by: Sunhawk

Deceptions (cont)

He didn't seem to pay me any mind, as though I had never spoken. "It's been a lot of years since you tried to teach us about the importance of brotherhood and what it means to be teammates... we learned. But you went away and left us and didn't get to reap the rewards of the lesson. You have it now... you are one of us. The prodigal son come home..."

If it was meant to break me the rest of the way down, it almost did. But then we were through the door and found Heero sitting on the side of his bed, struggling with the IV and the bed rail. I thought Wufei would freakin' implode.

"I thought I told you to stay where the hell you were!" he snapped and deposited me in the first chair we came to.

"What the hell was taking so long?" Heero growled back, but he stopped trying to work the tape off and the tubes out.

"Leave that alone and get your sorry ass back in that bed!" Wufei warned, advancing menacingly, the gruffness of his commands belied by the gentleness of his hands as he caught Heero's legs and swung them back into bed.

I watched as he got Heero tucked back in, listened as they sniped at each other.

"What is going on?"

"Learn a little patience!"

"Fuck patience!"

"You two are damn well going to be the death of me!"

I started to chuckle; they sounded so damn much like some elderly married couple and I imagined them... eighty years old and with walkers, carping and jabbing each other with verbal sticks. I tried to squelch it, because I was pretty sure I knew where it was going to lead... but it was far too late. The chuckles spiraled up and soon I was laughing uncontrollably and of course, before long I was sobbing brokenly, my face in my hands, trying to hide behind the curtain of my hair. Did all my breakdowns have to involve the hysterical laughing thing?

Guilt-beast just snuck away and crawled under a chair, covering his eyes with his paws in embarrassment. The hamsters began to whistle and wandered off, pretending they didn't know me.

"Bring him to me." I heard Heero command in no uncertain terms and I tried to put a lid on it, but the dam had burst and there was no stopping it now.

"Heero..." Wufei began, sounding uncertain.

"Bring him to me. Now."

Hands caught at my arms and pulled me to my feet, moving me gently toward the bed. I balked, scrubbing at my eyes, gulping for air and trying to regain a toehold on the tear-slick, crumbling edge of my control.

Then it was Heero's hands on me; my soul felt the difference, recognized my other half, told my heart and I just let it all go. Crouched on the edge of his hospital bed, huddled in the curl of his arm, I sobbed until I thought I would just wash away.

"Fei," I heard him whisper softly. "Go away... please?"

There was the strangest disdainful, affectionate snort, a hand stroked lingeringly over my unbound hair, and then we were alone.

Heero shifted, tried to draw me closer, but I had enough brain left that I wouldn't risk hurting him. There was a frustrated sigh, "It's all right... I won't let you hurt me. Don't fight me, love. Please... just let me be here."

I squirmed and I twisted, as careful as I could be, and managed to get my head pillowed on his chest. And if it left my legs bent uncomfortably off the side of the bed, I didn't care. He got his arms around me and squeezed tight, almost desperate in his need to touch me.

"I'm sorry..." I panted, searching hard for something inside to fight the damn tears with... and coming up empty.

"Don't you dare apologize to me," he whispered. "This has been so long in coming... so damn long. Stop fighting it... just let it out. I'm here, I've got you."

It twisted like a knife in my gut; I was the one who was supposed to be taking care of him. He was the one who had been shot... he was the one in the stinking hospital bed. It was his turn to do the leaning, and where the hell was I? I couldn't fucking support myself. He was hurt. He was in pain. He had almost... almost...

"You're all I have left in the world, Heero," I told him through the sobs. "You have to be all right. You have to get better... I can't lose you too."

He pressed warm lips to my temple and murmured, "Nothing is going to happen to me. I'm right here. Duo... my sweet Duo; tell me what's going on? Please?"

"That damn accident... it ate me alive," the words found their own way out around all the defenses I had worked so hard to set up, as though those defenses didn't exist at all. "I don't have it in me anymore to... to fly. To pilot. I can't do it. I tried... I tried so hard... but it all went to hell. It's all over. I've lost it all..."

He was quiet. Afraid, I think, to interrupt the strange flow of words. I was awash suddenly with a wringing, clenching fear that I would lose him too... on top of everything else. "Heero... please, Heero... you still love me, right? You still want me anyway... even if..."

There was the sound of a strangled noise and his arms went tight as a vise around me. "You are mine. My... heart. My... soul. Forever. We promised each other forever... remember? Of course I love you. What you do for a damn living won't ever change that."

I couldn't answer him, just huddled there in his embrace, hating myself for doing this to him now of all the damn times. What had I been thinking? This could have waited... the damn ship could have waited. I had enough money to pay the dock fees for a couple of months yet; I hadn't had to handle this right now. I had let Neo spook me. I had let his damn stories panic me.

"I am so very sorry," I told him.

"Hush," he admonished gently. "Nothing in the world to be sorry for. Nothing at all... none of this is your fault."

"But," I tried for a lighter tone and failed miserably, "my timing could have been better."

He snorted softly and his hand came to smooth over my hair. "Maybe it was my timing that sucked."

Then it just came down to the crying and the soft words.

" ship... oh God... my ship..."

"...I know... I know..."

"...all gone... washed away..."

"...oh love... didn't..."

" very quiet..."

"...I'm here...I'm right here..."

"...I'm so scared..."

"...don't be... we'll get through this... together..."

"What am I going to do now?"

"Heal, my love. You're going to take the time to heal."

I would have sold my soul to just be able to curl up there at his side and go to sleep. I was so tired... so very damn tired. His gentle hands and quiet voice were a balm on my broken spirit, bringing me some measure of ease. A somewhat truer calm and not the frozen numbness I had given myself.

"Why aren't you sick of me?" I asked at length.

"I'll never grow sick of you," he chuckled at me, as though it were the most amusing joke in the world. "You are my light and my joy. You are... everything."

I looked up to find that fire in his eyes, that light of his love for me that shines so bright I've never understood why it doesn't consume us both.

"I love you," he told me simply. "We'll get through."

How could I doubt him?

Now that I had quieted, and wasn't making quite the ass of myself, guilt dared to crawl out and took a nip at my dangling legs. "I... suppose I should go find Wufei."

Heero smiled softly at me. "No need; he's been guarding the door."

I looked, seeing the back of that dark haired head through the little glass and I flushed darkly. "Guess I should let him back in," I mumbled.

I sat up slowly and he seemed reluctant to let me go.

"If..." he told me softly, intently, "I were able, I would take you home and take you to bed and hold you close all through the night."

"If you were able," I smiled sadly, "I would let you."

I suppose it was a somewhat cruel thing to say. I hadn't meant it to be.

"Promise me," he pleaded. "No more hiding... no more secrets?"

I couldn't refuse in the face of the pain in his voice. "I'll try."

It was a rather cheap shot, actually, because the next thing he did was to undo the buttons on my cuff and roll the sleeve up. Damn. Had he seen the bandage? Had one of the guys told him what little they had found out from me? What the hell could I say on the heels of promising no more secrets? I sighed rather heavily. "Heero... don't..."

"Hush," he commanded. "Show me."

"You're not going to like it," I grumbled, but he was steadfast, and I just said the hell with it... he'd see it sooner or later anyway. I doubt if I could upset him much more than I already had tonight. I pulled the tape lose and unwound the gauze, holding my arm out for him to see when it was completely exposed.

"Oh dear God..." he breathed and his eyes were as wide as saucers.

"Told you," I said and it came out sounding... sullen.

His gaze came up to find mine, dropping back to look at the wicked gash on my arm... right in line with all the others. "Duo... you... did you...?"

I felt myself flushing fit to catch fire. "Yes... and no." I told him with another of those heavy sighs. "I never meant to... to do... that. But I..." I didn't know how in the hell to explain that I only meant to cut myself a little bit, but had unfortunately suffered some sort of nervous break-down and tried to sever my own arm. Ending up painting on the bulkhead of my ship with my own blood while I almost bled to death... just so I could wash it off later. There's just no real nice way to put that.

His face suddenly went pale and I swear to God, Guilt-beast had let go of my ass and was latched hold of his. "Oh, love," he murmured. "I'm so sorry... I didn't know what to do when the date came around and you didn't... when nothing..." He stopped and swallowed, looking up at me with pain in his eyes. "I hoped so much that you didn't need to do that anymore. I... I wasn't sure if you had... stopped, or if you... somehow, had forgotten..."

I brushed my knuckles over his cheek, understanding a couple of conversations that had puzzled the hell out of me at the time we'd had them. He had remembered. Through all those years. The most important anniversary of my life, and he had remembered while I had forgotten. Guilt just didn't know which one of us to gnaw on.

"There was just... so much that day," I told him, having a little trouble meeting his eyes. "I did... forget..." I couldn't say any more, just sat staring at the floor while he held my arm like it was made of glass... staring at the God-awful wound with all those tidy little stitches marching along its length. It had darkened and looked bruised.

"I didn't know what to do," he said, not able to bring his voice above a whisper. "I was so afraid... when I came home that night and you'd gone to bed so early. I was sure... so sure... but then the next evening... I couldn't find anything..."

He kept glancing up at me, I could see him out of the corner of my eye, but I couldn't face him. I suddenly felt so utterly stupid... I couldn't even explain what had happened. I didn't really know. Was that going to sound worse than letting him think I'd done it on purpose?

His fingers hovered over it, wanting to touch and soothe, but afraid of hurting. "I didn't know whether to say anything or not," he breathed. "I was so relieved... at first... when you didn't... when nothing happened. But then I got worried that maybe you had forgotten... I just didn't know what to do..." He reached up to gently turn my face towards his. "I made the wrong choice... didn't I?"

I just sat and looked at him, too emotionally overloaded to even look away. Somewhere deep down inside, I wanted to reassure. Wanted to let him know that it wasn't his fault. My mind just wouldn't cooperate and produce any coherent sentences. Where the hell were all those stupid hamsters when I needed them?

"I... I don't know. I'm just too tired to think about it..." was the best I could manage.

He took my hand and held it, his eyes looking over my shoulder for a second. His gaze somehow called Wufei and I heard the door open.

I dropped my eyes and felt myself flushing in shame. I waited for the teasing to start. Waited, hunched into myself, for the derisive comments. Instead, strong hands settled on my shoulders and Wufei said, "Ready for me to take you home?"

"No!" I blurted, aghast at the notion.

"Yes," Heero said gently.

"I'm staying here," I growled, but it came out sounding only a little... petulant.

"You're going home and getting some rest," I was informed, rather firmly. I'd bet money that Heero hadn't taken any of his medication after I left this morning, because he lacked nothing what-so-ever in the way of focus.

"There won't be anybody to stay with you," I pointed out, quite logically, I thought.

"That's what the hospital is full of nurses for," he told me with the quirk of a smile.

"Duo," Wufei chimed in, "we were only forced to stay with this idiot twenty-four hours a day while he was trying to run off to L3 after you. He'll be fine on his own over night now."

I couldn't see Wufei, standing behind me, but his hands were calmly kneading my tight shoulders.

I wasn't sure which one of them to address... which one of them to argue with. "He isn't sleeping very well at night."

"From the looks of things... neither are you," Wufei chuckled.

I was going to lose this one, I could tell. They were going to tag-team me and I was just too damn tired to put up much of a fight to begin with.

"Please, Duo," Heero said, reaching to stroke a finger down my cheek. "Because it will put my mind at ease? Go home and get some sleep. I need you to take care of yourself for me... because I can't do it right now."

Ouch. That was rather below the belt, I thought. I sighed. I nodded. I kissed him goodbye and turned to let Wufei take me out of there. I got only the sharp intake of his breath as he caught sight of my unwrapped arm. I flinched and rolled the sleeve down, pointedly not making eye contact and he let it go.

I figured there wasn't much point in telling them that it really didn't make any difference; I couldn't sleep alone anyway. I could go back to the apartment, but I would either lie there staring at the ceiling or, if I managed to fall asleep, I'd only wake in a couple of hours from one of those Londonderry vacation nightmares.

The drive was quiet. I just sat staring out the side window feeling like the world's biggest loser. It was dark. The stars were out... they seemed to mock me.

'Maxwell's Demon' was gone. The voice of Solo was stilled. I was no longer the thing I had worked the last three years of my life to become. I had just failed Heero in one of the few moments that he had ever actually needed me to be there.

Maybe it was a good thing I couldn't hear Solo's voice... I imagine he'd have a few choice things to say.

When we arrived, Wufei didn't pull up out front to let me out, but turned the car into the parking lot.

"What are you doing?" I asked, the first words we'd spoken since we'd left the hospital.

"Keeping a promise to a friend," he replied blandly.

I frowned, "I don't care what you told Heero you'd do... but I don't need a damn keeper."

"I'm not talking about Heero," he said as he got out of the car. "I'm talking about the promise I made to you."

I hesitated a moment and then got out too, looking at him over the roof of the car.

"And no," he smiled softly across at me, "you don't need a keeper... you need your friends."

I opened my mouth to argue, but he just turned and headed for the apartment door. "You coming?"

What the hell could I do but follow? It wasn't like I had anywhere else I could go.

We walked up the stairs casting surreptitious glances at each other. I think he was watching for signs of my faltering. I was watching him for signs of what was going on inside his head.

He waited patiently for me to unlock the door to the apartment, but once we were inside, he seemed to take off on his own agenda.

"Were you planning on a shower?" he asked as he dumped his jacket and switched on the living room light.

"Uhmmm... I suppose that's not a bad idea," I admitted, mostly because I was starting to realize that he wasn't going anywhere soon and if I wanted out from under his watchful eyes... the bathroom was probably the place to be.

"Go ahead while I fix dinner," I was informed. "Will a half an hour be long enough?"

"O...ok," I said, unable to think of anything else to say in the face of his sudden efficient... ordering.

He was in the kitchen before I had a chance to do much more than think about moving toward the bathroom.

I took my shower and washed my hair. I have to admit it did make me feel a little better to get the yucky residue of the damn tears off my face. But, you know... with him in the apartment... I couldn't make myself stay in there for more than that ages old, self-imposed fifteen-minute limit. Some things will just never completely go away, I guess.

I did take the time to comb my poor tangled hair out and braided it properly despite its being wet. I pulled on a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt, wasn't any point in hiding my arm from Wufei... he'd already seen it. All the clean long-sleeved shirts were Heero's after all, and all the way over in his room. So I just said the hell with it, taking a certain perverse pleasure in pulling on a shirt emblazoned with 'The voices in my head don't like you' and going out to see what my lover's partner had come up with in the way of food.

I padded in on bare feet, and wasn't sure he'd heard me at first, but he turned and the smile he gave me quirked into a grin when he saw my shirt. Then the grin faded as he caught sight of my arm again. I flushed, expecting him to ask me what had happened, but he let it ride.

He was just finishing up a large pan of stir-fry and turned to the table to ladle it out onto two plates. I sat down, feeling oddly uncomfortable. He seemed more at home in what was supposed to be my home, than I did. I watched him dish up supper and turn to dump the pan into the sink before opening the drawer and pulling out forks for the two of us.

"You," I said on a sudden suspicion, "have cooked here before."

He sat down, passing me my fork. He took a bite and chewed it slowly, stalling his answer, I think. "Yes," he finally admitted rather non-committally.

I sighed and took my own bite. "Fairly often... am I right?" knowing he wouldn't respond unless it was a direct question.

He sighed in his turn. "Yes, we... all used to come over more frequently."

I felt... frustrated; ill at ease. I'm not sure why I was pursuing the conversation... I was almost too tired to deal with it. But the implication was plain; as hard as I had been trying to get Heero to get his life back in order, he still wasn't doing it. Had only acquiesced on those things that I had actually found out about and called him on. God only knew how many habits and routines he had abandoned because of my presence.

"Duo," Wufei said, looking down at his plate and not at me. "Heero just wanted to give you a little space. We're a... rather intense group. He thought that you needed a little time to... come back into the fold."

I snorted softly and we ate in silence for a few minutes while I digested that. Guilt-beast came scrabbling into the kitchen, delighted to be back and latched onto my ankle with a happy growl. Fuck. I hadn't missed his smelly little butt at all.

There was a rather heavy sigh from across the table and I glanced up to see Wufei with a strange, sardonic smile on his face.

"What?" I grumbled.

"I just thought Winner had the guilt market tied up," he drawled. "I can see he needs to take lessons from you."

It surprised a bit of a laugh out of me. "Well..." I mumbled. "We are 'brothers', after all... it must run in the family."

He grinned at me and we finished the meal in silence. When we were done, he took the dishes and stacked them in the sink with a bit of a smirk. "I'll cook... but I'm not doing your damn dishes. They can wait until tomorrow."

"Heero would have a cow," I informed him and watched him grin.

"But Heero's not here, now is he?"

He herded me out of the kitchen and I was starting to get a little concerned about just what in the hell he had in mind next, he obviously wasn't planning on leaving in the immediate future.

Not that it mattered much. I had figured that I would let him bring me home and I would just spend the night doing the laundry or something. I'd go down to the theatre early tomorrow afternoon, and try to sleep through two movies before heading back to the hospital. So, I supposed, if he wanted to hang around for a while, it didn't really matter. It's not like I had plans.

"You packed your things and brought them back here?" he asked me, and it caught me so by surprise that all I could do was nod.

"Would you like me to help you unpack some of them?"

I just stood and stared at him; this seemed rather 'above and beyond'. "Wufei," I questioned, "what is going on?"

He ducked his head a little and gave me the oddest half smile. "You haven't figured out that... we're going to be room-mates tonight?"

I did my famous Duo Maxwell fish imitation.

He chuckled at me for a second until I got my mouth snapped shut and started to formulate an argument. Then he gave out with a somewhat frustrated sounding sigh. "Duo, listen to me... we're not complete idiots. It is not beyond us to imagine a little bit how you're feeling right now. I told you; we are your friends every bit as much as we are Heero's. There is nothing wrong with letting us help you..."

"I don't need any help," I said, that thing that was starting to become almost like a mantra with me. "I'm just fine."

He didn't laugh, ok? I have to give him points for that.

"I would... if I were in your place," he said gently. "Had I been through what you went through, I'd be wrapped around the nearest warm body and I wouldn't let go."

I think my jaw popped when it fell open. Even guilt-beast stopped his chewing for a minute to look up at Wufei.

He pressed his advantage while I was so totally off balance, taking me by the shoulders and turning me toward the bedroom. When we got there, he didn't give me much choice, just grabbed the first box and set it on the bed. I stood and watched for a minute as he pulled out my star-field blanket and turned toward the closet to put it away.

"Can... can we put it on the bed?" I asked softly and he seemed relieved to hear me speak.

"Of course," he smiled and I helped him strip the bedspread and blanket off. He let me spread my old, familiar blanket myself.

There wasn't much else in that box and he lifted up another, opening the lid and finding some of my clothes. He raised an eyebrow in question and I found an empty dresser drawer, carrying an armload there to put them away. He found my sketchpads and pencils in the bottom of the box and glanced up at me with an odd look in his eyes, a little bit like a kid on Christmas morning.

"May I?" he quirked a grin at me. "All I've seen of your work is what was in that magazine and what was..." he stopped, the grin fading as he realized what he'd almost said.

I flushed and shrugged, "I guess so... there's nothing special in there; just some rough sketches and junk."

He sat down on the end of the bed and almost reverently picked up the first pad. He gingerly opened the cover and there was a picture of Toria staring back at him, floating in free-fall with a wrench in her hand. I watched him carefully leaf through the pages for a few minutes, looking at portraits of Hayden and Toria and their brood of imaginary children, before I set the empty box aside and sat down beside him.

He glanced up at me warmly. "These are incredible, Duo."

All I could do was flush and duck my head. The sketchpad was only about half full; I have a terrible habit of picking up new pads before the old ones are used up. He set it aside and took up the next one on the stack. The flush spread down my neck as I realized he'd found one of the older ones.

"Uhmmm," I muttered. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."

It was sketches from the war. Nothing awful, just studies of... all the guys. And some odd, weird-ass mystical shit involving the Gundams.

The grin he quirked at me was enough to turn the blush into something that was starting to feel like a sunburn.

It was bad enough while he leafed through the first couple of pages. Heero working on his Gundam. Heero cleaning his gun. Heero with that... scowl I remember so well. A head study of Quatre with his goggles pushed up on his head. Quatre with his violin. Trowa with one of his lions. But then he got to the ones of himself. I'd sketched him doing his morning workout and taken the liberty of imagining what he'd look like with his hair down. The only times I had ever seen it, it had been dripping wet and slicked back.

I found my knees drawn up to my chest and I couldn't bring myself to look up at him. "Sorry..." I muttered.

"For what?" his voice sounded amused. "You did a pretty good job of capturing it strictly from imagination." When I dared to glance up at him, he caught my eye and deliberately reached back, pulling the tie from his hair and giving his head a shake. His hair found a natural center part, just as I had thought it would and swept down on either side of his face like raven's wings. It seemed an incredibly intimate thing... I felt oddly guilty and dropped my eyes from his. He looked... all together not like Wufei.

"Well... I've seen yours down," he murmured. "It only seems fair. Besides, I don't sleep with it tied back."

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