Evasions (cont)

Trowa gave us a quick description of the house as we were coming up the front walk and I had enough mind left to register the location of the bathroom. I walked away from them and headed there as soon as we were inside. I thought someone called my name but I couldn't tell who and I really didn't care.

My heart was pounding in my chest and my vision kept going to gray. I moved with a certain, slow deliberateness. I couldn't get the bathroom door closed fast enough. I wanted to just fall over right there on the floor but knew that I would probably not get back up. I rummaged around until I found the med kit, using my elbows as much as possible to lever the doors and drawers open. I had to use one hand to lift the med kit down when I finally found it and thought I would weep with the pain. I almost fell when I went to sit on the floor and had to lean back against the wall for a minute before I could make myself open the kit and start to work.

I forced myself to really look at the mess that had been my hands. They were black and red and swollen and weeping liquids and... my vision faded to gray again. I just sat until it came back, then worked the scissors out of the med kit and taking a deep breath, began to cut away the shreds of skin hanging... gray... gray... gray...

I came back with the scissors on the floor between my legs and my head drooped on my chest. I reached for the scissors again.

There came a soft tap on the door, "Duo?" Quatre called softly. "Are you in there?"

"Yeah," I croaked and the sound of my voice must have been enough, because he just barged in. I blinked up at him; I thought I had locked the door. I had meant to lock the door. He just stood and stared at me for a minute and then he... screamed.

I don't know what else to call it.

"Qat!" I moaned, "be quiet! They'll hear you!" God; what was he thinking?

He dropped down to the floor beside me and put an arm around my shoulders to steady me but after that first shocking glimpse, kept his eyes off my hands.

"Trowa!" he yelled and I couldn't stop the tears from suddenly breaking and washing down my face.

"Damn it, Quatre!" I sobbed, "don't let them see... I can't be a liability... they'll think I can't handle my job!"

He moaned beside me and I distantly heard the sound of pounding feet. Trowa appeared in the doorway.

"Quatre! What's wrong... ?" Then he saw me and went still as a stone.

I blinked up at him. "I can still pilot," I told him with all the conviction I could muster. Shock registered on his face.

"You did this saving me, didn't you?" Quatre was suddenly saying from his place on the floor beside me. "Oh Allah... Duo... this is because of me!" He began to keen softly, trying to hold me but he was shaking too hard. I heard more feet coming. Damn; I was coming into hard focus again.

I dropped the scissors and wrapped an arm around Quatre, keeping my hand carefully away from him, "It's all right," I soothed, rubbing the top of his head with my cheek. "Couldn't let my kid brother get blown to kingdom come, now could I?"

He began softly to cry and hid his face against me, "Oh Duo," he kept saying over and over. Behind him, Heero and Wufei appeared beside Trowa.

I met Trowa's gaze squarely and calmly told him, "Get Quatre out of here."

He nodded, his eyes hooded and closed off. He came into the room and gently took hold of Quatre's shoulders. I wouldn't let go until I had choked out, "Get him far away... don't let him see."

He met my eyes and firmly told me, "Duo. No one is going to hurt you."

I looked up at him, feeling the gray tugging at me and struggling against it, "Trowa... you were a mercenary... you understand... " I struggled for words, "Semper Fi. You know what I mean?" He looked at me oddly, something in his eyes that I didn't have the strength to read but he nodded once. My eyes flicked past him and back again, "They... they don't get it."

He let go of Quatre for a moment and his hand came to squeeze hard on my shoulder, "Damn it, Duo... no one will harm you... I swear it." I let go of Quatre and Trowa led him away.

"I can still pilot," I murmured to no one in particular and bent to retrieve the scissors, still struggling against the gray, against the searing pain.

"Duo... " Wufei said softly and came to squat beside me.

The gentleness of his voice shocked me and I jerked my head up to look at him. It was a mistake; the gray swirled around me and I was suddenly falling.

When the gray receded again I was disoriented and completely confused; I could see Wufei in front of me and I knew Trowa and Quatre were gone but there was a warm body behind me, arms tight around me. What the hell?

Wufei saw something in my face that told him I was back from the gray place, "Duo... let us help you," he said softly. I must have dropped the scissors again because they were in his hand.

"I'm... fine... "I murmured and tried to sit up but the arms wouldn't let me.

Wufei snorted softly and it was such an odd sound that it made me look at him, he was smiling gently at me. "Oh you look just wonderful."

Maybe I stood a chance; if enough of the other guys thought I could still do my job...

"I'm not a liability. I can still pilot," I told him with as much intensity as I could gather.

The arms around me tightened and Wufei frowned.

"Just what is going on here, Yuy?" He was looking past me. "What in the hell have you done to him?"

There was a surprised grunt from a voice I recognized and I had to finally face up to who was holding me. There was nothing for a long moment while a staring contest went on over my head.

"I... made a bad call during the mission," Heero finally said, his voice very soft. "I made an assumption that... proved false."

"You left Quatre," I translated and was taken aback at the hint of anger that flitted across Wufei's face.

There was a sigh from Heero, "I... left Quatre," he admitted and I finally let myself entertain the idea that they might really be trying to help me.

"We will discuss this later," Wufei said somewhat harshly and then he bent to examine my hands. He turned back to the med kit and I saw him getting out the bottle of morphine and the syringe.

"No," I said, panic taking hold of me again, "I'll be totally incapacitated."

When his eyes came up to meet mine they held a touch of sadness, "You have my word that we won't leave you. We won't harm you."

I blinked at him; Wufei's word means more to him, I think, than his damn life.

He didn't wait for me to acquiesce but gave me the injection with an intent look and I was just suddenly too damn tired to care. If they decided to put me out of their misery; at least I wouldn't feel it.

Wufei gave the shot a minute to take effect and then set to work. A calloused hand came from behind me and lay across my forehead. Heero gently but firmly pulled my head back against his shoulder and turned my face into his neck, 'Don't watch,' he said almost kindly and it was the last thing I remember before the morphine mated with the gray and it all went to black.

It got very strange after that; I really hate morphine. It just does weird shit to my head. I don't remember much; just sounds for a while. My own voice groaning; echoing strangely. The sound of Quatre softly weeping.

I swam up towards the light of day once, just enough to know that I was in a bed in a dark room.

I dreamed some very bizarre things. Not the Relena/spandex thing again, thank God. But dark stuff; I struggled once in the arms of Jensen, feeling him savage my lips. I thought I opened my eyes to see Solo sitting on the foot of my bed but he only waved. It seemed I heard Trowa whisper to me softly in the dark, 'Thank you, Duo. Thank you for bringing him back safe.'

More than once I thought I woke to find Heero sitting beside me but that only told me I must have still been dreaming.

It felt like I lost a lot of time. Morphine just wastes me; I really hate the stuff but was not even able to get oriented enough to fight with them over it. I was both relieved and dismayed when they began to reduce the dosage.

In my short but eventful life, I have been shot, stabbed and liberally beat to hell. I have had both fractured and broken bones. I've had a couple of surgeries. This was my first experience with severe burns. I think I am in a position to make the statement that burns suck. It hurt unlike anything I had ever experienced before or have ever experienced since. There is no easing it. There is no getting away from it this side of consciousness. It is a pain that encompasses your entire attention. So while I was more than happy to leave behind the drugged half-awareness that I'd been floating in, I was not happy to be waking up to the intense pain.

I opened my eyes to soft morning light and knew that I was truly awake for the first time in... a while. I raised my hands and found them wrapped like the hands of Boris Karloff in the 'Mummy'. I would have laughed if they hadn't hurt so damn bad. I lay them carefully back down on the bed and hissed at the jolt of pain even that small contact made.

"Do you need something for the pain?" a voice asked gently and I jerked in surprise to find Heero sitting in a chair beside the bed. How did he manage to keep getting inside my radar?

"No," I said and my voice came out dry and gravelly. "Please... no more. I can't take that drifting... "

He grunted in what sounded like understanding and without any prompting, brought a glass of water from somewhere and held the straw so I could drink.

It eased the dry throat and I looked up at him to ask, "What are you doing here?"

Something odd happened behind his eyes and he glanced away. "We've been taking turns sitting with you," he murmured, looking oddly embarrassed.

"Nani?" I blurted and the strangest transformation came over his face and he quirked a grin at me. A real one.

"Now you start speaking Japanese," he said drolly.

It surprised a bark of laughter out of me and I grinned back, forgetting just who this was sitting beside me.

Then his face clouded as he looked down at my hands. "You could have been killed," he said flatly and I blinked at the sudden transformation. I tried to switch mental gears but couldn't seem to keep up.

"So could Quatre have been," I said in return.

"You let your feelings toward him effect your judgment." His frown had deepened and there was still that strange play of thoughts behind his eyes.

I sighed and looked up at him; I must have still been slightly drugged because it suddenly didn't matter to me if he got angry. "You still don't get it do you?" I told him sadly and realized for the first time that he was the one to be pitied here; that he couldn't understand this most base of things. "I would have gone back for you too. It wasn't that it was Quatre... it was... a teammate. You never leave a teammate behind."

"Never leave a man down," he whispered, almost to himself and I knew that he had heard me that night.

I nodded. "That's what it's all about, Heero." And I didn't hide from his searching gaze, "I would have gone back for any one of you... it wouldn't have mattered if I'd had five minutes or five seconds. You never leave a man down."

"Maxwell," came Wufei's soft voice from the doorway, "You shame us all."

I started and looked his way; I hadn't heard him come in. He had the med-kit in his hand, obviously come to change my dressing. I flushed and did look away from the both of them then.

"He's awake?" I heard Quatre almost whisper and Wufei chuckled at him.

"Apparently." He stepped aside to give our Arabian partner access to the room... access to me.

He came to the side of the bed in a rush only to stop short and stare down at me with wide eyes. "Duo?"

Being flat on my back with the room full of people was starting to make me feel... strange and I tried to lever myself up with an elbow.

A strong arm slid behind me and eased me up, while Quatre rushed to put extra pillows behind my back.

I murmured, "Thank you." to the both of them and just tried to hide the blush.

Then Quatre demanded all of my attention, "Duo... I am so sorry... this is all my fault."

I snorted at him. "I believe I was the one who threw the bomb, Qat."

His cheeks colored slightly but he forged ahead. "It got us out of there. They would have shot one of us eventually if you hadn't thought so quick."

I just shook my head. "If I'd been thinking, I would have checked the damn transmitter before the stupid elevator doors ever opened."

They both looked shocked and I had to grin at them. "Makes you feel kind of stupid... doesn't it?"

Quatre actually chuckled but Heero couldn't seem to get the shocked expression off his face. 'Don't sweat it, Yuy.' I grinned up at him, suddenly not afraid of his anger anymore. "We all three forgot about it."

He didn't look reassured, only sat and frowned.

"Well, it doesn't matter now," Trowa said from the doorway and I looked to see him standing with Wufei. "The reports are back; the factory was completely destroyed. They're still looking over the samples you brought back but preliminary findings indicate that was a major find. You guys did good."

Quatre gave him a funny look and then said, "Duo did good. All we did was sit around and listen to... "

I cut him off with a chuckle. "Quatre... enough all ready. It was a mission and we all did our part. It wasn't your fault that your part this time was backup."

He gave me that irritated glare that told me he was getting set to argue with me some more, so I changed the whole course of the conversation, '" promise... the next time we need somebody to play the part of a hooker... you can do it."

"What?!" gasped Wufei and I thought Quatre and I would die laughing at the look on his face.

This of course, as I had planned, led to the retelling of the Helio saga and I embellished the crap out of it until I had them all laughing. Well... all of them but Heero.

I caught him looking at me with an oddly appraising stare and I think Mr. Stoic might have figured something out about the Duo Maxwell grinning idiot façade in that moment. I'll never know, I looked away to listen to Quatre telling Trowa about how different I looked with my hair down and the next thing I knew, Heero was gone.

Wufei finally got around to changing my bandages and I managed to make eye contact enough with Trowa that he gently but firmly made Quatre leave the room.

Wufei didn't miss the exchange and quirked an eyebrow at me.

"He feels guilty enough," I growled, feeling defensive. "He thinks it's his fault."

"Is it?" he asked simply.

"Of course not!" I snapped, looking up at him in surprise and finding a strange half-smile on his face.

"As long as you don't think so," he said cryptically.

I grunted and watched as he unwound the last of the gauze; he hesitated. "You might not want to look."

I just glared at him and he smiled again. "It was just a thought."

He gave me a minute to turn them back and forth, looking them over. The palms were the worst but oddly didn't hurt much at all. The pain was all coming from the backs of my hands and around my wrists. I frowned as I looked; he'd done a good job of cleaning them up.

"The worst damage is on the palms of your hands," he explained. "They don't hurt as much because of... nerve damage. You really should have some skin grafts." He shrugged and quirked me another gentle smile. "But I'm just an inadequate field medic."

"You did a better job than I was doing," I muttered without really thinking about it. My brain was rather preoccupied trying to get itself around the fact that those were my hands doing a fair imitation of... of... hamburger. Charred hamburger.

"That's enough," he warned me and I looked away before the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach turned into something more.

Then his face got... strange and he was pinning me with those dark, intense eyes of his. "You are never to hide an injury from us again, do you understand me?"

I ducked my head and flushed. Somehow, after the last couple of days, my reasoning didn't seem to stand up so well. "I'm sorry... I thought... "

"I know what you thought," he told me gently, "And I understand. But you see now that things aren't quite how you thought they were, right?"

I nodded, still not looking up, still embarrassed. He put a hand under my chin and forced me to look up at him. His eyes met mine with a searching intensity that made me feel like I'd been turned wrong side out.

"Heero made a mistake," he told me firmly, his lips curving a little. "Despite what he seems to think; it happens to the best of us. That does not mean that we would... abandon you because you've been hurt. Are we totally clear on that?"

He wouldn't let me get away with the nod again and I had to smile at him. "Yes... .I think it's sunk into my thick head."

He let go of me then and bent to work on my hands. He is surprisingly gentle; there is the spirit of something else behind the fierce warrior front he puts on.

I whined until he grudgingly agreed to let me out of bed for a while but he stayed close, helped me until he was sure I was steady enough on my feet that I wouldn't fall.

"Burns are very susceptible to infection"' he warned me, holding my elbow as I took my first wobbling steps across the room. "You have to be very careful to keep things clean."

I marvelled at him; he had probably spoken more civil words to me in the last hour than he had the entire rest of our acquaintance. Somehow this mission had won me... something from Chang Wufei. Respect maybe? I really wasn't sure.

We walked together down the hall and though I wouldn't have let it show for a million credits, I was feeling the strain before we had gotten far at all.

"As soon as we are cleared to leave this place," he was telling me, "I want you in to see a real Doctor. Those hands are going to need a lot of work."

I was trying hard to listen but found myself struggling with the gray again. I stopped walking and waited for the light to come back into my sight.

"Duo"' Wufei questioned, concern in his voice.

The gray was eating me one sense at a time; it had my sight already and now my hearing was dimming. "I... I'm Ok... " I tried and even my own voice sounded distant.

"The hell you are!" he growled at me and his arms went tight around my waist. I'm taller than Wufei and I may actually outweigh him, he was holding me up but couldn't do much else, "Yuy! Barton!" He was yelling and I tried to hush him but the gray was nibbling at my balance now and I was reeling in his arms.

"What the hell is going on!" I heard Heero very near at hand and he sounded angry.

"Help me get him back to bed;" Wufei was saying. "He's going to pass out... "

"I'm Ok!" I snapped but it came out sounding pretty damn lame.

"Let me have him!" Heero said tersely and just swept me up in his arms. The sudden movement had my head spinning and though I wanted to fight against them, all I could do was press my face against Heero's shoulder and fight the nauseating dizziness.

I think I did fade completely into unconsciousness for a moment, because I don't remember being laid down. I don't remember the blankets being pulled up. But it was just for a moment, because I was aware fairly quickly of the two of them arguing over my head.

"Why the hell did you let him get up to begin with?"

"He hides things too damn well! He seemed all right."

"You can't trust what he says; you ought to know that by now!"

"He doesn't lie... "

"He doesn't have to... he works with half truths and evasions... you won't ever get him to admit to the pain!"

That was followed by an ironic little snort and then an angry grunt. Heero stormed out of the room.

"I'm sorry, Wufei," I said softly. "I didn't have any warning; it just came on me all at once."

"My fault." He smiled down at me, "You've been drugged and flat on your back for the last thirty hours; I should have known better."

He put his fingers against the side of my neck to check my pulse and looked long and hard into my eyes. "You need to rest; I'm going to give you something for pain and I want you to get some sleep."

"No more morphine, ok?" I pleaded. "I can't stand that 'out of my head' feeling."

He just chuckled at me and gave me a couple of pills to take. I was pleased that he left the room after I swallowed them. I really didn't like the idea that they had been taking turns sitting here watching me sleep.

The pills might not have been morphine but they were still damned strong and I felt myself drifting away on the ebbing tide of exhaustion, despite the wracking pain.

Jensen was leaning over me and he grabbed hold of my bandaged hands, squeezing until I whimpered.

"Thought you could get away from me, my little Sparrow?" He chuckled evilly and I groaned as he gave my throbbing wrists a sudden twist.

"I wasn't done with you, my pet... "He breathed and was leaning down to kiss me again. I struggled to get out of his grip but couldn't seem to manage any leverage and then his lips were crushing mine, his teeth cutting me, his breath filling me...

"Duo! Wake up! It's all right... just wake up... "

My eyes flew open to find Heero sitting on the side of my bed, his hands on my shoulders. My breath was coming in sporadic pants and I was shaking like a leaf.

Our eyes locked and he leaned down and whispered intently, "He's dead. He can't touch you ever again... I won't let him. Never again; do you hear me?"

I managed a nod, my brain reeling from the sudden wrenching twist in reality. What the hell? The drugs were making it hard to think, I couldn't process this. Then it hit me and I beamed up at him, "I'm still dreaming aren't I? You're dream Heero."

He just sat and blinked down at me but then his hand moved to stroke a sweat soaked strand of hair from my face telling me that I was right. I relaxed under his hands and smiled happily up at him.

"I haven't dreamed about you in so long," I sighed, "I've missed you."

His face became oddly still and my smile faded. "Heero... what's wrong?"

He just stared at me for the longest time, long enough that I started to doubt myself... maybe this was the other dream Heero; the one who yelled and cursed.

But finally he hesitantly raised his fingers to stroke gently across my uninjured cheek, "N... nothing."

I smiled full force again, closing my eyes and turned my face into his touch, "I like dreaming," I murmured against the palm of his hand.

"I'm sorry... "he breathed and I opened my eyes to look up at him, puzzled.

"For what?"

"The whole mess... the mission... Quatre." His eyes looked pained and something started nagging at me again.

"I... I don't understand," I told him and I knew I was frowning. "That wasn't you... that was the real Heero."

He was quiet for a minute. "All the same." he said at last, "I'm sorry for... what he did. I... he let his fear for you panic him."

His fingers were stroking over my face with increasing boldness and I smiled again, letting the questions just slip away. I forgot about the strange things he was saying.

"Hold me... please?" I sighed; dream Heero loved to hold me close.

"Of... of course... my... love," he said and his voice was strangely hesitant. His arms slid around me, gentle and warm and he pulled me against his chest. It was better than any dream I had ever had. 'Don't let me hurt you,' he whispered against the top of my head.

"You could never hurt me," I told him and felt a shiver run through him.

I drifted out of the dream and back into deep sleep pillowed against his imaginary warmth with a soft smile on my face.

It was the sweetest dream of him I had ever had and the harsh, morning reality of my solitary bed damn near broke me.

I found out later that he had left the safe house sometime in the night; against orders. Under the circumstances, the orders were lifted and Wufei and Quatre whisked me off to the base hospital immediately. Deathscythe was packed off to Howard for safekeeping.

I was out of action for weeks; Wufei had been right about the skin grafts and there were other things he hadn't told me about, all of it amounting to a lot of pain. I went back to the active duty list before the Doctor's wanted me too, but I was learning to work through the pain and the guys needed me.

When Heero sent the message to base, he blind copied me on it. I had to think about that for a long time and I never did completely make up my mind what it meant. I almost showed it to Quatre once, but decided it was a bad idea and never did tell anybody. I'm still not sure what to think.

"Though pilot 02 has shown himself to be a very competent agent, the dissimilarities between his methodologies and those of pilot 01 make their working together an impossibility. Therefore pilot 01 would like to request that they not be assigned to any further missions together. This request does not in any way reflect on the abilities or performance of pilot 02."

Just like Heero; short and to the point. We crossed paths after that but only on missions that required all of us together. We seldom spoke. I never worked up the nerve to ask him why and I never dreamed about him again.


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