by: Sunhawk

Deceptions (cont)

He was already exhausted from dinner and the bath and it wasn't long before he was asleep again, his fingers clutching mine, his head nestled against the hollow of my shoulder.

Which left me with my ass precariously perched on the side of the bed, twisted in a somewhat awkward position. I almost laughed out loud when I realized I was trapped; I couldn't possibly move without waking him up. Something I would not do for the damn world right now.

LeAnn came back and I thought she was going to giggle her ass off. "You look like a contortionist," she grinned at me until she got a closer look at Heero's face and noticed the tear stains. Then she gave him a sympathetic little smile and set to work checking his vitals.

"Not a word," I warned her with a frown. "He'd die of embarrassment."

She made that silly 'locking lips' gesture, finished what she was doing and then looked at me thoughtfully. "How long are you planning on staying like that?"

"Until Hell freezes over if need be." I whispered and gave her a look that just dared her to argue with me.

All I got was that grin again that told me we looked 'cute as hell', and she came around and pulled one of the chairs up next to the bed. "Here," she murmured and maneuvered my one foot off the bed to rest on the chair seat. I grinned brightly at her; it took a lot of the pressure off my back.

"Thanks," I told her.

She just shook her head and rolled her eyes before leaving us alone again. Leaving me alone again. I sighed and kissed the top of his head gently.

The sun had sunk below some other structure as it settled toward the distant horizon and my pattern on the floor was gone. So I had very little to distract myself with when the thought-hamsters put their dog and pony show together and started parading dark thoughts around the inside of my head.

I thought about Heero and the long haul we had ahead of us. I realized that I knew very little about his condition. Had, perhaps, been afraid to ask. I trusted that one of the guys would have told me anything too terribly vital, and could only believe that we were merely faced with a hospital stay and a long convalescence. And yeah, that 'merely' almost made me laugh when it popped into my head. I knew from personal experience just how much 'merely' could suck.

I thought about Wufei and how bad he was going to feel when he came back tomorrow and got a good look at my face. I'd taken a peek at it when I'd been in the bathroom running Heero's bath water and it was a most delightful shade of purple and black, and swollen to boot. I somehow hadn't managed to keep Quatre's icepack on it for more than five minutes.

I thought about Trowa and wondered at his odd, stoic... understanding. He seemed the only one willing to let me have my space, the only one who understood what shaky ground I was on emotionally. Or at least... the only one who understood, but wasn't bent on pushing me on over the crumbling damn edge.

I thought about Quatre and what a contrast he was to Trowa's steady... acceptance. My 'little brother' was hell bent on making me break down somehow, was convinced that it would be good for me to 'get it out of my system'. He meant well, but he had no understanding of how far a fall it was off the edge I was standing on. I'm not sure there was a bottom down there anywhere.

Then the damn hamsters presented me with a mental picture of Neo, his lanky frame curled in my co-pilot's seat telling me about losing absolutely everything in a single moment of unexplained time. I heard his voice telling me, 'It... never really goes away.'

Guilt-beast got into the act then, growling evilly from its place under the bed and reminding me how long it had been since I'd managed to send any money to Octavia and the kids at the Home. Who was next oldest? Dear Lord, Ethan and Devon were the same damn age. I still had some time before they got to be twelve years old, but it was a daunting idea that I might have to come up with the money for the both of them at the same time.

What in the hell was I going to do? I had that 'Sisyphus' feeling again, like I had my rock rolled almost to the top of the damn hill, was holding it there with everything I had but was about to lose control of it. I wondered if I could get out of its way this time, or if that rock would crush me when I finally couldn't hold my ground anymore.

I knew what I had to do. There really wasn't any choice. You would have thought that merely making a decision would make me feel better, that having that uncertainty off my back would help ease things. They say it's supposed to. But... apparently not when the decision isn't the one you wanted to make.

It was very late when LeAnn came into the doorway with a nurse whose nametag said 'Pat'. They stood out in the hall and whispered and grinned and I understood that shift change was happening. Pat looked at us with that same damn grin on her face that LeAnn kept wearing and I feared for a minute that she might come and pinch my cheek or something. I waved good night to LeAnn with my free hand and they went away.

When Pat came for her first round of vital sign checks, she surprised the hell out of me by bringing me a sandwich. I beamed at her and wolfed the thing down, not even sure when my last meal had been. She chuckled at me when she realized I had eaten the thing in the time it had taken her to check temperature, pulse and blood pressure. She went away without a word and came back with a bottle of apple juice.

"Thank you," I grinned. "You're a life saver!"

She smirked. "It's my job." Then she sobered a little, looking down at Heero. "Whatever it takes to make sure I don't have another night like last night."

That was the second reference I'd heard today about Heero's infamous first night here and I sighed, not able to leave it alone this time. "What exactly happened?"

She gusted a sigh and made some adjustment to the IV. "His partner dozed off and we found Mr. Yuy here half way down the hall, passed out on the floor."

"Shit!" I blurted and had to keep my fingers from clutching at Heero's hand.

"Funny thing," she grinned. "That is exactly what that nice Mr. Chang said when he woke up."

She went away again, but at least I had my apple juice to sip while my little thought-hamsters continued with their show. It was a long damn night. One of the worst I can remember spending in a very long time. Sleeping was impossible, so there was nothing to do but sit in my twisted position, brushing the occasional kiss against Heero's forehead to soothe him when he stirred, and think.

By the time morning arrived, I would have welcomed Wufei coming back and belting me again. Anything to stop the damn thought parade. I started entertaining thoughts of picking off hamsters with a high-powered rifle. They just giggled and flipped me off, dragging out old war memories in retaliation. They had a bigger arsenal than I did. Yep. One hell of a long fucking night.

Quatre and Trowa arrived as soon as visiting hours rolled around and I was both relieved and sorry, all at the same time. Quatre came through the door with his mission face on, and I'm sure his goal was to get me out of there and home to sleep. Which might not have been such a God-awful idea if I had thought I could manage it... alone.

Trowa came straight to my side and put a hand in the small of my back, his expert acrobat's eye telling him what an uncomfortable position I was in. I knew he was feeling my muscles trembling faintly with the strain, but Heero had slept straight through the night and I wouldn't have them disturbing him.

"Duo," he questioned. "How in the hell long have you... ?"

I shushed him, frowning darkly, "He had a bad night, leave him alone."

There was a heavy sigh from Trowa, but nothing more.

Quatre, at least, seemed oblivious to my position and was taking the time to check Heero's chart and looked pleased. He glanced up at me and smiled, "You got him to eat?"

I nodded and he put the chart back and came to stand on the opposite side of the bed from Trowa and me.

"Duo... " Quatre grimaced. "Your face looks awful. I didn't realize he hit you that... "

I quickly cut that off with a hard glare, "Yep. It was a really hard table. That's what I get for horsing around."

He blinked at me for a second before looking past me to meet Trowa's eyes. I watched understanding bloom on his face and he frowned at me unhappily.

"I will not be the cause of anything coming between Heero and his... table." I grated softly and watched that conversation end abruptly.

"Duo," Trowa interjected himself into the silence. "Have you eaten?"

"Yeah," I was able to confirm. "Pat brought me a sandwich last night."

"Pat?" he questioned.

"The night nurse," I informed him, and as if on cue the woman came into the doorway with a new guy in tow. Shift change, again, I guessed. Pat was smiling at me with that damned dreamy look in her eyes again, and if I'd entertained any hope that the new guy would be immune to the whole 'aren't they adorable' thing, I saw that hope crushed as he beamed brightly at me. I waved goodbye to Pat and she blew me a kiss. I think I sighed.

"What was that all about?" Trowa asked with a bemused smile on his face.

"We are," I groused, "apparently, too damn 'cute' for words. I get pointed out each time there's a shift change."

I thought the two of them would bust a gut trying not to laugh so loud they woke Heero up.

I was a little surprised when an hour passed and Wufei didn't show up. I had expected him to come back the minute visiting hours opened up again. When I questioned it, I was informed that the three of them had split the day into 'shifts'. The night shift they had relinquished to me, but Trowa and Quatre were expecting me to go home while they sat with Heero through the day. Wufei would come in the afternoon and stay until I came back. I mulled it over. I had not intended to leave, but I suppose it made sense. I hadn't really eaten much of anything in the last day, I'm sure I needed a shower, and of course... there was that whole sleep issue. But I sure as hell wasn't going anywhere while Heero was asleep. I would not have him waking up to find me gone. But Quatre seemed to accept that without us even having to speak of it. They hadn't asked me to go yet... but I knew they would the minute Heero woke up. I chewed on it for a bit and decided that if Heero seemed willing, it would probably be a good idea. But if he showed the slightest reluctance... forget it. They'd have to fight me.

Heero stirred beside me and I smoothed his hair and whispered softly too him, as I had been all night, but this time he didn't drift back off.

Bleary, sweetly confused eyes blinked open and he smiled softly to find me there. That look made the long hours of the night more than worth it.

"Morning, sleepy-head," I whispered and kissed the end of his nose, smiling down at him warmly. I got another couple of seconds of that beatific, open smile before awareness began to come back to him and it turned into a slight frown as he began to question things.

"What time is it?" he murmured and I felt him jump slightly when Quatre answered him. He hadn't realized immediately that we had company.

"Just after nine, Heero," Quatre said. "How are you feeling?"

"Better," Heero growled and I turned to reach for the water glass. Trowa handed it to me when I couldn't reach it. I held it carefully to Heero's lips while he sucked greedily at it. He looked up at me with a frown when he was done and I took the cup away.

"You haven't been sitting here all night, have you?" he questioned, a worried look creeping into his eyes.

I ducked my head and turned it around on him. "I'm sorry, Heero," I told him contritely. "I was tired and I didn't think you'd mind..." I left it hang there, letting him come to his own conclusions. I watched the frown clear away and he smiled softly.

"Of course I don't mind, but..." he glanced down but couldn't really see how much of the bed I had from that angle. "I didn't think there was that much room."

"I don't take up much room," I grinned at him and realized I was going to have to get up, here in a minute. Not doing it while he was asleep might have been a tactical error; both my legs were dead numb.

Behind me, Trowa was standing with the water glass in his hand and he cleared his throat with an odd deliberateness. "You know, Quatre, this water isn't very cold..."

Quatre was on it in a heartbeat, taking the pitcher and heading for the nurse's station to get fresh ice. As soon as he was out the door, Trowa pushed the chair up next to the bed and I felt a hand grasp the back of my jeans. I tried not to blush at the feel of Trowa's knuckles pressing against my ass and untangled myself from Heero, hoping like hell that I wasn't mistaking Trowa's intentions. It was slick. I moved; he pulled and lifted, and it looked for all the world like I climbed out of that bed and sat - rather quickly - in the chair all on my own. Heero never noticed a thing and I had to resist the urge to laugh with delight. I tilted my head up to meet Trowa's eyes and gave him a mega-watt grin that was full force... I had an ally. Then the blood began to find its way back into my extremities and I thought I was going to squirm my way right out of the chair onto the damn floor. Trowa chuckled at me, knowing damn well what kind of pain I was in but since it was my own damn fault, I wasn't getting any sympathy from him. For a second, I felt a little dizzy, but I managed to cover that up when Quatre chose that moment to return and Trowa's attention went his way. I pretended to watch Quatre come in with the fresh ice water along with everybody else, while my blood settled and my head decided which direction was up. Now that Trowa had me shifted out of the bed, he left my side and stopped hovering near me, moving to help Quatre rearrange furniture to make room for all of us.

When my sight cleared and I stopped feeling vaguely nauseous, I glanced up to find Heero looking at me with an oddly unreadable look on his face. He looked like he was getting ready to ask me something, so I decided to deflect whatever it was before he could get started.

"You going to eat breakfast without all the fuss this morning?" I grinned at him.

"Not if I get anymore of that damn green slime," he groused.

I laughed, "Oh... I think you'll get a different flavor today."

I managed to get the guys telling hospital food horror stories; even managing to bow myself mostly out of the conversation all together. I had decided that I would allow this 'shift change' of Heero-watching to happen. I was going to attract too much attention to my own condition if I insisted on staying here twenty-four hours a day. Heero would start to worry, Quatre would start to hover and it wouldn't take long before one or the other of them figured out I wasn't holding up so damn good.

In my head, I was forming a mission plan. Step one was to stay long enough to get to be there when Heero's Doctor showed up and accumulate some damn information. Step two was... getting out of the room without anybody noticing how bad my legs were shaking. We'd see about step three if I managed step two.

The Doctor showed up, rather predictably, five minutes after breakfast arrived. I was just starting to smirk over the fact that the jell-o was orange when the man breezed into the room. I got a firm handshake and an uncomfortably appraising once-over, his eyes lingering on my black and blue jaw.

"The nurses tell me you didn't try another nocturnal sight-seeing trip last night, Mr. Yuy," the guy chuckled, giving the chart a once over. "Glad to hear it."

All he got from Heero was a grunt.

"And you ate!" he grinned, pulling out a stethoscope and carefully blowing on it to warm it before pulling the blanket down to listen to Heero's abdomen. Everyone was quiet for the few minutes it took. "Sounds good! I think we'll be getting that drain tube out tomorrow or the next day." I had to admit, the guy was damn perky.

I glanced at Heero and waded into the conversation. "So, he didn't hurt anything when he took his unscheduled hike?" I got a growl from Heero, but a laugh from Dr. Warren.

"Oh," he smirked. "I imagine he hurt himself quite a bit. The question being... did he damage anything? The answer being... no, despite his best efforts."

The guy seemed willing to talk to me about Heero's condition, and all I was getting from the patient in question, was an unhappy look but no real objections. So I questioned the good Doctor up one side and down the other, until I felt like I had all the information I was going to get.

We were probably looking at a solid week in the hospital before he was released to go home. Dr. Warren didn't want him back to work for weeks yet, and then to limited duty. I knew that was where my real fight lay and resisted the urge to sigh thinking about it. All major internal organs had miraculously been left unscathed, though they had been really concerned for his left kidney for a while. All the damage had been in the bowel area, which had made for a damn dangerous situation, but the Doctor was confident that all the damage was completely repaired. Monitoring for infection was the biggest concern right now and most of the reason we wouldn't be going home for a bit yet. I found Heero's hand in mine and wasn't sure which one of us had reached out.

I started feeling unspoken communication zipping around that room the minute the Doctor left. I didn't fight it. When it was delicately suggested that I go back to the apartment for the day and return in the evening to relieve Wufei, I stretched and yawned and reluctantly agreed. Insisting only that Heero eat his breakfast before I would go. It served to make him eat even though I could tell he didn't really want it. I gave him a quick kiss goodbye and knew just how distracted he was by the pain and the drugs when it didn't dawn on him that I didn't have a way home.

I was elated when I got out of that room on my own two feet. Step two complete.

So I gathered up my hamsters and my silent ghosts, gave a jerk on the leash of my drooling guilt-beast and walked the hell out of that place. I had things to do.

Shower. Food. Sleep. Those were important goals, all. But first I was going down to implement phase one in my new life.

I had taken that job to L3 thinking that I could bull my way through this the way I bulled my way through everything else. I had learned on the streets that when you were afraid, you had to just suck it up and do what had to be done. I had learned piloting a Gundam in the war that when you were afraid, you had to get flaming, wicked, insanely pissed and just do what had to be done. Then life had taught me what real fear was. I'd had a lot of things to dread in my life... but I'd never had to be scared of my own mind eating me alive before.

I wasn't a pilot anymore. I wasn't in the salvage business anymore. I could not do it. The accident in the belt had broken me. What reason did I have to own a ship? None. It was time to face up to the facts and just get the hell on with it. I would not become another Neo. I would not try to be what I was not. I would walk away from it before the trying of the thing cost me more than it already had.

I hailed a cab, had him stop off at one of those mailing places where I bought a stack of packing boxes. Then I had him take me to the docks.

It took me the better part of three hours to pack up all my stuff. There really wasn't all that much when you got right down to it. My clothes, my books, my little box of photographs. A box of oddball things that I had accumulated over the years. A hand-full of tools. Fuzzy-butt. My art supplies. I packed up the little bit of food that was left in the galley.

When I was done with that, and had the pathetically small number of boxes stacked by the cargo bay door, I went into the cockpit and logged into the dock-net. I posted for sale the spare suits I had bought for Her Majesty the Queen's trip to L2, on the message boards. Then I hunted up a local tool rental place and checked the price and availability of a heavy-duty paint stripper. I reserved it for the day after next. That done, I called the cab back and went to cart my stuff out to the hanger door, locking my ship down when I left.

It crossed my mind to apologize to her; to my fair and loyal lady, but I didn't want to tell her just yet. She'd figure it out soon enough. I sat on my pile of boxes waiting for my ride and watched guilt try and gnaw my leg off at the knee. The thought-hamsters kept trying to talk to me about ghosts, but I was getting numb.

The cab driver, when he finally arrived, helped me load my boxes into the trunk and I was oddly depressed about my life fitting into that small space with room left over. He tried to make small talk while he drove me back to Heero's apartment, but I just couldn't seem to rise to meet the conversation. I tipped him well enough when we got there, and he actually helped me carry the boxes upstairs.

I took them into my bedroom after he was gone and just stacked them along the wall by the dresser. In a fit of melancholy, I unboxed Fuzzy-butt and put him on my bed, but he looked so damn out of place there, that I ended up stuffing him in the closet.

I stripped and showered, thoroughly soaking the damn guilt-beast when he refused to stop chewing on me. I combed and braided my hair, doing my best to not look at myself in the mirror. I rebound my arm and dressed in clean clothes. Two ration bars and a protein drink later, I had almost met all my goals for the day.

Sleep. I'd saved the best for last. Just thinking about it made the apartment suddenly seem as silent as a tomb. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn't be sleeping a minute in this place... all alone.

I thought about it long and hard. I had to get some sleep. I had already been going for over forty-eight hours. I was getting groggy and fuzzy-minded. My hands were shaking and my knees felt rubbery. But I knew damn well if I laid down in this empty apartment I would end up staring at the ceiling until it was time to go back to the hospital. It actually crossed my mind to go find a damn park bench somewhere. I had to get some rest or I would never make it through another night with Heero.

Sleep...but with company. How hard could that be? Then it hit me and with a grin, I finished dressing and trotted out of the building. Across the street and down two blocks was a small strip mall with a movie theatre. I bought a ticket to the first matinee based strictly on the length of the film. There was something playing with a French sounding name, which ran just at three hours. There were not a ton of people there at that time of day, but there were enough. I parked myself in a back corner, and with the hum of human voices all around me, was asleep before the previews started.

I suppose I should have been worried about exposing myself in that way, making myself vulnerable in a public place. But weighed against the alternative, it seemed a fair risk.

My subconscious roused me when the lights came up. All told, I managed almost three and a half hours. I bought a soda at the concession stand on my way out of the theatre.

I managed to shake my guilt for a little bit, basking in the pale glow of the small victory of having accomplished all my objectives for the day. I even had the presence of mind to ditch the soda cup with the theatre logo before I walked into the hospital. Aren't you proud?

I heard their quiet voices as I neared the room and couldn't resist slowing my pace to hear as much as I could before they saw me.

"You can't fault him for worrying about you, Heero," I heard Wufei say.

"I'm not... I just don't understand why he won't tell me what happened," Heero's voice sounded tired and drained, and guilt-beast was back with a vengeance.

"He is obviously fine now, whatever happened," Wufei soothed. "He will tell you in his own time. How can you not understand his not wanting to burden you with something like that right now."

There was the sound of a heavy sigh and I found myself lingering outside the room, loath to go in and interrupt their conversation.

"I'm scared for him, 'Fei," Heero all but whispered.

"I know you are, my friend," Wufei's voice held an almost tender note to it that I had never heard before. "You two found your way to each other against all odds, after all these years... just give him some time."

"There's something wrong... and I don't know how to be there for him." Guilt damn near disemboweled me right there in the hall.

There was the soft sound of Wufei's amusement. "You are hardly in a position to do much of anything right now. Like it or not... it's your turn to have to be patient and let yourself heal."

"I just want..." Heero began, voice sounding slightly plaintive.

"I know what you want," Wufei chuckled darkly. "But I'm not going to spy on him. He will share whatever happened on the trip to L3 with you when he sees fit. I won't go sneaking around behind his back investigating him like a criminal. He is my friend too... I won't betray that."

Ok... that was enough of that. I walked into the room with a bright smile... or as bright as I could get it without stretching the muscles too much on the black and blue side of my face.

"Hey, Wufei," I greeted. "You look like you're feeling better tonight."

"Amazing what a difference it makes not having to arm-wrestle this lout all night," Wufei quipped and then turned to look at me. His eyes flew wide and I swear for a moment I thought he was going to burst into tears. "Oh my God... Duo..." he breathed, voice full of shame and guilt.

I forced the grin to spread wider. "Looks like hell, doesn't it?" I chirped with a bright laugh. "I told you I hit it a good one on that table... but you just laughed at me!"

I could see in his eyes that he wasn't going to play my game with me and I tried giving him a glare, but he ignored it.

"Duo," he said softly. "I already confessed."

"Shit," I muttered and turned to face the music. "Don't blame him, Heero... I provoked the whole thing..."

He was just lying there, looking up at me with the strangest amused sadness in his eyes. It was the most perplexing expression I had ever seen him wear and I just shut up.

"You going to kiss me hello?" he asked gently and what could I do but comply?

"How are you feeling today?" I asked softly when we parted. We were, apparently, not going to discuss his partner cleaning my clock. Who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth?

"Better," he sighed.

"Liar," I grinned at him and he blushed.

I turned my attention to Wufei, catching him staring at my face. With a sigh and a glare in his direction, I changed sides of the bed so that my battered jaw was turned away from him. "So... did he eat lunch?"

There was a snort. "If you can call that lunch."

So we made fun of the food for a little bit. It came to me suddenly; that was why hospital food was so bad... it was a conversation piece. It was done quite deliberately to give people something to talk about. I didn't share the observation.

Wufei stayed for a little longer, and he was very much more relaxed. The stress and guilt that had been etched in his face the day before had eased, only returning when he caught a glimpse of my face. More than once he looked like he would speak of it again, but I refused to meet his eyes while he had that expression on his face. He'd already apologized... what else was there to say?

LeAnn bustled in and did the vital sign thing, declaring that dinner would be arriving soon and Wufei made his excuses and left.

"I missed you," Heero murmured when we were alone and I took it to mean that he was feeling the weight of the pain and the drugs, feeling the sharp edge of his confinement. I sat carefully on the side of the bed and leaned down to wrap my arms around his shoulders.

"I'm here now," I told him warmly and felt his arms go tight around my waist. I stroked his hair and whispered soft nonsense in his ear. Remembering how utterly devastating this could be. This... helplessness. The feeling of being betrayed by your own body, of being trapped by things that were suddenly out of your control. I remembered how difficult it was to cope with all the well-meaning people. Sometimes, when you were like this, simple conversation was beyond your ability. All you wanted to do was sleep and make everything go away for a little while, but there were all the visitors who needed to be acknowledged and dealt with. Talked to and reassured. "You don't have to be strong for me right now,"I murmured softly. "It's your turn to lean."

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