by: Sunhawk

Guidance (cont)

There came a soft chuckle, "Fair enough." I could almost feel him steeling himself for this, "Ok. Harness first. Right hand over your left shoulder. Find where the strap comes out of the seat..."

He walked me through it. Step by step until I was belted down again and just the sound of his confidant, we-can-do-this voice, eased my fears and by the time we had attained that much, I felt like I could just maybe get through this. I couldn't believe as the last buckle was snugged in place that I hadn't been able to do it on my own. He had been right; I was letting myself think too far ahead and was spooking myself. One step at a time was the only way.

"Ok." I told him, "We got it. Sorry, 'Fei... was letting my imagination run too far. I'm ready now."

"It's all right, Duo." He said warmly and the use of my first name told me he was scared as well.

"Listen, 'Fei." It was an incredibly intimate feeling, this throwing myself off the cliff, trusting him to catch me, "We both know the odds of this working are pretty damned crappy... "

"Maxwell... " He warned me, trying to make me shut up but I wouldn't be deterred.

"If I end up splattered all over creation... it's not... I mean... It's going to be because I couldn't handle it. Understand?" I couldn't stand the idea that he might end up blaming himself, when Heero hadn't really given him a choice about taking my salvation on.

"We'll get through this." He told me flatly and his voice brooked no argument.

I chuckled lightly, "Yes, sir!"

He chuckled with me and I knew he only did it to make me feel better, "What happened to your eyes?" He asked me then.

"Hydraulic line broke... near as I can tell. I got fluid in them." I was rather proud of how clinically I was able to report that.

"Damn." He muttered, "Did you rinse them out?"

"Yeah." I confirmed, "But I only had two bottles of water."

"It's all right." He appeased, "Better than nothing. We'll deal with it later."

That's Wufei for you all over. One thing at a time; step one, step two, step three. Everything by the numbers. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly and made a conscious effort to throw myself into his hands.

"Let's do this." I told him gruffly.

He had me drop back to the wide band and gave me the run down so the others could hear it. He oriented me to my position, walked through the plan and bade Heero and Trowa let go of my Gundam. I heard a small tap on the right; Heero letting me know he was still close by

"See you dirt-side, guys." I said flippantly, wishing I had the time to say goodbye to each of them... just in case; but realizing at the same time how much that would upset them.

I rolled my shoulders, took my grip and started my re-entry. I really hate re-entry.

Wufei began calling corrections almost immediately, his voice calm and cool, like we were strolling on the beach.

Some of it was second nature and feel told me a lot of things. I knew from excessive vibration when I had strayed out of pitch but without instrumentation, I needed Wufei to guide me back. I could feel when corrections had to be made but alone I couldn't tell what the corrections were. My stomach was starting to knot but Wufei just kept talking to me, a steady monologue of detailed instructions. He didn't have to resort to kata correlations and I found myself wishing it were that simple. Re-entry is a little more... delicate than cleaving mobile suits. It's all pitch and yaw and minute adjustments. I felt like I was ready to scream, my nerves were so raw.

Then his voice got tinged with something hard and he reminded me of what I had forgotten in the sheer terror of the situation.

"Ok, Duo, we're approaching communication black-out." Gods... Gods... how could I have forgotten that? How in the hell could you forget something like that? It felt like my heart clinched in my chest.

"Duo?" He called to me, voice worried.

"Here." I told him, ashamed to admit that it had slipped my mind, that this had taken me by surprise, "Feed me." I barked at him.

And he did, gave me everything he had; air speed, angle, descent rate, altitude. The last several minutes we counted off the drop rate together until I had it and then I was suddenly counting unaccompanied. I have never in my entire life felt more alone. I knew that they were out there, all around me, making their own landings but the sudden silence was heart stopping. I held it steady, despite every instinct screaming for me to fucking pull up. I held it steady and counted it out, reducing speed here. Adjusting angle now. I was glad at the end that they couldn't hear me. My voice, as I continued to count out loud, was tremulous and just damned scared. I really didn't want to go out like this. I was supposed to die in battle; suddenly, surprised and all at once. Not in this slow, drawn out race with gravity, splattered like a giant bug on somebody's windshield.

I wished I could spare a hand to turn on my music; it makes it easier if you can't hear the bones breaking and the flesh giving way.

Then I hit and I must have plowed up ground for a good half mile. I was tossed and jerked and the harness gave. That was the last thing I was aware of; the feel of the shoulder strap giving way and the sound of my own voice yelling, "Shit!"

I woke in someone's arms and I really hoped it was Heero, because whoever it was, they were holding me in a way that would just be weird if it was one of the other guys.

I could smell that strange burnt ozone smell that comes off the Gundams after a hot re-entry and judging from the heat I could feel on the left side of my body, we weren't all that far from where Deathscythe must be lying. I probably hadn't been out long, which was a good sign. Before I really had a chance to advertise the fact that I was coming around, I heard Wufei's voice,

"Tilt his head back, Heero. Quatre, see if you can peel his eyes open."

I started to struggle against them; it's a very strange thing to wake up to people doing things to your eyes.

"Calm down, Duo." Quatre was soothing and it suddenly came back to me why they were trying to force my eyes open.

"Ok... Ok... let me." I told him, wishing I could tell where everybody was. My eyes were so crusted I couldn't open them. There was a moment of panic and I reached to rub at them.

"Stop it." Wufei said and someone pulled my hands away, I couldn't even tell who, "Don't rub. I'm going to pour a little water on them... we'll get them open."

Even with the warning, it was still a shock when it splashed on my face and I flinched away. The arms around me tightened and I knew for sure it was Heero. I resisted the urge to bury my head in his chest.

Gentle fingers worked around my eyes and the lids at last came open, it was a shock that things were still black as night.

"All right," Wufei's voice was calm and gentle, "I'm going to rinse your eyes out."

I nodded and did my best to hold still while he slowly poured the lukewarm water over my face. It relieved the stinging a little but I still couldn't see.

He used three bottles before he was satisfied that any more wasn't going to help.

"We have to get out of here." Trowa warned in a tight voice.

"You two go ahead, get Sandrock under cover and see if you can come back for Deathscythe." Heero's voice rumbled in his chest where he had the side of my face pressed close. "I'll take Duo with me; we need to get him back to base."

I heard people moving and knew that orders were being followed. There was nothing I could do but lie in Heero's lap and shiver. I didn't think I had injured anything else; other than bruises and a slight headache, nothing hurt that hadn't already been hurting before I blacked out. Despite that, I clung to Heero with all my might and didn't even object when he rose with me in his arms and carried me like a child towards, I assumed, Wing. I wasn't up to thinking very hard right now. There was a cold, hard fact that was trying to present itself to me and I just didn't want to have to face it.

He strapped us in together and it reminded me with a shudder of another trip we'd made like this.

"I'm sorry, love." He whispered to me, feeling my tremor, "I don't know how else to get us both in here and still keep you safe."

"It's all right." I murmured and did my best to make myself small and stay out of his way. He got us back off the ground and it really was a blessed relief to let somebody else take over for a while. The strain of getting that Gundam landed, of completely trusting another human being to guide me through it, had left me exhausted. I felt completely drained; aching and sore and just fucking weak-kneed tired. Like I was coming back from a month long bout with the flu.

Once he had us on course and was able, he let go of the left grip and wrapped his free arm tight around me.

"Why didn't you tell us?" He sighed but there was no anger in it, as I had been afraid there would be.

"Everyone was upset enough." I told him and tempered it with a dry chuckle, "I needed level heads to get my ass out of the frying pan."

He couldn't return the laugh, couldn't be flippant with me. He was scared and hurting and his arm around my waist threatened to cut off my air. I just squeezed his hand and didn't complain. Truth be told, if I had been out of the harness, I'd have been wrapped around him in a strangle hold myself. Stark, raving terror was a newfound companion living in the back of my head along side my old buddy the impish voice with the attitude. Said voice was explaining to me rather maliciously that I would never see again; my piloting days were over, my time of belonging with the guys was over, my admittedly puny efforts in the war were over. I was... blind.

"I've got you." Heero told me firmly. Feeling, I think, the tension building in my body, "It's going to be all right. I'm here."

He soothed me and talked to me all the way back to the base. I let him carry me off the landing strip to the infirmary, keeping my face buried against his neck. I felt naked as the day I was born. I could feel eyes on us but couldn't tell who or where or anything else. It made me feel helpless and exposed. Heero's arms helped me ward that feeling off with the offer of his protection.

The medics messed with my eyes some more, flushing them again, with something more than just water, putting drops in them that took away the pain completely and then wrapping gauze and padding over them. I discovered that I had a slight head wound as well, obviously from the crash but it only took a couple of stitches. They commiserated over my bruises but couldn't offer much more than a little Ben-gay and sympathy; though the one across my shoulder and collarbone was bad enough they wanted an x-ray.

Emotionally, I was something of a wreck. I got anxious every time I lost physical contact with Heero. Jumped whenever someone touched me unexpectedly. There were so many voices, coming from people I didn't know, that I had trouble focusing on what anyone was saying. I had to clinch my hands to hide how bad I was shaking. I'd have rather gone through the damned knee surgery again than endure this. This was hell. I had a new mantra ringing through my head like a tolling bell; I'm blind. I'm blind. I'm blind.

The only time I had alone was when they let me use the bathroom right before they released me. I was appalled that I had to sit down to pee just to make sure I didn't miss the damned toilet. Then I was overcome with fear that I hadn't gotten my pants back in place right and ran my hands over the zipper and snap three times to assure myself that I was all together. I felt my way around to the sink and took a few minutes to splash cool water on my face. I leaned there; arms braced against the cold porcelain for a moment and almost started giggling when I realized that I probably looked like I was staring in the mirror.

Well, wasn't this just a kick in the head?

I guess I should have come out of there on my own but I couldn't think what I would do after I opened the door. Stand there and wait for someone to come fetch me? Yell for assistance? Yep; much rather do the knee surgery again. Hell; I'd let 'em do both knees if this would just go away.

Behind me, there was a soft tap on the door and I heard it open and close.

"It's me." Heero told me quietly and then his arms were tight around my waist.

I usually enjoyed it when he came up behind me like this but tonight I couldn't bear the exposed-belly feeling it gave me and I turned in his arms to wrap myself around him, burying my face in his shoulder again. I had only thought I was a mess before; reaction was starting to set in and I felt like I was turning to liquid inside... like all my bones were gone. I could feel hysteria wanting to rip my belly open and I clung to Heero for all I was worth.

"Shhh... " He soothed, though I wasn't making a sound, "It's all right. They say it's probably not permanent. A couple of weeks and the bandages can come off for good. I've got drops for your eyes to keep them from hurting. I don't have any missions right now; I'm staying with you as long as I can. It's going to be all right."

I let him calm me, let the nonsense words wash over me. Truth be told, though, all I really heard was the word 'probably'.

He got me out of that place. It was difficult, moving together. I clutched at the arm he gave me like it was the only thing holding me up over a thousand-foot chasm. After awhile, my brain engaged enough that I realized I was hurting him and I had to force my hands to ease off.

"It's all right." He told me warmly and laid his hand over mine, "Hold as tight as you need to."

It gave me something to think about... not cutting off Heero's blood circulation. It became my whole damn focus.

I let him lead me, gave him total control, trusting him to get me someplace safe. There was a transport truck and a couple of uncomfortable moments when I had to let go of Heero while he climbed in and then I had to get myself in by feel. We must have been in the back of the truck alone, because he sat with his arms around me and let me lean my head against his shoulder. I couldn't work up to conversation, my mantra just rang in my head; I'm blind. I'm blind. I'm blind. Looking back, I think I was in shock. I wasn't focusing on anything and after a long while, it hit me that I had no idea where the hell I was or where I was going. I hadn't been listening, hadn't been keeping track of anything. I didn't even have a clue what time it was. I raised my head for the first time in a long while and would have blinked stupidly if it had been possible.

"Heero?" I whispered and I don't know why I couldn't make my voice any louder, "I... I'm lost."

I heard a shuddering, relieved sigh beside me and he gently began talking to me, "We're in a transport truck; they're taking us to a drop point near town. Trowa is going to meet us there with a car. We'll go from there to the safe house that you and Wufei were using. Quatre had to go back to the mountain estate."

"Wufei?" I wanted to know, suddenly unsure if anyone else had been hurt in the fight.

"Sent north. Will probably be away for a little while." I think he understood how much I needed anchors, "Everyone else is fine."

I chuckled lightly for him, "Everybody but me again, huh?"

There was another one of those shaky sighs, "Everybody but you." He agreed and brought the hand that wasn't involved with holding me tight, up to my face. He tilted my chin up and softly kissed me.

"I would rather appreciate it," He told me quietly when he drew away, "If you would never do something like that again."

It was as close as he could come to; you scared the holy, living crap out of me.

I smiled gently and nuzzled my head back on his shoulder, "Kinda scared the shit out of me too."

We finished the trip in silence and when we got to the drop point, Trowa was there waiting to help get me down from the back of the truck. It was good to feel his broad shoulders under my hands as he lifted me down, letting me know that he was all right. I needed to know that they were all Ok; that all my little ducks were in a row. It stung that I wasn't going to get to 'see' Wufei for a while; I really wanted to be able to thank him for getting me through... that. They braced me between them as the truck pulled away and there was silence around me; silence that was punctuated with something tense. I could feel them communicating without words.

"Stop that." I snapped and they both jumped, "If you've got something to say, damnit, say it out loud."

"Sorry, Duo." Heero murmured and then they were getting me into a car I didn't recognize. Trowa drove and Heero sat in back with me, letting me curl against him. I knew I was leaning and leaning damn hard but I wasn't able to stop it just yet. I still felt... scattered. It was hard to think, hard to focus. My body was still full of stress poisons and I felt weak and shaky and exhausted.

"Rest, love." Heero told me, his arm keeping me close and I finally gave in to it and let myself slump across his lap and sleep. It was turning into a long day.

I jerked awake more than once, taken with total panic but Heero was there, catching my hands as I reached to tear at the bandages around my eyes, catching at my attention with his gentle words.

"Don't... don't... .it's all right. I'm here."

When we got to the cabin, he hauled me out in his arms again and I didn't fight it; didn't object to his carrying me like a child. Hell; I welcomed it. There was no damn reason for him to be treating me like this, none of my injuries had anything to do with my ability to walk but I felt like I'd come apart somehow and couldn't seem to get my scattered wits about me. If I'd still been a kid back on L2, I would have gone to ground. Would have run and hid in one of the many bolt holes we kept mapped in our heads. Wrapped in Heero's arms was as grounded as I could get.

I could hear Trowa moving ahead of us, getting the front door open. Heero waited on the steps for the long minutes it took Trowa to recon the cabin, not moving until our partner came back and declared everything safe.

Once inside, Heero moved to take me straight upstairs and Trowa came close, speaking softly as though he thought I was asleep,

"Heero... we need to get some hot food into him. Look at him; he's pale as a ghost and his skin's clammy and cold."

"I want him in bed." Heero said tersely, "See if you can find some soup or something and bring it up."

Trowa grunted an affirmation and I could hear him moving away. Heero took me up the stairs. I didn't speak; let the conversation pass as though I hadn't heard it. I couldn't cope right now. Just could not, physically, mentally, emotionally... deal with any of it. I just let them do with me as they pleased. I was too busy listening to the impish voice in my head telling me what life was going to be like living in total darkness... forever. It was having a hell of a good time listing all the things I would never see again; the sunrise, the stars, hawks in flight, thunderstorms, roses... Heero's eyes. All gone... forever. Damned imp.

Heero found the room I had been using and took me there, sitting me down on the bed. At the last, as he put me down, I felt the tremble in his arms that told me of fatigued muscles. Bloody hell... where was my head?

"Heero... " I began and I heard that relieved sigh again; I was driving him to distraction with my not talking, "I'm sorry... " I told him. Sorry for scaring him, sorry for leaning so hard, sorry for not handling this well.

"Hush, love." He said and I was taken with the urge to chuckle at him; worried when I didn't speak... but then arguing with me when I did.

He undid the laces on my boots and worked them off me and then his hands came to unfasten the buttons on my shirt. I balked.

There was a frozen moment and I felt my face flame. Gods... this was stupid; I slept with this man. I made love with him on a fairly regular basis. He had seen me bare ass naked a score of times. But on all those occasions... I had been able to see him as well. Have you ever lain with someone who is fully clothed while you are completely naked? It's a very strange, strange feeling. It speaks of vulnerability, of exposure on a primal level. I couldn't handle it right now.

"Duo?" He questioned me and I could hear the confusion in his voice. I couldn't see his face to read his expression and I suppose with the bandages covering my eyes, he was probably having a little trouble reading me as well.

"I'm sorry." I said, "It just feels... strange."

"It's all right." He reassured me but I could tell he didn't really understand.

"Can you... find me something to sleep in?" I asked softly and there was only the slightest hesitation before he told me,

"Of course, love."

He left my side to go hunt through my duffle bag for clothes and it was the first time I had lost the skin-to-skin contact with him since the truck. I was trembling by the time he got back and it was all I could do not to grab him when I felt his touch again.

"Duo... " His voice was troubled; uncertain, "Tell me what to do for you?"

I really needed to get myself together; I was scaring Heero. I took a deep, tremulous breath and tried to come outside myself, tried to stop listening to the imp.

"I'm sorry." I told him at length, "I just feel so damn... helpless; so... vulnerable."

He was quiet for a minute and I knew he was trying to put himself in my place. That's one of the things that I love about my Heero; he's so good at seeing things from my side. So good about taking a step back and trying to truly look at things from a different angle.

He gently pulled my hands loose from the death grip they had on the blankets, holding them in his for a moment and I imagined he was watching them shake. Then he carefully pressed some clothes into my hands.

"A pair of your running shorts and one of my tank tops." He told me gently, "I'm going to go help Trowa with your soup. I won't come back in the room without knocking first, Ok?"

I flushed hotly and nodded, wanting to apologize but his fingers brushed my lips and his voice was full of warm understanding, "It's all right, love. I... I think I understand."

He left the room with more noise than was usual for him and the door closed with a noticeable click.

I was awash with sudden doubts; was I truly alone? How the hell could I be sure? And why in the hell did it suddenly matter to me so much?

I bit down on it all and stripped before I had a chance to think about it too much. It was slow, feeling the shorts until I found the tag to discern front from back and my legs when I had to stand to pull them up were wobbly and unsteady. The tank top was one of Heero's and I inhaled his scent as I pulled it on. His clothes are a little large on me and I'm sure that's why he had chosen it. It fit loose and comfortable and his subtle, musky scent was a hell of a comfort. I don't know if he'd done that on purpose, or if it was just a bonus.

I dumped the dirty clothes beside the bed and lay down, pulling the blankets around me. I couldn't stop shaking. I wanted to yell for Heero to come back. I felt so... out in the open, so vulnerable, so helpless. If something happened, there was no way in hell I could defend myself. Hell; if someone came into the room how was I supposed to know friend from foe? I was so off balance, I couldn't find any sort of anchor; all my reference points were scattered to the four winds. How in the bloody, stinking hell did people live like this? A couple of hours... even with the faint, lingering hope that it wasn't permanent and I was a quivering wreck on the verge of a nervous break-down. It took a stronger soul than little ol' Duo Maxwell to cope with the end of all light in the universe.

And through it all, my personal, internal imp continued to list all the things that were lost to me; Quatre's bright smile, watching Wufei do his katas, seeing Trowa's eyes light up whenever Quatre walked into a room, Heero... .all of Heero.

"Shut up." I growled to the imp and he only laughed in evil pleasure.

By the time the knock sounded on the door, I was holding on by my fingernails, mere minutes from howling my grief and anger to the whole stupid world.

"Come in." I tried to say but it came out as more of a grunt.

The door opened with a rattle and the gentle breeze it made in opening brought the sharp tang of tomato soup to my nose.

"We brought your dinner." Heero told me gently and I heard his steps sound as he came across the hardwood floor to the side of the bed. Trowa was right behind him.

They were both making noise on purpose, trying to help me work through this. Heero had spoken as soon as the door had opened, to reassure me that it was just them. He had said 'we' to let me know they were both present. They made unaccustomed sounds as they moved to let me know where they were. It made me want to smile. It helped ease the hysteria eating at my gut.

Heero came and helped me sit up, easing into bed behind me to give me something to recline against. Trowa sat on the side of the bed next to us; I could feel the mattress sag as he sat. I took hold of one of Heero's hands as soon as he was within reach and concentrated on not breaking bones as I held on. There was that silence again and I could feel communication happening around me, washing over and through me but passing me by. I really hated that.

"Please don't." I asked of them and I felt Heero tense behind me and somewhere in the vicinity of my hip, Trowa chuckled softly.

"We apparently are making eye contact too loudly, Heero." He said gently and it was meant to lighten things for me.

I tried a shaky chuckle of my own, "Clashing gazes and all that." I murmured.

"I'm sorry." He told me honestly, his voice low to match the tone I had set, "We're worried; you don't... look so good."

I quirked a grin in what I hoped was his direction, "That's good; because I don't feel so stinking good."

I felt him take my free hand and he was pressing a mug into my fingers. The cup was warm, almost too hot. I became aware of just how icy cold my hand was as it closed around the mug. It was like the storm that happens when hot air raises to meet cold; a shudder ran through my whole body, an almost convulsion that would have sent the soup spilling across my lap if Trowa hadn't still had his hands on mine.

"Easy." Heero whispered near my ear. His arms were tight around me helping to anchor me in this place. They were trying so hard; to understand and support, to ease things for me.

"Gomen." I said softly, having tired of the word sorry. I had to let go of Heero's hand to wrap both mine around the warm mug.

"Drink some of it." Trowa's hands were still gently holding mine, "Let's get a little of that heat in you."

He helped me raise it to my lips and I suddenly realized how damn hard this would have been if he had put it in a bowl and I'd had to try eating with a spoon.

"Thank you." I mumbled, hoping he understood.

I almost burned my tongue on it; taking a small sip and feeling it run all the way down into my belly like a line of fire. I had to sit and let that small swallow settle for a few minutes before I tried another. It helped a little, serving to warm me from the inside out. Between the solid feel of Heero's arm around me and the soup, the shivering that had been wracking my body for the last couple of hours finally eased.

Trowa took his hands away after a couple of sips and I held the mug very carefully, wary of spilling it.

"Better?" He asked me at one point and I nodded tightly.

There was that feel again of them speaking behind my back. I was really starting to hate it but decided that it wasn't worth beating my head against the wall over it; they just couldn't seem to help themselves.

"Duo?" Trowa ventured at length, "Can I look at your shoulder?"

I realized that they thought I might accept things from Trowa that I might get irritated with Heero over. Or at least that I might not snap at Trowa about it. I sighed and turned my head so that he could peel back the sleeve... strap? Whatever the hell you call that part of a tank top.

There was the sound of a sympathetic hiss as he got a good look at me, the place where his fingers were holding my shirt away from my skin was extremely sore. I could only imagine what it looked like.

"It's Ok." I told them, "They x-rayed it."

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