"Heero..." I began, not sure how to word it so it didn't sound
"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
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
We drove a little bit more in silence, but it felt a little more... companionable
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"I don't want to, then," I whispered.
"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
"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."
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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.
[cont] [back to Sunhawk's