Abrasions (cont)

Greg glanced around and I saw him make eye contact with one of the girls that were wandering around with the trays. He waved her over and they whispered together for a minute. She took his place behind the bar and Greg gestured for me to follow him. It wasn't far, thank God, and he led him into a small side room where I practically fell onto a couch. I raised my head after a minute and looked around.

"It's the servants' break room," he informed me. "You shouldn't be bothered in here." He frowned, "are you going to be all right?"

I smiled wanly up at him and nodded. "This is just more activity than I've attempted in ... months," I rubbed a hand over my eyes and tried to get myself grounded. "I'm not going to get you in any trouble, am I?"

He grinned at me cockily. "Nah. Nobody ever comes in here... we don't really get breaks long enough to make it worth while."

I chuckled and drank some more of his protein concoction. "I guess I've just been really stupid today. I usually take a nap in the afternoon after therapy and I missed dinner too... " I trailed off and wondered at my mouth. What the hell?

His eyes went wide and he squatted down in front of me. "You're that pilot, aren't you!" he exclaimed. "I should have realized when I saw your hair!"

Did I fail to mention that I'd made the news? Ex-Gundam pilots rally to rescue former teammate, film at eleven! Jesus... I really didn't need this.

I sighed heavily. "Guilty," I murmured and hoped he wasn't going to be one of those people who felt compelled to get in my face about what a stupid thing I had done when I took that salvage job.

"You're really lucky to have friends like those," he blurted and I had to grin at him; that wasn't the usual reaction.

"Yeah," I confirmed for him, "I know."

"Are you going to be all right? Should I get somebody?" He looked troubled now that he realized what I had meant when I had said I'd been feeling 'a little under the weather'.

I thought about it; thought about sending him to go find Heero, but then I thought about the scene that would follow when my over-reactive roommate/boy-friend/what ever the hell, came bursting in here and most likely carried me out of here in his arms. I shuddered. "My... roommate hasn't missed me yet. If it's ok, I think I'll just rest here for a while and see if I can get a little strength back."

He looked vaguely guilty. "I should get back to work... "

I waved him on his way. "Go on... I'll be fine."

He rose and went to the door and I grinned after him. "Thanks, man."

He grinned back and I was finally alone. I sighed and drank as much of my orange juice potion as I could stand, and set the glass on the table beside me. I would rest here until I felt like I could manage to walk without falling down, then I would go find Heero and tell him he needed to take me away from here.

I leaned my head back against the wall and took a couple of deep breaths, trying to still the trembling. I really hated how wrung-out the slightest little activity made me feel. I doubted sometimes that I was ever going to have my strength back. It just seemed like I was faced with this uphill battle on a hill with no top. I dozed off mulling over the strange things that Sally had said. I had not meant to.

"What is the meaning of this?" It was the strident sound of a very pissed off Relena Peacecraft that brought me back to reality. I blinked my eyes open, feeling groggy and disoriented. Where the hell was I?

It took me a minute to get my wits about me; I had obviously been asleep for a little while because the trembling had eased, but not for much more than an hour because that odd quivery feeling was still there in my gut.

I frowned up at her and realized that Heero was behind her. I saw him reach back to close the door and I blessed him for doing his best to keep this private.

"What?" I asked stupidly, still rubbing sleep from my eyes.

"You see what kind of person he is, Heero?" she snapped, her intense dislike for me naked in her eyes.

"No, Relena," Heero said patiently. "I don't see... "

She cut him off. "He's so drunk he had to sneak off to the servants' quarters to sleep it off!" Her color was up and she was so mad her hands were shaking. I'm not sure which one of those two things shocked her the most; 'drunk' or 'servants' quarters'.

I shook my head at her. "I'm not... '

She never gave me a chance to finish the sentence, her eyes flicked pointedly to the glass on the table. "I do not want this... this... gutter snipe in my home!"

I had to stifle the urge to laugh. Gutter snipe? Where the hell did she pick this shit up?

"Rel... Ms. Peacecraft... " I began again, but Greg chose that moment to come slipping back into the room. He was carrying a small packet wrapped in a napkin.

"Duo... are you... " he said before he had the door completely open, then froze like a deer in headlights. I watched his eyes widen as they flicked back and forth between Relena, Heero and me, and I realized that the kid was about to get into some serious trouble.

"What is the meaning of this?" Relena snapped again, this time directing it at Greg.

"I... " he began and his eyes flicked to me for help. I rose from the couch and I could see him getting ready to say my name.

While everyone else in the room had their backs to me, I mouthed 'Maxwell' at him, and it served to kick him back over into employee mode. He bowed slightly in Relena's direction.

"Mr. Maxwell wasn't feeling well, Ma'am," he informed her blandly and I nodded my encouragement. I had a feeling his job was on the line. "He asked me for a place he could sit down for a few minutes."

"And you brought a... guest to the servant's lounge?" she barked, voice getting shrill. I could see her transferring her anger in his direction. She couldn't really get at me the way she wanted to, but Greg was more than vulnerable.

I chose that moment to interrupt, passing a hand sign to Greg to get the hell out of the room as soon as he could.

"Relena," I said softly, deliberately using her first name just to jerk her around where she was looking at me. "As a guest in your home, I instructed one of your employees to find me the closest available place to rest. He was only doing his job. If you have a problem with my being in this room, take it up with me."

Greg faded back as Relena turned her attention to me.

"I have a problem with you being in my house," she said. "I did not invite you here."

"He came as my guest," Heero told her stonily and I was having a little trouble reading him. Behind them, I saw Greg slip away completely.

"He... is not welcome here," she said and her eyes never left mine. We stood and stared at each other and I could only wonder at the depth of her hatred for me. Finally she turned on her heel and stalked out of the room.

Heero was seething; I could see it in his hands clenched at his sides, in the set of his jaw. I just wasn't sure which one of us he was angry with.

"Wait here," he said and turned to follow Relena. I did not have the strength left to figure out if it was my head or hers that he wanted to rip off. I was too damn tired and despite all my masks and cover-ups and icy attitude... I was a little bit hurt. I'd never done anything to that girl. I'd saved her Goddamn life on more than one occasion. The scars on my hands that made her skin crawl were obtained fighting in the war... her fucking war when you came right down to it. There at the end we had all been fighting for her... fighting for her ideals and her dreams. I had helped make her dream of peace a reality, but I wasn't welcome in her damn ivory tower house. I saw Greg peek in at the door.

"How the hell do I get a cab?" I asked him and he waved me to follow.

Fuck wait here. I was tired of waiting.

He took me out through the back, into the kitchen and I imagined that here was another thing that would piss off her royal highness. He used a phone there to call a cab company and pressed the little bundle he had been carrying earlier into my hands at the last minute as I left. It proved to be a sandwich; he had caught that comment I had made about missing dinner.

I promised myself that I would check back in a couple of days and make sure the kid still had a job.

I started to give the driver the address to Heero's place then suddenly realized I had no money on me to pay him when we got there. Before I had a chance to think about it, I gave him the address of the shuttle-port where my ship was docked. Where my damned place was.

I ate the sandwich in the back of the cab on the way home. I have no doubt the driver thought I was trying to stiff him for the fare when we got to where we were going since I had to tell him I'd be right back with the money.

"Yeah... right, Mac," he muttered and rolled his eyes.

He was genuinely surprised when I not only reappeared, but tipped him pretty damn well for the wait. I watched him drive away before slowly boarding my ship.

It was a strange homecoming. It had been almost three months since I'd been on board my 'Demon'. It was made all the more surreal by the fact that I had not docked her here. My last memory of being within this hull had been on the way back from the asteroid belt and I'd been so sick that Heero had been piloting.

One of the last things that had occurred to me before I had lapsed into unconsciousness had been that Heero Yuy and Chang Wufei had been on-board my ship for a solid week.

A pilot's ship is... a window into his soul. It's a very private place, almost an extension of himself. I've seen some pretty strangely decorated ships in my time. We live and work in these vessels and when it comes to furnishings... well, they're still functioning space ships and there's not a lot of leeway there. When it comes down to the paint jobs though, that's a little different. The Sweeper ships are probably some of the most outlandish I've seen because there are so many hands involved when it comes down to the finishing touches.

But the 'Maxwell's Demon' is mine and mine alone. I've never had a partner, never had a second. Everything in that ship was my design, my decision, was put there with my hand.

I have a certain amount of artistic ability and when it had come time for me to decorate the inside of my ship, I had rolled up my sleeves, poured out the paint, ripped open my soul and bled out all my pain, frustration, hopes and fears all over the walls.

I walked my ship now, and tried to find the synchronicity again, tried to find a little piece of who I was. My footsteps echoed hollowly through my 'Demon' as I made my way, as if she were angry with me for my long absence.

"Sorry, old girl," I murmured. "It's been a bad couple of months."

She was characteristically silent.

I stood in the cockpit and looked up at the dried blood colored walls, let my eyes wander over the photographs of the five Gundams and their too damn human pilots. I sought out the picture of me in the Oz prison, my hands manacled together and blood running down my face. One side of my face is so swollen I remember being blind on that side. I thought about what I had suffered in that war... thought about what I had done; the suffering I had dealt out. I thought about Relena not wanting to touch my hands.

I left the cockpit and wandered down the corridor toward my cabin. There's a line of figures on the right hand wall of that hallway. Lined up as though waiting their turn to go in and view the cockpit. Solo stands first in line, looking straight ahead with a bored expression on his face. He's the Solo from my memories at the age he died, not the one I hallucinated in the belt. Behind him are the other kids who died in the plague, some of them stand sullen, some of them are smiling, little Becca with tears on her cheeks. Sister Helen is behind them as though she is herding them ahead of her and I felt a pang knowing what a difference it might have made in their short lives if they had lived to know her. Father Maxwell is next, as tall and foreboding as I remember, but with that smile that puts the lie to his imposing size. He has to bend his head slightly to stand in my corridor. Behind him are the other people I had known who were in the church the night it burned; the woman who did the books, Rafe the man who cleaned in exchange for a place to sleep, the poor souls who had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Last in line is the poor girl that Jensen had killed the night before he had tried to kill me.

At the end of the line of my dead is my cabin door and I walked through there as well, looking up at my star spattered sky. It offered me comfort and almost, I let myself go to curl in my own bed, but 'Demon' called to me still, feeling neglected and I walked on.

I passed by the galley door knowing I'd find no comfort in my blue sky and cloud-shadowed grass room. I found my steps taking me to the cargo bay even though I didn't really want to go there.

It's cold down there and I shivered as I palmed on the lights. The five Gundams stared down at me from the left and the remains of the Maxwell church loomed on my right. I walked around the parameter and let the memories wash through me. My head began to hurt.

What had happened to... me? Where was Duo Maxwell in all this mess? What was there between Heero and me? How was it that he seemed so sure of me? How could he be so positive what I felt and what I wanted when I wasn't even sure myself? How was it that he seemed able to read my damn mind sometimes? And yet... I couldn't ever seem to figure out what he was feeling... what he was thinking. Was there some lack in me?

I came full circle and was confronted with the still blank end wall. Something tugged at me; I felt the muse pulling me toward that wall. I resisted; I knew I didn't have the strength for one of my 'let's bleed my soul' artistic attacks. The Maxwell church wall had taken me days and I had not come up for air until it was done. Not to sleep, not to eat. My muse is a fairly relentless, sadistic bastard.

But I was starting to 'see' images on that wall and I knew I had to capture them before they were gone. I resisted long enough to go back to my cabin and change out of the tux and to queue my music to the ship-wide speakers. I didn't even look to see what I was playing.

Then I went to get out my paints and brushes, and just hoped I was up for this.

Shadow images were moving across my great canvas by the time I had my things gathered and set-up in the cargo bay, and I opened myself to the music, closed my eyes to the here and now and let the muse have it's way with what was left of my soul.

It sometimes feels like trying to capture the ghosts of butterflies and you can't look right at the image or it flees. Sometimes it's like part of the painting is already there and I am merely copying, it seems so clear. Time ceases to pass, and life outside the process of the painting ceases to matter. The muse is a demanding thing, caring nothing for hunger or thirst, tired muscles or aching bones. The image is all there is, and I have no choice but to follow where it leads and do my best to render what it tells me.

I have no idea how long it took. I really have no idea how I managed it. When the mural was done and the muse released me, I was two rungs up on the stepladder and had only a moment to realize what a terribly bad idea that was. Palette and brushes fell from my nerveless fingers, and I fell after them. I was granted a moment in which to register what I had created before the nauseating dizziness welled up. The image was seared into my brain, as I lay on the cold floor of the cargo bay, tangled in the rungs of the stepladder with paint silently pooling around me.

It is Relena's crystal palace ballroom. It is glitteringly, breathtakingly gorgeous. Speckled about with fairy lights and crystal teardrop chandeliers. The grand, sweeping staircase is there in the background. There are flowers artfully arranged just about everywhere. But the room isn't the crowded place it had been when I saw it last. There is only a single pair of dancers, Heero and Relena. She in her flowing blue and silver gown, he in his perfectly tailored black tuxedo. They are caught in mid turn, her dress swirling around them. They look perfect together, dancing alone across the marble floor.

But there is more to the painting... as there always is. It is a cutaway view of the crystal palace and outside it is snowing. There is a small group of people standing outside one of the large, leaded windows. I am the central figure, dressed all in black as I often did during the war, wearing a great flowing black coat. There are children all around me, street children and orphans, dressed in rags. Several of them stand with their faces pressed to the glass, watching the dancing couple within. I am not looking at the dancers at all. I am looking down at a small child who is holding my hand and looking up imploringly at me, pointing in the window with her free hand. As if asking why we are out in the cold and snow when there is such a beautiful, warm place so near to us. Only now the ballroom doesn't seem quite so lovely. It seems... hollow... empty. The marble seems cold and unforgiving. The lights too stark and harsh in comparison to the small, huddled figures of the children in the snow. It is suddenly a portrait of excess and decadence.

Then my sight started to go to gray and I finally registered the music that had been playing in an endless loop all around me.

      '... 'Cause I remember all the times I tried so hard
      And you laughed in my face 'cause you held the cards.
      I don't care anymore.
      And I really ain't bothered what you think of me
      'Cause all I want of you is just to let me be.
      I don't care anymore D'you hear? I don't care no more.
      I don't care what you say
      I never did believe you much anyway.
      I won't be there no more
      So get out of my way.
      Let me by
      I got better things to do with my time
      I don't care anymore
      D'you hear? I don't care anymore
      I don't care no more
      You listening? I don't care no more
      No more!
      You know I don't care no more!
      No more, no no more
      No more, no no more
      No more, no no more... '

It was echoing in my mind when I finally succumbed to the darkness and was swept away.

Awakening in a strange place and not knowing how I got there was becoming a damn habit that I was getting sorely sick of.

The surroundings were familiar enough that I figured out 'hospital' fairly quickly. The itchy pulling sensation on my arm translated in my head to 'IV' just as fast. But I had to blink my blurry eyes open to figure out why my other hand wouldn't move. I found Heero sitting on the edge of the bed, my right hand held in both of his, head bowed low, his forehead resting against the back of my hand.

I squeezed his fingers to let him know I was back among the living and when his head jerked up I was caught completely off guard by the pain that lay naked and bleeding in his eyes.

"Duo... " he sighed and I lay blinking up at him, watching him close his eyes and fight back tears. Heero... fighting with unshed tears. It was enough to shift the world beneath my feet.

"It's all right," I told him, voice coming rough and unsteady. "I'm... all right."

It was almost more than I could comprehend, that I was the cause of that pain etched into his face. This was the first time through this whole thing that he had not worn that expression that spoke of utter and complete faith in 'us'. I saw doubt in his eyes for the first time. I saw him look at me and knew that somehow his ability to constantly know what I was thinking had faltered. For the first time, I almost felt like we were on even ground.

I opened my mouth to speak again and my throat clogged on me. He let go of my hand, brought me water and helped me sip it.

"What happened?" I questioned when I was able, trying my best to piece things back together. "What... what day is it?"

He seemed to steady a little, having something to do for me, and he took my hand again when I was done with the water. "It's Tuesday," he told me gently and I frowned, trying to do the math. "The party was Friday night," he supplied and the pain flared in his eyes again. "I... I found you Monday afternoon."

I nodded and waited for him to answer my other question; my head was hurting too much and I just didn't feel like putting forth the effort to dredge up the information. But instead, he started in with questions of his own.

"Why did you run away?" he asked, his brow furrowed in confusion. "Why didn't you wait for me?"

I heard his angry voice again, telling me in clipped tones to 'wait here' in no uncertain terms. I felt the icy chill in my gut again, not sure just who his anger was directed toward.

"I... thought you were mad at me," I murmured as it started to come back, "and... Relena thoroughly pissed me off. I just wanted out of her damned house."

His eyes widened and the tears threatened again. "I was mad at her. I couldn't believe she'd said those things to you. I went to get our coats and when I came back... you were gone." I saw the echo of his panic and felt guilty.

"I'm sorry," I told him and could only squeeze his fingers. "I just had to get out of there... I wasn't thinking very clearly, I guess."

"I looked all over the place," he said softly and he brought his fingers up to stroke across my cheek. "I couldn't find you anywhere. How did you... ?"

I smiled wanly. "Greg took me out through the kitchen and called a cab for me."

"Greg?" he questioned in bewilderment.

That made me think. "The bartender... the kid who helped me out." God, had it really been four days? "Heero... I have to make sure that Relena didn't fire him over it; he was only doing me a favor."

He nodded and brought my captured hand to his lips to gently kiss my knuckles. "I'll check, I promise."

I was starting to struggle with heavy eyelids and looked up at him imploringly. "Heero... I want to go. Please... can we go home?"

He blinked at me for a minute, and I wasn't sure what I'd said that had so taken him by surprise, but he finally smiled at me. "Tomorrow, my heart," he soothed and I drifted off to sleep again.

I was released the next day after a thorough lecture from my Doctor about proper meals and not overdoing it. He's a neat old guy, and for a Doctor I like him pretty well. I also got a couple of remarks about the utter stupidity of being on the top of a stepladder at this stage of my recovery. He made it abundantly clear that I was damned lucky I hadn't broken any bones.

The drive home was quiet, and I had decided before we got there that it was time Heero and I had that talk. He still seemed... off center and a little less sure of me somehow; I felt like the playing field had been evened a little bit.

He took me into the apartment and settled me on the couch, found an afghan and tucked it around me, brought me juice. I figured out pretty fast that he too knew it was time we talked and he was putting it off.

"Heero," I stopped his fidgeting with the tone of my voice. "Come and sit down."

He stood and regarded me for a moment, seeing on my face that there was no more stalling. With a soft sigh and a guilty little smile, he sat down on the other end of the couch. We sat sideways and faced each other; neither of us spoke for the longest time. I just wasn't sure where to start.

"Heero... I'm not sure I can do this... " I finally blurted and was astonished by the look of horror that washed over his face.

"Duo... please... " he murmured and I shook my head.

"Listen," I told him softly, looking down into the amber depths of my juice. "I... I'm so screwed up. I don't think I... " I couldn't figure out how to explain what an emotional wreck I was. Didn't know how to tell him that I obviously didn't feel things the way normal people did. I wanted to tell him that I wasn't sure I felt for him with the same... intensity that he cared for me... but we'd never even spoken the words to each other.

His brow furrowed in some small confusion. "Duo, you are not... screwed up. You're still recovering. You have to give yourself time."

I sighed and set the juice glass aside; I really didn't want it right then. "This isn't about the accident," I told him softly. "This is about what's in here." I touched my hand to my chest and looked up to meet his eyes.

He was shaking his head again. "It's all tangled together Duo," he told me firmly and a little of that feeling that he was looking inside my head was back. "You haven't dealt with what you went through yet... you haven't laid the ghosts to rest."

I blinked across at him and my right hand unconsciously sought out Solo's scars on my left arm and rubbed at them. "My ghosts don't rest," I told him.

He slid forward on the couch, coming close enough to reach and still my fingers with his own. "I know," his eyes strayed to my sleeve where it hid the line of scars that ran the length of my forearm; one for every year that Solo had been gone. I remembered that night all those years ago, the night he had followed me because he thought I was so distraught that I might blow our cover. It had been the anniversary of Solo's death and he had been watching when I made the ninth mark. All these years I hadn't been sure if he had seen or not, had never been positive how much he had heard. I knew now. I felt myself flushing, but I couldn't tear my eyes away from his.

"This is all happening so fast... " I breathed, trying to make him understand.

He shook his head with a small, sad smile. "Four years doesn't seem so fast to me. This should have happened back then, if not for the war... if not for our duty... "

"But it didn't happen then!" I felt my voice rising and tried to make it stop. "And now... "

"Please tell me it's not too late," he pleaded softly and he took my hand in his again.

"I don't know," I had to tell him. I had started this conversation and it seemed like it was a ball rolling downhill all of a sudden, out of my control. "Heero... I hurt so bad for so long... I don't know that I can do this."

There was that bleeding ache in his eyes again that I didn't know how to answer.

"I know... I know," he soothed, his fingers clutching at mine. "I hurt you. I know I hurt you. I saw... I heard... and I didn't know what to do... "

"I couldn't ever figure out what I had done to... make you... hate me... " I whispered, voicing it out loud for the first time and was surprised when the pain welled up as fresh as when it had been new.

"I never hated you!" he moaned, letting go of my hand to take me by the shoulders. "Oh God! Never! I lost my heart to you the damn day we met!"

I was completely confused now and searched his face for the lie but couldn't find it. "Then why in the hell did you send that God damn message demanding that we never be partnered together again!" I wailed, losing the fight against the ages old pain.

"Because I almost got Quatre killed over my feelings for you!" he cried and suddenly let go of me to fling himself up to his feet, as though the emotions that seemed to be roiling around inside wouldn't let him stay still. "On that damn mission with the mobile doll factory with... Jensen... " I could hear the loathing in his voice when he spoke the name of the man who had tried to assault me. "I couldn't think straight! I made stupid decisions... I was struggling so hard trying to not let myself protect you that I went too far the other way and... and let you endanger yourself." He was standing with his back to me as though he couldn't meet my eyes. "The night we blew the factory, I should have been getting Quatre out while you were retreating... but instead I was so afraid for you... I froze... I... "

He trailed off and all I could do was sit and stare at his back. The silence ran for a bit while he seemed to get himself together, then he turned to face me. "I'm sorry, Duo. I am so very damn sorry... " he came and knelt beside me and took my hands in his, bringing my scarred palms to his lips. "This should have been me... I should have been the one... "

I snatched my hands away, horrified by the idea somehow. "No!" I snapped and curled my hands closed. "Don't... don't say that... I... "

He took my face in his hands and forced me to meet his eyes. "I love you," he told me, his voice intense and forceful, "and I know that you care for me... "

"How the hell can you be so damned sure of what I think and what I feel when I can't even sort it out?" I cried, suddenly finding myself on the edge of my control.

He looked infinitely sad then and almost... defeated. "You may fight it with your head," he told me softly, "but when you were sick, it was your heart that was speaking to me."

I suddenly remembered what Sally had been trying to tell me and my eyes flew open wide as it finally sank in. I had babbled God only knows what, to God only knows who, in a fever dream fit of confession.

"Heero... " I gasped in horror and watched the light go out of his eyes as he saw my reaction to the revelation.

He let go of me and sat back on his heels. "Duo... you were sick... you almost died... "

I tried to calm down, tried to make my emotions feel what my brain knew; it wasn't his fault. I was the one who had run off at the mouth, he had not made me tell him anything; he'd had little choice but to listen.

"I... I feel like my head's been raped," I murmured and watched in shock as he recoiled as if I'd slapped him; I had not meant to say that out loud. "Heero! I'm sorry! I didn't mean... "

He stopped me with a touch on my arm. "You have every right to feel that way," he said softly and couldn't raise his eyes.

I was suddenly just very tired. "I... I need to... think about this for a little while," I finally managed and he nodded.

"Whatever you decide... whatever you need... " he finally lifted his eyes again. "I love you and I want you here with me... forever. But more than that... I don't want to hurt you any more."

He rose from where he had been kneeling beside me and turned away. His shoulders were slumped and his head hung down in defeat; he went to his room and softly closed the door behind him.

I watched him go without speaking.

I wished idly for a little while that I had the strength to go out for a walk but I knew it would be a stupid thing to do. I knew I wouldn't get far, but the lure of the fresh air was enticing anyway.

He loved me. He'd finally said it out loud. I could only sit and wonder if I had said it to him yet.

I thought back through the years to the night he had followed me away from that safe house in the woods. He had to have been following me all evening. He had to have trailed me to town that day. What all had he seen? What had he heard? What had I said? Had he been there when I admitted to Paige that I was attracted to men? Had he heard me talking to myself in the woods, pretending it was Solo because I was so damned lonely I could have cried? Had he been revolted to stand there and watch me slice my own arm open? Too much time had gone by; the details of that mission were too dimmed in my memory. I only vaguely recalled the conversations I'd had with Bill and Paige but I did remember the nagging feeling I'd had all that afternoon of being watched.

Other things occurred to me then, thinking back on that time we'd stayed together as roommates at school. The harder I had tried to make him not hate me so damn bad, the harder he had pushed me away. This new perspective let me see that he had been fighting his attraction to me. Had been struggling with emotions that soldiers in a war weren't supposed to have.

I remembered that other mission, remembered Heero's eyes on me, glaring and angry whenever Quatre and I chanced to touch each other. Had he been... jealous? Heero Yuy... jealous? I remembered the way his gaze had moved over me when I had put on that damned spandex 'streetwalker' disguise. I thought about his coming out of his room that night, intent on checking my injuries. Had that cold, calculating attitude been covering up the fact that he truly was worried about me?

He had frozen on a mission because he had been scared for me? He let his feelings for me interfere with his duty? Could I believe that? Did I dare believe that? All those years of pain. All that time thinking that he couldn't stand the sight of me.

I remembered him working with Wufei over my hands when they had found me trying to hide my wounds from them. I remembered his voice gently telling me not to watch as Wufei cut away the charred skin. I remembered the feel of his hand on my face, turning me away from the sight. I thought hard about the dream I'd had not long after that... right before Heero disappeared and then sent the message to Command requesting that we not be assigned to work together again.

He had copied me on that message and I had spent the last three years wondering... why? It was just like him not to send it behind my back. There were times I wished he had... I probably never would have known. Would have thought it was just the luck of the draw that we never worked together again. Instead, I spent years worrying it like a dog with a bone trying to figure it out. Well... now I had my answer. I was just having trouble believing in it.

He came half way across the solar system to bring me back from the depths of hell. On a moments notice, he had thrown himself into a ship he had never seen before, and taken off on a weeklong journey without even knowing for sure that I would be alive when he got there. That spoke of love didn't it? I thought about the little time we had spent on the ship, just the two of us, before the fever had taken me and the memories became confused and fragmented. Heero staying close by my side, understanding before I did how darkly effected I had been by those long, long days floating alone in the cold. Heero gently bathing me, feeding me, caring for me, holding me through the night and whispering softly when the nightmares came hunting.

But... what had I said to him? He seemed to know everything there was to know about me. Had I lain there those long days and told him... all my secrets? No wonder he seemed to be able to read my damned mind.

And his absolute unshakable faith in me... in what I felt for him. That had to come from what I had told him... from the things that I had revealed during the dark hours when I had come so close to dying. Had I known? Had I realized that I was probably not going to make it back to Earth? What did that say? Was there some part of me that wasn't consumed by doubt and fear? Was there some part of my heart that was whole enough to know that I loved him still? Some part of my soul that was strong enough to let the walls down... to open myself once more? To take the chance that I might get hurt again?

Was there some small part that still dared to believe in the dream?

I found that hours had passed when I came out of my head again and looked around. It was almost midnight. My glass of juice was long warm but I sipped it anyway because my mouth and throat were dry.

I thought about packing my things and moving back home to my ship.

I thought about retreating to my room and hiding in the depths of sleep.

I thought about calling Relena's number just to hang up on her.

I thought about that walk again.

Then I got up, wrapped the afghan around my shoulders and went softly to Heero's door. I tapped once, but didn't wait for him to open it. The room was dark and the light spilled in with the opening of the door. He was lying on the bed flat on his back but the light caught the glitter of his open eyes.

"I... " I'm afraid of being hurt again. You hold in your hands all that remains of my battered, dented soul and I will not survive another rejection. I cannot do that again... I don't have the strength.

"I... ' I am... damaged goods. I sometimes feel as though I am held together with bailing wire and twine. And I can't understand how you can say you love me. I don't see what it is that you see in me.

"I... " I need to know what you know. I need to hear from you just what passed between us in those long dark hours between the stars. I need to be on even ground with you. I can not abide this feeling of having been put under a microscope. I have said things and I have done things and I need to know what they were.

"I... " I think, perhaps, that you might be right; I think I might just love you. I think I might have found the key to the box that holds the bloodied remains of the dream I had of you. But I don't think I can resurrect it by myself.

"I... I'm cold."

He sat up slowly and looked at me, his eyes fever bright in the dim light that was filtering past me. He slid over to make room for me and held out his hand. I took the dozen steps to the side of his bed and carefully lay down beside him, unwrapping the afghan to throw over the both of us. I lay with my back to him and he came to curl behind me, sliding his arm underneath for me to pillow my head on, draping his other arm across my hip. Just as we had slept together aboard my 'Demon'.

It was quiet for a long time.

"We're going to have to talk about what happened... while I was sick," I whispered into the night.

"I know," he sighed and his arm tightened around me. "We're going to have to talk about that mural too."

I grunted; I had forgotten it. "O... Ok."

His hand left my hip to pull the afghan closer and tuck it around me.

"Heero?" I ventured at last.

"What, love?" he sighed.

"That night... after I was burned... when I had the nightmare... that wasn't a dream, was it?"

"No... it wasn't."

"I... " I felt like a fist had taken hold of my heart. What we had... whatever the hell it was, had not been born on that trip back from the belt. It had truly started all those years ago. "I think I can do this," I whispered.

His arms clutched at me, holding me tight against him and a strange trembling took hold of him, his voice when it came was thick. "I know you can. I know... we can."

I think he was crying but he wouldn't let me turn in his arms to be sure. All I could do was reach behind me and hold on to his shoulder until the trembling stopped.

"It won't be easy," I told him when he settled.

"I know," he breathed against the top of my head.

"Heero... I... I love you." Something dark seemed to recede from around my heart.

This time he did let me turn in his arms and we held each other through the rest of the night.


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