Guardian Spirits (cont)

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It was the miracle of him by my side that got me through that night. I had gotten him to sleep and then just lay there next to him, watching the splendor of the rise and fall of his back as he breathed. The guilt romped around me, nipping at me and making it hard to fall asleep myself.

I could not believe that I had let myself get into such a state that I had mistreated him as badly as I had. It had all made such sense at the time.

I was devastated that I had made him feel… unloved, undesirable. Mortified that he took all of this from me in stride and… not so much forgave me, as he never really blamed me in the first damned place!

I wanted his head on my shoulder; I wanted his arm around me. It was so hard to fall asleep without his warmth pressed against me.

Not for the first time, I wished I could let him inside my mind. Wished that he could see himself as I saw him, could feel how I felt about him, could understand what he means to me. There were no words that expressed what an integral part of me he was.

I eventually did fall asleep, and not surprisingly, woke hours later caught in the snare of that all too familiar nightmare again.

But this time, Duo was there and he pulled me out of it with his voice and his touch. He made it all right for me to let go for a while. He showed me once again the depth of his incredible strength, putting aside his pain to shore me up and bear the weight of mine. He let me lean on him, and I’m ashamed to have to admit that I faltered and fell and that he had to catch me.

The feel of his weakness, of his body quivering with fatigue, gave me the strength to pull myself together and I tended to him until he fell asleep again.

And for the first time, with his fingers wrapped warm in mine, I managed to fall back asleep as well.

It was the beginning of the healing for both of us.

We passed the next couple of days settling into a routine. Either Wufei or Trowa and Quatre stopped in at least once a day, and I had little doubt that they would for awhile yet. Though their visits were more than welcome, their arrivals always hit me like a mild rebuke; it was my failure that made it necessary for them to come by and check on us every day like that.

Duo was sleeping a little less and was starting to get bored. The day that Misty and Justin arrived with Carrie for a visit, we were curled together on the couch, Duo’s laptop propped on my knees… shopping. He had decided that he might like to work on something while he was stuck in the apartment and we were on-line with the local quilt shop, ordering fabric. He thought he might be able to handle a little sewing.

I was sitting sideways, supported against the arm of the couch, with Duo reclining against my chest. This was something we had only tried just today and though we both found it to be incredibly satisfying, I didn’t think it was a position he was going to be able to manage for long stretches of time. I held the laptop balanced on my knee, the extra long phone cord I had found, looping off across the coffee table, while Duo surfed his way through the on-line quilt shop.

I cursed when the knock came on the door, and had to yell for the interlopers to hang on a minute, while I gently untangled us, replacing my body with several pillows and couch cushions, until Duo seemed as comfortable as possible. Then I went to open the door and was greeted with the happy squeals of a four-year-old. It was all I could do not to groan out loud. I wasn’t up to this yet, and I honestly didn’t think that Duo was either.

Misty, thank the Gods, kept a tight rein on Carrie, or I’m sure the child would have thrown herself into Duo’s lap. I would have had to hurt someone.

Misty came in hauling an assortment of baked goods. The woman treats any given situation as an excuse to cook. Mostly cookies and brownies and the like, sometimes homemade bread. It was a wonder she kept her slim build; but perhaps that was because she was constantly giving the stuff away.

Carrie was chanting, ‘Unca Duo!’ like a mantra and after I performed my social duties by taking their jackets and settling the pile of Tupperware on the table, I found myself compelled to place myself where I could intercept any exuberant hugs that might get directed at said Uncle.

‘We’re gonna get a new house, Unca Duo!’ She finally left off the mantra to deliver what was probably, for her, the most exciting news she’d had in her short life.

Duo grinned for her. ‘Is it a big house?’ he asked, falling into easy communication with her, seeming to forget her parents for a moment.

‘We haven’t found it yet, silly,’ she informed him haughtily with a roll of her brown eyes. ‘But it’s gonna have a big yard for Bernie and Mommy says it might even have two bafrooms!’

Misty came and sat on the coffee table beside her daughter and stroked a maternal hand over the curly locks, smiling warmly at Duo. ‘We’re not going to rebuild, we needed a bigger place anyway,’ she explained. ‘We’ve looked at a few places, but… haven’t found anything that suits all three of us.’

Carrie brightened, bouncing up and down in place. ‘We saw a house that had a tree house!’ she squealed gleefully, as though that was the most magical thing that she had ever seen. ‘It was the bestest house.’ Then her smile faded a little. ‘But it gots no basement.’

And that, apparently, removed said house from the running altogether. Then she looked up at her mother and stage-whispered, ‘I gotta go potty.’ I stepped aside and pointed the way, and Misty took her off to the bathroom. I turned back and found the most stricken look on Duo’s face.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked softly.

His eyes flicked to meet mine and his voice was unnaturally husky. ‘Damnit, Heero… I didn’t want her scarred with this. I tried so hard to make things all right… I…’

I didn’t know what to say to him, but before I could even begin to speak, the forgotten Justin was there; unexpected comfort coming from an unexpected quarter.

‘Duo… Good Lord, man, you couldn’t have done more than you did.’ Duo turned from me to look up at Carrie’s father, his eyes confused. ‘They recommended at the hospital that we take her in for counseling. Hell; she didn’t fucking need any. You brought her through a tornado…’ He faltered, searching for words. ‘She doesn’t even have bad dreams.’

He came closer, sitting on the coffee table where Misty had been, nearer eye level with Duo. ‘You saved her life,’ he told Duo thickly. ‘You saved our little girl. And somehow… you kept her from being afraid through the whole damn thing.’

So, maybe Justin wasn’t such an asshole after all.

Duo moved to touch Justin’s knee, and then thought better of it. ‘I didn’t do anything…’ he began, but Justin almost looked angry.

‘Don’t belittle it, Duo.’ He looked away from us, this kind of emotion obviously awkward for him. ‘The counselor said he’d like to talk to…’Unca Duo’ some day. To find out how in the hell you brought a four year old through… that… without so much as a nervous twitch.’

Duo ducked his head and flushed. ‘I just… told her stories and… explained things. I didn’t really…’ he floundered and flushed darker.

‘Thank you,’ Justin blurted suddenly.

‘You’re… you’re welcome,’ Duo responded and an awkward silence ensued. I was just considering breaking it with something lame, like offering drinks, when Carrie burst back into the room and more than filled it.

‘You gots weird stuff in your bafroom, Unca Duo!’ Carrie squealed and beside us, Justin blanched.

Duo just ignored him and smiled at Carrie. ‘That’s so I can take showers with my cast on, poppet.’

The look on Justin’s face was really rather priceless, running the gambit from relief to embarrassment. I do not even want to know what he thought she was talking about.

‘You gots a cast Unca Duo?’ she asked, wide eyed and of course the afghan had to be peeled back so she could see it.

‘What’s it for, Unca Duo?’ she breathed, awed by the thing.

‘Just to make my leg itch.’ Duo grinned and made silly little scratching motions until she giggled.

Then she looked him over somewhat curiously. ‘Mommy says I can’t hug you, Unca Duo.’ There was a plaintive note in her voice and I shifted a little closer, half expecting Duo to let her, just to make her feel better.

‘Not for a while yet, munchkin. Unca Duo has a couple of… boo-boos.’ Then he grinned at her and stuck his hand out. ‘But we can hug hands.’

She giggled some more and grabbed his hand with both of hers and squeezed tight while Duo pretended that she was crushing his fingers.

He is a master of misdirection and distraction, and maybe Justin couldn’t understand how Duo could have kept his daughter from being frightened, but I could.

She babbled to him for a while about living with her Aunt and cousins, about Bernie getting in trouble for digging in the Aunt’s flowerbed. About how her Aunt had looked at Dirt one morning and then spit coffee all over herself. Duo got a glare from Misty at that point in the story, but he just grinned at her, unabashed.

He had been up for some time before their arrival, and I knew he had to be getting tired. We had kept the hospital bed after all, and he napped there when he wanted to rest during the day. I needed to get him back into it and off his back soon. I was trying to think of a way to politely get them to leave, when Duo surprised me by reaching out and taping Carrie gently on the end of the nose.

‘You’re going to have to save some stories for the next time you visit, munchkin. It’s almost time for my nap.’

‘You gots to take a nap?’ she asked, incredulous; the thread of the meandering story forgotten.

He grinned at her, lowering his voice to tell her conspiratorially, ‘Yep. Uncle Heero makes me.’

She looked up at me for confirmation, and since Duo had involved me in his little game, I nodded sadly and told her. ‘He was bad. He didn’t take his medicine.’

The laugh I got from Duo was delighted and real, and I was shocked at how much I had been missing the sound.

Justin took Carrie in hand then, getting her jacket on her while Misty came and tearily said her own thank yous to an uncomfortable Duo. Then they were finally leaving, though I suppose, truth be told, they hadn’t been there all that long.

‘Bye, Unca Duo!’ Carrie called over her father’s shoulder, and waved.

‘Bye, Princess,’ Duo said wearily. ‘Be a good girl and give Bernie a hug for me.’

Carrie giggled and waved again. At the last minute, Misty turned and grinned at Duo, shaking her head. ‘You’d make somebody a good mommy, Duo Maxwell.’

He just snorted and then the door was shut and we were alone again. I waited for the pain to come into his eyes. I couldn’t believe she had said that to him. I waited, but it didn’t happen. He smiled up at me, the comment already forgotten, his eyes looking heavy lidded.

‘Help me to bed, love?’ he asked softly.

‘Of course,’ I replied and got him up and across the room.

He was asleep within a matter of minutes. I settled myself on the couch and watched him for a while, puzzling over it. I wasn’t complaining, I didn’t want to see him hurt, but his lack of reaction surprised me. His yearning for children of our own was something that he had never quite gotten over. I would have expected the remark to have stung. Especially now, while he was still dealing with the emotional upheaval the drugs always caused in him. When I thought about the visit, Duo’s reaction to Carrie in general was pretty atypical. He always put her first, and I had half expected him to let her hug him, enduring the pain just to reassure her that he was all right. I had been expecting to have to intervene and make her leave him alone so that he could rest. It had surprised me when he had called a halt to the visit himself. There was something subtly different about his interaction with the child, and I couldn’t quite place my finger on it.

I moved silently around the apartment, cleaning up, looking to make sure we had something thawed for dinner, refrigerating the massive amounts of cookies that Misty had brought and I really didn’t know what to do with. I changed the sheets on our bed and gathered a basketful of laundry for later. Busy work; things that could have waited. But my mind kept looping back around to the interchange between Duo and Carrie. What had been different? He had still doted on her, still conversed with her almost exclusively, ignoring the adults in the room as though they hadn’t existed. He had smiled at her and laughed with her, and otherwise had shown that he was as fond of her as he had ever been. But there was something in his eyes that hadn’t been the same. What was it? What had been missing?

It came to me, almost an hour later, standing over his sleeping form, watching him breathe. I had one of his quilts tucked in around him, and it put me in mind of a conversation we’d shared years ago while he had worked on the quilt he gave to Carrie when she was born. We had talked about children, talked about his wanting one of our own. I’ll remember the hunger in his eyes as he spoke of it, as long as I live. He had allowed me to see his need, naked and full strength, just that one time. Then he had buried it away, filed under ‘impossible’, and we never really spoken of it again. But the ghost of that need came back to his eyes whenever he was around Carrie or any other small child. And that was what was missing… he had looked at Carrie, laughed with Carrie… and the hunger never awoke in his eyes. I wasn’t sure what to think.

I helped him to the bathroom when he woke, settling him on the couch afterward, where he resumed his shopping while I fixed dinner. We ate a light meal of chicken and rice… with cookies for dessert.

He was receptive to letting me sit behind him again, his lower back supported with a thin cushion. We took a little time to surf the net and find the web site for the museum and I ordered the replacement panther that I had promised Carrie. When I told Duo the story of how I had come to make that pledge, he positively glowed and looked a little further, finding that the site had a stuffed wolf as well, and of course we had to order it too. I reassured him that I was sure we could find a hawk and a dragon before Christmas.

He had to rest for a bit then, and he let himself relax back against me. I ached to wrap my arms around him, to hold him tight and close. I could feel the muscles in his back spasming uncontrollably against me. I took his right hand in mine and held it tightly until the spell passed. He sighed heavily, but didn’t speak of it.

‘Duo?’ I said softly against the top of his head, ‘is everything all right?’

‘I’m fine,’ he sighed, squeezing my hand.

‘You seemed… strange… this afternoon.’ I fished around for words, struggling for the right concept.

‘Stranger than normal?’ he teased, but I wouldn’t be distracted.

‘When Carrie was here… things seemed… different,’ I poked a little more, hoping he would work with me a little bit.

‘I don’t understand,’ he said, not making things any easier for me.

‘Duo,’ I blurted, ‘it breaks my heart to see you with children… you’re always so… full of yearning… but today…’ I broke it off, wishing I’d not even spoken.

He chuckled lightly, nuzzling his head back against my cheek. But when he finally spoke, it wasn’t any where near what I thought he would say.

‘Do you remember Makoto Ito?’ he said wistfully.

I snorted. ‘How could I forget?’ I wasn’t sure what bearing this had on the present topic, but was willing to wait for him to work his way around to it.

He let his head rest against my shoulder, wrapping his good arm around my raised knee. ‘When I first met him…on that mission,’ no need to mention which mission, ‘we had to spend the night hiding out in that sewer together.’

I repressed a shiver and put my hand on his shoulder, gently massaging. We had not talked all that much about that mission, after that first argument. It wasn’t a subject that either of us had been able to give any emotional distance to at the time, and in the intervening years it had not come up all that often.

‘We talked… a lot.’ His eyes closed and his voice became thoughtful.

It was one of those moods; the ones that didn’t overtake him all that often, but always afforded me rare glimpses into his past; into his mind.

He chuckled. ‘The caffeine pills were upsetting him… a great deal. I had to tell him a little bit about the… nightmares.’

Nightmares. Such a mild sounding word for the screaming night terrors that used to overtake him. My hand left his shoulder and moved to stroke tenderly across his cheek.

‘He was pretty freaked out that he had just leaped into the pit of no return with a raving madman.’ He grinned in remembrance and I chuckled lightly along with him.

‘He kept trying to convince me to go to sleep.’ His eyes blinked open and he tilted his head to look up at me. ‘He was a… persistent old guy; kept at me about what circumstances would allow me to sleep.’

He turned his head away, the position obviously difficult to hold. I felt the muscles around his upper body wound go into spasm again. He got quiet until the spell passed. I frowned; I had not known about these obviously painful attacks, but he picked up the thread of the story before I could speak.

‘I had to try to explain… you.’ His smile grew warm and affectionate. ‘And he explained the term ‘soul mate’ to me.’

He twisted to look at me again. ‘I more than knew the feeling… but I’d never heard the term for it.’

I leaned down until I could brush his lips with mine, overwhelmed with a sudden sense of … completion? Connection? Union? Soul mates… a very apt description. One soul mated eternally with the other. I shivered.

He had to let his head fall back on my shoulder again. ‘He spoke of his wife…of understanding how I felt.’ A hint of a frown crossed his face and he closed his eyes again. ‘He told me she’d died… I think she’d been dead ten years at the time he told me about it. I… I couldn’t understand how…’ The frown deepened. ‘I didn’t understand how he could have gone on… without her.’

I took him by the shoulders and held him; the best I could manage. He was dancing around the edges of something we had spoken of only once… a very long time ago. I couldn’t bear to think about it, much less talk about it. I remembered the feelings I’d had in the waiting room at the hospital, understanding that there really, truly was no going on without him.

‘They had children,’ he said after a long pause. ‘He told me that was how he had carried on. He had other ties by the time he… lost her.’

We were coming back around to the original subject, I’d had faith that he would get there eventually, but I hadn’t seen this coming.

There was another long pause, and I kissed the side of his face and waited. His voice when it came at last was very soft.

‘I figured out… at the bottom of those stairs, why I wanted a child so badly.’ He didn’t open his eyes while he spoke. ‘I wanted you to have an anchor. I wanted to hold you to life.’

My gut clenched and my heart felt like it faltered in my chest.

‘We swore we would never ask each other to go on alone,’ he sighed. ‘I… I almost did… in that ambulance. It tears at me, thinking about. But… I figured out that I don’t have that right. No more than you would have the right to ask me…’

‘No more,’ I quavered. ‘Please… I… understand. But I don’t want to talk about it any more. I can’t…’

The loving smile came back to his face, even if it was tinged with a little sadness. ‘It’s all right. There’s nothing more to discuss. We both know our own hearts. But no more desperately wanting a child… you’re enough for me.’

‘I love you… so damn much,’ I told him huskily.

‘With all my heart and soul,’ he responded and lacing his fingers with mine, fell asleep against my chest.

End of Guardian Spirits

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