do it, rat-boy," he murmured and I did.

Then I turned and got the dried blood portrait on the opposite wall.

It was done. I was so damn calm it was scary. I shut down the paint stripper and lugged it back to the cargo bay to await pick up. I went into the cockpit and sat in the pilot's seat for what was probably the last time and I deleted all my personal files from the system. I stripped out of the coveralls and threw them into the incinerator, walked into the head and rinsed in plain water, I had already packed all the soap and shampoo. The med-kit is part of the ship supplies and was still there, so I changed my sweat-soaked dressing. I didn't have any clean clothes, so I dressed in the ones I had been wearing and ended up standing in the middle of my cabin rubbing my cheek with the cloth of Heero's shirt.

I wouldn't allow myself to call to Solo. I wouldn't let myself speak to my Demon-girl. I was barely letting myself think.

I walked through one last time, checking to make sure I had everything, knowing in that very quiet place in the back of my head that this was it. This was good-bye. All my voices were still... silent in pure shock.

I passed the re-gen niche where my vacuum suit hung and I couldn't, of a sudden, leave it. I hauled it out to the cargo bay next to the paint stripper.

Then I went into the cockpit one last time, contacted the rental place to come pick up their equipment, called a cab, and filed the paperwork to put my ship on the market. I didn't even flinch.

Then I walked out, locked down and didn't look back. The cab got there first and the guy started to get pissy with me about having to wait, but something in my eyes made him shut up.

The delivery guy finally came and tried to joke with me about being done already, but that same look made him shut up too, and he just loaded the paint stripper up and went away.

I loaded my suit into the cab and gave the driver the address to the apartment. There was no small talk the entire way there. When I told him to wait for me, I wasn't sure he was going to. I probably looked like a loon dragging that stupid vacuum suit up all those stairs, but I had almost spent eternity locked in the damn thing, and had found at the last minute that I couldn't let anybody else have it. I stuffed it in the closet of my room and went back downstairs, almost surprised to find the cabdriver still there. I gave him the address of the hospital and he took me there without comment.

I sat as though outside myself and simply marveled at my calm. I couldn't quite understand it... my voices were waking up, after all. I could hear the frightened whimper of the kid who lived in my head. I could feel the struggle of the voice that was trying to call for Solo, the one I was stifling for all I was worth. I could feel the bite of guilt-beast where he had managed to chew his way into my belly and was now working on hollowing me out from the inside. I could see the thought-hamsters who had gotten over their fear and come back with their flitting little points to be made. And I could hear that other voice, the one that I was pretty sure was actually mine, asking over and over.

What am I going to do now?

I think the cabdriver was a little relieved to get to my destination and dump me out. I didn't think he was going to wait long enough for me to pay him.

I walked up the hospital steps and across the lobby, found my way to the elevator and took it up. I was in the hall outside Heero's room almost before I knew it.

There were voices from within, but I didn't really care today what they had to say, and just walked on in. They stopped talking, Heero and Wufei, and looked up at me. Their smiles faded as they both caught sight of me and I wondered what in the hell I must look like. I frowned, thinking about it hard. I had showered. I had dressed. What could be so wrong with how I looked to put those expressions on their faces?

"Duo?" Heero called to me and there was alarm in his voice.

I blinked at him. This wasn't right. Taking care of Heero was all I had left. It's what I was here for. This wasn't going to work if just looking at me was going to upset him like this.

I tried on a smile and went around the bed to lean down and kiss him. His fingers sifted through my hair and I realized that I'd never braided it again after I'd rinsed it out.

That left me standing there in shook, staring into Heero's wide, confused eyes. What the hell... I'd never forgotten to braid my hair before. I don't just wander around with it loose. No wonder they were looking at me like I'd lost my mind.

"I'd already packed up the bathroom stuff," I explained. "I didn't have a comb or a brush."

"Packed?" Heero asked softly, only looking more baffled. I saw him exchange a look with Wufei.

I thought about that for a minute. Packed. Ooops; hadn't meant to say that. Well, he was going to find out sooner or later anyway, I suppose.

I sat very carefully on the edge of the bed and took his hand. "Heero... you don't need to worry anymore about my leaving, ok?" I told him earnestly. "It's all over... all done and over. I... I'm not going anywhere anymore."

"Duo... love," he whispered. "What are you talking about? What's going on?"

I wished the voices in my head would just shut the fuck up. This was getting hard for some strange reason. I tried to hang onto the calm and made a discovery. It wasn't calm, it was more like... numb.

"Maxwell... what?" Wufei asked and I realized that last part had slipped out, out loud.

"Ooops," I murmured and decided I needed a minute to try this again. I patted Heero's hand, got up and went into the bathroom. Shutting the door carefully behind me.

I didn't turn on the light but sat very quietly down on the floor. Ok... perhaps I wasn't quite as in control here as I thought I was. Numb. I'd gotten this far on numb and now the numb was wearing off. Shit. I should not have come here. What in the hell was I going to do now? I wasn't on the ragged edge anymore, I was dangling by my fingertips and was about to fall. I couldn't do that here, in front of Heero; he didn't need that right now.

I'd killed her, my loyal Demon-girl. Just like I'd killed Deathscythe. They'd been there for me through thick and thin... and I had killed them as surely as if they'd been real people and I'd held a gun to their heads and pulled the trigger.

"Solo?" I ventured into the stillness of the cold bathroom and got no response. I hadn't expected any. That's why I'd been struggling so hard not to call for him. Had I finally quieted my ghosts? After all these years? Had I truly banished them all when I had destroyed their pictures?

What am I going to do now?

The bathroom door opened quietly and I was aware of Wufei slipping inside. He didn't shut the door behind him again, but left it open a crack for the light.

"Maxwell?" he asked gently.

"Present," I quipped ruthlessly and I heard an odd sigh. He came and sat down on the floor beside me.

"You want to start at the beginning?" he said calmly and I laughed.

"Been there," I told him. "Or almost all the way back to the beginning... made it as far as the plague years anyway... I guess that's close enough."

He chewed on that for a minute, seeming very unsure of his ground. Well that made two of us.

"Duo," he tried again, "what is going on?"

"I killed her, Wufei," I said then and felt him stiffen. Ok... perhaps not the best wording. "My ship," I clarified. "I stripped her and raped her and killed her dead."

He sat beside me in silence for a few minutes, then softly said, "Tell me about it?"

I leaned my head against my drawn up knees.

"I can't pilot anymore, Wufei," I told him point-blank. "I've totally lost my nerve... I can't do it. I tried and damn near killed myself. I... I put my ship on the auction block today. It...it's over."

"Oh Duo," he said simply and I felt his arm come to rest around my shoulders. "Why the hell didn't you tell us what was going on?"

My breath was wanting to hitch and my eyes were starting to burn. "There isn't anything you guys can do."

"What?" he chided. "A little support... a little help... that doesn't count for anything?"

"I had to do it myself," I whispered, thinking about the absolute horror of one of them seeing those pictures in the hell-room. I shivered.

His fingers tightened and he sighed heavily again. "Duo... we could have been there with you. And we will be here now... you need some rest. Let me take you home..."

I cut him off with a growl, "Heero needs me... he's all I have left. I intend to be here for him."

There was another long silence and then hesitantly, "You're barely here for yourself."

I could see it for the truth and began to shiver in earnest, mortified on some level and almost beyond caring on most of the others. "What am I going to do?" I whispered, letting the question come out at last. "What in the hell am I going to do now?"

His fingers were stroking over my hair and he whispered softly, "First of all, we're going back out there to Heero."

"I can't, Wufei... I can't do this to him." I choked.

"Do you want him trying to come in here?" he scolded and there was a tiny hint of amusement in his voice.

"God," I muttered, rubbing at my eyes and trying to get my head together. "He would... wouldn't he?"

"Most definitely," he assured me. "He's been waiting for this for a long time... he won't stand not being here now that it's finally happening."

"What?" I panted, struggling with the emotion, with the turmoil and losing on both fields of battle.

"Duo," he told me, almost sounding affectionate, "we've all known you were having problems... we've just been waiting for you to get to a point where you were willing to admit you needed help."

I sat hugging my own legs to my chest for a very long time, thinking about it, thinking about Heero and the mess I'd made of things. Thinking about my ship and about Neo. Thinking about the decisions I'd made. I don't think I was wrong in what I'd done.

"Ok," I told him, taking a deep breath. "I need just a couple of minutes... you go make sure Heero is all right and I'll be out in..."

There was an exasperated sigh and when Wufei spoke next there was frustration in his voice. "That isn't the kind of help I'm talking about, Maxwell. I don't mean to help you cover this up and bury the bodies."

I stiffened and turned my head to look at him. "You understand me, Chang Wufei... Heero is what is important right now. I'm not the one who was wounded... I'm not the one in pain."

His hands shifted subtly and somehow, he had hold of me by the shoulders. "Yes, Duo..." he said quietly, "you are."

I gaped at him, a shiver nibbling at my spine. "I can't let him see me like this," I whispered and hated the hint of pleading that had found its way into my voice. "He can't know how damn weak I am... he can't know how easily I... I broke."

I would have slapped my hand over my mouth if it wasn't already too late, and if it wouldn't have looked utterly ridiculous. What in the hell was he doing to me to make me say these things?

There was the most oddly out of place sound of a chuckle and the hands on my shoulders tugged me into a simple embrace. "Weak? Do not be an asshole," he murmured next to my ear. "I think you know me well enough to know that I do not resort to base flattery – you have always been our Rock of Gibraltar. You have to be the single most tenacious, resilient, stubborn bastard I have ever been privileged to know. Quatre's doctors told us we'd be lucky if you didn't end up in a padded room after what you went through. We are all in awe, damn it, but you have got to stop trying to carry the weight of the world around on your shoulders."

I just sat and blinked. He couldn't see me with my face pressed to his shoulder anyway. The minutes ticked by and he didn't let go. But then... I didn't pull away. It wasn't an awful place to be; in his embrace. It wasn't Heero's arms, but they were warm and strong all the same. My own hands slipped around him and I found myself hugging back. My eyes burned; I was a tenacious bastard.

"I'm getting worried," he chuckled after a bit. "It's too damn quiet out there."

I nodded and tried to pull away, but he kept his arms around me, pulling me up to my feet and I found that somehow, I was feeling oddly unsteady and needed that support.

He began to guide me toward the door and I hesitated, "Wufei..." I began, not at all sure what it was I wanted to say to him; there was just too much running around in my head.

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