I couldn't speak for a long
minute and shivered when the sweat began to dry on my skin. There was
a mind-bending moment while I sorted out which was the reality and I couldn't
do anything but lay and blink up at him.
He frowned and his hand came to hold me by the chin, forcing me to look
him in the eye. "This is real. I am real. It is all
over. You are safe."
It was all I could do not to throw my arms around his neck and weep like
a frightened child. I closed my eyes to escape his gaze and finally managed
a sharp nod.
"Sorry," I murmured, trying to force myself to relax.
His fingers lingered on my face, not holding so tight. "Are you all
right?" he sighed not far from my ear.
"Fine," I managed, "I'm fine."
There was a long silence and I could feel his eyes on me.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked softly and I just shook
"Was just a stupid nightmare," I told him and reached to try
to pull the blanket up. He took it from my trembling fingers and tucked
it gently around my shoulders.
His arm came back under the blanket and hooked my waist, pulling me close
again. "I'm here if you decide you might want to... talk."
I didn't know what to say. I was too caught up with not letting the feel
of his arms make me believe in something that wasn't true. I finally managed
a weak, "Thank you."
I lay awake for a long time after that, afraid to go back to sleep. Afraid
that this was the dream and the other was the reality. It would sure as
hell explain the surreal matter of Heero Yuy sharing my bed. I lay very
still though and tried hard to pretend to sleep. He could break me, so
easily, on a rack made of my own shattered dreams and never even realize.
"I know you're awake," he said softly, after a while. "I
can feel your heart pounding."
I sighed but didn't open my eyes. "Not sleepy," I groused.
His hand left my waist and gently stroked up and down my arm, carefully
avoiding the raw sore on my shoulder. "Duo... tell me what you want?"
he said softly.
To turn over and wrap myself all over you, I longed to tell him... but
couldn't, so instead I said, "It... it's just so quiet. I usually
have my music playing. Could... ?"
"Of course," he smiled, sounding almost relieved that I had
given him something to do for me.
I thought I would have to give him instructions to the files but he sat
up and reached over my head to the ships controls. "Which set do
"The... the folder labelled 'Night' will be... ok," I murmured
and he keyed it up, adjusting the volume, then slid back down to lie beside
The familiar nighttime sounds washed through the cabin and I felt myself
relaxing despite everything.
"What is that instrument, anyway?" Heero asked after he was
"Hammered dulcimer," I murmured.
He grunted. "It's nice... I was surprised. Not the kind of thing
I didn't answer; just lay there with a sudden overwhelming sense of horror.
It had not hit me before now; but Heero Yuy and Chang Wufei had spent
a solid week out-bound to the belt aboard my 'Demon'. Living in the heart
of my most intimate place. This ship was... oh hell, this ship was me.
I thought about all the oddities aboard. Thought about all the customizations
I had made. The pilot's seats were from the same designs that the Gundam
cockpits had been made from. I wondered what they had made of that? I
had painted the 'Demon' with my own hands, every brush stroke. I had searched
until I had found a thick blanket, black as the night and had stitched
the silver stars across it myself. It matched the walls, floor and ceiling
of my cabin. The galley with its blue-sky ceiling and walls, clouds dusted
across it in fanciful shapes of dragons and castles and paladin's horses.
The cockpit was edged all around the ceiling with copies of every photograph
I had been able to get my hands on of the five of us and our Gundams.
Some of them had been lifted from the newsreels. Some of them from secure
Oz files. There was a picture up there of me in irons; face caked with
dried blood. The cockpit itself was painted that very color; I'd spent
hours matching it. I only hoped they hadn't had reason to go down into
the cargo bay where the floor to ceiling mural of the five Gundams stood,
with the image of the burned out remains of the Maxwell church on the
wall opposite it.
I'd cleared a lot of shit out of my head in the years I'd been working
on my ship. My shattered heart and broken soul were poured out in glossy
brush strokes on every square inch of bulkhead.
And they'd been living here for an entire week. Free to poke and prod.
Free to go through my music, look through my files. I positively felt
exposed and ... violated. Shit.
"Damn it, Duo," Heero said; so close his breath stirred the
hair against my temple, "why can't you let me help you?"
"I'm all right," I muttered automatically, suppressing a shiver
at the intimate feeling.
He sighed. "No," he said rather firmly, "you are not."
It irritated me a little. "What the hell do you know about it?"
His hand had stopped stroking over my arm and had settled against my chest.
I realized that he was using my own heartbeat to gauge my reaction to
what he was saying and right now it was pounding in double-time. I tried
to push his hand away but didn't really have the strength.
"I know," he was telling me and I very suddenly just
wanted to get away from him. I felt like I was on the edge of some ragged
"I have to use the bathroom," I blurted and dared him to deny
He started to; frowned down at me and opened his mouth to argue the point,
but then only sighed and got up.
I tried to struggle up before he had a chance to lift me but it was a
pretty ridiculous attempt that only left me dizzy. It garnered me a fierce
"Stop it," he commanded.
"You can't keep carrying me everywhere," I complained.
He took the IV bag down, plopped it on my stomach and slipped his arms
under me, lifting me easily in the low gravity. "You can walk when
you get a little strength back."
"How the hell am I going to get my strength back if you won't let
me do anything but lie here?" I pointed out, pleased to take the
conversation down this path and away from where it had been headed.
"By resting and getting some food in your system," he replied.
Then we were in the bathroom and there was an awkward moment while, I
swear to God, he considered taking my shorts down and 'helping' me.
"Do not even think about it," I growled and he blinked at me
in some small amount of surprise.
"Set me down and get out," I commanded, doing my best to sound
firm and authoritative.
"Duo... " He hesitated. "The last time I brought you in
here you... passed out."
I felt myself flush. "Heero... " I warned and he finally gave
in with a sigh.
"I'll be right outside." He frowned at me. "If I don't
hear something every couple of minutes... I'm coming back in."
I only glared at him. He went. There was an undeniable lifting of some...
pressure to be 'all right' as soon as the door slid shut behind him and
I let myself slump forward for a moment; just sitting there on the damn
There are almost no mirrors aboard the 'Demon'; I'm not overly fond of
them. The only one, in fact, is there in the head. I spared a glance in
that direction and had to bite back a shocked gasp when I met the eyes
of the skeletal wreck sitting there staring back at me. Damn. No wonder
the guys were treating me like I was made out of spun glass... I looked
like I was made out of spun glass. I tore my gaze away and bent to the
task of working my shorts down without falling over.
"Duo?" I heard before I was half done.
"Damn it!" I snapped, "I'm ok!"
He subsided and I started a count in my head. After that, I called, 'ok'
every forty-five seconds.
I really did have to go but this would be the first time since they'd
gotten me back. It took a couple of minutes and some concentration and
when it finally started to flow, I had to stuff my hand in my mouth to
keep from crying out.
Damn, but it burned! When I was finally done, I blinked the water out
of my eyes and glanced down into the toilet. The urine was tinged pink.
I sighed, either a bladder or a kidney infection. I struggled and got
the shorts pulled back up, spared another glance at the haggard man in
the mirror and gave up the tough act as I reeled where I sat.
He was in the room almost before the last syllable was out of my mouth.
I nearly fell into his arms.
"It's all right;" he soothed, "I've got you. I'm here."
My gut twisted; God... he sounded so tender... I wanted to believe so
He gently lifted me back up and I was so wasted, all I could do was loll
in his arms. He took me straight back to the bed and settled me down,
rehanging the IV bag from its hook.
"I need you to get something, if you don't mind?" I murmured,
having trouble keeping myself focused.
"Anything," he told me, carefully tucking me back into the bunk.
I blinked up at him for a moment, again left with that strange feeling
that he just wasn't bloody well real.
"I have some sort of infection," I told him and was taken by
surprise by the fearful look that washed across his face. "There's
some antibiotics in the med-kit... "
"Where?" he interrupted me and when I gave him directions, he
fairly ran off after them.
I lay while he was gone and stared up at the ceiling, tracing the tiny,
hand-painted constellations with my eyes. Why was he acting like this?
Could he really harbor some feeling for me? I wanted to believe that so
badly... too damn badly. I knew better. Why in the hell
did I keep letting this hope build inside? I had thought I would not survive
the death of hope the first time. Had thought that when the war ended
with my never managing to get much more from him than a cold glare, that
I would go off somewhere and just curl up and die. Why was I letting myself
resurrect that same damn hope? I didn't think I could take the total destruction
of my heart a second time.
I dug deep under the old scars and dredged up the sound of his voice the
way I remembered it; "Go away, Duo." - "Shut up, Maxwell."
That was the Heero Yuy I remembered.
So who in the hell was this?
He came back with the whole damn med-kit, wordlessly injecting a dose
of the stronger, liquid antibiotics into the IV line, then brought me
water to take a couple of the tablets as well.
"Why didn't you tell me you had this?" he admonished and when
I looked, he was holding a tube of antibacterial cream.
"What for?" I muttered somewhat groggily.
He sighed, sounding a little exasperated. "Duo; you are covered with
suit burns. Or didn't you notice?"
He was pulling the blanket back as he spoke and began to gently rub the
cream into the large sore on my shoulder.
I hadn't been expecting it; was still feeling woozy from the trip to the
head and my breath hissed sharply.
His fingers stilled instantly and he met my eyes. "Gomen," he
"Who the hell are you?" I blurted and felt my face flame. Had
that just come out of my mouth? Shit.
He stared at me a minute and I think for a frozen heartbeat he thought
I had lost my mind. Then he looked faintly embarrassed.
"It's just me," he said softly, his fingers going back to their
task with feather-light strokes.
In for a penny, in for a pound I suddenly decided. "I... I don't
think I know you." I scowled and his fingers moved to the sore on
He smiled almost impishly. "Then allow me in introduce myself; my
name is Heero Yuy."
I gaped up at him and for a second I thought he would stick his hand out
for me to shake.
"I'm not playing, Heero," I told him and my voice was on the
rise. The drowsiness that had been stalking me was all gone.
His smile faded and he looked down at me as he worked, eyes looking shadowed
and a little pained.
"Why are you here?" I asked, amazed at my own sudden audacity.
He looked away and there was a tiny shrug as his fingers shifted to the
sore on my other arm. "Someone once told me... never leave a man
down," he said very quietly.
I tried to pull my arm away from him but it was a pointless gesture.
There was the ghost of one of those old, irritated expressions on his
face as he forced me to hold still.
"Why can't you let me help you?" he said suddenly and I don't
think he had meant to say it any more than I had meant to blurt out what
"I just don't understand what you... " I stopped. I wasn't sure
what I had meant to say; what you're doing here? What you mean? What
you want from me?
His hands just wouldn't stop working over me. I was a little taken aback
that he wasn't even looking for the sores; he already knew where every
damn one of them was. I just couldn't stand it any more and I dredged
up some last remnant of strength somewhere and pushed away from him. I
managed to get myself across the bed and braced in a near sitting position
against the wall.
"Duo!" he yelped and my imagination painted fear for me into
his voice. "You're going to hurt yourself!"
"Stop it," I tried to growl but it came out a little shaky.
He was frowning at me, his hands fidgeting with the stupid tube of cream.
"Let me help you," he said and he'd regained some of that calm.
"I'm fine," I ground out even as I was realizing that a few
more minutes was going to see me pitching to one side or the other and
I'd better decide which.
"You are very far from fine," he said and it sounded sad. "I
know what you need; why can't you let me help you?"
"What makes you think you know what I need?" I snarled, my anger
helping to keep me upright.
"Damn it, Duo," he sighed, his hand lifting as though he might
reach for me but then falling back into his lap, "I've been there...
I wanted that hand to reach for me. I wanted it so bad I could have screamed
when it didn't. What the hell was wrong with me? Did I fucking like
sticking my heart in the fire? Was I insane? I couldn't process what he
was telling me, been there?
"What... ?" I managed stupidly.
"When... I... When Wing was destroyed," he explained patiently
and I flinched with the memory.
How could I have forgotten? I hadn't, of course, just buried that memory
as deep as the rest of them.
"I wasn't adrift near as long as you were trapped," he was telling
me, voice gentle and soothing, "but I know how I felt... afterward.
I know what I needed."
The sudden resurgence of those memories, of that other time, was almost
enough to break through my tenuous grasp on the last of my control. It
did wash away the last of my anger, leaving me coldly confused again.
"I'm fine," popped out, my mouth on autopilot.
"You need to let go, Duo," he said softly. "You were there
for me. Let me be here for you."
I was very near to losing it all and couldn't believe he'd just said that.
"There for you?" I cried, my voice sounding harsh and
distant in my own ears. "I was a fucking half a world away trying
to drink myself into obliv... !" I snapped my mouth and my eyes shut
at the same time. Too late to stop the confession.
He ignored it and went calmly on. "In my head," he said softly.
"It was your voice I heard. Teasing me, calling me back. It was your
voice that got me through."
I couldn't answer him, just sat braced against the star-speckled wall
"Let me be here for you," he told me again, voice soft as a
sigh. "You need someone to hold you... to anchor you." There
was a moment's silence, "A partner."
"I can't," I said and it was near to being a sob. "I can't,"
I said again and felt myself falling. "I can't... I can't... "
His hands did come to touch me then, catching me and easing me down, untangling
the IV line and pulling me close again.
"You can," was the last thing I heard before sinking back into
I woke alone and didn't know whether to be relieved or terrified. I shifted
and found that there was a warm spot next to me. A tiny shiver ran up
my spine; I hadn't dreamed him. He'd been here and he wasn't far away.
I thought about the previous... night's? Day's? Conversation. Hell, I
didn't even know what day it was. Didn't know how long I'd been off the
A partner. He'd said that; I remembered it quite clearly. What had he
meant? Someone to hold me. What was he offering me? Could I truly be mistaking
what I saw on his face when he looked at me? It bothered him to see me
in pain. He worried about my falling. He knew where all my hurts were.
Could he... was it possible that the concern I saw in his eyes was more
than just my damn imagination?
"Don't be such a damn idiot, rat-boy." I heard Solo say, "Ya
don't get no second chances more'n once."
I reached up, peeled the tape off my arm and pulled the IV out. I wasn't
really even thinking about what I was doing; I just wanted to find Heero.
Maybe just for the reassurance that I hadn't dreamed him.
It was a difficult climb out of that bed but I managed it and went slowly
out into the corridor, clinging drunkenly to the zero-g handgrips the
whole way. Once out of my cabin, I could hear his voice coming from the
direction of the cockpit.
"... sleeping. He's still very... weak,"he was saying and his
voice sounded drained.
"Are you all right?" came Quatre's voice, in full mother
"Just a little tired," Heero replied. "It's been... a long
couple of days."
"Are you sure he's all right, Heero?" Quatre said then, voice
worried. "I mean... he was out there for a long time... "
He was asking about my mental state. I grinned to myself as I hauled my
ass down the corridor and thanked God the 'Demon' wasn't any bigger than
it was. I was shaking so bad I don't think I could have made another ten
feet. I listened for Heero's answer and was surprised how long it took.
"I... I... don't know," I heard just as I came to the cabin
door. Heero was sitting in my pilot's seat, his knees drawn up to his
chest, his hands tangled in his hair.
I blinked at the picture he painted.
I must have made some sound, some shifting of my grip or shuffling of
my feet, because he unwound from that seat like a spring snapping and
was across the cockpit in a heartbeat.
"Duo! What the hell do you think you're doing?" he reproached,
but the concern in his eyes took the sting away.
"Duo?" I heard Quatre call, sounding a little confused.
"Hey Qat," I said as Heero caught me around the waist and took
me to sit in the co-pilot's chair. A place that hadn't seen a lot of use
over the years.
There was an eruption over the commlink when I spoke and for a second
I thought something had happened to my transmitter. Then I realized it
was cheering. I blinked up at Heero and he grinned down at me. Damn.
The whole Sweeper crew must have been crammed into Howard's radio room.
"H... hi guys," was all I managed. The sound of their collective,
enthusiastic, so damn familiar voices washed away the last of whatever
I had been clinging to. It felt like something inside my chest just freaking
gave way. The tears started to flow and I couldn't stop them.
I turned to Heero and found his arms open and waiting. I threw myself
into them with the last of my strength and just gave in to it.
"That's it," Heero whispered in my ear, "let it go... Just
let it go. I've got you... I'm here. I... I'll always be here."
"Heero? What's going on?" Quatre's voice came, full of worry.
"Are you guys all right?"
"We're fine," Heero said over my head, bending to ghost a kiss
against my temple. "Everything is going to be all right now."
A sob threatened to tear it's way through my silent weeping and I began
to struggle with it, terrified they might hear me. It was bad enough that
Heero was seeing this.
He caught me up in his arms and said rather tersely in the direction of
the radio, "I'm sorry Quatre. Duo came up here on his own; he's exhausted
himself. We have to go. We'll talk to you tomorrow."
"O... Ok, Heero,"came
the confused reply.
He took me out of there, back to the star field comfort of my cabin where
he laid us down together in my bunk.
"Stop fighting it... let it out," he crooned, his fingers stroking
over my hair. "Let go of the fear... let go of the hurt. Let me take
It was impossible to stop anyway. I'm a child of the streets, the dirty,
mean streets. You learn to hide your pain and all your tears had damned
well better be silent ones. Any sound of weakness will bring the predators
down on you in a heartbeat. I don't cry. I certainly don't sob.
I did both in his arms, in my bunk, in my ship, in the middle of nowhere.
I wept bitter tears of pain and sorrow that I had held tight in my heart
for so long it felt like lancing an infected wound.
For his part, he held me, stroking gentle fingers over my hair and face
and whispered soft things to me. Made promises I couldn't half believe.
Promises that I pinned my heart on before I could quite stop myself.
I cried myself into utter collapse and fell asleep with my head pillowed
on his chest, listening to the soft rumble of his voice, feeling the steady
beat of his heart. What had I done? What in God's name had I let happen?
He was still there this time, when I woke. He hadn't stayed in bed the
whole time, because my IV was back and the blankets had been straightened
and smoothed. But he was still there. Still running his fingers over my
hair and whispering quietly. My music was playing softly in the background.
I lay still on his chest for a bit, letting myself have the moment...
just in case it was the last.
"Don't offer this to me unless you mean it," I told him, wishing
my voice were steadier.
His fingers stilled and came to rest on my waist. He didn't say anything
for the longest moment, then very softly, "I do mean it. God... like
I've never meant anything before."
I repressed a shiver and closed my eyes, "You can't stand me,' I
said flatly. "You spent a war pushing me away... "
The arm around me tightened and I felt his heart quicken under me. There
was another of those silences.
"I pushed because you frightened me,"he said at length, his
voice sounding far away. "You made me want things... things that
were forbidden. I had to keep you at a distance."
I didn't speak, didn't ask the questions that were storming through my
mind but let him say what he needed to say.
"I always thought... that there would be time to figure things out...
after it was all over. If we... lived."
We both lay still and thought about that one. I'm not sure about him,
but I had never figured to make it through to the other side. Had honestly
not been able to imagine an end to a war that had been going on for most
of my memory. I still sometimes woke in the night and couldn't make myself
believe it was truly over.
"But after the war... you just took off." His voice softened
even further. "I thought there was no hope. Thought that by then
you must have hated me."
"Never," I blurted, unable to stop myself.
"I kept track of you," he whispered, as though revealing a deep
secret, "I couldn't stop thinking about you..."
As I had kept track of him despite myself. I had tried so damn hard to
forget. To throw myself into the job until there wasn't a spare moment
to waste pining after something I couldn't have. But I'd always, somehow,
known where he was and what he was doing.
"When I got the call from Quatre... " His voice quavered and
he stopped speaking for a moment. "I thought... I thought I would
lose my mind."
I dared to reach for the hand that rested on my waist. His fingers came
to meet mine; taking my hand in his and gently arranging us so that I
didn't have to hold my arm up.
I sighed. Did I dare believe in this? This was the dream I had cherished
in my heart until I had watched it turn to ashes in my hands. I tried
to dredge up all the old hurts, brushed my thoughts across the scars in
my head. But I found I couldn't truly work up any anger or resentment
over them. We'd been in a war; we'd all done things that we had regretted
afterward. Could you count the things that were said and done during those
kinds of times? When each hour might be your last... sometimes your head
just wasn't screwed on right.
Hell... I didn't think my head was screwed on right to this day. The war
had fucked me six ways to Sunday. Like I said, Freud and his field day.
I tried to raise my eyes to look at him but couldn't keep my head up for
more than a couple of seconds. He rolled me over and laid me flat on the
bed so that he could look down at me.
"I'm... afraid to believe," I whispered and watched hurt flash
across his face. The confession twisted like a knife in my gut, the root
of most of the pain in my life.
"I... I want you to be able to believe in me," he said, his
face as earnest and open as I've ever seen it. So different from the cold
hard mask I remembered. Was I seeing the real Heero for the first time?
Had this been there all along?
I slid my hand from his and reached to touch his cheek. My fingers trembled
and shook. I didn't have the strength for this... this emotional wrestling
match. I was exhausted and I hadn't been awake more than fifteen minutes.
I felt myself wanting to flee into the darkness again; wanting to retreat
into the safe blankness of sleep. I didn't know what to do, I didn't know
what to say; I closed my eyes.
"Don't run away," he whispered, his breath warm against my cheek
and suddenly, I felt him moving closer. His lips brushed mine; I gasped
in surprise and froze. He gently did it again, just the barest contact.
The most tender of touches, cautious of the still healing places. I whimpered.
I didn't mean to, had not felt it happening and was surprised when the
sound escaped me. I wasn't even sure if I was asking him to stop or to
do it again. It was electric; my lips tingled when he drew away.
I opened my eyes and my vision swam, "I... I don't know that I have
the strength... "
"You're the strongest person I've ever met," he told me, gazing
down at me intently. "Please... let me care for you... let me be
here for you. I have so many things to make up for... so many wrongs to
I had beaten this dream to death and locked its broken body in a secret
box, throwing away the key. The questions skittered around in my overloaded
brain, could I? Did I want to? Was I strong enough? Was this real? Could
I wasn't sure I could handle letting the dream out of the box. What if
things didn't work out? I didn't think I could bear watching it die again.
I think it would shatter me beyond repair.
I thought about that and suddenly realized that I had never really killed
the dream; it was still alive inside that box... had always been there;
twisted and bloodied... but patiently waiting. I thought about going back
to my life the way it had been these past few years and found that prospect
every bit as frightening as believing in the impossible. I met his hungry,
"I... I want to try," I told him, voice and hands trembling.
He smiled and it was like watching the sun coming out. "We'll do
more than try, my love." He sighed and let his fingers come to stroke
over my face, feather-soft; touching as though he couldn't believe in
my reality. The road ahead of us looked long and steep and bumpy... but
it wasn't so frightening with the promise of Heero there at my side at
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