Author: Sunhawk

Abrasions

I skipped my nap that afternoon because I had so much to do to get ready for the celebration at Relena's. I normally slept every afternoon after I got back from my therapy sessions; I had trouble making it through the rest of the evening sometimes if I didn't. But I needed a shower and had my hair to wash before Heero got home from work, so I decided to just skip it; wouldn't do to show up at the Peacecraft mansion with wet hair. I hoped I wouldn't regret it. Even though almost three months had passed since my little foray into the asteroid belt, I was still a long damn way from completely recovered.

I almost didn't make it back from that trip at all. Weak from dehydration and malnutrition, suffering with more than one infection, all of it complicated by my extended stay in zero gravity, my condition had worsened as we made the in-bound trip. I remember very little of it after the first few days. I have a series of disjointed memories that swing back and forth like a metronome between Heero and Solo, between the light and the dark as I hovered between life and death. I don't need Freud to translate that one for me.

They tell me I probably wouldn't have made it if Heero and Quatre hadn't arranged a ship to head out to meet us with a Doctor on board. Heero was only able to do so much with my limited medical supplies.

They got me stabilized and got me back. Then there was a God awful long hospital stay complete with therapy, evaluations and visits from psychologists. I apparently spent part of my time in the belt talking to dead people, and this behavior seems to have alarmed Quatre.

I thanked God for health insurance almost every day.

When I was finally cleared of any major psychosis and physically rehabilitated enough to manage a wheel chair, they released me from the hospital. Somehow, I ended up at Heero's place. To this day I'm not sure I ever agreed to the arrangements; it seemed like everyone just assumed that's what was going to happen. I didn't know how to fight it. I could hardly go back to my 'Demon' on my own, at least not for a while. I didn't really want to go back with the Sweepers; they were a great bunch of guys, but Howard looked at me with this... guilt written all over his face every time he saw me. It had really torn them up, listening to me slowly fading away out there half way across the solar system. I wasn't quite up to dealing with that kind of emotional overload. There were too damned many of them, and each and every one of them seemed to want to pat my shoulder and tell me things that they thought they would never get a chance to say. I had decided I couldn't go stay with them the day that Kurt had showed up to visit me at the hospital. I had returned his service medal, the one he had given me for luck before I had left on that damn job. He had sat beside my bed, held my hand and... wept. The man who, during the war, when faced with the loss of his leg had simply looked down and muttered, "well, I said I needed to lose a little weight." I just couldn't deal with it; it was too much. I felt bruised all over, inside and out, body and soul. And... heart.

Would I have refused to go with Heero if I'd had another choice? I don't know. It was still almost more than I could believe in. I wanted to accept the promises we had made to each other, wanted to pull the broken dream out of its box and see if it could be pieced back together. But, to me at least, those things that we had said to each other were all part of a fever dream... I found myself doubting, sometimes, what had been said in truth and what I had only fantasized.

Between the physical trauma and the emotional turmoil, I think I would have agreed to living in a cage with Trowa's lions at the circus if someone had told me that's what we were going to do. I didn't have the energy to argue or discuss it. I just took the path of least resistance. Whatever got me through without my having to make decisions. I think I was just soul weary. Somehow, still in some bizarre form of shock.

How the hell did I get released from the hospital in that kind of state? I'm a damn good actor, remember?

And just to top things off, seeing Heero and the guys again after so long was bringing back memories. It was giving me nightmares. I dreamed about that bastard Jensen for the first time since the war. I found myself with a whole lot of time to just sit around and think... and all the memories were making me think about things I had spent the last three years burying deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Heero had a two-bedroom apartment and he at least let me have my own room, he didn't presume quite that much. It was probably the only thing that saved my sanity, having that place I could retreat to when things got to be too much. It wasn't the same as going home to my 'Demon', but in the condition I was in, stuck in a damn wheel chair until therapy brought back some muscle tone, it was the best I could have hoped for.

I absolutely hate feeling dependent. I've been on my own pretty much as far back as I can remember. My earliest recollections are of running with the other orphans on the streets. We protected each other; watched each other's backs... but you still had to stand on your own. A gang couldn't afford to support members that didn't pull their own weight. I suppose the only time in my life that I had really been anything close to dependent, was during the relatively short time I lived at the Maxwell church.

So I was feeling frustrated and self-conscious, almost claustrophobic in my need to get far enough into my rehabilitation that I could manage on my own again. It bothered me more than I could admit that I was so indebted to... fucking everybody. Heero and Wufei for coming after me. Quatre and Trowa for all the time and money they had poured into mounting the rescue operation. Howard and Kurt and the rest of the Sweepers for everything I had put them through. With them, at least, I felt like the scales balanced a little bit in that I had effectively saved Howard's business and thus their livelihoods.

Some of my part of the profits were currently going to pay for docking space for my ship here in the city. Howard had offered to keep her, but I had insisted on having her closer to where I was, even if I couldn't do anything about it yet. Kurt, I think, had understood a little bit how I felt and had taken care of moving her for me. Not a lot of people could seem to understand that; 'Maxwell's Demon' was my damn home. I had been living in that ship for over two years, docked or in space. I had poured all my time and money into her; she was all I had in the world.

Now I suddenly had more, a lot more in the person of one Heero Yuy. I just wasn't sure what the hell that 'more' was. I couldn't get my head around it; could not comprehend that he truly had been harboring feelings for me all these years. We had just started to delve into it on the trip back from the asteroid belt, when I had gotten so sick. Somehow... we had never gotten back around to talking things out. Circumstances had just moved ahead without my ever being able to say 'slow down! I'm confused!'. When I regained enough lucidity to register my surroundings again, I was in a hospital with Heero fiercely defending his position at my side and suddenly making major decisions for me just as though it were his place. For a long while I more than welcomed it. I hadn't been able to make some of those choices, had not been able to make myself care. Heero was there to take up the slack, never far away, as gentle and supportive as if we had been together for years. It was weeks before I regained enough brain-cells to question his constant presence and discovered that he had taken a freaking leave of absence from his damn job. When I had finally thought to ask, he had explained just as though it were a given. I was shocked. And there, pretty much, was our relationship in a nutshell. He had this firm conviction that we were... 'together', a couple as it were. He seemed to wear the most damnable Mona Lisa smile whenever he looked at me, as though he could see right through me. He approached my care as though there were no question that he would tend to things. As though we had an understanding that only he understood.

While I, on the other hand, just felt confused. Lost and overwhelmed and like I had missed the middle reel of the movie. I couldn't seem to figure out how we had gotten from point A to fucking point Z and a half and I had missed the rest of the alphabet. At first I didn't have the strength to argue about things. Hell, most things there was just no arguing about anyway; I started out freaking helpless. And by the time I started to come back a little we had already settled into some sort of routine and I didn't know how to stand up and say 'time out' ten minutes after the ball game was over.

I was almost a month in the hospital; damn near three full weeks. I don't remember much of the first one. Out of the hospital, I was confined to that thrice-damned wheel chair for most of the next month. I had therapy sessions every day. It was the longest month of my entire life. I thought I was going to lose my freaking mind. I retreated at night to 'my room' and screamed into the pillow until utter exhaustion swept me under and I would sleep like a dead man. The only upside to that month was the fact that I was usually just too damn tired to dream.

Heero and I argued for a week before I convinced him to go the hell back to work. He still waited until I had been released to limited walking outside therapy. When the day finally came, I greeted it with a mixture of relief and anxiety. It was going to be the first time I would be alone since the belt.

Take that whichever way you want, because it was a bloody damn two-edged sword.

Alone at last, half my head cried! Sweet solitude; a blessed chance to listen to my music and get out of my wheel chair whenever I damned well pleased without Heero rushing to my side and admonishing me not to overdo it.

Alone... for the first time, the other half of my head wailed. Horrid, lonely, cold... silence. Alone.

Heero fixed my lunch and left it in the refrigerator, carefully placed on a shelf low enough to reach from my chair. He'd had the landlord in the day before to install a phone jack in my bedroom so that there was an extension next to my bed. He had made my breakfast before leaving, called me four times throughout the day and came home early.

I would have laughed at him if I hadn't been so damned thankful to have him back with me. That day shook me to the core; I hadn't understood how scarred my poor old psyche had been until I had found myself dialling Heero's work number with shaking hands mid-way between his second and third check-up calls. I had managed to make myself hang up before it rang, but it had scared the hell out of me that I almost hadn't been able to wait the few hours until he got home.

He had brought home take-out for supper, something he never did, and it took me a bit to figure out that it was so he didn't have to leave my side long enough to cook. He settled on the couch with me and just held me in his arms. Neither one of us said anything about it, but I knew he felt the tension in my muscles and the painful hammer of my heartbeat. Again there was that strange feeling that he could see inside my head, that somehow he knew how low I had been brought by his mere absence. Sometimes it felt like he knew everything there was to know about me.

He carried me to bed that night and for the first time since the trip in from the asteroid belt, he lay down with me, curling against my back. I opened my mouth to object but he only chuckled and kissed the top of my head. "Go to sleep, baka."

I hated myself for needing him there so damn bad and was unreasoningly irritated with him for knowing that I needed it.

I had to make him go to work the next day and insisted that he stop checking on me so damn much. He only called twice but still came home early. I surprised him by having dinner ready, but then surprised myself when the simple chore exhausted me so much I fell asleep on the couch before I could eat my share.

It gradually got easier as I slowly but steadily regained strength. We settled into what must have been the strangest relationship in recorded history. To all intents and purposes we acted like some kind of damn married couple. Heero went off to work each day and came home in the evening to dinner on the table. I spent my days straightening some, as my strength improved, then taking a cab mid-morning to the rehabilitation center for therapy and returning to the apartment afterward, where I needed a nap before getting up and fixing dinner. We spent our evenings curled together on the couch watching television or reading, sometimes playing cards. Then we retired to our separate bedrooms for the night.

We kissed good morning, we kissed good-bye and we kissed good night. But somehow it never went further than that. I don't think I was ready for more, physically or mentally, and somehow Heero seemed to know that as well.

The quaking fear of being alone eased some; it didn't go away all together and that frightened me a little when I let myself think about it. So mostly I just didn't think about it and while Heero was gone each day I just played my music and suffered through it.

And why in the hell am I sitting here brushing my hair and dwelling on all this? Partly just because that seems to be all I do anymore, sit around and try to figure out just what the fuck happened to my life. Partly because this party of Relena's was freaking me out, I didn't want to go. The woman does not like me, never has... never will. I was not looking forward to spending an evening stuck in a damn tuxedo, wandering around her satin and lace manor, rubbing elbows with people I would never be able to carry on a conversation with.

I hit another tangle and cursed, damn near throwing the brush across the room.

Gentle fingers took it from my hand and Heero's voice said, "here... let me."

I jumped, shocked for the hundredth time at his ability to get so near me without my knowing he was even in the room. I hadn't heard him come into the apartment.

I automatically tilted my head back for a tender kiss and then sat frowning faintly at the wall while he stood behind me and carefully finished the job of brushing my hair.

"What's wrong?" he asked softly, his voice full of gentle concern.

I couldn't tell him. I owed him so damn much and he wanted me to go with him to this stupid thing. It was petty of me to not want to go, I knew that. He was expected to attend because of his position in the Preventors and he had asked me to go along. How could I turn him down?

"Just... been a long day." Which wasn't really a lie.

"You didn't have trouble in therapy today?" He was always quick to question that since the day the clinic had called him at work because I'd... pushed a little too hard and passed out in the middle of the session.

"No." I sighed and wished I could find a way to divert him but he suddenly did that thing he does that makes me crazy; he read my damn mind.

"You know... " his voice sounded a little amused, "you wouldn't have so much trouble with Relena if you didn't bait her."

"I don't fucking have to bait her!" I snapped. "She's a snob. She looks at me like I'm a damn criminal every time she sees me!"

He sighed softly and I was instantly sorry I'd yelled; it wasn't his fault that Relena was a bitch, after all.

He put the brush down and pulled me to my feet, turning me around to face him, looking at me long and hard for a minute before quirking a grin at me. "She's just jealous of your hair."

That sense of humor is something that still catches me by surprise and I blinked at him for a minute before the laugh bubbled up out of me. I let him pull me into an embrace and leaned my head to rest on his shoulder.

"Are you suggesting that I trade hair care secrets with her?" I murmured and let him lead me out of my bad mood.

He chuckled. "I'm saying that I've seen you win over everything from hookers to junk yard dogs... I don't understand why one diplomat should be so difficult."

I wanted to tell him that she was the one making it difficult with her pert little nose stuck up in the air just because I was, horror of horrors, an orphan and self-admitted former pickpocket. Her majesty couldn't imagine a life that could ever force a person to do things that they might later be less than proud of. Or... maybe it was the fact that some of the things that shocked her the most actually afforded me a certain amount of pride. I had been a damned good pickpocket!

"We still have to get dressed," I told him after a few minutes of just standing in the curl of his arms trying to draw on a little bit of that damned endless strength of his.

He drew back to look at me again. "Duo... you know you don't have to... "

I cut him off with a smile, all my trepidation stuffed back in its box in the back of my head. "Can't let you go have all the fun," I quipped and saw the frown that told me he wasn't buying it. "Get dressed," I told him firmly and he left my room with a sigh.

I finished with my hair, brushed my teeth and otherwise spit shined my little self to a fault. There wasn't a hair out of place by the time I was done; there wouldn't be a damn thing that Relena would be able to point to with any contempt. I looked myself in the eye in the mirror and vowed that I would keep my God damn mouth shut as well. I would not embarrass Heero just for the brief pleasure of taking shots at little Miss Wonderful.

I finished before Heero and sat in the living room while I waited, damn near dozing off as my body kicked me in the ass and informed me that it had rather gotten into the habit of that afternoon nap, thank you very much.

I rose from the couch when he came out of his room and he grinned at me. "You clean up fairly well."

The appraising glance he gave me took me by surprise and I didn't have a ready answer to the wisecrack.

He went to the closet, got our coats and came toward me with the strangest smile on his face.

"Just remember," he murmured near my ear as he helped me on with the jacket, "no matter how much attention you get... you're coming home with me."

The line served to shock me so much that I didn't even object to his holding my coat for me. I was left with that floundering feeling of being in over my head again, but this time I had to stop and question something, just a little. We were going to be out in public in a social setting for the first time... this wasn't like being here in the apartment alone together where I could just struggle with my confusion.

"Heero... " I felt myself flushing. "Are we... I mean; is this... "

"A date?" he finished for me, a tender smile on his face. "Do you... want it to be?"

I hated the way he left things like this to me. I didn't know what to say and just stood looking at him for a minute. Did I want to show up at this huge society shindig on Heero's arm? Was I ready to go out in the wide world and let it be known that we were 'together'? Hell, I wasn't even sure we were a couple yet. But I didn't want to be the one to say no... damn, I just didn't know what to tell him.

"No," he told me, reading it in my eyes. "I don't think you need that kind of extra pressure right now."

It twisted in my gut and I had to lower my eyes. "I... I'm sorry... " I murmured.

"Nothing to be sorry for, Duo," he told me warmly and made me raise my head up to meet his eyes again. "It's nobody's damn business."

I almost asked him just what it was that wasn't anybody's business but bit down on it at the last minute. Now wasn't the time.

"We're going to be late," I warned him instead and we left for the party. Heero drove, of course and I had trouble staying awake. I really hoped there would be somebody else there that I knew, Wufei or Sally Po or even Noin, just so I had someone to make conversation with when Heero needed to be elsewhere.

I sat hunched up in my seat and tried to keep a neutral expression on my face despite the fact that I felt like I was on my way to the gallows.

"Warm enough?" Heero asked once, reaching across to take my hand for a moment.

"I'm fine, why?" I asked, confused.

"You just look cold," he shrugged lightly. "I know how you hate the cold."

I tried to remember when I'd told him that and couldn't. There was that strange sense again that he knew all my secrets.

We were there all too soon. Heero pulled up to the front door and a tall guy in a servant's uniform came and took the car away to park it. Heero tipped him and it made me realize that I had no money of my own with me, I hadn't thought to bring my wallet. I hoped to God nothing would arise that would require me to have to tip somebody.

A young lady met us in the foyer and took our coats, giving Heero a claim ticket and I had to marvel at the sheer damned efficiency with which this 'gathering' was planned. Another lady met us within minutes, offering a tray with champagne glasses. Heero took one but I declined politely; alcohol and a body in the middle of physical therapy don't mix. We wandered off to the side and I watched the processing of a couple more guests through the greeting system we had just come through. I couldn't think of this as a party any more; it was planned out with more organization than some of the missions I had been on during the war.

Heero shifted us on through the foyer toward the main hall where everyone seemed to be gravitating. The place was fucking unbelievable. I felt like I was drifting around inside a piece of faceted crystal. Everything sparkled, everything glowed. Much as I hate to admit it... it was damned impressive, in a highbrow, excessive, pretentious kind of way. Before walking into this room, I had felt uncomfortably over-dressed. Now, looking around at the other guests, I felt downright drab. I glanced sidelong at Heero and almost sighed at the bland expression on his face; he probably did this all the time and didn't seem to even be registering the surroundings. His eyes were scanning the people and he occasionally would nod as he made eye contact with this or that person. I made the effort to stop gaping at the fairy tale, crystal palace room and looked the crowd over as well. Not a single face registered that I recognized outside of having seen one or two on the news. I must have sighed.

"Duo?" Heero asked softly.

I quirked a grin at him. "Did you bring your copy of 'Who's Who in Earth Sphere Politics'? I think I left mine in my other tux."

He chuckled and took an infinitesimal sip of his drink. I realized it was more of a gesture than a drink and I wished I had picked up a glass as well. It really was nothing more than a prop. "Oh, everyone who is anyone will be here."

Well that certainly explained my presence, I mused, but kept my thoughts to myself.

He glanced at me with an odd expression after a minute, his eyes leaving me to scan the crowd again. Maybe he was finally noticing how totally out of my depth I was, but all he said was, "If you find yourself stuck for conversational material, just mention next months summit meeting and you'll be able to spend a good twenty minutes doing nothing but nodding wisely."

I snorted and had to grin at him. "You sure know how to show a guy a good time," I muttered before I could quite stop myself.

I managed to get a laugh out of him though, so I guess the line was all right.

Then the Queen of the fucking world made her entrance. I had to contain a dark chuckle and really did wish I had one of those prop drinks to hide the grin behind. Relena completely missed her calling when she went into politics instead of acting.

She really was beautiful and in the years since I'd seen her last in person, she'd given up that little girl hairdo and the school uniforms. She appeared at the top of the grand stairway and I briefly entertained the notion that the thing had been built with this moment in mind. Well... this moment and probably a thousand others just like it. She was wearing a tasteful but pretty damn sexy, blue and silver gown, and her hair was all swept up in this fairly chic looking style. She paused dramatically at the top of the stairs, making sure everyone had a chance to notice that she had arrived, before she began to gracefully descend. I tried really hard not to wish she'd slip and fall. I did... really.

The room, which had gotten quiet for that dramatic moment, returned to its normal volume. Heero leaned close and whispered, "Stop it," with a smirk on his face.

I flushed and ducked my head. "Not even a stumble? Can't I even wish for a stumble?"

I thought he was going to choke to death trying not to laugh.

I turned back and could see Relena's progress through the crowd more by the stirring of the people around us than my ability to see her; she's not all that tall. I was struck with the sudden mental image of a lioness moving through the tall grass on the plains.

Then I realized she was headed our way and I started marking all the exits in my head. I had not actually envisioned having to speak with the woman. I had assumed that she would be far too busy with her hostess duties to bother with one little street rat. I had not stopped to take into consideration who I would be standing next to. Heero was like a fucking Relena magnet.

I caught sight of a back across the room that looked suspiciously like Wufei's and made to ease in that direction. A hand touched my elbow, stopping me in my tracks.

"Duo," he admonished, "give it a chance... it's been years. She doesn't bite."

I glared at him. "Eats her own young maybe... ." I murmured but I don't think he caught it and then it was too late.

"Heero," she was saying, her voice all honey warmth and he took her hand and kissed it.

"Relena, you look lovely as always," he said smoothly and she dimpled up at him. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes. But then Heero was turning toward me. "You remember Duo, don't you?"

Her eyes seemed to register me for the first time and she turned my way. There was a frozen moment while we stared at each other.

"Hello Relena," I said and thought that I managed a smile quite nicely.

There were three full heartbeats before a frozen smile curved those perfect lips and she said, "Hello... Mr. Maxwell."

I let my smile widen into a grin and reached to take her hand in the same gesture Heero had used. I saw her eyes flick down toward my scars and I felt her fingers tense. Being the Queen of the world, she could not snatch her hand back the way her eyes told me she wanted to. I carefully, deliberately brushed the back of her hand with my lips and resisted the urge to swipe my tongue across her skin just to see if I could make her squeal.

"Ah... " I smiled into those icy eyes when I raised my head. "I apologize for being so bold... Ms. Peacecraft."

I was delighted to get the disdainful sniff, probably too low for anyone else to notice but I couldn't let it pass without some acknowledgment and winked at her. She did snatch her hand away then.

"I'm so glad you seem to be... feeling better," she murmured, looking at a point somewhere passed my right ear.

"Why thank you," I nodded and had to suppress a feral grin. She had not been quite so surprised to see me after all. If she had known about my condition, she had to know where I was staying. I couldn't let it pass. "I'm surprised that the health of one salvage man was something that was brought to your attention."

She stiffened for a moment and I knew I'd scored a point but she covered it smoothly. "When the health of that person affects my circle of friends, of course it would come to my attention."

I smiled benignly. "Ironic, isn't it? That the circle of your friends should interconnect with the circle of mine?"

I felt like we were two dogs pissing out the edges of our territory and there was poor Heero... our mutual stump.

"Ironic?" she asked softly. "I would have said... unlikely." Then she swept off to greet more guests.

"Score one for the Princess," I muttered under my breath and watched her move off into the grass of the Serengeti without so much as a whisker out of place to indicate that she had just tried to disembowel the gazelle named 'Maxwell'.

A hand came to touch my shoulder for just a moment and I turned to find Heero with a bemused look on his face. "Ok... I'm willing to admit that the two of you may not ever become fast friends."

I refrained from comment since the only thing that came to mind was, no shit, Sherlock? And that just didn't seem appropriate for the setting.

I smiled for him but had to stop my hands from trying to crawl into my pockets. You don't walk around in a tuxedo with your damned hands stuffed in your pockets. He caught the aborted movement and frowned at me.

"Don't," he told me with a hint of irritation in his voice. "Don't let her make you feel... " he began but I shrugged him off.

"The only thing she makes me feel is annoyed," I told him firmly. "They're my hands and my scars... honestly won. I don't care what she thinks."

His smile returned but then a man I didn't know approached Heero and engaged us in a conversation about next month's summit meeting and I almost laughed out loud.

That was how the damned evening began to go. I do not understand these kinds of events; I was ready to go screaming out the front door in less than a half an hour. By the time the third person had come up to Heero to get his opinion of the looming summit meeting, I was sick to death of the whole thing and ready to go back to the apartment. I would have thought you would have to pay people to attend a damn 'celebration' like this one and I entertained myself for several minutes trying to imagine some of these people at a party thrown by the Sweepers.

I let the voice of the silver-haired woman currently pumping Heero for security details wash over me without even hearing her, letting my eyes scan the people around me. I finally spotted that person who I had thought earlier was Wufei and was able to confirm his identity when he turned where I could see his profile. He was with Sally Po, whom I had not seen in years. With an apologetic smile at Heero, I excused myself and made my way in their direction.

Wufei and Sally seemed to be 'together' and I had to smile as I wound a path between the well-dressed elite. I heard music begin to play and several of the obstructions between me and my goal got out of the way as they headed toward the next room, which apparently contained an orchestra and a dance floor.

"No." I heard Wufei growl just as I came up to them and I caught a wicked grin on Sally's face.

"No, what?" I queried by way of introduction and her grin got even wider as she turned to embrace me.

"Duo!" she exclaimed and gave me a tight hug, not one of those delicate little things that people trade at these social gatherings. "How are you?" she wanted to know when she drew back and I could tell from the look in her eyes that she truly wanted to know, wasn't just being polite.

"Much better," I assured her and had to grin as I looked her up and down. She was just as pretty as ever and still just as rebellious; she was the only woman in the room wearing a pants suit. It was exquisitely made, she wore it well and she outshone a number of the women around her who were probably looking down their noses at her. "You look fantastic!" I told her warmly. "How is it that this was the best you could do for a date?"

She chuckled with me while Wufei glared at us.

"I should have known better," she shook her head sadly but with a maniacal twinkle in her eye. "He won't even dance with me."

"What!" I asked in mock horror. "The cad!"

Wufei sighed, managing to play the part of the martyr even here.

An evil idea took hold of me and I turned to Sally with a flourish. "Well... I will dance with you, Milady."

Her expression turned as depraved as mine, and she took my offered arm. "Why, thank you Milord... that would be lovely."

I led her toward the dance floor and just barely caught the gesture as she turned and winked at Wufei as we walked away.

The music was slow, of course, and I was just as glad; I couldn't have handled anything more. She put her hand in mine and came into the curve of my arm with a chuckle as we began to move with the music.

"How long before he comes storming in here, do you think?" I asked her.

She cocked her head and grinned at me. "I don't know... he really hates to dance. He might not, you know. You might be stuck with me."

"Well," I smiled, "getting stuck dancing with the most beautiful woman in the damn room... now there's a torture for you."

She blushed to the roots of her hair and playfully smacked my ear. "Stop it, Duo Maxwell. Turn the charm down."

"Awwww... " I murmured, "you take all the fun out of it."

"Well we both know you're not interested... " she smiled and I guess my smile must have faltered a little. "Duo, what's wrong?"

"What do you mean by that?" I queried, wondering just what all was being said about me behind my back.

She blinked at me in confusion. "I'm sorry... I thought that you and Heero... I mean... "

She looked so damn baffled that I couldn't get irritated with her. "No need to apologize," I sighed, "I guess I'm the only one who's confused about my relationship with Heero."

A laugh bubbled up out of her throat. "Well, Duo, it's pretty obvious how you two feel about each other."

"Is it?" I sighed and wondered why in the hell I was having this conversation with a person I hadn't seen in over a year. We were turning and gliding across the dance floor, but we might as well have been in another world. "Sometimes I'm just not so sure."

She smiled at me and lifted her hand from my shoulder for a moment to reach out and give my braid a tug. "You are so sure... you just don't know it. The things you said when you were hospitalized... your brain may not know what's going on, but your heart does."

It was my turn to blush and I frowned at her. "What do you mean? What things?"

She matched my frown and gnawed at her lower lip for a minute. "I was in to see you several times while you were in the hospital... and from the things that Wufei has told me about the out-trip... " she stopped talking suddenly and looked at me sharply. "Hasn't Heero talked to you about this?"

"No... I'm not even sure what 'this' is... what are you trying to tell me?" I felt vaguely unsettled and had to concentrate to keep us moving with the music.

Her face showed a hint of anger but it didn't feel directed at me. "You know... over all; men are stupid creatures. You need to sit down with Heero and have a nice long talk, Duo."

I opened my mouth to ask her another question when there was suddenly a tap on my shoulder.

"Mind if I cut in," came Wufei's almost sullen voice and I met Sally's gaze.

"If it would please Milady?" I asked innocently.

She fairly beamed and winked at me. "It would please Milady very much," she sighed and I could see Wufei's face soften as I turned her hand over to him. I quickly made myself scarce.

It took me about thirty seconds to figure out that I had just way overdone it and that I should probably go find Heero and have him take me back to the apartment.

I left the dance floor on legs that felt like they wanted to turn to water and looked around the main room, but didn't immediately see him. It dawned on me in there somewhere that I had assumed that we would be eating here and had never eaten dinner; this fact was probably contributing to my wobbly feeling.

My eyes were caught by the people at the bar set up at one end of the room, and I watched long enough to figure out people were not paying. I waited until there was a lull and made my way over. There was a rather portly gentleman in front of me and I waited patiently while he bitched and whined to the poor guy mixing drinks about the quality of the brandy before he finally took his drink and went away.

"What a jerk," I muttered watching the man push his way through the crowd.

The bartender snickered, then looked appalled and tried to shut it down. "Can I help you, sir?"

I grinned at him. "You can start by not calling me sir... I'm not that stinking old."

He returned my grin and I edged closer to lean on the bar as much for support as anything. "I wondered if you might be able to help me with a little camouflage?"

His grin slipped a little and I shook my head to reassure him; I guess that had sounded a little odd.

"Look... I've been... a little under the weather and I'm feeling a little shaky. I could really use something to drink, but I definitely don't need anything alcoholic... " Well, wasn't this awkward.

But the guy beamed at me. "I know just what you need," and he set about hauling out bottles and jars. "We mix it up in the servants section when we've been on-shift for one of these things a little too long."

He started out with an orange juice base and I watched in amusement as he threw in some honey and some sort of powder. "Vitamin C," he informed me with a grin and continued to measure and mix. "High in proteins and sugars, absolutely no caffeine or alcohol. All disguised... " he grinned as he finished running it through the blender, poured it out into a large drink glass and presented it to me, "as a Screwdriver."

"Perfect!" I applauded as I took the glass and sipped. This was just what I had been looking for; not as good as sitting down to a meal but something to help me get through until I could get out of here, and it looked just like any one of the other drinks drifting around the room in people's hands. I scanned the room for Heero again and still didn't see him. I turned back to my benefactor and smiled some more.

"And it tastes pretty good too!" I told him and caught him looking at me oddly.

"Sir... are you all right?" he was saying, "you look kinda pale all of a sudden."

I took another sip of the drink and tried to steady myself. "Mostly," I murmured and continued to lean against the bar, just hoping to God I didn't look like I was drunk. "And my name is Duo... I thought we got past that sir thing?"

He flushed and ducked his head and speaking very softly, said, "I'm Greg." His eyes flicked around and I realized that he'd probably be in trouble for addressing the guests on a first name basis.

"Listen, Greg," I matched his soft tone. "Is there someplace... real close... where I might be able to sit down for a few minutes? I am absolutely going to die of embarrassment if I pass-out at the Queen of the World's party."

The longer I stood here, the worse I felt. I sipped at the drink again but it wasn't going to act that fast. I knew this shaky, light-headed feeling and knew that I needed to go sit down somewhere for a while or there was going to be hell to pay.

[cont]